We Have To Stop Talking About Our Sex Lives

Allow me to start by clarifying here: We should absolutely talk about sex, educate ourselves, spread good information, trade tips, ask questions, and be there for loved ones who need someone to confide in or just want to share something. We should be open to learning about sex, how to better protect and enjoy ourselves, and all the different kinds of sex people are having — it shouldn’t be something we’re squeamish about. Parents should teach their children about their own bodies — about masturbation, protection, pregnancy, and all of the risks and rewards that can come with having an active sex life. Couples should make healthy, informed decisions about forms of contraception. We should all be getting tested, and asking each other about those tests. All of that, I am in support of a thousand percent. Sex is a beautiful, wonderful thing, and it shouldn’t be scooted away into the Cupboard of Shame, left to collect dust as we mystify it.

That being said, there is a difference between talking in generalities about sex — or even anecdotally mentioning an experience out of context — and using your sex life, and sexual encounters, as a way to distinguish yourself and make a name in entertainment. It’s not a very complicated formula: we think (and rightfully so) that we can replace talent, depth, or general intellectual heft with gratuitous disclosure. The old formula of giving a 25-year-old woman a little space on a blog or paper in exchange for vulgar tell-alls about the sex she’s having is a pretty tired one. And on the male side of things, any men’s forum (Tucker Max being perhaps their seedy, seedy poster boy) shows that they are wont to disclose as much as they can with no remorse, as well. There is the undeniable lure of interest, of comments, of curious eyes who are going to peer into your dirty underwear bin and get out of it whatever cheap thrill they can while the story is still fresh.

But this is not like writing a thoughtful, informed, respectful piece on sex which helps people discover themselves and shows us that we’re all human. This is taking individual sexual encounters, perhaps changing the name for some absurd sense of “anonymity,” and divulging every last detail about whatever happened between you two. For example, just last week, I read an article in a New York-based alternative paper in which a 20-something woman described an event the previous weekend in which she took a man home from a bar, brought him back to her apartment, made out with him on the couch, went back into the bedroom, exchanged awkward oral sex, and while putting the condom on, the man lost his erection. She described the half-hearted justifications he gave, and how he abruptly left afterward, ostensibly out of enormous embarrassment. And these kind of stories are par for the course in this genre. Now, forgetting any judgment that you may be willing to lay against the person who wrote it, think about the man in the story. Think about how humiliated he would be to read that, how much a betrayal of his privacy, his intimacy, and his physical openness. Think of how easy it may be for some acquaintances or friends to put the pieces together and realize that he, indeed, had trouble getting it up with this new girl. Imagine the sense of secrecy — of discretion — that he probably feels has been taken from him without asking. His sex, and now his humiliation, is public fodder for us to snicker at.

A few years ago, I had a male friend with whom romantic feelings started to blossom on both sides. For one reason or another, it never really manifested in a relationship, and because of the awkwardness that caused, our friendship sort of dissolved along with it. About a year later, I saw him perform a piece at a poetry reading that was clearly about us. The details — though shrouded in just enough artistic license to not call me out directly — were clear to me, and to anyone who knew us. Though the nature wasn’t sexual — and, for that matter, we had never been sexual — I felt extremely violated nonetheless. I confronted him, and told him how hurt I was that he would invade my privacy like that, and call me names in a piece that was clearly directed at me — making sport of the mistakes I may have made, or the private things I’d shared. I felt, for lack of a better word, naked. And while I understand that private experience can always become inspiration in art, there is a difference between using private events to create something bigger — and, to most, unrecognizable — and laying it out word-for-word in an attempt to “shock.”

And that may be the biggest fallacy of all, this idea that laying out the intimate, most explicit details of individual sexual and romantic encounters is somehow revolutionary or brave. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It is taking someone else’s most intimate moments and laying them out for your own gain. It’s pawning the remnants of your encounter for their lowest street value, making a quick buck (or pageview) off of the little meat left on the carcass. It’s saying to your partner, “I don’t care if you want me to share this, I don’t care if you wanted this private, I want to tell everyone what happened, and I’m going to do it.” But this isn’t Sex and the City, and these people we’re talking about have real feelings and can be deeply hurt. I know this firsthand, and I expect that I am not the only one. There are so many ways to be revolutionary and brave when talking about sex, and how we interact with each other, and the various intimate moments we share. And I would say that respect for another’s privacy and humanity would be at the top of that list. TC mark

image – Shutterstock

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.

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  • Guest

    YES. thank you. 

  • http://www.oneyearintexas.com Perfect Circles

    An article where the argument is so unquestionably true that it hurts to see that it even needed to be written.

  • Evan

    Seems like you and megan boyle are having contradicting beliefs

  • Guest

    But making a quick buck (or pageview) off posting deliberately inflammatory facile dreck is still okay, isn’t it, Chelsea?

  • http://twitter.com/emilcDC Emil Caillaux

    Agreed. Though I wonder if this has anything to do with your cousin revealing his “orgasm technique” to the world this weekend. :)

    But seriously though, I completely agree. I had a friend who tweeted every single aspect of her sex life. Whether it was to make everyone else jealous (we were not) things like: “I’m on my period AND my throat is sore. Sigh – boyfriend, you got lucky this time… #onlyonethingleft”are completely unacceptable.

    Also worth noting: my guy friends never share sex details if they really have feelings about the person they’ve slept with.

    • Foladh Campbell

       “I’m on my period AND my throat is sore. Sigh – boyfriend, you got lucky
      this tiome… #onlyonethingleft”.    Emil Caillaux, sounds like you a bit jealous. welcome to the world of women, where we do not worry too much. only reason guys do not talk about sex details is cos they afraid someone has a bigger willie than the.

  • alex stephens

    Ironic or not that Megan’s article on sexual partners was brought out from the archives this weekend? I loved her piece but I do appreciate your perspective. Ah, the beauty of free speech and open forum.

  • Age

    I think talking about sex is only appropriate when something ridiculously funny happens. Maybe it’s just me, but I like a good sex story when things go horribly wrong.

    • Maxine

      Isn’t that somewhat the point of the article? That us laughing at the most intimate and tender moments is kind of vulgar and unecessary, not to mention detrimental to the kind of ‘acceptable’ kind of personality cred society is projecting? I’ve always hated girly maagazines for precisely this reason

  • https://twitter.com/#!/ZachAmes macgyver51

     A thousand times yes.

  • Rocko

    See now I don’t know about this. Sounds an awful lot like you are just hurt from being a ‘victim’ of this anonymous sex life sharing. Asking people to stop writing tell alls about sex is like asking people to stop writing memoirs. Sorry to pop your little audience complex bubble hun, but I’m sure that no one is aware of or even cares about the subject of your ex bff’s bad poetry but you.

  • yeah ok

    feel interested in reading a rebuttal from megan boyle. 

    • Oliver Miller

      I’m willing to rebut!

      • Anonymous

        Oh I see you, Mr. Miller, don’t think I don’t.

      • samantha

        please!

      • samantha

        *please do it. I didn’t mean it in that stupid, sassy “puh-lease” way.

  • guest

    I don’t know, I almost think not talking about sex and our sex lives (which are a big part of our lives!) tends to make sex even more taboo. Certainly there is a difference between tweeting it and sharing with friends.

    But, also, I don’t know that I agree people should just keep everything private when it comes to art. Art is about expressing ourselves and talking about the experiences we have with other people. And unless you are a hermit someone is going to be affected by you and your actions and nobody is perfect. But that’s just how life is. I don’t think we should just pretend that certain things don’t happen because it might be rude especially if you aren’t including the person’s name. I say this as a person who HATES people like Tucker Max. But I don’t hate him because he talks about his sex life, I hate him because he is a sociopath that manipulates women and physically invades their privacy (for example, when he blatantly talks about video taping sex without consent, this is a HUGE violation).

  • http://strugglingsingletwentysomething.blogspot.com/ Katie

    Chelsea, I like you more every time I read something you’ve written!

    YES YES YES YES YES. I’ve been afraid to say this out loud for fear of sounding like a prude, but really, while we should all be educated about sex, the details of real-life sex are absolutely no one’s business but the people who engaged in them. In this age of telling everything, there are some things that should just stay private.

  • Sophia

    i agreed with this except for the part about the poetry. I don’t like when people talk about their sex lives because it’s just in bad taste. But at a poetry slam? That’s completely fair game, and if you date (or even interact with) a poet, you should go in knowing you’re eventually going to be written about.

    • Anonymous

      Maybe you had to be there, but when someone is laying out gratuitous detail about you to an audience that includes mutual friends, it’s pretty hard to justify as “art.” More than one person came to me following the performance–which was also online–saying, “Yikes, Chelsea, that must have been awkward.”

      As I said, there is a duty to the writer to obfuscate things enough that no one is going to walk away feeling personally violated. You wouldn’t write a piece that was just someone’s SSN and bank info.

      I don’t see how poetry should get a pass when prose doesn’t.

      • ALH

        I agree with you completely. I read a recent post on a local dating blog where the writer had gone on a date that was very obviously with one of my best friend’s recent exes. The author had no tact at all, and gave away the most painfully obvious details about him (city of origin, current neighborhood of residence, his rather unique physical description, birth date including year) for no reason that I could tell other than because she could. The aftermath was crushing for everyone involved.

      • Sophia

        Okay, I guess I misunderstood the situation. Especially around people who know the person, there is definitely a line. No need to “out” the person or make it clear who it is about. But I do think the general situation, or taking specific things out of context, are what makes poetry personal, and if everyone had to take everything that was vulnerable about other people out of their poems, poetry (especially modern poetry) just wouldn’t be very good. That’s what makes it. That’s all I was saying.

  • Anonymous

    This is like the literary equivalent of a Lifetime movie.

  • http://profiles.google.com/d.oliver272 D. Oliver

    Well… Shakespeare’s off Chelsea Fagan’s list. At least his 159 poems, which were mostly about his sex life. (Though I wouldn’t doubt it if he knew a shrewish Kate or a whackadoodle Ophelia or two.) The beat poets are off the list, too. And, well hell… every writer who ever had friends or colleagues. Every time something is written, even blatant fiction, there’s an individual out there who can inevitably come to the conclusion: “Shit, this is about me.” People write about what they know, cliche or not. And something we all know, that we find meaning in, is sex. Sex, relationships, family. Can’t get away from it. 

    I hope this doesn’t sound critical of you, Chelsea, because I do appreciate a lot of your writing. But a feel a stronger, more adult reaction to that poetry reading of yours would have been just to shrug it off, and say to your “it-must-have-been-awkward” friends, “Oh, you think that’s about me? Don’t be silly.” And just realize that you moved someone to create something, something artistic, whether you like it or not. 

    • http://twitter.com/mung_beans Mung Beans

      that’s okay, Shakespeare is boring fart jokes

    • Sophia

      this! agreed.

  • Foladh Campbell

    oh whine and whinge. would you ever grow up missus. usually sexual relations involve at least 2 people.  yeah it must be crap if someone writes shit about you, but thats their experience isint it?welcome to the free world,.. you get to write about how hurt you were in a failed relationship, but the other does not? fuck off with ya. grow up.

  • guest

    ugh who cares…

  • i.m. smart

    don’t you think it’s the woman’s fault when she gets raped or something..

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