WHY IS PLEASURE NOT A PART OF WOMEN'S WELLNESS?

Dana (@danathehardway) is the lead copywriter for Lovers. She is passionate about writing, allyship, sex-positivity, and telling good jokes.

At 13, my older (by a grade level) and more popular and worldly friend, Samantha, told me that shaving your pubic hair was a must because boys liked it that way and it made being fingered easier. I don’t even remember if I had pubic hair at that point, but this was the first real sex advice I’d ever received so I filed that tip away like a nugget of gold. I didn’t tell her that the idea of a boy’s hand in my pants sounded more terrifying than arousing.

Flash forward- I am 19 and I have just discovered the greatness that is having an orgasm. I have been sexually active for a couple of years and have been with my boyfriend at the time for six months before this happens. I don’t know exactly how it happens but I know now what I have been missing. The trouble is I don’t know how to make it happen again. I will spend years trying to figure out how to reliably encourage my body to recreate that moment of joy.

I am 23. I am in the most serious relationship of my life so far (not the same guy for those who are wondering). We live together and I am certain he’s “the one.” Except that a year into things, my libido disappears. This gives him a complex about his performance. Everything spirals. I have no idea what is happening or that my libido correlates to all kinds of things happening in my life and in my head. We don’t end things because of this, but safe to say we never make it down the aisle. I chalk my lack of desire up to him not being “the one” after all.

I am in my early 30’s. I am married. I know so much more about my body and my pleasure and shame and communication and trust, but even with “the one,” sex can be fraught. I rationally know everyone has their issues but part of me still believes pleasure and sex is easier for everyone else. I talk to my friends about their pleasure because I want them to know what I know. I want them to spend less time in the land of lost/missing pleasure than I have.

Pleasure is complicated, especially for those of us with vulvas. Why do I think that is? Because we don’t talk about it. My first orgasm was a surprise because I didn’t know my body could do that. Sex Ed in this country is a joke, anyone having sex knows that, but this disservice impacts women the most and the affects are easy to spot if you really look.

Cisgender & heterosexual women in a study by the Archives of Sexual Behavior self-reported that they orgasm 65% of the time during sex with a partner. That’s compared to lesbian women, who orgasm 80%, and all the men in all the categories ever, who reported they have orgasms during sex 90% of the time. When we don’t tell women their pleasure matters and we don’t tell men women’s pleasure matters we get sad statistics that are so prevalent, we name them - this is the Orgasm Gap.

But the Orgasm Gap doesn’t start with orgasms. It starts with those first conversations about our bodies, how they run, and what they are capable of. Incomplete explanations around anatomy, leaves room for all sorts of dangerous influence or misinformation. 

My best friend didn’t know how to use a tampon because she simply didn’t know where to put it until I talked her through it (through the bathroom door) when we were 18. She got married at 19. She got divorced and met her second husband years later before she called me to tell me she finally understood why other people enjoy sex.

If we want to do better by women, we have to start talking about women’s pleasure as a part of women’s wellness.

I tell this story, along with my own, as an example of how a lack of understanding of your own body can lead to everything from frustration to suffering. Whether it’s my uninformed middle school friend giving me sketchy sex tips to a woman struggling to find joy and pleasure in her marriage, when we leave women in the dark around crucial parts of their bodies, we do them a terrible disservice and put them at risk.

Getting to know your body and your pleasure can serve more purposes than simply helping you to live an easier and more joyful life. When you are in tune with what feels good, wouldn’t it be sensical to believe that power would give you a greater awareness of when things don’t feel good? Whether that’s a sex act that just doesn’t do it for you or pain that shouldn’t be ignored, knowledge is power and a strong relationship with personal pleasure surely makes us that much smarter. Imagine having the ability to have a conversation with your doctor and make a sound comparison between what you know feels good, what you understand about your body, to a concern you have? This kind of self-advocacy can only benefit us in the long run, especially when women’s health concerns are chronically dismissed by health professionals.

Women’s health and wellness can be directly impacted by pleasure in other proven ways as well. Orgasms are proven to provide a number of health benefits from easing the pain of a headache to releasing brain chemicals that can help depression abate. Being present in your body through pleasure can be used as a grounding tool or a way to stay present, and mindfulness is proven to help manage mental health.

Just like when we give women money or positions of leadership and authority, society prospers. This is no different.

This might seem like one more opinion piece in a time when sex toys and pleasure are trendy and appearing more and more in main stream media, this is an honest question to those that can change things - doctors, educators, parents - on how we get more comfortable with 51% of the population’s health from this perspective. Let’s do better for our daughters. Let’s give them the gift of owning their pleasure and then reinforcing that it matters.

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Further Readings:

Real Orgasms & Transcendent Pleasure: Women Reigniting Desire: NPR
The History of Equal Sexual Pleasure for Women: The Spot by LOLA
Study Names Women's Most Popular Masturbation Techniques: IFL Science

WITH PLEASURE,

LOVERS