Why is it difficult for American couples to talk about sex? An excerpt from a ridiculously redundant book comes to mind—What French Women Know: About Love, Sex and Other Matters of the Heart. The book is a national bestseller, which doesn’t say much. But the content seems intent on inspiring women to abandon the pruderies and fanaticisms of the past. The rudimentary explanation of why sex in America is a discomfited subject can be gleaned from the following:
No wonder we see the French woman as slightly wicked. Her passions are our provocations. We love her and hate her because she seems to be everything we’re not, and because her way of being contradicts our cultural judgments and moral prejudices about love and sex. It seems she grew up steeped in sensuality while we were raised on canned heat (Ollivier, 2009).
One must admit that, though somewhat hilarious and imprecise in its conjectures, there is a slight but relevant truth. Our cultural judgments and moral prejudices about love and sex are historically puritanical. We are smothered from infancy to maturity with mixed messages: religion and family governed values, to individualistic values, to consumerist values. American culture lionizes male sexuality; while female sexuality, governed by a patriarchal society, “is a thing to be looked at not experienced” (Scherker, 2015). In fact, according to Jessica Valenti of The Guardian, “we’re so accustomed to a male vision of female sexuality; it’s hard to imagine what authentic and organic female pleasure would look like” (2014). These notions coupled with the reality that many adult relationships are full of doubt, presumption, and jealousy; lead to miscommunication or a complete failure in communication.
Under these conditions, should talking about sex be an easy task? I would think not.
And if adults find it challenging discussing the topic of sex among themselves, how to seriously broach the subject with inquisitive children and adolescents? Comparative sexual health studies indicate that the U.S. is a leader in teen pregnancy rates, teen birth rates, and HIV/AIDS diagnoses; ages 20-24 being the most-affected (CDC). Compared to Germany, France and the Netherlands; sexual health outcomes in the U.S. are not applause worthy. Advocates for Youth, a nonprofit organization and advocacy group, intimates that improvements in sexual health will be achieved through “societal openness and comfort in dealing with sexuality . . . and pragmatic governmental policies” (2011).
Societal openness—problem solved! Ha!