We need to make the conversation about sex more inclusive

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“We need to get past the idea that there is a right and wrong way to have sex,” said Monica Karpinski, opening The Femedic’s panel discussion event on sex and female pleasure that took place on May 30th.

“This kind of ‘right way to have sex’ is the sort of sex we tend to see in movies, it’s the type of sex that is marketed to us, it’s the sex that we’re socialised into believing that’s what sex is, that’s what sex should be like.”

The event, ‘Beyond climax: redefining female pleasure’, was intended to make the discussion around female sexual pleasure more inclusive, and broach the issue of how we can move beyond the idea that climax is the goal of a very specific, and exclusionary, type of sex.

The sex we see in the movies tends to be people who are at the top of the entire range of identity-based power structures. They are heterosexual, white, thin, cisgender, able bodied. The sex they have is penetrative, and always embedded within a broader, romantic narrative.

Unfortunately, the idea that penetrative sex is the “correct” way to have sex is extremely widespread, yet a survey done last year by the FPA found that most women had trouble orgasming from penetration alone.

This means, then, that a woman* is growing up, having penetrative sex, and not climaxing may be led to believe that something is wrong with them. Men, too, are socialised to believe that giving a woman an orgasm is a sign of their own masculinity, a belief that is damaging for men, women, and those who don’t identify as either.

The sex we see in the movies tends to be people who are at the top of the entire range of identity-based power structures. They are heterosexual, white, thin, cisgender, able bodied. The sex they have is penetrative, and always embedded within a broader, romantic narrative.

If a woman has sex and doesn’t come, and wonders if something is wrong with them, they may head to Google. And what comes up if you search “I can’t orgasm”? You are told you that you have ‘female sexual dysfunction’ – a horrible, blanket term to describe any sexual problem someone may have. You are ‘dysfunctional’ because you’re doing what you think is ‘right’ and it’s not working.

As Monica said, “Nowhere in this discussion have we put women at the centre of the conversation. There are so many experiences and preferences that we don’t know exist because no one is talking about them.”

It is for this reason that The Femedic brought together a group of women to discuss female pleasure.

Alix Fox, an award winning sex educator, who presented the ‘Close Encounters’ podcast for The Guardian, started off the evening by sharing an anecdote: during a workshop, she discovered that some men used the idea that they could give pleasure to women as a coercive tool.

Interestingly, a similar dichotomy also exists when it comes to people who enjoy “vanilla” sex as opposed to kink, or other types of sex, and there is some judgement about this coming from kink communities, further creating anxiety around female sexual pleasure.

As Alix pointed out, “People who have less kinky tastes are not there to be fodder to those who are more kinky who see them as a challenge.”

Athena Mae, a sexologist and body positive activist who has been featured on the BBC, agreed, and added that another issue that has prevented women for being able to talk openly about their own pleasure for so long is that, as a society, we have ‘Victorian’ attitudes towards sex.

“If you do hear about sex from your parents it’s always the same thing – wait until you’re old enough, wait until you find a nice boy,” said Athena. “This is because they are taught the same as we are – that normal only constitutes heterosexual and penetrative.”

“I talk about queer sex because we’re the people who are told the sex that we have and the bodies that we have are wrong, they’re unusual, they’re weird and no one wants to fuck us. But we can have sex whatever body parts we have.”

Megan Key, an activist and founder of Trans Girls Can, discussed her own experiences of learning about and discovering her own sexuality, and explained that added to the stigma that already exists in society about sex in general, many more people are missing out on great sex and intimacy because they don’t match the stereotype of what a “normal” body is.

She said, “I talk about queer sex because we’re the people who are told the sex that we have and the bodies that we have are wrong, they’re unusual, they’re weird and no one wants to fuck me. But we can have sex whatever body parts we have.”

Kayza Rose, also an activist, and founder of BlackOutLDN, added she finds it frustrating that many people still think that if a woman wants to have sex with another woman “then it’s not actually sex”.

“I find it annoying being asked ‘What do you actually do? That’s not sex, it’s just foreplay’,” she said. “You can have your own definitions of stuff. It doesn’t have to fit in with anybody else’s idea of what sex is. If it’s sex to you then it’s sex, and as long it’s with consenting adults, then do whatever you like.”

Other stereotypes and stigma from the heteronormative world also reemerge in the queer scene, often affecting what happens in the bedroom. For example, explained Kayza, many masculine presenting females are actually very “feminine” in the bedroom, but would never admit it due to expectations about how they should act from their peers.

Sometimes shaking off labels can help, and this is what Kayza has done herself, but there have been instances when there isn’t space for that within the queer scene.

Megan added, “A lot of queer people are insecure anyway because we’ve all grown up being told that what we do and who we love and the sex that we have is wrong. It’s complicated enough as it is, but it’s all weighted by this insecurity. When there are hierarchies on the scene as well, this makes it even more difficult.”

Money also turned out to be a considerable issue when it comes to people’s access to pleasure. When you find a good bargain in a shop, or a well priced restaurant, you will often share your discovery with your friends so that they too can make the most of whatever offer is on, Athena explained, so why aren’t we doing this when it comes to sex toys, and nights for different sexual communities?

“Genitals aren’t the be all and end all of sex. This is the beauty of diversity. What is the biggest organ in the body? The skin. So, what’s the biggest sex organ in the body? The skin.”

This, said Monica, is where mainstream culture is really important and can be transformed into a force for good. The internet allows communities to start discussions and broaden their reach.

“It was only a year ago that I found queer sex online because someone I met in the community asked me if I’d ever watched it,” said Megan. “It’s the first time I’ve watched porn that I thought spoke to people like me.” she added. “I then shared this with my friends on social media, and no one had seen it, and now they’re like ‘this is me’ – and they’re ready to go out and do those things.”

Finally, the conversation came back full circle to how we personally can reject the narrative of the ‘correct’ way to experience sexual pleasure beyond that of an often futile race to orgasm through penetration.

“There are some kinds of climax I don’t prioritise when I’m with other people, I just enjoy the journey,” said Alix. “It’s OK to have sex where fast and furious orgasms aren’t the goal.”

Athena added that we need to stop our intense focus on genitalia. “Genitals aren’t the be all and end all of sex,” she said. “This is the beauty of diversity. What is the biggest organ in the body? The skin. So, what’s the biggest sex organ in the body? The skin. For God’s sake, touch each other!”

Ultimately, when it comes to sex, people should be open, communicate, touch, and simply do whatever they want – as long as any other people involved are consenting adults. We need to continue creating spaces for people to be able to discuss sexual pleasure in a way that isn’t limiting or exclusionary for huge swathes of people – and we all need to abandon any preconceptions we have that there is a “right” way to have sex.

*We’ve used the terms ‘woman’, ‘women’, and ‘female’ to apply to anyone who identifies or has ever identified as a woman, or who was assigned female at birth, and for whom this content is relevant.

Featured image is a photo taken from the event showing the presenter standing up speaking into a microphone with four panellists seated in a row.

Imogen Robinson

Deputy Editor, The Femedic

Imogen joined The Femedic after working as a news reporter. Becoming frustrated with the neverending clickbait, she jumped at the chance to work for a site whose ethos revolves around honesty and empathy. From reading articles by doctors to researching her own, and discussing health with a huge variety of women, she is fascinated by just how little we are told about our own bodies and women-specific health issues, and is excited to be working on a site which will dispel myths and taboos, and hopefully help a lot of women.

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