Why Elizabeth Banks Says Experiencing More Pleasure Should Be a Lifelong Goal

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Elizabeth Banks is on a personal mission to help vagina-owners have more pleasure. Well, not personally, but educationally, by using her platform to amplify the chorus of sex educators and sexologists currently working to shift the gendered narrative surrounding the experience of orgasm. On a pleasure-focused episode of her new podcast My Body, My Podcast, Banks dives into how the historical acceptance of unequal expectations surrounding sex for people with a vagina and people with a penis has nurtured the pleasure gap.

In fact, it was finding out just how many vagina-owners weren’t having orgasms that inspired her to take a closer look into why. “After reading [journalist] Peggy Orenstein’s Girls & Sex, it just became really clear that young women were not having a ton of fun when it came to sex,” says Banks, whom I spoke with in relation to the launch of her podcast. One of the statistics that really shook Banks—and that Orenstein, whose work focuses on sex education and gender dynamics, cites as a guest on the podcast—comes from a 2011 survey of over 800 young people ages 14 to 17, which found that 50 percent of those identifying as women had never masturbated.

Though there's reason to believe (and hope!) that number has since risen, as sexual pleasure and masturbation have grown less stigmatized for vagina-owners, learning about the pleasure gap got Banks thinking about conversations she’d had with friends around sex, and how much the sex education she'd received had set her up to naturally leave pleasure out of the equation. “It’s all fear-based and about STIs and unwanted pregnancy, but no one’s ever like, ‘Let me tell you about an orgasm, because it’s pretty great,'” she says, laughing.

“I’ve been with my husband for a really long time, and what’s great about that is there’s always an opportunity to find new ways to keep it interesting.” —Elizabeth Banks

As for Banks, incorporating more pleasure into her own life is an ongoing journey, or as she frames it in the podcast episode, “a lifelong pursuit toward self-understanding.”

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“I’ve been with my husband for a really long time, and what’s great about that is there’s always an opportunity to find new ways to keep it interesting,” she says. “Because we’re in this thing where there isn’t variety—so, essentially, we have to create that variety.” Speaking with her podcast guests—in particular sex therapists Jenny Skyler, PhD, LMFT, CST, and Daniel Leibowitz, LMFT, of The Intimacy Institute—inspired her to recommit to that goal. “There’s always a way to spark a new conversation, to grow, and to surprise each other,” she says, of her sexual relationship with her husband.

To find out just what works for you, Banks suggests adopting what Dr. Skyler terms a pleasure-oriented model of sex, instead of strictly a performance-oriented one—contrary to what’s often portrayed in mainstream media. “Between movies, TV, and porn, you’ve got a lot of messages, at least for the heterosexual script, showing the basic progression of penis-in-vagina intercourse and then your simultaneous orgasms,” says Dr. Skyler, in the podcast episode. “But that misses out on so much of the mind-spirit-body connection that’s possible, and it misses out on so many different ways to have sex that are pleasurable and unique.”

Not to mention, it bypasses how that sense of pleasure and preference can change with time—which Banks says is such an exciting part of being a human. “We can have sex for our entire lives if we want to,” she says in the podcast. And in her eyes, that’s all the more reason to find a new way to “invite more pleasure into the experience” each and every time.

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