Breaking the Sexuality Taboo


Sexuality is one of the ways that we become enlightened, actually, because it leads us to self-knowledge.
—Alice Walker

By Candice G. Ball

Although we’re bombarded by images of sex and sexuality every day, Miley Cyrus’s twerking and Beyoncé’s gyrating on a beach singing “Drunk in Love” do little to encourage a frank, relaxed dialogue about sex. Indeed some performers depend on the tabooness of sex to push buttons and titillate. If we were all relaxed about sex and sexuality, pop culture would have to find a new way to get our attention and sell products and services.

“There are many cultural and social double standards that play off one another that feed into the tabooness of sex,” explains Dr. Reece Malone, a sexologist and sexuality educator and counsellor who practices at Four Rivers Medical Clinic. “We love to talk about sex, except for the issues that are going on in our own lives. For some, it’s reinforced that sex is to be kept private, yet sex is key in advertising and found throughout the media.”

Contrary to what’s depicted in pop culture, sexuality is far more complex than having a beautiful body or being a virile young stud. The World Health Organization describes sexuality as a central aspect of being human throughout life that encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction.

“We are sexual beings, but it’s important to remember that sexuality involves more than what we’re doing with our genitals. It involves our minds, hearts and spirits, as well as our bodies,” says Dr. Malone.

Culture, religion, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and gender all play a role. Although having sex is one expression of sexuality, it can also be experienced in fantasies, roles, desires, and relationships.

“Some people are taught that sex is to be expressed in only one manner, but porn and how-to manuals expose the vast array of possibilities,” explains Dr. Malone. “Unfortunately the realities of sexism, homophobia, misogyny, racism, religion and body negativity fuel unrealistic expectations and anxiety around sex that include hopelessness, shame, guilt and embarrassment.”

Dr. Malone frequently sees the impact of sex and sexuality taboos in his practice. “For many it’s difficult to talk about their sexuality. It can be as simple as not knowing how to approach the subject and wondering whether they’re being judged. This can manifest into anxiety, performance pressures, sexual pain, feelings of isolation, avoidance, infidelity and conflict,” he says.

He adds that other than some aspects of reproduction and sexually transmitted infections, many people aren’t exposed to the realities of sexuality. Many families don’t openly discuss sexuality or apply the passive approach of “respond only when asked.”

Some of the common themes Dr. Malone encounters in his practice include issues of desire and how clients can better understand their partners’ sexuality. For instance, what if your partner wants to watch porn? How should you be feeling? What if your partner wants a threesome? What if you have mismatched libidos and you experience pain during intercourse?

The scenarios are as infinite as the human imagination. “Nothing is too bizarre to me, rather uncommon at most. It’s not the ‘what’; it’s the ‘why’ and the journey that I’m interested in. I prefer to get to the heart of the matter first,” Dr. Malone says.

A common assignment Dr. Malone gives his patients is to establish personal sexual boundaries. “By knowing one’s own boundaries, we can become more active in conversations about sex rather than passive respondents,” he explains. “We also build sexual integrity, self-value and confidence in and out of the bedroom.”

Dr. Malone believes that once we feel more grounded in who we are and take a step back and examine ourselves as sexual beings, only then will we be fully present and truly accessible with our partners. “Some people think of it as being selfish. I think of it as self-care.”

Collectively, Winnipeggers are far more relaxed about sex and sexuality than many centres, particularly those south of the border. For instance, Winnipeggers elected Canada’s first openly gay mayor, Glen Murray.

We were also ranked the sexiest city in 2008 when, a speed-dating service, conducted a study that based results on the popularity of its clientele using postal codes. Winnipeg ranked number one, narrowly pushing Vancouver out of first place.

Dr. Malone doesn’t find the results surprising. “Our diverse city means lots of flavours, tastes and proclivities. We’re not just eye candy but a full-course meal and a doggie bag to bring home.”

Dr. Malone’s Tips for Talking about Sex

Knowing that sexuality can be difficult to discuss, approaching a trusted friend or colleague can be a good start. If you’re uncertain about their values or viewpoints, approaching with general questions rather than sharing intimate details would be advised.

• Don’t gossip or disclose particulars about others’ sexuality. Disclosing aspects about other people’s sexuality, such as comments about their body, sexual lifestyles and sexual identity, is highly inappropriate and disrespectful.

• Acknowledge that people are sexual beings and that sexuality evolves with longevity. Your approach to sex in your 20s may change over time and you may need to find a new vocabulary that adapts with your physical and emotional changes.

• Discuss sex based on your feelings, wants, joys and desires rather than blaming your partner for what they are doing wrong.

• Sexuality professionals who are sex-positive can be helpful for anyone who wants to discuss sexuality or begin to learn how to discuss sexuality differently.