I’m pretty sure the last time I was involved in an honest, public conversation about sex was when I was thirteen. I was raised attending a Unitarian Universalist Meeting House. For those not familiar with Unitarian Universalism, it’s not a typical religion, for lots of reasons. One of those reasons was that Sex Education was part of the Sunday School curriculum. And it wasn’t just, “Sex is bad!” It was a comprehensive Sex Ed course. It talked about why people have sex, the benefits, the risks, the biology, birth control, abortion, and social attitudes. It was as awkward as you can imagine a group of thirteen-year-olds talking about sex would be, but it was honest and public.
In the 30+ years since that Sunday School course, I have witnessed a lot of public conversations about sex. Unfortunately, none of those public conversations have been honest. When we, as a society, talk about sex, we are always posing. Those poses fall into two extremes: either sex is everything or sex is evil. If I believed the first side, I’m the biggest prude who ever lived. I mean, I don’t even have a sex dungeon in my basement. If I believe the other, I’m a hairy-palmed pervert ready to burn for eternity.
Public talk about sex can be separated into distinct categories. There’s pornography and erotica (I’ve never understood why erotica has it’s own word. It’s almost like people think written smut is classier than pictorial smut.) There’s nothing close to honest about porn. To be fair, that’s not the point. It’s supposed to be fantasy. I know the current trend in feminism is sex-positivity (The philosophy of porn – Prospect Magazine), but I don’t like porn. It makes me uncomfortable. I know I’m admitting something that people will judge me for, but I’m being honest. Porn is too fake. Most of the time the actors don’t even look like real people. The situations are crazy. And my fantasies don’t line up well with what the writers and producers seem to think people want. Put the misogyny, exploitation, and everything else on top, and it’s more than I can take.
Next is non-pornographic arts and media. That’s basically everything else that the arts and entertainment industries make for public consumption. There’s sex everywhere. I’ve read a lot, watched a lot of movies and TV, listened to a lot of music and I’ve “learned” a lot. Going more than a day or two without sex is an eternity. It’s amazing any loser who finds themselves sex-free for 48 hours survives. Virtually all men are bad at sex. At least, that’s the most likely reason why virtually all women are sexually frustrated. Men always want sex. Always. No matter what. Women are either nymphomaniacs or think sex is a chore. The human brain ceases to function when sex becomes a possibility. No one actually practices safe sex, ever, but the only people who ever face consequences for sex are the protagonists in stories about STIs or unwanted pregnancies. And more often than not, those are comedies. STIs and unwanted pregnancies are clearly nothing to worry about. So, I guess what I’m saying is there’s not much realism there.
Then we have the moralists. The focus here is that sex is sinful. Some go so far as to say that any sex that doesn’t result in a pregnancy is bad. Most will allow heteronormative sex in the context of a monogamous, traditional marriage as long as neither partner enjoys it too much. Any hint of a kink or fetish is a definite no-no. This is, of course, crazy, extreme fantasy. There’s not a hint of honesty anywhere. I find porn more wholesome.
Advertising is famous for being misleading about sex. There’s the classic trope that using the right product is the only way to access sex. And none of us could possibly be attractive without (store bought) help. Then, there’s the pharmaceutical ads. I’m sure I suffer from some sexual dysfunction, and I don’t even know which one. Lack of sex has been pathologized. Whatever you do, don’t assume that there’s other stuff going on in life. Take a pill and have more sex.
I could go on. There’s locker-room talk/gossip and no one wants to tell a boring story with regular old sex. There’s politicians and the rich and powerful finding ways to justify the unjustifiable. But, I think you get the idea. We talk about sex nearly constantly, but who could blame you for having no idea what to think of it all. Remember when President Clinton’s Surgeon General, Jocelyn Elders, was fired for suggesting that masturbation is normal and healthy? I’d say that sent some kind of message.
The reason I’m highlighting this problem is that it’s 2021, it’s about time we, as a society, try having a mature, informed, and healthy attitude about sex. The message out there now is that there’s a right way and a wrong way to have sex. But, no one ever actually says what the right way is. Don’t have too many partners or too few (and don’t ask what the right number is). Don’t go too quickly or take too long (should we set a timer?). It’s good to plan sex, but only if you’re spontaneous about it. We can do so much better. There’s a huge spectrum of what counts as good sex. That’s the message to get out there. Instead we’re making everyone insecure. Awkward Unitarian thirteen-year-olds are making us look bad.