It’s official: Brits are having less sex. Is technology and stress really to blame, or is our lack of self-acceptance at the core of our problems?

It’s not something we really talk about, but let’s be honest: sex is great, isn’t it? It’s good for your heart, acts as a stress buster, and keeps tension at bay – what’s not to love? Yet according to findings published in the British Medical Journal earlier this year, nearly a third of us haven’t had sex in the past month. That’s… not so great.

We’re at a point in history where it feels like, for the most part, we’ve got more freedom to be open about what (and who) we love than ever before. Yet for some of us, getting over that first hurdle – accepting ourselves, and what we enjoy – feels like the hardest.

Despite kink-based novels and films making mainstream headlines for nearly a decade, many of us can still struggle with our desires. Love it or hate it, Fifty Shades of Grey sparked debate, and brought rarely-discussed sexual desires into the eye of mainstream commentary. Yet beneath the best-sellers and star-studded cast, and past mainstream publications focusing on ‘weird extreme’ fetishes, sits actual individuals facing a whole host of issues and worries.

The whole process was about discovering who I was sexually. Not only was it about discovering kink, it was about discovering me

Recognising you have sexual urges outside of what society considers ‘normal’ is just the first step. Sure, there may be a community, ready and waiting with open arms – but self-acceptance isn’t always that easy. Do you ‘come out’ as kinky, or keep things firmly behind closed doors? How do you balance sharing with oversharing? Do you risk shutting loved ones out of an entire part of your life by keeping your desires secret?

Sounds complicated. We asked members of the fetish community to share their thoughts on how they came to accept their inner desires.

Coming out as kinky

Will, a programmer approaching his mid-30s, shares his experiences with us as an ‘out and proud’ member of the fetish community. First realising his fetishes as a teen, Will spent years going through binge and purge cycles with his desires, before he felt ready to open up and speak out.

“I struggled with my attractions. Many in the community describe binge and purge cycles before they found acceptance. Because an inclination to kink is often considered perverse, I feel it can naturally make people hide this part of themselves.

“I remember throwing everything away, furiously deleting my internet history and bookmarks, only to start buying kinky items and browsing the same forums a few months later. It was only after many years of this that I decided to take the plunge and meet people.

“Speaking with people face-to-face, actually talking about and understanding their nonchalant attitudes to their kinks, allowed me to accept mine, and accept this part of myself. I struggled most with hiding parts of my life from close friends and family. I developed a real fear of what would happen if they found out.

piece of artwork with feet, stilettos, handcuffs and feathers

Artwork | Charlotte Reynell

“While I’ve not told them specific details, I’ve explained that I’m openly part of the community, that I’m happy and safe. Although many don’t truly understand what that means, I feel that it’s a far more healthy, comfortable ground than I had before. Being able to say, ‘I’m seeing some kink friends this weekend’ makes me feel so much better than coming up with lies or excuses.”

Will acknowledges that he feels lucky with how quickly his loved ones came to accept and understand this part of his life that he had previously hidden. “I opened up without any really adverse consequences or backlash, however, I think worries are entirely justified when faced with the decision to ‘come out’.

“How much do you divulge? And there’s the potential risk of intensifying those feelings of shame… I’ve learnt that I’m not quite as unique as I thought. Speaking with others who share my kinks, and seeing the growing awareness of the kink community, has been reassuring.”

Opening up conversations

Single mother Ruth was in her late 30s when she first discovered her kinky side. Under her writing persona, Ruby Kiddell, she went on to give erotic writers and bloggers a way to hone their craft with the launch of Eroticon.

“I found my kink through the process of writing and talking with other people, discovering which ideas turned me on, and which I wanted to play with. The whole process was about discovering who I was sexually – not something I’d spent any particular time thinking about when I was single in my 20s. So not only was it about discovering kink, it was about discovering who I was.

“My community has always been via social media, and then once I started organising Eroticon, it was through the people I met there. What I’ve actually built over the past 10 years is a community of friends who just happen to be kinky as well.

“The acceptance in the erotic reading and writing community of people’s kinks and desires was really freeing. There’s no judgement around what you personally do, just how hot your writing is, and it opens up a lot of conversations around sex, desire, and kink.

If we can talk about sex and relationships more easily, we will have better sex and relationships

“When I started planning the first Eroticon, I made a conscious decision to be open about my writing and the conference; one of my goals was to increase the conversation around sex. If we can talk about sex and relationships more easily, we’ll have better sex and relationships, so it felt important that I was open about my work.

“Being open and living my self-acceptance has been incredibly important to me. In a small way, it allows me to push boundaries and start difficult conversations.”

Why do we feel ashamed of our sexual desires?

When it comes to speaking candidly about sex, could our lack of self-acceptance be creating barriers? Sex-positive relationship counseller, Alex Sanderson-Shortt, shares his thoughts.

“We live in a complicated world when it comes to sex. On one hand, we’re bombarded with sexualised images and ideas. On the other, our sexualities, bodies, and relationships are examined, commented on, and judged.

“Many clients feel shame about their sexual desires because there is still a strong message passed down through generations about sex: what it is, when we should have it, and who with.

“Often talking about sex is hard for couples in therapy, because they never talk about it at home – they lack the basic language needed. Words about sex can be seen as vulgar, childish, or too medical.

“Finding a common language is the first step to overcoming these issues. This helps to normalise talking about sex, giving permission to think and talk in new ways. Crucially, it helps them start to reconsider the ideas they have about sex, and hopefully move to a new ‘sex-positive’ way of thinking and acting.”

Working towards self-acceptance

Self-acceptance isn’t always easy. But as with the best parts of our lives, it’s the things we have to work on that are most rewarding

Developing the language we need to speak about how we’re feeling, what we need, and who we are, may be the first step, but what comes next? How can we continue to move towards embracing every part of ourselves? Gender, sexuality and relationship diverse counsellor, Karen Pollock, shares her advice.

“One of the first things I do when working with clients who are struggling with their sexual desires or kinks is to unpick what they think is ‘normal’. We all absorb our messages about sex from a number of sources: culture, peer groups, family, friends, faith groups. It can be helpful to see where these messages are coming from, and why we might be giving them weight.

“The most important thing is to understand that there is no normal. More prevalent does not mean morally better; after all, it used to be a common belief that women should not enjoy sex.”

Self-acceptance isn’t always easy. But as with the best parts of our lives, it’s the things we have to work on that are most rewarding. Opening up isn’t a guarantee that our partners will share our desires, but it can bring us one step closer to creating healthier, happier relationships with others – and ourselves.

Alex Sanderson-Shortt is a sex-positive relationship counsellor, and Karen Pollock is a gender, sexuality, and relationship diverse counsellor.

For more information on psychosexual therapy and relationship counselling, visit counselling-directory.org.uk