Can We Overcome Our Fear of Really Talking about Sex (and Some Body Parts)?

Why are so many of us so afraid to talk about sex? Or even about some parts of our bodies?

Whatever creates this fear often seems to have something to do with religion, at least the monotheistic ones, and certainly my own faith, Christianity. Conservative Christians still generally exhibit the most sex-negative attitudes (although there are I am sure exceptions). For some, attitudes and behaviors that were common when I was a teen–in the 60s–still apply. But for many others, things have changed a lot.

I am amazed at how much has changed in the past 40-50 years of social history.

  • Living together among heterosexual couples before marriage used to be severely condemned.
  • Sex before marriage was a serious sin.
  • Interracial marriage was a definite no-no (illegal until 1967, and definitely frowned on even after that).
  • Homosexuality used to be a secret whose “ugliness” occasionally leaked out into notice
  • Nobody even knew bisexuality existed (most people still don’t appear to really believe it does)
  • Nudists, or naturists as they are now calling themselves, were dirty or sex-crazed (many people still feel this way)

Of course, there are people who still claim those beliefs, or have retained vestiges of them. But so many others do not. So there remains much contradiction in how we deal with sex.

But there is one thing that remains pretty constant. For most people, it remains hard to talk about in an open and honest way, and generally even more difficult to talk about sex in a positive (or even neutral), non- exploitative, way.

Clergy generally are afraid to preach about it, or if they do, to use any specific language, even the most clinical. When was the last time you heard a sermon with the word “penis” or “vagina” in it? I grant that I can’t think of the homiletic situation right now in which either would be necessary, but what I know with even more certainty is that any preacher who did so in almost any Christian church would be well advised to start looking for a new gig. Why should this be?

Is there something bad about a penis or a vagina? Are they evil? Are they dirty?

My spiritual director uses guided meditation in our work together. When we do this, she invites me to breathe, to relax and focus on various parts of my body, beginning with my toes and feet and ankles, calves, thighs, stomach, chest, hands, arms, neck, mouth, nose, eyes, and the top of my head. Did you notice something missing, when we went from thighs to stomach? I have noticed many times in situations of naming body parts how this sacred center–the groin, private parts, genitals, also known as the root, or Muladhara, chakra in some Indian religions–is glossed over as if it does not exist.

We don’t talk about that in polite company. But we do, at least sort of. Every time you hear a man or woman say they are trying to have children, they don’t mean they are saving up to buy a child (although for those who must, or choose to, adopt this is a reality). They mean they are deliberately engaging in sexual intercourse, using those two unnameable bodily parts to bring sperm and egg together to produce a child.

One hopes they are enjoying the adventure, excited about receiving the blessing of a pregnancy, as well as being determined to produce offspring . But it often sounds more like work–because to talk about sexual pleasure is pretty much a no-no, unless it is done in a suggestive, wink-wink, kind of way. Sexual jokes and innuendo are okay within certain limits, but to actually talk about the joy of sex, the reality of sex, somehow seems sacrilegious.

Yet, did God not create all of us, all parts of us? Do we not affirm, with our Jewish ancestors in faith, that God created it all, and that it was and is all good? Is there an asterisk somewhere in the Hebrew text of Genesis 1 that says, “exceptions include penis, vagina, uterus, breasts, anus,” etc.? I do not remember this at my alma mater, but the message is not inconsistent with what I was taught

Do we think God is so old and crabby that He/She (but probably He in this case) intended our sexual organs to be used only a few times to produce children, and otherwise they are just ugly and unholy? Is masturbation the real original sin of Adam and Eve? Based on what I was told in my youth, it sure seemed that way.

All this is very sad. At least that is how I see it.

Sex, sexual pleasure, sexual activity, is beautiful and life-affirming (except when it is not, and then it is, by my definition, not sex but rather something that someone may define as sex but is physical and/or emotional violation and abuse using one or more bodily organs and limbs, etc.).

But I will go further, and say it is holy, it is sacred, it is divine, it is godly. And like eating and hydrating, and resting and processing the nutrients and eliminating the excess of what we take into our bodies, I believe sex and sexual pleasure and activity are vital for healthy living. They are a gift from God to help us be the whole people we are intended to be.

So we need to celebrate the gift, to say thank you by really using it and not hiding it, devaluing it, or encasing it in rigid often unstated rules about not talking about it.

The purpose of this blog is to contribute to opening conversation about sex and bodies most of us, including me, need to have–out loud, holistically, respectfully, truthfully, lovingly . . . and most of all spiritually. We can learn from sex and bodies, and we will learn the most when we are open to them and participating in dialogue with them and each other.

Stay tuned–more to come, much more.

And feel free, indeed encouraged, to join the conversation right here with your own comments.

21 thoughts on “Can We Overcome Our Fear of Really Talking about Sex (and Some Body Parts)?”

  1. Thank you. Finally I hear someone speaking (writing ) about this topic. I believe you are correct in what you say. I was raised in the 50-60s also and have the same impediments to my sexual life. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement! Feel free to share more as you feel moved to do so. I will be doing about one post each week, maybe more, at least to start.

  2. As a Christian, I have wondered for a long time why sex and sexual activity has to have the stigma attached to any discussion. God doesn’t make junk and our penis, vagina, and associated parts and activity are all part of that creation which God Himself said was “very good”. The stigma comes not from God but from humans and is apparently justified by the Genesis story of the results of Adam and Eve eating from the fruit from the tree of Knowledge. Before that they were naked and unashamed, walking with God who also was not ashamed of His creation. After eating the fruit the story goes that they were ashamed and attempted to cover themselves and hide from God. The bible is completely unclear about why Adam and Eve were ashamed and humans have interpreted it that there was something wrong with their genitals. However, the story simply says they were naked and ashamed which means their entire body, not just the sexual parts, were not covered. Further were they ashamed because they now had some knowledge they did not have before and the fact they had that knowledge was going to be made clear. They screwed up by not following the directions not to eat of that tree’s fruit and perhaps their shame was much more general.

    God then clothed them but for what purpose? To cover their nakedness or to protect them from the environmental aspects which they were going to have to face as a result of being ejected from a paradise where they were fully comfortable, neither hot nor cold, in their nakedness. God clearly was not embarrassed for His first question to them was “Who told you that you were naked?’. He then discovered their disobedience, which he already knew being God, and then prepared them for leaving the perfect climate in the garden. Not a single hint that God had any problem at all with nudity. That was a human thing, not a God thing.

    Having been a nudist, either card carrying or not, for most of my life, I have worked hard to overcome my human inculcated shame of my body. I am not necessarily proud of my body as it is not much different from the vast majority of people but I am not ashamed of it either. It just is what it is and its functions are just what they are. Sexual activity, elimination, or just existing as God created me should be no more embarrassing than talking about noses, navels, elbows, toes, or feet or watching people eating and drinking.

    Admittedly, overcoming the social programming is not an easy or quick task. After having the experiences of much wandering around in social situations where everyone was nude, I have come to wish that wearing of clothing was completely optional, determined in the most part by needs of warmth and protection from the elements. But in society, that is not possible for eventually one will be clothed, either voluntarily or in orange. Darned shame that humankind has messed up, and continues to mess up, the “very good” that God created.

    1. John, thank you for your incisive and insightful comment. I share your view, and hope over time to explore this and perhaps discover some ways to address it. And I hope we can stay in touch. One thing I hope to do is to build some sort of community of people to engage in conversation about all this.

  3. Robin! I’m so excited for blogger and blog! The more that we can write, talk, think, share about these matters, the better. I honestly believe that at the bottom of the stack of our neuroses and all the planetary problems they produce is the repression of the body, which is connected a pervasive refusal to accept our mortality–and thus to accept death. Tragically, Christianity ought to be in the forefront of articulating the very things you do, coming from nowhere less than our foundational doctrines—incarnation of the Word made flesh and the resurrection of the body.

    Frank Dunn

    1. Frank, thank you for your encouragement and for your wise observation. I agree with your analysis and plan to keep pressing forward. Thanks for all you are doing in the same direction (and I hope to be back with you in Jonathan’s Circle soon).

  4. I think you nailed the core issue when you started talking about sexual pleasure. From what I have observed, Western Culture (or at least here in the US) frowns on “pleasure” in all its forms. I agree this attitude seems to have its roots in our religious heritage.

    1. Thanks, Mike! Good to hear from you. I hope that maybe over time we can undo some of the damage, and increase our engagement with the pleasure of being alive (for all).

  5. Thanks Robin for this first post and for your willingness to share and engage us in this broader and welcome conversation. You are a free spirit and a gift to all who know you. Your post rings true to my experience and is received as an invitation to wholeness, to fulfillment, to greater blessing and to much needed grace. Like the giant panda enjoying the snow, wriggling about with delight, I celebrate your newfound sharing and wish to immerse myself in the pure joy of it. Your words are gift and I am filled with gratitude. Thank you sir…may I have some more?!?!?!

    1. Thank you!!! And indeed you may have more, and I hope you will continue to share yours as well (what beautiful phrasing in your comment here, as in your other one, and the poem). I did not know you were a writer, too.

      1. And I always appreciate it when people find ways to share the blog, to help build an audience and to enlarge the conversation.

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