I wrote a blog about sex just under a year ago now. You can read it here. It was inspired by many events that took place at the time, including a client’s disclosure, and the global #MeToo movement. I was perplexed by many things then, chief amongst them the sheer surprise of many male friends who “couldn’t believe” that so many women had experienced different versions of sexual assault, abuse, and violence. And don’t get me started on the dynamics that make women attack other women for daring to tell their truth. Over the year that ensued, many more stories surfaced, and many more people came forward with their stories and experiences. Unsurprisingly, these stories and experiences were met with backlash which very much originates in that part of individuals’ psyches, as well as in our collective psyche, that says “do not disrupt the way things are”. The backlash is also rooted in our collective and deep dysfunction with sex.
As you may have gathered from previous posts, I now work with children for half of my week, and so I was doing some research on video games, and figuring out what their age classifications were, when I came across a forum on a site run by mothers. There was a discussion about a specific game where mothers were asking each other what they knew about it, the levels of violence, etc. I was struck by many mothers’ willingness to allow their 12-year-old sons to play 18+ games, on the simple basis that “it’s a boy’s thing” and “boys can deal with violence”, and “boys will be boys”. And this, my friends, is a current blog! Current mothers discussing, believing, and perpetuating these things in the here and now, in this very same moment, as I write this post. As I kept reading, I came across a post, which very much inspired this one. A mother was asking other mothers on the forum whether the game had any sexual content they knew of. To which she added, that she was fine exposing her 15-year-old to violence, but that there was no way she would allow him to be exposed to any kind of sexual content. This kind of statement right here, this kind of belief, of perspective of looking at the world, is very much the perfect example of why things are the way they are. We teach our boys violence, we teach our girls fairy tales, and we don’t teach either of them about sex. Do you see the problem?
I had a bit of a professional disagreement last year with a colleague, when I mentioned that some children in primary school had discussed pornography in my therapy space, and this person couldn’t believe this! They couldn’t believe that children would even have the word pornography in their vocabulary. This is one of the reasons why sexual abuse goes unnoticed for many years: we just can’t possibly imagine that these things happen, and thus we tell ourselves that they don’t, when, in fact, they happen to 1 in 20 children in the UK. And these are the numbers that we have access to. When was the first time you watched porn, or were exposed to it? I was 6 years old. And I always managed to get access to it, whenever I wanted. Children are innocent, but they are resourceful. And it’s not even that children understand what they’re looking at, or what it means. Most of the time, they’re doing it out of rebellion, or curiosity, or the high of doing something forbidden. Children are not looking for sexual content, but when they are exposed to it, and then we pretend that it didn’t happen, or are too ashamed to talk about it, what that does is create a sense of shame and guilt, of detachment and emotionlessness, which will then be present in most sexual interactions they may have as adults.
The normalisation of sexual violence against women, and of the role of men as helpless perpetrators, is a direct result of our unwillingness to talk about sex with each other. We have been following this socio-cultural programming for millennia, where we reward perpetrators and destroy victims, because we see one as more entitled than the other. We see sex as a god-given right for men to have pleasure, and as a biological function to women in their duty to procreate. From their birth, men are considered active beings, whereas women are considered passive ones. All of our social structures are based on this premise, and we all suffer for it, even in same-sex relationships! We receive indirect messages about sex from birth, we learn our social cues through the example of adults. Adults are always exasperated when children don’t do what they say, because, in fact, children do what they do. We don’t only learn by being told, we also learn by watching. We need to talk about sex. To teach our children about it in a safe and informed space. To talk to each other as adults about it. How did you learn about sex? And where? And with whom? What hang-ups do you have about sex? As adults, can you engage in an open and honest conversation with our own partner about what you like and don’t like about sex? Are you able to share your fantasies, your fears, your desires, your shame, and guilt?
The thing is, even when not talking about it, the messages are always there. They are there when you want something but are afraid to ask. When something is uncomfortable, but you’re afraid to say something. When something is on your mind and you can’t let your body go. In your immediate reaction post orgasm. In how you ask for things. In how you avoid things. Shame, guilt, fear, doubt, discomfort. These are all too common in everyone’s sexual histories. Sex is one of our most basic needs (see Marlow’s pyramid). It is the only basic need which requires another person, therefore, a need deeply linked and reliant on connection, intimacy, vulnerability, and courage. It is the connection of two bodies, of two beings, of two souls (or more, actually!), in their most basic moments of need. It should be always about freedom, joy, pleasure, desire, connection, intimacy, vulnerability, courage, letting go. It should be a sharing experience. If it’s not, then there is work to do – if you want to, of course! There are many ways to do this work, but unfortunately, this work might not be that easy. It involves open and honest communication. It involves sharing feelings and thoughts, it involves being courageous enough to be vulnerable. I currently do this work in therapy, for besides the shame and guilt I learned in association with sex growing up gay in a Catholic upbringing, I too, am a #MeToo.
Let’s keep this conversation going. Be courageously vulnerable to your loved ones. Speak from your heart, from your desire, from your soul.