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Am I normal?

September 18th, 2007

Dr Petra

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? And one that’s probably most asked when people have questions or concerns about their sex lives.

Tonight BBC Radio 4′s ‘Am I normal?’ programme (9pm GMT) asks if there’s such a thing as a ‘normal’ sex life. Host Vivienne Parry asks a selection of psychologists, medics, researchers, agony aunts and members of the public about their views of normality and sex. I took part in the programme and I’ll be interested to hear what you think about it. If you miss the show you can listen again via the link above.

In terms of ‘normal’ sexual behaviour it’s often easier to think about behaviour and desires that are common or rare. There are some that most of us hold, and some that are a bit more unusual (although not necessarily bad, mad or dangerous). Where medics, therapists or educators would express concern is when behaviour harms other people or causes an individual personal distress. Outside of that if your particular kink is to dress up as a lettuce and get aroused while hitting yourself with a banjo then good luck to you.

In the past people wanted to know ‘am I normal?’ because they lacked basic sex education and information. So very often they assumed they might well be abnormal for wanting or not wanting sex, having fantasies or engaging in sexual practices like oral or anal sex. Even today where people are not given good sex education and aren’t able to ask for advice there is a huge amount of fear around how the body works and what’s ‘okay’. People are anxious about physical functioning, body size and shape and sexual desires.

Although we have access to more sexual materials and products than ever before, this doesn’t necessarily answer all our sex questions. In fact it’s made us worry even more about normality. Not less.

Nowadays people are under the impression that ‘normal’ sex involves having sex several times per week, reaching a stellar orgasm every time (or more!), having a large penis or a tight vagina, and being able to leap into various exotic positions while performing all manner of erotic techniques. The media, fuelled by a growing commercial sex industry and a procession of ‘sexperts’ is constantly giving us aspirational messages that give us ideas about what we should be measuring up to. And consistently setting us all up for a fall.

Worse still the pharmaceutical industry has medicalised our view of sex to such an extent that not fancying it or having sex problems have moved from being an upsetting but manageable problem to a clinical emergency. Of course people have sex worries and concerns and I’m in no way advocating glossing over them, but the current climate is making people who’ve got an occasional sex worry feel like they’ve a case of something terminal.

In this climate it’s very difficult to give a reassuring message about normality. Where ‘experts’ tell us what to do and media messages give us tips on a ‘perfect sex life’ there is no room for adventure, exploration or equally not feeling in the mood. What we’re being given is ‘sex by numbers’ where we’re told how often to do it, what positions to get into, and how many orgasms we ought to be getting. We’re instructed how our bodies should look or behave as a means of proving our prowess and keeping a partner under surveillance just in case they fake. If you try and give a sex positive message that allows for choice, pleasure and adventure and ultimately celebrates difference and diversity your views are nowhere near as welcome as the expert, store or self help book with the one-size-fits-all approach to sex and apparently all the answers too.

Often when you try and reassure people with averages – like how often we have sex or what the average penis size is there’s still no resolution. In such circumstances people don’t use this average as a guide to normality – they want to be better than ‘normal’. And sadly there’s a whole industry of folk out there happy to exploit anxieties to convince people they shouldn’t be ‘normal’ – they should be aiming for bigger and better things.

As a result the question ‘am I normal?’ refuses to go away. Most people are completely normal. More than that they all share one thing in common. A lack of basic sex education and an overload of aspirational or confusing sex messages.

So be assured the answer to the question ‘am I normal?’ is often yes, it’s a case of what’s normal for you. If you’ve any questions or concerns about your sex life you’re welcome to email me them at Mansized. You can check if I’ve already answered your question in our answers section and if I haven’t email me at help@mansized.co.uk.

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