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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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How To Talk To Your Doctor About Sex When You Have Cancer

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More people are surviving cancer than ever before, but at least 60 percent of them experience long-term sexual problems post-treatment.

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So you’ve survived cancer. You’ve endured brutal treatments that caused hair loss, weight gain, nausea, or so much pain you could barely move. Perhaps your body looks different, too—maybe you had a double mastectomy with reconstruction, or an orchiectomy to remove one of your testicles. Now you’re turning your attention back to everyday life, whether that’s work, family, dating, school, or some combination of all of those. But you probably aren’t prepared for the horrifying side-effects those life-saving measures will likely have on sex and intimacy, from infertility and impotence, to penile and vaginal shrinkage, to body shame and silent suffering.

More than 15.5 million Americans are alive today with a history of cancer, and at least 60 percent of them experience long-term sexual problems post-treatment. What’s worse, only one-fifth of cancer survivors end up seeing a health care professional to get help with sex and intimacy issues stemming from their ordeal.

Part of the challenge is that the vast majority of cancer patients don’t talk to their oncologists about these problems, simply because they’re embarrassed or they think their low sex drive or severe vaginal dryness will eventually go away on their own. Others try to talk, but end up with versions of the same story: When I went back to my doctor and told him I was having problems with sex, he replied, ‘Well, I saved your life, didn’t I?’ And many oncologists aren’t prepared to answer questions about sex.

“Sex is the hot potato of patient professional communications. Everyone knows it’s important but no one wants to handle it,” says Leslie Schover, a clinical psychologist who’s one of the pioneers in helping cancer survivors navigate sexual health and fertility. “ When you ask psychologists, oncologists and nurses, ‘Do you think it’s important to talk to patients about sex?’ they say yes. And then you say, ‘Do you do it routinely?’ They say no. When you ask why, they say it’s someone else’s job.”

Schover spent 13 years as a staff psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and nearly two decades at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. After retiring last year, she founded Will2Love, a digital health company that offers evidence-based online help for cancer-related sex and fertility problems. Will2Love recently launched a national campaign called Bring It Up! that offers three-step plans for patients and health care providers, so they can talk more openly about how cancer treatments affect sex and intimacy. This fall, the company is collaborating with the American Cancer Society on a free clinical trial—participants will receive up to six months of free self-help programming in return for answering brief questionnaires—to track the success of the programs.

Schover spoke to Newsweek about the challenges cancer patients face when it comes to sex and intimacy, how they can better communicate with their doctors, and what resources can help them regain a satisfying sex life, even if it looks different than it did before.

NEWSWEEK: How do cancer treatments affect sex and intimacy?
LESLIE SCHOVER: A lot of cancer treatments damage some of the systems you need to have a healthy sex life. Some damage hormone levels, and surgery in the pelvic area removes parts of the reproductive system or damages nerves and blood vessels involved in sexual response. Radiation to the pelvic region reduces blood flow to the genital area for men and women, so it affects erections and women’s ability to get lubrication and have their vagina expand when they’re sexually excited.

What happens, for example, to a 35-year-old woman with breast cancer?
Even if it’s localized, they’ll probably want her to have chemotherapy, which tends to put a woman into permanent menopause. Doctors won’t want her to take any form of estrogen, so she’ll have hot flashes, severe vaginal dryness and loss of vaginal size, so sex becomes really painful. She’ll also face osteoporosis at a younger age. If she’s single and hasn’t had children, she’s facing infertility and a fast decision about freezing her eggs before chemo.

What about a 60-year-old man with prostate cancer?
A lot of men by that age are already starting to experience more difficulty getting or keeping erections, and after a prostatectomy, chances are, he won’t be able to recover full erections. Only a quarter of men recover erections anything like they had before surgery. There are a variety of treatments, like Viagra and other pills, but after prostate cancer surgery, most men don’t get a lot of benefit. They might be faced with choices like injecting a needle in the side of the penis to create a firm erection, or getting a penile prosthesis put in to give a man erections when he wants one. If he has that surgery, no semen will come out. He’ll have a dry orgasm, and although it will be quite pleasurable, a lot of men feel like it’s less intense than it was before. These men can also drip urine when they get sexually excited.

Why are so many people unprepared for these side-effects?
If you ask oncologists, ‘Do you tell patients what will happen?’ a higher percentage—like in some studies up to 80 percent—say they have talked to their patients about the sexual side-effects. When you survey patients, it’s rare that 50 percent remember a talk. But most of these talks are informed consent, like what will happen to you after surgery, radiation or chemotherapy. And during that talk, people are bombarded by so many facts and horrible side-effects that could happen, they just shut down. It’s easy for sex to get lost in the midst of this information. By the time people are really ready to hear more about sex, they’re in their recovery period.

Why is it so hard to talk about sex with your oncology team?
It takes courage to say, ‘Hey, I want to ask you about my sex life.’ When patients get their courage together and ask the question, they often get a dismissive answer like, ‘We’re controlling your cancer here, why are you worrying about your sex life?’ Or, ‘I’m your oncologist, why don’t you ask your gynecologist about that?’ Patients have to be assertive enough to bring up the question, but to deal with it if they don’t get a good answer. Sexual health is an important part of your overall quality of life and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to solve or prevent a problem.

What’s the best way for people to prepare for those conversations?
First, because clinics are so busy, ask for a longer appointment time and explain that you have a special question that needs to be addressed. At the start of the appointment, say, ‘I just want to remind you that I have one special question that I want to address today, so please give me time for that.’ Bring it up before the appointment is over.

Second, writing out a question on a piece of paper is a great idea. If you feel anxious or you’re stumbling over your words, you can take it out and read it.

Also, some people bring their spouse or partner to an appointment. They can offer moral support and help them remember all the things the doctor or nurse told them in answering the question.

So you’ve asked your question. Now what?
Don’t leave without a plan. It’s easy to ask the question, get dismissed, and say, I tried. Have a follow-up question prepared. For example, ‘If you aren’t sure how to help me, who can you send me to that might have some expertise?’ Or, ‘Does this particular hospital have a clinic that treats sexual problems?’ Or, ‘Do you know a gynecologist or urologist who’s good with these kinds of problems?’ If you want counseling, ask for that.

What happens if you still get no answers?
I created Will2Love for that problem! It came out of my long career working in cancer centers and seeing the suffering of patients who didn’t get accurate, timely information. When the internet became a place to get health info, it struck me as the perfect place for cancer, sexuality and fertility. Sex is the top search term on the Internet, so people are comfortable looking for information about sex online, including older people or those with lower incomes.

Also, experts tend to cluster in New York and California or major cancer centers. I only know of six or seven major cancer centers with a sex clinic in the U.S. and there are something like 43 comprehensive cancer centers!

We offer free content for the cancer community, including blogs and forums and resource links to finding a sex therapist of gynecologist. We also charge for specialized services with modest fees. Six months is still less than one session with a psychologist in a big city! We’re adding telehealth services that will be more expensive, but you’re talking to someone with expert training.

What can doctors do better in this area?
For health care professionals, their biggest concern is, ‘I have 40 patients to see in my clinic today and if I take 15 extra minutes with four of them, how will I take good care of everybody?’ They can ask to train someone in their clinic, like a nurse or physician’s assistant, who can take more time with each patient, so the oncologist isn’t the one providing sexual counseling, and also have a referral network set up with gynecologists, urologists and mental health professionals.

 

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How Lube, Dildos And Dilators Are Helping Cancer Survivors Enjoy Sex After Treatment

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Tamika Felder, a cervical cancer survivor, founded the nonprofit Cervivor to help fellow survivors navigate the jagged path back to sexual health.

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“I don’t know if readers are ready for what I’ve got to say!” Tamika Felder chuckles over the phone. “I just don’t think they’re ready.”

If you’re a cancer survivor, you should be, because Felder, 42, is an intimacy advocate who dedicates her life to helping cancer survivors navigate the oftentimes brutal path back to sex and pleasure. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer at 25, and spent the next year getting chemotherapy, radiation and a radical hysterectomy. She wound up with “bad radiation burns from front to back” as well as vagina atrophy, shrinkage and dryness, all of which led to painful sex.

“I knew at 25 this just couldn’t be it for me. I knew I wanted to have sex again, and I wanted to have good sex again,” she says. “It takes time, but it’s absolutely possible.”

Felder founded Cervivor, a nonprofit that educates patients and survivors of cervical cancer. She also works with both women and men struggling to regain their sexuality and intimacy post-treatment. Many survivors aren’t aware that there are items, exercises and treatments that can help them. Felder spoke with Newsweek about what people can do to experience pleasure again, even if it’s different than it used to be.

What exactly do you do?
I am not a doctor, I’m patient-turned-advocate who is passionate about the total life beyond cancer—and that includes the sensual side. Cancer treatments are saving our lives, but they’re also damaging our lives. I knew one guy who had to have his penis removed. That’s a life-saving surgery but how do you help that patient navigate life after? I’ve counseled women who survived gynecological cancer, whose vaginal canals meshed so close together that their doctor can’t even fit a speculum inside. What does that do for the quality of life for a woman like that? You have to offer alternatives! Maybe she can’t have penetration through the vaginal canal, but I expect the medical community—her hospital or cancer center—to help her navigate to a good quality of life. Because part of a good quality of life beyond cancer is your sexual self. Doctors have to talk more freely about that.

What if they don’t?
If your clinical team doesn’t raise the concern with you, you need to speak up. Email them or call them on the phone if it’s too hard to do it face-to-face. Find your voice. If something is not functioning the same way or how you think it should be functioning, speak up.

Now that you’ve identified a problem, what are some of the ways to deal with it?
Dilators: Whether you have a partner or it’s all about self love, dilators are important because they stretch out your vagina. Start with a small size dilator and move up. If you need something more, take a field trip to a toy store and get different sized dildos and vibrators. With some cancers, if you don’t use your dilators, your vaginal canal—or whatever is left of it—can close back up, so it’s important to follow those suggestions. Other people think, If I’m not dating now it’s not an issue. No! You need to deal with it now so when you’re intimate with another person you can be ready. Practice makes perfect.

Lubrication: If you’ve had any type of gynecological cancer, lube is going to be your best friend. After chemotherapy and especially radiation, your vagina can be very dry. Women deal with it as we age, but radiation causes you to go into menopause early. For cervical cancer, not only do you have external radiation but also internal radiation. Lube is important when you become sexually active again, because your body isn’t producing moisture on its own. Otherwise you’ll have abrasive sex—it will hurt to enter the vaginal walls.

You have to find out what works for you. Coconut oil is perfect for putting in your vagina and using as lube. A little goes a long way. I also like Zestra, an arousal oil. It’s a natural lubricant. For women who may have slow libidos, you put it on your clitoris and labia and experience what some people call a tingling experience. They call it the “Zestra Rush.” It’s a slow progression of warming up and you’re like, Oh! It still works!

Pocket Rockets or Lipstick Vibrators: These bring blood flow back to the vulva. I don’t care if you’re a southern Baptist from the Bible Belt, I want you to get a pocket rocket and take it with you when you travel and use that sucker so it can help the blood flow. There are lots of fun toys out there that can help. My favorite one is the Ultimate Beaver. Order discreetly online or take a fun field trip to an adult toy store.

Mona Lisa Touch: There are new therapeutic procedures, like the Mona Lisa touch laser treatment, that helps with vaginal rejuvenation. If you’re a reality TV fan like myself, you might think, it sounds like what the Real Housewives do! It’s not just something that rich people do. In many cases, insurance won’t cover it, but we’ve seen with the right doctor and the right type of letter, they’ve gotten insurance to cover it. Or, you may find a doctor willing to donate or discount services. Take a chance and write them, saying, “This is what happened to my vagina after cancer, and this is how you can help.”

Pay Attention to Pain: Make sure you heal properly. You may have healed on the outside but it doesn’t mean you’re healed internally. If you’re properly healed but still experience pain, have a conversation with your doctor.

What pitfalls should people be aware of?
A lot of people focus on what their body was like before cancer. I hate to say, “You have to give that up,” but you do in order to move forward. Your body has changed. Your objective shouldn’t be an orgasm, because maybe your body won’t do that again. It pains me to know that women have vaginal canals that have closed and they’re just living a life where they think they can’t have pleasure stimulated vaginally anymore. It’s not fair. They weren’t given the resources to help them along the way.

How did you redefine sex and intimacy for yourself?
In my own eyes and my husband’s eyes, I’m a perfect 10, but if I’m walking down the street, I don’t look like the magazine covers. I’m a plus size woman but I do love myself. It starts with that. Part of the homework I give men and women— When you look at yourself, tell me what you see. They always start out with the negative. I’ve never had anyone, no matter the age group, in all my cancer talk about sex and intimacy, who’s started with anything good. So I flipped it: Tell me what you love about yourself? You can go get these toys and procedures, but at the end of the day, the true pleasure comes from how you feel about yourself. That’s going to make your sexual self stronger. I’m not saying, don’t go for pleasure, but it really is how you feel about yourself.

Where can people go for more help?
Sites like Memorial Sloan Kettering and Dana Farber have amazing resources. Find out if your cancer center has a program to help cancer patients reclaim their sensual side, like this one at Dana Farber. Or find someone in your local area through the American Society of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists.

Complete Article HERE!

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I’m not that sexually experienced. How can I be more confident in bed?

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Buck up, champ: Feeling a little anxious about your sexual history (or lack thereof) is totally normal. Here are 10 ways to improve your sexual performance without having to have sex first.

by Vanessa Marin

Everyone has anxiety about being great in bed, but when you don’t have much sexual experience that anxiety can feel sky high. For some guys, that concern about experience turns into a horrible cycle: You don’t feel confident about your sexual experience, so you end up not having sex, and your experience level remains the same.

Here’s the good news: Experience is a good teacher, but you can still learn how to be great in bed without it. Here’s how.

1. Put it in context

As a sex therapist, I can tell you that just about everyone has self-confidence issues when it comes to sex—even people with a lot of experience. The insecurities are different from person to person, but they’re insecurities nonetheless. And keep in mind that many of the women you’re intimate with may be inexperienced or insecure as well. You’re certainly not alone.

2. Do your research

You can school yourself on how to have great sex without having any experience whatsoever. I also recommend Guide To Getting It On: Unzipped by Paul Joannides or The Big Bang by Nerve for general sex education topics like STIs and pregnancy prevention, anatomy, communication, and consent. She Comes First by Ian Kerner is a fantastic guide to the art of pleasuring a woman, and I recommend it to almost every man in my sex therapy practice. Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski is a great book about female sexuality in general.

One caveat: Don’t get your sex education from porn! Porn is meant to be entertainment, not education. Porn sex has very little resemblance to real sex. It’s all about angles, lighting, and editing. Most of the moves you see in porn simply won’t go over well in the real world.

3. Take care of your body

One of the best things you can do to improve your confidence is to take great care of your body. Sex is a physical act. Not only do you need endurance, but you also have to feel comfortable and confident in your own skin. You already know what you should be doing—eat right, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. Exercise, in particular, can also have added sexual benefits, like increasing your sex drive and improving your erections and your orgasms.

Grooming is important too. Wear clothes that flatter your body and make you feel good. Get your hair cut and your beard trimmed. The better you feel about yourself and your body, the more confident you’ll feel in bed.

4. Masturbate

Yes, masturbation can improve your partnered sex life! Most men masturbate pretty thoughtlessly, zoning out to porn while they try to get the job done as quickly as possible. This actually serves to disconnect you from your body, and decreases your control over your erection and orgasm.

Instead, you can use masturbation to help increase your stamina. First, think of how long you’d like to last with a partner. That becomes your new masturbation session length. During that time, really pay attention to your body. Notice what it feels like when you start getting close to orgasm, and train yourself to back off when you’re on the edge.

You can also practice purposefully losing your erection, then getting it back again. This will help decrease anxiety about losing your erection with a partner.

5. Go slow

When you’re feeling anxious about sex, you’re more likely to rush. Lots of inexperienced men have the tendency to jump right to intercourse, but it’s so much more fun to take your time and go slow. Spend plenty of time on kissing, touching, and performing oral sex, and even slow down your physical movements. A slower pace will help dramatically decrease your anxiety levels.

Plus, keep in mind that most women feel more physical pleasure from oral sex and fingering than from intercourse, and a lot of women love being teased. She’ll appreciate your pace, too.

6. Focus on her pleasure

Being fantastic in bed means genuinely caring about your partner’s pleasure. It’s arguably the most important quality in a great lover. If you spend time specifically focusing on her body—taking your time with her, kissing her all over, fingering her, going down on her—you’re going to impress her way more than the guy who has a ton of experience but is selfish in bed. Plus, seeing the pleasure that you bring her will naturally help you feel more confident.

7. Treat her like an individual

I’m all about sharing sex tips and techniques, but the reality is that every woman likes different things. No one technique is going to work for every woman. This is great news for you because it shows that experience only goes so far. We’re all beginners when we have sex with someone brand new. Try to explore her body with openness and curiosity. Pay attention to how she responds to your touch. Does she moan? Does she start breathing more heavily? Does she arch her body toward you? Don’t be afraid to ask her what she wants or likes! One super-simple way to ask for feedback is to try two different things on her, and ask her, “Do you like it better when I do this or this?”

8. Keep it simple

So many men overly complicate sex, especially when they’re feeling anxious. Technique is important, but you don’t need to go crazy trying out a million different things on her. The key to female orgasm is actually consistency, not complicated tongue maneuvers or finger gymnastics. Switching things up usually throws her off and distracts her. Find something simple that seems to be working for her, and stick with it. Increase your pace and pressure gradually, but stick to the same basic technique.

9. Don’t think of it as a performance

One of the biggest mistakes that sexual newbies make is thinking of sex as a performance. They get overly fixated on the idea of maintaining a perfect erection, having the utmost control over their orgasms, and mastering their technique. But the truth is that no one likes feeling like they’re having sex with a robot. She doesn’t need you to perform for her like a circus animal. She wants to feel connected to you, and she wants to have fun. You can do that, even without any prior sexual experience.

10. Have a sense of humor

Sex is never perfect, no matter how much experience you have. Sex can be awkward, weird, and sometimes downright hilarious. You’re bound to try out a position that doesn’t work, bump foreheads, or get a cramp in your leg. Having a sense of humor is so important in those moments. If you can laugh it off, you’ll get back to the fun much faster.

Complete Article HERE!

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8 Things That Happen to Your Body During Sex

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Your heart quickens. Your hormones flow. See what else is happening, head to toe, in the heat of the moment.

Ever wondered what happens to your body during a steamy session between the sheets? From the good (happy hormones! increased sensitivity!) to the not-so-good (increased risk of urinary tract infections, for example), here are eight things that happen when you’re having sex.

1. Happy hormones are released. Sex stimulates the secretion of hormones such as oxytocin, which makes you feel connected to others, and dopamine, which activates the brain’s reward center. The result: You feel satisfied and close to your partner.

2. Blood vessels widen. What do dilated blood vessels do for you? “Your clitoris and vulva become engorged, as do the vessels in the vaginal wall,” says urologist and sexual-health expert Jennifer Berman, MD. “This leads to more secretions and lubrication.” Your face and chest can also get flushed.

3. Sensitivity skyrockets. Your erogenous zones, including the nipples, ears, neck, and genital area, become extra sensitive because of increased blood flow and the release of sensation-enhancing neurotransmitters.

4. Bacteria may build up. During sex, bacteria from the vagina and anus can get into the urethra and multiply, leading to a urinary tract infection. Tip: Pee immediately after the act to flush out bacteria.

5. You burn (some) calories. A study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that a 154-pound person would burn 21 calories during six minutes of sexual activity. So a roll in the sack isn’t as effective as spin class, but a sexy half hour could torch around 100 calories.

6. Your heart races. Like any aerobic activity, sex raises your heart rate. It peaks when you orgasm and settles back to its baseline within 10 to 20 minutes, research shows.

7. Your muscles tense. “During orgasm, the pelvic floor muscles involuntarily contract,” says Dr. Berman. Actively tensing and releasing those muscles during sex can help boost engorgement, arousal, and pleasure. Kegels, anyone?

8. You feel relaxed. Your big O may be the ultimate chill pill: Orgasms trigger an increase in prolactin, a calming hormone that reaches its highest levels when we’re asleep.

Complete Article HERE!

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