“Physics is like sex: sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.”
― Richard Feynman
Disclaimer: This is going to be another of those posts that may send some of you running for the hills. It’s not going to be lovely and eloquent, but hopefully a bit enlightening.
Welcome to the world of 2018, human edition. Where breastfeeding mothers are routinely shamed if they dare do so in public, as models pace across high definition screens clad in bits of lace and feathers. Bravo, society. Human sexuality is, well, complicated. We are primates, after all, and sex transcends reproduction. As any primatologist will tell you, it’s as much about communication, power, influence, and relationships as it is about proliferation of the genome.
That said, the development of religious beliefs really skewed our outlook on the subject, and crammed sexuality into a dark corner covered by a burka and an altar cloth. The US, in particular, has yet to figure out a way to reconcile our love for all things salacious with our puritanical, fundamentalist roots. As a result, we exist in a culture where sex is this weirdly half-taboo thing. It’s been tortured into something almost unrecognizable, Hollywoodized to the point where we can’t discern fact from fiction. Simultaneously, it’s condemned, quashed, and demonized by the conservative agenda. We’re left with a wholly unrealistic picture of what to expect and how to express ourselves.
Before I continue, two things. Just to establish my personal attitudes about the subject in no uncertain terms:
Love is love, no means no, and any act between consenting adults is not inherently immoral.
As I possess a vagina, I can only approach this discussion from the perspective of a woman. However, I don’t discount that there is a whole other side to the matter, about which I am unable to offer much in the way of reflection. I welcome the input of others, regardless of gender identity or sexual preference.
That said, let’s talk about women and their approach to sexuality. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I work in women’s health. As such, I spend quite a bit of time talking to women about concerns regarding their bodies and their relationships. Over time, I’ve discovered that there are an alarming number of ladies who are completely uncomfortable with the topic… to the point where they don’t understand their own anatomy. I’m not expecting full comprehension from a biological perspective, but it would make a world of difference if women were more familiar with the ways in which their bodies function. (In one particularly memorable incident, I had a laboring patient ask me where the baby was going emerge from.)
They’re afraid to ask questions. In many cases, they have trouble articulating problems they may be having related to gynecological matters in general, much less that related to sexual health. No, this is not a universal phenomenon. And yes, there are women who are fully prepared to discuss sex with both health care providers and partners without hesitation. But I’m afraid that this is exception rather than the rule. The bulk of women I speak to seem to view conversation about the topic as ‘unladylike’ or vulgar. This perception is hardly surprising, as it is reinforced by societal norms.
Women are expected to express sexuality only in ways it can be sold, literally and figuratively. From an early age, we glean from the media and from our peers that our role in sexual relationships is to gratify. The emphasis is rarely on our own experience. Sex education, if it occurs, focuses on periods and babies, not orgasm. Our bodies exist as the source of pleasure for another, but not for ourselves. As such, we contort ourselves into whatever standard of beauty is in vogue, (please don’t be fooled into thinking that what is considered attractive at the present is some golden, static standard) and go to great lengths to ensure that any inconvenient function of our reproductive system is safely hidden away *cough* menstruation. We tend to obsess over body type and cellulite and stray hairs and stretch marks and everything else under the sun that could be construed as a fatal flaw.
The next thing you know, you’re in your 60’s, and calling your OB/Gyn to ask about the latest and greatest in pharmaceuticals that will enhance your libido. Not because you feel that it’s lacking, but because “he asked me to.” These patients tend to make comments to the effect of, “I’ll tolerate it, but at this point, I’d just like it not to hurt.” WHAT?!?! Sure, menopause is no picnic. And physical changes can lead to many forms of discomfort. But searching for a lubricant that will allow you to lie there while your partner does his thing, I would argue, is no way to live. Is this an interpersonal relationship issue? ABSOLUTELY. But what concerns me is the root cause.
So here it is. My pep talk. My gentle suggestions and reminders.
- Human anatomy, female anatomy, is beautiful. Own your vagina. It doesn’t need to look a certain way, smell a certain way, and is solely for use at your discretion. If someone has an issue with your body, they’re probably not a good addition to your life.
- Explore yourself. Learn what feels good. This is healthy and normal. When you figure it out, don’t be afraid to express that to the person(s) who are trying to give you pleasure. Communication is the quickest way to enhance any relationship, and this is especially applicable to sex.
- In a related note, you should approach sexual experiences expecting climax. For men, nearly a guarantee, for women, not so much. Stop being okay with not having orgasms. It’s not some kind of bonus.
- In another related note, stop faking orgasm. It’s not fair to you or the person you’re sleeping with. It’s also a good indication that you’re not going to have success next time around.
- Be open to new experiences, trust your intuition. Never feel that you have to follow through with something that sends up a red flag in your mind. You don’t owe anything to anyone at any time.
- Your health care providers have heard it all and we care about your privacy. Therefore, we are an excellent option for discussion, education, and assistance… if I do say so myself. Nothing you say is going to shock, offend, or disgust us, so please stop apologizing. Or worse, keeping concerns to yourself.
Please understand, I struggle with some of this myself. Insecurities regarding body image, insecurities about perception during sex… they’re hard to overcome. It isn’t easy to bare yourself, both physically and emotionally, and express your desires.
We’ve done a bang-up job of conflating sex, and female sexuality in particular, with politics and religion. Tempers flare in regards to everything from birth control to abortion. And of course, these are important issues to be addressed. But the first move toward the empowerment of women is an understanding of ourselves. Only then can we express, in clear, carrying voices, what it is that we need to be fulfilled and respected. And then? I’m confident that everything else will fall into line.