Here is the transcript from a talk I did for Laneway Learning Melbourne on Wednesday 13th Sept, 2017, enjoy!
Welcome to Sex, Pleasure and Equality, my name is Bree.
I’d like to begin by acknowledging that we are meeting today on Aboriginal land, the land of the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung people of the Kulin Nation and pay my respect to elders past, present and emerging.
A little about me, I am a PhD candidate at RMIT researching women’s experience of online activism. I am a writer, performer and sexuality educator. I use performance to investigate under-researched areas, and produce shows that aim to provoke, educate, and advocate for social change.
My journey into sexuality education really stemmed from a noticeable gap in my own sexuality education.
A lot of sexuality educators and experts have a background in public health or psychology, so coming from a research background, my approach is somewhat unconventional though I draw upon similar resources.
I am interested in the power of storytelling, examining things through an intersectional feminist lens, and exploring pop culture and the media’s influence on human sexuality and socialisation.
If you would like to view some of my work, you can via my website
Or connect with me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter
If you would like to Insta story or Tweet anything from tonight’s session you have my enthusiastic consent, please feel free to tag me, however make sure that if your photo or video features other members of the class either de-identify them or seek their enthusiastic consent first.
Now, I’ve already mentioned some pretty big words, and before I get too far ahead I’ll just outline a few key terms that I may regularly use to make sure we’re all on the same page. But also, feel free to ask questions along the way.
- Feminism – the belief in the social, political and economic equality of genders
- Intersectional feminism – the view that people experience oppression in varying configurations and varying degrees of intensity.
- Socialisation – the process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society
- Sexuality – a person’s capacity for sexual feelings/ a person’s sexual orientation or preference
- Enthusiastic consent – a move away from the “no means no” to “yes means yes”. It’s a paradigm shift that requires open communication and challenges the assumptions of our rape culture.
- Rape culture – a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.
I think the best place for us to start is with consent, as any sexual activity should. And something that best illustrates this, is this short animation
It is such a simple concept, and yet it is constantly overlooked.
Consent is something that should be taught from day one. Who here grew up in a culture where your parents made you hug or kiss extended family members and friends?
Perhaps you have children and you practice the same values.
On one hand it’s nice to promote that sense of comfortability with friendly touch and intimacy. But what research tells us is that most commonly – sexual assault, harassment, child abuse and rape is committed by a known perpetrator. So someone who is known to the victim, perhaps a family member, friend or intimate partner. Giving a child the option to shake hands, wave hello or make eye contact is a great way to encourage body autonomy – their body, their choice.
I’d like for us to practice consent within this class, and also maintain a level of respect for people’s privacy. So with that being said, if you would like to share a story be mindful not to use names or other identifying descriptors.
It’s probably at this point I should state that if any of the themes make you feel uncomfortable or distressed please feel free to step outside and take a breather and I have some numbers on the handout sheet such as 1800 RESPECT for you to use if you need.
In saying that I want to make this as fun and pleasurable as possible and to give you an idea of what we will cover…
- Consent 101
- Sex and sexuality
- Female anatomy and pleasure
- Equality and healthy relationships
So, what is sex?
I’ll address the idea of sex & gender first, and this is quite a hot topic in Australia at the moment because of the Marriage Equality Postal Survey and the ‘No Campaign’ really targeting the Safe Schools Coalition as a way to convince people to vote no… a lot of vitriol and misinformation about what Safe Schools is and does is being spread and one of the biggest concerns for no voters or undecided voters is the idea that marriage equality means that schools will be encouraging boys to dress up as girls, god forbid.
We have been taught that sex and gender are one in the same, and this is simply not true. Sex in a biological sense refers to your physiology, what private parts you have, so males have a penis, scrotum and testicles, females have vulvas, and a lot of education around our biology fails to recognise our intersex population which is approximately 1.7% To give you an idea of how many people that is, that’s roughly the same amount of red heads there are on the planet. Intersex physiology varies from person to person, very basically speaking an intersex person may have a combination of sexual and reproductive organs.
Gender, however, is a little less defined. I’ll use this example of the genderbread person to illustrate gender and its diversity.
Generally speaking gender is how you identify and also how you choose to express it. You can see the spectrum of gender identity and expression here –
Can anyone tell me what it means to be cis-gender?
Can anyone tell me what it means to be trans gender?
We have a concept of what it looks like to be a man or a woman based on how we as humans have been socialised for centuries. Men wear pants and women wear dresses, nail polish is for girls, short hair is for boys etc, and what this logic fails to recognise is everyone in between that does not fit the specific mould of masculine man or feminine woman.
Can anyone tell me some words for people who might sit somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum?
[Gender non conforming, gender neutral, non binary, gender queer, cool.]
Sex is widely thought of as intercourse, however, intercourse is profoundly exclusive of all that sex encompasses. A fellow sexuality educator, Vanessa Hamilton, teaches the concept of ‘outercourse’, which is a term I really like and in a lot of cases prefer. Intercourse implies that “real” sex requires a penis going into a vagina, or that oral sex is somehow not sex. This is detrimental to people of diverse sexualities and people who either cannot have or choose not to have penetrative sex due to pain and discomfort, or simply not finding that pleasurable.
Which brings to my next point – what are some of the reasons we have sex?
Who’s first lesson about sex was about reproduction? Probably followed by STI scares?
Did anyone have a positive sex education experience?
Was anyone’s sex education referred to as sexuality education?
I like to refer to sex education as sexuality education because everyone has a sexuality, but not everyone has sex.
Sexuality often refers to a person’s sexual orientation – who you are attracted to physically, emotionally, intellectually based on their sex/ gender in relation to your own. There are people on the sexuality spectrum that identify as asexual, which has it’s own spectrum again – asexuality means a person does not experience sexual attraction, though some asexual people may still experience romantic attraction. I mention this because I was recently made aware that quite often sex positive spaces often fail to be inclusive of people who identify as asexual. Sex positivity means promoting an open, tolerant, or progressive attitude towards sex and sexuality. And I don’t think you can be fully sex positive unless you really acknowledge and support all sexualities.
Now, if you only get one thing out of this class tonight, please let it be this
Your longest sexual relationship is with yourself. So even if you are not having sex, you still have sexuality. Your sexuality started from day zero, there have been cases where foetuses that have been found masturbating in the womb!
Kids are often found playing with themselves because naturally it feels good, but then they’re told to not do that, cut it out! It’s dirty, or shameful… so of course then they start to associate pleasure with shame. It takes a long time to unlearn that shame.
We’re now going to do a little exercise to get the pleasure component of this class underway. Some of you who have seen my work before will know what to do, some sex geeks in the class will definitely know, but some of you I imagine will have no idea and that’s more than ok.
On the handout I have allowed some space and you all have pens, what I’d like you to do now is draw an anatomically correct clitoris.
The idea around this exercise is to get an understanding of how little we know about female anatomy. Yet if I asked you to draw a penis, I can guarantee no one would have to think about it and you would have scribbled something down in a matter of seconds.
This is what an anatomically correct clitoris looks like.
Now the full scope of the clitoris was not known or documented until 1998 by an Australian Urologist named Dr Helen O’Connell, she was the first person to use MRI to fully investigate and record the anatomy of the clitoris.
On average the clitoris is 9-12cm long and 6cm wide. Simular in size to the average penis. There are approximately 8,000 nerve endings in the tip of the clitoris, compared to the 4,000 in the head of the penis. It is the one organ that’s sole purpose is pleasure.
I will note that as I talk more about female anatomy that I do not believe that genitals dictate gender, you can be a man with a clitoris and/ or vulva, you can be a woman with a penis… however for the purpose of this talk I speak heavily to female anatomy and its ties with cis-women’s experience, partly because of my own lived experience, but largely due to the lack of research in relation to trans and gender non conforming people and sexuality.
What I believe sex education has failed to teach us is that biologically males and females are very simular; our genitals are made up of the same parts, just arranged differently, the external formation of typically male/ typically female genitals happens 6 weeks into gestation, before that we are all the same.
This false belief that we are vastly different plays out in so many ways that make people with female anatomy feel inferior. It’s a common misconception that women don’t enjoy sex, or don’t have as high a sex drive as men. And this is largely due to our socialisation, the way we have been raised to think about sex and pleasure- it’s something men want, and women have to endure. I mean looking at genitals alone, the clitoris’ capacity for pleasure is far greater than the penis. That said sex is not all about genitals.
Who can tell me what the largest sexual organ is?
Skin. And of course our brains play a huge part in sex. Skin to skin contact releases oxytocin, the love hormone, makes us feel good. We can talk a little more about that later as we get into the relationships phase of this talk.
Who can tell me what the predominant female sexual organ is?
Our next exercise is to take the play-doh in front of you and make a vulva.
The reason I got you to make a vulva is because often we refer to the vulva as vagina, and in actuality the vagina is an internal canal that we don’t usually see. Also every vulva is unique and perfectly normal in it’s natural form.
There is an epidemic of labiaplasty happening in the world because women have been made to feel strange and inadequate about their unique vulvas because of the way porn portrays them. Some women have larger labia minora, that doesn’t tuck in neatly behind the labia majora, some women have darker shades of labia – it’s all very normal. Unless it is causing pain and discomfort, then you are perfect just the way you are. Labiaplasty sees women having their labia cut and bleached to look more like the “conventional” and airbrushed/ photoshopped porn stars. I say this because this is a feminist issue, we have women in other cultures who are being forced into genital mutilation – the removal of the clitoris or sewing up of the vaginal opening, to keep women pious and chaste. And women in western culture our culture spending thousands of dollars to look like Barbie all because patriachal porn and the media sells us a false sense of normal.
Going back to the notion that your longest sexual relationship is with yourself, I encourage you, especially if you have female anatomy, to take some time to get to know that part of your body. Grab a handheld mirror really have a good look, what you have is normal and being able to see that is really important. If you have male anatomy have a look too! There are parts of your body that you’ve probably never taken the time to get to know, and to think that someone else may have seen more of you than you have is kind of bazaar when you think about it.
Think about virginity for a moment, the concept that it is something you can lose or give like it’s a commodity is so strange.
If movies are anything to go by, boys are in a hurry to lose their virginity, like it is an embarrassing burden. And girls/ women have to hold onto theirs for dear life, and when they do finally “give it up”, it has to be to the right person, they have to love you, there has to be a fire place and you have to bleed lots because if you don’t you’re obviously not a real virgin and thus are a massive whore.
It is a common myth that penis in vagina sex for the first time should hurt and women should bleed, if a person is properly in a state of arousal, and there is sufficient lubrication (natural or out of a bottle) there should be no pain. Most first bleeds are actually from a lack of lubrication which causes slight tearing of the vagina. Most people think it is due to the hymen breaking, but hymens aren’t a freshness seal, and they are all different for different people. Commonly speaking it is a thin membrane along the lower edge of the vaginal opening which can change and stretch over the course of your life, that being said, some women are born without them all together. The reason I mention this is because this is another indicator of how unique every vulva is, and it reinstates what I was saying earlier about how little we know about female anatomy.
The hymen is an example of how humans metaphorize anatomy. It has no biological function, and yet it has become the indicator of virginity. This has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with controlling women. This is an out-dated narrative that has been told since women were considered property and their vaginas their most valuable real-estate.
I talk about female anatomy as a way to pin point the inequalities between men, women and gender non conforming people. And to highlight the problems that exist not only in sex education as it stands today, but porn, the media and society in general.
If we continue to only see sex through the eyes of cis-hetero men and only learn about sex in relation to reproduction or sex that prioritises the penis – unless of course it is sex between people who have penises – then we’re not seeing the whole picture and people start to feel left out, strange and/or inadequate.
Some of you may have heard me talk about the orgasm gap before, what this refers to is the 80% of women who have faked orgasm during sex with a man, compared to the 30% of men who may have faked orgasm at one point or another. Only about 65% of women orgasm during sex, compared to 95% of men, that includes oral and manual stimulation. The stats are different for same sex couples, certainly less of a gap. I attribute this gap to the lack of knowledge around female anatomy, the fact that the vagina is considered the predominant sexual organ that needs to be penetrated by a penis, and that sex seems to end when a man cums.
Why is there less of a gap for same sex couples? This is most likely because sex doesn’t end after one person cums, unless that is what everyone involved has agreed to. Or for lesbian couples, there is of course the advantage of working with simular equipment. This is not to say that there aren’t inequalities within queer relationships when it comes to pleasure, certainly in dominant and submissive relationships, there is room for miscommunication and unequal distribution of pleasure. That’s why it is so important to check in with one another, often.
It’s important to note here that many women cannot orgasm from vaginal penetration alone. As we learned earlier a lot of the clitoris resides internally, and vaginal orgasms are generally a result of your clitoris being in close proximity to your urethra, so for a lot of women this is not the case, therefore vaginal orgasms will not be possible.
I speak to a lot of women who express concern about not being able to orgasm vaginally, or simultaneously with their partner, and I have to reassure them that there is nothing wrong with them, and there is a WHOLE LOT wrong with the way the media and porn portrays sex. Porn and movies are merely entertainment, women generally don’t orgasm from 5 seconds of having something thrust in and out of their vaginas and couples generally don’t cum at the same time every time, that takes work.
Considering the orgasm gap, I am very adamant about the importance of women having more orgasms. Every person is entitled to experience the pleasure they are capable of.
The average time it takes a woman to orgasm through masturbation is 4 minutes.
Sex with two or more people obviously has contributing factors that pull you out of the comfort zone that you would be in when alone and engaging in solo play. But pointing this out encourages us to look at those contributing factors and think about whether any of them are impinging on you having a good time.
I should state that orgasms aren’t the only reason you should be having sex, and they don’t have to be the goal, sometimes that can create performance anxiety and prevent you from having a good time. The most important thing is that whatever you are doing in that moment feels good.
I’d like you to consider sex – whatever your orientation – as everything that happens after enthusiastically consenting to having sex; kissing, touching, skin to skin contact, communication, play, outercourse, maybe intercourse. And consider what might it be like to have sex that doesn’t end after one person cums. Think about what sex is like for you without an orgasm. Is there anything about your sex life that you would change?
As I’ve mentioned, your longest sexual relationship is with yourself, and I think it’s really important that you invest time in that sexual relationship.
Our sexualities are constantly changing and evolving over the course of our lives – just because we liked something 5 years ago, doesn’t mean we will today, or just because we wanted to do something last night, doesn’t mean we’ll want to next week. We need to give ourselves space to be flexible when it comes to sex and sexuality. It’s great that you’ve all come here tonight, it shows that you are investing time into your sexuality through education.
Are there many people here who are in a relationship/s? Single?
I think for people in relationships, often your sex/sexuality life gets over shadowed by the other people in the relationship, their pleasure becomes a priority, maybe you don’t masturbate anymore –there is this stigma attached to masturbation (in general) especially in relationships where people think that if you masturbate it means you are unsatisfied in your sex life, this is simply not true, it is something fantastic that helps deepen your understanding of your own pleasure and can in a lot of ways help you to have a better sex life with someone else.
For single people, take this time to explore and experience everything safely, especially things that don’t involve other people, it is the safest sex you’ll ever have.
There is a great resource for cis women (and partners) called OMGYES it’s an interactive website that you can subscribe to and it helps women (and their partners) on their pleasure journey, I’ve included that link on the handout.
A great exercise that we can do now is a questionnaire that’s featured in Emily Nagoski’s ‘Come As You Are’ book, and it helps you to see what your sexual accelerators and breaks are – turn ons and turn offs. Nagowski talks a lot about accelerators and breaks in terms of arousal, and this concept aims to steer away from the idea of people having either a high or low sex drive, which I guess can make people feel strange or inadequate depending on how they’ve been socialised.
Now that you’ve learned a little about your sexual accelerators and breaks hopefully you can integrate that into your sex life, use that knowledge to better communicate what you want in a sexual relationship.
So communication can often be difficult, especially when it comes to sex because we have been socialised to consider sex as something shameful.
You might be with someone who doesn’t want to talk about it, and this is where it gets tricky because if you can’t talk about sex with someone, you probably shouldn’t be having sex with them.
A good tip for talking about sex is to initiate that type of conversation way before anything sexual starts to happen, especially if you want to talk about something that might make the other person feel bad. For example don’t bring up your boyfriend’s premature ejaculation issue right after he cums, that will just add salt to the wound. Bring it up with empathy and at a time when he feels less vulnerable.
If you have a kink that you’d like to try, and you’re trying to gauge whether someone else might be into it, soft introductions to it are a good start, like if you’re keen to try some BDSM, maybe you watch a movie like Secretary and say “hmm what do you think about that, would you be into trying something like that?” (obviously seek consent first)
Empathy and a good sense of humour are the best tools you can have when trying to communicate about sex. A fantastic communication and empathy educator who is based in Melbourne is Kate McCombs and I’ve included her website on the handout so you can read about her practice and get some handy tips there.
I’ve tried to highlight issues of equality throughout this lesson and speak to what healthy and respectful relationships need as far as consent and communication goes and maintaining an even distribution of pleasure. But I thought I’d open the class up now for questions so I can maybe provide more specific answers.
You have a pen and paper and I’ve got two piles here, you can write your question in relation to healthy and respectful relationships and place that here or ask a more general question about anything we’ve talked about tonight, or maybe something I didn’t talk about and place that here.
They can be anonymous, which takes the pressure off you… but also feel free to just ask out loud if you feel comfortable.
Thanks so much for coming, please connect with me on social media or feel free to email me about anything we’ve spoken about tonight. Tell your friends, colleagues, get me to come and talk at your work!
I’ll be launching a podcast in December called Glorywhole which you should keep an eye out for too, which shares my coming of womanhood and sexuality story.