By Robin Silver 

As an adult woman who came of age in the early 2000s, my relationship with my sexuality has been a winding journey to say the least—from shame and denial to curiosity, and finally to acceptance.

Now, in my early 30s, I am finally proud of the sexual being  I am, and my acceptance of that has helped me in many aspects of my life. This is especially true in my relationship with my romantic partner, of course, but the confidence that comes with embracing a core part of my humanity reaches far beyond the bedroom. 

Why Are We So Uncomfortable Talking About Sex? 

Nearly all adults do it. Every person that has ever existed is a product of it. Art from contemporary to prehistoric is influenced by it. So why are we still so afraid to talk about sex?

Conceptions about women’s sexual desire and health are rooted in gendered stereotypes, not necessarily seen as a problem when the same so-called symptoms are presented in a man. For example, men’s sexual desire (even in cases of hyper-sexuality) is seen as normal, natural, and fulfilling their biological destiny. But if that destiny is part of the human reproductive drive, then why wouldn’t it be the same for women? 

For women, deciding whether or not to have sex can be a double-edged sword. If your sex life is active and fulfilling, you risk slut shaming—if you eschew sex, you risk being seen as frigid or prudish. 

Prevailing wisdom has run the gamut of stereotypes in the last century—whether women are crazy and hyper-sexual, or indifferent and require ulterior reasons for agreeing to engage in sexual activity. These ideas have coexisted throughout history. Shockingly, hysteria was not removed from the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) until 1980. 

The Madonna/Whore complex is a perfect example of this contradiction, and one that affects many heterosexual relationships to this day. 

Many men see women’s sexuality and their nurturing, empathetic qualities as mutually exclusive. So, if a woman is sexually desirable she may be deemed unworthy of having a deep relationship. However, building a life with a woman makes her sexually undesirable and effectively neuters her. 

Health Benefits of Sex

When it comes to the positive side effects of an orgasm, nobody put it more succinctly than Marvin Gaye in his classic song, ‘Sexual Healing.’ “Makes me feel so fine, and it’s such a rush/ Helps to relieve the mind, and it’s good for us.” 

Sex releases oxytocin, which is often called the cuddle hormone or love hormone. We feel closer to someone after having a good sexual experience with them, which can improve relationships and help people bond on a deeper level.  

Outside of committed relationships, sex still offers many health benefits. The immune systems of people who have more frequent sex are stronger than those who don’t. It can also lower blood pressure, increase serotonin levels, improve cardiovascular health,  strengthen the pelvic floor, and even reduce the pain of menstrual cramps or the likelihood of prostate cancer. Marvin clearly knew what he was singing about.

Normalising all Aspects Of Sexuality

When sexually active women are accepted by society, it is often for the benefit of their male partners’ pleasure and not their own. Not to mention that these stereotypes completely ignore women who sleep with other women. 

For women, masturbation may be even more taboo than partnered sex. Female pleasure is a scary idea for many. Women are often relegated to the role of giver, as mothers, wives, and daughters. So the idea of receiving pleasure simply for pleasure’s sake—or of giving to herself instead of others—can be shocking.

When teenagers are not taught about best practices regarding partnered sex, it does not prevent them from being sexually active. It merely makes the sex they do have much higher risk for STIs and teen pregnancy.

Consent, safety, and even pleasure are important to talk openly about for these reasons. Personally, unlearning the subconscious lessons I internalised from a young age about what a woman should and should not want took years for me to process, and I was having unsatisfying and occasionally even dangerous sexual encounters for years before I realised something was wrong.

All genders should be allowed—encouraged, even—to explore their sexual proclivities and desires without being hindered by judgement or shame.  We must raise children in an environment where questions about sex and sexuality are not brushed under the rug or hidden behind euphemism. We must come to terms with preconceived notions we hold about what is and isn’t acceptable for our bodies. We must let people explore their desires and what feels good, unencumbered. 

And finally, the most crucial aspect to emphasise is the fact that sexuality, whether it be asexual, hyper-sexual, or somewhere in between have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with the individual’s biology and psychology.

So get out there and own your desires, whether you’re looking for vanilla romance, wild kinky adventure, or all of the above!