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The Reason Most Couples Stop Enjoying Sex

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(And How To Heighten Your Capacity For Pleasure)

Everywhere I go, I hear stories about the challenges professional women are having sexually with their partners. It happens to women between 20 and 70, with kids and without. It’s described in one of a few ways:

  • “I used to like sex, but then we had kids, our careers picked up, and something changed.”
  • “When we do have sex, half the time I’m thinking about my to-do list. I feel relieved when it’s over, because then I can do what I really want to do—like finish my book.”
  • “We feel more like roommates or business partners than lovers.”
  • “I’m worried my libido is broken and there’s something wrong with me.”

The high stakes of intimacy in long-term relationships mixed with the inaccurate beliefs about female sexuality we face from all sides make for a volatile combination. But I’ve seen these issues get resolved. It’s absolutely possible. No matter where it’s coming from, sexual dissatisfaction can be remedied when both people commit to learning a new way to relate intimately. These are the keys to creating mutually fulfilling intimacy that lasts a lifetime.

I see that these patterns can change when couples commit to learning a new way of relating sexually that women enjoy. Here are the keys to successfully moving toward intimacy that’s mutually fulfilling:

1. Normalize your experience.

When intimacy is the issue, it can be very difficult to discuss openly. Often, we feel alone and don’t realize that sexual struggles in long-term relationships are not just normal, but they happen to the majority of couples at one time or another. Having discussed these issues with countless female clients who believe that they are to blame for their unhappiness, I realized that we just tend to place blame on ourselves. The truth is that there’s nothing wrong with you. Your libido is not broken. You’re not alone and this IS fixable.

2. Clearly articulate your need for change.

One of the biggest mistakes I see otherwise straightforward women make is downplaying their sexual distress to their partner. Many of us believe our male partners don’t care about our sexual fulfillment, or that enjoying sex isn’t worth the tension it would place on your relationship to bring up what isn’t working. Don’t let this stop you from getting what you need.

I have almost as many male clients as female ones, and they all want the same thing when it comes to sex: a partner who is turned on, happy, and enjoying themselves. Regardless of gender or relationship style, if sex only works for one partner in the relationship, then the sex isn’t working.

Have you clearly articulated to your partner that you aren’t sexually satisfied and that you need something to change? If not, your chances of fulfillment are slim. Blaming yourself doesn’t make anything better; taking responsibility for dealing with it as a team does. Get in the habit of talking with your partner regularly about what’s working for you and what isn’t.

3. Stop following a script.

We seem to all have been given the same misinformation about how sex should go: It starts with kissing and ends with intercourse. We’ve also been taught that happy couples have sex once per [day, week, month, insert stereotype here]. We’ve learned that sex is over when the man reaches orgasm. But I’m here to tell you that every single one of these statements is not only false but harmful.

The truth is that when couples drop expectations about sex and adopt a new approach—one that makes both parties’ genuine fulfillment a prerequisite rather than a bonus—women’s genuine fulfillment (which includes much more than having orgasms)—it supports deeper intimacy and can make a woman’s libido more active than it ever was before. Learn more about how to enter a new, infinitely satisfying paradigm here.

4. Recognize that orgasms are not sex’s raison d’être.

Orgasms are wonderful, but in truth, our fixation on them keeps our sex lives from becoming extraordinary. Let’s get real: If orgasms were all it took for radical fulfillment, far more of us would feel fulfilled. We wouldn’t even need relationships to make that happen. But we know it’s not the same. Self-pleasure is healthy, and may temporarily alleviate feelings of exhaustion or anxiety, but it doesn’t provide us with the connection or intimacy that partnered sex can.

5. Seriously, get rid of the script—before you even start the first act.

You’ll see a night-and-day difference in your sexual encounters if you let go of expectations before either of you starts getting hot and bothered. Nothing hinders women’s enjoyment of sex more than feeling pressured in bed. It’s almost impossible for us to enjoy ourselves if we’re worried about expectations about how or how much we are. Instead of feeling the pleasure, we get stuck wondering whether we’re doing it right or whether our partner is satisfied. Tossing expectation out the window is the most reliable way to start having fantastic sex immediately.

6. Touch each other for the sake of touching—with no apprehension or expectation about where it might lead.

Physical contact is essential for sexual fulfillment. But when sex isn’t working, we often avoid touching each other. I encourage couples to touch each other frequently and in a wide variety of ways—foot massages, hand-holding, and everything in between. But, by the same token, I encourage couples to stop tolerating touch they don’t like or want.

Tolerating touch leads to sexual shutdown—the person being touched isn’t enjoying themselves but won’t say it; the person doing the touching knows something is wrong but isn’t being told how to fix it. It creates distance rather than fostering intimacy. The solution is to have physical contact with zero expectations. When pressure and expectations are lifted, touch becomes an exploration of sensation and connection rather than a race to orgasm or “those same three moves.”

7. Don’t look at sex as a means to achieve any goal other than giving and receiving pleasure for pleasure’s sake.

Goals are great for business plans and exercise regimens, but they have the opposite effect on sex. Few of us have ever touched our partner without trying to achieve a goal. We use our touch to prove we’re a good lover, to make peace in the relationship, or to bring our partner to climax. How would we touch each other if we weren’t trying to achieve anything except to connect and explore each other’s bodies? Given an open-ended approach to sex that is full of touch and free of pressure, both desire for and enjoyment of sex will grow exponentially.

8. Learn what you like, and allow yourself to receive it.

Desire is vital to fulfillment. When we lose touch with that inner spark, our sex lives fall flat. Ask yourself the question, “What do I want?” 10 times a day. Seriously. And get very good at answering it. Desire is the first step. Only then can we receive it. It may sound simple, but I see women struggle sexually for years because they don’t know how to receive the help, love, and touch their partner wants to give. It takes as much work to receive as to give—sometimes more.

Practice receiving by focusing on the enjoyment of what you’re experiencing. Sink into the warm embrace of a hug. Delight in the smell of your favorite baked good. Relax as your partner touches you. Think less; feel more.

9. Practice, practice, practice.

Yes, even great sex requires practice. Create habits that can be easily incorporated into your daily routine. I encourage all couples I work with to develop a habit of sexual research—open-ended sessions where couples explore new ways to connect without pressure. Like any new habit, allowing yourself to feel more pleasure and connection takes practice.

10. If it seems helpful, get professional coaching.

If you don’t feel like you can do it alone, don’t. There’s nothing to be ashamed of except not using every tool at your disposal to create the relationship you want. Get the support of a coach whose philosophy inspires you.

11. Be patient with yourself and with your partner.

Sexual connection is deeply personal and one of the most vulnerable elements of our identities. Don’t be discouraged if you, your partner, or your sex life doesn’t change as quickly as you’d hoped. People transform in different ways, through different means, over different periods of time. In seeking long-lasting change, favor paradigm shifts over quick fixes. Stick with it and be patient with each other.

Complete Article HERE!

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9 Reasons You Might Not Be Orgasming

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By Sophie Saint Thomas

While orgasms don’t define good sex, they are pretty damn nice. However, our bodies, minds, and relationships are complicated, meaning orgasms aren’t always easy to come by (pun intended). From dating anxiety to medication to too little masturbation, here are nine possible culprits if you’re having a hard time orgasming — plus advice on how to deal.

1. You expect vaginal sex alone to do it for you.

One more time, for the cheap seats in the back: Only about 25 percent of people with vaginas come from penetration alone. If you’re not one of them, that doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you or your body. As licensed psychotherapist Amanda Luterman has told Allure, ability to come from vaginal sex has to do with the distance between the vaginal opening and the clitoris: The closer your clit is to this opening, the more vaginal sex will stimulate your clit.

The sensation of a penis or a dildo sliding into your vagina can be undeniably delightful. But most need people need that sensation paired with more direct clitoral stimulation in order to come. Try holding a vibrator against your clit as your partner penetrates you, or put your or your partner’s hands to good use.

2. Your partner is pressuring you.

Interest in your partner’s pleasure should be non-optional. But when you’re having sex with someone and they keep asking if you’ve come yet or if you’re close, it can throw your orgasm off track. As somatic psychologist and certified sex therapist Holly Richmond points out, “Being asked to perform is not sexy.” If your partner is a little too invested in your orgasm, it’s time to talk. Tell them you appreciate how much they care, but that you’re feeling pressure and it’s killing the mood for you.

It’s possible that they’re judging themselves as a partner based on whether or not you climax, and they may be seeking a little reassurance that they’re making you feel good. If they are, say so; if you’re looking to switch it up, this is your opportunity to tell them it would be so hot if they tried this or that thing next time you hop in bed.

3. Your antidepressants are messing with your sex drive.

As someone who continues to struggle with depression, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to seek treatment and take medication if you and your care provider decide that’s what’s right for you. Antidepressants can be lifesavers, and I mean that literally.

However, certain medications do indeed affect your ability to come. SSRIs such as Zoloft, Lexapro, and Prozac can raise the threshold of how much stimulation you need to orgasm. According to New York City sex therapist Stephen Snyder, author of Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long Lasting Relationship. “For some women, that just means you’re going to need a good vibrator,” says New York City sex therapist Stephen Snyder, author of Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long Lasting Relationship. “For others, it might mean your threshold is so high that no matter what you do, you’re just not going to be able to get there.”

If your current medication is putting a dramatic damper on your sex life, you have options, so talk to your doctor. Non-SSRI antidepressants such as Wellbutrin are available, while newer medications like Viibryd or Trintellix may come with fewer sexual side effects than other drugs, Snyder says. I’m currently having excellent luck with Fetzima. I don’t feel complete and utter hopelessness yet can also come my face off (a wonderful way to live).

4. Your birth control is curbing your libido.

Hormonal birth control can also do a number on your ability to climax, according to Los Angeles-based OB/GYN Yvonne Bohn. That’s because it can decrease testosterone levels, which in turn can mean a lower libido and fewer orgasms. If you’re on the pill and the sexual side effect are giving you grief, ask your OB/GYN about switching to a pill with a lower dose of estrogen or changing methods altogether.

5. You’re living with anxiety or depression.

“Depression and anxiety are based on imbalances between neurotransmitters,” OB/GYN Jessica Shepherd tells Allure. “When your dopamine is too high or too low, that can interfere with the sexual response, and also your levels of libido and ability to have sexual intimacy.” If you feel you may have depression or an anxiety disorder, please go see a doctor. Your life is allowed to be fun.

6. You’re not having sex for long enough.

A good quickie can be exciting (and sometimes necessary: If you’re getting it on in public, for example, it’s not exactly the time for prolonged foreplay.) That said, a few thrusts of a penis inside of a vagina is not a reliable recipe for mutual orgasm. Shepherd stresses the importance of foreplay, which can include oral, deep kissing, genital stimulation, sex toys, and more. Foreplay provides both stimulation and anticipation, making the main event, however you define that, even more explosive.

7. You’re recovering from sexual trauma.

Someone non-consensually went down on me as part of a sexual assault four years ago, and I’ve only been able to come from oral sex one time since then. Post-traumatic stress disorder is common among survivors of sexual trauma; so are anxiety and orgasm-killing flashbacks, whether or not the survivor in question develops clinical PTSD. Shepherd says sexual trauma can also cause hypertonicity, or increased and uncomfortable muscle tension that can interfere with orgasm. If you’re recovering from sexual trauma, I encourage you to find a therapist to work with, because life — including your sex life — can get better.

8. You’re experiencing body insecurity.

Here’s the thing about humans: They want to have sex with people they’re attracted to. Richmond says it’s important to remember your partner chooses to have sex with you because they’re turned on by your body. (I feel confident your partner loves your personality, as well.) One way to tackle insecurity is to focus on what your body can do — for example, the enormous pleasure it can give and receive — rather than what it looks like.

9. You’re shying away from masturbation.

Our partners don’t always know what sort of stimulation gets us off, and it’s especially hard for them to know when we don’t know ourselves. If you’re not sure what type of touch you enjoy most, set aside some time and use your hands, a sex toy, or even your bathtub faucet to explore your body at a leisurely pace. Once you start to discover how to make yourself feel good, you can demonstrate your techniques to your partner.

Complete Article HERE!

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Long-term sexual satisfaction: What’s the secret?

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Once the flutters of a new relationship are over, for many, the slog of everyday life sets in. But how do you keep the spark alive?

Sex is a key factor in most romantic relationships. In fact, earlier this year, Medical News Today reported that the “afterglow” that newlywed couples feel for up to 2 days after having sex is associated with greater marital satisfaction.

But last week, a new study showed that 34 percent of women and 15 percent of men who had lived with their partner for at least 1 year had lost interest in sex.

There are many factors that can affect sexual desire. Find out how much sex has the greatest effect on happiness, why some people lose interest, and what factors contribute to long-term sexual satisfaction.

How much sex is enough?

In a 2016 paper, Amy Muise, Ph.D. – a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto Mississauga in Canada – explains that there is plenty of evidence that “[…] the more sex people reported, the happier they felt.”

However, Dr. Muise also questions whether trying to have sex as “frequently as possible” is actually going to have the desired effect, particularly in light of the busy lives that many people lead.

Is the pressure of having frequent sex getting in the way of happiness?

Dr. Muise reports a clear relationship between the frequency of sex and happiness. What she found was that people who had sex once per week or more often were significantly happier than those who had sex less often.

But study participants who had sex on several occasions per week were not happier than those who had sex once each week.

The results were true for individuals who were in a romantic relationship, including women, older participants, and those in long-term relationships who tend to have less sex.

Interestingly, having sex had a greater effect on the participants’ happiness than income. So if sex makes us happy, why do so many people lose interest?

Who loses interest in sex?

There is plenty of evidence that being in a long-term relationship, being a woman, and increasing age are linked to a drop in sexual frequency.

Last year, MNT reported that women’s sexual desire decreased in long-term relationships. However, over the 7-year study period, the participants’ ability to reach orgasm improved – especially in those who had been in the same relationship the entire time.

So, for women, staying with a partner means better orgasms but less interest in sex, according to the research.

Last week, we reported on a new study published in BMJ Open that adds to the body of evidence showing that women’s interest in sex decreases in relationships.

Prof. Cynthia Graham, from the Centre for Sexual Health Research at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, found that more than 34 percent of women who had lived with their partner for at least 1 year lacked interest in sex, while only 15 percent of men did.

The biggest turn-offs

Prof. Graham identified a number of factors that were associated with the drop in sexual desire found in her study.

For women, these were having young children, having been pregnant in the past year, living with their partner, being in a longer relationship, not sharing the same level of sexual interest, and not sharing the same sexual preferences.

For both genders, health conditions (including depression), not feeling close to their partner during sex, being less happy with their relationship, and having sex less often than they were interested in all contributed to a drop in sexual interest.

Age was another factor. Men experienced the lowest levels of interest in sex between the ages of 35 and 44, while for women, this was between 55 and 64.

Julia Velten, Ph.D. – a postdoctoral fellow at the Mental Health Research and Treatment Center at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany – reported that when men felt that their partner expected them to always initiate sex, it had a negative effect on their sexual satisfaction.

Sexual desire discrepancy, which is the difference between the actual and desired frequency of sex, was a negative factor for both men and women.

Sexual function also played a role for the couples in Dr. Velten’s study. Men were affected by their partner’s lack of sexual function, such as lack of arousal, while women were more affected by the partner’s distress about their own sexual problem, such as erectile dysfunction.

How does masturbation fit into the picture?

On this topic, research findings do not agree. In a study involving couples living in Prague, Kateřina Klapilová, Ph.D. – from the Department of General Anthropology at Charles University in Prague – found that for women, masturbation negatively affected their sexual satisfaction.

But masturbation had no effect on men in these couples.

Meanwhile, Prof. Graham found that men who had recently masturbated were less interested in sex, while masturbation was not related to a change in women’s sex drive.

Prof. Graham told MNT that in her previous research, she had “found striking gender differences in factors associated with frequency of masturbation in men and women.”

She added that “when men were having less partnered sex, they tended to masturbate more often, whereas the reverse was true for women.”

With 51.7 percent of male and 17.8 percent of female participants reporting to have masturbated in the 7 days prior to study interviews, this is clearly a factor that is important in many relationships.

But just how masturbation contributes to or distracts from long-term sexual satisfaction remains to be seen.

With significant levels of both men and women reporting a drop in sexual interest and satisfaction, is there a secret to keeping the spark alive?

The secret to sexual satisfaction

Dr. Klapilová’s study found that for both men and women, penile-vaginal intercourse and the consistency of being able to reach vaginal orgasm were associated with sexual satisfaction.

She points to the “special role that vaginal orgasm (as distinct from other orgasm triggers) had in maintaining higher-quality intimate relationships.”

Anik Debrot, Ph.D. – alongside Dr. Muise and other colleagues from the University of Toronto Mississauga – recently studied the link between affection and sexual activity.

In her study paper, which was published this year in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, she explains that “when engaging in sex, people not only seek an intimate connection, but indeed experience more affection, both when having sex and in the next several hours.”

“Thus, sex within romantic relationships provides a meaningful way for people to experience a strong connection with their partner,” she adds.

To her, this indicates that sex is important in romantic relationships because of the emotional benefits that we feel. Dr. Debrot suggests, “[When sex may be impaired], affection could help maintain well-being despite decreased sex frequency.”

The effect of time

A study by Prof. Julia Heiman, from the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington, studied 1,000 couples in five countries (Brazil, Germany, Japan, Spain, and the United States).

Although the length of the couples’ relationships ranged from 1 to 51 years, half had been together for at least 25 years.

Prof. Heiman found that “[w]omen reported significantly more sexual satisfaction than men and men more relationship satisfaction.” In particular, “Men who valued their partner’s orgasm were more likely to report relationship happiness.”

Women’s sexual satisfaction increased from 40 percent at the start of the relationship to 86 percent once they had been with their partner for 40 years.

From these studies, penile-vaginal sex, affection, and the time spent in the relationship are key ingredients to a happy sex life. But there is one more factor that could be key: open communication.

Talking about sex

In Dr. Velten’s study, open communication about sexual wishes and frequencies had a positive effect on the quality of sex that the participants reported.

Likewise, participants in Prof. Graham’s study who found it easy to talk about sex with their partner were more interested in sex.

She told MNT that “[their] findings underline that open communication with a partner about sex is one of the most important things you can do to try to maintain sexual interest in a relationship.”

Sexual desires and preferences are, by nature, intrinsically personal and individual. Research in this field is complex, and while studies can show associations and trends, they will not be able to tease apart the reasons for an individual’s sexual satisfaction.

I don’t think that there is any ‘secret’ to long-term sexual satisfaction! Human sexuality is too diverse and ‘fluid’ for this to be the case – but […] open communication about sex with a partner should go some way to preventing sexual problems from developing.”

— Prof. Cynthia Graham

Talking about sex may be a good starting point. Finding a way to fit sex into the pressures of daily life may be challenging, but affection and time together might well help.

Complete Article HERE!

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Don’t Kink Shame Me, Bro

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“Meet me in the play room in fifteen minutes,” My freshman hallmates and I quoted, putting on our most seductive voices, waggling our eyebrows, and then doubling over with laughter for weeks after a large group of us went to see the first Fifty Shades of Grey movie at the Movie Tavern on Valentines day. Although BDSM and kink continue to have a hay day in pop culture, many people (especially those not informed about, involved in, or interested in kink) like to joke about fetishes and fantasies. So what do you do when, as one anonymous reader asked me this past week, your partner takes you into their confidence, shares one of their kinks with you, and you’re super not into it?

Here’s my vanilla disclaimer. I’m not exactly the most kink-savvy individual, so I’ve had to do a little research for this article. I’m also not a sex therapist, just your friendly neighborhood feminist. But I do know about the power of opening dialogues about sex in a patient and respectful manner. Are consent and open conversation kinks? If so, I’m on board.

1. Do not shame them for having a certain kink. Their interest in a little role play does not make them immature; their interest in BDSM doesn’t equate a twisted mind and a tortured past (*cough* Christian Grey *cough*). If your partner has shared their kink with you and you don’t understand it, don’t tear them down for it, ask questions.

Know that just because your partner is a very kinky girl/guy/non-binary/gender-queer individual, the kind you don’t take home to mother, doesn’t mean that they’re a super freak. But you already know this. You want to support them, you don’t want to kink shame them, you want them to be having good sex that feels good and excites them. But if you’re not kinky, or kinky in the same way that your partner is, you’ll need to identify which aspects of their kink make you personally uncomfortable, and voice your discomforts clearly and kindly, without implying that they should be uncomfortable or feel bad about having a certain kink. After all, they’ve shared a very vulnerable part of themselves with you.

2. Do not shame or degrade yourself (unless you’re into that). Especially if your partner has a strong interest in a particular kink, you may find yourself wondering: what about me as I normally am isn’t enough for my partner? Please, please know that your partner’s kink does not mean that anything is wrong with you, or that you are lesser or not enough just because they want to experiment with adding a new twist to sexual activities. Furthermore, if you don’t want to try out their brand of kink “play,” that doesn’t make you closed minded or cruel, and it certainly doesn’t make you “bad” at sex.

3. Turn offs and “I” statements: Try to explain what about your partner’s kink turns you off or makes you uncomfortable or hesitant, for example, “Being covered in chocolate sauce during sex is a turn off for me. It would make me feel messy and you know how I feel about cleanliness. I would be more focused on how I was going to get the chocolate stains off my sheets than the sex.” Or “Being tied up is a turn off for me because being unable to have full control of my body makes me feel used and objectified.” As an aside, when discussing domination/submission based kinks in particular, you may want to discuss with your partner how your intersecting experiences of power/powerlessness, privilege and oppression affect your comfort levels during sex, as well as how they may turn each of you on or off from certain fantasies.

In general, it may take some more discussion for your partner to fully understand the exact lines and nature and your boundaries and feelings about a fantasy, just as it may take you time to understand their reasons for being turned on by a specific fantasy. They may offer compromises, such as, “Okay, well if cleanliness is the problem, would you be comfortable getting drenched in chocolate sauce in the shower instead?” And if they do offer a compromise that you are still uncomfortable with, it’s still okay to say no. It is always okay to say no.

4. Turn Ons. Offer alternatives! For example, “I’m not comfortable being in a threesome, but I’m super turned on by mutual masturbation. Is that something that you would be interested in?” Or, “As a vegan, the idea of wearing leather during sex is uncomfortably unethical for me, but I’d be down to wear stockings or high heels. Do either of those things turn you on?”

5. Checklists: Before trying anything tremendously new, make like Fifty Shades of Grey and exchange a checklist (I’d hesitate to recommend a binding contract…pun absolutely intended) of sexual acts/behaviors that you both would be comfortable either giving or receiving to help facilitate conversation about exactly what you are and aren’t comfortable with. There are some great lists to be found online, and all are as customizable as you’d like to make them. Maybe you’ll find yourself intrigued by some elements of your partner’s fantasies but not others. Like Anastasia Steele, you too can say yes to light power play, but no to fisting. As one movie-goer cried out, Rocky Horror style, during the non-disclosure agreement scene of the original Fifty Shades of Grey, a few years ago at the Movie Tavern, “Yes! You go girl! You set your boundaries!”

6. What if your partner finds that they cannot be aroused without the object of their fetish? Your partner may have a diagnosable fetishistic disorder. **Note: sexual fantasies are completely normal to have, and having kinks does not mean that you have a fetishistic disorder. According to Psychology Today “A diagnosis of fetishistic disorder is only used if there is accompanying personal distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning as a result of the fetish.” The key word there is distress. If you or your partner’s kinks aren’t distressing either of you, then don’t worry about it. But if your partner does find their kink distressing, inhibitive to normal interactions, or disordered, consider opening a gentle, supportive dialogue with them about seeking help from a sex therapist. There is nothing shameful about anyone seeking out the help they need, if it turns out they do need it.

7. What if you and your partner are just not sexually compatible? Not sharing kinks should not have to be the end of a sexual relationship, but if it’s a real deal breaker for you or your partner, you both need to be honest with yourselves and each other about what you want out of a sexual relationship. If your partner will really only feel sexually liberated if they can regularly release their inner dominatrix and you’re not into that, it’s probably for the best that you both seek out different partners.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to Rethink Intimacy When ‘Regular’ Sex Hurts

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There’s no rule that says sex has to be penetrative.

By Breena Kerr

When sex hurts, women often feel alone—but they’re not. About 30 percent of women report pain during vaginal intercourse, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine which surveyed a subsample of 1,738 women and men ages 18 and older online.

Awareness of painful vaginal sex—sometimes lumped under the term Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD)—has grown as more women talk about their experiences and more medical professionals start to listen.

Many conditions are associated with FSD, including vulvodynia (chronic vulva pain), vestibulodynia (chronic pain around the opening of the vagina), and vaginismus (cramping and tightness around the opening of the vagina). But they all have one thing in common: vaginal or vulval pain that can make penetrative sex anywhere from mildly uncomfortable to physically impossible. However, you can absolutely still have sex, which we’ll get to in a minute.

First and most important, if you are experiencing any type of genital pain, talk to your doctor.

There’s no reason to suffer in silence, even if it seems awkward or embarrassing or scary. Your gynecologist has heard it all and can help (or they can refer you to someone who can). The International Pelvic Pain Society has great resources for finding a licensed health care provider who specializes in genital pain.

“We don’t yet know why women get vestibulodynia or vulvodynia,” Kayna Cassard, M.A., M.F.T., a psychotherapist who specializes in vaginismus and other pelvic pain issues, tells SELF. “[There can be] many traumas, physical and psychological, that become internalized and add to vaginal pain. Women’s pain isn’t just ‘in their heads,’ ” Cassard says.

This kind of pain can affect anyone—regardless of sexual orientation or relationship status—but it can be particularly difficult for someone who mostly engages in penetrative sex with their partner. The important thing to remember is that you have options.

Sex does not have to revolve around penetration.

Hell, it doesn’t even need to include it. And for a lot of people, it doesn’t. Obviously, if P-in-V sex is what you and your partner are used to, it can be intimidating to consider redefining what sex means to you. But above all, sex should be pleasurable.

“The first thing to do is expand what ‘counts’ as sex,” sex educator and Girl Sex 101 author Allison Moon tells SELF. “Many people in heterosexual relationships consider only penis-in-vagina to count as sex, and everything else is some form of foreplay,” she says. But sex can include (or not include) whatever two consensual people decide on: oral sex, genital massage, mutual masturbation, whatever you’re into.

“If you only allow yourself one form of sex to count as the real deal, you may feel broken for enjoying, or preferring, other kinds of touch,” Moon says.

To minimize pain, give yourself time to prepare physically and mentally for sex.

That might sound like a lot of prep work, but it’s really about making sure you’re in the right mindset, that you’re relaxed, and that you’re giving your body time to warm up.

Heather S. Howard, Ph.D., a certified sexologist and founder of the Center for Sexual Health and Rehabilitation in San Francisco, publishes free guides that help women prepare physically and mentally for sex. She tells SELF that stretching and massaging, including massaging your vaginal muscles, is especially helpful for women with muscle tightness. (Too much stretching, though, is a bad idea for women with sensitive vaginal skin that’s prone to tearing.)

Starting with nonsexual touch is key, as Elizabeth Akincilar-Rummer, M.S.P.T., president and cofounder of the Pelvic Health and Rehabilitation Center in San Francisco, tells SELF. This puts the emphasis on relaxation so you don’t feel pressured to rush arousal.

Inserting a cool or warm stainless steel dilator (or a homemade version created with water and a popsicle mold) can also help reduce pain, Howard says. Women can tailor the size and shape to whatever is comfortable. If a wand or dilator is painful, however, a cool cloth or warm bath can feel soothing instead. Again, do what feels good to you and doesn’t cause pain.

Several studies have shown that arousal may increase your threshold for pain tolerance (not to mention it makes sex more enjoyable). So don’t skimp on whatever step is most arousing for you. That might mean some solo stimulation, playing sexy music, dressing up, reading an erotic story, watching porn, etc.

And of course, don’t forget lubrication. Lube is the first line of defense when sex hurts. Water-based lubricant is typically the safest for sensitive skin. It’s also the easiest to clean and won’t stain your clothes or sheets. Extra lubrication will make the vagina less prone to irritation, infections, and skin tears, according to Howard. But some people may also be irritated by the ingredients in lube, so if you need a recommendation, ask your gynecologist.

Now it’s time figure out what feels good.

Women with pain often know what feels bad. But Howard says it’s important for them to remember what feels good, too. “Lots of people aren’t asking, ‘What feels good?’ So I ask women to set what their pleasure scale is, along with their pain scale. I ask them to develop a tolerance for pleasure.”

To explore what feels good, partners can try an exercise where they rate touch. They set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and ask their partner to touch them in different ways on different parts of their body. Sex partners can experiment with location, pressure, and touch type (using their fingertips, nails, breath, etc.) and change it up every 30 seconds. With every different touch, women should say a number from 0 to 10 that reflects how good the touch feels, with 10 being, “This feels amazing!” and 0 meaning, “I don’t like this particular kind of touch.” This allows women to feel a sense of ownership and control over the sensations, Howard says.

Another option is experimenting with different sensations. Think tickling, wax dripping, spanking, and flogging. Or if they prefer lighter touch, feathers, fingers, hair, or fabric on skin are good options. Some women with chronic pain may actually find it empowering to play with intense sensations (like hot wax) and eroticize them in a way that gives them control, according to Howard. But other women may need extremely light touch, she says, since chronic pain can lower some people’s general pain tolerance.

Masturbating together can also be an empowering way for you to show a partner how you like to be touched. And it can involve the entire body, not just genitals, Akincilar-Rummer says. It’s also a safe way for you to experience sexual play with a partner, when you aren’t quite ready to be touched by another person. For voyeurs and exhibitionists, it can be fun for one person to masturbate while the other person watches. Or, for a more intimate experience, partners can hold and kiss each other while they masturbate. It feels intimate while still allowing control over genital sensations.

If clitoral stimulation doesn’t hurt, feel free to just stick with that.

It’s worth noting that the majority of women need direct clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm, Maureen Whelihan, M.D., an ob/gyn in West Palm Beach, Florida, tells SELF. Stimulating the clit is often the most direct route to arousal and climax and requires no penetration.

Some women won’t be able to tolerate clitoral stimulation, especially if their pain is linked to the pudendal nerve, which can affect sensations in the clitoris, mons pubis, vulva, vagina, and labia, according to Howard and Akincilar-Rummer. For that reason, vibrators may be right for some women and wrong for others. “Many women with pelvic pain can irritate the pelvic nerve with vibrators,” says Akincilar-Rummer. “But if it’s their go-to, that’s usually fine. I just tell them to be cautious.”

For women with pain from a different source, like muscle tightness, vibrators may actually help them become less sensitive to pain. “Muscular pain can actually calm down with a vibrator,” Howard says. Sex and relationship coach Charlie Glickman, Ph.D., tells SELF that putting a vibrator in a pillow and straddling it may decrease the amount of direct vibration.

Above all else, remember that sexual play should be fun, pleasurable, and consensual—but it doesn’t need to be penetrative. There’s no need to do anything that makes you uncomfortable physically or emotionally or worsens your genital pain.

Complete Article HERE!

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