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10 Things Scientists Discovered About Sex This Year

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By Justin Lehmiller

This year has been memorable for a lot of reasons, but one that may not be immediately obvious is that we learned a lot about the science of sex in 2016. Among other things, sex researchers brought us one step closer to a male version of the birth control pill, they debunked the idea that porn kills love, and they discovered that having a cat just might make you more inclined toward kinky sex (yep, you read that right). Let’s take a closer look at these findings and some of the other fascinating things scientists taught us about sex in 2016.

Americans are warming up to the idea of open relationships.

Americans are more interested than ever in consensual non-monogamy (CNM), or the practice of having multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships at the same time. A study published in The Journal of Sex Research in May found that Google searches for two forms of CNM—open relationships and polyamory—have significantly increased across the past decade. At the same time, a study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that more people are practicing CNM than previously thought: in a nationally representative survey of single Americans, more than 1 in 5 said they had been in a sexually open relationship before. Table for more than two, please.

We’re getting closer to a male version of the birth control pill.

An October study from The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism reported the results of a clinical trial in which men were given hormone injections designed to suppress their sperm production. The results were stunning: over the course of a year, the pregnancy rate for couples taking part in the study was just 1.57 out of 100. Unfortunately, however, the rate of side effects was very high, which led an external review board to recommend shutting down the study. Although this injection won’t be hitting the market, this study provides optimism that we’re not too far off from having a male equivalent of the female birth control pill.

Millennials are identifying as LGB at much higher rates than Gen Xers.

In January, the CDC released a report revealing major generational differences in Americans’ sexual identities. Specifically, millennials aged 18-24 were almost twice as likely to identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual than Gen Xers aged 35-44. Millennials were more likely to report having engaged in same-sex behavior, too. However, whether this means same-sex attraction is actually increasing or if it’s just a sign that younger folks are more comfortable acknowledging their non-heterosexuality, we can’t say for sure.

The HPV vaccine has been wildly effective at reducing cancer.

In August, scientists reported that, in the ten years since the first vaccine for the human papilloma virus (HPV) was administered, rates of cervical cancer have been halved. If we can increase vaccination rates even further, there’s a chance that HPV-related cancers—including those of the cervix, anus, throat, and penis—could be eradicated within just a few decades.

Porn doesn’t change how men feel about their relationships.

A classic study from the 1980s found that heterosexual married men reported less love for their wives after viewing images of sexy magazine centerfolds compared to images of abstract art. This year, researchers tried three times to replicate the effect, but found nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. These findings suggest that porn probably doesn’t kill love after all.

BDSM acts can produce an altered state of consciousness.

In May, a study published in the journal PLOS ONE looked at the psychological experiences of people who took part in an extreme masochistic ritual in which their skin was pierced with hooks that had weights attached. These participants demonstrated evidence of an altered mental state known as transient hypofrontality, described as “reductions in pain, living in the here and now, little active decision making, little active logic, and feelings of floating and peacefulness.” This suggests that BDSM acts have the potential to be a very spiritual experience.

We might be able to treat low sexual desire by electrically stimulating the brain.

In a November study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers found that delivering electrical stimulation to the brain changes the way we respond to sexual stimulation. Specifically, a targeted cranial “zap” appears to enhance the response that occurs in the brain’s pleasure centers. This suggests that we might actually be able to use brain stimulation as a treatment for people who complain of low sexual desire in the not too distant future.

Sexual arousal puts us in a risk-taking state of mind.

A January study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior reveals that being horny can make us susceptible to taking risks, including those that are both sexual and non-sexual. In one study, participants who watched an X-rated film subsequently expressed more willingness to keep having sex after noticing a broken condom. In another study, sexually aroused participants made riskier moves in a game of computerized blackjack. These findings suggest that, when we’re feeling hot and bothered, well, we can’t be bothered to properly evaluate risks.

Women can detect when other women are ovulating, an ability they might use to protect their relationships.

In an April study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers showed female participants photos of a woman who was either ovulating or not. Those who saw an ovulating woman were the most worried about keeping their partners away from her, but this was only true for participants with attractive partners. This suggests that women may have evolved the ability to pick up on other women’s ovulation status as a means of helping them to guard desirable mates from potential relationship threats.

Having a cat might increase your interest in kinky sex.

A July study published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology reported that people’s attraction to kinky sex depended upon whether they had been infected with toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that can be passed from cats to humans. Specifically, those who said they had been infected were more into bondage, violence, zoophilia, and fetishism. Why is that? The researchers suspect that it’s because this infection affects the circuits of the brain involved in fear, given that in mice and rats, toxoplasmosis switches their natural fear of cat smell into an attraction toward it.

Here’s to hoping 2017 is another mind-blowing year for sex research!

Complete Article HERE!

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Monogamy or Bust: Why Are Many Gay Men Opposed to Open Relationships?

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By Zachary Zane

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As assimilation into more mainstream culture increases, many gay men are shifting their attitudes on non-traditional relationships—becoming less accepting of them.

Full disclosure: I’m polyamorous. After being in a year-long, tumultuous monogamous relationship, I fell into polyamory by accident. After giving it a shot, I realized that I am better equipped to handle the struggles that come from polyamory than monogamy. Clearly, both setups come with a myriad of issues, but what makes me happiest, most comfortable, and most satisfied, is polyamory. Polyamory, ironically, also alleviated my jealousy issues and relationship-induced anxiety, simply because I trust my current partner unconditionally.

Like most people, I knew nothing about polyamory when I stumbled into it. I believed the false misconceptions that surround poly life. I thought people use polyamory as an excuse to screw around. I thought all polyamorous relationships are doomed to fail, with one person being left out. I also thought that poly people are insecure, given that they need validation and support from various partners. While I have encountered all of these things and people in the poly community, I can safely say, these hurtful stereotypes are false and don’t accurately capture the true spirit of polyamory.

I write about consensual non-monogamous relationships often. Without pushing any agenda, I try to help others by offering another option to monogamy. It’s worked for me, and I wish I had known poly was a viable option sooner.

But I also know I’m not special. I’m like many other queer men out there. My experience, struggle, and identity are undeniably mine, but once I stopped believing I was the center of the universe, I was able to realize that my journey mirrored many queer men before and after me, and I now think that other people could benefit from being in a monogam-ish, open, or polyamorous relationship.

Still, when I even hint at the idea of not being 100 percent monogamous, guys throw more than hissy fits; they have full temper tantrums. I’m not even saying go out and date a million people; I’m saying that if both you and he are exclusive bottoms, maybe it’s worth it to consider bringing in a third. “Consider”—that’s the world I’ll use. But that’s enough for guys to become furious, taking their comments to every social media platform. In these comments, I’m ruthlessly attacked, accused of knowing nothing about relationships, giving up on men too early, being sleazy, horny, and incapable of love, amid a bunch of other totally outlandish claims.

These comments never bother me because I know they’re wrong. They have, however, led me to repeatedly ask the same questions: Why does the mere mention of a non-monogamous relationship make these guys’ blood boil? I understand it’s not for them, but why do they get so angry that open relationships work for other men? Why do they feel that it’s important that everyone be like them, in a monogamous relationship, when it doesn’t affect them? Is it a matter of arrogance? Do they assume everyone is like them? Have these men been cheated on? Have these men been taken advantage of by men who use the “open” label, and instead of realizing that that guy was just an unethical person, they think that all guys in open relationships are unethical people? This shouldn’t be such a sore subject and source of unrelenting rage.

I’ve tried engaging with the monogamy-or-bust folks, going straight to the source, but I’ve never learned anything useful. They are so consumed by anger, that they can’t speak logically about why something that has nothing to do with them provokes such outrage. Honestly, they sound like the anti-marriage equality crowd. They say the same things repeatedly about how it ruins the sanctity of marriage (or in this case, relationships), but when you ask how it affects them personally, they don’t have an answer. But for whatever reason, this remains a source of animosity.

That said, here’s what I have noticed.

1. People in satisfying monogamous relationships don’t have reason to be angry.

When I speak to gay men who are in satisfying monogamous relationships, they’re never angered. Confused? Absolutely. Do they know that an open relationship would never work for them? Yes, very aware. Are they skeptical that it will work out? Sure. But angry? Never. The only people who are actively angered are men who are single or unhappily committed in a monogamous relationship. This had led me to believe a main reason for their anger is displacement. They’re unhappy with their relationship (or lack thereof) and are taking it out on men in happy, open relationships.

2. The angry folks have reason to be insecure and jealous.

These are people for whom a polyamorous relationship would never work, because they struggle to believe in their own self-worth. They fear they aren’t worthy of love. Because of this, these insecure men think that their partner will leave them in the dust if someone comes along who seems “better,” instead of acknowledging that a person can love two individuals. These guys are usually single.

Simon*, a gay man I interviewed, supports this notion; he thinks open-relationship shaming is a matter of projection. “…I find that there has been an increase in hypocritical slut-shaming that comes from the queer community. [We’re] always eager to feel morally superior. I think this happens because it’s easier for [some queer men] to project insecurities and/or personal issues onto someone who doesn’t seem to feel guilt or remorse for exploring their sexuality with other partners, than to be honest with themselves about their own desires and ‘deviant’ curiosities, polyamory among them.”

3. The angry gay men are homonormative AF.

In my experience, the gay men vehemently opposed to open/poly life tend to be the same men who think bisexuality is a stepping stone to gay and that being transgender is a mental illness; men who don’t see the value in the word “queer” and don’t believe gays should be supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Their perception of open/poly life isn’t an isolated issue. It’s rooted in a larger ideology that’s riddled with entitlement and privilege.

However, as one gay man I interviewed, Noah, said, “I also think that (white) gay men’s attitudes on polyamory are shaped very heavily by our successful assimilation into mainstream culture. Remember, one of the most widespread arguments against gay marriage was that it would lead us down a slippery slope towards legalization of polygamy and other ‘deviant’ (read: alternative) relationship structures. Accepting polyamory as a positive force in the gay community means pushing back against the core world views of those naysayers. But the gay community has mostly opted for assimilation, so it’s not surprising that as a poly person I’m frequently viewed with suspicion.”

Though Noah said he hasn’t faced direct discrimination, he mentioned that a growing number of gay men refuse to date him because they think, “I am inherently unable to give them the level of intimacy that they crave or the level of commitment that they desire.” When he says he’s polyamorous, “…I lose value in their eyes since there is no chance for me to be their One True Love.” He understands the need for boundaries and respects people for realizing polyamory or open relationships aren’t for them, but at the same time, this puts him in a very precarious position when it comes to dating.

Another man I interviewed, Rob, said he has hasn’t received much discrimination aside from a snarky comment here and there. “Let’s face it,” he said, “open relationships are as common among gay guys as bread and butter!”

While I think that is true, and open relationships are quite common in the queer male community, this relates back to what Noah was discussing. With assimilation into more mainstream culture and the acquirement of rights, including that to marry, many gay men are shifting their attitudes on non-traditional relationships—becoming less accepting of them.

With all of that said, I still can’t help but see the irony in a gay man critiquing how someone else loves. Love is love—isn’t that what we’ve been preaching this whole time? And if love does conquer all, which I believe all gay and queer men believe, then we, as a community, need to be supportive of other queer men. Instead of buying into this boring, oppressive, homonormative gay culture, or losing our sense of openness as we continue to assimilate into the heteronormative mainstream, I’d like to see gay men expand their notion of what gay is, what love is, and what a relationship is.

I’m also hoping that we can think outside ourselves. Just because a certain non-traditional relationship style wouldn’t be our first choice, doesn’t mean it can’t be the ideal relationship style for our gay brothers. We’re not only being arrogant and close-minded; we’re beginning to sound a lot like the Republicans who work so hard to take away our rights.

So if you’re one of those gay men who are vehemently opposed to every type of relationship but monogamy, I ask you to ask yourself: “Why?”

Complete Article HERE!

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Screw Science: The Futuristic Sex Tech Aiming to Penetrate Your Bedroom

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From fully customizable vibrators to bioelectronic headsets, smart sex toys are on the way up. But does personal pleasure necessarily make for better health?

sex-tech

Pleasure is personal, mostly because it has to be, and not least because female scientists continue to face grinding discrimination regardless of their area of research. And when it comes to sexual health, breakthroughs are few and far between: in spite of increasing documentation of associated health risks, birth control hasn’t really been reformulated since the 60s, and last year’s much-anticipated release of Addyi, a pill meant to fix female sexual dysfunction, only worked for ten percent of the women who tried it.

It’s clear that sexual emancipation has not yet been freed from the bedroom. In spite of its roots in scientific misogyny—the vibrator was developed in the 19th century to cure women of hysteria, after all—a swathe of new devices have people looking hopefully to sex tech (or sextech, as it is also known) as the answer to systemic gaps in sexual health. History, it seems, is coming full circle; where the 1960s saw the vibrator de-medicalized and uncoupled from science, today’s consumer market is beginning to see pleasure and health unified in the pursuit of wellness. Yet what we call “sex tech” is tied more to the lucrative sex toy industry—worth $15 billion this year—than it is to scientific institutions, with much of its promise linked to idea that personal pleasure makes for better health.

These days, more people than ever understand that a woman’s ability to understand what turns her on and why is a crucial step in developing a healthy perspective on her sexual life. So it makes sense that we’re seeking out masturbatory experiences that are more tailored than your average stand-in phallus. It’s the driving force behind the popularity of devices like Crescendo, the first-ever fully customizable vibrator, which raised £1.6 million in funding to date and shipped out over 1,000 pre-orders after a successful crowdfunding round.

Designed to cater to the inherent complexities of female arousal, the vibrator can be finely customized, equipped with six motors and the ability to be bent into any favorable shape. An accompanying app allows users to control each motor individually; it remembers favorite behaviors, provides pre-set vibration patterns, and responds to mood-setting music.

“We were inspired by the concept of tech designed for the human, rather than the human having to adapt their behaviour to tech,” says Stephanie Alys, the co-founder of Crescendo creators Mysteryvibe. “Human beings aren’t just unique in terms of our size and how we’re put together genetically, but also in terms of what we like. What turns us on can be different from what turns another person on.”

smart-sex-technology

Mysteryvibe’s flagship product is the Crescendo, a customizable sex toy.

But in spite of the life-improving promises of consumer sex tech, the reality is that official, peer-reviewed studies remain crucial to reforming policy and education. Founded by Dr. Nicole Prause, Liberos Center is one of the few sex-centric research institutions in the United States. Much of its work investigates the relationship between psychology, physiology, and sex, with an emphasis on the hard data that is often lacking in sex tech.

Liberos presses on in a particularly antagonistic climate; the American government is famously skittish about sexual content. Sexual material is banned from government-funded computers, says Prause, making it difficult for researchers to, say, screen porn to test subjects as part of a study on arousal. She adds that congressional bodies actively seek to pull funding from research that addresses the topic head-on—four recent studies that had already been awarded funding were re-opened for assessment because of their sexual content.

“People report having certain types of experiences all the time,” says Prause. “But they’re often poor observers of their own behaviour, and don’t see anyone’s behaviour but their own. They don’t really have that external perspective, which is why I think it’s important to take both a psychological and laboratory approach. For example, in science, people haven’t been verifying that orgasm actually occurs. So we’ve been developing an objective way of measuring that, and of measuring the effects of clitoral stimulation—on how to best capture the contractions that occur through the orgasm.”

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Liberos is also investigating the effect of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and direct current stimulation (tDCS) on sexual responsiveness. Both are non-invasive treatments, meaning anyone seeking a cure for low libido may not require anything more than the use of a headset. TMS holds potential for long-term changes to a person’s sex drive; the technique, which uses a magnetic field generator to produce small electrical currents in the brain, has already been used to treat neuropathic pain and otherwise stubborn cases of major depressive disorder. DCS, on the other hand, uses a headset to deliver a low-intensity electrical charge, stimulating the brain areas where activity spikes at the sight, or touch, of a turn-on.

If using the brain’s electrical signals to control the rest of the body sounds like a dystopian fantasy, the reality is that these medical treatments aren’t far off. Bioelectronic firms are now backed by the likes of Glaxosmithkline and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and similar applications have already been established for hypertension and sleep apnea, while chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, and arthritis are targeted for future development.

According to Dr. Karen E. Adams, clinical professor of OBGYN at Oregon Health and Science University, anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of women experience varying degrees of sexual dysfunction. Medication that targets neurotransmitters, like the SSRIs used to treat depression and anxiety, can fluctuate in efficacy depending on the unique makeup of the person using it.

Combined with the trickiness of locking down the nebulousness of desire (and lack thereof), it’s no wonder that Addyi, a failed antidepressant pursued because of its unexpected effect on serotonin levels in female mice, was a flop. Non-sex-specific studies have shown that electrical stimulation can be more adaptive to the brain’s constantly-shifting landscape than medication that interacts with its chemistry. For the 90 percent of women who found Addyi to be a sore disappointment, bioelectronic treatments could soon offer an alternative solution to low sexual responsivity.

“By giving women information about their bodies that they can decide what to do with, we’re enabling more female empowerment,” says Prause. “And by allowing women to decide which aspects of sex they want to be more responsive to, we’re giving people more control, and not with charlatan claims. We actually have good scientific reasons that we think are going to work, that are going to make a difference.”

Yet the field’s burgeoning successes are only as good as the social environment they take hold in. Sociopolitical hurdles notwithstanding, money remains a significant roadblock for developers, as the controversial nature of sex research has many investors shying away from backing new projects in spite of consumer interest. Whether they’re seeking government funding or VC investments, sex start-ups and labs alike are often forced to turn to crowdfunding to raise money for development.

“It’s pretty unsurprising that heavily female-oriented tech products do so well on crowdfunding sites; these are solutions to problems faced by half of the population, that are overlooked by a male-dominated industry where male entrepreneurs are 86 percent more likely to be VC funded than women,” says Katy Young, behavioral analyst at research firm Canvas8. “But the audience is clearly there—Livia, a device which targets nerves in order to stop period pains, raised over $1 million on Indiegogo.”

Outdated sex ed programs, which emphasize procreation and normalize straight male sexuality without addressing female sexual development, are ground zero for unhealthy social perspectives on sex. Acknowledging that change can’t just come from devices alone, New York’s Unbound, a luxury sex toy subscription service, is teaming up with “campus sexpert” app Tabù to bring both sex education and affordable masturbation tools to colleges across the country.

“There’s a national discussion right now surrounding consent, which is 100 percent needed and super important,” says Polly Rodriguez, CEO and co-founder of Unbound. “But for women to be able to engage in sex and address consent as equals, they need to learn about female pleasure—they should understand their own bodies so that when they are engaging in sexual activities with someone else, they know what feels good to them, they know how to communicate that, and they don’t feel uncomfortable about it.”

It’s tempting to buy into the idea of tech as freeing: that the increased presence of smart devices in our lives will help us form healthier habits and a better understanding of our ourselves, or that the availability of medically-approved tech will be a panacea in the intricately fraught landscape of female sexual dysfunction—which is as socially determined as it is biological, and as cultural as it is psychological.

But sex tech is still far from being paradigm-shifting. Its success will be dependent not only on consumer dollars but on government policies and public attitudes; at a level of engagement this intimate, tech is only any good if people feel free to use it.

Complete Article HERE!

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Coming strong : forceful ejaculations, part 1

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masturbation 023

We all want to shoot our semen across the room. Granted, not many can boast to shoot that far, and to be fair we don’t always feel like cleaning the whole house after an ejaculation. But if there is something we still want, it is to have a powerful cum shot. For the uninitiated, this desire seems ludicrous or maybe appear as a show of personal vanity. But for anyone who has ejaculated more than a few times, the reason is clear : forceful ejaculations mean stronger orgasms, earth-shaking orgasms, fully draining orgasms. And maybe giving us some bragging rights too ! How can it be achieved?

Forceful ejaculations result from a combination of many elements. Some of which you can influence, and some of which you cannot.

Your level of arousal greatly influence the contraction strength of the pelvic muscles. How tired you are, how hydrated you are also directly influence your ejaculation’s strength.

Some anatomical peculiarities can greatly influence your ability to shoot forcefully. One of those is the size of the urethra. The urethra is the canal inside the penis where urine and semen flow. A urethra that’s too wide (slack) will allow semen to flow too easily, causing a rapid decrease in pressure as it leaves the posterior urethra (where the semen was assembled and pressurized before ejaculation). On the contrary, a urethra that’s too narrow will create too much resistance to the semen’s passing, in the end also diminishing the shooting distance. All in all, to be a far shooter, you need to have been granted with an ideally sized shooting tube. Can you change this ? It depends. If it’s too slack, there’s no way of narrowing the opening. If its gauge is too tapered, however, then dilation with a urinary catheter could be considered. But : be very wary. This needs to be done cleanly or you may cause severe infections (of the prostate in particular). And you should have a good understanding of your anatomy before inserting anything in your penis. That penis of yours is not built of steel and it has no user replaceable parts : you break it, you lose it ! Always ask a pro’s advice.

Exposing your body to longer sexual stimulation also influences the ejaculation’s strength. Indeed, the various glands that produce the different liquids forming semen will have all the time they need to produce and dump a lot of stuff in the posterior urethra if you take the time to prime yourself. Whatever your preparation is, the posterior urethra’s size is fixed (surprise !). So the more seminal liquid you produce, the greater the pre-ejaculatory pressure will be. And higher pressure, of course, translates as a more forceful cum shot. So a long male foreplay (the period before ejaculation) will cause you to shoot further.

Now, of course, there would be no forceful ejaculation without strong pelvic muscles. And this is the area where you can have the most influence (aside from taking your time, of course). Improving the strength of your pelvic floor muscles will in fact have numerous benefits :

  • Decrease the likelihood of peeing involuntarily (it had to be said, even if you understandably don’t care as of today !) (PC, BC).
  • Help with erectile dysfunction (BC).
  • Definitely help if you have premature ejaculation by increasing your ability to withhold your ejaculation. But even if you don’t have premature ejaculation problems, this increased ejaculation control will translate into better edging abilities : being able to edge longer and closer to the cresting point (BC, but also PC and IC).
  • Increase the strength of your orgasmic contractions, in effect enhancing your orgasmic pleasure (BC, PC, IC).
  • And finally, of course, since this is the topic, increase your shooting distance.

The pelvic muscles are a group of muscles formed of the iliococcygeus (IC), pubococcygeus (PC) and bulbocavernosus (BC). These muscles form a hammock holding the content of the pelvic floor.

  • The iliococcygeus (IC) muscles stabilize the rectal area, together with the PC muscle. The IC muscles pull the rectum towards the back. They contract rhythmically during orgasm.
  • The pubococcygeus (PC) muscles control the urine flow, and they pull the rectum towards the front. They contract rhythmically during orgasm. In women, the PC muscles also contract the vagina and are thus, for them, the most important pelvic muscles to work on. While men who strengthen their PC muscles definitely experience an improvement of their orgasmic experience, they will not shoot any further.
  • The bulbocavernosus (BC) muscles serves to maintain blood inside the penis during erection (even though the erection is largely a vascular process) and also serves to expel urine and semen out of the urethra. So this muscle is the one men should work on.

So, to summarize :

  • Forceful ejaculations are desirable because they translate into more intense orgasms
  • While the shooting distance is in direct relation with the strength of an ejaculation, shooting distance will always vary greatly between ejaculations because of various other variables. Moreover, some men will always be able to shoot further than others.
  • It is possible to improve the strength of your ejaculation by working on the pelvic muscles, in particular the bulbocavernosus. How far you will shoot, after these exercises, will vary from man to man. But a sure thing is that your sexual experience will be improved.
  • Being well hydrated and rested is also important.

Complete Article HERE!

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Are you getting any closer? A pocket-sized primer on female sexuality

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By Clarissa Fortin

Stay curious between the sheets, friends.

Closer: Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality
by Sarah Barmak
(Coach House Books, 2016; $14.95)

If it weren’t for Sarah Barmak’s Closer: Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality I might have gone for years of my life without ever finding out what my clitoris actually looks like.

“Illustrations of it resemble a swan with an arched neck,” Barmak writes. “When I saw an closerillustration of the clitoris’s true shape for the first time I felt like a blind man finally seeing a whole elephant when all he’s ever known was the tip of it’s trunk.” I realized while reading those sentences that no one in my Catholic high school health class ever bothered to show me such an image and I’d never thought to seek one out.

I consider myself a feminist and a sexually liberated woman. Yet, there are still surprising gaps in my understanding of my own body. And that’s why a book like Barmak’s is important. Closer tackles its subject with eloquence, intelligence and humour.

The book is split into five essays that tackle the “fear of pleasure,” the history of female sexuality, the science and psychology of the orgasm, the “female sexual underground” and the politics of acknowledging female desire.

While each essay has its own strengths, I think the most effective chapter is “A History of Forgetting.” This section aligns the historical “discovery” and “loss” of the clitoris with the individual experience of a woman named Vanessa — an actual interview subject.

We first meet Vanessa on the table at the doctor’s office filming herself masturbating in order to prove to the doctor that she can indeed ejaculate. We learn that Vanessa has been having a series of problems — pain after sex, recurring yeast infections and so on — that no doctors can figure out.

From here Barmak momentarily leaves Vanessa’s story behind and turns her attention to the clitoris itself, noting that “the mapping of the human genome was completed in 2003, years before we got around to doing an ultrasound on the ordinary human clit.”

While the tendency is to see history as ever moving forward and progressing, Barmak counters that “women’s sexuality began by being celebrated, then was feared as too potent, before being downplayed and denied in the scientific era.”

The Christian church, the scientific revolution and various other factors resulted in a demonization and rejection of female bodies. It’s a generalized historical account to be sure, but Barmak does point readers in the direction of Naomi Wolf’s Vagina, a much more comprehensive book on the subject.

What makes this essay so powerful is the way it revisits and concludes with Vanessa and her struggle. Her story held up against the larger history of the clitoris itself demonstrates all too well an overall contempt for and neglect of the female genitalia.

Along with research and anecdotes, Barmak amasses a diverse collection of interviews with doctors, researchers and sex educators. I was excited to learn many factoids that I will surely whip out at dinner parties in the future — for instance, vaginal self stimulation actually blocks pain in women, and even women who are paralysed can sometimes still feel sexual pleasure because of nerves which bypass the spinal cord and communicate directly with the brain!

Barmak combines this research and traditional journalistic writing with first-person narration, bringing her own experience into the story. This means attending seminars and workshops, watching a demonstration of a female orgasm at Burning Man, and getting a vaginal massage.

Barmak is open about her own skepticism and trepidation during these investigations. “I like to consider myself open to new things,” she writes. “Yet, the idea of a strange lady’s gloved fingers all up in my jade palace falls somewhat outside my personal boundaries.” She goes through with it and the personal account makes for a richer narrative overall.

A note about the term “woman”: Barmak uses it throughout the book to generally refer to the cisgendered female experience. If I have any strong critique of the book it is that by celebrating the distinctly female anatomy, the book sometimes verges on unintentionally emphasizing a gender binary. This is something Barmak herself seems aware of. She notes on pg. 21 that “the word woman can refer equally to cisgender, intersex, genderqueer and transgender women all representing varied shades of experience.” While it’s good that the acknowledgement is there, I think a declaration like this belongs even earlier on as a note for readers to keep in mind before the book even begins.

That said, Barmak does make an effort to include the experiences of typically marginalized women such as trans women and women of colour in her narrative. “Being white affords privileges even in non-mainstream spaces of revolt such as sexuality,” she notes.

The topic is something “that requires far more depth and attention than this little book can offer,” Barmak says and while this seems like a partial cop-out for having only a few pages devoted to women of colour and trans women specifically, Barmak makes a valid point. Issues regarding sexuality faced by marginalized women warrant entire books altogether, preferably penned by a writer who has lived those experiences.

Nevertheless, I think this book would have been more complete with a sixth section devoted specifically to these issues.

At its core this book is compassionately optimistic, celebrating the innate complexity of sexual pleasure itself and arguing in favor of orgasms for all, something I can definitely get behind.

Sex educator and vlogger Lindsay Doe has a motto she repeats at the end of each of her videos: “stay curious.” Closer isn’t the definitive book about female sexuality and it doesn’t claim to be. But it made me curious about my own body, and even more curious about the wonderfully vast array of experiences we humans have between the sheets.

I recommend it to my friends of all genders, my boyfriend, my sisters, and especially the woman who started it all, my mother.

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