Your Guide to Self Pleasure with Emma Louise Boynton
We caught up with Emma Louise Boynton — a writer, presenter and the creator and host of Sex Talks, a media platform focused on engendering more honest conversations around sex and desire — to talk about the pleasure gap, tips for solo play, and why communication is the biggest key to better intimacy. Ready to hear her juicy wisdom?
Why do you think it is important to have open, shame-free conversations about sex, orgasms and the pleasure gap?
Before I did Sex therapy I thought the issues I had around intimacy (anxiety around sex, not being able to orgasm during partnered sex, a feeling of bodily disconnect during sex) were weird and unique to me, and just made me an un-sexual person. I thought I was broken and un-fixable, and that sexual pleasure was just not something that would feature much in my romantic life.
Running Sex Talks has made me realise just how many people have shame and anxiety around sex. And yet how alone (together!) we all feel in this. Little did I know that some 43% of women and 31% of men face some sort of sexual dysfunction in their lives.
Part of the problem is that while sex is everyone, across media, advertising, tv, porn etc, what we’re most often confronted with is a very narrow, reductive view of what Sex looks like, one that is typically heteronormative, puts a primacy on male pleasure and is focused on penis in vagina sex (aka - sex ends when a man comes).
Since sex education remains so pitiful (when I was at school it was virtually non-existent) and places little focus on the pleasure component of sex, many of us are growing up without the language with which to explore, understand and question our relationship to sex and the experiences that have informed it.
As a result, so many of us carry a lot of sexual shame and are missing out on the opportunity to have a lot more pleasure in our lives. What a waste!
As the brilliant Billie Quinlan, co founder of sexual wellness app, Ferly, always says to me: sex and sexuality is a key component of your overall health and well-being, and when we neglect this part of ourselves because we feel broken and unable to talk about it, we cut off a really important part of who we are.
Open, honest and vulnerable conversations around sex and, importantly pleasure, are the first and, I think, most important, step to all of us improving our relationship to intimacy and hence our relationship to ourselves.
Can you put some words on your own experience and journey with sex and pleasure?
I touched on this above, but I started sex therapy towards the end of lockdown because I couldn’t orgasm during partnered sex and generally didn’t really enjoy sex much at all. I grew up with an eating disorder and had long come to see my body as a source of pain rather than pleasure, something to be punished rather than enjoyed.
When I turned up in my virtual therapy room I said to my therapist that I felt broken. I didn’t feel like a sexual person and couldn’t understand how so many of my friends could, apparently, approach sex with such ease. I felt so much anxiety around it.
Doing sex therapy made me realise that not only was I not broken (duh) but what I was experiencing was really common, particularly amongst people who had have suffered from eating disorders.
In learning to talk more openly about sex and pleasure I began to feel the shame, worry and anxiety I’d carried about sex and about my body ebb away.
That age old adage ‘a problem shared is a problem solved’ is cheesy but often rings true. Just having someone listen to me in a non/judgmental way and take what I felt were embarrassing and silly worries about sex seriously was really transformative. I mean, evidentially, as I haven’t stopped talking about sex and pleasure since.
What is the one thing you learnt at sex therapy, which you wish more people knew?
I can’t do one, I’m sorry. It has to be three!
- Communication is key. Unfortunately, we don’t come with a ‘how to fuck me’ manual we can hand to prospective lovers before we get into bed. Hence, if you don’t tell whoever you’re sleeping with what you like and what feels good, they’re slightly shooting in the dark. As Florence Bark of Come Curious advised at a recent Sex Talks event - “your pleasure is your responsibility”. Communicate what you want, and if you don’t know what that is, find out through masturbating.
- You don’t have to love your body, but you do have to make some kind of peace with it if you’re going to be able to really enjoy sexual pleasure. Following years of being anorexia and then bulimia, I had a lot of hate for my body which turned out to be a huge barrier to me enjoying sex. Now, I don’t always love the skin I’m in — the body positivity movement can I think put a lot of pressure on women to suddenly ignore years of conditioning around what our bodies are ‘supposed’ to look like — but I don’t hate it anymore. I am body-neutral.
- You don’t have to be in a relationship to work on your relationship to sex or, as in my case, get sex therapy. Ultimately, your relationship to sex begins with you and so I think it can actually be really helpful working through whatever barriers may be inhibiting you from enjoying sex - body image issues, sexual trauma, feeling unsure of how to explore your sexuality - by yourself first. Then, if or when you find a sexual partner, you’ve lightened some of the anxiety load, know your body a bit better and are ready to COMMUNICATE what feels good.
We are all busier than ever, how can we make time for solo play?
Making time for pleasure should be key part of your weekly health and wellness regime, akin to exercising, washing your face, moisturising that peachy butt.
Not only is masterbating scientifically proven to help with anxiety and reduce stress, it is also a really helpful way of exploring your body and what you like sexually. The relationship you have with your body is the longest relationship you’ll ever have, and like any relationship, it needs to be nurtured and cultivated.
I understand we are all super busy, but schedule in time in your calendar for a date night with yourself which includes solo play.
Personally, I love going for dinner or to the cinema solo, then going to bed with a great book before putting on some sexy music and giving myself the pleasure my body was literally designed to experience. Did you know the clitoris has over 8000 nerve endings (some scientists now say it’s more than 10,000), which is a LOT. What a waste not to make the most of this most joyful part of my body.
Given that if it’s not in my Google cal it simply isn’t happening… I literally put date night with me into my calendar and make it a negotiable. I would highly recommend you do too.
For those who are yet to attend a Sex Talks event yet, can you put some words on what to expect?
I created Sex Talks in order to introduce more people to the sort of learnings and conversations I had in the sex therapy room, and get us all talking a little more openly about sex and pleasure.
At every event I turn to a different topic (previous events have explored what we might all be able to learn from polyamory, how to bridge the orgasm gap, the future of sex tech, sex and censorship, overcoming sexual shame…. So much!) and and sit down with a panel of brilliant speakers speakers whose work explores sex and pleasure in varying ways. I’ve spoken to a huge variety of people ranging from sex educators and sex therapists to the CEO of dating app Feeld… to actors and tv writers. The whole gamut.
Our no-holes barred chats go deep and are, I hope, as cathartic for the sex talks community as they are for me.
Every event finishes with an anonymous q&a so people can ask whatever sex(y) question is on their mind. This section always feels a bit like group sex therapy and makes me feel like the game show host I will one day be.
So, do tell us, what did you think about The Lennon vibrator by Knude Society and Dame's Arousal Serum?
Firstly, I love how sleek The Lennon Knude vibrator is. It now travels with me in my make up bag as you never know when the urge for some meditative masturbation will strike(!). I also love that the body of the vibrator is so flexible, meaning it bends and moves and moulds to your body for extra Clit-loving joy.
When you wanna spice things up and get things tingling (when do you not?) the Arousal Serum is perfect. It acts as a lube while also making everything feel extra sensitive. It feels a bit like mint lip balm for your Clit, which sounds weird but weeeeerks. All you need to accompany you for your next solo date.