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Hard times – the ups and downs of the penis

Penises can be problematic. They are powerful, untameable beasts, capable of wielding immense pleasure but also able to cause devastating emotional wounds. And that’s just anal sex

fun, fun, fun

by Liam Murphy

As well as the obvious physical harm that can be inflicted – skinny jeans have cursed a generation to suffer cock-caught-in-fly related trauma – the magnificent meat mallet can also bring mental torment when, like an untrained puppy, it just won’t do as it’s told.

THE HARDER THE BETTER?
Some of the best things are hard: hard-boiled eggs, biscuits, those rhubarb and custard sweets, Tom Hardy and, of course, the penis. However, sometimes they can spring up at the most unexpected and inopportune times, and just won’t go away.

“I call my hard-on issue uncontrollable as such,” says 21-year-old Ian, “let’s say ‘eager’ or ‘keen’. It doesn’t take much and it’s ‘up periscope’ time. I’ve been this way as long as I’ve appreciated the male form. I went through a phase of wearing an over the shoulder bag in my late teens so I could cover the odd bus boner (the vibrations cause a right disturbance). Rather that than poke someone in the eye on the way past, I guess!”

However, impromptu erections can also lead to embarrassing retail situations, as Ian explains. “Recent men’s fashion means that I’ve become accustomed to skinny fit jeans, and for whatever reason, I went commando that day – I’m sure you know where I’m going with this – and I guess it must have been particularly sensitive or whatever. Anyway, I ended up with a lob-on in Tesco. My skinny jeans/tight t-shirt combo meant there was no hiding, so I did what any self-respecting bloke would do. I awkwardly leant over the shopping trolley for the next ten minutes. On the upside, I can also get hard on demand! It’s just a combination of a high sex drive and an involuntary physical reaction, I think.”

For Kieran, 25, his perilously perky penis is just part of his day. “I wouldn’t say it’s an issue – more just a fact of life. Some people sweat a lot, some people yawn a lot… I get boners a lot. Not getting them would be an issue, but getting too many, yeah that’s a ‘problem’ I’m OK with – at least I know it’s all working well. It does pop up at any time. When I was due to be giving a talk, someone gave me a wink and boom… up popped my friend downstairs to take his moment centre stage. I stood behind the lectern desperately thinking of Margaret Thatcher and trying to kill it so I could step out and begin my talk properly. The worst though, is when someone you don’t fancy or don’t want to have sex with tries it on and it just feels like he’s betraying you.”

And how does one manage the curse (or blessing, depending on your perspective) of a perpetual hard-on? “Like everyone else I learned the ‘tuck it behind your belt’ trick, or to hide it behind my belt. Granted, occasionally there have been times when I’ve had to miss my tube stop and stay sitting down while I waited for one to subside.”

Will, 38, didn’t notice the problem cropping up until he was in a relationship. “I was never aware of it until I met my boyfriend and it became apparent early on that I would get erect whenever I was around him. It has settled down a bit now but whenever we kissed in public I would get a twinge. And in bed it still sometimes feels like I have an erection all night. I would generally be embarrassed that I was getting these erections. I felt immature. This is what happens to a teenager, not an adult. I was going through a difficult break-up once – lots of tears – we were cuddling and I was hard. I realised then that my hard-ons were not always about sex – to me they were about love too.”

PENIS PROBLEMS
Erectile dysfunction can happen to a lot of people, in varying degrees and for many reasons, medical or otherwise.

“It happens to me every time I put on a condom,” admits Steven, 34. “I have no problem keeping it up before fucking – wanking and getting sucked off have never been a problem – but when I go to fuck someone and I slide the condom on, I lose the hardness. Not totally, but enough that I can’t properly put it in someone’s arse and enough that the sensation goes for me.”

Steven tried mixing up condom brands. “I’ve used thin, ultra-thin, ribbed, tingle… every version of a condom you could imagine and I still get the same flaccid result. I think it must be a psychological thing, because it’s not like I can’t get hard at all. It’s fine when I bareback with long term boyfriends, but with one nighters I tend to have to bottom now.”

Anxiety can often be a cause of not being able to maintain an erection, as 27-year-old James confirms: “Sex in general makes me anxious. I hate getting naked and I get so nervous when it comes to getting down to it in bed. I was dating a guy I really liked, so much that when he touched me I would physically shake, but when it came to sex I just couldn’t get hard. He thought I didn’t like him! And now I dread having sex. I love the dating side of it but I always know that heading to the bedroom is going to be inevitable.”

dick-words

What can cause you to have trouble getting or staying hard?

  • Stress and anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Hormone levels.
  • Smoking, recreational drugs and alcohol.
  • Some prescribed drugs – like Prozac and Seroxat.
  • Diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
  • Psychological reasons – the more you worry about your erection, the less likely you are to be able to get one.

What can I do to make myself hard?
If you think the reason is psychological – a distraction helps, so encourage your partner to focus on something other than your cock for a while – kissing or nipple play might help to get you back in action.

  • Cockrings can also be used to help maintain a hard-on – leather or rubber straps are safer to use.
  • Counselling.
  • Drugs like Viagra or Cialis – consult your doctor for these.

Matthew Hodson, CEO of GMFA told us: “Rolling a condom onto a rock-hard penis isn’t a problem but if it’s a bit soft and you start to get anxious then it’s easy to spiral with anxiety to the point where a condom is really tricky to use. The more you’re concerned that you won’t be hard enough to use a condom, the more likely it is to happen. If it’s just an occasional problem it’s probably best not to make a big thing of it and just do something else that turns you on while you wait for it to get hard again. If it’s becoming more of a problem, you might want to experiment with cock-rings or talk with your GP about it – there’s no need to be embarrassed, you won’t be the first person who will have approached them with the same problem. Most erection problems can be addressed so there’s no reason why a temporarily soft dick should be a long-term barrier to you enjoying sex safely.”

Everyone should be able to enjoy a penis (which is my campaign slogan if I ever run for Prime Minister), especially their own. Whether it’s too hard or too soft, it doesn’t mean you and your cock have to suffer alone. Confide in your partner/lover/friend/doctor and discuss what you can do to get you and your lifelong pleasure companion talking again.

Step 1: When your cock is hard, take the condom out of the wrapper carefully using your fingers. Using your teeth to tear the packet could damage the condom. Squeeze the air out of the teat on the tip of the condom (if there is one) and put it over the end of your cock. Don’t stretch it and then pull it over your cock as this will make it more likely to break.

Step 2: Roll it down the length of your cock – the further down it goes the less likely it is to slip off. Put some water-based or silicone-based lubricant over your condom-covered cock. Put plenty of lube around his arse too. Don’t put any lube on your cock before you put the condom on, as this can make it slip off.

Step 3: Check the condom occasionally while fucking to ensure it hasn’t come off or split. If you fuck for a long time you will need to keep adding more lube. When you pull out, hold on to the condom and your cock at the base, so that you don’t leave it behind. Pull out before your cock goes soft.

What lube should I use?

When you don’t use enough lube, or use the wrong kind, the likelihood of condom failure is increased, making transmission of HIV and other STIs possible. Water-based lubes (e.g. K-Y, Wet Stuff and ID Glide) and silicone-based lubes (Eros Bodyglide and Liquid Silk) work well with condoms. Oil-based lubricants like cooking oil, moisturisers, sun lotions, baby oil, butter, Crisco, Elbow Grease, etc. can also cause latex condoms to break.

They can however be used with non-latex condoms, like Durex Avanti, Mates Skyn or Pasante Unique. Don’t use spit as it dries up quickly and increases the chance of your condom tearing.

Complete Article HERE!

How do women really know if they are having an orgasm?

Dr Nicole Prause is challenging bias against sexual research to unravel apparent discrepancies between physical signs and what women said they experienced

By

It’s not always clear if a woman is really having an orgasm, as Meg Ryan demonstrated in When Harry Met Sally.

It’s not always clear if a woman is really having an orgasm, as Meg Ryan demonstrated in When Harry Met Sally.

In the nascent field of orgasm research, much of the data relies on subjects self-reporting, and in men, there’s some pretty clear physiological feedback in the form of ejaculation.

But how do women know for sure if they are climaxing? What if the sensation they have associated with climax is actually one of the the early foothills of arousal? And how does a woman know when if she has had an orgasm?

Neuroscientist Dr Nicole Prause set out to answer these questions by studying orgasms in her private laboratory. Through better understanding of what happens in the body and the brain during arousal and orgasm, she hopes to develop devices that can increase sex drive without the need for drugs.

Understanding orgasm begins with a butt plug. Prause uses the pressure-sensitive anal gauge to detect the contractions typically associated with orgasm in both men and women. Combined with EEG, which measures brain activity, this allows for a more accurate picture of a woman’s arousal and orgasm.

Dr Nicole Prause has founded Liberos to study brain stimulation and desire.

Dr Nicole Prause has founded Liberos to study brain stimulation and desire.

When Prause began studying women in this way she noticed something surprising. “Many of the women who reported having an orgasm were not having any of the physical signs – the contractions – of an orgasm.”

It’s not clear why that is, but it is clear that we don’t know an awful lot about orgasms and sexuality. “We don’t think they are faking,” she said. “My sense is that some women don’t know what an orgasm is. There are lots of pleasure peaks that happen during intercourse. If you haven’t had contractions you may not know there’s something different.”

Prause, an ultramarathon runner and keen motorcyclist in her free time, started her career at the Kinsey Institute in Indiana, where she was awarded a doctorate in 2007. Studying the sexual effects of a menopause drug, she first became aware of the prejudice against the scientific study of sexuality in the US.

When her high-profile research examining porn “addiction” found the condition didn’t fit the same neurological patterns as nicotine, cocaine or gambling, it was an unpopular conclusion among people who believe they do have a porn addiction.

The evolution of design of the anal pressure gauge used in Nicole Prause’s lab to detect orgasmic contractions.

The evolution of design of the anal pressure gauge used in Nicole Prause’s lab to detect orgasmic contractions.

“People started posting stories online that I had falsified my data and I received all kinds of sexist attacks,” she said. Soon anonymous emails of complaint were turning up at the office of the president of UCLA, where she worked from 2012 to 2014, demanding that Prause be fired.

Does orgasm benefit mental health?

Prause pushed on with her research, but repeatedly came up against challenges when seeking approval for studies involving orgasms. “I tried to do a study of orgasms while at UCLA to pilot a depression intervention. UCLA rejected it after a seven-month review,” she said. The ethics board told her that to proceed, she would need to remove the orgasm component – rendering the study pointless.

Undeterred, Prause left to set up her sexual biotech company Liberos, in Hollywood, Los Angeles, in 2015. The company has been working on a number of studies, including one exploring the benefits and effectiveness of “orgasmic meditation”, working with specialist company OneTaste.

Part of the “slow sex” movement, the practice involves a woman having her clitoris stimulated by a partner – often a stranger – for 15 minutes. “This orgasm state is different,” claims OneTaste’s website. “It is goalless, intuitive, and dynamic. It flows all over the place with no set direction. It may include climax, or it may not. In Orgasm 2.0, we learn to listen to what our body wants instead of what we think we ‘should’ want.”

Prause wants to determine whether arousal has any wider benefits for mental health. “The folks that practice this claim it helps with stress and improves your ability to deal with emotional situations even though as a scientist it seems pretty explicitly sexual to me,” she said.

Prause is examining orgasmic meditators in the laboratory, measuring finger movements of the partner, as well as brainwave activity, galvanic skin response and vaginal contractions of the recipient. Before and after measuring bodily changes, researchers run through questions to determine physical and mental states. Prause wants to determine whether achieving a level of arousal requires effort or a release in control. She then wants to observe how Orgasmic Meditation affects performance in cognitive tasks, how it changes reactivity to emotional images and how it compares with regular meditation.

Brain stimulation is ‘theoretically possible’

Another research project is focused on brain stimulation, which Prause believes could provide an alternative to drugs such as Addyi, the “female Viagra”. The drug had to be taken every day, couldn’t be mixed with alcohol and its side-effects can include sudden drops in blood pressure, fainting and sleepiness. “Many women would rather have a glass of wine than take a drug that’s not very effective every day,” said Prause.

The field of brain stimulation is in its infancy, though preliminary studies have shown that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which uses direct electrical currents to stimulate specific parts of the brain, can help with depression, anxiety and chronic pain but can also cause burns on the skin. Transcranial magnetic stimulation, which uses a magnet to activate the brain, has been used to treat depression, psychosis and anxiety, but can also cause seizures, mania and hearing loss.

Prause is studying whether these technologies can treat sexual desire problems. In one study, men and women receive two types of magnetic stimulation to the reward center of their brains. After each session, participants are asked to complete tasks to see how their responsiveness to monetary and sexual rewards (porn) has changed.

With DCS, Prause wants to stimulate people’s brains using direct currents and then fire up tiny cellphone vibrators that have been glued to the participants’ genitals. This provides sexual stimulation in a way that eliminates the subjectivity of preferences people have for pornography.

“We already have a basic functioning model,” said Prause. “The barrier is getting a device that a human can reliably apply themselves without harming their own skin.”


 
There is plenty of skepticism around the science of brain stimulation, a technology which has already spawned several devices including the headset Thync, which promises users an energy boost, and Foc.us, which claims to help with endurance.

Neurologist Steven Novella from the Yale School of Medicine uses brain stimulation devices in clinical trials to treat migraines, but he says there’s not enough clinical evidence to support these emerging consumer devices. “There’s potential for physical harm if you don’t know what you’re doing,” he said. “From a theoretical point of view these things are possible, but in terms of clinical claims they are way ahead of the curve here. It’s simultaneously really exciting science but also premature pseudoscience.”

Biomedical engineer Marom Bikson, who uses tDCS to treat depression at the City College of New York, agrees. “There’s a lot of snake oil.”

Sexual problems can be emotional and societal

Prause, also a licensed psychologist, is keen to avoid overselling brain stimulation. “The risk is that it will seem like an easy, quick fix,” she said. For some, it will be, but for others it will be a way to test whether brain stimulation can work – which Prause sees as a more balanced approach than using medication. “To me, it is much better to help provide it for people likely to benefit from it than to try to create fake problems to sell it to everyone.”

Sexual problems can be triggered by societal pressures that no device can fix. “There’s discomfort and anxiety and awkwardness and shame and lack of knowledge,” said psychologist Leonore Tiefer, who specializes in sexuality. Brain stimulation is just one of many physical interventions companies are trying to develop to make money, she says. “There’s a million drugs under development. Not just oral drugs but patches and creams and nasal sprays, but it’s not a medical problem,” she said.

Thinking about low sex drive as a medical condition requires defining what’s normal and what’s unhealthy. “Sex does not lend itself to that kind of line drawing. There is just too much variability both culturally and in terms of age, personality and individual differences. What’s normal for me is not normal for you, your mother or your grandmother.”

And Prause says that no device is going to solve a “Bob problem” – when a woman in a heterosexual couple isn’t getting aroused because her partner’s technique isn’t any good. “No pills or brain stimulation are going to fix that,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

Screw Science: The Futuristic Sex Tech Aiming to Penetrate Your Bedroom

From fully customizable vibrators to bioelectronic headsets, smart sex toys are on the way up. But does personal pleasure necessarily make for better health?

sex-tech

Pleasure is personal, mostly because it has to be, and not least because female scientists continue to face grinding discrimination regardless of their area of research. And when it comes to sexual health, breakthroughs are few and far between: in spite of increasing documentation of associated health risks, birth control hasn’t really been reformulated since the 60s, and last year’s much-anticipated release of Addyi, a pill meant to fix female sexual dysfunction, only worked for ten percent of the women who tried it.

It’s clear that sexual emancipation has not yet been freed from the bedroom. In spite of its roots in scientific misogyny—the vibrator was developed in the 19th century to cure women of hysteria, after all—a swathe of new devices have people looking hopefully to sex tech (or sextech, as it is also known) as the answer to systemic gaps in sexual health. History, it seems, is coming full circle; where the 1960s saw the vibrator de-medicalized and uncoupled from science, today’s consumer market is beginning to see pleasure and health unified in the pursuit of wellness. Yet what we call “sex tech” is tied more to the lucrative sex toy industry—worth $15 billion this year—than it is to scientific institutions, with much of its promise linked to idea that personal pleasure makes for better health.

These days, more people than ever understand that a woman’s ability to understand what turns her on and why is a crucial step in developing a healthy perspective on her sexual life. So it makes sense that we’re seeking out masturbatory experiences that are more tailored than your average stand-in phallus. It’s the driving force behind the popularity of devices like Crescendo, the first-ever fully customizable vibrator, which raised £1.6 million in funding to date and shipped out over 1,000 pre-orders after a successful crowdfunding round.

Designed to cater to the inherent complexities of female arousal, the vibrator can be finely customized, equipped with six motors and the ability to be bent into any favorable shape. An accompanying app allows users to control each motor individually; it remembers favorite behaviors, provides pre-set vibration patterns, and responds to mood-setting music.

“We were inspired by the concept of tech designed for the human, rather than the human having to adapt their behaviour to tech,” says Stephanie Alys, the co-founder of Crescendo creators Mysteryvibe. “Human beings aren’t just unique in terms of our size and how we’re put together genetically, but also in terms of what we like. What turns us on can be different from what turns another person on.”

smart-sex-technology

Mysteryvibe’s flagship product is the Crescendo, a customizable sex toy.

But in spite of the life-improving promises of consumer sex tech, the reality is that official, peer-reviewed studies remain crucial to reforming policy and education. Founded by Dr. Nicole Prause, Liberos Center is one of the few sex-centric research institutions in the United States. Much of its work investigates the relationship between psychology, physiology, and sex, with an emphasis on the hard data that is often lacking in sex tech.

Liberos presses on in a particularly antagonistic climate; the American government is famously skittish about sexual content. Sexual material is banned from government-funded computers, says Prause, making it difficult for researchers to, say, screen porn to test subjects as part of a study on arousal. She adds that congressional bodies actively seek to pull funding from research that addresses the topic head-on—four recent studies that had already been awarded funding were re-opened for assessment because of their sexual content.

“People report having certain types of experiences all the time,” says Prause. “But they’re often poor observers of their own behaviour, and don’t see anyone’s behaviour but their own. They don’t really have that external perspective, which is why I think it’s important to take both a psychological and laboratory approach. For example, in science, people haven’t been verifying that orgasm actually occurs. So we’ve been developing an objective way of measuring that, and of measuring the effects of clitoral stimulation—on how to best capture the contractions that occur through the orgasm.”

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Liberos is also investigating the effect of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and direct current stimulation (tDCS) on sexual responsiveness. Both are non-invasive treatments, meaning anyone seeking a cure for low libido may not require anything more than the use of a headset. TMS holds potential for long-term changes to a person’s sex drive; the technique, which uses a magnetic field generator to produce small electrical currents in the brain, has already been used to treat neuropathic pain and otherwise stubborn cases of major depressive disorder. DCS, on the other hand, uses a headset to deliver a low-intensity electrical charge, stimulating the brain areas where activity spikes at the sight, or touch, of a turn-on.

If using the brain’s electrical signals to control the rest of the body sounds like a dystopian fantasy, the reality is that these medical treatments aren’t far off. Bioelectronic firms are now backed by the likes of Glaxosmithkline and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and similar applications have already been established for hypertension and sleep apnea, while chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, and arthritis are targeted for future development.

According to Dr. Karen E. Adams, clinical professor of OBGYN at Oregon Health and Science University, anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of women experience varying degrees of sexual dysfunction. Medication that targets neurotransmitters, like the SSRIs used to treat depression and anxiety, can fluctuate in efficacy depending on the unique makeup of the person using it.

Combined with the trickiness of locking down the nebulousness of desire (and lack thereof), it’s no wonder that Addyi, a failed antidepressant pursued because of its unexpected effect on serotonin levels in female mice, was a flop. Non-sex-specific studies have shown that electrical stimulation can be more adaptive to the brain’s constantly-shifting landscape than medication that interacts with its chemistry. For the 90 percent of women who found Addyi to be a sore disappointment, bioelectronic treatments could soon offer an alternative solution to low sexual responsivity.

“By giving women information about their bodies that they can decide what to do with, we’re enabling more female empowerment,” says Prause. “And by allowing women to decide which aspects of sex they want to be more responsive to, we’re giving people more control, and not with charlatan claims. We actually have good scientific reasons that we think are going to work, that are going to make a difference.”

Yet the field’s burgeoning successes are only as good as the social environment they take hold in. Sociopolitical hurdles notwithstanding, money remains a significant roadblock for developers, as the controversial nature of sex research has many investors shying away from backing new projects in spite of consumer interest. Whether they’re seeking government funding or VC investments, sex start-ups and labs alike are often forced to turn to crowdfunding to raise money for development.

“It’s pretty unsurprising that heavily female-oriented tech products do so well on crowdfunding sites; these are solutions to problems faced by half of the population, that are overlooked by a male-dominated industry where male entrepreneurs are 86 percent more likely to be VC funded than women,” says Katy Young, behavioral analyst at research firm Canvas8. “But the audience is clearly there—Livia, a device which targets nerves in order to stop period pains, raised over $1 million on Indiegogo.”

Outdated sex ed programs, which emphasize procreation and normalize straight male sexuality without addressing female sexual development, are ground zero for unhealthy social perspectives on sex. Acknowledging that change can’t just come from devices alone, New York’s Unbound, a luxury sex toy subscription service, is teaming up with “campus sexpert” app Tabù to bring both sex education and affordable masturbation tools to colleges across the country.

“There’s a national discussion right now surrounding consent, which is 100 percent needed and super important,” says Polly Rodriguez, CEO and co-founder of Unbound. “But for women to be able to engage in sex and address consent as equals, they need to learn about female pleasure—they should understand their own bodies so that when they are engaging in sexual activities with someone else, they know what feels good to them, they know how to communicate that, and they don’t feel uncomfortable about it.”

It’s tempting to buy into the idea of tech as freeing: that the increased presence of smart devices in our lives will help us form healthier habits and a better understanding of our ourselves, or that the availability of medically-approved tech will be a panacea in the intricately fraught landscape of female sexual dysfunction—which is as socially determined as it is biological, and as cultural as it is psychological.

But sex tech is still far from being paradigm-shifting. Its success will be dependent not only on consumer dollars but on government policies and public attitudes; at a level of engagement this intimate, tech is only any good if people feel free to use it.

Complete Article HERE!

Sex and Food: The World’s Strangest Aphrodisiacs Through Time

Hot chocolate? The potato? Piranhas? Throughout history, humankind has persisted in the belief that some foods are linked to sex.

sexy_food

By Felisa Rogers

From the Garden of Eden to the oyster cellar bordellos of old New York, food and sex are entwined. Although every food under the sun has been touted as an aphrodisiac at some point in time, humans tend to get turned on by three categories of food: extremely expensive food, food that is risky to acquire, and food that resembles genitalia.

Rare and exotic foods have favored positions in the canon of culinary aphrodisiacs. Consider the truffle, the piranha and the labor of harvesting a plate full of sparrow tongues. Foods from far-off lands have the spicy whisper of perilous adventure, and there’s nothing quite like a hint of mystery to stimulate the imagination. For example, Aztec concubines taught the conquistadors to drink hot chocolate; when the Spaniards carried the exotic substance across the sea to Europe, they brought with it the rumor that the drink was an aphrodisiac. And during the reign of Charles I, when rice was still a luxury in Europe, noble Casanovas swore by the improbable aphrodisiac of rice boiled in milk and flavored with cinnamon.

As an ingredient becomes common, and thus cheaper, it loses its magic. Case in point: the potato. Your modern Brit is unlikely to find a plate of mashed potatoes sexually stimulating, but potatoes and sweet potatoes were hailed as aphrodisiacs when they were first introduced to the European palate; in Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Falstaff reels off a list of the era’s aphrodisiacs: kissing comfits, snow eryngoes (the candied roots of sea holly), and potatoes. Once rare ingredients such as cinnamon, cloves, marmalade, rice and pepper have likewise lost their sexy status.

The second largest umbrella group of chewable aphrodisiacs is based on the crude logic that if something looks like your nasty bits, it’ll undoubtedly put your prospective partner in the mood. Thus, scheming Lotharios and temptresses have long relied on the amorous offering of edible flowers and roots. In the British Isles, wake robin (Arum maculatum) was once valued as a thickener for puddings, a starch for Elizabethan neck ruffs, and for its phallic bloom, which earned the plant a reputation as an aphrodisiac and spawned over 20 suggestive folk names, including Adam and Eve, lords and ladies, devils and angels, stallions and mares, and dog’s dick. On a similar note, the word “orchid” is derived from the ancient Greek word for testicle. Pliny the Elder recommended bulbous orchid tubers as an aphrodisiac, and the Romans called orchids “satyrion” because legend had it that the phallic roots grew from the spilled semen of a satyr.

satyrThe tribes of Mexico preferred not the root but the flower. The Totonoc Indians believed that the orchid Vanilla planifolia sprang from the blood of a goddess, and the Aztecs named it tlilxochitl, or black flower. Vanilla planifolia is an inherently romantic plant: its small blossoms open in the morning and are exclusively pollinated by hummingbirds and melipone bees. The dirty-minded Conquistadors noted the pod’s resemblance to female genitalia, and gave the plant the name vanilla, which derived from the Latin for sheath. Europeans soon prized vanilla as an aphrodisiac; wild stories circulated that vanilla could transform the ordinary man into an astonishing lover. Elizabeth I is said to have been especially fond of vanilla pudding.

Oysters and clams have had a lewd reputation since history’s dawn. The Roman author Juvenal (a nasty misogynist) uses oysters to complete his portrait of a slut partying away the night: “When she knows not one member from another, eats giant oysters at midnight, pours foaming unguents into her unmixed Falernian, and drinks out of perfume-bowls, while the roof spins dizzily round, the table dances, and every light shows double!” In keeping with the Roman talent for using food to call attention to those ultimate aphrodisiacs — wealth and power — emperors and aristocrats turned their noses up at local oysters and sent away to the British Isles for a superior variety. The association between oysters and strumpets would have staying power: As Rebecca Stott points out in her book “Oyster,” “Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the woman oyster seller was used in poetry as a figure of erotic play, something like the oyster, to be consumed, part of the sensuous fruit of the street for the male urban voyeur.” In 19th century America, underground oyster saloons catered to base instincts — guests could slurp back dozens of oysters while cavorting with good-time girls and prostitutes; some of the seedier joints offered private rooms. A few decades later and a few hundred miles south, scantily clad ladies would shimmy in a popular striptease act called the oyster dance. In the 1940s, Kitty West (a cousin of Elvis Presley) danced on Bourbon street as “Evangeline the Oyster Girl”; to open her act, she stepped with aplomb from a giant half shell.

But food and sex also play an entwined role in more “respectable” culture. If we look at the big picture, we see food at the heart of every human ritual. As Lionel Tiger points out in “The Pursuit of Pleasure”: “The exchange of mates between families was the only process more significant for human evolution than food sharing. But it was also wholly associated with it; the wedding dinner established a circle of implication and meaning.” The Tzteltal Indians of Chiapas, Mexico, take it to the next level: in traditional families, a young married couple lives with the girl’s parents. For the first 15 days of marriage the bride and groom don’t speak to each other or sleep together. Their sole means of communication is through food. Every evening, the wife cooks a meal for her husband. If all is well on the 15th day, the couple will sleep together that night. These people clearly know their foreplay.sexy-fruit

Our literary masters have made much of the sensual significance of food. Eve parting her lips for the fruit of knowledge may mark the most infamous sexy food metaphor, but it is by no means the only time food and sex intersect in the Bible. Half the lyric beauty of “Solomon’s Song” stems from food metaphors: “I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste”; “thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits.” Some phrases draw a direct correlation between eating and love: Food is a gift for the beloved, and the space where the lovers meet is made more beautiful by spices and fruit: “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” Certain passages hint that food is part of the path to the boudoir: “The mandrakes gives a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.” Mandrake, a poisonous root from the nightshade family, was a popular aphrodisiac during ancient times. “Solomon’s Song” also references other more tasty aphrodisiacs of the day: cinnamon, saffron, figs and pomegranates.

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Food scholars and scientists tend to ignore and/or ridicule the idea of a food that functions like Viagra. The Western world’s most popular edible aphrodisiacs, chocolate and oysters, do actually create a sexy hormone rush, but generally only when they are eaten in gross quantities. As food writer Amy Reiley notes, “You’re more likely to go into a diabetic coma than get that rush because you’d have to eat so much chocolate to get the effect.” Revered food historian Alan Davidson sums it up best in “The Oxford Companion to Food”: “In short, the concept of a truly aphrodisiac food is on par with that of finding a crock of gold at the end of a rainbow.”

So why the proffered carrots and the bowl of sparrow’s tongues? Perhaps because our entwined pair, food and sex, is really a threesome: food, sex and superstition. The human libido is both excitable and fragile, easy to titillate yet just as easy to destroy. So much of sexuality is subject to the vagaries of nature and the whim of another, it’s no wonder humans have sought to control the situation by relying on witch doctors, poisonous roots, dubious elixirs and our old fallback, food, a substance that we viscerally know to be the staff of life.sexy-fruit2

Or maybe we persist in the belief that specific foods can lead to sex because there’s something to it. According to anthropologist Robin Fox, food leads to sex because a male’s ability to provide food plays into the female’s need to reproduce with a mate who will help nurture their young: “a male’s willingness to provide food becomes an important index of his suitability as a mate. Above all, it suggests his willingness to ‘invest’ in the female’s offspring.” No doubt there’s something to it, but we prefer a less clinical explanation: The act of procuring or preparing a special food can be sexy in itself. We associate food with comfort, and cooking is an act of love. By creating or acquiring a special food or beverage for a potential lover, we are creating at least the illusion of love and security, which is generally conducive to sex. In his excellent book “Heat,” Bill Buford convincingly describes the concept of cooking with love: cooking as a singularly intimate act of love one performs for friends, family and lovers. He also writes of cooking to be loved: “The premise of a romantic meal is that by stimulating and satisfying one appetite another will be analogously stimulated as well.” If you’ve ever factored a date’s restaurant choice or cooking skills into your decision to put out, you’ve experienced the aphrodisiacal qualities of food.

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Cancer patients and survivors can have trouble with intimacy

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People who survive cancer treatment — a growing group now topping 5 million — often have trouble with intimacy afterward, both from the actual treatment and physical recovery and from the psychological damage of feeling so vulnerable.

People who survive cancer treatment — a growing group now topping 5 million — often have trouble with intimacy afterward, both from the actual treatment and physical recovery and from the psychological damage of feeling so vulnerable.(Photo: Getty Images/Comstock Images)

In the mirror, Kelly Shanahan looks normal, even to herself.

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Kelly Shanahan of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., has been battling breast cancer for eight years. She’s a big believer in doctors and their patients discussing sexual health.

But she does not feel like herself.

The breasts she had reconstructed eight years ago look real, the nipples convincing. But her breasts have no sensation. The only time she feels them at all is during the frigid winters of her South Lake Tahoe, Calif., home, when they get so cold, she has to put on an extra layer of clothing.

“For a lot of women, breast sensation is a huge part of sexual pleasure and foreplay. That is totally gone,” says Shanahan, 55, who has lived with advanced breast cancer for three years. “It can be a big blow to self-image, even though you may look normal.”
Kelly Shanahan of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., has been battling breast cancer for eight years. She’s a big believer in doctors and their patients discussing sexual health. (Photo: Kelly Shanahan)

Shanahan is part of a growing group of patients, advocates and doctors raising concerns about sexual health during and after cancer treatment.

“None of us would be here if it weren’t for sex. I don’t understand why we have such a difficult time talking about it,” she says.

Though virtually all cancer diagnoses and treatments affect how patients feel and what they think about their bodies, sex remains an uncomfortable medical topic.

Shanahan, an obstetrician herself, says that until her current doctor, none of the specialists who treated her cancer discussed her sex life.

“My former oncologist would rather fall through the floor than talk about sex,” she says.

Major cancer centers now include centers addressing sexuality, but most community hospitals still do not. The topic rarely is discussed unless the patient is particularly bold or the doctor has made a special commitment.

There’s no question that cancer can dampen people’s sex lives.

Hormone deprivation, a common therapy for breast and prostate cancer, can destroy libido, interfere with erections, and make sex extremely painful. Weight gain or loss can affect how sexy people feel. Fatigue is unending during treatment. Body image can be transformed by surgeries and the idea that your own cells are trying to kill you. The constant specter of death is a sexual downer, as are the decidedly unsexy aspects of cancer care, like carrying around a colostomy bag. Then, there are the healthy partners, feeling guilty and terrified of causing pain.

And once people start to associate sex with pain, that can add apprehension and muscle tightness, which makes intercourse harder to achieve, says Andrea Milbourne, a gynecologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

There’s almost never a medical reason cancer patients or survivors shouldn’t be having sex, says Karen Syrjala, a clinical psychologist and co-director of the survivorship program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Even if there is reason to avoid intercourse, physical closeness and intimacy are possible, she says, noting that the sooner people address sexual issues the less serious those issues will be.

“Bodies need to be used and touched,” she says said. “Tissues need to be kept active.” Syrjala recommends hugging, romantic dinners, simple touching, “maybe just holding each other naked at night.”

There are ways to improve sexual problems, starting with doctors talking to their patients about sex. Milbourne and others say it’s their responsibility, not the patients’, to bring up the topic.

Hormone deprivation, a common therapy for breast and prostate cancer, can destroy libido, interfere with erections, and make sex extremely painful. Lubricants can help smooth the way.

Hormone deprivation, a common therapy for breast and prostate cancer, can destroy libido, interfere with erections, and make sex extremely painful. Lubricants can help smooth the way.

Communication between partners also is essential. “A lot of times, it’s unclear, at least in the mind of the other partner who doesn’t have a cancer, what has happened. ‘Why does this hurt? Why don’t you want to do anything?’ ” Milbourne says.

For women who have pain during sex, Milbourne says one study found benefit to using lidocaine gel to numb vaginal tissue.

Jeanne Carter, head of the female sexual medicine and women’s health program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, recommends women do three minutes of Kegel exercises daily to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles and improve vaginal tone, and to help reconnect to their bodies.

For women sent abruptly into menopause, moisturizing creams can help soften tissue that has become brittle and taut. Carter says she’s conducted research showing that women with breast or endometrial cancers who use moisturizers three to five times a week in the vagina and on the vulva have fewer symptoms and less pain than those who don’t. Lubricants can help smooth the way, too.

“We’ve got to make sure we get the tissue quality and pain under control or that will just undermine the whole process,” Carter says.

Sex toys also take on a different meaning after cancer treatment. Specialized stores often can offer useful advice and the ability to examine a product before buying. Rings and other equipment, in addition to medications such as Viagra, can help men regain erections.

Doctors and well-meaning friends also need to stop telling cancer patients that they should simply be glad to be alive, Shanahan says. Of course she is, but eight years after her initial diagnosis and three years after her disease advanced, Shanahan wants to make good use of the time she has left.

And that, she says, includes having a warm, intimate relationship with her husband of 21 years.

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