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Let’s Talk About the Taboo of Sex

Part 1: Sex sells—but many are still ashamed to talk about it.

Let's talk about sex, baby (sing it)
Let's talk about you and me (sing it, sing it)
Let's talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let's talk about sex (come on)
Let's talk about sex (do it)
Let's talk about sex (uh-huh)
Let's talk about sex
Ladies, all the ladies, louder now, help me out
Come on, all the ladies—let's talk about sex, all right

Salt-N-Pepa Songwriters: Herbie Azor / Herby Azor, Lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc

In 1991, whether they realized it or not, the all-female group Salt-N-Pepa would leave a lasting impression on the minds of listeners everywhere with their smash hit "Let’s Talk About Sex." This was not necessarily for the groove or the danceability of the song, but rather because the song opened a dialogue with millions of listeners across the globe. Their message? You have to talk about sex. You have to discuss the bad and the good in order to make it work.

And then there were the 50 Shades of Grey trilogies! Oh, what a wealthy woman I would be if I had a dime for every client of mine who uttered “50 Shades” with pure, unadulterated delight. Actually, the only thing that would surpass that financial windfall would be the number of times their partner sat in that same session, in silence, sheer horror, looking ashamed, or giggling at the very mention of anything to do with sex. The ability to engage in open communication about sex is an area that still remains taboo throughout society today.

Sex has long been thought of as a topic cloaked in fantasy, privacy, and kept between the sheets of consenting adults. That is, unless you look into any mainstream media. Hollywood might have you believing that sex not only sells but that it should be something that comes easy to anyone engaged in the conversation. Advertisers guarantee your sexual attraction if you just buy their product. Modern day fiction plays out sexual scenarios many only dare fantasize about. These are the kinds of desires we dare not utter in public—or in private, for that matter. The "sex sells" trend doesn’t seem to be reversing anytime soon. One has only to look at the capital being dumped into this industry.

Source: Shutterstock

Sex and romance are noted as some of the largest income generators in any industry. Considered buying a steamy novel? Apparently, so has everyone else. The romance fiction industry is worth over a billion dollars. Wondered whether you should spice up your sex life with toys? In 2017, the global markets for the adult toy industry reported a net worth of close to $24 billion dollars. Additionally, these figures were projected to increase by about 40 percent by 2020. Add in the income of the porn industry and we can pay off the debts of and feed small countries… for life. We love to watch it, read it, and participate in sex—but with all this interest and openness about it, why do we struggle to speak about it openly?

Culture, Family, and Religion

The morals values and beliefs we hold are a result of our upbringing, interwoven with a rich tapestry of family, religion, and societal expectations. Theorists Piaget and Kholberg have long been known as pioneers helping us understand the moral stages of development as experienced by children and extending into adulthood.

In each of the respective theories, individuals are said to go through stages where they experience moral dilemmas as a means of understanding and developing future moral reasoning. This facilitates one’s ability to behave in ways that are considered morally acceptable within a particular historical, cultural or religious context. These expectations are often based on the experiences of family, passed on through the generations, modeled by those around us, and strongly influence the establishment of norms. The younger a child is, the more likely they are to view rules and concepts in terms of right vs. wrong.

Abstinence Only
Source: Shutterstock

In addition to familial and cultural influence, spiritual upbringing is also known to play a significant part in moral development. Based on religious teachings, in the first stage of moral development, the rules are handed down by adults but are first established by God. These beliefs are thought to be absolute. It is not until much later in childhood and early adolescence that children will challenge some of the beliefs taught to them as children.

Imagine, then, how the church plays into the development of morals. Throughout history, parents have raised children based on the teachings of most mainstream churches, in which youth are typically indoctrinated into the purity culture. In many of these teachings, abstinence is the only way of life.

Unfortunately, this belief set is mired in the difficulty of adherence to stringent rules on abstinence and purity. Children are expected to follow the rules of elders—yet not all of them are conducting themselves in a way that should be modeled by our youth.

This is evidenced by the recent fall from grace of the author and evangelical powerhouse, Joshua Harris. In a statement written via social media, Harris apologizes for failing to live the message he preached to youth across America for years. The struggle among all generations to adhere to absolute teachings, can make the topic even more difficult to discuss. In these situations, incongruency can stem from a desire to explore one’s sexuality while grappling with the guilt and shame that arise from the potential to be labeled as a sinner. This mindset perpetuates the shame that renders this topic silent.

The norms each person is raised with are strong predictors of the comfort levels for future discussion. As odd as it may seem to talk about the moral development of children as impacting an adult’s ability to openly speak about sex, this is precisely where it starts. At the same time, the right to educate a child about sex, in a particular way, lies with the parents.

Despite this right, many parents choose not to do so. When predominant figures fail to address sex1 and sexuality at the appropriate stages, greater consequences result. Given that education remains an ongoing process throughout the developmental continuum, the sooner the dialogue begins, the less likely someone will be to suppress the natural desire to understand this topic or worse yet, seek understanding in places where the information provided is woefully inaccurate.

Interested in more? Stay tuned for Part Two, coming soon...


Leung, H., Shek, D., Leung, E., & Shek, E. (2019). Development of Contextually-relevant Sexuality Education: Lessons from a Comprehensive Review of Adolescent Sexuality Education Across Cultures. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(4), 621. doi:10.3390/ijerph16040621

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