Of Viva la vulva sexologists Nicky Schelkens and Maxime Brusselaers wrote a stimulating workbook full of theories, tips and assignments. In one effort they get rid of myths, taboos and shame. Everything you didn’t know yet, but always wanted to know about the vulva.
Nicky Schelkens and Maxime Brusselaers beam when they welcome me to Maxime Brusselaers’ apartment in Boechout. They have just published their first book and are celebrating with a glass of Bellini Martini. The two became friends when they studied sexology together. They often brainstorm together and test ideas off each other.
One morning, in the shower, Brusselaers came up with the bright idea of combining ‘journaling’ with a book about sexuality. The female reader is encouraged to keep track of thoughts, feelings and insights about her sex life in a diary. The book also offers trackers, visual representations in which you can monitor your progress day by day regarding your self-care rituals, your mood during your period and your development in solo sex. Yes, solo sex. Schelkens and Brusselaers believe that you should start with yourself if you want a satisfying sex life.
How did the idea for this book come about?
Brusselaers: “Nicky and I have long complained about the lack of quality sex education in schools. The content is too thin and it comes far too late. Many students are already into masturbation, sex and porn when they have their first lesson. As a result, taboos and misconceptions arise more quickly.
“Sex education also does not emphasize enough the pleasure of sexuality. ‘Always wear a condom’, ‘take the pill’, they say, but you are not invited to think about your pleasure, the only thing that matters is that you don’t get pregnant.
“Did you know that the clitoris has only been included in textbooks for a few years? The majority of women orgasm through clitoral stimulation, not penetration. The organ from which all pleasure comes has been ignored for years. We want to make up for that with our book.”
Schelkens: “Textbooks are all about penetration. Many girls do not yet know the importance of foreplay because they were not taught it. They start the act tense, produce too little fluid and are stressed. Too bad, because the first time doesn’t have to hurt at all.”
Brusselaers: “In that sense, foreplay is also an incorrect term, as if everything must ultimately lead to penetration.”
“A heterosexual lovemaking session is still more about male pleasure: ideally sex ends with his orgasm. It is too quickly assumed that a woman cannot reach climax. In the beginning of their sexuality, girls in heterosexual relationships will mainly please their boyfriend. That orgasm gap only exists within heterosexual relationships. This is not the case with homosexual, lesbian relationships or solo sex between men and women.”
What can women do to achieve that orgasm within a heterosexual relationship?
Brusselaers: “Get to know yourself. If you don’t know how to have an orgasm, how can you expect a sex partner to know? What do you respond well to? What don’t you like? It is also important to discover what you do not like: this way you can clearly indicate that.”
Schelkens: “Dare to communicate. That doesn’t necessarily have to happen during sex. I encourage couples to discuss their wishes in a non-sexual context. For some, it can be a mood killer if you communicate too much verbally during the act. You also don’t want to give your partner the feeling that he or she is only being criticized.”
There are also women who never reach orgasm. How can you deal with the frustration if things don’t work out?
Brusselaers: “We also write a piece about anorgasmia in the book. This is often due to a lack of knowledge about how to do stimulation, or due to mental blocks. For some it is difficult to let go of control, to let go completely. We recommend working mainly on your mental blocks. And of course you have to take your time. If the clitoris was not visible in textbooks for so long, you cannot expect us to know that organ immediately.”
Vaginal orgasms are even more difficult to achieve for many women than clitoral ones.
Brusselaers: “Every orgasm is a clitoral orgasm. When a woman is excited, the clitoris fills with blood and swells. The clitoral complex, which is connected to several nerve endings, stretches. The stimulation is different: you can touch the vagina, the nipple or the clitoris. In the book we list thirteen different orgasms. There is also a mental orgasm or an orgasm in which the neck, sole of the foot or buttocks are stimulated.”
Do you think that it is not exciting for some women to demand so much pleasure from a man?
Schelkens: “It’s okay to put your own sexuality first. That’s the purpose of Viva la vulva: dare to think about yourself. But for that you have to get to know yourself. Stimulate yourself. Touch your breasts. Discover your erogenous zones.
Brusselaers: “It’s also about language: learn to speak about sexuality. If you don’t dare to pronounce the word ‘vulva’ yet, you have to cross a big hurdle to sit with your legs open in front of the mirror. It can also be nice to discover your sexuality, it can stimulate your imagination and that of the other person. It’s more of an invitation than a question.”
Where did the idea of using ‘journaling’ as a concept come from?
Brusselaers: “We thought it was great to invite the reader to delve from theory into practice. You can become sex positive. That doesn’t mean that you want to do everything or are okay with it, but that you know: that’s how I think about it, that’s how the other person thinks about it. This way you don’t participate in slut shaming or shaming in general. You discover your wishes and limits.”
Schelkens: “We provide the theory and knowledge, then it is up to you.”
Brusselaers: “Informing yourself is liberating. If you want to become sexually active as a 16-year-old, the gynecologist will only tell you: OK, then we will put you on the pill. I received no further information about side effects or alternatives.
“The pill for men never came because the side effects were too severe. It now appears that these side effects are the same as those for women. It used to be thought: yes, but men have to work, men have to be at the top of their game. But as women we also want and are allowed to be at the top of our abilities.”
Schelkens: “The pill can be good for some. Still, it is important to be aware of the pros and cons. Collecting information and making your own choices is a form of emancipation.”
You guys are very focused on solo sex and the importance of communicating what you want. I think it is also important to listen to the other person, right?
Schelkens: “In our book we use the quote ‘it’s not me first, it’s me too’. Nothing is as attractive as saying: ‘I prefer this.’ That’s more exciting than: ‘Go ahead, I’ll see.’ Of course, giving pleasure is also a quest. Every body is unique. Take the space and time to discover someone else.”
Brusselaers: “When I guide couples where one of the two experiences a problem, I will always give both partners assignments. There are always two of you. Many sexual problems only become a concern in a partner relationship, such as orgasm concerns or erection problems.”
Schelkens: “It’s not ‘me against you’, it’s ‘we together against the problem’.”
Erection problems, another taboo.
Brusselaers: “Many young men come to my practice with the question ‘is it normal that…?’ Yes, it’s normal. The cause is often not biological. If you still have a morning erection and get an erection during masturbation, it is a mental problem. As a man you also have to deal with stress and performance pressure.”
Schelkens: “It is important to reassure the man. Conversely, you wouldn’t want to be shamed either. Some men even avoid sexuality if things continue to fail. All the more reason to talk.”
You also advocate self-care. You can only be kind to others if you start with yourself.
Schelkens: “In the book we provide five different self-love languages: quality time, self-service, physical touch, gifts and positive words. For example, take time for yourself in the bathroom: make a hair mask, burn a candle in your bath. Say nice things to yourself, for example you can be inspired by what your family, loved ones or friends say about you. Repeat that. Make plans for yourself too. There is no shame in saying: no, I can’t do it now, I have blocked time for myself.”
I can also imagine that there are readers who are getting tired of self-care and are ready to love someone other than themselves. What do you recommend to people who don’t have a partner, but long for one?
Brusselaers: “It’s okay to find a partner on an app. The romantic idea that you meet your true love in the supermarket while you happen to grab the same banana in the fruit department? Rarely happens. I also recommend paying apps. On Tinder you will find many people who see sex as fast food: once and nothing else. By taking a paid app, you have a better chance of meeting someone who also wants a long-term relationship.”
What do you recommend to women suffering from sexual trauma?
Schelkens: “Take your time. It’s not your fault. Know that there are people who want to talk to you about it.”
Brusselaers: “Assistance can be a good way to combat victim blaming. Certain thoughts about rape and sexual misconduct are anchored in our society. Questions like: ‘But why were you still walking on the street at that hour? Why were you wearing that short skirt? You went home with him, right?’ Unfortunately, friends are also sometimes guilty of victim blaming.”
Schelkens: “You need people who tell you that it is not your fault, never. Even if you were to walk down the street naked, you are not guilty.”
Brusselaers: “In relationships, I recommend starting a conversation with your partner. You can indicate the areas that someone is allowed to touch, sometimes or not. Start with yourself, set your limits, take your time and don’t feel pushed. What do you need to continue?”
Apart from your tips, it also seems important to me to cuddle in bed every now and then, right?
Schelkens: “Of course! You can also open up if you feel insecure. Don’t be too hard on yourself and others. Make sex a bonding moment. Tantra sex can help with this, it is a way to express your sexuality in different ways. You can also sit naked opposite each other for hours or give each other an erotic massage. Experiments are only possible if you allow yourself to fail. Within the entire concept of sexuality there is no social norm, your own individual, unique norm is what counts. You can have a good laugh during that search.”
Nicky Schelkens & Maxime Brusselaers, Viva la vulva. On the way to body positivity, self-love and sexual self-discoveryHoutekiet, 287 p., 22.99 euros.