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Opening up to your friends about sex can help with self-esteem, your friendships, as well as improving your sex life. Here, Poppy Jay, for whom talking about sex with her friends is part of her day job, shares some tips on where to get started with these conversations.
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Sex remains a pretty taboo subject for many women, not just because of the awkwardness and unfamiliarity of discussing sex openly but slut-shaming, in particular, is so common and often deeply affects how women view themselves and their sex lives. For example, a recent study by sex toy brand Womanizer found that despite the slow change in attitudes in some areas, the global masturbation gap between men and women is 68%.
The stigma around women who enjoy sex and speak openly about it still affects everyday lives so much that we know many women feel they cannot comfortably talk about sex even with their close friends.
If feeling comfortable and opening up about sex is something you’ve struggled with, Poppy Jay, the host of the podcast, Brown Girls Do It Too, has some advice that might help approach those conversations with the people closest to you.
“We have so much unlearning to do and there’s a lot of work to be done,” Poppy says. Poppy is a second-generation child of immigrants born and raised in east London. She’s the eldest of six children and growing up, sex was a totally alien concept to her. “It was almost like storks deliver babies, for me, growing up.”
But since starting her podcast, Poppy has found talking about sex openly to be revolutionary for herself and for her friendships. And talking about sex openly could also positively affect your sex life, as it might allow you to become more comfortable with things you currently feel insecure about when it comes to sex but are actually totally normal, like not being able to have an orgasm, for example.
Here is Poppy’s advice on where to start with feeling more comfortable about your own sexuality and expressing that to friends.
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Start small with one friend you trust
There’s no pressure to go straight from never having talked about sex to being totally comfortable doing so with everyone. Just like any form of self-acceptance, it can take time to get to this point.
“Find one friend that you really trust and just test something out,” Poppy advises. “Start with something a little bit PG, like, ‘Sex toys. What do you think?’ You’d be so surprised as to what they say back.”
When Poppy started Brown Girls Do It Too with her co-hosts, Rubina and Roya, they had never met before and, suddenly, they were thrown into a studio and were immediately having intimate conversations about sex. But Poppy thinks this is part of what allowed them to be so open. “It was so cathartic talking to Rubina and Roya because we were blank canvases. We just told each other everything.”
Understand that these conversations might not work with every friend
Poppy explains that although she is very comfortable talking about sex, she rarely does so with her childhood friends. “There’s a kind of a familial relationship there – it’s more sisterly and I personally wouldn’t have these conversations with my sister.”
A fairly new friend might be a safe place to start, then. You have probably already set boundaries with your oldest friends about the topics you discuss which you might have to break in order to talk about sex. Whereas with new friends, you can establish new boundaries, which is much easier. Poppy suggests starting with a friend at work or someone you have only recently become friends with.
“If they’re really embarrassed, they’ll shut it down immediately,” Poppy says. “And you know, then, ‘I can’t go there with this friend and that’s fine.’ Maybe they might need a bit more time to open up or it’s just not their thing. But I think unless you start talking, you’re just not going to know.”
If you say it loud and proud and with swag, then who’s going to knock you down?
Have no fear and say it with confidence
But how do you casually start a conversation about sex? Poppy says the key to making these conversations comfortable is appearing confident, even if you don’t feel that way. Unlike with orgasms, the ‘fake it till you make it’ approach is really quite effective here.
“If you say it loud and proud and with swag, then who’s going to knock you down?” Poppy advises.
Remember, the people you’re talking to might also feel uncomfortable about these conversations too – you’re not the only person putting yourself out there.
Let yourself be empowered by your vulnerability
Admitting what turns you on and sharing details about your sex life can make you feel vulnerable, which can be scary. But it can also be empowering because it can help you let go of any insecurities you may have about your sex life and your desires.
“Like with porn, the moment we start hiding it, we already add that baggage of shame,” Poppy insists. “It’s like, I’m already telling you that you should be judging me or be embarrassed because I’m not telling you this thing.”
Poppy puts the success of her podcast down to her and her co-hosts’ level of openness, “The Asian community is so obsessed with shame in all its forms. Women enjoying sex is such an issue that [on the podcast], we’re just like ‘no way’. We have no shame. We are going to do what we do and we’re going to put it all out and we just don’t give a shit.”
If a friend is slut-shaming you about sex, you’ve got bigger questions to ask about that relationship
Deal with slut-shaming head on
Ideally, your friends will respond positively to the conversations you start about sex and sexuality but if they do feel uncomfortable about them, they might respond negatively, which often materialises via slut-shaming (when a woman is shamed for her sexual behaviour/attitude).
“If a friend is slut-shaming you about sex, you’ve got bigger questions to ask about that relationship,” says Poppy. “But maybe it also falls on you to educate this friend. Tell them they shouldn’t be responding like this and ask them why they feel embarrassed.”
Some women don’t want to talk about sex and that’s fine, Poppy admits. “We don’t need to talk about sex and sexuality all the time if we don’t want to. The problem comes up when we start shaming other friends for talking about it. In this case, find another confidante.”
Realise just how important and powerful talking about sex can be
“It’s so important for women to talk about sex because we get silenced and shamed for everything and it’s tiring and it’s boring,” Poppy says. “Everything is so fucking hard and if we talk about it, we normalise it.”
“I spoke to a woman recently and she admitted to me that she masturbates and she was embarrassed by it! And I just think, how dare society make women feel like that?”
Poppy references Sex and the City’s Samantha, a character many perceive as the embodiment of female sexual empowerment. “But she enjoys sex like a man, they say,” Poppy starts. “And it’s like, Samantha isn’t enjoying sex like a man. She’s enjoying sex like a woman because we are sexual. We are horny just as much as men are and we should be able to do what we want without fear of reprisals or judgement.”
Poppy and the co-hosts of Brown Girls Do It Too receive messages every day from young women every day who tell them just how much the podcast means to them and how much their openness about sex has helped them personally.
And it’s pretty amazing that, as a woman, you have the power to work towards undoing structural patriarchal issues just by talking about wanking with your friends.
“I think men have had the sex hall pass for too long and we’ve just got to take it now. We’ve got to snatch it out of their hands.” Poppy says. “Talking about sex should be as normal as us breathing and eating. It’s just a normal activity, nothing more, nothing less.”
Poppy Jay, co-host of Brown Girls Do It Too
Poppy Jay is the co-host of the podcast Brown Girls Do it Too which aims to change the way South Asian women are expected to speak about sex. They discuss topics including masturbation, orgasms and porn and it was named Podcast of the Year at the 2020 British Podcast Awards. Poppy is also an established investigative journalist and producer.
Lead image: Getty
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