My Friends Think It's Gross When I Talk About Sex

Freckle Face
asks:
I"m 17 and I need some advice about my friends. We've known each other for years, one since toddler hood and the other two since middle school. They all talk about losing their virginity (or just having sex in general) all the time. When we go to college next year, when her boyfriend comes home for the summer, and on and on. However, whenever I say anything regarding something like that, they act like it's the grossest thing they've ever heard. It's like I don't get to have sexual thoughts like other people. All my other friends are perfectly fine with me commenting on those kinds of things, but my "best" friends aren't. Is that normal or do they not want me to talk about that for some reason?
Sam W replies:

Hi Freckle Face,

There are a couple of things in your question that I want to address. The first is that you are, correctly, noticing that your friends are applying a double standard when it comes to talking about sex with you.

Now, to be clear, people have different levels of comfort around discussing sex, and that's totally okay. If you're someone who is more comfortable discussing it and you have friends who get uncomfortable or otherwise squicked out by it, then it's polite to refrain from discussing it around them. There's a tendency in some folks, often those who want to show how uninhibited/sex-positive/mature they are to talk about sex in every conversation, or in great detail. Or they will continue to discuss it in front of people who have asked them to stop because they feel that those people are repressed or sex-negative. If you are someone who does this, please stop. General rules of conversation mean that if someone has told you that they are uncomfortable discussing a certain topic, or hearing about certain things in detail, that you respect that boundary.

But, from your description, that's not what's happening here. These friends have made it clear that they're pretty comfortable with sex as a topic, but when you try to engage in that discussion, suddenly it's the grossest thing ever. While I can't be in the room to know exactly how these conversations are playing out, I have a sneaking suspicion that this dynamic has less to do with how you're talking about sex and more to do with how your friends perceive your relationship.

It may be that they think their comments are playful teasing, and that you're in on the joke. Or they may think it's funny to mock you, and not care if you think it's funny. Or there might be something in the way they view your role in the friend group that's behind their actions (are you somehow viewed as the "baby" of the group, or the super-innocent, sheltered one?) There are, of course, other possible explanations, but those strike me as the most likely. And, ultimately, their motives matter less than the result of their actions, which in this case is you feeling weird and picked on when you try to engage in conversations about sex.

One way to approach this, assuming you haven't tried it already, is to comment very plainly the next time it happens, "Hey, you know that whenever I try to talk about sex stuff, you act all grossed out, even though you don't do that when anyone else talks about the same stuff. What's up with that?"

Listen to their explanation, and then say "Look, when you do that, it makes me feel weird and like the odd person out. So, in the future can we agree to not act like me talking about sex is gross?"

Now, here's the important part: friends who care about you and your feelings will say something along the lines of "of course" or "OMG, I hadn't realized that, I'm sorry. Yeah, let's do that in the future." Friends who are not that invested in you feeling good will try to tell you that you're making a big deal out of it, don't be so sensitive, etc. Or, they will agree to what you ask, but then make zero effort to actually not do the "eww, gross" thing in the future. A well-meaning friend may still mess it up, especially early on, but you'll notice them making an effort to do as you asked.

This brings me to the other theme in your question, that I've seen echoed elsewhere on our direct services. That is, the fact that sometimes friend groups need a change up. Part of growing up is discovering that people you've known for a long time, or people with whom your original bond was based on geographic convenience (they're a neighbor, or you went to pre-school together) are not necessarily going to be your friends forever.

Because seriously, I see plenty of instances on here where a user is describing something their friend is doing and all I can think is "Wow, that's a jerk move." Sometimes, I think we forget that friend is not a fixed state. It's not something you achieve once and then get to hold onto no matter how you behave. It's a fluid process. You can stop being someone's friend, or they can choose to stop being yours, for lots of reasons. People grow apart, or grow closer, due to all sorts of circumstances. Sometimes we lose friends through things that are no one's fault, like a move or a change in the trajectory of our lives and theirs. Other times, we make the choice to dial back how much contact we have a friend who was once close because, for whatever reason, our lives feel a little better when we see them less.

Now, I'm not saying the way y'all discuss sex is a dealbreaker for the friendship. But take some time to reflect on the dynamics between you and these friends overall. Do you generally feel like they respect you and treat you well, and that the way they react to you talking about sex is just a weird divergence from that norm? Or, when you think about it, to they do a similar thing when you talk about other stuff (do your interests, habits, or other life choices tend to be more mocked or criticized more then theirs)? If that's the case, then it may indeed be time to dial back how much time you spend with these folks.

In your letter you describe two friend groups: one in which people get equal respect in the discussion, and one in which they don't. So, something to consider is investing a little more time and energy in those other friends. That can be a hard move to make. Trading one primary friend group for another can feel like a betrayal. But you're getting at least one signal that maybe it's time to explore those other friendships more concertedly. And, even if you don't end up cutting ties with your best friends, now you have even more close friends, which is a win in my book.

I hope that you find that this is situation that's resolved by a quick conversation with your friends about how you're feeling and about resetting the boundaries of the conversations that group of you has about sex. But if it turns into something bigger, I hope you remember that you get to choose who your friends are, and that you get to be on equal footing with the people in your life, no matter what the topic.

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