Most everyone enjoys it, but people’s thoughts, experiences and
decisions about sex are infuenced by the world around them.
BY LYDIA|MAXWELL & DALLAS|CARTER
Let’s talk about sex. Everyone reacts differently to the topic; you may be blushing right now or barely glanced at the word. No matter how you slice it, sex affects everyone’s lives. There are many defnitions of sex, but the most common describes sex as two consenting people who use words or touch to sexually excite themselves and/or each other.
Many people consider sex a private matter, yet we come across it daily through the media and everyday conversations. Many people have problems with some aspects of sex, yet everything in our culture is over-sexualized. While we can sit through a Carl’s Jr. Burger commercial with scantily clad babes eating an enormous burger with sauce dripping down their chests, talking about sex is considered inappropriate for dinner conversation.
WHY DO WE HAVE A PROBLEM?
Why do we have such a problem with the idea of knocking boots when sex-based media, such as the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy or television’s “Game of Thrones,” is considered normal? Lora Becker, associate professor of psychology, said it is because people do not want to talk about the details. We can hint about sex in novels, movies, music videos and advertising, but actually talking about the deed is still considered taboo.
In the media, the general idea of sex is more acceptable than the act itself. Videos like Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman” can be aired but movies that have sex scenes — whether they are explicit or not — can only be shown at certain hours of the day, complete with warnings. With the amount of skin we see in mass media, it would make sense that certain clothing styles wouldn’t make anyone bat an eye. But some clothing, such as crop tops or skin-colored leggings, can make people uncomfortable. Some depend on the timing — while a string bikini is appropriate for the beach, it is not the best choice for a trip to Wal-Mart. This still does not explain why some normal clothes are seen as disgusting.
Mari Plikuhn, associate professor of sociology, said the media plays a big role in our reasoning for what is appropriate and what is not. “The media both shapes how we see things and reflects how things are seen,” she said. “Things change as time goes on and it refects the ideals of what society believes at the time.” Whatever the majority of society considers appropriate is fed back to us through the media, so if most people are uncomfortable with clothes such as crop tops, the media portrays this and infuences others to feel the same. The same system is used for the topics in everyday conversation. As students, we chat with our friends about everything and hurl around innuendos without a care in the world. This is normal and everyone busts a gut when they come up in a conversation. But why do we say what we do?
Sometimes it’s bragging about different things we did last Friday night or who hooked up with whom. Whatever it is, there is a reason for it and it varies for each person. Becker said college is a place of experimentation and discovery for everyone — people are just trying to fnd their space. “This is a free zone to express yourself and learn what you feel comfortable with,” she said. As people try to learn more about themselves, they will brag or talk as often as they want about sex since they feel the need to establish who they are. Plikuhn said what we talk about and whom we talk with is all based on impressions and how we want to be perceived.
“Some people are just more open, not because they brag but because they are comfortable and it’s a natural thing,” she said. Every person has different levels of comfort concerning sex and that comfort comes from many places. How we were raised, what sex education we had and the religious messages we grew up with all affect this. Messages we got when we were younger are shaping who we are becoming as the years pass.
Most of the time, we end up believing something other than what our parents taught us and that can be pretty diffcult to accept. Becker said it takes a while for a person to work through everything they are feeling. We love our parents and it’s diffcult to go against what they believe and have taught us. Often, it can feel like you are going against yourself and being confronted with a version of yourself that you do not want or did not expect, which can cause some level of self-hate or shame.
Becker and Plikuhn both agree that a person has to sort through any number of things and think them out before they can come to terms with new ideals. Plikuhn also said research shows that repeatedly experiencing new ideas can help change a person’s views. Being exposed to different ideas makes it easier for a person to remember and relate those ideas to people they know. Plikuhn said this process helps people create their self-identity and discover who they are without relying on society’s standards. “Society labels what we want to be until we figure it out for ourselves,” she said.
MESSAGES SENT & RECEIVED
Society sets a lot of standards, but many of them are tied to sex and our bodies. The media takes advantage of this fact and uses it to sell products — after all, sex sells. But, with a constant fow of images that hint at various messages, self-esteem can be a big problem.
We don’t talk about self-esteem often because it reminds us of middle school assemblies and our preteen years. But in this case, self-esteem and sex go hand-in-hand. Without some level of self-esteem, no one would be having sex, as we all would be too self-conscious to initiate it. Unfortunately, the media can cause a lot of people to feel insecure by showing an endless stream of women who are a size 2 and men who have killer abs.
By only seeing sexy models and actors in the media, we start to question if we can hold up to that standard and start to feel inadequate. When we feel inadequate, we look for other ways to compensate and enhance — whether that is by spending $80 on protein powder or an equal amount on MAC makeup. The media sells products by subtly saying, “Buy X product and you’ll be Y.” Of course, this isn’t true but if your self-esteem is down in the dumps after a bad breakup, a rejection or in general, that could be just the thing to perk you up. These messages, although a ploy to make money, list things we should be doing to be considered normal. But there are other messages that tell us what we shouldn’t be doing.
Sex is surrounded by stigmas and if you cross the line, you will get the shame that goes with it. Stigmas are things that people do that are met with disapproval because they go against society’s general — and sometimes unspoken — rules. On the fip side, shaming is the negative reaction people have when someone has broken society’s rules, such as the walk of shame after a one-night stand. Feelings like shame and fear that come from stigmas can damage people. Becker said they cause people to be disloyal to themselves and others unless they are comfortable and confident.
Any set of friends can agree that lying to each other is a quick way to break a friendship.Since society places such harsh judgments when people do not follow its messages, it would make more sense for those messages to be clearer. But double messages make it harder to understand an already impossible idea. They cause problems when different “rules” are given to people.Men are celebrated for traditional sex; their frst time is a conquest. On the other hand, women are encouraged to keep their legs closed. And when they do have sex, it is seen as pure becoming impure. Additionally, men stay in bed after a one-night stand, but women must gather their scattered clothing and dignity and rush into the world to face shame.
Homosexual sex is often stigmatized in different ways. With two women, intimacy is considered sexy, while intimacy with two men is seen as unacceptable. Flipping the script, men also receive double messages. For instance, while they are praised for having sex, not all men want to conquer the world from between the sheets.
When men have this view they are often considered weak because their lack of sexual thoughts refects how a woman should think. While men and women are often pitted against each other by double messages, there are some stigmas that affect everyone.
Masturbation, a natural alternative to sex with another person, is viewed as gross and kept quiet. Some people accept male masturbation more than female, but Plikuhn said it is something everyone does — although the number of people who admit to it is much lower than the reality. Some things were made to go together: peanut butter and jelly, coffee and students, masturbation and porn. And if that pair makes you do a double take, then you are under the infuence of another stigma. Once again, more people watch porn than they would care to admit.
The porn industry used to be seedy VHS movies, but now anyone can access videos, exploring their wildest fantasies with one click. The Internet makes porn more accessible while also making it easier to hide from society’s judgmental eye. Incognito tabs hide porn from the browsing history and personal devices keep our “private time” private. People are all doing the same thing and taking such great measures to hide it because they do not want to face the societal shame that often comes with pleasure.
SO, ARE YOU READY?
A light shines down from the sky, divine music plays and your entire body begins to tingle — you are ready to have sex, or so you’ve been taught to believe. “It’s a cultural myth that there is a magical formula for knowing when you’re ready.
” Plikuhn said. “You discover retrospectively if you were ready or not.” In reality, there are only a few physical aids and psychological signs that guide us on our magic carpet ride to losing our v-cards. Becker said one way to know you are ready is when your body is biologically ready. Hormones play a role in this. Oxytocin, the “love hormone,” is a bonding hormone that is released at certain points of physical contact. When we kiss another person our bodies react to the hormone and crave more. “People are ready when they can’t stop the desire anymore.” Becker said.
“It’s hormones and curiosity.” Your body becomes addicted to oxytocin and eventually must go to the extreme to get its fx. But outside forces, like your environment and friend group, also affect the decision to fnally hit a home run. Men and women must change and react in order to adapt to their environment. On college campuses, students get used to no sleep, no money and being hungry. But they are also exposed to a world of exploration and sexual opportunities.
College also presents new ideas and chances to have sex. Sophomores Morgan Mahaney and Bailey Ranken were part of the group that presented the “Sex on Campus” project last month. Both agreed that college makes it easier for students to make their own decisions about sex.
“People are having sex, no ifs ands or buts about it,” Mahaney said. “We’re college students.” Ranken said one reason he didn’t have sex until college is because of his parents — he did not want them to fnd out.
So if a person feels as if they want to have sex, their environment can keep them from being fully ready. A person’s peer group can do the same. “When we come of age in a time when we are trying to fgure out the rules of the game, peer pressure could play a huge role,” Becker said.
The peer pressure we experience can be positive or negative, depending on who our friends are. Sometimes a person is in conficting peer groups or has experiences that differ from their friend’s. In those cases, we choose our own normal and combine factors to better decide when we are ready for sex. Group pressure is different from one on-one pressure; your relationship status can help you decide when to have sex.
Some people would rather have no strings attached, but others prefer the intimacy of having sex with someone they know. Mahaney believes being social does not make her more likely to have sex; she would rather have the comfort of being close to someone before it occurs. But Ranken said that relationships that include sex are more likely to end badly.
“That’s how people get hurt,” he said. “They put too much emotion in it.” College is a life-altering experience, and for many people it includes having sex. Jamie Adams-Kemper, health education coordinator, said for many people, it is their frst introduction to the different ways people express their sexuality. And it is also their frst experience with expressing their own sexuality. “At the end of the day it is a very personal choice,” she said.