When it comes to sex, we need to replace shame with respect

We should celebrate porn and sex, not shame them.

Trent M. Kays

A female freshman at Duke University recently became the center of a media storm after students found out she was a porn star. Articles identify the student only as “Lauren,” who said the job helps her pay for college expenses. Since the media caught wind of her work, Lauren has been the subject of harassment and other attacks. Unfortunately, the onslaught is a symptom of how American society contemplates pornography and sex.

In our society, we can’t escape porn and sex. While porn is not typical of real-life scenarios, it provides an outlet for those who need it. Let’s be honest: Humans watch pornography, and humans have sex. Are such acts perverted? No. Are such acts unnatural? No.

We can pretend people don’t have sex and don’t watch pornography, but that doesn’t make it go away. It’s quite probable that someone on the University of Minnesota campus — or any place around the world, really — reading this column just finished watching porn or having sex.

Think about it: As you read this, the person sitting next to you or across from you probably watches pornography and masturbates. That person sitting 5 feet away might even be making the same observation about you. This is part of the point: Pornography and sex are inexorable, so why do we try to escape such things? Why do we waste our energy on snuffing out things that are so integral to the human experience?

This is not to suggest that there isn’t evil in the porn industry. Child porn, revenge porn and porn addiction are serious problems.

College may be the time to openly discuss porn and sex. These issues aren’t going away. More than 2,000 years ago, the Hindu philosopher Vatsyayana wrote the “Kama Sutra.” Academics, professionals and interested lovers still reference the text today. We cannot continue to slut-shame sex workers for fulfilling a human need. Instead, we should lean on them as valuable and needed resources to understand the roles of sex in our society.

Unfortunately, our Puritan roots continue to crop up around these issues. The Puritans were wonderfully skilled at making people feel guilty simply for existing. In many ways, we continue to see this sort of shaming. However, sex is not inherently bad.

In a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, 12 percent of adults reported watching porn online. The results note that this number might be low because it reflects discomfort in reporting pornography habits.

The real evidence may be in the capitalist tendencies of our society: People pay a lot of money for pornography. Kinsey Institute researchers estimated that more than half of all spending on the Internet is related to sex. That adds up to billions of dollars each year.

From these statistics, it’s safe to suggest that Americans like sex, but we just don’t like talking about it. Why? Is it due to discomfort, shame or self-consciousness? These feelings may be the cause because people haven’t learned how to talk about them.

If someone grew up in a home where they never discussed sexual feelings, they probably don’t know how to talk about them. Just the thought of talking openly about sex might make us anxious. We suddenly start to sweat, we laugh nervously and our cheeks glow red with embarrassment. Instead of dealing with our feelings, we just ignore them. We walk them off, and we decide porn is deviant as we quietly watch it in our locked bedrooms. We hope no one will know.

We still feel this way, even though the average age people have sex for the first time is 16.9 for males and 17.4 for females. Sex is still embarrassing even though 89 percent of males and 92 percent of females have had sex by the time they’re between 22 and 24 years old.

The trend applies to the University of Minnesota as well. In Boynton Health Service’s 2013 College Student Health Survey Report, nearly 70 percent of students reported having had sex in the past 12 months.

This means that college students are likely having sex in their dorms or apartments. Some may even be having their first sexual experience during their time at the University. While the Duke student has sex to pay for her college expenses, who are we to judge her?-

The point of mentioning this statistic is to show that when the prevalence of sex is staring us in the face, we shouldn’t feign ignorance. We shouldn’t be embarrassed, and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about such things. Through discussion, we’ll grow to understand our feelings.

Our idea of porn and sex should be positive and fulfilling. It should be primarily concerned with safe sex and consent, instead of shame and close-mindedness. How can we be a 21st-century society when we treat sex as a secret of the bedroom rather than integral parts of our existence?

The famed actress Mae West once said, “Sex is an emotion in motion.” Perhaps our understanding of sex and the people who receive money for it would be better if we adhered to West’s view. At the very least, we might enjoy ourselves more.