At a dinner party earlier this week, a friend leaned over and began telling me he wanted to talk to me about sex. Not just there in that moment, but in a “let’s grab a beer because I’ve got a lot of questions and don’t want everyone here at the party to hear” kind of way.
Despite trying to keep it from making it public knowledge, it recently became known that I am studying to become a sex therapist. Suddenly, friends are pulling me aside here and there to say they’d like to talk. That they have questions. Hang-ups. But more than that, they just want to talk to someone. They need to talk to someone, and thank God it’s someone they know and trust.
Sex was a free topic in my house growing up. I wasn’t raised by nude hippies, nor educated by remote and frigid parents who wanted to discuss sex clinically or euphemistically – when a mommy and daddy love each other very much, echem, they… hug each other. Very tightly. Sometimes with arms and legs. It was simply “one of those things” that my parents spoke freely about, and they weren’t ashamed to answer the curious questions I had. To help you understand my parents, I remember that they framed a childhood drawing I did of a naked mommy and daddy (yellow frame, blue matting – the height of progressive framing in the early ‘80s!) and when my kindergarten teacher left the room to get juice, I once gave my class a lesson in the difference between boys and girls. My parents? They were more concerned with whether I “got the names right” than they were that their son, a kindergartener, had dropped his OshKosh to show the entire class what, exactly, made girls and boys different. It was a very open and honest house, and maybe that’s why it was strange that I went away from that incident having learned to compartmentalize.
From that time until college, I kept the two worlds apart:
- sex and
- everything else.
It was a choice naturally supported by my church and the repressed culture of the town I lived in throughout childhood, but something felt so… off balance. Everyone I knew, including me, wanted to talk about sex over beers, at dinner, at the movies, before a date, and dot, dot, dot. We even wanted to talk about it in coded language at church with the “mystery” of marriage! What else was the pastor talking about when he preached on the “joy” to be found in “the wife of your youth”? A wife whose breasts leap like a gazelle?
After grad school, I began working for a law office and eventually managed all offices of the firm. I was making more money than ever before, and naturally began climbing the social ladder. There, I began to hear rumors of a subculture of couples who had key parties, were secretly in the closet, had “arrangements” with some of my classmates, and almost every other kind of rumor you could think; who was doing what with whom, going to the hospital with hunh?! in their where?! and had to hide WTF!! from their kids during shared custody. It was during that time that something was changing inside of me. I began to think maybe it would be interesting to leave Cubicle & File Management, lucrative as it was, for something more… stimulating.
Some people still see sex as a taboo. Some feel they must entirely reject privacy and put it all out there. And some, like my friend at the party this week, aren’t sure where to begin. They feel like they’ll pop if they don’t talk about it, ask questions, and try to get it right. Their sexual interests have been repressed, and they know that hushing up something as important as sex just doesn’t make sense.
How we talk about sex is important, and there’s no single “right” way to do or talk about our sex & sexuality. Our stories are all different and so are our approaches to a sensitive and deeply complex part of who we are. I’m looking forward to talking to my friend next week because, in many ways, he reminds me of myself – wanting desperately to talk to someone, but afraid he’ll be judged for being honest. Whatever it is he needs to say or hear, I’m looking forward to helping him come to accept that it’s okay to have desires, to have interests, and wanting to talk about them with someone else just so he can feel normal.