Let’s talk about sex, maybe?

Interviewing Anka Grzywacz, the founder of Good Sex Coaching (link), was one of the most fun experiences of my life. Anka is extremely knowledgeable and has a lot of advice to give. And she treats sex like a casual topic (which it should be), that one can only feel comfortable with. I mean, that goes for me: people sitting next to us in the coffee shop might disagree.

Anka gave a TEDx talk in 2019 about good enough sex, encouraging us to drive away from this perception of perfect sex towards sex which is just good enough.

AG: I see myself as an educator or the teacher that people never had. A big part of my work is giving people permission and helping them give themselves permission to enjoy, explore and make mistakes. A lot of my work is around reconstructing the thinking about sexuality and what it means.

What does sex mean to you?

AG: When you want to explore your own sexuality and how you understand sex, you should ask yourself: “What does sex mean to me?”. Everyone has their own understanding, but it’s good to look at it beyond intercourse.

Many of us growing up were taught that sex is immoral, that some types of sex are not normal,  and this can leave deep issues. If unsure, ask a sexologist if you are within a norm (sidenote: you probably are). In sexology the norm is very broad, as long as you don’t hurt another person without their consent.

If you see sex as having penetrative intercourse, with both having an orgasm, preferably at the same time, then you are going to be disappointed. It doesn’t happen that often. Unfortunately that’s what the media sells. Without even mentioning porn, where you completely miss the stage of warming up the body (side note: please be careful with the nipples in the beginning, they are sensitive human body parts, not a radio). 

Mindfulness is also very important, being present in your head, body and emotions. With hectic lives it can be a struggle to click out of the daily rush. A short meditation, a moment of silence or writing down the to do list for the next day can help our minds wind down and be open for love and intimacy. If you take your projects, presentations, deadlines and accounts into bed, you will have a not-very-fun groupsex with all your chores. 

Female orgasm

AG: I recently gave an interview about the female orgasm, with my husband – a tantric masseur – sitting next to me nodding in agreement all the time. As girls, we don’t get taught about ourselves and some of us don’t start learning orgasm until their early 40’s or even later. It’s never too late though!

Research shows that most women either don’t consistently, or ever, have an orgasm when having penetrative sex. We still think about sex through the Freudian lense, that somehow vaginal orgasms are better than clitoral. What Freud didn’t realize is that the vagina is not the direct counterpart of the penis; the clitoris is.

Some women are surprised when I ask them if they masturbate. They associate sex to partnership, they dont see themselves as separate sexual beings. This is the big basic problem when it comes to the female orgasm. If you can not give it to yourself, don’t expect it from your partner. It’s a complicated process, between the body, the mind and feeling the desire. 

The first thing you need is to realize you are the owner of your orgasm, your sexuality and pleasure. You should start learning about your body and your needs, how to pleasure yourself, communicate it to your partner, try techniques and ultimately see what works out.

Women (predominantly heterosexual) often see their sexuality through the eyes of men. Quick arousal, climax and sleep. For us, it does not work this way: we build up and can take longer. We have the privilege of having multiple orgasms, it’s a whole universe that we can explore. 

Usually, there is some caressing (I don’t call it foreplay because foreplay suggests that there has to be a play/intercourse after) and then there’s intercourse. For one reason or another, she doesn’t orgasm during the intercourse. The guy is done and needs to rest, which is also biological. You can tell him: “Hey I’m not done here, you can use your fingers, I can use the vibrator, you can give me oral etc.”: it does not have to cease at the intercourse bracket.

I would like to tell women: give yourself permission to take longer in sex, there is no deadline to get aroused enough for penetration, perhaps you don´t even want it. That’s fine, communicate it to your partner. If you are taking time and are concerned about your partner, ask him: “Honey are you tired? We can take a break and come back to it later or I can do it myself for a bit.” 

This kind of playfulness and straightforwardness is good in sex. You should treat it like a playground for adults.

Communication and building intimacy

AG: The biggest issue I work with is the lack of communication. You can not expect your partner to read your mind and figure out what you want in advance. If you have some problems or miscommunication, don’t let it linger, address it. If not right away, maybe the next day. Do not keep what’s bothering you to yourself.

For example: you had a night out with some alcohol and had sexual contact with somebody that you know. The next day you realize it was too much and you didn’t really want it, but you didn’t communicate it. Instead of blaming yourself, tell the other person. Otherwise this emotion builds up, turns into a strange energy. Suddenly you became the victim and the other person a perpetrator. 

We must build non sexual intimacy, communication and trust in long term relationships from the very beginning. I see many couples who are still stuck in the dating period: they play “perfect” roles, both on a physical level (not showing yourself without makeup) or on an emotional one, not sharing things and being vulnerable).

Adjusting Expectations

AG: We need to adjust our expectation about what sex looks like after many years together. We change as persons (age, different experiences, childbirth etc.) so it´s normal that our taste in sex changes, too. It’s good to have a check with your partner every couple of years to see where you are at. 

This is common in mature open relationships: ground rules are established and regularly revisited, whilst in monogamous relationships, such as typical marriage, people don’t talk about them and just assume things. Assumptions are very personal: for example, for someone their partner masturbating without them knowing is cheating whilst for the partner it’s absolutely normal. 

Maybe now you don’t have as much time or do not want a whole night of sex. So do you start enjoying quickies? It doesn’t have to be lousy sex, it can still be fun. You just need to see if your sex-life still matches your lifestyle, physical form, mental health etc. Find what lights you up. 

If you feel the need to bring back the fire, it’s important to avoid toxic patterns, such as jealousy. There’s nothing wrong in seeking novelty: introducing toys, watching porn together and exploring. If you are in a long term relationship there is more at stake than sex, it’s a whole life you are building together.

Sex and motherhood

AG: Couples who have small children can go through a rough patch, sexually speaking. For example, the woman is not interested in sex because of hormones and sometimes depression and her partner takes it personally. Or the partner does not initiate sex because of a tough labor and wants to protect her, but she doesn´t understand. They don’t talk to each other, miscommunication starts and frustration builds up.

Before doing some research about pregnancy, childbirth and sex, I thought that libido always drops, you lose interest in sex and becomes more painful; for some women pregnancy can be a time of opening and exploring, experiencing orgasm for the first time, as there is more blood flow through the genitals. 

It’s very individual. We might want to have a c-section because we are scared of the act of childbirth, we fear it will be the end of our sexuality, but it’s not. Our body is absolutely made for giving birth and recovering and enjoying sex further. Rarely everything is lost. With rehabilitation and exercise you can recover even from the most difficult birth. 

“Pleasure is a good thing. I really believe that pleasure is a source of health, creativity and development. In a culture where it has always been perceived as sinful, it is hard to think, look and cultivate pleasure for yourself. It represents a subversive rebellion act. 

We are owners of our sexuality, as women, as men: we are whole and I encourage us to be rebellious for pleasure on a daily basis.”

Illustration by Giulia Martinelli, @giulia_martinelli_x

Sarah Ebling

          Sarah Ebling holds a professorship in Accessibility Studies at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) and is a senior researcher at the University of Zurich. Her research focuses on natural language processing in the context of disabilities and special needs, specifically, sign language technology and automatic text simplification. Her groups’ contributions involve artificial intelligence techniques with a strong emphasis on user involvement. She is involved in various international and national projects and leads a large-scale Swiss innovation initiative entitled „Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies“ (2022-2026; https://www.iict.uzh.ch/).