How much should you talk about sex? As modern people we often have competing instincts. Many of us are sex-positive, tolerant of the multiplicity of sexual lifestyles and largely resent the puritan, prudish aspects of American culture. But the last thing most of us want to do is to make people uncomfortable in the particularly powerful way that conversations about sexuality has the ability to.
We all have a friend whose predilection for sex and sex-related topics finds its way into every conversation. It’s such a culturally significant archetype that this sort of person is characterized throughout entertainment. We are amused with, envious of and repelled by the Barney Stinsons of our cultural consciousness—paraded through the media in all of their morally dubious glory.
But behind the outrageous fun of sex talk is a sincere question of etiquette—how much should I share? We may have thought that the modern world would’ve sorted out our difficulty in sharing the state of our sex lives, of exchanging our fetishes and fantasies, or clearly expressing attraction to others in a guilt-free environment, provided you never intend to hurt anyone. But time has also provided us with a keen sensitivity to the feelings of safety and well-being in others. It’s not only “locker talk,” which is straightforwardly sexist and predatory. The charismatic flirt or the bombastically sex-positive activist can become a source of genuine discomfort. But what defines, “too much?”
This brings us back to the person who only talks about sex. We are beholden to many simultaneous feelings towards these friends. Envious of their proclivity and know-how, amused by the absurdity of such sexual fascination and overwhelmed by the intensity of it all. Yet there are times when I’m most prominently intrigued by the sexually charged discussion and times when I’m just annoyed and can’t help but think, “Is this all you talk about?”
Then what sort of person am I? Why am I often okay with sex talk? Why am I on occasion not? It all depends on how it strikes me. Whether or not the person in question has committed this kind of social transgression is dependent on the other’s reaction. I’m not merely claiming that there is a perceived transgression as a result of how someone is struck. How they’re struck is the transgression. So how is the sex-obsessed person meant to navigate this? They must learn and employ the social savvy to intuit when “enough is enough.” But the other person must also course correct in registering their intent—there is such a thing as an overreaction. To place the sole onus of tiptoeing around everyone’s feelings is unfair to the person who just wants to talk about something they love.
If we outwardly expand our notion of a social transgression, our reactions towards such transgressions should exist but be proportional; interpreting sex positivity as locker talk is a dangerous game. But the party interested in sexually-charged conversation can’t fully unleash themselves on unwilling and uncomfortable conversational partners. They have to at least try to intuit the comfort level of the crowd. If the crowd can maintain composure enough to get through the conversation, they can inform their friend of their faux pas in the level-headed way at a later time. Besides, what better group of people to act on split-second social deductions than those with a predilection for the most emotionally and psychologically complex phenomena? My prescription is this: the sex-fascinated person must monitor the reactions of their conversational partner, and that partner must regulate their own reactions.