Whenever a conversation/discussion/debate about sexual practices comes up, it’s quite common for someone to suggest that people who engage in certain activities should examine where their desires come from. Most often, I see this happen in debates around BDSM, open relationships and sex work. For example in this recent thread on Feministing, a conversation about how some women navigate the relationship between feminism and BDSM inspired one of the commenters to suggest that kinky folks need to explore why they like the sex that they do. (For some different sex-positive takes on this, check out this post, this one, and this one.)
The thing is, we almost never ask why people who engage in “normal” sex do the things they do, while simultaneously ignoring or forgetting that what we think of as normal is partially defined by culture. There was a time when oral sex was considered abnormal, but these days, not so much.
Also, there’s often an assumption that if “those people” examined their desires more, they would stop doing those nasty things they do. One implication of that is the idea that “those people” haven’t asked themselves why they do what they do. And that’s simply not true.
In my experience, many, many folks who engage in sexual practices that are outside the range of what mainstream society considers acceptable have spent a lot of time thinking about why they like kinky sex, open relationships, or whatever. In part, that’s because they don’t have the privilege of receiving validation for their sexualities, there aren’t role models for them, and because they’ve often been shamed for their desires. Maybe there will come a time when those things don’t happen, but for the moment, you can trust that most people whose sexualities fall outside the norm spend a lot of time trying to figure out why.
I think that it’s also important to also honor the fact that some people will examine their desires and come to very different conclusions than you might. To draw a parallel, I have absolutely no interest in watching sports. And at the same time, I can accept and honor the fact that other people look at a football/baseball/soccer/basketball game and get really into it. Similarly, some people explore BDSM or anal sex and decide that it’s not for them. Other people try it and discover that it suits them just fine, and maybe better than anything else. The simple fact that you don’t feel drawn to something doesn’t mean that someone else’s desire for it is because you’re more thoughtful, enlightened, or intelligent than them.
There can be a real value in exploring where your desires and fantasies come from. Sometimes, the value is that you learn something important about yourself. Sometimes, you discover ways to heal old injuries, whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual (or a combination thereof). And sometimes, you find new ways to make sex even hotter because the more you know about why something turns you on, the more you can make it happen. But sometimes, we can get so caught up in examining and justifying our desires that we forget to have sex! And that just seems silly.
I think that there’s a certain amount of arrogance implicit in the assumption that “those people” haven’t examined their sexual desires enough. I think it’s fine to ask someone if they have, provided that you’re genuinely interested in engaging in a dialogue with them. But just because someone does something you don’t, or does something in a different way, that doesn’t mean that you know better than them. That’s plain, old arrogance and I’ve never seen any good come from it.