I love Valentine’s Day. I’m one of those shameless fans. Beyond having an excuse to make cards to send to my loved ones and cook heart-shaped food items (yes, I have heart-shaped egg poachers…), I think celebrating love is a wicked way to spend a day.
Beyond believing that love is, well, essential for humans to live healthy and fulfilled lives, I believe that Valentine’s Day can be a good opportunity to have conversations about healthy sexual relationships in all their forms. With your partner. With your friends. With strangers, for that matter. After all, having good sex is good for you. It’s science. And we should all be able to talk about SCIENCE. Right?
Yet, talking about sex is often complicated, taboo, or embarrassing, and not just the questions about sexual health. Sexual relationships aren’t usually square, easy, or untethered to other equally complicated aspects of one’s life. Like love. I haven’t found many instances where love is square, easy, untethered.
And while sex and love are not always inextricably linked, the Venn diagram of sex and love in the context of committed relationships usually produces some sort of overlap. In fact, sex can be a great way to put your finger on the pulse of your relationship.
- How connected are you?
- How well do you communicate?
- Do you trust one another?
- What are the power dynamics like?
- Is your partner invested in your pleasure?
- Are you invested in hers/his?
- Do you feel safe?
When I first started working in reproductive health back in college, friends would come out of the woodwork with all sorts of questions. Guy friends had questions about what a period really is and what really happens. (One dear friend – who shall remain nameless – thought that blood just comes gushing out of your body all at once, like a monsoon. That poor guy.) Others disclosed to me that their girlfriend had had an abortion, and they had no idea what to do or how to feel.
A few girlfriends would start a story with key details about their last sexual encounter, and blurt out some version of “Am I pregnant?” Others weren’t sure they’d ever experienced an orgasm at all. Ever. Others weren’t sure they were in safe relationships, but weren’t sure how to tell.
This made me smack my forehead at the sad state of sex education in this country and the impact that social conservatism has had on young people’s ability to live fun and healthy sexual lives. But it also made me think of how most people don’t have anyone to talk to about this stuff. It was like a giant neon sign appeared above my head, saying “It’s OK to talk to me about sex!”
It was also about having someone to talk to about more than ovulation and condoms and gonorrhea, but the other stuff. Consent. Pleasure. Power. Bodies. Monogamy. Hook-ups. The morning after.
Since then, things have changed a little, thanks to social media. While there are certainly myths out there, there are bastions of forward-thinking platforms about sexual and reproductive health that go beyond what you should have learned in 7th grade health classes. A lot of conversations about sex should start from the perspective of demystifying it, busting up the idea that sex should be enshrined in a layer of shame and never mentioned in the light of day.
A personal favourite is Bedsider. I drool over their newsletters, love their Guy’s Guide to Birth Control (because, after all, it takes two, right?), and cite their 5 tips for talking to anyone about sex and birth control often. Overall, I wish that this sexual vernacular was at everyone’s disposal. (Well, it is. Sign up for their newsletter!)
Planned Parenthood’s Am I Pregnant is also brilliant, and was spurred on by the fact that so many women Googled pregnancy symptoms first before taking any action.
And until I reincarnate as a sex therapist, the kind with crazy hair who wears bright woolen ponchos and talks to people about their sexual energy, I think it would benefit us all to work towards a more evolved sexual paradigm, one where there aren’t particular people to talk to about sex, sexuality, sexual relationships, and sexual health, but more of a common language for men AND women. Planned Parenthood NYC’s Let’s Talk About Sex event is one step in that direction. There are cupcakes and sex toys involved.
In the meantime, happy and safe sexing this Valentine’s Day! It’s good for you. It’s science.