I blame my Catholic upbringing, but that’s absurd. I don’t really remember having any understanding of sex and sexuality until after I’d rejected the faith I was taken into every sunday, and my upbringing wasn’t much more religious than that.
It’s perhaps a useful simplification, though, as I suspect the way society (and our parents) raise us is the key cause.
It doesn’t have to be through any dark or violent suppression; that isn’t required to make someone grow up feeling weird about sex. For my family, it was simply not talking about it. (Which, for the record, probably comes from me being shy as much as from uncommunicative parents).
Oh, and catholic school doesn’t help. Ancient animated videos full of euphemism aren’t massively helpful. (True story: The phrase ‘when a man and a woman get close, they sometimes have a baby’ briefly left me terrified of being in vague proximity to girls.)
So. For me, and possibly for many, you start getting feelings and sensations, and you don’t understand, and you don’t tell anyone. There’s an intensity and a strangeness, and you just don’t understand.
I remember the clichéd situations, very young, of underwear sections of catalogues and ‘climbing on doors’ (a variant on the more obvious ‘climbing rope in gym’, which I never had the strength for, doors are better as you can stand on the handles and then swing from side to side.)
But I was a quiet kid, I didn’t talk about it, and it all got brushed under covers.
As you get older, you become more aware of this dichotomy (and some of the truths underneath, if you’re lucky). Sex is everywhere. The telly is full of sexual imagery, along with magazines and everything else. As a pubescent teenager, just being surrounded by people with bodies is enough. Knowing the realities teeming underneath clothes is enough to stir.
But we mustn’t talk about it. Right? We keep our sex to ourselves until we’ve got someone to share with it, by which time you’ve already built up a million hang ups. (And don’t forget the dread rush to find someone to share it with, the peer pressure and incomprehensible lust of teenagedom).
And all of that is BEFORE you consider that some people are into stuff that isn’t presented so readily by the media.
Wherever kink comes from, it’s clearly something that is part of reality, yet it is talked about less, hidden more.
I still don’t feel comfortable talking about my own weirdnesses and pleasures, despite having hung up most of my hang ups at this point, and being generally dedicated to complete openness.
Which is a shame, as I’m pretty sure my advice here is for everyone to go out and talk more about sex. On every level. To everyone you care about. Don’t let people wander around being ashamed.
More honesty and openness would stop people getting hurt by repression and misdirection.
I think it’s the lies and quietness that hurts.
Illustration by Anna-Kaisa.