Though we’ve managed to shrug off many of the restrictive societal shackles of history, there’s one that, surprisingly, seems to endure: In many ways, sex and the pleasure associated with it is still considered to be taboo.
But why is that the case?
In short, it’s because sex reminds us of our basic animalistic natures. And since we humans generally like to think of ourselves as evolved, spiritual beings — be that in a religious or more universal sense — the primal act of procreation tends to feel somewhat anathema. In many cases, we even attach shame to such urges, often because of what we are taught as kids.
But as journalist Sue Jaye Johnson argues in her in 2017 TED Talk, we need to shift the way we think about sex, and how we teach our children about it. We should encourage them (and ourselves) to tune into their own sensations and provide them with the language to communicate their desires and emotions, without feeling like they need to shut down or numb out.
In other words, the key to making sex less taboo is by embracing and exploring our own sensuality by way of a process that Johnson refers to as “sense education.” Thinking about how you feel in your own body and developing a language to describe how things feel beyond just good or bad. How does it feel to gently pour a cup of sand on your arm? How does it feel to wrap yourself in a warm towel after a shower? When you get more comfortable considering the experience of pleasure outside of a sexual context, you also become more comfortable articulating your desires and feelings when you are intimate with a partner.
Author Peggy Orenstein has also investigated why sexual pleasure is still taboo, looking specifically at female pleasure. In her book Girls & Sex, she finds that many young women who are sexually active, but don’t focus on — or even seek out — their own pleasure. There are a few ways that she thinks society can combat this, and in turn, reduce the taboo surrounding sex. One way is by making sure that those with vaginas are taught about their bodies and given a name for their genitals early on — as is far more common for those with penises: “Not naming something makes it quite literally unspeakable,” she told Terry Gross on Fresh Air. She also suggests broadening or redefining the concept of virginity — if it’s not yet possible for us to throw out the concept altogether — perhaps shifting our understanding to mean that losing your virginity is having your first orgasm with a partner, rather than simply having intercourse.
So much of the stigma surrounding sex makes us forget the fact that beyond the very basic function of reproduction, it’s also an activity performed to make us feel good. And by tuning into what pleasure really means and feels like, we might just start to feel a little more comfortable with ourselves, and a little more comfortable talking about sex. It doesn’t have to be so hush-hush.
Originally published at https://getmaude.com.