With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, it’s the time of year when people tend to take stock of their sex life. Sexual wellness is just as important to overall wellbeing as eating a healthy balanced diet and working out regularly, and it deserves as much consideration and attention in your life as mental and physical health. Unfortunately, sexual wellness can often be pushed to the side because of shame, misinformation and a lack of understanding and ability to know what being sexually fulfilled means.
It’s possible to have a flawless exercise regime, to be eating all your fruits and vegetables every day and doing yoga and mindfulness every night and still be sexually unhappy. Sexual wellness impacts every other area of your life, plus of course affecting your relationships, both with others and yourself.
Kate Moyle is a psychosexual and relationship therapist and host of The Sexual Wellness Sessions podcast. Having worked in the business for eight years, she’s an expert when it comes to fulfilling your sexual destiny, overcoming issues and knowing how your sex life can impact other areas of your existence, both positively and negatively. Innermost spoke to her about what sexual wellness means, and how we can all practise some self-love this Valentine’s Day.
Hi Kate! Tell me about what you do and why you do it.
I went into sexual therapy because I never understood why we don’t talk about sex and sexual happiness in the same way we talk about other problems. I want to change the messaging around sex, normalise having conversations about it and improve sex education. It felt to me as though all of these hugely important issues were playing out behind closed doors and if I can change that, I will have a huge impact on people’s lives.
I think it’s the best job in the world. I get to help people make changes that they’re desperate for, and take away their shame and embarrassment.
Why is sexual wellness important?
Our whole lives, we’re picking up stated and unstated messages about sex. Then when we get to the point of being sexually active, we’re expected to be experts on the subject despite having had almost no guidance. School sex ed is almost wholly inadequate, and this way of being is confusing and damaging.
What happens in the bedroom affects our mental health, self-esteem and self-confidence. Sex can be a microcosm of what else is happening in our lives and it drastically affects our identities and how we see ourselves. By normalising talking about sex in an open, honest, unembarassed and curious way, people will know that they’re not alone and that will help to create a cultural shift into making society a sex positive place.
What are some of the most common problems people experience around sexual wellness?
Performance anxiety is right at the top, such as worry around if you're doing a good job, being inexperienced. Having a previous negative sexual experience, having a bad breakup or being nervous about being in a relationship again are also common. For men, this can look like erectile dysfunction, for women, vaginismus or pain. Other common issues include distraction and not being able to get into a sexual headspace.
To start thinking about working through these issues, we need to think about what desire means, what pushes on our accelerators and what pushes on our brakes, as well as working on understanding our bodies.
How does sexual wellness interact with overall wellness?
The biggest problem is the assumption that these two things aren’t linked. For example, if someone is experiencing stress at work, comes home and then can’t get into the right headspace for sex, we can see how their work life is impacting their relationships. These relationship and sexual worries then feed into their work life, and the cycle goes around and around.
Sexual wellness should be sat alongside all other forms of wellness. Everything else in our lives has a massive impact on sex, especially mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, and medications for those conditions.
What are some signs that someone isn’t thriving, sexually?
You have to think about it in terms of where you’re at in terms of your sex life. Do you feel happy, is what you’re doing working for you, are you enjoying it? Give yourself a sexual self-review, check in with yourself and really ask yourself how you feel about sex. The biggest sex organ in the body is the brain, so how we think about sex matters.
With Valentine’s Day approaching, what tips would you give to people who want to improve their sexual wellness?
Open up how you think about sex and the definition of it. Most people have gone through life thinking about sex in one way and never questioned that until it became a problem.
Sex in so much more than penetration - it’s about pleasure, fun and mixing up your routine.
Communication is the most important part of it, even when you’re talking to yourself. Your pleasure matters, and you have to dedicate some time to your body and be kind and positive with yourself to have a positive, healthy and satisfying sex life.
A good way to start a conversation about sex is asking your sexual partner what they like and talking about your sex life together in positive ways, such as saying ‘I really enjoy it when you do that’. This will help you move towards an open dialogue with each other. Our partners are not mind readers, so without communication everything is based on assumption.
A good place to start is by changing just one thing at a time each time you have sex. The position, using a sex toy or not using one, turning the lights on or off, switching up the location - you don’t have to be intimidated by changing things up and breaking away from your routine.
What’s your advice on getting over sexual shame, and what are some resources to help improve sexual wellness?
Remember that you’re not alone, and start by challenging the messaging around sex. Start thinking about sex differently by opening up your field of vision in terms of sex and how you define it. Our culture has confusing sexual messages, so you have to actively seek out a way of challenging them and go looking for that information in the right places.
Read sex positive books, listen to podcasts, learn other people’s sexual perspectives, follow sex positive social media accounts and consider seeing a sex and relationship therapist if you feel you need to. This will open up your field of vision in terms of sex and how you define it.