I teach workshops to adults about how to have healthier, more pleasurable, more intimate sex lives. As a sex educator, I get to shed light on topics that most people didn't get the chance to learn about in during their formal education.
There are certain themes that come up in workshop after workshop. People have questions, concerns and gaps in knowledge that come up regardless of where in the country I'm teaching.
Often, people tell me, "I wish I'd learned that sooner." It's those key lessons that I wish I could magically implant in everyone's brain so they could experience more joy and less anxiety when it comes to their intimate lives.
Here are five of the things I wish everyone knew about sex:
1. Using sex toys doesn't mean your partner isn't "enough" for you.
This is a concern I hear often, nearly always from women worried that their male partners will be "threatened" by their vibrators.
Humans are tool-using primates. We don't think we're inadequate because we use a hammer to build a shelf. Why should we feel inadequate because we use tools to augment our sex play?
Tools make us clever. Sex toys are tools to bring pleasure, fun and maybe a little efficiency to your sex life. What's not to love? Let's have a little less judgment about them and a lot more high-fives about what fabulously clever tool-users we are, OK?
Just make sure they are made from body-safe materials like silicone, stainless steel, glass or hard plastic.
2. If you have a vagina and you do not orgasm from intercourse, you are in the majority.
I've had so many women in workshops tell me they feel "broken" because they "don't orgasm from sex." Despite the orgasmic throes we see depicted in mainstream movies and pornography alike, most women do not reliably orgasm from intercourse. Around three-quarters of women need clitoral stimulation in order to experience an orgasm.
Even vaginally-stimulated orgasms may be more clitorally-related than we realize. Many sex researchers think that the G-spot is actually just the internal structure of the clitoris. They suggest that "G-spot orgasms" are actually just clitoral orgasms stimulated from deeper inside the body. Regardless of what the G-spot is, the reality is that most women need additional sexual activities to have the Big O.
There are two really simple ways to incorporate clitoral stimulation into penis-in-vagina sex: use a hand (either person's hand can work) or a sex toy (see #1).
There is no "right" way to have an orgasm. The best way is whatever feels best to you and your partner.
3. Size matters to some, but not as much as most guys think.
When I was volunteering at San Francisco Sex Information, the most frequently asked question we got was some variation on "Is my penis too small?"
We were trained to answer this question by first offering a bit of a reality check: clarifying that the average penis is about 5 ½ inches long and that the overwhelming majority of males have penises very near that average.
For most of the callers, this was a huge relief. The only other erect male penises they'd seen were in porn, which are not in any way representative of typical bodies. It'd be like watching the Olympics to get a sense of what you should look like after working out.
What the research on the topic says is that while, yes, size does matter to some people, it doesn't matter to everyone. What is far, far more important is the quality of connection and willingness to co-create a mutually pleasurable experience.
4. Lots of women experience pain during sex and this is not inevitable.
Ideally, sex would always be a dreamy, nothing-but-pleasurable experience. But for many, sex can involve unwanted pain. The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior found that 30 percent of women reported some pain during their most recent sexual experience.
The researchers behind the study suspect that a large number of these painful experiences could be avoided if 1) they had more time to get aroused, and 2) they used additional lubrication.
If you're experiencing pain during sex, it's important to see your health care provider to rule out infection as a culprit. It's also essential to know that you have the right to stop sexual activity if it becomes painful and ask your partner for what you need.
If pain or discomfort is happening to your partner, show up with empathy and do whatever it takes to co-create a pleasurable experience for both of you. That may mean expanding your definition of "sex" to include non-penetrative activities.
5. Having meaningful conversations about sex is important.
The longer I work in the sex education field, the more I see how important it is to bring meaningful conversations about sex into the light.
When we silence these conversations, we create a perfect environment for shame to grow. If we feel shame, we don't seek answers to our most important questions. Misinformation can have consequences, both to our physical and mental wellbeing.
Sexuality is a big part of most romantic relationships. Being able to communicate about what is and is not working in all aspects of a relationship is key to its sustainability.
When we talk about sex, even with friends, we get better at using the vocabulary. Try saying to a friend, "Hey, I read this interesting article about [insert sex subject here]." Then chat about it. Just align the topic to your level of friendship intimacy and to any previous sex conversations you've had.
When we can create more safe spaces for meaningful conversations about sex, we can help reduce the amount of unnecessary shame around it.