What's 'good sex,' anyway?
Intimacy educator Shan Boodram on how to explore for the answer yourself
There are so many factors, from positions to partner type, that can contribute to a person's idea of "good" sex. Finding out what brings you pleasure should be an adventure, but if you're feeling lost, Shan Boodram is ready and willing to be your guide.
Boodram, a Canadian intimacy educator, describes herself on Instagram as "kinda like Dr. Ruth meets Rihanna." A bestselling author and podcaster who favours frank discussions, she's a natural fit as the narrator of CBC's new six-part docuseries The Big Sex Talk. The show unpacks notions of sexuality, explains new vernacular, and debunks myths surrounding sex with the input of experts, culture vultures and everyday Canadians.
As the voice of the docuseries, Boodram leads viewers on explorations of monogamy and polyamory; asexuality; the link between sex and technology; and gender identity, among other things. Ahead of the show's debut, we asked Boodram to share her thoughts on what "good sex" really means — and how to get it.
The biggest misconceptions about 'good sex'
"I think the biggest misconception about what 'good sex' is, is that it's a finite destination," said Boodram. "The real truth is good sex is a result of sexual creativity and innovation. And it's something incredibly personal." Variables including frequency, activities and boundaries all affect a person's definition. "For a very long time, we've had this idea that there's this rinse-and-repeat model of what sex should look like in people's lives. And very few people live up to that, [and] as a result, have felt like they've been left out of the 'good sex' conversation."
Defining 'good sex' for yourself
Boodram defines "good sex" as sex positivity. "Which is giving yourself the space to explore the depths and potential of your humanity through your sexuality, and giving people — you know, specifically your partners — the space to do the same," she said. While she acknowledges our human preoccupation with doing or saying the "right" thing, Boodram encourages us to fully embrace the sexual experience, from making "crazy sounds and silly faces" to sharing what gets you going. "Sex is supposed to be like the ultimate freedom, the ultimate expression of you," she said.
The influences that distract us
According to Boodram "heteronormative sexual social scripts" keep us from figuring out and going for what we really want. And, spoiler alert, they're everywhere: from pornography to mainstream TV shows.
These repetitive norms even infiltrate the tales friends share. "They curate their stories to fit within what they think is … the socially acceptable sex life," said Boodram. This impacts exploration and reinforces expectations. "People who exist outside of that [narrative], in terms of their desires, their sexual identity, their orientation … they don't have the luxury of seeing what feels good for them reflected back to them."
The effects of pornography
Speaking of pornography, Boodram has some thoughts on its potential. "What's unfortunate is that we think about pornography as a monolith," Boodram said, adding that many of us probably associate the term with a specific website rather than considering it a genre of film. And every genre is supported by a spectrum of contributions.
"There is a rise in ethical porn," she said, citing independent content she consumes that's produced by women and aims to eliminate the exploitative aspects of the business. "I think that that's very educational. It's an incredible way for me to affirm that some of my desires and my kinks outside of the norm — or outside of being vanilla — are actually normal, and they don't make me deviant."
On the other hand, mainstream porn doesn't have a great track record of reflecting authentic experiences, said Boodram. "Porn is to sex what WWE wrestling is to fighting. It's overly dramatized. It is unrealistic. You could never do the moves that you see on TV in an actual fight or else you [would] get your ass kicked."
Both forms of entertainment also tend to follow a certain script. "It's to the benefit of one person.… the other person, essentially, is just there as a role-player to facilitate the [first] person's pleasure and greatness."
How to explore your desires
When it comes to exploring what you really want in bed, Boodram suggests checking out the work of Rafaella Fiallo and Dalychia Saah, two U.S.-based Black sex educators who run the Instagram page @afrosexology_.
"They have this really beautiful list that I think is a really great starting point for people. Because often when it comes to sex, we think about the to-dos … 'I want to do BDSM,' or 'I want to try voyeurism' … you think about it in terms of activities. And what the Afrosexology women [have] suggested is, instead, thinking about [what you want] to feel." Whether the answer is empowered, dominant or degraded, comparing notes with a partner can lead to discovery, said Boodram.
Shy about asking for what you want?
Firstly, recognize that you're far from alone in this department. "Everybody's uncomfortable talking about the things they don't know. If you got me in a room, [and] we're talking about internet connection, I'd be sweating buckets," Boodram said. But practice and exposure to a topic builds confidence, and sex talk is no different.
"If you feel nervous, I would probably start to look for some low-hanging fruit or, you know, easy ways to practice," she said. "Maybe it's with your friends rather than with your partner to start. Maybe it's [in] a chatroom … you can kind of get a feel for how to utilize language that is descriptive for you and see how people respond back to it."
It also helps to start considering the topic as an evolving conversation. Approaching it as an ongoing dialogue is what is at the heart of good sex and good communication, Boodram said.
How to explore something new in a long-term relationship
Pair your curiosity about a new form of sexual expression with consideration for your other half. In other words, don't spring a request on them during sex. Boodram uses the topic of fluid play as an example: "[Someone decides] that they really want to get into fluid exchange play of some kind. And then they watch tons of videos on it, and they talk to their friends about it. They might read a couple blogs. They might listen to a podcast … then, in the act, they're like, 'Hey, I want to do this thing.' And they expect their partner to be exactly where they are, even though this is a new idea presented to this person for the first time ever, in, like, a heightened emotional state."
Allowing your partner to warm up to an idea, being patient while they educate themselves and being prepared to progress slowly — or not at all, if they choose — can reduce any potential for alienation and support a deeper connection. "The joy is in the journey, the shared journey," Boodram said.
A long sex life
Boodram suggests checking in with yourself regularly to assess your evolving needs and desires, gaps in knowledge you'd like to fill, new curiosities and new boundaries, too. "I could just be saying that because I am on, like, a hyper track of evolution because I just had a baby — and I'm pregnant again. And so my sex life, and my sex drive, and my sexual desires and needs are literally changing by the hour."
One episode of The Big Sex Talk focuses on the intersection between sex and aging. "[That] episode was one of my favourites, just because the stories were so good," Boodram said, noting that traditional sexual scripts and discussions of sex don't typically include older people. "This is about a lifelong journey, [a] lifelong experience. And these are people who've been on that journey … who are revolutionaries … now, maybe we're getting more comfortable with the idea that sex is about wellness, and everybody should have accessibility to wellness, regardless of age."
The episode questions the existence of a "sexpiration" date and seeks to confirm that the best is yet to come. "In generations past, there was a belief system that after a certain age, we just don't want to see or hear about it," said Boodram. "I love the fact that this [episode] was challenging that. And also showcasing it in a sexy way … like, 'Oh, wow … that's aspirational for me. Like, I actually look up to that.'"
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Ingrie Williams is a Toronto-based freelance beauty and style writer, and co-founder of the T-Zone, who lives for a bright lip and big hair. Follow her on Instagram @ingriewilliams.