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Writing Graphic Sex Scenes Can Be a Feminist Act

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‘We don’t put enough value on female pleasure in our culture’

By Stef Penney

Why is there explicit sex in my new book? Because I’m a feminist.

Under A Pole Star, my third book, is a novel about late 19th century arctic explorers that features, alongside ice, ambition and rivalry, more than one sexual relationship. And there’s a lot of detail. My central characters fall in love, and yes, they have a lot of sex. I was nervous about how the passages would be received. One Amazon reviewer has already complained about “copious quantities of copulation.” The specter of the Literary Review’s Bad Sex Award, given annually to authors of “poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction,” hovers over us all, tittering. Some judge writing explicitly about sex to be less than literary — or worse, discrediting of female characters. But why should achieving romantic and sexual satisfaction — one of the most difficult challenges we face as humans — be redacted or blurred?

There’s a problem with leaving “it” up to the reader’s imagination: Every reader will fill your tasteful ellipsis with something different — possibly with unachievable fantasy, with prejudices, with bad experience, with pornography. I wasn’t going to do that to my characters. I felt I owed it to readers to treat the characters’ intimacy with the same precision and seriousness I would any other intense human experience.

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I’ve read too much bad sex in otherwise good books: bizarre, metaphorical sex; coy, breathless sex; baffling, what-just-happened-there sex; most of all, phallocentric, male-experience-dominated sex. Too often, in sex scenes between a man and a woman, the woman’s sensations are barely mentioned, as if her experience is incomprehensible or irrelevant. It’s important to ask why this is — and the fact that a lot of those writers are male is not a satisfactory answer. We don’t put enough value on female pleasure in our culture. The way we write about sex only exacerbates that problem.

In my quest for knowledge and precedent, I sought out scientific research, erotic poetry and literature. I trawled the Internet as much as I could bear. I wanted to dissect the composition of sex scenes — and waded through many, many passages that didn’t come close to answering essential questions: Did she climax? Has this man heard of a clitoris? What were they using for contraception? Some uncovered even more questions about our culture’s perception of female sexuality: Did men in D.H. Lawrence’s time really accuse women of “withholding” their orgasms, as happens to Lady Chatterley? Because that’s absurd.

There’s so much ignorance, confusion and frustration out there. Delving into sex forums online, I was shocked by the prevalence of questions from women like, “How do I know if I’m having an orgasm?” The fact that so much confusion prevails is no surprise: studies have found that more men orgasm more frequently than women and 40% of women have sexual dysfunction, which can make it difficult to achieve climax. One study found that 80% of women fake orgasms.

The more I read, the more I realized how important it would be for me to write my scenes in steamy, awkward, mutual and real graphic detail. I wanted to write about a sexual relationship in a way that convinced me and reflected what I know to be true about female sexuality — that it’s complicated, beautiful and worth equal attention. So I included accounts of great sex, horrible sex, indifferent sex, sex that just doesn’t work despite both partners’ best intentions — and I showed how and why they were different.

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I wanted to create a story that honored the sexual biographies of both partners from both points of view, that showed how they reach the point where they come together and why their relationship is the way it is. And while we’re on the subject of coming together, simultaneous orgasm was one myth I encountered over and over again in my research that was never going to get an outing here.

When my friends began to read my book and wanted to talk about it, I learned things I’d never known about them, and I became more forthright in turn. We tumbled through a flood of questions. Why had we never talked about our sexual pleasure in explicit detail before? Why did we not achieve good, orgasmic sex until our mid-twenties, or later? Why were we too ignorant, too embarrassed to ask? Why did we expect so little in bed?

One reason, we all agreed, was that we’d had to learn about good sex through trial and error, because that behavior wasn’t modeled for us in a healthy, explicit way.

We need to be able to talk, teach, learn, write and read about sex, honestly and seriously, without — or in spite of — derision and censure. Unless we share specifics, we’ll never understand one another’s experiences. You can’t support women’s empowerment without frank and open discussion of their sexuality.

Complete Article HERE!

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9 Reasons You Might Not Be Orgasming

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By Sophie Saint Thomas

While orgasms don’t define good sex, they are pretty damn nice. However, our bodies, minds, and relationships are complicated, meaning orgasms aren’t always easy to come by (pun intended). From dating anxiety to medication to too little masturbation, here are nine possible culprits if you’re having a hard time orgasming — plus advice on how to deal.

1. You expect vaginal sex alone to do it for you.

One more time, for the cheap seats in the back: Only about 25 percent of people with vaginas come from penetration alone. If you’re not one of them, that doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you or your body. As licensed psychotherapist Amanda Luterman has told Allure, ability to come from vaginal sex has to do with the distance between the vaginal opening and the clitoris: The closer your clit is to this opening, the more vaginal sex will stimulate your clit.

The sensation of a penis or a dildo sliding into your vagina can be undeniably delightful. But most need people need that sensation paired with more direct clitoral stimulation in order to come. Try holding a vibrator against your clit as your partner penetrates you, or put your or your partner’s hands to good use.

2. Your partner is pressuring you.

Interest in your partner’s pleasure should be non-optional. But when you’re having sex with someone and they keep asking if you’ve come yet or if you’re close, it can throw your orgasm off track. As somatic psychologist and certified sex therapist Holly Richmond points out, “Being asked to perform is not sexy.” If your partner is a little too invested in your orgasm, it’s time to talk. Tell them you appreciate how much they care, but that you’re feeling pressure and it’s killing the mood for you.

It’s possible that they’re judging themselves as a partner based on whether or not you climax, and they may be seeking a little reassurance that they’re making you feel good. If they are, say so; if you’re looking to switch it up, this is your opportunity to tell them it would be so hot if they tried this or that thing next time you hop in bed.

3. Your antidepressants are messing with your sex drive.

As someone who continues to struggle with depression, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to seek treatment and take medication if you and your care provider decide that’s what’s right for you. Antidepressants can be lifesavers, and I mean that literally.

However, certain medications do indeed affect your ability to come. SSRIs such as Zoloft, Lexapro, and Prozac can raise the threshold of how much stimulation you need to orgasm. According to New York City sex therapist Stephen Snyder, author of Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long Lasting Relationship. “For some women, that just means you’re going to need a good vibrator,” says New York City sex therapist Stephen Snyder, author of Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long Lasting Relationship. “For others, it might mean your threshold is so high that no matter what you do, you’re just not going to be able to get there.”

If your current medication is putting a dramatic damper on your sex life, you have options, so talk to your doctor. Non-SSRI antidepressants such as Wellbutrin are available, while newer medications like Viibryd or Trintellix may come with fewer sexual side effects than other drugs, Snyder says. I’m currently having excellent luck with Fetzima. I don’t feel complete and utter hopelessness yet can also come my face off (a wonderful way to live).

4. Your birth control is curbing your libido.

Hormonal birth control can also do a number on your ability to climax, according to Los Angeles-based OB/GYN Yvonne Bohn. That’s because it can decrease testosterone levels, which in turn can mean a lower libido and fewer orgasms. If you’re on the pill and the sexual side effect are giving you grief, ask your OB/GYN about switching to a pill with a lower dose of estrogen or changing methods altogether.

5. You’re living with anxiety or depression.

“Depression and anxiety are based on imbalances between neurotransmitters,” OB/GYN Jessica Shepherd tells Allure. “When your dopamine is too high or too low, that can interfere with the sexual response, and also your levels of libido and ability to have sexual intimacy.” If you feel you may have depression or an anxiety disorder, please go see a doctor. Your life is allowed to be fun.

6. You’re not having sex for long enough.

A good quickie can be exciting (and sometimes necessary: If you’re getting it on in public, for example, it’s not exactly the time for prolonged foreplay.) That said, a few thrusts of a penis inside of a vagina is not a reliable recipe for mutual orgasm. Shepherd stresses the importance of foreplay, which can include oral, deep kissing, genital stimulation, sex toys, and more. Foreplay provides both stimulation and anticipation, making the main event, however you define that, even more explosive.

7. You’re recovering from sexual trauma.

Someone non-consensually went down on me as part of a sexual assault four years ago, and I’ve only been able to come from oral sex one time since then. Post-traumatic stress disorder is common among survivors of sexual trauma; so are anxiety and orgasm-killing flashbacks, whether or not the survivor in question develops clinical PTSD. Shepherd says sexual trauma can also cause hypertonicity, or increased and uncomfortable muscle tension that can interfere with orgasm. If you’re recovering from sexual trauma, I encourage you to find a therapist to work with, because life — including your sex life — can get better.

8. You’re experiencing body insecurity.

Here’s the thing about humans: They want to have sex with people they’re attracted to. Richmond says it’s important to remember your partner chooses to have sex with you because they’re turned on by your body. (I feel confident your partner loves your personality, as well.) One way to tackle insecurity is to focus on what your body can do — for example, the enormous pleasure it can give and receive — rather than what it looks like.

9. You’re shying away from masturbation.

Our partners don’t always know what sort of stimulation gets us off, and it’s especially hard for them to know when we don’t know ourselves. If you’re not sure what type of touch you enjoy most, set aside some time and use your hands, a sex toy, or even your bathtub faucet to explore your body at a leisurely pace. Once you start to discover how to make yourself feel good, you can demonstrate your techniques to your partner.

Complete Article HERE!

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Butt Stuff, Part One

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A sexual-health professional reminds us that, however open-minded and experienced we think we are, there’s always something to learn about anuses and rectums.

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As a sexual-health professional, I find that people have many questions about putting things in their butt — and about butts in general. I can’t possibly cover everything ass-related in a single column, so we will break it in two. Speaking in my capacity as the Director of the Safe and Supportive Schools Project at the GSA Network and someone who holds a Ph.D. in health promotion, I give you Butt Stuff, Part One.

Let’s start with some basics. When I refer to the “ass” or “butt,” I’m referring to the whole thing: the gluteus maximus muscle, the anus, and the rectum. Our butts serve a number of purposes, from sitting, standing, and walking to pooping and farting. The rectum and the anus contain a great deal of nerve endings, including ones that generate a pleasurable feeling when stimulated — think about that sensation of feeling full you get when you need to poop, and how good it feels when you take a big dump — making it part of an erogenous zone (an area on the body it feels pleasurable to touch and stimulate).

Many people — those assigned male at birth, typically — also have a prostate gland, which is responsible for producing the white, milky fluid that we associate with semen and which serves as a suspension and protective fluid for sperm. In other words, it helps get sperm out of the body from the testicles and, in procreative sex, into the uterus and fallopian tubes to fertilize an egg.

The prostate is located approximately between the rectum and the bladder, and it can feel quite pleasurable when stimulated by a finger, sex toy, penis, or anything else inserted into the rectum. Some people really, really like it when the area around the anus or between the anus and genitalia — the taint — the rectum, and/or the prostate are stimulated. Other people don’t really care one way or the other, and some just plain don’t like it. All of that is great! It takes all types of people to make butt-play and butt-sex fun.

Also, the older you get, the easier it is to be ashamed of slang terms you hear but don’t know the meaning of. Don’t just laugh along and hope no one exposes your naivete; let a professional help you out! Sure, you know what tops and bottoms are, but versatile people enjoy getting things inserted in their ass and inserting things in other people’s asses. (If they’re lucky and there are enough people or toys, a versatile person can be a top and bottom at the same time!) Rimming or tossing salad means licking, sucking, and lightly biting the asshole and the area around it. Fingering and fisting are pretty self-explanatory, but pegging is when someone puts a dildo, usually a strap-on, or a dick in another person’s ass.

I was around 12 or 13 when I discovered the joy of sticking things up my rear end. I used to keep a stash of Hustler magazines hidden under the folded towels in the bathroom for jerking off every chance I got. (Hustler was the only one I had access to that had pictures of hard cocks in it!) In that same cabinet under the sink, there was always a jar of Vaseline and a toilet plunger. During one of my multiple-times-a-day jack-off sessions, I decided to rub some Vaseline on the handle of the plunger and stick it up my ass. The world ended, stars collided, and I’m still trying to get other people to put things in my butt to this day.

Just as with most sexual things, there is a great deal of stigma, shame, and guilt about engaging in ass play, mostly around being worried that people will think you are gay — who cares?! — or that it is unsanitary and unhealthy. We will tackle that thoroughly in a future column, but if you want to experiment, here are a few simple pointers: Wash your ass, thoroughly, with soap and water. Use a lot of lube — the more, the better. Relax and don’t force anything. Start small: a finger, a small butt-plug, or a dildo. (Go to a sex-toy store and ask. The staff will be delighted to help out a newbie!) Lastly, if at first you don’t succeed, try again — and if you don’t like it, that’s cool. Maybe try being a top.

Next time, I’ll go a little deeper — wink, wink — laying down the real shit about shit for you about whether or not you should douche, and why straight guys have to call it pegging. Until then, go play with yourself, or help out a friend.

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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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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