Why Can’t We Just Talk About Sex?

I’m annoyed at our sex-phobic culture a lot of the time, for a lot of reasons, but today it’s specifically because we consider it taboo to talk about sex outside of a few limited contexts.

When is it okay to talk about sex? Presumably with one’s partner(s) – though in the mainstream culture it’s assumed that in order to talk about sex you’re heterosexually married and pursuing sexual activities as a way to procreate. And in theory you should be able to discuss sex with your medical professionals, especially if you’re experiencing a disorder that’s sexual in nature (genital pain, trying to conceive, etc.).

Otherwise, there aren’t many socially acceptable venues in which to openly and honestly discuss sex. And I think that’s a problem. For one thing, it perpetuates the idea that sex is shameful, because we must keep it a secret. For another, it prevents people from benefitting from the experience and wisdom of others. Nobody automatically knows how to have great sex. It’s not a gene that gets passed along. It’s not a magical chemistry that sparks between you and the right person (despite Hollywood depictions). Yes, you can have amazing chemistry with someone that causes you to have phenomenal sex with them the first time – but if it’s happening intuitively, you can’t replicate it easily, or at least consciously.

Being able to talk about sex means learning how to enjoy sex, and also how to identify when things aren’t going so great. Sometimes situations can be physically or emotionally abusive without being obvious about it (take, for instance, the fact that one in four men in Southeast Asia admitted to committing rape when different phrases were used to describe coercive sex). And since we unfortunately lack any kind of institutionalized, evidence-based sex education, a lot of knowledge about sex and relationships (both the good and bad aspects) must come from firsthand experience, friends, and the media.

Let’s face it. Most people are already curious about sex. As MSP blogger Kate points out in this excellent blog post on how a sense of curiosity can enhance your sex life, we can harness our innate curiosity to help transformation those initial awkward conversations into invitations to explore. I think a big part of nurturing curiosity about sex is simply being able to talk about it – and not just to prospective partners, but to other people in our lives (assuming it’s appropriate to be discussing sex with them; to me, this excludes children and other relationships where there is a power imbalance, but other people might have different boundaries).

I like to make sure that my friends and acquaintances know that I’m available to talk about sex if they want to start a judgment-free conversation about it. I think it can be helpful to share your experiences with someone if you want reassurance that a particular interaction was normal or healthy, or if you want advice on how to change some aspect of it.

I get that not everyone likes to discuss their sex life with others, or thinks it’s ever appropriate. Those people don’t have to. I’m not trying to create a society where every conversation has to revolve around sex. I just wish it were more acceptable, more of the time, to recognize that sex is a significant part of many people’s lives, and thus should be  a legitimate conversational topic outside of the bedroom and the doctor’s office.

About Jeana

Jeana

Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.