Thanks largely to the internet, it’s not difficult to educate yourself about sex these days. If you want to know what the big deal is with squirting or female ejaculation, (because they’re not the same thing, evidently) queefing, uncut penises, or pretty much anything else relating to how sex works, the internet will be happy to inform you. If the sex questions you still have as an adult center around communication rather than anatomy, though, then look no further.
Angela Skurtu — speaker, Huffington Post contributor, author of Pre-Marital Counseling: A Guide for Clinicians, and president of St. Louis Marriage Therapy, LLC — agreed to speak with Bustle about everything from how to get better at dirty talk to how you can relax during sex if you’re a survivor of sexual assault.
In addition to seeing clients, writing books, and allowing journalists to interview her over coffee, Skurtu also runs an annual seminar where she answers anonymous questions from attendees. The seminar is called, “Sex, Wine, and Chocolate." (Because you literally get to talk about sex while enjoying wine and chocolate.) At these seminars, Skurtu says most of the questions she answers at her event are all variations of the same concern: “Am I normal?”
If you’ve been asking yourself any variation of the question above, then read on. Here’s what an actual sex therapist has to say about the sex questions you might still have as an adult.
"What Exactly Qualifies As Vanilla Sex?"
If you've read Fifty Shades of Grey (guilty) then you already know what "vanilla" means in reference to sex. In case you're unaware, though, here's how Skurtu defines the preference: "there's kissing, there's some touching and making out, then there can be oral sex involved in vanilla. There can be penetrative sex and somebody has to orgasm, and as long as somebody orgasms you're good....and that's kind of my definition of what 'vanilla' sex is."
Skurtu says most of the couples she sees tend to stick with "vanilla" sex, but even her most vanilla-loving clients like to get sexually adventurous from time to time. "Sometimes people think outside of that box, and when they're thinking outside of their box, they question who they are. 'Am I normal?' 'Is it OK that I'm interested in trying sex toys? 'Is it OK that I own a sex toy or two?'"
According to Skurtu, the answer to those questions is pretty much always a resounding "yes." Just because you have vanilla sex sometimes, doesn't mean you're always vanilla.
"How Do You Relax During Sex If You've Been Sexually Assaulted?"
One third of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Further, it's usually at the hands of an intimate partner. Armed with this upsetting knowledge and my own experiences with non-consensual sex, I asked Skurtu what advice she would give to anyone who struggles to relax during sex because of sexual trauma. "Step one for that is, you really need to work through it on your own without addressing the sex at first, because it's painful," she says. "It's a violation of everything a person is, and it makes it hard for them to not only trust others but to trust themselves."
Skurtu says she suggests therapy, but also believes in the power of self-help and reading your way toward healing as well. However you decide to do it, working through trauma is crucial for anybody who's trying to learn how to relax during sex after being assaulted. Step two is to be mentally present for every single sexual act you experience. Otherwise, you're not really having consensual sex. As Skurtu explains, "People who have been affected by trauma have this thing they do, it's called dissociating...It's basically just going outside of your body, you don't exist in there anymore for a time. It's dangerous when you're having sex to dissociate, because in that moment, you're not consenting to having sex."
If you recognize this behavior in yourself, (I do, and it freaks me out a bit) don't shame yourself for it. Work through your trauma with a therapist if you can, or check out these affordable alternatives to therapy. Then, when you're ready to become sexually active again, tell your partner that you need to be able to consent (or not) to everything the two of you do in bed. While this is obviously easier to do with a trusted partner than a one-night stand, one thing's for certain: it's necessary. As Skurtu explains, "For trauma, the only way that I know to help someone re-experience sex in a positive way is to have them consent at every single step, literally."
"How Do You Relax During Sex With Someone New?"
I always get a little nervous when I'm about to have sex with someone new, and I don't think my struggle is at all uncommon. So in preparation for my next sexual experience with a new partner, (and yours) I asked Skurtu how to relax during first-time sex with a new playmate. Her advice? Do your homework, and lots of it. "It takes a lot of self-exploration to just know who you are, and what you like and what you don't like. You can learn a lot by either researching things online, watching different shows, or talking with friends about what they like and don't like," she says.
So if you were looking for a good reason to watch some high-quality porn for women, or read books that will make you better in bed, look no further. Taking the time to develop your sexuality on your own is the best thing you can do to combat first-time-sex-nerves. As Skurtu puts it, "The more that you kind of know what you like and what you're comfortable with, and what you're not comfortable with, the easier it is to say to somebody for the first time, 'I'm OK with some of these things, but I'm not OK with some of these other things.'"
"How Do I Tell My Partner About My Sexual Fantasies?"
Whether you want to talk to your partner about something as tame as incorporating more sex toys into your playtime, or you'd like to discuss the possibility of having a threesome someday, the most important thing to remember is you're just talking about it. As Skurtu put it, "just because you're talking about sex, or sexual options, doesn't mean you're going to do them...Couples need to understand that there needs to be a space to just talk and explore things without acting." A lot of times, she says that people need the safety of several conversations about a fantasy before they're ready to act on anything.
If you're still nervous to talk to your partner about your sexual fantasies, Skurtu suggests enlisting the help of pop culture. "I think culture and videos, or TV shows that reference different things, are an easy way for people to bring things up with one another. There are things that are more direct about sex in TV shows, like Not Safe With Nikki Glaser."
"How Do I Talk Dirty Without Feeling Stupid?"
Personally, I think it would be super fun to get more comfortable with dirty talk. Whenever my past sexual partners have talked dirty to me, it's almost always been super hot (except for the time an ex called me a "good girl" while I was giving him road head) — but I've rarely felt comfortable initiating dirty talk. I'd like to change that, though. So for my sake and yours, I asked Skurtu how to talk dirty to your partner without feeling ridiculous.
The first thing Skurtu suggests is to get over feeling ridiculous. "Anytime you try something new you're going to feel awkward and you're going to feel a little silly," she says. She compares talking dirty during sex with watching a scary movie, and the metaphor actually makes a lot of sense. "When I have people who struggle with playing sexually, usually they struggle with suspending their disbelief, so I ask them about how they watch a scary movie."
If a person watches a scary movie and they're very logical about it, that is a person who struggles to suspend that logic. "None of the rules in the movie exist in real life, but that's the point, you're suspending it. You say to yourself, 'for the rules of this movie, I'm going to allow myself to let go of what my brain says is logical and just play in this space.'" According to her, people who can do that tend to be better at doing that sexually as well.
So, there you have it. If you want to get better at talking dirty, give yourself permission to look silly and just have fun with it. Oh — and you might also want to read this guide.