I often get asked the question, “What makes you qualified to give sex advice?” Usually, it’s with an implied wink — an open-ended question that invites something dirty to be shared. I got asked on a recent episode of the Ignorant Philosophy podcast, so I thought I’d take to my keyboard to explain a little further.
I grew up with conservative parents. I don’t mean conservative in just the regular political sense, but the kind of conservative parents shared by Hoosiers across the political spectrum. They wanted us to grow up in a house as free of “scummy” (their word, not mine) influences like MTV, rap music and other pop culture effluvia that they saw as representing an immoral message. In one particularly scathing moment of Family Values draconianism, they took my sister’s Tupac CDs and drilled holes through them. Brutal. (How they found them, perhaps as an act of sibling revenge, is neither here nor there.)
On the other hand, the adults around us cussed like sailors when they thought there were no kids listening. Not just my parents, but our family friends and neighbors, too. They’d come over, drink my parents’ wine and scotch, and then crack wise about whatever “bullshit” President Clinton had pulled recently and marital sex over 40 around the dining room table.
But when a kid walked into the room, the story carried on, but all the language became shrouded in metaphors and euphemisms. I could tell by the way everyone’s eyes twinkled and the peculiar way they leaned simultaneously toward and away from the speaker that something juicy was being shared. By the way all the adults’ awareness was enraptured by the story, I could tell this was a divulsion of something both extremely personal and universal. And yet, there was something essentially adult about it that we were not really let in on the secret by the people who seemed to know it so intimately.
Between then and now, I became mildly obsessed with what the “what” was that we wouldn’t know about “until we were older.” Sex, after all, was already everywhere. I knew that sex was something adults did. I knew sometimes people yelled during it because they did on TV. But what the hell were they doing in there?!
In a valiant and laudable effort, my mom gave me a clumsy sex talk in the form of an extended metaphor about green sequined tube tops. The crux of it was that Britney Spears makes green sequined tube tops look good, and makes you think that for boys to like you, you should wear a green sequined tube top. So, I might want to get myself a green sequined tube top, but I might not feel quite comfortable in one just yet. So maybe I should wait until I was older to get my tube top.
This, in my mother’s estimation, did a pretty good job, because we never broached the subject again. One and done, just like how they thought blocking MTV was a way to block out pretty much all objectionable content on television. So cute. Even when there was no moaning or wall-pan, you always just knew two of the characters banged — either because it became the central focus of the plot or because the awkwardness it caused made for a hilarious subplot. Sex was portrayed as either the all-encompassing final capstone that glued soulmates together, or the invisible villain that ruined friendships and turned “good girls” into “easy girls.” Worse, male pleasure was sold to me as disgusting but funny, and female pleasure as obscene and not worthy of audience attention. Hot people had hot sex. Unsexy people had unpleasurable, awkward, funny sex.
For my high school health teacher’s part, the high-resolution, wall-size projections of late-stage sexually transmitted infections of various genitals helped scare me out of unprotected sex. Score one for the educators, I guess.
It really gave me a lot to look forward to.
So, I went onto the world wide web and I typed “videos of sex” into a search engine. I bet you can guess what came up in the results.
Like a lot of young people my age, the vast majority of my sexual education — the mechanics, the emotional connection — came from porn. What started out as a curiosity for real information about what sex even was and how the hell that all worked instantly devolved into a depressing and mildly scarring journey into the depths of internet smut. I thought that being good at sex meant you should make yourself as much of a screeching meat puppet for someone to ram-jam into as possible, that you should moan at every single thing your partner does. Worse, I just expected every guy to just kind of know what to do, and that being passive in my own sex life would somehow bring me earth-shattering, mind-melting pleasure.
Were it not for a group of very honest friends, I would have kept having terrible, theatrical, orgasm-free sex for the rest of my life.
What first began to crack the shell of my sexual stupidity was making friends in college with whom I could really have honest conversations about sex. And not just about sex, but of the 90% of other interactions that lead to or frame sexual experiences — socialized sexual attitudes, religious morality and sex positivity versus negativity. We had real conversations about all of our levels of participation in sex, from single-boyfriend monogamy, to slutting it up without shame, to being abstinent until marriage, as one of my best friends and roommates was. I met people going to the seminary down the road, and I talked to them about what the Bible I’d grown up reading really says about sex. I had close male friends who were honest about their varying sex drives, and female friends who confessed to wanting sex way more than their boyfriends. I met a man who was and remains asexual, and has never felt particularly inclined toward sex. Blew my fucking mind.
I had been socialized to believe, unconsciously, that I expected all men to want sex all the time, and that I felt expected to be a vehicle of pleasure and not really a participant. These friends, male and female, gay and straight, broke down all of my unhealthy sexual attitudes through the simple act of being vulnerable with me. Before I’d met them, I thought sex was something that you only talked about after a few glasses of brown liquor, and only in shrouded terms.
My friends’ act of vulnerability changed everything that I thought about sex. I realized that the problem with the sex we’re expected to want and have is that no one really talks about sex without the winking and the nudging and the feeling that we’re all doing something dirty. My friends reminded me that sex was something I would probably do with someone at sometime, like driving in a car, and it was perfectly okay to want to know more about it because it’s part of life. They told me that they’d had sex that they had no emotional reaction to whatsoever, and sex that really did seal their love with another.
More importantly, they told me, despite all the Cosmo covers I’d read in the grocery store, it was OK for me to have other priorities in the bedroom than to “Blow His Mind (Among Other Things!)” and “Make Him Crazy With Lust!” Sexual chemistry had nothing to do with executing the perfect smokey eye or getting good volume at my roots.
I took the vulnerability my friends had with me, and I started bringing it into the bedroom with me. Everything changed after that. Sex got better and better, for both me and my partners. I didn’t go home with anyone just because they were hot anymore. I only had sex with people who shared some kind of vulnerability or truth about themselves during our conversation. I found that creative problem solvers in their regular lives are almost always the best sex partners. The quicker someone’s wit, the more likely they are to make you cum just as quickly.
There are all kinds of markers that I’ve learned to pick up on, and they have nothing to do with how anyone looks. They’re all signs of willing vulnerability: open body posture, facing the conversation, Duchenne smile, eye contact, etc. These will lead you to hot sex, guaranteed.
The way you keep having hot sex, and often much hotter sex as time goes on, is to keep talking about it.
I realize now that those shrouded jokes, hidden behind layers of euphemisms, was just a way for my parents’ generation to distance themselves from the vulnerability of sex. The universal jokes were just the visible part of the iceberg of sexuality, and everything underneath is what I would come to know as the unnecessarily complex intersection of human sexuality with social sexuality. It roiled with fear, shame, judgement and paranoia about how that invisible third villain would change their relationships. I started to wonder if this truth shield we constructed around the simple idea of sex was what was causing a majority of problems in society.
We have a sexual assault problem on our country’s college campuses, which might be alleviated if we have more conversations about why rape has nothing to do with sex, even though it’s a sexual crime. We have idiotic statements being made by politicians about women’s bodies being able to prevent rape pregnancy because the men voting on these laws know exactly nothing about female anatomy except which holes feel good to stick their dicks in. We have men and women in relationships who feel like they’re failing their partners because they can’t get on a satisfying sexual ground.
I understand the fear associated with vulnerability. Like a lot of young women, I had to make an effort to participate in the sex I was having and not perform it. I had some awkward moments and sad breakups with people I wasn’t sexually compatible with. Real confidence comes from not letting the fear of those vulnerable moments keep you from having the sex you want.
In other words, I write about sex because I’m trying to facilitate as many discussions about sex as I can possibly foster. Though I famously condemned the publishing of the true literary trash bomb known as 50 Shades of Grey, I am thankful that it got a lot of conversations started about kink where they probably would not have otherwise occurred. It may have put floggers in the hands of suburban accountants, and it gave the true kink community a chance and reason to educate non-kinksters about the actual practices of BDSM.
So when the opportunity presented itself a couple of years ago, I jumped on the chance to answer sex advice questions. What I learned is that everyone wants to read about sex, but no one wants to go public with it. Our click-through rate would be off the chart, and engagement at nothing. No one shared it. No one showed anyone else who might gain anything from it.
That’s why I’m keeping this part blog going, because I know there is a need for more information about sex. There’s a desire for someone to talk honestly about sex, to make fun of the gross joke on humanity that evolution played on us. I’m going to keep talking and writing about sex because it’s the only way anyone has better sex, and all I want in this world is for everyone to have the sex that they want with a consenting adult partner.
To answer the question, what makes me qualified to write about sex: Because I am a writer raised in the same sexually dysfunctional society that most people were. I grew up with a lot of questions, and I hope my perspective on everything I learned can be helpful to people who aren’t having the sex they want. Life really is too short to have bad sex and be in relationships that are unsatisfying to you. I hope my sex advice makes you laugh, makes you feel better, makes you feel good, and ultimately, creates a more sexually satisfied group of readers. You can send all of your questions, weird articles and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m in this to put smiles on faces, and what makes you smile more than great sex?