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How To Be A Good Partner To A Survivor Of Sexual Assault

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

January 20, 2018 San Francisco / CA / USA – “Me too” sign raised high by a Women’s March participant; the City Hall building in the background.

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The #MeToo movement has banded survivors of sexual assault together and forced a challenging discussion about how women and girls are treated in our society. But one of the toughest conversations still rarely seems to happen: how do you treat a romantic partner who is a survivor of sexual assault?

One in six women in the United States have experienced rape or attempted rape in their lifetime, so it is likely you may have dated, or are dating, a survivor. Still, few people, outside of trained professionals, are receiving an education about how to sensitively help their partners through the healing process.

“I think it can help to just normalize that [sexual assault] is something many people have experienced,” Laura Palumbo, the communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), told A Plus.

The NSVRC, which provides resources and tools for people trying to prevent sexual violence and to help those living in the aftermath of it, also touches on best practices for being a partner to a survivor. Palumbo explained that for survivors of sexual assault, male of female, deciding whether to tell your partner is one of the hardest things to do.

Survivors may fear being criticized for their stories, or simply not being believed. They may also find it difficult to find the right time to confide in a partner, especially if it is a new relationship.

“It’s something that takes a lot of bravery and vulnerability to share,” Palumbo said. “That’s something for someone on the receiving end to consider: how you respond to someone who shares their experience of sexual assault makes a huge impact in how comfortable they are and their perceptions of whether or not you’re a safe person to talk about this with.”

The first step, Palumbo said, is simply believing what your partner is telling you. Do your best to make it clear that you trust their story, that you believe the assault happened, and that you know it wasn’t their fault.

“They may not want to talk about it in great detail either, and those are all normal ways for a survivor to feel,” Palumbo said. “You should follow their cue about what they are comfortable sharing and not press them for any more info or detail than what they have felt comfortable sharing already.”

If you’re in a new relationship, Palumbo says there are no tried-and-true telltale signs that a partner may have been the victim of an assault in the past. Some victims may have visceral reactions to scenes of sexual assault in movies or on television, but plenty of people who aren’t survivors have those reactions, too. The key is doing your best to pick up on certain signals that may repeat themselves, and adjusting your behavior accordingly. If a partner has a strong negative reaction like that to a scene of sexual violence, you should normalize the reaction and make it clear you noticed it — and then do your best to communicate to your partner that you’re happy to avoid that kind of content in the future.

National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)

Ultimately, being a supportive partner is about listening with care and focus. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape says you should avoid threatening the suspect who may have hurt your partner, maintain confidentiality no matter what, and — if the survivor hasn’t yet already — encourage them to seek counseling.

“The other step we can’t emphasize enough is really just about being a good listener,” Palumbo said. “What a good listener means in this context is just listening actively and listening to what your loved one is sharing without thinking about how you’re going to respond to them, if you’re going to be able to say the right thing or if you are going to have advice, because they really don’t need to hear that from you.”

There is no one way to approach this conversation, but the NSVRC’s guidelines provide a general rulebook. Palumbo says it’s also important to consider the misconceptions and stereotypes about sexual assault survivors and move past them, focusing on the individual you’re in a relationship with. Because of these misconceptions, many people believe survivors of sexual violence don’t want touch or physical contact and end up being less sexual. On the contrary, research shows that’s not the case. While some survivors do withdraw from sexual activity, most “continue to be sexual beings,” Palumbo said.

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

“People who experience sexual violence are just like the rest of us in terms of having different sexual preferences and needs and their level of sex and frequency,” she added.

One way to be sure about what your partner is comfortable with is asking for consent to physical touch, particularly during conversations about the their past assault.

“There are going to be times where they may be really receptive to being asked for physical support, such as a hug or other physical intimacy, and there are going to be other times where that is not their preference,” Palumbo said. “By asking and always checking in with the person and being aware of their needs, you can make sure you’re respecting their preferences and re-establishing their preferences of security, safety and control.”

Finally, Palumbo said, be aware that a lot of survivors remain sex positive after their assaults. Some are into consensual alternative forms of sexuality like BDSM, others are comedians who joke about their experiences on stage, and some remain angry or upset about their experience for a long time. Some studies have found that certain rape survivors even have sexual fantasies about rape later in life.

All of these, Palumbo said, are normal and common reactions.

“Survivors are, even after they experienced some form of sexual harm, still going to move forward in their life as a human being,” Palumbo said. “There really is no script. That is something that comes up when a person is talking about their values or expectations for a relationship.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How Homophobia Has Robbed Men Of Touch

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The pathological fear of even platonic contact has created a generation of men plagued by loneliness and anxiety.

I wrote an article in which I asked people to consider the following: American men, in an attempt to avoid any possible hint of committing unwanted sexual touch, are foregoing gentle platonic touch in their lives.

I call it touch isolation.

Homophobic social stigmas, the long-standing challenges of rampant sexual harassment and abuse, and a society steeped in a generations-old puritanical mistrust of physical pleasure have created an isolating trap in which American men can go for days (or weeks) without touching another human being.

The implications of touch isolation for men’s health and happiness are huge.

Gentle platonic touch is central to the early development of infants. It continues to play an important role throughout men and women’s lives in terms of our development, health and emotional well being, right into old age. When I talk about gentle platonic touch, I’m not talking about a pat on the back, or a handshake, but instead contact that is sustained and meant to provide connection and comfort: Leaning on someone for a few minutes, holding hands, rubbing their back or sitting close together not out of necessity but out of choice.

Yet, culturally, gentle platonic touch is the one thing we suppress culturally in men and it starts when they are very young boys.

While babies and toddlers are held, cuddled, and encouraged to practice gentle touch during their first years of their lives, that contact often drops off for boys when they cease to be toddlers. Boys are encouraged to “shake it off” and “be tough” when they are hurt.

Along with the introduction of this “get tough” narrative, boys find that their options for gentle platonic touch simply fade away. Mothers and fathers often back off from holding or cuddling their young boys. Boys who seek physical holding as comfort when hurt are stigmatized as “cry babies.”

By the time they are approaching puberty, many boys have learned to touch only in aggressive ways through rough housing or team sports. And if they do seek gentle touch in their lives, it is expected to take place in the exclusive and highly sexualized context of dating. This puts massive amounts of pressure on young girls; young girls who are unlikely to be able to shoulder such a burden. Because of the lack of alternative outlets for touch, the touch depravation faced by young boys who are unable to find a girlfriend is overwhelming. And what about boys who are gay? In a nutshell, we leave children in their early teens to undo a lifetime of touch aversion and physical isolation. The emotional impact of coming of age in our touch-averse, homophobic culture is terribly damaging. It’s no wonder our young people face a epidemic of sexual abuse, unwanted pregnancy, rape, drug and alcohol abuse.

In America, in particular, if a young man attempts gentle platonic contact with another young man, he faces a very real risk of homophobic backlash either by that person or by those who witness the contact. This is, in part, because we frame all contact by men as being intentionally sexual until proven otherwise. Couple this with the homophobia that runs rampant in our culture, and you get a recipe for increased touch isolation that damages the lives of the vast majority of men.

And if you think men have always been hands-off with each other, have a look at an amazing collection of historic photos compiled by Brett and Kate McKay in their article Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection. It’s a remarkable look at male camaraderie as expressed though physical touch in photos dating back to the earliest days of photography.

As the McKays note:

“At the turn of the 20th century… Thinking of men as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” became common. And this new category of identity was at the same time pathologized—decried by psychiatrists as a mental illness, by ministers as a perversion, and by politicians as something to be legislated against.

“As this new conception of homosexuality as a stigmatized and onerous identifier took root in American culture, men began to be much more careful to not send messages to other men, and to women, that they were gay. And this is the reason why, it is theorized, men have become less comfortable with showing affection towards each other over the last century.”

Spend some time looking at these remarkable images. You’ll get a visceral sense of what has been lost to men.

These days, put 10 people in the room when two men touch a moment too long, and someone will make a mean joke, express distaste, or even pick a fight. And its just as likely to be a woman as to be a man who enforces the homophobic/touch averse stigma. The enforcement of touch prohibition between men can be as subtle as a raised eyebrow or as punitive as a fist fight and you never know where it will come from or how quickly it will escalate.

And yet, we know that touch between men or women is proven to be a source of comfort, connection and self-esteem. But while women are allowed much more public contact, men are not. Because how we allow men to perform masculinity is actually very restrictive. (Charlie Glickman writes quite eloquently about this in an article for The Good Men Project. Read it. It’s a real eye opener.)

Male touch isolation is one of many powerful reasons why I support marriage equality. The sooner being gay is completely normalized, the sooner homophobic prohibitions against touch will be taken off straight men. As much as gay men have faced the brunt of homophobic violence, straight men have been banished to a desert of physical isolation by these same homophobic fanatics who police lesbians and gays in our society. The result has been a generation of American men who do not hug each other, do not hold hands and can not sit close together without the homophobic litmus test kicking in.’

The lack of touch in men’s lives results in a higher likelihood of depression, alcoholism, mental and physical illness. Put simply, touch isolation is making men’s lives less healthy and more lonely.

When visiting my 87-year-old father for a few days, I made a point to touch him more. To make contact. To express my affection, not just by flying a thousand miles for a visit, but to touch the man once I got there. It may seem simple, but choosing to do so is not always a simple thing. It can raise a lifetime of internal voices, many of which speak of loss and missed opportunities. But I hugged him. I put my arm around him as we shared a cigar and cocktails. I touched him whenever I walked past his chair.

Each evening, we would watch a movie. As part of that nightly ritual, I would sit in the floor, take off his shoes and socks and rub his bare feet for while. It is something I will remember when he is gone. Something I did right. Something that said to him, I love you. Spoken on the same deep touch levels by which he connected with me when I was a toddler sitting next to him, his strong arm around me as I watched the late show 50 years ago.

This touch thing is so crucial: I kiss and hug my son constantly. He sits with me—and on me. I make a point of connecting with him physically whenever I greet him. The physical connection I have with him has been transformative in my life teaching me about my value as a human being and a father.

We need to empower men to touch. We need to fix our sexually repressed (and sexually obsessed) American culture and put an end to distorted and hateful parts of our culture that allow homophobic people to police all men everywhere down to the very tips of our fingertips.

It’s too late in my life for the impact of these stigmas to be fully undone, but I have great hope for my son. When we collectively normalize gay life and relationships, my son, whatever his sexual orientation turns out to be, will be free to express platonic affection for others, be they men or women, in any way he sees fit. The rabid homophobes who have preached hate in America for far too long will finally be silenced, and men will be free to reach out and touch each other without fear of being labeled as somehow less of a man.

It’s a dream for a better America I can already see coming true.

Complete Article HERE!

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8 Things Doctors Wish You Knew About Dyspareunia, AKA Painful Sex

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Yup, we mean the bad kind of pain.

Pop culture’s depictions of sex typically focus on the romantic, the salacious, and (in some refreshing cases) the embarrassing.

But one thing that’s still rarely mentioned—both on screen and IRL—is pain during sex (also known as dyspareunia), or the shame, confusion, and stigma that often accompany it. (And we’re not talking about the good, consensual kind of pain during sex, FYI, we’re talking about sex that hurts when you don’t intend it to.)

While dyspareunia may be absent from many sexual-health discussions, it’s not rare, and it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Here, doctors walk us through what they wish more people knew about painful sex:

1. Unfortunately, pain during intercourse isn’t that rare. In fact, it’s really common.

Nearly 75 percent of women will experience pain during sex at some point in their lives, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG). Sometimes, this pain will be a one-time thing. Other times, it will be more persistent.

2. The thing is, sex isn’t supposed to hurt unless you want it to.

Some people accept painful sex as the norm, but it shouldn’t be. “The most crucial thing for women to know is that pain during or after intercourse is never really OK,” Antonio Pizarro, M.D., a Louisiana-based gynecologist specializing in pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, tells SELF. There are, of course, some circumstances in which someone might seek out some level of pain during sex. But there’s a difference between a sexual kink and undesired, severe, or persistent pain in the vulva, vagina, or pelvis.

3. Minor soreness during or after sex and intense, chronic pain are not the same thing.

There are tons of reasons you might be sore after sex, Natasha Chinn, M.D., a New Jersey-based gynecologist, tells SELF. They include inadequate lubrication, penetration with a particularly large object or body part, and sex that was especially rough or fast.

If these are minor issues you only encounter every now and then, Dr. Chinn says you can usually pinpoint the cause of the problem and address it on your own (use more lube, seek out smaller sex toys, or have slower, more gentle sex). (Of course, you can go straight to seeing a doctor if you prefer.)

But what if your problem isn’t an every-now-and-then thing? If these issues are happening every time you have sex, happening more frequently than they used to, or if they’re not going away after you try to address them on your own, your painful-sex cause might be more complicated.

4. Unfortunately, there are a ton of health conditions—like endometriosis, cervicitis, and vaginismus—that can lead to painful sex.

Some of these include:

  • Contact dermatitis: a fancy medical name for an allergic reaction on the skin—and yes, that includes the skin on your vulva. This can happen if, say, the delicate skin around your vagina doesn’t react well to a soap, body wash, or detergent you’re using. Contact dermatitis can leave your skin cracked and uncomfortable, and chances are that any kind of sex you’re having while you’re experiencing this reaction is going to be pretty painful.
  • Cervicitis: a condition where the cervix, or lower end of the uterus connecting to the vagina, becomes inflamed, typically due to a sexually transmitted infection. While it often presents without symptoms, Dr. Pizarro cautions that it sometimes causes pain during urination or intercourse.
  • Endometriosis: a condition associated with pelvic pain, painful periods, and pain during or after sex. While the exact cause of endometriosis is not well understood, it seems to be the result of endometrial tissue (or similar tissue that’s able to create its own estrogen) growing outside of the uterus, which can cause pain, scarring, and inflammation. This can lead to pain that’s sometimes worse around your period, when going to the bathroom, and even during sex.
  • Ovarian cysts: fluid-filled sacs found in or on the ovaries. Sometimes they don’t cause any symptoms, but other times they rupture, causing pain and bleeding, including during sex.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): this condition is typically caused when bacteria from a sexually transmitted infection spreads to the reproductive organs. PID can cause pain in the abdomen or pelvis, pain during urination, pain during intercourse, and even infertility if left untreated.
  • Uterine fibroids: noncancerous growths in or on the uterus. Fibroids often don’t cause symptoms, but they can make themselves known via heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pressure or pain, during sex or otherwise.
  • Vaginismus: a condition that causes the muscles of the vagina to spasm and contract. This can lead to pain during sex—or even make any form of vaginal penetration impossible, whether it’s sexual or just inserting a tampon.
  • Vaginitis: an umbrella term for disorders that inflame the vaginal area. Examples include bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections, both of which occur when the balance of microorganisms in the vagina gets thrown off, causing some kind of bacterial or fungal overgrowth. Other forms of vaginitis are sexually transmitted infections such as trichomoniasis (an STI caused by a parasite), chlamydia, and gonorrhea. All three of these infections are characterized by changes in vaginal discharge, vaginal irritation, and, in some cases, pain during intercourse.
  • Vulvodynia: a condition charactized by chronic pain at the opening of the vagina. Common symptoms include burning, soreness, stinging, rawness, itching, and pain during sex, Dr. Chinn says, and it can be devastating. According to the Mayo Clinic, vulvodynia consists of pain that lasts for at least three months that has no other identifiable cause.

Dr. Chinn says that women going through menopause might also experience pain during sex as a result of vaginal dryness that happens due to low estrogen levels.

People who recently gave birth may also grapple with discomfort during sex, Dr. Chinn says. It takes time for the vagina to heal after pushing out a baby, and scar tissue could develop and make sex painful.

5. There are so many other things that can mess with your sexual response, making sex uncomfortable or legitimately painful.

Any negative emotions—like shame, stress, guilt, fear, whatever—can make it harder to relax during sex, turning arousal and vaginal lubrication into obstacles, according to ACOG.

Of course, the source of these negative emotions varies from individual to individual, Dr. Pizarro says. For some, it’s a matter of mental health. Feeling uncomfortable in your body or having relationship issues might also contribute.

In an unfair twist, taking care of yourself in some ways, like by using antidepressant medication, blood pressure drugs, allergy medications, or some birth control pills, can also cause trouble with lubrication that translates into painful sex.

6. You shouldn’t use painkillers or a numbing agent to try to get through painful sex.

This might seem like the best way to handle your pain, but Dr. Pizarro cautions against it. Your body has pain receptors for a reason, and by numbing them, you could end up subjecting your body to trauma (think: tiny tears or irritation) without realizing it—which can just leave you in more pain.

7. If you’re not ready to see a doctor yet, there are a few things you can try at home, first.

According to ACOG, a few DIY methods might mitigate your symptoms:

  • Use lube, especially if you feel like your problem is caused by vaginal dryness.
  • Apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel to your vulva to dull a burning sensation when needed.
  • Have an honest conversation with your partner about what’s hurting and how you’re feeling. Let them know what hurts, what feels good, and what you need from them right now—whether that’s a break from certain sex acts, more time to warm up before you have sex, or something else.
  • Try sex acts that don’t involve penetration, like mutual masturbation and oral sex, which may help you avoid some of the pain you typically experience.

It’s totally OK to experiment with these things, Dr. Pizarro says, especially if they help you associate sex with something positive. But these tactics cannot and should not replace professional care.

8. If you’re regularly experiencing painful sex, you should talk to a doctor.

It’s really up to you to decide when to see a doctor about painful sex. “It’s like a cold,” Dr. Pizarro says. “If you’ve got a little cough, you might be all right. But if you have a cough and fever that haven’t gone away after a few days, you might want to see a doctor.” When in doubt, mention your concerns to your care provider, especially if any of these sound familiar:

  • Sex has always been painful for you
  • Sex has always been painful but seems to be getting worse
  • Sex is usually pain-free but has recently started to hurt
  • You’re not sure whether or not what you’re experiencing is normal, but you’re curious to learn more about painful sex

When you see your doctor, they’ll likely ask questions about your medical history and conduct a pelvic exam and/or ultrasound. “It’s important for doctors to ask the right questions and for patients to voice concerns about things,” Dr. Pizarro says.

From there, your doctor should take a holistic approach to treatment to address the possible physical, emotional, and situational concerns. “You really have to look at the total person,” Dr. Chinn says. Treatment options for painful sex vary wildly since there are so many potential causes, but the point is that you have options. “Many people think that it’s acceptable to experience pain during intercourse,” Dr. Pizarro says. “Use your judgment, of course, but it probably isn’t acceptable. And it can probably be made better.”

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

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Medically assisted sex? How ‘intimacy coaches’ offer sexual therapy for people with disabilities

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‘For me, the sex is obviously why I’m seeking this out, but I’m also seeking services like this out because … I feel the need to be touched, to be kissed,’ says Spencer Williams.

For years, Spencer Williams felt he was missing something in his love life.

The 26-year-old Vancouver university student and freelance writer has cerebral palsy. He says he meets lots of potential sex partners but had trouble finding what he was looking for.

“I always refer to my wheelchair as it comes to dating … as a gigantic cock block,” he says. “It doesn’t always get me to the places I want, especially when it comes to being intimate.”

“I thought, if something didn’t happen now, I was going to die a virgin.”

So he Googled “sexual services for people with disabilities.”

That’s how Williams found Joslyn Nerdahl, a clinical sexologist and intimacy coach.

‘Intimacy coach’ Joslyn Nerdahl says sex can be healing.

“I answer a lot of anatomy questions. I answer a lot of questions about intercourse, about different ways that we might be able to help a client access their body,” says Nerdahl, who moved from traditional sex work to working as an intimacy coach with Vancouver-based Sensual Solutions.

“I believe [sex] can be very healing for people and so this was a really easy transition for me, to make helping people with physical disabilities feel more whole.”

Sensual Solutions is geared toward people with disabilities who want or need assistance when it comes to sex or sexuality. It can involve relationship coaching, sex education or more intimate services. They call the service “medically assisted sex.” It costs $225 for a one-hour session.

Nerdahl notes that some people with disabilities are touched often by care aids or loved ones who are assisting with everyday activities such as getting dressed or eating.  But her clients tell her that despite that frequent physical contact, the lack of “erotic touch” or “intimate touch” can leave them feeling isolated, depressed or even “less human.”

‘Help a client access their body’

Nerdahl says each session with a client is different, depending on the person’s level of comfort and experience, as well as his or her particular desires and physical capabilities.

Williams says his sessions might start with breathing exercises or physio and move on to touching, kissing and other activities.

An intimacy coach may help a client put on a condom or get into a certain position.

A session might also involve “body mapping,” Nerdahl says, describing it as “a process of going through different areas of the body, in different forms of touching, to figure out what you like and what you don’t like.”

Social stigma

Sex and sexual pleasure remains a taboo topic when it comes to people with disabilities.

For Williams, accessing this service is about more than sexual pleasure. But it’s about that, too.

The sex is obviously why I’m seeking this out, but I’m also seeking services like this out because I feel the need to be close. I feel the need to connect. I feel the need to be touched, to be kissed.”

“Sometimes people … offer to sleep with me as a pity, and I often don’t appreciate that. I want things to be organic and natural,” says Williams.

He much prefers his sessions with Nerdahl, in which he is able to explore physical and emotional intimacy in a non-judgmental and supportive setting, even though it’s something he pays money for.

“I think it freaks people out when we talk about sex and disability because most of the time they haven’t thought about that person in a wheelchair getting laid,” Nerdahl says. “They just assume they don’t have a sex life because they’re in a chair, and that’s just not the case.”

Legal grey area

The stigma is further complicated because Canada’s prostitution laws have no provisions for services that blur the line between rehabilitation and sex work.

Kyle Kirkup is critical of Canada’s current prostitution laws that criminalize the sex trade regardless of context or intent.

Currently, it’s legal to sell sex and sex-related services, but illegal to purchase them. (Sex workers can be charged for advertising services or soliciting services but only if in the vicinity of school grounds or daycare centres.)

Kyle Kirkup, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, calls the current laws a “one-size-fits-all approach” that criminalizes the sex trade regardless of context or intent.

The current law doesn’t include provisions for people with disabilities, or which deal specifically with services like Sensual Solutions whose intimacy coaches may come from clinical or rehabilitation backgrounds.

“A person with a disability who purchases sexual services would be treated exactly the same as any other person who purchased sex,” he says.

“So it’s a very kind of blunt instrument that doesn’t actually do a very good job of contextualizing the reasons why people might pay for sex.”

There are other countries, however, such as the Netherlands that view medically assisted sex in another way entirely; sex assistants’ services may be covered by benefits, just like physiotherapy or massage.

Complete Article HERE!

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Actual things you can do to bridge the orgasm gap in your own bedroom

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By Rachel Thompson

Your sexual partner just jubilantly crossed the finish line, but you’re still running a race with no end in sight. It’s frustrating. And, for an alarming number of heterosexual women, it’s the infuriating reality of sex. Metaphors aside, we’re talking about the gender orgasm gap—the disparity between men and women’s sexual satisfaction, and a struggle that many of us know all too well.

64 percent of men have an orgasm during sex, but only 34 percent of women can say the same, according to the Durex Global Sex Survey which surveyed nearly 30K adults worldwide. Women who identify as heterosexual are the demographic that have the fewest orgasms, according to a study by Indiana University. That same research also revealed something that many women are already fully aware of: penetrative sex alone simply doesn’t cut it for most women. And, that women need oral sex and clitoral stimulation if they’re going to stand any chance of coming.

The reasons for the orgasm gap are multi-faceted, and some of them will take a long time to remedy. Sex education that fails to teach sexual pleasure has been cited as one reason for the gap. A study from University of Wisconsin-Madison found a third of university-age women can’t identify their clitoris in an anatomy test. Communication, or a lack thereof, is one of the biggest obstacles in bridging the orgasm gap, according to the Durex Global Sex Survey. Over a third of people feel they can’t tell their sexual partner what they like. And, others say the reason behind the gender orgasm gap is the cultural prioritisation of the male orgasm.

We might not be able to change these things overnight, but there are a few things we can do. Mashable asked gynaecologists, sex therapists, sex educators, and orgasm equality activists what heterosexual sex partners can do to bridge the orgasm gap in their own bedroom. Here are the pearls of wisdom they imparted that will hopefully bring us all a little closer to that oh-so-coveted finish line.

Don’t fake it

Heather Corinna—founder of Scarleteen, a sex and relationships education site for young people—warns against faking your orgasm, which can cause a miscommunication between you and your sexual partner. “Orgasm tells a partner whatever you did together can gets you off. So, they’re often going to try and repeat those things to get that result again,” says Corinna. “If you faked, you gave them wrong information, and then they think things get you off that might not, or even most definitely DO not.”

Masturbate together

Angela Skurtu— sex therapist and cohost of the About Sex podcast—says couples should masturbate together so they can see see “how each person touches themselves.” “Women masturbate very differently than men do and we can teach each other,” says Skurtu. “You can also make this a competition—whoever finishes first wins something.”

Build arousal slowly

“Slow down,” says Sophie Holloway, founder of Ladies Come First, a campaign promoting pleasure based sex education. “No touching the vagina until you are really really really turned on,” says Holloway. “Your labia should be plump and erect just like the penis when you are aroused.” She recommends staying in foreplay for as long as possible to build arousal slowly and to achieve what she calls a “lady boner.” When it comes to pressure, Holloway says partners should start out “touching the clitoris with the same pressure as you would your eyelid” before applying more pressure.

‘Stay in’

Claire Kim, program manager at sex education site OMGYES, says in hetero penetrative sex, “in and out friction” is what’s pleasurable for the man, but this action isn’t conductive to the level of clitoral stimulation women need. “What’s often much more pleasurable for the woman is his penis staying inside,” says Kim. “So that the clitoris stays in contact with the area above the penis, and the top of the penis stays in contact with the inside roots of the clitoral cluster, which go around the urethra and up the vaginal canal.”

Think about what gets you off alone

We know what makes us come when we’re going solo. The obstacle usually arises when we bring another person into the equation. Corinna recommends examining “what floats your boat solo” and then “bringing it to your crew.” “Whatever that is, bring as much of it into sex with partners as you can,” says Corinna. “Whether that’s bringing the fantasies in your head, showing them how to do what you like with your own hands meshed with theirs, or doing it yourself during sex (or both!), using porn you like together.” Gynaecologist and sex counsellor Dr. Terri Vanderlinde recommends that women practice “alone, comfortably” with fingers or vibrators to learn “her body and how it works.”

Treat this as a learning curve

PSA men: this is gonna take some time. Holloway says men need to know that “until they have the map to their partner’s pleasure” it’s going to be a “voyage of discovery.” “This takes time, and patience, and love, and respect, and placing their partners pleasure and orgasm as their primary goal is a big part of it,” she says.  Partners should listen and learn their partner’s pleasure signals, and be receptive when your partner tells you when something’s not working for them.

Get on top

When it comes to positions for penetrative sex, all experts interviewed by Mashable were in agreement: getting on top will help get you off. Dr. Vandelinde says being on top provides open access for clitoral stimulation, which most women need in order to orgasm. It also gives the woman “the freedom to have more control of the movements” so you can get into a rhythm that feels good, according to Holloway. Online sex therapist and host of Foreplay Radio podcast Laurie Watson says “woman on top at a 45 degree angle gives the penis the most contact with the G-spot, and is a good position that she can reach her clitoris.”

Experiment with positions

Getting on top isn’t the be all and end all, though. Vanderlinde says doggy style can be a good position for clitoral stimulation. “Anything that can give direct stimulation to the clitoris works,” says Vanderlinde. Watson recommends lying on your back, hooking your legs around your partner’s elbows with your pelvis rocked up. “To climax during intercourse I suggest a position where their partner or themselves can simultaneously touch their clitoris,” says Watson.

As Corinna points out, women have “incredibly diverse bodies, and even more diverse sexualities.”  They say orgasm can occur with “any kind of sexual activity” and each person over time will find what works for their own bodies. “There are going to be certain positions, angles or other specifics that work best for them. But what those are is so varied, that’s something we all have to find out by experimenting,” they say.

Talk about sex outside the bedroom

Corinna says it’s actually really hard to talk about what you like and don’t like during sex. “It’s just such a high-stakes situation, and people, especially women, are often so worried about how what they say will be perceived,” says Corinna, who suggests building communication about sex when you’re not having sex. “Start by doing more talking about sex when you’re not actually engaging in sex. That can help build trust and comfort and practice that makes doing it during easier,” says Corinna.

Tell your partner when something feels good

We know that faking your orgasm will give your partner the wrong message about what’s working for you. If you feel comfortable doing so, Corinna says you should “voice it when things do feel good” and “show them what you like when you can.” “Don’t be afraid to ask a partner to keep doing what they are doing when you’re into it, or to adjust when something isn’t doing it for you,” they say. “Be explicit and clear and open.”

Add toys to the equation

If you use a vibrator on your own, then it’s worth considering using it when you’re having sex with your partner. “If someone enjoy sex toys alone, why wouldn’t they bring them into sex together at least sometimes? The idea that toys are just for people alone is silly,” says Corinna.

If you want to add toys to the equation during penetrative sex, Vanderlinde recommends using a “cock ring with a vibrator” which will afford “hands free stimulation” as well as vibrators that can fit between your and your partner’s bodies. “Or simply wait ’til he finishes and then he can stimulate her to multiple orgasms,” says Vanderlinde.

Plan to give oral

Sex therapist Deborah Fox says that the “majority” of women won’t come from intercourse alone and that’s simply down to biology. The clitoris is full of nerve endings, while only the outer third of the vagina tends to have responsive nerves,” says Fox.

If the man comes during intercourse, his next move should be to find a way to make his partner come. Skurtu says if the man comes during intercourse, he should plan to perform oral sex afterwards. “If a person finishes first, the next person can perform oral on the first or use a vibrator and/or fingers,” she says.

Don’t fret

Try not to get stressed if you don’t come. Vanderlinde says there are sometimes other things at play that could be standing in the way of reaching orgasm. “There can be interfering medical diagnoses, medications, pain, low desire, hormones, partner issues, prior abuse, trust issues, stresses, worries, depression, that have a major effect on a woman’s ability to have an orgasm,” she says. In these situations, consider seeking advice from a medical professional or trained sex counsellor.

Go forth, explore. And most importantly, have fun.

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