Social Question

prolificus's avatar

What will take to change our society in order for sex and sexuality to be commonly and easily discussed without assigning labels or shame?

Asked by prolificus (6285 points ) October 2nd, 2010

Preface: I think sex, sexuality, sensuality, pleasure, gender, love, relationships, etc. etc., are all interrelated. This question is not limited to any one aspect of sex or sexuality, or exclusive of any aspect thereof.

Some sub-questions to expand the main question:

On a personal level, how comfortable are you with discussing sex and sexuality? How were the topics of sex and sexuality regarded in the community of your childhood (family, school, neighborhood, church, etc.)?

Are (were) these topics open for discussion and held honorably, or are (were) they off limits and covered with shame?

Were there significant pieces of information unknown to you until adulthood, simply because no one in your community felt comfortable discussing sex and sexuality?

As for me, I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. Primarily, I learned about sex/sexuality from my family, from the church, and from the neighborhood kids whose play often included sexual behavior. Sexuality meant “normal or abnormal.” There were behaviors and lifestyles viewed either as godly or immoral.

Godly behavior meant abstinence until marriage, and marriage was only between one man and one woman. Immoral sexuality covered everything outside the narrow Evangelical Christian viewpoint. Sexuality and gender roles went hand-in-hand; and “good women” only did A, B, and C—not X, Y, or Z.

The church was the community of my childhood. As far as I knew, people didn’t talk about masturbation, orgasms, or anything else that should be discussed privately between husband and wife. Sex and sexuality simply were off limits in “normal” conversation. If someone were to say anything, either the person would be viewed as over-sexed or perverted.

In reflecting on my background (including the information I’ve received from my parents), cultural and historical changes, and our current society, I’ve been wondering if sex and sexuality will ever be commonly and easily discussed. I wonder if general society will ever allow sexual freedom and purity to be regarded equally the same without labeling behaviors as perverted or shaming those who do not fit any narrow point-of-view.

Even with on-going changes in our society, it seems as if the ever-expanding topics of sex and sexuality will always be subjected to labels and shame. The consequences of which, among other things, lead to alienation of those who do not fit the “norm.” Case in point, the rise in suicides among LGBT youth. Would this be an issue if young people felt safe to discuss their sexuality among their peers, within their community? Even after the sexual revolution of the 60’s, fifty years after Stonewall, the proliferation and availability of information, the coming-out of various celebrities, legalization of same-sex marriage in some states and countries, changes in pop-culture, etc. etc., many young people who were born in the 90’s (when Ellen broke the closet door, Will & Grace strutted like a peacock on NBC, and red ribbons became fashionable) apparently do not feel welcomed in our society to experience or express one of the most basic aspects of being human – love.

What will it take to change our society so that being fully human will never be considered shameful?

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25 Answers

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

It will take hard work in our schools and colleges and a change of a generation.

lillycoyote's avatar

I don’t know if there is any one thing or even any certain things that will make that a reality. These are deeply held beliefs both for some people personally and for our society has whole. We have made a tremendous amount of progress to this point but social change, changing hearts and minds can be tremendously slow, much slower than most people want but progress is being made.

ucme's avatar

A few more generations, unfortunate but probably true.

downtide's avatar

The general abandonment of Christianity.

muppetish's avatar

I have no idea what can be done change society. We’re trying (... some of us, anyway.) I want to live through the revolution as as an active participant.

To address your sub-questions (I was a kid in the ‘90s and a teen through 2000s):

- I am comfortable discussing sex, sexuality, sensuality, pleasure, gender, love, relationships – the whole shebang. I have never had any reservations about maintaining open communication with others and I am not sure where I received this outlook. I grew up in a predominantly conservative, Catholic area where these ideals were not part of the culture or community. My parents are both staunch Republicans with rigid beliefs. I partially aided in my mother’s changed opinion of LGBTQ individuals (representation in the media further helped.)

- These topics were not well received in my area. It was all very hush-hush. I learned about sex when I was in primary school (watched an educational video aimed at my age group that I checked out from the library on a whim.) I learned the word “gay” first on television (via The Simpsons) and then heard it come up in a purely negative context at school. It broke my heart. The negative outlook of others only became louder and more overt as I grew up. Even at university, I meet people who do not accept anything that deviates from heteronormativity.

- I imagine shame was ingrained through the Catholic churches in our area (which I have felt through many of the kids I went to school with) and whenever these issues were raised in discussion it was usually in a negative context. Very few of us were positive, supportive, or even neutral.

- There wasn’t any information that was explicitly forbidden from me because my parents granted me permission to read whatever I could get my grubby little hands on. They prevented me from watching films (or tried to) but I exposed myself to far more than my peers. I think this aided in my being a more understanding person. It’s not even desensitization… I just don’t view a “norm” any longer because I know there is so much variation in the way we live and move.

Now that I have pondered the sub-questions, I think that’s part of the answer: we need to stay educated. It’s not about tolerance (I cannot stand that word) it’s about acceptance. We need to accept that there are differences between the way we move, but not in the way we live. There is just not enough love in the world and ignorance, more than anything, is what fills our hearts with hatred.

I don’t know whether we can achieve that, but we each need to provide our individual contributions.

My battery is dying. Sorry this was long. I needed to get as much out as I could.

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perspicacious's avatar

I think it is openly and commonly discussed too much already. I actually wish people would consider that part of their lives private.

Trillian's avatar

@prolificus What do you mean by “assigning labels”?

prolificus's avatar

@Trillian – labels that imply good or bad, pass judgement, or devalue an individual.

Trillian's avatar

@prolificus Do you mean slang terms? Do you mean terminology like “straight” “gay” ? I don’t understand your definition of label in terms of implying good or bad, or passing judgement unless you mean slang. If you mean something else, could you give me an example?

prolificus's avatar

@Trillian – slang, using “gay” as a put-down, having a hierarchal perspective of humanity (“this” is better than “that”), associating certain behaviors or orientations with perversion, etc.

zophu's avatar

I think it all stems from insecurity, the prejudice surrounding “unusual” sexuality. Homophobes often turning out to be gay themselves is a cliche for a reason.

As society generally becomes less competitive and more cooperative, things improve, I think. If sex is ever not seen at all as a commodity to be saved and signed over—as property that must never be stolen, devalued or otherwise be considered worthless—people wont worry and obsess so much over it and there won’t be so much prejudice surrounding it. Further removal from reproduction and spread of disease would also help. I may be biased in this opinion because the little sex I’ve managed to have definitely didn’t involve any real competition, but I think I have a point.

wundayatta's avatar

I can’t see it happening without mandatory brain transplants for everyone.

ETpro's avatar

No. Makes no difference to me. Now, give me Lurve for saying so. :-)

Trillian's avatar

“to experience or express one of the most basic aspects of being human – love.”
Love and sex are generally two mutually exclusive states.
Maybe the problem lies not in the orientation of teens, because there are dramas and suicides committed within the straight community as well.
Maybe the problem is that teens and young people are simply not emotionally mature enough to deal with all the emotional feelings that go along with being in a sexual relatioship.
Look at what they have to deal with. They have completely unrealistic exectations about relationships based on what is shown in the media. They are not finished growing and learning who they are in terms of self identity. They are susceptible to externl influence on just about every topic there is and have not yet established the adult “self” which provides an anchor for the psyche.
Is it any wonder then that they get wrapped up and carried away with emotions and feelings they are not equipped to deal with yet? And that the strength of these emotions can cause them to react to situations in a way that a more emotionally stable and mature adult would not?

downtide's avatar

@noelleptc you said: “I never, ever talked about sex with my parents which I think was a huge mistake. They always made it seem awkward and embarrassing”

That to me is one of the biggest problems caused by a Christian upbringng, and it applies equally to non-fundamental ones as well. It’s this idea that sex is an embarrassing awkward thing that should not be talked about at all, even in ways that would help prevent unwanted pregnancies etc. Even people who don’t consider themselves Christian get this feeling, it’s permeated into society as a whole, not just in church. But removing the religious connection would help to stop this meme being continued, and it would eventually die out.

palerider's avatar

taboos and social morays related to sex have the function of restraint. an ugly word in today’s gluttinous society, but it is very useful in keeping the population at-large safe from an epidemic of diseases and deformities.

ETpro's avatar

So sorry about the earlier answer. I clearly clicked here thinking I was answering a completely different question.

Sex was dealt with as a very shameful, taboo subject in my family, school and the acult community around me. My peers tended to make lewd jokes about it, reinforcing the idea it was shameful. Many of the jokes had punch lines hinging on the idea that sex was shameful.

I guess I was a rebel and that became my cause. I saw sex as a natural and rewarding part of life, and set out to explore as many avenues of it as I possibly could so log as there was no coercion and nobody got hurt.

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mattbrowne's avatar

When our societies progress beyond broad generalizations and out-group homogeneity bias. @downtide‘s derogatory comment about Christians in general tells me, we don’t seem to be ready for it. Ancient wisdom might help lead the way. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

MRSHINYSHOES's avatar

When we stop joking about it immaturely and start viewing it objectively and sensibly.

BeeVomit's avatar

I think it’ll happen when girls don’t have to wear shirts, and nobody has to wear pants or underwears. I mean, it’s cool if the weather permits, but nudity is and was and will be. We were nude in the garden, in perfection, for you Bible-thumpers out there. Would the obvious result then be, the world would become a good place without so many laws about clothing?

BeeVomit's avatar

I’m good to go!

downtide's avatar

@BeeVomit You don’t live in England do you? Here, we wear clothes for warmth, not modesty.

BeeVomit's avatar

I would think you’d wear your clothes for modesty as well. Would you go buck naked if the sun were to warm your neighborhood for a couple days? If you’d notice, I didn’t say clothes would be illegal. Just that clothes would be optional.

It’s an answer to the question. If you’d like to be warmer, grow out all your hair!

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