Sexual Health - Let's Talk About Pleasure!

Sexual Health - Let's Talk About Pleasure!

By: Theresa Callard-Moore, Ph.D. • Posted on March 07, 2024

The Importance of Sexual Health

Your sexual health is important! Often in sex education classes the focus is on reproduction…where are your ovaries and how to make or avoid having a baby. Did they even mention your clitoris??? How do we learn about healthy relationships? How do we know we are safe to express our true sexual self? And with whom? Where do we learn about pleasure and how it fits into our desires, our relationship, our morals, and values? When we are looking at sexual health, we need to consider many variables.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual health as “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”

I love how the WHO looked at the context of sexual health to expand on the many variables that are involved in our lives. The statement looks at the health and function of your body, your attitudes towards sex, your partners attitude towards sex, your mood, and how safe you are in your relationship, culture, and community. When one or more of those variables are in place for you, it is possible to achieve pleasure. But what messages do you see in movies, tv, or porn about your pleasure? How do we know what is “normal” or not?

What is a Pleasure Gap?

There is a pleasure gap between men and women. Men report having an orgasm 91% of the time and women only report having an orgasm 64% of the time. Studies show that women are able to be orgasmic more often with established partners verses new partners. And orgasm is achieved easier by receiving oral sex, using vibrators, and manual clitoral stimulation. Over half of women are not able to be orgasmic with intercourse, but they feel pressured or “broken” if they can’t orgasm that way. So then, women tend to “fake an orgasm” for these reasons. The more you increase your self-confidence, feel more comfortable with your partner, and choose partners who are mature, sexually attentive, and not controlling, the better you will feel about sex.

Pleasure is the journey…and the goal

The average sexual activity is reported to be about 15 minutes long. Is that long enough for you to forget what you needed to do that day, what’s for dinner, can the kids hear us? Women tend to have the most responsibility for childcare, eldercare, and household chores. Sometimes it takes longer to let all of that responsibility go and let desire and arousal to show up. Try to take more time in your pleasure, whether it is with yourself or your partner. When you focus on pleasure instead of orgasm, then it opens many more options and fun.

How can I make sexual activity more pleasurable?

Studies show that women are more likely to feel sexual pleasure if it includes kissing, cuddling, hand to genital stimulation, receiving oral sex, rubbing genitals together, vibrator/sex toy use and intercourse. Men are more likely to have pleasure by hand-genital stimulation, receiving oral sex, and vaginal intercourse. Unfortunately, the media, such as tv, movies, or porn, show the male focused pleasure. It’s very rare to see female focused pleasure represented in our daily lives. Let’s change that! Let’s get rid of words like “foreplay” because that is the main pleasure event for women! Let’s redefine what “sex” means for you. It doesn’t have to include intercourse only. What is included in your sexual activity? Can you expand on what you are doing now to increase your pleasure? Let’s start by learning about sex toys.

What is a sexual aid device? Is that a sex toy?

A sex toy is an object or device that is primarily used to facilitate sexual pleasure, such as a dildo, artificial vagina or vibrator. Many popular sex toys are designed to resemble human genitals and may be vibrating or non-vibrating. About half or more of all women use some kind of sexual device for pleasure with masturbation and/or with a partner. A variety of devices are found at both erotica stores and even at many drugstore chains. When you are shopping for a toy, consider the cost, what it is made out of, does it vibrate or not, does it offer clitoral stimulation and will it stimulate your partner also? For example, some women prefer the non-vibrating glass "dildos." But if you are having pain with intercourse, you may want to focus on clitoral stimulation or focus on the outside of the vulva, not inserting it into the vagina. There are many to choose from and there really are no limits to what you can do with them. Focus on your pleasure and don’t stick to stimulating your obvious areas of vulva/vagina. How does it feel on your neck, inner thigh, breast, back, butt?

Where can I get a sex toy?

More specific devices
  • Lelo has many products. A best seller is the GIGI 2, Sona. Mia 2 is another option. It is discrete, high end and has a lipstick vibrator with a USB charger.
  • We-vibe has couples’ vibrators too, a popular one is Tango.
  • Womanizer Pro uses air for stimulation. This may be for women having difficulty achieving climax with traditional wand devices.

How do I clean my devices/toys?

See the table below for general cleaning tips, but I recommend following the manufacturer instructions to make sure you are properly cleaning the device/toy. 

Cleaning is very important for prevention of sexually transmitted infections, regardless of the gender identity or sexual orientation of your partner(s).

General cleaning tips for devices/toys
MaterialPorosityHow to cleanWhere to store
ABS plasticnonporouswarm water and soap or sex toy cleanerin a lint-free fabric bag
cottonporouscold water and soapany clean container or drawer
crystal, stone, wood*nonporouswarm water and soaplint-free fabric bag or padded container
glass, Pyrex, silicone, stainless steelnonporous

motorized: warm water and soap or sex toy cleaner

nonmotorized: can also use boiling water or sanitize in dishwasher

glass and Pyrex: lint-free fabric bag or padded container

silicone or stainless steel: any clean container

jelly rubber, elastomer, latex, cyberskinporousroom temperature water and a soapy washclothindividually in a lint-free fabric bag or nonplastic container
leatherporousspot clean with a damp, soapy clothstore in a cool, dry place and avoid storing in plastic
PVC and vinylporouswarm water and a soapy washclothlint-free fabric bag
nylonnonporousmachine or handwash with soapany clean container or drawer
General sexual health resources:
To reclaim or discover your sexual self with others just like you:
  • Body Sex was developed by Betty Dodson, a sex educator, where women come together in a safe environment and learn about their bodies and claim their sexuality. “Many women/vulva-owners have been raised to feel shameful about their genitals and sexual desires. Our physical self-worth and pleasure are controlled by social norms that deny our birthright to feeling good about our bodies, having satisfying orgasms, and owning our sexuality. Bodysex is designed to heal shame, enhance self-esteem, and enrich our orgasms.”
To increase pleasure and fantasy on your own:

I hope I have inspired all of you to increase the pleasure in your daily lives! 

Be Strong, Be Healthy, Be in Charge!
-Theresa Callard-Moore, Ph.D., Sexual Health Specialist at the Cleveland Clinic 
Certified Sex Therapist, Certified Sex Addiction Therapist
Appointments: 216-444-6601

Theresa Callard-Moore, Ph.D. is a Sexual Health Specialist in the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Callard-Moore received her undergraduate degree in Social Work from Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida and her Masters and Ph.D. in Sexology from Modern Sex Therapy Institutes in Florida. To make an appointment with Dr. Callard-Moore, please call 216-444-6601.

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