Phoebe is a first year PPE / Art History and Curatorship student. They say ‘write what you know’, so as an Explorer and Adventurer of all things pertaining to sexuality and a control freak looking to take risks, she’s decided to write this column. She will be discussing Sex from a different angle in each Edition.
University students are supposedly the most enlightened members of society – the harbingers of change, the voice of the next. We’ll debate politics, art, science and ethics until our heads fall off, but when it comes to sex this ouverture d’esprit tends to crawl back inside us; secreted away with the other complexities of life we find intriguing, yet too embarrassing to talk about.
Why is sex still such a source of shame for us? Sure it’s part of our discussion in a few ways; the vulgar bragging about last night’s hook-ups, heated outrage over the unacceptable instances of rape on university campuses, or complaints of a particularly persistent virginity or dry spell… but there is not such a platform for the exploration of sexuality on a more casual level.
Forest’s mom always said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” I say, “Sex is like ice cream. There’s something for everyone.”
Not to equate my existential insight with such a woman as Mrs. Gump, but hear me out. I love to talk about sex. It’s never something I’m uncomfortable with, and for me, that’s liberating and empowering – but I know this is not a universal quality. Ice cream, however, is comparatively less controversial and divisive.
The thing about ice cream (just to clarify we’re talking about sex here) is that everyone likes different flavours and no one can judge you for liking one flavour over another. With ice cream, there’s no limit on the variety of flavours you can like, nor how many you can sample. Your tastes are allowed to change. Eat as much ice cream as you like or don’t eat any. Everything about how you eat ice cream is entirely your prerogative and no one can discourage you from acting accordingly. But why shouldn’t we engage in a little more discussion of the merits of Salted Caramel or Pistachio over Vanilla?
Ultimately, there’s no “normal” way to think about, talk about, or have sex. However, it seems that attitudes towards sex that stray from mainstream soft porn are quarantined to the bedroom (or wherever else). Sex can be highly intimate and personal for some people so I’m not suggesting one’s sexual experience should be public record, however, reluctance to talk about sex because of the shame and judgement surrounding it, is to me, archaic. Without sharing information and stories about sex, we’re leaving sexual education to porn and high schools, which perpetuates its commerciality and stigma.
I became sexually aware pretty early in life – an inevitability when blessed/cursed with hips and tits at 11 – but I knew this to be weird and shameful, not something I could talk with my friends about, much less my parents. Although some more progressive families have more relaxed attitudes towards sex stuff, my family neatly packaged sexuality into a box labelled “the sex talk”; awkwardly delivered either laughably late or unnecessarily early. Mine came at about 13 when the reality of sex was so far off for me that neither side took it too seriously. Catholic school was similarly shameful, with PDHPE teachers skirting around the topic in year 7 and forgetting it after that, and religion teachers “indoctrinating” (their words not mine) us against the sin of fornication.
We are conditioned to fear and feel uncomfortable about sex – a transcendent aspect of life that makes and keeps us human. Can we not embrace our sexuality and de-stigmatise it from social discourse? Wouldn’t this encourage safer sex practices, less sexual violence, and eradicate hate caused by ignorance?