In this intimate discussion sex intimacy coach Irene Fehr shares her views and wisdom on sexuality, feminism and the quest of female empowerment. She advocates for body awareness, which is key to building self-esteem. In this regard, she sees it as crucial that women integrate all of their wisdom, including the wisdom of the body, to make decisions about what is right for them. -. According to Irene, bodily autonomy constitutes the basis of creativity and problem solving, which in their turn, are values of great significance in the entrepreneurial journey. Having said that, Irene stresses the importance of recognising nuances in gender sexuality. To that end, she points out that men and women should not strive to be the same as each gender brings their amazing gifts to the world. Instead, women and men should get together to recognise and cherish each other’s contribution as “equally important, equally powerful, but different.”
Coachability Foundation: how would you describe your job to others?
Irene Fehr: This is actually a tough question. Most people don’t realise that sex and intimacy can be something that you can work on. The way I work with clients is that I teach skills. I teach intimacy skills. A lot of people just think that you’re either good at sex or not, you’re either good at relationships or not. Of course, we have instinctive ability to be sexual and to be in relationship — our survival depended on it. But having satisfying and nourishing sex? Or having satisfying relationships? We don’t learn from our communities or our societies that this is also something we can work on. I teach women to experience sex in a way that feels good to them, to their bodies, to their whole being. I help couples create a sex life that’s an expression of their love for each other. To make love and sex work in a long term relationship is something that is very challenging for many couples. With my work I provide tools and guidance with the purpose to restore intimacy and sex pleasure in their life.
CF: Do people find it easy to accept that? Are they comfortable requesting guidance and assistance in their sex life and intimate relationships?
IF: For most people this is still very challenging. In every cultural background and nationality, sex is in principle very private. Couples only talk about sex behind the closed doors of their bedroom. Most people avoid discussing and sharing what they want in sex and what their challenges are. Often this reluctance prevents them from seeking assistance and support. It’s all “oh no, i can’t talk about that”, kind of feeling.
CF: Do you observe that more often with women or men?
IF: It shows up differently in men and women, but it’s equally challenging for different reasons. For men it’s hard to admit that they don’t know something, that they are not really good at giving pleasure to a woman. Women for their part, take it personally like “I don’t know how to be feminine and I don’t know how to please my man”. Therefore, for men it is not knowing the way to do something, whereas for women it is a shame. Women assume they lack something. They believe they are not enough.
CF: What is your first advice to your female clients?
IF: It is not so much advice, it is rather a question of “what do YOU want?”. For most women, it is the first time in their life they are asked to answer that. Women are biologically wired to listen to what others want. In the stone age this was vital for their survival. Women were expected by society to take care of others (family, children, spouses) at the expense of their own needs. Women’s liberation and autonomy are relatively new in the world; it’s only been for less than a century that women have been able to vote, buy property and make financial decisions for themselves (and that’s only in some parts of the world). But the mentality that our needs and desires as women don’t matter still prevails — it’s part of our psyche. So, when I ask this question to women and have them consider it, it is truly revolutionary. It is like “wow I’ve never thought about that much. I’ve never been asked what I want”. Surprisingly enough this first thing that I point out to women in form of a question continues being an ongoing learning journey: How to put yourself first and how to know what you want and go for it.
CF: Why do you believe it is so difficult for women to make that choice for themselves?
IF: Like I said, a lot of it has to do with the way women are actually biologically and evolutionarily wired. Since the primitive times, women have been vulnerable to physical threat. Physiologically speaking, women are smaller and weaker (men have as much as 10 times as much testosterone as women). Women of course had lots of babies too, who needed care, so they relied on the protection of the village. The people of the village ensured women’s survival and their babies’ survival — and the woman needed to make sure that she fit into the village to ensure her own protection and that of the babies.
However, you mentioned a very important word: choice. Women nowadays do not live in a primitive society, where they depend on the village to protect them. This gives them the privilege of choice. They can choose how they are in regard to their body and that is really important. Women need to be explicitly often reminded that they have a choice. They do not need to live on that instinct anymore. Women can actually make choices and honour themselves. We can have a different way than the way we lived primitively.
CF: The way you explain the power of choice is like an advocacy of social liberation. You help people move beyond restrictions and inhibitions in sexuality. Feminists also view themselves as social liberators, helping people move beyond restrictions and inhibitions embedded in gender roles and stereotypes that are institutionalised in all aspects of society. Do you think there is an overlapping of aims so as one can claim there is a feminist empowerment in sex therapy?
IF: In my view, there is, absolutely. The focus of my sex coaching is sexual pleasure and specifically in a long-term relationship. I believe we are moving towards better understanding women sexuality when women are single. We find many more conversations about the orgasm gap and a lot more openness around sex and the single woman. But sexual pleasure in a long-term relationship is still something that no one is talking about. And this is where my passion is, and this is where female sexual pleasure is especially important. Many couples struggle with sex in a long-term relationship and in most of them it is the woman who loses her interest in sex. This is where we are not talking about important things. The reason that women lose interest in sex in a long-term relationship is that women’s sexual pleasure is not taken into account. Hence, in the long term the woman’s sexual pleasure disappears. There is no reason for her to want to have sex. If the woman is not satisfied in sex, the couple will not have sex. It starts to affect both equally in the relationship.
Back to this idea of overlapping roles (feminist, sex coach, therapist), my mission is to really change the discourse. To really talk about women’s pleasure. We cannot longer claim that it is the woman’s fault or that she is broken when sex is not working for couples. We need to approach the problem of women’s libido and sexual satisfaction in a long-term relationship as the couple’s problem. We need to look at what’s happening in the couple.
And this brings up big questions. How are we looking at sex to begin with? How do we understand women’s libido? What do women want and need to feel safe to have sex that they want? In society, we are still misunderstanding women’s libido. We think there is only one way to have sex, which is usually the man’s way of having sex. And that doesn’t work for women in the long term. I want to liberate women for having to feel like they are broken or responsible for the lack of sex in a relationship. Women need to stop privatising this issue. This isn’t her issue. This is the couple’s issue, and it is a societal issue. We need to look at what we are teaching women and men about women’s pleasure and libido because sex is there to satisfy both.
CF: It appears that women internalise their suffering and they take responsibility themselves for the very important issue of intimacy and sex pleasure. In society there are certain gender-related expectations, which are imposed on both male and female individuals. A paradigm shift is overdue. That said, do you believe that new media and especially social media assist in normalising concepts like female desire, consent, the role of shame in sex etc?
IF: New media is stepping up the game in terms of having more conversations about and more information on sex and other buzzwords. However, in my opinion, it is still falling short. Male perceptions about what sex is are still used extensively. Sex is actually understood from a male perspective. We have a social construct of sexuality that is very patriarchal and that is looking back at women as lacking sexual interest. It is the idea that women are less sexual than men. Let me give you a couple of examples about what I mean by that: Take the term “sex drive”. You often hear women having been described as having lower “sex drive". But that is actually the way men look or experience their sexual desire. They have a drive; they want to go towards the goal. They are “driving towards something". Women do not “drive towards a goal”. Sex is not about driving. Sex is about opening up, relaxing, revealing themselves. Women do not get hard and drive. They open up. That term itself, “sex drive”, is a masculine term which is imposed on women. It makes women feel less. Another example: men are able to orgasm even within 5 minutes. Women need a good 45 minutes. One might think: “What’s wrong with her? She should get a vibrator, so she can orgasm faster”. In reality though what happens is that we believe that because this works for men it should also be the case for women. The same bias lies underneath the buzzwords consent and pleasure. Female pleasure is supposed to look a certain way. The way it looks it is a man’s way: spontaneous. It seems like “I should want sex, out of the blue, just because!”. This does not work for women. Women’s bodies do not work like men’s. The male model of sexuality cannot be used as a “one size fit all” model. We place shame on women when we fail to grasp the nuances in gender sexuality. As long as we compare women to men, or the idea that there is one way to have sex or there is one way to have sexual desire, women are constantly coming up broken or less than or not good enough.
CF : It seems that you describe the existence of a gender privilege when it comes to sex. A male privilege more precisely. Is it constructed like that in public discourse?
IF: Absolutely, yes. That construct is exemplified by porn, the kind of sex that some men like (and there is a variety in men, to be sure) but just generally speaking the kind of sex that men like is hard, fast and often violent. Access to this kind of sexual entertainment is easy. From porn, to sex clubs, striper clubs, it is all available. On the other hand, women have far less access to the kind of sex they want: slow, connected, sensual, passionate, interesting, sex that has variety, that has a mix of sensuality and connection and also emotionally raw sex. It is very hard for women to find this kind of sex available for them. Both in the media and definitely porn. There is no porn like that. Although there is various very small boutique porn that catering to women, it is very hard to find. And all of this translates into long-term relationships — women do not have anything to point to and say “THAT is what I want for us.” There are no examples.
CF : There are few indie productions by female directors. Those are not mainstream. Access is not easy. Mainstream porn content has not changed yet.
IF: Yes. I would like to qualify on that; many men want more of that indie female-oriented porn and they too are struggling to find anything more than just that kind of rough, hard, fast porn sex out there. So, you know, there is a huge amount of men who crave different content too.
CF: There is a school of thought in feminism, known as “sex positive feminism”. One of the principles is that women should feel free to have sex with whoever they please. Something that men are believed to be able to do with considerably less stigma today. That should be somehow communicated, one should teach it. Do you agree with that statement?
IF: To me the idea of feminism is that women should have access to everything that men have access to. A double standard should not exist. If a woman sleeps with whoever she wants, she should not be judged. Just as men should not be judged. I totally agree with that. However, there is also something here that I want to say about women who do not want to do that. Those women are actually judged by this school of thought in feminism. As if they are betraying equality, they are betraying feminism if they are choosing not to sleep with whoever . And this is actually a problem that I have with feminism. I stand for total equality of course, but I do want to ask the question of “why do we want to just do things exactly like men do?”
CF: the “sameness”
IF: Exactly. In terms of having sex in the same way a man does, as a woman, I would miss out on such a richness of my own spiritual, emotional and physical experience. Being a woman, I experience the world differently. We experience the world and sex so differently from men. I don’t want to experience things the way he does. Specifically, in the example of sleeping with whoever a woman wants, we miss out on safety. The feeling of safety is critical for all women to be able to open up. We need safety to know that we are not going to be attacked physically. To know that we are not going to be attacked emotionally or verbally. To make sure that this person, our sex partner, is going to take care of us, that he is not going just get us pregnant or transfer an STI to us, and leave. That allows a woman to relax. For example a one-night stand with a random guy lacks that kind of safety and that would be a sub-standard experience for a woman. It would be ok for a guy; he doesn’t need that safety. But it would be very substandard for a woman unless she is drunk (which allows her to disregard her need for safety and still go for it). Why would she want to do that? She definitely can if she wants to, but the question is: does she really want to? Do you really want to forgo your needs to do something only because a man can function this way?
CF: You point out a very critical question every feminist should ask themselves: “do I want to be equal or the same?” Is there is a difference between the two?
IF: Yes. Equal opportunity versus being the same as a man and experiencing things the same way. Equality yes, but sameness no. We get to miss out on so much richness from ourselves if we choose sameness.
CF: One of the main criticisms that the #metoo movement received was exactly that it failed to clearly communicate this distinction between equality and sameness. Do you believe that this minimises the impact of its purpose? Naming to stigmatise sexual harassment due to power positioning within the workplace.
IF: I think the #metoo movement was incredibly powerful in highlighting something that men maybe had not seen before, but is a daily a reality for women. Men do not realise how many times a day, a woman is approached in an unsafe way sexually. How many times a woman gets - and I do not want to say harassed because that is not always the case - but how many times she gets "approached” and how uncomfortable this feels for women. Men really had no idea. Generally speaking, men do not worry about physically being attacked. They do not have to, not only because of the way the world is structured, but because they actually do not have to! They have more testosterone to be able to defend themselves. Women again, we are wired to pay attention to safety more. For example, I had a session with a couple recently, and I asked the man how many times a day he worries about personal safety. He replied: “what do you mean? what do you mean by personal safety?” He had no idea what I meant. Now when I asked the woman “how many times a day do you worry?” she said, “all the time”. You know, on a normal day, outside, not during the Corona time (laughs). When women go to the store for example at night, they worry. In the parking lot a lot of women will say “I hold my key inside my pocket in case you know, I need to defend myself”. We will do anything to protect ourselves. We are walking on the street, another example, and we pay attention in case someone is following. We naturally do that. Back to the #metoo movement, it highlighted how much women are constantly worrying about being sexually approached in a negative way. Not in a positive way, but in an intrusive and disrespectful way. A way that violates our privacy and our boundaries. The #metoo movement was not perfect, it had some negative aspects. However, one cannot deny that it was positive in highlighting this difference in women’s and men’s experiences.
CF : Do you think that female genital education is still essential in our society today - even after movements as such?
IF: Oh especially because of it. It is incredibly important. Most women do not know their own genitals. I did not know my own genitals till I was 33. The problem goes back to this social construct of sex. Sexuality is understood through the male perspective. We need women to know their own bodies. We need women to know what they want. What they want for themselves. How their bodies work. What pleasure is really for them. We need to understand that women’s bodies are different. The female body works on a different timeline. Not because women are broken or less than men, but because they function differently. And the kind of richness of experience that they can get when they honour their bodies is incredible. What a woman can experience in sex and pleasure and in a full body orgasm nears magic. We need this education because as society we know and understand only the tip of the iceberg.
CF : Is there a connection between taking control of your body, honouring your needs and becoming an entrepreneur? Does this bodily empowerment that you describe affect professional confidence and creativity?
IF: Totally, absolutely. In my case this was exactly how it happened. I was in a sexless marriage. I lost my desire for sex. You see, I focus on long term relationships, because that is what happened to me. I thought I was very sexual yet in my relationship I just dried out. I could not orgasm by myself or with my husband. I did not feel much pleasure and then it just all went away. When I accessed pleasure again in my journey - after I got divorced and after I went to discover myself - it really felt like previously I was running at one out of five engines. Now it feels like I have all five engines going. I felt so empowered in terms of self-confidence. I stopped the terrible thing of doubting myself. I built up the courage, because again I felt that power; the engines started to work. I love the book by Naomi Wolf, called “Vagina”. She talks about the links between women’s sexuality and brain functioning. And I absolutely see that in myself, that my sexuality was connected to my power as a woman. How much I had to give and how much energy I had for life. Energy for functioning in the world. That inspired me to do this work and to become an entrepreneur. I want every woman to know that. We have so much potential when we own our power. When it comes also to bodily autonomy, “bodily autonomy” is what creates the sense of self-respect.
CF : Bodily autonomy. How do you understand the concept?
IF: I respect myself because I have a self to respect. And that’s what bodily autonomy is. I have a body; I have a self that I respect. I take charge of it, I know what it needs, and I advocate for it, I speak and protect it. Women need to be able to see and express clearly: “this is what my body wants or this what my body doesn’t want”.
CF : The journey begins from inside. You describe bodily awareness in such a powerful and dynamic way. Honouring the female sexuality and desire is not separate from professional growth and development in any other area of life?
IF: Exactly, one cannot simply dismiss bodily autonomy. It is also the basis of creativity and problem solving. Values of great importance in the entrepreneurial journey. In my personal history, I have always been smart, and I have always been good at things, but previously I was functioning on one engine. Things felt harder. So much self-criticism; so much holding myself back — like not having tough conversations, not negotiating what I need, backing off and letting others take charge. Now with all five engines on board it is just a lot easier and for sure as an entrepreneur I felt empowered, I felt supported by what’s available inside of me.
CF : Women, we are resourceful. One just needs to tap in this inner strength. And you show women how.
IF: When I work individually with women, in my online program it is about sex for their pleasure. Through this program women get empowered to be the best that they can be in the world. Sex for your pleasure is different than sex for pleasing your partner. This is for you, your own empowerment. And then both people are satisfied; both feel met.
CF: It sounds amazing! Where can our readers find you? How can they get in touch and work with you? Is it possible for women, clients that live anywhere in the world to reach you?
IF: Yes absolutely. I work with clients virtually, so they can be anywhere, I can be anywhere and my website is the best place: https://www.irenefehr.com. The online program which makes it really affordable and possible for women to learn these skills and have access to the tools I provide, wherever they are and is: https://irene-fehr.mykajabi.com/blueprint. I offer a different blueprint for living, which reflects everything that I shared.
CF : Beautiful and powerful message. It is time for women to fully offer their unique contribution to the world. A lot of men would actually prefer women like that, to own their voice and power.
IF : Absolutely. I want to share this quote I hope I get it right: “I don’t want to do everything that men do. I want to do everything that men can’t do”. Men bring amazing gifts to the world and women bring amazing gifts to the world. Let’s both bring that together, not try to be one and the same but let’s bring our own gifts and recognise them equally as equally important, equally powerful, but different.
CF : Thank you so much.
Find Irene here:
Blueprint program: https://irene-fehr.mykajabi.com/blueprint
Follow Irene on social media:
About the author :
Eleni Gkiola is a communications consultant. Currently, she is working with Coachability Foundation to empower female entrepreneurship in small and medium-size businesses in the Netherlands and abroad.
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