A Letter to Women - From a Sex Therapist

This letter is addressed to people with vaginas who identify as women. There are things I want you to share with you about sex that sex therapists know, but many people don’t. Sex therapists who are registered with COSRT are talking therapists. We learn a lot about sexual function and sexual problems and we help people with their sex lives. Let me tell you some things about sex that apply to people with vaginas.

  1. First of all, let’s get our anatomy terms right. People often use the word ‘vagina’ to refer to the whole of the female sexual anatomy. In fact, the outer part of the female sexual anatomy is called the vulva and the inside part is called the vagina. The vulva is made up of a mons pubis, which is where pubic hair grows, the external part of the clitoris (the clitoris is also internal), two sets of labia, often referred to as lips and the entrance to the vagina. No two vulvas look the same and all appearances are normal. The type of vulva that tends to appear in porn is not the gold standard. Vulvas are like faces, we all have the same parts but in slightly different dimensions.
  2. The vagina is a brilliant part of the female anatomy that is designed to manage penetrative sex and childbirth. It is self-lubricating and self-healing. It does not need to be douched with perfumed products to make it hygienic. It is naturally hygienic. The vagina expands and lengthens when aroused, which is why it is capable of being penetrated by penises and sex toys. Trying to penetrate an unaroused vagina can be difficult or painful for some people. Arousal is important for comfortable penetrative sex.
  3. There is a thing called ‘non-concordance’ which tends to apply to women more than men. It means that there can be a disconnect between psychological and physical arousal. So a person with a vagina might feel psychologically turned on but their vagina doesn’t lubricate. They also might be absolutely not psychologically turned on but their vagina can lubricate. The level of lubrication a person with a vagina has varies greatly. Using lubrication during penetrative sex is not a sign of being a sexual failure. Buy quality lube. Don’t buy flavoured lube; it has sugars in it that cause bacterial infections. Don’t use oil based lube with condoms as the oil can degrade the condom. Buy the good stuff and enjoy using it.
  4. Let’s talk about masturbation. Women masturbate as much as men. It is perfectly normal. We call it solo sex in the sex therapy trade. Masturbating can help you to work out how to orgasm, which can help with partnered sex. If you masturbate – good! If you don’t like it or don’t want to do it – also good!
  5. Penetrative sex is not the ‘be all and end all’ of sex. All forms of sexual pleasure count as sex. The vast majority of women do not orgasm during penetrative sex. The sex that is referred to as ‘foreplay’ is ‘main play’ or ‘core play’ for many women. If you are having problems with penetrative sex and want to work out why, speak to a sex therapist.
  6. Anal sex requires preparation and lubrication. Anus’s don’t self-lubricate. If you or your sexual partner want to be anally penetrated, learn how to do it safely. If your partner wants anal sex and you do not, say no. Their yum can be your yuk – and vice versa.
  7. Get clear on consent. Consent is active – it’s a confident and clear ‘yes’ not just a ‘no’. It is ongoing and can be withdrawn midway through a sexual event. No-one has any right to continue if someone’s yes turns to a no. Please educate yourself on consent. Consent is important. Consent is sexy. Do not be pressured into partnered sex because you feel obliged. Obligatory sex is generally awful and can sometimes be abusive. If you don’t feel confident saying no or being clear on your sexual boundaries, talk to someone to work this through.
  8. Safer sex means using condoms. The ‘I don’t like condoms … It doesn’t feel the same’ argument is actually pretty lame. Penetrative sex without a condom can leave you vulnerable to STI’s and unwanted pregnancies and also leaves all the responsibility for contraception to the person being penetrated.
  9. If you have a vagina and your gender identity or sexuality is not accepted by your family or culture, reach out for confidential support. There are many services and professionals out there who can listen to you, who will understand the challenges of your situation and who can become your safe community.
  10. If you are worried about anything sexual and don’t have anyone to speak to, you can access low cost, fully confidential, online sex therapy with our team at Sex Therapy Herts.  Talking about sex and relationships with a professional can change things for the better.
Blog Post written by:
Julie Sale
CICS Course Director and Psychosexual Psychotherapist