Most of the advice and information about female sexuality found on the internet and in the media depicts love, relationships and sex as “movie romance”. It’s just not real. And often I find myself spending time with patients trying to help them understand that, in real life, relationships and sex are often messy, complicated, funny, varied and do not have sunsets in the background. It’s not always easy, but it’s important to learn about yourself, experiment, and learn to be true to yourself. At Maze, we are committed to helping women learn to be their own best authentic selves.
I was recently interviewed by Jewish Food Hero blogger, Kenden Alfond, discussing Maze Women’s Sexual Health, what we do, and what motivates me in this field of work. I thought it might give you more insight into the work we do here. Enjoy!
– Bat Sheva
Q: What do you do and what motivates you to do this work?
Primarily what I do is run a center called Maze Women’s Sexual Health. It’s a center that is geared towards improving women’s sexual lives. What makes us unique and special is we’re at the cutting edge in terms of understanding where women have been left behind in the societal narrative about female sexuality.
Female sexuality is a combination of the physiological as well as the psychological. The world is very slow to understand this. People would love to believe that everything about sex is in a woman’s head, and lying on a sofa talking for ten years will solve everybody’s problems. We’ve discovered that if you can do X with physiological health and you can do X with psychological health, you can get X squared when you address both of them. That’s what I do.
In a broader way, I feel that my life has become about talking about women’s issues in general because I’m very involved in the Jewish Orthodox feminist community, and I founded the Jewish Orthodox Feminists Alliance (JOFA). So my JOFA work is connected with Maze because I’m speaking more about women’s experience, and their being able to claim their own sexuality and feel good about it! I’m an advocate for women to have real conversations about real issues that matter, and realizing how important sex is in our lives—how much it’s a part of who we are—and being able to talk about that in a real way.
Q: What are the most common topics that you encounter in your clinical work for women?
The most common topics related to intercourse are either pain with intercourse or inability to have intercourse, what we call vaginismus. It’s a condition where a woman can’t get a penis into her vagina, or it hurts significantly when she does. It’s much more common than we like to think it is. It’s treatable, and heart-wrenching to me because I feel like women go for years without addressing the issue even though it’s so easy to treat.
Another common one is a lack of desire. It could be a lifelong feeling, or more commonly it could occur for women after childbirth or when they’re going through menopause. I’m finding that really troubling both in terms of how it affects the relationship but also how it affects women themselves.
Q: What prompts women to come to your health center?
Women often come to us when their sexual health has a damaging effect on their relationships. It’s very common. Sometimes it’s a matter of they’ve walked around with this black cloud hanging over their head for so long, and they want relief from that black cloud. It could be a death of somebody close or something that triggers the fact that they’ve been walking around with something that’s been bothering them for a very long time. It’s hard for women to ask for help.
Q: What do women ask you they’re most embarrassed about (and could never ask their friend or their mom)?
One common question is why they’re not able to have orgasms from intercourse. This always makes me smile because it puts them smack dab in the 70% of women who don’t have orgasms from intercourse.
There are also women who have learned to have orgasms on their stomach, and they think there’s something wrong with them. It took me a few years to figure that one out. I don’t know why women think they should learn to have orgasms on their back. If you learned by yourself, to have orgasms on your back, it’s much easier to transfer that to partner sex, but it makes more sense in a certain way that many women would learn to have an orgasm on their stomach because you’re a baby, you’re lying on your stomach, you’re a kid, you’re lying on your stomach.
Somehow because women have been watching movies where a couple is kissing, then next thing you know the woman is flat on her back, the guy is on top or she’s on top of him, and she has an orgasm from intercourse. It never occurs to the woman that there are a hugely significant number of women who learn to have orgasms on their stomach. I would say maybe 1/4 of women who come into my center have learned to have an orgasm that way.
One other that’s really heartbreaking is a mismatch between the desire levels between the husband and the wife. Commonly the man wants to have sex more often than the woman. But it doesn’t even begin to compare to the pain involved when the woman comes in and she has to say that her husband doesn’t want to have sex as much as she does. I don’t know why that’s so much more painful. I think it’s because as a society, we make the assumption that men always want to have sex. When a man wants to have more sex than the wife, he feels like this is normal, but when a woman wants to have more sex than her husband, he’s not interested in sex, she somehow feels that there must be something horribly, disgustingly wrong with her. There’s more shame for women when they have a greater desire than their male partners to have sex.
Q: Is there any connection that you see between how a woman feels about her body and her sexual experiences?
That’s a really interesting question. I think in general we believe that if you’re comfortable in your body, you’re going to have an easier time feeling good about your sexuality. I don’t think that necessarily translates into somebody having what we call a classically great body.
I see women who come in who you would think would be these hot mamas. They work out, they have their hair done, they look sexy on every level—and they have zero sex drive and zero interest.
Then we have women who come in who are slightly overweight, older women who have these rocking sex lives because they feel good about themselves. The ability to drop your clothes and feel okay with yourself is really, really hard for women in general. A woman who feels good about her body is much more likely to be able to have abandon in the bedroom.
It’s always mind-boggling to me because women will say, “I can’t stand my stomach. My stomach jiggles, and I can’t stand that. My husband thinks it’s sexy, and I think he’s crazy.” That’s something I’ll hear. I’ll be like, “Do you think he’s blind? Why don’t you trust him? He’s saying what he means.”
I think there’s a correlation between learning to love your body for what it is and the ability to be available in the bedroom. That does not mean wait until you have a perfect body to enjoy sex.
You can read the full interview here.