Three little letters, one natural act, and – if you’re a twenty-something – the potential for a lifetime of guilt. Wait. That’s not right, is it? This is sex we’re talking about, the thing that is supposed to be so much fun that it’s all newlyweds, teenagers, and rabbits would do, if they didn’t have to pause for food. Sex is so great we’ve dedicated most of the internet to watching it and most of high school to giggling about it. Yet, if sex is the be-all-end-all pleasure of human existence, why do so many of us have issues with it?
Oh, right, guilt. ALL THE BUCKETS AND BUCKETS OF GUILT. If we’re not worried we’re going to Hell for doing it before marriage, we’re freaking out that our oral sex technique is sub-par, or that sleeping with one more person will make us Head Slut of the Whore Brigade. I’m sure there are perfectly well-adjusted people out there – those who’ve never felt guilty about having sex or worried about being bad at sex. Well, that’s awesome, but I don’t know any of them. Most of the people I’m friends with have, at one time or another, been totally freaked out about sex.
In the South, it’s easy to blame overwhelmingly conservative society values. In my own Texan teenage years, we were bombarded with the message that sex is only for happy, married heterosexual people, because of Sin and Disease and Children Out of Wedlock. How could any teenage girl agree that she’s dishonoring her family and her god by screwing her boyfriend, then happily screw said boyfriend with minimal conscience tugs? The human brain isn’t outfitted with a magic sex lightbulb. You don’t wake up one morning and think “Today, I feel like sex is a-okay and natural. I should discover what I like and not worry that I’m doing something wrong!” All too often, after years of associating sex with negative emotions, I watch friends get married, obtain that blessed circle of gold, and retain their shame. Sex is something their husbands want or that will give them children, but not something they enjoy.
Here’s the thing, though. I don’t think this is just a southern thing or a Christian thing or even a girl thing. Despite our generation’s supposed sexual freedom and hook-up culture, the American party line on sex remains all too static. Anyone who’s grown up with a sibling of the opposite sex has seen this difference. Girls are encouraged to wait for the “right time,” not be pressured by their boyfriends, and remain ever vigilant against penises. Most guys of my acquaintance? They were told to wear a condom, then patted on the head with a “boys will be boys.” This does such a disservice to both sexes. If a guy’s not ready, does that make him less of a man? If a girl initiates sex, without any male cajoling, is she a slut? I call bullshit on the whole thing. These same damn ideas screw up relationship after relationship.
The idea that guys want one thing and one thing only – raunchy, porny sex – does just as much damage as the idea that girls want the babies and security, not the pleasure. Outside of warning teenage boys to wear condoms, we don’t give them any real guidance. All too many boys are left to learn about sex from their friends or, worse, porn. I think we can all agree neither of these are best case scenarios. Misinformation runs rampant amongst teenagers and porn is not even close to an accurate, healthy portrayal of sex. (I’m not anti-porn, but come on! Two actors worried about camera angles and properly sexy sounds are not even comparable to a real couple.) If guys must rely on porn to form their sexual identities and girls must rely on guys to introduce them to sexual norms, is it any wonder we’re all a little bit messed up?
Guys are worried they can’t give automatic orgasms, like James Deen, and girls are worried they don’t have magical, hairless vaginas like those from that video they’re embarrassed about looking up. We all start off fumbling and awkward and are under the impression we should go from total innocents to porn royalty with one sexual encounter. We shouldn’t have sex until marriage, but if we do, we need to be really good at it. We shouldn’t be prudes about sex, but we shouldn’t have too many lovers either. We should please our partner, but we’re not taught how to do that. They should please us, but if they can’t right away, it’s somehow our fault. We should all eventually feel sexually empowered, whether on our wedding nights or when we decide “it’s the right time,” but no one tells us what exactly that empowerment looks like.
Is sex positive education the way to go? Is it all just a symptom of the human condition, destined to play out over and over throughout time? Have milliennia of ingrained stigma and shame doomed us all? I have no clue. All I know is that I wish it didn’t take most of us so long to feel completely normal about sex. I wish we could all be responsible and well-informed and hurt a minimum number of people on the way to our general empowerment. Maybe I just wish I lived in France?