It’s easier to do it than to talk about it.
We’d rather guess what our partner wants in bed than have to ask. We’d rather have our partners guess what we want in bed than have to explain it to them.
But all the mystery and silence doesn’t make for a more satisfying relationship.
Sustainable Passions founder Kjersti Helgeland wants to get us talking. And not just with our partners, either.
She wants us to be able to talk about sexuality out in the open, with curiosity, not embarrassment.
That’s why she created Passion Cafés, to bring ordinary people together to share their thoughts and experiences on one of our most taboo topics.
Her mission is “to create a greater awareness on how our sexuality is formed and manipulated by society.”
When we don’t talk about sex, we don’t question what we’ve been told. It’s time to take back our power.
(This interview contains some explicit language. Viewer discretion is advised.)
What You’ll Learn
We talk about sex with our lovers.
Sometimes, we talk about sex with our girlfriends.
For most of us, that’s the extent of it. Sex is a private matter. It isn’t something we want to talk about with just anyone.
For Sustainable Passions founder Kjersti Helgeland, that’s a shame.
When we don’t talk with anyone about sex, we don’t have the opportunity to question what we’ve been told.
We’ve been given so many messages about sex from parents, friends, school, politics, laws, religion, culture, and the media. Some of those messages come from people who think they know what’s best for you. Other messages come from people who want to make money off your insecurities or desires.
Kjersti compares it to a map.
As you grow up, these messages impose a map over your sexuality, telling you what to do and who it’s okay to do it with and what’s taboo.
But then, she asks, “what happens if your map does not really fit with your terrain, your unique sexuality? Do you then try to adapt yourself to the map, or do you try to rewrite the map?”
That’s where Kjersti’s talks and workshops come in.
She wants us to realize that we don’t have to change ourselves to fit the sexual map we’ve been given. We have another choice. We can start to question some of those messages we’ve received about sex. We can take charge of our sexual destiny.
Sex Ed Starts Early
Although sex ed in schools doesn’t start for most of us until we hit puberty, our real sexual education starts much sooner.
“There is a lot that lies in your childhood,” Kjersti says. “Most of us never had any good role models when it came to talking about sexuality in a normal, relaxed, informed, and constructive way. Maybe we even experienced someone getting teased or ridiculed trying to talk about sexuality.”
Even though no one may have talked about sex with us, that doesn’t mean we didn’t pick up on the unspoken rules.
Unconsciously we learn certain rules—how it’s okay to talk about sex, or maybe it’s mostly about how it’s not okay to talk about sex—and we bring these rules with us throughout our life if we don’t question them.”
Another way we learn about sexuality is through related topics like pleasure and consent.
“Also, it has to do with whether you were encouraged or cowed when you expressed your wishes and boundaries as a kid,” Kjersti says. “Were you listened to? How did you learn to express yourself and what you liked and disliked?
“This is a long path,” she adds, “and it’s time to take the power back there and to re-learn and to rewrite some of these rules.”
It’s Your Responsibility Now
It can be shocking to realize how much of your sexual script was written for you.
How much have you gone along with things, never realizing you had a choice?
“You actually have to take responsibility for your own sexuality and your own pleasure,” Kjersti says.
“It’s a mindset that, ‘Okay, I want to take responsibility. Maybe I have given it away. Maybe I have been unconscious. But now it’s time to … take responsibility and not leave it to the man or leave it to someone else.'”
This isn’t an easy path, she warns. “It takes courage, and it takes practice.”
The first thing you need is the words to talk about it.
Talking about sexuality requires having the language to describe the parts of the body, what you like, and what you do in bed.
Sometimes, you may have the words but struggle with expressing them out loud. “Maybe you have to practice in front of the mirror,” Kjersti says.
She encourages couples to communicate about sex from the very beginning of the relationship.
“Yes, it might feel hard, and it might be scary,” she says, “but think of it as a gift you give.” When you’re honest, you open the doors for your partner to be honest as well.
How to Talk about Sex with Your Partner
What should you talk about?
“Talk about what is important to you,” she says. “What you like and dislike. What you’re insecure about and what you’re curious about.”
If possible, have that conversation before you have sex.
Ask questions like, “What do you like? How do you like to be touched?” Then tell your partner your answers. Don’t “assume that you know what he or she wants, or that they should read your mind.”
It can be difficult to start that conversation, so Kjersti offers some conversation openers:
Some men believe that they should be able to guess what a woman wants, but what I like differs from day to day. I can’t expect you to read my mind, so we need to talk about it,” or…
I don’t expect you to read my mind. I take responsibility for my pleasure, so that’s why I’m telling you how I feel today, what I need today. I also ask you, as my partner, where are you today? What are your needs and wishes and your boundaries today?”
This doesn’t mean you should tell your partner everything you want them to do. “You need to have some trust; otherwise, it’s quite exhausting to be with a partner who’s micromanaging you,” Kjersti says.
It also doesn’t mean that you should correct your partner every time they stray away from what you asked for.
“Talk about what they do right. Talk about what you like. Even better, show [them] what you like. Show with sounds; you don’t need to talk.”
Another good time to talk about sex is afterwards. Ask your partner, “How did that feel for you when I did that?” Because “you and your partner experience things differently.”
The goal is to “be curious with your partner as you want your partner to be curious about you.”
Taking the Conversation Public
Your sexuality isn’t just a private matter. It is actually a public matter. How you talk about sex, who you talk with, what you talk about it … you’re part of creating society’s view on sexuality. I want to inspire you to take responsibility for your sexuality and also be conscious of how you influence others, because you do.”
Some people believe that they’ve never influenced anyone around sex, because they never talk about it.
But we communicate our beliefs, even though we don’t say a thing.
That’s why Kjersti created NYT, Norway’s national festival for Positive Sexuality, and Passion Cafés where ordinary people can gather to speak about topics normally reserved for the bedroom.
“The Passion Cafés are really for people to experience … talking about sexuality and talking about intimate things that we usually don’t hear,” she says. The people who attend her events find that hearing other people talk so openly about sexuality helps them open up, too.
“Usually we sit with the same questions and the same insecurities, but we don’t know, because we don’t talk about it,” she says.
If you feel inspired to do so, try talking about “sex in a way that you feel is right for you with someone that you maybe haven’t talked about the issue before.” Push yourself a little bit outside your comfort zone.
Jump to Topics of Interest
1:42 How Kjersti started talking about sex
3:14 The rules we learn around talking about sex
4:43 How we learned to express our wishes and boundaries as kids
6:08 Take responsibility for your own sexuality by communicating
9:30 Guidelines for a sex talk
14:42 Sexuality is a public matter
18:21 Positive Sexuality and Passion Cafés
Kjersti is the founder of Sustainable Passions and NYT, Norway’s national festival for Positive Sexuality. Sustainable Passions advocates a world where our sexuality is recognized as an unique source of pleasure, energy and creativity—and where each individual is free to live out his sexuality as long as it does not harm others. Her passion is to help strengthen people´s self-esteem and empower people in their sexuality, open up the public conversation about sexuality and promote sexual pleasure as a path towards a healthier society. She does this by giving talks and arranging festivals, workshops, and Passion Cafés. Find out more about Kjersti.