When I was in my early twenties, I had a lot of sexual adventures.
I was genuinely curious and liked meeting new people….as a result, I had a lot of hook-ups and one-night stands. Most of my experiences were great, but often the reaction from my friends the next day was horrible. “You did what?” they'd shriek. These were the same friends who had encouraged me to make out with some random guy at the bar the night before. For them, making out with someone was okay…but having sex with them wasn’t. It didn’t make sense to me.
You see, there’s an invisible line. We can’t put our fingers on it, but we know it’s there. It’s a line between what we're supposed to do (such as polite flirting, committed dating, getting married) and the things we want to do – that sexy stuff that keeps us up at night (or keeps us on Pornhub at night). If your upbringing was anything like mine, you understand what I'm saying. If you cross the line and give in to your desires, you're assumed to be a bad person.
All this baggage around ‘bad sex’ is part of what’s called ‘sex negativity’. Sex negativity is the persistent idea that (despite all our instincts) sex is morally wrong, shameful, and physically harmful.
Sex negativity is the absolute worst. It means that people like me who follow their desires are criticized, or even punished by our peers. It means that when we do have good sex, we often feel ashamed of ourselves for no logical reason. Worst of all, it means that we often hold back from doing what we want to do, because we're afraid of our perfectly natural sexual desires.
Sex negativity makes women fear being called ‘sluts’. It makes guys afraid of being called ‘creeps’. Sex negativity tells us that casual sex is wrong, for no reason other than it doesn’t fit inside a long-term, monogamous relationship. It tells us that being kinky is wrong. It tells us that unless we're hot, young, confident, and accomplished, we don't deserve to get laid.
Sex negativity is like that one person you invite to the party that’s always complaining about everything. Even though you know they're not right, their negativity eats away at you and it's impossible to concentrate on actually having a good time.
The line between ‘acceptable sex’ and ‘unacceptable sex’ puts us all in a difficult position. If we stay on the ‘acceptable’ side, we’re often miserable because we're not getting what we really want. If we cross over – and get caught doing it – we might be punished. Many of us get up to our sexual escapades in secret, feeling ashamed because we have to hide this part of ourselves from the world.
The truth is, sex is not bad for you. Sex is a natural, healthy, and necessary part of life for most of us. Without intimacy, we often become miserable and feel isolated. Not everyone needs an active sex life, but for those who do, it’s important that you give yourself a chance to enjoy it without shame. As long as you treat yourself and your partners with care and kindness, you’re not doing anything wrong.
Unlearning sex negativity takes a lot of work, but it’s worth it. A decade or so after those early hook-up adventures, I’m now surrounded by better friends. They celebrate my sexual prowess the same way they celebrate my other achievements...and they never shame me for having the kinds of sex I want to have, because they're doing it too.
It's time we ditched this idea of 'acceptable' versus 'unacceptable' sex for good. Refuse to be ashamed! Cross that line! A lot of fun people (myself included) are waiting on the other side for you.
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