S4:E9 Sexual Pleasure with Sexologist Emily Power Smith
Super Brain Blog – Season 4 Episode 9
Sexual Pleasure with Sexologist Emily Power Smith
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- 01:44 – What is sexology?
- 04:20 – The problem with scientific research on human sexuality
- 12:30 – The clitoris, arousal and orgasm
- 22:09 – Porn and sex education
- 26:43 – Trial and error, learning about sex and learning about each other
- 29:01 – Communication
- 31:13 – The limits of perfectionism
- 34:10 – Better sex comes from being in the moment
- 35:52 – Pleasure
- 44:03 – Abuse
- 52:27 – Consent
- 1:05:31 – The feast of sex
- 1:09:09 – Victim Blaming
- 01:16:16 – Non-sexual abuse and vaginismus
- 01:18:25 – Fear of sex and dating
Video: The internal clitoris sketched by Betty Dodson
Book recommendations: Come as you are by Emily Nagurski
Podcast: Emily’s Golden Guide for Great Sex
Emily Power Smith has a Masters Degree in Sexology and a Post Graduate Diploma in Art Psychotherapy, with years of experience as a facilitator, educator and trainer. She is a professional member of the World Association of Sexual Health (WAS) and accredited with the Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists (IACAT).
Emily’s mission in life is to:
- Make it safe and normal for all people to talk about sexuality.
- To provide current and factual information about sexuality so that people are equipped to make good choices about their own sexual health, wellbeing and safety.
- To provide science-based, non-religious, non-judgmental and up-to-date sexual health education for children (and all ages) that includes lessons in sexual esteem and sexual boundaries.
Over to You
There were so many things that I wanted to ask Emily about but simply didn’t have the time. I’ve decided to invite Emily back for Season 5 and she has agreed. So if you have any questions you’r like to to ask or any topic you would like to cover then please let me know in the comments below or via email email@example.com –
This transcript has been prepared by AI. It may contain errors but I simply don’t have the resources (human or financial) to edit it. Volunteers willing to do so are more than welcome simply email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Sabina Brennan 00:01
My name is Sabina Brennan, and you are listening to Super Brain the podcast for everyone with a brain. My guest this week is a self-confessed sex geek who is on a mission to make it safe and normal for all people to talk about sexuality. Emily power Smith is a sexologist, and a sex therapist with a master’s degree in sexology. She is also a professional member of the World Association of sexual health. Emily is absolutely passionate about providing current and factual information about sexuality, so that people are equipped to make good choices about their own sexual health, their well being and their safety. She provides, and this is the bit I really like, she provides science-based, non-religious, non-judgmental, and up-to-date sexual health education for children, and of course, for people of all ages. And she includes in those lessons for children, which I think is really, really important too having been born in the 60s and lived through the 70s and 80s, etc., that includes lessons in sexual esteem and sexual boundaries. And actually even just talking about sex is something that was just utterly foreign when I was growing up. And even when I was a teenager, and I mean that even amongst teens, sex wasn’t talked about it was completely taboo. You can learn more about the services that Emily provides on her website, which is a fabulous name empowersme.com. I love the play on your own surname there. Emily, I am so excited for this episode. And gosh, I don’t know how we’re gonna fit it all into an episode. There’s so many questions. Maybe we’ll get you back again next season. But thank you so much for joining me, can we just start by you explaining what is sexology
Emily Power Smyth 01:44
and it’s lovely to be here. And thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate it. So sexology is the scientific study of human sexuality. And it borrows from all the other ologies psychology, sociology, criminology, I’m going to not be able to think of any more ologies but all the ologies that there are, because it’s looking at not only the sexual acts that people engage in, but also their attitudes, and their beliefs, and also the social context within which people are sexual. So it covers a very broad range of human elements, in order for us to understand sexuality, in order to understand gender, orientation, and all the other things that go with sexuality, different types of sexualities, and the variety that is scientifically shown to exist now. So it’s a very broad, but very comprehensive way of studying sexuality And my master’s in sexology, I did it in Australia, and it was, basically, if I hadn’t already been a qualified therapist, for a number of years prior to doing my Masters, I would have then had to train in therapy to be a sex therapist, the sexology masters that I chose to do is a broad training, but then you would specialize in a field within. So for example, you might go into advocacy, education, therapy, or even forensic sexology, which I also trained in, which is the darker side of sexuality, the bit that gets people into trouble or the illegal parts. So my training gave me a great basis upon which I could do this work. And it was really, it’s been really, really useful. So on top of sexology, though, it’s important to say that I’m sex positive, because you can do the training, you can do training in anything as you know, and then your belief system and your value system will color how you practice that training that you’ve received. So sex positivity is really, really important to me. And I think it’s actually I don’t believe people who aren’t sex positive. I don’t believe they should be working with sexuality, I think it’s important. And what it is, is, as a sex positive practitioner, or therapist I am only interested in are you having fun? Are you consenting? And are you safe? That’s it. I’m not interested in your weight, your height, your color, your religion? I’m not interested in your abilities, your gender, your orientation, or your kink if you have one. All I’m interested in is are you safe? Are you consenting? And are you having pleasure?
Dr Sabina Brennan 04:20
Oh, that’s really, really interesting. Thank you so much for that. I took a tiny module when I did psychology, on human sexuality, because it’s just fascinating and we know so little about it. And one thing that I remember jumping out to me on taking that was really, most of the research that’s done on human sexuality, certainly sort of to that point was from the Kinsey studies, etc, was really around if I’m correct, and I could be misremembering, but there’s been no sort of study of just normal everyday sexuality. It’s more been things that maybe fall outside the general if there is General but you know what I mean? Outside what? And I hate to use the word normal range, but outside the average the studies were and then from that things were inferred, or even not from that, from people’s actually personal perspective, things were inferred about what’s normal, abnormal, etc.
Emily Power Smyth 05:18
Yeah, you’re right. If we don’t have the research, if we don’t have empirical evidence, we are basically just going on opinions, right? Our opinions, our own experiences, and that’s really dangerous. And particularly when you’re talking about sexuality, because there’s so much judgment and stigma and shame, particularly in Ireland, but not just in Ireland, about people’s sexual lives and practices, and, and tastes and values. So if we’re not coming from a place of science and a place of research that is reliable research, not just YouTube research, but reliable research,
Dr Sabina Brennan 05:50
absolutely scientific research,
Emily Power Smyth 05:53
scientific peer reviewed, because you know, because even scientific research has to be questioned, doesn’t it these days?
Dr Sabina Brennan 05:59
Oh, it does?And no, absolutely. And I should say that. So you know, the scientific method is very clear. Around, for example, you don’t try and find data to prove what you believe you actually are trying to disprove your hypothesis. That’s one of the grounding things. And there’s various rules about having control groups, and all that sort of thing when you’re doing scientific research. But even within that, we have, for example, what’s called a publication bias. So if you find something, it is more likely to be published than something where you don’t so for example, that happens a lot with even if you talk about differences between male and female brain to use those narrow gender stereotypes, you are more likely to read about differences, because that’s the publication bias of, if you don’t find differences, it’s unlikely to be published. So we have this whole distorted thing within science. Um, but I think if people understand, and that’s one thing that I’m passionate about in terms of educating kids and people, you know, is how to make critical decisions about the value of the information that you’re taking on board
Emily Power Smyth 07:07
I agree. I think it’s actually a life skill that needs to be taught.
Dr Sabina Brennan 07:11
It should justbe taught in schools. Yeah, no, absolutely. It is a life skill, because so much is dependent. We make so many decisions based on information,
Emily Power Smyth 07:18
and we didn’t need it. Maybe I’m being ignorant, but certainly, I’m 50. Now, when I was growing up, I didn’t need that as a life skill taught to me in school we need to catch up with because there’s so much information now online, that that is as important as anything, I think, because it’s not just about what your value system is, and what you’ve based that on whether it’s reliable or not. But the amount of suffering and anxiety that goes with getting your information from unreliable sources is out of control, I think, ,
Dr Sabina Brennan 07:48
You’re absolutely right. The only place you could get information when I was growing up really was a library.
Dr Sabina Brennan 07:54
Dr Sabina Brennan 07:55
So that meant it was already published it how I’m through certain sort of, you know, and that doesn’t mean that all books are true, but at least it had jumped through some hoops. Now, with the internet, not only do you have access to all sorts of data, which can be untrue, once you click on something, you then will be more likely to be presented with data that actually supports that thing that you just clicked on. Yeah, you’re not getting this broad perspective. Anyway, we could kind of talk all day around that. One ology that I remembered that I think probably is very relevant. And you’ve touched on it without actually saying it would be anthropology
Emily Power Smyth 08:31
Dr Sabina Brennan 08:32
because attitudes to sex across cultures are. Read machinations. Absolutely fascinating. Anthropology is an amazing subject. The research
Emily Power Smyth 08:40
bias is also really interesting. I’m sure you know a lot about that. But you know, it’s really interesting to know that there’s four times the amount of research done on male sexuality than there is on female sexual. I
Dr Sabina Brennan 08:51
didn’t know that. Yeah. But that applies across health, we have a huge issue in terms of health, because pretty much all research until very, very recent years, and I’m talking really only maybe in a decade, yeah, all research has been done on men. And that’s because women have those pesky hormones that actually might screw up data, which is really ridiculous, because then we’re prescribed medication. Yeah, that has only been tested on males. And I’ve spoken about that before with heart medication that’s had fatal consequences. So that’s across the board. And that’s all across the board in my discipline, which is psychology, and I’ve done an episode on this on this is that everything, all of our psychological theories are based on research with men. And that’s why we have this bias where we say things like, Oh, she’s very aggressive for a woman. Yeah, oh, these kinds of setting the men as the norm, whereas actually, it should be the entire population from which you draw your norms. And then you can start to pull out whether there are gender differences. And that’s something I want to touch on when we go forward. Before I do that, and at the risk of upsetting anyone. In terms of language that I might use, language is really, really important. We’re at a stage where we have had male and female in Western culture for sure. Their words and they have existed as if they describe the reality the biology, we know that it doesn’t. There is 200 intersex conditions for whatever using Word where people are not, by definition, fully female or fully male.
Emily Power Smyth 10:26
And as though being fully female, or being fully male, is the only health and that will absolutely mean is some kind of a disability or a medical emergency or an ill health. Whereas we know from science, that’s just outdated. That’s just not the case anymore.
Dr Sabina Brennan 10:42
It’s just completely outdated. And that’s why I kind of faltered over the use of condition. And because, you know, it applies to many other things, not just sex, it applies to depression. Depression is considered a condition. Now, I’m not talking about clinical depression. I’m talking about depression that we might experience as
Emily Power Smyth 10:59
part of natural reactions. Daily reactions. Yeah, they’re
Dr Sabina Brennan 11:03
medicalized. Yeah. Apologize. Yeah, I agree. Yeah, rather than and this applies with sex, rather than saying, Well, look, this is the full an amazing range within the human condition. And I just think it would be so much easier to change words than do horrible things like surgeries on babies with dubious genitalia, again, forgive the words they are not intended to exclude are isolated. I want to be clear on that. But when we do talk, there are some questions that I will be asking that may just refer to male and female, but that’s just in terms of language and how we can ask some of those questions. I met you virtually, we’ve never met in person. And I think it was probably maybe around this time. Last year, we were both on a panel for an online event that I think was around menopause, I was talking about brain fog. And you were talking about sexuality in the menopause, which is something that’s important to talk about, and there’s only really started to be talked about recently, and I was absolutely blown away. You know, I mean, I learned stuff of the clitoris that I had never known. And I would consider myself quite an educated individual. So I’m going to dive right in and that’s a really probably terrible word to use. But I love you to share with my listeners what you spoke about that my the internal clitoris, I really just had absolutely no idea. Will you talk a little bit about that?
Emily Power Smyth 12:30
Sure. And yes, because we’re talking about the clitoris, you know, it’s important not to go straight to the clitoris like we’re doing now in our conversation. Build up a little tease. So the clitoris, those of us who know about the external part of the clitoris, we know that we have a little novel knob Call it what you a little pearl, little jelly taught has lots of different names. It’s the glands of the clitoris. That is visible that is external. And that’s the bit we tend to focus on because it’s if we even know about it, because we’re not the clitoris is not on any diagram in any sex ed. The clitoris is the female sex organ. The vagina is the birth canal. We are taught that incorrectly we are taught that the male sex organs the penis and the female sex organs, the vagina that is incorrect information. Plus, because the clitoris isn’t used for anything but pleasure, it gets literally cut out of textbooks and out of trainings and out of teachings. Still, to this day, midwives aren’t taught about the clitoris. I mean, it is astounding. So why what’s that about? And that’s a whole other podcasts by all people. It’s the only organ in any body that has just for pleasure. So they can’t double up and say, well, the penis is the sex organ and up through it. So we had like, maybe if you didn’t pay through your penis, they would cut that out as well. I don’t know I doubt it. But because so much. So the clitoris then is made up of the same erectile tissue on tissue as the penis they all begin as clitoris as in the womb, and then they develop into either penises or, or a version of something in between a clitoris and a penis. Basically, it’s made up of the same stuff, we can see the glands which would be equivalent to the glans of the penis. Externally, it’s the most sensitive part of the clitoris. That little tiny part of the clitoris has twice the nerve endings of a whole penis. Wow. So when I say rushing straight to the clitoris is not usually a good idea. I really mean it. Because it can be way too sensitive way too quickly. And a lot of women would talk about, oh, yeah, it felt good for a little bit and then it suddenly got really intense and painful. And I have to stop. Well, that’s because it’s too much stimulation too quickly. There’s nothing wrong with you. You just need to understand that the clitoris needs very, very gentle approach and touch. It can’t be touched like a penis. If you’re having sex with a man. Men will Often touch clitoris as the way they would like their penises to be touched, which is hard and fast and straight to the point. And females will often touch penises to gently because they’re afraid of hurting the penis because they have a clitoris. So that’s a thing a gendered thing. But the clitoris then goes internal. And really, I’d recommend people google or Go on to YouTube and look up Betty Dodson, internal clitoris, and you’ll see a beautiful drawing of how the internal clitoris fits within or fall of us inside our pelvis. Aisha takes up to 40 minutes for a woman to get a full erection because you can’t get a man through a hand around the internal clitoris. So, again, this is what you were saying earlier, we only have a male arousal model. That’s all we’re taught if anything, so it’s incorrect because female arousal is very different to male arousal. We take a lot longer to get our erections, but we can get full erections. And when we do the bulbs of the clitoris, and it’s really hard to talk about it without a diagram, but the bulbs of the clitoris, when they’re fully erect, they almost wrap around the vaginal canal. So when a woman is really turned on, and is having some kind of penetration, she will often or they because it’s anyone with a vagina and a clitoris, they will often feel lovely pleasure from that they might even orgasm but don’t trick yourself into thinking it’s not a clitoral orgasm. It’s just stimulating the internal fissures via the vaginal canal. Okay, for some people that works, and for others it doesn’t, but depending on the research between 80 and 90% of women will never orgasm through penetration alone. Because the vagina is not there to do that. The clitoris is there to do that. So it’s getting their education, it’s so basic to just even understand how the female sexual anatomy works, why it’s there and what to do about it. So that’s why slow massage of the whole volver the vulva is the all the external genitalia and the vagina is the birth canal, it’s really important that we use the right language and that we understand what to talk about what to call our body parts. So it’s like the vulva is your face, and the vagina is your mouth. And so if you went to a doctor and said, I’ve got a pain in my mouth, but you’re talking about a sore cheek, you’re going to run into difficulties. It’s really confusing. It’s disempowering. So it’s really important that we begin to use the correct terminology which we don’t, there’s a big problem with saying vulva for some reason, I think it’s a lovely word, I drive a Volvo because it’s as close as I can get to driving a bike.
Emily Power Smyth 17:41
So the internal pressure is when we give ourselves time. So 40 minutes is for older women who have slower blood flow. Same as penises. Blood flow isn’t as good as people have penises get older, it’s the same for people with fitness, it takes longer to get the blood flow into the internal clitoris. But if you give yourself that time and patience, then you have a whole new realm of orgasm as a potential. Because you can imagine if your orgasm in within, say, three minutes, by polishing your jelly taught by giving your glands of your clitoris a little rub, it’s going to be a localized orgasm. That’s based on those nerves getting stimulated without the rest of the clitoris becoming engorged with blood and becoming erect. So when you allow the full erection to happen, the spasms of orgasm, which are the gorgeous, tasty things that you feel they vibrate right through your pelvis down your legs and your tummy, your bum, they can go right up through your body and out your head and your it can be a very, very different experience.
Dr Sabina Brennan 18:49
And you know what listening to you talking about that? I can imagine a lot of women are going, Wow, I’ve never experienced that. And it makes perfect sense. I mean, really, when you spoke to me, I mean, I was of the understanding, you know, because I can miss it. I’m actually one of my guests week before last was Norma she and the actress and she’s just been playing Shirley Valentine, who spoke about the new tourists, you know, and that was written in the late 1980s. And that was ground. Yeah. You know, it was probably the first time I ever heard the word. But it was like, oh, yeah, now I know about this. And that men think oh, yeah, I’m aware of that. I mean, it’s the clitoris the same as the g spot. Is that it that module?
Emily Power Smyth 19:31
That’s funny. I was headed there as well, because that
Dr Sabina Brennan 19:35
actually yeah, because I think there was huge confusion around that. And I think men and I’ve been married for 30 years. I’m generalizing here folks. I could be very wrong. But from reading books and all sorts of things and I mean fiction and watching television, all the rest. I think men felt that they’d really moved on in understanding that women had a clitoris but I don’t believe that any of them know that. It goes further than that jelly taught that it really is what most women don’t pay me most women don’t I didn’t until I spoke to
Emily Power Smyth 20:07
you. It was only scientifically acknowledged in the 90s. Wow. So you know, it’s nobody’s fault. We don’t have to feel at all ashamed or embarrassed that we don’t know stuff that wasn’t available to us. They took it out of Grey’s Anatomy at the start of the last century, they removed it from the anatomy book being taught to medics, once they realized it wasn’t needed for it to conceive. So all those doctors and Guy knees and obstetricians, all the people who can cut a woman or sew a woman up knew nothing about the nerves involved in the clitoris and the internal clitoris. I mean, it’s disgraceful. But so we only got our first imaging, reliable imaging of it in the 90s. So it’s still very new to everybody. And it certainly isn’t public knowledge yet, we’re getting better. I mean, I talk about all the time, and there are many people like me who talk about it all the time.
Dr Sabina Brennan 20:56
Yeah, and I’m so glad that you are talking about it. That is why I don’t go straight into the clitoris. Because I just think it’s so important, I will definitely be checking out and I’ll put a link to the Betty Dodson video or image because girls and boys and people of whatever gender listening, I think, should check this out. Because it is something that I think has the capacity to be life changing in a way and relationships
Emily Power Smyth 21:22
and learning what to do with it. And learning that the biggest thing for people with clitoris is is giving themselves permission to be different to people with penises when it comes to their arousal and how they get turned on and how long it takes. And what happens. Because we don’t know that we’re different. So we feel a lot of people with clitoris feel somehow less than or they’re taking a haircut so much I take so long, it takes ages, it gets too much I worry about my partner getting bored. So I just pretend I just fake it. Or I just say don’t worry, I’m fine with it. Because they don’t realize that they’re functioning absolutely perfectly, perfectly naturally and unhealthily. But they function differently to males.
Dr Sabina Brennan 22:09
And obviously, as well, based on everything, you know, I mean, a lot of certainly people, my generation, I’m sure it’s kind of pretty true. Although it’s kind of gone another level, I’d say with current younger people, a lot of what we’ve learned about being sexual, how to do sex, how to have sex, actually comes from reading fiction from watching movies warm. And the change, I think really has come in the porn and that freely available nature of porn, which is a very worrying to my mind a worrying trend, in that I’ve heard and you probably know about this, or you can tell me if what I’ve heard is not true. But I’ve certainly talked to some medics who have expressed a real concern about the amount of porn being consumed by young males, who maybe have never engaged in actual sexual activity with a partner and have that as their only reference. Yeah, who have sex is would that be true? And we should be concerned about?
Emily Power Smyth 23:09
Yeah, but being concerned about porn, to a degree as a red herring, we need to be concerned about education. Porn is not going anywhere. There’s no condoning porn. And I believe the only thing we can do is it’s not the only thing it’s a wonderful thing that we can do is we can educate all of us because it is a young person thing, because they’re more savvy, and they’re they spend more time on devices. But everybody gets their education from porn, I work with people of all ages, and all types of people. And if the education isn’t there, and you watch for and you think you’re learning, and you’re not, it’s like watching as I say, I find this funny, but I said all the time, so if people have heard me before, they’ll be bored hearing it, but it’s like watching The Fast and the Furious and then thinking you know how to drive. It is not reliable, and it is not helpful. But it’s not just young guys who have had no real experience with real people. People who are having experiences with each other are playing out scenes from porn, without communication without stopping to see if that person is enjoying themselves without understanding what real pleasure is. They’re doing scenes from porn, they’re doing sex, so I hear more and more that young guys will there’s like four positions that they’ll throw their partner into during the sexual encounter. It goes kissing, boob fondling, give me a blowjob I might go down on you, I probably won’t. And then we’re going to have these porn positions for sex and then I have my ejaculation and then we’re done. So that is the model used for a lot support model and porn is aimed at young men. It does a great job. It’s a highly successful marketing machine. And until young men and young everyone and older everyone is able to understand the difference between Acting on fake and real, we’re going to be in this mess that we’re in.
Dr Sabina Brennan 25:05
Absolutely. And sex education. That’s the point I was making is it’s the only reference, as opposed to, you know, we all have Yeah, you know, we all have, like, if you read romantic novels with no sex in them, and you’re talking about relationships, you know, that’s Fiction and Fantasy, because you’ve seen your parents, you’ve seen friends in relation to each other. Yeah, no, but you know what I mean, you have a reference because sex happens behind closed doors. with humans, you don’t have that other reference. So it’s the sole reference. Because you know,
Emily Power Smyth 25:36
it’s really interesting because a lot of female people would have got more of their information from rom coms. books, magazines, news, and it’s no more helpful. No more helpful. I hear stuff. Like, if he loved me, he would know, I shouldn’t have to tell him about my pleasure, or what I like or how to be touched. It’s like, I’m not going to have sex with that person anymore. Because their shit and bad. Well, why don’t you talk to them about what you’d like? Well, a I don’t know what I’d like because you shouldn’t masturbate. Women shouldn’t matter it and be he should know if he loves me should be able to read my mind. I’m like, Oh, my God. Oh, yeah. But that’s the message from those books. And
Dr Sabina Brennan 26:17
Oh, absolutely. And and the thing is, as well. And I do get that response that people say, you know, number one, yes, nobody has a crystal ball. Yeah,
Emily Power Smyth 26:26
sex is a sensual experience. You don’t fall in love with someone and then decide that you know, their favorite food and how to cook it. And what will be their favorite food next Friday? And what when you talk you learn you ask questions, what why do you like birds? Like the holiday? There
Dr Sabina Brennan 26:43
is trial and error, trial and error? That is, you know, that’s the thing as well. And I do think the internet has a lot to do with that this pursuit of perfection. Oh, yeah. Yeah. As humans, we learn through trial and error. Making mistakes is absolutely critical to our own happiness to our own progress. It is how the human race has evolved. We’re supposed trial and error, we are supposed to make mistakes. Yeah. So that applies to sex, no more than if I decide to cook you your favorite meal and you decide, God, I really didn’t like that. You know why you just didn’t like that particular thing. Let’s not do that one again.
Emily Power Smyth 27:27
But equally, maybe I could have asked you before I went to the trouble of cooking. And then we could have got something a little more satisfying for both. But the perfectionism is a really, really big block for a lot of people’s pleasure, if you are more worried about the size of your penis, how long you can last. So the two most common things that young men worry about, if you’re more worried about what your tummy looks like, in the doggy position, or if you’re on top, your cellulite on your thighs is showing, you’re not in pleasure, you’re not focusing on how you’re feeling in your body. And if you’re not talking, and if that’s going on in your head. So people think, oh my god, they see what I see. And they’re judging me. And they think this is gross, and I have to protect us lights off only certain positions. And guys are thinking, okay, all I have to do is lost ages, and maybe try and hide size of my penis. There’s no connection in any of that. So people are having, they’re doing sex with each other, but they’re not having connection with each other. The best, most delicious sexual encounters even have the one night variety, or a couple of hours variety is connected. And I’m not talking about, Oh, I love you and me, because obviously that’s inappropriate for someone if you’re having casual sex, but being able to look into someone’s eyes without shame and say, Tell me how to touch you. Yeah. And I’ll tell you what I like, is a basic necessity to enjoy great sex. And it’s not happening. Of course it isn’t.
Dr Sabina Brennan 29:01
I think there’s a couple of things there. I want to kind of touch back on. If we don’t talk openly about sex. I suppose that happens probably more now than it did when I was in my 20s or whatever. And I suppose I’m talking about talking about it in a meaningful
Emily Power Smyth 29:16
way. But what I don’t think is happening more.
Dr Sabina Brennan 29:18
Yeah, I think people can talk about it and can say, oh, I want to talk
Emily Power Smyth 29:22
about tits and Coxon. Yeah. And they can also
Dr Sabina Brennan 29:24
learn about having casual sex and wanting casual sex. But that’s not talking about it in that sort of meaningful way, in a way where there’s learning. Yeah, if we can’t do that, just on a day to day basis, you can understand how challenging it is in the intimacy of a room to actually say to someone, actually, do you know what, I don’t really like that. Could you move there, you can understand the challenge. Obviously, that is one of the joys of marriage for many people, if you have a marriage where you have good communication is that over time, you really can be very honest with each other and talk about things I realized that that doesn’t necessarily follow that that happens. No, it
Emily Power Smyth 30:03
doesn’t. It can be the case in every other area of couples life except sex.
Dr Sabina Brennan 30:08
And I totally get that. Yeah,
Emily Power Smyth 30:11
you know, it’s a different thing. It’s so fascinating. But you know, you can have really, really eloquent, confident people in every area of their life. And when it comes to sex, and they lose their voice completely, they lose their ability to communicate, to ask for something, or to give to hear what’s needed without taking it as criticism. The skills don’t seem to transfer from your work, or your family life or your friend’s life, to your sex life, it needs conscious work to be able to go, oh, I have all these skills in other areas of my life. Now, how do I become good at communicating around sex
Dr Sabina Brennan 30:50
doesn’t fallen? Yeah, you know, and that’s what’s so funny. In a way, it’s just another skill, you know, we don’t just know how to cook, or we don’t just suddenly become good cooks, or good archers for anything, you kind of work at it. And you know, that you can eventually get better, but you have to learn by mistakes as well. And you have to be prepared to make mistakes in order to learn.
Emily Power Smyth 31:13
It’s so important that perfectionism really, really limits people in what they are willing to risk when it comes to taking their clothes off, as I was saying about how they take their clothes off, whether there’s light or dark in the room, whether they’re in certain positions. That’s a really, really big thing. But the idea of making a mistake in your sexual encounters is absolutely terrifying. And for young people, I really get it. And I didn’t have this either when I was a young person, this online bullying, naming and shaming and my ex girlfriend and all these different ways that people can get spoken about, and their name can get damaged by somebody talking about their sexual encounters. And that’s a real live, terrifying problem for young people who are experiencing that. It’s terrific. So I work with young people who are ready, I’m able unhealthy for a sex life, but they are afraid to take their clothes off with someone in case they are judged as not up to scratch and it gets publicized. Wow, there are people choosing not to be sexual because of that.
Dr Sabina Brennan 32:20
Yeah, I can’t imagine what it must be like to be young and seeking partners and relationships. I you know, as an older woman now, I mean, I can imagine, as I said, I’m in a happy relationship. I cannot imagine ever being with somebody else, because I have so many hang ups about my body. At least I know that my husband knows them. Do you know what I mean? And we’re comfortable. I cannot imagine myself exposing myself to somebody else. Oh, I imagine
Emily Power Smyth 32:50
posing myself all the time.
Dr Sabina Brennan 32:54
It’s wonderful. That’s fabulous.
Emily Power Smyth 32:56
Because it’s fun to see. So I don’t have to imagine that. I’m going to turn up naked with the tummy. I have a fantasy so I am more along the lines of I don’t know, the narrows Targaryen or you know, Angelina Jolie and Tomb Raider. Yeah, she’s my blonde. Actually. She’s my crush. That’s how I turn up in my fantasies. Yeah, yeah. So yeah, I fantasize about being other people. I’m in a very happy relationship for 12 years, but I fantasize about other people loads. And I love that it doesn’t mean I’m being unfaithful. This is another thing, actually, it’s another thing worth talking about fantasy, and the fear that you’re somehow being a failure partner. Well, actually, what you’re probably doing is bringing a little bit of life and a little bit of energy and a little bit of newness into your sexual life with your partner, by imagining and having an amazing fantasy. Maybe you share it with them, maybe you don’t. Our fantasies are very much around, we don’t need or have to share them with our partners. They can be just hours. But the research is there to show that people who fantasize tend towards a slightly more enlivened experience of their own sex life.
Dr Sabina Brennan 34:04
Emily Power Smyth 34:04
I can imagine people can fantasize about their own partners, it doesn’t matter what I fantasize about. So just as they’re not playing Yeah,
Dr Sabina Brennan 34:10
and we’re all entitled to our inner life, you know, not just around sex, you know, that’s just part of the human condition, you can have an inner life. And that’s good. That’s your imagination around all sorts of things. One thing that you spoke about that I think is really important, and it links it’s something that I’ve spoken about across other aspects of our life, and it just applies the same with sex. You were saying, if you’re concerned about your cellulite on your stomach, or the size of your penis, or whatever, why you’re having sex, the sex is not going to be very good to be perfectly honest. And I mean, for me, that’s what I talk about for people to just find their joy I’m not talking about is particularly in relation to sex, but it does apply. I talk to people about finding their joy in their life find something that they love doing that the time is irrelevant,
Emily Power Smyth 34:57
or lover. Yeah, that’s
Dr Sabina Brennan 34:59
your turn. lost in the moment whether that’s art painting, singing, whatever it is you do, you forget to eat. That’s your joy, you lose yourself. And in losing yourself, you actually find yourself. You’re totally connected. And to be honest, I think that really is what makes for good sex. Because you are utterly and completely in the moment in the joy of the moment, not thinking about, Oh God, am I nearly there my nearly, you know, just actually going with the experience. In the moment as it happens.
Emily Power Smyth 35:32
You’re spot on, like you teach that in psychology. Think how difficult it is for people to do that sexually, let alone if they can’t do it in their everyday life for five minutes and go and walk on the grass or whatever it happens to be that will bring them into their bodies and into their own energy. You’re absolutely right, when I’m talking about pleasure, which is why we take our kids,
Dr Sabina Brennan 35:52
right, that’s the next thing I wanted to talk to you about is pleasure. Why
Emily Power Smyth 35:56
do we get naked? Why do we engage sexually it is for pleasure, vast majority of the time it is not for procreation. So that whole procreation model, that horse has been so flogged, there is no fourth left.
Dr Sabina Brennan 36:08
Oh, it’s just been awful. Anyway, what about people who can’t have children? What about those of us who are no longer fertile, even
Emily Power Smyth 36:15
those of us who can’t have children are mostly having sex for fun, no. Fun. So you know, we need to talk about pleasure. But pleasure has shame attached to it, particularly in Irish society, I do believe it’s part of our religious upbringing. And we still carry a lot of fat. But if you’re focusing more on pleasure, I believe you can then begin to look at your body, rather than look at its faults, and its wobbly bits and its ins and outs that you’d rather it doesn’t have, you can think about how much pleasure your body can provide you with. And so as you were just talking about there, which is what brought it to mind for me about how to help people understand how to find their joy, that’s where I start with people, I don’t start sexually, because it’s a skill to find your joy, right. So absolute, yeah, and it’s a lot less scary to start to find your joy through painting, or walking or swimming, or whatever it is that you want to do. It’s sensual, you’re using your senses to experience your joy. Sex isn’t any different than that, except that it is different, but you’re still using your senses. So that’s a skill to develop, how do I feel really, in my body, really, in the moment, really enjoying myself, you start to practice it in a non sexual way and build your muscles up slowly towards the sexual realm. Because the sexual realm will have more worries and more little triggers and blocks in it than perhaps your everyday life might have. So you build your skills and then bring them to the sexual realm a little bit.
Dr Sabina Brennan 37:48
Yeah, and, uh, you know, I was actually just talking about a talk I gave yesterday, and I was talking about curiosity. And curiosity is a wonderful thing. It’s really good for your brain, sex is really good for your brain to folks. If it’s good, it’s good sex. But what I will just throw in there and
Emily Power Smyth 38:06
flex your brain well.
Dr Sabina Brennan 38:10
What I was going to throw in there was that older adults with an active sex life are less likely to develop dementia in later life. That’s the bit I was throwing in. Which is kind of really nice. So I was talking about curiosity in the context of neuroplasticity. plasticity is this fantastic capacity that the brain has to adapt and change with learning and enrich the connections between your brain cells and you really want a densely connected brain that’s a healthy brain. And curiosity enhances neuroplasticity. So yesterday, I was giving a talk about being curious in life, it had really nothing to do with sex, I was just trying to explain to people to move them away from that academic narrow focus on what learning is. But learning is everything about everything we do in the world. It’s not just academic, and curiosity enhances our ability to learn. So when we are naturally curious about something, neuroplasticity is enhanced, and it is easier to learn. And then that enhanced plasticity can extend then to you can kind of use it to then work on something that maybe you’re less curious about. But you know what? I think we in a way have lost curiosity about our own bodies. Curiosity about connecting with our bodies. I read something recently, and I wish I could remember where it was. But it was something and it just really struck me. It was just one of those things about something to do in terms of appreciating life and getting more joy in life. And it was something like just spend some time today exploring each other’s bodies, no sex, no nothing just being together and exploring each other’s bodies. And I thought that was lovely. That’s just sensual. It’s just something perhaps when you’ve been in a long term relationship, maybe you don’t do anymore it reminds me of something that perhaps happens in very young teen certainly when I was growing up, there was an awful lot of what was called parenting. But prior to that there was gently just getting to know each other and looking at someone’s hands and talking while you did those lovely very, they weren’t really weren’t necessarily sexual, they were a form of bonding, getting to know a person’s body, looking at their faces touching their hair, a real getting to know and and I think probably, I don’t know whether that’s changed recently, but I think we could invest more time in that. And then in doing that, you can probably then come to that place of understanding pleasure and where pleasure can be found,
Emily Power Smyth 40:43
you’ve got to find out for the individual, you’re speaking to what pleasure is for them. And if you’re speaking to an anxious person, what you’ve just suggested, there is going to be nothing pleasurable. So you need to find out where persons are, if somebody is really embarrassed about their bodies, they’re not going to want to have their body explored by their person, if their person has been critical of their body, they’re not going to want to do that. So I know you’re speaking about for those who aren’t in that situation that
Dr Sabina Brennan 41:12
yes, absolutely, no, but it’s a very valid and good point that you have raised it. And it is always different strokes, it’s
Emily Power Smyth 41:17
really complicated. It’s always complicated. It’s always difficult to give generalized ideas and tips for anything like sex because it isn’t, it so often can’t be generalized. Because we have so many individuals, we all have our stories, we all have the bruises that we bring to our bedroom, or, or sitting on your kitchen, or car or side of the road, wherever we’re going to be sexual. You know, we all have our own vulnerabilities. So I think focusing on how we can be okay with our vulnerability is probably really important in regards to reaching a place of pleasure. Because I think, as you said, it’s so interesting, isn’t it? Forgive my this is a really simplistic way of describing something you probably know. So tell me if I’ve got it wrong. But when fear goes up, curiosity goes down. It’s very hard to be actively curious when you’re in fear. And I’m using fear very generally as worry as anxiety and as actual fear. So when a person is fearful of being judged, is worried they’re not going to be good enough in bed, or is anxious, their ability to be curious, is so low, that they are more likely to paint by numbers, they’re more likely to go, Okay, this is what you do in bed, this is I’m going to do these things that I’ve seen porn or on telly, that makes you a good lover, I’m going to do those fingers crossed hope for the best that the other person won’t judge me. And there’s nothing in there for them about their own pleasure. So again, we have to step it back, don’t we to what you’re talking about, to a space that’s safe for people to begin to connect with pleasure and curiosity, and then bring it into an area where clothes come off, which is much more vulnerable for most of us.
Dr Sabina Brennan 43:03
Yes, I’m so glad you brought that up. And I do tend to say this, you know, when it comes to any sort of human behavior or interaction, we are not all the same different strokes for different folks
Emily Power Smyth 43:15
mostly push and that kind of masturbation, yes.
Dr Sabina Brennan 43:20
True, true. But you know, in terms of just even social contact, we all have a different level of need, when it comes to that, exactly. It really applies across the board, we are all very different. We bring with us very different experiences. We all have fundamental things as human beings that have evolved, but we have different genetics, we have different life experiences. And some of those life experiences can be traumatic across the spectrum as well. One person’s trauma may completely derail them, whereas the similar trauma and another more resilient individual may not may actually make them stronger. And actually, now that we have just sort of touched on that you yourself, have your own story of trauma, just like
Emily Power Smyth 44:03
so many people in Ireland, I’m nothing special. Actually. It’s a really interesting thing I have felt throughout my life, particularly when the more serious and disgusting cases of clerical abuse and institutional abuse began to be spoken about in Ireland. So I would have been an adult by the time that really began where that I became aware of it anyway. So I’d had some of my most possibly most of my negative experiences by then, when I was possibly ready to begin to talk about it. I have this thing like I don’t think I’m alone in it, but I’m curious what you think were because my abuse wasn’t as horrendous as some of the stuff these are people have spoken about. I’m so glad they’ve spoken about and it’s so important. I didn’t feel I had a right to talk about mine, because it wasn’t that bad. Yes. And yes, when I’m working with people, and they tell me about an experience they’ve had, and they will inevitably say, but it’s not as bad as such and such. And my job as a therapist is to slow that down and go, but it’s not about anyone else. Tell me about how it is for you. But I struggled to do that for myself. And I’m talking about my own story, because I think Well, here I am about to tell you a little bit from kind of middle range, trauma, so to speak. I mean, I don’t even know. But do you know what I mean, this kind of resizing.
Dr Sabina Brennan 45:25
I know exactly what you mean, I think we feel that we have to apologize when you know, the horrors that have been visited on certain people, but an individual’s trauma is an individual’s trauma. I think we and I think, you know, in a way, there’s no harm in saying this. I suppose there’s a sense, certainly, for me in terms of speaking about something like that, and it applies across the board, not just with sexual trauma, but with experiences, you want to acknowledge that you know, that other people have had worse happen to them. So you want to do that. But I think it’s a fine balance between being able to do that and acknowledge it and not undermining and say, Actually, but I still had an experience that has had impact on my life, and that perhaps I’m struggling with, or perhaps that I don’t have the tools with, or perhaps actually, I wish I was as resilient as that individual was, even though my trauma may not have been objectively as bad as their trauma. So I think that’s very normal. And as human beings, it is our wound it is in herend, in us to compare. Yeah, we just do that, you know, and often we’re very happy. You know, there’s lovely research around people in jobs on the same salaries, people in jobs are perfectly happy with their salary, they think it’s justified for what they get. And then they hear that an individual doing the exact same job is getting as little as a penny, 10 minutes more than them, and suddenly, they are dissatisfied. So we do have this, it’s just part of how our brain works, we compare. And I suppose that’s something when we experience anything you’re trying your brain is trying to give it context, your brain is working with it. It’s data, it’s information.
Emily Power Smyth 47:15
But the difference I guess, for me with the work I do that I’m really conscious of there’s a difference between comparing and criticizing, you can acknowledge difference without feeling bad about yourself or feeling better than someone else. That’s a really good thing. There’s learning in that and there’s but it’s when it becomes cruel. And so many of us have such cruel inner dialogues that make it so hard to imagine having pleasure when we are feeling so low about ourselves because of what we are saying to ourselves on a repeat on a record. And so many of us who have cruel voices internally don’t even know we have them because they’re so common to us. They’re so comfortable or not comfortable. But we’re so used to them, we don’t even know we’re doing it. And that when you’re coming from a place internally, where you are really beating yourself up. How unsexy is that? How hard is it to really feel acceptable, lovable, sexy, sexual, when you are telling yourself all these really cruel things,
Dr Sabina Brennan 48:17
I think and this applies again, to our whole sense of self, our sense of who we are, you know, your brain really is just this data processing machine. And it’s not invaluable. It just takes information from various places, and when it comes to sex, so a lot of my early information and for women of my generation related to sex was sex was dirty. Sex was something that wasn’t spoken about sex was something that was preserved for married people alone, to experience any sort of sexual desire was just not appropriate. And even one of my early memories and it wasn’t even affects was, you’d go to a disco as a team. If someone you fancy did slow dance with them. They walked you home. And in this particular instance, I was walked home by my boyfriend at the time, I’d say I was about 15. And we kissed outside the gate and long, passionate teenage kids, but never went any further than that long, passionate teenage kids. You’d look at people in the disco, and you’d wonder where they ever come up for air. That’s kind of what used to happen in teenage discos. When we were kids. And I remember noticing a light flickering, you know, and kind of go What’s that? And it was the light in our house and the on and off.
Emily Power Smyth 49:29
You’ll know where
Dr Sabina Brennan 49:30
I’m coming from a lot of younger people go what’s going on? I came in and my mother was standing in the hallway waiting for me and she said if you were a dog, I would have bought water out throw it over you. Wow. Yeah. But I don’t think that was that uncommon, as far as my mother was concerned. And actually for those the reference was basically if dogs had sex with each other on the street, sometimes they would get stuck. And people would always get stuck. Yeah. Oh, is it? Yeah. Okay. So people would come out and throw water oh, for them cut cuts or even worse, really, and so I presume it reduces the size of the penis and then they can become unstuck or uncoupled steal a phrase from Gwyneth Paltrow. Excuse me. But yeah, so that kind of thing sticks with you a god, that’s 40 years ago, thankfully, I’ve kind of got over that sort of thing. But it’s still those kind of things are there for a lot of people. So whatever your early kind of experiences, your brain will just take that as a piece of data, your brain doesn’t make any value judgments. It just takes information in and whatever other information that the church said, or whatever other information that you know, friends said, or what you hear, when you’re watching television, your brain is just taking all those bits of information. And unless you consciously assess and make value judgments about that information and decide to work to discard some of that information, that’s just all there. It’s just all their insides, you know, unconsciously forming your attitudes to sex, influencing your experience with sex and all other things in life. So that’s one thing for me that I’m passionate about is to just get people whatever it is you’re working on, to look at, even if it’s pen and paper, and I’m not a therapist, and I’m open to be contradicted. But certainly in areas not related to sex, this is something that can be really helpful. Write down your feelings, your thoughts, your attitudes, and then try and trace back where they came from. And are they valid? Are they truthful? And I mean, that often comes to things like people say, oh, gosh, I always thought I’d be useless academically, or I’m bad at English, because a teacher told them, they were bad at English, when they were seven, look at that and go, that’s not valid, it’s not useful, I need to work to get that out of that composite of who I am. And I just think probably, it could be helpful to do something similar in terms of the ideas that we have that influence how we think about and behave sexually, because we’ve just let all this information come in unconsciously, and your brain is just making a best guess it’s taking whatever information it has. But we do have the power, we have a conscious brain that can assess the validity of that. And then work changes for the better for held by
Emily Power Smyth 52:20
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, but certainly a
Dr Sabina Brennan 52:22
part of therapy for sure. Nice. Nice. Okay, well, I
Emily Power Smyth 52:26
do therapy anyway. Yeah.
Dr Sabina Brennan 52:27
There’s something that I’m interested to talk about. It’s come up a couple of times throughout the course of various interviews and episodes, and that’s around the issue of consent. And consent, not consenting, not really consenting, deciding to just go with it, because you love the person or whatever, perhaps you’ve decided you’re going to pleasure your partner out of love. Yeah, it’s just that whole area to me, can be somewhat of a minefield. And is it as simple as yes or no or no, because
Emily Power Smyth 52:57
we’re taught, most of the discussions I’ve seen about consent and Ireland have been coming from a sex negative place. So in other words, it’s about thrash punishment, what will stand up in court who’s guilty? Who’s to blame? And so you’re pitting people against each other before they even touch each other? It’s also a very gendered argument, we don’t hear I mean, certainly people who are non binary, never get a mention. And they’re, they’re trying to navigate all of this as well. This is why sex positivity is because we don’t even know the questions to ask, we ask questions. But if they’re from a negative perspective, the answers we get are going to skew our ideas of how things are. And that’s what happens around sexuality in Ireland all the time. The conversation around consent for me in Ireland has just missed the point because it’s all about how do we protect our boys from getting accused of rape? How do we protect our girls from being raped by guys? And we put all the emphasis on what a girl should do? Say where where she should be. And she’s the gatekeeper. And that message so the conversations often begin with how do we keep our girls safe? How do we teach consent? And we hear it now more and more often. And it’s really good that we do you know, where do the boys come into that equation? Because when you say we’ve got to keep our girls safe, you are directly implying that all boys are perspective perpetrators. And I have a real problem with that on behalf of boys, I have a real problem.
Dr Sabina Brennan 54:32
I am very, very glad that you have said that. I have a real problem with the language around these kinds of conversations. I’m married to a man I have two sons and one son in law. So they’re surrounded in my family by wonderful, lovely men. And I do think that what we do does a disservice to many men,
Emily Power Smyth 54:57
boys, boys, let’s join This is this is the conversation about how do we teach children concern? Absolutely. Boys are so backwards and offensive, I raised boys.
Dr Sabina Brennan 55:09
And in terms of trying to protect them, I had to have those kinds of conversations with them, I talked to them about sex and try to say, look, sex is no different than eating, you know, your food, your diet, your exercise, you’ve got to try and do it in a healthy, healthful way. But when it comes one thing that I had said to mine, and this is probably terrible, but I had said to them in terms of trying to protect them is, particularly when it comes to perhaps if it was outside of a relationship, so to speak. And I would say to them, Look, if it’s a good idea, this Saturday night, it probably be a good idea next Saturday night. So it might be a good idea to wait till then, to give that sense of making sure. And also having said to them, if an individual has consumed too much alcohol, they are not in a position to consent, legally, and you need to be mindful and aware of that. And it’s kind of a terrible position to be in to have those kinds of conversations.
Emily Power Smyth 56:07
That’s the stuff that is no offense to you, because there’s no other information out there for people trying to help the young people with consent. But it’s, that’s really difficult to navigate for young people who are out absolutely, like clubs getting pissed. That’s what young Irish people do, because they’re repressed, and they don’t know how to be themselves without alcohol, I’m not talking about your I don’t know about your son, they’re not developed or generalizing, or is a very dangerous thing to do. So when you are trying to protect one person from another, you’re in trouble because you’re already creating a situation where one person is against the other when they should be a team if they’re going to take their clothes off with each other. So it’s not that difficult. It’s just that we don’t know what questions to ask. And we don’t know what to be talking about. So we write around. So we should be talking about pleasure. Okay, three simple things about it. First of all, you have to understand what pleasure is how pleasure feels in the body, what pleasure looks like, on another person’s face, in their voice in their body language, that sort of stuff that can be taught it’s non sexual stuff. It can be taught through other kinds of touch. It can be and, and it can be learned very clearly. Yeah. If I look at your face, and I’m thinking, gosh, she’s hot, I’d love to get a bit of her nap. And you’re not looking back at me with a Hell yeah, look on your face. That’s a no. Yep, we’re not looking for how do i creep along the fine line between yes and no. And oh, she didn’t say no. So that’s a yes, that’s where it’s so complicated. And that’s pitting one vote, but he will win over her because she didn’t quite say yes or no. Or if she was ambiguous, then it’s going to be hurtful that he gets victory over her. That’s all disgusting to me, because it makes both sets of people combative, and takes compassion out of the equation. So what I would say to people is take gender out of it. Why does it have to be gendered in the first place? Why it’s tough to be protecting girls from boys, we want everyone to be safe. We want everyone. So there’s that. And then. So I want if somebody is unconscious on the floor in a party, and they’re male, I want another male to go and feel they can go and pick that person up and help them not go, oh, I only help girls, or he might be gay or all this dreadful stuff that happens. I also think if we are talking about pleasure, so we need to slow down What does pleasure feel like in your body? And you know, this, you can teach children this at any age, and you can teach them about it non sexually? How do you know if somebody is feeling pleasure? It takes all the edge of the coercion because you’re not looking for? Well, they said yes. But I could tell they weren’t fully into it. But they said yes. So I’m okay in court. It takes about iserbyt We’re not looking for okay, then you can do that to me we’re looking for. Yeah, I want to do that. Cuz I’m gonna feel pleasure when I do wish. That simple. It’s really simple.
Dr Sabina Brennan 59:06
Yeah. And, you know, I’ve said this over and over again. But I have it is one concern that I have had of the internet, and this kind of swiping to date, and all that sort of stuff. Because when I was a teenager growing up, you hung around with other teenagers, right? And you learn how to be with other people. So it was always like, kind of fancy him or whatever, and you’d be constantly read it. Did you see the way you looked at me? Did you see that sort of little smile, and you would discuss those little nuances with your friends. And you also learned that step save maybe close to them and they might step back and you go, Okay, I kind of cross some sort of line there and a boundary. And so we had these lots and lots of human interaction from puberty kind of onwards, where you’re in You’re acting and you’re learning how to be with other people. No, it’s not perfect. But you have a place where you can learn through trial and error. And I just think that sort of human interaction has gone a lot. And a lot of stuff is happening online. And you and I were miles apart. And you know what, if I go right up to you on the screen, it’s going to feel weird, but you’re not smelling my breath, you’re not kind of getting those nuances. And social interaction is brilliant for your brain, because it is a really complex activity. And so being with people and learning to be with people, is a really complex cognitive activity, because your brain is reading all those little nuances. And I think what you’ve just said there is absolutely spot on. If we turn all that nuance that understanding of human interaction to a yes or no, that’s actually what’s getting us into trouble, as opposed to people learning how to interact,
Emily Power Smyth 1:01:07
anything that creates a binary or a black and white is going to be incredibly damaging and dangerous for people to navigate. The YES or NO is absolutely not working. I mean, we just have to look at what’s working and what isn’t, this isn’t a theory, you and I are just making up, this is happening in our society, people are not clear about consent, they don’t feel, you know, rightly so I understand that, why you would be worried about your sons and wanting to help them to navigate that, of course, that’s good parenting. That’s happening all the time. And it doesn’t seem to be getting clearer for people about how to do this. So this is why I’ve been thinking about consent a lot, and how it can be taught, and I get asked it a lot. And I really think the pleasure model is the simplest way to do it. If you are not feeling pleasure. So first, you have to know what pleasure is. And then you need to give people the skills to communicate, to not only be able to say no, but to hear no, or to hear yes, or to hear. I’m going to wait till next week and see how I feel about this. And that there isn’t this status, connected to sexual conquests, which is what it is at the moment of, there’s a very, very strong, toxic masculinity that would insist on conquest and on getting one over on somebody and on taking power over somebody and mistaking that for empowerment.
Dr Sabina Brennan 1:02:34
I think as well, when you talk about pleasure, and I’m thinking about it, from a male perspective, we have this sense of a male persisting despite the female, not particularly wanting it. But if that male is properly educated about their own pleasure, they will understand that pleasure is much bigger than a sexual organ experiencing or arousal or whatever, that it actually pleasure is an overall
Emily Power Smyth 1:03:02
thing we finish with all of your body and all of your mind and all of your energy. Absolutely, your only feeling is in the penis, which I you know, you’ve hit on something that I work with a lot with men and young men in particular, but all men is that they only allow themselves to feel physical pleasure from their penis. They don’t even know any other parts of their body can that they’ve all the same nerve endings as anyone else has in their skin, and that they have amazing potential to feel touch that will be enlivening and exciting and stimulating, although they don’t know that. So of course, they’re going to do what you’re saying, You’re so on the money with this that as long as guys think that’s their only way to get pleasure. Yeah, gotta go for it. And then they’re being told we all expect you to go for it. Yeah. Then they’re being told we’re protecting the girls from you, because your possible perpetrator, then they’re getting no education, and they’re going to porn, because then healthily curious. And they’re trying to learn more and find their place in society and figure out who they are. Put all of those things together, along with a very healthy patriarchy. And we’re into a position where males are being pitted against females and they will win. Yeah, because when they do it that way, of course, they’re going to,
Dr Sabina Brennan 1:04:19
but I’m sure that there’s a lot of men out there who are almost afraid to engage for fear of how that will come across, or that they’ll make a mistake, or that they’ll cross a line. Um,
Emily Power Smyth 1:04:31
you know, yes, right. But again, yes, but that’s, I really feel for men who there are so the vast majority of men are men with a conscience and men with empathy and men who would never be any problem to anybody, you know, it would be a lot easier for those men to have a really solid place in our society. If we were able to see the difference between those men and the men who don’t have boundaries and maybe do want to perpetrate because those people exist as well. While we club it all in together, all men are the same. And all men are suffering with the same difficulties and all men. While we’re doing that, without teaching them how to be healthy and boundaries and respectful, it’s very difficult to be able to spot the people who actually we need to worry about.
Dr Sabina Brennan 1:05:16
Yeah, and we have a so distorted world, just briefly on the pleasure thing, you know, if we educate men about what pleasure is in their own body, but also the pleasure of giving pleasure, the pleasure of witnessing Pleasure is all kind of part of that. And that would really help people in terms of the consent aspect of it. Am I giving pleasure here? You know,
Emily Power Smyth 1:05:37
I’m not the pleasure that I’ve learned women want from porn. Yes, that isn’t what women want. Just to say something about that, and your spirit, you know, what you’re talking about is the feast of sex, which I think is just such a beautiful way to teach it as well. We can consume all sorts of meals contrary, and sometimes we just want a McDonald’s, and we want it quick, and we want it fast, and we want to eat it. And we’ll be hungry again, and BB. And it’s good. And it’s lovely, and delicious. And that’s fine, that hit this bus. And that sex is great. But if you’re only eating McDonald’s all the time, it gets boring. You’re not learning anything, you’re not expanding your horizons. So I like to remind people or to teach people for the first time about the joy of a Mitchell and star sex experience where you might go for a tasting menu, and it might take three hours to have an experience where you are
Dr Sabina Brennan 1:06:34
plenty of time for a female to get there. What you’re
Emily Power Smyth 1:06:37
saying is slowing down and really enjoying the feasting on each other’s bodies, not just from sexual acts, but the looking the smelling the touching the feeling all this energy you share is the feasting on not only that, but the anticipation of that can start way before anyone gets sexual. And that’s what women in long term relationships and women who are a little bit older, they need that it isn’t like we choose it, it’s actually a necessity for our turn on and for our arousal is for it to begin non sexually, with the anticipation, the flourish, the reminder that your person finds you hot, interesting, they want to hang out with you, those are the things that get a woman ready to begin any kind of physical foreplay. And without that, it’s very hard for a woman to just flip the switch and get straight into what you’re feeling my boobs now I need to be turned on in five minutes, because you’ll be turned on five minutes, I needed my orgasm within the next three minutes after that, because you’ll be ready to have yours. And we’ll all be done in 15 minutes. And I was doing the washing up 20 minutes ago, work for women in relationships of any age, and women who are getting older. The converse of that is that when men only understand or allow themselves to feel pleasure through their penis, it’s harder for them to get out of the McDonald’s sex, or to get out of the we always go to the same pub on a Sunday and have our Sunday roast there. It’s hard to get out of that because it’s limited. They limit their partner on how she or they or he can love them is limited to touch my Mickey. Yeah. You know, however, you’re going to do that. And so, again, feasting, making mistakes, not being sexual throughout your sexual encounter, but being sinful.
Dr Sabina Brennan 1:08:28
I love the idea of a tasting menu. I think that’s kind of a great idea. Really, yeah, you can try and say, Oh, that one’s tough for me. This one is, oh, gosh, I’d love to have more of that. Maybe we’ll expand on that for next time. He feast, it gives an opportunity. I want to touch back away from that because I think it’s something that’s important in that bigger context around the victim blaming the putting the onus on the female, there’s a bigger context. And it’s something that kind of really jumped out at me and I can’t remember the name of the woman there recently in the United Kingdom, who was murdered, ultimately transpired that it was a police officer who had done it. She walked home and it was during lockdown. And of course there was the victim blaming, what was she doing walking home alone? That’s one question. But what happened as a consequence of that was that there was like a curfew for women not to go out for their own safety till they found. Now my argument is, to me, that’s the worst form of victim blaming, because really what should happen is there is a male perpetrator out there, so no males should be allowed out under curfew until such time as that perpetrator is found. Now the amount of people want social media males and females had to be ridiculous. You can’t expect all males to stay home just because there’s one male raping and killing females. But why is it then that is okay to expect all female males to stay at home. And all females cannot stay at home. Any man in their right mind, who understands what is going on and who has nothing to be fearful of should say, Absolutely, why don’t we do that, because then we actually have a chance of catching this perpetrator, because he’ll be the guy that’s out, prowling or at the guy who doesn’t have a reason to be out. And until we really start shouting down those imbalances, nothing will change. Having said that, there’s something that I want to say. And I’ve often been afraid to say it, I haven’t said it on social media, I’ve become very cautious what I say on social media, because it’s so easy to be misinterpreted and then canceled as consequence. And I hate to say it, particularly by the feminist community, they can be very unforgiving. Not all of them again, generalizations aside. But one thing that I feel. So to just start with an analogy, to explain where I’m going to go, we have traffic lights, okay. And when the man is red, you don’t cross the road, when the Green Man appears, it is safe to cross the road, you should be able to cross that road without fear of being knocked down, you should just be able to recast that road. However, it does not make any sense to cross that road without looking left or right. Even though the man is green, because you need to protect your life, somebody could come flying through and break that red line they shouldn’t do. So. Similarly, my sons now they’re in their 30s. Now, so they’re well grown up. But we live in a nice area going out in town was town in between town and the nice area was an area that was pretty dangerous to walk home through. Now my son should be We only live two miles from the city center, they should be able to walk home, any night free of fear, etc. Unfortunately, they can’t because there are individuals who perpetrate violence on people going through. So whilst they should have a right to do so it is not in their best interest to do so. And so they would get a taxi home. Now, if I dare take that analogy to an instance of rape for a female in certain circumstances, that becomes just this really hot topic that says I’m victim blaming, which I am absolutely not everybody should have the right, I believe I should have the right to walk naked through the streets if I so wished. But I also should have the right to be able to walk home safely. But I also know that I cannot do so in the city in which I live. And also if I drink alcohol, and I do drink alcohol, and have drunk alcohol to amounts where I may not be making rational decisions, that I may take risks that I should not take. And oh, can we have that conversation about protecting yourself in a rational way? Without it then being confused with victim blaming, it’s a conversation that I’ve really been finding very hard to have, because I want to protect women.
Emily Power Smyth 1:13:10
For me, I think it’s and this is kind of going off sexual but a bit unwarranted. A talk about feminism, I think. But I think for me, it comes down to what’s new, about talking about whether a woman should or shouldn’t walk a particular place at night. We know that we know that society isn’t safe. And that goes for whatever gender you are in certain areas. We know that. But there is an overemphasis on women getting attacked. If a guy walks home and gets attacked, he won’t be asked what he was wearing, how much that’s true. So that’s where it becomes victim blaming when a guy gets mugged. The first question isn’t why were you there on your own? That’s the difference. Of course, the reality is, society isn’t safe. And it is way less safe for women and for trans people. And for gay people, it is way less safe for people. So when the conversation is led by straight cisgendered, middle aged white men as to how women should conduct themselves in those instances, it doesn’t feel like it’s about protecting her it feels like it’s about judging her and wanting to keep her in a certain sphere of her life in order to allow men to continue to do what they want to do. And I’m not saying that all white, middle a sexual men are like that, but I’m saying that quite often the men who have these opinions about this, and the women who have these opinions, Oh yeah, absolutely fit into a category where they haven’t really considered the difference in how they speak themselves about an attack or an assault and the kind of attack and assault and on whom.
Dr Sabina Brennan 1:14:55
So I totally get that. My dilemma is how do we get the message across to young women, that having the right to behave how you so wish and be safe? That’s the question. So I think, absolutely, we need to call out the victim blaming, we need to say she should be allowed to walk home wherever she wants, she should be allowed to do this, she should be allowed do that. I just feel that the danger of that is that it’s like telling young women to take those risks. So what I’m trying to find is how do we temper that? How do we get the message across to people know Hold on a second, she should be allowed to do whatever
Emily Power Smyth 1:15:39
she wants? Well, we could stop gendering it for a start. Well, true.
Dr Sabina Brennan 1:15:43
Yeah. But people should be allowed to do whatever they wish, but also to just tell the girl, well, you see, there I am, again, the girl you are, and I am there I am again, but it’s just for me. That’s a fear I have is that by saying, because I was that kind of person, I should have the right to do whatever I want. And therefore I will. And you actually really do need someone temporary saying, Of course you should have the right we’re working towards that. Oh my God, we’ve been talking so long. So many things. We definitely have to have you back on again. Because there are so many things. I have two questions from people that messaged me, I said I was having you on. I did them a disservice if I don’t talk to them. Sure. Happy to I definitely have you back on again. There’s just so many things. So we barely touched on the fact that past trauma past sexual trauma can impact on sex. Now what I actually was asked by one person was kind of traumatic experience that has nothing to do with sex. So violence or post traumatic stress disorder affect your sex life?
Emily Power Smyth 1:16:41
Yes, it can. Of course, just like a sexual assault can affect other areas of your life. You’d know about this, it’s a tout affects the brain and how we react to certain triggers or stimuli. So you could have been hit, and then be in a sexual situation. And there’s something about the touch the taste, the smell, but the room that can trigger your trauma, and it happens in a sexual realm. So there’s that there’s also the carrying and holding of trauma in our bodies, that sometimes will only get released through a physical touch that may be sexual. So yes, it can most definitely happen.
Dr Sabina Brennan 1:17:21
Yes. And this individual, for example, said Virginis Smith says that is that the right thing, or body and survival mode, I mean, that’s what I would have thought is what happens.
Emily Power Smyth 1:17:31
Yeah, and and vaginismus is a protection, you know, people think that there’s something terribly wrong with their bodies when they they’re vaginal muscles clump up. But usually, usually they clump up in reaction to something that hasn’t felt safe or comfortable for them. So if a woman has been having uncomfortable sex repeatedly, it’s not uncommon that her vaginal muscles will try to prevent that from continuing to happen. So we need to go back a few steps when it comes to a more generalized trauma. The feeling of having somebody penetrate you, it can be so incredibly overwhelming and intense. It can feel like an overpowering. And so your muscles can have that same reaction even though the overpowering or the assault that happened before wasn’t sexual, it may have a similar energy to it somewhere but gets triggered in your body. So absolutely.
Dr Sabina Brennan 1:18:25
And the other question was, a woman asked me, but she was hoping to deal with her menopause or vagina using big fam, but that she’s found she’s 61 years old, she’s single, she’s really developed a fear of the act and is kind of reluctant to get involved with a sexual partner. She doesn’t say whether male or female
Emily Power Smyth 1:18:45
from underwater fear is because her fear could be around her body or being vulnerable. Or it could be that she’s going to feel pain, because if she’s using Baji firm, it’s possible. And I don’t know that she may have experienced some pain and discomfort that got her on to some good treatment. And that treatment will really help. We have to make sure that we’re using it enough. So again, it depends when you start using it and how much you needed it before you began using it. So if you have become really dry and uncomfortable, you’re probably going to need to use 5g foam every night for two weeks and then lower it and be on it for the rest of your life. Some doctors under prescribe it, I don’t really know why, and might say, Oh, you just need it twice a week, twice a week is a maintenance dose. It’s not a curative dose as far as I understand it. So it’s more important to take it a lot more to begin with to get your vagina back into a better shape before you go into a maintenance dose.
Dr Sabina Brennan 1:19:37
Yeah, and I would imagine given that she started the question with menopause. That’s around what it is. And
Emily Power Smyth 1:19:43
just to say that she then she could begin by exploring herself with some self love with some gentle touch and exploration of herself. With lots of lube get an organically like yes, lube will use plenty of it, and just massage the outside of the vulva. Massage for a while, do some nice deep breathing, gently massage the entrance to the vagina without penetrating with anything and see how that feels first. And if that feels okay, then try one fingertip and build up from there going further and the depth of the penetration isn’t as relevant as the width of the penetration. So when you’ve had a vagina that hasn’t had the treatment for a while, it can take a while for the muscles to get the elasticity back. So that’s best done by yourself on your own with no pressure, and then you can enter a sexual encounter with another person confident that you won’t be in pain.
Dr Sabina Brennan 1:20:37
I think that’s fabulous advice and it actually reminded me I did a fabulous episode with Meg Matthews around the menopause and she was just advocating use it or lose it you know, masturbate, masturbate. masturbate, keep it in use, keep it working. Well, ordinarily, what I do at the very end is ask you for tips and advice, but you’ve got so many pieces of advice, folks, what I am going to do is really just devote Thursday’s booster episode to Emily. And she is going to share her four golden rules.
Emily Power Smyth 1:21:07
Yeah, I mean, I’ve given her a grandiose title call it what we will call her anything but so for guides, if you like golden guides, there’s a new one. I haven’t called it before, to having good sex.
Dr Sabina Brennan 1:21:21
My name is Sabina Brennan, and you have been listening to super brain the podcast for everyone with a brain. Super brain is a labor of love born of a desire to empower people to use their brain to thrive in life and attain their true potential. You can now go ad free on patreon.com forward slash super brain for the price of a coffee. Please help me reach as many people as possible by sharing this episode. Imagine if we could get to a million downloads by word of mouth alone. I believe it is possible. I believe that great things happen when lots of people do little things. Visit Sabina brennan.ie for the super brain blog with full transcripts, links and the like. Follow me on Instagram at Sabina Brennan and on Twitter at Sabina underscore Brandon. Tune in on Thursday for another booster shot from me and on Monday for another fascinating interview with an inspiring guest. Thank you for listening