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How do women really know if they are having an orgasm?

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Dr Nicole Prause is challenging bias against sexual research to unravel apparent discrepancies between physical signs and what women said they experienced

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It’s not always clear if a woman is really having an orgasm, as Meg Ryan demonstrated in When Harry Met Sally.

It’s not always clear if a woman is really having an orgasm, as Meg Ryan demonstrated in When Harry Met Sally.

In the nascent field of orgasm research, much of the data relies on subjects self-reporting, and in men, there’s some pretty clear physiological feedback in the form of ejaculation.

But how do women know for sure if they are climaxing? What if the sensation they have associated with climax is actually one of the the early foothills of arousal? And how does a woman know when if she has had an orgasm?

Neuroscientist Dr Nicole Prause set out to answer these questions by studying orgasms in her private laboratory. Through better understanding of what happens in the body and the brain during arousal and orgasm, she hopes to develop devices that can increase sex drive without the need for drugs.

Understanding orgasm begins with a butt plug. Prause uses the pressure-sensitive anal gauge to detect the contractions typically associated with orgasm in both men and women. Combined with EEG, which measures brain activity, this allows for a more accurate picture of a woman’s arousal and orgasm.

Dr Nicole Prause has founded Liberos to study brain stimulation and desire.

Dr Nicole Prause has founded Liberos to study brain stimulation and desire.

When Prause began studying women in this way she noticed something surprising. “Many of the women who reported having an orgasm were not having any of the physical signs – the contractions – of an orgasm.”

It’s not clear why that is, but it is clear that we don’t know an awful lot about orgasms and sexuality. “We don’t think they are faking,” she said. “My sense is that some women don’t know what an orgasm is. There are lots of pleasure peaks that happen during intercourse. If you haven’t had contractions you may not know there’s something different.”

Prause, an ultramarathon runner and keen motorcyclist in her free time, started her career at the Kinsey Institute in Indiana, where she was awarded a doctorate in 2007. Studying the sexual effects of a menopause drug, she first became aware of the prejudice against the scientific study of sexuality in the US.

When her high-profile research examining porn “addiction” found the condition didn’t fit the same neurological patterns as nicotine, cocaine or gambling, it was an unpopular conclusion among people who believe they do have a porn addiction.

The evolution of design of the anal pressure gauge used in Nicole Prause’s lab to detect orgasmic contractions.

The evolution of design of the anal pressure gauge used in Nicole Prause’s lab to detect orgasmic contractions.

“People started posting stories online that I had falsified my data and I received all kinds of sexist attacks,” she said. Soon anonymous emails of complaint were turning up at the office of the president of UCLA, where she worked from 2012 to 2014, demanding that Prause be fired.

Does orgasm benefit mental health?

Prause pushed on with her research, but repeatedly came up against challenges when seeking approval for studies involving orgasms. “I tried to do a study of orgasms while at UCLA to pilot a depression intervention. UCLA rejected it after a seven-month review,” she said. The ethics board told her that to proceed, she would need to remove the orgasm component – rendering the study pointless.

Undeterred, Prause left to set up her sexual biotech company Liberos, in Hollywood, Los Angeles, in 2015. The company has been working on a number of studies, including one exploring the benefits and effectiveness of “orgasmic meditation”, working with specialist company OneTaste.

Part of the “slow sex” movement, the practice involves a woman having her clitoris stimulated by a partner – often a stranger – for 15 minutes. “This orgasm state is different,” claims OneTaste’s website. “It is goalless, intuitive, and dynamic. It flows all over the place with no set direction. It may include climax, or it may not. In Orgasm 2.0, we learn to listen to what our body wants instead of what we think we ‘should’ want.”

Prause wants to determine whether arousal has any wider benefits for mental health. “The folks that practice this claim it helps with stress and improves your ability to deal with emotional situations even though as a scientist it seems pretty explicitly sexual to me,” she said.

Prause is examining orgasmic meditators in the laboratory, measuring finger movements of the partner, as well as brainwave activity, galvanic skin response and vaginal contractions of the recipient. Before and after measuring bodily changes, researchers run through questions to determine physical and mental states. Prause wants to determine whether achieving a level of arousal requires effort or a release in control. She then wants to observe how Orgasmic Meditation affects performance in cognitive tasks, how it changes reactivity to emotional images and how it compares with regular meditation.

Brain stimulation is ‘theoretically possible’

Another research project is focused on brain stimulation, which Prause believes could provide an alternative to drugs such as Addyi, the “female Viagra”. The drug had to be taken every day, couldn’t be mixed with alcohol and its side-effects can include sudden drops in blood pressure, fainting and sleepiness. “Many women would rather have a glass of wine than take a drug that’s not very effective every day,” said Prause.

The field of brain stimulation is in its infancy, though preliminary studies have shown that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which uses direct electrical currents to stimulate specific parts of the brain, can help with depression, anxiety and chronic pain but can also cause burns on the skin. Transcranial magnetic stimulation, which uses a magnet to activate the brain, has been used to treat depression, psychosis and anxiety, but can also cause seizures, mania and hearing loss.

Prause is studying whether these technologies can treat sexual desire problems. In one study, men and women receive two types of magnetic stimulation to the reward center of their brains. After each session, participants are asked to complete tasks to see how their responsiveness to monetary and sexual rewards (porn) has changed.

With DCS, Prause wants to stimulate people’s brains using direct currents and then fire up tiny cellphone vibrators that have been glued to the participants’ genitals. This provides sexual stimulation in a way that eliminates the subjectivity of preferences people have for pornography.

“We already have a basic functioning model,” said Prause. “The barrier is getting a device that a human can reliably apply themselves without harming their own skin.”


 
There is plenty of skepticism around the science of brain stimulation, a technology which has already spawned several devices including the headset Thync, which promises users an energy boost, and Foc.us, which claims to help with endurance.

Neurologist Steven Novella from the Yale School of Medicine uses brain stimulation devices in clinical trials to treat migraines, but he says there’s not enough clinical evidence to support these emerging consumer devices. “There’s potential for physical harm if you don’t know what you’re doing,” he said. “From a theoretical point of view these things are possible, but in terms of clinical claims they are way ahead of the curve here. It’s simultaneously really exciting science but also premature pseudoscience.”

Biomedical engineer Marom Bikson, who uses tDCS to treat depression at the City College of New York, agrees. “There’s a lot of snake oil.”

Sexual problems can be emotional and societal

Prause, also a licensed psychologist, is keen to avoid overselling brain stimulation. “The risk is that it will seem like an easy, quick fix,” she said. For some, it will be, but for others it will be a way to test whether brain stimulation can work – which Prause sees as a more balanced approach than using medication. “To me, it is much better to help provide it for people likely to benefit from it than to try to create fake problems to sell it to everyone.”

Sexual problems can be triggered by societal pressures that no device can fix. “There’s discomfort and anxiety and awkwardness and shame and lack of knowledge,” said psychologist Leonore Tiefer, who specializes in sexuality. Brain stimulation is just one of many physical interventions companies are trying to develop to make money, she says. “There’s a million drugs under development. Not just oral drugs but patches and creams and nasal sprays, but it’s not a medical problem,” she said.

Thinking about low sex drive as a medical condition requires defining what’s normal and what’s unhealthy. “Sex does not lend itself to that kind of line drawing. There is just too much variability both culturally and in terms of age, personality and individual differences. What’s normal for me is not normal for you, your mother or your grandmother.”

And Prause says that no device is going to solve a “Bob problem” – when a woman in a heterosexual couple isn’t getting aroused because her partner’s technique isn’t any good. “No pills or brain stimulation are going to fix that,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Can’t I Orgasm During Sex? Chronic Pain And 5 Other Factors That Affect Ability To Climax

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Imagine this: You and your partner are getting hot and heavy in between the sheets. You’re feeling sexually aroused — but you’re unable to climax. In frustration you ask yourself: “Why can’t I orgasm during sex?”

The Kinsey Institute indicates 20 to 30 percent of women don’t have orgasms during intercourse, compared to only 5 percent of men who don’t climax every time they have sex. Men and women who are unable to sustain an erection or reach orgasm, respectively, are usually labeled as having some type of sexual dysfunction. However, the inability to orgasm could be triggered by several issues that range from physiological to psychological.

Below are six causes of why you have trouble orgasming during sex.

Tight Condoms

Condoms are often seen as an “evil” necessity that reduces sensitivity and sensations for men. The truth is condoms can inhibit male orgasm if they do not fit properly. A condom that is too tight can feel like the penis is in a chokehold, which can be distraction, and make it difficult to keep an erection. A 2015 study in journal Sexual Health found about 52 percent of men report losing an erection before, or while putting a condom on or after inserting into the vagina while wearing a condom.

Stress

High levels of stress impact your psychological and physiological health, which can interfere with the ability to orgasm. This makes it harder to concentrate on the sensation and relax during sex. Women with high salivary cortisol and stress levels have significantly less desire to masturbate or have sex with their partner.

Stress causes us to produce fewer sex hormones, like estrogen and testosterone, and more cortisol and stress hormones. When the body releases cortisol, a fight-or-flight response kicks in, and redirects the blood flow away from the sex organs, causing you to breathe shallowly.

couple-holding-hands

Depression

Depression affects your mood, and even the desire to have sex. A 2000 study in the American Family Physician found 70 percent of adults facing depression without treatment had problems with their sex drive. This is because sexual desire starts in the brain as sex organs rely on chemicals in the brain to jumpstart your libido, and change blood flow. Depression disrupts these brain chemicals, making sexual activity more difficult to initiate and enjoy.

Chronic Pain

More than 75 million people live  with persistent or debilitating pain, according to the national pain foundation, which can often lead to a low sex drive. Chronic pain sufferers find it difficult to feel pleasure during sex since the body hurts all the time. This is unfortunate since having an orgasm can alleviate some pains and aches.

Prescription Meds

Drugs tend to be among the most common causes of sexual problems. Prescription meds are responsible for as many as one of every four cases of sexual dysfunction. A 2002 study published in Family Practice found statins and fibrates (used in lowering LDL “bad” cholesterol) may cause erectile dysfunction, while later research has found both men and women taking statins showed increased difficulty achieving orgasm. The levels of sexual pleasure declined along with LDL cholesterol.

Negative Body Image

When you feel good about your body, you tend to feel better psychologically as well. The mind-body connection is imperative in sexual pleasure. For example, if you feel bad about your body, it;ll become more difficult to enjoy sex and have orgasms. A 2009 study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found women between the ages 18 to 49 who scored high on a body image scale were the most sexually satisfied. Positive feelings associated with weight, physical condition, sexual attractiveness, and thoughts about our body during sex help promote healthy sexual functioning.

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.

Complete Article HERE!

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4 Stupid Female Masturbation Myths We Wish Would Disappear

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By Coleen Singer

Women may be more empowered about their sexuality than ever before, but there are still a few myths about female masturbation that just won’t die.

Masturbation Myths

I still don’t understand why female masturbation is still shrouded by so much misinformation. We live in the age of information. Women are more empowered about their own sexuality than ever before. Yet, without fail, most TV shows and movies portray female masturbation as some mythical thing, one that often involves ridiculously impractical rituals that most women just don’t have time for. We need to clear this right up. I know that writing just one article isn’t going to magically remove the misinformation, but we have to start somewhere, right? Here area few incorrect assumptions I often see in the media and daily life about female masturbation.

We Make a “Night” Out of It

The biggest misinformation I see in the media is that when women masturbate we do shit like light candles, wear sexy things, maybe have a bath – you know make a “night” out of it.

What?! This is certainly worth doing, but it isn’t routine for any woman I know – nobody has time for that! Plus, women are perfectly capable of masturbating without any fanfare: before we sleep, when we wake up, because we’re bored, as a quickie before we leave the house. You know, just like men. The best part is that many of us can do it multiple times in a row, because multiple orgasms.

 

Complete Article HERE!

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Men Fake Orgasms, Too, and We Can Blame the Patriarchy

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By Christina Cauterucci

M:F couple

As the punch line of plenty a hackneyed sitcom and amateur stand-up routine, the faked orgasm has long been relegated to the sphere of women’s work. That might be why, every time a new study about men’s feigned orgasms pops up, the internet reels in disbelief.

“WHAT? How did we not know this before?” wondered Cosmopolitan on Friday in response to a new Canadian survey of 230 men age 18 to 29 who’d faked orgasms with their current partners. On average, the men reported pretending to orgasm during a full quarter of their sexual encounters. In 2014, Time Out New York was “surprised” when a “whopping” 30.6 percent of its survey participants (fewer than 100 New York men) admitted to faking orgasms. But that number wasn’t too far off from the results of a 2010 University of Kansas study, which saw 25 percent of its 180 male respondents say they’d faked it. That figure rose to 28 percent when researchers narrowed it down to those men who’d had penile-vaginal sex. Some have used these facts to stir anxiety and self-conscious terror in women who have sex with men: “Has YOUR man ever faked his orgasm?” the Daily Mail asked when the Time Out survey dropped.

Luckily, this new Canadian survey doesn’t lend itself to knee-jerk sexual dread. Instead, it delves into the reasons why men fake orgasms and how those reasons correlate to their relationship satisfaction. Previous studies have shown that men’s rationales for feigning orgasm are not so different from the reasons why women play pretend in bed. Both have reported that they fake because they’re intoxicated, to arouse their partner, and to end sex sooner; the most common reason among both genders is preserving partners’ feelings. This new survey indicates that men who pretend to orgasm because they want to avoid having a talk about their sexual needs are less likely to be satisfied in their relationship and in bed. The study’s authors say these men “might be contributing to [their] own low desire and satisfaction by reinforcing unsatisfying sexual activity by feigning orgasm rather than communicating [their] sexual needs and desires.”

But the root cause of this problem—faked orgasms as sub-ins for honest conversations about sexual desires—lie in gender norms that compel men to strive for unrealistic benchmarks of sexual performance. “The image is that men are always up for sex, which makes you feel under pressure to perform even when you don’t want to,” Harvard urologist Abraham Morgentaler said of men’s reasons for faking.

man:woman love

Those same improbable expectations have given rise to women’s pretend orgasms, too. The authors of a 2010 study that found up to 80 percent of women faked orgasms wrote that women often do so “because their men are so goal-directed they won’t stop until a woman climaxes.” Our social construction of sexual pleasure has pegged men’s orgasms as simple—inevitable, even—and women’s orgasms as complicated reflections of their male partner’s sexual abilities. The authors of the new Canadian survey write that these reductive ideals may encourage men to feign orgasm to “appear normal” and women to fake it so their partners’ egos don’t crumble. In fact, they argue, the entire phenomenon of fake orgasms is a direct result of a patriarchal culture that enforces stringent gender norms:

Orgasm simulation constitutes a “complex emotional response to the intensely patriarchal culture in which women have sex” where the relative invisibility of women’s orgasm contributes to a constant cultural anxiety surrounding its authenticity. This anxiety, coupled with the cultural association of sexual technique with masculinity, creates an obligation for women to meet a standard of loud and exaggerated display of pleasure, providing fertile grounds for orgasm-simulation, which ultimately serve to privilege male sexuality.

At first, the knowledge that men, too, feel so much pressure to orgasm that they sometimes fake it makes the whole concept of the fake orgasm seem less insidious: Women aren’t the only ones who are sometimes more concerned with their partners’ feelings than they are with their own pleasure or desire to stop having sex. But when the rationale rests on gendered expectations, it still serves to uphold roles that form the foundation for toxic masculinity. It also paves the way for the profoundly sad possibility of repeated sexual encounters wherein both partners fake their orgasms to please or impress the other. That specter comes courtesy of a society that prizes orgasm over the complex reality of sexual pleasure.

Complete Article HERE!

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