As far as any formal sex education goes, if you grew up in Australia it's safe to say that it was limited at best. Of course, if we couldn't get answers from school or from adults, we would find them ourselves. And we did. We took to the internet, to friends; probing and prodding for information on everything from pleasure, queer sex, our own bodies and gender diversity until we were satisfied. If only we could have simply reached into our bookshelves and pulled out Chantelle Otten's The Sex Ed You Never Had.
Released just yesterday, The Sex Ed You Never Had is the first book from Psycho-Sexologist Chantelle Otten and it's truly illuminating. Picking up from where our PE teacher's lumbered off, Otten lays a comprehensive foundation; covering topics like kink, assigned sex, masturbation, consent and even techniques. "I would’ve loved to have this book growing up," Chantelle tells me. And I can't help but agree.
It's the kind of book you want to hoard stacks of, just so you can press a copy into the open arms of your sisters, brothers, friends and even parents. Free from shame and stigma, The Sex Ed You Never Had is an honest and inclusive introduction to sex, bodies and relationships.
"I think we always get wrong ‘what is normal’," Chantelle says. "Sex is so multi-faceted, we are multi-faceted and I think that this book really just highlights the variation and diversity in our sexual lives."
In the pages of her new book, she fosters a safe space to have productive conversations that would otherwise take place on the margins, if at all. When I asked Chantelle what she wished we spoke about more when it came to sex, she said, "I think we should be talking about what our definition of sex is."
"That it's more than just penetration, orgasm and performance orientated sex. And really I’m trying to make sure people know that we are all unique. We don’t have a sexual formula that works for every single person. But sex should be pleasurable. It should be pleasure based."
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Below, you'll find an exclusive extract out of The Sex Ed You Never Had from a chapter addressing common sexual concerns and how to seek treatment.
As Chantelle puts it, "sexual concerns are actually normal. It’s just that we’ve been trained to see it as abnormal. It’s normal and they should be worked on." From performance anxiety and sexual pain to low desire; here, she shares how to raise any sexual concerns with your partner.
How to Talk About Sexual Difficulties With Your Sexual Partner
A problem with our sex lives can lead to feelings on anxiety, avoidance of sex and embarrassment. Sometimes, it can also lead to resentment and blame. So let’s talk about how you can best communicate any questions around sexuality with your partner.
Never talk about it as ‘your issue’ or ‘my issue’.
No one asks for sexual problems! I like to call health problems ‘the dragon’, and separate them from you as an individual. That way you can talk about ‘vaginismus, the dragon’ instead of ‘my vaginismus’, or ‘anxiety, the dragon’ instead of ‘my anxiety’. Because at the end of the day if there is a problem in your sex life it’s something you can separate from you as an individual. It’s not all-encompassing and there is so much more to you than your sexual concerns. And hey, it affects the couple – it’s ‘our’ issue.
Don’t talk in the bedroom about sexual problems.
It’s important to choose your moment carefully. Don’t spring it on your sexual partner and don’t bring it up out of frustration. Just say, ‘I would love to talk to you about our sex life when you have a moment. It’s nothing to stress about, but I think that there’s a few things that we need to work on.’
Note down your questions and concerns and read them out to your partner. ‘I feel sad that performance anxiety is holding us back in the bedroom. What do you think we can do to work through this?’
Be vulnerable and tell them how the concern makes you feel.
Obviously, if your partner reacts in a negative way then you might need to reassess that relationship. But I’m sure they will be empathetic and help you work through it. An example would be, ‘I just wanted to let you know that I suffer pain when having PIV sex and so the best way for me to have sex at the moment is to have more outercourse. I’m working through, and I would love it if you could be kind, because it’s vulnerable for me to share this with you.’ You can then explain what is the best type of sex for you at that time.
Be clear and direct.
Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t, and set boundaries for you sexual activities. Also ask them if they have any questions, and be willing to listen to their perspective and validate their feelings. Remember that sex is a menu and there is much more than just penetration and orgasm on this menu. There’s no need to avoid sexual activity just because there are a few things that you struggle with. It’s definitely worth discussing what you can do together, how you can support each other and what is great sex for you.
Hold back from any judgement or blame when your partner comes to you with concerns.
Offer empathy and reassurance and express what you love and desire about them. If you start finding that you’re becoming critical or blaming your partner, it’s important that you go see a sex therapist together to work through solutions to the problem instead of going down a toxic road of resentment and blame. Remember that you can create a creative, fun, sexual environment together, but sometimes you might need some expert help.
If there are medical concerns that you’re not so sure about then go with your partner to see a doctor and get advice together. If you don’t get the advice you need, book a sexology appointment. Going together is a practical way to build support within your relationship and develop a treatment plan as a couple.
And if you're looking to bring a fresh perspective into your sex life, carry this mantra from Chantelle with you. "Be curious. Be open-minded. Be non-judgemental. There is always something new to learn."