It’s Time to Stop Lying About Sex

The New York Times’ Op-Ed columnist, Maureen Dowd couldn’t resist jumping into the conversation about women’s sexuality, S & M and why some very smart women enjoy surrendering to a powerful man, in her recent article, She’s Fit To Be Tied (NYT April 1, 2012).

Even with this article that openly discusses the legendary Story of O and the suddenly hot Fifty Shades of Grey, we are still dancing around the lies we tell ourselves about sex. We are sex-obsessed. We are obsessed with wanting it in all its flavors, deny that we want it, and then hide it when we get it the way we want it. It takes a lot of guts to be a normal real person in the real world living a fully integrated life, i.e., embracing your sexuality.

It’s fine for creatures of fiction to go off the deep end ŕ la Story of O or Beauty in Anne Rice’s contribution to erotica and have nothing else to do but devote themselves utterly to sex. But real people, the ones who dare to step outside the sexual box, are in fact indistinguishable from everybody else. They are housewives, farmers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, cops, factory workers and high flying financiers (oh how bodice-ripper writers love those financiers—thank you Goldman Sachs).

Even though sexual desires are absolutely normal, as soon we have the nerve to admit them, even to ourselves, we immediately have to plaster it over with shame and denial. Take Kathy, one of my sexuality coaching clients, who called me the other day filled with frustrated longing.

“I want to be shameless,” she cries. ” ‘I’ the professional, ‘I’ the parent, ‘I’ the daughter, and ‘I’ the secret slut… I have denied myself so much for so long, that I don’t know what I want anymore. I want to be shameless. Yet without the scaffolding of shame, self doubt, second guessing and fear of failure, I don’t know who I would be. Some days shame feels like all I have.”

Kathy’s misery echoes exactly the same anguish I hear over and over from women and men. We are confused by society’s multiple conflicting messages. Give into your desires; don’t you dare. Be faithful; try swinging. You don’t need a partner; you are nothing without one. Be monogamous; try polyamory or open marriage. Then there’s the old standby: cheating.

It’s making us all a little crazy. We’re fragmented. We’re taught to box off our sexuality from the time we’re little kids (U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders was pilloried for advocating masturbation). I mean, we’re talking about cutting out the core of one of the most basic and necessary of human behavior from the rest of our lives. That leaves most of us isolated, angry, anxious or in therapy trying to identify what’s wrong and then attempting to reconnect to what’s been sealed off. No easy feat. Most of us ping pong between salacious voyeurism and repentance and repression. We’re programmed to fear our desires, to treat them as alien invaders that threaten the very fabric of a “normal life.”

We don’t have real language or real live people to help us even think about this in a rational context. All we have are fetishized images that keep us in perpetual heat while the gatekeepers of “morality” slam the door on sex ed and information. We are a country at war with sex.

It takes the kind of courage needed to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, to live out loud. The truth is, we’re all at risk for becoming The Scarlet Letter‘s protagonist Hester Prynne. If people knew what we did behind our closed bedroom doors or in private sex clubs that exist in every state in this great nation, we can be pretty sure that there’d be hell to pay. Anyone who’s been outed knows the stakes: lose a job, get booted from the PTA, and worse, publicly shamed.

I know whereof I speak on this one. I outed myself. I figured, What was there to be ashamed of exactly? That I was happier? A better wife and mother when I finally unearthed my deeply buried sexuality? Yeah, well… I penned a funny memoir of my midlife coming of sexual age for a well regarded, crunchy granola, squeaky clean publishing house. They knew exactly what I was trying to say: I am “Everywoman,” with two kids, a 30-year-old marriage, money problems, and my mother. That I could dive into the “sexual underground,” find out that I, a powerhouse of a CEO, really liked the freedom I found in “surrender” and l could get home in time to cook dinner and have quality family time. I found healing on my journey, and I wanted to share it with the world.

Not everybody found my journey or my determination to tell it in my memoir Shameless: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time to Cook Dinner (Rodale) amusing. A lot of things most people fear will happen if they open up, happened. I lost my job. I lost some friends. I had my first anxiety attack. Some people called me names.

When a man recently asked me about the consequences of coming clean, the color drained from his face and he whispered, “It’s my worst nightmare.”

I set him straight. Yeah it was awful for a while. But I found new friends, reinvented my career, my family stayed intact and I’m content in ways I could never have imagined. I stopped hating myself. I love the sexually confident woman I’ve become. I love how that has infused everything I do with a joy I didn’t know I possessed. So there.

I also told him thousands of people contacted me and called my bravery-inspiring. They asked me for advice. I’ve become a how-to maven on being a fully integrated human being. “Don’t worry so much,” I told him. “There’s a giant community of like souls out there. You just have to know where to look.”

We’re permitted to express fascination with Fifty Shades of Grey but not the story of a real woman who reaches for desire and fulfills it without destroying her marriage or sending her kids into long term therapy. We can’t seem to get morning television to cover any real people trying to figure this out, unless of course it’s a big political or Hollywood scandal.

The closest we come to real people trying to figure this out is a quasi-freak show called Strange Sex on The Learning Channel. Isn’t it fascinating that a farmer and his wife in the Midwest going to a sex club is “strange sex”?

I don’t see an end to our cultural compulsion to talk endlessly about the “naughty and dirty parts” of sex. Until we stop telling ourselves lies about what we desire, and that it’s okay if we are lucky enough to get it. We are going to keep pointing fingers and covertly lapping up the tales of the sexual renegades, fictional or real.

Let me be unequivocal: there is nothing politically correct or expected about sexuality.  There are mainstream people out there, just like me, who are living the stories that we know people devour when we call it make believe. Because if it was “real,” then what?

What if we could live sexually integrated lives? What if we could have all kinds of marriages and still be good people? What if our neighborhoods were made up of couples who were openly monogamous, monogamish, poly, or open in their containers? What if we knew that the Smiths like to play bondage games and that the Jones enjoyed nude beaches? What if it all stopped being “Strange Sex”?

I know what it is to finally become an integrated woman and live to my full potential. I want that for all people. We’ve got the science. We’ve got the social theory and the countless talking heads. We’ve got the porn, the novels, and the cable television series. We’ve got everything except real live people to identify with.

You know what I mean; people like me. A wife, mother, professional, who is a size 12 and just turned 50. I also like to wear a lot of Eileen Fisher. I’m that woman. What about you?

What to do after reading this article?

Please leave a comment, “like it” and share it with your social networks. To learn more about Pamela Madsen, please visit her website. Pamela is offering a special to all Care2 readers. You may join her Shameless Community, a gated space where grown up can talk about real issues about sexuality, intimacy, relationships, and body image without paying the $25 membership fee. To learn more about the Shameless Community and to join click here. Please put Care2 OFFER in your application in the profile description. This is not a dating or porn site.

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Adelaide Brooks
Adelaide Brooks3 years ago

From every article I've read so far, this is the one I agree with 100%. I was thinking that if women were to surrender to their desires instead of fearing them, and it makes sense to fear them cause they are powerful, the world would be full of what the mainstream calls "sluts".
I also think that if I were to come out and really say what's on my mind or what I've been up to in front of my friends/co-workers, I'd be burnt at the stake.
I want to live my life in such a way that if it were a novel, it would outsell 50 shades ;-)

Sarah M.
Sarah M.3 years ago

thank you

Morgan Forrester
Past Member 3 years ago

There's no emptiness in sex.....not between people who trust each other & want to share in something outside of their "professional","parental" and/or "habitual" roles.....Respect is there as long as the sharing is there........sticking to everyday habits 365 days a year, come hell or high water......will eventually drown a once close, respectful relationship!
Sex is the one activity where a couple can sensually touch,explore each other......just be.

Victor M.
Victor M.3 years ago

Totally right.
Why we cheat? Because we don't talk openly with our couple or he/she doesn't want to? So we look in another one what we can not found.

Cyrille D.
Cyrille D.3 years ago

Hm. Interesting article. Definitely worth reading. I agree with you : we all should be open with our sexuality. Now, I'm not sure making your fantasies come true is a happiness recipe. I believe fantasies are like dreams : it's great to make them come true, but, once it's done, you tend to feel "empty" and left with nothing...if not feeling bad. Sexuality requires balance, like every other thing in our lives. You should be sexually satisfied, but, you should also keep in mind that self-respect is worth much more than the biggest O you can get. At least, it is for me. Open debate, really...keep it coming !

Jane Barton
Jane Barton3 years ago

No, it isn't. Sex is legal, fun and positive and I will NOT let mean, backward prudes who are wacked out crazy get in the way of MY pursuit of happiness that I am GUARANTEED by my constitution. These perverts can keep on raping altar boys in the privacy of their churches, that's their business, and I never once stuck MY NOSE in THEIR BUSINESS. NOW they will NOT STICK THEIR NOSE IN MY VAGINA and TELL ME WHAT TO DO IN MY BEDROOM or WHETHER I CAN TALK ABOUT SEX. I will talk about SEX any time I WANT and NO HOLIER THAN THOU PRUDE PERVERT WILL STOP ME.

Laurie Peterson Sudol
Laurie S.3 years ago

It's going to be a longgggg time before our society can handle discussing sex! It's probably not going to happen in my lifetime. I am ok with discussing it with a personal partner, but many in our society still thinks sex is taboo or they chuckle and call it dirty etc..... Sex is fun and exciting and a host of other postiive things, but that has to be your background, your knowledge or your experience and unfortunately, everyone does not have that.

Chad A.
Chad Anderson3 years ago

The US has this incredible combination of out-there, in-your-face, lack of privacy and titillation with anything vaguely sexual and extreme puritanism. We need to start having more mature public discussions about sex and sexuality.

Pearl Duval
Pearl Duval3 years ago

How do you expect people to talk openly about sex when they can't even explain where babies come from to their own children ? So it's a delicate subject, deal with it instead of letting teachers and strangers educate them !
Most of us have been brainwashed by priests and nuns, rabbies and imams, to despise our own bodies, to think sex is taboo and should never be spoken about, to feel shame whenever we feel good.
Well I say ENOUGH already !! It takes a lot of growing up to be able to free you spirit and your body from such a burden, to allow yourself orgasm time and again, to feel good about your body...hey if someone else likes your body and accepts it the way it is and tells you about it, why don't you ?
Have fun !!

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia3 years ago

one thing that frustrates me is people cant just talk about sex like the normal thing it is. i would get so annoyed that people assume that im willing to talk about sex openly that meant i wanted to have sex with them. i am mature enough to talk about it without being turned on or feeling horny. its just stupid