By Melinda Fontaine
When you hear mention of “the talk” do you also picture a red faced kid and an adult with sweaty palms talking awkwardly around the topic of the birds and the bees? Thinking back on my childhood, I have to give credit to my parents and teachers for attempting this important task with such bravery. For those of you who don’t know me, I have a 4-year-old son. (Brag moment: He already knows how to use the words “penis” and “vulva” correctly and respectfully!) When he is a little older, I picture us having the best sex talk in the history of sex because he has a really cool mom who happens to be a pelvic floor physical therapist. OK, most likely, it will still be an awkward mess, but a mom can dream. Plenty of people have tackled the topics of how pregnancy happens, how to prevent sexually transmitted infections, and how to ensure consent. Planned Parenthood has some great resources. For a humorous and fact-studded look at the state of sexual education in this country, check out John Oliver’s show and his improved sex ed video. Here, I want to address other things that may or may not be on people’s radar when talking about sex, such as pleasure.
For a great summary of male anatomy, see Rachel Gelman’s post A Cock in the Hen House: A look inside the Male Anatomy. Last year, Eve Appeal conducted a survey of 2,000 adults and found that 50% of men could not identify the vagina on a diagram of female anatomy! A similar study found that 44% of women could also not identify it!
More than just a penis and vagina
Various body parts can feel sexual pleasure, including but not limited to penis, vagina, scrotum, clitoris, prostate, nipples, anus, etc. The clitoris is a common source of pleasure for many women and a fun piece of trivia for anatomy enthusiasts. The picture above does it a disservice because it is not just a dot. It is a 3-dimensional structure with legs that extend under the labia on both sides of the vaginal opening. This picture is much more accurate and a helpful guide for anyone trying to stimulate it. Many women are not able to have orgasms with vaginal penetration alone, but a lot can have orgasms with clitoral stimulation. Men experience orgasm during intercourse 90% of the time, while women only orgasm during intercourse 50% of the time.1 Maybe if we talked about everyone’s equal right to pleasure in the sex talk, we could change this.
What sex is and is not
In 1966, Masters and Johnson defined sex as vaginal penetration with a penis resulting in simultaneous orgasm. Wow, that’s rather limited! Thankfully, our definition has now expanded. Sex includes any activity that gives sexual pleasure. This includes solo sex or partnered sex, penetrative or non-penetrative sex, sexual activity with toys or media or fetishes, etc. A great way to find out what is pleasurable for yourself, is to try it out, and a great way to find out what is pleasurable for your partner is to ask. This piece about pleasure is often missed in the usual sex talk, but it is a very important part of sex. The pleasure is what draws our species to sex. It is not shameful, and it is not limited to one gender. If sexual activity is uncomfortable, this is your body’s way of getting your attention, and it can be resolved. Rachel Gelman talks about painful sex for women in this podcast. Persons of any gender with sexual pain or dysfunction can get help from a pelvic physical therapist. Persons wanting to improve their sexual pleasure might also like to speak to a sex therapist.
There is an abundance of sex in the media and this blog does a great job pointing out some vital flaws in the media’s representation of sex. Another problem is that young people are first being introduced to sex in film or print which is intended to be entertaining, not educational. If my doctors learned medicine from watching Grey’s Anatomy instead of studying at medical school, they would probably miss a thing or two. If we assume sex is what we see in film, we could make a lot of incorrect assumptions. When our expectations do not match reality, we get frustrated, and who wants to be frustrated during a first sexual experience? The sex talk should mention that not all bodies are shaped/shaved/bleached/dressed like porn stars, not all sex is perfect, real sex involves communication (not just “yes, yes, yes”), people use lube, and condoms can be sexy.
I hope to spark some interest in improving sexual education, and I hope you spend a little time thinking about these alternative sex talk ideas. What else would you like to include in the “ideal sex talk”?
- Kontula O, et al. Determinants of female sexual orgasms. Socioaffect Neurosci Psychol. 2016; 6: 10.3402/snp.v6.31624.