It’s hard to make all-encompassing statements as to how society views this or that at any given point in history, as different sub-cultures, regions and demographics may have held views that were in contrast to what the majority of a population felt at the time. There are a lot of misconceptions that young people still believe about what life was like 50 or so years ago. In particular, the idea that, before Elvis Presley was on television, nobody ever, ever, ever talked about sex. They talked about it alright. They just didn’t talk about it so loudly.
Certainly a lot of people in the western world were reluctant or even adverse to the idea of openly discussing sex with just about anyone, but all these age old dirty jokes and black and white pornography had to come from somewhere. Of course, even if the alleged prudishness of the first half of the 20th century is largely exaggerated and embellished, it’s hard to argue that the cultural changes that took place in the United States and throughout Europe in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s didn’t make sex easier to talk about in mixed company.
Most recently, a whole range of alternative sexual lifestyles have seen wider acceptance in western society, for better or for worse, and only the most prudish minority still cast judgment on consenting adults doing whatever they please in the privacy of their homes and the only sexual behavior really frowned upon is that which is inarguably unhealthy, unsafe or irresponsible. In the past, for example, most homosexuals, practicing or otherwise, were wise to keep their true nature a secret. Now they have some of the best parades!
More recently, there are only a few places left in the United States or Europe where a gay man or a lesbian can expect to be treated with unwarranted hostility, and there are even entire neighborhoods in most large cities where homosexuality is not only accepted by celebrated. The late 20th Century sexual revolution created a cultural atmosphere where just about anyone, within reason, can find a community where their personal choices are accepted and they are allowed to be exactly who they feel the need to be in life. The long-term effects of these developments can only be guessed at, but the idea of self-repression for the sake of social acceptance may eventually be a thing of the past.
Perhaps one of the most important developments in this maelstrom of change has been wider acceptance of the sexual needs of women. Where in the past, in many western sub-cultures, women have been expected to be coy, to be indirect and play hard to get, and to tip toe around the subject of sex, women can now safely talk about sex in a direct manner with just about any trusted acquaintance without fear of being branded a slut. While some of the more puritan members of western society might find the practice of openly talking about sex to be offensive, the end result is that all this talk facilitates much, much healthier lifestyles and attitudes.
After all, how are you going to be aware of sexually transmitted diseases and other health risks if you can’t talk about them with anyone? Open communication in a society is one of the easiest ways for that society to remain in good health, both physically and mentally. For women to be able to talk openly about sex, especially with their partners, allows for much healthier, more productive, and more intimate relationships to be maintained, with both partners being able to communicate with the utmost sincerity exactly what their needs are.
Whatever credit some of the more sexually evocative pop stars of the last twenty years may like to claim for themselves, one of the people who deserves a lot of thanks for the recent social acceptance of talk about sex is Dr. Ruth Westheimer. Author of such books as Dr. Ruth’s Encyclopedia of Sex and Sex for Dummies, Doctor Ruth came to national prominence in the mid 1980s when she hosted a radio talk show and would regularly appear on late night television talk shows and discuss sex frankly with the hosts and other guests.
Westheimer, born in 1928, with her charming demeanor and frank humor, was a major component in bringing sex out of the bedroom (figuratively speaking) and encouraging people to talk openly about sex with their friends, doctors and partners. In particular, Westheimer focused on the health aspects of sex, including measures of safe sex practice, and on the personal benefits of maintaining an active sex life.
All things considered, all this talk about sex in public is, in the end, for the better, and would seem like a necessary aspect of maintaining a productive society. Western society has definitely broken the ice at this point, and people are now free to talk about some very important issues that were previously considered taboo. People are able to come out of the closet and express themselves sexually without so much fear of being rejected by society or treated with outright hostility. In turn, the questions we have about sex and sex related problems can be answered, facilitating better health and a more rewarding life in general.
The main thing to keep in mind about sex in the 21st century is simply this: Don’t be afraid to ask. To be perfectly frank, if your doctor or partner has a tendency to get sheepish at the idea of open, no holds barred discussions on sex, that’s their problem, and they’ll have to get over it.