The reality is that sex education continues to be unreliable, lacking, or even missing for many people growing up. Sex education should start off with the basics of anatomy and function, not just for the purpose of understanding reproduction, but also for the purpose of understanding pleasure and how it relates to your anatomy. And the reasons for this are much more basic than you might think.
I want you to touch my you know what.
Without the correct names for each and every body part, a person is left without the ability to communicate directly about their wants and needs. Let’s say that a woman is unaware of the word for vulva so instead she uses vague terms. Vague communication leads to vague results, which is just as true in sex as it is in any other area of life. You may not get what you’re asking for if you can’t communicate specifically about it with your partner, instead leaving it up to chance whether or not they will figure out just what you’re thinking. Who wants to waste time and energy, and take the focus away from arousal by having to correct someone and explore why it went wrong? Knowing your anatomy is the basis for good communication in sex.
I have no idea what I want.
More serious, however, is the fact that your brain actually needs to know what something is to work with it. Without having a name for something (or even knowing it exists), it’s difficult for the brain to conceptualize. Let’s take the beautiful clitoris for example. If a woman is unaware of the existence of her clitoris, she is unable to think about ways that she might like to get pleasure from it. Instead, she may or may not be aware that there is a spot on her vulva that may feel good with some forms of touch, but then with others might quickly become a source of uncomfortable pain or intensity. Without the understanding that the clitoris is, in a way, independent of the other things around it, she will have difficulty entertaining ideas about how to get pleasure from it, thereby reducing her chances of desirable sensations to just hit or miss. I’ve seen this very problem with many women who don’t understand why they don’t enjoy oral sex, or have difficulty “getting it to work” with their partners.
Teaching people the correct names for their body parts is pretty important.
Right up there with not having a term for a particular body part is the use of a slang term instead. When it comes to sexual anatomy, I find that many people either don’t know the right terms, or they were taught a childish term rather than the actual term. An example might be “cookie” for vulva, or “wee-wee” for penis. Once a child is old enough to hear and learn the correct terms, there is an element of shame introduced, the message being that it is wrong or too embarrassing to use the correct term. I always encourage parents to use the correct terms and teach their children to use them as well, not just to provide them a framework for understanding themselves and communicating with partners as well as their health care professionals, but also to eliminate shame and anxiety that are the killers of sexual arousal and self-esteem.
Dr. Castellanos is a psychiatrist specializing in sex therapy, bio-identical hormones, and functional medicine consultation. You can follow her on Facebook at The Sex MD, and Twitter at @DrCastellanos.