The "Sex Is Natural" Trope, and Its Communication Corollary

[Content Note: Rape culture; violence; disappearing people of various stripes.]

So, there's this trope about how sex is the most natural thing in the world for humans. It's a trope that acts in service to a whole lot of things—reproductive policing, evo psych explanations for gendered behavior, the rape culture (that's not a comprehensive list)—and it's harmful for a whole lot of reasons.

Treating sex as natural (and inevitable) disappears people who are asexual. Not every human being is desirous of sex. That doesn't make them "unnatural," but part of a long and varied spectrum of human sexuality.

It also disappears people who have survived sexual trauma, for whom sex may no longer be "natural," even if it's something they still desire. And people who have other aversions to or difficulties around sex, as a result of genital cutting, physical disability, health concerns resulting in painful sex, medications that cause diminished libido, and all sorts of other individual circumstances that make sex something less than the "natural," freewheeling, spontaneous activity that we're all meant to understand it to be.

Sometimes partners who want each other more than anything and have no other ostensible barriers just happen to have bodies that don't line up right, that don't fit together perfectly. When it can take experimentation just to achieve the basics, the "sex is natural" trope can make people feel like failures at the whole sex thing, which adds a whole other layer of unnecessary pressure. Virgins often expect sex to look like it does in the movies, instead of the fumblefucking that our first time looks like for many of us.

For lots of people, sex takes some planning, some creativity, some ingenuity. And it also takes communication.

The corollary to the "sex is natural" trope is that sex shouldn't need to be something about which people communicate—that it should just happen, and that talking about sex ruins it.

This is a terrible piece of misinformation for about eleventy-twelve different reasons, not least of which is that it serves to reinforce precisely the sort of aversion to explicit consent-seeking that was demonstrated in the "Luring Your Rapebait" frat bro letter.

Sex is so natural that you shouldn't have to talk about it; it should just happen through reading each other's body language. So goes the trope. But, as the letter amply and revoltingly demonstrates, coercion is a language all its own. "If she starts putting her hair over her ear," writes the author of the vile missive, "THAT MEANS SHE WANTS A KISS. Therefore, try to give her a kiss on the cheek."

Signals are just communication for people who don't want to risk talking and possibly hear "no."

The desire for sex is not intrinsic in every human being, but the desire for agency is. That's natural. And because that is natural, sex without explicit communication cannot be—because sexual interaction sans communication is exponentially more likely to be sexual violence.

So, fuck this trope, basically. Not only is it actively harmful to anyone who, for any reason, experiences sex at some point or forever as something less than totally natural, but it acts in service to rapists, who rely on the idea that sex just "naturally happens" to justify indifference to explicit consent.

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