Episode 03: The pleasure is ours
Understanding Sex and Female Pleasure
On our six-part Netflix series, The goop Lab, we explored six wellness topics. If you’re here, you’ve found one of them: We’ve gathered our best podcasts, Q&A’s, and articles as a resource for the deeply curious. The series is designed to entertain and inform—not provide medical advice. You should always consult your doctor when it comes to personal health and before you start treatment.
Sex, or at least good sex, requires us to talk about it. You can have all the mechanics down, but if you can’t communicate—if you can’t be vulnerable, release shame—the chances of your fulfilling your wildest desires are slim to none. This is what we hear again and again when we talk to sex therapists: Our inability to talk about sex, in both our daily lives and with our partners, is what holds us back from pleasure.
Or as the inimitable Esther Perel told us in a Q&A on what your upbringing says about who you are in bed: “In many parts of the world, the cultural messaging around sex is negative, shaming, guilt-inducing, silencing. How can you learn to talk about something that you’ve learned to be silent on your whole life? How do you know that what you’re experiencing is normal if you can never ask the person next to you? If I wanted to know about what people do in the kitchen, I’d ask: ‘Where do you buy your tomatoes? How do you cook chicken?’”
Talking about sex (and sex toys) is certainly a responsibility we’ve had some fun with over the years. So when we set out to explore female pleasure on The goop Lab, we had already asked a lot of questions about sexual health. As it turns out, we had no right to be cocky: GP and our editor at large, Elise, learned the correct usage for the word “vagina” onscreen, in an interview with sex educator Betty Dodson.
We have more questions on the topic of sex and pleasure than we could possibly cover in a single episode—or season—of television. And if they’re questions we’ve had, chances are you’ve had some of them, too. We’ve organized the big ones below.
What does science say about sexual desire and fantasy? What’s normal?
Any sex therapist—or any therapist, really—will tell you that there is absolutely no normal when it comes to sex, sexual desire, or fantasy. Our level of scientific knowledge on the subject of fantasy is limited—but social psychologist Justin Lehmiller, PhD, has spent his career seeking to learn more. Some of his findings are published in his latest book, in which he describes our collective fantasies and helps make sense of what they might mean, tackling everything from how fantasies are connected to personalities to how our sexual histories shape desires. And he concludes that one of the best things you can do for your sexual health is accept your desires—and talk about them.
What do women need to hear about desire?
Perel has a few ideas. “If you don’t want to make love to yourself,” she says, “why would you welcome somebody else to do so?” As she explains in her podcast episode, “What Turns You On”: The secret to female desire is how narcissistic it is.
What kind of sex are other women having?
For Three Women, her (highly anticipated) first book, journalist Lisa Taddeo immersed herself in the lives of three American women for the better part of ten years, observing their secret sex lives. Taddeo examines the invisible forces that shape our sexuality, gracefully reminding us that we’re all normal. You can listen to more of Taddeo’s insights from her extraordinary reporting on The goop Podcast.
And if you’re curious, we asked our readers about their sex lives—and reported the fascinating findings as part of our female satisfaction survey.
Psychiatrist Stephen Snyder, MD, thinks the key lies in shifting your perspective. “The kind of sex I’m recommending involves the heart as well as the mind and body,” he says. “The emotion that goes with it is not really desire or lust but rather gratitude or, perhaps, awe. It’s a more personal feeling, and most of us feel it somewhere in our chest. A more accurate term for what I’m talking about might be ‘sex of the self.’”
Can certain foods increase desire?
The short answer: possibly. Nutritionist Adam Cunliffe breaks down fifteen aphrodisiacs for better sex.
Why is there an orgasm gap between men and women? How do we fix it?
According to Laurie Mintz, PhD, the answer begins and ends at the clitoris. Mintz says we need to first realize that the way we’ve traditionally been taught women orgasm—via penetration—is wrong: Many women don’t orgasm from intercourse alone. In sexual encounters that include intercourse, Mintz has found that about three quarters of women’s orgasm problems are caused by not enough or not the right kind of clitoral stimulation.
And advice from Snyder: Orgasms are great, but obsessing about climax can be a roadblock to intimacy and pleasure. Nicole Daedone echoes this sentiment in her podcast interview—she tells us why climax is just like sugar or a drop in the ocean and how to get to the orgasm we’re looking for.
How do I find pleasure in my body? What can I do if I feel disconnected?
Sex and intimacy expert Michaela Boehm writes about the importance of finding pleasure in your body—the mind-body connection that, she says, is the secret to finding deeper, greater pleasure. Embodiment, she says, is listening to your body’s signals, and she urges us each to move our body in unstructured ways through practical exercises that bring us back into our feelings and our senses.
Boehm also shares her secret to erotic sensation and sexual fulfillment.
And Daedone has some good advice for achieving an orgasmic state.
How do I have (good) casual sex?
It depends. According to Lehmiller’s research, your comfort with casual sex is determined to some extent by your personality: Some people have an easier time with casual sex than others. There’s a term for it—sociosexual orientation, which is the ease with which you separate sex from emotion.
Peggy Orenstein’s research also reframes the way we think about sex and pleasure—in her interview on The goop Podcast, she talks about why women are groomed to think about the potential dangers and harms of sex first—and why we often never learn to prioritize joy (or orgasm). And she helps us take back control of our own sexual experience.
What is Tantra, and how do I practice it?
Is there such thing as good porn?
Yes. But it can be harder to find. Barcelona-based erotic filmmaker Erika Lust sat down with us to explain how—and why—she makes porn for women, and why her audience is tired of mainstream porn.
What does my upbringing say about who I am in bed?
Over to Perel (again and always).
What do the astrologers say about sex?
Psychological astrologer Jennifer Freed wants you to use Venus and Mars as guides in how to be a better lover.
Sex is a hard topic to approach with kids, yet it’s much too important to avoid. So we asked psychiatrist Robin Berman what to say and when to say it.
Orenstein’s brilliant book Girls & Sex is also a revelatory and critical read for more insight into sex education, its flaws, and how we might do it better. She has a few recommendations for how we can all change our thinking on teen sex, too.
For more, see our roundup of essential resources for navigating the conversation around kids, teens, puberty, and sex. And listen to Orenstein talk about Boys & Sex on the goopfellas podcast.
We asked LA-based therapist Shira Myrow for her insights—and a toolkit.
How bad is the porn my kids are watching?
Potentially pretty bad! As psychotherapists Douglas Braun-Harvey and Michael Vigorito explained to us in an interview about sex addiction: So often, men watch porn as a way to understand who they are sexually and to educate themselves. Which is like watching a war movie and thinking you understand responsible firearm safety.
For more on porn and ethics, read our interview with psychologist David Ley.
Sexual trauma can become locked in the body. “The survivor of sexual trauma may not have cognitive awareness of the experience, although their body has retained the memory and implicit feeling,” says psychologist Stephen Porges. “Trauma therapies try to create a dynamic interaction between the more diffuse implicit bodily feelings and the more explicit memories with a goal of shifting the client’s personal narrative to one of greater self-understanding and self-compassion.”
How do I heal from sexual trauma?
We spoke with psychologist Lori Brotto, who explains the healing process and underscores the big messages: It’s not your fault, we’re incredibly resilient by nature, and it’s never too late to resolve an issue surrounding sexual trauma.
On The goop Podcast, psychiatrist James Gordon takes us through a variety of trauma-healing techniques, from soft-belly breathing to something called autogenic training.
Why do people cheat?
Obviously, it’s very complicated and individual. But Perel has found that affairs are sometimes, in part, a form of self-discovery. “It’s not that the individuals having the affairs want to leave their partners but the people they have become,” she says. “They are looking for another version of themselves—which is the most powerful variety of ‘other’ there is.”
Hint: It’s not men.
Is sex addiction real?
Sex researchers, clinicians, and the public have different ideas about what constitutes sex addiction—or if there even is such a thing. We are extremely compelled by the perspective of Braun-Harvey and Vigorito, licensed marriage and family therapists and certified sex therapists who outline their approach to other clinicians in Treating Out of Control Sexual Behavior: Rethinking Sex Addiction. As Braun-Harvey and Vigorito explained to us, they use the term “out of control sexual behavior (OCSB)” to describe someone’s subjective experience: “It doesn’t mean that they are out of control; feelings are different from behavior.” (Hear more from Vigorito about OCSB and decoupling shame from sexuality on our podcast.)
Can you explain how polyamory works, and why it works for some people?
“A lot of people who want to have multiple concurrent relationships feel slut-shamed or feel a sense of guilt about having that desire,” says Heath Schechinger, PhD, a licensed counseling psychologist at UC Berkeley who researches consensual nonmonogamy. “What if our society moved toward responding to polyamory differently? What if we met it with a sense of curiosity instead of condemnation and shame?”
What can I do to support my pelvic floor?
Gerda Endemann, our senior director of science and research, has some pelvic-floor-care recommendations. She also explains how vFit—a red-light device with warmth and sonic vibration to complement your regular vaginal and pelvic-floor routine—works.
And, of course, there’s a foam rolling routine for better sex.
What tools do we have for treating erectile dysfunction?
We interviewed urologist Arthur Burnett about a promising intervention: shock wave therapy for erectile dysfunction.
Toys and Lubes
Many commonly sold lubricants have parabens and other potentially problematic ingredients in them. Maggie Ney, ND, breaks it down for us. And yes, there are great, clean lubes on the market.
What about condoms?
“I thought it was really crazy that condoms go inside one of the most absorbent parts of our body, but there wasn’t a big conversation around what’s actually in those condoms,” says Sustain founder Meika Hollender, who created a line of sustainable condoms.
If you’re looking to detox your sex life: These are our top ten clean essentials for the bedroom.
How do I find the best sex toys and vibrators for what I want?
Take Snyder’s advice: “Most people start off as a couple with the idea that you should be validating each other all the time. Taking care of each other’s needs,” he says. “But eventually that gets exhausting. Eventually you realize you’re each responsible for your own needs—or at least for advocating for them. In the long run, a relationship works best when each of you advocates for what you want.”
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MORE ABOUT THE GOOP LAB: EPISODE 03
Why are female sexuality and shame so inextricably linked—and why do not enough women feel like they deserve pleasure? For episode three of The goop Lab, we workshopped the idea, processing where we’re personally blocked with famed ninety-year-old sex educator Betty Dodson. At goop HQ, GP and Elise sit down with Dodson and her business partner, Carlin Ross, to talk about Betty’s radical method for self-love—and they show the viewers…a lot.
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This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.