What do you enjoy about sex? How does your body feel or react to touch? In one or two words, what would you say about how sex feels for you? While these questions may invoke anxiety, seem completely foreign or even too difficult to answer the answers likely indicate how self reflection on one’s sexual thoughts may affect their ability to reap the benefits of sex. While doing some initial research on sexual pleasure, I read through dozens of articles pertaining to sexual health. While most were informative about birth control, facts about preventing STIs, and the top reasons your sexual desire may be low, I did not find much literature relating to achieving sexual pleasure. Is it such a foreign principle? Is it so shameful or taboo that it cannot be incorporated into sexuality education? Any more information than it “should feel good” can lead one to the conclusion that when it is not enjoyable, there must be something dysfunctional about them. Unfortunately, this can lead to a snowball effect of negative thoughts, shameful feelings and sexual dysfunction.
How does one create a positive or healthy approach to sex when their experiences have been just the opposite? It begins within the therapy room, where I see myself (as the clinician) and my patients facing an uphill battle… it begins at the start line. Before someone can learn, process and accept sexual functioning from a healthy perspective, I work with my clients to examine any maladaptive, negative or shameful thoughts and feelings about sex that existed long before walking into my office. As part of my initial meeting with a patient seeking sex therapy treatment, I preface that our work together will include discussion about sexual function and pleasure. How do these two correlate? Are they intended to? Many clients who have symptoms of low sexual desire, also report that sexual activity doesn’t feel pleasurable for them either. If one is experiencing physical pain with sex, please make an appointment with a gynecologist who can address these issues and provide additional resources if necessary. In these cases, it is likely that there is a physical/biological issue causing pain which can result in a lack of pleasure. Once the biological/physical issue is resolved, it is possible for sex to become pleasurable. That is the goal! However, when pain is not a factor, having sex out of “obligatory guilt” to please a partner, or abstaining from sex altogether (unless both agree) are not healthy recipes for happiness.
In therapy, one of the fundamental principles that I emphasize in treatment is that sex should feel good and that each person is deserving of pleasure. However, this often brings uneasy reactions, which lead back to my initial questions presented above: what do you derive pleasure from within your sexual activity or encounters? Clinical experience indicates that having at least basic knowledge if not comprehensive understanding of one’s body helps tremendously. How familiar are you with your vulvar anatomy and how it functions? Have you ever seen your vulva with a hand mirror or participated in self exploration? Initially doing this may feel uncomfortable, yet it is a crucial part of getting to know yourself and owning your body.
Think of your body as a car…you wouldn’t hesitate to ask a car salesman to give you an overview of how it operates, read the owner’s manual, or even take it for a test drive, but when it comes to how your body operates, you’ve been a backseat passenger. Would you just hand the keys over to your partner without any question or expectation of taking good care of it? Taking the opportunity to teach yourself (it’s never too late) about what’s nearest and could be dearest to you with a little self care, is the best gift you can give yourself. I came upon a valuable resource that I share with almost all of my patients. A book titled “What Your Mother Never Told You About S-E-X” by Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, M.D. is a great self help guide that provides an in depth look at yourself, and normalizing what your body can do. Sex can really can be wonderful, desirable and pleasurable with YOU as the mastermind, the driver behind the wheel to your own body.