Sex with benefits: my personal journey with sex and pleasure
By: Sophie Jessamine
CW: Body image
I’m a firm believer that you cannot find happiness in another without first having happiness in yourself. I also believe that sexual fulfilment contributes to self-awareness, personal wellbeing and interpersonal relationships – this has certainly been true in my own experience. The ways in which sex has benefitted me and my boyfriend, touches so many different areas of our day-today lives - from body image to decision making to pleasure and comfort.
I was fascinated by sex from a relatively early age, this thing which you could “do when you’re older.” While my first sexual experiences weren’t quite what I had foreseen, and in a couple of ways did some lasting damage, I have now reached the point where I am enjoying the kind of sex I wanted to. I have had open, communicative and playful relations (I have memories of sex as fond as platonic activities with these partners) which have resulted in fulfilment and ease, and the same has been said by my current partner, long term lover and silly boyfriend.
Tackling libido myths
With a comparatively high sex drive, my boyfriend and I started to come up against feelings of dissatisfaction and resentment. Now, it’s an important step in helping to reduce toxic masculinity by dismantling the belief that “boys always want sex” and challenging what I’ve internalised about that belief and see to myself solo. OK, Hands up; I thought that people in relationships had sex. All the time. A lot. And never alone. I mean, I thought rabbits and bullets were for single pringles. Who knew the empowerment of self-service and the fun of sharing toys with a partner? Oh, you did? Damn. (and if you didn’t or have been hovering over the ‘buy’ button, I seeeriously recommend introducing toys into your relationship. It isn’t a replacement for a partner at all, and it’s worth it just to see your partner’s face when they first place a vibrator against your clit and watch your reaction. There’s now a range of toys out there for those with a physical conditions too so with a bit of looking, I’m positive there’s something for everyone!).
Your most important sexual relationship is with yourself
Encouraging vulva-owners to wank is so important. I was lucky in that my mum helped me to understand that it's okay for girls to touch themselves, but I know from other girlfriends that this was unusual. Primarily teaching our young that masturbation goes hand (cock?) in hand with being male, while never equating it to womxn’s pleasure until well into adulthood, if at all, tells us that unless we have a penis then we are less deserving of sexual pleasure. Nuh-uh. By my experience, sex is best when both parties are at home in their bodies, totally aware of what’s good, and being present with the other person. (Like a drama tutor once told me; “Acting is like sex. It’s not good if you’re focused on yourself.”) This is the thing I most advise my girlfriends on when they come up with problems in their sex lives, single or coupled. Do you know what you like? Do you know exactly where and how hard to press and move? Are you a g-spot or a clit person? Any other erogenous zones? What positions do/don’t do it for you? What aren’t you exploring that you know you want to? And finally, does your partner know? No? Well then… Spend some time with yourself and see what’s good. I’ve been known to do a Meg Ryan when I’m stressed, over-tired, mid-insomnia, bored, depressed, angry, happy, horny, and even to dull a migraine. Although that didn’t work; I was lied to on that front. But I have learned what sensations I like, and even how to get myself there in about 30 seconds (I was in a rush). Anyway, when you’re happy, find a moment (and it doesn’t have to be mid-throws) to tell them. Start a dialogue about what you both want and need. Reach a set of parameters of what’s green, and what’s red. And if you’re feeling brave, show ‘em where to touch you. Then you’ll both be focusing on the other person’s pleasure and things can get really interesting.
Understanding your emotional response to sex
We know that, chemically speaking, sex can be a bad-mood buster. Cortisol drops and the body floods with dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, oxytocin and vasopressin and you feel all the yummy, cuddly, euphoric stuff. It’s not, I learned, a tool to directly handle depression. My sex drive doesn’t drop when I feel that fog descending, it increases. I’ve had to learn to ask myself what am I wanting here? Do I want connection with x partner, or am I looking for validation? In short, if you recognise the feeling I’ve described, ask yourself if the encounter will be beneficial, or do you need to work through what’s trolling about in your head? Slowing down and paying attention to what’s specifically needed and achievable has been a lynchpin in coming out the other side of self-sabotaging depression. Sex is sex. Therapy is therapy. Not to mention, (and I’m speaking for myself here) I’ve had some of the best orgasms of my life since fully investing in and exploring mine and my partner’s pleasures with specificity. Yes, I know this doesn’t cure Covid-19 or halt the rise of fascism, but it does make me feel better, which has to count for something.
Now, if you have a body, you may have been dissatisfied with it in some way or another. I don’t blame you; society and its beauty standards are a nasty, nasty thing. Despite having what would be referred to as a “socially accepted body”, I still battled with its shape and size as a young woman. I hit puberty at nine and was dealing with changes that didn’t hit my friends for another three years. I went from sitting in a fashion-mag black hole with the leftovers of 90s thinness, to being permanently on bulk due to my sixth-form's charity donut sales and weights gym. Similarly, my boyfriend went from chubby kid to skinny young adult in a world where male muscles were expected as norm. We were both on the way to being comfortable in our skins and our relationship seemed to fast-track us simply through enjoying what our bodies are capable of and the acceptance that both of our forms are attractive. Yes, I can still look at my thigh and think “god I didn’t think they were that wide” but that’s almost immediately addressed by remembering a) this is a super squishy position b) no one else is thinking that c) it ain’t gonna stop me cumming for the third or fourth time. Then I go and listen to ‘I Weigh’ with Jameela Jamil and stfu about it.
Exploring sexual power dynamics has been a positive experience
I predominately fulfil a submissive role within the bedroom to my dominant boyfriend. This behaviour is individual to this relationship and its not to say that if I were to enter another relationship that this would be the same. I do not believe that sexual roles adhere to binary social gender concepts. Instead, I believe that it’s a manifestation of deeper behaviour and desires which are free from gender. After all, why then would some men be sexually submissive? Allowing someone I trust to take control and actively pursue both of our pleasure – within the pre-discussed parameters of our hard no’s – we began to alleviate stress and transfer trust and ease into daily life. A usually indecisive individual, I’ve found that this set-up has contributed to feeling more assured and capable of knowing what I do and do not want. Likewise, I’ve always been able to call out unwanted and offensive attention and behaviour, but in my research and practise of a kink & sub/dom relationship, I’ve been better equipped to understand where (my) consent is being overlooked in more passive or underhanded ways.
Clear communication as a love language
We started out as a couple which encouraged and practised open discussion, but we have grown to be more able to recognise when we aren’t effectively communicating and how to address this. Having a clear language of what is and isn’t ok, when something’s unbalanced or upset us and what we are wanting from the other person is, we believe, vital for any relationship to survive - as well as being crucial for self-preservation. This was perhaps the most surprising aspect for me, that by setting up specific but varied boundaries in our sex life, we would simultaneously be able to find an honesty and support system in deeper ways than we had previously.
I’m very much enjoying being on the sex-positive band wagon. I’ve enjoyed and been further empowered by meeting more people who are outspoken about sex, spectrums of gender and sexuality, sexual politics and addressing sexual inequalities, inclusively and irrespective of age, race and ability. Due to the combination of seriously lacking sex-ed and films and degrading female sexual tropes constructed by and for the male gaze, sex wasn’t somewhere I felt able to explore (not for lack of wanting to). However, after learning to seek my own pleasure and knowing how I felt good, it eventually made the whole thing easier. Two years into this relationship, we have varied, exciting, enthusiastic sex and it is rare to finish with either of us feeling like we didn’t quite hit the spot.
But more than that, we trust each other with every inch of our bodies and selves.
This article was contributed by Sophie Jessamine. Sophie (she/her) is on a quest for pleasure, in sex as in life. She writes to encourage and embolden others to explore their sexual selves and build safe and meaningful intimate relationships. Sophie also writes creative non-fiction and fiction. Follow her on Instagram @sophiejessamine.