Why is female sexual pleasure still a taboo?

Lucy Litwack
·9-min read
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

From Harper's BAZAAR

From art to culture, education to pornography, the female perspective on pleasure in all its forms is little discussed or truly understood. And yet, from general happiness and confidence, to deepening and nurturing our relationships - and a fundamental appreciation of ourselves - knowing and owning female pleasure and sensuality can be life-changing.

It’s one of the true gifts of being a woman. Our capacity to experience it is innate, universal and human - and it’s never too late to start exploring its extraordinary possibilities. It’s why, through Coco de Mer, I wanted to create a Home of Pleasure - a safe place to discover its potential; with a brand built by and run by women for women. I believe that pleasure done well fires all the senses; that sight, sound, taste, touch and smell are a system greater than the sum of their parts - and as women, we need the opportunities to explore fully the fun, joy and endless possibilities of our sexuality.

In conversations around pleasure, men are seemingly always confident in their voices. They have been taught about pleasure through formal education, the media, and society as a whole for their entire lives, while female pleasure is rarely acknowledged. Even language shows a male bias with a lack of a female equivalent for the word virility. Instead, the expression of female pleasure is often criticised, or scandalised, while the male counterpart is regarded, simply, as a fact of life. Is female pleasure the last real taboo in our society and what is to blame?

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Democratic access to, and use of, technology is bringing new challenges that historically did not exist. This impact of access to pornography and other content demands new educational approaches. I believe that this rise in online pornography and the subsequent lack of relevant sex education in schools is a big contributor to the issue. Children of all ages have access to online pornography and other sexually related content in a way that past generations did not - and children are being exposed to this content at increasingly younger ages. The impact of highly sexualised content, including porn, is that young people, could mirror porn-typified roles during intercourse, instead of more balanced sexual gender-dynamics. Few could argue that the majority of porn offers a skewed, unrealistic and often damaging view of sex.

The benefit of a good sexual education goes way beyond classic birth rate statistics. It has been proven to lead to more healthy gender dynamics, less domestic violence, increased sexual health and well-being, and less depression. It needs to be taught that intimacy is about pleasure and communication, not just sex.

For an adult who can distinguish between fantasy and reality, pornography can be a pleasurable addition to their sexual life. However, nowadays as many children learn about sex through pornography ,it can lead to situations which are neither safe nor pleasurable. As the majority of pornography is focused on male desire, it can lead boys and girls to underestimate the importance of female pleasure. Girls assume the focus of sex should be on the boy’s desires - and boys are highly under-informed regarding young women’s sexual needs.

This lack of respect for women’s pleasure puts women at a disadvantage in other aspects of life. We’ve raised a generation of girls to have a voice and take control, to expect equality in other aspects of their life - both at home and at the office. Now it’s time to demand the same equality in our personal lives and in the bedroom.

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Female pleasure is integral to female empowerment and I have seen the hugely positive impact it can have. When a woman is allowed to explore her desires and embrace the complexity of sexual pleasure in an environment that is welcoming, empowering and indulgent (and without fear of being judged) it can hugely boost a woman’s confidence and, at the same time, lead to a more equal relationship with men.

This lack of education around female pleasure is leading to an increasingly large orgasm gap in heterosexual relationships. The lack of conversation around female masturbation means that women are also less likely to orgasm alone. The complete opposite is the case for men - this isn’t only an accepted practice but something that entire movies have used for comedic value! While there has been a recorded increase in women buying sex toys and exploring their fantasies, we can’t disregard that many still assume needing lubricant is a personal failure, not reaching orgasm from penetration is something to be ashamed of, and pain during sex is normal.

The nature of female pleasure is complex and changes through the various stages of a woman's life from puberty to adulthood, pregnancy, and menopause; and yet, like masturbation and periods, menopause is something that women so rarely discuss. Despite the fact that over half of the population will go through the menopause and all its associated issues during their lifetime, doctors only have three hours training on the topic during medical school. It has been around for thousands of years - the Greeks first named it - and yet it is still a societal taboo. Rather than thinking of ageing as a negative for a woman (the cliché of a silver fox and a cougar), we should be realising the potential for sex to improve hugely asa woman gains experience and confidence. This lack of communication combined with inadequate education isn’t just causing an absence of satisfaction for women but is actively impacting their mental and physical health. We need to combat the harm being done to women by a society that provides so little support.

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

We need to give female pleasure the platform that it is so often lacking in the media and in educational spaces. Only through representation can conversations be had that inform women and allow them to accept that pleasure by nature is ever-changing and untamed and should be embraced - imperfections included. This is a huge part of my mission.

At Coco de Mer, we hope to create a space for conversation and education through frank contributions to wider conversations, evenings of education, selection of products centred on female pleasure. It is this self acceptance, the sense of fulfilment, and the confidence, joy, and improved health that comes with education and uninhibited explorations of pleasure that I want to deliver to women. Pleasure and sexual fulfilment shouldn’t be regarded as luxuries; more women need to regard their own sexual satisfaction as a necessity.

How to harness your sexual pleasure:

Think about what sexual empowerment means to you

Is it about more orgasms? Is it about self-confidence? Is it uninhibited exploration? Only you can define what pleasure means for you so take the time to think about what it is that you want. Make a list of the things that bring you pleasure; set your sights on something you want to experience; take an erotic education class, or read a book that could offer you new insights into your desires. Set your own goals, be it trying something new, honing your orgasmic experiences, or even just being more open with your partner. Don’t be scared of being judged, or worry about being embarrassed. Insecurities can block pleasure, but confidence and desire is sexy so embrace the complexity of sexual pleasure.

Have the talk; communication is key

The number one way to get what you want is to ask for it - both in and out of the bedroom. That may be working out what you want from yourself and your own relationship with pleasure or what you need from a partner. Be honest but also try to focus on the positives - what you DO want rather than what you don’t. Look at areas of your personal pleasure journey you would like to expand - that could be exploring fantasies, trying new things, or even just taking more time to dedicate to yourself. Not sure how to start up the conversation with a partner? Try working it into your pillow talk or foreplay when you’re both relaxed and open, and ask plenty of questions.

Invest in self-pleasure

It can be hard to tell someone what you need when you are not even sure yourself. Investing in a sex toy can be a great way to experiment with sensations and understand your own desires and what gives you pleasure. Knowing what works for you is a great starting point for you and a partner to expand your sexual boundaries and explore new sensations together. When masturbating, 95% of women reach orgasm more consistently and faster, and by introducing toys to your regular sexual activity you can see a real difference in your level of satisfaction. Loving yourself is the first step to a happy and satisfying relationship with a partner.

Explore sensations beyond your routine

In the pursuit of pleasure there can be a huge benefit to trying something new. Start small, where you feel comfortable, and then grow with it at the pace that is right for you. Perhaps start with wearing lingerie that increases your feelings of power and confidence. Try exploring sensation play and pushing boundaries to discover things that ignite passion for you - this could be introducing soft bondage such as silk blindfolds, feather ticklers or restraints, or incorporating taste and smell to excite. When you lose one sense, the others are heightened - so lightly stroking the body with a soft feather tickler while your eyes are covered with a silk blindfold can be very pleasurable.

Have fun!

It is important to remember that the serious “perfect” sex we see on screens or read about in erotic novels isn’t real. Real pleasure is messy, it can be silly and lighthearted and even a little embarrassing at times. What is important is keeping your sights on real experiences and your authentic state of being. Make sure you laugh things off and let things go when they don’t go exactly to plan. It’s ok to be imperfect. Pleasure is good for you - enjoy yourself!

Lucy Litwack is founder and owner at Coco de Mer.

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