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Normalize This: Sexual Wellness

Normalize This: Sexual Wellness

 

Welcome to the latest installment in our new Normalize This Series, where each month, we’ll shine a light on a different “taboo” to provoke thought, spark conversation, and, as always, remind us all that we are not alone on this journey. It’s about encouraging openness and inspiring empathy, connection, and community through heartfelt conversations. 

It’s February, and though we admittedly roll our eyes a bit at Valentine’s Day, it feels like a powerful invitation to address our sexual wellness. Sex and sexual pleasure don’t often fit into wellness formulas as we age, and we want to normalize its inclusion. Yes, our needs, bodies, and relationships might be changing, but that only means that we should have the chance to explore new ways for finding pleasure. 

We reached out to Alexandra Fine, Co-Founder and CEO of Dame Products, and had an enlightening, honest conversation about what it means to “close the pleasure gap” in pursuit of sexual wellness. 

Join us as Alexandra coaches us on bringing some much needed pleasure back into our lives.

Tell us a bit about Dame. What inspired you to start the business?

I started Dame in 2014 with my co-founder Janet Lieberman, an MIT-trained engineer with the purpose of closing the pleasure gap. We wanted to elevate sexual wellness products to honor the power of sexual pleasure instead of treating it like a novelty and/or joke, especially for women, or as we describe more inclusively, vulva-havers.

Before starting the business, I got my MA in clinical psychology with the intention of becoming a therapist. I’ve always been passionate about sexual pleasure. Sex is how we continue to exist as a species, yet we continue to instill a sense of shame around these acts. I wanted to change that through this company. 

We love that. We’re here to help normalize sexual wellness, but let’s begin with “sex” itself -- what does it mean? Many of us come from a very limited definition of what that word actually means. 

It might actually be easier to reframe the question. I mean, what isn’t it?! Sure, there are some parameters, but not many. Sex is enjoyed by so many different kinds of people with lots of different kinds of bodies, so it’d be really hard to say X plus Z equals sex. The best definition I can think of is anything consensual that provides sexual pleasure, so that might mean genital pleasure, but it also might mean pleasure to any other erogenous zones, which are just as varied and diverse as we are. 

Let’s talk about the pursuit of sexual pleasure. When you say “closing the pleasure gap,” what does that mean?

The pleasure gap is so, so real. It basically just explains the gap in the amount of pleasure cis women experience in comparison to their cis male partners. There’s lots of research that suggests that straight cis women have significantly fewer orgasms, so our goal is to design products that work both during solo and partnered play to maximize their experience of pleasure. Combined with wellness and educational programming like our workshops and our blog, Swell, our products are all designed with more holistic pleasure in mind. 

From your work, what have you learned about sexual pleasure as we age?

Sexual pleasure can be a part of your life until you die if you prioritize it. That being said, our bodies change, our priorities change, and our relationships to sex change. Sex changes in our lives as we enter long term relationships, when those relationships end, when we have children, and of course, when we hit menopause.

Menopause creates a lot of bodily changes that impact sexual pleasure. Most notably vaginal atrophy and vaginal dryness can cause pain during penetration. Lubrications, hormones, diet and masturbation are all effective ways of combating atrophy.  I’ve also spoken to women who say that menopause has really changed their libidos and, while they still enjoy sex, they rarely experience spontaneous desire.  On the other hand, though, some tell me about the power they feel in their mature sexuality: no more performance, no more not getting what you want. They know exactly what they want and feel no shame in asking for it. So we can see that pleasure and aging can have an ambivalent relationship, but that there’s lots of power to be harvested here. 

We have read that roughly 50% of women stop being sexually active altogether in their 50s. Let’s talk about that.

I have so many thoughts about this. It’s really difficult to pin down exactly what causes this, whether it’s because of generational sexual taboos that link women’s sexual experiences more with child bearing than with pleasure, or because of actual biological changes that happen as we age. My inkling is that it’s a combination of biology and a culture that doesn’t value women’s sexual pleasure, especially as we age. It’s complicated. Because some folks see a decreased libido as a huge problem while others don’t find it troublesome at all. So my goal is to meet people where they are when it comes to desire. Not interested in sex and it keeps you up at night? Let’s work on that. Not interested but it’s, like, a welcome change? That’s cool too. Regardless, there are stigmas and gaps that definitely need to be addressed. 

With and without a partner, would you say finding pleasure has become less taboo in the last several years, and how?

We’re starting to see a really interesting and much needed change in how we view health, and it’s beginning to include sex. A more holistic approach to health and wellness is inherently going to destigmatize finding pleasure. For example, especially for women, talking to your doctor about sexual concerns hasn’t always been something that’s seen as important. But now we are aiming to help folks advocate for themselves, even if it means feeling like you’re giving your OBGYN too much info. (There’s no such thing as TMI with your OBGYN or care provider, by the way). So linking pleasure with mental and physical health definitely helps break down some of the taboo. 

Some of the most meaningful life stages for our community are pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause and postmenopause. What advice or inspiration do you have for women in these moments of their life, with regard to finding sexual pleasure? Or, stated in more click-baity-editorial terms, “pleasure at every life stage: what to buy, and what to try”?

Pregnancy

Pregnancy can be SUCH a fun but also maybe weird time when it comes to sex. Some folks experience an increase in libido and pleasure, as hormones change and more blood flow is directed to the pelvic, genital, and breast areas. I say, take full advantage of this in any way you can because there’s no better time to celebrate your body than when it’s doing the important work of, you know, continuing on the human race. For partnered sex, I’d definitely recommend our Fin and Eva II. They make it easy to get that clitoral stimulation while also keeping in mind that your belly might become a bit of a barrier. Eva II is hands-free and Fin has an optional tether that helps you keep things steady. 

Postpartum

This is an incredibly tender time for women, as they heal from a major physical and emotional event while also keeping a tiny human alive. Of course, you and your healthcare provider will have conversations about when it’s safe to resume sexual activity, but once you’re good to go, you may or may not feel like it. Whatever you feel is fine. But if you are feeling like it, it may be useful to think about toys that work while you’re in a reclined position on your back. Your belly and breasts may be tender depending on your birth and feeding experiences, so keeping things as comfy as possible is helpful. Pom, Kip, and Fin are all excellent vibes for reclined clitoral pleasure. And once you’re ready, Arc, our only internal vibe, paired with a gentle lubricant may be helpful as you ease into penetrative pleasure. Especially if you had any kind of significant perineal tearing, it’s really important to be patient and kind with yourself. Arc has a really nice squishy design that is gentle while also arching towards the anterior wall of the vagina, so it doesn’t have to put much pressure at all on what might be tender scar tissue in the perineum. 

Menopause

Other than puberty, menopause is perhaps the most dramatic hormonal change in a vulva-haver’s lifetime. With this can come vaginal dryness, pain during intercourse, and change in libido. There are lots of both natural and medical solutions to any of these symptoms that you find problematic, so it’s important to stay in conversation with your healthcare provider. Here’s where that stigma-busting advocacy comes back in: don’t be shy to talk to your doctor about how your pleasure is a priority. Outside of the Dr’s office, though, there are lots of options. Arousal gels and all kinds of lubricants can help you worry less about comfort so that you can focus more on pleasure! Alu, our water-based lube, is made from aloe vera and natural plant extracts. It’s formulated to match the vagina’s pH and would be helpful to have in your toolbox to help increase pleasure and combat any dryness you might have. 

Postmenopause

Lots of the strategies mentioned above will be helpful to mitigate physical changes that come with postmenopause. What’s also important is that you are open with your partner (or partners!) about how you feel and what you desire. It may also be useful to become creative when it comes to getting intimate with yourself. Have you tried sex toys? If not, Fin and Pom are both non-phallic and intuitive vibes that are ergonomic and comfortable in your hand. Also, in addition to things like arousal gels, what gets you mentally in the mood? If porn is outside of your comfort zone, reading or listening to erotica are really popular options to spark some fun fantasies. 

We are adamant about expanding the definition of wellness. What role does sexual pleasure have in wellness, especially as we age as women?

Sexual pleasure is central to wellness; both mental and physical health benefit from pleasure and a broader understanding of sex. Sexual pleasure can boost our immune system and decrease our stress level. A good orgasm can help us sleep. And most importantly sexual pleasure is connected to mood improvement. 

As we age, pleasure can give us thrill. Sex is not something we need stay alive, but it’s certainly something we do to feel alive. It increases our heart rate and circulates our blood.  I don’t think you need to have sex, but it is something that can keep us connected to our bodies.

I’ve also been reading about Taoism and sexuality and how sex is viewed as a life creating energy. My knowledge on this is still developing, but the notion that sexual pleasure is rejuvenating is a promising one. 

Alexandra, on behalf of Attn: Grace and our entire community tuning in to our Normalize This series, thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us and shedding light on how we might better incorporate sexual pleasure into our definition of wellness.  Let’s honor our changing bodies and needs, and go have some fun closing that pleasure gap!

 

Want more on Sexual Wellness?

Dr. Barbara Frank on the Importance of Lube

In Her Words: Real quotes on love, life, and sex from women in their 40’s and beyond

 

More from our Normalize This Series

Normalize This: Urinary Incontinence

Normalize This: Holistic Medicine

Normalize This: Eco-Literacy

Normalize This: Mental Health

Normalize This: CBD

Normalize This: Women-Centered Health

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