What Does It Mean to “Make Sex Normal”?

While writing last week’s article about the importance of sex in relationships, I started thinking about the taboo nature of sex in North American culture. In the article I mentioned that “North America is arguably a highly sexualized culture, but at the same time, sexuality is rarely talked about in an open, honest way.” Around the time I posted my article, I came across a TED talk that presents a simple way to alter the stigma associated with talking about sex and sexuality.

Sex researcher and educator Debby Herbenick from the Kinsey Institute of Sex, Gender, and Reproduction has started a new campaign entitled Make Sex Normal. By “normal,” she means making sex, bodies, and gender ordinary parts of everyday conversation. The idea is that if people are more comfortable talking about sex, they will be more in touch with their own sexuality, better able to communicate their sexual preferences and boundaries, and more apt to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. If more people are comfortable talking about sex, the broader community will be exposed to a range of different sexual identities and preferences and more diverse sexual experiences.

Indeed, the research is clear on this point: greater comfort with the topic of sex yields a host of positive consequences. For example, people who communicate about their sexual likes and dislikes with their romantic partners report higher levels of sexual satisfaction.1,2 Young people who receive comprehensive sex education are more likely to use condoms and take precautions against unwanted pregnancies compared to those who receive abstinence-only sex education. And exposure to people with diverse sexual identities contributes to reductions in stigma and prejudice.

My friend, Sheri Roberts, was in an accident at the age of 18 and was paralyzed from the chest down. After the accident, none of the doctors or nurses talked about sexuality with her (when she specifically asked about her ability to have sex in the future, one nurse even responded that she would have more important things to worry about). Today, nearly 15 years after her accident, she talks to young people following spinal cord injuries about sex to acknowledge that sexuality remains a “normal” (and often important) part of their identity.

So although in some ways we live in a highly sexual culture, we rarely hear about real sexual experiences or feel comfortable talking about sex in our everyday conversations. Debby Herbenick’s solution is to create a more sex-positive environment (i.e., where consensual sexual expression is viewed as good and healthy) by encouraging people to engage in conversations about sex and sexuality. If people are so inclined, they can share their acts of sex-positivity with others by posting a photo to the Make Sex Normal tumblr page. In response to this project, I began to think about the things I do to make sex “normal” and thought I would share my list in case it inspires others.