I am (shamelessly) a big fan of Valentine’s Day, but not on the pressure we put on ourselves to make everything perfect. When it comes to a day that’s point is celebrating romance, I like the idea of spreading my definition of this word across my whole life – seeing it as an opportunity to get creative with how I give and receive love. This is the attitude I hope all romantics at heart consider, this Feb. 14th, whether you’re in a relationship, or not.
If you do like the idea of embracing the sexy side of this holiday, and you happen to have someone to do it with (or plan to finagle yourself someone to do it with) we have your inspo right here. We spoke with Good for Her founder Carlyle Jansen about embracing your sexuality and getting what you want in bed.
Edit Seven: I’d love to know how you came to teach about sexuality. Why help people explore / reach their sexual potential, of all things?
Carlyle Jansen: Well growing up, I didn’t talk about it at home. Sue Johanson came to my grade 10 class to talk about sex and my mom said, ‘don’t get any ideas about taking your clothes off.’ So that was my message – that sex was not something I was able to do or should do. Sex kind of terrified me anyway.
My first boyfriend, in my early 20s, we were having sex and I had no clue what I was doing. I even said to him, ‘I’m terrified of your penis, I’ve never seen one before.’ So he gave me a tour around. He asked me to tell him what I liked, and I looked at him and said, ‘aren’t you supposed to know that?’ I had no clue. Masturbation had never occurred to me. He was actually the one who suggested that I masturbate, so I did. I tried to have an orgasm on my own, as well as with him for two years, and I couldn’t, so I just kind of gave up. The analogy I use is, if you’ve never had chocolate cake, you don’t miss chocolate cake.
I enjoyed sex, and I had sex with him, and (with my next partners), I said, just so you know, I don’t orgasm. I went through a period of time where that was OK, but then one person dumped me. It was too much pressure for him to not feel like I would orgasm. So he dumped me very apologetically. Eventually, I went to one of my friends and said, ‘OK so this is now a problem, the fact that I can’t have an orgasm.’ She suggested I use a back massager, and so I did, and that did the trick. Not on my back.
E7: Yeah, that was how it happened for me the first time too, and I‘m sure a lot of E7 readers will probably agree on that.
CJ: That was how my journey around learning about sex started. This was in my late 20s. I decided after (my first orgasm), wow, there must be so much more I don’t know. So I started learning about it, taking workshops and reading books and watching videos.
When my sister got married, I bought her some sex toys for her bridal shower and she opened them after her friend’s gifts, which were things like, salad bowls and wine glasses, and her friends had all these questions. So I answered them. They said ‘you’re so comfortable talking about sex, you should do workshops on it.’ I thought that would be fun, so I started teaching workshops, with my sister and her friends as my first groups. Then eventually people said, we want a comfortable place to shop and we want more workshops, so I opened Good for Her in 1997.
E7: And the rest is history.
CJ: That it is. We expanded on our workshops, we have lots of different local people who teach workshops, and we expanded what we do. I’m currently now back in school getting my Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology to do sex therapy.
E7: Thank you for all the work you’ve done with Good for Her. It was an introduction to a whole other world for me when I first moved to the city. When it comes to something like Valentine’s Day, it’s easy to feel pressure to make sure your partner has a good time, and that you have a good time. How would you suggest people celebrate – if they do want to celebrate, do so with less pressure around it?
CJ: I would do something on the 12th or the 13th. I actually personally hate Valentine’s Day, because I see so many people putting effort into their relationship once a year – especially the last minute February 14th people, they run into the store and they’re like, ‘what do I buy? If I don’t buy something, my relationship is doomed!’ That feeling that your relationship might be doomed from something you do or don’t do on one day is not very healthy. One way to take the pressure off is if you want to do something, surprise your partner on a different day when they’re not expecting it.
E7: That’s an interesting thought. I agree – it’s not just one day we can celebrate love and make a point to do it.
CJ: For people who are alone, there’s so much pressure. If you’re happy to be alone, I think it’s different, but for people who want to be in a relationship and for whatever reason are not in one, there can be so much pressure!
We actually have a workshop on the 13th about self-care. It’s important to look after yourself whether you have a partner or not. It’s about, what do you want from yourself, rather than what you want from your partner, or what they want from you. We usually offer a couple giving head workshops just before Valentine’s Day. We’ve had women crying on the phone with us when the workshop is sold out.
E7: I think that a lot of millennial women who do have desires that might not be so highlighted in the mainstream feel like they’re way more off on the other extreme than they really are. Someone who wants to do something kind of kinky might have a hard time talking about with a partner, or even admitting it to themselves, I think Valentine’s Day could be a kind of permission slip to go for it. What would you suggest for someone who wanted to try and navigate that conversation with a partner?
CJ: A game I called three oranges and a lemon. This is a good check-in you can do with a partner. You affirm three things that you like about your erotic connection, and one thing you want differently.
Sometimes when you want to mention something you want differently or want to try, it can feel as though we’re implying everything else is horrible, but we’re not. So you say what’s working really well, like, ‘I love the way you touch my whole body before you touch my clit,’ or the way you look at me during intercourse, or the way you lick my butthole, and, I’m curious about having a threesome. So, three things you love, one thing you want to do differently. Taking responsibility for what we want is a really important part of this.
Part of this is, in the moment, maybe you don’t know what you want, or can’t think of it. I think sometimes we get mad and we feel like our partners should be mind-readers, or should just know. We can’t expect our partner to remember everything also.
Another thing is, you might ask your partner to go a little more gently (during sex), and on a scale of 1 – 10, your partner is at an 8 and you want a 2. Then they go from 8 – 6. And you’re thinking, why didn’t they listen, this is so frustrating, or get in your head. Acknowledge that they made that effort, but you need a little more. Using that number scale can help. I know it might take you out of the moment, but it can help. Or putting your hand on their hand. We’ve all played broken telephone, and it can still just happen. Communication isn’t always perfect.
E7: We need to make communication a habit, right? For someone in a long-term relationship, how can they breathe new life into their relationship and make sex feel fresh and exciting?
CJ: There’s a study by Dr. Kleinplatz, a therapist in Ottawa, who said, we talk about sexual dysfunction a lot. What are we aiming for? What is sexual function? What’s the goal? She interviewed 60 couples of different ages and orientations but they had all been together at least 25 years. They asked, what is it that makes your relationship stand the test of time? There was nothing about number of orgasms, or frequency, or how many sex toys, or positions, it was about being authentic, being vulnerable, taking risks, and being connected.
What that means is, it’s about being honest and vulnerable about what we want. When we take a risk in saying what we actually want, that’s where we develop that closeness – in showing who we actually are. It’s not so much about how many things you try, it’s about being open to explore things together, to being adventurous together, rather than being robotic.
E7: I wish I could tell my ex boyfriends that. There’s no easy way. You just have to do the hard thing and be really vulnerable with your partner. That will make everything better – sex, everything.
CJ: Right. I think a lot of times people get like, ‘oh, I don’t have any creativity, I can’t think of anything else I’d like to try.’ Because they think it’s about reinventing all these things, but it’s not about something new, it’s more about doing something new together. Exploring together, having fun, together and being interested. Or not so interested, and laughing together.
E7: I love that. It’s not about quantity, it’s about going deeper.
(Story by Contributing Editor, Kait Fowlie)