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Are you getting any closer? A pocket-sized primer on female sexuality

By Clarissa Fortin

Stay curious between the sheets, friends.

Closer: Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality
by Sarah Barmak
(Coach House Books, 2016; $14.95)

If it weren’t for Sarah Barmak’s Closer: Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality I might have gone for years of my life without ever finding out what my clitoris actually looks like.

“Illustrations of it resemble a swan with an arched neck,” Barmak writes. “When I saw an closerillustration of the clitoris’s true shape for the first time I felt like a blind man finally seeing a whole elephant when all he’s ever known was the tip of it’s trunk.” I realized while reading those sentences that no one in my Catholic high school health class ever bothered to show me such an image and I’d never thought to seek one out.

I consider myself a feminist and a sexually liberated woman. Yet, there are still surprising gaps in my understanding of my own body. And that’s why a book like Barmak’s is important. Closer tackles its subject with eloquence, intelligence and humour.

The book is split into five essays that tackle the “fear of pleasure,” the history of female sexuality, the science and psychology of the orgasm, the “female sexual underground” and the politics of acknowledging female desire.

While each essay has its own strengths, I think the most effective chapter is “A History of Forgetting.” This section aligns the historical “discovery” and “loss” of the clitoris with the individual experience of a woman named Vanessa — an actual interview subject.

We first meet Vanessa on the table at the doctor’s office filming herself masturbating in order to prove to the doctor that she can indeed ejaculate. We learn that Vanessa has been having a series of problems — pain after sex, recurring yeast infections and so on — that no doctors can figure out.

From here Barmak momentarily leaves Vanessa’s story behind and turns her attention to the clitoris itself, noting that “the mapping of the human genome was completed in 2003, years before we got around to doing an ultrasound on the ordinary human clit.”

While the tendency is to see history as ever moving forward and progressing, Barmak counters that “women’s sexuality began by being celebrated, then was feared as too potent, before being downplayed and denied in the scientific era.”

The Christian church, the scientific revolution and various other factors resulted in a demonization and rejection of female bodies. It’s a generalized historical account to be sure, but Barmak does point readers in the direction of Naomi Wolf’s Vagina, a much more comprehensive book on the subject.

What makes this essay so powerful is the way it revisits and concludes with Vanessa and her struggle. Her story held up against the larger history of the clitoris itself demonstrates all too well an overall contempt for and neglect of the female genitalia.

Along with research and anecdotes, Barmak amasses a diverse collection of interviews with doctors, researchers and sex educators. I was excited to learn many factoids that I will surely whip out at dinner parties in the future — for instance, vaginal self stimulation actually blocks pain in women, and even women who are paralysed can sometimes still feel sexual pleasure because of nerves which bypass the spinal cord and communicate directly with the brain!

Barmak combines this research and traditional journalistic writing with first-person narration, bringing her own experience into the story. This means attending seminars and workshops, watching a demonstration of a female orgasm at Burning Man, and getting a vaginal massage.

Barmak is open about her own skepticism and trepidation during these investigations. “I like to consider myself open to new things,” she writes. “Yet, the idea of a strange lady’s gloved fingers all up in my jade palace falls somewhat outside my personal boundaries.” She goes through with it and the personal account makes for a richer narrative overall.

A note about the term “woman”: Barmak uses it throughout the book to generally refer to the cisgendered female experience. If I have any strong critique of the book it is that by celebrating the distinctly female anatomy, the book sometimes verges on unintentionally emphasizing a gender binary. This is something Barmak herself seems aware of. She notes on pg. 21 that “the word woman can refer equally to cisgender, intersex, genderqueer and transgender women all representing varied shades of experience.” While it’s good that the acknowledgement is there, I think a declaration like this belongs even earlier on as a note for readers to keep in mind before the book even begins.

That said, Barmak does make an effort to include the experiences of typically marginalized women such as trans women and women of colour in her narrative. “Being white affords privileges even in non-mainstream spaces of revolt such as sexuality,” she notes.

The topic is something “that requires far more depth and attention than this little book can offer,” Barmak says and while this seems like a partial cop-out for having only a few pages devoted to women of colour and trans women specifically, Barmak makes a valid point. Issues regarding sexuality faced by marginalized women warrant entire books altogether, preferably penned by a writer who has lived those experiences.

Nevertheless, I think this book would have been more complete with a sixth section devoted specifically to these issues.

At its core this book is compassionately optimistic, celebrating the innate complexity of sexual pleasure itself and arguing in favor of orgasms for all, something I can definitely get behind.

Sex educator and vlogger Lindsay Doe has a motto she repeats at the end of each of her videos: “stay curious.” Closer isn’t the definitive book about female sexuality and it doesn’t claim to be. But it made me curious about my own body, and even more curious about the wonderfully vast array of experiences we humans have between the sheets.

I recommend it to my friends of all genders, my boyfriend, my sisters, and especially the woman who started it all, my mother.

Complete Article HERE!

Penis politics: Sex, size and stereotypes in the gay community

When it comes to penis size, gay men face a host of preconceptions about masculinity and race

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Recent studies have shown that actual penis size is smaller than men are claiming. According to the Journal of Sexual Medicine, the average male penis measures 5.6 inches when erect; the Journal of Urology puts it at a slightly smaller 5.08 inches. This is considerably smaller than previous numbers from Alfred Kinsey, Durex and the Definitive Penis study, which averaged 6.25 inches in their estimates. The difference between the two estimates: surveys like Durex’s rely on self-reporting, and men are likely to overestimate. As Tom Hickman wrote in “God’s Doodle”: “What is incontrovertible is that where men and their penises are concerned there are lies, damned lies, and self measurements.”

Just ask any gay man looking for a hook-up on Grindr. “If a guy tells you his size and you meet up, you realize he must have a different ruler,” said Noah Michelson, editor of The Huffington Post’s Gay Voices section. Michelson believes that the reason men are likely to overreport their penis size is because of the “cultural currency” the gay community places on having a large penis. “I think there’s something to do with internalized homophobia or insecurities about being a man,” Michelson said. “You want to have a big dick and you want to be with a big dick. You want to be with a ‘man.’”

Michelson argued it’s not just about having a large penis; it’s what that penis signifies. “Having a big dick means that you’re ‘masculine’ and you wield a lot of power, because we assign so much power to the phallus itself,” he told me. “You’re a dominator and a conqueror.” Michelson said that this idea is largely informed by pornography, a strong force in shaping desire in the gay community; but for those who don’t fit into that “porn culture,” it leads to a feeling of being left out. “It’s totally a lottery,” Michelson explained. “And you either win it or you don’t.”

According to Jaime Woo, author of the book “Meet Grindr,” which explores how men interact on mobile hookup applications, that game can have very negative consequences for queer men who find themselves on the losing side. That’s why the size issue can seem even more fraught in the gay community than among heterosexuals. “In gay male culture, your sexual worth is very tied to your worth in the community overall,” Woo said. “We don’t have a lot of structure in place for men who aren’t sexually valuable, and they disappear into the background. Gay men have enough issues already, and this is just another way for them to feel bad about themselves, if they’re not packing eight inches under their pants.”

Woo told me that looking for sex on Grindr “makes the expectations much more heightened.” “Grindr has really distorted peoples’ understanding of what average or normal is, and the fact that people can ask if six or seven inches are too small — it’s jaw dropping,” Woo said. “You can be very picky because there is something better around the corner, someone bigger or hotter and someone more your type. It creates a very narrow band of desire.”

Huffington Post writer Zach Stafford argued that in order to hook up, we’re commodifying ourselves for sexual consumption. “On Grindr, you’re literally putting someone in a box,” Stafford explained. “The app’s layout is an actual shelf, like you would see in a grocery store.” In order to participate on the site, Stafford said that you have to learn how to market yourself by those confines. “It’s like being a book on Amazon,” Stafford told me. “You give yourself a little cover and write your summary. You make yourself a product, and when you’re selling yourself, you always go bigger.”

Stafford said our fascination with penis size is inherently tied to capitalism. “Studies have shown that people with larger penises make more money,” Stafford explained. “It’s power in our pants.” Stafford also explained that the correlation between sex and power leads to a skewed power dynamic between tops and bottoms. Research shows that bottoms have smaller penises on average, and are more likely to have penis anxiety and low self-esteem.  In an essay for the Huffington Post, Stafford called it “Top Privilege.” Stafford wrote, “In this line of thought, bottoms are seen ‘less than,’ ‘feminine’ or ‘the woman’ because they are the taker of the phallus.”

But it’s not just an issue of money and gender. Race also plays a large part in how gay men read each others’ bodies, especially for black and Asian men, stereotyped at the ends of the size spectrum. Stafford, who is multiracial, said that men will often approach him in bars to ask about his penis, expecting him to conform to the stereotype. “It creates an enormous amount of pressure for black men,” Stafford stated. “Black men are only seen as a tool — a tool of building and a tool of fucking. They’re reduced to a big penis.” In his case, Stafford said men often fall into two camps: “Either white people look at me as a black man with a big dick, or they see me and fetishize me — they want to dominate me.”

Jay Borchert has had the exact opposite experience. A doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, Borchert (who is white) has frequently dated men of color, causing his romantic experiences to be reduced to a fetish. “People make remarks that I must be in it for the dick,” Borchert told me. “Why can’t I be looking for ass? Why can’t I be looking for mouth? Why can’t I be looking for a person?” People sometimes assume that Borchert adopts the “bottom” role in his sexual relationships, which isn’t the case. Borchert sighed, “It was really frustrating because there’s more to dating and relationships than penis.”

Due to his ethnicity, Thought Catalog writer John Tao has also found himself being put in a box in the bedroom. “Because I’m Asian, I’m automatically categorized as being a bottom,” Tao said. “There’s a perception that I wouldn’t want to top.” Because of this, Tao said that’s the role he’s most often performed in sexual relationships. “All of these people think I’m a bottom, so I’ll just be a bottom,” Mr. Tao explained, “You have to be careful because we internalize these stereotypes about ourselves. Your gay Asian friend might identify as a total bottom, but that could be years of societal expectations.”

Justin Huang, who blogs about his experiences being gay and Chinese at I Am Yellow Peril, agreed that the baggage around penis size can be particularly harmful for Asian-American men. In school, Huang’s friends would often tease him about what they assumed was the size of his penis, which was difficult when coming to terms with his sexual identity. “For a long time, I thought I had a small penis,” Huang explained. “It’s amazing what your brain can train you to see. I didn’t have a lot of respect for my penis. Gay men are emasculated already, so when you’re gay and Asian, you feel doubly emasculated.”

Huang told me that when you’re Asian, you’re expected to perform the stereotype, meaning that guys are very curious to see what’s inside your pants. “I’ve been in straight bars using the bathroom where a guy will lean over and look at my dick, just to see if what they say is true,” Huang said. But Jaime Woo argued that the same isn’t true for white men, whose penis size isn’t policed in the same way. “White men are considered the sexual default, so you’re allowed to have some variability,” Woo said. “White men get to be anything and everything, and there’s no presumption there. So for white men, a big dick is a bonus.”

Huang also argued that these stereotypes are a symptom of our lack of sex education and lack of knowledge about our bodies. “We’re told to hide our penises,” Huang said. “It’s a form of sexual oppression we don’t talk about. You see boobs everywhere. You don’t see penises anywhere, not even HBO. It’s something that’s scandalous and cloaked.” Because of the shame surrounding invisibility, men often place too much emphasis on something so small. “When I think about the guys I’ve been with, I don’t remember the penises,” Huang said. “I remember the boy. A penis doesn’t smile. A penis doesn’t look into your eyes. A penis can’t wrap its arms around you.”

Instead of holding out for an unrealistic fantasy, Justin Huang believes gay men should start embracing each other for exactly who they are. “Gay men need to stop expecting each other to be porn stars,” Huang said. “If you dump a guy just because of his penis size, you are an asshole. So if you love your man, tell him that you like his penis. After all, when you’re dating a guy, you’re dating two people: You’re dating him and you’re dating his penis. We need to start valuing and appreciating both of them.”
 
Complete Article HERE!

Penis size – what is normal

Are you a grower or a shower?

Super-Size Me

Hey sex fans!

It’s Product Review Friday again and I have a unique presentation for you today. Many months ago our friends at sex toy.com sent me a penis enlargement kit called Andro Penis and asked me to review it. This would certainly be a daunting task because it would take at several months of devoted use to effectively test this product. I would also have to find a willing Dr Dick Review Crew member to join me in this effort.

I put out an SOS message to all the men on the Review Crew asking for volunteers. I explained the extraordinary commitment this review would take. And asked if there might be at least one Review Crew member stalwart enough to subject himself and his cock to at least sixteen weeks of traction in the Andro Penis. You see, this instrument is placed over the penis and worn for four or nine hours a day for four to six months.

Not surprisingly, I got only one positive reply from my inquiry. Dr Dick Review Crew member, Carlos, said he’d be up to the task; all in the name of science and possibly a bigger dick.

Andro Penis —— $203.06

Dr Dick & Carlos
Dr Dick: “Before Carlos and I begin our discussion, I want to direct your attention to three postings I’ve made concerning penis enlargement. Historical Views On Cock Size, First Penis Enlargement Methods and Devices and Pumps and Pumps Effects On Penis Size.  These three articles will hopefully put today’s discussion in context.”
Carlos: “Yeah, Dr Dick asked me to read through all these columns before I accepted his invitation to join him in reviewing the Andro Penis. I think I should also mention that every since I was a teenager I’ve been embarrassed about the size of my cock. People tell me that I have nothing to be ashamed about, that my cock is average sized, but that never seemed to make my desire for a bigger penis go away.”
Dr Dick: “Yes, I’m afraid it’s precisely men like Carlos, here, that often fall prey to the unscrupulous people who market dubious enlargement devices, pills and creams.”
Carlos: “Yep, that would be me. I’ve been gullible enough to plunk down hard-earned money on a half-dozen enlargement schemes. All have been a disappointment. I guess that’s why I volunteered for this project. I knew it wouldn’t cost me any money, and there was the chance that the Andro Penis, what with all the medical jargon on their site, might actually work.”
Dr Dick: “Indeed, the Andro Penis website is loaded with scientific studies touting its efficacy. There’s even a page on their site filled with doctors and their endorsements of the product. Yet, upon closer inspection, the physician statements are mostly generic. Each speaks of tissue expansion by way of stretching, or in this case, traction.”
Carlos: “I already know about this because I’ve been stretching my earlobes for a couple of years.”
Dr Dick: “That’s right! People have been stretching body parts as a means of adornment for just about as long as we’ve had body parts to stretch.”
Carlos: “The Andro Penis is a medical looking apparatus that uses traction to stretch your penis. Ya have to wear on your dick for hours on end, every day, for up to six months. I promised Dr Dick that I would be able to handle this kind of commitment and that I was motivated to give this a try. The enlargement kit comes in a handsome case, which contains the stretching device, loads of extra parts, an instructional DVD, and booklet with written instructions in 27 languages. The booklet also helps you track your progress.”
Dr Dick: “Once I was confident Carlos understood the commitment I turned over the kit and sent him on his way. I told him that I wanted to hear from him at least once a month for an update.”
Carlos: “Ok, so you should know that the Andro Penis is pretty simple to attach to your cock. There’s a ring that fits down around the base of your cock with two metal rods attached to it on either side. These two metal rods attach to another part where your dick-head fits into this kind of noose. And then you just tighten it till there’s the desired tension. I know it sounds super uncomfortable, but it wasn’t that bad. At least it wasn’t at first. And then every seven days you attach these little extenders to the end of each of the metal rods. This is what causes your dick to stretch. The longer you wear the thing and the more extenders you use is supposed to determine how big your unit will get. The kit recommended that I wear the device for nine hours a day. That’s a lot! You can take breaks, if you need to, but the whole idea is to keep up the traction for a total of six months.”
Dr Dick: “That’s precisely the thing I wanted Carlos to report to me about. Would he be able to sustain that kind of commitment and endure that kind of discomfort just to grow his dick bigger?”
Carlos: “Actually, it wasn’t all that uncomfortable to start with, but it does feel really weird. Like any novelty, I was gung ho for the first few weeks. I mostly wore the Andro Penis in the evening and at night. I couldn’t wear it during the day at work, that’s for certain. It creates this very unsightly bulge in your pants. So I was sure I would never go out of the house with it on. Of course, just wearing it in the evening didn’t allow for the proper amount of wearing time. I had to start wearing it while I slept. My wife didn’t like this at all!”
Dr Dick: “I was pretty certain that finding the required number of hours a day, every day, would be a super challenge. And as Carlos suggests, the Andro Penis will no doubt get in the way of a relationship.”

Carlos: “True! And then there’s the issue of taking a piss. You have to free your cock from the contraption every time you need to pee. And don’t even think about gettin a boner with this thing in place. By the second month I was dreading my daily dick straightjacket. I began to resent having to abuse my cock like this. I cursed myself for not loving the beautiful cock God gave me. To be honest, there was a slight noticeable increase in length, but not in girth. But not so much that made wearing the Andro Penis worth it.”
Dr Dick: “That’s pretty much what I thought would happen. When Carlos reported in at the beginning of the third month I could tell he was over it. I asked him if he wanted to continue the experiment.”
Carlos: “I told him NO! I felt like I was letting Dr Dick down. I made a promise to wear the Andro Penis for four months, but I could barely get past two months. Every day I would find a new excuse to either not wear the thing or wear it for a shorter period than I was supposed to. I suppose if you’re serious about enlarging your cock, more serious than I was at the beginning, and you have the stamina for this kind of regiment; then you might dig the Andro Penis. Like I said, I started out with the best of intentions, but I soon developed an intense animosity toward the device. It was a lot more invasive than I ever thought it would be. It was like carrying around a ball and chain.”
Full Review HERE!

ENJOY!

Men, Depression and Sex

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As anyone who has been depressed will tell you, depression isn’t just about feeling blue.

Man and woman with pensive expression --- Image by © Ocean/Corbis

It is an incredibly complex condition which brings with it a whole slew of emotional, mental and physical symptoms with it. For men and women both, part of the problem can revolve around their sexuality – and this in turn can cause problems in a relationship at the time when the depressed person most needs the support.  Fortunately, there are ways to help treat this particular problem and restore intimacy and pleasure to a relationship.

Depression and Male Sexuality

It is common for both men and women to experience sexual problems as part of their depression – but the ways in which this presents itself can be different.  Healthline notes that in men, depression will often express itself as feelings of low-esteem, anxiety and guilt and this, in turn, can cause problems with erectile dysfunction, delayed orgasm, premature ejaculation or just a loss of interest in sex itself.

There is still a lot we just don’t know about exactly how depression affects the brain. But according to Net Doctor, researchers have learned that the chemical changes which take place when someone has this condition can lead to an increase in emotional withdrawal and low energy levels so that activities like sex, which require a connection to your partner as well as physical energy to perform, can become a challenge.  This can be hurtful for the person’s partner and make them feel unwanted or unloved, putting a strain on the relationship that can, in itself, be difficult to deal with.

To make matters worse, many antidepressants are notorious for their side effect of causing sexual dysfunction or loss of interest.  Included in this group are MAOI inhibitors, SSRI’s and SSNRI’s and both tetracyclic and tricyclic antidepressants. 

What to Do

So the long and short of it is, both depression itself and some of the treatments for depression can both put a damper on a guy’s sex life. So what are some solutions to the problem?

Get the Treatment You Need

Depression is not a choice that people make – and it is usually not a problem that goes away by itself. If you have not yet been diagnosed, talk to your doctor about the symptoms you are having and get started on a plan of care that involves the combination of medications, therapy and lifestyle changes that are right for you.

If you are already being treated for depression and suspect that your anti-depressants might be putting the kybosh on your sex life, find out if you can switch medications. While it might take a little time to take effect, there are some drugs which do not seem to effect one’s libido, including Wellbutrin and Remeron.

Exercise

Both Healthline and Everyday Health recommend regular exercise – preferably with your partner – as part of a program to help reconnect sexually. First, it gives you and your partner time together doing something enjoyable and this alone can be good for a relationship. It also helps to release feel-good chemicals like endorphins that help fight depression naturally and keeps you in good shape so that you feel good about yourself and the way you look. All this can go a long way to enhancing your sex life.

Take Your Time

According to Everyday Health, sex therapist Dr. Sandra Caron also has a few tips for couples who are struggling to overcome the barrier that depression has placed on their sives.  She recommends, first of all, that couples engage in more foreplay and other physical expressions of intimacy – hand holding, caressing, massage – before engaging in intercourse itself.  Depression tends to slow down all responses, so taking this extra time to achieve arousal can help enhance the pleasure for both partners.  She also recommends the use, if needed, of estrogen creams or lubricants and even erotica (like lingerie or sexy movies) to help sparthe mood.

Open Up

Probably the most important advice for men who are trying to reconnect with their partner sexually is to open up and communicate with your partner. This can be more difficult for men to do in general, but is even more of a challenge when it comes to talking about intimate issues like sexuality, desire and arousal. But being honest about how you are feeling and letting your partner know that it is the depression that is a problem and not a loss of interest or a loss of love can be an incredibly powerful way to overcome this challenges and get support from your loved one at a time when you need it the most.  Also, partners can be more understanding and supportive if they understand more about what is going on – otherwise, it is easy to interpret a low mood or lack of responsiveness as being hostile or unloving.

In short, depression is a difficult condition with a whole slew of symptoms that go far beyond just feelings of sadness or being blue.  And when depression begins to affect a person’s sexuality, this in turn can lead to a strain on intimate partner relationships.  However, while there are no quick solutions to this problem, getting on a treatment program that is tailored to someone’s individual needs as well as exercising regularly, spending time with a partner to engage in more foreplay and simply opening up and talking about the problem can all help to reignite the sexual spark in a relationship – and hopefully make the battle against depression that much easier.

Complete Article HERE!