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What It’s Really Like To Be A Hands-On Sex Coach

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Celeste & Danielle

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Millions of Americans struggle with sex. We don’t like to talk about our coital troubles, though — so we read Men’s Health and Cosmo in private, hoping that one tip, one magic bullet, will allow us to become sex gods. Maybe sometimes these rapturous new moves work, but more often they lead to disappointment.

So what should you do when you want to be a better lover but don’t have a roadmap of how to get there? Who do you turn to when Hollywood has failed you and x-rated features have filled your head with unrealistic expectations of what sex ought to look like? Sometimes you see a sex therapist or an intimacy coach to talk about your problems. And other times… you need a little bit more. That’s where Celeste Hirschman and Danielle Harel (they’d prefer you just call them Celeste and Danielle) come in. They’re the founders of The Somatica Method, an interactive, experiential approach to sex coaching that helps clients break down emotional barriers connected to sex.

What makes The Somatica Method different than most other forms of sex therapy is that it exists in a place between counseling and sexual surrogacy. While communication is the bedrock of Celeste and Danielle’s practice — because good sex can’t happen without it — the duo also recognizes the importance of the physical realm during sessions, meaning that an appointment with them may include everything from a frank discussion about your sex life to a hands on lesson on how to bite your partner’s neck (they’ll practice with you) or throw them up against the wall (if that’s what you’re both into).

So who should get hands-on sex therapy? Can all of us achieve our dreams of leaving our partners gasping for more? We spoke to Celeste and Danielle about what being a sex coach is really like, what clients can get out of it, and how they handle even the toughest sexual problems.

Sex coaching isn’t just for the sexless.

Picture the type of person you think might seek out a sex coach. Is that person generally happy and healthy? Are they fulfilled in other areas of their lives? Are they already in a relationship? The cultural narrative (and every rom-com that revolves around professionals who helps clients lead better sex lives) suggests that only the strangest, neediest people will pay someone to coach them to be better lovers. That’s simply not true.

Committed couples come in regularly, Danielle tells us. They may seek out services because they have desires that they may not be able to talk about on their own. Or their levels of sexual desire may be vastly different and they want to find a happy medium. And men (both single and partnered) may come in because they’re realizing that being good at sex isn’t all about intercourse.

“Men come in because they want to figure out women,” Danielle says. “They can’t understand their wives or girlfriends or women they want to date and also to overcome physiological challenges including getting hard and controlling their orgasm. They want to be better lovers.”

Women set appointments for different reasons — often to work on pain during sex, to ask for help achieving orgasm, or to talk about low levels of sexual desire. Regardless of the reason, the first step in the Somatica Method is to make sure that no one feels stigmatized.

“There’s already so much shame in our culture about sex,” Celeste tells us. “Even now, when you’re seeing sex everywhere, we still have this underlying idea that sex is dirty or extraneous or unimportant, but the bottom line is we’re all sexual beings. We are wired that way from the beginning, but people have learned that sex is bad from many places. I do feel that we’re raising consciousness around sex and shame and we can see the people we work with get so more relaxed around their sexuality.”

You’re not showing up to have sex.

“When clients first come in we’ll sit and talk for a while to discover their issue,” Danielle tells us. “Then, depending on what the issue is, we’re going to do something experiential in that first session.”

If the word experiential sounds daunting, you may be relieved (or disappointed) to know that it’s much less scary than you think. No one’s going to demand that you undress. Instead, Danielle says, the practitioner may start with deep breathing exercises to get the client to feel more in their body and connect with themselves in a way that ignites erotic energy. Sometimes, the experiential portion of the session may include learning how to make eye contact (terrifying for many) or working on relaxing in sexual situations.

“It could be just talking about their fantasies or what turns them on,” Danielle says. “That’s an experience that so many people have never had in a safe nonjudgemental environment.”

That place of non-judgment is essential to the practice. Because most of us have grown up thinking of sex as something shameful (or only reserved for the very attractive and well-endowed). We forget that all of us are entitled to have good sex and not be ashamed to explore the things that turn us on, whether that be BDSM or 20 minutes in the missionary position.

“A lot of what we bring to the approach,” Celeste says, “is celebratory, fun, and exciting, and we stay away from shaming people’s desires. We are normalizing what they are experiencing in all different areas of sex and desire, which is very helpful as it gives them a different perspective about how they can embrace themselves and transform in the ways they want to.

Here’s how this works: Imagine you’re a dude coming in to work on the issue of premature ejaculation (common! Normal! Will happen at least once to most of us!). The first thing your sex coach will do is demystify the experience and explain that because masturbation is viewed as something shameful that needs to be hidden, many men condition themselves to orgasm as quickly as possible, not recognizing that this kind of pattern will affect their sex lives, and then, when they do involve themselves in romantic situations, they end up not feeling adequate.

“I had this young guy who really thought he was supposed to be able to stay hard and not ejaculate for like an hour,” Danielle laughs. “No, honey, that’s not going to happen like that. It’s not realistic. We do a reality check around that.”

And then the work really begins. Once Celeste and Danielle (they work with clients individually) pinpoint the problem, they’ll teach a client how to slow his or her body down, how to touch, and how to relax and enjoy sexual experiences.

“We see many couples,” Danielle says, “many times one partner says, ‘You have to teach them how to do that, you have to teach her to respond the way you respond.’”

But the sessions are sex-y.

While traditional sexological bodywork is a one-way street when it comes to touch (the practitioner does touch the client’s naked body, often with a glove on), Somatica is different in that the practitioner and the client touch each other. The clothes stay on, but instead of manual touch (just physical training), the client and the therapist work on both sexual and relationship techniques to prepare the client for the real thing.

“You’re learning everything from emotional connection and communication to erotic connection,” Celeste says. “A client could be learning about passion by practicing with us throwing each other up against the wall, or they could be learning about romance with tender, gentle touch. You’re learning different energies of erotic connection but also seduction and how to be more in your body in an erotic way. There’s a huge set of experiential tools we use to help people be fully realized sexually and emotionally in relationships.”

Wait up, throwing each other against walls?

“If you just think about it,” Danielle says, “we have this idea that we’re supposed to know those things and to do them. Spontaneously. How the heck are we going to get that information?”

Only the movies come to mind.

“You know there’s technique to everything.” Danielle continues. “You can really learn how to bring the right energy, you can learn how to say the right words, and touch in a way that’s going to make someone feel arousal and turn on. We see some of it in the movies, but we don’t get the full picture or the ‘How To’ – they cut out so many of the most important aspects of sexual connection.”

Media representations of sex tell us one of two stories: The first features people who, by some preternatural means, have become master lovers. We don’t know how, we don’t know why. We just know they’re good at what they do. They know how to kiss, to nibble on ears, and, yes, even throw each other up against walls in ways that are sexy and dominating without being creepy.

The second story is more awkward: We either see people go from ugly ducklings into sex monsters in a brief montage or we never see them get there at all. They live in a world where sex is awkward and strange but enjoyable with the right person. Celeste and Danielle, however, are trying to tell a third story — the one in which even the most insecure people learn to feel comfortable and confident within their own bodies.

“People think we’re going to do role-play, so it seems like it’s going to feel phony,” Celeste says, “but we show up really authentically. When I’m practicing with somebody I’m Celeste. I’m not practicing, ‘Let’s pretend that I’m so and so.’ It’s a very real, very beautiful connection that we share with our clients.”

That connection helps smooth over any nerves, even when you’re doing something that sounds silly or challenging.

“When you first throw somebody up against the wall, yeah there’s definitely going to be some awkwardness and some laughter,” Celeste continues, “but we practice. When somebody comes into my office, they’re not going to practice it one time. We’re going to do it eight times, ten times. By the end, it’s like, “Whoa, that was really hot, you are sensual and you’re turning me on and it’s super exciting. I think any learning curve can have some awkwardness and discomfort to it but the outcome is so profound and fun that I think people are willing to go through the awkwardness.”

And the coaches do get turned on…

With all this talk about being authentic, we wanted to know the answer to the age-old question when it comes to any kind of work in which sex is involved: Is the practitioner aroused?

Turns out, that’s not just a hazard of the job; it’s the goal.

“The best feedback that we can give clients is our turn on, and we’re not faking it,” Danielle says seriously. “We’re letting ourselves respond authentically and get aroused. We’re teaching them how to seduce us and turn us on because that’s the best learning that they’re going to get, an authentic and real response. They really appreciate it, because men especially, very rarely they get gentle and real feedback that points them in the right direction.”

“I had a client in my office the other day and I was teaching him how to bite the back of my neck,” Celeste adds. “We were taking turns and it was so arousing. I was like, ‘Yay, this is my job.’”

But there are clear limits. Bites on the neck? Appropriate. Erotic touch? Part of the process. Kissing? Celeste and Danielle don’t do that, because it’s important to set boundaries when you’re doing this work. “Besides,” Celeste says, “there are other ways to learn how to be a good kisser.” (Yes, this can sometimes involve practicing on hands.)

Even couples have to keep it PG: “They’re making out and touching each other,” Danielle says. “They can kiss each and they can put their hands underneath each others clothing, stuff that we can’t do with them in session. But they don’t get naked.”

Hey, just more excitement for when they get home.

Speaking of boundaries, they’re a cornerstone of a sex coach’s work.

Sure, part of Celeste and Danielle’s job is to teach clients how to turn them — and others — on in order to benefit the client, but another huge part of their work is making sure that clients understand that relationships have boundaries.

“We have a relationship with our clients and it can be a very strong and beautiful attachment,” Celeste says seriously, “but it still stays within the confines of our practice and the boundaries of the session. We’re not seeing our clients outside of session, not going to dinner or dates with them. You can have this beautiful authentic connection with someone and then support them, encourage them to really go out and find that in their lives as well.”

But that doesn’t mean that all clients are so receptive to these boundaries. Some may not be ready for the type of healing Celeste and Danielle offer, others may become jealous due to the nature of the coaching.

“I think in any coach or therapist’s history there are times when things come up that are particularly challenging within the relationship,” Celeste says. “We try to keep the boundaries and try to make sure everybody’s okay in those relationships, but sometimes things don’t go well. It’s almost impossible when you’re working at this level of intimacy for that not to happen sometimes. Danielle and I always try to repair, whenever repair is possible.”

In fact, Celeste and Danielle say that the hurt and jealousy that client experience — especially when the work gets intense — is another learning experience. As is the reconnection that the pair attempt with their clients after such a rupture. Not only can it lead to more strengthened relationships, but, as Danielle points out, it can help clients understand that being part of a couple isn’t perfect all the time. It’s not about never fighting, she says, it’s about being able to repair and reconnect after conflict arises.

At the end of the day, though (and they’re long days!), Celeste and Danielle can’t imagine doing anything else. “I think being in such deep and intimate connection with so many wonderful people, seeing them grow and transform and seeing their lives get better, is so fulfilling,” Celeste says.

“I like the realness of it,” Danielle adds. “I don’t need to try and pretend that I’m someone else. I can be real in the relationship. I really love that.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Assertive sexuality – yet again, we must fight the politicisation of sex

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Everyone has the right to have sex as they choose and we must make sure we protect that right

A gay couple kisses during the Gay Pride Parade in Medellin, Colombia, in 2015.

By Emily Witt

Sexual equality – the right for consenting adults to love who they want, the way they want it – is a human right. In 2017 the right to have the kind of sex we want is still under threat.

Once again gay people, single women, the non-monogamous, the kinky, and many other people whose sexuality does not conform to the heterosexual, child-producing marital bedroom, will be forced to articulate their right to sexual freedom. For many adults, merely having sex, and being sexual, will become a political act. Welcome to the year of assertive sexuality.

In the 21st century the state wields control over sexuality through access to healthcare. In the United States, Donald Trump has appointed an orthopaedic surgeon, Tom Price, as his secretary of health and human services. Price has a record of opposition to LGBTQ and abortion rights and has voted in the past to deprive non-profit organisation Planned Parenthood of taxpayer support.

Even if Trump chooses not to revoke the Affordable Care Act, it’s likely the mandate that covers contraception will be repealed. A woman’s sexual freedom depends on her ability to access affordable contraception, treatment for infections and abortion services. Trump, who has a lifetime of boasting about his sexual promiscuity (both consensual and not), wants to impose a paradigm of risk on women, who will lose autonomy and safety and will face unnecessary and prohibitive expense and inconvenience in their pursuit of sexual happiness.

The United Kingdom also saw an attempt to thwart sexual freedom by denying access to healthcare in 2016. It was only after a successful lawsuit filed by the National Aids Trust and persistent lobbying by activists that the NHS announced in December that it would fund a three-year clinical trial that will make pre-exposure prophylaxis available through the NHS to 10,000 people at risk of contracting HIV. This was a shift from earlier in the year, when the NHS had made it clear that it would limit availability of PrEP to 500 men “most at high risk”.

Denying healthcare to certain populations in a misguided attempt to influence their sexual behaviour is a form of social control and exclusion that arbitrarily codes certain sexual acts as good or bad and certain lives as more dispensable than others. The point of such efforts – and other forms of sexual censorship, like the attempts of the Conservative government to block pornographic websites that show female ejaculation or that break the “four finger rule” – is to assert a hierarchy of sexual cultures in which heteronormativity occupies a place at the top and alternative sexual preferences are maligned as risky or obscene.

Tom Price, US secretary of health and human services, has a record of opposition to LGBTQ rights.

Attempts to re-establish a notion of “normal”, “conventional” and “responsible” sexuality come at a time in which consensus about what an adult life should look like is rapidly dissolving. In the United States and the United Kingdom, adults are getting married later or not at all. In the years of their lives in which they are dating and having shorter-term sexual relationships, technology has offered new ways of meeting people, of fantasising and of finding sexual community.

A shift in cultural morals has opened space for the articulation of a broad spectrum of sexual identities, orientations and gender identifications. If the first decade of the new century was about broadening access to institutions such as marriage, the second might be about taking pride in sex as an end in itself.

The culture finds itself at a crossroads: either attempt to restore a false consensus about what constitutes a legitimate sexuality, an ideal of monogamous fidelity that always contained hypocrisy, that not even the president-elect of the United States can claim to have upheld; or embrace a more honest view of the contemporary way some people relate to each other.

For the growing population of adults who have failed in one way or another to live up to an ideal of what a “good heterosexual” looks like, either because they have never married, or have divorced, or because they are not heterosexual at all, attempts by politicians to marginalise their sex lives would be comical if they didn’t come at such a high cost.

The only response that feels right, at this juncture in history, is to dispense with euphemism. Don’t call contraception “family planning”. Don’t limit the idea of sexual freedom to the right to marry (although even that right remains threatened.)

Don’t let the enjoyment of pornography be pathologised. Don’t meekly try to make your sexuality palatable to the people who are determined to deny its legitimacy.

In 2016 cautious appeals for responsibility lost out to ostentation and lies; 2017 is not a time to be demure.

Complete Article HERE!

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Redefining Sexuality after Stroke

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You can have a healthy sex life after having a stroke.

By StrokeSmart Staff

You can have a healthy sex life after having a stroke. In fact, it’s a key part of getting back into a normal routine. The need to love and be loved is significant. Also, the physical and mental release that sex provides is important.

The quality of a couple’s sexual relationship following a stroke differs from couple to couple. Most couples find that their sexual relationship has changed, but not all find this to be a problem. The closeness that a couple shares before a stroke is the best indicator of how their relationship will evolve after the stroke.

However, having sex after a stroke can present problems and concerns for both you and your partner.

Stroke survivors often report a decrease in sexual desire. Women report a strong decrease in the ability to have an orgasm and men often have some degree of impotency. A stroke can change your body, how you feel and impact your sex life.

Having good communication with your partner, managing depression, controlling pain or incontinence and working with impotence can all help you resume a healthy sex life.

Communication is Key

Talking about sex is hard for many people. It gets even more complicated after having a stroke, when you may be unable to understand or say words or have uncontrollable laughing or crying spells. But it is critical to talk openly and honestly with your partner about your sexual needs, desires and concerns. Encourage your partner to do the same. If you are having a difficult time communicating with your partner about sex, an experienced counselor can help.

Depression, Pain and Medication — How They Effect Your Sex Drive

It is common for stroke survivors and their partners to suffer from depression. When you are depressed, you tend to have less interest in sexual intimacy. Depression can be treated with medications. You may also be taking medicine for anxiety, high blood pressure, spasticity, sleeping problems or allergies. Addressing these medical concerns can increase your sex drive. But know that some medication can also have side effects that interfere with your sex life. If your ability to enjoy sex has decreased since your stroke, talk with your doctor about medicines that have fewer sexual side effects.

Many stroke survivors also have problems with pain, contributing to a loss of sexual desire, impotence and the ability to have an orgasm. This is a normal reaction. Work with your doctor to develop a program to manage your pain and increase your sexual desire.

Controlling incontinence

If you are having trouble with controlling your bladder or bowel, being afraid that you will have an accident while making love is understandable. There are a few steps you can take to help make incontinence during sex less of a concern.

  • Go to the bathroom before having sex
  • Avoid positions that put pressure on the bladder
  • Don’t drink liquids before sexual activity
  • Talk to your partner about your concerns
  • Place plastic covering on the bed, or use an incontinence pad to help protect the bedding
  • Store cleaning supplies close in case of accidents

If you have a catheter, you can ask your doctor’s permission to remove it and put it back in afterwards. A woman with a catheter can tape it to one side. A man with a catheter can cover it with a lubricated condom. Using a lubricant or gel will make sex more comfortable.

Working With Impotence

Impotence refers to problems that interfere with sexual intercourse, such as a lack of sexual desire, being unable to keep an erection or trouble with ejaculation. Today, there are many options available to men with this problem. For most, the initial treatment is an oral medicine. If this doesn’t work, options include penile injections, penile implants or the use of vacuum devices. Men who are having problems with impotence should check with their doctors about corrective medicines. This is especially true if you have high blood pressure or are at risk for a heart attack. Once you have talked to your partner and you are both ready to begin a post-stroke sexual relationship, set yourself up to be comfortable. Start by reintroducing familiar activities such as kissing, touching and hugging. Create a calm, non-pressure environment and remember that sexual satisfaction, both giving and receiving, can be accomplished in many ways.

Ask the Doctor

Things to discuss with your doctor:

  1. Medications for depression and pain that have fewer sexual side effects.
  2. Changes you should expect when having sex and advice on how to deal with them. Be sure to discuss when it is safe to have sex again.
  3. Impotence and corrective medications.
  4. Incontinence — a urologist who specializes in urinary functions may be able to provide help in this area.

Tips for Enjoying Sex After a Stroke

  • Communicate your feelings honestly and openly.
  • if you have trouble talking, use touch to communicate. It is a very intimate way to express thoughts, needs and desires.
  • after stroke, your body and appearance may have changed. Take time for you and your partner to get used to these changes.
  • Maintain grooming and personal hygiene to feel attractive for yourself and for your partner.
  • explore your body for sexual sensations and areas of heightened sensitivity.
  • have intercourse when you are rested and relaxed and have enough time to enjoy each other.
  • try planning for sex in advance, so you can fully enjoy it.
  • Be creative, flexible and open to change.
  • the side of the body that lacks feeling or that causes you pain needs to be considered. Don’t be afraid to use gentle touch or massage in these areas.
  • if intercourse is too difficult, remember there are many ways to give and receive sexual satisfaction.

Complete Article HERE!

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Post-Orgasmic Goading

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Q:

When pleasuring another dude’s cock, when should I stop riding/sucking/stroking after he’s cum? I know how sensitive my cock gets after cumming, but I also feel like some of the sweetest and most intimate moments can be what I do with his cock as it subsides and softens, not to mention that there can still be intense, intense pleasure in those early post-cum moments.
Go for it, while adapting to his needs!

ERECT PENIS

I agree with you that the sweetest and most intense pleasurable sensations can be had soon after ejaculation. I personally call this post-ejaculatory penile massage post-orgasmic goading (but that’s a personal terminology as I’ve never seen an official terminology for this) because this deliberate teasing is done at a time where we all know the penis to be extremely sensitive.

Post-orgasmic goading is not something we men tend to do instinctively for ourselves, as a consequence of the additive impact of three phenomena happening quickly after ejaculation:

  1. The powerful and overwhelming sensation of fatigue that numbs us after ejaculation
  2. The almost instantaneous disappearance of all interest for sex that follows ejaculation
  3. The excruciating sensitiveness of the penis — of the glans in particular — following ejaculation

Acting synergistically, these phenomena trained us very early into avoiding any stimulation to our penis after ejaculation. In fact, this is something most of us were driven to understand only a few weeks after our first ejaculation. As a result, most men will have little to no experience with (and, for some, even the knowledge of) the powerful sensations that can be squeezed out from the penis after ejaculation.

Does that mean that post-orgasmic goading should be avoided? Not at all: on the contrary, it should be encouraged.

What it means however, is that you have to be mindful when initially introducing a partner to post-orgasmic masturbation.

  • Begin by announcing your intent. I don’t mean writing down a contract in triplicates, but after the guy has cum and you continue to masturbate him, tell him that you do. Something like “seeing you cum was wonderful, I want to see you squirm and hear you moan longer”. Eventually, you won’t need to ask his permission to go on with the post-orgasmic goading, but at first you’ll need to, so that your partner doesn’t feel apprehensive. Indeed, when unexpected, post-orgasmic goading will bring forth a feeling of loss of control (and it is, to a point). And most men don’t live well with that feeling, as it is not part of the male psyche.
  • Be clear that you’ll stop if he asks to, and indeed stop when he does asks you to… but with a slight delay. The delay is important as the intensity of the caresses are very likely to make him utter you to stop way too soon. So you should playfully continue a bit longer, yet without going overboard so that he’ll know that you can be trusted. At first, you might not continue for long after ejaculation, but as he learns both that you can be trusted and to let go, you’ll be able to give him long minutes of quasi-orgasmic pleasures…
  • Finally, be considerate. While you can continue to caress the shaft with a relatively strong grip (yet toned down compared to how you held his cock as you sent him through orgasm), you must handle the glans with extreme care. Using his semen(1) as lube, rub the glans slightly and delicately with your fingertips. You’re better off beginning too delicately than the other way around because if you begin the cockhead’s caresses too harshly, it will hurt and that will be the end of it. To evaluate your accomplishment, watch his abs for sudden contractions, watch his shoulders dance around, watch his head moving back and forth, watch also for his hand(s) that may attempt to grip you (surprisingly) strongly in an attempt to immobilize you. Listen to his moans also. Embolden him to move and moan…
  • When introducing a man to post-orgasmic goading, one has to be initially very mindful and open to the needs of the other. When done correctly, it opens a new world of sensations and it is totally fun and addictive(2) ! After some time, you’ll be able to make him dance, squirm and whimper for a surprisingly long time. He will even be looking for it.

While semen is a hassle to deal with after ejaculation, we all like to be reminded that we ejaculated and how much we came. Playing with our semen and smearing it all over helps drive the point that we came and helps us registering that we impregnated the world with our DNA. It makes us feel manly. It’s important to fool around with cum, and doing so won’t change the fact that a clean up is needed after orgasm.

This article is written with a partner in mind as this is the question, but the same applies to you too. Every man should use post-orgasmic goading on their own cock. The same careful and delicate approach applies, especially since it is so difficult to persevere at first, as the glans’ exquisite sensitivity tends to make us spineless. Yet, going against the post orgasmic fatigue and the transient disinterest in sex, on one side, and learning to exploit instead of steering clear from the penis’ post orgasmic sensitiveness, on the other side, allows us to milk even more pleasure from our penis. Something no one can be averse to, right? As it goes so much against our instinctual behavior however, it has to be learned and practiced. Practice makes perfect, though. So practice my lad, practice !

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How do women really know if they are having an orgasm?

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Dr Nicole Prause is challenging bias against sexual research to unravel apparent discrepancies between physical signs and what women said they experienced

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It’s not always clear if a woman is really having an orgasm, as Meg Ryan demonstrated in When Harry Met Sally.

It’s not always clear if a woman is really having an orgasm, as Meg Ryan demonstrated in When Harry Met Sally.

In the nascent field of orgasm research, much of the data relies on subjects self-reporting, and in men, there’s some pretty clear physiological feedback in the form of ejaculation.

But how do women know for sure if they are climaxing? What if the sensation they have associated with climax is actually one of the the early foothills of arousal? And how does a woman know when if she has had an orgasm?

Neuroscientist Dr Nicole Prause set out to answer these questions by studying orgasms in her private laboratory. Through better understanding of what happens in the body and the brain during arousal and orgasm, she hopes to develop devices that can increase sex drive without the need for drugs.

Understanding orgasm begins with a butt plug. Prause uses the pressure-sensitive anal gauge to detect the contractions typically associated with orgasm in both men and women. Combined with EEG, which measures brain activity, this allows for a more accurate picture of a woman’s arousal and orgasm.

Dr Nicole Prause has founded Liberos to study brain stimulation and desire.

Dr Nicole Prause has founded Liberos to study brain stimulation and desire.

When Prause began studying women in this way she noticed something surprising. “Many of the women who reported having an orgasm were not having any of the physical signs – the contractions – of an orgasm.”

It’s not clear why that is, but it is clear that we don’t know an awful lot about orgasms and sexuality. “We don’t think they are faking,” she said. “My sense is that some women don’t know what an orgasm is. There are lots of pleasure peaks that happen during intercourse. If you haven’t had contractions you may not know there’s something different.”

Prause, an ultramarathon runner and keen motorcyclist in her free time, started her career at the Kinsey Institute in Indiana, where she was awarded a doctorate in 2007. Studying the sexual effects of a menopause drug, she first became aware of the prejudice against the scientific study of sexuality in the US.

When her high-profile research examining porn “addiction” found the condition didn’t fit the same neurological patterns as nicotine, cocaine or gambling, it was an unpopular conclusion among people who believe they do have a porn addiction.

The evolution of design of the anal pressure gauge used in Nicole Prause’s lab to detect orgasmic contractions.

The evolution of design of the anal pressure gauge used in Nicole Prause’s lab to detect orgasmic contractions.

“People started posting stories online that I had falsified my data and I received all kinds of sexist attacks,” she said. Soon anonymous emails of complaint were turning up at the office of the president of UCLA, where she worked from 2012 to 2014, demanding that Prause be fired.

Does orgasm benefit mental health?

Prause pushed on with her research, but repeatedly came up against challenges when seeking approval for studies involving orgasms. “I tried to do a study of orgasms while at UCLA to pilot a depression intervention. UCLA rejected it after a seven-month review,” she said. The ethics board told her that to proceed, she would need to remove the orgasm component – rendering the study pointless.

Undeterred, Prause left to set up her sexual biotech company Liberos, in Hollywood, Los Angeles, in 2015. The company has been working on a number of studies, including one exploring the benefits and effectiveness of “orgasmic meditation”, working with specialist company OneTaste.

Part of the “slow sex” movement, the practice involves a woman having her clitoris stimulated by a partner – often a stranger – for 15 minutes. “This orgasm state is different,” claims OneTaste’s website. “It is goalless, intuitive, and dynamic. It flows all over the place with no set direction. It may include climax, or it may not. In Orgasm 2.0, we learn to listen to what our body wants instead of what we think we ‘should’ want.”

Prause wants to determine whether arousal has any wider benefits for mental health. “The folks that practice this claim it helps with stress and improves your ability to deal with emotional situations even though as a scientist it seems pretty explicitly sexual to me,” she said.

Prause is examining orgasmic meditators in the laboratory, measuring finger movements of the partner, as well as brainwave activity, galvanic skin response and vaginal contractions of the recipient. Before and after measuring bodily changes, researchers run through questions to determine physical and mental states. Prause wants to determine whether achieving a level of arousal requires effort or a release in control. She then wants to observe how Orgasmic Meditation affects performance in cognitive tasks, how it changes reactivity to emotional images and how it compares with regular meditation.

Brain stimulation is ‘theoretically possible’

Another research project is focused on brain stimulation, which Prause believes could provide an alternative to drugs such as Addyi, the “female Viagra”. The drug had to be taken every day, couldn’t be mixed with alcohol and its side-effects can include sudden drops in blood pressure, fainting and sleepiness. “Many women would rather have a glass of wine than take a drug that’s not very effective every day,” said Prause.

The field of brain stimulation is in its infancy, though preliminary studies have shown that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which uses direct electrical currents to stimulate specific parts of the brain, can help with depression, anxiety and chronic pain but can also cause burns on the skin. Transcranial magnetic stimulation, which uses a magnet to activate the brain, has been used to treat depression, psychosis and anxiety, but can also cause seizures, mania and hearing loss.

Prause is studying whether these technologies can treat sexual desire problems. In one study, men and women receive two types of magnetic stimulation to the reward center of their brains. After each session, participants are asked to complete tasks to see how their responsiveness to monetary and sexual rewards (porn) has changed.

With DCS, Prause wants to stimulate people’s brains using direct currents and then fire up tiny cellphone vibrators that have been glued to the participants’ genitals. This provides sexual stimulation in a way that eliminates the subjectivity of preferences people have for pornography.

“We already have a basic functioning model,” said Prause. “The barrier is getting a device that a human can reliably apply themselves without harming their own skin.”


 
There is plenty of skepticism around the science of brain stimulation, a technology which has already spawned several devices including the headset Thync, which promises users an energy boost, and Foc.us, which claims to help with endurance.

Neurologist Steven Novella from the Yale School of Medicine uses brain stimulation devices in clinical trials to treat migraines, but he says there’s not enough clinical evidence to support these emerging consumer devices. “There’s potential for physical harm if you don’t know what you’re doing,” he said. “From a theoretical point of view these things are possible, but in terms of clinical claims they are way ahead of the curve here. It’s simultaneously really exciting science but also premature pseudoscience.”

Biomedical engineer Marom Bikson, who uses tDCS to treat depression at the City College of New York, agrees. “There’s a lot of snake oil.”

Sexual problems can be emotional and societal

Prause, also a licensed psychologist, is keen to avoid overselling brain stimulation. “The risk is that it will seem like an easy, quick fix,” she said. For some, it will be, but for others it will be a way to test whether brain stimulation can work – which Prause sees as a more balanced approach than using medication. “To me, it is much better to help provide it for people likely to benefit from it than to try to create fake problems to sell it to everyone.”

Sexual problems can be triggered by societal pressures that no device can fix. “There’s discomfort and anxiety and awkwardness and shame and lack of knowledge,” said psychologist Leonore Tiefer, who specializes in sexuality. Brain stimulation is just one of many physical interventions companies are trying to develop to make money, she says. “There’s a million drugs under development. Not just oral drugs but patches and creams and nasal sprays, but it’s not a medical problem,” she said.

Thinking about low sex drive as a medical condition requires defining what’s normal and what’s unhealthy. “Sex does not lend itself to that kind of line drawing. There is just too much variability both culturally and in terms of age, personality and individual differences. What’s normal for me is not normal for you, your mother or your grandmother.”

And Prause says that no device is going to solve a “Bob problem” – when a woman in a heterosexual couple isn’t getting aroused because her partner’s technique isn’t any good. “No pills or brain stimulation are going to fix that,” she said.

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