Sex – none of us would be here without it – and yet for many people it’s a topic of awkwardness and embarrassment. Every person is a sexual being, and sexuality is an important but often overlooked aspect of living a contented and full life, not matter what age or sexual orientation you are. Many of us are deeply curious about sex and want to learn (and maybe even practice!) more about it but are confused or ashamed about seeking out this information. Sometimes we may find that our beliefs about sex get in the way of connecting to our sexual self or connecting to our partner. Or, that we have been affected by past traumas or boundary violations that are affecting our sex life and sexuality today. Talking to a partner about what you desire sexually, what you’d like to explore or what difficulties either of you may have, is crucial to experiencing a satisfying and connecting sex life. But communicating about sex is sometimes not that easy…
Learning about sex
Often, we learn about sex in school, online or through friends and family, and usually this is focused on sexually transmitted infection (STI) and pregnancy prevention. That is, sex education is somewhat fear-based. However, learning about the most important parts of sex, intimacy and pleasure – communication – is hard to do. Who can we talk to about developing better communication skills in relation to our sexual desires and curiosities? And I mean, really talk. Sure, we can look up information online (and there are some excellent sex positive and sex education websites out there; probably just as many terrible ones too) but it’s hard to know where to start. Having a conversation about sex, masturbation, orgasms, fetishes, and body parts can feel overwhelming, despite the many questions (“Am I normal?” being a very common one) we may have. Most sex education is focused also on heterosexual sex involving penis-in-vagina (PIV) sexual intercourse. But sex can be SO much more than this. It just requires us to expand our definition of sex and thus our perspective on all things sexual.
Life’s too short for bad sex, seriously. It’s also too short to struggle in relationships, with intimacy (both physical and emotional) and with communication. These are all things which have been learnt, and in that way, can be changed and re-learnt. None of us receive a manual on how to have good sex – and what is good sex anyway? What constitutes good sex for one person or couple or group (yes, group) may be completely different for another. Most of us would say that having an orgasm or feeling intense pleasure means we’ve had good sex, but not always. Many women struggle to achieve orgasm (alone or with a partner; this is called anorgasmia) or may feel pressure to orgasm with a partner. Have you heard about the orgasm gap?! Likewise men can feel pressure to perform or to bring their (female; if heterosexual) partner to orgasm. Some people may ‘fake’ an orgasm to please their partner, then find themselves unable to communicate why they are doing this, let alone how to change this. But sex isn’t just about orgasms despite what we may have been taught or come to believe. Sex also doesn’t have to be about penetration. And sex certainly isn’t about who you are sexually attracted to. Sex has different meanings for everyone, and there is no right or wrong way to have sex (as long as it is consensual). It’s all open to interpretation. The important thing is being comfortable with how you define sex for yourself and with your partner, and being at ease in talking about this.
Sex shouldn’t be painful or uncomfortable, but sometimes it can be difficult to talk about this and we end up avoiding sex altogether. It’s not uncommon for women to experience changes to their bodies after having a baby, resulting in a woman feeling less physically attractive to her partner (hello stretchmarks and/or weight gain). Similarly, she may have experienced trauma to her vagina or vulva or perineum. There may be breastfeeding challenges and changes in libido. Plus the inevitable fatigue that comes with a newborn baby, in addition to hormonal changes and sometimes no longer seeing yourself sexually the same way you did prior to having a baby. Either parent may experience postnatal depression and anxiety after having a baby, which can significantly impact on a couples sex life.
Prioritise your pleasure
Everyone wants to feel good, and everyone is capable of feeling immense physical pleasure. Being able to express yourself sexually and have good sexual well-being is your right, and is entirely possible. Attending to your sexual self should be part of good overall self-care. Prioritising self-care including your sexual well-being enables you to live a full life. Attending to your own needs first means you’ll have more ability to attend to the needs of those around you; including your partner. ‘Good communication’ is term we hear often as a non-negotiable requirement and skill throughout life. This is even more so when it comes to talking about sex. At Women’s Health and Wellbeing Services, we provide not only sex therapy but we have a group running in term 4 on sex and intimacy, focusing on good communication in sex. Come along and be part of a safe and respectful space where you can learn more about communication in sex and intimacy, facilitated by one of our therapists trained in sexology. Sex may be natural but that doesn’t mean we automatically know how to do it well, so let’s talk!
Check out this fantastic TED talk by Sarah Barmak about women’s sexuality: