As it turns out, no one I ask has any clue. Just a few days ago, I stopped a friend mid-conversation when she said, “We matched on Tinder and did stuff, but that’s about it.” After some prying, she reveals that by “stuff” she meant oral sex.
“Why didn’t you just say that then?” I asked.
This pattern repeats itself among friends and acquaintances whom I prompt to elaborate on the “stuff” they did. Most of them hesitate—occasionally blushing—and fumble for the right words before reluctantly diving into specifics. It’s not shame exactly that they exhibit, but a kind of profound and unexplainable discomfort with using words referring to either genitalia or specific sexual acts.
“I just don’t really know how to talk about this stuff,” many of them concede.
Some may not see this as a big deal. But whether or not we realise it, language shapes our ability and willingness to understand things that should otherwise be a perfectly normal part of our daily lives.
Erin Chen, a sex and relationship counsellor and sexual wellness advocate, shares that there’s a more practical consequence of not being able to use the language that suits the subject.
For instance, in the unfortunate circumstances where young children are victims of sexual assault, not knowing the right words to refer to their sexual organs can sometimes impede on the speediness adults with which can help—often because the pain “down there” is sometimes referred to as stomach aches when they are unable to articulate where the actual pain is.
Even for those who are not victims of sexual assault, the reluctance to discuss anything sexual in precise terms can have consequences.
Particularly in Singapore, where sex education leaves much to be desired, many couples end up not knowing how to ask for what they want in the bedroom. And when they do end up trying to have sexual intercourse, the anxiety of not knowing what to do or what to expect can result in extremely painful experiences.
One manifestation of this is vaginismus, also known as “Locked Vagina Syndrome”.
This is seen more frequently in Asian women, Erin tells me, which is really no surprise given the culture we’ve created around sex and sexuality.
All of the above results in a whole host of problems. Men feel inadequate when they are unable to please their partners, and women feel guilty for not being able to respond in the ways they’re expected to. Basically, misery on all sides.
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