A few years ago, I became so intrigued by female sexuality that I decided to write a book about it. Everywhere it was mentioned, it was framed as a mystery that needed to be solved: by pharmaceutical companies racing to develop a "pink Viagra" to restore wives' flagging desire for their husbands; by feminists lamenting that only 57 percent of straight American women have orgasms compared with 95 percent of their male partners; by newspapers musing if women are turned on by apes.
When I set out to write the book, however, I found women weren't really that problematic. Rather, society's lingering bias against women's sexuality, even female anatomy, was making sex complicated for women.
The good news is a growing number of women are taking their sexual well-being into their own hands (literally). Here are seven non-pharmaceutical ways women today are exploring and igniting their sexuality, taken from my book, Closer: Notes From the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality.
Women are seeking out alternatives to the dick-pic minefield that is modern dating. Ladies (and men) are sampling spiritual sex practices that slow sex down and focus on female pleasure, like wildly popular orgasmic meditation meetups, a practice where a women's partners stroke their clits for 15 minutes—and don't expect sex in return. There are tantric breathing classes that build ecstasy, techniques to lengthen orgasms until they're several minutes or even an hour long, and many more.
Of course, there's achievements to be earned. Female-centric sex tech is a growing field. You've probably heard of Bumble, the dating app where women make the first move. But how about OMGYES, where you can use a touchscreen to practice bringing a real woman's vulva to orgasm? Or HappyPlayTime, which gamifies female masturbation and gives out points every time you indulge? Or La Petite Mort, a female orgasm tablet game? Well, you have now.
Related: Watch a clip from our VICELAND show, 'BALLS DEEP,' where host Thomas Morton learns about Orgasmic Meditation
Meditation might seem like the least sexy activity on the planet. But University of British Columbia psychologist Lori Brotto is pioneering a way of using mindfulness to help women with sexual complaints, including lack of arousal and low desire. Her clinical studies show that quieting the mind, focusing attention on the body, and learning to manage that crappy, judgmental voice in their heads ("Am I taking too long to come?" "Do I look OK?" "Is he enjoying this?") all help women enjoy the sex they're already having.
It's pretty well understood that mainstream porn doesn't come close to representing real female pleasure. Women are making more lady-friendly porn than ever before, featuring the kind of movies that really get us off. Many creators, such as Tobi Hill-Meyer, are trans, queer, and/or non-white and make porn specifically for marginalized communities, and prioritize paying actors ethically. Her series, Doing it Online, uses documentary methods to bring real trans women's sexuality to the screen, including the vulnerability and emotional conversations that come up before, during, and after the act. The best (including Hill-Meyer's work) are honored every year by the Feminist Porn Awards.
Twerking and Fertility
While some (predominantly white) folks may dismiss twerking as the latest way for women to get men's attention, others honor its roots in the cultures of colonized women. Activist Fannie Sosa does video work that reminds us that low-body dances have been done for their pleasurable, fertility-boosting, and even abortive powers for centuries. British Columbia's female-run music festival Bass Coast has been taking back the dance with its much-loved Twerkshops, where hundreds of women dance en masse.
We all know men love rub n' tugs. But here's the thing; women's versions are better. Enterprising therapists are redesigning erotic massage for women's pleasure, offering both "yoni massages," which aim to release tension and increase sensation in the vulva, and more explicitly sexual treatments where orgasms act as a therapeutic release.
A More Varied Sex Life
While we don't have data on how many women book sexy massages, we do know the kinds of sex women are having are changing fast. According to Britain's prestigious National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, women in general are seeking out more varied—and less strictly heterosexual—encounters. The total number of sexual partners reported by women over their lifetime has gone up since 2000, although men's numbers have stayed the same. And whether they identify as gay, bi, or straight, ladies are having more woman-on-woman sex than they used to—more than 18 percent of women 35 and younger say they've had same-sex experiences.
This just scratches the surface (did I mention that I wrote a book's worth on this topic?). One of the main things I took away is that women are wilder, weirder, and more individual in their tastes and desires than we acknowledge in our culture—and that is something to celebrate.
Follow Sarah Barmak on Twitter.