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21st February 2019

The stigma surrounding female pleasure

Jasmine Taylor talks about the enlightening and empowering discussion on female pleasure run by Sexpression Manchester.
The stigma surrounding female pleasure
Photo: SplitShire @ Pixabay

Sexpression Manchester’s Sex Week featured a variety of fantastic free events you might not expect to see on your everyday calendar. Georgia Rose’s ‘Conversation about Female Pleasure’, open to all self-identifying females, bypassed the suffocating taboo about sex from a woman’s perspective.

With worksheets, candid group discussion and a series of radically informative videos, the session prompted a variety of conversations. The first of these began with a basic fact check about terminology relating to the vulva. This caused us to consider the implications behind our current attitudes and behaviours relating to sex.

I was struck by how deeply ingrained toxic standards are even in our own choice of language. Feminine sexual vocabulary is too often either worryingly vague or vulgar. This enforces lack of ownership over our own bodies. Such a complex group of organs are often generalised into merely a tool for male pleasure and procreation. This subtly continues to enable subjugation and stop progression of personal sexual acceptance and satisfaction within women.

Indeed, an overbearing theme shared by many of the women during discussions was shame around sex and pleasure. The talk included a painful discussion involving the growing market for genital cosmetic surgery and related beauty standards. It opened my eyes as to how awful the normalisation of these procedures is, and their implications. How is it that women have become so ashamed by their own natural vulvas? Bleaching, labiaplasty, and other surgeries show an instilled beauty standard and shame concerning our own bodies.

We must acknowledge the impact of our substandard sexual education in aggravating these issues. Groups like Sexpression work hard to minimise ‘pleasure-shaming’ in sexual discourses. As somebody whose experience of sexual education was laughably problematic, I was disappointed, but unsurprised to learn that each of us in the room had similar educational experiences. We are often taught misinformed and heteronormative lessons on functionality. Sex is represented as solely a means of reproduction, but simultaneously we are taught to avoid this. Then what is it we are learning about? Evidently not real-life sex, our bodies, pleasure or sexuality, as Georgia’s statistics showed.

Perhaps this was why I found the session so refreshing. Infographics and unusually candid videos littered with unashamedly feminist imagery enabled a vital and rare safe space. Here, we discussed our own personal female sexual experiences in an open and empowered way. Together, we worked to debunk myths we had learned about our own bodies.

In the time we spent with Georgia, I learned more about my body than I could ever have imagined. I had previously considering myself quite sexually ‘woke’. However, I was shocked to discover how little I knew about my own anatomy and orgasms. The talk also covered the patriarchal origins of sexual theory. These are still relevant to our modern understanding of sexuality.

Freudian influence on the pressure for women to orgasm through exclusively penetrative sex, and the myths surrounding the ‘g-spot’ are so toxic to our sexual well-being. As a group, we discussed problematic expectations during sex, including the word ‘foreplay.’ Invalidating non-hetero sex and enforcing penetration as the endgame of sex contributes to womens’ widespread dissatisfaction in bed, which leads to ‘faking it.’ Never before have I been in a room of women so eager to talk about why they felt the need to do so. It was incredibly enlightening.

My overwhelming reaction following the session was that education needs to change. Ownership over our own bodies is not remotely shameful. Women should be respected as more than an afterthought in the field of discussion, albeit the current social norm. Work done by charities such as Sexpression alongside the influence of social media and emerging shows like Netflix’s Big Mouth and Sex Education are working to disrupt negative sexual norms. I hope that all this will lead sexual conversation to eradicate shame and foster positive, informative conversations about our bodies.

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