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Unraveling sexual taboos

Robyn Exton

May 23, 2023

Unraveling sexual taboos
  • Despite being driving forces in many of our lives, sex and sensuality are still at the mercy of sexual taboos. So often, people find themselves in a position where they’re struggling to navigate through shame, insecurity, and uncertainty because they crave something that feels unconventional. 

    And, sure, in many ways — as a collective — this is probably the most open-minded and sexually awoken we’ve ever been. But is audacious sex positivity the norm? Not really. Especially if you’re a minority. 

    Today, we’re going to be diving into the very expansive world of sexual taboos. From fetishes, kinks, and fantasies to the most commonly enjoyed “taboo” sex acts. Because it’s time to say it like it is: consensual (and dirty) sex between adults should be celebrated, kinks and all. 

    What are sexual taboos?

    Sexual taboos are sexual acts that are restricted, forbidden, or typically frowned upon for religious, or sociocultural reasons. Specific taboos vary across cultures and can be influenced by many factors: personal beliefs, religion, history, social norms, and politics

    Meaning that, what’s seen as perfectly acceptable to someone could be off-limits to someone else. AKA, you’ll never make everyone happy, so might as well enjoy what you enjoy — so long as its between two (or more) consenting adults. 

    Source: Wallpaper

    Now, people avoid talking about, admitting to desiring, or engaging in taboo acts because they’re things that traditional society view as “off-limits,” or “morally wrong.” 

    think that it’s to feel like we have to hide our desires, big or small, because we’re afraid of what our sexual partners might feel. 

    Queerness and sexual taboos

    To say that queer culture and sexual taboos have a complex history would be an understatement. Many societies have stigmatized and marginalized anyone who’s not cis, and straight — considering those identities as taboo to begin with. 

    Source: Vogue

    Members of our community have faced and — in many cases — still face, social disapproval, discrimination, and legal restrictions, which can contribute to the perpetuation of sexual taboos.

    Not here. Not today. Not tomorrow.

    The queer community, allies, and movements have challenged and pushed against these stigmas and taboos — seeking recognition, acceptance, and the dismantling of discriminatory barriers. 

    It’s important to note that sexual taboos can still persist within queer culture, as societal norms and prejudices are deeply ingrained and may take time to overcome completely. 

    That being said, we have fought for the right to express our sexual orientations and gender identities openly and without shame. And in doing so, played a monumental role in challenging and redefining social norms and breaking down sexual taboos.

    Fetishes, kinks, and sexual fantasies

    As a society, we’ve come a long way in our journey toward destigmatizing many of the negative connotations associated with sex and pleasure. 

    For instance, women enjoying casual sex is no longer a revolutionary idea, people are more comfortable about their sexual encounters with their friends, having a chat about STDs and STIs is seen as the standard, female pleasure is a bigger priority, most people don’t bat an eye at the thought of queer sex (except homophobes because they hate all good things)… and so on.

    Source: AnOther

    Still, because of a mix of a million different things like the media, how we were raised, past experiences, internalized misogyny and shame or embarrassment — some kinks, fetishes, and sexual fantasies can still feel a bit harder to confidently own up to, much less voice. 

    Fetishes VS Kinks

    Fetishes and kinks are used interchangeably in our daily lives, but they have slightly different meanings. 

    By definition, a fetish refers to a sexual act, object, or body part that’s necessary in order for a person to get aroused and achieve sexual gratification. 

    A kink, however, is a term used to cover any sexual proclivities that can be seen as “outside the norm,” aka “taboo.” Unlike fetishes, you don’t technically need your kink to be present in order to get off. 

    Sex therapist, Rosara Torrisi, PhD clarifies the key difference between a kink and a fetish by “whether it’s something someone likes to do or if it’s something someone has to do in order to have sexual pleasure.”

    And, of course, there’s some overlap! A fetish is always a kink, but not all kinks are or become fetishes.

    When it comes to safely integrating them into the bedroom (or wherever else you might be having sex), “two of the most important things about exploring kinks and fetishes are consent and safety planning,” says Torrisi.

    So, without further ado — let’s talk about some “taboo” sex acts that are actually incredibly common, and how our kinks, fetishes, and sexual fantasies weave into the equation. 

    What are some common “taboo” sex acts and sexual fantasies?

    “There are many people, more than you think, who are not vanilla,” sex expert Dr. Logan Levkoff, says. “We’re not all supposed to experience our sexuality the same way… and we’re understanding that more than ever.”

    Source: Gata

    Since we’re only going to be talking about some of the most popular sexual taboos and fantasies, if you don’t see what you’re dirty dreaming about — don’t feel bad! This is only a small sample of the vast and expansive world of fetishes, kinks, and sexual fantasies.

    Some of the most common sexual taboos in the US:

    • BDSM (bondage, discipline (or domination), sadism, and masochism)
    • Group Sex and Swinging
    • Exhibitionism and voyeurism
    • Sexual fantasies

    Source: Queer in the World


    BDSM stands for bondage, discipline (or domination), sadism, and masochism. The practice typically includes one or more elements of consensual power dynamics, role-playing, restraints (handcuffs, ropes, ballgags, nipple clamps, etc.), impact play (spanking, use of paddles, whips, floggers, or other toys), and other activities for sexual pleasure. BDSM can be seen as taboo due to the power exchange, pain, or perceived non-normative nature.

    A 2016 study published in The Journal of Sex Research found that, out of the 1,040 people surveyed, almost 47% of women and 60% of men had fantasized about dominating someone sexually. 

    Just last year, the Bedbible Research Center conducted the largest study of BDSM to date, having surveyed over 12,700 individuals. According to their research, “86% of Americans have either tried BDSM at least once (42%) or expresses and interest to do so (44%).” 

    So, it’s beyond safe to say — that so long as it’s happening between two consenting adults — this “taboo” sexual practice, is anything but uncommon. 

    Group sex and swinging

    Group sex involves sexual activity between three or more consenting adults. So, threesomes, fouresomes, orgys — all of that good stuff. If this is something that excites you — you’re not alone! According to Healthline, “group sex is the most common arousal material for Americans.”

    Now, swinging refers to the practice of couples engaging in sexual activity with other couples. It’s a form of ethical and consensual polyamory. And, despite the popular misconception, it’s not just for married couples. 

    Both, group sex and swinging, can involve consensual elements of swapping partners, watching your partner(s) have sex or do oral, or involve group sex with consenting couples or singles. 

    Source: Dazed

    While group sex and swinging can be considered taboo due to their departure from traditional monogamous relationships and societal expectations — they’re pretty popular across America.

    In 2017, Bedbible Research Center also conducted “the first mapping of swinging participation and attitudes towards it.”  

    Here are some highlights of what they found:

    • 2.4 million Americans are active swingers. 
    • 44.1% of swingers do not tell anyone about it.
    • 41.9% of swingers tell their close friends.
    • 4.1% of swingers share their experience with everyone.

    Exhibitionism and voyeurism

    Exhibitionism refers to deriving sexual pleasure from exposing one’s body or engaging in sexual acts in public or semi-public spaces. When done consensually and safely, it can be a really exciting experience! Ever wanted to have sex on the porch? That’s exhibitionism! At a sex party? Also exhibitionism! On some cozy Twilight-esque camping grounds? You guessed it, exhibitionism. Of course, there are more public examples. Say, sneaky second base at a movie theater. 

    Voyeurism, on the other hand, involves gaining sexual pleasure from consensually observing others engage in sexual activity without being involved. Keyword: consensually. Say, the thought of watching your partner have sex with someone else, or strangers at a sex party, or even online! 

    If these terms make you feel a little icky or uncomfortable — odds are, it’s because they are often talked about in regard to the nonconsensual mental condition characterized by a compulsion to show your genitals in public without consent. That is not what we’re talking about here. 

    There are so many ways we can engage in ethical, consensual, sexy kinds of exhibitionism and voyeurism — and there’s no need to feel any shame about it.

    Sexual fantasies 

    Sexual fantasies make the world go round. Maybe yours is one you’ve kept under wraps or maybe it’s something you’ve shared with a partner before — hoping they’d take the hint. Whether it’s about wanting to role-play, have sex in a certain way, try a new toy or it’s something that involves more planning like introducing multiple partners or having sex on a mountain top — pretty much everyone has a sexual fantasy they’d love to make a reality. 

    Source: Magzter

    While some are more feasable than others (I don’t think time travel will be figured out in my lifetime), most sexual fantasies can be played with and adjusted in order to accommodate the boundaries of everyone involved and still get you off.

    Our sexual fantasies can do a lot for us — and they often include a lot of these so-called taboo sexual acts we’ve been talking about today. We can choose to play them out solo or with our partner(s) to add more dimension and excitement to our sex life. 

    Now that we’re all caught up on sexual taboos, fetishes, kinks, and sexual fantasies — I hope you’re at least a little bit inspired to tap into your own desires, even if you just start with the one that feels easiest first. 

    Whether that’s asking your partner(s) or hook-up buddy if they’d be up for planning a little camping trip with a side of outdoor sex, some wax play or trying out sexting for the first time — there’s no right or wrong way to begin as long as everyone involved is on board. 

    Remember, consent and communication, as always, are key. 

    Robyn Exton

    Robyn is the CEO & Founder of HER. Find her on Twitter.

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