I recently wrote an email to my mailing list with the subject line “Numb Vaginas.”
Feel free to check out the original post HERE, but the basic gist was that I spent most of my life unable to feel much sexual pleasure, for a variety of reasons. Childhood sexual trauma was one of those reasons, but the other is much more insidious and, unfortunately, common.
Sex in our culture teaches girls and women that their pleasure is shameful or dirty, complicated and difficult, and frankly, completely unnecessary. We’re taught that a boy’s role is to pressure a girl into sexual acts, and that it’s a girl’s role to resist and “protect her purity.” Of course once she gives in, her role is to please him, to be “sexy.” Never in our culture is a girl or woman’s role to experience bliss, or sink into her own pleasure.
Everyone of every gender (and sexual orientation) knows more or less how to get a guy off. But nowhere in our sexual development is there a formalized discussion about the clitoris, the female orgasm, or how to discover what feels good for humans with vulvas.
Nowhere in our sexual development is there a formalized discussion about the clitoris, the female orgasm, or how to discover what feels good.
Not to mention the fact that many girls are sexualized and objectified by the world, years and even decades before they are ready to have sex. In my case, I was leered at, groped, and catcalled with the development of my breasts, around the age of 11.
Is it any wonder then that so many women don’t experience much actual sexual pleasure?
Like many women, I experienced myself first as a sexual object, a sexualized commodity, existing to be looked at, to turn men on, to give them a show, to get them off.
This self-objectification explained why I consented to things I didn’t really want to do, why I always rushed through foreplay to the “main event,” why I measured how “good” sex was by how much pleasure my partner seemed to get out of it, and why I almost never reached orgasm with another person present.
When I began exploring my sexuality with a partner, I discovered that I couldn’t flip the switch from “performing” to “enjoying.” I knew (extremely well) how to look and sound like I was enjoying sex, but not how to actually enjoy it.
My partners didn’t have a clue what was supposed to feel good for me any more than I did. Even in trusting and loving relationships I found it impossible to “guide” someone else to please me, so I relied instead on either faking it, or diverting his attention back to his own pleasure and basking in the label of a “sexually generous” girlfriend.
Later on in casual hookups, forget about it. From jackhammering power-thrusts to insisting I “tell him what I want” (uhhh sorry dude, I have no fucking idea), I liked the power and thrill of those experiences, but I didn’t get much in the way of actual sexual pleasure.
After sending that email, I received dozens upon dozens of emails and messages from women saying that it felt like I had written their stories.
They all wanted to know: How?
How do we heal from this lifetime of programming, trauma, squicky situations, men who pressure us into consenting to stuff we’re not 100% into, men who either don’t know or don’t care about how to please us, and the general feeling that our pleasure is a burden on our partners?
This article is my response to that question.
At nearly 4000 words, this article is long, but it still barely even scratches the surface of this massive, complex, and fiercely important topic. It’s my hope that some of these “tips” and resources might move you forward in your own personal sexual-healing journey, or at least to help normalize and validate your experiences.
It’s my hope that some of these “tips” and resources might move you forward in your own personal sexual-healing journey, or at least to help normalize and validate your experiences.
Let’s bring the topic of women’s sexual pleasure out from the shame shadows. The more we talk about the fact that women in our culture aren’t experiencing enough sexual pleasure, the more we can get honest about why, and what can be done about it.
How to Heal For More Sexual Pleasure:
→ Get Educated ←
Sex education, if you even had any, is at best completely inadequate and at worst a shame-filled psychological nightmare. Educating yourself is hands down the best place to start if you’re beginning to recognize that you want to feel more sexual pleasure.
Let’s start with some basics:
1. Learn how women’s sexuality works.
There is literally nothing wrong with you, your vulva or vagina, the way you get turned on, your sexual fantasies, your sexual preferences, how long it takes you to cum, the fact that you don’t cum, or anything else. If you haven’t yet read Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski please start there. (Seriously.)
2. Learn about trauma.
Everyone in our culture has likely experienced trauma, whether directly or vicariously, big “T” Trauma, or small “t” trauma. Trauma is physiological, not logical, and it has poorly understood and long-lasting effects on a person, even if you don’t think you’ve experienced it. If you’re interested in getting educated on trauma, I recommend working with a trauma resolution councilor, or reading either The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk or Waking the Tiger by Peter A. Levine.
3. Learn about vulvas.
Most heterosexual women won’t be exposed to many vulvas in her life, other than her own, and the perfectly symmetrical, neatly tailored vulvas of porn. This leads many women to feel like there is something wrong with their most intimate parts, when, in fact there isn’t. Find out what real vaginas look like to build some vulva-positivity by checking out this vulva-themed art exhibit, this vulva artist’s work, this instagram vulva gallery, or this real-life Labia Library. (Note: These links are definitely NSFW.)
Also, learn about your own vulva by grabbing an old-fashioned hand mirror and some good lighting, and exploring exactly what yours looks like, feels like, sounds like, smells like, and tastes like.
4. Learn about the orgasm gap.
The disparity in orgasm (where one partner has them regularly and the other doesn’t) doesn’t exist among same-sex couples. So the problem here is the false programming, miscommunication, internalized (and sometimes overt) misogyny, and sexist/gender biases that occur between men and women in straight relationships.
This includes the fact that men’s pleasure/orgasm is typically assumed while women’s is not, and also that penetrative sex is really not a good source of sexual pleasure for most women. Try reading Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein, or Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters – and How to Get It by Lauri Mintz.
→ Get Help ←
I believe that, especially when you have a history of trauma, nothing can beat working one-on-one with a qualified therapist to unpack and heal.
Similar to therapy, but focused less on the past, and more on the present and future. Also, therapy tends to be more long term.
6. Connect with other women.
Seek out other women who are doing this kind of self-discovery and healing work, in sex-positive workshops, seminars, retreats, or safe circles. Find people to talk about this stuff with, with whom you feel completely accepted and safe, and who know how to hold space for you as you unpack your history, rather than rushing to “cheer you up” or “solve your problem.” (Note: I have a workshop coming up in NYC in November if you’re interested.)
7. Get hands-on bodywork.
There is something primally nourishing about moving through your “stuff” with the help of a person who specifically works with bodies and energy. From reiki to ART to acupuncture to tantric yoni massage, there are many methods of hands-on healings, and many different kinds of hands-on healers. I suggest researching the different kinds of bodywork available, and seeking out a practiti
oner of whatever kind calls to you, who has lots of experience dealing with your specific needs/history/situation.
→Mindset and Behavioral Shifts ←
There is a ton of different areas of shame, fear, pain, and old programming that you might uncover in your personal healing journey.
The following is a list of mindset shifts and behavioral/paradigm changes which I have either used personally, or used successfully with clients (often both!) to move toward embodiment, healing, and experiencing pleasure.
It is by no means a complete list of mindset work required for healing, but for many women, it’s a pretty solid place to begin. Try them and see for yourself, taking what works for you and leaving the rest. Ultimately, please follow (and trust) your intuition, and where your personal healing journey takes you.
8. Separate the act from the actor.
When looking back over your sexual history, give yourself full permission to separate “that felt bad” from “he did something bad.”
Too often women will invalidate and downplay the impact of their own negative sex experiences, because it feels like the alternative is accusing someone of something bad. In order to protect their partner from those accusations, many women end up feeling stuck or crazy, unable to accept how scary or painful or yucky an experience was, and wondering why they can’t “let it go.”
Give yourself the gift of separating the act itself from the person who did it, as you process your sexual history.
Maybe you technically consented, so your partner didn’t do anything “wrong,” but the experience was traumatic anyway, due to subtle coercion, or a lack of feeling seen or valued. That’s ok. It can be trauma, even if he’s a good guy. It can be trauma, even if he didn’t know. This isn’t about pressing charges in court, this is about healing. Give yourself permission to stop protecting your partners in your own mind and heart.
Give yourself permission to stop protecting your partners in your own mind and heart.
9. Recognize where you are blaming yourself.
Most women carry guilt and shame around their sexual experiences, from feeling shame over losing their virginity so late, feeling impure or “slutty” for having as many partners as they’ve had, feeling like they don’t want to burden their partners with the scent/taste/time required for oral sex, or feeling like they shouldn’t have drank so much to prevent their own sexual assault.
All of this is wrong, and all of this is internalized from the slut-shaming, victim-blaming, hypersexualized, body-negative culture we live in. Even if you don’t outright “blame yourself” for something bad happening to you, odds are pretty good that there is some blame or shame somewhere– and often it’s subtle.
It took me years to realize that I had always kind of felt responsible for my childhood sexual assault, since I really liked the guy who did it. I was grateful for his attention, and I thought he was cute. But I was 7 years old, and 7-year-olds don’t get to consent. 7-year-olds don’t get to be at fault. They just don’t, ever. And when I realized that, and fully accepted the fact that it was not in any way my fault, I felt something inside me heal forever.
What messages have you been carrying around to protect someone else, or to explain what happened, or to assign meaning?
What messages have you been carrying around to protect someone else, or to explain what happened, or to assign meaning? It’s very important that you start recognizing the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways in which you have told yourself the story of how you are at fault: for what happened to you, for other people’s behavior, for the way your body reacts, for what you desire, or for who you are. It. Is. Not. Your. Fault.
10. Stop when you want to stop.
If you aren’t in a relationship, now might be a good time to practice cocooning yourself in a solo-healing pod. But if you’re in a relationship, or want to continue being sexually active with partners, it’s important that you break your old patterns and install some strong pleasure-based boundaries.
Before a partner even enters your personal space, tune into your body and see if you want them to come closer. If so, invite them closer. If not, don’t. And don’t be afraid to tell them to back up! Stop progressing the moment something doesn’t feel pleasurable to you anymore, and back it up.
Stop progressing the moment something doesn’t feel pleasurable to you anymore, and back it up
You don’t need a reason. It doesn’t have to feel bad. Just don’t let yourself engage in any kind of physical contact that doesn’t give you actual pleasure, even if that means you don’t engage in any sexual activity at all for a while. This is about healing, so I promise you don’t have to be celibate forever– but it’s an incredible gift to retrain your brain to associate physical touches with pleasure, and a lot of times that means stopping waaaayyyyy before “normal sex” stuff begins.
11. Slow way down.
Since so much of our baggage around sex is actually baggage around someone else’s experience of our sex, I recommend giving yourself a period of time in which there is no partner sex or partner touching at all. Begin alone, and see if you can slow down enough to feel truly relaxed, comfortable, and safe. Then begin to explore your own body slowly, softly, and with curiosity. Don’t rush to your old patterns of masturbating, but rather explore your whole body as if it was new and you are given the task of discovering what all sensations feel like.
Explore your whole body as if it was new and you are given the task of discovering what all sensations feel like.
Does it feel good to run your fingertips along your lips and face? How about the feeling of soft cotton against your belly? Slow waaaayyy down. Go ridiculously, preposterously slow. Spend an hour discovering your face, arms, and neck. Spend another hour discovering your breasts. Engage in this sensual touching on a regular basis, only moving to touch your vulva or clitoris when you’re actually gushing with desire to do so.
Never move past the point at which you still genuinely feel safe and comfortable, and are experiencing pleasure. You might be shocked at how slow of a “warm-up” your body requires to feel genuinely, fully turned-on.
Go just as slow if you’re exploring with a partner. Start with just kissing, light fingertip-touching, hugging, or cuddling, and take everything else off the table for days or weeks or months. See how that feels. Try new things, like telling your partner that he or she has to “touch you” with the intention of giving you pleasure, without ever coming into physical contact with your body.
Or maybe tell them to set a timer for 20 minutes, and touch you for the full 20 minutes in any way they want, with this one caveat: it can’t be in any way they have ever touched you before. Or try having your partner spend an hour just touching your face, neck, and arms. Notice how it feels in your body to go so slowly.
Remember that you are under no obligation to please someone else, or do anything you aren’t 100% into. Notice if your brain thinks you should plow forward even if your body isn’t into it, and why. Notice if your body is aroused, but your brain is full of anxious chatter. Just notice it to process later (I suggest free-writing about the experience), and continue ever-so-slowly discovering your body again.
12. Go off script.
I once had sex with a man who treated his own dick like it was the holy mecca. Outside the bedroom he was smart and interesting, but the moment it came to sex he was all like “YEAH YOU LIKE THAT BABY?” I was kinda like “nope, not really” but I understood intuitively that we weren’t having sex with each other, we were acting out our designated roles from porn.
Which meant my role was to worship as his cock-alter and gratefully take whatever he gave me, with no regard to my own desires or pleasure, or (certainly) orgasm.
I regret to inform you that I stayed and finished this little performance, because at the time I didn’t have the skills to stop him mid-hookup and say “I don’t like this, and I’m no longer interested in having sex with you.”
Unfortunately, we live in a porn-culture of sex, in which the only exposure we seem to get with sexuality is created by the porn industry to make money off the male viewers.
Even if you haven’t seen much porn, you likely know the formulaic series of events: man gets horny, woman is instantly ready for sex just by seeing his hard cock, woman goes down on him with relish, then he fucks her with hard boastful thrusts in positions that rarely feel good for the women, though she still seems to be orgasming constantly, despite the fact that rarely does her clit receive any attention.
There are not a lot of videos available on the kind of sex that is most likely to lead to a woman orgasming. Typically, it’s much slower, softer, gentler, and less thrust-y. There would definitely be more foreplay, more oral, and more woman-controlling-the-thrusting.
Learning to go off-script means that both you and your partner have to check your expectations and ideas of “roles” at the door
Learning to go off-script means that both you and your partner have to check your expectations and ideas of “roles” at the door. You have to be present with each other, willing to experiment and get curious, communicate with each other, discover what the other person likes through trial and error, and truly follow whatever feels good rather than do what you think you’re “supposed” to do.
Men haven’t been taught how to have intimate and fulfilling sex any more than women have, so a lot of them are just doing what they’ve learned and think we want, based on– you guessed it– porn.
If your partner isn’t open to exploring with curiosity, I suggest finding a new partner, or challenging your partner to do the work required to discover why not, because it is damn near impossible to explore your own pleasure when your partner is busy acting out a role as Cock God.
13. Practice Self-Assertion & Self-Advocacy
We often think the male role in heterosexual sex is to pressure or convince the female to “give it up,” and that the female role is to fend him off. This might be a vestige of the old-fashioned power dynamic in which men proactively pursue, while women just passively “protect their virtue,” but the result is devastating on modern girls and women.
As a result of it, boys use tools like pleading, guilting, dismissing, gaslighting, and convincing to get a girl to consent to various sexual acts. Which is problematic, because girls are taught to be nice, polite, accommodating, and in way that keeps anyone from getting upset.
So when we are faced with the situation of being pressured into sex by someone we like, are we suddenly expected to know how to assert ourselves and our boundaries? That’s not how it works.
Self-assertion and self-advocacy are skills, and if we want to be able to use them behind closed doors, we need to practice. Many young women are assertive everywhere but the bedroom, and that needs to change. Education about what sexual coercion actually looks and feels like, and role-playing or practicing asserting your needs and boundaries under pressure, are crucial.
14. Reject the “passive vagina” myth.
A vagina that is faking pleasure is a passive vagina- more like a recepticle than a participant. But that jives with what we’ve been taught: that women can fake turn-on and ecstasy with artful moans and arching backs, but that when it comes time to get fucked, our vagina is basically the same thing as a sock or a fleshlight: an empty space. A void. A hole to be filled.
This. Is. Not. True.
Our vaginas are incredible tunnels of muscle. Most of us never learned this, but we should be able to squeeze and articulate the muscles of our vaginas in a way that one of my heros (Kim Anami, above) swears can shoot a ping ball.
Of course, most of us never learned (I sure AF didn’t) how to connect to, control, or squeeze these muscles. Plus, given the background so many of us have with shame, trauma, a lack of getting properly turned on, and self-objectification, it’s no wonder most of us don’t have the faintest idea how to connect to or use those muscles.
Through practices like vaginal mapping, visualization, a jade egg practice, and generally approaching my vagina like a personal trainer would approach any muscle group that wasn’t properly firing, I was personally able to create new neural pathways to my vaginal muscles.
That having been said, I kid you not this has taken me YEARS. Like many women, I always believed my vagina’s job was to just be there, but now I know that during the kind of sex I’m interested in, my vagina is never, ever, ever just “there.” It’s constantly moving, squeezing, and engaged in a rolling-type of contraction.
This is a fundamental part of female sexual pleasure: being able to access, squeeze, and connect to the muscles in your vagina during sex
This is a fundamental part of female sexual pleasure: being able to access, squeeze, and connect to the muscles in your vagina during sex. A few physical practices are listed below, but the important first step is recognizing that a vagina is not supposed to just be passive.
15. Build a strong brain-vagina connection.
Your brain needs strong neural pathways to the muscles of your vagina, as well as your vulva and clitoris, if you want to feel major pleasure.
Many women will need to create new neural pathways from scratch, since a lifetime of buying into the “passive vagina” myth (or trauma!) has left them with absolutely zero connection to, or sensation in, their vagina, vulva, or clitoris. For those women, beginning with self-exploration, vaginal mapping, tantric (internal vaginal) massage, orgasmic mediation, or other re-sensitizing practice can be extremely helpful.
Beginning with self-exploration, vaginal mapping, tantric (internal vaginal) massage, orgasmic mediation, or other re-sensitizing practice can be extremely helpful.
Other women might have a weak connection to their vaginal muscles and vulval/clitoral sensations, and need to strengthen the connection by regularly tuning in, using any of the above methods, using a healing modality like somatic experiencing, or by simply making time to slowly explore themselves with the goal of paying full attention to the sensations.
A jade egg or other strengthening practice is also highly recommended, as it strengthens both the brain-vagina connection, and the actual vagina itself. Reconnecting to those muscles and sensations can take a lot of mental work at first, but once they come back “online,” strengthening your connection to them will get easier and easier.
16. Communicate and explore.
I’ve had partners who wanted me to tell them what to do to please me, which was frustrating and embarrassing because I had no idea. I’ve also had partners who were unable or uninterested in communicating about sex at all, because it felt like an insult to their manhood that I had feedback.
The best sexual experiences have been when we both treated sex as a discovery process, communicating plainly during and after.
I asked one man to describe everything he was doing as he touched me, trying different strokes and speeds and directions, so that I could get a better understanding of what felt good to me. He spoke out loud nearly the whole time, explaining what he was about to change, and checking in to see if I liked it.
It certainly wasn’t the passionate sex from a storybook romance, but it was one of the most healing and meaningful sexual encounters of my life.
When exploring your body with a partner, don’t be afraid to get them to talk, or to talk yourself. Have them tell you what they see, what they’re feeling, what they’re thinking. Share what different sensations feel like, or what you’d like them to try next. Don’t be afraid to stop and start, to analyze and discuss, to take breaks and check in with how things made you feel emotionally.
Sex doesn’t have to be “sexy,” and sometimes exploring your bodies and pleasure with a shared dialogue and curiosity (instead of a plan to orgasm) can actually be much more intimate and healing.
17. Let go.
Sexual pleasure is inherently vulnerable, and context-dependent. If you don’t feel 100% safe with (physically and emotionally), and trusting of your partner, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to relax enough, to suddenly start feeling pleasure.
When you find the right partner and situation, it can be difficult to let go, but without that key component, sexual pleasure will be rather scarce.
Communicate with your partner so that they know what you need to feel safe. Make sure they know their job is to be there, holding a strong and safe space for you and paying close attention, so that you can sink into your own sensations. Let yourself be taken care of, give yourself permission to stop taking care of anyone else. Release yourself completely to your partner, and your pleasure.
Give yourself permission to stop taking care of anyone else. Release yourself completely to your partner, and your pleasure.
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