‘Am I Normal?’
Every sex therapist I know (myself included), seems to hear one particular question all day long: Am I normal?
I hate oral sex. Am I normal? I love oral sex more than anything. Am I normal? I don’t have orgasms from intercourse. Am I normal? I can only have orgasms from intercourse. Am I normal? My penis bends a bit sideways. Am I normal?
I fantasize about women even though I’m heterosexual. Am I normal? I fantasize about men who are not my husband. Am I normal? I fantasize about sex parties with 200 people. Am I normal? I don’t fantasize at all. Am I normal? I only really want sex two times a month. Am I normal? I want sex every day. Am I normal?
Clients come into my office all the time concerned that there may be something abnormal about their sexual activities, history, tastes, or fantasies. I watch person after person struggle with whether they are normal or not. And I wonder where and when we got so hardwired to believe that there is some sort of “optimal” normal out there, some ideal sexual script that we all need to adhere to, some perfect formula of exactly the “right” amount of desire, arousal that responds to the “right” things, the ability to orgasm in the “right” way. Is that preoccupation really and truly all from TV and popular culture?
While I’d love to blame popular culture or even pornography (because who doesn’t want to blame porn for all the world’s ills?), that doesn’t add up. Because the reality is that two people who worry that they are not normal, are often worried about diametrically opposing realities.
Some days I’ll have one patient who says to me “I guess I’m kind of odd (read “not normal”) because I didn’t have sex until I was a senior in high school and I’ve only had two sexual partners.” Later in the day, I’ll have a patient say: “I suppose I am not normal because I started having sex when I was 14 and have had more partners than I can count.”
In recounting this, I don’t want to mimic the proverbial politician whose favorite color is plaid. And I certainly don’t want to be seen as the caricature of the therapist to whom everything is “just right” but the real, honest-to-God truth is that all of these clients truly are “normal” — whatever normal means anyway. I’ve yet to encounter a great definition.
The reality is that sexual likes, dislikes, fantasies, experiences, and desires are so very, very varied. There is a huge range of what is normal and most people fall within it. Think of most things like a large bell curve. You may fit on one side or another, and yes, you may not sit exactly in the middle top of the bell curve with 49% of your brothers and sisters falling on opposites sides, but anything on that bell curve is most likely considered normal.
So rather than fall down the rabbit hole of “am I normal?” worries, much better (and by “better” I mean useful) questions to ask yourself are these:
- Does my sexual activity — my sexual likes and dislikes, my sexual choices — work for me?
- Do I truly know what I like and dislike?
- Does what I like or desire work well in my life?
- Does it work for my partner?
- Can I accept what I like or dislike without too much self-censure and judgment?
- Can I imagine actually embracing what I like and dislike?
If the answers to these questions are “no,” then the issues need to be addressed, through discussion, changes of behavior, therapy, medication, advice, or reading. If your partner wants sex every day and you only want it once a week, that needs to be addressed. If your partner really has a strong desire for oral sex and you can’t stomach the idea, maybe that should be addressed. If your fantasies bother you for whatever reason and you can’t seem to make peace with them, then that is something to talk about with your partner or a professional.
But please keep in mind (and this is so important) that these issues should be addressed, not because you are abnormal but because having a sex life that works well for you (and your partner, if you have one) is something everyone deserves! So what you are really looking for is an opportunity to explore how to accept the realities of your sex life in a way that is both emotionally and physically positive and nurturing. Your goal need not be “how to become more normal.”
So let me cut short your first question to any sex therapist you may consider seeing: Why yes, you are normal. You are outrageously and wonderfully normal. So with that, let’s move on and see what we can do to make your “normal” functioning, wants, and desires work better for you in your sex life.