‘I’m delighted to talk about sex’: Tina Fetner rejects taboos

Cover of Tina Fetner's book, with her image in a circle super-imposed on it.

'If we move away from the taboos and shame, we can see that our sexual behaviour is much like any other social behaviour.' Fetner's new book, Sex in Canada, offers insights, dispels myths and shares facts.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Sociology professor Tina Fetner has released her book,  Sex in Canada, lifting the lid on the sex lives of Canadians and encouraging us to talk more openly about a formerly taboo subject.

We sat down with Fetner to talk about her findings and her hopes for Canadians to have more open conversations about sex.

Do Canadians have good sex?

For the most part, Canadians are enjoying the sex. Among the Canadian adults I surveyed, 66 per ent reported that their most recent consensual sexual encounter was “quite a bit” or “extremely” pleasurable, and another 32 per cent said that their most recent sex was “moderately” or “a little bit” pleasurable.

Only 3 per cent reported that it was not pleasurable at all.

In addition, among those in a sexual relationship, 86 per cent said that they were happy in their relationship.

We all know that life isn’t perfect, so sex lives aren’t perfect, but I’d have to say that the overall picture of Canadian sex is that people are pretty happy with their sex lives.

Are Canadians squeamish when it comes to talking about sex?

I think some people are uncomfortable talking about sex — especially about anatomy and sexual behaviour specifically.

But what I’ve found is all you have to do is ask.

It turns out that people are really eager to talk about their sex lives and to learn about the sex that others are having.

Sex is such a universal human experience, but there are endless varieties of how we can engage in sexual behaviour. Why shouldn’t we want to know as much as we can about sexual activity?

My approach to this topic is to treat sexual behaviour like any other subject in the social sciences. If we move away from the taboos and shame, we can see that our sexual behaviour is much like any other social behaviour. It is shaped by social norms, regulated by social institutions, and influenced by our cultures.

It’s not strictly personal; it’s also social.

But Canadian squeamishness about talking about sex has led to a lack of research on sexual behaviour. Unlike the U.K. or the U.S., we haven’t had a national survey of sexual behaviour of the general population until this one.

If we ignore sex as a topic, we miss out on understanding a vital part of our lives.

Analysis: Do feminists have better sex? Yes, they do

Do we owe it to ourselves to talk more frankly and openly about sex?

What we gain when we do speak frankly about sex, and especially when we apply the rigorous standards of social science to the topic, is a clearer picture of the social organization of sexuality.

My book gives us insight into the way that gender and sexual identity shape our sex lives, increasing or limiting our access to sexual pleasure. For example, straight women have fewer orgasms than lesbian women, gay men or straight men.

This is a systemic inequality that results from heterosexuality and gender inequality, and unless we document it and find a way to talk about it, we won’t be able to make any change.

Plus, sex is really fun to talk about. Everybody is curious about how many people use sex toys, or whether having kids destroys your sex life.

Why shouldn’t we know these things? I reject the taboos, and I’m delighted to talk about sex with anyone who wants to listen.

Sex in Canada by Tina Fetner is out Feb. 14.

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