Isolation has unlocked a whole new level of communication in the world of Killing Kittens. We’re loving being able to host weekly chats on Killing Kittens Instagram with some incredible guests ranging from sensual massage experts to body image advocates.
One recent chat Emma Sayle was joined by the incredibly inspiring Clinical Psychologist and certified psychosexologist Dr Karen Gurney aka The Sex Doctor! Karen is incredibly busy during isolation working with clients through her Haverlock Clinic as well as her clinical work on the front line with the NHS so we were hugely lucky to be able to chat all things sexual, lockdown advice and Karen’s recent book Mind the Gap!
Were you aware that there is an orgasm gap of around 30% between heterosexual couples when they have sex? 30%!
Karen’s writing explores this gap – not only the concept of the ‘physical’ connotations of the ‘gap’ but also the gaps we have in our knowledge – the forever expanding subject of the female orgasm and our understanding of it.
The book lays bare the startling truth that sexuality is not what we’ve been taught to believe. Sex and your view of it are often based on perception and stigma – what you picture when sex enters your thought process was once a patriarchal view, a closed-door of beliefs that it was as simple as a penis entering a vagina with ejaculation (male) being the end goal. For women, sex is often seen as a duty to our partner, an act to ‘keep them interested’ or alternatively that a woman should be all things ‘sexual’, a demi-god of the highest degree.
Karen’s book lays out that despite these perceptions, it’s perfectly possible to have a mutually satisfying and active sex life whilst actually feeling no spontaneous desire.
The idea of the book first came about 10 years ago when Karen had undertaken additional training in particular therapy techniques – she was hearing the same conversations over and over again with women/partners in her therapy sessions. Karen deduced that the problem is not always within the individual or the couples themselves but more how we understand sex in society. Karen looked to address the issues on a wider level that went beyond the ‘therapy couch’. Her mission was to normalise sex, where gender politics comes into it, where social media comes into it, a book could provide the perfect platform.
So what is the ‘Orgasm Gap’?
Karen’s booked Mind The Gap is not just about the ‘orgasm gap’, it’s about ‘desire’ in long term relationships and understanding the science of how desire works – which in short is very different from how we perceive it. How do you take the science of desire and apply it practically to your own sex life to increase sexual satisfaction?
The book is aimed at all – those whose sex lives couldn’t be better and want it to stay that way as well as those lacking in desire and wanting to change that feeling? Stats show that 34% of women in the UK concerned about desire which Karen says is the most common reason for sex therapy and yet one of the easiest things to resolve. There are so many facts about desire that if they knew some/all could change the way we run our sex lives and the book works through a whole host of these facts. The ‘orgasm gap’ is but one of them. The gap primarily refers to what we think we know about our sex lives and what else we COULD know.
Is there something wrong if we don’t want to rip our partner’s clothes off the whole time?
Karen refers to gender issues – we are not as different as we think, men may be from Mars and women from Venus but we exist in the same universe, not parallel ones and our ‘desire’ operates in a similar way. Women find it harder to maintain desire in the long term for the same person over time. Why is this? Karen explains that desire changes in long term monogamous relationships – women can feel it has left the room and is rarely present.
The problem in the relationship or the individual woman’s sex drive isn’t that the fall in desire has happened – it’s more the understanding around it. Desire isn’t just sex, there are other desires within a relationship that need to be nurtured – not just the physical desire. We are socialised to think of it as a passion/hunger – in reality, that is not sustainable and it’s perfectly normal for women to never feel like having sex out of the blue. This doesn’t ring true of men as much where only 15% of men in the UK worry about their desire for sex. Men can maintain a desire for a partner more easily.
Sex – Take it or Leave It?
Karen’s book Mind the Gap also addresses straight monogamous long term relationships. Within a relationship as such, it’s more likely to be the woman struggling to feel the interest in sex with their partner. Women can adopt the attitude (especially post children!) of ‘i’ve got to take it once a week’ and many would quite happily never have sex. This is a perfectly normal representation of how desire is in a long term relationship Karen says – the view of ‘I could quite easily take it or leave it’. It’s easy to never feel like it in a day to day situation but Karen explains that once we have sex most couples would say it’s great and that they should do that more often. Once you start you’re in it! And yet we are socialised to think of it as a sex drive we should just FEEL like hunger.
What can Affect our levels of Desire?
Karen explained that predictability is terrible for desire and lack of novelty. It is hard when having sex with the same person over time to bring in a ‘difference’. Couples who regularly have the same type of sex can have a negative knock-on effect on female desire (and male in some cases). Where there is an unequal division of household labour and one person does most of the house chores can also have a negative effect on …let’s face it, it’s usually the woman.
Can Desire be Addressed and Rebalanced?
There are thus lots of things to unpick – everyone can have whatever amount of desire they want in their relationship – they’re not at the mercy of their desire. It is completely based on context and you can turn it up or turn it down. Mind the Gap addresses this in abundance – you don’t have to put up with how their desire is operating if you’re not happy with it.
Why do gender roles have such a big effect on desire? What is the orgasm gap?
Forget about biological differences – think about gender and how we socialise. Men are socialised to be more sexually assertive – we live in a sex permissible society for men. There is a lot of pressure on men which has its negative connotations but at the same time, it’s a key reason for the orgasm gap. The orgasm gap exists in the discrepancy between women and men having an orgasm during sex (in a male/female couple) – 95% of men compared to 65% of women. Women having sex with women – there is less of a gap. Where a man and woman masturbate separately, they reach orgasm at roughly the same time. Hence the gap in sex when men and women have sex with each other – women come off worse. If you associate it with gender roles – women are raised to not be assertive, to put other people’s needs first and not be sexually aggressive. It’s a sexual script written by society. In short, men tend to get what they want from sex more than women do.
Looking at a few stats…only 20% of women can orgasm through penetrative sex. Women fake orgasms 55-60% of the time.
Who are your Clients?
Karen’s clients are split 50/50 – couples vs individuals, gay vs straight. Her sessions help both people in a couple see what’s happening in sex through the eyes of the other one. Karen describes that there are so many assumptions and misconceptions and as a society, we find it difficult to talk about sex so a lot of therapy is spotting what’s going on before then working on it.
What are the main assumptions around sex?
Sex is not just a penis and a vagina. What do you mean?! Of course, it is..! We get far more sexual satisfaction than sex just being based on a penis and vagina. Another of the key assumptions is that monogamy is natural for humans – Karen explains there is no evidence to back this up. That belief is connected to moral ideas of infidelity – yet there are no facts to back up the assumption that we are ‘meant’ to be monogamous and more importantly are capable of being monogamous.
What are Karen’s isolation tips?
Identify where the anxiety impacts your desire
Identify the impact of anxiety on people’s desire to be sexual. There is so much worry about the current situation which in turn could have wiped any desire off the table. Plenty of people use sex as a way to manage anxiety, plenty will go the other way. The key to lockdown with a partner is knowing which of those the 2 of you are? Talk about it. Do you both want sex? In which case use lockdown as an opportunity to spice up your sex life, live in short term. Are you part of a couple where one up one down? If so it’s crucial here to identify the discrepancy will be wider than normal which can create a bigger problem.
Connect as Sexual Partners – Let’s Get kissing!
Karen’s further advice is to make sure you have time in the day to connect as sexual partners – don’t dilute the role of a sexual partner if other roles come in like a parental role. Make sure each day you add in a sexually charged text – keep ‘sexual currency’ up in a relationship! Prioritise actually relating to each other – this could be with a passionate kiss in passing in your kitchen, send a naughty text message saying they look hot today (even if still in pyjamas!). It’s important to find little ways of remembering they’re also your sexual partner. Once you see someone as a sexual person you’re more likely to feel desire.
Kissing is underrated and easy to work back into a relationship. Kissing can be so hot and one tip Karen has for all couples – make time to kiss! It’s what we all do at the beginning of a relationship – it provides the ‘scaffold’ to move you up to something more sexual. It’s far easier to move up when the baseline is there.
So What is Sexual Currency?
In short – anything flirty, sexual such as a suggestive look, brushing of the thigh as they walk past or a passionate kiss. Sexual currency provides a basis to relate as sexual partners, it can provide a way to take away awkwardness around initiation. Sexual currency frequently can trigger the desire – the less you have of it, the more when it does happen you think ‘oh no I know what they want and I’m not ready for it’.
Step Away from The Tech!
Do not watch Netflix every night! Whether lockdown or not, Karen says it’s easy to have no quality time when sitting side by side watching Netflix and scrolling Instagram. Once a week or it can be once a month schedule in a date night – go to bed and lie in bed naked – talk/kiss/touch and the desire will flourish.
On the basis of all of the above…read Mind The Gap! It’s a fascinating insight into exploring the mismatch between ideas about sex in our society and what the science tells us, Mind The Gap also explains how this disconnect lies at the root of many of our sexual problems. Combining science with case studies, practical exercises and tips, this is a book for anyone who wants to better understand the mechanics of desire and futureproof their sex life, for life. We LOVED our chat with Karen and we couldn’t recommend the book highly enough.
I am Georgie, Director of customer Services at Killing Kittens, first point of contact for our 100,000 members, problem solver, occasional writer of bits and bobs. Lover of wellington boots, mummy to 2 amazing little people.