Consent, Pleasure, & Pegging: The Sex Advice Millennial Women Never Got

Let's roll back the clock a few years to high school or middle school, or whenever it was that your school offered sex education — if they even offered it at all. Do you remember talking about consent, enthusiastic or otherwise? What about power dynamics in a sexual relationship? Or orgasms — did your teacher even mention the "O" word?

For way too many millennial women in the U.S., the answer to all of those questions is no. As Taryn Crosby, a sex educator and therapist in Brooklyn, remembers it, no one even told her that sex should be pleasurable. Instead, they focused on how not to get pregnant.

It's no secret, of course, that sex ed is failing just about everyone — we've been talking about it for years. But in the rash of sexual assault and harassment conversations taking over social media since Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was outed as a serial abuser in October, it's easier to see exactly how this dearth of sex-positive advice is affecting the lives of millennial women. The line between bad sex and #MeToo is likely thinner than many people would like to think.

Obviously, it's not 100% on women (or any one person in a sexual scenario) to avoid bad sex; it's up to everyone involved in a sexual encounter to pay attention to their partner's needs, Crosby says. And while we'd never suggest the responsibility of safe and consensual sex be put entirely on women, maybe if we'd had a few more of those conversations in sex ed — talks about power and agency and pleasure — then women would be better prepared to recognize the root of coercive or bad sex for what it really is: the societal norm for a woman to please and for a man to take.

In an effort to finally learn these important lessons, and unlearn others, we've talked to several sex-positive educators about pleasure, consent, orgasms, and never settling for sex you don't want. This is the sex advice many millennial women never got — but should have.

photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Consent is more than just "yes means yes" or "no means no." It's both!

As the polarizing allegations against Aziz Ansari show, consent isn't black and white. There are so many different definitions of consent that our idea of what actually counts can get confusing. Some say we should think of consent as "no means no," meaning that it's a partner's responsibility to verbally say "no" when they don't want to do something. (Though many people also think that "no means no" includes phrases like "not right now" and "maybe later.") Others prefer a more positive "yes means yes" approach, which arguably allows for less gray area because anything that isn't a "yes" is a "no."

But, really, true consent is about both.

Ideally, instead of questioning whether a "yes" or a "no" or a "maybe" counts as a green light, people would spend their mental energy actually, you know, paying attention to their partners. Once you learn to do that, you're already practicing "enthusiastic consent," says Abby Hertz, producer of LUST, an erotic dinner party. Enthusiastic consent combines "yes means yes" and "no means no," and then adds in nonverbal communication, too. It's about listening to the words your partner is saying, but also what they're not saying. Nonverbal cues like leaning in, moaning, or pulling you closer can be encouraging, while movements like backing away, pushing your hands away, or avoiding eye contact signal that it's time to back off.

Of course, we're clearly not in a world that can handle gray area very well, so it's important to check in with your partner verbally, too (especially any time you're trying something new). If you're doing all of this, you're more likely to have a sexual encounter that's "win-win, reciprocal, equitable, and meaningful," says sexuality educator Aida Manduley, MSW.
photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Asking for consent can be incredibly sexy. (Don't listen to anyone who says it's not.)

There's a misguided idea when it comes to sex that checking in with a partner and pausing to ask for consent will "ruin the mood," or that it feels mechanical or forced. And that's just not true — oftentimes, the hottest sex is when everyone involved is vocal. So why are we socialized to treat sex as if we're the stars of a silent movie?

If you're not convinced, ask yourself: What's hotter — asking about what sexy things your partner wants to do, or grunting your way through sex? Kind of crazy that we've defaulted to the latter, no?

In fact, you can easily turn asking for consent into dirty talk. "It's really hot for a partner to lean into your ear and say something like, 'Do you want me to rip off your clothes?' or ask, 'What do you want me to do to you?'" Hertz says. Even if you're too shy for dirty talk, asking a partner what they like and don't like, and if they like what you're currently doing to them, is not awkward or clinical; it shows that you're a fantastic sexual partner.
photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Sex doesn't start with an erection, and it doesn't end with a man's orgasm.

According to Crosby, it's high time women who have sex with men unlearn their understanding of how sex is supposed to happen. As the story tends to go, women are supposed to expect that sex starts when a man has an erection and it ends once he comes — and that's not only boring, but it completely ignores a woman's pleasure. So, if you're a woman who sleeps with men, remember: Penises can be great, but sex isn't all about them.

Putting that into practice can mean that you initiate sex even before your partner has an erection and focus on foreplay that will get you in the mood (might we suggest that you start with the clit?). And if you haven't had an orgasm before he finishes (and you want one), then sex doesn't have to be over.
photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
But it's not ALL about the clit.

Speaking of the clit: Unlike generations before us, millennial women (and other people who have clitorises) are much more aware of the power of this sensitive pleasure center. It's a big step up from traditional P-in-V sex that often leaves the clitoris out of the action, but Manduley thinks all of the attention on the clit has actually hindered us in some ways. "The unfortunate side effect of that education is the assumption that the clitoris is The Only Spot That Works," they say. Manduley suggests exploring your body both alone and with partners, because there are so many more erogenous zones to play with.

Your nipples, for instance. They're a treasure trove of itty bitty nerve endings that deserve a little more love. Have your partner lick them, pinch them, suck them, bite them, blow on them, or do anything else that feels good. (Maybe even kick it up a notch and invest in a pair of nipple clamps — the world is your oyster.)

Another erogenous zone you've probably never explored? The back of your knees. Yep, you read that right: the back of your knees. "There's no hair there, and the skin is extra sensitive," Claudia Six, PhD, a clinical sexologist, told Refinery29 last year. She suggests tickling, biting, rubbing, or running your hair along the back of your partner's knees for a little unexpected sensation.
photographed by Ashley Armitage; modeled by Elizabeth Sanchez; produced by Lorenna Gomez-Sanchez; produced by Megan Madden.
You never have to settle for sex you don't really want.

Women are socialized to settle. We settle for lesser pay and we settle for sex we don't really want. Both are because we've been told that we aren't worth more. When it comes to sex and dating, it's often about appearance. We're told to think we're imperfect and that what we look like is the only measure of our worth, which can make us less assertive about what we want in bed, or who we want to be in our beds in the first place.

It's something Crosby sees all the time. "I'm constantly giving women permission to do things," she says. People come to her and ask, "Is this normal?" and, "Is it weird that I want these things?" These questions, she says, stem from society grooming women to think that their desire isn't valid.

For many women, feeling undesirable also means they may settle for sex with someone who they'd rather not have sex with because "at least he/she/they find me attractive." Sex educator Sonalee Rashatwar is here to break that assumption to pieces. "Plus-size millennials, particularly, need to hear that their social desirability should not decide their sexual rights," she says. Like Crosby, she gives you permission to hold out for the sex and the sexual partners you really want (not that you needed permission).
photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
Orgasms aren't a gift.

When Crosby worked as a sex educator at Babeland, an inclusive sex toy shop, some of her favorite customers were women who'd never had an orgasm before. She liked talking to them because they were ready to take ownership over their pleasure, and it often blew their minds when she told them that an orgasm isn't just something you wait for a partner to give you.

"That’s the sense for a lot of women," she says. "There's a lack of awareness of what’s happening in their bodies." So she'd tell them to start being present in their pleasure, and to understand that there are multiple types of orgasms, all of which you can give to yourself. Isn't masturbation a glorious thing?

If you're a novice at solo sex, don't fret. We have a handy 30-day masturbation challenge that's full of great tips to get you started. It includes toy-free techniques on the best way to move your fingers, and it breaks down the anatomy you'll need to know (it's totally fine if you're not sure where your clit actually is), as well as a few days of toy play added in. (Here are some great beginner sex toys if you're in need of one.)
photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
When in doubt, look to queer sex.

As terrible as sex ed is for straight people, it's basically non-existent for queer people. No one tells queer people how sex works between two people who have vaginas or two people who have penises, and that has made many of them more vocal about what they do in the bedroom and what they want. Crosby says straight people could do with a dose of that honesty and forget the traditional "rules" and gender norms around sex.

More than that, she says, there's also just an element of exploration in queer communities that straight people don't often have. Because there's no cut-and-dry sex act like P-in-V penetration, queer people are more open to experimenting.

Straight men: Take a note from women who have sex with women, and make it a point to get really good at oral sex. That means educating yourself about vaginal anatomy and understanding that the same technique doesn't work on every vulva. (BTW do you know the difference between the vagina and the vulva? That's important!) If you want to go really crazy, add some fingers while you go down on your partner.

Straight women: Did you know that cisgender men have a nifty little pleasure center in their anus called the prostate? That means that even straight men can enjoy anal sex when they're the one being penetrated. It's called pegging, and it involves you donning a strap-on (they're not just for lesbians!) and using lots of lube to slip it inside your partner's bum. Just remember to take it slow.
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