Donald Trump. The very fact of his existence makes me irrepressibly angry. Somehow this week, that anger reached a whole new level when I heard the Republican nominee gleefully describe how his celebrity status entitles him to sexually molest women. Even more preposterous and offensive was his dismissive “locker room talk” excuse, suggesting that all men talk that way, and his egregiously misogynistic denials of the many accusations from women who he allegedly violated. I fucking hate that guy.
But even as I actively will Mr. Trump to suffer in eternal hellfire with no one but Rosie O’Donnell to keep him company, I can see one silver lining of his disgusting existence; the media storm has created a platform for us to talk about sexual assault. As with the public discussions of cases involving Bill Cosby, Jian Ghomeshi, and Brock Turner etc., the social conversation has once again focused in on the parameters of consent, rape culture, and the systemic misogyny that has long been used to justify casual sexual abuse and subjugation. Most importantly, it has created opportunity for innumerable women to broadcast their own experiences of sexual assault, shedding even more light on the pervasiveness of sexual predation, tearing holes in the distorted logic we’ve historically used to excuse it, and creating a virtual support group for victims everywhere with #NotOkay.
There is a profound benefit from an honest and accepting social discourse about sex. For the past two years I have had the privilege of writing for Vue Weekly, and while I’ve greatly enjoyed the stage it’s given me to proselytize about social injustice, more than anything I’ve valued the opportunity to hear and answer your questions. When I look back at the various inquiries I’ve received, I am filled with a deep compassion and empathy, and I am struck by the consistency of which my response included the words “that’s pretty normal.”
The thing is that most of the sexual issues that people face are “normal”. Whatever the difficulty, it is often the case that the “problem” is not inherent, but rather the result of a belief or idea that leads to shame, embarrassment, unrealistic expectations, unfavourable comparisons, ridiculous social standards, or the internal friction that arises from living inauthentically. What better way to combat these issues than cultivating an accepting, honest, and open social dialogue about sex?
Every day I meet with people and hear their heartbroken accounts of difficulty, and it is my job to help them to deconstruct the issue and work to improve it. Every day, I tell people that their issue is common and that they have nothing to be ashamed of. This reassurance is necessary because we have neglected to educate people on the realities of sex. And I’m not just talking about institutional failures in sex education, but also the disservice we do when we only speak of sex in polarities— conversations about sex do not have to occur in secretive hushed tones or with the enthusiasm of a character from Sex in the City. There is a whole unsensational middle ground that we neglect, creating a blind spot for healthy understanding and discourse.
The fact is that we shouldn’t need a political controversy to trigger conversation. How amazing would it be if there was no awkwardness surrounding sex? If we could stroll into a doctors office and shamelessly ask for an STI screen, or if we casually sat down and chatted with our friends about fluctuating sex drive and an occasionally unresponsive penis… How much healthier would we be if we talked about sex with the same informality that we talk about a knee or elbow? Remove the stigma, remove the shame, have an honest conversation—we’ll all be better off.
But in the meantime, if you have a concern or if you ever need to talk, you know where to find me. My door is always open. V
Tami-lee Duncan is a Registered Psychologist in Edmonton, specializing in sexual health. Please note that the information and advice given above is not a substitute for therapeutic treatment with a licensed professional. For information or to submit a question, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow on Twitter @SexOlogyYEG.