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Vaginismus: a major psychological reason women experience pain during sex

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If you have never heard of vaginismus, it’s time to get it on your radar.

Don’t suffer in silence

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Aly Dilks, sexual health expert and clinical director at The Women’s Health Clinic, says: ‘It is the term used to describe recurrent or persistent involuntary tightening of muscles around the vagina whenever penetration is attempted,’

According to Vaginismus Awareness, the condition affects at least two in every 1,000 women at some point in their lifetime.

Approximately 10% of adult women have experienced painful intercourse in the past six months.

‘It’s not fully understood why the condition happens [but] factors can include thinking the vagina is too small, negative sexual thoughts – thinking sex will be painful and cause damage – and previous sexual abuse,’ says Ms Dilks.

She also lists damage to the vagina – common during childbirth or an episiotomy, a painful first sexual experience, relationship problems, and fear of pregnancy as other potential triggers.

Pain is not limited to sex.

Some women find inserting tampons or fingers painful; others find any type of penetration intolerable.

Unlike other causes of vaginal pain, such as an infection, vaginismus is a psychological problem that cannot be cured with a straightforward prescription.

There’s effective treatment

Help is available beyond search engine suggestions

This is not to say it can’t be treated: Vaginismus Awareness reports a 95% chance of treating this psychological condition effectively, and many women receive referrals to a sex therapist as a first port of call.

Colin Richards is a relationship and sex mentor and the founder of Intimacy Matters.

He says: ‘As a practitioner who works with both the psychological and physiological, about 20% of female clients that come to me for treatment around sexual performance come with some level of vaginismus.

‘The psycho-sensual treatment I offer involves talking through the psychological influences, followed by sensual massage that is given in controlled, professional space.

‘It allows the new emotional tools to emerge in an authentic, non-judgemental way.’

Both Ms Dilks and Mr Richards also suggest vaginal trainers: four, smooth, plastic penis-shaped objects in different sizes.

They can be used in the privacy of your own home, at your own pace. Ms Dilks says: ‘Once you feel comfortable inserting the smallest one, you can move on to the second size, and so on.’

‘It doesn’t matter how long it takes – whether it’s days, weeks, or months.’

Vaginismus is just one of many types of sexual frustrations and fears women face but, says Mr Richards, it is probably the most challenging for the sufferer.

That challenge is perpetuated by a lack of awareness and the taboo that still surrounds female sexuality, even when women talk to one another.

Yet it can have major implications on a woman’s sex life, self-esteem, body image and her relationships.

Hope for sufferers

Women can be reluctant to talk about their sex life, even with other women

If you have pain during sex, during your period, or if there’s anything that concerns you about your sexual health, don’t suffer in silence; women have been doing that for too long, and vaginismus is something for which there is a proven treatment.

Mr Richards says: ‘In my experience, if one can get to the root psychological cause of the anxiety or fear, then the vaginismus can be removed completely.

‘I have seen improvement over a period of three to six appointments.

‘As the mind learns that sexual penetration is not painful or wrong, and is, in fact, pleasurable, the body soon responds and lets go of the need to tense up.

‘[The woman] remains calm, and feels familiar with the situation, and so confident that everything should be fine.’

Complete Article HERE!

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5 Simple Sex Positions You Actually Haven’t Tried Yet

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By Anthea Levi

Trying something new in bed can be intimidating. But attempting the unknown between the sheets comes with thrilling benefits. Besides giving you the chance to discover new erogenous zones and orgasm triggers, “it’s a great way to practice asking or telling your partner what you want,” says Nicole Tammelleo, a psychotherapist specializing in sexuality and women’s health at Maze Women’s Sexual Health in New York City.

Here, Tammelleo shares five sex moves that aren’t crazy hard to pull off. Here’s why: “Most of these are variations on things you’ve probably already been doing,” she says. Read on for the hottest positions you didn’t know you needed to try, then give them a very thorough test drive.

CAT (coital alignment technique)

Get into the standard missionary position, with you on your back and your partner on top of you. “What’s different is that the man moves upward, so his whole body sits a little bit farther up against your body, with his head slightly past yours,” explains Tammelleo. The goal is to align your pelvises so the base of his penis and pubic bone stimulate your clitoris as he thrusts up and down—rather than in and out.

Besides giving you the direct clitoral action most women need to reach orgasm during intercourse, your partner’s penis is able to enter your vagina at a higher angle so it’s more likely to reach your G-spot too, she says. Win-win!

Swinging bishop

Don’t let the name scare you off. The swinging bishop position is a sexy spin on good-old cozy spoon style. As you and your partner are spooning on your right side, lift your top (left) leg and move it behind you slightly so that it drapes over your SO’s legs. “This allows the man to penetrate even deeper, and also allows for better access to her clitoris, either with a vibrator or fingers,” says Tammelleo.

One-legged stork

If you like the way it feels to have your legs high in the air but hate the cramping that can result, this one’s for you. Lie down on the bed on your back, and have your partner face you while resting on his knees, explains Tammelleo. “Instead of you putting both legs up in the air, keep one stretched out straight on the bed and lift the other.”

The benefit? Many women find it painful on the lower back to keep both legs extended toward the ceiling; going halfsies can be more comfy. The more comfortable the position, the longer you can get it on, so you’ll have plenty of time for a slow build to a hot orgasm.

The accordion

Let’s just say the accordion makes all those #legday squats worth it. Have your partner rest on his back with his knees bent in the air. From there, you basically squat on top of him, straddling his legs so your thighs are hugging his, your feet flat on the bed.

“This is a variation of girl on top that similarly allows the woman to be in control,” says Tammelleo. Don’t feel bad if your thighs start to burn stat. “What often happens is that you start in accordion and then move onto something else.” Try this squat-centric position and work yourselves up, then transition into a more comfy pose when it’s time to reach the finish line, like cowgirl.

Good vibrations

Doing it doggie style lets you relax and enjoy every sensation as your SO does most of the work. But most women can’t reach orgasm from intercourse alone, confirms Tammelleo, so unless you stimulate yourself during the action (or your partner reaches around and does it for you while he’s thrusting), you might miss out on climaxing.

The solution is to tuck a small clitoral vibrator between your pelvis and the bed. Let it rest against your clitoris or labia, and let the vibrator help you hit that high note while you focus on how awesome sex feels. Of course, you can use a vibrator to enhance any position. But when it’s underneath your body during doggie style, it’ll feel less intrusive and more like a sexy secret.

Complete Article HERE!

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STI symptom checker: Do I have gonorrhoea, chlamydia or syphilis? Signs of sex infections

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STIs – or sexually transmitted infections – can be passed on via unprotected sex. These are the symptoms of gonorrhoea – commonly misspelt gonorrhea – chlamydia and syphilis to look out for.

STI symptom checker: Unprotected sex risks sexually transmitted infections

By Lauren Clark

STIs – the common abbreviation for sexually transmitted infections – can be passed on via unprotected sex.

Common STIs include chlamydia, syphilis and gonorrhoea, and they are on the rise, according to recent figures.

In 2016 there were 420,000 diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections in England, including a 12 per cent increase nationwide in cases of syphilis.

Rates of gonorrhoea are also soaring particularly in London, which earlier this year was revealed to be the city with the highest STI levels in the UK.

Failing to get a diagnosis and treatment for an STI can cause pelvic inflammatory disease in women, and infertility in both men and women.

But do you know the symptoms of gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis? The NHS has revealed the signs to look out for.

Gonorrhoea

They usually develop within two weeks of an infection, but can sometimes take months to appear. The signs vary between men and women.

Women:
– an unusual vaginal discharge, which may be thin or watery and green or yellow in colour

– pain or a burning sensation when passing urine

– pain or tenderness in the lower abdominal area (this is less common)

– bleeding between periods, heavier periods and bleeding after sex (this is less common)

Men:
– an unusual discharge from the tip of the penis, which may be white, yellow or green

– pain or a burning sensation when urinating

– inflammation (swelling) of the foreskin

– pain or tenderness in the testicles (this is rare)

Syphilis

The first signs usually develop within two to three weeks of infection, and can be split into early symptoms and later symptoms.

Early symptoms:

– the main symptom is a small, painless sore or ulcer called a chancre that you might not notice

– the sore will typically be on the penis, vagina, or around the anus, although they can sometimes appear in the mouth or on the lips, fingers or buttocks

– most people only have one sore, but some people have several

– you may also have swollen glands in your neck, groin or armpits

Later symptoms:

– a blotchy red rash that can appear anywhere on the body, but often develops on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet

– small skin growths (similar to genital warts) – on women these often appear on the vulva and for both men and women they may appear around the anus

– white patches in the mouth

– flu-like symptoms, such as tiredness, headaches, joint pains and a high temperature (fever)

– swollen glands

– occasionally, patchy hair loss

Chlamydia

This is one of the most common STIs in the UK, and, worryingly, it often doesn’t trigger any symptoms. If signs do appear, however, they may include the following.

– pain when urinating

– unusual discharge from the vagina, penis or rectum (back passage)

– in women, pain in the tummy, bleeding during or after sex, and bleeding between periods

– in men, pain and swelling in the testicles

If you think you may have an STI, you should visit your GP or local sexual health clinic. Find out more information here.

Complete Article HERE!

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New treatments restoring sexual pleasure for older women

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By Tara Bahrampour

When the FDA approved Viagra in 1998 to treat erectile dysfunction, it changed the sexual landscape for older men, adding decades to their vitality. Meanwhile, older women with sexual problems brought on by aging were left out in the cold with few places to turn besides hormone therapy, which isn’t suitable for many or always recommended as a long-term treatment.

Now, propelled by a growing market of women demanding solutions, new treatments are helping women who suffer from one of the most pervasive age-related sexual problems.

Genitourinary syndrome, brought on by a decrease in sex hormones and a change in vaginal pH after menopause, is characterized by vaginal dryness, shrinking of tissues, itching and burning, which can make intercourse painful. GSM affects up to half of post-menopausal women and can also contribute to bladder and urinary tract infections and incontinence. Yet only 7 percent of post-menopausal women use a prescription treatment for it, according to a recent study.

The new remedies range from pills to inserts to a five-minute laser treatment that some doctors and patients are hailing as a miracle cure.

The lag inaddressing GSM has been due in part to a longstanding reluctance among doctors to see post-menopausal women as sexual beings, said Leah Millheiser, director of the Female Sexual Medicine Program at Stanford University.

“Unfortunately, many clinicians have their own biases and they assume these women are not sexually active, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth, because research shows that women continue to be sexually active throughout their lifetime,” she said.

With today’s increased life expectancy, that can be a long stretch – another 30 or 40 years, for a typical woman who begins menopause in her early 50s. “It’s time for clinicians to understand that they have to bring up sexual function with their patients whether they’re in their 50s or they’re in their 80s or 90s,” Dr. Millheiser said.

By contrast, doctors routinely ask middle-aged men about their sexual function and are quick to offer prescriptions for Viagra, said Lauren Streicher, medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause.

“If every guy, on his 50th birthday, his penis shriveled up and he was told he could never have sex again, he would not be told, ‘That’s just part of aging,’” Dr. Streicher said.

Iona Harding of Princeton, New Jersey, had come to regard GSM, also known as vulvovaginal atrophy, as just that.

For much of their marriage, she and her husband had a “normal, active sex life.” But after menopause sex became so painful that they eventually stopped trying.

“I talked openly about this with my gynecologist every year,” said Mrs. Harding, 66, a human resources consultant. “There was never any discussion of any solution other than using estrogen cream, which wasn’t enough. So we had resigned ourselves to this is how it’s going to be.”

It is perhaps no coincidence that the same generation who first benefited widely from the birth control pill in the 1960s are now demanding fresh solutions to keep enjoying sex.

“The Pill was the first acknowlegement that you can have sex for pleasure and not just for reproduction, so it really is an extension of what we saw with the Pill,” Dr. Streicher said. “These are the women who have the entitlement, who are saying ‘Wait a minute, sex is supposed to be for pleasure and don’t tell me that I don’t get to have pleasure.’”

The push for a “pink Viagra” to increase desire highlighted women’s growing demand for sexual equality. But the drug flibanserin, approved by the FDA in 2015, proved minimally effective.

For years, the array of medical remedies has been limited. Over-the-counter lubricants ease friction but don’t replenish vaginal tissue. Long-acting mosturizers help plump up tissue and increase lubrication, but sometimes not enough. Women are advised to “use it or lose it” – regular intercourse can keep the tissues more elastic – but not if it is too painful.

Systemic hormone therapy that increases the estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone throughout the body can be effective, but if used over many years it carries health risks, and it is not always safe for cancer survivors.

Local estrogen creams, suppositories or rings are safer since the hormone stays in the vaginal area. But they can be messy, and despite recent studies showing such therapy is not associated with cancer, some women are uncomfortable with its long-term use.

In recent years, two prescription drugs have expanded the array of options. Ospemifene, a daily oral tablet approved by the FDA in 2013,activates specific estrogen receptors in the vagina. Side effects include mild hot flashes in a small percentage of women.

Prasterone DHEA, a naturally occurring steroid that the FDA approved last year, is a daily vaginal insert that prompts a woman’s body to produce its own estrogen and testosterone. However, it is not clear how safe it is to use longterm.

And then there is fractional carbon dioxide laser therapy, developed in Italy and approved by the FDA in 2014 for use in the U.S. Similar to treatments long performed on the face, it uses lasers to make micro-abrasions in the vaginal wall, which stimulate growth of new blood vessels and collagen.

The treatment is nearly painless and takes about five minutes; it is repeated two more times at 6-week intervals. For many patients, the vaginal tissues almost immediately become thicker, more elastic, and more lubricated.

Mrs. Harding began using it in 2016, and after three treatments with MonaLisa Touch, the fractional CO2 laser device that has been most extensively studied, she and her husband were able to have intercourse for the first time in years.

Cheryl Edwards, 61, a teacher and writer in Pennington, New Jersey, started using estrogen in her early 50s, but sex with her husband was painful and she was plagued by urinary tract infections requiring antibiotics, along with severe dryness.

After her first treatment with MonaLisa Touch a year and a half ago, the difference was stark.

“I couldn’t believe it… and with each treatment it got better,” she said. “It was like I was in my 20s or 30s.”

While studies on MonaLisa Touch have so far been small, doctors who use it range from cautiously optimistic to heartily enthusiastic.

“I’ve been kind of blown away by it,” said Dr. Streicher, who, along with Dr. Millheiser, is participating in a larger study comparing it to topical estrogen. Using MonaLisa Touch alone or in combination with other therapies, she said, “I have not had anyone who’s come in and I’ve not had them able to have sex.”

Cheryl Iglesia, director of Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington D.C., was more guarded. While she has treated hundreds of women with MonaLisa Touch and is also participating in the larger study, she noted that studies so far have looked only at short-term effects, and less is known about using it for years or decades.

“What we don’t know is is there a point at which the tissue is so thin that the treatment could be damaging it?” she said. “Is there priming needed?”

Dr. Millheiser echoed those concerns, saying she supports trying local vaginal estrogen first.

So far the main drawback seems to be price. An initial round of treatments can cost between $1,500 and $2,700, plus another $500 a year for the recommended annual touch-up. Unlike hormone therapy or Viagra, the treatment is not covered by insurance.

Some women continue to use local estrogen or lubricants to complement the laser. But unlike hormones, which are less effective if begun many years after menopause, the laser seems to do the trick at any age. Dr. Streicher described a patient in her 80s who had been widowed since her 60s and had recently begun seeing a man.

It had been twenty years since she was intimate with a man, Dr. Streicher said. “She came in and said, ‘I want to have sex.’” After combining MonaLisa Touch with dilators to gradually re-enlarge her vagina, the woman reported successful intercourse. “Not everything is reversible after a long time,” Dr. Streicher said. “This is.”

But Dr. Iglesia said she has seen a range of responses, from patients who report vast improvement to others who see little effect.

“I’m confident that in the next few years we will have better guidelines (but) at this point I’m afraid there is more marketing than there is science for us to guide patients,” she said. “Nobody wants sandpaper sex; it hurts. But at the same time, is this going to help?”

The laser therapy can also help younger women who have undergone early menopause due to cancer treatment, including the 250,000 a year diagnosed with breast cancer. Many cannot safely use hormones, and often they feel uncomfortable bringing up sexual concerns with doctors who are trying to save their lives.

“If you’re a 40-year-old and you get cancer, your vagina might look like it’s 70 and feel like it’s 70,” said Maria Sophocles, founding medical director of Women’s Healthcare of Princeton, who treated Mrs. Edwards and Mrs. Harding.

After performing the procedure on cancer survivors, she said, “Tears are rolling down from their eyes because they haven’t had sex in eight years and you’re restoring their femininity to them.”

The procedure also alleviates menopause-related symptoms in other parts of the pelvic floor, including the bladder, urinary tract, and urethra, reducing infections and incontinence.

Ardella House, a 67-year-old homemaker outside Denver, suffered from incontinence and recurring bladder infections as well as painful sex. After getting the MonaLisa Touch treatment last year, she became a proslyter.

“It was so successful that I started telling all my friends, and sure enough, it was something that was a problem for all of them but they didn’t talk about it either,” she said.

“I always used to think, you reach a certain age and you’re not as into sex as you were in your younger years. But that’s not the case, because if it’s enjoyable, you like to do it just as much as when you were younger.”

Complete Article HERE!

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7 contraception options that won’t screw with your hormones

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Plus the pros and cons of each.

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Hormones are what make the world go round. They play a massive part in influencing your bodily functions, your mood, your behaviour, and of course, your sex life – which is why, when yours are out of whack, it can have an enormous impact on your whole damn existence.

Hormones can also be a big factor in the type of contraception you use, and increasing numbers of women are looking for non-hormonal methods of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you’re one of them, here are seven contraception methods you could consider:

1. Male condoms

What is it?
Probably the most familiar method of non-hormonal contraception, male condoms are thin latex sheaths that go over the penis during sex.


Pros and cons:

“They’re really easy to use and you only need to use them when you have sex,” says Sue Burchill, head of nursing at sexual health charity Brook. “They protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as pregnancy. Plus, they are available for free from Brook services (for under 25s), some youth clinics, contraception and sexual health clinics and some GPs. You can also buy them at any time of day from supermarkets, vending machines in public toilets, petrol stations etc, even if you’re under 16. They also come in different shapes, sizes, textures, colours and flavours which can make sex more fun.”

Condoms are the only type of contraception that a man can use to control his own fertility, but they do also have some potential disadvantages. “Some people are allergic to the latex used in condoms. This is rare but if you or your partner is allergic, it’s possible to use latex free polyurethane condoms,” Sue adds. “Sometimes they can split or slip off – if this happens or you are worried you may need emergency contraception.”

2. Female condoms

What is it? Female condoms, sometimes known as ‘femi-doms’, are similar to male condoms, except they’re worn internally, inside the vagina, instead of going over the penis.

Pros and cons:
Like their male counterparts, female condoms also protect you against STIs and pregnancy, and are available for free within many of the same services. You can also put them in before you have sex (up to eight hours before).

If they’re not used properly, however, female condoms can slip or get pushed up into the vagina – and again, if this happens, you might need to seek emergency contraception. “You need to make sure the penis goes into the condom and not between the condom and the vagina,” advises Sue. It’s also worth noting that female condoms are not always available at every contraception and sexual health clinic and can be more expensive to buy than other condoms.

3. IUDs

What is it?
Intrauterine devices, or IUDs, are t-shaped plastic devices that contain copper, and stop an egg from implanting in your uterus. They need to be fitted by your doctor or nurse.

Pros and cons:

IUDs are often recommended for women who cannot use contraception that contains hormones, like the pill or the contraceptive patch. They provide a long-term solution that once fitted, can prevent pregnancy immediately, and for up to 10 years (depending on what type of IUD you go for). They don’t interrupt sex, or mess with your fertility, and, crucially, you don’t have to remember to pop a pill every day for it to be effective. “The IUD is not affected by vomiting, diarrhoea or other medicines like other methods of contraception,” Sue notes – in fact, it can even be fitted as a method of emergency contraception.

This is not to say that the IUD has no potential pitfalls – “it does not protect against STIs, and your periods may be heavier, more painful or last longer,” she adds. There are also several risks, although slim and unlikely, that come with fitting and using the IUD – you may get an infection when it’s inserted, it can be be pushed out or displaced, and there is very minor chance of perforation of the uterus. If you do somehow get pregnant when you’re using one, there is also a small risk of ectopic pregnancy.

4. Cervical caps or diaphragms

What is it? These are dome-shaped devices which look similar, but diaphragms fit into the vagina and over the cervix, whilst caps need to be put onto the cervix directly. They need to be fitted by a professional on the first occasion, and used in conjunction with spermicide for maximum effectiveness.

 


Pros and cons:
“They can be put in before sex so they don’t disturb the moment (you will need to add extra spermicide if you have sex more than three hours after putting it in),” says Sue. “They are not affected by any medicines that you take orally, and don’t disturb your menstrual cycle” – although it is recommended that you do not use the diaphragm/cap during your period, so you will need to use an alternative method of contraception at this time.

And the downsides? As with pretty much all methods except condoms, they don’t provide protection against STIs, and they’re also not as effective at preventing pregnancy as other methods (around 92-96%, compared with 98% for male condoms, for instance). “They can take a little getting used to before you’re confident using them,” Sue admits, “Some women can develop the bladder infection cystitis when using diaphragms or caps – check with your doctor or nurse if you need further advice. Some people may be sensitive to latex or the chemical used in spermicide.”

5. Sponges

What is it? As you might imagine from the name, the sponge is a… well, sponge, which contains spermicide to help to prevent pregnancy. They’re a single use option, and cannot be worn for more than 30 hours at a time.

Pros and cons:

Sponges provide protection from pregnancy on a two-fold basis – the spermicide slows sperm down and stops them from heading towards the egg, and the sponge itself covers your cervix, to block them if they do get there. They are easy to use, but require a little bit of prep – you have to wet the sponge to activate the spermicide, and then insert it, as far up as you find comfortable. They also need to be left in your vagina for at least six hours after having sex, so you have to remember to include this in your 30 hour calculation. It shouldn’t happen, but if the sponge breaks into pieces when you pull it out, you need to contact your doctor right away.

Once again, there’s no STI protection, and you can’t use them when you’re on your period, or have any form of vaginal bleeding, as this could increase your chances of getting toxic shock syndrome. They’re also not recommended for women who’ve had physical trauma in the area, or given birth, been through miscarriage or abortion recently. If you’re unsure, talk to a professional before making your purchase (because unlike many other options, sponges aren’t given out for free).

6. Natural family planning

What is it? Natural family planning involved monitoring your fertility signs, such as cervical secretions and basal body temperature, to find out when during the month you can have sex with a reduced risk of pregnancy.


Pros and cons:
It can be used to plan pregnancy as well as avoid pregnancy, if you’re thinking of starting and family – and if you’re not, it does not involve taking any hormones or other chemicals or using physical devices, like many other methods do. The NHS states that it’s up to 99% effective if the method is followed precisely – but you need proper teaching about the indicators, and because it can be tricky to master, mistakes happen, so it’s generally around 75% mark instead.

You’ll still need to consider protection from STIs, and use a different form of contraception if you want to have sex during your fertile times. “You need to keep daily records, and some things such as illness or stress can make results difficult to interpret,” says Sue. “It can take longer to recognise your fertility indicators if you have an irregular cycle, or have stopped using hormonal contraception. It demands a high level of commitment from both partners.”

7. Tubular occlusion

What is it? Tubular occlusion, or female sterilisation, is a surgical method of contraception that involves using clips or rings to block your fallopian tubes. It is thought to be more than 99% effective, and doesn’t effect hormone levels – you’ll still get your period if you have it done.

Pros and cons:

If you’re certain that sterilisation is the right option for you, it means that you no longer have to worry about pregnancy (although the same can’t be said for STI’s, which you’ll still need protection from). There shouldn’t be any impact on your sex drive, and rarely has any other long-term effects on your health.

However, as with any operation, there are potential complications, including internal bleeding, infection, or damage to your other organs. The chance of sterilisation failing is around in 1 in 200, but it can happen, and if it does occur, there’s a higher chance of the pregnancy being ectopic. Surgeons are generally more willing to carry out sterilisation on women who are over 30 and have already had children, but you can request it whatever your circumstances. It’s likely you’ll be referred to counselling before making your final decision, because of the permanent nature of the choice that you’re making.

Complete Article HERE!

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