Dr. Shemeka Thorpe is a brilliant sex researcher, post-doctoral fellow and the founder of the Minority Sex Report. She joins us to talk about her latest research and we answer some of your burning questions including:
- I can’t get into receiving oral sex. Is something wrong with me?
- What’s the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality?
- How do I get over my partner’s past?
- How can we improve sexual communication?
- How do we manage pain during sex?
- How do I advocate for myself with health professionals?
And be sure to check out our new partner femtasy.com — an all audio streaming platform that will help you to uncover new fantasies, explore latent desires and put you in the mood for pleasure. Whether you like romance, kink or something wild, Femtasy has you covered and they’re running a 99 cent special for Masturbation May. Have a listen and let us know what you think!
If you’ve got questions or topic suggestions for the podcast, submit them here. As well, you can now record your messages for us! Please record your message/question in a quiet room and use your phone’s headphones with a built-in mic if possible.
This is a computer-generated rough transcript, so please excuse any typos. This podcast is an informational conversation and is not a substitute for medical, health or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the services of an appropriate professional should you have individual questions or concerns.
Episode 211: Sexual Communication & Research with Dr. Shemeka
You’re listening to the Sex with Dr. Jess podcast. Sex and relationship advice you can use tonight.
Welcome to the Sex With Dr. Jess podcast. I’m your co host Brandon Ware here with my lovely other half Dr. Jess
Dr. Jess (00:21):
Hey. Today we are answering a few questions from some of our college student listeners. Looking forward to those and we’re going to be digging into the latest research about sexual pain and getting some advice on how to communicate our needs and improve our sex lives from Dr. Shemeka Thorpe. And I’m such a fan of her work. So yeah I’m really excited for this one. And I’m also really thrilled to announce a new partnership that we’ve just formed with a platform that I have been following and recommending and using personally for quite some time. They’re called Femtasy. So Femtasy is an audio only streaming service with short erotic stories, and because my seduction style is audio, I love this concept right. No videos no photos, just narrated fantasies geared at women, but I think folks of all genders will actually be drawn in. It’s designed to be a safe space, so the stories are ethically produced with their voice actors, they have over five hundred short stories, that for me are way more likely to get in the mood then visual depiction so.
And this is great timing because we’re coming up on masturbation may and they’ve actually dropped their prices really significantly to celebrate so full access is just ninety nine cents a month or ninety nine for the year, so if you do want to explore your fantasies or learn more about how to even figure out what your fantasies are, because so many people say they don’t have fantasies. I think Femtasy is a great place to start. It’s just one way to take time out for yourself and escape reality. And I’ve been listening to their audio for a while now and I’m actually going to see if I can play a sample in one of our upcoming episodes, because I think it will give you a taste. For in the meantime you can head over to their site and listen to some samples for free, so you can see if it’s a great fit for you at http://www.femtasy.com. And I was thinking. I love the sound of your voice right, so I have my favourites on the platform. But would you like, would you be a voice actor? Because I saw an ad that they were hiring. Would you do that would you read fantasies?
I would totally do that. I’ve got the face for radio.
Dr. Jess (02:42):
No but seriously, that would be kind of fun.
Well I was thinking that you might send me the clips you’re listening to if you’re comfortable. Because then I would know what you’re thinking about, what you like and then I could perhaps role play later on.
Dr. Jess (03:01):
I like the sound of that. I like the sound of your voice right now.
I’m trying to be sexy right now.
Dr. Jess (03:07):
Well you could go audition to be a voice actor to for Femtasy.
Dr. Jess (03:12):
I feel like you’re patronizing me.
I think I am, yes.
Dr. Jess (03:15):
Well, we’re going to have that conversation offline, all right. We’ve got to get to some of our questions from our college listeners. And some of them are a bit long. But let’s dive right in, this first person asks, “what is the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality. I’ve seen it explained that bisexual is attraction to multiple genders and that pansexual is attraction to all, but it just feels like an odd explanation. If I’m attracted to both feminine and masculine energy and physical attributes that are associated with male and female anatomy, regardless of what the person identifies as, then wouldn’t bisexual and pansexual both be the correct label?” And they go on to say “everyone is somewhere on a scale of masculine, feminine, neither, both, fluid, so shouldn’t bisexuality cover that? I’ve also seen that the term pansexual is an outdated term and even folks who will say that it’s transphobic, because it implies bisexuality is only attraction to gendered people, which I see how that could be transphobic, since trans women are women and trans men are men, they are not in a separate attraction category,” and then they say “sorry for how long confusing this question is. Thank you for taking the time to answer.”
I just think that university and college students today are a whole lot smarter than I was.
Dr. Jess (04:33):
This wasn’t really on your radar right?
No not at all.
Dr. Jess (04:36):
I studied sexual diversity studies in school. That was my undergrad degree. I think that was my major so, we were talking about this stuff all the time and kind of debating. I think that my first piece of you know my answer would be that, you’re not going to get a universal consensus. Bisexuality used to refer to being attracted to men and women, but as we know gender is in binary and some people don’t identify as man or woman. But bisexuality for some people has been updated to refer to being attracted to multiple genders. And then it still receives some criticism for the inclusion of “bi” right? So “bi” refers to the number two, and so some people don’t like that term because it suggests that there’s just two genders and you know other people really liked the term bisexual because it gives credence and pays tribute to bisexual activists who came before us and used it in more inclusive ways. So pansexuality tends to refer to attraction to all genders and again, there’s going to be people who disagree with me. A pansexual person is someone who can feel attraction to anyone regardless of their sex assigned at birth, regardless of their gender, sexual or gender identity. And so pansexual would say you know, we feel attraction to androgynous agender, bigender cis gender, intersex, folks who identify as gender neutral, gender fluid, and trans people. And so basically gender insects aren’t determining factors in whether a pansexual person feels sexually attracted to someone. For me, this would probably be the most appropriate label, and you won’t hear me use these labels all the time. I think when I was younger I used “bi” a little bit, but now I just use queer because it feels just more inclusive for me. So to go back to your question, I would say, sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. Some people will argue with me that that’s not okay. So I think it’s just important that we recognize that language is fluid and subjective, and be mindful of you know how language is used to empower. How language is used to oppress.
When I was in university, every time I used “queer” in an essay, I was encouraged to kind of put a footnote explaining why I was using the word “queer,” why that was part of reclaiming. Fast forward twenty years now, and I don’t think I have to do that as much. I don’t think that at least for me. And my experience in my circle in the world I live in, queer isn’t as much of a pejorative. So I don’t have to explain it every time. So that’s my best answer to that question. And I hope you find that useful and I hope that you find language that works for you okay. Another question from a college student. This one’s from Canada actually. This person says, “recently started talking to someone with a high amount of kills. And I find it to be a deal breaker. I mean it isn’t in the three digits yet, but it’s close and I was just wondering how many kills is considered high? I always told myself that is that it is preferable to be with someone who has slept with fewer than ten to fifteen partners maximum or the number must be lower than your age.” And they ask, “Is it just me who thinks like that?” So when we say kills we mean, I guess number of sexual partners.
I’ve never heard it referred to as kills before. So either I’m really old or I’m not paying attention to what the kids are saying.
Dr. Jess (08:16):
Well I think for this person. I don’t think you’re alone, I think many people are concerned about how many partners someone had in the past and in that, it’s natural to be curious but just because it’s common and we’re culturally concerned about it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s helpful. So what I would encourage you to do is think about why it matters to you, right? Is it triggering an insecurity? Do you worry that you won’t be enough? Do you worry that you won’t measure up? Do you worry that the will want to move on from you, because they’ve had so many and they liked variety? Or are you feeling judgmental, does a high number of partners not align with the dominant values you’ve been taught about sex? And I really recommend you assess and consider how some of these values that you hold, how they intersect with privilege, your own privilege perhaps, and components of identity like age and gender identity and sexual orientation and even race, income and more. Because I think we afford more latitude, more leeway to some people than others depending on their different categories of identity.
I mean when we got together, I was curious. And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t insecure about the number of kills that you had before. I can assure you that I don’t care in the least over the last however many years. It did take me a little time to, were you concerned about the three kills that I had before?
Dr. Jess (10:06):
I think your curiosity is normal but we have to kind of, when we do feel judgment, we don’t also have to judge ourselves right? We have to stop and say okay. So why do I feel this? Where does this come from? What do I want to do with it? Right and yeah, I think it really is important to think about all these components of identity, because we do afford you know men having more partners, we see it as acceptable. Older people perhaps right? If you’re twenty versus forty, over time, if you are a serial monogamist you’re going to have more partners. Are there stereotypes around, you know who has multiple partners around sexual identity around gender identity? Sorry sexual orientation around race. All of these things. I think are important to think about so yeah I hope you’re able to examine that all right. We have time for one more before Shemeka joins us. This person says, “I’m a twenty two year old woman. I liked to perform oral sex but I feel super uncomfortable and nervous when people do it on me and don’t really feel any stimulation or pleasure from it. Is this normal? Does it happen because I’m nervous, or because maybe I’ve only met guys who are not good at it?” So it could be any of the above. So I wanna say that some people don’t love oral sex, so I think you want to think about are you uncomfortable because it doesn’t feel good and you feel pressure to enjoy it? Is the nervousness coming from the fact that you just don’t like it or is it the other way around right? Are you nervous you don’t like it or you don’t like it so you get nervous? Are you uncomfortable with the act itself or are you uncomfortable with your body? What messages were you sent about your body? If you simply don’t like it, don’t do it. You know there are people who don’t like a shoulder rub. I always think about feet. So I love my feet rubbed I think you also like your feet rubbed?
Yeah, I’m down for that.
Dr. Jess (11:59):
But it costs extra because your feet are too big. But some people don’t like having their feet rubbed and it’s not because they have a hang up about their feet. It’s because they know their body and they know they’re not into it so that’s possible in your case. Now if you’re uncomfortable receiving pleasure or feeling great about your body, there are different things you can do. So maybe you need to practice receiving pleasure, maybe you need to think about you know, in other areas of sex. Do you know how to be a taker? Do you know how to touch yourself? You know many sexual issues can be addressed by simply tuning into what feels good on your body right? Practicing mindfulness, letting go, focusing on pleasure instead of performance, and not worrying about well you know, seventy six percent of women orgasm from this specific act therefore I must to. If you’re not into it, you’re not into. You’re the expert of your body.
I’m just laughing because you made reference to being a taker.
Dr. Jess (12:53):
What. You’re a taker.
At times I am a taker.
Dr. Jess (12:56):
Hang on. With oral, you’re more of a taker than me.
Yeah, and then we’ll be having sex. And I swear you’re just like “I don’t even care what you’re doing, it’s my turn,” 100 percent. And then when you’re done you’re still like “still my turn.”
Dr. Jess (13:11):
I just wanna sleep man.
Yeah and then you’re just like “just go away for a bit. Just go.”
Dr. Jess (13:17):
Yeah I definitely, I admit to being a taker. But I I will admit also that I’m not always in the mood for oral, like I have to be in a certain comfort zone to really enjoy it. So that’s something too. And so it’s not this, sexual pleasure you know, I’m not sure I love the word but I think it encompasses it, sexual empowerment isn’t a destination. It’s not a place you arrive at right? Sometimes you feel really good about asking for pleasure and receiving pleasure and indulging in pleasure and other days you don’t. So it’s something I think I don’t know, for me at least I’m always working on it. Before we get more into that, enough of us. Let’s get to our guest today, Dr. Shemeka Thorpe, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Kentucky in counselling psychology. Her research focuses on the sexual wellbeing of black women utilizing sex positive and intimate justice frameworks. Dr. Thorpe co-founded the Minority Sex Report, an award winning platform designed to provide representation in sexuality education to Black and Native American women and she facilitates workshops for health educators and medical providers nationwide. She also serves on the editorial board for the American Journal of Sexuality Education. Thank you so much for joining us Shemeka. How’re you doing?
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (14:33):
I’m doing good. How are you?
Dr. Jess (14:34):
Good, good. We usually run into each other at sexuality conferences, but it’s been a while.
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (14:40):
Yeah, it has been, unfortunately right? That’s the way I travel, so.
Dr. Jess (14:45):
I know, I know, I know. I think people think that I’m always jet-setting but it’s actually probably ninety percent work. Work that I will never ever complain about because I cannot wait to get back to it. Now, you must be missing the conferences, because you’ve been doing so much research on sex, on pain, on orgasm. And I love your instagram @DrShemeka, folks should make sure they follow. I was reading about the orgasm gap study that you looked at across the lifespan for black women, because so many of us have heard about the orgasm gap right? We’ve had that 2016 study from the Archives of Sexual Behaviour that looked at over fifty thousand adults in the States, of all sexual orientations, and 95 percent of hetero men say that they usually always orgasm during sex, compared to sixty five percent of hetero women. But as we know oftentimes there are groups that are excluded or really kind of minority representation in these studies. And so you’re looking specifically at black women. And I thought the data was really interesting. So can you walk us through the orgasm gap for black women and help us to identify some of the patterns that are really remarkable, and also I don’t know, for me, very promising.
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (15:56):
Yeah so recently I did a study with Dr. Ashley Townes as well as Twinet Parmer, Brittanni Wright, and Dr. Debby Herbenick, and we looked at solely just black women right? Like there’s not a lot of research on black women in a sex positive way. And so one thing that we really wanted to explore is kind of the orgasm gap across age cohorts. And one thing that really stood out is that for eighteen to twenty four year olds, they had the largest gap. So in the sample of primarily heterosexual black women, 86.9 percent said their partner orgasm at their last sexual encounter versus 53.4 percent saying that they had orgasm. And so that’s a huge gap. And so part of that could be just like communication, or maybe they don’t feel comfortable communicating with their partners. At first we thought it might be something related to relationship status of maybe, that’s more casual sex right, because they’re younger. They even reported that you know these are people that they knew, maybe like a friends with benefits or something like that. And then as we see as black women get older, the gap kind of closes right, which is perfect and exciting. So I remember when I made a social media post everyone was like “shout out baby boomers. we’re doing our job.”
Dr. Jess (17:18):
Mom and dad, mom and dad.
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (17:21):
So the sixty to sixty nine year old, 75.5 percent said that their partner had orgasm versus 73.6 percent saying that they had an orgasm, which is really close right, like it’s really good that’s occurring. And one thing I always like to say is I know that you know orgasms don’t necessarily equate pleasure. Pleasure doesn’t necessarily equate orgasms. But it’s really important that we try to close the orgasm gap throughout the lifespan. And seeing that this happening later on in life is really crucial, and just like it made me happy right to see that but we definitely have some work to do with the younger age groups to kind of close that gap.
Dr. Jess (18:02):
So what do you think 60 year olds are doing differently?
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (18:06):
I think they’re just not faking it. You know I feel like part of it is they’re not faking it. They may have been with this partner longer, so they feel more comfortable advocating for what they want with that partner. It could be just like knowledge, like knowing your body more by that time you know, and so you’re able to communicate with your partner about what you want, what makes you orgasm. And just care. You know that’s one thing that pops up a lot too, is like caring about each others needs and pleasure.
Dr. Jess (18:36):
And this feeling of being entitled to pleasure, do you think that it takes many of us longer to come into that? I was with a group of women yesterday and they were talking about how difficult it is for them to tell their partners what they want, I would say their average age was probably about fifty and they were saying that when they look at their children, their teenage children, they’re much better at asserting themselves. How much of this do you think comes down to taking a while to come into our own, in the sense of saying “this is for me too, I deserve pleasure.” And there’s all the layers of shame or negative messaging, or gender based messaging there.
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (19:13):
Yeah I was just trying to say that. I think some of it too is shame because with Dr. Candice Hargons and she recently did a big sex study and we saw in her study that it was a sample of all black people, of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and we saw that most people believe that they are worthy of pleasure. So I think it’s definitely some of these underlying pieces, where it’s more of like shame or not knowing how to communicate or fear of how their partner will respond. I think that’s more of it, than not believing that they’re not worthy or entitled to it. It’s just, how do you access it? I think is the issue.
Dr. Jess (19:52):
And so has in your research, have you looked at how people relinquish shame? Or what are the correlates of shame?
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (20:00):
Yeah, well my study primarily is in south. In the south one of the biggest you know, correlates with shame is religion. So that’s one thing that really pops up. I think one thing that also helps is communicating with friends. So we see a lot of people in our study talked about how when they went to college, that was their time of exploration in freedom. And then I often think about okay, what about people who don’t want to go to college? Or they don’t have the luxury to go to college. Where do they get the opportunity to have the exploration and that freedom? And I think it’s having these open and honest conversations about you know sexual pleasure, about orgasm and even about pain, kind of relinquishes some of that.
Dr. Jess (20:44):
That’s so interesting the conversations with friends about sex. I can’t say growing up, like in my teenage years we didn’t really talk about sex. There was a of teasing, there were definitely a lot of jokes that were rooted in shame. And then in university, I talked about sex a lot, because I worked at a peer counselling centre for sexuality. But we didn’t talk about our own sex lives as much. And so you know if I go back to myself. I don’t really talk about my personal sex life with my friends as much as I think people might assume I do because I work in this field. So how do you, how do you open up those conversations where you actually get a little bit vulnerable and personal with regard to your own sex life with friends?
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (21:25):
I think with my friends, it just comes naturally and it’s something that we’ve always talked about. I think you know when I think about other black women, and the things that they have said that’s been helpful, just kind of social media posts and using those as an opportunity to talk. Whether they see something that’s trending on twitter or something on instagram or something like relevant that happened, it kind of takes away that pressure from it being solely focused on like, “hey this is something that happened to me” versus like, “hey you see this happening? Let’s talk about it.” But I think that’s one way to ease into it and have those conversations. I think once you start to do that. You’ll realize the people in your circle may be more open to having those conversations.
Dr. Jess (22:11):
I love that. I really think that popular culture in news are great opportunities for parents to talk to kids, for friends to talk to friends, for partners to talk to partners right? Because it’s that third party. You’re really talking about this other branch that isn’t you. But there’s this opportunity to learn so much. So you also study pain, and that’s what you’re here to talk about today. So you just published a pain and pleasure study that found that nearly sixty one percent of black women reported experiencing pain during sex but just under half are telling their partners. Can you tell us a bit about the data that you uncovered?
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (22:49):
Yes, so this pain and pleasure study, so how I got interested in this is I was on Facebook right and people were talking about pain for some reason. Pain from IUDs, they were talking about pain and sex, black twitter was going on about like sexual pain and “beatin it up.” And I’m like, “ooooh, maybe we shouldn’t be beaten anything.” So that’s how I really got into that. And so what I really wanted to explore was how prevalent is sexual pain among black women. And you already mentioned the numbers that we see. Not only are they not communicating with their partners, they’re also not communicating with their providers. But at the same time that provider is asking, so I did a survey, but I also did follow up interviews in the follow up interviews that’s one thing that black women really said is, “I wish my provider would ask. My provider isn’t having these conversations. They’re not initiating it. It’s not on their intake form like, have you had any type of sexual difficulties?” And so they’re not having these conversations with them because they don’t feel comfortable, or even like acknowledging pelvic floor therapy, that it exists right? Most of them didn’t even know, it was 63.7 percent didn’t know that pelvic floor therapy even existed.
Dr. Jess (24:05):
And we’ve had multiple pelvic floor therapists on this program. And I learn so much every time, like that’s just an it’s a new earth field in the west it seems. It has been like many medical professions a very white dominated field but we are seeing more people of colour move into it. I’m curious about pain being dismissed among women and specifically among black women, because we do have a wealth of data showing that these biases and inaccurate stereotypes exist among medical professionals. There is a belief that black people can handle more pain not only in the research with regard to what they express, but also in the way they prescribe or use interactions and treatments. So you know young kids for example with pain after an appendectomy, we know that if you are black these children who experience and express the same amount of pain, you’re less likely to get some sort of intervention like pain medications. So do they talk about? What do we do about this, where to even begin?
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (25:08):
Yeah so I think part of it is as black women, we have to know how to advocate for ourselves and you know definitely choose doctors that are going to listen to us. And I think sometimes it’s hard because of limitations with insurance right, or not having insurance. I think that’s a bigger issue within itself, but you know not taking no for an answer right? If you know, you have a reoccurring issue or your having sexual pain, that’s not your normal I guess amount of pain that you would have been, definitely talking to a doctor about. And you know, one thing that really popped up at interviews, some women we’re like “I had to move from doctor to doctor in order for someone to listen to me,” and we shouldn’t have to and that shouldn’t have to be the case. But in order to be treated sometimes, it is. You’re asked, “well what did the doctor tell you to do ?” and the doctor just brushed it off like “oh no it’s fine. It’s okay.” Or you know even asking “hey something simple, did your doctor tell you to use lube? Everyone said their doctor didn’t tell them to use lube, and I’m like, what is missing here? Lube is great. You know like we need to have even conversations about lube. So doing our own research, which I think black women are constantly doing any way about medical health care. I think also advocating for yourself and having doctors that are willing to listen. And maybe having doctors who even know what pelvic floor therapy is, because I think that might be an issue within itself. Like maybe they’re not educated on what pelvic floor therapy is, and how it can even help their patients.
Dr. Jess (26:43):
That makes sense. So what are women who are experiencing pain during sex, what are they doing if only fifty percent are talking to their partner? If you know, fewer than forty percent are talking to their medical practitioners, how are they coping?
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (26:57):
So some of them mention you know trying different positions so that’s one thing that they’ve done. Some mention just trying to stop having sex, like they feel pain, they just tried to stop, you know, having it. I think the most common theme was just like “grinning and bearing it” which is sad right? Like you know, “I want my partner to be pleased, it’s gonna be painful,” feeling hopeless, like “there’s nothing I can do about it, so I’m just gonna sit here and have sex anyway.” And so that’s you know an issue within itself, because they’re not putting their pleasure first, they kind of feel helpless in the situation, but they don’t feel comfortable talking to their partners. And one of the conversations about why, is because they felt like their partner might get angry or their partner might retaliate or their partner would be upset that you know, sex had to end. Or that there was nothing that their partner could do anyway. And I remember seeing a post about like “have sex with people who care about you,” and I think that really resonated with this study, because it seems like you know the partners that they are having sex with don’t necessarily care in that way. And so when I’m talking about women who expected retaliation, these were from women that were heterosexual. But the women the sample that we’re not heterosexual, so they were queer, bisexual, transsexual, pansexual or lesbian, they didn’t report that same type of fear. And so even what that means you know, they were ready to have more conversations with their partner and I think that’s where you know gender dynamics and come into play.
Dr. Jess (28:27):
So where do we even begin, in terms of helping people to communicate, like what’s next? Do you want to do a study on the language that works, how do we begin that conversation if we’re afraid that our partners going to respond negatively?
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (28:40):
We’ve actually talked about that in my labs. I have three doctoral students that I work with, Jasmine Jester, Natalie Malone and Jardin Dogan and we talked about what would that look like? So I am currently within the counselling psychology department. So what would that look like to have a tool kit, or to have something that people could have to initiate these conversations? And we think, starting out, it looks like workshops. So doing workshops with black women to talk about what those conversations could look like. What are some things that commonly come up, or fears that come up when they want to have these conversations with their partner and provider? I know Dr. Ashley Townes has done really good work on how to communicate and advocate for yourself as a black woman when you go to your doctor and so she has tons of research published on that. But you know really just having these workshops in these one on one safe spaces for people to kind of talk about their fears first, so we can develop tool kits to help them with those conversation.
I want to go back to what you were saying about the you know, the fear to have those conversations. Did you find in your studies that as you get older, is there less fear on having those conversations about painful sex with people’s partners?
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (29:57):
Most of that was reported by younger people. That’s not something, that I saw as much with older people. And so that’s one thing that really stood out too, and I think that’s part of that communication, and not knowing how to advocate for yourself piece.
Dr. Jess (30:12):
And that piece advocating with health practitioners. What do you suggest people do if their doctor is dismissive? And I know that of course, finding a new doctor is a great idea, but not always an option for geographical or insurance or just practical reasons. How do you respond when you say, “Oh I’m having pain during sex,” and they’re like “Okay, how’s your knee?” Because there’s all the layers of it, it’s sexuality, so they’re uncomfortable with it, so the dismissal comes down to sex itself. People see sex as either superfluous, as opposed to a piece of our quality of life. We know that women’s pain tends to be ignored. We know that black women and black people’s pain overall tends to be ignored. So when your doctor ignores what you’re saying or dismisses what you’re saying, what can you do? How can you respond? How how can you bring it back?
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (30:55):
Yeah I think one thing is always like going to the doctor’s office with the list. That’s something that I even do, when I’m thinking about things I want to talk to my doctor about. Make a list like I need to talk about this, this, this, and making sure you don’t leave until you talk about all those things right? Like you are the patient. This is your time, just as much as it’s their time. So you know talk about things, address the needs that you have. I think when they’re more dismissive in that way, you can maybe ask within that doctor’s office to switch to a different physician, if you feel that you’re constantly experiencing it. One thing that I think is helpful too is using the nurses right? So a lot of times people feel more comfortable talking to the nurses that are kind of prepping you, and doing your initial vitals, and things like that. So check in with them, talk to them about concerns, really expressing that, and sometimes they give more feedback actually than doctors do. So, I think that’s one thing. And then also just circling back, like not being afraid to say “No, I want to talk about this.” And I think you know, recognizing that we know our bodies best and we know what we’re experiencing. And so yes, this person has a medical degree, but at the same time, you have to advocate for yourself, “No, I don’t wanna talk about my knee right now. Like I want to talk about this, this is why I’m here, this is what’s of most critical importance to me.”
Dr. Jess (32:17):
I really appreciate that. You know really, what I’m hearing is breaking down hierarchy. So hierarchies related to yes, gender, yes race, and also roles right? We talk about this with therapists all the time, that you have a right to walk into your therapy session and decide what you wanna talk about. I tell people that with my therapist, I write down — I mean I have a very supportive therapist she doesn’t choose what I talk about — but I know that people will complain that a therapist hung up on one thing. So you can go in there with your list of things. I really, I really appreciate that, and that reminder that you know, what’s happening in your body.
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (32:52):
And the one thing that really saw pop up too, I asked them if they think that the race and gender of their doctor influences their communication with them, and a lot of them said “yes.” Not having a person that looked like them definitely influenced whether they were willing to communicate with them. While others said “no.” So it depended on the population that they serve. So you know one woman had a white, male doctor and she was like “I’m comfortable talking to him because he sees college students all day, so I know he’s having to talk about sexual health issues anyway.” So kind of population that they serve and then there was also this age piece, where you know, they’re younger women, they thought that the doctor was older, around their parents age. They felt uncomfortable talking to them. So it’s like many factors that come into play with that.
Dr. Jess (33:40):
So I see you know systemic and policy implications drawn from your research around the medical system and training for doctors and liaising between say pelvic floor therapists and other health professionals. For folks listening to the podcasts, maybe they are in a role where they can help enact that change, but maybe they’re just thinking about how they can use this advice for themselves. So any final words on how to speak up for yourself, how to communicate with your partner, even when you’re feeling nervous, even when you’re fearful that you’re not gonna get a positive response?
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (34:11):
Yeah I think what’s really helpful is having another person, who is your person that you can talk to about these things right? So for instance with me, that would mean my best friend, so if I feel nervous talking to my partner about something, kinda you know discussing with them, so I know that if something were to go wrong, I have somewhere else I can go and talk about it. And so figuring out you know who’s their backup, figuring out who that backup person is maybe helpful for you. And just realizing and recognizing that you are worthy of pleasure and you have to speak for yourself in order to get the pleasure that you want, and you know to have pain-free sex.
Dr. Jess (34:49):
I love it. Thank you so much. Now, what’s next on the research docket? Because I feel like every time I’m on your instagram, you’re publishing a new study.
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (34:58):
That’s what it feels like for me. So yeah we just finished the pain and pleasure studies, so we’re in the process of writing papers for that, because you know in academia you have to write for journals. So we’re in the process of doing that and still doing workshops. I don’t know, there’s a lot of new things I want to explore. So our research typically is on the sexual wellbeing of black women across their life span. And so I know we need more research on lesbian, queer, bisexual, pansexual women. So that’s an area that would like to explore. I’ve really been leaning more into kind of like LARC promotion among black adolescents, and what that looks like in our generational messages, influence whether we decide to get an IUD or not. So just tons of opportunities in places we can go, so we’ll see.
Dr. Jess (35:45):
Thank you so much. Can you let us know where we can follow and find your work?
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (35:49):
Yes you could find me on Instagram at @DrShemeka, and my website will be launching very. soon and it’ll be http://www.drshemeka.com.
Dr. Jess (35:58):
Thank you so much, loved chatting with you.
Dr. Shemeka Thorpe (36:00):
Thank you for having me.
Dr. Jess (36:02):
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