The first time I learned about sex was in 4th grade. One of my classmates rushed over to me and said,
“My mom and dad gave me the talk.”
I’m Pakistani — I didn’t know what that meant, but naturally I was curious. I ask and she whispers, “sex.” I had totally heard of this thing, but my perception of it was something akin to a boy and girl just touching hands. So I ask, and she puts her hands up. One hand makes a finger and the other forms into a hole.
And it dawns upon me. And I am horrified.
I’m now entering my late 20’s. I know what sex is now. But I’m still learning. Still re-learning, confused, talking to others, my partner, etc. It’s a whole thing.
I’m navigating dating, sex, men, life, and myself constantly. I don’t know a single thing about one of those subjects so I decided to ask an expert — Shan Boodram.
I’ve been a fan of Shan Boodram for years, digesting her YouTube videos where she freely talks about sex, dating, orgasms, polyamory, vulvas, penises, anal, and everything in the world of sex + dating! She makes me less confused. I grew up in a fairly conservative household where talking about sex, intimacy, or even kissing was uncomfortable. I wish I had someone like Shan growing up.
Shan opened up a whole world for me that I didn’t realize was filled with endless information, and that only led to more questions. Even after getting off the phone with her, I have a million more questions!
Thank God for her Quibi show, “Sexology with Shan Boodram.” It has over 100 episodes and many more to come.
I was lucky enough to ask Shan Boodram a few things, from what vibrator I should get, to how to talk about sex in the South Asian community. So here’s to learning about my body, sex, dating, and everything I can do to make my sex life better for myself and my partner.
How did you get started?
“I got started just because I had a super shitty teenage sex life. So in 2004, I went away to school and that was the first time I feel like I got to see what other people’s sex life looks like. When you’re in high school, people just lie. And in college, a lot of people were struggling, a lot of people were looking for answers, so I decided to seek out the answers myself. And the thing I came back with was, ‘Wow, there is a massive need out there for more sex education.’ The information I found in the libraries, in text books, it’s really dry and boring and inaccessible to the average person. So that just set me ablaze to want to do this for a living. I wanted to be the person that made sex education fun and sexy.
And then I got a position to be the millennial go-to voice for sex education, so I became a counselor in Canada, U of T. Moved to California, associated in sex education, and certified sexologist. I’ve been a lifelong student in this space, I’m still in school right now, I’m pursuing a degree in human development. There is so much to learn and when people ask me, ‘Oh, do you find yourself talking about the same things over and over again?’ And the answer is never. Every day is so different, and there’s always new challenges to overcome. So ‘Sexology [with Shan]’ is such an incredible opportunity; for five days a week we get to bring up a different topic that has to do with sex, love, dating, relationships. And when you think about that it’s so nutty a lot of places mandate sex education for two weeks, and here we are with over 100 episodes and we still feel like we need more time for more conversations!”
What can South Asian women do to help / start expressing our sexuality?
“[There is a] fear that they are freakier or kinkier than their partners. Because the society in general can be really repressed, there’s a fear of even bringing up the topic, there’s a fear of even bringing up non-vanilla elements into the bedroom, a fear of even suggesting that you would enjoy non-vanilla elements. So I think the question of, ‘how do I bring up my fantasies to my partners, how do I introduce sex toys with my partners,’ is a common one because they don’t think their partner would be open to that. But I think this is a space that if you take a little leadership in, you might be pleasantly surprised how much ahead or how down your partner could be. Especially if you are able to deliver your message with love and with consideration for their pleasure as well. That’s the whole point of sex, every body just wants it to be better. And people are often willing to do the things that are best for you to achieve that.”
What is the common misconception people get about sex?
“That if you study it, it means you’re not good at it. If you research it, it means you’re going to be less responsible. When you see the person on the subway reading a sex book, your thought process is either ‘oh my gosh, they’re desperate’ or ‘oh my gosh, what a freak.’ And that doesn’t apply to anywhere else in life. If I see someone watching golfing videos in the subway then I’m thinking ‘damn, that person must be good at golf! They must really care about it. I wanna play golf with them.’ But when it comes to sex, we are embarrassed about it, we are ashamed in trying to get better at it. So I think that the biggest misconception is that you’re not supposed to devote yourself into learning about great sex in order to have a life that is hallmarked by great, consensual, honest, hot, exciting sex.”
Why do you think South Asians feel like talking about sex and their sexuality is so taboo? How can we help start communication about these topics to normalize them?
“Yeah, it’s such a fascinating topic because I’m South Asian myself. And I think about that often. My grandma was alive for the [beginning] of my career. And she always had this thing, and never brought it up to me, but she would watch my performances. All of them — YouTube, webinars, series, etc. A really incredible book was ‘Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows.’ I think every young person should really learn to empathize with the experience of our parents, our grandparents. And how they really had to stifle their own desires and they just don’t know a different way. And the little progress you see that doesn’t feel like enough, just understand how much it took for them to overcome that. I think the shame comes from outdated principles and practices and, obviously too, it’s of the times. Birth control is still fairly new. It only came out in the past three generations. A lot of times, indulgence in your sexual desires meant you had to take on a lot of responsibility that you couldn’t possibly have been ready for. Or it could have been exposing yourself for risks that there were no medical solutions for.
The times have definitely changed and we don’t have to live in that fear-based way anymore. We can experience pleasure without putting our livelihoods at risk, with the help of birth control, the advances in sexual health. So it’s kind of understanding where their standpoint is, and really recognizing those small steps they’re making are actually really big strides. But in this area, you’ve got to lead them and they probably won’t come willingly. And that’s the thing, there might be some avoidance and it might overtly feel that they’re not accepting, but behind the scenes, they really do understand that this is important. And maybe in many ways they understand that not having these options in their life robbed them of having the kind of intimate lives they would have wanted for themselves.”
What vibrator should I get?
“‘Magic wand’ is really cute pink and rose gold, and it was voted in the New York Times as the best sex toy for all bodies. So if you wanna use it on yourself or your partner, it’s a really diverse vibrator that could be in anyone’s kit.”
My friend tenses up right when she’s about to climax, what can she do to free herself?
“So sometimes tensing up can lead to heightened climaxes, like oxygen deprivation can lead to heightened climaxes. But if this is stifling her from achieving maximum pleasure because of that tenseness— doing something else to focus yourself, finding anything soothing, it could even be running a finger along your palms.
Like if you struggle with anxiety, you might be told do something like that where you develop a routine, something that you do to distract your mind, to remind you to get into that place of calm and connect. Something that you can develop with yourself, something that you can do that is a physical cue for your body to start relaxing and you do it outside of the bedroom, you do that in the grocery store, you do that in the bedroom, and you continue this repetition and you can train your body to respond it in the way you want it to in the moment you need it to do that the most.”
How many rounds can men typically last?
“It depends, it’s always so fascinating because a lot of the distinctions we have between people with penises and people with vulvas really just don’t exist because sex is not that linear or binary. So it’s not like ‘Women get wet and men get hard.’ And it’s more like, ‘No! Men get wet as well too and women also get hard.’ Some men are multi orgasmic, some are not. I’m not a multi orgasmic woman! I can only last one round. But am I broken? No!
Is it normal to only orgasm through penetration?
“It is normal to orgasm only through penetration and nothing else. It’s not the most common though! I think one in every three people with vulvas can consistently orgasm through penetration. The other 2/3 need clitoral stimulation, either isolated or in conjunction with penetration. And that’s not to discount the 1/3 who don’t like external clitoral stimulation.”
[Read Related: Maulik Pancholy Talks ‘The Best At It,’ South Asian Sexuality and Gender Identity]
I don’t know how to flirt. Do you have any tips for me?
“YES, I have tips! I have a whole book called ‘Game of Desire’ that specifically goes into this. It’s so messed up that this is an area of life where people are like ‘well if you’re not born flirtatious, then you’re just not a flirt. If you’re not born naturally seductive, you’re just not seductive.’ And I’m like that doesn’t apply to anything else. I’m just like, I’m not born a natural hardwood floor installer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn how to do that shit if I watch some YouTube videos!
It’s about understanding what IOI’s — indicators of interest — so that is understanding how the brain perceives attraction and then mimicking those actions so that other people can pick up those cues from you or you can just deliver a positive experience to others. So, basic ones would be body language, insuring that your hips are facing somebody else when you do things, it’s thinking about the S posture, one hip to the side, head to the side, it’s lowering your voice a little bit in your register, so that the person can tell you’re in a breathier space. If you think about all the things you experience when you’re aroused, those are the things you wanna try to mimic in like a flirtatious environment. And when in doubt, compliment somebody else. I think that’s the most flirty-est and easiest thing to do. Flirting is a skill, and just like any other skill — like cooking rice, or painting, or tying a sari, a skill can be learned as long as you are diligently practicing and devoting yourself to it, and open to change and trying some new things!”
“Sexology with Shan” is streaming on Quibi now. Shan Boodram is the teacher we never knew we needed growing up. Now as adults, we couldn’t be more grateful for her knowledge.