Let’s Talk About Sex: Part 1

Guest blog by Rose Hartzell-Cushanick – Rose HeadshotPhD, EdS, CHES, LMFT, Sex Therapist, San Diego Sexual Medicine, AASECT Certified Sexuality Therapist & Educator and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC 53079); full bio below.

As a sex therapist, educator, and researcher, I have the honor of talking to people about their sex lives on a daily basis. I am able to witness their journey towards having a sexually satisfying and healthy life.

When speaking to men and women regarding their sex lives I am amazed at how ‘secretive’ the conversation is for them. I am frequently told that I am the only person they have talked to regarding a sexual problem, concern, or question. I am saddened to hear people living in shame, pain, or fear for years (or decades) before seeking help. I’ve often wondered what our world would be like if we lived in a more ‘sex-positive’ society – a world where people feel comfortable sharing and exploring their sexual desires and addressing their sexual concerns, a world where people feel comfortable discussing sexually transmitted infections (STIs), pregnancy and infertility, ultimately a world where sex is no longer off-limits. Although talking about sex can be terrifying for people, when I present myself in a non-judgmental way I find that people are relieved to have someone they can finally share intimate details about their sex life that they never before felt was appropriate to talk about.

Sexual health is a critical part of overall health, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized sexual health as an important topic for a number of years. According to WHO, sexual health encompasses many aspects of an individual’s life and relationships. They advocate that sexual health not only includes sexual satisfaction, sexual pleasure, and consent, but also protection from STIs/HIV and unwanted pregnancy.

I have found that talking about STIs is “third rail” of sexual health topics. No one wants to discuss it and many individuals I have worked with not only felt uncomfortable talking to me about their sex life, but add an STI to their case and it becomes even more embarrassing for them. STIs are often referred to as a ‘silent’ epidemic since it is a topic not talked about in a serious way, and most Americans are not aware of this epidemic. It is also silent in the fact that some STIs have no symptoms. This can be problematic since an untreated STI can lead to serious health concerns such as pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and in some cases death. In addition, silent also refers to the lack of communication that people often have regarding the topic with their health care providers and sexual partners.

STIs and sexual pleasure have a complicated relationship with each other. Although there is some research indicating that women need to feel ‘protected’ from unwanted pregnancy and STIs during sex in order to relax and fully enjoy the act, these same studies also reveal that women often worry about their method of protection interfering with sexual pleasure and closeness with their partner. Ultimately, most women are in a catch-22 because they want to feel protected but also want to remove any emotional and physical barriers during sex.

What I’ve always liked about Pure Romance is their party concept and removing the shame out of talking about sex. I believe these parties can help women embrace their sexual side and educate women regarding their sexual health – pleasure, matched with consensual, protected sex. Not only are the parties good, but the products can also help women to explore different aspects of pleasure to include self-stimulation and all other forms of sex to create a more fulfilling life.

I believe that educating women to effectively use sexual enhancement aids and introduce self-pleasure empowers them to make better choices regarding their sexual partners. If they can make themselves feel good, women don’t have to rely on someone else to make them feel this way and can therefore have a ‘clearer’ mind with whom they decide to date. A past U.S. Surgeon General presented this same idea in the 1990s before being forced to resign for making such a “ludicrous” suggestion.

I hope to one day live in a world where sex and sexual health are talked about so freely that we don’t have to feel embarrassed about our bodies, desires or urges. I hope to live in a world where people regularly get tested for STIs/HIV and use protection. Don’t be afraid to start this conversation with those around you. The conversation starts with you!

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” —Margaret Mead

A note from Patty’s desk: I loved this article so much and I learned something, as well – I had no idea that the surgeon general lost her job in the 90’s for making that suggestion. I’m so proud we are take steps in giving women a voice!

About Dr. Rose Hartzell-Cushanick: Dr. Hartzell performs psychotherapy and is a sexuality researcher at San Diego Sexual Medicine, where she is responsible for addressing the sexuality, relationship, and intimacy concerns of individuals and couples who attend the clinic. Dr. Hartzell earned her doctorate in health behavior with an emphasis in human sexuality, and an EdS and Masters in mental health counseling with a minor in development from Indiana University. Dr. Hartzell is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (license number 53079) and an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist who has worked in a variety of settings, providing psychotherapy for individuals, couples, and families. Dr. Hartzell has written multiple publications and has presented at over 50 international and national meetings on sexuality matters. She has conducted sex research with the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction and the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention (RCAP). Dr. Hartzell is an AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator and has taught numerous classes at Indiana University-Bloomington, the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, San Diego State University, and National University. She has also been sought out as a sex expert by the media and has a monthly spot on FOX5 San Diego and has been quoted in many newspaper and magazine articles including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, US News & World Report and Women’s Health Magazine.

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