Mindfulness, Masturbation, and #MeToo: Owning Your Sexuality in 2018

Professional sex therapist and podcast host Emily Morse brings us her essential guide for sexual self-care.

There was a book when I was younger called "The Care and Keeping of You." It was by the American Girl Doll Company and featured a drawing of three preteen girls in towels and smiling at the equally preteen reader. It was simultaneously approachable and adorable—exactly the sort of thing a 12-year-old wants when she's freaking out about her first period. I ravished this book. Well, I ravished any sort of sex education. I was equally as curious as I was awkward, and had no idea how to separate fact and fiction. (I was one of those girls who was afraid you could get pregnant in hot tub.) This curiosity, combined with the beginnings of internet, made me a sponge for any sex-related information. Unfortunately, "The Care and Keeping of You" would remain one of the most honest and female-focused pieces of sex-related nonfiction I'd read for a long time. For many of us, sex education consisted of half-baked health classes and Cosmo magazine, the former a bit confusing and the latter listing off 102 ways to please your man. It wasn't until recently that I finally got sick of awkward and confusing sex, and thus decide to reopen the door to my body.  As part of this sexual reawakening, I spoke to Emily Morse, a sex therapist, educator,  and host of the celebrated “Sex With Emily” podcast. Emily, who started out as a documentary filmmaker, was always intrigued with human sexuality and identity, and eventually shifted her media skills into this pertinent topic. When she started “Sex With Emily," she was amazed (well, maybe not so much) with how many people desperately wanted to talk about sex. I was amazed that she had a literal closet full of dildos.  “We’re so secretive about sex,” Emily tells me, standing proudly in front of her closet. “I just wanted to create a platform where we can talk about it freely.”

Changing misconceptions

All of this secrecy surrounding sex has led to a plethora of misconceptions. Which is understandable—if we garnered our entire sexual perspective from magazines and porn, we’re going to be pretty confused as to why things don’t look or feel a certain way. According to Emily, common misconceptions include the idea that there's a "right" way to orgasm, that sex should be effortless, or that our bodies should look a certain way. As a woman who had gotten into the habit of sucking her stomach in during intercourse, this resonated.  “There’s very little ‘supposed to’ in sex,” Emily says. Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions, Emily stresses, is that good sex doesn’t require work—that we’re supposed to automatically be rockstars in bed. Emily insists that this is so not true. Even with the seemingly perfect partner, good sex often takes effort and communication.  “We're going to work hard at everything that matters in our lives. Whether that's health or spirituality or our jobs... Why shouldn’t sex be the same way?” She asks. “Sex isn’t all unicorns and magic. You’re going to have to work at it. It’s going to change over the course of your life.” Many of these misconceptions have risen because we haven't made sexual communication a priority. Why? Even in today's times, there’s still a stigma associated with sex and women—this same stigma is what causes the infamous and fully annoying  “slut-shaming.” Women are more inclined to be ridiculed when it comes to sex, having their desires and longings shamed rather than celebrated. Masturbation is a dirty word, something we’re often scared to do or admit we do. We also might be afraid of disappointing our partners or feel embarrassed when it comes to communicating our needs and urges. Even with the most loving of partners, I've sometimes feared uttering,  "Uh, can you be a little gentler, please?" Kayla, 29, explained a similar dilemma with her boyfriend. "I consider myself a feminist and sex-positive," she explains. "And yet it can still feel weird to have to have to explain that he could be doing it better. It takes away from the mood, it hurts his ego." She pauses. "But then I guess I'm putting his pleasure above my own." Emily believes that starting a dialogue is the first way to instigate a positive shift in the noteworthy "orgasm gap." The #MeToo movement illustrated the nauseating entitlement that men have felt over women’s bodies, and we’re sick of it. We're ready to ask for what we want and say no to what we don't.  “Women are stepping into their own power,” Emily says. “Growing up, it was habitual to defer towards men. We grow up in a world where men are often the ones in charge—the policemen, the fireman, and the politicians. Now we’re realizing that women can be and are in power too. We’re getting our power back."
"We empower ourselves. When we participate in negative self-talk or judge our own bodies and habits, we’re giving away our power."
Curious, but don’t know where to begin? Don't worry, I took notes. Below are some of Emily's essential tips for sexual self-care. 

Get to know yourself.

Masturbation is key to getting to know your body. It doesn’t need to be complicated or intimidating, and it can begin with something as simple as breathwork.  From Emily’s blog, “Start by prioritizing your pleasure, and set aside some time in your busy day that’s just for you. Find a space in your home where no one will bother you, lock the door, and put that phone on airplane mode.” Go with the flow and do what feels good to you. Remember that there is no “supposed to” and that your body is entirely yours. Leave judgment at the door. 

Educate and communicate.

There are dozens of resources that open the doors for sexual self-care. You can read blogs, listen to podcasts, check out workshops, or ask your yoga studios to consider a tantra workshop.  Once you learn what you like or what it is you’d like try, communicate with your partner. “Communication is lubrication,” Emily stresses. If he or she is a good match, your sexual pleasure will be a priority. We want our partners to feel good! Having one awkward conversation will open the door to a positive and uplifting dialogue that makes you both feel like rockstars. 

Use props. 

You know how in a yoga class we often use a block or blanket to get that perfect spot? Sex doesn't have to be different. If it feels right, introduce yourself to sex toys to aid in the exploration of your body.  If you’re intimidated, know you don’t have to have an arsenal of toys in your closet or a room dedicated to sex tech. Emily’s blog compares sex toys to dessert. If that seems like a stretch, hear us out: "You probably love dessert, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to have chocolate cake every time you have your after dinner treat, right? Sometimes you want sponge cake, or pie, or ice cream. And even on your ice cream, you may want sprinkles from time to time.” There ya go, ladies. Sex toys are your sprinkles.

And be mindful.

One of the go-to quotes in any practice is this: it’s not about the destination, but rather the journey. The same is true for sex and masturbation. While it may seem like orgasms are the culminating events (and yes, you deserve an awesome orgasm), the point is to have a feel-good connection with your partner or yourself. Take it slow. Think of it like meditation. If and when thoughts come up, acknowledge them and move on. This is your body, your journey, and your sexuality. More than anything, ask questions. It's okay that we don't know everything—even after my conversation with Emily, I know there's still plenty for me to learn. I'm channeling my inner preteen, and letting curiosity take the reins. — Amanda Kohr is the editor at Wanderlust. You can find her exploring new highways, drinking diner coffee, and on Instagram