Sex and the City claimed to reveal the truth about women’s sex lives: despite a few awkward encounters, we’re all having amazing, free-for-all sex.
Yet secretly, so many women aren’t. And think there’s something wrong with them.
This was certainly the case for Anna, a sexually active executive in her 30s.
“I enjoyed sex, but wasn’t having the experience I heard others talking about. I thought ‘they’re having a better time than me, something must be wrong.’”
Anna is not alone. Far from something being wrong, argues one of Australia’s leading sex therapists, Cyndi Darnell,
“The biggest message about sex I’d like women to hear is ‘you are normal; there is nothing wrong with you.’
“Often women are forced to come and see me by their partners, but the real problem is that our culture has such a narrow view on what’s acceptable for women sexually. They’re told they must look, dress and behave in a certain way, and those who don’t fit those extremely narrow parameters are told they have a problem if they don’t ‘achieve’ a certain kind of orgasm.”
For Anna, these messages began in childhood.
“I remember watching half-dressed women in music videos as a kid and believing that I had to be a super sexual amazing bedroom performer for men to engage with me. As an adult I felt like sexual power was the only power I had, and the minute I gave it away [had penetrative sex] I was forgotten.”
Such beliefs, plus past trauma, can lead to unconscious sexual “armouring” among women, says sexologist Olivia Bryant.
“Armouring is often a physical response to the nervous system activating a defence response. We either disassociate sexually or we ‘perform’ and are not able to ask for what we want so we go along with it, and create a freeze in the nervous system. When we armour we cannot feel.”
Women often internalise cultural beliefs about the vagina being “dirty” or complicated, says Anna.
“From my ex-husband who thought paying attention to it was just a necessary warm up to the main event, to a boyfriend who just thought the whole area was disgusting. My friend didn’t even want her husband to be down ‘the business end’ while she gave birth because she was afraid he‘d be turned off for life. It’s such a sad indictment of how we view women’s anatomy.”
One of the problems, agreed both therapists, is that culturally we’re too focussed on “getting to the finish line.”
“We have this idea that the orgasm is the goal of sex, but there’s so much more to it,” says Darnell. “In our culture, sex is so focused on penetration, when in fact many women don’t orgasm in that way, and there’s a whole world of pleasure to be had in other ways.”
It’s not just physical.
“Armouring is the emotional memory we hold in the tissue of the body—a lot of it is held in the cervix and vagina,” says Bryant. “It’s a physical response to the nervous system activating a defence response.”
“I would get to a point in sex and freeze up,” says Anna, who, like one in four Australian women, has experienced sexual assault. “Through de-armouring I learned to find points which were contracted and explore why.
“What also helped was going to places I didn’t want to go. Pulling underlying beliefs into the light and exploring them.”
De-armouring for better sex.
Bryant runs an online community for women called Self Cervix which teaches women how to release this armouring so they can feel more sensation:
“Once there is feeling, new states of orgasm become possible. It’s a much more inclusive model that works with the female body. You began to wake up deeper pathways to pleasure and full body orgasm.”
For Anna, discovering what she liked through the de-armouring process was essential to enjoying sex with a partner:
“In the past I always felt pressure to come,” says Anna. “The irony is that pressure guaranteed that I wouldn’t enjoy it. I’d always rushed, and was very in my head, not present in my body.
“In de-armouring I learned to slow down and learn what I liked and didn’t like. I learned that it takes time for me to relax and open, and that’s not some kind of ‘dysfunction.’ So I feel better about spending that time with a partner, rather than I have to get there in ten minutes.
“I had to reframe my whole idea about sex. What’s sexy to me now is a man who can have that kind of vulnerability as well. When two people have the confidence to be honest about what works for them and explore their individual sexualities together, not slip into the stereotypical roles where men have to be worried about performance. This idea that men must be tough performers is just as damaging for men as for women—both sexes become victims.
“I’m having the best sex of my life now, and I think it’s because the man I’m with really enjoys exploring that whole area and it feels amazing.”
How to Start.
1. Giving yourself permission to explore your own body and what you find sexy. “Unfortunately it’s not as easy as saying ‘bugger society,’” says Darnell. “Instead I would encourage women to explore what they actually find sexually pleasurable, rather than what they’re told to find sexually pleasurable.”
2. Choosing your partner wisely—someone who is comfortable in their masculinity doesn’t need you to “perform” and understand that it’s a process to be enjoyed, not a goal to be achieved.
Olivia Bryant’s tips for de-armouring.
- Make sure you have time and feel safe.
- Begin by massaging your body, finding point of tension around your buttocks, thighs.
- Massage your breasts to begin to arouse yourself.
- If you use the clitoris for arousal, don’t go to orgasm.
- Massage and look for tense parts around the vulva. Press and holding any sore points.
- Do not enter your body until you feel a full body yes emotionally and physically. Honour your no.
- Go “around the clock” at the entrance, further inside and up to the cervix.
- If you feel contraction, press and hold firmly, breathing and relaxing, like you’re giving the pain into your finger or wand. You can also do this with your partner’s penis.
May it be of benefit.
Author: Alice Williams
Editor: Toby Israel