We gave an interview to the Independent who wrote this article about Enjoy Sex (How, When and IF You Want To). We thought you might like to read the full interview we gave, including those 5 sex tips you can actually use.
What inspired you to write this book?
MJB: I was working on another project looking at mainstream sex advice books and I was staggered at some of the content: just pages and pages of different positions! It felt like all of the stuff that’s most helpful – from my experience as a sex therapist and sex researcher – just wasn’t finding its way into those books. So I wanted to put something different out there. Justin was the obvious choice to write it with, with all his experience as a sex educator.
JH: MJ asked if I wanted to co-author the book with them. I jumped at the chance because it was a great opportunity to write sex advice for an adult audience – as I’d mainly been writing for 14 – 24 year olds previously at www.bishuk.com and I’ve been a huge fan of MJ’s work ever since I first read Rewriting The Rules
It seems amazing that some of the stuff in your book needs to be said, but of course sex and the body are still massive taboos. What should be done to educate people, both children and adults, about sex?
JH: I guess that’s where we start from in the book. Everyone’s own sex and relationships education (both formal and informal, direct and indirect) can have a massive impact on how they approach sex and relationships for themselves. Whilst some people may find these topics taboo, many many others don’t. Some people feel inhibited and scared communicating about sex and others can approach it with a calm matter of fact manner. We start with the reader by asking them to think about this stuff for themselves and offer them lots of advice about how they can begin to relearn some more helpful things, whilst acknowledging that this can be hard to do.
MJB: People often comment that we live in a more sex positive culture now – perhaps even a hypersexualised culture – but that doesn’t mean that taboos around sex have gone away, they’ve just changed a bit. Instead of being ‘lie back and think of England’ it’s now more ‘learn all these sexual techniques, and constantly demonstrate how much you’re enjoying it’. It’s still very hard to admit that what you like sexually isn’t PIV (penis in vagina) sex, and probably even harder to say that you don’t want to have sex – right now, or at all. Hence the subtitle of our book (how, when and IF you want to).
What are you most shocked that people are unaware of about their bodies and sex? Have you had any particularly memorable encounters with people who are sadly confused and clueless about their own bodies?
MJB: I don’t know if it’s helpful to divide people into those who are clued up and together about sex, and those who are confused and clueless! One of the things that we emphasise in the book is that due to the messed up messages about sex in the wider culture we’re all pretty clueless. Even for us who spend so much of our time thinking, talking, and learning about this stuff, it can still be pretty difficult. For example whenever we see images of people having sex – in movies, sex advice books, and porn – we generally see a very limited selection of (mostly young, white, heterosexual, non-disabled) bodies. So body shame and insecurity is present in most of us. The big NATSAL sexual survey found that around a half of people consider themselves to have some kind of sexual problem: probably because of the limited idea we get that ‘proper’ sex is PIV. Most people have had kinds of sex they didn’t enjoy – or even found painful – because they thought they should.
JH: As a sex and relationships educator I’ve spent a lot of time with people helping them to understand and befriend their bodies. Many people’s sex education is so limited that they want to spend quite a bit of time learning more – but it wouldn’t be very cool for me to tell individual stories about what people do and don’t know about their bodies. Also people in the field of sexology are still learning about how bodies work because it’s a relatively understudied area. For example, we’ve known since around the time we were both born that most women need external stimulation of the clitoris in order to experience pleasure or orgasms from sex – however this fact is something that most sex advice overlooks, instead suggesting that the only ‘real’ kind of sex is penis in vagina intercourse.
Is there evidence to suggest that the lack of books and information such as this has damaged the lives of people, particularly those who are non-binary and LGBT?
MJB: Lesbian and gay people are beginning to be included in mainstream sex advice, but often as a bit of an afterthought: like they’re given a couple of pages in an otherwise heterosexual book. It’s hard not to look at that and think that it’s saying that heterosex is ‘normal’ sex, and same-sex sex is something different. There’s this huge assumption that men and women work in very different ways when it comes to sex, but actually there’s a lot of diversity between men, and between women, as well as a lot of similarities between people of different genders. That’s why everything we put in our book could apply to anyone – regardless of sexuality or gender – it’s about learning about what your own body enjoys, and the body (or bodies) in front of you.
JH: I agree. The kind of sex advice and sex education that is out there is damaging because it leaves out so many non-straight folks but it’s also damaging for straight folks because it offers this ‘one size fits all’ model of sex. This model is unrealistic for so many people and we believe it is the cause of why so many people are distressed about their sex lives or experience sexual problems. So we wanted to make this book inclusive not just because we are extremely woke but because we wanted it to be useful for every body.
What are five tips you would like to give readers about how to have better sex?
MJB & JH: Everyone keeps asking us this ‘top tip’ question in interviews and it’s funny because we hadn’t really thought of it! I think that’s because the message of our book is so much that different things work for different people, there really aren’t any techniques you could learn that would work on everyone, for example, or tips that would apply to all kinds of sex. So, if we had to boil our book down into five top tips, what would that look like?
1. Think about all the messages you’ve received about what sex should be like – try to let go of them.
2. Realise that’s impossible! But at least be aware of those messages and how they impact you and other people.
3. Tune into what actually turns you on and make that the basis for the sex you have: whatever you’re into counts as sex. You don’t have to do anything you’re not totally into.
4. Consent, consent, consent! If sex is with another person or people, compare what you’re each into and find the overlap, and check in how you’re going to ensure continued consent.
5. Be present to what’s happening rather than aiming at a particular goal. (There are animations about these last two points on our website megjohnandjustin.com if you want to find out more)
What do you hope readers will take from the book?
JH: We hope that readers will feel able to tune into the sex they may actually want, rather than to have sex they feel that they should have. This is actually a really big ask so we also hope that readers will be able to take on board some of our advice about how to treat yourself really kindly and consensually and understand that relearning some of the crappy messages that we all receive about sex can take time.
MJB: Spot on.
Are there any other sex writers/researchers out there that are doing similarly great work to you guys?
MJB: We love Petra Boynton’s problem page: definitely the best one out there by a long way! S. Bear Bergman is a fab sex and relationships agony uncle in the states whose column should be more widely known about.
JH: We’re both big fans of Girl On The Net – her blog and books are full of wisdom but are also sexy and funny – which is such a great combo.
What do you say to people who believe that we shouldn’t educate children about sex?
MJB: It’s true that algebra is far more helpful in life that anything that you could learn in sex and relationships education… Seriously! We know that non-consensual sex is a massive problem. Teaching kids consent – and how to develop good relationships with themselves and others – from as young as possible is the way to go in my opinion.
JH: Yeah of course we should be teaching children and young people about different aspects of sex and relationships. Such as: how they feel about themselves; the expectations placed on them; how to form and navigate different kinds of relationships; consent, choice and communication; and how to reduce the risks of sex. The important thing is that it’s age appropriate and that young people are able to opt in or out of it as they feel comfortable.
© Meg-John Barker and Justin Hancock 2017