Updated: Thursday, 14th November 2019 @ 5:37am

Slut vs stud: Cosmo sex therapist says ‘women still carry so much sexual shame’

Slut vs stud: Cosmo sex therapist says ‘women still carry so much sexual shame’

| By Abby Robinson

Cosmopolitan’s resident sex therapist, Rachel Morris, is concerned that there is still a significant and harmful difference between how women and men are perceived sexually.

Rachel, who is also a psychotherapist and a regular on Radio 1’s Sunday Surgery, will be speaking at the Let’s Talk about Sex, Baby debate at Manchester’s Contact Theatre, Oxford Road, on Friday February 6.

The talk is part of the wider Sexology Season 2015, a calendar of events created by the Wellcome Collection’s Institute of Sexology exhibition, designed to explore and discuss sexual themes.

 

 

Rachel told MM: “We’ve been plodding on since the seventies. This is a journey that began then when most of us were tiny babies, and the women that went before us started the conversation about sex and sexuality, and making demands.

“We call it feminism, meaning equality between men and women, the same rights, and while we’ve got that in lots of ways now, there are certain things we’ve still not got equal rights on, and one of those is our rights to our sexuality.

“Women are still called slags for having more than one sexual partner, no matter how responsible they are about taking care of themselves, and no matter how adult those choices are.

“But with men who sleep with lots of people, we call them dogs, but we still laugh and slap them on the backs.

“It doesn’t preclude them from being desirable partners, but women who enjoy their sexuality are seen as somebody you shouldn’t sleep with.”

It’s not only the ‘slut versus stud shame’ which Rachel believes is a problem, but the word ‘frigid’, which is used towards women as a ‘weapon and a bullying technique’.

She added: “So if your sex drive just isn’t that high or you’ve not found the thing that you are really interested in yet, this word frigid gets thrown around, as if there’s something wrong with you.

“We still find that society bullies women about wanting too much, about not wanting enough, and about the idea that respect is still about you holding back.”

Through the different programmes on offer, The Institute of Sexology aims to ‘undress your mind’ and ‘investigate human sexuality’.

There are 35 Manchester-based events, which include everything from performance theatre to workshops.

Rachel said events like this are ‘really important’ in terms of talking about sex in the right way.

She added: “We think we talk about sex, but actually, what we talk about is sex in a very general term. We very rarely share with our mates or with anyone else the actual ins and outs of sex, of what works for you or what doesn’t.

“We think we are supposed to know what we want and we’re supposed to know how to talk about it, but we don’t.

“So I think this is really important for those who are interested, not just in studying female desire, but for those who want to know how to know themselves better, and want to know how to access the vocabulary they need to use in order to get the sex they want.

“It’s only by talking to other women that we can find out what other women want, get ideas from each other and gain sexual confidence.”

The debate, which will be chaired by Jane Czyzselska, editor of lesbian and bi magazine Diva, is running alongside LBGT History Month.

There will be four other speakers on the panel, including black film-maker Campbell X and Kathy McGuirk, GP Surgery Practice Manager at The Lesbian and Gay Foundation.

Kathy told MM: “This event is really important because by talking about sex, you find out ways to enjoy it more.

“It’s about empowering people to have these conversations and talk about their fears and what they might misunderstand, but also having these conversations in general.

“I think it’s a topic that when you start people talking about it, they love it, but it’s trying to get the conversation going in the first place and this is the perfect platform to do that.

“There’s an element of people knowing how to make informed choices, but it’s also about knowing how to negotiate the sex that they want.”

Sian Lambert, women’s programme co-ordinator at the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, thinks that women do not feel knowledgeable or confident enough when it comes to sex.

“When we talk about sex and sexual health, sometimes there’s a very narrow understanding of what that is. So it’s focused purely on don’t get pregnant if you don’t want to, and don’t get an STI,” she said.

“There needs to be a more holistic approach to what sexual health is. That’s about individuals being able to have the sex lives that they want, being able to have a healthy, consenting sexual relationship and being empowered to make decisions about who they want to have it with and when they want to have it.

“I don’t think that there is anywhere near enough conversation within society. As a country, Britain isn’t particularly good at having these conversations. We get embarrassed talking about sex.”

 

 

The debate is open to people from the age of 14 onwards, something Sian thinks is very important as young people are in need of better education when it comes to the subject of sex.

She said: “At the moment, there is not a requirement for young people to have any sex education.

“Parents can choose to withdraw their children from it, and in the same way that there is basic knowledge about all sorts of subjects, I think we are all entitled to the knowledge that will keep us safe.

“Whether that’s knowledge about preventing STIs, whether that’s knowledge on consent or what healthy relationships look like, what to do if you do find yourself in a situation where you don’t feel safe in a relationship.

“All of these subjects need to be discussed with young people, because otherwise, they are getting their information from elsewhere – from porn, online and that probably won’t help them make healthy choices.”

According to Sian, one of the main issues is about ‘visibility’ and women not being able to access information which is relevant to them.

Female sexuality with other women is mediated through porn and aimed at men, not women, and she thinks that ‘needs to be addressed and challenged’.

But it isn’t just pornography that is a problem, according to Sian, but the lack of knowledge amongst professionals about female sexuality.

She told MM: “When I do work with health professionals, I have conversations where I’m having to explain to them what kind of sexual behaviours women with other women might get up to, because they don’t know, and they need to know that information so they can pass it on to their patients.

“If health care professionals are not being taught that in medical school, what hope is there for the rest of us.

“For women who have sex with other women, it’s hard to get information. So events like this give people an opportunity to share opinions, to have discussions, to hear people’s thoughts on things that might sometimes be seen as taboo.”

As well as Manchester, the Sexology Season is running programmes in Brighton, Glasgow and London, the home of the Wellcome Collection.

It is part of Queer Contact 2015, which is celebrating LGBT arts and culture in Greater Manchester, running from Thursday 5 to Sunday 15 February.

Rachel said:  “Having a forum, a place to hear women talk about sex, even if you feel shy and don’t want to ask questions will at the very least be a laugh and you’ll  go away with information you didn’t know, and thinking about things in a different way.

“I think it’s such a sad indictment that it takes us such a long time to get a grip of who we are sexually. When I was younger, I experienced difficulties in accepting my own sexuality, understanding it, and I didn’t really know who I was in bed.

“Women carry so much sexual shame. I work in addictions as well, and one of the things they point out is that it’s shame plus a chemical in the brain which causes addictions.

“Shame is always destructive. There’s no good shame. Women have always been made to feel ashamed for their sexuality.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing if we were more powerful over our own sexuality when we were much younger. We are wasting time. You’re only gorgeous for so long.”

The Royal Exchange Theatre and the Museum of Science and Industry are two of the Manchester landmarks involved.

Also with scientific speed dating on offer, the programme promises something for everyone.

 

 

Rachel hopes this debate in particular will give women the confidence they need to make the right choices for them.

“I hope that the night is just us talking about what women want sexually, how we feel it, how we experience it. Do we feel free to have the sex that we want, when we want, with who we want?

“I hope that we keep pushing forwards on this journey,  to help women to find a way to love and respect themselves, while exploring and celebrating what it means to be a sexual person.”

Image courtesy of WillVision, with thanks.