Forget waiting around for compliments and a candy G-string; this Valentine’s Day, let’s seduce ourselves! How can you seduce others if you don’t know how to seduce yourself, right? But it actually goes so much deeper than that. I was in New York recently, where the magnificent Mal Harrison – clinical sexologist, TEDx speaker and clit-pioneer – explained to me why loving yourself up is one of the most empowering things a woman can do, in the bedroom and beyond. “It’s about owning your pleasure, your body, your power!”
Marlies: Mal, when did you realize that educating people about sex was your calling?
Mal: In college, I got the nickname ‘the Dildo Girl’, because they found sex toys in my dorm. I had two choices: I could either hide my head in shame or own it. So, I decided to own it, and all the girls from the floor started coming to me with questions like ‘I think I’ve had an orgasm, but I’m not sure.’ And I would say, ‘Oh, believe me, you would know!’. That’s when I realized that I should be talking about sex and helping people.’
Marlies: You once told me that your mom would say to you when you were stressed: “Go to your room and masturbate a bit. That will relax you.”
Mal: Yes, masturbation was taught to me as a form of relaxation, as a form of self-reliance. I see it as a way to own your own pleasure, your body, your power. But Marlies, you would be amazed at how many women still don’t know how to have an orgasm! I have a 58-year-old client who is a fabulous woman with three kids, and she has never had an orgasm. In my opinion, that’s modern-day terrorism, to have three kids, and never have had an orgasm!
Marlies: It is so important that we learn how to seduce ourselves first! Can you share some tips?
Mal: Really focus on yourself. No distractions, no interruptions. Turn your phone off, take a bubble bath. You don’t have to go straight to your genitals. Learn how to give your body pleasure all over, indulge in sensory experiences. That makes it easier to get into satisfying sexual experiences. Go inside your erotic mind, find out what titillates you.
Marlies: It seems that unlike men, who have a very clear idea about what turns them on, women are only starting to shape and explore their sexual fantasies.
Mal: Absolutely! Somehow, it’s still very difficult for a lot of women to give themselves permission to get lost in their fantasies. We’ve been culturally conditioned to be the good girl, and not allow those thoughts in, when those thoughts are a healthy, normal part of existence. It’s almost unhealthy not to explore them! In order to have an orgasm, you need to explore your body, but at the same time be able to get lost inside your erotic imaginative journey. It’s like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time!
Marlies: You believe that cultivating our ‘erotic intelligence’ empowers us not just in the bedroom, but in all areas of life. What is it exactly?
Mal: I like to break erotic intelligence into a few pillars, starting with social intelligence: knowing how to interpret the language of another, without them having to use words. You see, I came up with this theory after many years of studying and working with people, and also being a complete slut since I was 18. I asked myself, ‘What makes a great lover?’ And I realized that it wasn’t knowing every position in the Kama Sutra, but being able to pick up on somebody’s body language, all the (subtle) nuances and cues. Being able to look in someone’s eyes, and see that moment their grandmother died, or they graduated. Seeing into somebody’s soul, and being able to do the erotic dance in the space of mutual understanding; those are the things that really make a great lover. Even when it’s a stranger, and it’s just raw, hot sex; being able to pick up on all those little things is so important. Unfortunately, technology is really taking that ability away from us; we’re burying our heads in screens all day.
Marlies: We engage less and less.
Mal: Sadly, yes. The second pillar is self-awareness on steroids, the third is creative imagination. Then there is emotional intelligence: the ability to get out of a negative pattern of thinking, to handle rejection or embarrassment. Sex is messy. We may ‘queef’ (having air escape from your vagina, ed.), start our periods or have condom flubs. We need emotional intelligence to handle these moments with humor and grace. The final pillar is body attunement, which is knowing your body, how it works and what you like.
Marlies: There is a danger that once we are in a (long term-) relationship, we stop seducing ourselves. Consequently, we stop sharing and exploring our sexuality with our partner. I see that happening a lot around me, and it’s such a shame!
Mal: I think a lot of women at some point find it easier to engage with sex as a duty. ‘Okay, he can hurry up and get off, and then I’m done.’ That’s not meeting your partner halfway. It’s taking what you think is the easy way out, but, in the long run, it will turn out to be a disservice to your body and your pleasure. If you can’t speak up in the bedroom, how are you going to speak up in the boardroom? It’s no surprise that we have an orgasm gap and a pay gap in America that’s huge.
Marlies: How can we break out of that apathy?
Mal: Start with small steps. Get a bikini wax, and afterwards, touch yourself to feel if you are more sensitive. Read an erotic novel to explore which passages turn you on. When a friend asks you where you would like to have dinner that night, instead of saying, ‘I don’t care, you pick a place,’ actually pause to think for yourself. ‘Hmm, I’m really in the mood for Italian food. I want pasta tonight.’ Those tiny elements of thinking about what we really want, instead of going with the flow of what society tells us we should want, will eventually add up to us being able to articulate our true desires.
Marlies: I think you and I have always known this intuitively: sex is great for your health. More and more, science is backing us up!
Mal: Yes, did you know that orgasms reduce pain by more than 50%?
Marlies: That’s huge!
Mal: It is! I had my wisdom teeth out, and I was just masturbating all day! It also fights depression, it fights anxiety. But perhaps more importantly, if I’m able to bring myself pleasure, and I give myself this gift, then I am stronger when I go out into the world. I have a deeper sense of self-reliance, and of self-worth. And that’s a really powerful thing.
Marlies: Amen to that!