on “letting nature take its course”

Yesterday, I blogged about the The Sexual Health, Education and Pleasure Project in Toronto and some of Dr. Miriam Grossman’s backlash to accurate, pleasure-positive sex education. But there was one thing that she said that I want to come back to since it wasn’t quite on-topic yesterday.

Here’s the quote from the Macleans article about SHEPP that caught my eye:

“People are going to discover on their own what feels good,” [Dr. Grossman] says.

To me, this sounds like a re-hash of “just let nature take its course” and I think that’s one of the more insidiously sex & pleasure-negative stances we can take.

It’s a problem because sex isn’t actually all that intuitive. Yes, manypeople will discover some of the things that feel good to them all on their own. Some people will be sexually adventurous and try different positions, or techniques or whatever. And many, many people will simply never think to try something that, in fact, might be really fun to do. Or they’ll be in discomfort or pain because they think that’s the way it’s supposed to be or because they don’t know that other possibilities exists.

Here’s a thought experiment for you. Imagine for a moment that we’re talking about food. What would you think if someone said that we don’t need cookbooks, websites with food advice, or tv shows because people could just discover what tastes good on their own? Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? So how is it any different when we’re talking about sex?

In reality, sex (like food) is a wonderfully complex interaction between desire, biology, mood, emotion, preference, and experience. Our likes and dislikes for both change over time as we develop new tastes. And they’re both parts of our lives that we need encouragement and support to explore in order to discover what to choose out of the vast menu of options.

Sexual ignorance is responsible for a larger percentage of sexual dysfunction than most people realize. Anyone who is actually familiar with the work that sex therapists, counselors, clergy, and educators engage in quickly learns that lack of information is one of the biggest factors for sexual challenges. Shame is the other big one, by the way, and ignorance and sexual shame are often interrelated.

In addition, there are a lot of reasons why sex might not feel good to someone. Medical issues, differences in individual sexual response, how comfortable one is in one’s body, the ability to describe one’s desires, emotions and triggers- these are only a few of the factors that can make sexual pleasure a challenge. If we “let nature take its course,” all we’re doing is guaranteeing that people never figure out how to work with or overcome their challenges. In fact, many people are not simply going to discover what feels good.

What we need is sex education that helps us figure out what our authentic sexual desires and boundaries are. We need support to explore our options and discover what will work best for each of us. We need accurate, non-judgmental information about how sex works so we can make our own choices. What we don’t need is to “let nature take its course.”

mazeAs Eleanor Roosevelt said,  “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” Not only that, but when it comes to sex, we can learn from other people’s successes, too. That’s one of the best things about sex education. People like Dr. Grossman seem to advocate for us to all wander through the maze, hoping we find our way out.

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3 Responses so far.

  1. Josh Sharp says:

    Charlie,

    What implication does this have on my responsibility of two children, one boy and one girl. I have always been sex positive and want them to be as educated and mature in this subject as possible. At what age is it considered ¨responsible” to provide advanced sex education, past the anatomy of the thing? And in what setting? I guess by law it would have to be after the age of consent in any given State.

    I totally agree with your assessment here, but am looking for more information on the subject. Any further reading/conversation you could direct us to would be greatly appreciated.

  2. Charlie says:

    Well, I don’t know that there’s any specific age- that’s part of the problem. Some kids are ready for information at a given age that others aren’t ready for until much later. Although I’m not a parent myself, from talking with lots of parents and watching their kids grow up, it seems to me that when a child is asking a question, that’s a sign that they’re ready for an answer.

    Having said that, one of the best things that a parent can do is talk about *why* to have sex, rather than *how*. That models the decision-making process and helps kids make better choices. It also makes it more likely that they’ll seek support and advice before having sex, which tends to delay when they have sex and increases the likelihood that they’ll use safer sex/contraception.

    Another good step is to have books on your shelf that they can read when they’re ready to get the info, and at their own pace. Many parents have said that it made it much easier for everyone. The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex is a popular choice for that. You might also want to check out Third Base Ain’t What It Used To Be, another book we have on our site.

  3. Another great article, Charlie.

    One minor quibble, though: the quote you attribute to Roosevelt is more correctly attributed to Martin Vanbee (the pen name of Ideals magazine founder and editor Van Buren Hooper, Sr.) but as Ralph Keyes, author of “Nice Guys Finish Seventh”: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations, has noted “famous quotes need famous mouths” and so this quote is taken out of his unknown mouth and put in hers. Not that you had any reason to know this, but then again, I have no excuse myself.

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