Why it’s important to talk about sex

Leading up to Wilkes ResLife’s Sex Bingo, students had various—and sometimes adverse— reactions to the idea. Although talking about sex is something that can be uncomfortable for some, events like these are necessary to work to overcome the issues that come with a lack of open communication and sex education.

A vast majority of students receive sex education before they turn 18, according to the CDC. However, this education is likely to be inadequate in some way. Most are taught about STIs and how to say no to sex, yet a significantly smaller portion of the youth population is taught about methods of birth control.

Instead of teaching about birth control, it is common for schools across the United States to heavily encourage abstinence as a primary—or sometimes the sole—birth control method. There are more states that stress abstinence than states that require educators to teach about birth control, according to Planned Parenthood.

Although it is believed that withholding information about sex or deliberately teaching people not to have sex will lead to less people having sex and experiencing sex-related issues, it has shown not to be the case. Young people aged 15 to 24 still make up half of the 20 million new cases of STIs in the U.S. every year, according to the CDC. Young people will continue to have sex, just in an unsafe manner without birth control due to inadequate education.

Additionally, restricting education and enforcing abstinence further creates a stigma surrounding sex and communication about sex. Framing sex as something that is considered shameful makes many young people feel uncomfortable or unsafe talking about it, which can make them at risk for becoming pregnant, contracting STDS or even becoming victims of sexual assault.

In a Planned Parenthood survey, men and women were persistently confused on what constitutes both consent and sexual assault. Many have not received education on how to ask for consent and what behaviors are considered consent. Others are uncomfortable to even ask for sex or talk about their sexual boundaries. This leads to unintended sexual misconduct that could have been prevented if people were more educated and felt more comfortable talking about what they wanted out of a sexual encounter.

A small number of states require education about birth control and safe sex practices, but an even smaller number of states require discussion of LGBTQ+ identities and relationships to be inclusive and affirming, according to Planned Parenthood. Many queer students across the nation remain disproportionately underinformed. A few states have even prohibited educators from discussing LGBTQ+ topics or require them to frame queerness as a negative thing, according to Planned Parenthood.

When our high schools are censoring LGBTQ issues and sex topics in general, it is more important than ever to create a safe environment in higher education and elsewhere in which young people can comfortably learn and talk about sex. Events like ResLife’s sex bingo break the ice and create an opportunity for a healthy discussion and cultural change. Not only is this openness essential for health and safety, but it can also strengthen our sexual relationships and deconstruct harmful sex narratives.

The conversations we do have about sex are generally focused on these health and safety issues, but talking about sex openly and honestly also simply leads to better sex. When many are uncomfortable talking about surface-level sex topics like birth control, most are not taught how to have sex and remain uncomfortable talking about sexual desires, even with a romantic partner.

This is especially true for women. In a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2019, 55 percent of women surveyed reported that they chose not to talk about sex with their intimate partner, despite wanting to. When asked why, they commonly cite that they did not feel comfortable going into details and did not know how to ask for what they wanted sexually.

According to the NIH, more than 90 percent of men usually experience orgasms in their intercourse, but this proportion is only around 50 percent among women. This pleasure gap illustrates how harmful stigmas and closedness about sex can lead to poorer sexual experiences.

When women feel as though they cannot talk about sex, it further enforces the narrative that sex is an act performed on women, rather than something that women can actively enjoy and participate in. Further, women voicing their sexual needs and boundaries can assist in deconstructing some harmful societal problems like the idea that women are sexual objects and the tendency for women to be disproportionately sexually assaulted.

Our adverse attitudes towards sexual discussion can further enforce and contribute to the current harmful ideas about sexuality in the U.S. When we are more open about these issues, it opens the door for solutions and change. Although communication cannot solve everything, it can certainly lead to a better future.