We’ve all been there, right? You’re bursting with excitement over something you’ve learned or experienced, ready to share it with the world. But when it comes to sex, suddenly there are all these unwritten rules and restrictions on what, when, and where we can talk about it.

Our first instinct might be to agree that there should be boundaries—and there absolutely should be. But there are also times when it’s important to talk about sex for reasons beyond personal desire or health concerns.

There are moments when discussing sex in public is necessary. And believe it or not, there are even times when it’s appropriate to have these conversations in a professional, business setting.

Discussing Sex in Public 

The local writers’ group (Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group Write Stuff) where I serve as president recently hosted its annual conference. Also, I am the founder and publisher of a small book publisher, Parisian Phoenix Publishing.

At dinner one night, the conference co-chair and I were having a conversation, and the fact that one of my authors writes erotica came up.

Well,” this person said. “We can’t have erotica at the conference. We have a family-friendly reputation.

I didn’t say anything at the time, but I was a tad offended by her comment. I took a minute and digested the conversation, and found it resurfacing while brainstorming for my upcoming K&T article. The mission of Kiss & Tell Magazine, in my words, is to encourage and celebrate sex. As founder Dr. Jenny McBlaine told me in a recent conversation, “sex is not a four-letter word.”

So, why did this fifty-something-year-old writer have such a knee-jerk reaction to my suggestion that writers can make a living mixing many writing types: copywriting, SEO, journalism, and erotica in addition to creative fiction?

Bringing Up Sex Can Muddy Up the Waters

Conservatives do a fabulous job at keeping us believing that the two words, sex and shame, are united,” Dr. Jenny suggested. “This smoke and mirror job causes people not to enjoy one of life’s most precious gifts: sex.

Unlike Dr. Jenny, I am not a clinical sexologist nor do I have any academic background in the field. But as a writer, a journalist, a book publisher, and a historian, I view the world as a critical theorist and like to examine not only why we do what we do, but how we can offer people both information and agency to use that information.

I depend on words, editing, writing, and publishing to survive, and I want other writers and authors to know the avenues available to make money writing also, as an individual, I want people to challenge the values delivered by our nation’s Puritanical, conservative roots and determine their values and their reasons to hold those values.

The conference co-chair and I have known each other for twenty years, and this isn’t our first time working together. Nor is it the first time we’ve had different viewpoints. This allowed me to have an additional conversation with her that neither one of us would interpret as a personal attack (which is something our leaders and politicians could stand to learn).

 I stated the following:

1. The group already has a rule that anyone attending events must be 18 years or older or accompanied by a parent.

2. If we “had erotica” at the conference, that doesn’t mean everyone is walking around naked, talking about sex explicitly, or using vulgar and offensive language.

I have a good working relationship with the conference co-chair, I know she’s a Christian writer and her faith overlaps with her writing. In our conversation, I reminded her that making a blanket statement about erotica not having a place in our conference, in my opinion, was akin to me saying that we shouldn’t host religious writers or publishers.

Why is sex so divisive?

Sex plays an important role in life and therefore sex should be addressed in writing, even if it isn’t displayed. Sex has a role in my novels. In my first novel, Manipulations, the dark paranormal romance is a metaphor for domestic violence. The sexual encounters in that story, and the details of them, give the reader inside information about who is telling the truth and help demonstrate the characters’ motivations (and their manipulations). In my second novel, Courting Apparitions, how the characters approach sex shows the state of their mental and physical health.

discuss sex in public

How each writer address sex in their work will contribute toward any change they wish to see in society. Many writers will tell you that they write because they have a story they need to tell, but what they don’t say out loud, and perhaps don’t even consciously realize, that they have beliefs and experiences about and within the world that could teach the reader something or at least expose them to an idea they may not have heard previously.

When Talking About Sex

Individually, we need to ask ourselves how we feel about sex and what it means to us. Some people need touch as a way to cope with the harsh realities of the world and to release their emotions. Others attach holiness to it, connecting it with the creation of life.

Somewhere in the middle lies the magical aspects of sex, that the energy of sex creates not only life but power when participants join efforts and release something new into the universe. And sometimes sex is another way to communicate, when words fail touch can show how people feel about each other.

Talking about sex can be as delicate as walking a tightrope this is when sex education would be helpful.


Sex Education Through Music Then and Now

To me, the world needs to talk about sex— and do so more deeply than Salt N Pepa entreated us to in their 1991 hit, “Let’s Talk about Sex.

Perhaps after seeing the AIDS pandemic as they approached puberty, Generation Xers should have experience of having to talk about sex, regardless of where we fall in our personal beliefs. Salt and her crew presented probably one of the first ‘real’ conversations I ever heard in pop culture or the public space (other than warnings about HIV).


Currently, the conversation focuses on consent and the types of sex people have— both great topics. My daughter cites sex ed has been learned,  from listening to Lilyisthatyou’s “FMRN” as one of her favorites and describes it as a list of what the singer wishes to have done to her.

 

Digital Media and Sex Education

German researcher, Nicola Döring shared in 2021, that this generation turns to digital media for its sex education, which is more of an independent, personal experience versus a conversation between a person and society. Döring argues that “traditional” sex education focuses on “risk prevention,” which is in line with my experience within GenX.

Several worldwide health organizations (UNESCO, World Health Organization, and Planned Parenthood) use the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights framework for guiding sex education. That document considers sexual pleasure a human right. It promotes age-appropriate, self-determined, healthy, and consensual sex and protection from sexual harm and violence.

Döring points out that “the framework is not individualistic but points to the relevance of societal conditions, power relations, and social norms when it comes to sexual expression.”

 So, we feel like these things are a human right, but we can’t talk about it except with our partners? That makes no sense. It is even more confusing in a professional setting.

 

Discussing Sex in a Professional Setting

There are acceptable ways to approach discussing sex in a professional setting. Using my example, the writers’ conference— which in our case is hosted at a hotel over several days— the responsibility is for the organizers to establish the rules. Our conference has multiple events happening at the same time, so if an attendee doesn’t want to talk about sex, they can attend something else.

There are three approaches I take before holding any public event discussing sex:

 

Establish The Rules: In this case, presenters would be presented with a list of guidelines about how far they can go and the language they can use. The organizers would have the responsibility of making sure the event is advertised/promoted in such a way that attendees are aware of the subject matter. Event descriptions would also need to discuss the intent of the event.

 

After Dark: Whenever our publishing company hosts an event without structured rules about sex, we advertise it as “after dark” and typically hold the event in the evening, and after dark, and limit attendance to those 18 and older. 

 Mix It Up: In this case, event organizers could put “clean” content with that which addresses sex. Ideally, this would use a panel or Q&A format. I would also recommend that presenters are prepped and that respect for all viewpoints must be shown.

In the case of the writers’ conference, I suggested that we hold a seminar on sex in novels and have a panel of “clean”/“sweet” romance writers, “steamy”/“spicy” writers, and erotica writers to talk about what the parameters are for each. There is no reason why a Christian writer can’t talk about why they don’t put sex in a novel, just like an erotic writer could explain why they write the graphic details.

I developed these three approaches based on the needs of the diverse collection of writers in my group. While developing the three approaches, I wondered if academics and other professionals had guidelines for approaching such topics in their fields. I searched JSTOR, Google Scholar, and just a plain old search engine looking for “how to talk about sexual topics in a professional meeting.” According to what I found on the Internet, the two places we should talk about sex in a professional meeting are… 1. If we work in healthcare or 2. If we work in sex education.

The Internet search did point me to a list of topics I can discuss in a business/professional context: sexual harassment, pay equity and differences in performance evaluation, and  Christian counseling.


Conclusion


For those of us who work in industries where we happen to occasionally and/or regularly encounter sexual topics, we need a plan for how these topics can be discussed and embraced. The ability to discuss our feelings and the facts about sexuality in a mutually respectful way will enhance not only our sex lives but also our ability to be vulnerable and clear communicators.

So now pause for a minute and ask—

  • does sex ever come up in your workplace? Does it have a place?
  • Should a newsletter at a nursing home include information about seniors and sexual health? What if that newsletter goes home to adult children of residents?
  • Should anyone in a leadership or mentoring role have age-appropriate but honest responses to questions about sex?
  • With the uptick in the availability of everything from urinary tract infection medicine to personal lubricants, and emergency contraceptives at major department stores, should retail employees be prepared to address questions about these products? What if these employees are teens?
  • Sex is everywhere, but are we prepared to talk about it everywhere?

We encourage everyone reading to join this conversation in the comments section below. Do you have examples to share? Let us know what has either helped you or hindered you in having conversations about sex publically and professionally.