The world has come a long way in recognizing the diversity of human sexual experience.
In 1948, it was revolutionary for biologist Alfred Kinsey to describe sexual orientation as a continuum (from exclusively homoerotic to exclusively heteroerotic), challenging the prevailing binary model. “The world is not so easily divided into sheep and goats,” he said, initiating an era of understanding that most “straight” people have same-gender fantasies or experiences, and that most “gay” people have other-gender fantasies or experiences.
A half-century later, sexologists Peggy Kleinplatz and Charles Moser said that “human sexuality is not only broader than any of us imagines, it is broader than any of us can imagine.” The intergalactic erotic circus we call the internet has erased any possible doubt about that.
And so gradually, Americans are recognizing and accepting increasing types of sexual diversity. Almost everyone now launches their sex life without being married, we all know people who are gay, you can buy sex toys at Walmart, and masturbation is now widely considered good for your health. Each of these is a major step forward in society’s expanding consciousness about human sexuality.
With those significant cultural milestones behind us, America is now pursuing new frontiers of sexual diversity and inclusion, increasingly making room for people who identify as gender non-binary, transsexual, and who describe themselves with creative new sexual orientations. As always, cultural change is bumpy, and yet inexorable.
SO WHO’S LEFT OUT?
Still, there’s an enormous group of people who are left out of the diversity recognition sweepstakes. These are not people exploring their gender or orientation. These are not people who are political or social activists, and they don’t report feeling mislabeled or offended.
I’m talking about more ordinary people who are concerned with ordinary things—such as penis size, taking too long to climax, having hair around their nipples, guiltily enjoying fantasies of being coerced, unable to undress in front of a partner, anxious about wetting the bed during orgasm, or farting during oral sex.
It’s an enormous group of people—by far the largest part of our population.
The reason these people need a diversity certification is that almost no one talks about their substantial distress, and almost no one takes it seriously. Normative assumptions leave them out: no one talks about, say, FoF (fear of farting), the media don’t depict it, doctors don’t ask about it, therapists don’t talk about it, and you never see it in porn. Most versions of sexual anxiety aren’t even recognized by other people struggling with their own sexual anxiety.
These are the same complaints of those struggling with today’s better-known categories of diversity: the normativity, lack of representation, assumptions that unintentionally exclude, and the invisibility to medical, psychiatric, educational, pastoral, and journalistic professionals.
To cite a few examples, just because someone has reliable erections doesn’t mean that sex isn’t physically painful. Just because a person is conventionally attractive doesn’t mean they have reliable orgasms. Just because someone has a beard doesn’t mean he feels manly in bed. Just because a woman wears a bikini doesn’t mean she’s comfortable with the size and color of her nipples, or the fact that they’re not the same size. Just because a couple buys a vibrator or uses an IUD doesn’t mean that they’re honest with each other about masturbation, or that their sexual desires are compatible.
Markers of conventional sexuality frequently coexist with sexual insecurity, sexual pain, and performance anxiety bordering on terror and paralysis. Like other sexual minorities, such people struggle daily to simply feel acceptable, accepted, and to live authentic lives, free of danger posed by their poor responses to their eroticism.
“Wait,” you might say, “these are pretty trivial concerns. This group includes a lot of privileged people who are just a little too sensitive, perhaps obsessive or narcissistic.”
Isn’t it “privileged” to have the luxury of worrying about wetting the bed? Tell that to someone terrified of losing their marriage. Tell a wealthy woman with low desire who struggles with domestic violence that she’s “privileged.” Tell people who endanger their health by drinking too much because they fear their sexual inadequacy that they’re really safe. That includes college women who feel so sexually ignorant or disempowered that they get fall-down drunk before going to fraternity parties where they feel compelled to have sex. They do not feel privileged—and sexually, they aren’t.
The (self-) destructive behaviors of ordinary people who feel sexually marginalized or inept are everywhere. They get dangerous vaginoplasties, or they take black-market, adulterated Viagra without telling their doctor. They risk their health going to sex workers or hooking up with total strangers. They risk their jobs with inappropriate comments at work because they’re obsessed with proving they are sexually competent—while fearing they aren’t. Feeling isolated because they believe their fantasies are perverted or dangerous, they collapse into depression, unable to parent their kids. And people ashamed of their sexuality drink, drink, drink.
These people may have money or status or a church that accepts them, but sexually, these are not “privileged” people. Homophobia and transphobia are not the only ways that one’s sexuality can lead to risk and danger.
So let’s not get into a race to the bottom of who’s the real diversity poster child, of who’s the most excluded or oppressed by normative assumptions. In a sex-negative culture like ours, rich and poor, attractive and average-looking, functional and dysfunctional, orgasmic and non-orgasmic—all are erotically disadvantaged.
So let’s expand the queer alphabet to include sexually terrified and incapacitated people—how about LGBTQIAO (for ordinary)?
That would increase our empathy for each other, and maybe even for ourselves. Doctors, therapists, educators, pastors, and journalists might get better educated about sexuality in the real world, and be more helpful to more people.
It’s a matter of equity and inclusion.
If you like short videos, see my quickies on desire, porn, orgasm, infidelity, and more at www.YouTube.com/@Marty_Klein