In 2013, Dr Debby Herbenick gave a TED talk in Bloomington, Indiana, with the title ‘Making Sex Normal’. In short, she argued that sex should become a part of our conversation and the taboo surrounding it should be abandoned – naturally, I am on board with this!
When something as fundamental as reproduction and sex is condemned, we miss out on information that not only has the potential to make our experiences more enjoyable, but also could improve our safety. The YouTube space is providing us this space to discuss sex, sexuality and everything in between, and I, for one, am here for it.
In order to open up the dialogue, we need to look to where it isn’t being addressed so let’s start right at the beginning with the birds and the bees:
I imagine anyone who has gone through the British schooling system has encountered the sex education classes, usually around the age of eleven, in which we are given diagrams of male and female reproductive organs. We are told what each part is and its function, along with why we have sex and the mechanics of it.
Unless you have been blessed with a school that is somewhat progressive in this area, that was probably the extent of your learning: penis + vagina = baby. There are obvious issues here already with heteronormative presumptions and so on, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. When your hormones are completely off balance during puberty, you have no idea how to manage new emotions such as being turned on by or attracted to another person. No one explains to you what you are feeling, let alone what to do about it. At such a turbulent time emotionally, it makes teenagers vulnerable and unable to ask the “embarrassing” questions about masturbation or virginity or ‘is it supposed to look like that or am I weird?’
As embarrassed as I may have felt, I definitely would have been grateful for someone to sit down and give me an idea of how to deal with sex from the mental perspective at that age. I probably would have avoided mistakes like the fear of losing my “V-card” – a phrase which I cannot believe I used. I was so scared of whether it would hurt, what it would do, how not to get pregnant… But who was I supposed to ask? My friends were as clueless as I was, I couldn’t ask my parents, and there was no one else to turn to for answers.
The magic of the dialling tone
So I turned to the internet. At this point in my Googling career, I didn’t quite understand that there wasn’t a filter on my searches so what came up was definitely not intended for the eyes of a confused thirteen year old. The only information I had access to was either crudely drawn outlines on the school whiteboard or graphic porn that I stumbled across before hastily unplugging the monitor and having a bit of a cry.
Other media wasn’t much help either. It feels like 99.9% of films I’ve watched has a sex scene where the camera pans away dramatically, or it shows the characters lying next to each other, panting and proclaiming how amazing it was. So what was sex going to be like: clinical and scientific? Painful and violent? Artistic and perfect?
To return to Debby Herbenick’s talk, she tells the story of how her grandma didn’t know how women gave birth until the moment of delivery. Although this may seem funny, it is also scary that we can have so little knowledge about our own bodies. If sex remains a taboo topic, how are we supposed to teach teenagers about STDs and pregnancy, as well as all the feelings to go alongside it?
The great online space
This is where the internet has developed from being a place of just graphic and unrealistic depictions of sex. In fact, it’s taken a step in the right direction towards intelligent, frank and informed conversations in the form of the YouTube generation. They have started using their uncensored platform away from traditional mediums like film and TV to scrap the taboo and talk about sex the way it really is. Ranging from the people in front of their phone cameras who are discussing their personal experiences like Hannah Witton, to the TED talks which take important lectures to the bigger online audience, the online space is now dismantling the notion that sex shouldn’t be talked about outside of the bedroom. Linked here is a playlist of a few of my favourite videos, but there is so much material out there to finally make us feel less alone, and to finally answer the questions we were always afraid to ask.
Siobhan is a 20 year old English Literature student at Newcastle University, but originally from the Isle of Man. Her biggest passions are reading, writing, feminism, dogs, mental wellbeing and prosecco (not necessarily in that order).