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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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I lost my virginity yesterday

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Name: Mariana
Gender: Female
Age: 18
Location: Washington
I lost my virginity yesterday and I did not bleed. Why is this?

You lost your virginity yesterday? Where, at the mall?

I don’t mean to be facetious, but that phrase always grates on me. Mostly because it sounds like you were careless and misplaced something really important. Like, I lost my keys. I lost my phone. And it was all your fault!

Why do people (gals) say things like, “I lost my virginity?” Ya almost never hear guys say that.

What you do hear is shit like, “I took her virginity.” But wait; you took it? I thought she lost it? Can someone actually take something that has been lost? Maybe the more accurate phrase is I found the virginity she lost. But that would suggest that the guy didn’t take an active role in “winning” the virginity game. And that simply won’t do. Because the men folk, as we all know, gotta be the hunters, if ya know what I mean.

The language of sex is often so fucked. No wonder people, young folk as well as oldsters, are so confused and conflicted about sex.

Hey, sorry for the digression, Mariana.hymen-types

So, my dear, are congratulations in order? I mean, was your first time enjoyable? Are you happy you’re no longer a virgin? It’s so amazing to me that you didn’t mention anything about your first intercourse other than that fact that you didn’t bleed. I guess, for some young women, that all that really matters.

As you may know, a hymen is a mucous membrane that is part of the vulva, the external part of your genitals. It’s located outside the vagina, which is the internal part of your genitals. Not all women have a noticeable hymen. You may or may not have had one to begin with. However most women do. Simply put, having a hymen and/or having it rupture during one’s first fuck is not a reliable indicator of virginity.

Many girls and teens tear or otherwise dilate their hymen while participating in sports like cycling, horseback riding and gymnastics. A young woman can tear her hymen inserting a tampon, or while masturbating. And it’s possible that the girl may not even know she’s done this. Often there is little or no blood or pain when it happens. The tissues of the vulva are generally very thin and delicate prior to puberty.

i lost my virginity

Like I said, the presence or absence of a hymen and/or bleeding in no way indicates whether or not you are a virgin.

Some hymens are elastic enough to permit a cock to enter without tearing, or they tear only partially, and there is NO bleeding at all. As I hope you know, when you are adequately aroused, you lubricate and your vagina becomes more flexible. It will stretch without discomfort for most women. It’s even possible for a woman to have sex for years without ‘tearing’ her hymen. And, like I said, some women never have much of a hymen to begin with.

Is that helpful? I hope so.

Good luck

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A Very Surprising Gift

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Name: Shauna
Gender: Female
Age: 38
Location: Des Moines, IA
I work with this really terrific girl, who’s around 10 years younger than I am. Lately, even though I am happily married, I find myself awkwardly attracted to her. I am actually masturbating while fantasying about her. Like I said, I am married to a great guy and I don’t want to hurt him, but I have to get advice on this. I’m so confused.

Anytime there is a noticeable change in one’s eroticism, regardless at what stage of life it happens, the shift can be a bit disconcerting. Here you are, a mature, confirmed, card-carrying straight married lady who has an unanticipated crush on a much younger female coworker. That can’t be sitting very well in your buttoned down world there in the heartland, huh?Lesbian Bed Death2

I suppose you could view this as a major problem or you could accept this as a gift. That’s right, a gift. This surprising event, even at your seriously advanced age of 38, indicates to me that you’re still growing. Personally, I think that’s wonderful. The fates have gifted you with this sweet, young sexy female muse. You can either reject the fates and deny yourself, or embrace this opportunity to explore the yet uncharted areas of your sexuality.

Even if you never act on your same-sex sexual impulses, I think it’s safe to say you are finally encountering your latent bisexuality. Don’t be too surprised by that; most all of us are naturally bisexual in one fashion or another. Unfortunately, our sex-negative society discourages and disallows these very natural tendencies. So when they pop up, as often they do, we are usually unprepared to acknowledge them, let alone accept and welcome them. Will you cave to the pressures of the popular culture, or buck the social trend? I’m in no position to guess. All I know is that this relatively benign sexual adventure could be an opportunity to expand your sexual options.

Like I said, there are several ways to proceed. You could deny yourself the adventure and sublimate your desires. I don’t recommend this, because it rarely works. Healthy, natural feelings like the ones you’re having can fester and embitter the one practicing the self-denial. Another option is to go with the fantasy, enjoy it for what it is worth. Keeping your bisexual proclivities fantasy material allows you to remain safe and pretty much maintains the status quo. Then there’s the option of pursuing your fantasy and making it a reality. Obviously, this option carries the greatest potential for disrupting your life.

Wild girls wild nightsIf you choose the path of keeping your bisexual urges a fantasy, you might want to pursue them to see if you are attracted to other women. You could do this through reading some hot lezzi-themed erotica, or checkin’ out some swell (authentic) Sapphic porn. If you discover you are not interested in other women, but that you only have a jones for your charming coworker of yours; you may be a situational bisexual. Regardless if you are a “real” bisexual or a “situational” bisexual, imagine the fun you’ll have with your little secret. My only caution would be to treat your coworker the way you would treat any other coworker you might have a crush on — the best thing to do is; do nothing. Workplace flings, of any stripe, rarely turn out happily. And of course, you also have your marriage to consider. Fantasies are fine as long as they don’t fuck up your real-life relationships.

One other thing, don’t automatically assume your husband would be put off by your newly awakened sexual tastes. That is if you ever get around to telling him. It might actually be a big turn-on for him too. Most straight guys get off on the idea of two women together. Some husbands encourage their wives’ occasional bisexual encounters for this very reason. Your husband may even be interested in a threesome with you and another woman somewhere down the line. Again I advise that it not your coworker, though.

In the end, this is an exciting time for you, Shauna. Is it challenging? You betcha! But it’s also very rewarding.

Good luck

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I Can’t Cum, dammit!

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Name: Jayme
Gender: female
Age: 23
Location: ??
I have a pretty major question that I think you’d be perfect to answer, with your credentials. I’ve not had the best relationship history. My second boyfriend, right after I graduated high school, was abusive in every way but physically. I stayed with him for 7 months before getting wise and getting out. A few months after the breakup I was almost raped at a party. I found afterward that I was unable to do anything sexual with anyone, unless I was drunk. It was 4 years before I tried hooking up with anyone.

It’s now been 4 years and 6 months since all that happened, and I’m finally starting to get more comfortable with being sexual. I went through some minor therapy over the summer that really helped me to get past the near-rape I experienced in college. Because of that, I was finally able to have sex for the first time a few weeks ago. I’ve been hooking up with a good friend semi-regularly, and it’s been mostly great. The only problem I’ve run into is that I can’t relax enough to cum with this guy, from anything. He’s fingered me, gone down on me, and we’ve had sex, and I just can’t get off. I’ve had no problems ever bringing myself to orgasm, and when I’m with this guy I can feel like I’m just about to, but I can’t get all the way to that point. Do you have any suggestions for me?

Jilling off

Hey there, Jayme.

Thanks for your message. I do have one really important suggestion for you. This is the same suggestion I make to other women who, for whatever reason, are not getting off with a partner.

You say you have no problems bringing yourself to orgasm. This happens during masturbation, right? Do you use your hand, or do you employ a toy of some sort? Perhaps you do both. Whatever your pattern is, it is successful, and that’s the important part.

My suggestion to you is that you masturbate with and for your partner. I am a huge proponent of a couple masturbating together. There is a wealth of information that each can share with their partner about technique and sensitive areas of one’s body. This is a particularly effective means of resolving issues like the ones you have. And I hasten to add that these masturbation events don’t have to be some boring clinical affairs; they can be totally hot. Put on a show for him and he for you. Read erotica aloud to one another. Incorporate toys, whatever.

If you were my client I’d insist on a fucking moratorium. I’d have you and your partner do lots of playful masturbation together — dry hand, wet hand, toys, whatever. Once you get into a rhythm of orgasmic filled masturbation events, I’d have you move on to mutually masturbating each other. When this is successful you could move on to oral, just as long as you also use your hands. Then and only then would I allow you to incorporate full-on fucking to your sex play.

Eliminate the performance anxiety, share your Jack & Jilling off technique and make your sex play fun; that’s your homework.

Good luck

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Beatin’ His Meat Like It Owes Him Money

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Name: Pete
Gender: Male
Age: 33
Location: Florida
I have been notice that some of the skin on my dick is starting to wear away from me masturbating…there is no blood or anything like that. It’s just the skin turning light in color around head of my dick. I think it’s my grip. Is there a way the color will come back or have I rubbed the skin cells to death. I masturbate about 3-4 times a week. I’m not in a relationship and prefer that over random sex.

Your dick skin is wearing away??? Really? How are you handling your unit, darlin’, with sandpaper?

owes me money

You say you think it’s your grip. Ya think?

Hey Pete, are you using lube when you stroke? Or are you just yanking away down there with wild abandon? If you’re not using a good jack off cream like, SPUNK Lube Hybrid, then ya better start! This stuff is GREAT! (Be sure to read our review on Dr Dick Sex Toy Reviews.) I know that you’re only pullin’ your pud, but it’s also good for use with condoms if/when you  make a foray into partnered sex.

As to the rather sudden coloration change on your dick, I’d be willing to guess that it has nothing to do with jerkin’ off, even like a maniac. More likely it’s a genetic condition known as vitiligo. And the coloration change is actually a loss in pigment. This is not a health concern, really! Nor is it contagious. So you don’t have to worry about it in that regard. If it is indeed vitiligo, there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s irreversible, but it can and does spread.

vitiligo_arms

Here’s a relatively easy way to self-diagnose this pesky, but benign condition. While naked as a jaybird, squat over a mirror. If what you have is vitiligo, you will also see the same kind of color changes (loss of pigment) around your asshole. You may also notice it on your elbows and knees. If you are fair-skinned, the loss of pigment will be less noticeable then if you have a darker complexion.

If it’s not vitiligo, you might consider a check up with your physician. But I pretty much can guarantee you that unless you are absolutely ruthless in your masturbation technique, ya know, like beating your meat like it owes you money, it’s not the cause of the pigment change on your joystick.

Good luck

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