As a clinical psychologist who writes, speaks, and counsels on women’s sexuality, I’m not easily shocked or offended by sexual conversations. But as soon as I asked a group of my friends, “Are we comfortable having positive sex conversations?,” I was struck by how pervasive this taboo has become. Even the smart, open-minded women I know had been hesitant to bring up basic aspects of their sex lives in conversation.
For many of us, the cliché is true: Women can talk about anything… relationships, careers, social justice, theology, politics. Yet when it comes to sex, our chatter turns thin. Sure, we’ll discuss sex as reproduction: using birth control, getting pregnant, or struggling with infertility. We may even bring up regrets from our sexual past, or lament a lack of sexual desire or pleasure during a certain season. But rarely do women talk about sex positively, discussing their sexual appetite or what has made sex better for them.
When my clients mention their sexual relationships with their husbands in counseling, they sometimes preface the discussion with an apology, implying it’s not appropriate for a woman to bring up sex. No wonder they feel so guilty about it: our sexuality remains tied up in a series of shameful double-binds.
- If we have a lot of sex and enjoy it, we may see ourselves as atypical, overeager, unladylike. (Thank the so-called Madonna-whore complex for that one.)
- If we don’t enjoy sex, we may feel like something is fundamentally wrong with us or our bodies.
- If we don’t enjoy sex but do it anyway, we may feel bad that we don’t get as much pleasure out of it as our husbands.
- If we don’t have sex for a period of time, we may feel guilty for not being a good wife and performing our “duty.”
Wives take on their spouses’ sexual shame as well. If our husbands view pornography or become unfaithful, then we may blame ourselves for not keeping them satisfied. If our husbands struggle with lack of sexual desire or other sexual dysfunctions, then we may wonder if we’re not attractive or exciting enough.
Amid all this cultural baggage, being able to open up about sex with close female friends can be wonderfully freeing, encouraging, and healthy….
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