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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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What happens when you find the idea of sex daunting

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Some people find physical intimacy difficult – here’s what to do

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We’ve all been there, feeling shy, bashful or even self-conscious due to a sexual encounter. But for some men and women, the idea of sex can be so daunting they’ll avoid it altogether.

Tara*, a 42-year-old who married young and divorced in her 30s, found herself a ‘practical virgin’ on the dating scene after finding herself single. For years, she avoided dating out of fear that she would eventually have to have sex.

“I simply couldn’t imagine stripping naked in front of a total stranger. I’d be too embarrassed,” Tara says. “My body was okay the last time I was dating, but now I’m older and I’ve had two children.”

Lacking the confidence in bed

Tara isn’t alone in finding the thought of sex incredibly intimidating. Whether it’s due to a bad experience in the past, body confidence issues, sexual dysfunction or anticipation about future sexual encounters, this is a common issue that many of us face.

According to Krystal Woodbridge, a psychosexual therapist at the College of Sexual Relationship Therapists (COSRT), finding sex intimidating can be centred around body image issues, especially for women, and how they perceive their partner wants them to look.

“Many women also don’t have the confidence to initiate sex,” says Krystal. “It’s quite common, particularly for women who struggle in this area, that they haven’t actually explored their own body through things like masturbation or understood their own sexual fantasies, sexual desires or urges.”

Many men feel that they need to perform and this constant worry over their ability in bed can lead to performance anxiety. “Men often feel like they need to act in a certain way, maintain an erection and take charge of the situation – and for some men this can be really intimidating.”

Very often people who suffer with a sexual issue, such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, vaginismus or low sexual desire, will also have problems with sexual confidence.

“Often these issues can put people off getting into a new relationship because when it comes to initiating sex, which would be something they normally do, they hold back because they don’t want their partner to know that there’s some kind of sexual problem,” says Krystal.

6 ways to overcome your sexual fear

Feeling unconfident and daunted by sex can be overcome. We spoke to Tracey Cox, sex and relationships expert about what you can do to turn this around.

1. Only have sex when you’re ready

“Forget any preconceived notions you have about having to climb into bed on date three. Have sex when you feel ready – when you know, trust and feel comfortable enough to sleep with them. Also remember, unless you’re planning on dating an 18-year-old supermodel, your new lover’s body isn’t going to be perfect either. While you’re frantically sucking in your stomach or worrying about how big your bum is, he’s nervous about the light hitting that not-so-well-concealed bald spot or wondering if the arms you’re grabbing on to aren’t as muscular as your ex’s.”

2. Think back to when you were a teenager and take your cue from there

“Start off slowly with foreplay. When you both really like each other, and are both nervous, this is the sexual equivalent of getting into the freezing swimming pool slowly rather than diving in at the deep end. The thought of having full sex after a few foreplay sessions together will feel a lot less scary.”

3. Stick to the basics at first

“Another big concern for people who find sex intimidating is: what if I don’t know what to do? Aren’t people doing stuff in bed I don’t know about? Both sexes worry about this one – and unnecessarily.
The way we meet people to have sex with might have completely changed
but once you’re having it, it’s pretty much the same scenario. After all, there are only so many physical sex acts you can perform and most people stick to the basics first time around. Requests for ‘kinky stuff’, if it’s going to happen, tend to happen a few months in so you’re safe for now. If they do suggest something you’re not comfortable with, simply say ‘I don’t think I’m ready for that now. Can we stick to basics until we know each other better?’.”

4. Explore your body with some solo sex

“If you’re not already doing this, start having some solo sex sessions to get your body used to the feeling of orgasm – perhaps by experimenting with sex toys. There are some good beginners’ toys you can try here. The more you explore your body and know what feels good and what doesn’t, the more confident you’ll be in bed with someone else. Sex toys are a great way to discover how your body works and what it responds to, making you sexually happier and more confident.”

5. Get your attitude right

“Sex isn’t an exam. You’re not going to be graded pass or fail (and if it feels like you are, you’re with the wrong person). So, stop stressing and thinking: ‘this has got to be perfect’. Perfect sex happens to people in movies; normal people muddle through the first time.”

6. Don’t be scared to dim the lights

“Lighting is crucial – especially if you’re body conscious. Don’t be scared to say what you need. If you want it really dark for
the first time, say so. You can start turning up the dimmer switch when your confidence increases.”

Complete Article HERE!

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The New Gay Sexual Revolution

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PrEP, TasP, and fearless sex remind us we can’t advance social justice without including sex in the equation.

By Jacob Anderson-Minshall

The sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s came to an abrupt and brutal end for many gay and bi men the moment AIDS was traced to sexual contact. In the early days of the epidemic, sex between men was equated with AIDS, not just in the mainstream media, but also in prevention efforts by other gay men. Since AIDS in those days was seen as a death sentence, for men who had sex with men, every sexual interaction carried the risk of death. Indeed, tens of thousands died of AIDS-related conditions.

“I was alive when homosexuality was [still] considered to be a psychological illness,” David Russell, pop star Sia’s manager, recently told Plus magazine. “The two generations ahead of mine, and a good portion of my generation, were completely decimated by AIDS. They’re gone.”

While some men with HIV outlasted all predictions and became long-term survivors, the widespread adoption of condoms is credited with dramatically reducing HIV transmissions among gay and bi men in subsequent years. Yet reliance on nothing but that layer of silicone — a barrier some complain prevents true intimacy and pleasure — couldn’t erase the gnawing dread gay men felt that every sexual encounter could be the one where HIV caught up to them.

There have been, of course, moments when nearly every gay or bi man has allowed their passions to override their fears and enjoyed the skin-on-skin contact that opposite-sex couples often take for granted. Thinking back on those unbridled and unprotected moments of passion filled many of these men with terror, regret, and guilt.

“Shame and gay sex have a very long history,” acknowledges Alex Garner, senior health and innovation strategist with the gay dating app Hornet. “And it takes much self-reflection — and often therapy — to feel proud and unashamed of our sex when everything around us tells us that it’s dirty, immoral, or illegitimate.”

Since the late 1990s and the advent of lifesaving antiretroviral drugs, some of the angst around sex between men faded — and with that came changes in behavior. Condom use, once reliably high among gay and bisexual men, has dropped off in the past two decades. According to a recent study published in the journal AIDS, over 40 percent of HIV-negative and 45 percent of HIV-positive gay and bi men admitted to having condomless sex in 2014. Researchers found the decrease in condom use wasn’t explained by serosorting (choosing only partners believed to have the same HIV status) or antiretroviral drug use. And despite what alarmists say, condom use had been declining long before the introduction of PrEP.

Garner, who has been HIV-positive for over two decades, says he’s almost relieved he acquired the virus at 23, because “My entire adult life I have never had to worry about getting HIV.”

The Rise of PrEP

Now there’s hope the younger generation may also experience worry-free sex lives — without the side effects of living with HIV.

The use of the antiretroviral drug Truvada as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP (it’s the only medication approved for HIV prevention), has been shown to reduce the chance of HIV transmission to near zero. Since the medication was first approved as PrEP in 2012, only two verified cases of transmission have been documented among those who adhere to the daily schedule (a third, according to HIV expert Howard Grossman, could not be confirmed). New, longer-lasting PrEP injectables should reach market in the next few years. Studies suggest that on-demand PrEP (such as taking it before and after sexual activity) may also be effective.

“This is a revolution!” Gary Cohan, MD, who prescribes PrEP, told us in 2016. “This should be above the fold in The New York Times and on the cover of Time magazine. A pill to prevent HIV?”

Undetectable Equals Untransmittable

Those who are already HIV-positive also have a sure-fire option for preventing the transmission of HIV that doesn’t rely on condoms. It’s called treatment as prevention, or TasP. Those who are poz, take antiretroviral medication, and get their viral load down to an undetectable level, can’t transmit HIV to sexual partners. Last year, The New England Journal of Medicine published the final results of HPTN 052, a study that proved antiretroviral medication alone is enough to prevent HIV transmission among serodiscordant couples. In a Facebook Live interview for AIDS.gov, Dr. Carl Dieffenbach, director of the Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted, “The chance of transmitting [HIV] if you are virally durably suppressed is zero.

Since Dieffenbach’s statement, a number of HIV organizations and medical groups have joined the “Undetectable Equals Untransmittable” bandwagon, including GMHC, APLA Health, and the Latino Commission on AIDS.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of condoms in addition to PrEP or TasP, primarily because neither biomedical approach prevents other sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea or syphilis. Still, PrEP and TasP make it safer to have condomless sex — and that could jump-start the new sexual revolution. “When the threat of HIV is removed from sex there is a profound sense of liberation,” Garner says. “Sex can just be about sex.”

One hurdle is PrEP stigma, furthered by the myth of “Truvada whores,” and AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Michael Weinstein’s deliberate efforts to portray the HIV prevention pill as “a party drug.”

“Fear and shame have been ingrained in gay sex for decades,” Garner admits. “And it will take time and a great deal of work to extricate those elements.” But he remains optimistic that “together negative and poz men can shift the culture away from fear and toward liberation.”

He argues that what’s at stake is far more than just a better orgasm.

“Our sexuality is at the core of our humanity,” Garner says. “Our sexuality is as integral to us as our appetite. We can’t advance social justice without including sex. As queer people and as people of color, our bodies have been criminalized, our sexuality has been pathologized, and structures continue to dehumanize us. It’s a radical act of resistance when, as gay men, we choose to find pleasure and intimacy in our sex. Our sex has been, and will continue to be, intensely political. It can change our culture and our politics if we embrace it and run to it instead of away from it.”

Complete Article HERE!

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