In my work with women who are underrepresented achievers, the topic of sexual intimacy often comes up, even when it’s not what originally brought them into therapy. Not surprisingly, the themes of perfectionism, shame, and fear of being seen affect their lives both in the office and in the bedroom.
I’m honored that these women share their stories with me and allow me to help them on their journey to a more fulfilling, free, and empowering sexual life. Through these journeys, I’ve found myself thinking that our lives could be more joyful if all women–whether straight, bisexual, pansexual, lesbian, queer, or anywhere in between–knew a little bit more about women’s sexuality and expression.
So here it is, my top five list of what I wish women knew about sex.
- They have a right to pleasure. Women are often socialized to cater to others’ needs, so it’s no surprise this dynamic comes out in the bedroom, often focusing solely on their partner’s needs rather than on reciprocity. Socialization to be a “good girl” or “respectable” may also play into women not knowing it’s okay to want or explore pleasure. They may not even know it’s normal for women to have sexual desires. I wish women knew their sexual needs and desires are valid and valuable.
- It’s okay to explore their own bodies and discover what they like and don’t like. Women receive little education about their own bodies beyond that awkward middle school talk about birth control and your period. Or worse, they get shaming messages about what their bodies look or smell like. We need to feel empowered to educate ourselves about our bodies and fill in the gaps of the sex education we never received. Self-exploration through masturbation is a great way to begin to learn about your body and what you like. OMGyes is a fantastic site to learn about the multitude of ways women can experience pleasure and see real-life educational examples of women giving themselves pleasure. Viewing these videos can also help you begin to believe that it’s okay to masturbate, if you’re a little uncomfortable with the idea. Gynodiversity is also a wonderful website for embracing the diversity of what real women’s bodies look like.
- It is normal (and common) not to have an orgasm through penetration. A recent study (Shirazi et al., 2018) found that only 21 – 30% of women, in a sample of 1478 women, reported they can orgasm during penetration without any clitoral stimulation. Also, when the same women were asked “what’s your most reliable route to orgasm” only 4% said penetration alone. We need to rewrite the sexual script and let women know that all forms of stimulation are welcomed, and often needed, for most women to reach orgasm. Sex should be redefined to incorporate a wide range of pleasurable activities.
- The orgasm gap is b.s. Studies show over and over again that in women who partner with men, men are having far more orgasms than women during sexual encounters. Most likely, because both women and men believe the myth that penetration is the only (or ideal) route to orgasm. Your partner, whatever their gender, should be putting in the time and effort to learn what gets you there and be invested in your pleasure.
- Feel empowered enough to communicate deeply with their partners. I’d love for us all to take a page out of queer culture and be prepared to ask and answer the question, “What are you in to?”. I’d be thrilled if we also borrowed another page out of BDSM culture and were prepared to ask and answer the question, “What are your limits and boundaries?” These questions set the expectation that there isn’t one sexual script we all follow, and communication about what partners actually do and don’t enjoy should be the norm.
I say all of these are wishes, as I know in reality these are really hard things to believe and practice. To feel empowered, know your own body, and communicate confidently with your partner is a tall order in a world full of misogyny and sexism. Systemic changes are needed to create a world where these wishes are normal and easy to accomplish.
While our society works towards systemic change, you as an individual can seek out a sex-positive therapist to help you on your journey of becoming more affirming of our own sexuality. Please reach out to me or a sex-postive therapist near you to schedule an appointment if you would like support on your journey.
Shirazi, T., Renfro, K. J., Lloyd, E., & Wallen, K. (2018). Women’s Experience of Orgasm During Intercourse: Question Semantics Affect Women’s Reports and Men’s Estimates of Orgasm Occurrence. Archives of sexual behavior, 47(3), 605–613. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-017-1102-6