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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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Adolescents with autism need access to better sex education

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Intimacy is part of being human. There are well-documented benefits to positive relationships, from emotional security to good mental health1. Those who want relationships and can’t develop them face low self-esteem, depression, loneliness and isolation from the wider society2.

For adolescents, learning how to navigate sex and sexuality can be a minefield. How do you figure out the nuances of sexuality without experience? How do you approach a potential partner? And once you do, how do you communicate with him or her?

This path is especially fraught for adolescents with autism. For example, people with autism tend to report higher levels of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation than their neurotypical peers3. And yet there is a gap between what these young people need and what schools provide. According to a 2012 study, adolescents with autism know less about sex than do their peers and have less access to sex education4.

My team of researchers and I are documenting the experiences of adolescents with autism in relation to sex, sexuality and their schools’ sex education requirements. Our research suggests schools should provide sex education tailored to the needs of young people with autism.

These classes should include both the standard fare — from human development to safe sex — and additional instruction on topics such as how teens can express themselves to their potential partners and how to decode innuendos and other language used to describe sex. This education is vital to ensure that these adolescents can approach relationships in a way that is safe, confident and healthy.

Role play:

One common misconception about individuals with autism is that they prefer to be alone. My research suggests this simply isn’t true.

In an ongoing study, for example, my team conducted interviews related to sex and relationships with 40 adults with autism. Only three expressed ambivalence about relationships, mostly due to worries about coping with the needs of another person. Nearly half of the respondents had not yet had a relationship but expressed a strong desire for one.

Despite the desire to form relationships, this group expressed limited knowledge about how they would meet someone or show their interest. They found the idea of going out to a pub or club frightening, and socializing with groups of people provoked high anxiety. Some of them expressed a disdain for small talk, and others admitted they had little idea of how to engage in general conversation. They also found the use of dating apps unappealing and said they thought there was an inherent danger in meeting strangers.

Sex education could help these individuals feel confident in approaching others using role-play. For example, they could use techniques created by the late Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theater director who created plays in which audiences could participate.

In the context of sex education, an actor would play the part of the individual with autism and re-create one of that person’s real-life experiences, such as trying to talk to someone new in a bar. The individual with autism would then give the actor new directions — such as “What if I offer to buy her a drink?” — allowing the person with autism to try out many approaches, and witness potential consequences, in a safe environment.

Advice network:

Although instructors may help with some aspects of communication, it’s profoundly difficult to teach someone how to read the intentions and desires of others. Most teenagers rely on peers to work through some of these social complexities.

Teens get feedback from their peers on how to interact, meet new people and gauge the appropriateness of a relationship. Teens with autism struggle with close relationships, but sex education classes could facilitate that learning.

Our research suggests that they desire this guidance. For example, one individual in our study commented that schools should provide students with the “skills on how to find the right sort of partner.” To accomplish this goal, a school could provide an advice network, including regular group meetings in which young people with autism share and reflect upon their experiences. Social networking could extend this support.

For most adolescents, peers also fill in gaps such as helping to define sexual slang. In our study, another participant commented that hearing “dirty talk” from other students made her feel left behind. She was also unsure how to decode the words she heard, and said her school should explain what people might say in a sexual context and what these terms mean. With this context, she could decide to get involved or not.

Moderated discussions in a peer network could help address such slang and provide a safe space for students to ask questions about unfamiliar words.

Different sexualities:

To be effective, sex education in schools must take into consideration that some individuals with autism do not conform to traditional sex roles. When we interviewed 40 young adults with autism as part of an ongoing study, we found that 20 percent identified as gay or bisexual — more than is reported in national surveys of the general population. Gender fluidity may also be more common in individuals with autism: In a study we conducted this year (but is not yet published), we found an unusually high incidence of autism and autism traits in individuals who identify as transsexual or non-binary.

Despite these high numbers, some people with autism find it hard to accept different sexualities. As one male participant explained: “I have a rigid way of seeing the world, and this prevented me from accepting my sexuality. I sort of denied it to myself because I have very concrete black-and-white thinking and it didn’t quite fit in.” This early inability to accept his sexuality and identify as a gay man led to severe depression and admittance to a psychiatric ward.

In some ways, people with autism may even fall outside the ever-expanding range of sexual identities we see today, such as gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual and asexual. For example, one of our participants explained that her wonderful relationship with another girl with autism often involved sitting together for up to 10 hours reading in silence, or spending hours discussing Greek history.

Autism represents a profoundly different way of seeing and being in the world, and individuals with autism often expend great mental and physical effort just trying to appear ‘normal.’ Sex education in school needs to move away from suggesting that people with autism should fit in, and instead explore alternatives to traditional types of romantic relationships.

Awareness gaps:

Our work also suggests that individuals with autism aren’t always aware that they are sexual beings. This lack of self-awareness manifests both in the sexual cues they give off and how they may be perceived by others.

For example, two participants in our study reported behavior that could be perceived as stalking, such as continually following strangers, although they didn’t indicate that they understood how this could seem threatening. One described it this way: “I literally just saw him on the street. And then pretty much just stalked him.”

Not having a sense of one’s own sexuality can be harmful in other ways. For example, individuals with autism are three times as likely to experience sexual exploitation as their peers5. In our study, participants spoke of times when they had been extremely vulnerable and open to abuse. One woman reported that others had gotten her drunk and encouraged her to have sex with girls even though she doesn’t identify as gay. In the interview, she did not appear to be aware that these incidents could be perceived as someone taking advantage of her.

Sex educators need to understand these gaps in awareness to build confidence in young people with autism and to protect them from harm and from unintentionally harming others. For example, young people with autism need to be aware of the law on issues such as stalking, which they themselves may not see as a problem. Their education needs to include lessons on the language of sex and draw distinctions between playful and threatening behavior. It also needs to address issues of abuse and signs that a relationship or encounter is abusive.

Research such as ours can offer insight into this area and provide the tools for effective sex education for people with autism. With the right support, adolescents with autism can feel more comfortable building relationships and exploring their sexuality. This support will help them develop healthy relationships and experience their benefits to well-being, self-esteem and happiness.

Complete Article HERE!

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How many times do women need to explain that penetration isn’t everything before everyone gets it?

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This week, sex therapist Dr Janet Hall advised MamaMia of a catchy new term for sex that doesn’t just involve placing a penis inside a vagina and wriggling it about.

‘Introducing outercourse’, said MamaMia, explaining that ‘outercourse’ counts ‘kissing, massaging, using vibrators, touching erogenous zones, clitoral stimulation, oral sex or toe-sucking. Basically, everything else that might come with sex, but isn’t penetration.’

They go on to note that outercourse shouldn’t be thought of as foreplay, as it’s not an add-on to sex, but something that’s absolutely essential to female pleasure.

Which is all true, and incredibly important to point out.

The issue is that ‘outercourse’ has been picked up and spread around the internet as a catchy new sex trend, as if it’s an easy ‘trick’ to get women off.

Which is a bit irritating really, because women have been saying over and over that we need more than just a poke with a penis to enjoy sex.

So why is the world still not getting it? Why is the revelation that the penis isn’t a magic orgasm stick still being treated as truly shocking news?

The ‘penetration is everything’ idea has been f***ing over women who have sex with men for ages. Women are being left unsatisfied or putting up with painful sex, because we’re taught that foreplay is just build-up to the main event – and the main event is all about the man getting off.

There’s an orgasm gender gap as a result (straight women have been shown to have the fewest orgasms out of everyone else having sex), and an oral sex gender gap, proving that the importance of non-penetrative sex is huge.

There’s a load of reasons men and women expect that five minutes of foreplay is enough before popping a penis into a vagina.

Think of sex scenes in films, which go from ripping each others’ clothes off to the woman gasping as she’s penetrated in a matter of seconds.

Think of sex education, which mentions that the penis becomes erect before penetrating vagina, but rarely makes any reference to the process the vagina needs to go through before being penetration-ready – because our sex education focuses more on sex for the purposes of reproduction (for which a female orgasm isn’t essential) rather than sexual pleasure.

Think of porn, which will more often show bow jobs than a man going down on a woman, which shows fingering as sharp-nailed fingers sliding in and out as the woman writhes around in ecstasy, which shows women reaching orgasm within seconds of a dildo or dick entering her.

We’re taught about foreplay as an afterthought, as a ‘nice to have’ instead of a ‘need to have’.

And it’s women who are missing out as a result.

A recent study from OMGyes found that just 18% of women can orgasm from penetration alone (again, this isn’t surprising or new. Countless other studies have found similar results), and that 36% of women need clitoral stimulation to have a chance of climaxing.

Rushing through the non-intercourse bits of sex is leaving women unsatisfied and pressured into faking orgasms – because they’ve been taught that they’re supposed to be able to come from a few quick pumps of a penis, and feel like they’re failing, or there’s something wrong with them, if they don’t.

None of this should be news. We’ve known for decades that the clitoris is hugely important, and women have reported for decades that they feel more pleasure through oral or manual stimulation than penetrative sex.

And yet, penetration is still held up as the be all and end all. We still place value on the idea of losing ones virginity as having penetrative sex, ignoring that for many women who have sex with women, this definition would make them virgins after multiple sexual partners.

Sex is not just penis in vagina. Foreplay is not an optional add-on. Sex is oral, and touching, and sucking, and all the other stuff that gives us pleasure.

If you’re bothered about women’s pleasure, sex needs to involve things other than penetration for much, much longer than a half-hearted five minutes. Foreplay shouldn’t just be a chunk before the good stuff – for many women, it is the good stuff, the bit where they’re actually likely to have an orgasm.

Touching the clitoris orally or with your fingers, kissing, caressing. It’s incredibly difficult for a woman to even get wet without that stuff, let alone have any chance of achieving orgasm.

We need to stop viewing an erection as the start of sex and ejaculation as the end. If a woman is not aroused, if she’s not experienced genuine pleasure, sex isn’t done – and the only way to get that done is the stuff that isn’t penetration, because your penis, shockingly enough, is not uniquely gifted to give orgasms.

Basically, if you’re not doing the stuff that isn’t penetration, you’re not doing sex.

Listen to women. Value our pleasure. Stop viewing our bodies as mysterious, otherworldly things that can’t be understood when we keep shouting exactly what we want (decent oral, clitoral stimulation, more of the stuff that isn’t penetration).

If you’re confused, ask women what they want. Then give it to them for an adequate chunk of time – not as a starter for sex, but as an essential part of the entire experience.

Complete Article HERE!

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A 101 Guide to Knowing Thyself (And Understanding Everyone Else)

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By Rahel Neirene and 
Jacob Anderson-Minshall

Where society once only recognized homosexuality and heterosexuality, there’s a growing awareness of — and terms for — a much larger, ever-expanding galaxy of sexual orientations. The same can be said for genders: While many only recognized male and female, and masculinity and femininity, we are witnessing an explosion of terms and identities, often coined by those who find “LGBT” too narrow. Many of these other labels have been around for decades or longer, but are only gaining broader attention now. Here’s a short guide to our fabulous new world.

SEXUALITY:
Beyond gay, lesbian, or straight.

Androsexual: Someone attracted to masculinity, whether in men, women, or others.

Asexuality: An orientation characterized by an absence of sexual attraction or desire for partnered sex. Asexuality is different from celibacy. Some asexual people do have sex and/or masturbate. There are many ways of being asexual.

Bisexual: Someone attracted, romantically and/or sexually, to people of more than one sex or gender. Their identity remains bisexual no matter who they are in a relationship with — their orientation does not vacillate from gay to straight based on the gender of their current partner.

Demisexual: Someone who can only experience sexual attraction after forming an emotional bond.

Graysexual: Someone whose sexuality is between absolute asexual and sexual.

Gynesexual: An attraction to females or femininity, the latter in women, men, or others.

Heteromantic: A person with a romantic, but not necessarily sexual, attraction to members of another sex or gender.

Panromantic: A person who has romantic, but not necessarily sexual, attractions to people of all genders and sexes.

Pansexual/Omnisexual: Those who have or are open to having romantic, sexual, or affectional desire for people of all genders and sexes, including those who are trans or intersex. (Many bi people identify with this definition as well.)

Polyamory (or Poly): Being in or being open to having romantic relationships with more than one person at a time, generally with the knowledge and consent of their partners.

Polysexual: Attraction to multiple genders or forms of gender expression, but not all.

Queer: Nonconforming sexual attraction, may include to those who are trans or gender variant.

GENDERS:
Beyond male/female and masculine/feminine.

Agender: Having no gender identity, or having a gender identity that is neutral.

Androgynous or androgyne: Having a gender identity or expression that includes both masculine and feminine elements, often to the point where one’s gender isn’t readily apparent to others.

Bigender: Having two gender identities, which may be experienced simultaneously or at separate times. According to the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, which runs an “Identity a Day” online education series, “The two genders may be male and female, but they might also include other nonbinary gender identities.”

Gender Fluid: When one’s gender identification or presentation shifts between two or more genders.

Gender Nonconforming: Gender expressions or roles that are outside those expected by society. They’re not confined by conventional definitions of male and female, and can include people who identify as trans or genderqueer.

Genderqueer: A person whose gender identity or gender expression falls outside of the dominant societal expectation for their assigned sex, is beyond genders, or is some combination of them.

Gender Variant: Varying from the expected characteristics of one’s assigned gender or sex.

Intersex: Those who have a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit medical definitions of female or male. This happens in around one in every 1,500 to 2,000 births, according to the Intersex Society of North America, making it about as common as red hair. An intersex person might be born appearing female but with male chromosomes or internal anatomy, or born with genitals that seem outside defined male and female types. Many who are intersex have been forced, as children, to undergo surgeries that attempt to make their sexual organs conform to medical expectations. They may identify as intersex, male or female, or any of the other gender IDs here.

Neutrois: Similar to agender — a neutral or even genderless identity.

Trans or Transgender: This has become somewhat of an umbrella term for anyone with any type of gender variance. But for some it is more specific, representing those who identify or express a gender at opposition with the gender they were assigned at birth. While some trans people merely alter their identification or external expression, others pursue medical interventions like hormone treatment and gender affirmation surgeries. People who are trans often identify as either male or female, but may not do so.

Transsexual: A gender identity that is generally specific to those who are trans and undergo medical intervention to transition from the sex (male or female) they were assigned at birth to the sex they identify as being authentically. Transsexuals often view gender as binary, identify as male or female, and may accept more traditional gender roles.

Two-Spirit: A person of Native American descent whose body simultaneously houses both a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit. As an umbrella term, it may encompass same-sex attraction and a wide variety of gender variance, including people who might be described as queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, genderqueer, or having multiple gender identities.

Of course there are also dozens of micro-identities too, like subcategories of gay men (bears, twinks) or lesbians (AGGs, femmes — and others detailed at bit.ly/20LezIDs).

Complete Article HERE!

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These Are the Moves That Really Make Women Orgasm, According to Science

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Back and forth? Up and down? Straight across or in a circle? No one type of touch guarantees an amazing climax for everyone, but the women in a recent study said yes! yes! yes! most often to these.

By Julia Naftulin

If you relied on Hollywood as your guide to sexual pleasure, you’d think that the typical woman only needed to rock the sheets for 8 seconds before finding herself on the brink of an earth-shattering orgasm.

But in the real world, this usually isn’t the way it goes. And the results of a recent study back up the fact that not only do most women need some level of hands-on touching to hit climax during intercourse, the type of touch—the rhythm, motion, and pressure—varies widely.

The study, published in July in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, surveyed over 1,000 women between ages 18 and 94. Participants were asked how much touching they needed to reach orgasm and what exact strokes produced the most pleasure, among other questions.

One major finding: 37% of women said they need clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm. Another 36% said that having this body part touched isn’t necessary for reaching the big O—but it does make the experience that much better.

When it comes to specifics, two-thirds of the women in the study said they preferred up-and-down motions directly on their clitoris, while 52% enjoyed direct circular movements and a third liked direct side-to-side strokes. The majority of women reported preferring light to medium pressure on their vulva, with 11% preferring firm pressure there.

Among the two thirds of women who said they preferred indirect clitoral stimulation, 69% said they enjoyed touching “through the skin above the hood,” the study stated. Approximately 29% said they liked it “through both lips pushed together (like a sandwich).” Twenty percent favored indirect touch “through the skin on the right side of [the] clitoris,” and 19.2% chose “through the skin on the left side of [the] clitoris.”

“I hope this study challenges the idea that certain things work for everyone or everyone should have sex a certain way,” Debby Herbenick, PhD, director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and a co-author of the study, tells Health. 

“Forever, data on orgasms during intercourse focused on college women or people in sex therapy,” says Herbenick. “But this study was nationally representative and speaks to women of all ages, educations, races, and ethnicities, since it matches the demographics of women in the United States.”

While there’s no formula for the perfect orgasm, the study shows that some types of touch are more popular than others. And while the researchers make no judgments, Herbenick has one suggestion for women hoping to experience more pleasurable orgasms: maintain an open dialogue with your partner about the type of touch you like.

Complete Article HERE!

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