Sexy Time: Why the Taboo?

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.



  1. kafka says:

    good post!

  2. Lauren says:

    Great post and I'm agreeing with this all.

    I went into a store yesterday that sells t-shirts and accessories, and the farther back you go, the more adult oriented it got. Anyway, i'm 18 and was shopping for my best friends 19th birthday. I was carrying a flask and penis-shaped party candies when I ran into a couple near the back of the store around their late twenties. As I walked by, the man exclaimed, "WAAYYY too young to be in here. No wonder kids are pushing kids!" I was so offended!

    Why is sex or sexual curiosities so frowned upon amoung young adults?

  3. Alison says:

    This is a good post. I feel like sex is almost considered an indulgence of some sort. For example, the phrase "sex, drugs, and rock n' roll" sort of implies that sex is an immoral thing that's bad for us. Or how some people like to think that they've corrupted their previously sexually-inexperienced partner with lots of "hot, dirty sex".

    Basically, I feel like sex is perceived as a "guilty pleasure" when in reality it's not. Eating doritos should be more of a guilty pleasure than sex.

  4. Coralie says:

    Great post!

  5. Raquel says:

    Fantastic post! When I first started doing a fortnightly 'Too Much Information' feature on my blog, I was really nervous as to the reaction I would get – even here in relatively liberal and enlightened New Zealand. But, for the most part, the reactions were positive. In New Zealand, people seem to be a bit more relaxed about talking about sex, and sex before marriage. I, too, am thankful for my comprehensive sex education in which all sorts of issues were addressed and discussed.

    That said, though, many people are still very 'traditional' and 'conservative' when it comes to talking about sex, and my free and detailed conversations with my best friend about masturbation techniques would utterly shock them.

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  8. Been there says:

    good post

  9. […] 7. Sex is a taboo subject to discuss and this taboo is pure foolishness. How on earth can we dispel our sexual misunderstandings unless we actually talk about them!? Here’s a great blog on this very topic: Sexy Time: Why the Taboo? […]

  10. Anne says:

    Honestly, I just think it might be that not everyone is interested in your sex life. I don't mean this to be rude, but I know someone who always tries to bring topics like this up, and it is not that our friends are prudes, it is just that there are many other more important and interesting things to discuss. We live in a world with a myriad of socio-economic troubles, and I would much rather listen to someone talk about how to combat disease and poverty in Africa than listen to someone talk about their latest hook up over lunch.

    I also think that access to the internet gives people, even those who don't write sex blogs (which I am not against, I think they are informative and have a place) the impression that everyone is always interested in everything that happens to them. Just like you don't always enjoy discussing your great aunts numerous issues, you don't always want to have a spirited conversation about how good someones latest hook up was.

    Maybe it is just because I am a private person, but I also think that any consensual sexual act you engage in is between you and your partner. I know that I would not like how my sex was to picked apart by my partner and his friends, and so I like to assume that if he wanted all my friends to know every detail and compare him to other men, he would have invited them to watch.

  11. Lauren says:

    Although I believe this is a very insightful post I do not think that you have highlighted the importance of STDs enough. Maybe your parents and family members are uncomfortable because they are concerned for your safety. What about HIV? There is such a taboo on the disease because, as you point out, people are uncomfortable speaking about sex. I'm not sure what your column talks about but maybe if safe sex was the focus your family wouldn't feel so awkward.

    What I also find interesting is that diseases such as breast cancer and wearing bracelets that flaunt "boobies" have become such a phenomenon yet sex and related diseases still have negative stigma attached.

  12. AC says:

    Ok, I don’ know when, or why some religious groups started saying sex is only for making babies, because I was raised Catholic and we were taught that sex is a GIFT from god that you were supposed to share with one person, in a consummated marriage, for the rest of your life (notice this is NOT gender specific, I’m no sure where that came from either, but religion no longer promotes gender discrimination, like the rest of society it does change).

    Sex was only considered “dirty” or “wrong” if it was done outside of a marriage because you’re sharing that special bond with more than just your special person. When someone has slept with lots of people, they are kind of dirty. I don’t know where you’ve been or who you’ve been there with and I don’t care to find out what you got there. I don’t care if you were being “safe” with all those people, protections fails, and statistically speaking, if you have a bag of 10 people and 2 of them have an STD the more times you reach your hand in that bag, the more likely you are to pull out an infected person. So, more partners combined with higher probability of protection failure = dirty and diseased. That’s science, (well, math, I guess) not religion.

    But Anne makes a good point. Maybe people just aren’t interested in your sex life. ESPECIALLY your family! Sorry, but I don’t want to talk to my family about sex, that’s awkward, we’re related, and while I don’t care to know about my parents/ aunts/ uncles/grandparents sex lives, I’m sure they would rather do without hearing about mine.

    Sex, at least to me, is private, I’ll tell people I HAVE sex, maybe share some tips every now and again, but I don’t want people knowing the details of my escapades, that’s for me and the guy to share, (but I guess if you don’t value the person you’re sleeping with, you won’t value the intimacy of the sex either) Can’t two people just share an intimate moment anymore? Is nothing sacred? The emphasis our society puts on sex, and trying to make it “normal” or “acceptable” (since when has sex NOT been normal and acceptable!? As far as I know it always has been, or we wouldn’t still be here) is really diminishing the value of the act. It’s sill fun, it’s still pertinent to life, but it’s not special anymore. And that’s kind of sad. What’s so wrong with sex being our “special gift”?

  13. pinktrickle says:

    Very good post. There has been huge strides in open sexuality over the last 20 years. I hope it continues.

  14. Kar says:

    YES thank you so much for this post. So many of our (American) views about sex are warped and oppressive. Sex should not be so taboo and confusing. Everyone is afraid to talk about it – no wonder we have so many pregnant teens. It boggles my mind when 13 year olds ask "can you get pregnant with anal?". Ignorance is a weakness, not a strength! Our country needs a revolution in sex education.

    Sex is not something to be elitist about either. For instance the whole "I save myself until marriage therefore I am better than you / you're still a virgin therefore I am better than you" thing. If someone wants to bang 8 guys their first year of college let them do it. If someone wants to wait until marriage, let them do it.

  15. Shanise M says:

    While I agree Sex shouldn't be a dirty thing and that if the time and place are appropriate it should be talked about freely and without restraint however I do think there is a time and place for that and the dinner table isn't one of them. And you have to think about it, if you had a daughter would you want to think about her having sex? And about the religion thing (as a religious person myself but one who does not believe that you have to save yourself before marriage) I think it just is the situation which you've had sex in that makes people look down upon it. For example MANY religious people I know are fine with a partner having 2-5 previous partners before them however it starts to get uncomfortable when a person has had 10+ partners and then its only uncomfortable because it is likely to catch diseases from having that many partners.

  16. -D- says:

    Could it be your family not only finds it awkward, but strange that a (nearly-twenty) year old would be a columnist on sex? I find that funny, not offensive, but simply funny.

    In all my sociological observation and professional interaction with people, teens and Young adults in particular, I have found that sex is immensely complicated, deeply fascinating and obviously fun.
    Most of all, One thing is that this complexity is often lost on the young. I know numerous teens who have sought out sex (several at quite an early age), but having that experience mess them up… Seriously messing them up emotionally, spiritually and socially (and this is with or completely without the involvement of any religion or religious experience. That did not seem a factor in most cases.)

  17. -D- says:

    My take?: Sex is a vitally important part of our social fabric. It generates deep bonds between people, and must be taken seriously. We DO need to talk about it more. Just like dietary health and exercise. That said, treating it like junk food is hazardous. Just sayin.
    Thanks for your post. I hope you are able to find and dispense lots of true wisdom on sex in your time as a columnist. Good luck. (and please be open to views beyond Dawkins' perspectives, he is very intelligent, but over-committed to his agenda – 'religion' isn't the problem, but that's another discussion)

  18. […] Skip the taboo. I’ve come to the realization recently that people only keep secret things that they’re ashamed of. While I don’t think it’s necessary to shout the intricacies of our sex lives from the rooftops, I think being honest about our sexual behavior and not being ashamed of our choices is a big step towards creating a more sex-positive culture. And who wouldn’t want to live in a society where sex is seen as something to embrace, instead of something to hide? […]

  19. […] the show (US or UK), but I’m aware of the subject matter. While these things might be a bit of a taboo, I think the uproar is going a little bit too far. Mostly, I have a question for the execs and […]

  20. […] 7. Sex is a taboo subject to discuss and this taboo is pure foolishness. How on earth can we dispel our sexual misunderstandings unless we actually talk about them!? Here’s a great blog on this very topic: Sexy Time: Why the Taboo? […]

  21. […] unless we actually talk about them!? Here’s a great blog on this very topic: Sexy Time: Why the Taboo?6. Some people argue that sex shouldn’t be taught in the schools. So, where should kids learn […]

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