Sex: People Just Need Permission

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If sex is so important, why does the media sensationalise it? Why is sex still a taboo? People just need permission to talk about it in a normal way, says Erin Chen, Lila Sutra’s Founder and Chief Maven.

By ShuQi Liu

“Sex changes. We tend to have fixed images of what sex is, how it should look. It is actually quite fluid.”

It was no ordinary Wednesday evening. Erin Chen, Founder and Chief Maven at Lila Sutra, holds up a vagina puppet in the middle of the Central Business District. She poses like a natural as the camera clicks away. The photoshoot location is befitting. Before diving into sexual wellness full time, Erin was consulting at Accenture. She is no stranger to the business dynamics in Southeast Asia.

Calm, poised and nurturing, Erin acknowledges that sex is a sensationalised taboo. Shrouded in myth and bereft of advocates, it is a critical part of our health and well-being. As humans and mammals, sex is important. However, she cautions that everyone’s version of it is different. Sex is unique. There is no normal.

“It is fluid,” describes Erin. “Sex changes. We tend to have fixed images of what sex is, how it should look. As we have partners, kids, grow old, it is actually quite fluid. Just like how our tastebuds and food cravings can change over time.”

The media tends to sensationalise sex. Deeply rooted in cultural studies, we don’t usually talk about sex. “Because we don’t talk about it, we pay greater attention to anything surrounding sex. It makes everyone curious,” says Erin matter-of-factly. “That’s why the media often gives us what it thinks we want to see. It catches our attention, piques our interest, and subtly shapes our views of how sex ‘should be’. Then it becomes a vicious cycle.”

“Sex is diverse for everybody. Sometimes, you want it a lot. And other times, you don’t. It is easier for the media to distill everything down to one-liners, but it cannot be generalised.”

But Erin’s biggest pain point is how the media tends to paint a warped version of how normal sex should look like. Women in their late teens can simply flip through Cosmopolitan to find 5 dorm room sex positions every college student needs in her life and hot first time sex positions, when your heart beats next to mine. To be healthier, happier and more creative, we are also conditioned to believe that having sex everyday can make one’s darkest days seem a tad brighter. If that’s not all, Men’s Health espouses that there are 10 sex positions that practically guarantees her orgasm, which often includes far-fetched images that feed the mind.

“In reality, a lot of people feel pressured to frequently have sex when most people just don’t have the time to do it everyday!” exclaims Erin. “Not even men. Sex is diverse for everybody. Sometimes, you want it a lot. And other times, you don’t. It is easier for the media to distill everything down to one-liners, but it cannot be generalised. Sex changes, these things just go up and down,” says the chief maven with an assuring smile.

Erin goes on to explain that human connection is important. For a lot of people, sex provides a part of that. “Because it is so important, personal, and we don’t usually talk about it, we are left with a big cloud of taboo over the topic,” begins Erin.

There are two reasons why. For as long as humans were around, sex equals reproduction. Especially in early patriarchal societies where large families, assets and bloodlines were important, men had to make sure he knew who his children are. While the birth itself ties child to mother, it was harder to recognize the father. The solution was to make sure the woman had exclusive sex with him. “So enter all these things like virginity, how to preserve the woman’s virtue…it becomes dirty to talk about sex,” concludes Erin.

Then there is the power that comes with sex. “It is one of those things that you can lose your own inhibitions over…because it feels so good. For some, that can be intimidating,” she says as her eyes sparkled confidence.

Erin continues. “When cultural notions of purity come into play, we create a forbidden mystique surrounding sex. The more forbidden it is, the less we talk about it. So the more intrigued we become,” her voice trails off as she sees me fidget in my chair.

Truth be told, most people today can go beyond taboos and talk about sex. Often times, they are simply curious, and nervous about how other people might think of them. “You know you can talk to me about sex because I won’t judge. People just don’t feel comfortable talking about it with others,” says Erin in a calm and collected manner.

At this juncture, I was reassured by Erin that sex can be very normal. The fact that we were discussing it in a noisy cafe puts everything into perspective: people’s insecurities about sex makes it taboo, forbidden and left wanting more from the media.

“Sex is meaningful and interesting. We don’t really learn about the pleasures of sex, what it means to us, how do you negotiate and communicate about it. I wanted to do something that changes the conversations we have about sex.”

I move on to ask Erin why she created Lila Sutra. “Selfishly, I wanted to do something that changes the conversations we have about sex. I want my children to grow up not in the world we have today.

Sex is meaningful and interesting, it is something that I could talk about all day. We don’t really learn about the pleasures of sex, what it means to us, how do you negotiate and communicate about it. That it changes, and everything is normal. It is just so human, and people want to have that space to talk about it. To feel comfortable. To have permission.”

Like everything else in our lives, confidence and empowerment comes from giving ourselves permission and not seeking it from others. Like proudly declaring our love for durian. Going for that quirky purple lipstick colour. Asking a guy out on a date!

For something as intimate as sex, we look at all the wrong places for help. A smarter approach is required. And Erin distills this down to the need for us to ask for permission to talk about it, be creative and look within us for techniques.

What Erin Says About Sexual Health

There is no “normal” orgasm. Some say there are 8 different kinds. Some say 4. Some say 1. The point is, no one knows what an orgasm feels like for you, except you. The key is to explore and learn your own body, take it all in and embrace it.

Some have asked if fantasies about forced sex or rape is okay. Experienced in reality, non consensual sex and rape are flat out wrong. In your head, as a fantasy, it is perfectly normal and very common. Dream whatever your imagination fancies!

Then don’t. Or, have a conversation with your partner on whether they actually do feel threatened. Many women are concerned about this without actually knowing what their partner feels.

Every relationship is different and unique. My suggestion is to have an open conversation about this and play around with this with your partner. Masturbation is a healthy outlet and can complement a great sex life. Porn can also be a fun addition. The key is team work and communication to create a balance that makes sense for you both.

And you’re totally missing out! Avoiding lube because you “don’t need it” is like skipping the spice rack because you can taste the food already. I suggest giving it a try. Lube can add just the right dose of magic to solo sessions and partnered sex. Just make sure it’s organic and safe for your body.

Erin’s point is simple – You don’t need permission. “You do you, baby,” she says. “You do YOU.”

Images by Esther Yeo


Erin answers more of women’s (and men’s!) burning sex questions in her online video segment: Lila Talks. You can find them on Lila Sutra’s Facebook page.

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