One of the genuinely heartbreaking aspects of my work is how little cisgendered and heterosexual women know about their own bodies. In particular, how little they know about what I call the anatomy of pleasure. Now that being said, most, if not all, of these women have some knowledge about the clitoris. That when I say the phrase “sexual pleasure”, many of them tell me they immediately think of this one organ.
“Yes, the clitoris!” I say with excitement. "Talking about the clitoris a great place to start. Have you found its four legs on your own body with your own hand or a vibrator perhaps?” I ask. Most of these women give me a confused look or a blank stare. Then I often hear one of the following responses:
“The clitoris has legs? What do you mean?”
“I don’t own a vibrator.”
“I have never touched my genitals with my own hand.”
As I’ve said before in this very blog, I am so thankful for my clients’ honesty as it tells me precisely where we need to begin our work.
And so I tell them about the clitoris. How it’s not just the external nub; it has four “legs” inside the body. I can get quite animated and enthusiastic extolling the wonders of the clitoris. Hell, sometimes I even get out a piece of paper and draw a representation of it. (I always wonder what my clients think when they see this side of me.) If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s an article that explains more.
A good part of my work involves this kind of education (a.k.a. sex education) as the first step. But as any sex therapist can tell you, that’s often not enough. Putting this information into the context of the client’s own psychology and sexual relationship is the next crucial step.
First, integrating this knowledge into the person. Many women tell me they feel awkward, uncomfortable, and some even say they feel “dirty” or “bad” for touching their genitals with their own hand. I point out they touch their own genitals when bathing, when going the bathroom, dealing with their menstrual cycle, perhaps using certain contraception and safer sex methods, maybe even when changing or adjusting clothes. So we look more closely at why touching her own body for pleasure is taboo to her. Shame always is part of this and usually takes center stage; there’s usually a lot to unpack and reprogram.
Eventually comes the day when she gets a ‘homework assignment’ from me, her sex therapist: go home and touch yourself or buy a vibrator and use it on yourself. Then come back and tell me how it went because learning your own body is so crucial to understanding your own sexual response and enjoying a sexual relationship. And that’s when therapy can really enter a whole new dimension.
Different women have different reactions to this ‘assignment’. Some are so curious and motivated they leave my office and stop at the local sexuality shop on the way home. Some go home and immediately buy a vibrator online. Some make a point to take a private bath that night. Other women, though, are more hesitant or ambivalent. That’s OK, I tell them; that just means we need to work on the shame some more.
(And BTW it’s not just the clitoris that allows a woman to feel sexual pleasure. Other parts of the body are erogenous zones too like breasts, the inner thigh, neck, ears/earlobes, small of the back, buttocks, hands, feet and toes. It’s wonderfully unique from person to person.)
Women and their own pleasure. It’s such a huge topic that every woman needs to grapple with and decide where they want to land with it. The question is, where do you want to be / what’s your goal in terms of your own sexual pleasure? The answer to that question will tell you exactly the work that needs to be done to get there.