Shameless Sex

Category: Advice

Author: Sam From Shrimpteeth

Sex is not just sex. Sex can be tremendously beneficial as a way to experience pleasure, form connections, and deepen bonds. But sex is also about power, assimilation, and control. It's often used as a measure of conformity. Sex is also stigmatized and moralized. As a result, shame is inevitably entangled with our sexual experiences and can reduce our capacity to experience fulfillment. Learning about sex isn't just about mastering different techniques or positions, it's also about stigma-busting, removing shame, and practicing vulnerable communication.

So how do we engage in shame-free sex in a sex-negative culture? Here are a few starting points.

Erase the idea of ‘normal’

Since the dawn of sexology, people have wondered whether their sexual desires, preferences, and practices are ‘normal’. Religious institutions have long contributed to shame by establishing purity cultures that violently discriminate against people who practice sex acts beyond heterosexual monogamous married P-in-V. As so-called moral authorities, the Church defined and homogenized what constituted good sex, and this standard continues to shame those who deviate. Unfortunately, sex-negativity isn't exclusive to the Church; as sex bloomed into a quasi-scientific field of study in the 19th century, a new binary of sexual normalcy and dysfunction (also known as paraphilia) emerged. Standardized models for analyzing human sexuality are largely contextual and reflect puritanical cultural norms rather than hard scientific truth. However, the discrepancy in research methodology hasn't deterred folks from insisting there's a ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ way to have sex. Shame, the feeling of being bad (or in this case dysfunctional), arises from self-monitoring and comparing ourselves to this constructed ‘ideal average’.

The first thing we can do to embrace sex-positivity is let go of the idea of ‘normal’ and instead focus on ‘consensual and pleasurable’.

Ask yourself:

1. Do all parties freely and enthusiastically agree to participate in a given act?

2. Does the act contribute to the wellness of everyone involved?

Shifting the criteria from ‘normal’ (in other words, heterosexual dyadic P-in-V) to ‘consensual and pleasurable’ dramatically expands what we see as acceptable forms of sexual interaction. This model also makes space for asexual folks or those who are uninterested in genital-centered intimacy. The focus becomes less about the particularities of the physical act and more about the human connection and emotion. This model also removes the stigma from folks who practice their sexuality in queer, kinky, and/or non-monogamous ways.

Vulnerability is necessary for sexual communication

I'd venture a guess that the number one reason people aren't having the mind-blowing sex they want isn't because there's something wrong with them, it's because they fear sexual vulnerability. Let's be honest, our culture is terrified of consent and sexual communication. Most of us were instead taught a sex script – ‘the game’ – that relies on one person chasing and dominating the other. There's an assumption that the dominant (in heterosexual scripts, the man) must instinctually know what their partner wants, and be able to get off with as little communication as possible. Of course, ‘the game’ relies on the assumption that there is only one correct way to have sex, rather than endless variability in preferences and practices. There's an expectation that if you follow the script correctly, you'll have good sex without the necessity of ever discussing or defining what ‘good sex’ is. I've heard way too many people go so far as to say that talking about sex isn't sexy or ruins the mood. Excuse me? It's no wonder that people aren't having the sex they want when they rely on their pals to read their minds and deliver without so much as saying a word.

Unfortunately, shame inhibits us from communicating. Many of us worry that our desires are abnormal, which can leave us fearful of revealing them to our partners. However, vulnerable communication enables connection. The people we trust enough to bang deserve pointers on how to make us feel good so they aren't left guessing. Everyone's experience is simplified and enhanced when we provide each other with details on what feels best for us. Put simply: you most likely won't get what you want, unless you tell your partner what you want. The trick with vulnerable communication is to pair it with validation and reciprocity. If your partner discloses a desire, try to be curious about it rather than critical. Tell them that they're valid for wanting that sort of pleasure and share something that you like too. Even if your pal's desires don't align with yours, finding common ground is easier when everyone feels safe to share and explore.

Practice shamelessness with others!

Shame, just like sexual norms, is practiced and rehearsed. The more that we self-monitor, project our insecurities, and judge others, the more sex-negativity becomes engrained. On the contrary, the more we embrace trust, open-mindedness, and flexibility towards ourselves and others, the easier it is to instill sex-positive values. For many, talking about sex is unusual and uncomfortable, mostly because they don't have practice. I recommend finding a pal, group of friends, or even an anonymous sex-positive online forum to practice talking about sex. The more you do it, the easier it becomes! I will say that prior to being a sex educator, I believed that there was a pretty limited amount of sex acts that people enjoyed; however, after talking to hundreds of folks about their desires, I understand that there's an enormous amount of variation. That's absolutely beautiful! Being exposed to other people's desires helps ground us in the fact that what we want is actually not wrong and doesn't make us broken. When we stay in isolation with our fears, it's easier for narratives of dysfunction and shame to be rooted in our psyche. I recommend approaching sex with more casualness. Practice being shameless with others!

What I hope y'all take away from this is that sex isn't inherently shameful; however, we all have a lot of baggage associated with our experiences. Being open about our desires and preferences can be super scary, especially if we haven't done it a lot. But practice helps to reduce shame, especially when you're able to do so with folks who will gas you up. If you're not ready for full disclosure of your darkest fantasies yet, that's okay! Start by providing other people affirmation and making them feel good about the things they were told they shouldn't like by sex-negative cultural institutions.

Sex positivity relies on the difficult work of continuously rehearsing shamelessness. Unfortunately, there's not an easy way to evaporate negative feelings. But we're all in this together, and just like we created a sex-negative culture, we can change those norms and create a culture where diverse desires are celebrated and embraced openly.

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