Talking about sex openly has long been taboo, and when those conversations do occur, they’ve historically centred on what is seen as conventional, “healthy”, plain old sex. Or what some these days are calling “vanilla sex” – and rolling their eyes at. Recently, some on social media have started a trend of “vanilla sex shaming”, or ridiculing those who enjoy conventional sex – devoid of kink or fetishes. On TikTok, people have been making videos rejecting it as inherently bad, boring or plain, and even high-profile influencers , such as YouTuber Emma Chamberlain, have admitted being “embarrassed” for liking vanilla sex. Michelle Hope, a sexologist and reproductive justice activist in New York, says our outdated perceptions about sex are rooted in “Christian fundamentalism, and the idea of, ‘What is the correct moral obligation when sex is an activity we do?’” “Historically, we’ve seen it as a means of procreation, and that’s how it’s been sold to us, especially in the realm of this purity culture, the idea that if you have sex before marriage, you’re not pure,” she explains. Take your sex life to another level with these experts’ tips Though public shaming is never acceptable, the trend of mocking vanilla sex is just one example of how the conversation around sex is changing after years of stigma. The reality is that sex is not a monolith, and it can happen healthily across different sexualities, genders and relationships with one partner or multiple partners, consensual BDSM ( bondage, discipline or domination, sadism, and masochism ) and more. Many relationships thrive when partners engage in “vanilla sex”, but some couples enjoy more unconventional alternatives, like swinging, threesomes, polyamory, BDSM or role play. Now these interests are being included in the narrative. “This stigma definitely used to exist and still exists in some circles, but I think as a general norm that narrative is really getting pushed out,” says Jenni Skyler, a certified sex therapist and board certified sexologist in the US state of Colorado. “It’s interesting to see that we’ve now demonised the type of sexuality that used to be the only permissible form.” Part of why the conversation is changing is because of the internet and social media, Skyler says. People now have a “safe space” to seek advice or hear stories from strangers – without shame or discomfort. It’s also provided an avenue for women to learn more about female pleasure – a topic often excluded from male-centric sex conversations. “Historically, we haven’t really addressed female pleasure when it comes to sex education, and the idea of women’s pleasure as an important part of healthy sex is a whole new concept for many,” Hope adds. 5 apps for better sex, sleep, exercise, diet and mental health in 2022 Our expanded views on sex can also be attributed to our evolving recognition of identity: in recent years, young people across the US have made great efforts to recognise diverse sexual identities and gender expressions, and this has challenged the norm to include these communities. “When we start to look at what those real life experiences are, it can open us up to new ideas, information and concepts that were never applied to our own sex lives,” Hope says. “The more conversations we have about queer lifestyles, the more opportunities one can glean to explore different types of sex.” Some people have been brought up with restrictions as to what “healthy sex” should look like. But just because kinky sex is different doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, studies have shown that unconventional sex and fantasies, like consensual BDSM, polyamorous sex or role play, can reduce psychological stress and improve mental health for some. “As long as everyone involved is consenting adults, I think anything goes,” says Vanessa Marin, a licensed sex therapist in California. “Consent, excitement, good communication and trust are so important for healthy sex.” Skyler adds that it doesn’t matter “what you do or how you touch. None of that matters as long as the people involved have consent, they’re excited to be there and they aren’t doing it out of obligation or violation.” But it’s important to embrace kinks and fetishes without disparaging those who don’t prefer those things. “I do appreciate that people are being more sexually open, comfortable and progressive … [but] it’s important to be accepting of all kinds of sexuality and not creating a hierarchy,” Marin says. “Being kinky is great, but it doesn’t make you superior to someone who prefers vanilla sex.” As lawmakers in the United States have been attempting to ban books dealing with sexuality, some open conversations about sex are being shut down, and experts fear this can point us into a direction that is “regressive and very oppressive”. If we view sex as dangerous or taboo, we don’t stop people from having sex. Rather, we stop productive, healthy conversations about how to engage in these behaviours safely. “It contributes to the internalised shame and discomfort that can lead to unsafe experiences with ourselves and others,” Marin says. “It can lead to sexual assault or to more unwanted pregnancies. It can heighten the risk for STI [sexually transmitted infections] transmission or lead to unpleasurable sex that leaves one feeling disconnected and dissociated.” Not talking about it can also be dangerous or even deadly for LGBT youth. When we exclude these communities from age-appropriate, culturally competent education, we may make them feel more isolated and unseen. Why we need more sex and better sex, according to a sex coach “We’re putting people who don’t identify as heteronormative at risk, and we do that by not giving them information that affirms their identity,” Hope says, noting that this can cause “long-term mental health issues and put them in positions where they ‘re afraid to ask for help when unfortunate situations could arise”. Experts emphasise that the sex conversation goes beyond just the physical act of sex. For many, it’s about love, relationships and validating a sense of self. “From the womb to the tomb, sexuality is part of your everyday life,” Hope says. “And when we cut off the opportunity to have conversations about this, we’re limiting people’s ability to express themselves in the most authentic ways possible.” Marin adds: “If we can learn about these varied ways to have healthy sex and accept them, that’s going to go a long way in helping dismantle the shame that’s shaped this conversation for centuries.” Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram . You can also sign up for our eNewsletter here .