We live in a very open and curious world yet I feel sexual health is still not something discussed, not only with friends but also our partners. Some of you may remember one of my blog posts from late last year discussing a new product for women, brought to you by Smile Makers. Let me tell you, I received the most feedback about this post (over any other blog) and felt I should revisit the topic of sexual health.
Since the Australian launch, Smile Makers have been making waves or shall I say whispers in the sexual health space so thought it was only fitting to chat with their Global Ambassador and Speaker, Sexologist – Chantelle Otten.
Jill: What is the definition of sexual dysfunction and how common is it for women?
Chantelle: Sexual dysfunction is persistent and recurring problems with an individual or couple that impacts their sex life. Generally, concerns about sexual response, desire, orgasm or pain that distresses an individual or impacts a relationship are known as sexual dysfunction. These concerns are extremely common for men and women and can be lifelong or a recent occurrence, nevertheless…if it bothers an individual, it is something that needs to be remedied. It is important to realize that there is no ‘normal’ sexuality, and a person’s interest and response to sex will vary widely. For females, just over 60% reported in a study that they had experienced a sexual problem. However, female sexuality is still considered ‘taboo’ so statistics are hard to pinpoint. The main thing is, sexual concerns are normal.
Jill: Do you think it is related to emotional issues rather than physical?
Chantelle: It is an interplay between a variety of components. Psychology is a huge part of sexual disturbances and interacts with physical symptoms, experiences, beliefs, relationships and lifestyle. A disturbance to any of these components can impact on sexual desire, arousal or satisfaction and management methodologies taken in sex therapy often incorporate more than one approach. Sexual dysfunction can have a major effect on an individual’s quality of life and is scientifically linked with reduced physical and emotional satisfaction and overall well-being.
Jill: What are your thoughts on humans as monogamous beings?
Chantelle: It is individual. I am here as a non-judgmental figure and I see the benefits in monogamy and non-monogamy when it is mutually accepted. However it can obviously cause much distress if one partner believes in monogamy and one does not. These are things that can be discussed in therapy and boundaries are able to be set.
Jill: What are you thoughts on open partnering?
Chantelle: Again, open partnering can really work well for some couples and not so much for others. What needs to be understood is there is a huge amount of pressure on us as individuals to be perfect. We are searching for someone who understands us, is successful, good-looking, can provide for us emotionally and financially, is great in bed and will be a wonderful parent etc. etc.
Sometimes we realize that someone else may fill one of these needs, whether it be physical intimacy or emotional, maybe someone else can do it better than our partner. We do live in a society that dictates that mononormative culture is the only valid type of relationship, however polyamory can work and depends on both partners accepting and respecting each other as individuals with different needs.
Jill: Do you think it’s possible and healthy to overcome a partner cheating?
Chantelle: Yes, it is not easy…but it is possible to overcome hurt and betrayal and rebuild a relationship. Seeing a therapist can be transformative for the individuals and the couple. A therapist can support the healing process by providing strategies to overcome the hurt. An affair forces a couple to re-evaluate their relationship but also to determine their future. The way that they resolve the crisis of an affair will outline their future and their pasts, and they can use it as a transformative experience by acknowledging that there will be no clear-cut answers to the reason for the affair, but in moving on they can open the door to non-judgmental discussion about their idea of what betrayal is.
Jill: After talking amongst my friends, a common thread that kept appearing was a question around decline in male libido – across all age groups. Is this common and what are some reasons for this?
Chantelle: Guys don’t like to discuss it and neither do their partners, but loss in libido can strain a relationship immensely. Naturally testosterone (the sex hormone) decreases with age, but many men in the 60’s, 70’s and up enjoy great sex lives. When men lose interest in sex it distresses them more than it distresses women as their masculinity is so linked to their sexuality. Causes are complex and can vary; it is best to handle them before they become long-standing. Reasons for low sex drive can range from physical and medical to psychological and social. Quick fixes don’t solve everything. So if your man is running out to get some kind of libido inducing medication, just tell him to check up on his hormones, stress levels and other concerns first. Gently though, always approach this topic in a gentle way.
Jill: What advice do you have for a woman whose partner is less sexual than her?
Chantelle: This is something I see often in my clinic rooms. And it is best to acknowledge that traditional gender roles play a large part of the discomfort women feel about having the higher sex drive. Since we have such a strong cultural script around men being more sexually eager than women, having the roles reversed can make both males and females feel uncomfortable issues about gender roles. What is best, is to learn skills around open discussion, “what does a healthy initiation of sex feel like to both of you?”. Set boundaries for what you expect from both sides when it comes to initiating sex. Also develop good strategies for respectively turning down sex. Remember that there is no ‘norm’ of healthy sexual occurrences. You may want to see a therapist to help with this discussion.
Jill: What are the statistics for women not being able to reach orgasm?
Chantelle: There are a few area’s to discuss here, because women can either have a sexual dysfunction called ‘female orgasmic disorder’, which is where there is a distressing delay or an absence of orgasm following sufficient sexual stimulation and adequate arousal. However females generally find it more difficult to reach orgasm, even though it is shown that all women are capable of clitoral orgasm. Trouble to reach orgasm is the most common sexual complaint in women with 54% of 18-30 year olds report this problem. If you believe there is a problem, see a Sexologist! We are here to get to the bottom of the cause and can help by referring you to the right medical specialists if needed. Overall it is a common sexual complaint among women of all ages. Around 75% of all women never reach orgasm from intercourse alone, without the help of toys, hands or a tongue. 10-15% never climax under any circumstance, so then the best option is focusing on the real goal of sex…pleasure. Sex does not have to mean orgasm and there are often many challenges that affect a woman’s sexual functioning, such as depression, medical conditions, medication, aging and disability. Having the ability to adapt to these situations is crucial to enjoying the process and being able to direct a sexual partner to what works and what does not.
Jill: Is it possible for women to prematurely orgasm? And is this seen as an issue?
Chantelle: It is possible for a small percentage of women. It is also quite distressing, just like with men. Having a lack of control over the moment of your orgasm can lead to serious personal or couple discomfort because, like with men’s premature ejaculation, if the female finishes quickly and finds it uncomfortable to continue, her partner may also miss out on an orgasm. If the woman feels distressed by premature orgasm and her mood and relationship is affected, then she should take the opportunity to see a sex therapist.
Jill: Is it more acceptable for women to buy pleasure devices than men?
Chantelle: In my view, no. There are many men that go and buy toys for their partner because essentially many men really want their lover to feel pleasure in the bedroom. Sex toys can take the pressure off both partners because it increases the chance of reaching an orgasm. They are an excellent way to spice things up and if penetration is not possible an orgasm is still achievable.
Jill: What do men need to know about trying out sex toys on their partner?
Chantelle: Sex toys are a great way to become a much better lover! With toys, you can learn how to explore and appreciate your partner’s entire body with greater patience and skill, plus learn to relax your lover while turning her on. It’s all about communication. Sex toys can also be great in breaking down sexual differences and assisting with non-penetrative pleasure, which all women should practice and sometimes rely on after pregnancy and menopause.
The best thing to do…ask for direction, constantly affirm what feels good or what can be different, ‘do you like it here’, ‘would you like it if I put more pressure here’ and remember to not just ‘stick it in’ without asking permission, focus on external pleasure first.
Sex toys are also great for men’s pleasure! If you want recommendations definitely send me an email.
Jill: Do men take it as an insult for their partner to own a vibrator?
Chantelle: No actually! One study showed that men do not see vibrators as ‘threatening’ but found it appealing as a sexual aid. Some of the men reported an increase in sexual intimacy in their relationships. To get over any anxiety that is caused by the sex toy, remember that it takes on average 20 minutes of sexual activity for a woman to climax, so her partner can use a sex toy to aim for both of them to achieve satisfaction in a reasonable time!
Jill: What is one key piece of advice you would give a long-term couples who have lost the ‘spark’?
Chantelle: Relationships take work and a sex life takes work. There is no training on how to keep a good relationship or sex life alive, we are human and we go by what we observe. In order to overcome challenges both partners need to be willing to work and then be open to receiving the appropriate skills to re-ignite the ‘spark’. It is like seeing a personal trainer; it often works better to be shown. Educate yourself, seek help and open non-judgmental conversation if possible. When discussing concerns, always remember to ask yourself how you would feel if the conversation was about you, tread gently and with respect.
Jill: What is a healthy amount of sexual activity for a married couple to have?
Chantelle: That is up to you! Really people who are in a relationship can make their own definition. As long as there is no distress and both partners are relatively satisfied…then go ahead! However, numerous studies show that people who do have sex report a greater sense of general happiness. Sex is associated with wellbeing because it releases ‘feel good’ endorphins that allow for bonding and good health. One study showed that snuggles before and after sex are extremely important. For those couples who are finding it difficult to manage sex, keep up ‘snuggles’ because affection mediates the association between sex, life satisfaction and positive emotions.
Jill: Do you think all women should own a vibrator?
Chantelle: Each to their own. But it’s a good idea to have one handy, even if you don’t know when you will use it…just have it there. Research shows that women often feel initial resistance to using a vibrator because they feel like they ‘should’ be able to have an orgasm without it…but there is no ‘should’ with sex, there is simply…what feels good! Using a vibrator helps women who struggle with the big ‘O’ and it’s as simple as that. Vibrators help with easier orgasms, and no; they are not addictive, nor do they replace your partner. They are there for women to enjoy pleasure for it’s own sake. We are conditioned to feel guilty for anything that brings us pleasure…but its time to throw that out the window! It’s my mission to make sure women know that they are allowed to experience things that make them feel good. Vibrators are a pleasure you can share or keep to yourself. Focus on what feels good for you.