It was Thanksgiving up in Canada this past weekend. I spent turkey day with my extended family, eating the most delicious of dinners (though, in all honesty, almost anything is a step-up from nightly KD), devouring pumpkin pie, and feeling a bit like an outcast.
You see, while my entire family is aware that I’m an up-and-coming journalist, I always find it interesting that no one brings up exactly what I write about or what kind of publications I’m aiming to write for after graduation. Even my successes – the fact that I just got to interview my sex-columnist hero, Dan Savage, and that I’m running my very own sex advice column in my school paper – were tiptoed around like a landmine. God forbid I say the “sex” word, I suppose.
Maybe I’m too wrapped up in this world of college where finding a condom wrapper in the kitchen garbage is just another thing to laugh at, and not used to being around people who blush at the word “vagina”. I can’t help but wonder, though, why sex is such an utterly taboo topic — why being a nearly-twenty-year-old sex columnist comes with this huge stigma, even when it’s approached in the most sex-positive and family-appropriate of ways (really, it’s not like I was going to get into the intimacies of my sex life around the dinner table).
And the thing is, this isn’t just an issue that surrounds my (apparently conservative) family. This is something that affects everyone – from the girls who refuse to masturbate because they believe their vulvas are “gross”, to the married couples who let their sex lives suffer horribly because they’re too embarrassed to put into words what exactly it is that they want in bed – we’re all being affected by sex-negativity, but where exactly does it come from?
To be fair, I’m a fan of Richard Dawkins and can therefore blame pretty much any societal issue on religion. That said, I do genuinely think that much of the stigma surrounding sex and sexuality comes from religious culture; a culture that tells us that sex outside of marriage is sinful, selfish, and just plain wrong. Because religion is constantly sending the message that sex (outside of marriage) is bad, wrong, dirty, and only-for-makin’-babies, those who do have sex before marriage – which, by the way, is nearly 95% of people – are just left feeling guilty about it (like they did something bad, dirty and wrong). Funny thing is, this rhetoric obviously does not dissuade most people from partaking in premarital sex but only acts to make people feel shameful about their healthy and natural sex lives.
Think about it, even the language we use to talk about sex is veiled in shame and embarrassment. We talk about that stuff we have “down there,” or, and I admit to using this phrase myself, “getting dirty.” It’s not often, if ever, we’re able to have open and honest conversations about our genitalia using real words instead of frilly-nicknames like va-jay-jay – things we’re most likely taught from our embarrassed parents at an early age. (Hell, I was told to call my vagina my “monkey.” Yikes!)
While I’ll admit there’s nothing sexy about telling someone you’d really love to “have sexual intercourse” with them, it’s also important to keep our outside-of-the-bedroom conversations as honest and grown-up as possible; the only way to confront sex-negativity is to tackle it head on. Ladies, it’s okay to talk about your vagina! Just, please, stop calling it a va-jay-jay.
I’m more and more grateful every day that my Canadian schools taught me comprehensive sex-ed. Being taught that remaining abstinent is the only way to have a healthy sex life as a married adult is not only grossly blown out of proportion, but it’s also not working. Much of abstinence only sex-ed relies on scare tactics – the “if you have sex, you WILL get PREGNANT and DIE” approach – without focusing on pregnancy and STI prevention and protection. Not to mention, you can only contract an STI from someone who already has an STI. And, while they’re not 100% effective, condoms do a pretty damn good job at keeping you baby and infection free. Oh, and the whole BS about “abstinence is the only thing that is 100% effective at preventing teen pregnancy” spiel? You will not get pregnant from oral or manual sex. Just something to think about.
How do we change it?
Recognize the sex-negativity in your own life. Stop calling sexually active women “sluts” and “whores” and make an effort to educate yourself on the realities of a sexually active lifestyle. Also, don’t be afraid to have an open discourse about sex with the people around you. Of course, these conversations don’t have to be graphic or overtly personal, but once you get the sex-positive conversation flowing, you’ll come to realize that sex is one of those things we all have in common.