My son is three, and I’ve already had to have a talk with him about masturbating.
It’s super weird to walk into your three year old son’s bedroom after his afternoon nap to see him rubbing his pillow pet between his legs. He is too young to have any shame, so when I walked in, he just kept on going.
“Time to get up,” I told him.
His furious pillow pet rubbing continued.
“Come on!” I said again.
He ignored me and kept on, so I walked out of the room and attended to his twin sister who had run down the stairs to grab a snack.
When he came down a couple of minutes later, I told him, “I know that feels good, buddy, but that’s something you need to do only in your room at home for now. Okay?”
He nodded his head, and I greatly hoped his PK teacher wouldn’t pull me aside one afternoon to tell me he was doing this at school.
I really thought it’d be another decade before I’d have to have this conversation, but here we are.
When I told my husband, who is not my children’s father, he told me how his now teenage daughter did a similar thing when she was younger. He’d always ask her, “What are you doing with your blanket?” And she’d promptly stop.
Sexual pleasure is an inherent part of who we are. Children discover it early on, just as my son and my husband’s daughter did. We have to be taught to be ashamed.
We have to be taught that our pleasure actually isn’t okay, and for women, it is extremely detrimental.
In most sex-ed classes here in the United States, including the ones held at the K-12 school I teach at, the drawings of the female reproductive system do not include the clitoris, which means young girls, who may have as their only source of sex education what they learn at school, are not even taught the location of the greatest source of their own sexual pleasure.
Sadly, this affects women long-term.
In a 2016 study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, nearly 30% of college-aged women couldn’t identify a clitoris on an anatomy test.
It’s easy to guess that these same women who can’t identify their own clitoris wouldn’t be able to voice what they like and how to make themselves orgasm to a male partner.
According to a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, less than 30% of gynecologists ask their patients about pleasure and sexual satisfaction. This is grossly disturbing since STDs and issues such as endometriosis that can impact fertility, have “pain during intercourse” as a symptom.
The Kinsey Institute reports that heterosexual women only orgasm 63% of the time, while their lesbian counterparts around 75% of the time. Dubbed “the orgasm gap,” this problem is real.
I am lucky in that I orgasm 100% of the time with my current partner, and that is due to many things.
I was raised in a progressive area with liberal parents. Sex Ed at the public elementary school I attended involved having to label parts of the penis and the vagina on assessments, and I remember candid classroom discussions that talked about pleasure in a scientific and positive way.
At home, I was made aware of safe sex practices, placed on birth control early, and expected to be responsible in my sexual choices.
I also communicate honestly and openly with my current partner, something I had to become comfortable doing after years of roadblocks to intimacy.
The first time I was sexually abused and my very first sexual experience were at the same time. I was 13.
A boy wrapped my hair around his fist, pushed me to my knees, drew his penis from his jeans, and forced me to suck him off. I said “no” once, simply, but then I was on my knees and he was gagging me and telling me how much he liked it. We had been at his house working on a school project. My mother and his had been chatting in the kitchen for the hour while we’d been working, doing a project I can’t even remember a single part of anymore. Right before I was to leave was when the abuse happened.
I struggled, considered biting, but my mother was in the next room talking to his mother and I felt embarrassed, not wanting her to know what “I” was doing, as if I was responsible, so I went still and just counted the moments until it was over.
I went on to see that boy the next day, and every school day after that for five years. He was not the last one to sexually abuse me. Some of the ones that came after him made his first act look like a kind gesture.
Sadly, even when I was in long-term relationships, I often felt conflicted when I had sex, finding pleasure in something that had been associated with so much pain and dissociation. I had to work with a counselor to process a lot of trauma before I could be able to be truly intimate.
Later I sought out additional resources to help me get comfortable enough bridging the gap between “I’m comfortable being intimate” and “this is what I like and how I like it.”
When OMGYes launched in December 2015, I jumped at paying for access since it combined science with sex and even helpful tutorials. I was amazed to learn women orgasmed in so many different ways. Some women prefer clitoris orgasms, and they can come by tapping, stroking, or hard and fast rubs. Other women squirt or climax anally or vaginally or both altogether. Other women from just having their nipples touched or sucked, and some even from just exercising.
Today I am lucky to have a sexual partner that I feel able to be vulnerable and openly communicate with. It has led to me having the most intensely satisfying sexual relationship of my adult life, and it came first from learning about and being comfortable within my own body.
The opportunities for sexual pleasure are endless, but our children — especially our female children — get that nipped too early in the bud.
In order to cultivate true gender equality, it must start with accurate sex-education and honest sex-positive conversations.
When my three year old daughter discovers that mound between her legs and starts rubbing it, I’ll tell her the same thing I told my son, and when they’re an age that is appropriate, their sex education will include pleasure.
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