Here’s the thing. I’m a pretty normal guy. And I feel like it’s gotten me into some weird situations. I’ve come to accept that I’m pretty vanilla when it comes to my sexual desires. I don’t even really like anal sex that much. I’m, in a word, a prude. But I’m very supportive of other ways of doing things, other people’s preferences, desires, kinks, etc.
I once found myself with a woman who was super into BDSM, and I just couldn’t do some of the things she wanted me to do. For instance, she wanted me to spank her and call her names. I felt bad, but it wasn’t part of what I wanted, and doing it for her felt scary for me. How do I negotiate those kinds of situations? Am I repressed? Am I missing something?
Thanks for your help,
My Dearest Normal,
Look, I get it.
I wear turtlenecks and one-piece bathing suits. I want a family someday with a person who I’m sleeping with and maybe even married to. I like eating and cooking square meals that consist of meat, potatoes and one vegetable. I’m pretty private about my private life. However, I also try to support people trying to have the sex they want to have. All that is to say, I can see how feeling “too normal” would be disconcerting to you. Reconciling your sensitivity with other people’s inclinations while being true to your own desires is difficult. I’ve experienced it firsthand.
The way sex is presented in popular culture, like in the polarizing HBO show Girls, you might think that if you’re not eating ass you’re not living. However, freaky sex—and a lot of it—isn’t for everybody, and that’s OK. What’s not okay is shaming other people for their desires (which it doesn’t sound like you’re doing) and on a more subtle level, telling yourself that you don’t want things that you actually do.
I feel that what will be most helpful to you in this moment is to familiarize you with “sex positivity” as a framework to help you negotiate communication with yourself and others about sexual desires. It’s a fairly recent development that we, as a culture, talk about sex as much as we do—and understanding why and how that happened will serve you well in figuring out what’s repression, what’s preference and how to talk about both.
IN THE BEGINNING
The major ideas of “sex positivity” were conceptualized by a dude named Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian psychologist who took issue with some of Freud’s ideas about sexuality. Basically, Freud believed that sexual repression was an essential part of the cultural development of society, and Reich believed that sexual repression was responsible for creating “sexual stasis” and caused “neuroses, perversions, and sexual crime.” To combat what he believed to be the ills of sexual repression, Reich reframed the discussion around the idea that sex was good for you. Yay! In a sex-positive framework, starting with that assumption is key. Even for somebody who likes turtlenecks or thinks anal is gross.
FRAME YOUR DESIRE IN THE POSITIVE
You seem concerned about not wanting to do stuff. It’s understandable when you’re confronted with desires that seem more extreme than your own. However, it’s totally possible to frame your own wants and needs in terms of positivity. Ask yourself to articulate what you are into. Saying you’re totally into penetrative sex with a woman as a straight dude is absolutely under the rubric of sex positivity and might make you feel less like you’re “missing something.”
A NOTE ON REPRESSION
It’s hard to tell if somebody is repressed by the kinds of sex they’re having and or want to have. Freud thought repression was a force that caused us to remain unconscious and push pathogenic experiences out of our minds. He saw therapy as a treatment for this repression. Reich saw sex itself as a treatment for it. It’s commonly agreed that to a certain degree, all humans are “repressed.” Likely, if you’re able to have intimate relationships with others then you’re repression isn’t crippling. Perhaps it would help you mitigate your anxiety to think of repression as something most people slip in and out of—no matter if they’re having wild group sex 10,000 feet in the air or intimate missionary-style sex at home with a long-term partner.
HOW TO START THE CONVERSATION
I always try to get people to avoid shaming other people in bed. That’s probably the hardest thing to avoid ever because sex is fraught with shame for so many. Usually, when expressing a difference in desire, it’s a good idea to start with something that you really like about the person or something that you’re really into. For example: “I really love making out with you but…I just can’t spank you.” Deferral is also a good tactic: “Hey, let’s take a break to go watch the new Star Wars movie and then we can figure this out later.” Freaking out at somebody when you’re both naked usually feels super vulnerable—and not in a good way—so proceed delicately.
You’re on the right track here already. Understanding your “normal” desire as a particular genre among many types of desires makes it easier to discuss. Part of sex positivity involves resisting assumptions that the sex you want to have is better than the sex somebody else wants to have. In the spirit of Wilhelm Reich, it’s about really enjoying the sex you do have.
Just the Tips is Playboy.com’s weekly advice column with professional matchmaker Katherine Cooper. Have a question for Katherine about sex, love or dating? Shoot her a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her @kathkathcoop.