Our sexual script should be ours, and only ours. We should get to choose how we write it, who the lead characters are (*cough* you *cough*) and have it serve our pleasure and desires. We asked sexuality coach Christina Helou to share how we can start thinking about sex beyond the binary, and to celebrate our very own sexual narrative.
The Age-Old “Penis in Vagina” Story
All too often, when I ask folks how they define sex for themselves, without a missing a beat, they usually say “sex is when my husband/boyfriend/fiancC)/male partner had his penis in my vagina.” The answer is automatic and without thought. This narrative usually is there to serve cis men. Why is this?
It is because of society’s cis-heteronormative script of what sex is supposed to be and what it is supposed to look like which is impressed upon all of us from the beginning of life. We see it in books, media, porn. We feel it in medical settings when asked about our sexual behaviors (if even asked at all!). The assumed, automatic, and baseline narrative surrounding sex is a man with a penis penetrating a woman’s vagina and it is over once the man ejaculates (aka reached orgasm). While some people do identify with this narrative, this view is too narrow and doesn’t leave much room for exploring pleasure, let alone sexuality and gender. For many non-binary folks this is not their experience surrounding sex and sexuality.
So, Let’s Talk About Sex, Actually
Each person defines sex and sexual activities differently. Sex can involve the use of words, body language, or touch to intimately connect to yourself and/or a partner(s). It may involve a penis or vagina and/or any combination of body parts with and without using toys or changing positions. It can include solo sex, mutual masturbation, erotic massages, listening to erotic stories, watching porn, cuddling with clothes on, foreplay and more. It is important that any and all sexual activities, however an individual defines it, includes consent.
Reclaiming Gender Expansiveness and Sexuality
Your Gender is not Defined by Your Genitals
It's important to note that someone’s gender is not defined by their genitals. Gender is typically described as “cisgender” or “transgender”. Cisgender indicating someone’s sex assigned at birth is congruent with their gender identity and transgender usually defined as one’s gender identity being incongruent with their sex assigned at birth. Gender identity is defined by you and your inherent sense of self. Too often gender is referred to in the binary: men and women. To be non-binary is to identify outside of the gender binary. Gender is a spectrum with an infinite range of gender identities. If gender is not defined by genitals, and sex isn’t defined solely as penis in vagina sex; non-binary folks (specifically those with vulvas) must explore sex, sexuality, and pleasure outside of the binary sexual scripts.
Writing Your Own Sexual Scripts
Since sex is usually scripted in a cis-heteronormative, genital and orgasm-focused way, it can be triggering or dysphoria inducing for non-binary folks.
Some non-binary folks may dislike their genitals or chest tissue and not want any intimate or non-intimate touch to these areas. Exploring different sensations whether it be pleasure, pleasure-adjacent, or pain in non-genital regions, outside of what most folks think of as sex, can have pleasurable and positive sexual responses.
Some non-binary folks find joy in BDSM as a way to feel pleasure and empowered in their body, engage with their gender, disengage from societal expectations of gender identity and roles, and play with vulnerability, power, and control in way that aligns with their gender identity, sexuality, and sense of euphoria.
Sometimes sexual and/or non-sexual touch isn’t part of some non-binary folks’ sexual scripts? Exploring erotic literature/stories, erotic art and other erotic visuals can help you get an idea of how to want to write your own sexual scripts.
Daily traumas, microaggressions, fears, cultural pressure, and cis-heteronormative messaging forced upon non-binary folks can follow them to the bedroom. It can be hard to celebrate your own non-binary identity, when the messaging that is pressed upon non-binary folks harms them by forcing us to make binary choices. To be a sexual non-binary person may mean to rewrite your entire narrative about sex and rethink what you were once taught about sex.
Where to Start When Rewriting your Sexual Scripts
While rewriting your sexual scripts is to acknowledge the trauma, fears, and pressures you are under. Know that your feelings are valid and despite what the world has told you, you are a valid human being with the right to be exactly who you are whether at home, in society, or in the bedroom. Now, can you conjure up all the love, care, affirmation, and joy you have felt for yourself and received from others. Use this to start rewriting your own narrative surrounding sex, sexuality, and pleasure. With a gender-celebratory mindset, think about what sensations make your mind and body feel good?
- A gentle stroke on the top of your arm?
- A warm whisper in your ear?
- A soft kiss on the neck?
- A taste of your favorite chocolate?
- Being held tight by yourself or a partner?
- The feeling of tingling near your clitoris?
- The fullness sensation in your vulva when you feel aroused?
- The pressure of your pack against your skin?
- The compression of your chest binder?
- The smell of leather?
- The snap of latex against your arm?
- Playing with gender and expanding gender roles?
- The tightness of ropes against your skin?
- Exploring consensual power and control scenarios?
How does your body respond to these thoughts and sensations? Whatever makes you feel pleasurable sensations in your body hold on to those thoughts and physical feelings. Do you feel more connected to your body when tapping into these sensations and thoughts? If you have dysphoria around your genitals, can you engage in pleasurable play with your partner in ways that do not focus on genitals? Focus on what feels good to you.
Take time by yourself to explore yourself, touch places no one has touched before, change the pressure or direction of touch, and/or the temperature of touch. How does touching your vulva feel? What happens when you touch your nipples? Use your hands or toys to explore different sensations. Think of erotic stories and fantasies. Check in with yourself often. View this as a process of exploration rather than judgement. Cultivate positive sexual experiences and sensation with your own body.
When you are more comfortable with the sensations that bring you pleasure, share them with your partner or partners. Tell your partner if you want them to stroke your vulva a certain way or if you want your clitoris licked. Tell them if you want to be penetrated with fingers, toys, or a penis or tell them if penetration is not part of our sexual script at all. Ask them how they want to be touched, if at all. Collaborate with your partner and experience sex however you want to experience it. Communicate your needs and wants and listen to their needs and wants.
Expand Sex Beyond the Goal of Orgasm and Focus on Fun, Pleasure, and Play
We as humans are driven to experience pleasure. While rewriting your sexual scripts, expand sex beyond the goal of orgasms and focus on fun, pleasurable play. The climax of many cis-heteronormative scripts of sex usually ends when a penis owner reaches orgasm. These scripts put too much pressure on you and your partner(s) to reach orgasm during all sexual activities. These scripts dismiss, erase, and do not empower people with vulvas to experience pleasure outside of orgasm. Take the pressure of yourself and your partner to reach orgasm. Eliminate the pressure to perform in a certain way. Be present with yourself and your partner. You can rewrite your sexual scripts with the goal of pleasure, play, and fun.
Author: Dr. Christina Helou, PT, DPTDoctor of Physical Therapy, Sexuality Counselor, Sex Educator