When we discuss our health goals for the new year, it is not surprising that our sexual wellness falls pretty low on the list of priorities. This stems from the culture we live, wherein common notions about sex are ignorant and based on social stigmas at best.
However, even when we don’t speak about it, our concerns and curiosity about sexual wellness looms large in the air around us. Whispered secrets, private admonitions, spiritual advice, media fads, gendered rites of passage, sex is everywhere. For instance, our cultural imagination of sex largely involves the penetration of the vagina by the penis.
We are also told that women have lower libido and sexual desire than men do (I wonder where that leaves people of other genders?) There is also the NoFap movement, popularized by the sub-reddit that encourages people to avoid masturbating for prolonged periods of time, promising results like improved mental and sexual health, spiritual clarity, increased stamina, and the ability to accomplish big things in life.
Meeting with a sex therapist to understand sexual wellness better for yourself is probably one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself in this new year. Besides indulging in self care products like a body massager and intimate lubricant for a friction-free good time.
Here are 5 reasons why we think you should take the leap and seek sex therapy with inputs from a sex therapist themself:
Reason#1: To deal with deep-rooted shame around sex & masturbation
Dr. Dharav Shah has an MD in Psychiatry and has been practicing as a therapist who helps people deal with the problems they face in their sexual life, for over 13 years in Mumbai. He says that the anti-masturbation movement ties into a sex-negative mindset.
“Most religions preach that sex is sinful and engaging in it should be kept to the minimum - preferably only for reproductive purposes. In India, many young people are even given false information like 60 drops of blood equals a single drop of semen, and therefore it must be conserved so as to be able to accomplish big things in life.
This is obviously not true. When young people try to hold back this natural urge, it builds a lot of tension. When they are unable to control masturbation and give in to the urge they start worrying that they will become weak and face sexual problems later on. As they hold back, some sticky discharge leaks in urine or they may experience wet dreams.
This makes them further doubt that their sexual health is damaged. All this makes young people feel ashamed over their inability to control that which is natural, thereby affecting their self-esteem. Many go into a rumination spiral, wondering about its implication on their lives and actually go into depression (known as Dhat Syndrome).”
Many a time, this debilitating approach to one’s sexuality, sexual health and masturbation leads to erectile disturbances, which seems to confirm the person’s belief that masturbation has ruined their sexual wellness.
Sex therapy can help by alleviating such myths, and in due course, improve the person's mental health along with their sexual wellness.
Reason#2: Dealing with physical health conditions like vaginismus
Young girls too are made to feel guilty about their sexual desires and for masturbating.
“As a society, we tell adolescents that ‘good girls and boys don’t have sex until marriage’. While they hit puberty at about 14 years of age, marriage [in most urban circles] usually occurs in their mid- to late- 20s. So they have to suppress this natural urge for many years repeatedly telling themselves that to maintain family dignity they must not indulge in it. With years of negative programming, the subconscious mind takes up the task of ensuring that this ‘bad’ thing does not happen!”
Dr. Shah pointed out in an interview with me. This leads to sexual repression, which may cause them to feel low sexual desire when they grow up.
Long-term sexual repression can also lead to vaginismus, which means that the muscles in the vagina involuntarily spasm and contract, a psychosomatic reaction to prevent anything from penetrating the vaginal cavity.
“This often comes from a subconscious programming that is steeped in sex-negativity, and women from highly religious and orthodox families usually have a higher chance of developing vaginismus.”
Dr. Shah shared. This highlights the paradoxical approach that we have to sex in our society, which in turn leads to physical manifestations that may be emotionally and physically painful, but also hard to talk about as a result of the internalized shame around sexual wellness. Unlearning them can take deep, reflective work that a sex therapist can provide guidance and support with.
Reason#3: To receive contraceptive counseling
“Youngsters should be educated on contraceptives, so they can behave responsibly when sexually engaging with one another. I think it is important for this education to become a part of the mainstream curriculum,” opined Dr. Shah. He also shared that many people realize that they are not ready to have a baby after becoming pregnant by accident, thereby causing them a great deal of duress.
In my own interactions with people about contraceptives, learning about the various options becomes doubly important when one is disabled or chronically ill, as certain hormonal pills or devices could interact with other important medication that they may be prescribed for their pre-existing health conditions.
This could lead to undesirable effects like decreased potency of the medication, side-effects that may affect the person’s physical well-being or their mental health, and even accidental pregnancy despite the prescribed use of contraceptives.
Contraceptive counseling can help people explore options and learn about the effective ways of using them. This can promote informed decision-making, that is also conducive to good mental health and sexual wellness.
“This is important because many people don’t enjoy using condoms, and that’s a personal preference. So they end up using no contraceptives at all. There is also low awareness about vasectomy, which is often socially frowned upon,”
Dr. Shah reflected. This could lead to the person with the uterus undertaking most of the labour in exploring and experimenting with contraceptives.
Dr. Shah calls for the alleviation of this social stigma around vasectomy and shared: “Tubectomy involves abdominal surgery and so, alongside the desired effect of permanent sterilization, it can potentially result in severe complications, though risk is low. Vasectomy on the other hand is done through the scrotum, doesn’t require general anesthesia and gets done in just about 5 minutes. Nowadays, there is a procedure called no-stitch vasectomy. Hence, vasectomy is preferable. However, tubectomies are more commonly performed in India due to social stigma.”
Reason#4: Taking off the pressure from partnered sex!
There is this unhealthy ideal that all ‘good sex’ must end in partners orgasming together. Media depictions seem to relay the message that this is the ultimate sign of connection between partners. However, orgasms do not need to be the end-goal of sexual intercourse. Sex also does not have to follow the same ol’ routine, like some sort of choreographed mating ritual.
Exploring pleasure through kink-affirming practices like role-play or just embracing regular foreplay and enjoying it for what it is (pssst, read our blog about outercourse here) or even discussing the use of massagers and other self-care products, can help spice up your sex lives and improve your collective sexual wellness in the long-run!
Reason#5: Aligning on relational goals
“Some of my gay clients have shared that in queer dating circles, they find it hard to find sexual partners who are willing for long term relationships.” Dr. Shah said, giving us a glimpse into the concerns of queer folx.
The reason for this particular issue might be myriad and complex, as homosexuality is still seen as unacceptable in Indian society. Queer partners often go unrecognized by law due to being denied marriage equality, and many older queer folx have remained closeted for far too long in monogamous marriages that suppress their sexuality.
Sex therapy can help people identify their relationship goals, desires, and boundaries, while becoming better at communicating them with dates, partners, families, friends, and anybody else who seems to have a say in the way they pursue their relationships.
About the author:
Tejaswi is a media professional and researcher focused on pleasure & joy in areas of public health. Their attention is captured by post-colonial human relationships at a time of the Internet of Things.
Tejaswi is autistic and identifies as queer in more ways than one.