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Women don’t need to ‘switch off’ to climax, orgasm study shows

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Not switching off

By Helen Thomson

The most detailed study yet of orgasm brain activity has discovered why climaxing makes women feel less pain and shown that ‘switching off’ isn’t necessary.

It’s not easy to study the brain during orgasm. “A brain scanner like fMRI is the least sexy place in the world,” says Nan Wise at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. “It’s noisy, claustrophobic and cold.” There is also the problem of keeping your head still – movement of little more than the width of a pound coin can render data useless.

Despite these hurdles, Wise and her colleagues recruited 10 heterosexual women to lay in a fMRI scanner and stimulate themselves to orgasm. They then repeated the experiment but had their partners stimulate them.

Wise’s custom-fitted head stabiliser allowed the team to follow brain activity in 20 second intervals to see what happens just before, during, and after an orgasm.

Pain relief

Back in 1985, Wise’s colleagues Beverly Whipple and Barry Komisaruk, both at Rutgers, discovered that, during self-stimulation and orgasm, women are less likely to notice painful squeezing of a finger, and can tolerate more of this pain. They found that women’s ability to withstand pain increased by 75 per cent during stimulation, while the level of squeezing at which women noticed the pain more than doubled.

Now Wise’s team has explained why. At the point of orgasm, the dorsal raphe nucleus area of the brain becomes more active. This region plays a role in controlling the release of the brain chemical serotonin, which can act as an analgesic, dampening the sensation of pain.

Her team also saw a burst of activity in the nucleus cuneiformis, which is a part of brainstem systems that are thought to help us control pain through thought alone.

“Together, this activity – at least in part – seems to account for the pain attenuating effect of the female orgasm,” says Wise.

Turn on, not off

Wise’s team also found evidence that overturns the assumption that the female brain “switches off” during orgasm.

In 2005, Gert Holstege at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands used a PET scanner to analyse brain activity in 13 women while they were resting, faking an orgasm and being stimulated by their partner to orgasm. While activity in sensory regions of the brain increased during orgasm, activity fell in large number of regions – including those involved in emotion – compared with their brain at rest.

Based on this finding, it was suggested that women have to be free from worries and distractions in order to climax. From an evolutionary point of view, the brain might switch off its emotional areas because the chance to produce offspring is more important than the immediate survival to the individual.

But the new study saw the opposite: brain activity in regions responsible for movement, senses, memory and emotions all gradually increased during the lead-up to orgasm, when activity then peaked and lowered again. “We found no evidence of deactivation of brain regions during orgasm,” says Wise.

The difference between the two studies may be because PET can only get a small snapshot of brain activity over a short period of time, unlike fMRI scanners.

Better understanding

It’s not yet clear why pain sensation decreases during orgasm, or if men experience the same phenomenon. It may be that, in order to feel pleasure in the brain, the neural circuits that process pain have to be dampened down.

Whipple suggests that the pain-dampening effects of the female orgasm could be related to child birth. Her research suggests that pain sensitivity is reduced when the baby’s head emerges through the birth canal. Vaginal stimulation may therefore reduce pain in order to help mothers cope with the final stages of birth, and promote initial bonding with the baby.

The ability to study what happens during stimulation and orgasm could be used to better understand and treat those who have mood disorders like anhedonia – the inability to experience pleasure, says Wise. “We know so little about pleasure in the brain, we are just now learning the basics.”

You might wonder what it’s like to participate in such experiments. Wise says people often think her participants must be exhibitionists, but it’s not the case, she says. “Some women do like that aspect, but most are doing it because it’s empowering to them. Some find it difficult to orgasm, others don’t. One of our participants in this experiment was a 74-year-old lady who had two fabulous orgasms in the machine. I said to her, ‘You go girl!’ ”

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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Straight Men and Women Both Secretly Want to Be Dominated

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By Emily Gaudette

No, you get on top.

On Tuesday, Aella, a popular redditor and social media exhibitionist, conducted an anonymous survey hoping to discover how “fucked up” her own sexual interests were when compared to the average. According to her Reddit post, she asked 479 cis women, 1432 cis men, and 61 people who identified as “other” what they were most interested in trying sexually. She then asked respondents to rate how “taboo” they believed their curiosities were. Her findings are pretty illuminating, and it’s clear why you don’t ever hear about professional submissives; only dominatrixes make money because the demand is high.

Everybody surveyed, regardless of gender identity, were interested in trying new sexual positions, and the whole group agreed that non-missionary positions aren’t really “taboo” anymore. Non-missionary and light bondage, meaning slightly controlling your partner’s mobility during sex, were the only acts that men and women agreed on wanting to try. However, when asked whether they’d like to get gently tied up or tie their partner up, most men and women answered, “Tie me up, please.” That means we have a surplus of submissives walking around, and perhaps not enough dominants in the world to satisfy them.

Everyone is secretly hoping they’ll hear this in the bedroom soon.

The second tier of popularity included women using sex toys (men were super into that idea) and “females submitting” (women wanted to try this out a little more than men). Generally, male survey respondents liked the idea of watching (or simply knowing about?) their female partner using a vibrator, but they recognize that vibrator use among women isn’t really that rare. Similarly, women were pretty sure that submissive play wasn’t that taboo, but they were still interested in trying it out.

As for the most taboo stuff we all want to try but are too embarrassed to bring up, men thought their interest in “incest roleplay” was a risky move, and women expressed interest in “heavy bondage” and “rape-play,” though they admitted that both kinks were controversial. That means a lot of women in the world are trying to figure out how to say, “pretend I don’t want it,” and a lot of men are simultaneously thinking, “But what if you were my cousin?”

George Michael is apparently not alone in his interests.

There’s a hilarious part of Aella’s graph in which the men taking her survey seem to just name a bunch of taboo stuff they don’t actually want to do. Vore (cannibalism), scat (playing with feces), bestiality (sex with non-human animals), pedophilia (assaulting children), necrophilia (having sex with a human dead body), sounding (inserting a vibrating rod into one’s urethra), and “creepy crawlies” (pouring insects on someone) were simply called “taboo” by men, though their interest in all of those activities were low.

In 2014, a study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine asked similar questions of respondents, though rather than have its users suggest their own kinks, it simply had them describe their interest level in a pre-determined list of activities. Their data showed the highest interest across gender identities for “having sex in an unusual place,” though being dominated by a partner was popular among everybody back then, too.

It’s also notable that a majority of those surveyed wanted to be dominated.

By synthesizing some of the comparative data, a curious look at sexuality emerges: As it turns out, there are way more hopeful “subs” among us hoping to be lightly tied up by a “dom.” Straight men and women know that this desire isn’t all that unusual, but they’re still very interested in trying it out and rank it high on their sexual “to-do lists.”

You can check out Aella’s full color-coded graph below. Her second survey, focusing on romantic relationships and monogamy, is available for users to take now.

Men tended to call things “taboo” more often, and they knew about a lot of sexual activities they didn’t necessarily want to try.

Complete Article HERE!

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The New Hanky Code Is an Actual Thing. Do You Know It Yet?

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The hanky code (aka. “flagging”) was a ‘60s and ‘70s era way for gay men and BDSM fetishists to covertly signal their sexual interests in an age when seeking and having gay sex could get you arrested, beaten up or fired (it can still get you fired, by the way). Though it has largely fallen out of disuse, several queer artists have created new hanky codes in new and interesting ways.

What was the old hanky code?

Different colored handkerchiefs signified what sex acts you wanted (red for fisting and yellow for water sports, for example) and the pocket position indicated whether you were a dominant/top (left pocket) or submissive/bottom (right pocket).

Here’s a simple hanky code color chart:

The old (simplified) hanky code chart

As the hanky code became better known, marketers began creating meanings for every bandana color imaginable (dark pink for tit torture and leopard print for tattoo lovers, for example), but it’s likely that few people actually knew the entire spectrum because — as you’ll see in the chart below — who could possibly remember all 65 variations or tell the difference between orange and coral in a dark bar?

The waaaaay over-complicated hanky code

What is “the new hanky code”?

In our modern age of legalized gay sex and social apps, the hanky code has become more of a fashionable conversation starter at leather bars rather than an active way to solicit sex. Nevertheless, around 2014, a queer Los Angeles art collective called Die Kränken (The Havoc) began discussing what a new hanky code might look like.

Incorporating the sexual inclinations and gender identities of their members, Die Kränken designed 12 new hankies and created an exhibition entitled, “The New Rules of Flagging.” Their new hankies included ones for polyamory, outdoor sex, the app generation, womyn power, Truvada warriors and “original plumbing” (which was either a reference to the transgender male magazine or to urine and bathroom sex).

You should see all 12, but here’s some of our favorites:

Bossy bottom

Queens

Queer Punk

In addition to displaying the hankies, Die Kränken gave surveyed and interviewed attendees to figure out what hanky best fit them. He then invited the attendees to perform a short, pre-choreographed dance demonstrating the spirit of each hanky. The Truvada warrior’s dance, for instance, had people mimic a scorpion crawling up their arm before confidently brushing it off and flinging invisible pills into the air.

We asked Jonesy and Jaime C. Knight, two members of Die Kränken, why their hankies were so much more explicitly designed than the in-the-know ’70s era hanky code. They more or less responded, “Because we wanted to design something cool.” Their handkerchiefs aren’t for sale, sadly.

“The New Hanky Code” is also a hilarious stand-up routine….

In his 2014 stand-up routine, gay comedian Justin Sayre, plays the Chairman of the International Order of Sodomites who announces, “The board is thrilled to announce that we will be bringing back the hanky code, but this time, it’s to talk about your damage.”

“Long have these issues laid in the shadows of a second date,” Sayre says, “but no more. We’d like to put it out there.”

In Sayre’s new hanky code, wearing a handkerchief in your right pocket means that you self-identifying as having a particular issue whereas the left pocket means you’ve only been called out on it, “so it becomes a playful game amongst friends.”


 
According to Sayre, white hankies now signify racists, gray equals boring, yellow is for commitment-phobes, baby blue means you have mother issues, pink stands for ingrained homophobia (i.e. “masc-seekers”), mustard means you drink too much, magenta is poor personal hygiene and so on for conspiracy theorists, those who don’t like The Golden Girls and others.

In Sayre’s version, people can make up their own personal hankies (like charcoal for workaholic and eggshell for undiagnosed) and also assign hankies to one another. “We ask you all to be kind when assigning colors to other people,” he concludes. “because remember: You’ll be wearing them too.”

… and there’s also a Hanky Code film for queer fetish fans too.

Hanky Code is also the name of a 2015 queer indie film made up of 25 shorts from different international queer directors that each explore a different color and fetish from the hanky code. It’s quite artistic, avant-garde and even a little graphic (the segment on piercing almost made our squeamish editor pass out), but it’s a fine piece of film that re-interprets the decades-old hanky code for a new age.


 
Complete Article HERE!

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4 Women Get Real About How Swinging Affected Their Relationships

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What really happens when you open your relationship to another couple

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For some couples, the idea of having sex with anyone other than your significant other seems unfathomable. It can be hard to understand how “swinging” — when you swap partners with another couple and sleep with someone new — can actually lead to stronger relationship bonds. But believe it or not, it can, and there are more couples interested in doing it than you may realize.

If you’ve ever remotely considered getting into swinging — with your spouse, significant other or just that cool friend with benefits — there are a few things you should know before you dive in. Below, four women get real about what their own swinging experiences were really like.

Nicole has been with her husband for 18 years and they’ve been swinging for 17.

How she got into it: “I grew up with this idea that there’s not just one person for anyone and that we can enjoy being with multiple people, as well as the idea that you can have sex without having emotion tied to it. My husband knew that I was bi-curious when we met, so on the anniversary of our first date, we decided to explore and went to a swingers club.”

How it impacted her relationship: “It’s really helped strengthen our relationship. Not all experiences were 100 percent pleasurable, so we made an effort to have those conversations and keep the lines of communication open. When you talk about [swinging] it makes it so much easier to discuss other issues in the relationship.”

Her advice to those considering the lifestyle: “For couples who are considering it, we suggest that you better have a really good relationship starting out because it doesn’t fix broken relationships, it only breaks them up faster. Also, you need to have conversations with your spouse or partner before you go into it. Know your rules and limits before you get into a situation because you can’t really get upset with your partner if you didn’t talk about.”

Jody was introduced to swinging five years ago and is currently single. She loves her work as a sex coach and says if it weren’t for swinging, she wouldn’t be where she is now.

How she got into it: “I was introduced to swinging by my former husband, and not in a good way. One day he forgot to log off the computer and I looked at his browser. I saw some sites that I was not familiar with, but I was appalled by what a saw. Some time later, I confronted him about it. He explained to me what swinging was, but I furthered my knowledge by reading everything I could. I then told him that if he had just talked to me about it, it was something I could be open to.”

How it impacted her relationship: “[Swinging] honestly had no effect on our relationship, which ended for other reasons. Swinging changed me personally for the better. I have sexual confidence that I didn’t have before. I exclusively date swingers now because I meet a much better class of men. They really honor and respect women.”

Her advice to those considering swinging: “If your marriage is struggling, don’t do it. It will only make things worse. If you have a good marriage, dip your toes in the water. Attend a meet and greet or other event. The swinger couples I know have absolutely amazing marriages. For a single woman, you’ll meet the best men ever, but take it slow and make sure you take the usual dating precautions.”

Julia Allen, co-founder of StockingsVR, was 24 when she first walked into a swingers club and has now been swinging for 25 years.

How she got into it: “My boyfriend thought it would be fun to try. We didn’t do anything except dance and talk to some people the first night, but it was exciting and I couldn’t wait to go back. A few months later, on New Year’s Eve, we had a hotel room and invited a few people up. Well… Everyone came up. It was packed and before I knew it, everyone was having sex all around me. A lovely woman wanted to play with me and my boyfriend. I loved it. I loved watching him with her and having him watch me with her, and then both of us just getting lost in the whole experience. I loved the experience of being able to have sex outside of my relationship.”

How it impacted her relationship: “I’ve never been tempted to stray outside of my relationship by having an affair. Swinging takes care of all of my sex needs. I really feel that it strengthens every relationship. I don’t view sex as something that you only have with someone you love. Sex is recreational. I think every boyfriend I’ve had has felt the same way. Along the way, I started filming myself with various people and decided to take my swinging/exhibitionist/kinky lifestyle and make it full time. I guess you could say that swinging has enriched my relationships and also enriched my life.”

Her advice to those considering swinging: “Don’t feel pressure. Most people who are new to swinging don’t actually have sex. They like to watch. In a swingers club, no really does mean no. Many times, I’ve had men or women approach me and if I don’t feel like it, I just say no. You can explore any fantasy you have at a swingers club. I would suggest for first timers to try a larger club where there are lots of people. People who go to swingers clubs are normal people who you would never guess in a million years are swingers. About 90 percent of people who swing are married with kids and just want to try walking on the wild side together.”

Jessica Drake, an adult superstar and certified sex educator, has been swinging since before she was in the adult industry.

How she got into it: “Depending on the state of each relationship and my boundaries with different partners, I had different experiences. In the beginning, when I was younger, it felt awkward based on my inability to be assertive about my wants and needs. It felt more like that group sex stereotype that you might see on TV or in porn… and definitely more male pleasure-centered.”

How it impacted her relationship: “Sexual jealousy has never really been an issue for me, and as long as my needs are being met, I feel secure and aroused when I watch a partner enjoying someone else. I think one mistake some people make is assuming that swinging has only one meaning, but it’s something that is totally open to interpretation. Some of my most intimate, fulfilling encounters lately have been ‘soft swap’ — meaning I have sex with my primary partner, and have foreplay only with our ‘guests.’”

Her advice to those considering swinging: “If you want to start experimenting with swinging and swapping, you need to take a look at your sexual values and belief system. Compare it to the way your partner perceives things, and before you proceed, have an honest discussion. Overall, if you find yourself wanting to try this later on in life, go for it! It may reawaken you and give you a sexual second wind. It’s never too late. There are people of all ages, all body types, all colors, who come from a variety of backgrounds looking for like-minded people.”

 
Complete Article HERE!

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