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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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What to Do When You Want More—or Less—Sex Than Your Partner

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By Justin Lehmiller

Anyone who’s ever been in a long-term relationship knows that, when it comes to sex, we aren’t always on the same wavelength as our partners. Sometimes we’re in the mood, but our partner isn’t. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, it’s usually not a big deal—unless it starts happening over and over again. If your desire for sex gets completely out of sync with your partner and this lasts for months—maybe even years—you have developed what’s known as a sexual desire discrepancy.

Desire discrepancies are common. For example, a nationally representative British sex survey found that approximately one in four adults reported being in a relationship in which they didn’t see eye to eye with their partner regarding the amount of sex they’d like to be having.

There’s a popular stereotype that desire discrepancies are a gendered issue, such that men are always the ones who want more sex while women want less. However, this isn’t the case at all. In heterosexual relationships, it can be either the male or female partner who would prefer having more sex. Desire discrepancies can affect same-sex couples, too.

Discrepant sexual desires can happen in any relationship, but they usually don’t emerge until after a couple has been together for quite some time. Perhaps not surprisingly, when they occur, these discrepancies tend to be highly distressing and often cause serious damage to the relationship. Indeed, studies have found that they’re linked to more conflict, less satisfaction and greater odds of breaking up.

In light of how common desire discrepancies are and the harm they can potentially inflict, we’d all do well to better understand them so that we can be prepared to respond in productive and healthy ways should we ever wind up in that situation.

So where do desire discrepancies come from? It’s complicated . Numerous factors—biological and psychosocial—can affect sexual desire in one partner, but not necessarily the other. Everything from our medication use to our sleep habits to the amount of stress we’re under to the way we feel about our relationship has the potential to impact sexual desire. Given the broad range of factors that influence desire, identifying the underlying cause(s) is important when choosing the best course of treatment.

This means that, unfortunately, there are no quick and simple fixes, like pills that magically adjust the partners’ libidos to match one another. Drug companies have been hard at work trying to create pills like this, but they’ve found that sexual desire just isn’t easily changed this way. The good news is that there are a number of steps you and your partner can take that have the potential to help.

For insight into handling desire discrepancies, I spoke wih Dr. Lori Brotto, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who researches sexual desire. As a starting point, Brotto suggests that we step back and look at desire discrepancies as a couple’s issue—not a problem specific to the low-desire or high-desire partner. Blaming each another for wanting “too much” or “not enough” sex is counterproductive. This is a relationship issue that you both need to work on together rather than something one of you addresses alone.

Next, identify whether there are any health issues or stressors that might be impeding sexual desire, like chronic fatigue or adjusting to parenthood. According to Brotto, “Usually, addressing those other issues is necessary before addressing sexual difficulties.” In other words, there might be value in consulting a doctor and/or re-evaluating your work-life balance before anything else.

From here, it’s all about touch and communication. Part of the issue is that our partners don’t always know what we like sexually—and if your partner is doing things that you’re not really into, that can put a damper on desire. So you might need to step back and spend some time teaching each other what feels good and what doesn’t. Indeed, Brotto says that “couple touching exercises such as ‘sensate focus,’ which are designed to inform a partner where and how one likes to be touched, can be very effective.”

Touch isn’t just a valuable teaching technique but also a great lead-in to sex. For example, giving each other massages can help with relaxation and stress relief—and, in the process, it just might put both of you in the mood. This is probably why research has found that couples who give each other mini-massages and backrubs are more sexually satisfied than those who don’t.

Beyond this, we need to be mindful of how we deal with sexual frustration and try to approach sexual disagreements in productive ways. For example, if you feel like your sexual needs aren’t being met, being confrontational with your partner in the heat of the moment might make things worse in the long run. According to Brotto, such behavior “can further push [your] partner away sexually and widen the discrepant desire divide.” Therefore, consider ways of coping with bouts of sexual frustration, like masturbation, that aren’t going to escalate conflict.

Finally, as unsexy as it sounds, scheduling sex or having regular date nights can help, too. As Brotto notes, “by planning sex, it can help to promote healthy and sexy anticipation of it.” For example, one advantage of having sex on a schedule is that it allows time to prepare. For example, if you agree to shut off your phones for a few hours beforehand, this can help to clear your heads of distractions that might otherwise interfere with interest in—and enjoyment of—sex. Also, by planning sex, you can build up to it, such as by sexting your partner to let them know how attractive they are to you. “Foreplay need not be a few minutes, but can extend over several days,” says Brotto.

Though many couples facing sexual desire discrepancies feel hopeless, the truth of the matter is that there’s actually a lot you can to do manage these situations in healthy and mutually satisfying ways.

Complete Article HERE!

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All the reasons to masturbate — that have nothing to do with sex

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By WHIMN

Masturbation has so many health benefits, it should come with a certified AMA tick of approval. It increases blood flow, flushes your body with lovely endorphins, alleviates stress, boosts your self-confidence and keeps you in tune with your body and your sexuality. In short, it makes you feel great, and here at whimn, we’re all about that.

Real talk: Any time of day is a good time to masturbate. But some times are, well, more good than others.

Right before you go to work

Everyone has their morning checklist. Ours goes something like this. Shower, breakfast, coffee, brush teeth, rush out the door like a whirling devil to make the next bus to the office. But if you set aside a little more time in the morning, you could add an extra item to your to-do list: yourself.

Sure, masturbating in the morning won’t have the same languid sense of ease as a Sunday afternoon session, but it has plenty of health benefits that could improve your performance at work. You’ll be less stressed by office politics, will have more energy to tackle a big day at the desk and you’ll cut your beauty routine in half, courtesy of your natural, post-orgasm flush.

When you’re lacking in focus

If you feel yourself losing your concentration, it might be time to masturbate. Speaking to Bustle, Kit Maloney, the founder of O’actually, a feminist porn production company, said that “masturbation [and] orgasm is like meditation. It allows the space for the brain to quiet and that means you’ll be more focused and effective with your to-do list afterwards.”

When your mood is low

Think about a time of day when your energy levels and mood are running near-empty. It could be because you’re hung over, or because you’ve hit the mid-afternoon slump, or for a myriad of other reasons pertaining to you.

Whenever you feel your mood slipping is a great time to masturbate, thanks to all the nice dopamine that is released when you have an orgasm. Dopamine is a chemical that leads your body to feel pleasure, satisfaction and happiness, all things that help elevate your mood.

When you have your period

Though there’s been no specific scientific examination of this, in theory masturbation is a fantastic way to soothe menstrual cramps. That’s because when you have an orgasm, your uterine muscles contract and release naturally analgesic chemicals. Period pain, begone!

Before you go to sleep

There is a school of thought that says that since orgasms leave you in a state of heightened, pillowy relaxation bordering on bone-tiredness, you shouldn’t have one before anything that requires your brain to do heavy lifting.

Which means that one of the best times to have an orgasm is in bed, right before you go to sleep. There have been no studies explicitly examining the correlation between sleepiness and orgasms, but research by Kinsey found that participants noted that nightly masturbation helped them fall asleep, quickly and more smoothly. That might be because during climax, your body releases our old friend dopamine and then oxytocin, a nice little hormone cocktail that makes you feel very happy and then very tired all at once. Have an orgasm before bedtime and you might have the best sleep of your life.

Complete Article HERE!

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This Is How Masturbating Can Transform Your Sex Life

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A relationship expert explains what it means to own your pleasure.

By Wendy Strgar

For many of us, taking responsibility for our pleasure begins with healing our relationship with our body. We may think that we can experience true pleasure only when we look a certain way. When I lose ten more pounds, I’ll deserve a little pleasure. If my tan gets a little deeper, then I’ll really be able to feel good. <

Actually, the reverse is true: Opening yourself up to more sexual pleasure will make you recognize the beauty in your body as it is, and inspire you to treat it better. And here’s the thing: If you sacrifice your access to pleasure to the false belief that sexual satisfaction will find you when you are fitter or more beautiful, you will miss out on your own life. Make a decision now to stop comparing yourself to the myriad Photoshopped images of models that even models don’t look like. Instead, dedicate yourself now to finding ways to live more deeply in your body.

Sex is something you do with your body, so how you feel about and treat your body is a direct reflection of the respect you hold for your sex life. Resolve to treat your body with a little more attention and loving kindness, and it will reward you by revealing its capacity for pleasure—sexual and otherwise.

If your body needs coaxing, there is something very simple you can do to deepen your relationship with it and explore your pleasure response: masturbate. Even with all the benefits masturbation can bring to a couple’s sex life, it is still a behavior that many people are not comfortable sharing with their partners or even talking about.

In addi­tion to the religious condemnation that has long been associated with self-pleasure, the practice was not long ago considered an affliction that medical doctors used the cruelest of instruments and techniques to control. So it’s not surprising that self-reporting of this behavior still hovers at 30% to 70% depending on gender and age.

Yet there are many benefits to a healthy dose of solo sex. First and foremost, it teaches us about our own sexual response, and personal experience is an invaluable aid when communicating with our part­ner about what feels good and what doesn’t. The practice of solo sex is helpful for men who have issues with premature ejaculation, as it familiarizes them with the moment of inevitability so that they can better master their sense of control. Masturbation can also be a great balancer for couples with a disparity in their sex drive, and solo orgasm can serve as a stress reliever and sleep aid just as well as partnered plea­sure can.

A 2007 study in Sexual and Relationship Therapy reported that male masturbation might also improve immune system function­ing and the health of the prostate. For women, it builds pelvic floor muscles and sensitivity and has been associated with reduced back pain and cramping around menses, as it increases blood flow and stimulates relaxation of the area after orgasm.

The one caveat is that masturbation, like anything else, serves us well in moderation. Becoming too obsessed with solo sex play, often enhanced by visual or digital aids, has been known to backfire and lead to loss of interest in the complexity and intensity of partner sex. There are also some forms of masturbation that can make partner sex seem less appealing because the form of self-stimulation is so different from what happens in the paired experience. If you are experiencing less desire or ability to respond to your partner, ask yourself what you can do to make your solo experience more compatible with your partner’s ability to stimulate you.

Complete Article HERE!

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Should sex toys be prescribed by doctors?

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Talk about good vibrations

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They are far more likely to be found in your bedside drawer than your local surgery, but sex toys can bring more than just benefits in the bedroom; they could boost your health too.

So should GPs stop being shy and recommend pleasure products? Samantha Evans, former nurse and co-founder of ‘luxury sex toy and vibrator shop’ Jo Divine certainly believes so. Challenging stuffy attitudes could change people’s lives for the better.

“I have encountered several doctors including GPs and gynaecologists who will not recommend sex toys because of their own personal views and embarrassment about sex. However, once healthcare professionals learn about sex toys and sexual lubricants and see what products can really help, they often change their mind.”

Samantha says increasingly doctors are seeing vibrators as the way forward for helping people overcome intimate health issues.

In 2015, she was asked to put together a sexual product brochure for the NHS at the request of Kent-based gynaecologist Mr Alex Slack. The document contains suitable sex toys, lubricants and pelvic floor exercisers that can help with a range of gynaecological problems.

But sex toys can also be beneficial for many other illnesses too, Samantha reveals.

“Often people feel their body is being hijacked by their illness such as cancer and being able to enjoy sexual pleasure is something they can take back control of, beyond popping a pill. Using a sex toy is much more fun and has far fewer side effects than medication!”

Here are just some of the reasons it’s worth exploring your local sex shop (or browsing online) to benefit your health:

1. Great sex is good for you

One area sex toys can help with is simply making sex more enjoyable, helping couples discover what turns them on.

“Having great sex can promote health and wellbeing by improving your mood and physically making you feel good. Using a sex toy can spice up a flagging sex life and bring a bit of fun into your life. A sex toy will make you feel great as well as promoting your circulation and the release of the “feel good factors” during an orgasm.”

2. Sex toys can rejuvenate vaginas

Some of the most uncomfortable symptoms of the menopause are gynaecological. Declining levels of the hormone oestrogen can lead to vaginal tightness, dryness and atrophy. This can lead to painful sex and decreased sex drive.

But vibrators can alieve these symptoms (by improving the tone and elasticity of vaginal walls and improving sexual sensation) and also promote vaginal lubrication.

Sex toys can also be useful following gynaecological surgery or even after childbirth to keep the vaginal tissue flexible, preventing it from becoming too tight and also promoting to blood flow to the area to speed up healing, says Samantha.

3. Sex toys help men too

Men can benefit from toys too, says Samantha. She says men who use them are less likely to be burdened with erectile dysfunction, difficulty orgasming and low sex drive.

“They are also more likely to be aware of their sexual health, making them more likely to notice any abnormalities and seek medical advice,” she points out.

Male products can help men overcome erectile dysfunction, following prostate surgery or treatment, diabetes, heart disease, spinal cord injury and neurological conditions by promoting the blood flow into the erectile tissues and stimulating the nerves to help the man have an erection without them having to take Viagra.

4. Sex isn’t just about penetration

There’s a reason sexperts stress the importance of foreplay. Most women just cannot orgasm through penetration alone no matter how turned on they are. Stimulating the clitoris can be the key to satisfying climaxes and sex toys can make that easier. Vibrators can be really useful for vulval pain conditions such as vulvodynia where penetration can be tricky to achieve.

“By becoming aware of how her body feels through intimate massage and exploration using a vibrator and lubricant and relaxation techniques, a woman who has vulvodynia can become more relaxed and comfortable with her body and her symptoms may lessen. It also allows intimate sex play when penetration is not possible,” says Samantha.

5. Vibrators can be better than medical dilators for vaginismus

Vaginismus, a condition in which a woman’s vaginal muscles tense up involuntarily, when penetration is attempted is generally treated using medical dilators of increasing sizes to allow the patient to begin with the thinnest dilator and slowly progress to the next size. But not all women get on with these, reveals Samantha.

Women’s health physiotherapist Michelle Lyons, says she often tries to get her sexual health patients to use a vibrator instead of a standard dilator.

“They (hopefully) already associate the vibrator with pleasure, which can be a significant help with their recovery from vaginismus/dyspareunia. We know from the research that low frequency vibrations can be sedative for the pelvic floor muscles, whereas higher frequencies are more stimulating. After all, the goal of my sexual rehab clients is to return to sexual pleasure, not just to ‘tolerate’ the presence of something in their vagina!”

Samantha Evans’ sex toy starter pack

1. YES organic lubricant

“One of the best sexual lubricants around being pH balanced and free from glycerin, glycols and parabens, all of which are vaginal irritants and have no place in the vagina, often found in many commercial sexual lubricants and even some on prescription.”

2. A bullet style vibrator

“This a good first step into the world of sex toys as these are very small but powerful so offer vibratory stimulation for solo or couples play, especially if you are someone who struggles to orgasm through penetrative sex.”

3. A skin safe slim vibrator

“A slim vibrator can allow you to enjoy comfortable penetration as well as being used for clitoral stimulation too. Great for using during foreplay or when penetration is uncomfortable.”

Complete Article HERE!

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