Growing up, we didn’t talk about sex in my family. We didn’t see my parents kiss or show affection. When there are sex scenes on movies, we awkwardly cover our eyes or make gawking noises to show our disapproval. One time my dad jokingly grabbed my mom’s butt and breast. It scarred me for life.
My parents never had a sex talk with me. All I remember is that my dad told me not to go visit any boys because they only want one thing—he didn’t say it out loud, but I know he meant sex. I don’t think my parents had the birds and the bees talk with my brother either, so I actually had the conversation with him when he was in high school about having safe sex and consent. I wanted to make sure he knew it is okay and normal but also that he needed to be safe. I wanted to normalize sex for him even though it was something I struggled with into my early 30s.
The way we avoided talking about sex is what gave me a stigma against sex. I always felt that sex was dirty, rachet, and animalistic. Being raised Christian, growing up in a church, and also growing up as a rule follower, having sex was completely out of the question for me. When I met guys in high school and college, I was always explicit that sex is not gonna happen. I would say, “I don’t do sex.” Later on, even as I became less religious, I still insisted on not having sex and wore my virginity as a badge of honor. I was a virgin until I was 24.
My married ex and I met when I was 20 and we dated for four years before we got married. We kissed and went a few bases, but never had sex until we got married. It was important to me to wait and I appreciated his patience. But little did I know that I carried a stigma that sex is bad and dirty. It was something I carried into our marriage. I felt dirty and gross when we had sex. I didn’t want to be like a wild animal doing animalistic things. I didn’t understand it. I was ashamed by the act. It felt demeaning even though it is supposed to be an act of passion.
When we separated, I decided that I wanted to explore my sexuality. This was a drastic change for me. I went from sex avoiding to focusing mainly on sex. I went from holding onto my virginity for my dear life, to being scared of sex, to exploring it like I have never seen sex before. This is what led me into the bad relationships between 2017–2018, where sex was at the center of those flings.
After I broke away from those bad relationships, in 2019 I went on dating apps for the first time to meet people. It was new and exciting to meet people outside of my usual circles, but sexual compatibility was still on the top of my mind. I would sleep with the guys by the second date if there was some chemistry. My thought process was that I didn’t want to waste time dating to find out that we didn’t work in the bedroom. I needed to make sure we were sexually compatible to even consider moving forward. But that strategy didn’t work. I still picked a guy who wouldn’t commit, and the same story of me being with a guy who didn’t want a girlfriend repeated itself.
I went on a break from dating for about half a year and then went on dating apps again at the end of 2019, going into 2020. This time around, I was more intentional. I had a sense of the qualities I was looking for in a guy and slept with no one until I met the one guy I thought had potential. I also waited four dates before we tried to have sex. Even though the sex didn’t work, we still decided to date after talking for 6 months. I decided that we can work on the bedroom pieces through patience and conversations. No longer did I use sexual compatibility as a main benchmark. What I looked for instead was someone who knows who he is, who has a steady career, who has passions and hobbies, and a support group of his own. Someone who is self-motivated and would push me to become a better version of myself. I explored what I needed and observed and communicated. The relationship didn’t work out in the end, but I learned a lot about myself in the process. I learned how to be true to myself and my needs.
I’m sharing this because I’ve learned over the years how important it is for each of us to have a healthy relationship with sex. This is also a topic that we all think about but are embarrassed to discuss or timid in exploring, which is also part of where the stigma comes from. Opening up that door for myself to explore what it means to have sex, what sex means to me, has been an important part of my development and personal growth.
Below I share some of the things I’ve learned about how we should view and handle sex to promote a healthy relationship with it. As always, I am not a professional. These are my thoughts based on my experiences.
Own Your Sexuality. There was a girl I knew who was in sales and she took pride in the fact that her sexuality, gender, and looks, got her many of her deals. I had been in sales before working mainly with manufacturing clients, which is a middle-aged male dominated industry. I refused to use my sexuality to get deals. I wanted to be respected by what I know and I wanted to close deals because the customer has a need in the services we offer, not because of how I look. Although our views differ in that, I applaud her confidence in using what she has to her advantage. It is an empowering move to know that about yourself.
When it comes to bedroom talks, owning your sexuality is important as well. It’ll allow you to get the pleasure you need and make it a lot more fun. To know your body and your sexuality is power.
Don’t Let Sex Fog Your Decisions. We all have our physical needs and our need for connection. It’s easy to compromise other aspects of a relationship if sex is on the top of your list. Explore your own body and learn to take care of your own physical needs as well so you have the power and control over it, not some random guy.
Masterbation is normal. I learned from my girlfriends, too, hat having toys is not shameful. In fact, it is empowering.
We Should Have More Conversations about Sex. When my girlfriends and I started to open up about our sexual histories, it can be cringey to hear or share because of our predisposed biases on how a lady should behave, but it is also empowering to see that we are all in the process of learning and exploring our sexualities. Having more conversations about sex in general will also help us normalize it.
Don’t Judge. Don’t judge your own or other people’s sexual experiences. We each have our own process of self-exploration and have different levels of needs at different times. Recently I thought about just having casual sex and had conversations about exploring it, but I recognized that I would eventually want more than just a sexual relationship, so I forfeited that conversation. It’s okay to explore your options. Just make sure you are 100% on board with your decision. It’s also okay to back out last minute. You can change your mind.
The other piece to judging is that there unfortunately is slut shaming in our culture. When men sleep with several women, they get high fives. When a woman admits that she’s had casual sex or multiple sex partners, she gets looks telling her she should be ashamed of herself. I hate that double standard and disagree with it. I didn’t judge myself for exploring the option of casual sex. I recognized that I have needs and explored the options I had. Even if I had decided to have a pure-sexual relationship, it is nothing to feel ashamed about because it would have been what I wanted and have consented to.
Set Boundaries. Know what you need and set boundaries for yourself. Figure out what you’re okay and not okay with before getting into a sexual situation to make sure you’re being true and authentic to yourself. If you are okay with a booty call, go for it (but be safe). If you need dinner and a movie before that, set the expectation. You need commitment before having sex? Set that expectation. It’s okay to ask for what you want sexually. The key is to be true to yourself and don’t do anything that you don’t feel 100% into doing.
I’m still in the process of learning and understanding myself more in this area, such is thinking through what I need and want and also setting and sticking to boundaries. Ultimately, we all want to make sure we are being safe and that we are approaching sex in a healthy way.