Mainstream media needs to address its sex stigma

Let’s talk about sex, baby

A couple are leaning into each other. Both appear somewhat femme, and look like they’re enjoying themselves.
We can’t break down stigma without addressing something directly. PHOTO: Zackary Drucker / The Gender Spectrum Collection

By: Maya Beninteso, Peak Associate

Doing it, the devil’s tango, knocking boots — these are all euphemisms used to avoid a simple three-letter word: sex. Why do we feel the need for all these euphemisms in order to avoid one word? Despite sex being a part of many of our lives, it is heavily stigmatized in culture, conversation, and the media. The best way to combat the taboo nature of sex is to make it less taboo — and start an open conversation. 

So, let’s talk about it.

I understand why sex isn’t necessarily our go-to dinner conversation: the amount of bodily fluids — and the noises — can be unappetizing. However, our habit of hiding sex has translated into a culture of shame. Wanting sex should not evoke discomfort — nonetheless, shame and sex appear to be a common pair. 

The media has an influence on societal views pertaining to sex, and contributes to feelings of shame. The media — and society in general — are especially vocal when it comes to women who choose to engage, or not engage, in sex. These messages swing between prudishness: the resistance to sexual expression, and sluttiness: a slur directed at those who take ownership of their sexualities. Though there is nothing wrong with either behaviour, the lack of space for women to be sexual without stigma is a problem. 

Ideas regarding sex are instilled at a young age. I recall passively listening to T.I’s “No Mediocre” at my high school basketball game and feeling disturbed about the artist’s criticisms of women who have pubic hair. What we need is more songs that send messages of empowerment and that normalize sexual desire — especially in women (such as WAP by Cardi B). 

TV shows and movies need to do their part as well. A good start would be adding discussions surrounding sex, consent, and contraceptives during climactic scenes. I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie with a sex scene that contained a conversation surrounding (or using) protection without plot-based motivation. That is inherently problematic. For one, sexual encounters on the big screen aren’t usually representative of real sexual experiences — and it’s important they begin fostering a culture of consent. 

Sex isn’t always some life-altering event, or “picture perfect” in the way film depicts it to be. Sex scenes are highly choreographed — it is normal for sex to be uncoordinated, light-hearted, and filled with laughter — I wish dramatizations could capture this instead of providing viewers with false expectations. 

If your sexual encounters aren’t intricate dances, you need not feel ashamed. Your sexual experience isn’t the problem — the way film portrays it is. Sex may not always be spontaenous, in reality sex may require a little extra planning and a discussion surrounding safe sexual practices prior to the encounter. The media’s simple addition of the aforementioned steps could aid in normalizing healthy sexual behaviours, and hopefully render the purchase of contraceptives less embarrassing. Engaging in safe sexual practices shouldn’t feel embarassing at all. This is an example of what destigmatization could look like — a world where purchasing contraceptives for safe sexual practices isn’t embarassing. 

At the end of the day, we need to acknowledge sex for what it is. Whether we choose to pursue it or not, sex is a behaviour that is done by just about all multicellular life. Let’s start time-appropriate open conversations even around the dinner table — so that we can all engage in something that’s intended to be pleasurable without shame. 

The stigma ends here — it ends with us.