Breaking out of small, harmful sex boxes

by Erin Brandt

Moving forward I will use space in every column to highlight a racial justice organization or resource that we all can support or learn from. This is meant to bring awareness and change to Durango, this state, and this country. Please support however you are able, SURJ or Showing Up for Racial Justice SURJ is a national network of groups and individuals working to undermine white supremacy and to work for racial justice. Through community organizing, mobilizing, and education, SURJ moves white people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability. It looks like all the SURJ chapters in Colorado are in the cities up north. Let’s start a chapter in Durango!


Now on to the sex talk…

We begin exploring our bodies from a young age and if we are lucky enough we have adults raising us without shame and we are full of empowered, positive ideas about healthy relationships and sex. We learn that sex should never be used for violence. We learn that loving — romantically & sexually — others is defined through communication and consent. We learn that sexual relationships do not require weddings, only two people, or narrow, binary gender expressions. We learn that sexual desires are fluid and ever-evolving. We learn to listen to our bodies and the bodies of our lovers. We learn that judgments of others are shallow and wasteful. We learn how to protect ourselves and lovers from STIs and unwanted pregnancies. These values and ideas are embedded culturally and taught openly in the home and in schools.

Yeah, I don’t know where this utopia is located but it sure as shit ain’t here.

Overcoming ShameIn my coaching and workshops, there is always an element of shame in the sexual lives of the participants. It may be connected with body image or specific sexual acts. Most often it is a great big umbrella of shame shading their entire experience of sex. This is further exacerbated by shame to vocalize needs or discomforts. Not to mention that sex is regularly used as a weapon of violence in our culture. It is depressingly easy to see why so many people struggle to find balance in their sexual relationships.

The first steps I suggest to overcoming shame:

Start talking about it. In a journal. In the mirror. With a friend. With a therapist. With a lover. With a sex coach! Say what you’ve never said before. Say it out loud.

Look at your behaviors and habits around sex. What works? What doesn’t? What would you change if you had a magic wand?

Unearth your learned behaviors and attitudes about sex. Are they true? Do they still work for you today?

Get Out of the BoxMany people believe there are only a few “right” ways to have “normal” sexual relationships. Let’s name some boxes!



Cisgender (partners have to present as male or female)

Penetrative sex

Orgasms required

Responsible for others pleasure



Body specific

The obvious example is marriage for several reasons, some more apparent than others. People have to be married before they can have sex. Married sex is better than non-married sex. Once married sex should be happening all the time. Once married there is no space for other lovers outside the married relationship. It’s these last expectations that cause the most damage. Not only do they put an inordinate amount of pressure on the relationship they also leave very little room for solutions. I’ve said this before and I’ll continue to say it — one person cannot give another person every single thing they need in a relationship.

It requires a crowbar and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to unbox ourselves from these expectations. “It’s not a marriage if there are more than 2 people; the people are of the same sex; the people are from different races, cultures, religions; there is no sex; there’s too much sex; there’s sex without procreation…” If you believe even one of these ideas, it can cause rot in your relationships.

In order to overcome these expectations and repair a damaged relationship, folks have to be willing to think/look outside the box. A relationship cannot go backward; it needs to evolve with the people in it. Why can’t a marriage evolve to include other sexual partners? Or new sexual behaviors? Why can’t a marriage be sensual instead of sexual?

As for the other boxes I listed, let’s tackle them together!

Heterosexual, cisgender, and penetrative sex can be lumped together. If you are reading this column and can’t understand how narrow these boxes are … well, I don’t know if I can help you. Please read my previous columns to gain more insight. The world is made up of such a beautiful array of humans that only a small percentage actually fit into the hetero/cis identity. People may think they fit in this box and they don’t. I look forward to their awakening!

Orgasms are NOT required. Blew that box up!

Responsible for others’ pleasure isn’t the worst box. Attentive and giving sexual partners are amazing. However, don’t let them be the only ones giving!

No, humans are not born knowing how to have sex. This most often falls onto the male of the species. The idea that what needs to happen will just magically appear in our brains at a certain point is ridiculous and cruel. Provide positive, comprehensive sexuality education to your kids/teens/20-somethings!

I covered procreation in the marriage box. Oh, I didn’t? Guess what! Sex doesn’t equal babies unless everyone consents to bring another human into the world. Unplanned pregnancies happen and with the exception of rape, unplanned sex does not. If you are having consensual sex and you do not want to have a baby, you are responsible for taking steps to prevent it. Condoms, vasectomy, or birth control. You are responsible for your body and what you do with it. WITHDRAWAL IS NOT A FORM OF BIRTH CONTROL.

I hear of people focusing on a specific body type as their sexual catnip. I pity these people. Believing that the way people look is the only way to receive and give sexual pleasure is limiting — hence the box! Still dating because you haven’t found the perfect match? Get out of the box!!

Know What You DesireBefore demanding or asking nicely for change from your lovers take a long, hard look at your sexual habits and desires. A critical eye on yourself is necessary to share sexual pleasure with others.

What are your turn-ons?

What sexual activities do you need in the majority of your interactions?

What are you open to trying?

What are your fantasies?

This sounds revolutionary because we do not talk openly about positive sexual behaviors in our culture. We do not take responsibility for our sexual needs. And we do not celebrate sexual learning spaces for youth and adults.


Can you tell that I’m feeling frustrated? I want to focus on solutions and celebrate sexual evolution. Instead, I’m reminded daily that societal norms and the broader culture want to stuff people into small and harmful boxes. I’m not hearing/seeing enough success stories of folks breaking out of boxes. If you have a positive box breaking story, could you email it to me or share it on Instagram and tag me @positivesexedwitherin — thanks!

Ask for consent and break some boxes!

Erin Brandt (she/her/hers) has been a sexologist for 15 years. When she’s not spreading sexual knowledge, Erin can be found learning from her child, hiking with her partner, cuddling with her pitbull, knitting with her cat, dancing with friends, and searching for the nearest hammock and ocean breeze. Want more? Visit


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