As humans, we are innately social and sexual beings. However, even though sexuality plays a significant role in our lives – by allowing procreation, bonding and the experience of pleasure – sex and sexual issues are rarely discussed; they are kept taboo in therapy, and especially in social relationships.
Some of us might have received a thorough sexual education during our upbringing or in school, but most of us have limited knowledge and might not remember much from sex ed. class in junior high. Honestly, what else do you remember from health class besides where babies come from? The reality is that a lot of information that circulates in our world is not always accurate, and it might actually perpetuate sexual dysfunctions that go unaddressed.
So here are a few facts that hopefully will clarify some fictions that you’ve heard, and help you have a healthier sex life by being more comfortable talking about sex:
- Sex is not just intercourse.Did you know that 70% of women sometimes, rarely or never experience an orgasm through vaginal penetration? Emily Nagoski in “Come as You Are” explains that the most common way for a woman to experience an orgasm is through clitoral stimulation. So when we reduce sex to penetration, we put pressure on an experience that might not always result in what our society defines as the “ultimate sexual pleasure.” So the advice is to expand your definition of sex and increase your sexual repertoire. Be creative, and enjoy sensual pleasure through many other erogenous zones that your body offers. Don’t limit yourself to just one goal, as you will not only miss out on a wide array of sexual discoveries, but you will end up experiencing boredom in the bedroom.
- Breaks vs. Accelerators. Our sexual experiences are linked to a dual control model that was developed in the 1990s by Erick Janssen and John Bancroft. “Sexual inhibition system” which is the breaks in our brain and the “sexual excitation system” which is the gas pedal in our brain. Even though we associate our genitals with our sexual response, our brain is actually the largest sexual organ that controls how much we turn ourselves on and off. The idea with the dual control model is to identify how much emphasis our mind puts on our context/environment as conducive to sexual arousal or threatening to desire. Using mindfulness by focusing on the present moment and increasing “sexy thoughts” in your mind can help decrease performance anxiety and increase turn-ons.
- The myth of spontaneous sex.The idea that sex in a relationship should happen organically is common, and it often leaves couples feeling stuck or broken when it doesn’t. The truth is is that even in early stages of a relationships where passion seemed to rule the world, sex rarely occurred spontaneously— you were anticipating the next sexual encounter, planned the clothes you were going to wear and fantasized about how you wanted to be touched. In some way or another there was anticipation that prevented spontaneity. Focusing on responsive desire by building up excitement through imagination and anticipation (what are you going to wear, what will you tell your partner, etc.) can act as foreplay where planned sex can feel like a fantasy you can turn into reality, or the spontaneous moment you’ve been craving.
- Gender differences do exist in sexual responses, and why is it important? Researchers Masters and Johnson in the 60s and Basson in 2005 came up with sexual response models that explain human sexuality. Masters and Johnson came up with a linear model which included three phases that followed in succession: 1) Sexual Desire, 2) Sexual Arousal, and 3) Sexual Orgasm. Basson identified that female sexual response did include these phases, but they were not linear like men’s response. Women may not necessarily experience desire first; instead, they may not be fantasizing about sex at all, but once they are sexually stimulated by their partner, they may become aroused and desire may result. Understanding differences in sexual responses can significantly help partners understand differences in their sex “drive” and hopefully explore better ways to compromise in the bedroom.
- Our genital response doesn’t always match our experience of arousal. Emily Nagoski in “Come as You Are” defines this as “arousal non-concordance.” This is one of the most surprising and probably the most important fact about sex. What your body communicates is not necessarily what your mind tells you, and vice versa. Your body might have a sexual arousal response (lubrication, erection, etc.) but cognitively/emotionally you might not feel turned on. Emily Nagoski explains that verbal affirmation is the only way to know if someone is experiencing arousal, and not what their genitals are saying. And this concept is really at the core of consent.
Hopefully now that you have a bit more scientific information about sex, you will feel more comfortable talking about it, and most importantly you will feel more empowered to ask for what you want.