Learning to talk about our sexuality is the most powerful way that we come to own our sexual health. And yet, for all of the ways that sexuality has become culturally normative, real intimate conversations about our sexual needs and desires are still hard to come by. Our sexual health depends on our capacity to talk about our sexual needs, desires and fears. Here are a few conversation starters to explore and talk about what sexual empowerment means to you:
In theabsence of real education human beings will seek out answers to their burning questions, and nowhere is this more true than for the profound mystery of who we are as sexual beings. The decades of just-say-no education and the lack of any standard educational model has made pornography a go-to source of information about human sexuality. The problem is that pornography is created to provide graphic entertainment, not meaningful information about sexuality. This confusion is especially troubling as porn exposure has exploded on the internet, impacting children and teens.
The good news is that learning the truth about human sexuality and pleasure responses has never been easier. In addition to pornography, the internet boasts thousands of sites that provide real information that help you to understand your own sexual experiences and needs as well as finding language to talk about them. The new Netflix series called Pleasure is a really great place to start, both informative and entertaining. And most everyone I know finds an answer they have been looking for.
Avoiding sexual diseases
For the first time since 2006, theincidence of STDs including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis is on the rise. The increase is due in part to more women choosing more permanent contraceptive methods like IUDs, which provide protection against pregnancy but do nothing for STDs. Protecting against STDs with new sexual partners is more important than ever and yet has not gotten easier.
Another contributing factor in the increased incidence of STDs is the rampant undiagnosed incidence of Bacterial Vaginosis, impacting upwards of 40% of all women. Eighty four percent of women don’t recognize the symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis, a vaginal equivalent of having a low grade sore throat, as women don’t have the nerve endings to sense the imbalance of bad bacteria. Most often when BV is detected, it is as an "off" smell, or bad odor. Sometimes there is pain or itching, which is why it is commonly confused with Candida. Women with undiagnosed BV are immunologically compromised as their natural protective lactobacilli are overrun with bad bacteria. In addition, women with BV are 60% more susceptible to the serious STDs that are on the rise and are three times as likely to transmit these diseases to their partners.
The truth is that contracting STDs is more common than not, and it doesn’t mean anything about you or your partner. What is most important is becoming conscious of your own vaginal health and noticing when it is off. This is one easy way to keep your immunity strong. Also consider how to integrate the use of condoms as a normal/ standard part of sexual consent with new partners. As we normalize these health decisions they become more automatic.
Like many things, the fight for equality in both gender and race is really only in its infancy, and so many systemic structures have been in place for such a long time that awareness takes time to take hold. For many women, not knowing or understanding their own pleasure response is baked into history. In a 2010 Journal of Sexual Medicine study researchers found that only 1/3 of teenage girls masturbated regularly and fewer than half have even tried even once. In the early childhood years when we learn who we are, boys have their body parts named, while the female anatomy is often left unnamed, literally unspeakable. Even the most comprehensive sexual education only provides an overview of the internal pelvic organs with no mention of labia or the complex clitoral system. While a boy’s education is characterized in terms of erections, ejaculation and high powered sex drive, a girl’s education is defined by menstrual cycles and unwanted pregnancy. Most distressing is that many women are still using their partner’s physical pleasure as the yardstick for their own satisfaction. Not so for young American men, they measure their satisfaction by their own orgasm.
Learning about your own sexual response and being able to name what feels good is the foundation of paired sexual satisfaction. So begin with curiosity and leave the shame behind. Empowering yourself to have access to your own orgasmic response will empower you in every other place in your life. It is easy to buy a vibrator almost anywhere now, and our own hands have a nimble sensitivity that is surprising when used with a good lubricating product.
Sexual conversations heal us and make us better versions of ourselves.