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5 frequently-asked questions about sexual wellbeing, answered

Even in these open, increasingly sex positive times, matters of the bedroom aren’t always the easiest to talk about. Which may be why writer and podcast host Emma-Louise Boynton’s Sex Talks at The London Edition – where she explores and unpacks topics around sex and bodies with the help of a panel of experts – sell out each month.

It all started when Boynton began going for sex therapy, after it was recommended to her by two newly-acquired friends at a dinner party when she confessed she couldn’t orgasm during sex with a partner. “I wasn’t sexual and just didn’t really care,” she tells me. “I kind of thought I was broken sexually, but the experience was transformative. Unlike most therapy, where there’s no real tangible outcome, other than feeling slightly better, with sex therapy there is. By the time I came to the end of my sex therapy journey, I could orgasm from partnered sex, which was great.”

Having suffered with an eating disorder from a young age, Boynton’s journey with sex therapy centred on unpacking her relationship with her body, after waging a constant war against it for many years. “I didn’t see my body as something that was a source of pleasure – I hadn’t realised how the tentacles of this – sadly very common – illness had seeped into so much of my life,” she says. “I wanted to create something that would open up the sorts of conversations I had in the sex therapy room to more people – so I launched Sex Talks.”

With the goal of normalising and opening up honest conversations around sex and female pleasure – as well as easing “collective worry and anxiety” – the event invites various experts to share their insights, and gives attendees the opportunity to submit anonymous questions to the panel. Boynton’s biggest lessons from her own journey? “Two big things were game-changers for me,” she says. “The first was the realisation that I was never going to enjoy sex if I absolutely detested living in my own body,” she says frankly. “And then the second was all about communication – something my sex therapist would say every single session.”

Below, Boynton reveals the questions that crop up most often in her sessions – and answers them.

I can’t orgasm from penetrative sex – is there something wrong with me?

No! This comes up at pretty much every Sex Talks event, and I think it highlights so acutely how phallocentric our general understanding of sex remains. Research shows that around 80 per cent of women can’t climax from penetrative sex alone and the majority of women (again, around 80 per cent) require clitoral stimulation in order to reach climax.

The problem is that, for a long time, heteronormative, partnered sex has been depicted (in porn, cinema and across the media), in such a way that puts primacy on male pleasure. These depictions reinforce a monolithic view of sex (ie that sex involves vaginal penetration by a penis), and discounts all other wonderful aspects of sex, like oral, which can be key to pleasure. If you are able to orgasm in other ways, such as through oral sex, make sure you communicate that to your sexual partner, so they know how to make you come. And if you can’t, why not try it?

I’ve never had an orgasm – am I broken?

This also comes up a lot at Sex Talks and echoes the exact issue I had when I did sex therapy. The first thing I said to my sex therapist was, “I think I’m broken.” What I didn’t realise – and a lot of people don’t – is that difficulty orgasming is actually really common. Roughly 43 per cent of women experience some type of sexual dysfunction at some point in their lives, and it can be down to a lot of totally solvable factors.

I had “situational anorgasmia”, which is when you’re only able to have an orgasm in certain circumstances, such as during masturbation or with a certain partner. I interviewed the brilliant Dr Karen Gurney about this some time ago and she told me that the most common reason we see this in women is “people either not knowing enough about how to give themselves pleasure, or not being able to communicate the types of pleasure that work best with a partner”.

Another common factor, she noted, was people “getting distracted during sex, by thoughts that are going through their mind about how close they are to orgasm or what the other person is thinking. Hence they are not present in their body.” That really resonated with me. Once you have a “bad” sexual experience, it’s easy to carry the subsequent anxiety into future sexual experiences, which is obviously a huge distraction.

Whether you’ve never orgasmed before or are struggling to for a specific reason, the best place to start is with self-pleasure. Get to know your body with a great sex toy (I recommend Lelo, Maude or Smile Makers), and find out what feels good, and what doesn’t, on your own, without the pressure of someone else being there. Once you know what gives you pleasure, you’re in a better position to be able to communicate to a sexual partner how they can give it to you. As my sex therapist continually reiterated to me, great sex relies on communication, communication, communication.

I feel like I don’t get wet enough when I’m having sex – what shall I do?

This question came up at a recent Sex Talks event, during which we were discussing sexual shame and how to overcome it. Florence Bark, who co-hosts the brilliant sex podcast F*cks Given, said her best piece of sex advice was to use more lube. And I agree. As Florence noted, growing up there was a real stigma attached to lube, as though it was something you only ever used if there was something wrong with you. Someone’s “wetness” changes constantly – throughout the day, month and year! Lube always makes sex better – so stop worrying and use lots.

Is it wrong to masturbate when I’m in a relationship?

Absolutely not. As co-founder of the sexual wellness app, Ferly, Billie Quinlan recently said on the Sex Talks stage: your relationship to sex starts with you. Your sexuality is a living, breathing thing, she noted, and something that needs to be cultivated and nourished. Masturbating while in a relationship doesn’t imply that the sex you’re having with your partner isn’t good enough. Self-pleasure is just a really important component of self-care and something we should all try and make time for, whether we are in a relationship or not.

I’m in my mid-twenties and haven’t lost my virginity yet – I’m worried there’s something wrong with me?

The notion of “virginity” is one we need to get rid of entirely because it privileges one type of sex over others. What if you never have sex with someone with a penis, does that mean you’ve never had sex? Contrary to popular opinion, being a virgin isn’t actually a physical state either, since your hymen doesn’t break in the way many of us have been taught to believe. For some, it may tear when you first have intercourse, but that’s not a universal experience.

We all grow and develop at different rates, and there shouldn’t be so much pressure around when you “should” do things sexually – sex therapist Kate Moyle has banned the word “should” from her therapy room, and the idea that you “should” have intercourse by a certain age is high up on the list of “shoulds” we need to abandon ASAP.

This article was originally published on Vogue UK.

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