Instead of viewing sex as a daunting act with too much room for error, reframe it as an exploration of pleasure, where the mess can be half the fun.
When you think about sex, what words come to mind?
Sexy? Maybe fun, exciting, new, pleasurable, intense, or playful. Sex can bring about a whole cluster of diverse feelings — while I’d hope that they are all positive, this isn’t always the case.
“Gross” may have been one of the words you thought of — historically, kids (and especially girls) have been taught — by parents and harmful sex-ed programs — that sex is a shameful act, if not done between married, heterosexual adults. Shame, in turn, is quite gross. It leaves us with an icky feeling in our guts, making those who were taught to be afraid of it feeling disgusted when they almost inevitably have sex later in life.
But if we think about it, sex is a bit grosser than, say, a normal conversation between two people. Bodies meshing together — sharing fluids and intimacy and vulnerability and so much more — carries more room for error than talking. On the surface, it makes a lot of us uncomfortable to imagine the worst-case scenarios that could come from sharing the unknowns of our bodies; while periods and unconventional orgasms are completely natural, they are deemed “gross” by what certain institutions tell us. It can get quite scary on a deeper level, too — sharing intimacy with another human is a top fear among many people, again having the potential to leave us with that “ick” feeling.
However, consent and communication can lessen this feeling and make sex, as many LGBTQ+ folks would say, whatever you want it to be. The process of viewing sex as an exploration of pleasure is still tricky, though; it’s difficult to not dream of an idealized version of sex — perfect bodies, perfect noises, perfect orgasms, glamorized by the mainstream porn industry and sexist advertising. Instead of being taught about sex’s realities, people are shown how they should be in bed, which is usually an impossible feat to live up to. Oftentimes, sex is worse when given the pressure of being perfect. The fear of doing something foul or even taboo can prevent partners from receiving pleasure — simply to make sure their sexual partner isn’t turned off.
Contrary to popular belief, a good sex life doesn’t involve striving for perfection. Knowing this insight is half the battle to a more enjoyable sexual experience. Instead of treating sex like a sacred act that must be flawless, it’s empowering to reframe sex as something that celebrates the unexpected moments rather than an act that fixates on potential mishaps.
There’s a lot of unlearning that needs to be done surrounding sex; media and heteronormative constructs have censored most of what is “real” about the act. Expanding sex from the basic expectation of penetration, and allowing it to capture other possibilities can be frightening; It leads to an abundance of different acts and outcomes, holding more possibility for shock, anxiety, and inevitable disappointment. Yet, these possibilities also allow us to reframe how we view such a universal concept. From period sex and squirting to anal play and the common occurrence of trying a new kink out (and sometimes absolutely hating it), sex can verge into a scary, scary world. Alternatively, these possibilities make it that much more exciting and pleasurable, opening up the opportunity to be more turned on than frustrated.
Education is key — being informed about sex’s awkward possibilities can lessen the anxieties of what might happen. Before we can seek pleasure from another person, we should know about these probable incidents first — because oftentimes, sexual health for people with vulvas is entirely silenced.
Having sex while a partner who’s menstruating is a scenario on the list of messy possibilities people often choose not to discuss. Periods are already stigmatized, so adding sex to the mix forces those involved to confront the realities of menstruation. Discussing this possibility with a partner might be intimidating in itself because of the stigma, making many people remain abstinent during their cycle. Which is a valid choice — but what if you’re interested in trying? Not only are there several benefits to period sex (for example, your libido is often higher during this phase and orgasms relieve period-related pain), but it doesn’t have to act as a barrier if you want to get laid. With communication and proper protection among all partners — as STIs are more likely to spread during your period than not — period sex can be a hot possibility. Try it out by using a towel, experimenting with certain acts that are less messy (like a heavy makeout session, clitoral stimulation, or anal play), or embracing that a little bit of blood is okay while having oral sex. Being on your period doesn’t mean that you can’t have sex; rather, it opens up options that will, hopefully, be more pleasurable than embarrassing. (And if your partner instantly shames you for wanting to try it? Dump them!)
Squirting (or “female ejaculation,” an outdated term that doesn’t include every body that can squirt) is another disregarded phenomenon — an outcome of sex that could be perceived as gross and confusing simply because “research” has deemed it taboo. Separating the act from these shameful misconceptions involves seeing that squirting is ejaculation from a vulva rather than a penis, where liquid is produced from the Skene’s gland — which is similar to the prostate — and released from the urethra. It can happen in a variety of ways: from clitoral, g-spot, or combined stimulation, and before, during, or after orgasm. It can range from a few drops to a large amount; can never happen; can occur once in a blue moon, or can happen every time a person has sex. Most importantly, it can be extremely hot for all people involved. Yes, it can be messy and sometimes shocking (as all sex can be), but this shouldn’t make the experience “gross” for anyone involved.
Research has hardly questioned the normalized act of ejaculation from a penis, yet squirting from a vulva has often been rejected as both an act and conversation topic (thanks to one 2015 study). It concluded, after only testing seven people, that squirting is the “involuntary emission of urine during sexual activity.” While others have proven that conclusion wrong, stating that the liquid might come from a combination of sources, the adamancy to prove that squirt contains any urine at all is simply a way to increase the shame around it. Maybe it is pee! Whether you’re into explicit piss play or just find squirting to be a huge turn-on, shame doesn’t need to be involved; instead, people can find pleasure through these acts, especially when squirting is often evidence of a really good orgasm. Grab a towel, waterproof mattress, or protective blanket, and get wet!
Fixating on the potential mess these sexual incidents could cause adds a roadblock to your pleasure. But along with these physically messy consequences, sex can carry another set of barriers to full satisfaction — the fear of bodies doing not-so-sexy things (farting, for example) and the fear of socially doing the wrong thing (laughing, awkwardly pausing between positions, or, god forbid, talking during sex). Yet, all of these are inevitable sexual occurrences; bodies do things during sex that may not always align with what we want — and that’s okay.
Instead, you can reframe your needs as exciting possibilities to build around, rather than hindering fears. Squirting can be a huge turn-on for your partner(s), regardless of the mess. Going down on someone on their period is far sexier than what the patriarchy makes us believe, so give it a shot! Laughing your way through sex, although not seemingly arousing, can actually build more intimacy between partners and indicate that everyone is having fun.
Bodies are bodies, and that doesn’t come to a halt the minute sex begins. Instead, this knowledge can be a tool for us to make intimacy a more freeing act — one that carries limitless options. Communicating with your partner about your fears and desires surrounding “taboo” scenarios will make sex even more freeing, especially once you know where both (or all) of you stand. Being open with them — about what you want to try and in the boundaries you want to set — can take off the pressure, making enjoyment the number one priority.
Take pride in sex and all its glory and grossness — your pleasure is more important than fear. ✷
Natalie Geisel recently studied gender and sexuality studies at George Washington University. She is a writer, lover of queer media, and lead editor of Camp Thirlby. You can find her @nat.geisel and read of her work at nataliegeisel.com.