Challenging Cultural Expectations on Female Sexual Pleasure

We at IntimMedicine are thrilled about the positive changes happening in our culture surrounding the discussion on female sexuality. In a recent article in The Guardian, Sharon Walker interviews five women who are on the forefront of a new sexual revolution: reclaiming women’s sexual pleasure. For far too long, today’s culture has downplayed female desire and the pleasure that women can get from sex, whether that sex is solo or with a partner. From a squeamish discomfort around female anatomy to a male-centric view on sex within modern society, women have not been given the language or even a place to speak about their own sexual desires or what actually feels good. It is time to destigmatize female sexual anatomy, desire, and pleasure!

The five women in the article have vastly different approaches to breaking down barriers to these discussions. A sex therapist, an installation artist, a computer scientist, an author, and a dominatrix all chime in with the various ways they are challenging the way our culture views female sexuality. Of particular interest to us at IntimMedicine was the work by Stephanie Theobold, Camilla Mason, and Kate Moyle.

Stephanie Theobold, author of the new memoir, “Sex Drive,” argues that the taboo on honest language about female sexuality is one of the last to fall. “I believe it’s positively dangerous not to talk about honest female sexuality. That old chestnut that corporations love to use, ‘female empowerment’, means nothing unless sex is in the mix, too,” Theobold told Walker in her interview. In her memoir, Theobold takes a road trip around the United States to meet the first wave of 1970s and 80s sex-positive feminists, including Betty Dodson and Joycelyn Elders. She says “the pleasure revolution is about women asserting their own power” in the face of the male-dominated discussion on sex and sexuality, and a positive response to the #MeToo movement, which focuses on “men imposing their pleasure on women.”

Betty Dodson, who Theobold meets in her book “Sex Drive,” says “we really need to start using the correct words for our genitals. We have a ‘vulva’ not a ‘vagina’; the vulva incorporates the clitoris, the inner lips, the outer lips, the urethra, and the vagina – which only has sensation in it because of nerves from the clitoris. If we say ‘vagina’, then we’re leaving out the primary female sex organ, which is the clitoris.” IntimMedicine’s own Dr. Rachel Rubin has addressed using the proper language for female sexual anatomy and helping women feel more comfortable discussing sex and sexual desire in her recent presentation, “Below the Belt.”

Closely related to this work on the language around female sexuality is the work of performance artist Camilla Mason. Mason is on a team that creates an installation of an interactive and anatomically correct representation of female genitalia at the annual Shambala music festival. Mason makes the point that sexual anatomy is rarely discussed in schools, with even more of a taboo on female genitalia, and her goal with last year’s art installation of the “vulva cave” was to help facilitate those conversations. Feedback was excellent, and according to Mason, the installation “brought up all these topics of conversation that revolve around female sexuality and genitalia and just femalehood in general, which was the main agenda for me.”

Kate Moyle, a psychosexual therapist, works hard to help normalize discussions about sex and sexuality, especially for women. She argues that women have been fed a sanitized, Hollywood version of their own sexuality, which has resulted in shame about their bodies and their sexual function. “It’s about understanding the difference between the realistic and unrealistic, because that’s where the gap is,” Moyle says in her interview. “The problem is that we’re playing catch-up in an environment where sex is everywhere you look … and the assumption is that everyone else is having great sex.” She also makes an encouraging observation that it’s “not only women who want to have better sex. Men want their women to have better sex, too – we’re all in this together.”

Moyle and Theobold both make the point that female sexual dysfunction is only now becoming part of the conversation even though it is quite common. Research on and treatments for female sexual dysfunction only attract a fraction of the attention of male sexual dysfunction research/therapy. We at IntimMedicine agree that this needs to change, and change now.

We applaud the work these women are doing to break down the barriers in discussing female sexuality and sexual function! The specialists at IntimMedicine are internationally renowned experts on sexual wellness with an emphasis on helping our patients find pleasure in sex again and eliminating unwanted pain during sex. We treat nearly all sexual dysfunction and conditions in women of all ages, including dyspareunia, vulvodynia, loss of desire, poor arousal and weak or absent orgasm, to name just a few. Please call us at 202.293.1000 or email us to make an appointment with someone on our compassionate care team to talk about what’s causing you pain, develop a tailor-made treatment plan for you and your body, and help you make your sex life great again!

Contributed by

James A. Simon

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