Lessons of a sex coach: Clarke Rose on libido, desire, liberation and ‘societal sexual trauma’

Linocut print by Ellen Von Wiegand

We asked our fave Clarke Rose to discuss her learnings as a sex coach and the disconnect many of us have with our sensuality and sexuality. Speaking about desire and causation of ‘low’ libido in women, she identifies what she calls ‘societal sexual trauma.’ Follow her on IG @clarkerosethesexcoach and email her at info@clairerose.com to book a 1:1 session with her. Massive thanks to Clarke for sharing her insight as a sex coach!

Since I was twelve years old, I knew I wanted to work in the field of women’s sexual pleasure and empowerment. However at the age of twelve, I wasn’t sure what that actually looked like. People ask children what they want to be when they grow up and the answers range from doctor to pilot to firefighter, or writer… I didn’t know the job title for Person Who Helps Women Love Themselves and Have Great Sexual Experiences. As I grew older I became aware of the term “sexologist” and when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said “A sexologist,” not entirely sure if that was a thing or if that’s what I wanted, but it was all I had. I heard everything in response from, “That’s not actually a profession is it?” to… “Oh you mean a marriage counsellor.” It’s funny, something I didn’t recognise then, but that I now see very clearly, is that there was a stigma around working in the field of sex, whether it be actual sex work, or sex education. There was also an idea that it was only okay for people to talk about sex in regards of marriage or in the realm of couples counselling, but that’s not what I wanted to do. (I’ve since changed— eventually I would like to do couples therapy) but my main passion is, and always has been, women’s sexual pleasure and erotic freedom.

Most, if not all women, have some blocks around their sexuality. I should mention I grew up in the USA, studied in Paris for three years, and now I live in Australia. I’ve been all over, travelled to more places than that, and there are some familiarities that span across the places I’ve lived. I can not speak to the universal experience of women, and issues around sexuality are intersectional, like issues surrounding being a woman, like feminism. That being said I work with women from India, London, Prague, France, the US…. many, many places, and I notice a lot of us struggle with the same things, to different varying degrees: Guilt around masturbation, lack of pleasure during sex, inability to communicate what we want, low libido…

I would like to address the last thing I mentioned, first, and in further detail: low libido. I strongly dislike when people generalize, “Women have lower libido than men.” Because that’s absolutely not true. Nonetheless, even just this morning I received a message from a 47 year old man saying, “My libido is through the roof, very strong with waves of energy flowing through me and my wife has little to no sex drive. It is as if she does not need or want sex anymore.” And I felt like saying, (I didn’t, don’t worry): Well, why do you think your wife doesn’t want to have sex with you anymore? Maybe she’s tired of taking care of the four children you mentioned having, maybe you haven’t actually pleasured her in years, maybe you come every time but she needs something more, maybe you’re reaching out to young women on Instagram and she secretly knows and is insecure about it, maybe she needs you to make the extra effort with her, and you don’t. But I refrained, instead replying: First of all, sex drive isn’t real. Sex is actually an incentive motivation system, motivated by want. A drive is something like hunger or thirst, motivated by need. Also—I don’t work with men at the moment, but I’d be more than happy to work with your wife on her pleasure if she was open to it! And this happens often, men reaching out to me with something that has to do with their partner. Even this, their ease and their comfort in writing to me, wanting to work on their sex life, speaks to the profound inequality of sexual pleasure in our society. Their partners do not have this same ease and freedom when it comes to advocating for their sexual pleasure; There is stigma around asking for what you need sexually and otherwise when you’re a woman/femme.

Men are not ashamed to advocate for their sexual desires, sometimes thoughtlessly, seeking a newer, younger girlfriend or expecting sexual acts from their partner with little to no reciprocation. Women feel a block around acknowledging that their pleasure could be better; They don’t want to (or perhaps more so, don’t know how to) admit they aren’t having great sex, and it is difficult to accept that they could be having BETTER sex.

This is because many of us are conditioned into shame when it comes to our sexuality. When we’re younger, the language around our genitals is muddled, we have a “puki” a “noon” or a “wawa.” Someone catches us humping a pillow at three, or kissing a friend at nine and tells us, “don’t do that ever again” or “only with the door closed,” although that last one is actually not the worst, but still puts sexuality behind closed doors, not accepting, or creating educational conversation around it. Then at twelve we’re told we can’t show our shoulders at school because our body is a distraction. Yet male teachers begin to look down our shirts… and separately, we begin to feel things under our skirts. But we don’t know what to do with those feelings… we have no information. We have a “sex ed” class maybe around age 10 and again at age 14. Around 10 we’re informed of our periods, but not in a positive celebratory way like we could be. At 14 we’re told about STI’s but not the pleasure, or beauty, in sex. Then some of us start to have sex in high school, with boys who have received their sex education from mainstream porn, degrading music and popular media. So girls learn from these boys what the expectations of them are to be: to be skinny, have a bald vulva, be loud in bed, penetration is the end all be all of sex, no attention to foreplay or the clitoris, and we have to put on a big show of how the dick feels inside of us… and most of us, get a dick inside of us for the first time and think of the girls in porn and go, “Whaaaaaaaat?” I remember thinking, the first time a dick was going in and out of me… “This is it?” Like literally, “THIS is sex?” I had so much to learn… and I never learned it in school, so I went on to teach myself.

So this brings me back to this concept that women have less libido than men… they don’t! The majority of women do however experience a different kind of sexual desire than men. Emily Nagoski, in her book, “Come As You Are” discusses two kinds of sexual desire: responsive and spontaneous. 75% of men happen to experience spontaneous desire, meaning they get turned on in the middle of having a cup of tea, or going for a run. Their desire comes on as quickly as a sneeze. Some women also experience this type of desire. But most women experience responsive desire, meaning their desire appears when something arousing happens around them. And *something arousing* is subjective. It can be different for everyone: seeing your partner take their shirt off, someone giving you a neck rub, a cheeky smile from someone in a cafe, your partner taking care of the kids for awhile, your partner brushing up against your thighs under the dinner table… etc. I have come to find it is no coincidence that men often have spontaneous desire while women are more likely to experience responsive. 

Boys are allowed to act on their sexual urges and embrace their developing sexuality. Not all boys, of course, but many are encouraged along their masturbation path, shown porn from a male family member or friend, and the more sex they have the more celebrated they are. So they grow up and become men who embrace their desire, and even more so, act on it without inhibition, and with reward. Women, on the other hand, are often shamed about their early masturbation experiences, not the audience that porn is created for, (so when girls turn to explore porn as they develop sexually it often turns them off, deterring them from further exploring their sexual desires, or causing them to develop an inaccurate and harmful sexual sense of self), and when they begin to have sex it’s seen as a “loss” of something (virginity- a social construct meant to harm women), and are then shamed for how much sex they have and for what context they’re having it in. For example, it may be seen as socially acceptable for a woman to have sex with a long term partner but not multiple partners outside of a relationship. 

Because of this, some women may begin to suppress their spontaneously occurring sexual desire, or even, come to fear it. Over time their desire becomes more responsive, brought out in a safe environment, in response to a stimuli. In this case, they have not instigated the sexual act itself (for fear of seeming “slutty”/overly sexual— but this is often unconscious), but responded to something that is allowing them to feel their desire. This fear around instigation, and embracing of sexual desire, is largely a result of what I have termed, sexual societal trauma

Sexual societal trauma is the misogynistic microaggressive everyday images, phrases, media and commonplace conversations that people internalize throughout their lives, which build whorephobic and slut-shaming tendencies, sexual shame, hatred towards women, objectification of bodies and ultimately sexual trauma around bodies, minds, lives, and sexualities. One can never have experienced *explicit sexual assault* but can be, and probably is, a victim of sexual societal trauma. 

I will give some examples of sexual societal trauma:

-objectifying billboards/ads

-dress codes in school

-hearing men objectifying a women/anyone

-tv shows that make light of sexual assault

-a sexualised rape scene on tv

-hetero-centric/transphobic sex education that ONLY teaches about sti’s/condoms/male ejaculation

-tv shows/media that perpetuate damaging narratives around women’s pleasure through intimacy scenes made through the male gaze

-seeing women being pushed out of films/hollywood/news/representation as they age

-publicly known rapists being elected into political office

-big sexual assault cases where the abuser is not convicted, and perhaps even still held in high regard

Perhaps people say, “Women have lower libido than men” because women aren’t having good sex. You can’t randomly crave something that you don’t look forward to! So a lot of the work I do with women is going back to the beginning; Unpacking what they’ve been taught and internalised when it comes to sex and planting new, more sex positive beliefs instead. And then we work through different exercises and practices that involve building a relationship with the body that is both sensual and platonic. We will go over self-pleasure exercises, and depending on where my client is at, masturbation is something we won’t even touch on until 3 or 4 sessions in. There is so much conditioning to be undone before we move forward into an expansive and freeing self-pleasure practice. 

I believe good sex starts with you, not your partner. You have to know what you like, what you want, and what your body responds to. The main way to figure out what you like is by developing some kind of daily or weekly self-pleasure practice where you can explore your bodies’ pleasure pathways unapologetically and without inhibition. This explorative mindset sometimes takes work, and it’s essential to have this mindset when navigating your pleasure practice. People like myself are here to help you achieve this way of thinking about sex and pleasure.

It takes people with vaginas 20 to 40 minutes of pussy play for their pussy to be fully erect and aroused. Not many people actually take this amount of time before penetrative sex but it’s vital! It will change the way you experience any kind of sex, but specifically penetrative sex; Especially if you’ve done the work on your own and you know what it really feels like when you’re fully aroused… your partnered sex will be that much better!

Once you know your body, it’s significantly easier to communicate what you need. Of course, many woman have another block here; Around asking for what they want and advocating for their needs. They don’t want to seem offensive or hurt a man’s ego (more conditioning). It is challenging to be honest about what you want in bed, and that’s why it is first necessary to unlearn what you have internalised when it comes to sex, re-learn your bodies’ personal definition of pleasure, and then get acquainted with your voice; Ironic that our pelvic floor and our vocal chords are so connected.

Every single vulva is anatomically different to the next, and not simply in the visual aspect, but also in where the nerve endings have ended up. Some people have copious amounts of nerve endings near the g-spot or goddess spot zone. Some people have most never endings in the clitoris, or right inner labia, or even anus. Because of this people with vulvas must explore how their particular vulva responds. You can’t expect a partner with multiple past partners or who has a reputation for being “good in bed” to just know what to do, because no two vulvas are the same. In the same regard, you shouldn’t feel broken if you don’t come when a new partner is doing what they say they did on their last partner, on you. You’re not broken, your vulva just probably needs something else.

I have found that there is so much pressure on women to orgasm, and this pressure often suffocates all the pleasure out of what could be a genuinely lovely sexual experience. This pressure sometimes comes from a partner asking, “Did you come?” (I hate this question, if your woman came, you’ll know). Or even worse, “I’ve made lots of women come before…” Or the pressure is internalised already from a young age from things like, seeing sex scenes where women come easily or hearing friends say they come every time, whether they do or not, because they also feel the pressure to be an Orgasmic Woman.

The truth is, orgasm is much more elusive for women. Biologically, males experience orgasm so that the sperm can leave the penis and so that a baby can be made. Women orgasm because all genders are made of the same organic make-up, just organised in different ways. Emily Nagoski writes about how women can orgasm because men can, it’s a wonderful accident. It’s not necessary for women to orgasm for conception to occur. I am not saying this to be anti-orgasm, I’m saying this because it’s extremely beneficial to begin to look at orgasm differently. It’s wonderful if it happens, but it’s also absolutely okay if it doesn’t. You must be kind and compassionate with yourself when it comes to orgasm. What I’ve realized through my work, and my personal experience, is that your orgasm often comes when you know how to find it on your own, you stop looking for it with a partner, and just relax into your pleasurable experiences. All along the way, advocating for your needs!

There is so much to talk about when it comes to being a sex coach and what I’ve learned but the last thing I want to touch on is the dichotomy of womanhood. This is not a new conversation, but it is a concept that is still harming women and femmes today. In this society, there are two roles for women: good girl/bad girl, slut/prude, promiscuous women/virgin, wife/mistress, madonna/whore, stripper/girl next door… And no matter what role you choose, you’re wrong! It’s a multiple choice test, except no answer is the right one. You will be criticised and blamed for trying to take on either role, and yet through all stages of your life, you will be forced to choose which kind of girl/woman you want to be. This causes immense confusion, including sexual confusion, for girls and women alike. 

There starts to be an internal war. The “sexual” young women become “mean girls” or “sluts” the “good girls” become “boring” or “prude” and no one wins! It’s a system that pits women against each other in the fight for ultimate approval from men. 

The ground-breaking truth, and something I help my clients to internalize, is that in forgiving and understanding other women and their choices, we can begin to love and free ourselves from our own limiting chains. Look at women having lots of sex and be happy for them. Look at women who feel empowered by not having sex and love them to. Support sex workers. Blame your ex, not the woman he cheated with. Listen to women and femmes and what they have to say about their sexual experiences and preferences. Believe women who speak up about assualt. If you see a woman looking cute in her outfit, be happy for her! Another woman’s beauty/confidence/happiness only leads to the liberation of all women. Women, and our unapologetic, non-judgemental, free from inhibition acceptance of our sensual pleasure and selves, is the key to erotic freedom. And that’s on period. That’s what I’ve learned from being a sex coach.

It’s the other sex educators I follow. My fellow sex coaches. My clients. My friends. My mama. It’s not institutions, or men, who will pave the way of sexual liberation for women; It’s us. And we’re already doing it. Take that in. Breathe it in. Look at your vulva in the mirror. Read books written by women. Honour yourself everyday even if just for five minutes. Learn to make sacred small aspects of your life by finding the divine in the mundane. You are worthy. You are good enough; Forgive yourself for ever thinking differently. 

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