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5 common questions about vaginas answered

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A sexual health nurse reveals all

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We don’t often bring up genitals in polite conversation but learning more about vaginas can empower women to make the right decisions about their general and sexual health – and know when to seek medical advice.

Helen Knox, a clinical nurse specialist in contraception and sexual health – and founder of Sexplained – shares the vaginal health questions she hears most frequently and the advice she gives women about how best to care for their most intimate area:

1. Is my vaginal normal?

“I often get asked if the smell or discharge a woman is experiencing is ‘normal’. Firstly, normal is what is normal to you. Your vagina will have its own smell, regular discharge and shape. If you notice a change from your norm such as a change in discharge, smell or discomfort, then there may be something up. But don’t be embarrassed about it and do nothing. You can ask your pharmacist to help you work out what might be going on and give you an over the counter treatment. But if you are in pain, are bleeding abnormally or have persistent symptoms then you must see your GP.”

2. What should my vagina smell like?

“Your vulva and your vagina should smell like you, if this smell changes then something might be up. Your healthy vagina is all about balance: it is home to millions of micro-organisms, and is normally good at keeping them in balance.”

“When this balance gets disrupted, you’ll start to notice things aren’t quite right and you could be developing bacterial vaginosis (BV) which is a very common condition that often causes a fishy smell. BV is in fact two times more common than thrush and like thrush it can be simply treated with an over the counter treatment. Lactic acid based products such as Balance Activ (available at Amazon.co.uk) help to rebalance the healthy bacterial conditions within the vagina, to gently and effectively treat the symptoms of BV by restoring normal pH and vaginal flora.”

3. What should my vagina look like?

“Just like the rest of our bodies, our vaginas are all unique. The only part you can see is the vulva, and these come in all shapes and sizes. If you are experiencing any soreness, itching or other changes there may be a problem that needs checking out. In general, adding anything to your vagina such as glitters or perfumes is going to upset your natural balance and encourage conditions like BV, so I really wouldn’t recommend it.”

“You can’t see your vagina, as it is inside you, and it runs from your vulva, up to your cervix, but as long as you’re not experiencing any unusual smells or discomfort, it’s very likely to be looking after itself – and doesn’t need to be messed about with.”

4. Is my discharge normal?

“The vagina is a relatively acidic environment which keeps itself healthy by producing a range of secretions, so women will experience natural changes in discharge throughout their monthly cycle.”

A period generally lasts for 4-5 days, followed by slight dryness and then an increase in discharge. This will normally be white at first and then change to a clear, stretchy consistency during peak fertility. After ovulation, it changes to a dryer, thicker white or creamy mucus, which sperm won’t be able to swim through. If you’re pregnant this doesn’t change. If you’re not, it’s back to the next period.”

“Even in a healthy vagina, there will be a variety of changes to your ‘normal’ discharge, and these can also vary depending on your age and other factors. A change in discharge to it becoming really thin and watery, or thick and cottage cheese like, or a fishy or unpleasant smell may be a sign that something is wrong and your natural balance has been upset – you can check your symptoms at via the online symptom checker or speak to your doctor, pharmacist or sexual health clinic if you are worried.”

5. How do I keep my vagina clean?

Your vagina cleans itself. It is a common misconception that having conditions like BV means you are not clean – in fact when women notice an unpleasant smell (especially after sex) they will often reach for the soap or perfumed shower gel – this can actually make things worse! There’s a delicate eco-system up there, working hard to keep a balance of bacteria so douching or washing with perfumed products can upset this balance and cause BV. As part of your daily cleaning routine, washing once a day with just water around the vulva, which is the skin around the opening, is fine.”

“By understanding your own normal and staying in tune with your body it will help you determine whether you have any issues. If you notice any changes, don’t sit with on-going symptoms wishing them way, discuss them with your Pharmacist who will happily help you, or make an appointment to discuss them with your GP. The chances are it will be something easily treated and managed.”

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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Bugs, Boners and BDSM: A Day in the Life of a Dominatrix

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Because quirks can be quirky.

By Andre Shakti

“We’ve got a live one, ladies!” Svetlana called out from the office. The scantily clad women seated around the kitchen table barely flinched.

Tuesdays were notoriously slow, with our phone lines typically dominated by time wasters. We called them “wankers,” the men who contacted us under the guise of arranging an appointment while having no intention of following through; simply calling up a domination house and confessing their fantasy to a live woman got them off. Sometimes all we could hear would be the wet slapping sound that accompanied them masturbating while they spoke to us; hence, “wankers.”

“Is it a wanker?” Lydia called back. She sat directly across from me at the table; Minna lounged to my right, and Cynthia leaned against my left side. We were an unusually small staff for an evening shift, but none of us minded. Fewer girls meant less competition

“No,” Svetlana replied, shuffling into the room wearing nothing but tattered SpongeBob SquarePants bedroom slippers. “Believe it or not, he put down a deposit. He’ll be here in an hour, and he’s not picky about appearance.” She maintained a quirky little smile as she delivered the information.

The three of us immediately perked up. If a client didn’t voice a preference for aesthetics, it evened the playing field. He could be anyone’s mark, although your skill level, number of years spent at the house, and relationship with the house manager all factored in.

“Please tell me he wants bondage,” Lydia purred. She was a whiz with rope, and a bombshell to boot. If the client had requested shibari, it’d be an easy match.

Svetlana’s grin stretched wider. “Oh, he wants bondage. But there’s a catch. You ladies know what an entomologist is?”

“Uh, is that an ENT? An ear, nose and throat doctor?” Minna guessed.

“Someone who studies insects,” I offered. As if on cue, Lydia and Minna pushed themselves violently away from the table in unison.

I’ve always gravitated toward creepy-crawlies. When most young girls my age were experimenting with makeup, I was scaling trees and pulling rat snakes out of neighbors’ birdhouses. Home videos of my childhood soccer games document me decked out in my goalie uniform, kneeling in the grass to trap a grasshopper as the ball whizzes by my head and my parents groan in disappointment

“Indeed!” Svetlana crowed. “The guy wants to book two girls. It’ll be a Snidely Whiplash gender-swap role play — you know, the cartoon villain that ties girls to train tracks? You girls will tie him down and torture him, except you’ll be torturing him with giant bugs.”

Lydia and Minna were already on their feet and backing away, their hands fluttering around their heads like moths around a light. Cynthia and I gazed up at Svetlana, barely able to contain our excitement.

The Divine Ms. Shakti.

Cynthia was the “evil genius” of the house. She went on to become one of the biggest fetish porn stars of the modern era; during one interview she disclosed — in earnest — that if she hadn’t found the sex industry, she’d probably be a serial killer. It almost goes without saying that she was my favorite co-worker.

Cynthia and I spent the next 45 minutes cleaning ourselves up and prepping one of the playrooms for the session. Before we knew it, the doorbell rang and we ushered a small, bespectacled older man — let’s call him Ned — into the session room. Ned was pale and slightly stooped, with a subdued manner that conveyed his reverence. This was not his first rodeo

We exchanged pleasantries and confirmed the requests he’d made over the phone. Ned proceeded to methodically unpack the cheap Styrofoam cooler he’d brought with him. Out came half a dozen small, identical Tupperware containers, each housing a different species of insect. First came the crickets, then the mealworms. The centipedes followed, as did the giant millipedes and hissing cockroaches. Finally, a pair of wolf spiders emerged to complete the collection.

With each unveiling, Cynthia and I cooed our mounting anticipation. I prematurely fondled one of the millipedes, allowing it to encircle my forearm as Cynthia stripped Ned nude. Together we tied him efficiently to the floor, stretched out on his back between a leather spanking bench and an elaborate canopied bondage bed. Once he was secured, we stepped back, surveying our work. Ned struggled pathetically. Cynthia’s eyes flashed, and I knew we’d transitioned seamlessly into our scene

“Do you hear that sound, Cynthia?” I tilted my head to the side. “It sounds almost like … a train!”

On cue, I pressed play on my phone, and the sound of a distant locomotive burst from the speakers. Ned squealed.

Cynthia leaped astride Ned, dangling a cricket an inch above his face. His eyes locked on the flailing insect as Cynthia traced his body with it, nose to toes, bathing in his fear. I took hold of my millipede and knelt beside the squirming Ned.

“Look how pathetic he is! I bet this millipede is even bigger than his cock,” I teased, moving the millipede to Ned’s lower abdomen to compare it to his flaccid penis.

“Let me go, please!” Ned screamed.

“Looks like you’re out of luck, Ned,” Cynthia mused, her face an unreadable mask. “The train’s coming around the corner. Sure you can’t get out of those restraints?”

Ned wrenched his hands and feet against the restraints, but remained stuck fast. Beads of sweat formed on a face that was getting redder by the second. I surreptitiously turned the volume up on my phone, simulating the train’s rapid approach.

“Any last words?” I said, locking eyes with Cynthia. As Ned opened his mouth for a final protest, we pried the lids off all the Tupperware containers and let every last insect rain down on his naked body.

Later that evening, I slid into the driver’s seat of my car and placed a small Tupperware container on my lap with care. Ned the millipede made an excellent pet.

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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Why (Some) Women Love Strap-Ons

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Last week, I found myself at Cafe Gratitude in Los Angeles, eating a gluten-free scone and fuming about gender, as one does in 2016. On the receiving end of my rant was my friend “Lori,” a 23-year-old MFA student studying queer theory. I was saying something like, “Sure, it’s cool that we live in this post-everything world where gender is over and hetero-normativity is off-trend and all the rules of sexuality have been thrown out the window. Life is more free now. But we’re also being forced to ask ourselves some serious questions. Like, ‘Does shaving my armpits make me a bad feminist?’ And, more pressingly, ‘Is my strap-on a symbol of male supremacy?’ And if so, should I set it on fire as a performance art piece?”

Lori sipped her green juice and rolled her eyes. “I love wearing a strap-on,” she said, casually flipping her long curls behind her shoulders. “Even though my dildo is bright pink and it’s this laborious process to strap yourself in, something about it still feels real. It’s some Freudian bullshit, but it just feels so fun and powerful to have a penis.” This wasn’t the “feminist” answer I was expecting.

A few nights later, I met my friend “Claire,” a 31-year-old screenwriter, for drinks at the Sunset Tower. Claire is somewhat of a unicorn in that she’s a straight woman who gets off on wearing a dildo. “Think about it: Men are the ones with a prostate. Why isn’t every woman fucking her boyfriend with a strap-on?” Claire asked, as an elderly man played jazz piano in the background. “It’s crazy, you actually feel like you have a dick. I’ve been pegging this guy I met at a Dave Matthews concert.”

Claire admitted that this was not a bucket-list moment for her. “I knew what pegging was because of that Broad City episode where Abbi pegs her crush, but I was never like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t wait until the moment when I finally get to peg someone.’ ” Her tone turned almost motherly.“I think every woman should experience fucking a man at some point in her life, even just as a therapeutic tool. It’s very empowering. I never thought this would be part of my life story, but here I am. I’m fucking a man.”

After meeting through friends at said concert last fall, Claire and her pegging partner, “Jim,” bonded on a party-bus ride back to West Hollywood, talking about sex.They ended up back at Jim’s apartment, where he produced a double-sided glass dildo—one end for the pegging, the other end shaped like a hook, to be inserted inside a vagina. “It’s essentially a strapless strap-on,” Claire explained. “It’s the chicest kind. I could never go back from this.”

She liked it far more than she expected to. “It’s such a shift in the power dynamic. I kept thinking, I’m literally penetrating someone right now. Plus, it’s a vaginal workout because you have to grip the dildo with your vagina while you use it. It’s basically exercise, which I love. I’m very health-conscious,” she said, gulping her second martini. For the next two months, the two met up for sex regularly. “He would get a colonic every time before I came over,” she said enthusiastically. “He was really on point about his whole anal grooming and cleansing journey.”

Beyond the thrill of the power shift, what Claire didn’t expect was how intimate the sex would be. “The person has to be very trusting of you. You have to listen to their physical cues and gauge if they’re having pleasure or if you’re hurting them. You have a lot of control, and that became very sexy to me. Before Jim, I’d always thought of myself as submissive, but through that experience I accessed a totally different side of myself.”

She made it sound so bizarrely appealing. I wondered if I should resurrect my strap-on from the junk box under my bed, where it’s been in exile since my breakup with my now ex-girlfriend four months ago. When I met my ex, one of the first things I did was run to a sex store and buy a large purple dildo and leather harness. It was my first same-sex relationship, and I was like, “This is what lesbians do, right?” As it turned out, we used the strap-on only like four times in our three-year relationship—partly because it quickly dawned on me that I didn’t need to imitate heterosexual sex in order to validate my queer sex. In the years that followed, I found it insulting when people would ask me, “But don’t you miss dick?” As if the penis is the holy grail of pleasure. Similarly, my androgynous girlfriend resented the fact that just because she wore boys’ clothes, people assumed she wanted a penis. (One day, I remember, she put on the strap-on, looked down, and said, “Wait, I’m gay and dicks are weird. Why is this thing on me?”)

But my worst fear is being one of those cyber-feminists who’s offended by everything, so in order to challenge my aversion to strap-ons, I organized a queer, roundtable lunch with strap-on loving Lori and my particularly opinionated friend Mel, a 37-year-old queer actress.

“My hand is my sexual object,” said Mel, displaying the hand in question, with its immaculately manicured fingernails. “A lot of women get off wearing a strap-on, either psychologically or because of the way it rubs against their clit, but I don’t. I feel erotic pleasure through my fingers. It’s sexual reiki: If I can make you come with my hand, then can I extend that power five inches in front of my hand? Ten inches? Can I sit across the room from you and make you come? When you’re at that level, a fucking phallus seems like kindergarten for me.” The conversation became heated very quickly.

“So is penis envy actually a thing?” I asked. “I just don’t understand why, if you’re queer, you need to bring a fake dick into the bedroom.”

“I know lesbians who, when they go on a Tinder date, will pack their penis in their bag,” said Mel. “Like, that’s their dick. They’re not trans, but they want to be able to fuck their girl without using their hands. When I was younger I wanted that,” she recalled. “I didn’t want a dick all the time, but I wanted to be able to fuck a girl and choke her with both hands, basically.”

“I don’t care to over-intellectualize or over-politicize it,” said Lori. “If you like being fucked by a strap-on, it’s not a reflection on your sexuality. I get where you’re coming from, but if it feels good, then what’s the problem? My girlfriend and I aren’t secretly wanting to have sex with a man.”

This made sense to me. If the point of sex is to create intimacy and to give and receive pleasure, then why restrict yourself from something that feels good just because of the patriarchy or whatever? After all, being a lesbian isn’t about hating dicks, and using a strap-on isn’t about wanting to be a man.

Through my own queer experience, in fact, I’ve learned that it often isn’t true that the more “masculine” or butch woman would be the one to wear a strap-on in the relationship. Mel put it well: “Our default is to think that, in a power dynamic, masculine is top and feminine is bottom. But a butch woman will often want to be subjugated sexually because she has to armor herself in the world so much. She has to be tough, just like a man does. It’s like the Wall Street guy who sees a dominatrix on the weekend. That’s why they say, ‘Butch in the streets, femme in the sheets.’ ”

Speaking of femme tops, I told them about Claire and her pegging saga, which incited a literal round of applause. “I wish more guys would get into pegging,” Mel said. “I think if men knew more about what it was like to get fucked, they would be better at fucking. The only reason men don’t get pegged more often is because of gay shame and bottom shame. It’s really hard for straight men to bottom because they think it’s emasculating, when in reality it can be super hot.”

Beyond all the politics, one can’t deny that strap-ons have a lot of advantages. You never have to worry about a dildo being soft or too small or diseased, and it won’t accidentally get you pregnant. As Mel put it: “When you’re having sex with a real penis, sex becomes all about what feels good for the penis, and then the penis has to throw up all over your tits. But a strap-on is just for the woman’s pleasure. The dildo doesn’t need to be satisfied.”

“That’s true,” Lori agreed. “Dildos are not demanding at all.”

“It’s just a hands-free device,” added Mel. “Like a selfie stick.”

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