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As a psychosexual therapist I often deliver sexuality and sexual education workshops to the wider public, and I have delivered many training days to male, female and mixed gender groups. The groups consist of people of all ages – ranging from as young as 16, to over 70 years old – which gives me insight into a wide array of thoughts and viewpoints.

One of the topics which surfaces frequently, is the different relationship men and women have with their genitals. Of course, there is a big difference between the sexes … in males, genitals are external and boys from an early age cannot ignore the fact that their “willy” is there, just hanging around. In females, the situation is quite different. “Private parts” are hidden and for lots of girls, are invisible.

Girls often observe their mothers looking in the mirror, fixing their hair or make-up. They are told to go and look in the mirror whilst washing their face. Girls also spend a considerable amount of time looking at themselves in the mirror. But, one thing, as girls, we are never told to look at in the mirror – is our genitals. That part of our body is hardly ever mentioned, let alone observed.

So, let’s fast-forward some 10-20 years when a girl becomes a woman. Unfortunately, for lots of women they are still none the wiser when it comes to their genitals. When I ask women in my workshops if they have ever looked at their vaginas a large number say that they never have. Those who have, would only do so to see if everything was ok or to attend to an itch, burn, pain, or some form of discomfort. Some women also only ever look when heavily pregnant. So, it seems that most women only look when “something is wrong or unusual”. Looking “down under” is rarely about exploration, curiosity, intrigue, excitement, or admiration.

Things are not helped by the fact that there are a number of products directed at female hygiene available at the pharmacies and online, but nothing for men. What message might that send out to people of both genders – that female genitals are less clean than male genitals, and that special products need to be used?

My female clients are very often concerned about shape, size, colour and odour of their genitals. What is normal, or not normal, arises as a common question.

An excellent book I use with clients and would highly recommend is Femalia, edited by Joani Blank – a book about female genitals up very close and very personal. Images of vulvas and clitorises of all shapes, colours and sizes are featured; yet it is beautifully composed and therefore highly educational. To this day I have not found a similar book of male genitals, which is rather unfortunate.

So, why is it that as women we rarely look and explore that area, yet at the same time we have become preoccupied with our external looks? Does it fall under the category of “101 things my Mother never told me – but should have” or do we find that part so far removed from who we feel we are?

So, the next time you feel like it, consider spending some time with yourself – and have a look. It might take some courage (especially if it is your first time), but you might be surprised and find yourself amazed at how you really look down there. And, just remember that we are all different and that is the beauty of it!!

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Let’s Talk about Sex

I talk about sex a lot; as a sex therapist it is my job to ask questions. I ask my male and female clients and couples to tell me very intimate details about their lives. I ask about their childhoods, their parents, their siblings, their relationships and, of course, I ask them about sex.

But I do need to constantly keep myself in check and always try to put myself in “my client’s shoes”, wondering what must be like to be asked the most intimate questions and share sexual thoughts, feelings and practices with a stranger (well, almost a stranger).

Both women and men have insecurities, secrets and anxieties about themselves as sexual beings and with sex as a whole. So, why are we so confused when it comes to sex? It has been said that sex is our oldest obsession. We do obsess about it, read about it, are intrigued and also scared by it. Some women tell me that they occasionally speak about sex with their girlfriends … yet interestingly enough, men also tell me that sex is not discussed in any depth with their male friends.

So what do women talk about? Topics vary, from body image issues affecting them sexually, low libido, painful intercourse, vaginismus, anorgasmia, arousal difficulties, adjusting to intimate life after childbirth, surgery, illness and many others. Actually, men suffer in very similar way but the symptoms presenting might be different; erectile difficulties, premature and delayed ejaculation as well as sexually compulsive behaviour are frequently described.

As an example : one of my clients, an 80 year old male, came to me following a road traffic accident to discuss his emotions after the accident, together with a loss of general confidence. Attending his third session, he ‘d brought with him a box of prescribed Viagra and wondered if it was out of date. It was his way of telling me that he would like to discuss his sex life and more importantly, that he still wanted to be – and could be – sexual.

Another example would be of a recent female patient in her late 60s, a cancer sufferer, who had surgeries connected to her cancer and was hospitalised for many weeks. In early sessions she told me with great sadness that she missed being intimate with her husband, as before her illness they enjoyed a rich and frequent sex life. She was saddened that she couldn’t talk to her GP, cancer nurse or even her friends and family about the sudden loss of intimacy in her life.

Sex should never be taken for granted; over the years clients have shared with me so much knowledge and insight into the female and male perspective on sex and sexuality, yet I continue to learn so much. I am especially grateful for the insight from my male clients – insight that I, as a woman, never had before and that most women will never have. So, I feel privileged that men have opened up and told me about how they feel about their penises, about how they learned to masturbate, how they often compared their penises to other boys’ growing up … how they fear they are not big enough (and small enough) or good enough when it comes to sex. I am also encouraged by the fact that more and more men are entering therapy in order to explore their difficulties and improve their lives. At present, 40% of my client list are males.

So although it might be uncomfortable to share sexual thoughts with people around us – who don’t (or won’t) ask, so we don’t (or won’t) tell – we must remember that sex and sexuality is an essential part of us all. If we ask, and share, we will learn so much more about our partners, and in turn ourselves. I know I will continue to ask questions about sex, and continue to be fascinated by what I learn.