Let's TALK About Sex!
*Before I start this article, I want to begin with a consent caveat. Everything discussed in this article is clearly pointing to all sexual activities between consenting partners. A full definition of consent given by Sex Out Loud states “Consent is the clear, freely-given, informed, enthusiastic, continuous presence of a yes and not the absence of a no.”*
I’m not going to lie to you. As you can assume, being so open about sex all the time does not come without judgment from those surrounding me. While I originally was nervous to post and share my articles on my social media due to being friends with older adults as well as past teachers, I found that a lot of the people who were hesitant at first to click my links were more of my college-age connections. Comments like, “What Sydney? You just talk and write about sex all day?” and “Wait but what does your family think?” consistently have surrounded me since I first took over this column. While I wouldn’t say my dad particularly loves that his daughter is a sex columnist, I also wouldn’t say it is the bane of his existence (also if we’re talking even older; my grandfather recently informed me that he shares my articles with his colleagues because he’s proud of me, regardless of content, so take that, Judgmental Judies). Whenever I have a new article published and I feel that twinge of nervousness in my stomach after sharing it on my Facebook feed, I have to check and ask myself, ‘why’? When I am re-posting other articles about various topics like politics, beauty, life, etc., I never am nervous about what my followers will think. However, when it comes to my own very open articles about sex, I have a fear of others’ comments. This alone reminds me exactly why I have chosen the path that I have—sex is still such a weighted topic in our society due to the way we have socially constructed certain connotations surrounding these activities. Sex is taught to the public to be taboo, something you will most likely engage in during your lifetime but something you should not speak about unless behind closed doors. This hush-hush mentality, and thus a lack of education on the topic, has led to a plethora of problems including high rates of STIs, high rates of sexual assault and rape as well as unwanted pregnancies.
To me, sex has never been a topic I have feared speaking about. While I know there is a time and a place deemed appropriate for certain speech (something about social cues and filters I’m supposed to have??), I have always been able to talk openly with my mother, as well as with my friends, about sex. In my mind, sex is sex; just another part of life (like exercising, going to a fun class, etc.), another activity almost everyone I know is engaging in quite often. I have observed, often in large groups, people become super shy when sex is brought up and others boast about how great their sex lives are while silently shaming others in the room if they aren’t experiencing the same type of sex. However, behind closed doors, those people have also been the first to ask me certain clarification questions and admit they told lies when surrounded by others. Why do we feel the need to make every sexual experience into something bigger than it is? Countless times my girl friends have come home after a hookup and relay how amazing it was and then a couple months later talk about that same experience negatively, claiming “whiskey dick” ruined the sex or something else (I am not excluding myself from this behavior FYI, I have definitely fluffed up a sexual encounter due to pressure I’ve felt from others). But why do we do this? Where is this pressure coming from? If we have had a sexual encounter that wasn’t something to write home about, why are we telling our friends the opposite? And, vice versa, if we consistently engage in mind-blowing, incredible sex (props to us), why do we feel the need to push that in the faces of others when they discuss their own experiences quite differently? In my opinion, we need to place an emphasis on normalizing sex as a part of conversation, instead of treating it like a dangerous taboo, and in turn we will eventually see a dramatic reduction in rates of STIs, sexual assaults and hopefully an increase in positive, educated dialogue amongst parents and children as well as teachers and students in sex education classes.
While I am by no means saying that everyone should always be having sex or must always want to engage in sexual activities (we need to welcome and acknowledge our asexual friends, our abstinent friends and also educate ourselves on certain age restraints and laws put in place to protect us), I am just saying that the way sex is discussed in general needs to shift. When we talk about sex, when we cancel out the negativity surrounding it and instead educate those with pleasure-inclusive curriculum, we then can lessen all of the “hoopla” surrounding this activity. The less we look at sex as an activity that can only be performed by certain people, at certain times, in a certain way, the more potential we have to educate those around us about the basic human right to enjoy our lives.
The way most of us are taught to talk about sex growing up can directly correlate to a lot of young peoples’ tendencies to lie about their sexual encounters. Whether we are lying about the number of partners we had or have not had, how frequently we are having sex or when talking about the things we like in bed, at some point in our lives we will find (or already have found) ourselves fibbing about something. For example, I know a lot of young sexually active women that lie to their gynecologists about the number of partners they have had due to embarrassment of that amount being deemed socially “too high.” I also know a lot of young sexually active men that talk with their guy friends about any sort of anal play in bed, deeming it as a negative activity and using the words “that is so gay” when in reality they love a good finger (or toy) up their butt in private.
These two examples bring up sexual myths we love spreading that could be stopped if we encourage open dialogue about sex. For the first example, the number of partners a person has should not be something we use to judge others for. There is no legitimized standard set for the limit to the number of people you should be having sex with. You set those limits for yourself. If you are happy with yourself and genuinely enjoy having a lot of different partners, good for you! If you are more comfortable only having sex with a few people in your life that is also awesome! What we define as too many or too few partners should be something only we have a say in. The second one points to the myth that if a person with a penis engages in any sort of butt play during sex they are automatically gay (one caveat before I debunk this, what the fuck is wrong with being gay?). Regardless of whether you are having sex with same gender or opposite gender partners, this myth needs to be debunked. Everyone has a butt and it can be pleasurable for everyone as long as you are educated on what you are doing, being hygienic and using lots of lube. A heterosexual man that enjoys his female partners playing with his butt does not need a label on him staking him as “gay,” if he is simply just a person with a penis enjoying sex as is his right just like it is everyone’s right that wants it. You would never hear a gay man negatively claiming that sex with a vagina is “so straight” so think about what you are saying before you say it.
If you cringed once while reading this article or identified with some of the examples I threw on the table, this shows exactly why the quality of sex education needs to shift greatly for the generations below us. Many of us in our 20s and older received abstinence-only sex education, no sex education at all or basic sex education which was non-pleasure inclusive and focused on anatomy. For some, these types of sex-education made sex seem like a scary but intriguing and appealingly bad behavior we were tempted to engage in as young people, similar to exploring with alcohol and drugs. We were told we shouldn’t be doing it, which made a lot of us want to do it more. Like I said before, this rabbit-hole explains high rates of STIs on college campuses and high rates of sexual assault among young people as well. If we can shift the way sex is taught to young people and make it sound less scary but place a higher emphasis on open dialogue and education, the generations below us will be able to condone their sex lives in a much smarter way than we did.
Long story short, let’s stop making sex weird. Instead, let’s be able to talk about sex in the same breath we are using to talk about an interesting class we went to or a fun museum exhibit we visited. Seems like we’re all doing it, let’s not be afraid to discuss it.
Did this piece make you question how you discuss sex? Are you considering being more open about sex and want someone to talk to abouut it? Maybe it sparked a discussion between yourself and some of your friends? Have any thoughts or comments? Even any ideas for future sex columns? You can always shoot Sydney an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.