Girls (and boys too, by the way) need to know how the female genitals are set up and how it works. They should know that the clitoris is a large internal swelling organ that fills with blood when sexually aroused. That thereby blood plasma is pushed out through the vaginal wall, so that the vagina becomes moist. That sex in which something is put in the vagina, for example a penis, can only be enjoyable for the owner of that vagina if the clitoris is swollen. That both men and women must have an erection before they can have good sex – the sexes are not that different.
Equality and pleasure, that’s what sex should be about. Sexologist Ellen Laan tirelessly conveyed that message. In information books for girls (Body book for power girls, 2019) and for adults (Sex! Life-long learning, 2017), during lectures on, among others, Lowlands, on radio and television, on social media and in interviews in newspapers and magazines. She passed away last Saturday at the age of 59.
A girl who knows her body better set her limits
And that while her information work was far from finished. For example, people still often think that the extra sensitive head of the clitoris, the clitoris or glans, is the whole thing – that little button is everything. The precise anatomy of the clitoris, with the four long cavernous bodies that embrace the vagina, is only since 2021 in the widely used high school textbook Biology for you.
When people complained that the whole clitoris would be too complicated for biology class at school, and unnecessary, Laan just explained one more time why knowledge of it is so important: a girl who doesn’t know her body well doesn’t know that penetration can only be good if she is aroused enough, that it can hurt otherwise and that pain during sex is not normal. A girl who knows her body is better able to indicate her limits – the protective effect of knowledge. It is simply easier for boys to get to know their body: they see their penis getting stiff when they are very young and playfully learn what can be done with it and what is nice.
Most enjoyable form of sex
Besides, Laan always liked to say, putting a penis in a vagina may be the most pleasant form of sex for most straight men, but for most women it isn’t. More than ninety percent of the men ejaculate with mere coitus and only a quarter of the women. Yet many people continue to think that straight people haven’t had sex if there’s no penis in a vagina. Also something Laan tirelessly tried to rectify: don’t define sex as penis-in-vagina, fingers are much more efficient at making a woman come than penises. Make sex more fun for women. lust pill? Nonsense. Libido? Does not exist. If women are less interested than men, it is because sex is less pleasant for them.
Also read: Six truths about sex
In interviews, Ellen Laan spoke cheerfully about her own sexual experiences when asked: that she started masturbating when she was eleven (The Parool, 2017) and that at the age of 17 she had an orgasm “without hands” when she made love to her boyfriend for the first time because she was “so ready” (de Volkskrant, 2021).
Whoever read that would not say that Laan was once a very insecure, shy girl. She was born in a Catholic family in Abbekerk, which together with Medemblik (the municipality to which it now belongs) forms the eyes in the dog head that is North Holland. Laan had two brothers and two sisters; their parents had a barber and tobacconist’s shop at home. Sex was not discussed, but Ellen Laan herself discovered what it was (including from the magazines that her parents sold).
Worse was that feelings were not talked about either. Little Ellen was bullied a lot at school, she later said in interviews. She was extremely intelligent, loved to read, got extra school assignments and didn’t fit in socially. “For two years I asked every day if I could play with the other girls,” she told in 2018 in Fidelity. “Every day the answer was no. “I wish you were dead,” a classmate said. Laan developed feelings of inferiority that plagued her for the rest of her life. “When I was offered to become a professor in 2014, I resisted it for two years,” she said in the same interview in Trouw, “because I didn’t think I was good enough. ‘Leave it to the people who really can do it,’ I heard my father say in my head.”
First in her family
While she could of course do it herself. She was the first in her family to go to college. First Dutch, two years, but then she hit grabbed because of the idea that it is possible to talk about all kinds of complex feelings and ideas, although that had never happened in her home, and she switched to psychology. What she also found interesting was that people can appear very differently than they feel. In high school, she heard a classmate call her arrogant, she told the in 2021 General Newspaperwhile she was just trying not to stand out, so as not to be bullied again.
In 1988 she graduated cum laude in psychology from the University of Amsterdam. In 1994 she obtained her doctorate from the same university, also cum laude. That PhD research into sexual arousal in women attracted worldwide attention, until The New York Times ready. Physical arousal, Laan discovered, ie genital blood flow, is much less associated with feelings of arousal in women than in men. If a man has an erection, he often feels aroused. A woman can be wet much more easily without feeling sexually aroused.
That PhD research into sexual arousal in women attracted worldwide attention, including The New York Times
This is partly because women are less able to see and feel what exactly is happening inside them than men, who have the whole thing hanging (or standing) in plain sight and for grabs. But women can, for example, also get agitated wet during a rape or the threat thereof, because the fear of death opens the blood vessels. Thanks to Laans research, judges now know this too – it is important research that can really help people.
Laan also helped people in a different way: she not only conducted and supervised research, but as a GZ psychologist at Amsterdam UMC she also treated people with sexual problems. These are absolutely not luxury problems, she thought: people can suffer enormously from them. This is partly because many people have wrong ideas about what sex should be and how it works – and that brings us back to her hobbyhorse: sex can be done without a penis going into a vagina and if a woman wants that penetration anyway, she should not start it until she is physically aroused enough.
She also had to inform information officers about this, she thought, because there is so much misinformation going around. A few years ago, Laan founded the Sexual Welfare Foundation to promote sexual equality between the sexes. She was president herself.
Also read: What you didn’t know about sex
Laan may be internationally renowned, but she continued to work at the UvA and Amsterdam UMC throughout her career. And always full-time, even after the divorce of the father of her now grown daughters Leah and Britt. She was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time in 2016. In March 2021 it turned out that the cancer had come back and metastasized, she told a few months later in de Volkskrant. On November 26, 2021 she became to separate as Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion “for her very exceptional contributions to the field of sexology”.
In addition to her daughters, Laan also leaves behind her husband Mario ter Smitten, and his children and grandchildren, for whom she was ‘bonus mother’ and ‘bonus grandmother’.
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