Today is my birthday.
If you've been a reader here for more than a year or two, you might have noticed that some years, I ask for something for my birthday here, and not usually something that's a thing, like a pony, a fire hoop, a scooter with a sidecar for my little dog, or a life-sized Fozzie Bear I could tell bad jokes to while going wokka-wokka (though I'd oh-so-gladly accept all of those things, for the record).
If and when I have a birthday where I blow out candles, the wish I make when I do is usually something around positive social change, and often positive social change in regard to sexuality. In a word, what I usually really, really want for my birthday is for people to have happier, healthier sexual lives, to feel better about sex and whatever their sexualities are, and to be more accepting and supportive of the diverse sexualities of all people.
One of the very biggest problems we have in most of our cultures and communities around sex and sexuality is silence, secrecy, and talk about sex that very often either isn't truthful, or is, but isn't the whole truth. We, as people, tend to often feel so scared and shameful and nervous about sex that we posture. We embellish. We make things sound better or worse than they are. We pretend we know more than we do, or have experienced less or more than we have. We talk about sex keeping everything very much on the surface, keeping the deeper, more complex and less super-sexypants parts of it locked away in our hearts and minds.
All of that really does contribute to a sexually unhealthy culture, a less healthy and happy personal sexual life, and a sense of our own sexualities that's so much less great and in-touch than it could be. I absolutely know as a longtime sexuality educator that if everyone could just increase the openness and truthfulness of their sexual communication, or their communication about sex and sexuality even a little bit, it would create a great big change: a big change in each person's own life, a big change in our world as a whole. The vast majority of the time, just opening our mouths (be that with spoken words, written words, or sign language: however it is we can communicate) and acknowledging elephants in our sexual rooms alone tends to leave a person feeling a whole lot better, especially in the long run. Just getting started by speaking our truths, especially the hard ones, paves a much clearer path to sexualities and sexual lives that people feel a whole lot better about.
So this year, as a birthday gift from you to me, and even more so, as a gift to yourself, I'm asking you to tell just one (but more if you like, of course!) truth about sex or sexuality with someone safe for you, today or sometime very soon.
The real truth. The whole truth. And, yep: nothing but the truth. Probably, as real, big truths tend to be, a truth that might feel scary to tell, even with someone you know is safe for you. A truth that has been jumbling around your insides making you feel anxious or weird or like a charlatan, and probably feels like it wants to burst out of your skin a whole lot. I'm asking that you finally let it.
Maybe the person you need to tell your truth to is a sexual or romantic partner. Like that you've been faking orgasms, or that thing you said you like, because they obviously really wanted you to? You don't really like it after all. Perhaps, instead, the truth to tell them is about something you've been wanting to do, about something you really like or want to explore, or a way you want to change your sexual life or relationship so it works better for you, or both of you. Perhaps you haven't been keeping an agreement to be sexually exclusive, didn't get tested when you said you did (or said you did when really, you have no idea if you've been tested or not), or have something else to come clean about where not telling the truth could be putting a partner at risks they don't want to take, or unknowingly being part of a kind of relationship that, with the truth out there, they might not want to choose to stay in. Maybe your truth is that you want to start being sexual with them. Or, your truth is that you don't.
The sexual truth-telling talk you have could also be one you have with a platonic friend. For example, perhaps you can tell a friend that when you talk nonstop about how EVERYTHING you do sexually and EVERYTHING in your sexual life is so flawlessly awesome? You're full of it: that's not the real deal. Maybe this is a good time to tell a friend that the reason you aren't using safer sex isn't actually because you don't think you need it, but because you don't know how to assert yourself with partners in order to set those kinds of limits. This might be the day to come out to a friend, or a day to tell them you are a survivor of sexual abuse or assault, or something that's been going on with you sexually you need emotional support with badly, but have been keeping secret. Maybe this is a good day to tell a friend that something sexual you've been acting very brave about around sex is actually something that scares the holy hell out of you. Maybe it's time to tell them that that sexual thing you said you did or do isn't something you've done at all, you just said so to fit in. Or, a day to tell them that when you've said you haven't done sexual things, that hasn't been true: you just were afraid they or others would judge you if they knew you'd been sexual in some way, or done something they've said they disapprove of.
Your parents or guardians might be people you choose to talk to today: maybe even just by telling them that you'd really like to be talking with them about sex and sexuality instead of keeping it all to yourself, or you really want to have talks about sex and sexuality that have some depth and realness, rather than only being about what they think you should or shouldn't be doing. Maybe it's a day to come out to them. Perhaps you're sexually active and have been sneaking around, and carrying all the stress that involves: today could be the day to be done with that and just get it out in the open so you can start breathing around them again. If you want or need a parent's help to get help getting contraception or other sexual healthcare, today could be a great day to do that. If you're pregnant or afraid you're pregnant and haven't told them, today could be a great day to tell the truth and ask for their help and support.
You might choose to talk honestly with someone else entirely, like a counselor: if you're telling them about everything except the crappy relationship you're in, and how utterly-less-than-wonderful it is, this could be your day. If you haven't been honest about your sexual history with a healthcare provider so they can help you best to take care of yourself, how about today?
Even in a space like Scarleteen, where we work hard to keep all our spaces and content as emotionally safe as possible for everyone, we sometimes work with users, or read users talking with each other, where we know (not because we're omnipotent, but just because we've done our jobs long enough to see through common sexual charades or posturing) users aren't being truthful or honest with us, other users, or themselves. It's always a pity when that happens, for a lot of reasons, including that we know not utilizing this kind of space and service as a place to be real means that those users aren't going to get anything close to the most they can get out of it. So, if that sounds like you? Maybe our space, or somewhere like our space, can be a place where you choose to tell the truth.
It may even be that the person you need to start being truthful with most isn't anyone else at all: it's yourself. We can choose not to be real with ourselves about who we are, or aren't, sexually-speaking, what we do or don't want, how well our sexual lives are or aren't going, what the quality of our sexual relationships is really like, or if we are doing sexual things because we really, really want to, or instead, doing them only or mostly because they're what someone else wants and we either don't know how to assert ourselves, or we're afraid of what might happen when we do. We can be sexual in ways that really don't fit our own ethics or values, or aren't truly in alignment with what we truly want. We can play pretend that our sexualities or sexual identities fit a certain mold when we know that they don't, or that that mold or role just doesn't feel at all like a home for who we are and want to be. We can even just not accept that, in whatever unique way we are, we're sexual people: it's a part of who we are.
Might telling the truth like this feel awkward, uncomfortable or really scary? You bet. But you know, the longer you wait to tell sexual truths, the harder it gets to do it and the more awkward, uncomfortable and scary it gets to do it. The sooner you start being really truthful and open about this stuff, and the more practice you get doing it, the more comfortable and less scary it becomes. I absolutely promise.
People call sex intimacy a lot, and talk a lot about how sex is intimacy. What gets mentioned much less often is that being truthful, open and real like this is often a much bigger part of what actually makes sex intimate than rubbing our bodies together does. This kind of sharing -- sharing our real feelings, our real desires, our real values, our real, deep, and often messy sexual truths -- is pretty much required if we actually want sex with other people to be something truly intimate.
Another extra bonus? When we're truthful about sex and sexuality with someone else, we give others the permission to be more truthful themselves: in opening a door for ourselves, we also open those doors for other people, too. It really is -- and I'm not just being a cheeseball -- the gift that keeps on giving.
(If you want to do this -- if so, thank you so very much for granting my birthday wish! -- and leave a comment telling me or other readers what you talked about or how it went for you, I'd love to hear about it.)