Sex, a fundamental process to our existence as human beings, is seldom discussed in relationships and society as a whole. It is something most everyone is born interested in and can derive pleasure from, yet it is still approached with so much shame, fear, and disgust. Why is talking about sex so taboo? Should we be talking about sex more?
Why is Talking Sex so Taboo?
There isn’t necessarily a direct answer to the question of why sex is so taboo. There are, however, many different reasons people believe it is wrong to talk about sex and most of these reasons depend on the society that one grows up in. That is, society has socialized individuals to believe that sex is wrong, dirty, and should be kept secret. This socialization process begins as early as childhood as children are taught about sex indirectly.
Sexual development begins at birth. Toddlers are often interested in pleasure at a very young age and may spend a lot of time exploring their genitals by touching them, talking about them, or looking at them. This is completely natural! It is important to teach children that there is a time and a place for certain activities; however, if an adult sees this happening and the child is disciplined and told that this behavior is wrong, the child already begins associating sexual behavior with shame.
Once the child reaches puberty and begins learning about sex, they are often left with more questions than answers. Sex education largely lacks information on pleasure, consent, contraception, and sexual anatomy. This paired with the fact that many children are sexualized at a very early age is a dangerous combination.
Young girls are taught that they can’t wear certain clothes because they are distracting. Young boys are taught to be stoic, “take things like a man,” and are told that the more sex you have, the better. These messages really influence how adolescents think about sex and their bodies, and it fosters the potential for huge problems to emerge such as eating disorders, mental health problems, and sexual violence.
As adults, people may not feel comfortable talking about sex because they never had the chance to discuss such topics growing up. They don’t know what should be discussed or even what questions can/should be asked. On the rare occasion that sex is discussed, people may assume that the person talking about sex wants to sleep with them. When someone discusses topics that aren’t frequently discussed, people often do not know how to respond appropriately. Just so everyone is on the same page: talking about sex does not equate interest or consent.
Sexuality also has an impact on why sex is so taboo. Society as a whole faces homophobia and transphobia. Sex talk remains taboo because with sex comes conversations around sexual and gender identity. With so much fear and hatred towards the LGBTQIA+ community, sex talk is often avoided to subsequently avoid talking about how sex looks different for everyone.
The Issue with Keeping Sex Talk Secretive
Sex talk is disguised in society in many ways, and it prevents thoughtful, productive conversations about sex itself. One way it is done is through masking sexual anatomy: calling a penis “peepee” is promoting the idea that there is something wrong with using the proper word for our body parts. Being told something is wrong can foster feelings of shame especially when that something is part of who we are.
There is also so much secrecy and stigma surrounding sexually transmitted infections. According to the CDC, roughly 1 in 5 people have an STI at any given moment. They are very common. In fact, more than half of U.S. sexually active individuals will contract an STI at some point in their lifetime.
Questions like “are you clean” are not only secretive, but they are perpetuating harmful ideas that people with an STI are “dirty.” This prevents people from talking about STI status and potentially spreading them when it could be avoided with a discussion and proper safe sex precautions (such as wearing a condom).
Another implication of keeping sex talk secret is that it likely means people are not having the sex they want to be having. If you are not comfortable talking about sex with a partner, you may not be communicating about what feels good and what doesn’t. Communication is the foundation of a healthy, enjoyable sex life.
Overall, one of the main issues with keeping sex talk secretive is the shame and stigma it creates. Stigma prevents people from being who they truly are – sexual beings in this case. This may then lead to sexual repression which is linked to mental health problems and even thoughts of suicide.
The Benefits of Talking about Sex
Talking about sex provides many benefits that outweigh the discomfort people may experience when first learning to have such conversations. One of the most important benefits is that it helps promote safer and healthier sex practices. This means there are lower rates of both STI transmission and unplanned pregnancies.
Talking about sex also helps to decrease the shame that comes along with it; this promotes improved self-image, sex positivity, and better mental health. This translates directly into your self-esteem and how confident you feel during sexual interactions. It allows you to communicate with partners about what you like and dislike sexually. Overall, having these conversations promotes better sex and relationships.
If you don’t typically have these conversations it may be a good idea to practice with yourself first! Consider the following:
- What would you like to get out of sexual encounters? Do you want sex for intimacy? Are you looking for pleasure?
- What do you need to enjoy sex? Is there a specific type of stimulation you enjoy? Do you enjoy using sex toys?
- What do you want to know about sex? Do you feel you have a good understanding of your sexuality, sex drive, and sexual anatomy?
Once you feel comfortable with this, you may try talking to a partner about sex. If you don’t feel comfortable talking with your partner about sex, couple’s therapy can be a great place to initiate and facilitate that conversation face to face. Once you break through the stigma of sex, you and your partner’s sex life can start to thrive – a win win!
Not only will you be more comfortable asking for what you want, you can also start exploring different ways of having sex. This could mean learning how to talk dirty during sex, experimenting with role play, finding new ways to turn your partner on, trying out phone sex – whatever you’re curious about!
Talking About Sex Improves Sex for Everyone
Talking about sex remains a taboo topic in our society, and it will until more people begin talking about it. This however doesn’t need to stop you from breaking the stigma within yourself and living a more sexually liberated life. Start by having a conversation with yourself and as you gain confidence, you can share these conversations with others in your life.