Despite the progress we’ve made towards sex and gender equality, there is a lingering taboo attached to sexual pleasure. Many people avoid openly expressing and pursuing their sexual desires, for fear of judgement. Others haven’t had the opportunity to figure out what their desires even are, because we lack an open and supportive sexual education. So, why is pleasure still taboo and how can we move towards a pleasure-friendly future?
The taboo surrounding pleasure stems from various social and cultural attitudes, religious beliefs, and moral values. While many of these attitudes are outdated in the 21st Century, there is an enduring hangover, whereby we haven’t shaken them off entirely. Take traditional gender roles, for instance. In societies that uphold or enforce traditional gender roles, female-identifying individuals may be expected to prioritise the needs and desires of others, to the detriment of their own. For the individuals who do engage in pleasurable activities, there may be a culture of shame and stigmatisation. While the general cultural consensus on traditional gender roles has shifted today, this culture of shame is still, stubbornly in place. Changing long held attitudes is one thing, but changing education and conversations around female pleasure is a more complicated task.
Even where gender roles aren’t enforced explicitly, other cultural forces, like porn, can underestimate the importance of female pleasure. These days, most people are first exposed to sex through the lens of pornography. While there is a growing field of ethical porn that celebrates female pleasure, most porn is still catered to a male gaze that focuses on male desires.
While porn can be a fantastic way to explore desires and kinks, it shouldn’t be the first and only way that we are educated about sex. Many people end up learning painful lessons about sex and pleasure firsthand, but if we had a comprehensive sexual education, this pain could be lessened, or avoided completely. Education can play a crucial role in the de-stigmatisation of pleasure; normalising and encouraging inclusive, non-judgemental conversations about sex, pleasure and consent. Through these conversations, we can dispel myths and taboos around pleasure, while giving people the opportunity to explore, understand and nurture their own desires.
It’s promising that these conversations are already happening online and within communities. Taboos are gradually collapsing, and attitudes are slowly shifting. Nevertheless, finding these safe spaces and starting these conversations can be a difficult, painful process. To continue this work, we need to continue to promote open, honest, and non-judgemental conversations around pleasure from an early age.
Shedding this taboo is crucial to our empowerment as individuals. To embrace pleasure, be it sexual or otherwise, is to be fully present with the sensations and emotions that our body produces. This awareness can help us to understand, accept and love who we are.