by Randall Frederick
A few months ago, it became public knowledge that I will be attending “sex school” after finishing my second masters program. Telling my family has been a slow process. My father isn’t bothered by the idea of his sin studying sex; he’s more concerned about educational debt. My mother and step-mother have expressed reservations and moral objections. They’ve known about this side of me for some time now.
But for my friends, this is new territory. Most have never heard about sexual education outside of that single instance in high school Health class where their teacher was sweaty, nervous, evasive and awkward.
I didn’t exactly send a press release. It was just one of those things. You go out to dinner, or maybe a bar, start talking about sex, and then there it is, “You know… I don’t tell everyone this, but… after I’m finished with school here, I plan to…”
Before you can say Jack Rabbit, you’re approached at a party. “So I heard you were…” and it’s now all anyone wants to talk about with you. One guy wonders how much masturbation is normal, another says she’s never had an orgasm, another says she can only climax while riding a horse. Though it’s “out there” – I’m not sure who knows until I’m approached, I decided to take the initiative and slowly try to make my friends aware of this side of myself as much as my professional endeavors by hinting at it, gauging their reactions, and proceeding – or not – as/where/if appropriate.
Some have suspected my interest already. I am currently in a field where sex is often discussed in moral, ethical, and philosophical ways, and I have been notably vocal on my campus for some time now. Many of those conversations are not entirely honest, do not accurately reflect current data, or are not applicable to the lives of people who are… how can I put this… “not having sex.” For example, saying that “perverts go to prison” does not take into account many factors of import like, What constitutes a “pervert”? Is that term is appropriate? Helpful? Or just our way of sexually shaming someone whose sexual interests are neither illegal or immoral but are far more tame than that of the “perverts” we criminalize? Perversion, I am sure you know, can be and often is legal… even if it is not our particular kink.
One of the things that I admire most about Alfred Kinsey, William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson is the way that they challenged the standard
objections “questions” that my parents and (some of) my friends bring up. Sex therapy (re: sexology) is a field that requires a high degree of listening and understanding before we make conclusions and while morality and sexuality frequently intersect, they do not have to in all instances. And those places where we believe they don’t intersect are often curious. That is, many feel that sex before marriage is “wrong.” But anything sexual inside of a marriage is “right.” I’m not sure I agree with either statement. In many instances, this kind of Flip-A-Switch “morality” has excused and blessed nonconsensual sex within marriage – which I hope many would agree is more of a moral issue than premarital sex. Unfortunately, because vows were spoken and names were filed in public record many see nonconsensual sex within marriage as a gray area. This creates a society where we feel we should be very vocal against sex before marriage, but silent about it afterwards.
The line of sexual studies that I am preparing for, while giving attention to moral and ethical paradigms, does not stop there. It focuses on the mechanics as much as the psychological.
Sex is often a difficult thing to talk about because it is so pervasive. Even refraining from sex is no simple matter. Is it for health reasons? Psychological? Spiritual? And what happens to the body in the meantime? Or our partners desires? Sex is physical, spiritual, emotional, relational, and even a communal act in some sense, whether we are “doing it” or not. While it may seem conventional, even traditional, to believe that people will “just figure it out” in time, the reality is that lack of communication, physical differences, hormonal changes and fluctuations, physical and sexual health, chemical reactions to food and medicines, maturation on the life cycle, and the influence of media sources all affect the personal as well as coupled relations. These are things that need to be talked through, worked out, even at times “played with.”
Sex may very well be a natural activity, but good sex, mutually satisfactory sex, does not come naturally to many. If it did, then we would not have so many magazine articles providing tips, films unashamedly marketed to our sexual desires, or see a steady rise in the economy of the porn industry.
While I may not be entirely “open” about my professional trajectory, it becomes more clear every day why we need informed conversations about sexual matters.