Notre santé et notre bien-être sexuels : faits importants à retenir
Souvent, lorsqu’il est question de santé sexuelle, on présume qu’il s’agit simplement de l’absence de maladie, d’infection ou de problème. Pour certain-es d’entre nous, le seul fait de parler de santé sexuelle peut être inconfortable ou embarrassant. Or il est important de se rappeler que la santé sexuelle est un aspect essentiel de notre santé et de notre bien-être général, tout au long de nos vies. La santé sexuelle est plus que l’absence de maladie ou d’infection. Le bien-être sexuel englobe les dimensions physique, émotionnelle, mentale et sociale. Notre milieu de vie et de soins de santé importe aussi. Les endroits où l’on grandit, nos valeurs familiales, les emplois que nous occupons, l’emplacement de l’épicerie la plus proche et le type de personnes que nous sommes sont autant de facteurs déterminants. Ils influencent nos expériences de la sexualité et notre degré d’accès à des informations adéquates, à des ressources essentielles (contraception, condoms, traitements, etc.) et aux soins de santé qui nous aident à bien nous porter.
It includes so many different types of topics and conversations. Talking about sexual health can take us from how to have comfortable and enjoyable sex to healthy relationships, gender norms, pop culture, starting a family, and so much more. So much of our lives and what goes on around us play into our sexual health and wellness.
It also means talking politics.
Sexual health is not just the business of taking care of your health, it’s also your right. We all have a right to be healthy and to have access to the information and the health care we need to achieve that – like information about the risks of STIs and the ability to get Pap tests and contraceptives.
As the saying goes, the personal is political, because how easy or hard it is for you to access information and care depends on laws, policies, and practices. For example, you might technically have a right to abortion care when we need it, but if the nearest clinic to you is hundreds of kilometers away, it doesn’t end up meaning much. Or if sex-ed doesn’t talk about LGBTQI2S+ needs and experiences, a good portion of people won’t get the information they need to stay healthy.
There are lots of ways to take control of your sexual health. One of the first and most important steps is to get informed – and you’re in the right place!
What’s the difference between sex and sexuality?
Sex and sexuality are two different things. Sexuality is not (just) about who you have sex with, or how often. It is about the sexual feelings you have and your thoughts, attractions, and behaviours towards other people. These behaviours might include sex, but they don’t always. The way you find other people physically, sexually, or emotionally attractive (or not) is all part of your sexuality. So is the way you express your gender and your sexual identity. It’s like the life force behind who you fall in love with, who you get attracted, to or who you want to have sex with. While it feels different for everyone, it is a pretty central part of us all.
Sexuality is deep, complex, and personal. Figuring out your sexuality can be a very liberating, exciting, and positive experience. It includes your experiences of gender, the gender and sexuality of your partner(s), and of what turns you on.
Some people experience discrimination due to their sexuality because we live in a world that has created a hierarchy of sexualities, defining some of them as more acceptable and presenting them as more “normal” or valid.
This not true and it’s also not right. If someone gives you a hard time about your sexuality, it’s discrimination. If this happens to you, it’s important to talk about it to people you trust.
Different sexual orientations
Sometimes, it can take time to figure out what our sexuality is all about and what our sexual orientation is. It can feel confusing and it can also change over time. It’s okay to be unsure or to take your time to think about it. It’s also okay to change your mind, because sexuality can evolve and change throughout our lives.
You might be attracted to men or to women, to both, to neither, or to people whose genders are not captured by a binary. There is no right or wrong sexual orientation, there is just your own truth. And while there are common terms to describe different types of sexual orientation (for example, gay, lesbian, pansexual, etc.) and for some, that feels just right, labels are not always a good fit or necessary. For some people, labels can feel like boxes that are just too limiting.
Is asexuality a sexual orientation?
What makes up your sexual orientation is your emotional, romantic, physical, and/or sexual attraction to others— or the lack of it. Some people do not experience sexual attraction or might need to feel very connected emotionally with someone to feel sexual attraction. Others may wish to have romantic relationships, but not sexual ones. All of these things might mean that you identify somewhere on the asexuality spectrum. Many consider asexuality to be a sexual orientation in its own right, while others view it as the lack thereof. In either case, it is certainly a central element of some people’s sexuality.
It can feel daunting when everyone around you seems to be talking or thinking about sex and that’s not how you feel, but you can be reassured that many people identify themselves on the asexual spectrum. Asexuality is relatively common and totally normal. It can feel liberating to figure out that asexuality is a real experience and that you are not alone.
Click here to read more about asexuality
There is no single definition of sex. Sex means different things to different people. It’s normal to wonder – does this count as sex? And the answer is, if it feels like sex to you, then it is. Thinking of sex in inclusive ways – as in, not just vaginal or anal penetration – is important to really capture what sex can look like to different people.
For some people, sex can include vaginal or anal penetration, or oral sex. For others, it might look like genital stimulation and other types of intimate touch. Sex can also include masturbation, playing with sex toys, or holding one another closely and intimately without penetration. It can look like negotiated and consensual scenarios of submission or domination. The main point is that sexuality can be expressed in all sorts of ways.
The sex people have changes over time. What people like, are into, or do are not static things. The ways our bodies change over time because of age, life events like having a baby, accidents or illnesses, the relationship(s) we are in at different times, or what’s happening in our lives at different moments can influence how we have sex and how we express ourselves sexually. Who we find ourselves attracted to can also change over time. That’s because people’s understandings of their gender and sexuality can evolve throughout the entire lifespan.
A very common question people have when it comes to their sexuality, their level of desire, what they are into, and what they fantasize about is: “is this normal?” or “am I normal?’’
It is normal to wonder about sex and sexuality. Most people have some point in their lives where they wonder about sex and sexuality. That’s in part because, while sex is all around us in ads and movies and pop culture, we don’t have a lot of frank and open discussions about sex.
Attitudes around sex are always evolving. What was considered “normal” 50 years ago is different than what we’d call “normal” today. Each one of us grew up in different families with different circumstances, and those experiences shape our beliefs and values around sex.
This means that it’s not possible to pin down what’s “normal”, since it is ever-changing and is influenced by context, instead of being rigid and well-defined. For example, decades ago, it was not socially acceptable or “normal” to marry someone of the same gender or to have sex before marriage, but today, it’s considered pretty normal.
Lots of people feel anxious about what they should be doing and feeling, but it’s good to try not to get too caught up in the concept of what is or isn’t “normal”. Instead, the only things that should matter when it comes to the sex we are having (or wanting to have) are the consent, pleasure, and wellbeing of the people doing it and/or affected by it. And that doesn’t just mean your partner(s) – it includes you, too.
Let’s Talk About Sex
A lot of us are curious about sex and have questions but talking about sex openly can feel uncomfortable or taboo for many. This means we are often left to our own devices to find answers to our questions.
If you need some help figuring it all out, it’s helpful to find a sex-positive health care provider, like someone at a sexual health clinic, and ask your questions during your visit. This can include any question and/or concern you may have about your sex life.
In your relationships, try to create space for you and your partner(s) to talk openly about sex. This might look like asking questions about contraception, negotiating condom use, or talking about periods.
Sometimes, these types of conversations can feel a little less awkward than talking about “what feels good” and what we like during sex. Talking about more practical concerns can get us going and slowly get us more comfortable with talking openly about sex in your relationship(s). Learning to talk about sex and what feels good, and communicate that to your partners, is a skill that we can learn over time, no matter how awkward it may feel at first.
So, do I think about sex too much or too little?
Different people have different sex drives or “libido”. Some people have high libidos and some have lower ones. Levels of desire are not fixed and can also go up and down at different times in your life, depending on the state of your relationships and of what’s going on in your life generally – or even in the span of a day or week due to mood and stress levels.
Many people are worried about their libidos getting lower. This is often situational – your sex drive might go down when you’re stressed out or ill, and it might go up if you feel close to your partner(s) or because of the excitement that comes with meeting someone new. All these feelings are normal.
While you can expect your sex drive to shift throughout your life, there are some conditions that might contribute to changes in your libido that you might want support in addressing. For example, if you find that you haven’t felt up for sex in a while and that’s bothering you, it’s a good idea to bring it up with your health care provider. That’s because some medical conditions, life experiences, and other events can impact your libido and your ability to have pleasurable and comfortable sex. For example, suffering from incontinence or genital pain following childbirth, feeling overwhelmed by the demands of parenting or the stress of a new job, not feeling excited about the sex you are having, or feeling disconnected from your partner.
In some cases, people are affected by hypoactive sexual desire disorder (or HSDD), which is the persistent lack of sexual or erotic thoughts, fantasies, and desire for sexual activity. To be HSDD, these symptoms must have to persist for a minimum of six months, and they must cause clinically significant distress. In other cases, people can suffer from sexual aversion disorder (SAD), which refers to an avoidance or extreme aversion to sex. Both can impact people of all genders.
On the other end of the spectrum is hypersexuality, or compulsive sexual behaviour (sometimes called ‘sex addiction’). This is when someone is preoccupied with sex (and sexual fantasizing) in a way that impacts their day to day life, which can look like the obsessive pursuing of new sexual partners.
Changes in libido can also be a side-effect of medication (antidepressants can affect sexual function or desire while drugs used to treat Parkinson's disease can cause hypersexuality as a side-effect), or medical conditions (high blood pressure or diabetes can lower libido, while bipolar disorder can sometimes lead to hypersexuality). Talking about whatever situation you are in can mean that if it’s bothering you and impacting your relationship(s), you can get your partner(s)’s support and understand or, when necessary, have your medication adjusted or access services like treatment or therapy to help address your concerns.
While changes in libido can be totally normal, it’s important to remember that sexual disorders are real and deserve empathy and support. Our sexual health is a central part of our health as a whole. Everyone deserves the health care they need if they experience something that interferes with their wellbeing. It is also important to remember that in the case of hypersexuality, it’s certainly not a pass for someone to act in ways that harm other people.
The good news is, many of those things can be addressed with some support, like counseling, or treatment – and people deserve help if they are feeling affected by something happening in their sex life.
Health care providers or patients might not always find it easy to talk about sex and desire during health visits. If you have questions or concerns about desire, it can be very helpful to find a sex-positive health care provider and ask your sexual health questions during your visit.
How much sex are other people having?
Interestingly, lots of research has been coming out lately that shows that, despite how much we all talk about sex or see it represented in things like movies and TV shows, young people are having less sex than we might think. Sex researchers and experts attribute this to many things, including people getting partnered up less often and people are living with their parents for longer, spending more time in online rather than offline spaces, or experiencing exhaustion or anxiety about the growing demands of modern life. Read more on this trend here.
On the flipside, more people are aware of what they want and what they deserve because of the conversations about sex being more and more open, including all the conversations that came out of the #metoo movement. This may mean that people are clearer on what kind of sex they actually truly want to have. It may also mean less sex in some contexts but overall, perhaps more of the sex that we want and that is truly pleasurable to us.
What’s behind great sex?
Lots of people worry about being good in bed. All the magazine articles dedicated to “100 best sex tricks” or “10 steps to please your lover” show that it’s on many minds.
The thing is, great sex goes beyond mastering a specific set of moves.
It starts in our heads.
Our brain is the reason why we can feel pleasure. When we compare sex to a drug, it is kind of true. Sex affects our brain in the same way some drugs do. Sex can bring on the release of dopamine in the brain. This is one of the chemicals that give us that exuberant feeling many of us chase. Oxytocin is another hormone released during sex and other intimate gestures like hugging or holding one another. It drives bonding between people and feelings of intimacy. It’s the “feel good” sensation we get after sex when we feel closer to our partner(s).
So, our brain is the organ that processes all the information we get through touch, rushes of blood, heart rates pumping. But that’s not the end of it. Many of the key parts of great sex come from using our heads too, not just, let’s say, our skillful fingers.
And the science is clear on what are the components of great sex. This compelling study published in The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality lays it out for us:
- Talking all the way to great sex: “Extraordinary communication and heightened empathy are crucial for great sex,” says the study. This does not just mean chatting about what’s for dinner or the football game. It means really diving into who our partners are and what’s on their mind – truly listening to them. Empathy is key, because empathically attuning to another person means that we gently tune into, sense, and resonate with their experience and so, we can better connect with them.
- Being in the moment: Great sex demands that we be completely focused and in our bodies. “Being ‘totally absorbed in the moment’ seems to be a crucial feature of optimal sexuality,” says the study. It requires you and your partner to be fully present in the moment.
- Is this your real you? This is a huge deal. The value of authenticity in sexual pleasure cannot be overstated. For many of us, especially women, sex can be like a performance instead of an experience where we can truly get immersed in our own pleasure and sensations. We think about the way we look; we are self conscious of what we want, we don’t want to impose on someone else, we want to please and excite our partners, etc. In the study, participants spoke of feeling “unselfconscious”, “uninhibited” and “unrestricted” as an important part of great sex.
- Be daring! This is linked to the importance of being authentic. To be authentic means daring to explore what you may be interested in sexually. That doesn’t mean having to be kinky if that’s not your thing. It’s not about trying what we are not interested in for the sake of “being adventurous”. For some of us, being daring may mean taking more time to enjoy a particular sex act and getting more immersed in the moment. One of the main ingredients of great sex is trust. Trying out new things or acting out a fantasy means trusting our partners with our intimate desires. It can feel vulnerable, but it can certainly bring us closer, which is a win all around.
- Make time for sex: It may seem counterintuitive to plan for sex, but it can really energize a sex life. Studies show that having more sex leads to stronger, more respectful relationships. It can feel hard to make it happen sometimes when you’re tired, busy, and overwhelmed. That’s when spontaneous sex often takes a backseat and we can start to feel disconnected on that front. Planning time and prioritizing it in our lives can help get the fire going again. The more we have sex, the more we want to have it (if it’s the kind of sex that is pleasurable for everyone involved – that rule may not apply if the sex is not satisfying for one of the people involved). When we have sex more often, there’s more affection and intimacy shown in daily life. Sex can also make us feel good and loved, which can strengthen the bond between partners.
- Get on board with change: As life goes on, we change. Our bodies change, sometimes because we age or because of accidents or illnesses. Our relationships change. Our own understand of our gender and/or sexuality can also change. It’s important to not let that get in the way. Many of us will have the best sex of our lives as we get older and get to know our body better, have a better understanding of power relationships between ourselves and our partners, and generally feel more confident – all of which boosts enjoyment of sex.
Everyone (who is sexual, as many of us are asexual) deserves a healthy and pleasurable sex life.
This does not mean that people are entitled to sex or that we are owed sex by anyone, including our partners. What it means is that, our sexuality deserves our attention and that our sexual relationships deserve work and dedication. Sexuality is a natural, normal, healthy, and pleasurable part of being alive and of being human. When it comes to a sexual act, practice, or experience, it means focusing on the consent, pleasure, and wellbeing of the people engaged in it or the people affected by it. It also means reflecting on what gets in the way of our own satisfaction and happiness and how to be supportive of our partner(s)’s wellness too. For some of us, it may mean working on being more present and authentic in our sexual lives or making more time for sexual connection and for others, it may mean truly attuning to our partner(s) and their desires, building trust, or learning to communicate better. It’s so very worth it to take the time to really figure it out.
Thinking through what can get in the way of a satisfying sex life
Learning how to have sex that feels good for ourselves and our partners is a lifelong journey. There are many parts to having great sex, and also many things that can get in the way. Thinking about the following questions can help figure out what we like about our sex lives, what we dislike, and what we’d like to work on.
Access to information
Do we have all the info we need to examine our own sexual practices and attitudes? Reading up on sex and pleasure can help make your sex life more satisfying. That’s because, it can give us clues as to what may be stressing us out or not working out so well for us. You can learn more about sexuality by browsing reliable websites dedicated to sexual health (like this one), taking classes or workshops with reputable sexual health centre, or depending on where you live, visiting your local sex-positive sex shop. Often, these shops will carry books, offer workshops, or employ knowledgeable staff there to help you with any questions about sexuality or the sex you are having (or hoping to have).
Checking your attitude
We live in a world where we receive so many conflicting, and often negative, messages around sex. Sex is glamourized, but there is also a lot of shame around it.
With all that we see in pop culture and in the media, it is also easy to internalize values around what our body should look like, what kind of sex is hot and what kind is not, what is considered “slutty” or “bad”, etc. Becoming aware of our own thoughts and values around sex is a great first step towards working to replace negative thoughts with more accurate, positive ones.
A moral code around sex should be about what promotes happiness and health for ourselves and our partner(s). This can help us root out the shameful, guilty, or embarrassed feelings we might have so we can be more authentic in our own sex lives and be more empathetic with ourselves, with our partner(s), and with people in general.
Am I feeling anxious, scared or traumatized?
Some people, particularly those who have experienced sexual assault or past traumatic events, may feel anxious, hesitant, or scared to have sex. Others may find it very difficult to resume sex after a traumatic event, or difficult to start having sex if they have a history of trauma. It is also normal to feel nervous or anxious about sex even if you have not experienced trauma.
Many of us aren’t given the proper information to feel prepared to have sex. There is so little information that we get about all it all works: how to initiate sex, how to get consent and communicate our boundaries, how to navigate relationships, how different bodies work, what we are supposed to say and do, etc. And then, anxiety about getting pregnant or getting an STI is drilled in us during sex-ed lessons (if we get any) or by well-meaning parents or adults who want to keep us safe. What we see in pop culture can also make getting an STI sound scary and terrible when in real life, it’s a pretty common experience.
If you’re feeling anxious or nervous about sex, it can be great to chat with local sex educators, who can often be found at local sexual health or public health centres. Staff at these types of organizations are usually knowledgeable and non-judgmental. If you can’t visit a sexual health centre or sex shop in-person, many will be happy to chat with you over the phone, so you can ask your questions.
You can also call our 24-hour Access Line at 1-888-642-2725 if you have questions about sex and sexuality or need a referral to services near you.
If your anxiety or nervousness feels like it comes from having experienced something difficult or traumatic, or like it comes from very deeply-rooted fear or disgust around sex, it can be helpful to talk with a counsellor or therapist for deeper and more long-term support. For more information about sex therapy, you can contact the Board of Examiners in Sex Therapy and Counselling in Ontario or l’Association des sexologues du Québec. For those in other provinces, look for counselling options near you – many counsellors specialize in the area of sex therapy and are there to help you process your feelings around sex and work with you to achieve your sexuality-related goals.
An orgasm is often described as the “climax” or peak of a sexual experience, though orgasm is not always the goal when having sex. It is the release of sexual tension during the sexual response cycle. It looks like rhythmic muscular contractions in the pelvic region and is usually experienced as intense physical pleasure.
People of all genders have orgasms. In all of us, they are controlled by the involuntary, or autonomic, nervous system. They are often associated with other involuntary actions like muscle spasms in many places in the body (e.g. trembling, body jerking), a general euphoric sensation and often, movements and vocalizations (e.g. loud panting, yelling, moaning). After an orgasm, people often feel relaxed. This is because of the release of hormones in our bodies (neurohormones oxytocin and prolactin as well as endorphins (or "endogenous morphine"). An orgasm happens through sexual stimulation which can be done by masturbating or having sex with partners (penetrative sex, non-penetrative sex, or other sexual activity).
For those of us with penises, an orgasm will usually lead to ejaculation which is when semen (cum) comes out from the penis. That’s typically followed by a gradual softening of the penis. Afterwards, most people will experience a “rest period” when they probably won’t be able to have an erection or another orgasm right away, though some can. How long this rest period is can vary from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the person, their age, or the context.
Some reach orgasm through anal penetration because of the high number of nerve endings in or around the anus and, for people who have prostates, because of the possibility to stimulate the prostate.
For those of us with vulvas, orgasm through vaginal or anal stimulation alone, such as penetration by a penis, fingers, or sex toys can lead to orgasm, but it won’t for everyone. Stimulating the G-spot (with fingers or with a penis or a sex toy) can cause an orgasm and for some, will lead to ejaculation. Ejaculation, also called “squirting”, looks like a clear light fluid gushing out of the urethra (it’s not pee).
That said, stimulation of the clitoris is the most common way to reach orgasm. This can happen through oral sex, stimulation with fingers or toys, or the combination of clitoris stimulation and vaginal or anal penetration. Many orgasms can happen in a row when the clitoris is stimulated. They are usually experienced as rhythmic contraction-like feelings in the pelvic area (this can feel like a muscular “throbbing”).
Help – I can’t orgasm (or can’t make my partner orgasm)!
Many things can get in the way of having an orgasm.
Our ability to experience orgasm can be limited by physical or physiological factors, like a spinal cord injury or the effects of medications, of an illness and because of our hormone levels. It can also be affected by emotional factors or situations, for example, relationship problems, negative feelings about sexuality or our body, shame, trauma, or stress, etc.
Feeling safe and relaxed can be very important to be able to reach orgasm. This includes feeling comfortable and at ease with our partner(s) or feeling like we are in a safe private space when have sex or we masturbate.
The ability to talk with our partner(s) can help or get in the way of sexual pleasure. Sometimes, we are in situations where our partner(s) want to please us, but it’s not working or vice-versa. While it can be hard at first, learning to articulate what feels good and what doesn’t is a skill we can develop. Masturbating is also a great way to better understand what feels good to our particular body and can help us direct our partner(s).
If you or your partner still have concerns about sexual pleasure or orgasm, you can talk to your health care provider or a sex therapist. It’s also important to remember that orgasms don’t always have to be the main goal of sex. Sometimes, it can be nice to have sex without the pressure of reaching orgasm. It’s not always about the “end result”, but how it feels getting there. Some people don’t have orgasms (for instance, due to physical disability, illness, or injury), but that doesn’t mean they can’t have pleasurable sex. Adapting our expectations and goals for sex to fit our unique circumstances is important and a key part of feeling sexually satisfied.
Myths and Realities
There are lots of myths about orgasm that can put pressure on you and your partner(s), so let’s debunk them! Here are a few of the main myths around orgasms:
MYTH: A good lover is someone with the skills to give their partner an orgasm.
REALITY: Orgasms can’t be given – while we might be able to do different things that feel good for a partner, orgasms depends partly on physical and emotional health and on factors outside of the our control. This is to say that it is not simply about tricks and moves, it’s also about making sure we are being real and vulnerable, and that our partner(s) can be the same. Someone can be “skilled”, but make you feel unsafe or uncomfortable which would make it tough to let yourself go. Orgasms and pleasurable sexual relationships are about comfort and feeling safe, so we can make sure that we provide that for ourselves and for the people we have sex with.
MYTH: The goal of sex is for both partners to orgasm at the same time.
REALITY: There's still a great deal of misunderstanding about simultaneous orgasms – when people climax at the same time. The idea that this is the norm is just not true. It’s an idea that’s been created by tons of romantic and erotic stories, porn, and pop culture. The result is that many people feel inadequate and like something is “wrong” if they can’t do that – but that’s not the case at all. The truth is that, while simultaneous orgasms are nice, they are tough to achieve, especially when you're young or, in heterosexual relationships, when partners don’t challenge the “norm” about what sex looks like – meaning that a lot of people consider the “goal” of sex to be when men ejaculate.
“Coming together” is more likely to occur in a close and loving relationship, where the partners have been together for years and understand their own and each other's sexual responses well. It also means understanding what will promote more orgasms for all partner(s), including foreplay, oral sex, clitoral stimulation during penetration, etc.
MYTH: Good sex means having an orgasm.
REALITY: What brings pleasure and sexual satisfaction is different for everybody. It isn’t necessary to have an orgasm to get pleasure from sex. It’s about the journey, not just the “end point”.
MYTH: Orgasm equals pleasure.
REALITY: Not all orgasms are pleasurable. Someone might experience an orgasm in an abusive situation. Your body may respond physically to stimulation, but that doesn’t mean that the experience is one of pleasure. For more on this, click here.
MYTH: Men can orgasm more easily then women
REALITY: Read about the ‘orgasm gap’
What’s the orgasm gap? Do men orgasm more than women?
There are a lot of sex myths out there that become “common knowledge” and we don’t always take the time to question them. One of those is that men (cisgender men) have an easier time having an orgasm and that for women (cisgender women), it’s just harder and requires more work.
This is presented as a fact by so many people, but it is a myth!
There’s been lots of research done about how often people orgasm and the “orgasm gap,” which is how people describe the difference between how often women and men orgasm. A team of researchers from Chapman University and the Kinsey Institute decided to look into if that gap was real or not.
They did find that there is a gap between how often men and women orgasm. But it’s definitely not because it’s easier for men to orgasm and hard work for women. The difference in how much people have orgasms boils down to the type of relationships they are in, the gender of their partners, and the types of sex acts they do.
Women in lesbian relationships have much more frequent orgasms than those in heterosexual relationships. These findings challenge the stereotype and assumption that men naturally orgasm more than women because “it’s easier for them”. It’s all about the sex we have.
So, the good news is, if we aren’t getting ‘knock your socks off’ orgasms, there are ways to change that. Sex should be pleasurable for everyone involved.
Some attitudes and behaviors can bring on more frequent orgasms. The researchers found that the best indicator of how often a woman orgasms is how often she receives oral sex. The three most important predictors of more orgasms were: receiving more oral sex during sex, having sex for a longer time, and being happier with their relationships overall (because, you know, trust and vulnerability).
Instead of feeling down about the orgasm differences in heterosexual relationships, it can be helpful to think about how we can close this gap. A good start is to look at issues of gender norms and power dynamics in our relationships. All around us, including in pop culture (this also means in mainstream porn) men’s pleasure and fantasies are the focus and the number one priority. We pay less attention to women’s sexual pleasure. In fact, we barely see any representation of real female pleasure.
Even where we see a woman feeling pleasure, it’s often presented as a way for dudes to show their skills or an ego booster as opposed to an important thing in and of itself. How often have you seen movies where sex scenes end when a man comes? That’s most of them, right? That’s often what we see as the “goal” of sex.
This can help us start thinking of ways to work towards mutually satisfying sexual relationships where every partner’s needs are given attention. This can mean looking at the ways we relate to sex with partners, what we feel entitled to (and what we will take time to fully dedicate ourselves to), how we can make ourselves vulnerable or not, and how much attention we give to making sure everyone is enjoying themselves when we have sex. It’s so worth it!
When we feel desire, we can sometimes feel sexually turned on. We can get turned on by a specific person, a moment with someone, by something we are looking at or watching, for example porn or erotic pictures, or by dreaming or thinking about sex. When this happens, we might feel very intense bodily sensations of sexual stimulation (a rush of blood to our genitals, a heightened sensitivity to touch, an erection, or a feeling of wetness or lubrication on our vulva or penis). When we feel this way, sex (including masturbation) might be on our minds. However, it is important to know that stimulation and sexual arousal aren’t always lined up – this experience is called arousal non-concordance.
Arousal non-concordance can mean different things. Sometimes, something that isn’t sexual can lead to an arousal response in our bodies (for example, an erection), even if we’re not sexually excited and not interested in having sex at that moment. This can sometimes happen during traumatic events like sexual assaults and can make people feel deep shame about their body’s response when it is normal and did not mean that they “wanted” any of it. Other times, it can mean we want to have sex but our bodies aren’t having it. This can be particularly confusing when we’re flooded with messages about when we’re supposed to feel turned on and by what.
It It’s important to remember that someone having an arousal response doesn’t necessarily mean they are interested in having sex. At the same time, not having an arousal response when you’re trying to get it on with someone doesn’t mean you don’t want to have sex or don’t find your partner.
The good news is, if you are interested in having sex but your body isn’t aroused, there are lots of ways to get in the mood and give time for the body to get aligned with how you’re feeling, such as using lube (if you’re not getting wet), longer foreplay, erotic touch, kissing, playing with sex toys, masturbating, and finding ways to lower the pressure to “achieve” anything in particular. If you are having trouble getting or keeping an erection, you can read more about here
Images, photos, and videos of sex and erotica, whether in the media or in pop culture, usually only show certain kinds of people and relationships. This means that while some of us get to see ourselves in the sex, romance, and relationships that we see on tv, in porn, and in the magazines, many of us don’t.
People who are cisgender, look a certain way (thin, white skin, muscular, able-bodied, young, etc.) and who are heterosexual get to see themselves and their partnerships, romantic and sexual, represented as normal and as to be expected.
Reinforcing this “norm” has an impact on real people and real lives. It means that all kids growing up are expected to be cisgender and straight. It means that sex-ed only speaks to cisgender and heterosexual health needs. It makes public space safer and more inviting to some people and riskier for others who can get harassed, stared at, and even assaulted because of what they look like and who they hold hands with or kiss in public. It means that many people don’t get to see themselves navigating romantic relationships in movies or featured in the media, such as through weddings ads, engagement announcements in the paper, etc.
In short, it makes any sexuality, sexual interest, gender identity, or expression that is not cis and straight, something to “come out of the closet” about. It impacts everyone’s sexuality and wellbeing because this lack of representation makes for tiny boxes in which we must all fit in. It fuels shame, intolerance and discrimination and makes it harder for many of us to get the information and health care we have a right to.
So, what to do? While the type of TV we watch or music we listen to can feel trivial, it is not because over time, what we see over and over is what becomes our “normal” and our culture. Critical thinking skills and media literacy can help us make sense of how this exclusion impacts us and the world around us, help us resist those messaging, and sometimes even inspire us to create our own art, stories, and media. Click here for more on media literacy.
It’s not just in the media that there is a lack of representations of gay, queer, or asexual folks. Our sex-ed is also problematic in the same way. This means that many of us don’t get the information we need to make important health decisions.
Everyone is entitled to meaningful sexual health information and education that speaks to their real lives and their needs. For more on comprehensive sexuality education, click here.