Defining ‘normal’ needlessly moralizes sex
I have not had sex ever. I like the idea of sex; I respect it. However, certain things such as blow jobs and miscellaneous practices that don’t involve vaginal penetration sound quite unnatural and even perverted to me. However, they seem to be frequently practiced. I guess my question is, in heterosexual sex, what is normal, and what isn’t? Is there even such thing as normal sex practices?
-Wondering What’s Weird
This is a whopper of a question, WWW, and I won’t be able to address it all here. Check out my blog on The Pioneer’s website for a more detailed answer later this week. Today, I just want to talk about the idea of “normal” sex.
When it comes to sex, what’s normal? This is a dangerously tricky question, because “normal” can have two meanings here. The first meaning is “typical”: When it comes to sex, what do the majority of people do? It would take some research, but we could come up with a definitive answer to this question. But there’s another meaning to the word “normal”; it can also take on a moral tone and be interpreted as “natural” or “right.” In that sense, “normal” means “not weird.”
The trouble arises here when we conflate the two definitions: equating what the majority does with what is right and suggesting that if you’re doing something unusual, you’re doing something wrong. When you ask if something sexual is “normal,” you have to ask yourself which definition you mean. Asking if something is common is one thing; asking if it’s natural is something entirely different.
In terms of sex, there is no “natural.” There may be things that many—even most—people incorporate into their sex lives, but that means nothing. Everyone has their own individual likes and wants, and as long as it’s practiced in a conscientious, ethical way, there’s nothing about a niche, kinky fetish that’s less legitimate than plain intercourse in the missionary position.
But there’s more to it than the problems involved in arbitrarily deciding that certain sexual practices are natural. If you define “normal sex” by listing a standard package of activities, this easily leads to feelings of obligation or expectation. For instance, if your idea of normal sex includes a blow job and intercourse, then you’re likely to feel as if something’s wrong when a sexual encounter doesn’t include both.
This is particularly relevant in Whitman’s hookup culture, where communication has a risk of ending at “Want to have sex?” If we just assume that we and our partner(s) share the same understanding of what normal sex entails, we’re less likely to ask them what they do or don’t want. If we feel like it’s weird to not do a certain thing in bed, then we’re less likely to raise personal objections.
What’s more, being distracted in bed—say, by worrying about how normal you are—is a surefire way to make sex less enjoyable for everyone involved. Sex is better when everyone involved is at ease, and the more nervous you are during a sexual encounter, the harder it is to feel in the moment. In addition, many people with penises find that distraction makes staying hard, well, hard (not the end of the world, but certainly frustrating). You don’t want to be trapped in your head fretting over what’s normal; you want to be totally comfortable with yourself and your partner(s).
Screw normal. Normal—in the sense of “what everyone else does”—doesn’t matter. WWW, if you don’t want blow jobs in your sex life, they have absolutely no place there, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Sex isn’t about “everyone else.” Sex is about the people who are involved, no more and no less.
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