Spring Talks Sex

SPRING TALKS SEX - The sticky question of pornography

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By Lyba Spring

About 40 years ago, feminists were making a distinction between pornography and erotic films. Of course no one was able to quite put their finger on the difference, although it was easy to hate pornography after Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace revealed her abuse during the 1972 filming; or Bonnie Sherr Klein’s Not a Love Story showed us the shockingly exploitative side of adult entertainment. For some of us, all pornography is exploitative, demeaning and violent.

Enter women who began to make erotica for women, followed by women who started making porn for women. Today there are plenty of women who consider themselves feminist and who love their porn.

So what’s a girl to do?

As a sex educator, I believe that a big downside of pornography is the role it has played in the sex education of boys. I winced during a sexual health workshop with adolescents when a male student said, “it’s not like that in porn, miss.” I could just picture him playing out some of the common sexual acts in contemporary pornography without asking for consent. Pornography creates a script for adolescent sexuality as do music videos and reality shows. Not being a consumer, I had to do a lot of reading to familiarize myself with the current norms in pornography, such as “facials” and “double penetration.”

SPRING TALKS SEX - I’ve been thinking about orgasm

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By Lyba Spring

For years, women have been told we are responsible for our own orgasms; no one can hand it to us on a silver platter. And most of us can manage to get there very nicely on our own, thank you.

There are some obvious blocks to orgasm, like prior trauma, repressive sexual upbringing, shyness, overthinking, inability to relax, control issues, problems in the relationship or other stresses. What is a partner’s role in a woman’s desire or ability to come?

Two-thirds of women who have sex with men don’t have orgasms during vaginal intercourse. These women often minimize their desire for it, saying they enjoy the good feelings and intimacy that they get during sex. But women’s partners—male or female—sometimes feel cheated, both by women’s lack of desire for orgasm or because they don’t know how to get us there. There’s nothing new here. Shere Hite reported the same dilemma in the 1970s (The Hite Report, 1976). Communication is, of course, key. But “I really want you to come” may be perceived as pressure. “How can I get you there?” assumes that’s where you want to go. On the other hand (so to speak), “I want to come. Let me show/tell you what to do” sounds like a plan.

SPRING TALKS SEX - Sexual assault – Seeking a sea change

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By Lyba Spring

At the end of 2012, when a 23-year-old woman in India was viciously attacked and later died of her injuries, it touched off a movement which will hopefully have a profound effect on their culture. Not surprisingly, there is no such movement in the Congo where rape continues to be used against both men and women as a weapon of war. During the last American presidential election, the absurd and enraging remarks about rape and pregnancy got a lot of press as well as more activity from women’s organizations in a long time. In a Toronto neighbourhood last summer, people came together after a series of sexual assaults, resulting in well-attended and well-publicized demonstrations.

And yet, despite decades of feminism and talk of “rape culture” we do not seem to have affected a fundamental shift in thinking in Canada.

Working in middle school and high school classrooms for three decades, I dedicated considerable time to issues of gender equality, including developing an education module on sexual assault specifically in a dating situation. 

Years ago, I was in a class of Grade 8 students, 13-year-olds. We were working through the first part of an exercise on sexual assault. I was asking them to respond to a list of statements. It was interesting that they often gave the thumbs up to what they thought was the “correct” answer. For example, “no always means no” almost universally got a yes. Then, I would explore why some girls and women may say no at first, but then seem to accept the advance. They understood that some girls and women don’t like to be considered “easy”; that they worry about their reputations. They also understood that the tone of voice or body language could lend their “no” a certain ambiguity, resulting in miscommunication, especially if alcohol was involved. 

SPRING TALKS SEX - Great sex

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By Lyba Spring

Do you ever watch a movie, riveted by those slow, languorous, delicious lovemaking scenes; or the rip-your-clothes-off-and-get-sweaty-in-the-heat-of-the-moment scenes that make you want to howl at the moon: “I want that!”

Sex columnist, Dan Savage, says as partners, we are to be “good, giving and game.” I don’t know about you, but I think some more specific guidelines for good sex would be really useful.

A wonderful piece of research asked the question about great sex to an eclectic group of participants. I had jotted down the list below of the common themes that emerged, tucked it away and then forgotten where I’d seen it. 

  • being present
  • connection
  • deep sexual and erotic intimacy
  • communication
  • interpersonal risk-taking and exploration
  • authenticity
  • vulnerability
  • transcendence

So this is my personal take on these themes.  Feel free to compare them to the original research.

Being present: We hear more and more these days about the importance of being fully present in all of our activities. When you are with someone—here and now—and they are with you too, your presence creates the basis for physical and emotional intimacy. If you are truly there with each other, every move you make, every caress and kiss given and taken with deliberation resonates with both of you.

Connection: Presence forms the basis for connection because you are embarking on a journey together. Although our sensations are our own, being connected to another person sensually allows both to appreciate the other’s sensations.

SPRING TALKS SEX - Monogamy

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By Lyba Spring

Recently in a radio interview, a sexologist suggested that flirting with other people could be a very positive addition to a monogamous relationship if both parties were confident in themselves and the relationship. Flirting can indeed be titillating for a couple, sparking their own romance and intimacy. It can be seen as complimentary (someone is interested in my partner, which means that my choice of partner is a desirable one). Or it can be just plain stressful: one more thing to fight or worry about.

We sometimes make the assumption that monogamous couples don’t step outside the relationship; but it depends entirely on their “deal.” The deal can be no stepping outside. Or it can be no stepping outside without telling me. Or no stepping outside without sharing all the details for our mutual enjoyment. Or no stepping outside without using protection. Any of these permutations can work—if you work it out beforehand. U.S. sex columnist Dan Savage likes to use the term “monogamish” for couples who are mostly monogamous.

Teenagers and young adults tend to engage in serial monogamy—one partner for a period of time, followed by a break-up, mourning period, and then a new relationship. 

There are other types of long-term relationships which are not monogamous.

Casual sexual relationships (CSRs) were the topic of two articles in recent issues of The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. They were identified as “one-night stands, booty calls, fuck buddies and friends with benefits.” CSRs are quite common amongst young adults. I haven’t read any studies on other age groups, but I can assure you, casual sexual relationships  exist at all ages from teenagers to seniors.

SPRING TALKS SEX - Sex after baby

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By Lyba Spring

After my first baby (18-hour labour plus episiotomy without anesthetic) I thought I would never let anyone near me again—not even myself. The thought of peeing or having a bowel movement was inconceivable. And yet, we continue to pee, shit and have sex. How do we get back to that beautiful place?

Every woman, every delivery and every baby is different, as is a woman’s relationship status at delivery. What follows are some general remarks about sex after baby.

No matter how “easy” or difficult the delivery, every woman has to heal after childbirth. With a Caesarean section, clearly the healing period is longer: it is major surgery. Immediately, the baby’s needs are paramount. Anyone who has heard a newborn cry can attest to that. If there is a partner on the scene, hopefully they get it. You are sore. You are tired. If you are breastfeeding, your vagina (when it heals) tends to be dry. Your libido has been tamped down by all of the above.

You may not feel particularly gorgeous. Some women spend their pregnancies feeling undesirable, others highly sexual. If you are breastfeeding, you may feel closer to other mammals than any human except your baby. You probably feel “touched out” and want to get some of your body integrity back.

That said, if you have a partner and you want them to stay in your life while you go through this incredible adjustment, it means sharing tenderness. Everybody gets some.

Hopefully, you were still engaged in some way with your partner right up to the birth, whether with loving words, sweet kisses, warm embraces or other sexual activity. Some pregnant women prefer fingers or oral sex to other vaginal activity, especially close to the birth. For others, all physical contact may have come to a full stop long before.

SPRING TALKS SEX - Raising sexually healthy children – Part 2

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By Lyba Spring

Welcome back and thanks for your comments.   

In parenting workshops, we like to use practice questions as a group to discuss possible answers. Here are a few examples for children aged 3 to 9.

Mummy, why are you bleeding?

Even if you close the door when you’re changing your pad, tampon or washing out your cup, three-year-olds haven’t quite grasped the concept of privacy. Although common guidelines suggest just answering what is asked, in this case, you may want to consider what is not being asked; namely, “are you hurt?”

“Honey, I didn’t cut myself. I’m not hurt. The blood is coming from inside and will stop in a few days. It’s normal.”

Of course, that still doesn’t answer the question: “Why?”  Until recently, I was suggesting, “Because my body is showing me I’m not going to have a baby”; but that doesn’t cover every woman’s situation.

In the same way, “Where do babies come from?” can be a minefield. Cory Silverberg’s book, What Makes a Baby? speaks to everyone, no matter how their child was “made.”  LGBTQ parents who use assisted reproduction or adopt will appreciate the way he leaves the details to the parent, while sticking to some very basic notions about sperm and egg.

Some people like to start with, “Where do you think they come from?” to tease out the correct information from the bizarre. In my experience, for a three-year-old, “They grow inside their mummy’s body” seems to be generally acceptable. If the next question is, “Where?” the answer can be, “In a special place called the uterus.”

“How does it get inside?”

“It grows from something very small.”

“Hunh?”

“To make a baby, you need something from a man and something from a woman.”

SPRING TALKS SEX - Raising sexually healthy children – Part 1

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The CWHN is happy to introduce to those who don’t already know her, Lyba Spring, a sexual health educator who spent nearly 30 years with Toronto Public Health. Working in schools with children and teens, counselling in a sexual health clinic, giving workshops, university lectures and doing guest spots on TV, Lyba has addressed every aspect of sexuality from safer sex and gender identity, to raising sexually healthy children and female ejaculation.  From sex workers and principals, to staff in long term care facilities, she has worked with them all—in English, French and Spanish.

Lyba will be blogging for us every two weeks on a range of topics relating to women and sexual health. She welcomes your feedback and suggestions

We think Lyba is a treasure. We hope you will, too.

You can contact Lyba at: springtalks1@gmail.com


Information provided by the CWHN is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you feel you need medical attention, please see your health care provider.


By Lyba Spring

In workshops, when we ask parents when sexuality education should begin, they often answer  “age 10, 12 or more.” But it doesn’t take long before someone in the group will point out that it’s much too late. With some girls beginning puberty at age seven, and sexual images at every turn, we need to reconsider.

SPRING TALKS SEX - NEW blog

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The CWHN is happy to introduce to those who don’t already know her, Lyba Spring, a sexual health educator who spent nearly 30 years with Toronto Public Health. Working in schools with children and teens, counselling in a sexual health clinic, giving workshops, university lectures and doing guest spots on TV, Lyba has addressed every aspect of sexuality from safer sex and gender identity, to raising sexually healthy children and female ejaculation.  From sex workers and principals, to staff in long term care facilities, she has worked with them all—in English, French and Spanish.

Lyba will be blogging for us every two weeks on a range of topics relating to women and sexual health. She welcomes your feedback and suggestions

We think Lyba is a treasure. We hope you will, too.

You can contact Lyba at: springtalks1@gmail.com


Information provided by the CWHN is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you feel you need medical attention, please see your health care provider.



By Lyba Spring
After nearly 30 years working as a sexual health educator in the public sector for Toronto Public Health, I realized that I wanted to “keep a hand in” after retirement. But posting medical articles on my professional Facebook page to help keep former colleagues up to date has not been enough. Although I have continued to do media work and present at the occasional conference, the need to make a difference remains unsatisfied. 

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