“I would like to see all sexual experiences and diverse sexuality treated as the valid, common and normal experiences they are. I would like to see the end of stigma, shame and sexual entitlement over others”
In 2020 relationships are diverse, complex, and layered with our histories, new understandings of identity and all kinds of trauma, and miseducation. They’re also loaded with joy, delight and a shit tonne of pleasure.
Here at Future Dreamers, we know that our education systems are failing young womxn. We see a vast information void around sex, pleasure, and identity. So much is unsaid or misrepresented in the mainstream media which results in stigma and shame shrouding what should be beautiful, empowering sexual experiences.
To counter the misinformation, we developed Future Dreamers and the Sealed Section, a safe space to bring voice to those topics and questions that you may have never felt comfortable to even google, never whisper to a friend, your mum or a health worker. We’re sick of the systems of oppression, the patriarchy, and misinformation being the leading narrative. That’s why we invited sexologist Kassandra Mourikis into the fold, to provide daily support for our community.
We sat down with Kass to ask her a little bit about her understanding of sex, the societal structures that have led to sex and pleasure disconnect and performance issues, and why she loves helping people find their sexual empowerment.
FD: Thank you for joining the Future Dreamers Sealed Section, can you share a little about your professional background?
KM: I first entered the professional industry with a bachelor of psychology and then went on to study a Masters of Sexology at Curtin University in Perth. Since then, I’ve done a lot of my own learning and practice along the way to get where I am now. Part of this involves reading heaps of awesome books and taking short courses on sex, pleasure, and how to be a trauma-informed professional. I’m constantly reflecting on my own beliefs and challenging my attitudes on sexuality, pleasure, and all the areas in-between. This has been a huge part of being an ethical and non-biased person and the main reason that I’ve been able to make talking about sex a safer experience for so many people.
After spending some time working as a counsellor with a special interest in sex and relationships, in March of 2020, right after COVID-19 hit and the world was going into lockdown, I launched my own private practice. This has been one of the best decisions I’ve made because I wanted to be able to connect with and support people who I felt I did my best work with. Right now, I’m working one-on-one with a lot of people and getting to learn about their sex lives. I also get to spread the word and write about pleasure and all the intersecting topics.
FD: Such a cool gig, and incredibly important work. So, why did you choose sexology?
KM: I first realised I wanted to move into the sexology field after connecting with many people in my undergrad and community and realised how deeply uncomfortable or ashamed they felt when talking about sex or the massive difficulties they faced in prioritising their pleasure. As I continued my psych study, it became clear how complicated this culture has made sex to be. On one hand, we’re sent countless messages that shame folx for having a natural interest and desire to be sexual. On the other hand, people are shamed for not being sexual enough or having different experiences from the norm.
On one hand, we’re sent countless messages that shame folx for having a natural interest and desire to be sexual. On the other hand, people are shamed for not being sexual enough or having different experiences from the norm.
I wanted to learn more and challenge these ideas because of the harm they were having on the lives of so many people, especially those who felt like they weren’t good enough or there was something wrong with them for not being as sexual as they believed they should be.
Part of my interest in working in this area was my enjoyment of engaging with things that are generally taboo and being curious and why they are like they are. I often read spooky books or horror and am somewhat into the macabre. Although you could say sex is on the other end of the spectrum, it’s still just as difficult, if not harder to talk about than death.
FD: You taboo-junky, you! What do you find most rewarding about your work?
KM: I love being able to meet and connect with so many excellent people. It’s such a privilege to do this work and have folx trust me enough to share their very personal and vulnerable sex lives, challenges, and hopes.
I love learning – and in this industry, you’re always learning and acquiring new knowledge and getting to pass that on to others to bridge the gaps or challenge old ideas that aren’t actually serving them.
A lot of my work also involves creating safe spaces to talk about sex, offering others a new perspective or a different way of looking at something and normalising or validating others’ experiences so they’re able to become a bit more curious, less judgemental and more likely to move towards accepting themselves.
FD: It’s such important work, and you have a special kind of skill in what you do. Have you always been sexually liberated, or comfortable talking about sex, or was this something that you have developed through your training and work? If not, what has been a primary tool to overcome shame?
KM: Talking about sex (just like having satisfying sexual encounters) is not a skill we’re born with. It’s a skill we have to learn. I’ve been very privileged to have access to so many resources and support systems that have helped me continue to practice this.
A big part of it is working out why sex feels so uncomfortable or shameful to talk about and breaking down a lot of those cultural myths and scripts and replacing them with kind or generous ones. It also includes recognising the benefits and joys sexual liberation has on peoples lives, regardless of whether someone wants to engage in sexual experiences or not. I also believe it comes down to realising that sex is one of many pleasurable experiences we can have as humans and just one of many ways we can connect with the people in our lives.
Both pleasure and connection are necessary parts of living satisfying and worthwhile lives. There’s this huge emphasis on sex that doesn’t exist for other things that bring us joy and that creates all sorts of pressure and expectations that then go unmet and lead to feelings of shame, guilt and as if we’re failed. Sex isn’t really all that different from anything else we might do, but the added layers of privacy, secrecy, shame and myths that surround it complicate it so much and that makes it inaccessible.
FD: Sex is so layered with complexity. Thank god you’re here! You’ve said that many of your clients are sex workers, why is this the case do you think?
KM: Thank you for asking Odette! I work with a whole lot of different people with diverse experiences and jobs and some of those include people who work in the sex industry. These range from online sex workers, escorts and sexological bodyworkers.
Most people access sexual support or sex therapy in order to gain a deeper understanding of themselves; to deal with a sexual, pleasure or relationship challenges; or for preventative measures and as a form of sex life maintenance. Sex workers are still regular people who may have sex for a living and deal with much of the same relationship and pleasure challenges that plenty of others do. On top of this, sex workers face additional obstacles stemming from a sex-negative culture and the devaluing of sex workers.
I believe sex workers are more likely to seek support from sex therapists over psychologists because sex therapists might be more likely to express empathy, understanding, respect and be non-discriminative. Sexology is also part of the sex industry and so we’ve already unlearning our biases, which makes it safer for sex workers.
FD: I feel like unlearning our biases and identifying our discriminative behaviours and thought patterns are going to be the themes of this year, and hopefully beyond. You’re incredibly progressive in your inclusive terminology, open support of diversity, where did you take inspiration from in your business?
KM: I love this question and to answer it properly, I have to start with why it’s important to be inclusive and why more educators and therapists should. Pleasure and sex are actually social justice issues. Numerous folx are left out of the conversation around sex and pleasure, especially those with less social power or who have been pushed to the margins of society, experience discrimination, oppression and trauma. This means pleasure and satisfying sexual experience aren’t accessible to everyone.
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📸Photo of @jenyzest What positive pleasure memories do you have in your body? It can be incredibly difficult to recall positive or satisfying experiences of being in your body, especially if you are overwhelmed, overworked, unsafe, facing microaggressions, racism, fatphobia, transphobia, ableism or other forms or discrimination or bias – from living in white supremacist, capitalist and other oppressive systems. If you’ve experienced trauma, shame, pain or illness in your body or your body does not feel like a safe space, then prioritising and noticing pleasure can be hard. Dealing with ongoing or high levels of stress shuts down your body's ability to perceive pleasure because it becomes difficult to notice sensations. Your body doesn't have time to slow down and notice what feels good when it's in survival mode. Yet pleasure and rest are some of the most effective ways to challenge these systems when you're fighting to survive within them. By prioritising pleasure and rest every day, you're doing the opposite of what you've been taught you should. If you're Black, a person of Colour or Indigenous – remind yourself that your body is made for pleasure and rest. If you're a white person or someone who benefits from these systems – its your job to make spaces safe by supporting those with limited social power and privilege so they may begin to make space for slowing down and noticing pleasure. We have to do the work every single day to dismantle the systems of oppression that we have created and that we maintain, that do immense harm to Black and Brown bodies and folx of Colour. #Pleasure #Satisfaction #SelfCare #SexPositive #Sexuality #SexualHealth #MentalHealth #MelbourneSexologist #OnlineSexTherapy #BodyPositivity #Relationships #PleasureMemories #PleasureForEve
rybody #Mindfulness #PleasureLooksLike #FightOppression #DismantleWhiteSupremacy
Pleasure and sex are actually social justice issues. Numerous folx are left out of the conversation around sex and pleasure, especially those with less social power or who have been pushed to the margins of society, experience discrimination, oppression and trauma. This means pleasure and satisfying sexual experience aren’t accessible to everyone.
It can be really difficult to experience pleasure or satisfying sex when you don’t feel safe, or when your freedom to choose and autonomy (like reproductive choice) and safety (free from violence and abuse) are taken away from you. When you don’t feel safe or you’re in high-stress contexts, your body shuts down your sexual response. This alone demonstrates how important it is for us to all start creating safer sex contexts and part of this includes welcoming everyone in and making more space for those who have always been left out.
I’ve learnt from sex educators like Afro Sexology, Emily Nagoski and Dr Lori Brotto. I’ve learned from anti-racist advocates like Dr Jennifer Mullan from Decolonising therapy, Layla Saad, Ijeoma Oluo, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Resmaa Menaken. I’ve also learnt from Health at Every Size (HAES) professionals with the likes of Dawn Serra and Ashlee Bennett and so many more. All these voices have taught me that there’s great power in pleasure. That pleasure is a form of resistance and challenges the belief that certain bodies don’t deserve pleasure. That pleasure is one of the most effective ways to heal and deal with trauma, oppression and pain.
FD: Here, here! There are some great resources for us to check out. So, what are some of the most common issues that you tackle in your practice?
KM: I often work with people who struggle to experience pleasure in their bodies because they’re disabled, chronically ill, have a mental illness, fat or experienced trauma and who have never felt they’re deserving of pleasure or who don’t know what they want because they’ve never been asked or had the opportunity to explore.
I work with individuals and relationships who experience desire and arousal difficulties who want to understand why they don’t feel like having sex or why they’re less interested in being sexual than their partner. I’m also supporting folx who don’t really know how to communicate their sexual preferences or needs in their relationships and struggle to deal with the pressure and expectations weighing on them.
Finally, I’m connecting with people who find sex painful and want to figure out how to manage this or work around it.
FD: Where do you believe most issues are borne from, is there a particular time in someone’s development/upbringing that shapes many of the issues that you assist clients with?
KM: Our ideas about sex, pleasure, relationships and identity form early on in life, when our brains are developing, our bodies are changing and we’re absorbing all the information that surrounds us. This is the time in our life when we’re closely watching the relationships nearest to us and learning how things work, even when we might not be aware of it.
Our ideas about sex, pleasure, relationships and identity form early on in life, when our brains are developing, our bodies are changing and we’re absorbing all the information that surrounds us.
We never stop learning and as we move through life, every connection we make, book we read, movie we watch, friend we speak to – anything and everything – is shaping the way we understand ourselves, others and the world around us. This is pretty disheartening for a lot of folx to hear. Yet, that same ability to keep learning actually makes it possible to unlearn a lot of these early messages and beliefs and replace them with more accurate ones as time goes on. It has to be a conscious decision to unlearn and relearn, but it’s very possible.
FD: I love that, our ability to keep learning, allows us to learn new ways to understand ourselves. How do you see shame and lack of sexual education play out in people’s lives, how does this manifest?
KM: Many cultures are deeply uncomfortable with sexuality, sex and pleasure. The way we’re all socialised reflects this. Many misbeliefs are borne out of this, including the fear that providing accurate sexual education will result in young people deciding to have sex before they’re ready or that having sex and experiencing pleasure will have dire consequences.
We know that when folx don’t have access to this early and accurate sexual education, they’re prevented from making informed decisions. They’re unlikely to spend time thinking about what they want and are more likely to give into the pressures to be sexual before they’re ready. The lack of sexual education and shame means people don’t know or don’t feel comfortable talking about sex with the people they’re about to get sexy with. Without communication, people fall into the shadow of consent where entitlement, pain, abuse and tolerance play out.
Without other perspectives, people will internalise all the cultural myths they’re exposed to.
Without other perspectives, people will internalise all the cultural myths they’re exposed to. They’re more likely to project and police others and continue the cycle of shame. Without accurate sex education, people aren’t able to feel safe or connected to their bodies and this is so often lead folx down the harrowing path of eating disorders, mental illness, body dissatisfaction, self harm, suicide, abuse and violence.
FD: We believe the sexual education system is broken, how would you like to see it changed for the better (without putting you out of work?!)
KM: A broken system makes sense but I actually think the problem is worse than that.
I believe the sexual education system is working in exactly the way it was designed, in the same way capitalism, white supremacy and the patriarchy are working as they were created. Ultimately, the sexual education system has been designed to keep people trapped and under-educated, not knowing enough about their experiences. If people are kept in the dark and don’t have other sources of information, they’re not able to challenge the beliefs and ideas that impact their lives.
For example, a common cultural myth is that women’s job is to fulfil all their partner’s sexual needs. This belief benefits men whose sexual needs are always being met by their partners and it persists because it remains unchallenged.
For example, a common cultural myth is that women’s job is to fulfil all their partner’s sexual needs. This belief benefits men whose sexual needs are always being met by their partners and it persists because it remains unchallenged. Knowing that it’s not your responsibility to fulfill your partner’s sexual needs breaks that power dynamic, makes space for people to ask what they want and lifts the pressure placed on people to have sex which results in unsatisfying and unwanted encounters.
I would like to see all sexual experiences and diverse sexuality treated as the valid, common and normal experiences they are. I would like to see the end of stigma, shame and sexual entitlement over others. This would mean making sexual education accessible to everyone, everywhere. It would have to centre pleasure, including a nuanced understanding of consent and be taught by diverse people, for diverse people. It would also need to encourage exploration and curiosity.
FD: Oh my word, you are an incredibly intelligent and inspiring human. We are so honoured to have you share this journey with us. What information do you wish young womxn had while growing up and learning about their sexual identity?
KM: I wish we all had access to a range of diverse experiences, including people with different identities and those in unique bodies so we’re able to recognise and appreciate that any kind of person, regardless of what they look like, can decide for themselves whether they’re a sexual being or not.
I wish people knew that whatever their experience was, it’s ok for them, regardless of whether it fits within the norm. I wish people knew that they didn’t need to change themselves to be accepted because they’re worthy and deserving as they are right now. Accurate sexual education that recognises the beauty in diversity is what we have always and still continue to need. Validation and normalising that what makes sexuality so great is the uniqueness of each person as well as being able to come together and share that.