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Sarah Batkin delved into the realm of sexual pleasure, and spoke to an expert about how we could all improve in communicating about, learning about, and having more pleasurable, sex.
1960 marked the beginning of the sexual revolution: the American FDA approved the first oral contraceptive pill, the Stonewall Riots heralded the inception of the LGBT movement, and Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique. In retrospect, however, the sexual revolution seems to have not been as revolutionary as I was led to believe. 56 years on and women’s bodies continue to be legislated against, American Congressmen continue to say and believe things like “if it’s legitimate rape the female body has ways of trying to shut that whole thing down,” and people still think that having too much sex can make a vagina loose (it doesn’t!). I think it’s fair to say we have a lot of work to do yet.
If there’s one element that I feel is seriously lacking in regards to sex, it’s the incongruence between the way men and women are expected to behave sexually. When you reach a certain age you become aware of a set of unspoken rules. Rules that stipulate how many people you are allowed to have sex with, who you’re allowed to have sex with, when it’s acceptable to lose your virginity, and how to treat your ‘conquests’. There exist many double standards which are damaging and leave us on totally different pages. It makes sleeping with people seem like a pointless, drawn-out game. The fact that wanting to be treated with decency, like any other normal human being, is sometimes too much to ask for makes me annoyed a la Alanis Morissette. Seriously though, being nice to someone you’ve just slept with isn’t hard and if you think you have to be mean to said person otherwise they’re going to “start liking you,” you need to calm down.
Lamenting these facts like the grumpy millennial feminist that I am (I’m not trying to be facetious here), and wanting to seek some wise counsel on these issues and how they might be remedied, I spoke to General Practitioner and deputy chairperson of Doctors for Sexual Abuse Care (DSAC), Dr Cathy Stephenson. I asked her about what we’re getting right when it comes to sex education and what we still need to work on as a country (I also took the chance to talk to her about fun stuff like squirting and prostate glands—stay tuned).
SB: Do you think the sex education young people receive today through school in New Zealand is adequate?
CS: Sex education is certainly improving. Back in the day it tended to be based solely on the biological aspects—the birds and bees type of conversations. More recently contraception and STIs have been discussed in school, and over the last few years the topic of sex as a pleasurable activity has even started to appear in sex-ed classes. ACC have also developed a fantastic programme called Mates and Dates, aimed at secondary schools, with sessions from years 9–13. A lot of the themes discussed focus on consent, and how to negotiate this with a sexual partner. My hope is that Mates and Dates will become part of every secondary school curriculum, so that all students are receiving the same, very valuable messages. The natural progression would then be for one year of the Mates and Dates programme to be part of student’s first year of tertiary (University) education. Bringing consensual, pleasurable sex regardless of gender or sexuality, into conversations for secondary and tertiary students, and enabling good communication between young people, can only be a good thing.
SB: Consent is definitely something we need to be talking about more. What are some other things you think we as a country need to work on to reduce sexual violence?
CS: Sadly we do have high levels of all forms of sexual violence in New Zealand and women are predominantly the victims. The more we talk about “good sex” i.e. how sex should feel for all parties involved, and encourage this conversation both directly and indirectly via the media, the quicker we will break down the misunderstandings around what is and what isn’t consensual and pleasurable sex. Much of the sexual violence that I see through the Sexual Assault Service has come about through a lack of understanding about what consent is. If someone can’t or doesn’t give consent because you either haven’t asked them or they aren’t able to (due to intoxication, impairment, illness, being asleep etc.), then it isn’t consensual and it’s a crime. Teaching young people what consent looks like and enabling them to experience how great it is when you have sex with someone who is sober and wants it as much as you do, would be a huge step towards eliminating sexual violence.
So… if one thing can be deduced from this it’s that we need to improve our ways of communicating with one another. We’ve been told that having non-consensual sex is a crime, but we’ve never really discussed what ‘consent’ is. For too long asking for consent has been a grey area, a kind of enigma floating in sex limbo. When in actuality, it’s pretty black and white—no means no. If you’re not sure then you should always ask (also see our handy guide, “Consent Is Hot Anything Else Is Not” on Salient’s website). Sure it might seem a little embarrassing or awkward at first, especially if you’re sleeping with someone that you’ve only just met and if you don’t intend on taking the encounter further than anything sexual. But a simple “are you ok with this?” is a good place to start. Having sex education classes at university never occurred to me until speaking to Dr Stephenson, but it certainly makes sense. Implementing this scheme in tertiary institutions would probably remedy a lot of the problems surrounding how people treat their sexual partners and could narrow the disparities between men and women in the realm of sexual pleasure.
I’ve often found a lot of people are not entirely familiar with the human anatomy, which can make for a wide variety of awkward and unpleasant sexual encounters. I’m not saying we must relish splashing around in one another’s bodily fluids, and I don’t expect everyone to enjoy all the carnal elements of sex. But having the knowledge to explore your own body and that of someone else’s comfortably and pleasurably is so important. Who better to inform those who’ve missed out on this information than a trained professional!
SB: Can you tell me a bit about the female orgasm and how women can reach climax? I know a few people who, sadly, have not experienced an orgasm, though not from lack of trying or wanting to.
CS: Some women will find it easiest to reach orgasm by penetration, either with a penis, finger, or some other object. Some, however, won’t find it easy to reach orgasm this way and will receive more pleasure from oral or anal stimulation. We are all different and our bodies respond in different ways to different stimuli. The most important factors are making sure the situation is right—making sure that you are with the right person, in the right place at the right time, that there is plenty of foreplay, and that pleasure is firmly on the agenda for both of you. If you don’t reach orgasm by penetration alone then try experimenting a little either with yourself or with a partner you trust. The chances are you will find another way to get there!
SB: Could you tell me about female ejaculation? I know this is a topic that has been hotly debated by a lot of people, especially on the internet.
CS: This is a controversial topic, and still hasn’t been resolved by the medical world! There is debate around whether female ejaculation (also known as gushing) exists at all—and if it does, whether it is due partially to the incontinence of urine that some women experience with orgasm, or solely due to a secretion of fluid from the paraurethral glands. It is a likely scenario is that some women will ejaculate at some point during their sexual lives. It is a normal phenomenon, and shouldn’t cause any concern.
SB: I’d like to discuss something that applies to the guys that may be reading this article… anal stimulation during sex is also something that people are starting to discuss more openly. Can you tell me a bit about the prostate gland and how to find it?
CS: Only men have a prostate gland.* It is located a few centimetres inside the anal canal, and helps with fertility and ejaculation. Finding the prostate is an easy process. It requires relaxation and plenty of lubricant. Be careful not to traumatise the lining of the anal canal which is quite fragile. In the sitting or lying position, with legs slightly bent, gently insert the tip of a lubricated finger into the anus. The finger should be slightly crooked and pointed upwards. If you feel to the front side of the anal canal (the front of the body), the prostate feels a bit like a firm walnut shape and measures about two centimetres across.
And there you have it. I’m aware this is just the tip of the iceberg, I could write an entire manifesto on these topics. But I think there’s a lot to say for respecting and caring about one another, even if it’s someone you’re just spending the night with. We should want to make engaging with one another, whether it romantically or sexually, a fun activity for all involved. Perhaps that’s when the real sexual revolution will begin—when we are all comfortable talking about what makes us feel good and what doesn’t and people listen. In the time being… happy orgasming.
*In reference to those assigned male at birth.