Let’s Stop Shaming Sex

We’re all thinking about the New Year, about what it’ll bring, whether 2016 will be a better year than 2015, about how we’re going to lose weight, hit the gym, quit smoking, study more, climb the job ladder, etc.

How about we stop shaming sex? This can be our New Year’s resolution. It’ll make life better for you, and everyone around you. As a society we continue to find repulsive one of the most basic acts of human life. It is what allows us to exist, it is what brings us pleasure and entertainment, it is how many of us express love and affection, and unfortunately it can also be a tool of torture and power.

What I have noticed in the past year, and what has resurfaced today, is that we shame sex on a daily basis, and in all sorts of ways. This caused me great pain during the Marriage Referendum. My sex life was discussed by people who had no business talking about it. A very basic act of love and pleasure was described as unnatural, unhealthy, immoral and disgusting. Imagine how that made me and many other people feel. To hear those words on a daily basis was heartbreaking and sparked an internal conflict in myself that I hadn’t dealt with before. Four years after coming out I found myself for the first time attempting to reject myself, to rejecting my own pleasures, my own sex life, my own attractions. I began to view myself as disgusting, and I began to see many around me as disgusting. The torment I endured, and continue to endure has really taken its toll on my mental health in one of the most turbulent years of my life, and has also affected my relationships and sex life. All because sex was being shamed. It has a knock on effect, you know. My own internal struggles with sexuality have undoubtedly affected people around me.

I find it fascinating that when French President, Francois Hollande, was caught having an affair, it was the British and Irish media that ran away with the story. The French, for the most part, simply didn’t care. In the UK and Ireland, however, sex is such a taboo that we blow pretty insignificant stories into massive scandals, when the people it affects most really don’t give a damn. We shame people for having sexual desires, for having sex outside marriage, and for having sex in general or just for being naked. We act as if we’re still in the Victorian era where nudity and sex were not talked about openly, where women had few rights, where homosexuality was forbidden. When stories of celebrities and politicians having affairs emerge, we focus more on the fact that they had sex and have such desires in the first place than we do on the pain they caused their existing partners. Is sex really such a taboo?

Last night it emerged, when today’s front page of the Sun was released on social media, that Labour MP for Rochdale, Simon Danczuk, had bombarded a 17 year old woman with explicit texts. This is an MP who dedicated an awful lot of time to campaigning against child sex abuse, which resulted in him dealing with mental health issues, and he believes that this contributed to the breakdown of his marriage, which is entirely understandable. Do we focus on the hypocrisy on his actions? No. Do we focus on the legality of his actions? No. Do we focus on the impact this may have had on the woman involved? No. What do we focus on? Sex. The Sun and many other newspapers have referred to the content of the texts as ‘vile’, ‘vulgar’ and ‘sleazy’. This is how they refer to acts such as spanking. Sex remains so taboo in our society that our print media can launch an entire campaign against a man based almost entirely on the supposed immorality and disgusting nature on sex acts that most of us have engaged in or will engage in at some point. What we are doing here, instead of criticising someone for possibly breaking the law and for behaving unprofessionally, is we are shaming sex, again. This was also shown during the week when the same person, Simon Danczuk, who I am absolutely no fan of, was attacked for going on a date with his girlfriend when his constituents were facing floods. There’s not much he could have done to help at 10pm in the middle of floods and a storm. How dare he have a personal life. How dare he have a relationship. How dare he enjoy sex. Now, just to be absolutely clear, I find Danczuk’s actual actions absolutely wrong. For him to send explicit texts to a teenager seeking employment in his constituency office is unforgivable and unjustifiable, and he must be held to account for his actions.

When the media was launching its campaign about new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, what story did they pick up on? An affair from the 1970s. In the 1970s he had an affair with now fellow Labour MP, Diane Abbott. How dare either of them have relationships. People were repulsed at the idea that either of them had sex, let alone with each other. Do people realise that the Queen has four children. I wonder how that happened.

I’ve found that even among groups like LGBT people sex is a taboo issue. The extent to which bottoming is taboo is ridiculous. Bottoms are stereotyped and shamed by LGBT people. Bottoms face about as much homophobia from other gay people as they do from straight homophobes, or from the Church. Centuries of homophobia and sexism have taken their toll, and now the enjoyment of sex is to be shunned. Gay men joke constantly about finding themselves a sugar daddy, but at the same time they mock and shame those who would actually go through with such an idea. Is sexual attraction to older men really that appalling? Is enjoying taking a dick up the arse really so sickening? Is mildly unattractive people having sex so disgusting? Is it so ridiculous to think that people with disabilities can have normal loving relationships? The people actually like sex?

I’m fascinated by history, by politics and by economics. I’m a nerd, and like the fact that I enjoy sex, that isn’t something I’m ashamed of. One of the most fascinating aspects of the early 20th century for me is the development of Bohemianism in Britain, and in particular the Bloomsbury Group, consisting of Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey and many others. The Bloomsbury Group influence the world even today. They completely changed how we think about visual art, about class, and about economics. The one thing I wish they’d permanently changed is our attitude to sex. Keynes changed how we approach economics, completely altering our view of the government’s role in society. Woolf changed how we see literature, how we write novels. She challenged the conventional structures and character developments. This group also challenged conventional relationships and sex. There were all sorts of love triangles and hexagons in the Bloomsbury Group and among its associates. Some ended in heartbreak, others didn’t. The point is that they challenged our ideas of absolute monogamy, of social constraints on sex. If their attitudes towards sex and love had permeated wider society in the way their attitudes towards economics, art and literature had, then we wouldn’t be trapped in such a destructive mindset today. We wouldn’t shame sex at every turn, we wouldn’t be attempting to stop young people from having sex, sending sexts, and just experimenting in general. Instead we’d be promoting a safer environment in which people can do this. We would have better sexual health, there wouldn’t be such a high proportion of our population that has never had an STI check, we wouldn’t have one third of HIV positive people not knowing their status. We may never have had the AIDS epidemic if sex had been allowed to exist outside of the shadows.

Young people have sex, many men enjoy taking dick, women have a sex drive, old people still have relationships just like the rest of us. When people are raped, we shame them. When women seek an abortion, we blame them for having sex in the first place. When someone catches an STI, we similarly blame them. When someone doesn’t have sex or isn’t seen to be in a relationship, we shame them anyway, just like we did for Ted Heath. They’re obviously either gay or pedophiles. We forbid anyone from doing anything outside of what is deemed to be “socially acceptable”, despite the fact that we’re all doing it anyway.

So, as a New Year’s resolution let’s stop shaming sex. Let’s make 2016 a year where LGBT don’t have to hide who they are, where rape victims don’t have to fear being blamed, where we can talk about sex and engage in it in a healthy and safe environment. Sex is a fact of life. We love it. I love it. So let’s finally stop hiding from it.

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