It’s Okay to be Horny

Words by: Malena Frey
Art by: Anita Lin

Sexual shame relates to feeling wrong or guilty for the way one expresses themselves sexually. While this can be feeling shame for enjoying sex, it also encompasses shame for the frequency of wanting sex, intiating sex, the type of sex someone likes, the person someone is having sex with, for having sexual fantasies or desires, masturbation, or even for simply being horny.

By depicting unhelpful and untruthful messages about sexuality, and how we should feel about sex, popular culture such as television, movies, books, and the media typically play a large role in eliciting these feelings of sexual shame. The influences of family, friends, one’s cultural and religious traditions can also contribute to the notion that being female and horny is abnormal, or at the bare minimum, not something to be open about.

These societal influences often portray men as the always horny, sex loving gender, and as the initiators of sexual activity; and deem this as perfectly acceptable. In contrast, women who are seen to enjoy sex and be highly sexually active are termed licentious, easy, slutty — the list is long. By producing these negative labels, women are consequently deterred from being open about loving sex to avoid the risk of being labelled in the same way.

Although not in every case, as a single woman I’ve noticed that disparity exists between the experiences of sexual shame of single women, in comparison to that experienced by women in relationships. It seems that women in relationships are free to openly discuss their sex lives and can be having sex five times a day without a second thought or comment from anyone, all because they are in a monogamous relationship. What’s more, I often find my friends being congratulated on their flourishing sex lives. Yet when single women talk about the latest guy they’ve slept with, they’re often told that respectable women don’t “sleep around” or that they should be careful not to let the number of people they’ve slept with become too high. As a result of wanting sex, single women may have multiple sex partners or one night stands too. This can lead to their sex lives becoming privy to other people and their judgments, which can exacerbate sexual shame. In particular, I’ve had people tell me to keep quiet about my sexual activity to avoid gaining an unfavourable reputation. Hearing and seeing this, much of my own sexual shame has stemmed from the idea that if I’m not having sex with someone I’m in a relationship with or have feelings for, then I either shouldn’t be having sex at all, or should at least be keeping quiet about it.

Irrespective of relationship status however, experiencing shame for certain sexual preferences and desires seems to be pervasive. If it isn’t already difficult enough to be open about liking sex, admitting to liking unconventional sexual practices such as polyamorous sex, or kink or rough sex can feel even more wrong. Indeed, statements from male friends that women shouldn’t admit to liking certain kinds of sex, paired with the presence of other disapproving attitudes has certainly made confessing to wanting something different a major source of embarrassment and self criticism for myself and many friends.

Yet in spite of what seems a myriad of ways in which sexual same can arise, sexual shame can also be unlearnt. The reality is that being sexual is natural and hardwired into everyone, women included.

No one was born feeling shame for their sexuality, nor does it serve any positive purpose. In fact, negative
emotions around sex have consistently been shown to hinder sexual pleasure, while feeling positive about sex can be crucial in achieving improved sexual health and overall wellbeing. Being sexually active can too serve as an amazing source of stress relief, and boost self-esteem. Aside from this, the more women talk about enjoying sex, the more normal the concept can become, and the faster we can work towards stamping out sexual shame for good. Importantly, not feeling guilty for enjoying sex can promote engagement in conversations about sex overall, which can play an important role in ensuring sex continues to be a positive and safe experience for not only yourself but for your friends too.

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