Every day, each of us is subject to cultural pressures regarding every aspect of our existence — how we should look, how we should act, how many times we're allowed to say the word "Zubat" in casual conversation before our friends stop returning our texts. Our sex lives, in particular, often get hit especially hard with these pressures. The specific messages change depending on who we are and what communities we're a part of, but the gist is often the same: there is a right way to approach sex, and a wrong way — and if you approach it the wrong way, you're less than.
Sometimes, those messages about the "wrong" way are pretty obviously heinous, like "don't assert your sexual interests," or "having sex makes you a bad person." But for some of us, messages about the "wrong" way to have sex take a different turn: these messages tell us that be considered sexually open or knowledgeable, we should be interested in sexual acts that may not be appealing, erotic, or even doable to us.
I'm not talking about the pressure to do things sexually that we don't consent to — consent and safety are the bottom line when it comes to any kind of sex. Rather, I'm talking about the more subtle cultural pressure that can make us feel like we're "uptight" if we're not into or interested in trying certain sexual acts. This kind of thinking— present everywhere from well-meaning sexual guides to judgmental partners to casual conversations between friends — can lead us to engage in activities we know we won't enjoy, for fear that we'd be "missing out" otherwise.
And when we don't end up enjoying them, we're usually left wondering what's wrong with us. But while there's nothing wrong with pushing yourself out of your sexual comfort zone in a way that is healthy and enjoyable for you, you should never be made to feel like you're "missing out" by not engaging in types of sex that you know you're not interested in.
So what sexual acts should you not feel bad about not being into? The answer is: all of them! They're our bodies, and we have the right to use them in ways that we know feel pleasurable to us — as well as the right to be honest about the things that do and don't interest us sexually. And above all, we have the right not to feel bad about any of it.
So know that if every single sex act listed below sounds like an excellent way to spend a Sunday afternoon to you: that's great! These are all solid, fun kinds of sex for tons of people — and there's still a huge cultural stigma against many of them that we should be pushing back against, no matter what kind of sex we personally prefer. People should be free to have any kind of sex they like.
But if any — or all — of them don't ring your bell, know that you're not being "too needy," "uptight," or "uncool" if you let your partners know it.
One of the biggest sex myths out there is that if a sexual act doesn't involve some form of penetration, it's not really sex. But that's just not true. A sexual encounter is a sexual encounter because of our experiences, feelings and intentions — which means that all sorts of non-penetrative activities, from manual stimulation to roleplay, are totally valid and "real" forms of sex. Scarleteen's Heather Corinna put it best: "Sex itself should always be a choice, not an obligation or requirement, and that also goes for how we choose to have sex."
Whether you're physically unable to experience penetration, or simply aren't interested, there's absolutely nothing wrong with you! As Meg Zulch wrote in a piece about feeling body positive about vaginismus (a condition which often takes vaginally penetrative sex out of the picture), "Your vagina is unique, so it's not reasonable to try to force it to conform with what the 'norm' is. No matter how you inhabit or use it, your vagina is wonderful and lovable." Remember that the sex you choose to have "counts," even if it doesn't look like the sex other people have.
2. Oral Sex
Obviously, the power dynamics regarding who does and doesn't have oral sex can be a charged discussion — and yes, allowing a partner to perform oral sex on you, but refusing to perform it on them because you think their genitals are "gross" or that it's "beneath you," is very uncool. Similarly, a lot of cultural messages about how vulvas are inherently "dirty" can make people reluctant to receive oral sex — messages that are obviously cruel and untrue.
But some of us just don't dig oral sex. I don't! I have a heavily hooded clitoris, which means that it is almost completely covered by skin; as a result, vigorously performed cunnilingus — the kind that might reduce another person into a shivering pile of sex-goo — makes about as much of a sexual impact on me as watching the Weather Channel.
For years, I felt totally defective because of this — wasn't enjoying receiving oral sex feminist? What was wrong with me for not liking it? And if I was open about not liking it, didn't that just mean I was validating all those cultural messages about vulvas being "unclean"? I spent a long time beating myself up (and, well, faking it) because I was afraid that accepting the truth somehow made me a failure.
Admitting that this was just who I was — someone who didn't get much out of receiving oral sex — was a watershed moment for me in terms of owning my sexuality. If either giving or receiving oral sex isn't for you, it is clearly worth bringing up to a partner — for many people, giving and/ or receiving oral sex is the primary type of sex they like to engage in, and we all have the right to know what's on the table in any sexual encounter we take part in. But if you don't like receiving oral — just because it doesn't do anything for you — there is absolutely no reason to feel ashamed.
3. Anal Play
Like literally all types of sex, anal play and penetration feels great for some people, and not that great for others. If you're interested in experimenting with anal, absolutely go for it! There's a wide variety of toys and guides out there aimed at people who are just starting to explore. And yes, there's a lot of cultural taboo out there surrounding anal play — so if you're intrigued, but afraid of the cultural judgments surrounding it, it's worth working through them to give it a try.
But if you feel like it's not for you, don't believe that you're somehow "not sexually open" — simply put, these are just not judgments that anyone else has a right to make about your sex life.
4. Group Sex
Perhaps this one looms so large for me because I came of sexual age in an era so obsessed with threesomes that there was actually a major motion picture called Threesome — but I have a very vivid memory of being in college and feeling like a loser because I had never had group sex. I mean, even Ross had a three-way!
I feel a bit silly typing that out right now, but this feeling is real — if you pride yourself on being open to new sexual experiences, it can feel like you've somehow done your sex life incorrectly to look at your past and see only single-partner hook-ups.
But while group sex is awesome for people who are into it, if you're not, there's no reason to feel like you're somehow not being sexually open enough. No sexual act is a litmus test for whether you're "cool" — and honestly, treating something that is an actual cornerstone of many people's sexuality as just a way to be "edgy" in bed is a little rude.
5. Public Sex
Setting aside the fact that it's a legal gray area, public sex can be fun and invigorating for the right people in the right circumstances (like, you know, all kinds of sex). Have I enjoyed the thrill of rudely monopolizing a bar's only bathroom for my own carnal purposes? Yes. But if you're not a person who finds it exciting? Or even if you are, but you're not up for it in this exact moment/ situation? THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU. You shouldn't judge yourself as somehow "uncool" for not being interested in something just because we've been told, culturally, that it is an important part of free sexual exploration.
Yes, it's awesome whenever society acknowledges that sex can consist of anything besides heterosexual missionary intercourse in a darkened room — but if this one doesn't interest you, don't believe the hype that you're missing out.
6. Shower Sex
Hey, I am not here to shower-shame anyone — if you have figured out how to make shower sex into an enjoyable experience where both partners are having fun and no one is getting silently enraged because it is COLD when you are not under the shower head, more power to ya. But for something that is talked up by much of our culture as a peak erotic experience, the act of shower sex often leaves a lot to be desired. So know that if a partner brings this up and you're not game, you're not being a wet blanket (all puns intended).
7. BDSM, Rough Sex, Or Power Exchange Games
For a lot of people, playing with domination or power is great addition to their sex life — or the entirety of their sex life. However, like every other item on this list, just because some people love it , doesn't mean that you have to be up for it.
In our post-50 Shades world, aspects of BDSM have gone pretty mainstream, which is both great (it's normalized BDSM in the eyes of many, which makes the practice and the people who engage in it less likely to be marginalized) and not great (due to 50 Shades, there's a lot of dangerous misinformation about how to best practice BDSM floating around). But there should also be discussion about how some people can find casually incorporating this kind of play into their sex lives triggering, or just don't like it — not because they're uptight, but because it's not their thing.
8. Sex With The Goal Of Having A Vaginal Orgasm
If you have sex and also have a vagina, odds are that at some point in your life, you've been told you should be able to have a vaginal orgasm. If you are eager to to try to have a g-spot orgasm, that's wonderful! And if you are able to have a g-spot orgasm: mazel tov, I wish you only the best, send me a postcard the next time you're there!
But if you can't, or don't want to, have a g-spot orgasm, know that that is TOTALLY FINE. Many folks (including myself) have driven themselves to just this side of madness in pursuit of the vaginal orgasm, only to find that it is not on our junk's menu — and there is nothing wrong with that. Don't be shamed by people who tell you that "everyone can have a g spot orgasm and you're just not trying hard enough" — sex isn't supposed to be about "trying hard enough" just so you can have an experience that looks like what someone else thinks "good" sex looks like. Good sex is about what you and your partner want, need, and are intrigued by.
Obviously, it's awesome that our cultural ideas about what's "sexually acceptable" have expanded greatly over the past few decades — it's given us all more room to explore our true desires, hopefully with less shame than ever. But sometimes, when it comes to our outlooks on sex, there's a "gotta catch 'em all!" attitude that makes us feel like if we don't grab every single opportunity for a new kind of sexual experience, we're basically uptight. And that could not be further from the truth.
Images: Andrew Zaeh/ Bustle; Giphy