The word sounds so scientific and otherwordly and weird. Saying it in conversation still feels awkward, and people rarely talk about it publicly with others. It’s one of those things that most humans do, but never speak of.
Maybe even just reading about it is making you uneasy or uncomfortable. And if it is, you’re not alone. Even though I now am quite open and positive about sex, I wasn’t always like that.
In fact, in fifth grade, when I found out we had to do sex ed in school, I wanted to puke. I hated the idea of all of the students crammed together in the same room, looking at pictures of each other’s reproductive parts. At that time, I was sort of grossed out by my own body, and I hated the idea of other people (specifically, boys) knowing what my body did during puberty. Looking back, it seemed pretty dumb for me to fear sex education. It really is just a part of life, and it’s something we should all feel comfortable talking about without shame. But that’s the thing: I had shame.
And my friends had shame. And my other peers had shame. And we had shame for a really long time until we learned how to address it and draw over it with sex positivity.
I was pretty sheltered about sex, too. I knew about the biological components of how to create a fetus, but I had no idea what sex was really like or how it felt emotionally or physically or why people enjoyed it so much. Until I was about twelve, I still thought it was only societally acceptable to have sex after marriage and that it was some sort of rule or something that you had to wait. I also couldn’t imagine why two people would want to lay together without clothes and do something so personal. In fact, the idea of it was so foreign to me that I felt uncomfortable just talking about it. When someone brought up the idea of it in school or in a book or when my parents brought it up in conversation, I would squirm.
And it’s not just me. Parents worldwide still struggle to give their children the sex talk or even broach the topic. Some of them struggle to talk with their kids about masturbation or porn. Some people develop more openness around sex as they age, but not everyone. Many people still consider sex a private subject that shouldn’t be discussed among friends. And talking about things like sex toys just seems completely out of the question in our current society. God forbid someone buy a machine that enhances their enjoyment during sexual activity. God forbid someone take control of their own pleasure. Most people are judged for that.
Because let’s face it: it’s 2020, and sex is still taboo.
Why is that?
Well, I have a few ideas.
You see, the shame and silence surrounding sex is the fault of society. It’s a trend that we, as people, have created for ourselves, and changing it is no easy task. In order to encourage sex positivity and educate ourselves and future generations, we’re going to need to break barriers — and that means tearing down society’s preconceived notions about sex that continue to be engrained in us.
So why IS sex so taboo?
Well, first off, we’re taught that sex and reproductive health are unnatural topics to keep private (especially women).
Over time, for whatever reason, humans have learned that sex and reproductive health are not natural topics; that we should not discuss them with others and that we need to keep a cone of privacy around them. But that needs to change. We need kids to feel comfortable talking about periods and erections, regardless of gender. We need teens to understand that things like birth control are not shameful, but actually a fantastic way to take the reigns on their health. We need to talk about sex openly with people (specifically those who are younger) in order to instill confidence and positivity within ourselves and each other.
Our society objectifies bodies so often that it becomes uncomfortable to talk about sexual health.
We sexualize young girls when we dress-code them for wearing even the modest of dresses. We sexualize young boys when we say, “Dude, he’s gonna be so hot when he grows up.” We sexualize women when we put them on the front pages of magazines accompanied by some misogynistic slogan. We fetishize and objectify bodies so often that sex becomes a sensitive topic. We don’t like to talk about sex with other genders because we’re afraid of the objectification and shame that comes with it. We don’t like to talk about sex with people of other ages because we’re afraid of it sounding odd or coming off as flirtatious or awkward. But why? If our society spent more time educating people about sex rather than sexualizing them and their bodies, we’d be much better off.
For some people, gender and sexuality are uncomfortable topics, and so they abandon the conversation of sex altogether.
For people who harbor internalized homophobia (or, let’s be real, even externalized homophobia because we all know there’s a lot of it out there), or transphobia, sex is an off-limits subject. Some parents fear their children learning about the concept of gender and sexuality because they feel it will corrupt them or push a specific “agenda” on them that they wish to avoid. But this isn’t fair. Sexual orientation and gender identity are as much a part of sex as the actual body parts, and we need to talk about all aspects of sex in order to truly make progress.
Since we are silent about our experiences, we don’t know what’s “normal” and what’s not, and so we don’t talk about it.
Before I started my journey with becoming a sex-positive individual, I had a lot of trouble talking about sex with my friends because 1) it felt weird to break the silence, and 2) we had been silent for so long that I had no idea what was normal versus abnormal, since we had never really discussed it. I wanted to talk about things like bisexuality and masturbation and periods, but I was afraid people would judge me or that they wouldn’t share the same experiences and they’d think I was weird. In order to break this cycle, though, we need to break the silence. If sex hadn’t been so taboo to me, I wouldn’t have felt so self-conscious discussing it and I wouldn’t have questioned my normalcy because I’d already know the scoop.
And, of course, we have religion — and that whole idea of guilt and shame.
Hey, I don’t mean to attack any religious people here — certainly not — but we do need to admit, as a society, that religion plays a huge role in society’s views on sex. Some religions prohibit it before marriage and shame those who don’t obey, making them believe they are unnatural or gross or sinners. Some religions are against abortion and birth control and contraceptives, making it difficult for sexually active people to make healthy decisions. Some religions even consider masturbation a sin, and so young people (and older people) don’t feel like they have the freedom to explore and enjoy their bodies. I don’t have anything against religious faith, but I don’t think that religion should have such a drastic impact on society’s perspective of sex. We need to separate religious views from personal freedom and exploration, and allow people to realize that they are free to enjoy and learn about their bodies as they see fit. Some may still prefer to wait until marriage or refrain from talking about sex — that’s totally fine. But we need to make it more acceptable for people who don’t make the same choice.
So…what do we do to break society’s cycle of silence around sex?
Well, we can educate ourselves individually — whether it’s through books, social media, or some other resource.
We can follow sex-positive social media accounts. We can read books about sexual health and what it means to practice sex positivity in society. We can listen to podcasts about sex or watch TedTalks about it or learn from others.
We can also find humor and joy in sex, rather than treating it as a taboo issue.
The more humor and joy we can find in something, the more normalized it becomes. When something is funny or happy or exciting, it’s hard for us to consider it off-limits or unnatural. So instead, let’s talk about it. Let’s make jokes about sex (that are politically correct and not objectifying, of course). Let’s laugh with each other about our own awkward and unexpected experiences. Let’s truly find the optimistic sides of sex that we all deserve to know.
We can talk about it a LOT more often.
The weather isn’t taboo. Why? Because everyone talks about it. I’m sure you’ve asked someone about the weather before because, well, it’s just normal. And I’m not saying sex is quite like the weather. I understand that it’s more intimate and personal and for some people, it’s not easily discussed. But if we truly desire to have a sex-positive existence, we need to learn to break those barriers. Obviously we don’t need to talk about sex quite as often as we talk about the weather or other small-talk topics, but we do need to talk about it much more often than we already do. The more we discuss it, the more we become accustomed to it, and the less we will think twice before approaching it in conversation. I talk with my friends about sex a lot and we often joke about it, and it’s become a frequent subject in our hangouts together. We think nothing of it. And that’s because we have trained ourselves to see it as something totally acceptable.
We can self-reflect.
I did this a lot on my journey to sex positivity. I wrote in my diary a lot about my experiences. I wrote a lot of personal essays about my experiences, too. I explored my sexuality and asked myself a lot of questions about it. I addressed my fears about sex, and my quandries. I implored myself to discover why I felt so much shame when I talked about it or read about it or heard about it. I talked to my friends about what I was going through and became very vulnerable with them, and, in turn, they became vulnerable with me about their sexual journeys, too. Together, we all learned a lot about ourselves and made a lot of meaningful progress.
We can treat it as a health-related subject rather than a completely private, personal one.
The more we fuel the notion that sex is private and personal, the less open-minded we are about it and the more shame and silence we are enabling. So instead, let’s treat sex as a health issue (because, at the core, it is). Let’s educate children about it like their life and health depends on it (because it does). Let’s talk about it with each other as if it pertains to health and not just personal life (because it does). Let’s realize that having a healthy attitude around sex facilitates a healthy lifestyle.
And if we can consistently do these things… our society will reap the benefits.
We’ll likely have less unplanned pregnancies (and STIs).
If people are informed about sex and know how to protect themselves and have a healthy sex life, we’ll be less prone to unplanned pregnancies and other health complications like STIs.
We will probably also have less sexual abuse and assault.
By educating children, we are giving them the gift of bodily autonomy. The more they know about their own parts and what they do and what’s OK and what’s not, the more they will be able to understand when something is wrong. Kids will know the biological names of their body parts. They’ll know which touches are OK and which aren’t. They’ll be able to confront an adult if they feel uncomfortable, because they’ll be well-equipped with information.
Gender and sexuality will be more openly discussed, and people can freely be themselves.
If we have positive attitudes about sex, and actively address gender and sexuality within our discussions about sex, there will be much more acceptance around gender identity and sexual orientation. Rather than an earth-shattering concept, gender identity and sexual orientation will (hopefully) become a more normalized reality.
We will be more confident with ourselves and more trusting of each other.
Although sex is difficult to talk about, discussing taboo things really tends to bring people together. And the more we discuss it and make each other feel comfortable and supported, the closer we will become, and the happier we will feel in our friendships and relationships. We’ll probably also be a lot more confident in ourselves. We won’t carry as much shame about our bodies or our sexual choices.
There’s a handful of other benefits, too, that we will (hopefully) be able to know someday.
So, what do you think? Should we destroy the taboo nature of sex that we have always seemed to accept?
It’s going to be a long journey, and certainly not always a comfortable one. We’ll probably have a lot of awkward moments and a lot of candor that we’re not used to. We’ll probably experience a lot of different emotions on our journey to dismantling society’s ideas behind sex that we have been plagued with for so long.
In the end, though, it will be worth it.