You might say I've had a complicated relationship with sex. Steeped in purity culture, sex was something foreign and frightening--even into adulthood. When I got married at 20, our relationship was never consummated because I battled vaginismus.
For many years, sex remained elusive and confusing. Once I finally became (mostly) comfortable with having sex, I faced an unplanned pregnancy partly due to my own ambivalence and ignorance about birth control.
All those years, I honestly believed I was the odd girl out. As if sex was something understood by everyone but me. And I was wrong. When I began writing about my awkward experiences and challenges with developing a healthy attitude about sex, plenty of other men and women replied how their own experiences have paralleled mine.
Those parallels are what keep me writing about the existing repression within modern sexuality, and they're also what make me "qualified to even talk about it." Many people seem to forget that America in general has a largely dysfunctional relationship with sex. Here in the US, sex is both everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Permitted and taboo.
We may not be a Christian nation, but our culture remains heavily influenced by puritanical beliefs. That's why we're still arguing about breastfeeding in public--as if it could be immodest and sexual to feed a baby. And we're still arguing about the responsibilities of sex including birth control and abortion.
When it comes to the media, we know that sex sells. Women's magazines at the checkout keep promising the "secrets to drive a man wild in bed." Our gossip rags still report who's cheating on who in and around Hollywood.
It is so hard for too many Americans to talk about sex. Many would rather fake orgasms than have a genuine conversation with their partners about what they like in bed. Far too many of us are unable or unwilling to have conversations about sexual compatibility when we embark upon a new relationship. And way too many grownups still dread talking to their kids about sex at all.
Basically, we sell ourselves short on sex when we speak about it in hushed tones or carry unspoken rules into the bedroom. It's too bad. Today is a unique time in history since women are no longer the property of their fathers or husbands. We're making some strides when it comes to LGBT+ rights, the gendered orgasm gap, and sexual consent.
So we do everyone a disservice when we insist that sex as a topic is somehow embarrassing or off-limits. It's a recipe for dysfunction and more unplanned pregnancies. ICYMI, it helps no one.
Sex is a human need, though not all humans express that need the same way.
People still balk when I talk about sex as a legitimate need, or when I stress the importance of sexual compatibility. But we've been around long enough to see that no good ever comes from people starkly denying their sexual drives. When needs--whether sexual or not--go unmet, people tend to eventually go to great lengths and extremes to compensate.
When sexual needs are unmet...
Some people have affairs which hurt a lot of other people. Some get themselves hurt by settling into relationships where they are used and abused. Still others become the abusers who meet their own needs at the expense of somebody else.
There are plenty of different ways to respond to an unmet need. And sex is so many different things--a physical need, a social need, an emotional need, and more. Sex can be all about power. Or love. Even convenience.
Perhaps sex is a need in the same way that sleep is a need--experts agree our minds and bodies need sleep, but no one can pinpoint precisely why we need sleep. It's multifaceted and at this point, a given. But researchers don't have to tell us why we need to sleep because we already know we don't function as well without it. Whether we need a little or a lot.
Likewise, many, if not most of us don't feel our best living long-term with unmet sexual needs. Which means that adults with sexual desires have a responsibility to fulfill their need for sex in a positive way.
Sexual needs may change.
Whenever I write about sex, somebody points out that sexual drives can ebb and flow. Or that anyone with a low sex drive--or no sex drive--shouldn't be shamed. And I agree. There's no reason shame a person for their sexual desires at all. Our focus should be how to meet those needs in a positive way that doesn't harm ourselves or others.
It's true that sexual drives not only ebb and flow, but some people have zero sexual drive. The challenge in many relationships today is balancing the needs of all parties. We have to acknowledge that sexual needs are legitimate and not selfish or gross--though an individual may certainly be selfish or even 'gross' in their efforts to satisfy their needs.
I wish our culture was more genuinely open and honest for a million different reasons. But for one thing, life could be much better for most of us if we got into the habit of talking about sex long before we got involved with anyone be else.
It helps to talk about our sex drives without shame, and to understand when or if our low libido has a physical or mental health component. It helps to know how to differentiate among a temporary change, a permanent one, and a genuine disposition.
Sex matters, except when it doesn't.
Sex is important enough that we shouldn't settle for what we feel is an unsatisfying sex life (which is, of course, something in the eye of the beholder). But sex is not so important that it should be something we go after at the expense and harm of others.
It isn't fair to tell one person to simply want less sex, just like it isn't fair to tell another person to want it more. You can't decide how much or how little sex another person needs.
Sex is too important to not talk about STD prevention, birth control, consent, trauma and assault, or even our emotions about it. But sex is not so important that we need to keep every conversation behind closed doors and mark it as taboo territory.
In particular, sex offers great health benefits, but it can be used in negative ways too. We'd all be better off if we looked at sex like most any other need. And if we looked at it for what it is at the end of the day--one type of human connection. Not everyone needs sex, but we all need connection. And we all value different types of connection more than others.
There's nothing wrong with you if you have a naturally high libido and need a lot of sex. There's nothing wrong with you if you have a naturally low libido or don't even like sex. If you're anywhere in between, that's okay too. What matters most when it comes to sex is how it makes you feel, and how it impacts others.
How can something be both important and inconsequential? It happens all the time. Sleep, money, schedules, our daily diets--these are all things that bring out different priorities and opinions. Sex is just one more part of our lifestyle that can't be taken too lightly as if it carries zero responsibilities. But if we take it too seriously, we won't be able to talk about it honestly. Not to mention enjoy it.
Healthy attitudes about sex strive to strike a balance.