One of the workshops I had the joy of attending at Creating Change was one called Beyond Binaries: Identity and Sexuality, facilitated by the FABULOUS Robyn Ochs, professional bisexual. (If you aren’t familiar with her or her work, then you need to fix that now!)
The main thrust (pun intended, as you’ll see) of the workshop was the way sexuality is so fluid and that the notion that we’re all just gay or straight (or even gay, straight, or bi) is a complete myth. Despite being bright and early Saturday morning, there were a ton of energetic young people there, and it was really great to see them having these conversations about how sexuality changes over time. In particular, it was striking to see the way so many aim for ambiguity, recognizing what they like but not necessarily conforming their identity to match.
I should point out that this phenomenon was evident throughout the conference. More and more people are really moving towards identifying as “queer,” as if to say I’m queer and that’s all you need to know. I kind of wish I’d gone to some of the sexual liberation workshops so I could know more! [Note: I did the following year!]
At any rate, in Robyn’s workshop we did an anonymous survey of how people define their identities, attractions, and behavior over time. After looking at identities and attractions through different lenses, we then juxtaposed those identities with actual behaviors. The results were interesting, because they didn’t always match. Some people reported engaging in sexual behavior that did not reflect their same- or opposite-sex attractions. And in some cases, there was no reported sexual behavior.
It was at this point that Robyn made the poignant point that is the title of this post:
True or false? Society makes you feel guilty for having sex. TRUE.
True or false? Society makes you feel guilty for not having sex. TRUE.
It really is true. All sexual behavior is judged. You either get chided for going for it or for not going for it. There isn’t really a “win-win.”
I don’t know if there’s any more to say about this point than just that, but I still find it amazingly compelling. Just being aware of this point I think lets us think much more openly about sex.
So many of our choices and our “standards” are influenced by the world around us. Just about every single religion has had something to say about the morality of sex, most likely because we’re all sexual beings and it’s a deeply influential method of control. When you really step back and think about it, there really can be no moral question for safe, consensual sex. Yet, we tend to be profoundly self-conscious about our sexual behavior and reputation.
There are some considerations that are important beyond consent. Obviously, sexual contact always include health risks. Trust is also fundamentally important to maintaining the consent and safety of the interaction. And if you value monogamy like I do, it’s important to honor commitments and sexual exclusivity. Lastly, we can’t ignore that for many people, sexual behavior always has an emotional component. Aspects of commitment, dependency, love, and power can affect people well beyond the physical sexual pleasure they experience.
But, if you can account for all of those factors (and I’d personally recommend that you do), is there any good reason to be inhibited as sexual beings? I would say no. This is why I was torn when I was writing that monogamy post a few weeks ago, because even though I value monogamy both sexually and emotionally, I completely understand how and why open couples make their openness work.
Sex is a great thing. I think everyone deserves the opportunity to be sexual beings. I think everyone has the right to explore their sexuality in any way they wish (that honors the values I just discussed). Hell, if we all liked the same things, life would be pretty damn boring! I’ll admit here that I have at least one fetish and that I’m also kink-curious, and honestly, I feel like it takes some courage to put that out there publicly. But really, why should it? Why should I feel embarrassed to say so? Sure, there are probably some of you out there who don’t want to think about Zack Ford as a sexual being, but get over it. You’re a sexual being too, you know.
I think life would be a lot less stressful if society didn’t make us feel so self-conscious about sex. I do think discretion is important, and sexual harassment is a very real and serious concern in our culture. But I don’t think it has to be either-or. I think we can get to a place where we don’t have to be afraid/guilty/ashamed of our sex lives without constantly making overt sexual advancements to every single person we meet. Just as “gay” does not solely define me, I can come out of the closet as “sexual” without letting sexuality control my life.
Why should sex be judged? The young people in Robyn’s session made it very clear that the last thing they want is to be boxed in. Not only do they not want their identities bound by binaries, so too do they want the opportunity to explore their sexuality beyond the “shoulds” and “should nots” that society overwhelms us with.
I feel bad for the people who have been conditioned to be ashamed of sex, one way or another. We only get one chance to explore this thing called humanity, and there seems to be no reason to make the most of it. Thanks, Robyn, and others, for helping me better understand this in my life.