Women’s orgasms don’t get a lot of air time. Many women don’t even know what their own bodies need to get them to that pleasurable climax.

Sexual educator Audrey McManus can help. She teaches workshops on what she calls pleasure-based female anatomy. She wants to help women understand their bodies through education.

McManus, educator and marketer for Babeland, is coming to Western on March 15 to lead a workshop on what she calls pleasure-based anatomy. She’ll talk biology, erogenous zones, sex-toys, and masturbation techniques to help women reach orgasm.

Babeland is a women-run, feminist sex-toy shop in Seattle, New York City, and Los Angeles.

“We’re sex positive and talking about sex shouldn’t be shameful, and it’s stuff that everyone should know,” McManus said. “Talking about your clitoris shouldn’t be more shameful than talking about your elbow. They’re body parts.”

Student Opinions

Is this kind of sex education necessary for college students?

Recent graduate Austin Cockman said she thought so because college is a time many people begin experimenting with sex.

“If you do not understand your body and what gives you pleasure it is going to be a lot more difficult for your partner to figure it out for you,” Cockman said. “A woman's orgasm is important!”

Cockman remembers learning about her anatomy from a children’s book her mother read to her. She remembers at age 16 looking for a diagram on a tampon box with a friend to see where a woman’s urethra is located. They found their answer on the internet.

“Looking back on it I am surprised at how little we knew,” said Cockman. “The information was available to us, but we had just never bothered or had been too embarrassed to look.”

Janelle Kann, senior majoring in psychology/sociology and a lifestyle advisor focusing on positive body image, said an anatomy workshop was a good idea as long as the presenters gave health facts and let students decide what to do with the information.

“I’m supportive of things that help women feel more comfortable with their own bodies. Women are taught to be shameful of their sexuality,” Kann said. “It disappoints me women can’t be more comfortable with themselves.”

When junior and art education major Melissa Ward was 23, she and her then-partner sought to achieve what Ward called a maximum orgasm. Before then, she just learned about her anatomy in elementary school sex education, which focused on reproduction. Ward said she didn’t think this was a bad thing because young people aren’t emotionally or spiritually mature enough for sex.

“In elementary school, middle school, and high school,” Ward said, “if we started talking about how to achieve an orgasm, I think that kids would be having sex even earlier than they already are. Personally, I think that kids are having sex too early. They’re getting involved in something that they don’t know enough about.”

Ward said she believes some women who have difficulty reaching orgasm may be in relationships that focus too much on sex and not enough on love and affection. She said she doesn’t think masturbation is okay because it is objectifying and takes love and a relationship out of sex.

“I understand the need and the desire to be physically pleasured, but I also think that women specifically need the full spectrum,” Ward said. “They need to take care of their emotions, they need to be given affection, they need to be given respect by their partner... Orgasm education can aid that because it helps a woman understand her body, I think it’s important for both people in the relationship to really understand the woman’s body.”

More from McManus

McManus said it’s not uncommon to meet adult women who don’t know where their clitoris is because they haven’t explored their own bodies.

“I have women who come into [Babeland] who say, ‘I’m 45, I have three kids, I’ve been married for twenty years and I’ve never had an orgasm.’”

McManus also meets women who enjoy sex and are in a long-term relationship, but have never been able to orgasm. She said it’s hard to know without getting all of an individual’s background information, but she believes the elusive orgasm is often a mental block.

“Often [these women are] told by medical society there is something physically wrong with them,” she said, “but I think a lot of the time you’re just not in the right head-space, so you’re not relaxed enough, you’re not comfortable enough, you’re too self conscious with a partner.”

McManus also said that masturbation can help women find out what they enjoy and better explain it to a partner. She advisess beginners to schedule time for themselves to explore.

“Whatever it is, whether you’re using a toy or not, just set the whole scene and be really into it,” she said. “Music, lighting. Really romance yourself. Spend time. Don’t just be like, ‘We’re going to do this quick.’ Take care of your senses.”

For women who feel like they’ve tried everything and still can’t orgasm, McManus recommends classes in tantra and energy breathing, or powerful vibrators like the Hitatchi Magic Wand.

“I certainly would never guarantee an orgasm, but for some people they just need something that is going to throw them over the edge,” she said. “That vibe is so powerful, sometimes it’s enough just to jump-start things.”

“It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s what it feels like, oh that’s what my muscles do when I’m starting to orgasm.’ Then they can try to do that again.”

McManus hasn’t always been this comfortable talking about masturbation. She was embarrassed by the subject until she began reading feminist magazines like Ms. and Bust in college. At first, she couldn’t believe women were talking about masturbation and vibrators so openly, but eventually found the articles empowering.

“I wanted to experience that, too,” she said. “That’s where I got into the track of figuring it out myself and self pleasure.”

McManus started started trying out sex toys herself. She would drive friends two hours to the only women-run sex shop in Boston, and friends joked that she should work there because she knew so much about the merchandise. She applied and got the job.

Not long after, Planned Parenthood certified McManus as a youth sex educator, but funding for the program was cut before she went into schools. Now, she generally works with adults and does not have to censor the information she provides.

McManus said she and her coworkers are passionate about their jobs and excited to share a sex-positive message. Women-run sex shops like Babeland are becoming more popular, and they put pressure on the sex toy industry to clean up their act.

“We’re not going to buy those products because the packaging is pretty offensive,” she said. “We can’t carry the pussy annihilator in the store. People aren’t going to want to buy that.”

Learning about pleasure-based anatomy isn’t just for women. McManus welcomes men because they don’t learn about women’s bodies, either.

“It’s a female sexuality workshop,” she said, “so anybody who is female bodied or interested in female bodies--those are the people who should come to the workshop.”

“For women who are partnering with men, those men should definitely come to the workshop because they’ll know more than any other guys out there..”

McManus said students will have an opportunity to ask questions with a notecard.

“We just like to give honest information about sex, and there is no judgment in it. If someone asked me anything, I’m going to give them the facts,” she said.