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A therapist’s guide to a healthy relationship with sex

A therapist’s guide to a healthy relationship with sex
Opening up the dialogue can improve the way people view sexuality. (Image: Shingi Rice for Unsplash)

Sex therapist Dr Eve spoke to Maverick Life about how people can build a positive relationship with sex and achieve sexual health.

One of humanity’s biggest drivers is for human connection, says sex therapist Dr Marlene Wasserman (also known as Dr Eve).

“We long to have relationships, we long for intimacy, to be sexual, to have pleasure,” Dr Eve says. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that sexual health is “fundamental to the overall health and well-being of individuals, couples and families, and to the social and economic development of communities and countries”. 

Achieving sexual health and well-being depends, according to the WHO, on “access to comprehensive, good-quality information about sex and sexuality; knowledge about the risks they may face and their vulnerability to adverse consequences of unprotected sexual activity; ability to access sexual healthcare; living in an environment that affirms and promotes sexual health”.

Working towards good sexual health then, requires a “positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence”. 

The focus, Dr Eve says, should be on pleasure: 

“Connection, ease in your body, no pain, feeling comfortable and safe in a sexual situation of your own choice.”

Considering the role sexuality plays in the lives of individuals and communities, Dr Eve explains how people can build a positive relationship with sex and achieve sexual health, and that opening up the dialogue can improve the way people view sexuality.

Be comfortable with yourself 

Sex can often be associated with sexual behaviour involving other individuals, but Dr Eve believes that sexuality begins on a much more personal level. 

“How do you have a conversation around sexuality when you don’t feel safe within your body?”

Self-learning, Dr Eve notes, is a good first step to approaching sexuality before bringing another person into a sexual scenario. “Learn to masturbate, learn to become confident in your own sexuality to take that stigma and taboo away – give yourself permission.”

Internalised stigma and negative views on sex, says Dr Eve, can “block you from being able to engage freely, comfortably, guilt-free in a sexual space”. By contrast, knowing one’s own body in a positive way and engaging with helpful information can pave the way to healthy, pleasurable sex.

It is important to note that this is not a journey that individuals must go on with themselves before they become sexually active, but rather that it is one aspect of engaging with sexuality in a holistic and healthy way. Similarly, Dr Eve explains that self-learning does not mean that “you have to wait… It’s about [being able to] read the red flags, notice when something is not comfortable or your body isn’t responding”. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: From healthy sex to meal planning – welcome to adulthood (sort of)

A safe sexual partner can also be a positive part of the process.

“If you are able to cognitively choose a partner who is safe and secure, stable, reliable and predictable and who is watching your back, it really goes a long way.”

Whatever sexual situation one is in, consent is always vital. 

“The purpose of being sexual is around connection and intimacy, even if it’s a casual sexual situation. Consent is a really important part,” Dr Eve says. “Ask for consent, and also notice that with consent, it’s not just a verbal thing, it’s body actions, consciousness and checking in.” 

Do the research

“Whenever we have information, we feel safe, we are able to make more informed choices and we feel more confident,” Dr Eve says. When engaging in sexual activity, it can be beneficial to go into situations with information, which can in turn make conversations with a partner easier. 

“Don’t hesitate to get 101 education around anatomy, orgasms and ejaculation,” she says, for example. “There are many different ways that people enjoy being sexual… [it’s] very fluid.”

Dr Eve also points out that sex, while fun and pleasurable, is not always realistically portrayed in films and TV or in porn. 

“There is this representation of sex being so easy. It’s very different in real life,” she says. “It’s important to know that porn is porn. It’s entertainment. It is not real sex. It’s not that people engage… Be respectful, be kind.” DM/ML

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