The Sex vs Money Taboo

Do you remember your first sex ed class in school? I remember mine.

I have a vivid memory of my phys ed teacher, also in charge of health and subsequently sex education, posing the question, “what is sex?”

I guess there’s nothing like walking into a room of insecure pre-pubescents and making them instantly uncomfortable.

She broke the silence with a very cheeky answer – “gender”.

That’s about as far as that memory goes, but I do know we spent the rest of that painful hour talking the sex side of sex.

It was during those pre-teen years that life became inundated with sexual references and discussions. No one was having it (at least none of my friends), but through school, innuendos, movies and magazines, everyone was speculating.

Issues of Cosmopolitan became required reading and fodder for conversations between me and all my clueless girlfriends. Even if we didn’t know what we were reading or talking about (somehow I made it to the sixth grade thinking a condom was a seat cover, long story) at least we were having the discussion.


… vs. The Money Taboo


I often hear people comparing the taboo of money to that of sex. And while to some degree I think it’s a valid comparison, an honest reflection of my teenage years proves otherwise.

I struggle to think of a time where any teacher walked into the room and asked, “How much money do you want to make?” or spent an entire half semester teaching the basic anatomy of a healthy portfolio or simple checking account.

I have no memories of huddling around the latest issue of Money Magazine with my girlfriends and discussing the latest market performance or investment strategy.

Is sex talk still taboo? Sure, but not really. It’s only taboo in certain places – professional settings, for example.

But money, that’s unfortunately still taboo almost everywhere.


The Money Taboo


To be fair, there is some discussion of money in the day-to-day, but in my experience, it revolves almost entirely around spending it.

People are happy to talk about the latest deal they snagged and pop culture is happy to flash images of “making it rain” in every other music video, but those surface level conversations are where that discussion ends.


People only want to talk about the sexy side of money.



Rather than having a forum for an open and honest discussion of money – the sexy and not so sexy side – in school, at home, with friends, people struggle with meaningful money matters – debt, savings, retirement planning etc. alone.

Why? The money taboo.

While sex talk is still taboo to a degree, we’ve had years of steps in the right direction to get that conversation going. Hello Sex and the City.

My mission here is and has always been to get that same excitement and conversation around money happening in the mainstream. Not just what money can buy you, ehem, “Cribs”, “My Super Sweet 16”, and all that other ridiculous extravagance, but what it can afford you – retirement, freedom and a life on your terms.



55 responses to “The Sex vs Money Taboo

  1. Before I even read the sentence in your blog I was thinking of all the shows on MTV (and even the videos) which just glorify all the things money can buy, and usually pretty ridiculous things. MTV has gone the other extreme with their true life series to show poverty in the US. Why is showing a responsible person with money in a reality show not there? Why would it not be considered informative and entertaining? I think it needs to be talked about a lot more!

    1. I think too often the reality shows focus on the extremes for the purposes of entertainment and shock rather than providing a more relatable and honest example for discussion.

  2. “I often hear people comparing the taboo of money to that of sex.” Really interesting observation! I’ve never heard of this or thought about it at all. Are you hearing this only in the pf community? Or the real world too?

    To me, money has always felt considerably more taboo to talk about than sex. It may be the circle of friends I keep, because this certainly extends outside of nyc, but I’ve never thought of sex as a taboo conversation topic as an adult. Money, on the other hand, it wasn’t until moving to nyc that I’ve had people openly talk about rent/salary, etc.

  3. I do wish our public education system was more geared toward producing productive adults rather than just aiming to get passing scores in reading and math. Every time I have a high school junior or senior in my exam chair, I ask about their plans after school. A few have some, but most have no clue. Even if they plan to go to college, they don’t know what they want to do. I don’t think it’s the school’s job necessarily to tell people what to do as adults, but I do wish some dialogue about careers, borrowing money, credit, and how much it costs to live came into play. Of course, it would be nice if parents did that, but that doesn’t seem to be happening a whole lot either.

    1. Agreed. The lack of tangible life skills being taught in the school system is frightening. Especially when you consider that some kids don’t even go to college and high school is the “end” of their education.

  4. I find that even within my close circle of friends money is a topic that we don’t talk about at length. If I ask them how are they doing financially, they will say whether it’s good or bad but will rarely elaborate. I choose to respect their comfort level and their views toward money but it seems like these are missed opportunities at having real talk where solutions and sound suggestions can be offered.

    1. I wouldn’t mind someone not wanting to talk about money, but when they turn around and expect me to spend $500 on their wedding, I just have to say, “seriously?”

  5. It is silly how taboo money is compared to discussing sex. I’ve noticed my friends don’t mind discussing the latter, but they rarely, if ever, discuss finances. I think to some extent it might be because they don’t place a lot of importance on it yet. Many of my friends recently graduated and are trying to find jobs, and the topic of salary can be depressing (or non-existent). They’re also still living with their parents, so they don’t have many bills to worry about! In any case, I think we’re all with you on breaking the silence when it comes to discussing money in a realistic way.

    1. Maybe that’s part of the problem, they feel that money doesn’t apply to them yet. If we all started being aware of our financial footprint from an earlier age, that might make a big difference.

  6. We really need financial education classes in high school too. I don’t discuss money much with family and friends but I always answer questions honestly because I have no problems discussing it openly. When people ask for advice however, I find it hard because it’s complicated to change behaviors without making the person feel bad in the first place. I hope people get more open about money.

  7. You have no idea how many parents have told me they fear the money talk more than the sex talk. 🙂 It’s kind of crazy! I don’t know how money wound up being such a taboo topic, but it’s a huge detriment to our society that it is. As you pointed out, the only money conversations we’re comfortable having are either bragging about the things we bought/plan to buy or to complain about the debt we have. This definitely needs to change. And it makes my heart very happy when I see so many young, sharp adults like yourself helping to chase away those shadows the surround the topic of money.

  8. I don’t feel like sex is taboo anymore — I think it’s WAY in our faces all the time now, which I think is funny. But we are too scared to talk about how much we make, how much we want, or how to even go about making money. I think there is more shame and guilt associated with money than sex. Just my 2 cents. Also, nice work on being in Forbes and USA today! Rockstar.

    1. Thanks Melanie. I would argue that there’s a solid discussion of sex, but it excludes a lot of the important things like poor family planning and STIs that A LOT of people struggle with. When a woman can come out and say, I had an abortion because I wasn’t ready- financially, emotionally, etc- and not have to justify her choice with having been raped or molested, then I’ll think we’ve broken the sex taboo.

  9. Money is definitely taboo. It’s not something that people actively talk about unless you stick to the mainstream discussions – such as what it can get you (always in excess). Sex is in your face starting at a very young age.

  10. While some information I wont’ share publicly, I think it’s generally a good thing for most of us to be open about money. Why not? It keeps things real, and allows to genuinely learn if we communicate. I think this is especially important in families, where parents just won’t discuss money with their kids. I find that to be unbelievable, and frankly I think that my parents at least talking about money with me has helped me become financially responsible.

    1. I think we’re all slowly chipping away at that taboo in the PF community. I’ll be thrilled when the floodgates burst open and everyone everywhere is talking money in a meaningful way!

  11. My friends probably buck popular culture – we are a lot more open about money than sex.

    It’s funny how open some people are compared to how closed some people are. One person I know wouldn’t say what they spend on mortgage repayments now they’ve bought a house. Another person – a workmate – told a few of us, albeit a little hesitantly, what they’re hoping to spend on buying a house.

  12. Amongst my friends money is definitely more taboo than sex. Even after knowing someone for a couple of years we only discussed finances the other day for the first time and only cause I brought it up!

  13. For me discussing deeply personal matters of money and sex have equal taboo status. There is casual discussion but I would never get into any deep discussion or details for either. I do agree with your point though regarding education. I do remember having a finance lesson in a High School advanced study class I took my Jr. year that was very informative but other than that it was left to life to teach me. However my first sex ed class (5th grade) is burned into my mind. More embarrassment than anything else back then.

    1. I think everyones first sex ed class is probably burned into their mind, haha. I’d like to have open an honest discussions about both- not with strangers, but at least with my closest friends.

  14. Interesting topic. I read discussion recently about whether or not employees should start talking about their salaries with each other. It seems like opening such a can of worms. People can get really “funny” about money.

    1. I can definitely see the conflict that would be created, though I’m always super curious about what people are making. More as a way to motivate myself than anything.

  15. What a fantastic topic and point! Thanks for covering this one, Stefanie. It’s tragically ironic that the things that are most taboo are also the things people need the most help, support, and connection with. Whether it’s sex or money, the idea of talking about what you need to work on — openly — seems to be a challenge for most. Hopefully, this can continue to change over time and people will be more apt to engage in both. I truly believe that by talking about these things and putting them out in the open, we can communally succeed more than ever before. Love the point about focusing on what money can afford you (and not necessarily in the purely materialistic way). Awesome article! -S.

    1. Thanks Sam. I definitely notice that even with sex, there’s still a tendency to only address the sexy side of it. People don’t openly talk unplanned pregnancy and STIs, but the stats show that a solid chunk are dealing with those issues (often in private shame)- just like money troubles.

  16. Good Topic nobody wants to discuss, except for the PF Bloggers. I’ve noticed as a money blogger people are more upfront with their money stories, for example if they have debt, or how to invest properly. The folks who know I write about money, now want to talk about it, but still vaguely. So I agree and we need to tell people that money is not so taboo.

  17. This is such an interesting topic!! I find it interesting, too, that both sex and money are the main causes of divorce. So not only are we not communicating about these issues in public, but we’re also not even talking about them to our own spouses! Hopefully, both of these issues will be less taboo and we can focus on the realities of money – like you said, such as debt, saving for retirement, not spending everything that we earn, etc.

    GREAT post!! Thanks!!

  18. Stefanie,
    Good post. I often use this line too (maybe we both used it during fincon? lol I know I use it often with many people). Two quick points that may add a little to the discussion:
    1. I think respect / vulnerability is the number 1 thing, especially with money. Many (perhaps most?) people don’t have or don’t show that they know how to have the proper respect about someone else’s behavior. If someone shares something about their money habits to you, they need to know it won’t be spread around.. which frankly is sometimes rare to be able to trust the other person so much

    2. Why it is so important to talk about is knowledge, particularly proper knowledge is power. How has ever society controlled others? Lack of knowledge is one / if no the major way. In European and early colonial times only the wealthy read / or wrote. In almost every society with forced labor / slavery people couldn’t read. No analogy is perfect, but the point being if you are not aware of the “language of money”, good chance you won’t be in control of it. and if you aren’t in control of your money then you aren’t in control of your life. The good thing is that unlike past times, ever body has ample access to knowledge and tools to assist them with their money.

  19. Thanks for such a great post and discussion!
    You touched on one of the main reasons why I named my blog “Lets Talk About Money”! More people need to do this to learn from others and feel better about their money and life. It’s no surprise that money’s a tough subject- very emotional, often tied to an individual’s self worth, not taught in school and culturally unacceptable. Let’s change that!

    1. I couldn’t agree more Patricia. I see people become so liberated and free when they’re able to open up about these otherwise taboo topics. Let’s keep that discussion going 🙂

  20. Do you know I noticed that my friends have more problems to talk about money instead sex, I’m a little bit shy to talk about sex but in the end I haven’t problem to talk about both…

  21. It’s weird how sex is a frequently seen and discussed topic rather than money. In a way, they are kind of similar in how we only show certain sides of them. In terms of sex education in schools, it was all about scare tactics and abstinence. While I didn’t have any personal finance classes in school or college, I do remember sitting through short seminars on money. They were TERRIBLE.

    The ones I had in high school were basically just a sales pitch/recruitment tactic for attending college. They would talk about the VERY basics of saving and scholarships, but then go on about how we wouldn’t make any money if we didn’t go to college and get our bachelor’s degree. So, like the sex ed, there was a very extreme, narrow focus.

    1. I think you’re right on. Both discussions have a dangerously narrow focus, which may be even worse than not talking about them at all!

  22. Yeah I definitely agree that money needs to be talked about more, even in middle school and high school before you head to college. I volunteer with a group called Junior Achievement (which is becoming a rather large organization) and they teach money/business/etc. courses to K-6. It’s a good curriculum ,but it’s really just 1/2 a day out of an entire school year. It would be great to have like 9 chapters or lessons to go over for each grade. Then in high school really focus on the cost/benefit analysis of college, careers, etc.

    1. Absolutely. A foundational knowledge of economic basics – supply/demand, ROI, etc. with college as the perfect practical implementation would go a long way!

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