We sat down with Anna Maltby, Deputy Editor for Health & Wellness, and Rebecca Adams, Senior Editor for Sex & Relationships over at Refinery29 to get their thoughts on modern sexual wellness.
Who is one celebrity you admire when it comes to their sexuality and/or their outlook on sex? Why?
Anna Maltby: We talk a lot about the changing ways celebrities are approaching gender and sexuality, and it’s very exciting — and quite a contrast even from when I was a tween and teen in the late ‘90s and early aughts. Female celebrities then were sexual but in what seemed to be a more objectifying way — it wasn’t Beyoncé embracing her power and sexuality like she does today, or Miley talking about pansexuality; it was Britney dressed like a sexy schoolgirl. So we’ve come a long way.
That said, someone maybe surprising I keep thinking about is Mindy Kaling’s character on her show “The Mindy Project” — I just love how unabashedly sexual Mindy Lahiri is, how sex and desire are a huge part of her life, and how she doesn’t shy away from that or apologize for it at all. She’s not totally revolutionary, of course — she’s straight, cis, and privileged in many ways. But she’s a funny, brilliant, successful professional woman (of color, I might add) and a mom who also has a major sex drive. Unlike some of her other noteworthy traits, I don’t think her sexuality is ever really the butt of any jokes on the show. It’s just great.
Rebecca Adams: I know basically everybody is into “Broad City,” but Ilana Glazer’s portrayal of sexuality on the show is just so great and so different from what we’re used to seeing. Not only is she unapologetic about her desires, but she’s totally open and communicative about her sexuality and wanting to be in an open relationship, and she just seems to love love. She doesn’t second guess her desires, and she’s not some neurotic female stereotype constantly questioning herself and trying to appeal to others. There’s no baggage or dark side; it’s just refreshing.
What does good sex mean to you?
AM:At Refinery29, we always say that good sex is a crucial element of a healthy sex life, which is a crucial part of a healthy life in general. But other than being safe and consensual, we don’t like to define what good sex means, since it’s so individual. That’s why I think good sex is really about figuring out what works for you, and what makes you feel sexy and empowered.
In our coverage, we have two main focuses right now — pleasure and education — and both of those are really central to good sex. So that means not only being aware of what feels good to you and prioritizing that, but also being educated about gender and sexuality, sexual health, birth control options, and consent.
RA: I used to think good sex just happened, and that talking about it too much beforehand would make things less sexy and “in-the-moment.” But thankfully, I’ve learned that that’s far from the truth — good sex involves enthusiastic consent and constant verbal communication. And that’s why we really encourage readers to talk about sex and ask for what they want.
We try to educate women about all of the ways people find pleasure in sex, whether it’s through a new kind of sex toy, a lesser-known kink, or masturbation techniques. The “good sex” we learn about in sex ed and see in pop culture is very narrow and heteronormative, so the best way to break out of those limitations is to learn about what else is out there and talk to your partner(s).
If you had to give your virgin self one piece of advice, what would it be?
AM: I am really grateful to have few regrets about the way I became sexually active — it was with someone I cared about, we were safe, and I was mature enough to make a decision that was right for me. That said, I think I could have been even more thoughtful about it. Weirdly (maybe not weirdly, I don’t know!), when I was a teenager, my group of friends and I almost never talked about sex — it might have been because we were a pretty even mix of guys and girls, and we were too awkward to talk about it in mixed company; maybe my friends talked about it and just didn’t mention it to me because I was sort of wide-eyed and innocent.
But I think when it came to losing my virginity, I really didn’t know a lot about sex, and I thought of it more as a milestone to be reached or a goal to meet than something I really truly wanted, in and of itself. I guess I wish I’d spent more time thinking about what sex meant and really considering what I wanted, rather than kind of chasing this marker of adulthood.
Of course, I don’t know that I would have done anything differently, waited longer, or done it with a different partner. In some ways, I think we put too much emphasis on the idea of “losing your virginity” as one discrete moment that is by definition a BFD. I liked what Peggy Orenstein said about this: “I think that our emphasis on virginity right now is not doing girls any favors, and of course it also completely disregards gay girls.”
RA: It’s funny, I really don’t see my first time having penetrative sex as a milestone in retrospect, but it was really important to me to have done it at the time. The real turning point for me came later in college when I was trying to navigate societal expectations of women with my own desires. If I could tell my younger self anything about sex, it would be that no one owes anyone anything — just because someone has invested money and/or time in you, that doesn’t mean they’re entitled to your body.
I think, when I was younger, I internalized a lot of standard rhetoric around sex — you know, the “boys will be boys” kind of thing, and all of the virgin/whore dichotomy tropes — and I wish I had followed my own instincts more often. And in that same vein, I’d tell myself that penis-in-vagina penetrative sex is just one part of sex for straight couples; it doesn’t have to be the main event.