Safety—and Desire

Researchers at the University of Windsor, in Ontario, are working to deliver a “Flip The Script” program to women in high school…. The conversation moves beyond consent to sex—pleasurable sex, at that. The young women talk about female sexual anatomy, masturbation, desire and a persistent phenomenon known as the “orgasm gap”: Time and again, researchers find women are significantly less likely to masturbate to orgasm or climax during partnered sex than men. “The more comfortable we are with being able to talk about sex, the more assertive we will be in communicating what we want, as well as what we don’t want,” the exercise reads.

“Part of this is, if I know what my own sexual desires and values are, then I can know that when someone is pressuring me, they are wrong to do so,” said Charlene Senn, a University of Windsor psychology professor who originally designed Flip the Script for women in first-year university.

Slowly, sexual health educators are beginning to go beyond disaster prevention to encompass healthy, positive sex lives, in line with the World Health Organization’s definition of sexual health: “pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

Perhaps the bleakest portrait of neglected female desire comes from journalist Peggy Orenstein, who interviewed young women aged 15 to 20 about intimacy for her 2016 book Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. Most of the young women had come to view sex as a performance, not a “felt experience….The concern with pleasing as opposed to pleasure was pervasive.”

ZOSIA BIELSKI, from “The pleasure gap: How a new program is revolutionizing sexual health education for young women,” The Globe and Mail, December 5, 2020.