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6.1. SEXUAL PLEASURE

Estimated reading: 14 minutes

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  • A focus on sexual pleasure should be encouraged, not shamed.
  • Sexual pleasure is important for self-discovery and can contribute to physical and mental health.
  • Everybody is different and there is no general rule of something that works for everyone, which is why experimenting is important.
  • Setting boundaries and being informed can contribute to creating a safer environment which encourages sexual pleasure.
  • Teaching about considerate and respectful behaviour and fantasies can help in preventing the perpetuation of abuse.

6.1.1. INTRODUCTION

In today’s society, a lot of countries lack sex and relationship education, which is visible if the increasing numbers of teenage pregnancies, shame and guilt when talking about sex. By avoiding the topic, the problem is neither disappearing nor moving towards a solution. In today’s sexual education there’s a missing discourse of desire and pleasure (Allen, 2007) and what we are doing when we choose to not teach about sex or sexual pleasure is to put children and teens in vulnerable and possibly dangerous situations (both mentally and physically) by pushing them to get their information from other sources.

6.1.2. DEVELOPMENT OF THE TOPIC

6.1.2.1. Healthy relationship with your body

Having a healthy relationship with your body helps in achieving a healthy relationship with your mind. Getting to know and accepting your body can look differently in distinct cultures, for different religions and different social backgrounds. Keeping in mind that everyone has their own pace, the idea that getting comfortable with your body benefits you a lot on a mental and physical level should have a high value in any society. While some cultures do not even see part of their population as sexually active or being able to make decisions about their own bodies, others focus primarily on the pleasure of people who identify as males. The following material has every single person as a target and stands for the idea that everyone is entitled to sexual pleasure (and the safety that comes with it through being informed and self-aware) regardless of their sex, gender, sexual orientation, relationship type, ability, or any other factors.

6.1.2.2. Access to information

Choosing information sources wisely is a determinant factor in how children/teens perceive sex and sexual pleasure. The information should be age appropriate and clear. The education that is often available in public schools is not focused on sex or sexual pleasure, teaching only the biological aspects of sex and the reproduction system. In addition to that, there is often guilt or shame attached to the topic, which could show children/teens that this is a taboo subject that they should be embarrassed to talk about.

By avoiding the subject, adults are redirecting children/teens to other sources of information which could be their peer group, magazines, porn websites, etc. The problem with this is the possibility of learning and spreading misinformation, which is putting them in vulnerable positions and increases the risk of possibly dangerous situation and/or sexual exploitation or abuse.

If you do not feel comfortable in providing the necessary information related to sex and sexual pleasure for everyone, you could redirect them towards trustworthy resources (blogs, webpages, social media accounts, etc.) or organise a session with sex educators that would teach them what sexual pleasure is, how they could achieve it in a safer way and what they could pay attention to.

Knowledge is power. The more they know about your body and how it functions, the better they will be prepared to act in possibly vulnerable or dangerous situations. Moreover, by feeling comfortable in your own skin and experimenting with their bodies (which they are probably already doing) can help them navigate their future relationships with other sexual partners.

6.1.2.3. Creating a safer environment

Creating a feeling of safety can help in exploring and experimenting with sexual pleasure. Children/teens should know how to create that environment in order to make sure that everything that will happen is consented and that everyone involved feels comfortable with it. The information they receive should be age appropriate. Some common points that you could discuss at all ages (in different depth levels) are:

  • Talking about sexual pleasure

Talking about sex and sexual pleasure should be one of the starting points of the conversation. There is nothing shameful in focusing on sexual pleasure and teens should be aware of it. When talking to them try to avoid using metaphors or different words for body parts or sexual activities because they can be confusing and they can make the lines blurry for the listeners, leaving them exposed and vulnerable. Using different words for body parts and/or sexual activities is teaching children/teens to avoid or replace those words too, making the subject of sex and sexual pleasure taboo and embarrassing. By describing body parts as they are, without shame or guilt, you are creating an environment that can reduce the risk of sexual abuse and sexual harassment.

As a parent, if you do not feel comfortable in doing this, try to find a setting where your children/teens could learn about it (carefully chosen resources, sex educators, sex education workshops, etc).

  • Communicating clearly and setting boundaries

Setting boundaries for sexual exploration and sexual pleasure can contribute to having a positive experience. Teaching children/teens to communicate clearly is helping them express what they like or do not like in their conversations with their sexual partners too.

Learning how to set boundaries in their everyday lives contributes to them actively doing it in their sex life too. Asking for/giving consent is a valuable part of any exploration towards sexual pleasure. Encourage them to avoid assumptions and explain that receiving consent for a specific body part/activity/on a specific occasion, does not mean that the consent is generally valid. Instead, encourage them to ask again for consent when moving towards a different body part and/or activity with their sexual partners.

  • An important reminder:

Make sure that they know it is always okay to change your mind and that you do not need to have any specific reason or give explanations for that. They should know that they have control over their own bodies.

  • Using protection

Experimenting with different kinds of protections (condom, dental dams, etc.) for oral/vaginal/anal sex can be turned into something fun and useful. Show teens where they can get their information about using protection, why they should use it and how they can do that. Out of fear or lack of knowledge sometimes using protection can be perceived as a barrier against sexual pleasure. Try reinforcing the idea that it can be fun and safe at the same time.

As a parent you could try to create a space where your child/teen can openly talk about different kinds of protections. If they do not feel comfortable in talking to you about it, you could offer them sources of information and/or help them in the process of talking to a sex educator. Nowadays, a lot of sex educators are creating online content in order to offer access to information and debunk myths related to sex and sexual pleasure.

  • Avoid shaming and guilt

Shaming children/teens for feeling (or not feeling) sexual attraction towards a specific sex, gender or practice can result in them hiding information, feeling guilty for their emotions, and shaming themselves. The same can happen for shaming or guilting someone over the amount (or lack) of sexual attraction and sexual desire that they feel. An example for this is the ”slut shaming” because it shames a person for being sexually active or having a higher number of sexual partners than you.

Shaming can contribute to them isolating themselves from sexually related conversations or practices and perpetuates the idea that some sexual practices can be taboo while others can be more in the open (for example talking about men’s sexual pleasure is normalised while talking about female’s or other gender’s sexual pleasure is not). These assumptions and misconceptions are often gendered, for example “men have to like a lot of sex”, “women don’t masturbate as much as men”, “women should be pure (virgins) when they get married” (in some cultures); and all this is contributing towards perpetuating gender inequality. In addition to this, based on gender stereotypes and assumed characteristics, the same situation can be beneficial for male identifying people and shameful for female identifying people: a man with a lot of sexual partners is an experienced man while a woman with a lot of sexual partners is a slut.

6.1.2.4. Debunking myths

Sexual pleasure is more felt by men

Sexual pleasure is for everyone and encouraging teens to explore and experiment with their bodies in a safe way is benefitting them and their current/future sexual partners.

It is harder for women to have an orgasm

Female anatomical bodies/intersex bodies work differently than male anatomical bodies. Because of the fact that pleasure was (and is) perceived as being taboo for certain genders in most of the world’s cultures and religions, the available research on sexual pleasure is mostly research that was done on male anatomical bodies. Even so, by experimenting and exploring with different methods, stimuli and activities, other types of bodies can reach orgasms just as easily.

What worked with one person should work with every person

As it was specified before, every body works differently. Try to avoid assuming that if one of your sexual partners liked something, it automatically means that all of your future sexual partners will like the same thing. Sexual activity and sexual pleasure are personalised for everyone, and they involve boundaries, self-awareness, and consent. It is best to ask before trying something new.

Not wanting to have sex means something is wrong with you

There are people who do not find any sexual activity or sexual pleasure attractive (for example some asexual people). Keep in mind that liking sex or being sexually active is a personal choice, not a general rule.

Porn-expectations vs. real life

Having a sex life like a porn movie does not have to be your end goal or your ideal for a sexual experience. Porn movies are made by professionals and can involve a lot of acting, editing or experimenting with things that not everyone is comfortable in doing. Sex and sexual pleasure should be about how comfortable you feel, trying new fantasies or exploring different options. When starting to watch porn, it is important to reinforce the idea that sex and sexual pleasure do not have to look in a certain way and that they are rather customized by the people involved in the act.

For more information you can consult the topic on porn consumption.

6.1.2.5. Exploration and focus on pleasure

The key to finding sexual pleasure is to keep experimenting to see what works best for your body. There is no general rule or “right” way to do it as every single body is different and has its own perception of sensations and stimulations.

When talking to children/teens about sexual pleasure, try transmitting the idea that not all bodies work in the same way and that this is completely fine. It is important that they understand that there is nothing wrong with being different or feeling something that other people don’t.

Sexual pleasure can come from all kinds of sexual activities which you can do alone or with partners:

You can explore these activities on your own or with a partner. By exploring on your own, you will be able to have better communication during partnered sexual activities as you will be able to express what you like and what you would avoid.

Reducing sex to its biological function of reproduction is reducing (sometimes even erasing) the opportunity to discover sexual pleasure. By teaching children/teens that getting to know their bodies and focusing on sexual pleasure is in their advantage, the better they will be in creating respectful and consented sexual relationships when they are older. Moreover, through learning about exploration and pleasure, they might be able to further experiment with different relationship styles and kinks in a safer way.

– 6.1.3. SITUATIONS OF DISCRIMINATION RELATED TO THE TOPIC –

After a sex education class, your teen comes to tell you that the teacher surprised them with an activity involving a conversation around sexual pleasure. Your child explains how the teacher asked everyone to write on a piece of paper everything they knew about sexual activity and sexual pleasure and when reading the papers out loud everyone realised that the bigger part of the information was focused on the pleasure of heterosexual males. This led to them concluding that there was a gap of information related to sexual pleasure in females, queer people with different sexualities and any other people who do not identify as heterosexual males.

As a parent, what you could do in this situation is to guide your child toward resources where they can get their information and minimise that knowledge gap. You could also suggest resources that have sections dedicated or questions where they can get an answer to any questions, they might have without having to come and talk directly to you.

6.1.4. BEST PRACTICES

6.1.4.1. Avoid stereotyping, shaming and guilt tripping

Perpetuating stereotypes, like “women are more sensitive and emotional” while “men are tough and like wild/aggressive/dominant sex” is what normalises possible shame, guilt, or the wish to reaffirm oneself in front of our sexual partners. Instead of shaming or making someone feel guilty for the way they practice sex or explore sexual pleasure, try asking what they like. Avoid making assumptions based on somebody’s character or physical appearance and try making a habit out of asking every new sexual partner what they are comfortable with and how they like to explore their sexual pleasure.

Being aware that sometimes children/teens may have access to this information really early in their teenage lives, try reframing the information they have in a way that it gets a positive value. For example, if a child comes to you and tells you that they heard women are really emotional and like to get attached to their partners, try explaining that every person is different and has their own needs. While some people might feel the need to have a stronger emotional connection before any sexual activity, others might prefer to create a connection through a conversation or in any other way. Then, encourage clear communication and talking about boundaries, protection, and safe exploration.

Try to explain that it is not shameful to have different views on sexual pleasure or to be aroused by different activities and stimulating things.

For more information you can consult the topic on role and gender stereotypes.

6.1.4.2. Anonymous box of questions

Because of the shame and guilt attached to the subject of sexual pleasure, especially for anyone who does not identify as male, asking questions might be a bit intimidating when everyone hears you say it out loud. A good way to work around this is to create an anonymous box where children/teens can ask questions about sex and sexual pleasure. You could check the box regularly and help in providing that information. Thomas Schallhart, founder of Critical Queer Solidarity, advice teachers to bring experts or sex educators who can answer to those questions in detail and thus facilitate the participation of the children/teens knowing that the person answering those questions will not be their everyday teacher. This would encourage children/teens to be more open and less afraid or ashamed to ask questions.

6.1.5. REFERENCES

Allen, L. (2007). “Pleasurable pedagogy”: young people’s ideas about teaching “pleasure” in sexuality education. Twenty-First Century Society, 2(3), 249–264. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/17450140701631437.

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