I don’t know.
I want to learn more.
These phrases are almost as taboo as talking about sexuality. And entirely out of reach when we are asking for help and want to learn about sexuality. Curiosity is cute in little kids, but adults are conditioned to believe that asking for help or being curious, i.e., wanting to learn, is a sign of weakness. And shame when asking for help is exacerbated in men.
KnowledgeWe don’t know what we don’t know. And we can’t know without learning. And we can’t learn without asking for help. The Internet is a curse and a blessing when it comes to creating opportunities to learn. Anyone with a connection can post whatever they want, and users have to sift through everything to determine what is accurate or factual. The blessing is that there are more voices, vastly diverse, sharing information when previously knowledge was held in predominately white, cis, male institutions. You could still access other points of view; it just required more leg work and money to get it. Or, in some cases, gathering in small, secret groups to share lived experiences.
As much as I would enjoy getting bogged down in fact versus fiction and the Internet, I will move us towards individual relationships. Let’s start with ourselves. If we don’t know what we want sexually, it is difficult to communicate it to sexual partners. The basics are pretty simple, naked bodies and orgasms. For some people, the naked part stops them from going further. Others wish and hope for orgasms and eventually give up when nothing seems to work. Unlearning shame about bodies, goal-oriented sex, and that masturbation is dirty are some first steps to learning about sex.
Body shameIt is so hard to exist in the world today with a positive view of our bodies because we are bombarded with messaging that shames bodies. Practice putting on makeup, lose weight, eight-pack abs, be tall, full lips, blemish-free skin, and so on. Who feels good about getting naked when there are hundreds of supposed failure points of your body. Suppose you are someone whose body doesn’t conform in the able-bodied, cisgendered centric world. In that case, the shame is exponential—bodies without limbs, bodies with non-visible disabilities, bodies that want breasts or a penis but can’t access them, bodies with neurodiversity, hairy bodies, makeup-less bodies, bodies wearing diverse clothing, big bodies, small bodies, etc.
These messages teach us to hate our bodies. Despise our bodies. The work and education it takes to love one’s own body are not insignificant and vary based on the amount of harm done. Adults have a responsibility to not pass on these harmful habits to children. Embracing your body and speaking about using kind and celebratory language both publicly and privately is essential.
When we love our bodies, when we celebrate our bodies—it is easier to share them with others. Getting naked for your lovers becomes part of the foreplay rather than a secret behavior you do in the dark or under the sheets. Pride and confidence in your body provide a mental boost too! Rather than expending your emotional energy on worrying about how you look to others, your mind is free to be creative and work on more significant problems to solve in life, work, and relationships.
OrgasmsGoal-oriented sex is terrible. The worst type of sex! I’m specifically talking about the goal of reaching an orgasm. If the only reason you get sexual with lovers is to have an orgasm, then you are doing it wrong. Primarily because chasing an orgasm every time you are engaging in sexual behavior is teaching your body bad habits. For some, they are going too fast. Others too slow. Some folkx are too hard physically with their bodies, or others spend the entire experience in their head. Sexual behaviors are meant to be experienced by all of your senses and at a pace that meets your needs. Those needs may include time, location, how loud you can be, where you crave to be touched, and what behaviors you want to try. Your needs will change from situation to situation and evolve as your body ages.
If an orgasm is what you want and you haven’t had one, then step back from sex with others and start having sex with yourself. Masturbation is the best way to learn what your body needs. Yes, exploring all parts of your body is essential, but getting to the orgasm will likely include your genitals.
LearningI left you hanging there. What about my genitals will help me have an orgasm?
You could search for genitals online, and the top results are likely to be a dictionary, Wikipedia, and maybe a health website. If you opt to look at the images returned for this search, you’ll likely see pictures of genitals with visible symptoms of sexually transmitted infections. If you’re lucky, you may stumble across articles written by sex educators or health experts. Of course, there will likely be links to porn, too. Note: Porn is not education. Porn is entertainment.
Accessing direct resources (read: like scheduling a session with a sex coach) allows you to receive focused and relevant information for you. In online spaces, voices like mine speak broadly and try to reach as many people as possible. Your genitals are not like anyone else’s. You may be more sensitive in specific places, have a rare or unique physiology, or special needs to access your genitals. For example, you live with roommates, and privacy is scarce, or you have limited mobility and need assistance touching your genitals. Each person and each masturbatory opportunity is different, and achieving an orgasm based on a column like this one is not impossible but also not probable.
Asking for helpAdmitting that you want to have an orgasm and seeking help from a professional is not a weakness.
Admitting that your body is changing as you age and you need help continuing to have sex is not a weakness.
Admitting that you hate how your body looks and need help learning to love yourself is not a weakness.
If you cut yourself, you see a nurse for stitches. If your car breaks down, you take it to a mechanic. Your sexual health is no less critical, and you deserve to have healthy, consensual, fun, mind-blowing sex in your life. You deserve a body you are confident in and can celebrate. You deserve equal and healthy relationships with lovers. You deserve safe spaces to ask questions, learn, and explore!
This month I’m asking folkx to donate to the ACLU as they continue to fight against voter suppression. Voter suppression is not a partisan issue—all citizens have a fundamental right to vote in this country. Learn more and donate here: https://www.aclu.org/issues/voting-rights/fighting-voter-suppression. Erin Brandt (she/her/hers) has been a sexologist for 15 years. When she’s not spreading sexual knowledge, Erin can be found learning from her child, hiking with her partner, cuddling with her pitbull, knitting with her cat, dancing with friends, and searching for the nearest hammock and ocean breeze. Want more? Visit www.positivesexed.com