What should be done to improve sexual literacy? That was the topic at yesterday's luncheon sponsored by the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association. White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes was in attendance, and I was hoping she was going to discuss specific initiatives to reduce teen pregnancies. While she did say that was a priority, Barnes spoke more specifically about the need for mothers to really educate their daughters about sex—beyond the basic mechanics.
[Here's what she said about her own mother's teachings, and here's reporting by U.S. News on how teach teens about sex.]
Barnes provided the perfect prelude for the keynote address by Ruth Westheimer, the famous sex therapist, who told us she first became interested in her field after leaving Columbia University School of Public Health in the 1960s to take a job at Planned Parenthood. "I was old-fashioned and a square," she jokes, "and all they wanted to talk about at my new job was not politics or the weather but sex. Forty-eight hours after I started, I came to agree it was an interesting subject."
Dr. Ruth, who prefers to use just her first name, is still consumed by the subject four decades later. Although she's encouraged that women are more sexually literate today than in the past, she says there's still room for improvement. And she's still happy to provide her trademark German-accented insights on improving your own proficiency in the language of love.
1. Don't believe everything you read in Cosmo or Redbook . Most of the sex tips aren't based on actual clinical research. In fact, there's been a dearth of studies on sexual performance and pleasure—beyond those that are sponsored by drug manufacturers. So no one knows, for example, whether the G spot, that much-discussed erogenous zone that's said to be hidden deep within the female anatomy, really exists. "There is no scientific data on this, so I tell people I just don't know," says Dr. Ruth.
2. Take responsibility for your own satisfaction. "You can't blame your partner if you don't communicate what you need," Dr. Ruth contends. You may need to do a little self-exploration to figure out what gives you pleasure. If you're having pain during intercourse, she emphasizes, see a gynecologist to determine whether there's a medical cause. Men may need to see a urologist if they're experiencing sexual difficulties.
3. Orgasms are like snowflakes. No two are alike, and they vary from woman to woman. Dr. Ruth says she's not certain that "multiple orgasms" truly exist. Again, there's that lack of research. But, she says, in women, there's usually a quiet moment right before it happens, a sign you should keep receiving pleasure until you've finished. "Some couples mistakenly stop at that point."
4. Treat the act like a fine wine rather than a cheap beer. Take the time to gaze at it, smell it, and sip it before gulping it down.
5. Savor the afterglow. While many men like to roll over and go to sleep, women really do need to cuddle after sex, says Dr. Ruth. It makes us feel more attached and in love. "Tell your partner it's the arousal phase of the next sex act—even if that act occurs three days later."