When I was in my early twenties, I conducted a lot of sexual experiments. I was genuinely curious and liked meeting new people….as a result, I had several interesting hook-ups and one-night stands.
Most of my experiences were great, but often the reaction from my friends the next day weren’t. “You did WHAT?” they would shriek, eyebrows jiggling alarmingly.
These were the same friends who had encouraged me to make out with some random guy at the bar the night before. For them, hitting on someone was okay…but having sex with them wasn’t. It didn’t make logical sense, but it happened every time I went home with someone.
You see, there’s an invisible line. We can’t put our fingers on it, but we know it’s there. It’s a line between all the things that ‘good’ people are supposed to do, and all the things human beings WANT to do – all that sexy, hot, nasty stuff that keeps us up at night (or keeps us on Pornhub at night). And if your upbringing was anything like mine, the rules are very clear: you can wish with all your heart that you could step over that line, but you’re not allowed to actually do it.
All this baggage around ‘bad sex’ and what it means to be a ‘good person’ are part of what’s called ‘sex negativity’. Sex negativity is the persistent idea that (despite all our instincts) sex is bad, and that if you have sex in ways that aren’t considered normal or acceptable, you’re a bad person.
Sex-negativity is the absolute worst.
It means that people like me who follow their desires are criticised, or even punished. It means that when we do have good sex, we often feel ashamed of ourselves for no reason. And, worst of all, it means that we often hold back from doing the things we want to do, simply because we’ve been taught to feel ashamed of our perfectly natural sexual desires.
Sex-negativity is what makes women fear being called ‘sluts’ for having too much sex. Sex-negativity is what makes guys afraid of being called ‘creeps’ for having sexual desires, even if they’re being perfectly respectful towards the women in their lives. Sex-negativity tells us that casual sex is wrong (for no reason other than it doesn’t fit inside a long-term, monogamous relationship) and that being kinky is wrong (because it’s ‘not normal,’ whatever that means.) Sex-negativity is like that one person you invite to the party that’s always complaining about everything – even though you know it’s not logical, all that negativity eats away at you, until suddenly it’s impossible to have a good time any more.
The line between ‘acceptable sex’ and ‘unacceptable sex’ puts us all in a difficult position. If we stay on the ‘good’ side, we’re often miserable. If we cross over – and get caught doing it – we might be punished. Many of us get up to our sexual escapades in secret, hoping nobody will know and feeling ashamed because we have to hide this part of ourselves from the world.
Unlearning sex-negativity takes a lot of work, but it’s worth it. A decade or so after those early hook-up adventures, I’m surrounded by better friends – ones who celebrate my sexual prowess the same way they celebrate my other achievements. How did this happen? Mostly through working on my self-esteem: accepting of my own desires and telling shame to ‘fuck off.’
Sex is not bad for you. Sex is a natural, healthy and necessary part of life – without it, we often become miserable and feel isolated. Not everyone needs an active sex life, but for those who do, it’s important that you give yourself a chance to enjoy it. And as long as you’re treating yourself and your partners with care and respect, you’re not doing anything wrong.
Here’s my advice: cross that line. Refuse to be ashamed. Some fun people are waiting on the other side for you.