The Cougar sits down with a sex therapist
It’s hard to imagine anyone could find intimidation in Counseling and Psychological Services Director Dr. Norma Ngo’s soft voice or the soothing atmosphere of her office. But research shows most couples wait a six-year average before seeking professional help for their sex and relationship problems.
Ngo specializes in sex therapy and has more than 20 years’ experience with advising students on everything ranging from sexual performance to transgender dysphoria. She runs a private practice but also advises UH students and their partners, who may or may not attend the university.
The Cougar scheduled an appointment at CAPS to learn more about having a healthy sex life and relationship.
The Cougar: What do you think about couples using porn to spice up their sex life?
Norma Ngo: When you use it in the context of adding an additional stimulus to the relationship, it can be a shared couple activity. It is part of an erotic style—a repertoire. It’s great. It really enhances. It’s only when it becomes something that may be done in secrecy, or excessively…then it may become more of a problem.
TC: Can introducing porn make partners set unrealistic sexual expectations for each other?
NN: Expressing what “I’m” comfortable with and what “I’m” going to consent to is really important. A lot of times the expectations might not be coming so much from the individual. It comes from society. We’re kind of an on-demand society…and that applies to sex as well. Sex equals intercourse and it equals orgasm. I try to educate where sex is a whole range. It’s about pleasure. Let’s not forget about pleasure: touch—sensual touch, erotic touch that can lead to intercourse. When touch does not (lead to intercourse), it is called non-demand touch. So there is no pressure about ‘I have to perform’. Sex is not a pass or fail test. It’s about sexual exploration and pleasure—giving myself pleasure and giving my partner pleasure.
TC: What advice do you have for women who want to experiment with vibrators?
NN: I fully support women who are interested in experimenting with their sexuality. It is important that you know your body—you know what you find pleasurable because then you can communicate that to your partner. If you don’t know your own body and what you find pleasurable and what turns you on, then it’s going to be a lot harder when you’re with your partner. ‘What do you like?’ ‘Take my hand.’ ‘Show me.’ ‘Verbalize it to me.’ The more confident you feel because you’re exploring your own body…then you’re going to feel more confident to say, ‘hey, I know what I like. Let me show you.’
TC: In pop culture, we always joke about men masturbating. Are women masturbating too?
NN: I don’t think women are doing it as much as men. I think women need to do it more. I read it somewhere recently that some women have not masturbated until they got married. There is not as much support or education about women sexuality. It’s ok for women to explore sex and have pleasure. For men, the penis is there…from birth. They’re used to touching it. There is kind of a double standard in some way. It’s okay for men to masturbate, but for women…there is more taboo and shame around masturbating.
TC: Is bondage a healthy way of experimenting with sex?
NN: That’s one of the wide ranges of sexuality. If it is consensual, safe and sane, I think there is a range that people can engage in and it’s ok. You have lots of forms of BDSM…really the word is kink. They have safe words. They have to create a safe word so that if any one of the individuals is feeling uncomfortable or wants to stop it, they can say the safe word and then it stops. At any point and time during the process—before and after—if (a person) feels differently, they should feel they can get out of it. We need to be able to allow people to explore because it’s their bodies. As long as they’re not hurting someone else. And as long as everyone is truly consenting to it and not be forced or coerced in anyway.
TC: Can casual sex have negative or positive impacts on an individual?
NN: OK. So the short answer is: if you’re going into it consenting and knowing it is casual sex and not expecting more than that, it can be ok. Long-term casual sex is probably not good…because it’s probably less about pleasure, less about connecting and less about being an intimate team. It’s probably more about orgasm and intercourse. It doesn’t facilitate pleasure and an emotional intimacy connection as much.
TC: Can a person be addicted to sex in the way people can develop a dependency to alcohol or drugs?
NN: That’s kind of controversial in the field actually: the word ‘addiction’ to sex. You have a camp that believes there are people who are addicted to sex, and then there are many sex therapist who say that it’s not an addiction…it’s more about an underlying issue that is causing you to want to engage in sex all the time. It’s more that you’re avoiding something. If we go deeper into understanding you anxiety about something or your depression about something, then we can resolve the issue. You don’t necessarily have a disease…a biological or physiological problem.
TC: What is the professional sex therapy community saying about sexual fetishes?
NN: It’s a part of being kinky. You’re talking to a sex therapist, so it’s always going to be about being sex positive. Again, we should allow people to (have fetishes) and not shaming them. Just because I don’t do it, doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. If you’re not hurting people, if there is no abuse of children and you’re not breaking the law, then it’s okay.
TC: What is your take on on-and-off relationships?
NN: They’re figuring it out. They might be trying to get to know each other. They might be trying to figure out if ‘I’m not really sure I want to be in this relationship.’ Or ‘It’s going to take some work if I’m going to be in a relationship.’ And that is true for any couple. It doesn’t matter how strong and healthy they are. You have to work on the little things and the little ways that you connect. It help your friendship and your fondness of each other.