By far the best thing about the mental health community is its willingness to talk about what might be considered “taboo”. This doesn’t just cover topics like mental health/illness, but other topics as well. We had the chance to interview Nicole, the creator behind this unique Instagram project called let’s talk about sex. Click ‘read more’ to learn about what she’s doing!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m Nicole and I’m 31. I currently live in Brooklyn but I grew up in Florida. I have a strong interest in human psychology and my long term plan is to become a therapist with my own private practice.
Growing up, what was the conversation like around sex for you? Was it something taboo or was it treated just like any other conversation?
I went to Catholic school from 2nd grade through high school and I was in a very conservative part of Florida for high school, so conversations around sex were complicated. Sex ed was abstinent-focused and I remember having a school-wide seminar for the girls in which we were taught to save ourselves for marriage and instructed to write letters to our future husband about why we saved ourselves for them. Then we were given wooden boxes and decorated them. The boxes were intended to be a representation of our virginity and the letters were placed in the boxes to hold onto to give to our husband on our wedding night.
So the common Catholic “loophole” is to have every other form of sex instead of penis in vagina penetration. Many of my peers were having anal sex and considering themselves virgins. And as I got older, I began to realize how broader society defines sex is illogical. Sex is not simply penis in vagina penetration. Oral sex is sex. Manual sex is sex. Anal sex is sex.
And of course, homosexuality of any form was unacceptable but I had a particular moment in school that made me begin questioning what I had learned. A friend of mine wanted to host a jeans day (Catholic school, we wear uniforms so wearing jeans is a big deal) for World AIDS Day on December 6th. Students could pay $5 and it would go towards a nonprofit working towards curing AIDS and you could wear jeans. The principal told my friend no because it was “the homosexuals’ disease.” It was at direct odds to “love thy neighbor” and the philosophies Jesus’ teachings seemed to stand for, so I began rethinking what I had been taught.
What do you feel like contributed to you creating an Instagram account/project focused on interviewing other people about sex?
I have had several influences that have led me to this point. For one, what is most important to me is creating authentic and raw relationships with people. Personally I believe that is all we have in this life and that our relationships matter above all. That philosophy led me to a strong interest in PostSecret and volunteering with various suicide hotlines like the Trevor Project. PostSecret is a project that paved the way for talking about the taboo and through the suicide hotline, I was actively talking about the taboo with strangers. So I became very comfortable with having conversations others feel they cannot have.
I also have had my own struggles when it comes to sexual relationships, and I understand that a large part of what creates negative experiences is a lack of communication and a lack of understanding. I do not think people give much thought to sex, despite how it connects us to other people and tells us so much about ourselves and how we relate to the world. In my interviews, I will ask people, “What is your philosophy on sex?” and it is interesting when I encounter people who do not have an answer to the question. So through this lack of communication and through this lack of thought, it can create moments, whether intentionally or unintentionally, we hurt others through sex when the person we are with is quite vulnerable. And that hurt is then carried over into future relations and relationships that can cause hurt to others. We all have patterns that we repeat as a result of our own past trauma until we become aware of our patterns and actively work on changing our patterns. It can become a cycle that doesn’t end. Whether it is a one night stand or a relationship, we all bring our shame and insecurities into sex so hopefully we can move to a place where we are aware of what we bring and are actively working through it. So ultimately I am hoping to create a conversation that can create more authentic and honest relationships and that can lead to at least a little less hurt in the world.
The topics covered in these interviews seem to cover a wide range of things from what it means to be sexy, to top/bottom culture, to polyamory. Have you noticed any sort of common theme about the sex culture in general throughout these different topics?
I am just getting started so I am hesitant to claim any themes just yet. Also the majority of my interviews are in New York City and I understand that New York City is more liberal than the rest of the country, so I am hoping to expand not just the location demographic, but the age demographic as well. And my intent is for this account to speak to all people. Some people say to me, “I’m not sure what you are looking for.” The only thing I am looking for is honesty and authenticity. This account isn’t meant for young people or liberal people or people having a lot of sex. I am working towards broad representation so that there is a story anyone can find on this account that resonates with them and maybe feel a little less alone in their feelings. But if you ask me again after a couple hundred more interviews, I’m sure I’ll be able to start finding definitive patterns.
What have your favorite interviews been so far?
This is so tough to answer. I will say the first interview posted on my account is one of my favorites. The person I spoke with was so eloquent and philosophical on the issue of sex. I regret that I didn’t take multiple photos because when it came time to select a quote, I couldn’t choose just one. So you will see that visually it looks different than every other post on the account. I was still learning my aesthetic (and still am), so I am not as comfortable with it visually, but I just desperately wanted to include all of his fascinating insights. Particularly, I loved that he spoke to the intersection of body image and sex because I think these two topics go hand in hand for many individuals. How our culture tears down people’s appearances and bodies and breeds insecurity is devastating and, especially women, we all carry this into the bedroom. We are scrutinizing and criticizing our bodies instead of enjoying what they can do. And on the flip side, it creates a culture where people feel they can criticize other’s opinions. Just in my personal experience, I’ve had several sexual partners criticize my body and my appearance and as much as I understand rationally that is a reflection of their own insecurity, it is difficult to push that out of your mind the next time you get naked with someone.
Another one of my favorites is by someone who works at a sex shop. His connection between his work with pets and his work with sex was so poignant and accurate. I would expound further but I truly believe anything I say cannot be said better than his words.
And lastly, another one of my favorites is a recent one. This woman shared with me that she recently hasn’t been feeling very sexual and is judged for that. I loved interviewing her because she was such a kind soul. I could instantly feel her warmth and gentleness when I sat down with her, and she was so open with me and I think her story will resonate with many others.
What do you hope your project will do in terms of educating people about sex?
I think my story of how I was raised on the topic of sex illustrates why I want to expose people to other ideas. Sex is such a complicated topic that speaks to the most complex, intimate, and vulnerable facets of humanity so to be taught that there is only one way to think about is simply incorrect. For my own self, once I realized there are other ways of viewing sex when I left high school, I wanted to learn what they all were which required unlearning what I thought I knew. I took a Cartesian doubt approach to learning about sex where I actively unlearned what I was indoctrinated with and then actively sought out information and experience and exposure to new ideas so I could make my own informed opinion as to what I really thought. So I hope that people will follow my account and be open to ideas and experiences that are different than their own and hopefully even prompt these types of honest conversations with people in their own life. I said it earlier, but ultimately I am hoping to create a conversation that can create more authentic and honest relationships with each other and that can lead to at least a little less hurt in the world by eliminating that shame and insecurity we carry around sex.
Where can people find you on social media? And how can they get involved?
Find me on Instagram! The handle is @letstalkaboutrealsex
. I prefer to do the interviews in person, but I also understand that can be limiting since I am located in NYC. So if someone is in NYC, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
and I’d love to set up a time for an interview. But if you aren’t in NYC, people can shoot me an email and I will send a list of questions. No one is obligated to answer all or any of the questions. They are simply meant as thought starters to share whatever you want to share.