Isn’t it ironic how we live in a society that worked on its sex positivity by replacing it with “vanilla-shaming”?
Kink-shaming is finally out of style and frowned upon. However, it appears vanilla-shaming has taken its place.
After decades of feminists campaigning for equal rights for women, fictional characters such as Anastasia Grey (50 Shades of Grey) and Samantha Jones (Sex in the City) boldly flaunting their sexual desires; it has changed sex. It has formed a new way in which we see and perceive women in society today. And it’s fabulous.
Women are more sexually confident than ever. It’s just a shame it is being used to tear other females down by a society that puts women into two categories; adventurous and good in bed, or vanilla and bad in bed. Both are complete myths, but I will break that down…
Using Samantha Jones as an example, women in the first category are outspoken and bold when discussing one’s sexuality, often have a male’s ego, and tend to be kinky. Women of the second category merely have different interests and boundaries. That does not make them ‘vanilla’, nor should it be used to put their self-confidence down.
Personally, I fall into the Samantha Jones category, so I have not been vanilla-shamed; however, I have experienced kink-shaming and slut-shaming.
The character of Jones was one of the first openly sexually adventurous women to frequent on such a huge TV series when the HBO show aired in June 1998. Like many of us, she gave me the confidence to embrace how adventurous I wanted to be when it came to sex.
Samantha effortlessly demonstrated that it is perfectly okay and acceptable to own your sexual energy and nature as a woman.
Fast forward 30 years later, and the female population is gradually turning into a sea of Samanthas who are collectively closing in on the orgasm gap and putting an end to the patriarchy.
This means, now more than ever in history, women are freely talking about their sexual desires. And openly too.
From chats with friends about what role-play costumes have been ordered to who did anal or masturbated all weekend, it is becoming the norm in Britain to overhear women having these empowering and curious conversations.
According to the Tate Britain website, take it back to the early 1960s, and these discussions would have been far and few between.
You see, it was only 50 years ago, in 1957, that the contraceptive pill was introduced, making casual sex more accessible and safer.
Before this, compared to men, it was a lot trickier for a woman to enjoy exploring her sexuality. In addition, women feared falling pregnant, and abortions were undoubtedly not walk-in at the time.
Thus, the conversations a woman could have regarding sex were limited.
After all, it was not until the 1957 Wolfenden Report that it recommended the decriminalisation of homosexuality, which was finally legalised in 1967. That year abortion and divorce were also made more accessible. Thus, leading to the decade gaining the nickname ‘the Swinging Sixties’.
From the 1970s until 2021, feminists have continued fighting for women to have a voice when it comes to their bodies. From lifting abortion bans across the world to freeing the nipple, feminism has one message: To give women and all equality.
Feminism has crushed the idea that sex and masturbation are just for men’s enjoyment, and thankfully so.
In 2021, we are now facing the era of ‘vanilla sex’ – and it is no surprise that women are being targeted with this new taunt.
Compared to the 19th century, where women could enjoy romantic, passionate, or dubbed today ‘vanilla’ sex, they are now expected to perform like porn stars. If they don’t, they’re classed as ‘frigid’ or ‘boring’.
If you didn’t know, as it is a semi-new term, Urban Dictionary defines the act of vanilla sex as being “boring, uninventive, plain”.
In my opinion, this problem came about after women began confidently talking about their sexual urges. It led to, and it was unavoidable, to comparing women and putting them against one another. As repeated throughout history.
Nowadays, any woman with tamer sexual desires is being made fun of or shamed for it.
We have gone from a society that hated women being vulgar (thus years of silence and sitting quietly under the patriarchy) to men being frustrated if their wives won’t suddenly perform the Gawk Gawk 3,000.
As usual, women cannot win!
I will hold my hands up; I had not realised there was such a problem until recently as it was just not something that had entered my mind. My inner circle and I are all pretty kinky, so the term vanilla, while aware, I had not considered its impact.
This was until I had dinner with a friend who lives far away and for which sadly it is harder to arrange a meeting. After years of quick catch-ups over text, we were finally sitting in a restaurant having lengthy conversations post-pandemic.
Two decades older and wiser than me, while close, we have always been very different people. Especially sexually.
I adore chit-chatting about sex. So, if you ask me how to do anal, I will give you every trick in detail if you wish.
For my friend, the subjects make her uncomfortable. I had always wondered why but respected her privacy. However, the fact sex talk made her squirm made me never question it as, for all I knew, she could have trauma she wishes to not discuss. Therefore, it is only addressed if she brings it up. Which she never had.
After ten years of friendship, it was while she was chowing down on a pasta salad that I heard the words: “Can I ask you something about sex?”
Grabbing my glass of wine, I took a sip through a grin and nodded for her to continue.
Watching the embarrassment flicker back in her eyes, I reminded her it was a safe place and nothing she said she would be judged for.
Pulling a sheepish grin, she continued by telling me how her ex had called her ‘vanilla’ in the bedroom. She added that she did not wish to partake in sexual activities with someone new as it had crushed her spirits.
I asked if she had always felt insecure regarding sex, she said no.
“I mean, I don’t like to talk about sex because compared to others, I think I’m quite boring in bed,” I could see the words hurt her to even say. But it had answered my burning question, and I wondered how many others don’t talk about sex because they’re fearful of being perceived as ‘vanilla’.
She detailed how all her life, she’s 47, all her partners had similar sexual interests to her, and thus, the sex was out of this world. She had found partners that aligned with her.
The most recent ex didn’t, and instead of kindly suggesting some fun things to try or getting to know what turns her into a wild animal in the sack, he cruelly dubbed her ‘boring’. He threw her confidence in the bin with it.
Now this once sexually confident yet private woman has been left a shell of her former self. And she’s not alone.
Dr. Laura Vowels, principal researcher and therapist at Blueheart – a digital sex therapy app – agrees that the term “Vanilla” ruins our sex-positivity mission.
Vowels said: “Labelling certain types of sex in this way feeds into self-doubts about sexual abilities.”
“For women who enjoy ‘vanilla’ sex, the negative connotations around the term can induce shame. This idea can be damaging to their own self-confidence and sexual confidence.”
“It’s vital that women feel supported to express themselves freely and authentically when it comes to sexual experiences, as for so many years women have been shamed for simply enjoying sex.”
“Now, terms like this make them feel bad about the kind of sex they’re having. Making people feel as if their preferences are not valid, or accepted within society, can create a range of problems, from trust issues or a lack of body positivity to suppressing the wider discussion of sex within society.”
Vowel predicts that if we keep using the word vanilla with negative and derogatory connotations, it will stop us from becoming a sex-positive society.
“Humiliating those that enjoy ‘vanilla’ sex goes against the movement of encouraging sexual empowerment, sex positivity and women’s confidence,” she said. “This attitude encourages people to think that it’s okay to shame someone else’s preferences, which steers society away from becoming more sex-positive.”
Rebecca Lockwood, a Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Hypnosis, Time Line Therapy, Positive Psychology & Breakthrough Coach Trainer, explained how the term ‘vanilla’ can affect those directed at and how to brush the insult off.
Lockwood pointed out that “vanilla sex is required however we describe it, it’s part of relationships no matter how people perceive it,” as it is not always possible to have adventurous sex all the time. Despite porn painting the illusion, it is.
“If an individual has some wrapped up unwanted emotion around sex, then they may perceive this as being bad,” Lockwood said.
The expert continued: “If there are already some negative feelings around the way you view sex and the emotions you have around it, then this is going to determine to determine how self-conscious you generally are.
“When we create perceptions in our minds of how we are, how we should be and our place in the world, we then project this out into the world, which leads to our behaviours.”
“When we have these perceptions, they are linked to our feelings and the way we move our bodies.”
Lockwood explained that if someone lacks confidence in sex, this can cause them to feel less accessible around exploring new things. She says this is because “they may feel more self-conscious and worry about what the other person thinks of them.”
In conclusion, Lockwood suggests upping your self-love and reminding yourself that “everything starts with the way we think about ourselves and from that will determine how we feel about outside influences”.
Basically, it is only your opinion that matters. Being kind to yourself and reminding you you’re just fine and accept yourself is the key.
Everyone likes different things in the bedroom. There’s no such thing as ‘being bad in bed’, but there is such a thing as having sex with the wrong people, in my humble opinion. And that’s coming from someone who likes to be seriously dominated behind closed doors. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t shame someone for not aligning with my sexual interests. I just wouldn’t hook up with them as they wouldn’t enjoy it either.
There’s no reason you should tear someone else’s sexual confidence down. It takes years to build and seconds to destroy.
If you are sexually adventurous, you cannot, and should not, badger or pester your partner to change their consenting terms.
You can have thoughtful and mature conversations about things you would like to try. But if your significant other or sexual partner does not want to, shaming them into consent is unforgivable.
Returning to the conversation with my friend over dinner, I asked her if her exes cruel words made her give in and perform the acts she did not want to.
Nodding, she recalled how she did attempt two things she did not want to, hoping that he would see her as a “fantasy” and thus, their relationship would remain.
Doing so made her feel bad about herself, caused her psychical pain, and left her in tears as soon as he went.
Most tragically, I wish I could say my friend is the only woman experiencing or has experienced this, but she’s not. Most of us have. Whether it be vanilla or slut-shaming.
While there are no statistics yet to back up the fact the term ‘vanilla sex’ is hindering women’s confidence, enough forums are heaving with women torn apart after being dubbed ‘boring in bed’ to prove there is a problem.
As a society, we simply must remember that while the Samantha Joneses and Anastasia Greys are needed and empowering, the Charlotte Yorks setting their boundaries are just as confident, sexy and inspiring.
If you prefer holding hands in missionary than have the life pounded out of you tied up, that’s fine. It’s okay. It does not make you ‘boring’ or ‘vanilla’ in bed.
The same goes if you want to save your virginity for marriage. You are not ‘frigid’, ‘dull’ or any of the vile taunts thrown your way.
You are allowed to have boundaries in the bedroom. But, in fact, you must.
Anyone who attempts to shame you for your sexual desires is projecting because they are insecure of theirs/themselves, or they are trying to manipulate your consent.
The term ‘vanilla’ has shamed women and continued to silence us for long enough.
It’s time we, the Samantha Joneses of the world, hold men and other women to account in regards to sex-shaming.
After all, the orgasm gap is still wide open, and it’s sex-shaming keeping it that way…