Zhana Vrangalova, Ph.D., always knew she wanted to scientific research, because her dad was a university professor. The question was figuring out what, exactly, to study. She ended up picking the topic that seemed most interesting to her: sex.
“Sexuality has always been a huge part of my own life, and I was endlessly fascinated with how other people navigate their sex and relationship choices—especially those of us whose desires exist outside the societal norms,” she says.
Through her work as a sex researcher, writer, and consultant, Vrangalova has empowered people to buck societal norms (You must be monogamous! Masturbation is bad!) and get more adventurous in their sex lives and relationships. She currently hosts a series of virtual sex talks called Uncensored With Dr. Zhana, where people from all over the world can share their questions and answers around thought-provoking topics like consent, objectification, porn, sex work, and more. We recently attended an excellent session on Tantric sex, where participants shared their best tips for achieving next-level, full-body orgasms.
We wanted to get to know Vrangalova better, so in this MVP exclusive interview, we asked her 20 sexy questions about her personal life.
1) What’s been the most surprising finding from your research?
How there is no size fits all when it comes to sex and relationships. What’s healthy and pleasurable to some is unhealthy and terrifying to others. We have to create a world where these different options are all celebrated, and people are encouraged to figure out which ones are best for them and given the knowledge and tools they need to engage in them in ways that are pleasurable, safe, and ethical.
2) You talk about “Medieval social norms” holding people back from fully enjoying their sex and love lives. What are some of those harmful norms?
• Complete lifelong monogamy is the only healthy, natural, or moral way to do relationships.
• Only sex in long-term relationships is healthy and acceptable; casual sex is unhealthy, especially for women.
• Women aren’t sexual beings, only men are.
• When you truly love someone, you don’t desire anyone else.
• Masturbation is bad/sinful/unhealthy.
3) When it comes to sexual pleasure, what do you think penis owners struggle with the most?
I think there are a few issues. For some it’s premature ejaculation. For others, confidence about whether they’re good lovers. And for many men today, it’s the worry that their sexual desires are harmful and disrespectful to women (especially if they are outside of long-term relationships).
4) When it comes to sexual pleasure, what do you think vulva owners struggle with the most?
Knowing what they want sexually and being assertive with their partners about it.
5) What gets you the most excited about sex research today?
Some neuroscience research looking into how we can expand our pleasure and arousal potential beyond the genitals and the nerves emanating from the genitals.
Courtesy of Zhana Vrangalova
6) What’s a still-unanswered question about sex or relationships that keeps you up at night?
Which factors determine who’s going to be a good fit for open relationships or casual sex, and who isn’t.
7) What’s the most common misconception people have about open relationships?
That wanting an open relationship means you don’t love your partner or that there’s something wrong with the relationship. A close second is that they don’t work out.
8) If you could only use one sex toy for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
This is a tough one. It’s a tie between Lelo’s Sona (the suction-type stimulation those sonic waves create really does it for me) and my strap-on (I LOVE pegging men; there is something so arousing about a straight-ish man who’s comfortable enough in his masculinity to get pegged). I guess if I really really had to pick just one, it’d be my strap-on since I can pleasure myself with my hand and I can’t peg guys without a strap-on.
9) When is it NOT a good idea to open up your relationship?
When you’re not in a good place with each other, like if you’re fighting a lot, or you feel disconnected from each other, or if you’re doing it as a way to get revenge for something etc. Also during major transitional times that can be stressful for any relationship, like when a new baby is born, or when someone gets sick/loses job/loses a parent etc. During times like this, what’s best is to focus on finding ways to reconnect with each other, and deal with the underlying issues, rather than adding all this extra complexity that can be challenging to navigate even during the best of times.
10) What’s your best advice to people struggling with internalized shame about their sexual desires?
Find a supportive community, friends, therapist, and partner(s). The only way to truly undo shame that was created by sex-negative judgmental people is to surround yourself with sex-positive people.
11) What advice do you have for folks who think they may be attracted to more than one gender?
Welcome to the club! It’s a fun club to be in—possibilities are endless!! Just make sure you surround yourself with supportive, nonjudgmental friends and community.
12) How do you respond when un-enlightened people judge you for your own sex and relationship decisions?
You know, I used to get defensive when I was younger and it was more likely to hurt. These days, I feel very confident in my choices and have my sex-positive community to counteract the judgments. So these days, I acknowledge that I can see how my lifestyle can be difficult for them to understand (they’ve victims of the same sex-negative culture as everyone else), I simply tell them that we’re all different sexually, and that I’m happy they found something that works for them.
Courtesy of Zhana Vrangalova
13) How would you compare your past experiences with monogamy to your past experiences in open relationships? What are the best parts of each?
I’m not the best person to ask, honestly, since I’ve only managed to be monogamous once in my entire life for 6 months. That said, I really enjoyed my 6 months of monogamy—there is something really beautiful about giving and receiving undivided sexual and romantic attention to/from one person for a period of time. It allows for creating a strong and solid base for trust and commitment that you can draw on later on. The best part about open relationships is the freedom to connect with other people sexually or romantically, and the excitement/fun that brings.
14) What’s the biggest discovery you’ve made about your own sexual pleasure?
That it can change and shift over time quite a bit. Acts that did nothing for me in the past really work for me now, and vice versa. The fluidity of it has been quite beautiful to observe over the years.
15) What’s your best piece of advice for couples with mismatched sex drives?
That’s a tough place to be in, yet so many couples find themselves in it. First of all, don’t shame either partner for being where they are on the sex drive spectrum: There’s nothing wrong with people being where they are. Embrace it and try to find a way to get both partners’ needs met somehow. Often, an open relationship of some sort can be a good solution.
“More people are becoming aware … that complete lifelong monogamy is not the best fit for them.”
16) Why do you think we’re beginning to see an increase in the prevalence of ethically non-monogamous relationships?
A few reasons. Social norms are changing, becoming more accepting of alternative relationship styles. Many of us now have the luxury of seeking self-actualization through our relationships. More and more people are becoming aware of the reality that complete lifelong monogamy is not the best fit for them (because it isn’t for most people). And we live in a world that is starting to value transparency and consent more than ever before.
17) What should someone say to their partner to gauge their interest in opening up their relationship?
That really depends on what kinds of conversations you may have had beforehand, and how far into the relationship you are. In established relationships, asking about sexual fantasies about other people can be a good way to go. In new relationships, asking about past experiences with and views on infidelity can be a good roundabout way to start the conversation.
18) What’s the best first date you’ve ever been on?
It was just a dinner, but one of those where the energy was so electric from the very beginning, the conversation flowed so well for hours, that by the time we kissed on the street by his house, we were both practically in love with each other, haha. It was the beginning of a beautiful 8-month long relationship.
19) What’s the worst first date you’ve ever been on?
Went out for drinks and this guy started to lecture me on my area of research. When I tried to tell him what he was saying was not supported by the data, he got so agitated, he got up in the middle of the date and abruptly left.
20) What sexual thing did you not think you’d enjoy, but when you tried it, you actually liked it?
Submission (to the right person).
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