Let’s talk about (not having) sex, baby

Some people are being left behind in sex positive discourse.

When I think about the first time I had penetrative sex, all I see is dick.

Despite having dated for a month and spoken at length about sex, it wasn’t until their dick was staring at me that I decided to tell them: “while I’ve done a lot of secondary research, I’m lacking in primary research.”

It was a confession that had been preceded by a session with friends where I was reduced to tears over whether or not I wanted to divulge this information. In reality, I  should have treated it like a benign fact similar to my love of popcorn.

I was 21 years old when I had sex for the first time. This could be thought of as “late”, when you consider that the median age of first intercourse is 17. And I certainly felt like I was late. While everyone around me compared their lives to Carrie or Samantha, I was wondering if this was how the life of the 40-year-old virgin started.

Exceptions exist, but the main assumption is that people who engage in the dialogue around sex are having, or at least have had, sex.

I’m not talking about sex education, because that happens (or, at least, should happen) with school students who, to a large extent, have never had sex. I’m talking about the dialogue that usually happens in leftist discourse, especially at places such as university. The assumption here is that we’re all fucking.

It’s fed, in part, by the fact that most of the sex positive media we consume involves personal anecdotes, or comes from a place of “personal experience”. In much of this content, the person’s experience validates the opinions being put forward. For many subject areas, this makes sense, but the fact is you don’t need to be giving blowjobs to know they can be shit to give, and you shouldn’t need to have had sex to be able to talk about it.

Before I had had sex, I directed a three-day festival dedicated to all things sex. When I tell people this, their initial reaction is surprise. When we tried to organise an event for people who had never had sex, we ultimately weren’t able to because of the fear people would feel uncomfortable outing themselves.

At what point do we need to stop and reassess the culture, if not at the point where people who have never had sex feel shame for admitting that fact? Reclaiming and overtly expressing sexuality has been an incredibly important part of radical queer movements, but I believe there is space to advocate for kinky sex while also acknowledging that some people will just want to know how to masturbate.

While the exclusion of asexual people from sex positive movements has been well documented, I think we need to be making more space for those who have never had sex — not because they are asexual, but just, well, because. There are a plethora of reasons why people get to certain ages and have never had sex. There are also cultural considerations for why many people feel uncomfortable, or unable, to speak so openly about their sex lives, or lack thereof.

And, to be frank, it’s not our business why someone hasn’t had sex. But it should be our business to ensure our conversations include them.

That starts by talking about the shame that can come when so many of the discussions had by young people are about sex, and you don’t feel like you can contribute to the conversation because you don’t have a story to tell.

All of this is compounded by media that makes us believe the best sex is the weirdest, kinkiest, or most adventurous. That our lives, and particularly our relationships, are inherently better off if we are consistently “spicing up our sex lives”.

Failing to consider those who aren’t having sex is the beginning of a long string of things that accumulate in conversations that revolve around who’s sex life is the “most adventurous”. Sex becomes a competitive sport where the goal post keeps moving, and the winner is no one when we begin comparing our sex lives in an attempt to assure ourselves we’re doing it right.

Of course, we need to be talking openly about sex. But the way we do it matters just as much as the content. Taking the time to affirm that you don’t need to be having sex in order to engage in dialogues about it is an important step in reducing the isolating effects that discussions around sex can create.

Giving space to these stories and voices — the ones that don’t rely on personal experiences to provide insight — will result in a more nuanced understanding of the effectiveness and accessibility of our sex discourse in battling heteronormative narratives.

In fact, I shouldn’t be the person writing this article.