Why our view of sex has evolved so little

We were really excited to be featured in this wonderful article about Enjoy Sex in Smoda, the El Pais magazine. Here is the interview in full. Check out these awesome questions!

1. In the past sex was something negative, dark, permitted only to make children. Now we are all supposed to want, love and enjoy sex and have a lot of orgasms. This can be as bad as the idea of sex used to be, and it puts too much pressure. It seems that we didn’t have too much time to travel from the first idea of sex to the second one, quite opposite.

Absolutely. It seems like we’ve gone from being a sex negative culture to being a sex positive one, in many ways. Often sex positivity is seen as a much better thing, but as you say it actually comes with many problems too. For a start it still tends to assume that sex is one thing (penis in vagina intercourse leading to orgasm), and trying to fit that model is tough on lots of people. Also there is the idea that you should be having regular sex, and very exciting sex, and both those things put a lot of pressure on people and on relationships. Both sex negativity and sex positivity have the idea that you should be doing something, rather than tuning into what’s right for you. This is why we want to be critical of some of the ideas that our culture has around sex: to encourage people to be ‘sex critical’ rather than sex negative or sex positive. We’d like to replace both sex negativity and sex positivity with the idea that it is fine to be wherever you are in terms of sex in terms of whether you want it at all, and what you want.

2. And, what is even worse, is that we are living in a hypersexualized society without having too much sex education. Everybody can imagine the consequences of having zero education in the future of one person, but how it will be the sexuality of a man/woman that have never had sex education?

Again we totally agree with you, it’s really tough that at the same time as society has become a lot more explicitly sexual, the amount of education about sex hasn’t improved for the most part since we were at school. It still focuses on reducing risks rather than helping people – of all genders- to learn how to have consensual and pleasurable sex and relationships if they want to.

3. This sexual capitalism, in we are living now, have a lot of demands for us, consumers. What are the most important sexual requirements for people now (having orgasms, lasting long, enjoy all kind of activities such oral or anal sex, etc)?

People are very concerned about being ‘normal’ when it comes to sex: having sex at a certain frequency, lasting long enough, having genitals that are able to get erect, or be penetrated, and orgasm, etc. Again we’re trying to challenge this idea of ‘good’, ‘normal’ or ‘proper’ sex because it stops us from finding out what works for us. People are very diverse when it comes to sex and it’s far better if they can figure out what works for them – if anything – than trying to fit a perceived ‘norm’ or ‘ideal’.

4. Is the attitude of asexual people some form of resistance in a hypersexualized world?

There are actually lots of different reasons why people are asexual, aromantic, or celibate, so we need to be careful not to generalise from these kinds of examples. However, it is interesting that these kinds of communities have become so much more prominent at the moment. We’re excited by the fact that increasing numbers of people are able to articulate the relationship to sex and romance that they want, rather than feeling pressured to follow the cultural script: it’s something that we could all learn from these communities.

5. In your book you mention that sex advice given is about techniques to be good in the classical issues that everybody understand as ‘proper sex’. Sex advice reinforces the classical idea of sex. How should sex advice be?

Our book was all about trying to answer this question! For us it was important to do the following:

  • Put consent at the heart of the book
  • Emphasise the diversity of bodies, sexual desires, relationships, and sexual practices, and how things can change over time
  • Focus on being present to your own experience, and being critical of the messages that we receive about sex

6. Most of the people think they have a sexual problem. Only few people are happy with their sexual lives and sexual performances. Is this perception right? Why we are so insecure and vulnerable about sex?

You’re right that surveys find that around half of people report having a sexual problem, and 10% report being distressed with their sex lives. We think that people feel insecure and vulnerable because of the messages they get from wider culture that sex is very important and that there’s only one ‘right’ way of doing it.

7. In your book you introduce the concept of biopsychosocial environment of sexuality. What is that? If everybody is different and unique, we should build our sexualities tailor-made?

Biopsychosocial means that our sexuality is shaped by our bodies and brains (bio), our personal experiences in life(psycho), and the culture around us (social), and that all of these things interact in complex ways. For example, in the book we give the example of a man who was aware of the cultural messages that it’s really important for men to get hard for sex (social), this gave him the experience of anxiety that he might not be able to live up to this cultural expectation (psycho), which resulted in his body struggling to maintain an erection (bio).

8. One of your main intentions in the book is that “people will feel able to tune into sex they may actually want, to have sex they feel they should have”. Sometimes the most difficult thing is to discover what you really like, because human being always had some kind of brainwash about sex (what is good, or bad, or a sin, or something you have to try if you want to be cool). What is the recipe for a more ‘virginal’ brain, in terms of sex. A brain that could find what does it like?

You’re spot on about this. Brainwashing is a really good word for it. Sadly it’s impossible to ever get back to a ‘virginal brain’ however we might want to, because we live in the world with all its messages around sex. What we can do is try to unpack those messages and understand the influence that they have on us, and also try to be present to the sex we have.

9. “Being present during sex is probably the key to have a more enjoyable sex” says your book. Can you explain to me a little bit more about this kind of sexual meditation?

Being present is an idea from mindfulness where you try to stay with the experience you’re having rather than being carried off elsewhere by thoughts and feelings. For example, if you’re drinking a cup of coffee, being present would be about really attending to the smell of the drink, the heat of the liquid as it hits your mouth, the different flavours, and the way your body responds to the caffeine. Often we aren’t present at all and we barely notice the drink: it’s just a habitual thing we do to wake up in the morning. Similarly with sex we can try to be present to each touch, or word, or sensation, rather than getting carried away on worries about what we should do next, or comparisons with other times we’ve had sex, or thoughts about other things.

10. Millennials tend to a non-heterosexual sexuality with all kinds of relationships (queer). Do you think a more elastic sexual orientation is good, or it will produce other kind of problems? Is this tendency a new way of understand sexuality or just a marketing strategy for some celebrities reborned now as bisexuals, pansexuals, queers…?

It’s true that in a recent survey it was found that around half of young people were not exclusively heterosexual. Also research is finding that many people’s sexualities change over time rather than staying the same. We do celebrate these shifts because they take us away from an idea of one sexual ‘norm’ that everybody should fit, as well as introducing the idea that it’s fine to change over time. This is good for everyone, including those who identify as straight or heterosexual, because it opens up more diverse ways of doing sex and relationships. In a way celebrities are important because they let people know that diverse sexualities and gender are possible, although as always it’s complicated!

11. What is the influence of pornography and digital world (apps, webcams) in sexuality? How will be the sex of the future?

Unfortunately we’re not fortune tellers so it’s hard to know! However we do think that porn, erotic fiction, cybersex, webcams, etc. are interesting because they start to expand our idea of what ‘counts’ as sex. Actually sex can include talking, reading, watching, listening, online chat, and all of these things. Again it takes the pressure off certain bodies ‘performing’ in certain ways if we can be open to all the erotic possibilities.

12. Which are the most common wrong ideas about sex from men and women? Do you think both sexes have different views about sexuality?

It’s important to remember here that there are more genders than just men and women! At least a third of people experience their gender as something between or beyond that binary. There are, of course, strong cultural pressures on men and women to be certain ways when it comes to sex. For example men are expected to be active, initiate, and perform, whereas women have to tread a fine line between being ‘too sexual’ and ‘not sexual enough’. Again it’s really helpful to explore your gender and the messages that you’ve received around sex based on your gender. We hope that our book might help people with this.