What Would You Rather Talk About At A Dinner Party: Sex or Mental Health

My name is Meadowlark and I’m a mental health activist.

It’s my 9-to-5, my side hustle, and my life’s mission. I wear my heart on my sleeve and talk about mental health and wellbeing in an effort to make mental health normalized, cool even, and open the dialogue up for others to feel confident to talk about their mental health as well.

I’m also a millennial daughter of a lawyer — so I don’t just like to talk, I like to connect over subjects that are intimate and raw. Some that can generate some real debate, you know?

But for two of the most basic commonalities that are shared across age, genders, cultures… name two more taboo subjects than sex and mental health. We all have mental health and sexual health, yet they remain some of the most stigmatized subjects to speak about to our friends and neighbors.

And when trying to take these subjects from IRL to URL — it only gets worse.

Trying to find accurate online information on herpes is like trying to google “self care for anxiety”. Real, research-backed answers are few and far between. Instead, we get ads for face masks and pornhub.com.

While sex and “self care” are seemingly ubiquitous across our Instagram feeds — genuine, authentic, and educational information and connection on and between (hehe) these subjects is rare. Instead, we consume hyper-sexualized images and watch folks fight in the comments if feminism is letting a woman post her body as she wishes or is it chasing the serotonin rush from seeing that likes number skyrocket.

In fact, this dichotomy between sex and mental health and it’s role on social media directly contributes to an entire culture of slut shaming, prude shaming, or even using our own sexual health as a meter of our happiness — or even success! How many times have we vented to our friends about how dry spells are “depressing”? Spoiler alert: dry spells are normal and depression is a diagnosable illness, not your #mood when you’re not getting laid.

This idea of tying our sexual health to our standard of happiness or success is only further reiterated by how we talk about STD’s and sexual assault/rape. There has been such a lack of normal rhetoric around these two subjects that we have fostered a global environment and perspective that tells people we don’t believe them, or that they “wore clothes that asked for it”, or that’s “what you get when you sleep around”. Well, fuck. that.

When we stigmatize people with illnesses and trauma via sex, we take away their ability to feel comfortable in their own sexuality.

Normalizing STDs contribute not only to creating a stronger survivor, rather than a victim, but also to the destigmatization of mental health.

That’s why people like Sara and b.WR are out here. To create a community that freely speaks about how good bamboo panties feel when you have BV. To donate to programs like Planned Parenthood to give people access to education and resources they deserve. To provide consumers with a product that doesn’t harm our planet.

Because the thing is: change starts with the people.

We need to demand that sexual education and mental health is systematically revolutionized. We need to revolutionize sexual education in schools, we need Planned Parenthood to remain funded, we need Merriam Webster to make “they (pronoun)” their 2019 Word of the Year. We need systems of power and influence to demand that national sexual education be based in fact: yeah, that isn’t even a national standard right now.

While such limited exposure to sexual education exists, generations continue to be raised with limiting cultural beliefs about the world and themselves. They are forced to view heteronormativity as the standard for all, and that any slight deviation from such makes them just that: deviant.

The systematic and cultural failure to address anything other than monogamous or heteronormative relationships as the set precedent causes folks to view anything other than that through a lens of ethnocentricism. Allow me to give you an example: next holiday party, try bringing up polyamory to your Gen Z cousin and then a Baby Boomer uncle and watch how fast you’ll make the latter’s head spin.

When you grow up with such an ingrained set standard, any introduction to something other than immediately gets viewed as “less sophisticated” or “deviant” or “wrong”, simply because they are comparing something different against their standard of socialization as what’s “right”.

Those lessons aren’t just stored for judgment's sake, they are also internalized. Those are the lessons that tell trans kids they aren’t welcomed. Those are the lessons that tell the girl who got chlamydia from her long term boyfriend that she’s a slut. Those are the lessons that tell boys they can’t be raped too.

If we are brave enough to have these conversations with each other, and loud enough to say them to that institutions of power and influence will hear them, we could create an entire future generation of individuals that are tolerant, accepting, and inclusive.

Fortunately, the Christine Blasey Ford, Chanel Miller, and Sara Shokoui’s of the world are starting with just that. Opening up conversations about sexual health teaches folks that you control your body and your happiness — not anyone else. We are writing our own narrative.

Written by b.WR collaborator, Meadowlark Monaghan: a twenty-something, ENFP, whose life mission statement is to destigmatize mental health. As a former mental health worker who has now taken her knowledge online, she writes, posts, and creates spaces for honest and authentic conversations. Meadow is the Mental Health Lead at Madhappy, running their mental health resource and blog The Local Optimist. She also has a mental health peer support app called Cherio that is launching this month!