In this series, we spoke to Sara Tang, a certified sexologist and coach in Hong Kong. She believes sex is a skill and that everyone can learn how to get better in bed.
Watch Our Video Interview With Sara here 👇
Listen To Our Podcast With Sara here👇
Can you introduce yourself to our guests and our listeners?
I'm originally from Singapore, but I've lived in Hong Kong for over 15 years. I grew up in a religious, conservative household with a severe good-girl syndrome. I first studied human sexuality at university in the States, and I've written about and educated people about sex for over a decade in various forms.
Three words dat describe my sexual self are authentic, adventurous, and empowered. About authenticity, I resonate with the idea of sex as a performance because a lot of women experience that, especially if you've learned about sex through porn. Adventurous is because I'm a curious person. I'm always looking to push my boundaries. Empowerment is like a lifelong journey for me.
You said that when you were younger, you had 'bad sexual partners'. What do you mean by that?
I didn't have a lot of boundaries around sex when I was growing up. I was having sex because I thought my partner wanted that, so I let it happen. I felt like sex was done to me. So often, the partners I chose were not very interested in my pleasure. I never really wanted sex for myself. I didn't own my sexuality, and I didn't realise that until much later.
How did you embrace all the different phases of sex within yourself?
I was a rebel in my teens, and my parents had a Bible study group praying for me. Irealised that religious people don't like it when other people ask them: "Why are we doing this?" When I was in university in the U.S., that was the first milestone in my sexual awakening. I was away from my family, Singapore, and upbringing, which gave me a newfound independence. I worked hard to put myself in situations where I was slightly uncomfortable because I still had the sexual shame I grew up with. I kept trying to push myself out of my comfort zone, explore things sexually, talk to different people, and not be judgmental.
If you want to embrace your sexuality, my first tip is to follow your curiosity, try not to put the wall of judgment up, and work hard to keep an open mind. Also, having a voice and expressing yourself about sexuality without shame is essential. This process of coming out doesn't have to be just for gay people. It can be for everybody.
How was the experience of opening yourself up, and what tips do you have for others?
I wanted to experience all sorts of kink, anything anti-traditional, non-normative sex. The definition of the word 'kink' is anything that's non-normative. That was dabbling, BDSM, going to play parties, courses on tantric sexuality, and hedonist retreats. I'm not recommending that for everyone since not everybody's comfort zone will be the same. For some, doing something outside their comfort zone is trying a new position or putting on lingerie, so everybody has different things to explore. And I'm not suggesting you push yourself so far to the point where you're uncomfortable, but just to put yourself in situations where you feel like maybe you want to push a little bit, or you want to try and see, to the point where it still feels safe to you.
Are there any flags to help young people guide themselves to set and identify boundaries when exploring?
It's a widespread experience for women to find themselves in situations sexually that they didn't initially sign up for. It’s best to have a conversation before any adventurous exploration. Often those conversations happen too late. Having a safe word in place is also really important.
Let's imagine you haven’t set any of these things up, and you already found yourself in that situation. How do you extricate yourself? Being able to say “No” is powerful, which I didn't learn until much later. I was a people pleaser when I grew up. I would go passively with what the other person wanted to do. However, realising that you have a voice, you have a choice. You know, you can say “No”.
All those things are essential and come from being empowered as a woman. Apart from that, picking your partners carefully and ensuring that somebody you trust before embarking on any of these activities is critical. Make sure to check in; ask 'How are you feeling?' 'Is this okay?' You must be an active and empowered participant instead of just a passive passenger going along for the ride.
Are your parents and church still praying for you?
They're much more supportive than they used to be. But remember, I have worked on them for many years now, haha. So I told my parents I would be a sex coach, and they're kind of like, okay and acknowledged, but the less they know, the better. The turning point came when I started to was featured in mainstream media, like South China Morning Post and Tatler. I would send my parents these publications, which gave them a much greater appreciation because it helped legitimise what I was doing. I think Asian parents want to have a story to tell. They want to be proud of you; a story they can tell makes it more accessible.
How are people perceiving sex education now compared to a few years ago?
When I hold a workshop, people are so hungry for information. But it is still taboo in our society in Asia, so people won't seek it out by themselves or may not place a priority in terms of its importance of it. But I know that when it is there, people are super hungry for it. And I also know that when there is a problem with their sex lives, people often search for information, but they don't know the best place to get it.
Is there a general theme you see in seeking guidance around sex?
Many people have unrealistic expectations around sex, and the media and mainstream porn contribute to that. That creates myths and misconceptions around sex, how every woman loves penetrative sex, has a hairless bodies and loud orgasms, and every man always lasts for a very long time, and are always hard.
When people realise their experience doesn't match what they see as the ideal, they start to feel like a failure. There's a lot of performance anxiety, which works across all genders. Performance for men is usually around erection and ejaculation, and for women, it is the feeling of needing to reach an orgasm from penetration and to be always in the mood. In real life, that's not what you know. Everybody is different, and there is no single ideal of sex.
Do you have an approach to dealing with unrealistic expectations of yourself and your partner?
It's about redefining what sex means to you and taking a broader view of sex. Seeing sex as only intercourse and genitals makes sex very goal oriented. So the most significant piece of advice is to broaden that view and not let sex become so goal-oriented because otherwise, we could feel like there's something wrong. Maybe there is no orgasm, or maybe there's no intercourse. When you take a broader view of what sex is, you start to understand that sex includes all of the intimate activities that connect you and your partner, such as kissing, looking into each other's eyes, oral sex, and using a toy on each other. Sex can involve a whole body, it works in totality, and there is this entire menu of pleasure, of whatever feels good to you. Intimacy goes beyond just intercourse. And sex really shouldn't just be goal-oriented. It should be pleasure-oriented.
What would you say if you could advise your younger self or other young women?
Always be curious and not be afraid to change. Ultimately, it's an empowering thing to be able to decide for yourself, to choose what you believe in, and to know what feels true to you.
As somebody who was a product of a very conservative upbringing, it's essential to realise that the values you grew up with don't have to be the ones you have today and that you have in ten years. We have these values that we grew up with, but sometimes you need to figure out why you're doing what you're doing. So, sit down. Have that awareness, knowledge, and that confidence to ask yourself: What am I about? What do I believe?