What Lube Should I Use?

Team Sex Ed! Kate & Louise

Team Sex Ed! Kate & Louise

Confused about personal lube? Should you use lube? Which ones should you choose? What are the different types? What is best matched with condoms

All the answers are made easy and accessible by sex educators Kate McCombs and Louise Bourchier in their video below. They explain why you should use lube, the different types of lube out there, and what each type is good for. Remember, one great way to explore different lubes is by trying sampler packs. Lucky Bloke offers a wide range of samplers from water-based to flavored to arousal lubes and more.

Here’s Team Sex Ed’s important lube tips:

  • You should use lube, especially with condoms because it helps the condom last longer and prevent breakage.
  • Lube also helps prevent small tears that can cause infection inside the body.
  • Lube is crucial for anal sex because, unlike the vagina, the butt is never self-lubricating.
  • Watch out for the ingredient glycerin in water-based lubes. It can cause irritation and yeast infection for some.

This video was originally posted on the Team Sex Ed channel.

BY KATE MCCOMBS & LOUISE BOURCHIER | Team Sex Ed! Kate & Louise

Unsure what size

kate_mccombsKATE MCCOMBS is a NYC-based sex educator, writer, and maker of puns. Ultimately, all of Kate’s work is about helping people feel more comfortable talking about sex. She believes that meaningful conversations + accurate information can help us create a healthier and more pleasure-filled world. Kate writes articles and teaches workshops about sexual health, pleasure, and communication.  Follow Kate on Twitter @katecom

 

louise bourchier 150 150LOUISE BOURCHIER, MPH is a sex educator who knows health and pleasure. She teaches workshops to adult audiences throughout Australia and New Zealand, where her mission is to facilitate access to information that allows people to experience healthy and pleasurable sex lives. She works closely with D.VICE: the toy shop for grownups and is a proud emissary of Sex Geekdom Melbourne.  Follow her on Twitter @louiselabouche

Smaller Package, Better Lover?

david statue

While a larger penis doesn’t imbue a man with greater sexual skill, men can feel great pressure to have an “ideal” body, especially one with an “ideal” (i.e., larger)  penis.  What are the effects of this very narrow notion of ideal penis size? Melissa White, CEO of Lucky Bloke, looks at the impact of media’s “bigger-is-better” messaging on men, their partners and the condom industry at large.

This article addresses the impact of media on male body image and addresses the condom industry’s failure to serve men of all sizes.

Here are some main points to take away:

  • Only 55% of men report satisfaction with their penis. Meanwhile 85% of women report satisfaction with their partner’s penis.
  • Only 50% of men worldwide have an “average” size penis and require what is known as an “average” or a “regular” condom.
  • 35% of men require a more tailored or smaller condom, which several companies do not offer.
  • Only 15% of men require larger condoms. However, 85% of marketing attention is given to this category.
  • 85% of the condom-buying population is marginalized.
  • Men whose self-worth is tied to penis size can suffer lower self esteem, while men who are comfortable with their penises report feeling more confident and happy.

The original article was published on the Huffington Post

BY MELISSA WHITE | CEO of LuckyBloke.com

It truly is all about the size of the package — but not in the way that you might think.

It’s time to take a stand: regarding penis size, and what it means to be a sexually desirable man. A large penis doesn’t make a man a great kisser, fill him with sensuality and passion, make his partner feel loved or safe – nor guarantee that he is a remotely competent lover.

It’s often ignored that the largest sex organ we have is our brain. The brain, which it happens, is also bombarded with distorted messaging on what makes a man, a man.

And it starts at an increasingly early age. The way men and their bodies are portrayed in mass media deeply affects their lives.

There are over a million men in the U.S. with serious eating disorders. Perhaps more revealing, is a figure from a recent UK study, which found 1 out of 3 men would sacrifice a year of their life in exchange for their ideal body.

I began speaking to men in my circle, as well as to Lucky Bloke customers, about these findings, and then took it to Facebook:

“Gentlemen, how many years would you be willing to sacrifice, in exchange for your ideal body? How many for your ideal penis?”

The responses given indicated that men’s levels of success, attractiveness, or intelligence, seemed disconnected from whether they were comfortable about their bodies.

One in particular was very clear. “My ideal penis? I think you mean women’s idea of an ideal penis!” And it just so happens he was willing to sacrifice more years than any other participant.

And that’s saying a lot. Most who responded stated they’d sacrifice at least 10 years of their life in exchange for their ideal body — especially if it included their ideal penis.

Wow. Am I alone in preferring the men in my life live an extra 10 years, just the way they are?

Seeking further insight regarding body perceptions, I turned to Elle Chase — aka Lady Cheeky, one of my favorite Sex Educators (and moderator for: Does This Panel Make Me Look Fat?: Body Image and Sexuality at CatalystCon in Los Angeles).

Elle summed it up:

“There’s a pervasive meme out there that men’s bodies need to be hairless or they need to be a certain height and, of course, the old wives’ tale about having to have a big penis to properly satisfy a partner. In reality, it’s our diversity that makes us who we are and comparing ourselves to what we see in magazines is futile. The fact is, we all have to stop beating ourselves up because we don’t meet a perceived ideal. Especially, when it comes to penis size… I’ve always said “it’s not the size of the pencil, it’s how you sign your name. “

Are Elle and I the only women who feel this way?

Not according to a comprehensive study which showed that 85 percent of women are satisfied with their partner’s penis. However, it also revealed that only 55 percent of men find their own size satisfactory.

Women appreciating their lovers is great news.

The bad news is men’s sense of self-worth is sabotaged long before they couple up.

So what exactly are the messages society is sending young boys and men? Mass media narratives insinuate that a man is only popular with the ladies if he’s well hung, and has the stamina of a superhero.

These days, many of the condom conversations I have touch on the topic of penis size. That’s how I know that even smart, sexually active people have yet to learn that condoms come in three basic sizes.

This critical information is rarely a component of Sex Ed. Even more elusive are conversations about what a condom should feel like when it’s on. Not to mention pleasure as a barometer for condom fit. I mean, who would want to have to acknowledge pleasure as part of Sex-Ed? Outrageous!

The facts are simple: when a condom is too small for a man he feels discomfort, loses his erection, and at worst, the condom breaks (clearly, he’d benefit from a larger condom).

If, on the other hand, a condom is too large, it slips and slides, leaks easily, and sooner or later falls off.

A condom that is too big or too small leads the man wearing it to focus on his discomfort. Thus both pleasure and safety are severely compromised (typically for both partners).

Fun fact: Most free condoms distributed promulgate the myth that one size fits all.

However, it’s estimated only 50 percent of men worldwide have an “average” size penis and require what is known as an “average” or standard condom.

A whopping 35 percent of men, globally, require a more tailored or smaller condom, while a larger condom is required for 15 percent of men.

Due to the media obsession with endowment, 85 percent of marketing attention is given to that final 15 percent of the population. As a direct result, a staggering 85 percent of men — the vast and silent majority, are marginalized. They’re essentially being told they shouldn’t exist.

Sadly, many condom manufacturers are complicit in this absurdly lopsided marketing.

Trojan has created explosively popular branding with their Magnum franchise. Yet there is obviously a glaring discrepancy between Magnum’s mass appeal and the fact that, for 85 percent of men, it simply isn’t the right fit.

Perhaps even worse is Trojan failing to offer any small-sized condom option. Many brands have followed suit, ignoring 35 percent of the population entirely. What kind of message is this sending to sexually active men?

Obviously, when a man’s self-image is deeply, even subconsciously, tied to the size of his penis societal influences, including marketplace messaging, can cause serious harm to his self-esteem.

And conversely, it comes as no surprise that men who are comfortable with their penises report feeling generally happier and more confident. Which brings me to my favorite response from that informal body-image survey:

“…Regarding the ‘perfect body’ — I wouldn’t trade any years. I love my body. And, I’m super happy with my penis. I feel blessed there too. Now this is not to say I am by any means perfect in either department, but I do feel really lucky. Yes, keeping very healthy and taking care of myself is probably a big factor resulting in a strong body, but good genes also play a def [sic] part. There’s also [my partner’s] loving adoration. I think feeling good about myself and feeling very loved by my partner — knowing that I turn her on, and knowing how much she ignites the same desires in me, is also a big part.”

I know I would want any man I love to feel this way.

And, perhaps, that’s where we begin. Considering the most relevant questions: When you think of a good lover where does your mind go? What really turns you on?

How Do I Bring Up Sex Toys With My Partner?

Team Sex Ed!

Team Sex Ed!

“I’d like to bring a sex toy into my relationship but I’m not sure how to bring it up with my partner.”

Looking to introduce sex toys in the bedroom? Kate and Louise over at Team Sex Ed answer this question and offer some tips and tools to make the conversation more easeful.

Many women and men are curious about sex toys but feel reluctant to talk with their partner about it for fear of offending them. One misconception is that sex toys act as replacements or make up for a partner’s inadequacies. As Kate and Louise discuss in the video below, it’s important to be prepared for this reaction. Be sensitive and stroke his or her ego a bit. As with any relationship, good communication goes a long way in solving any problem.

To start the conversation with your partner, consider these strategies:

  • Make sure you start the conversation in a relaxed and comfortable environment so it doesn’t feel rushed or pressuring.
  • Reassure your partner that the toy is not making up for any inadequacies, but simply is a fun addition to sex.
  • Go sex toy shopping together and pick one out that you both like. Kate and Louise offer recommendations for toy shops.
  • Select a toy that is proportional to your level of experience. Smaller toys are a good place to start if you are new to using sex toys.
  • Maintain a playful attitude and keep it fun. This will go a long way in nurturing your connection with your partner.
  • Check out our articles on body safe sex toys and how to safely share a dildo.

This video was originally published on the Team Sex Ed channel

BY KATE MCCOMBS & LOUISE BOURCHIER | Team Sex Ed! Kate & Louise

condom ad condoms too loose

kate_mccombsKATE MCCOMBS is a NYC-based sex educator, writer, and maker of puns. Ultimately, all of Kate’s work is about helping people feel more comfortable talking about sex. She believes that meaningful conversations + accurate information can help us create a healthier and more pleasure-filled world. Kate writes articles and teaches workshops about sexual health, pleasure, and communication.
Follow Kate on Twitter @katecom

louise bourchier 150 150LOUISE BOURCHIER, MPH is a sex educator who knows health and pleasure. She teaches workshops to adult audiences throughout Australia and New Zealand, where her mission is to facilitate access to information that allows people to experience healthy and pleasurable sex lives. She works closely with D.VICE: the toy shop for grownups and is a proud emissary of Sex Geekdom Melbourne. Follow her on Twitter @louiselabouche

Virginity Myths and Facts: The Hymen

SSSVirginitylThe phrase “losing your virginity” is often used without much thought. When a girl loses her virginity, that means she has penetrative sex for the first time and she breaks her hymen, right?

Not necessarily. As Bry’onna Mention of The CSPH (the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health) explains, defining virginity as having an intact hymen is limiting, excluding those who were born without a hymen or who tore it before ever having sex, whether by falling on a fence post, masturbating, or inserting a tampon.

Now, this may shake your world, but did you know that the hymen is something that stays with you (that is, if you have a vagina) your whole life? It is not something destroyed during your first sexual experience.

The following article explains that inside the tangled misconception of female virginity lies inaccurate beliefs about the hymen. Bry’onna Mention sets the record straight and explains just how diverse hymens actually are. Some people are born with a hymen that covers the opening of the vagina fully or partially, but these are considered rare anomalies and necessary to repair with surgery.

Take a look at the first steps to debunking the myth that virginity is an actual, quantifiable thing. It all starts with our misconceptions of what is the hymen.

The first lesson of debunking the “virginity myth” was originally publish by Bry’onna Mention of The CSPH.

BY THE CSPH | theCSPH.org

“Shiny and new, like a virgin, touched for the very first time.”

Gee, Madonna, that sounds an awful lot like change or some other inanimate metal object. But, virginity is not about newly minted money, no. It’s about having sex for the first time!

Sex (as well as sexuality) is extremely important to our existence on this planet. Without sex, none of us would be here. And not unlike embarking on any new experience, having sex for the first time is kind of a big deal. So important in fact, a term for those who haven’t had sex was created: virgins.

According to Merriam Webster, virginity is the state of never having had sexual intercourse. Now this minimal definition, is actually quite inclusive, and encompasses all gender types and sexual orientations. However, the historical concept of virginity and the etymology behind it (which we’ll discuss in detail in Lesson 2), mostly meant the virginity of cis women, hence the problem.

Yes, concept. Before moving forward, first things first: virginity is a social construct.

Ed Note: The CSPH knows that not all women have a vagina and not all vaginas belong to women. This lesson talks about the social construct of virginity, which is rooted in a hetero- and cis-normative understanding of the world.

Hymen, Shmymen

Inside the tangled webbed concept of female virginity, lies an inaccurate understanding of the hymen. This misunderstanding of the hymen is perpetuated by society’s lexicon and it’s approach to the hymen. Phrases like “popping the cherry,” “loss of virginity,” or “deflowering” leads us to believe that once sexual intercourse occurs, the hymen is destroyed or compromised in some way. This is not true.

The hymen is a very thin, elastic membrane that rests either outside of the vagina or just inside of it. During sexual intercourse, or the usage of tampons, fingers, etc. the membrane (hymen) is simply stretched, due to the elastic nature. However, if one or their partner is too rough, too fast, or if not amply lubricated, the membrane can tear. This can cause a sharp sensation outside the vagina and it can cause bleeding. So, ultimately the hymen stays with one, their entire life!

Different Types of Hymens

Hymens and vaginas, not unlike snowflakes are not all the same.

Sunday-Sex-School-Lesson-1

Image from the CSPH

Average hymen (or The Sailor Moon hymen)

This hymen has a thin membrane that surrounds the opening to the vagina. It can come in different shapes. It is the most common hymen in vulva owners. It is shaped like a half moon. This shape allows menstrual blood to flow out of the vagina.

Imperforated Hymen (or The Tuxedo Mask hymen)

This hymen is extremely rare, but does exist. An imperforate hymen is a thin membrane that completely covers the opening to the vagina. Menstrual blood cannot flow out of the vagina. This usually causes the blood to back up into the vagina which often develops into an abdominal mass and abdominal and/or back pain. An imperforate hymen can be diagnosed at birth. Rarely, the diagnosis is not made until the teen years. Fortunately, there is a form of treatment for an imperforate hymen. It is a minor surgery to remove the extra hymenal tissue and create a normal sized vaginal opening so that menstrual blood can flow out of the vagina.

Microperforate hymen (or the Sailor Chibi Moon)

This thin membrane almost completely covers the opening to a vagina. Menstrual blood is usually able to flow out of the vagina but the opening is very small. This hymen usually will not be able to get a tampon into and the owner will mostly like be unaware of the tiny opening. This hymen can also be treated by a perforation surgery.

Septate hymen (or Sailor Uranus)

The thin hymenal membrane has a band of extra tissue in the middle that causes two small vaginal openings instead of one. Owners of this hymen will also have trouble inserting and removing tampons. Again, a minor surgery to remove the extra band of tissue and create a normal sized vaginal opening can be done.

Image from the CSPH

Image from the CSPH

Now that you know the truth about vulva owner virginity:

tw: mention of rape

Here, in less than 3 minutes, Alyssa combats any and all arguments regarding the “Virginity Standard.”

Make sure you come back next Sunday for Lesson 2! We’ll further dissect the historical concept of virginity and it’s present standing.

condom ad condoms too loose

csphThe CENTER for SEXUAL PLEASURE and HEALTH (The CSPH) is designed to provide adults with a safe, physical space to learn about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues. Led by highly respected founder and director, Megan Andelloux, The CSPH is a sexuality training and education organization that works to reduce sexual shame, fight misinformation, & advance the sexuality field.

When Sex Is Just A Bummer

Head in HandsHave you recently had a sex experience that was less than fulfilling? Sex bummers can put a real strain on your emotional well being. But as Heather Corinna explains, they don’t have to be that way. In this article, Heather offers new and helpful perspective on sex faux pas that can make you thankful for the experience.

Here’s a summary of key benefits that sexual bummers can provide:

  • Sex bummers can teach us more about what and who we do and don’t like.
  • Bummers offer clues for what needs to be changed and communicated better.
  • Bummers can help us improve our expectations as well as demonstrate what we need and want.
  • Bummers can build intimacy.

This article was originally published at Scarleteen.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

Sometimes sex is freaking amazing. Sometimes it’s not, but it’s still mighty good. It’s little more than nice at other times, but as fine a way to have spent those twenty minutes as any other. Then there are times when it’s none of those things: when it’s an oh-well, an oh-that’s-so-good-oh-wait-now-it’s-so-NOT-ACK-STOP!, a WTF was that even? or even an OMFG-WHY-ME-WHYYYYYYY. And times when there’s little to no humour in a sexual disappointment or outcome at all, just some seriously rough feelings or difficult things to contend with.  

Everyone is going to have at least some of those times, way more than just once or twice. Sometimes, or in some interactions, relationships or phases of life, we may even experience sex more often being a bummer for us than being satisfying and awesome.

Maybe sex stunk because someone seemed to think trying to lick your eyeball was sexy, while you felt like they were coming at you with some kind of cannibal agenda they’d clearly kept hidden until now. For every single time one of you moved one way, the other guessed wrong and moved the same way, so all you both got out of sex was bumps on your head and a shiny new tube of Neosporin for where your lip got split by their earring. Your little sister walked in on you, or you shot a condom across the room while trying to get it on and your unstoppable laughter kept you from getting back into your sexy. You and someone else just may not be clicking: everything you do starts out being something one of you likes, and turns out to be something the other doesn’t. Maybe you just can’t get out of your head enough to stay in the groove, or get in the groove to begin with. Or perhaps you’ve become a new member of the statistically large group* who discover that a bed surrounded by candles more often creates smoke damage and a need for new curtains than it does romance.

Many sex bummers are silly or funny, so long as we have a sense of humor about them. Others aren’t, like being triggered during sex from previous trauma or abuse, or having someone you just had otherwise-amazing sex with open their mouth after and say something carelessly stupid that gets them the gold in the Douchebag Olympics. Sometimes people have a hard time being kind or patient with themselves with the learning curve of masturbation or sex with partners. Some people have sexual expectations and ideals that are clearly unrealistic, but they still have a very big, sometimes even religious, emotional attachment to those ideals, so being shown the realities can feel devastating. Being unpleasantly surprised by our emotional reactions to certain things — like having post-breakup sex you thought you were cool with, only to find out that you are in no way cool with it — can also be something we may need to cry out rather than laugh off. Some bummers are more challenging or emotionally rough than others.

We know that resilience is key in healthy sexual and personal development. Being able to experience and move forward from anything from a mere disappointment to a terrible trauma or tragedy is vital for being able to live our lives and find happiness in them. Being resilient is ultimately about having the tools and the desire to adapt to life and its experiences, rather than getting stuck or mired down under the weight of things.

Resilience is what’s asked of us when sex is disappointing, especially if we don’t want it to be chock full o’bummer evermore. Perspective is a big help with resilience, because it lets us know the real gravity of something. When it’s truly not a big whoop, it helps us to let it go more easily. Someone should be able to easily cope with not getting an erection or not reaching orgasm now and then, or finding out that a partner just isn’t into one or two sexual things they are. Those things are, indeed, bummers, but great tragedies they are not. On the other hand, struggling for years to reclaim a sexual life that was hijacked by sexual abuse or assault, feeling so unaccepted and unsafe in being queer that you never even let yourself love whoever it is you love, battling serious sexually-transmitted illness and its worst complications: that’s huge stuff we can’t (and shouldn’t) just brush off.

If we sweat the small stuff a lot, we won’t be able to deal with the truly hard and challenging stuff. When we learn to let go of the small stuff, so it’s not part of our stresses and strains, we have way more of our own emotional reserves to help us through the big stuff. And when aren’t sweating the small stuff, we’re far more likely to actually enjoy most of our lives, including our sexual lives, fumbles and all.

But isn’t sex supposed to be about pleasure?

Sex of any kind, be it masturbation or sex with partners, is primarily about seeking and intending physical and emotional pleasure. But seeking something out or intending it doesn’t mean we’ll always get or find that thing, or have it go as we expected or intended. Sex being about pleasure also doesn’t mean that every nanosecond we’re sexual in some way will be amazing, without fumbles or moments where things are only so-so. Like any other part of life, sex is something we’re likely to have a wide range of different experiences with, including how much pleasure we do and don’t wind up experiencing each time, and how much what we experience is or isn’t as we expected or were going for.

There are things we can certainly do to make it more likely we’ll experience pleasure with masturbation or sex with partners, including the most basic stuff we need to do to just be safely and soundly sexual with ourselves and others. We can all do consenting well, so no one is doing anything to the other they don’t want or aren’t okay with.  We can aim to please ourselves or each other, and put our all into that. We get to choose what we do with which body parts, and how we use them, how we communicate and how we listen and what we do with that information.

But there’s a lot about engaging in sex, alone or with partners, that is simply not entirely within our control. Always doing all of those things above that are within our control still can’t make it so sex is always fabulous. Doing those things, for instance, doesn’t always mean we’ll discover or answer what we or others really want just yet, that our intent to please will always result in pleasure, or the kind of pleasure we want, or that even open, rich shared communication will result in agreement, compatibility or all the orgasms all the time. Just because we are seeking out and can find pleasure and other kinds of awesome in sex and sexuality doesn’t mean we always will.

Same deal, different context: I’ve been making music since I was a kid: it’s one of my first loves in my life. It’s my happy place. Except for the times that it isn’t, or it is, but it just doesn’t make me as happy as I know it can, or doesn’t go the way I expected.

Sometimes practicing is pure bliss; other times it’s a total drag. Some days my hands work beautifully; other days, my fingers feel clumsy and I can’t sustain a pattern or rhythm to save my life. Playing with other people rocks when we all really get in the groove together. But we can’t always do that, so sometimes it feels more like work than play, and can result in hurt feelings or petty resentments. Sometimes I grab an instrument excited to play, but once I start playing, I just can’t get into it that day at all. Sometimes I break a string and don’t have an extra set (and once sliced my cheek open in the process of breaking one, just to add injury to insult), discover the piano’s fallen out of tune, or have a cold, so singing feels and sounds like a duck on its deathbed instead of feeling and sounding good. All of these things are out of my control, and all can totally tank what could have been an opportunity for me to play and enjoy playing.

Sex is a lot like that, for most people, often as much of the time as it is all they want or expect it to be. Because of the bonkers-high expectations that get placed, or we place, on sex, it can be harder to see it the way we would similar things that we seek pleasure in, but just don’t find sometimes, whether that’s about playing music, eating cupcakes, getting a haircut or falling in love. But just like other things that don’t go as we wanted have a potentially positive value, the same goes here. Today’s sex bummer could result in next month’s victory dance if you let it.

Using Bummers for Good

Besides furnishing you with some dishy content for your memoirs, there are other hidden upsides to sex that isn’t great….

Continue reading the full article at Scarleteen.

Unsure what size

heatherHEATHER CORINNA is an activist, artist, author and the director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for teen and young adult sex education and information. She is also the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College and was a contributor to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She’s received the The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism (2007), The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region’s, Public Service Award (2009), the Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Women’s Health Heroes Award (2009), The Joan Helmich Educator of the Year Award (2012), and The Woodhull Foundation’s Vicki Award(2013).

scarleteenSCARLETEEN is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around three-quarters of a million diverse people each month worldwide, most between the ages of 15 and 25. It is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online and has held that rank through the majority of its tenure.
Find Scarleteen on twitter @Scarleteen

How to Safely Have Sex with a Yeast Infection

yeast infection“My girlfriend sometimes has yeast infections.  Is it bad to have unprotected sex?”

This question was posed to the CSPH (the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health) as part of their weekly Q&A series. It is a common misunderstanding that sex causes yeast infections. The fact is that sex alone is not the culprit. However, shifting from oral or anal sex to vaginal sex without changing protective barriers (or not using barriers at all!) can initiate the spread of bacteria and cause an infection. As explained below, there are multiple reasons why a yeast infection occurs. Also, vaginas aren’t the only ones susceptible to infection. All genitals, as well as the mouth, can experience yeast infections.

Here are the must-know basics about yeast infections:

  • Yeast infections are incredibly common and almost every woman will experience at least one in her life time.
  • They are caused by a number of factors including stress, diet, menstruation, hormonal changes, autoimmune diseases, some medications.
  • While they are incredibly uncomfortable to endure, yeast infections are easy to treat.
  • Sex alone, including sex with multiple partners, does not cause yeast infections.
  •  They can pass between partners during unprotected oral and penetrative sex. So it’s important to use barrier methods when one is experiencing a yeast infection.

This article was originally published on the CSPH.

BY THE CSPH | theCSPH.org

Yeast infections, sometimes known as “thrush”, are the result of an overgrowth of the candida albicans fungus.  Although Candidiasis can occur throughout the body, the infection is prone to occur in warm, moist areas, such as the mouth.  In particular, vaginal yeast infections occur when yeast, which already exists within the vagina in small amounts, overgrows, resulting in an infection.  Vaginal yeast infections are actually quite common, occurring in as many as 75% of vagina owners throughout their lifetime. They are also easy to treat, usually only requiring an antifungal cream, vaginal suppository, or oral medication.

Symptoms of vaginal yeast infections include burning, itching, redness around the vagina and/or vulva, pain when urinating, pain during sex, and a thick, white discharge like cottage cheese.  Many factors can raise the risk of yeast infections, such as stress, illness, lack of sleep, poor dietary habits, pregnancy, menstruation, hormonal changes, certain medications (such as oral contraception, antibiotics, and steroids), autoimmune diseases, and poorly-controlled diabetes.

You can help avoid vaginal yeast infections by practicing habits that result in a clean, healthy vagina.  These habits include:

  • Avoiding douches, which disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina
  • Avoiding scented hygiene products, such as perfumed genital powders, sprays, pads, and tampons, which disrupt the vagina’s natural balance of bacteria and can result in irritation, especially in those with fragrance sensitivities
  • Changing tampons and pads often during one’s period, because menstrual products can be a breeding ground for bacteria.  Changing tampons often also helps prevent Toxic Shock Syndrome
  • After using the toilet, wiping front to back in order to prevent the spread of fecal bacteria into the vagina
  • Avoiding underwear made of synthetic fibers, which provide poor ventilation and trap moisture
  • Wearing cotton underwear and pantyhose with a cotton crotch, which will allow one’s genitals to “breathe”
  • Changing out of wet swimsuits and exercise clothes as soon as possible, because warm, moist body parts and clothing are perfect hosts for bacteria
  • When switching from anal sex to vaginal sex, always using condoms and changing condoms between acts to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria into the vagina
  • Unless the product is glycerin-free, steer clear of using flavored condoms and lubricants in/with a vagina.  Glycerin (also termed glycerol) is a sweetening agent that, when introduced to the vagina, can trigger yeast infections, especially among those who are prone to them.

Yeast Infection As an STI?

Although yeast infections are not known as sexually transmitted diseases, it is in fact possible for yeast infections to pass between partners during unprotected oral and penetrative sex; this is why yeast infections are often discussed alongside STIs in classes.  Furthermore, it is important to note that any type of genitals can get yeast infections, not just vaginas.  Therefore, I recommended that someone who has a yeast infection use barrier methods when engaging in sex play.  These barrier methods include external condoms, internal condoms, dental dams, and even gloves, which are ideal for manual stimulation.

Furthermore, it’s important to note that sex itself is not to blame for yeast infections, nor is there a relationship between the number of sexual partners and the occurrence of yeast infections.  That said, those who are prone to vaginal yeast infections may find that oral sex without a barrier method is a contributing factor.

Lastly, I want to stress the importance of using barrier methods during sexual activity.  Not only are barrier methods useful while a partner has a yeast infection, but they’re also great at offering protection against STIs as well as preventing pregnancy.  This protection can be especially meaningful to those whose concerns about STIs and pregnancy are distracting during sexual activity, hindering full enjoyment.  Furthermore, barrier methods, along with sexual lubricants, can add variety to one’s sex life due to the vast array of textures, slickness, and flavors available.  I suggest using lube not only outside the condom, but also placing a drop of lube inside the condom, which can add/heighten sensation for the penis-owner.  That said, I recommend steering clear of spermicidal lubricants, which shorten the shelf-life of condoms and can result in irritation and micro-tears that increase the risk of STI transmission.

Finally, I want to share my personal favorite condom trick, which I learned during Megan Andelloux’s Study Sex College Tour: how to put an external condom on with one’s mouth!

1. Make sure the condom is safe to use by checking the expiration date and pinching the middle to feel for an air bubble, which will ensure the package has not been punctured.  When the condom is opened (with one’s hands, not with teeth or scissors), the condom should not be sticky or brittle.  If it is, throw it out and get a new one.

2. Sit the condom on the tip of one’s finger.  Do not unroll it.  The condom should look like a little hat, with the brim curling outwards.

3. Put the tip of the condom in one’s mouth and hold it in place by lightly sucking on it.  Use one’s tongue and the suction to keep the semen reservoir flat, as to not trap in an air bubble.

4. Place one’s pursed, closed lips against the head of the cock, and slide one’s head down.  Feel free to use a hand or two to aid the process and unroll the condom fully.

condom ad condoms too loose

csphThe CENTER for SEXUAL PLEASURE and HEALTH (The CSPH) is designed to provide adults with a safe, physical space to learn about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues. Led by highly respected founder and director, Megan Andelloux, The CSPH is a sexuality training and education organization that works to reduce sexual shame, fight misinformation, & advance the sexuality field.

18 Signs of a Sexually Healthy Adult

Photo credit: Mario Klingemann

Photo credit: Mario Klingemann

What does healthy sexuality look like?

As we’ve talked about before, sexuality is a complex mix of things in varying proportions for different people- things that are physical, emotional, interpersonal, cultural and more. Thus it’s difficult to pin down in one all-encompassing definition. That is why The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) developed a list of behaviors that encapsulate what healthy sexuality can look like.

There is one word you will see a lot on this list. Affirmation, which means the declaration that something is true. In other words, to express and experience sexuality in healthy ways is to positively uphold and support yourself for who you are.

This is not an exhausive list (there are many things one could add). If you find that there are some things missing here, it does not mean something is “wrong” with you. It simply demonstrates how sexuality is extremely diverse. This list is one model (of many) to help explain how healthy sexuality is cultivated.

This article was originally published on KarenRayne.com

BY DR. KAREN RAYNE | KarenRayne.com

4th of July Parade

And here is a picture of a young adult – tell me your opinion – is this adult exhibiting Life Behaviors of a Sexually Healthy Adult? Why or why not?

Children and adolescents gather information from watching the adults around them. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (http://www.siecus.org/) has compiled a list of Life Behaviors of a Sexually Healthy Adult. Reading this list, I think an adult (or child, or adolescent) who is exhibiting these behaviors is healthy in more ways than ‘just’ sexually. What do you think?

A sexually healthy adult will:

1) Appreciate one’s own body.

2) Seek further information about reproduction as needed.

3) Affirm that human development includes sexual development, which may or may not include reproductive or sexual experience.

4) Interact with all genders in respectful and appropriate ways.

5) Affirm one’s own sexual orientation and respect the sexual orientations of others.

6) Affirm one’s own gender identities and respect the gender identities of others.

7) Express love and intimacy in appropriate ways.

8) Develop and maintain meaningful relationships.

9) Make informed choices about family options and relationships.

10) Exhibit skills that enhance personal relationships.

11) Identify and live according to one’s own values.

12) Take responsibility for one’s own behavior.

13) Practice effective decision-making.

14) Develop critical-thinking skills.

15) Communicate effectively with family, peers, and romantic partners.

16) Enjoy and express one’s sexuality throughout life.

17) Express one’s sexuality in ways that are congruent with one’s values.

18) Enjoy sexual feelings without necessarily acting on them.

Source: http://www.siecus.org/pubs/guidelines/guidelines.pdf

condom ad condoms too tight

rayne2sm DR. KAREN RAYNE With a doctoral degree is in Educational Psychology, Karen provides advice and support to parents on how to educate their children and teenagers about sex and sexuality. Karen’s knowledge about adolescent development and education provides her with a solid background for guiding parents through these tricky conversations. And, as a college professor, helping young adults grapple with sexuality, she is known to change student’s lives. On twitter @KarenRayne

Condom Love: Find Out How Amazing Safer Sex Can Be…

screen-capture-6

You’ve probably been told how to use a condom but have you ever been told how to choose a condom? It’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition. There are sizes, shapes, materials, flavors, lubes- oh my!

Melissa White, CEO of Lucky Bloke, to the rescue! She explains everything you need to know, from size to shape, from flavor to lube, so that you can find the perfect prophylactic for you!

This article is meant to help you to navigate the condom market, understand the options available to you and ultimately, make the best decision for your body and pleasure.

Here are some main points to take away:

  • Condoms are available in three basic size categories: Smaller condoms fit 35% of men, standard condoms fit 50% of men and larger condoms fit 15% of men.
  • If you’re unsure on size, try Melissa’s sizing tip or test out a sampler.
  • Condom samplers are a great way to try out premium condoms without committing to an entire box.
  • Non-latex condoms are great for those with allergies, though lambskin condoms are not effective against STIs.
  • Study showed that men who used lube with condoms became more aroused.
  • Don’t miss the discount code for Bedsider readers!

Read the full post at Bedsider.

BY MELISSA WHITE | CEO of LuckyBloke.com

1. Condoms aren’t one-size-fits-all.

Little-known fact: condom size is the most critical factor in increasing safety and pleasure with condoms.

Have you ever worn a bra that didn’t fit right? Whether you endured straps digging into your shoulders, relentless underwire stabbings, or cups that bunched up, you understand that an ill-fitting bra is at best distracting and at worst downright painful.

Just like a perfect-fitting bra, a well-fitting condom will take your (and your partner’s) mind off of the condom and onto giving and receiving pleasure.

Condoms are available in three basic sizes.

Smaller condoms are the best option for 35% of men. If you have ever had sex and the condom slipped around or came off inside of you (and yes, that does happen)—or if your partner’s chief complaint is that wearing condoms feels like a paper bag–that partner probably should switch to using a smaller-than-standard condom.

PRO-TIP: If your partner would benefit from a slightly-smaller-than-standard condom yet doesn’t need a true “small condom,” there are a few excellent Japanese condoms that are simply narrower than standard condoms. These include some of the thinnest condoms on the market–so there will be very little getting between you and your partner.

Standard condoms are the best option for 50% of men. If your partner is in this category, you’ll have a wealth of condoms from around the world to choose from. That includes lots of premium options that are likely superior to anything you’ve tried before.

Larger condoms are the best option for 15% of men. If your partner has a history of broken condoms and serious discomfort when it comes to wearing condoms, he has likely been wearing condoms that are too small for him and needs a larger condom. Female condoms are another option worth exploring, especially if your partner finds even larger condoms uncomfortable.

PRO-TIP: It’s good to be aware that there are also a number of between-size condom options available—for example Kimono Microthin Large—that bridge the gap between “standard” and “large” size condoms.

Here’s a trick to determine the best condom size for your partner. If you’re still at a loss regarding your partner’s perfect condom size, or if you have multiple partners or just want to stock up on a variety of sizes, Lucky Bloke has a “Not Sure What Size Condom to Buy” Sampler.

2. Shapes, and materials, and flavors…Oh my!

Getting a general idea on what condom size you need to buy is just the beginning. Just as not every bra in your size is equally comfortable, not all condoms in the same size range will feel the same. And while you may have a go-to bra for when you want comfort and something sexier for a night out, I hear from lots of condom users who switch up shape, texture, and flavor to match their mood.

My best advice (once you’ve determined the best size to use) to those committed to improving their sex with condoms is to get ready to explore a variety of condoms. And I often find that with condoms, as with so many things, you get what you pay for. Nothing against free or low-priced condoms, but high quality condoms are often worth the price. Premium condom samplers provide an inexpensive way to start exploring. (Lucky Bloke’s samplers include top-rated condoms in categories like Ultrathin, Flavored, and Textured.) Not only will you get a great condom variety, you will do so without having to buy entire boxes of twelve identical condoms in order to find the condoms that work best for you and your partner.

Non-latex condoms might be worth investigating even if you’re not allergic to latex. (And naturally we have a condom sampler for that, too) The non-latex options in our sampler* protect from STIs and pregnancy and offer amazing sensitivity, heightened feeling, and heat transfer.

*Note: Lambskin condoms, while in the non-latex category, aren’t included in the samplers since they’re not ideal for everyone. While they do prevent pregnancy, they will not protect you or your partner from contracting HIV or other STIs.

3. Lube Matters. (And how!)

The truth is that most everyone’s sex life can benefit greatly from some high-quality lubrication. However, there are many lube myths that may be keeping it out of your bedroom.

Do you think you need to be a certain age to use lube? You don’t! Are you afraid that using lube might mean that there’s something wrong with your sex life? Really, nothing could be further from the truth!

For condom users, extra lube has some major benefits. Simply put, exposing your most delicate parts to latex will dry you up—no matter how excited you may be. A study that looked at people’s arousal levels with and without condoms found that men who used a condom without lube were slightly less aroused than those who didn’t use a condom or lube. The kicker? The men who used a condom with lube got as aroused as those who didn’t use a condom at all! And provided you are using a high quality, condom-compatible lubricant, your condom is less likely to break during intercourse.

It’s time to declare your days of suffering through mediocre experiences with condoms officially over. Your sex life will thank you. Guaranteed.

bedsiderBEDSIDER is an online birth control support network for women operated by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy. Bedsider is totally independent (no pharmaceutical or government involvement). Honest and unbiased, Bedsider’s goal is to help women find the method of birth control that’s right for them and learn how to use it consistently and effectively, and that’s it.
Find Bedsider on twitter @Bedsider

How Can I Use Safer Sex Methods Without Killing the Mood?

team sex edForget your dull sex education class. Being safer is not a chore to your sex life. Sex educators Kate McCombs and Louise Bourchier will tell you that all you need is a little preparation and imagination to make safer sex easier and hotter. Take the time to watch this 2 and a half minute video and you’ll be a safer sex superhero in no time.

Here are their key points of advise:

  • Practice using barrier methods (like condoms, sex dams and gloves) on your own when you masturbate before bringing them into your partnered sex.
  • Find the product you really like. For example, find a condom that fits well and lube that you prefer (they are not all the same!).
  • Integrate safer sex methods into sexy time and stay connected with your partner. Some ways to do this are by storing condoms nearby and maintaining eye contact when putting on the barrier. Go here for more ideas on how to make sex with condom sexier.

This video was originally posted on the Kate & Louise YouTube Channel. If you like what you watch, please subscribe.

BY KATE MCCOMBS & LOUISE BOURCHIER | Team Sex Ed! Kate & Louise

Unsure what size

kate_mccombsKATE MCCOMBS is a NYC-based sex educator, writer, and maker of puns. Ultimately, all of Kate’s work is about helping people feel more comfortable talking about sex. She believes that meaningful conversations + accurate information can help us create a healthier and more pleasure-filled world. Kate writes articles and teaches workshops about sexual health, pleasure, and communication.  Follow Kate on Twitter @katecom

louise bourchier 150 150LOUISE BOURCHIER, MPH is a sex educator who knows health and pleasure. She teaches workshops to adult audiences throughout Australia and New Zealand, where her mission is to facilitate access to information that allows people to experience healthy and pleasurable sex lives. She works closely with D.VICE: the toy shop for grownups and is a proud emissary of Sex Geekdom Melbourne.  Follow her on Twitter @louiselabouche

Pleasure: Sexual Anatomy For Every Body

Image from Liverpool HLS

Image from Liverpool HLS

No two bodies are exactly alike- even those of the same sex or gender. This may be stating the obvious. However, the meaning and variation of gender and biological sex becomes even more significant after reading the following article by Heather Corinna of Scarleteen. She explains in an inclusive way the biological components of pleasure and why there is no one body part that releases pleasure or orgasm for everyone, or even for the same person every day. It is perhaps one of the greatest myths of our cultural understanding of sexuality to say that everyone likes “this” or “that”; women like “this thing”; men don’t like “that thing”; gay people do “this thing”, etc.

If you want to understand sexual anatomy from a holistic perspective that’s inclusive of people’s diversity, Corinna’s article is a must-read. The main point:

Sexual pleasure is never about just one part of the body and should not be isolated to reproductive organs. Instead, it is a complex mix of different interactions and embodiment. The brain is at the core of pleasure.

This article was originally published at Scarleteen.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

ILLUSTRATIONS BY ISABELLA ROTMAN | thismighthurt.tumblr.com

Usually, when we’re looking at a layout of sexual anatomy it’s through the lens of reproduction, so it’s all about penises and vaginas, testes and uteri. But from a standpoint of pleasure and sexual response, sexual anatomy is about far more than genitals and is far less about reproductive organs. Ultimately, all the parts of the body are potential or actual sexual organs in the context of pleasure, though some body parts or areas, overall, tend to play a bigger role for most people than other parts do.

Our most important sexual organs when it comes to pleasure are not only usually different than we think, but operate far less independently than we assume or have been told.

We’re not saying the genitals aren’t important or a big deal with sexual pleasure and experience: for most people, most of the time, they are. That’s hardly surprising. There are a lot of densely packed nerve endings in our genitals, and if and when we stimulate them ourselves, wantedly have them stimulated by others, or rub two sets together, it does tend to often result in a sexual kapowie. But the kapowie experience is a lot more complicated than the stimulating of the genitals part.

Sexual anatomy is also often presented as only about genitals because sexual anatomy presentations tend to privilege reproduction above pleasure and cultural thinking about sexuality often isn’t very holistic or sophisticated. Let’s face it: we also live in a world where it’s considered a lot more socially acceptable to frame sexual anatomy as reproductive than as the parts that can bring us sexual pleasure. We can talk about cute babies-to-be at the dinner table with Grandma: we can rarely say the same about knee-knocking orgasms or dizzy arousal.

Reproductive function tells us little about pleasure. Seeing our sexual anatomy through the lens of pleasure can dismantle myths about sexual response, gender binaries or sexual orientation stereotypes; can let us discover parts of our bodies or ways they functioned we didn’t even know we could cultivate a tangible awareness of. It can tell the truth that for most people, most of the time, the pursuit of solo or partnered sex is often about the pursuit of emotional and physical pleasure, not about a desire to breed, and that the form of that pursuit is as diverse as we are. Pleasure is a big and vital part of most of our lives, including sexual pleasure, and the anatomical basics of sexual pleasure need be no more a mystery than where babies come from. (Of course, not everyone wants to or can have babies by using their genitals to do it, so the focus on reproduction leaves a lot of us out of the pleasure part, even when we don’t need to be left out.)

We’re used to sexual anatomy being framed as male or female, but we’re not going to do it that way this time. We don’t need to, we’d rather not, and in the context of pleasure, it makes more sense not to go that route. With reproduction, biological sex is pretty relevant. With pleasure-based anatomy? Not so much. You know if what you’ve got is a penis or most like a penis; if you’ve got a vulva or what is most like a vulva. They look different enough most of the time: you don’t need us to dictate your sex or gender to you to know that stuff.

We’re going to start not just with the parts every one of us has, but also with the part of everyone’s body that influences sexuality the most.

Sex is Mostly Between Your Ears, Not Your Legs

Brain

(This is where size really does matter).

The largest, most important and most active sexual organ of the body isn’t a penis or vagina. It’s the brain and its structures.

The brain is responsible for our emotions, our perceptions (including of pain and of pleasure), our memories; for regulating and controlling our central nervous system, our cardiovascular system, our endocrine system and our senses. The hypothalamus of the brain is responsible for the secretion of hormones that influence sexual feelings and response, like oxytocin, vasopressin, serotonin and dopamine. The brain receives and processes messages from your sensory organs, giving you and other parts of your body information about how something (or someone, including yourself) looks, sounds, tastes, smells and feels to you. It’s also the brain that sends and receives signals regarding blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and how we breathe: all huge parts of sexual function, experience and response.

Not everyone’s brain works the same way, and sometimes wires can get crossed. Also, if you have any kind of paralysis the signals from parts of your body to your brain may not move as fast as someone else’s or they may be silent altogether. This doesn’t mean you can’t feel things, mind: even with paralysis there are few absolutes. You may have been told one thing by a doctor, but we think the best way to find out what’s possible is to explore on your own.

It’s the pleasure center of your brain that sends signals back to you that what’s happening feels good (or doesn’t), and it’s your brain and nervous system that transmits the feelings and sensations we have with orgasm. Not only is sex about communication between people, it’s about the systems of your brain and the rest of your body communicating, too. The beauty of bodies and brains is that they don’t all communicate the same way. It may take time to figure out how your personal communication works, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

Without your brain, you wouldn’t feel pain or pleasure, even if you were touched in a way or in a place which many people find pleasurable. The brain is primarily responsible for orgasm: during sexual pleasure, all the nerve endings of your body (including your genitals, all linked to your nervous system) are in concert and communication with your brain, and vice-versa. Without everything going on in our brains, we wouldn’t have any interest in sex at all, nor find sex anything of interest.

condom ad condoms too loose

This — and the fact that orgasm is more about the brain and nervous system than body parts where physical stimulation that might be part of why we have an orgasm occurs — is one reason why classifying orgasms like “vaginal orgasm” or “clitoral orgasm” is problematic. Ultimately, when it comes to orgasm (as well as most of sexual pleasure), if we want to attach it to one body part, the only correct term would be “brain orgasm,” since that’s where orgasm, like so much of sexuality, happens most.

Sexuality is physical and sensory, but also chemical, emotional (yes, even for anyone who says sex isn’t at all emotional for them), psychological, intellectual, social, cultural and multi-sensory. That’s all brain stuff. It’s not just what we feel if we touch ourselves or someone else touches us a certain way and how the brain influences those sensations, but all we think and feel about it, including messages others have given us, all our previous sexual experiences and experiences which may have influenced our sexuality, our hopes and fears, our sexual fantasies or expectations, how we feel about who we’re with if and when we have sexual partners, how we feel about our sexual selves as a whole and everything going on with us hormonally and physically when we are sexually stimulated – whether we’re aroused without any kind of touch, or if touch is also involved — in any way. No matter what other parts of our bodies are part of what’s going on with us sexually our brain is our biggest, most important and most active sexual organ.

Once you understand how the brain – what it is, what it does, all the systems it controls and responds to – is our largest and most important sexual organ, it’s a lot easier to see why we, as a people, can be so sexually diverse and experience any kind of sex so differently. After all, if sex was only or mostly about our genitals, even with genital diversity, it would be sound to expect that those of us with the same basic parts would have the same experiences with a given kind of touch. But we don’t, not by a serious long shot, and that’s primarily because of our brains. Once you understand how the brain is our largest and most important sex organ you can also begin to see how thinking differently isn’t necessarily a negative when it comes to sexual pleasure.

Tingly Bits

You might have heard someone use the term “erogenous zones” at some point. That’s a term popularized in sexology in the 60’s and 70’s to describe areas of the body of high sensitivity which people often (but not always) find particularly sexually stimulating.

When we say high sensitivity, we mean that some areas of the body have more sensory nerve receptors (a nerve that passes impulses from receptors to the central nervous system: that engages more of a hey-how’s-it-going-good-how-about-you running conversation between those parts of your body and your brain) than other areas. They’re places where we’re generally more sensitive to both pain and pleasure. When it comes to sensory nerves, not all parts of the body are created equal. That’s why, for instance, we can find a lot of people who feel highly stimulated by someone rubbing their nipples, and fewer people who feel highly stimulated by someone rubbing their elbows.

Lists of erogenous zones can sometimes be arbitrary – when someone lists them, sometimes they’re just making a list of what they personally like best — but for many people, typical erogenous zones include the lips, tongue, palms and fingers, the soles of the feet, the inner thighs, nipples, neck, ears, armpits and the genitals. Our skin, as a whole, is really an erogenous zone. Mucocutaneous regions of the body (made of both mucosa and cutaneous skin) are also often particularly sensitive: parts like the foreskin, penis, the external clitoris, the inner labia, the perineum, mouth or nipples. Just so it’s clear, there is no absolute relationship between gender and where on your body you feel sexually sensitive: people who are or who identify as male can and do enjoy nipple stimulation, while some people who are female or female-identified do not, for instance.

Bear in mind, not only is individual sensitivity different – what feels great for one person may feel ticklish or like too much to someone else – but what we carry in our brains about a given part of our body and what’s happening there influences our sexual response with those parts.

If we had violent or negative experiences or ideas about a given part, even if it’s packed densely with sensory nerve receptors, it can feel unpleasant instead of pleasant. If someone we aren’t into touches one of those areas unwantedly, it tends to feel a lot different than when they’re touched by someone who we very much want to have touching us. When a relationship is really great, a partner touching us in this place, in this way, might have felt amazing. But that same person touching us in the same place in the exact same way can feel lousy or even like nothing at all if that relationship has later gone straight to hell. One day, a given kind of stimulation might result in orgasm, while the very next day, it won’t.

There goes the brain at work, yet again, showing us how we can’t segregate physical sensations from it and how what’s going on with us up between our ears has a whole lot to do with what goes on between our legs.

Where are your tingly bits? Most of us can find out about where your erogenous zones are with your own two hands: masturbation doesn’t have to just be about genitals, after all. If touching yourself with your hands doesn’t work, you might be able to use other body parts, or even notice how parts of your body feel when sheets, clothing, the rain, or the wind touch it. With partners, take the time to find out about areas on both of your bodies you each tend to find sensitive and sexually arousing, really focusing on exploring ALL of your body, and communicating to each other where those sensitive areas are. This is one reason it makes a lot of sense not to rush into genital sex: you can miss finding out about all the parts of each other’s bodies which are sexually responsive and which can be exciting either all by themselves, or can add pleasure to genital sex. Genital sex doesn’t work for all of us, and for most people sex that’s only genital tends to get old really fast.

In the Deep South

Before we go there, know that just like with all the parts of our bodies, genital variation is diverse and genitals are not always as dimorphic (looking only one of two ways) as they are presented or as we may assume them to be, especially when we’re young or haven’t had an earnestly wide diversity of sexual partners, as many people won’t in their lives.

We don’t say that noses only come in this shape or that one, or that faces only look this way or that: it’s no more accurate to say that genitals only look one of two ways. The genitals of some people — like some intersex people, people who have had sexual reassignment or other genital surgery, people who have had genital injuries, mutilations or who just had major variances at birth — may not match ideas of what genitals “should” look like or fit any one diagram or description well. Some people who identify as male have a vagina; some people who identify as female have a penis. As well, some people who have a penis may call it a vagina or something else: we don’t all use the same language for our body parts, and some people are comfortable with terms for their genitals that others are not.

Genital variation is also important to keep in mind when anyone talks about “normal” sexual function or an experience of sexuality/anatomy which we gender and/or attribute as normal for a given sex or gender. For instance, when we talk about penises, we can’t say that only a penis with a foreskin or one without one is normal since both types exist and many men have one or the other. A vulva of someone with a large clitoral hood and small labia can look massively different from the vulva of someone with larger labia and a smaller hood. Color differences between different people can also be substantial: while some genitals are peach or pink, others are dark brown or purple. And what feels really great to one person genitally may feel either really uncomfortable or completely boring to someone else.

Let’s start with something that not only can everyone have, but that everyone can also be.

The anus, rectum and perianal region

Everyone has an asshole (and everyone can also be an asshole). The nerves and muscles within and around the perianal area play a part in the genital sensations of sex even if no one is engaging in any kind of anal or perianal sexual stimulation or sex whatsoever.

The-Anus-and-Prostate

(Your anus is in the same place if you don’t have a penis.)

The anus — the external opening to the rectum, visible between your butt cheeks — is surrounded by two concentric rings of muscle: the internal and external sphincter. The external can be voluntarily controlled (in other words, you can think about squeezing it open or closed and make that happen); the internal can’t. The anus is rich with sensory nerve endings: it has half the nerve endings in the whole pelvic region and those are interconnected with other pelvic muscles. Like the vagina, most of those nerve endings are concentrated around the opening and just inside the rectum. The anus is unlike the vagina in that it does not self-lubricate.

The anus and its surrounding areas can be a site of sexual pleasure for any gender or sexual orientation: notions that only gay men can or do enjoy anal stimulation, for instance, are false and based in homophobia, even though plenty of gay men do enjoy anal stimulation (so do plenty of bi or straight men). Ideas that the only reason women would engage in any kind of anal sex would be to please male partners are false, even if that’s why some women do. Sexual anal stimulation may be more stimulating for people who have a prostate gland than for those who are don’t. The prostate gland can only be directly accessed via the rectum and is only present in people who also have a penis. For those who do have a penis, a lower portion of it is inside the body and stimulus to that person’s rectum or perineum can stimulate that area.

Pudendal-NervesThe pudendal nerve – something else we all have — is located in the perianal region at the bottom of the spinal cord, and for folks whose nerve pathways aren’t being disrupted in some way, it’s quite the powerhouse. It supplies nerves to the bladder, anus, perineum, penis, areas around the scrotum and the clitoris. It divides into two terminal branches: the perineal nerve, and the dorsal nerve of the penis or the dorsal nerve of the clitoris. A lot of the feelings people have in their genitals and pelvis during orgasm – including the spasms people can feel with orgasm or ejaculations — are because of the pudendal nerve as well as the pelvic nerve.

The pubococcygeus muscle (PC) muscle (which some people call Kegel muscles) is also in the perianal region. It stretches from the pubic bone to the tail bone, and forms the floor of the pelvic cavity and supports the pelvic organs. If you’ve ever squeezed out the last drops of urine when you urinated, you did that by squeezing that muscle. The PC muscle also usually contracts during orgasm.

The perineal sponge is also in this region in people born with a vulva. Internal to the body, it’s between the bottom of the vaginal opening and the rectum, and is part of the clitoral system, and is made of nerve endings, erectile tissue and blood vessels. A person may feel sensations of this sponge from stimulation to the vagina, clitoris or anus or the areas around them. During sexual arousal, it becomes swollen with blood and compresses the outer third of the vagina along with the vestibular bulbs (which house the Bartholin’s glands) and urethral sponge. (Levine S. et al. “Handbook of Clinical Sexuality”, page 180 Brunner-Routledge 2003) While sometimes, a vagina may feel “tight” because of nervousness, fear or lack of arousal, this is a reason people feel or experience a vaginal “tightness” because of arousal.

Try it for yourself: You can squeeze and flare those sphincter and PC muscles just like you do when squeezing out a drop of urine or pushing out a bowel movement. If you do, you’ll notice that you feel sensations from those muscles and all the nerves there in other areas, like in your clitoris or penis, in your lower back or your abdominals: you may even be able to feel sensations from just moving things a little in that area as far away as in your neck.

The Prostate Gland

We weren’t kidding when we said there was a whole lot going on in the perianal region: the prostate gland is there, too. The prostate is a sensory, walnut-sized gland in the body. It’s below the bladder between the rectum and urethra at the base of the penis: if you were born with a penis, you were born with a prostate.

The prostate is highly sensitive to pressure and touch, and can be most acutely felt during receptive anal sex (in other words, when something is in the person’s anus who’s got the prostate) or massage to the perineum. Some people can reach orgasm with prostate stimulation all by itself. Others need other additional stimulation – like to the penis — and find that prostate stimulus enhances sensations with other areas or enhances orgasm: in other words, makes orgasm feel more intense. Sometimes people call the prostate the P-spot.

Unpack your baggage: Anyone should only ever engage in the sexual activities they and their partners want to, and any kind of receptive anal sex is always just one option of many. Whether you ever want to explore that or not, if you’re holding unto homophobic or body-hating baggage about your bottom, let it go. The prostate gland and other parts of the perianal region ARE part of everyone’s sexual body. When any of us have ideas that a given part of our body is icky or shameful, it tends to have a negative influence on our sex lives and our sexualities, and can also impact how partners feel about their bodies. Nothing on the body is gross or unacceptable, and no part of the body or anything you do with it says anything at all about your sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is between our ears, not in our bottoms or between our legs.

The Penis

The penis is primarily composed of three columns of tissue: two corpora cavernosa that lie next to each other on the dorsal (top) side and one corpus spongiosum between them. Sexual sensation of the penis is primarily fueled by the dorsal nerves and the pudendal nerve.

The-PenisAny and all portions of the penis may be enjoyable – or not! — when sexually stimulated. Like anything else, all people are a little different, and just because one person likes it a lot when one part of their penis is touched or touched a certain way doesn’t mean someone else will like those same things. The most highly sensitive areas of the penis are usually the glans, the coronal ridge, the frenulum, the raphe, the shaft, and for uncircumcised men, the foreskin and ridged band. The glans has a higher number of sensory nerves than the shaft of the penis. The whole of the penis (not accounting for the foreskin when it’s present) is usually estimated to have around 4,000 sensory nerve endings.

  • If you don’t know what we’re talking about with those parts, or want some other diagrams, you can have a look at our larger piece on the penis here.

As we mentioned earlier, the base of the penis is inside the body, but can still play a part in pleasure especially with perineal massage or receptive (as in, inside that person’s bottom, not putting the penis in someone else’s) anal sex.

Psssst: If you’re a person with a penis who is all hung up (as it were) on how long your penis is, by the time you get to the end of this piece I’m hoping you’ll see why that’s silly. In case you need it made more clear: the opening, or front, of the anus and rectum is what is most sensitive: the back isn’t. The opening, or front, of the vagina is what’s most sensitive: the back isn’t. The sensations you feel in your penis are about your whole body, including your brain and nervous system, your cardiovascular system, and nerves that don’t even start in your penis in the first place. How long your penis is really doesn’t make a difference to anybody in terms of pleasure, even if someone claims it does (which they usually do either because they think that’s what they’re supposed to say, or because they’re trying to put you down). For more on shape and size of the penis, take a click here.

The Foreskin

Circumcised-vs-UncircumcisedUncircumcised penises have a prepuce, or foreskin. Everyone born with a penis was born with a foreskin, too.

Some penises are without them because they were removed, either for cultural reasons, because parents asked for a circumcision per what they understood as health reasons or because a parent made that decision based on their aesthetic preferences. While for many years now, medical organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics have made clear there are not compelling health reasons to remove an infant’s foreskin, some people who have been circumcised were because parents or doctors simply didn’t have the most current information.

The foreskin is a loose tube of skin that totally or mostly covers the penis when it isn’t erect. It grows out from the shaft of the penis just below the glans. With erection, the foreskin will usually (but not always!) retract over the head of the penis: to what degree it retracts varies. It’s full of nerve endings and can supply extra sexual sensation for people with penises because of those nerve endings and its gliding movement. The foreskin also produces and distributes its own lubrication, smegma, an accumulation of shed skin cells, skin oils and other moisture.

Both those with circumcised and with uncircumcised penises can and do experience sexual pleasure. While there are differences in how that feels to each person – kind of like things feel different with or without a condom — most circumcised people were circumcised in infancy, so they have “learned” and experienced their sexuality without a foreskin, just like those of us who have certain disabilities which mean we may sexually function differently have learned or can learn to experience sexual pleasure, even with those differences.

In other words, it is a genital variance/difference and one that most often does not seem to result in people with circumcised penises being unable to experience sexual pleasure, even if the foreskin, and the additional sensory nerves within it can result in higher sensitivity of the penis overall for those who are uncircumcised. Interestingly, one study found that scarring from circumcision created the most sensitive area for fine touch on the circumcised penis, an area uncircumcised men will not have. (Fine-touch pressure thresholds in the adult penis : Morris L. Sorrells, James L. Snyder, Mark D. Reiss, Christopher Eden, Marilyn F. Milos, Norma Wilcox and Robert S. Van Howe, 22 October 2006)

This seems like as good a time as any to talk about “fine touch.” When we say that, we mean that we can usually feel something distinctly if someone is even just gently brushing their fingers lightly over a place. With areas sensitive to fine touch (most of which will send signals to the spinal nerves), we can feel different sensations easily even on areas of our body that are very close together. Some areas of the body – like those erogenous zones we talked about before, are very receptive to that kind of touch. Others, not so much. For example, the glans of the penis is often sensitive to fine touch, while the base often isn’t. The clitoris is very receptive to fine touch, while much of the vagina isn’t. In the vagina, touch or pressure to one part of it can often be indistinguishable to touch or pressure to another very close by. That doesn’t mean no one feels anything in those kinds of areas. Rather, what we mean is that an area like that is usually more receptive to strong pressure or temperature changes than it is to fine touch, unless touch to it also engages parts that are more densely packed with more receptive and sensitive nerve endings.

Before we leave the discussion of penis-having folks, the testes and scrotum are primarily reproductive in function (in other words, they’re mostly about babymaking), but as anyone who has had a testicular injury can attest, they also have many sensory nerve endings. Plenty of people with testicles find sexual enjoyment in having their scrotum or testicles sexually stimulated.

Did you get the part where… we said that your penis is okay and normal whether you have a foreskin or not? Circumcised penises are normal and lots of people have them. Uncircumcised penises are normal and lots of people have them. Both kinds of penises can be pleasureable for the people who have them, and any sexual partners who they’re shared with. Most people with either didn’t get a say in what kind of penis they have now, so it’s important we treat this difference as just that: a difference. Got it? Just checking.

The Clitoris

Clitoris-V2

(It’s so much more than just the glands).

If you have a vulva, unless you had a clitoral mutilation or circumcision, you have a clitoris. Even for those who have had an external part of their clitoris excised or injured there are still going to be internal portions of the clitoris present. The clitoris is the only part on the human body whose sole purpose is pleasure: while we can receive pleasure to many parts, all the rest of them serve at least one other function. But pleasure is the clitoris’ full-time gig: what a sweet deal!

A lot of people don’t know that the clitoris is bigger than anyone can see (unless they’ve got X-ray eyes). The clitoral shaft is what most people call the clitoris, but that’s only one part of a much larger system that is both internal and external.

The whole of the clitoris is not just the clitoral glans and hood we can see on the outside, but the clitoral shaft, the crura, the corpus carvernosum, the urethral sponge and the vestibular bulbs on the inside. Like the penis, the clitoris is an organ composed of both corpus cavernosum and spogiosum erectile tissue. Like the penis, all the portions of the clitoris can become erect during sexual arousal. When the clitoris — as a whole, not just the shaft — becomes erect, the vulva is often best described as looking and feeling puffier: that’s really obvious by looking sometimes, while at other times it isn’t so easy to see. You also can often see that when someone is very sexually aroused, their clitoris will often look a bit bigger, and can feel that it’s harder than in its resting state.

While we more often hear folks with penises talking about “getting hard,” people with clitorises get hard, too. It’s a bit more obvious by looking when a penis is and isn’t erect, but when you become familiar with a vulva, be it yours or someone else’s, you’ll usually be able to get to know the differences in time if you pay attention. That can also differ both from person to person, but also by how aroused a person is at a given time.

The clitoris is understood to contain around 8,000 nerve endings. The clitoral glans and shaft is usually more sensitive than the whole of the penis because the density of nerve endings is greater. The clitoris is also a serious social butterfly: it interacts with over 15,000 additional nerve endings throughout the pelvis, which is yet another reason clitoral stimulus can feel so intense.

Can’t find it? The clitoris can be harder to find, especially for those with a smaller clitoris, without being sexually excited first. If you’re just feeling or looking around at a time when you or a partner aren’t sexually excited, it can be harder to find. When a person is aroused, the clitoral hood will retract a bit more, and the clitoral glans (both external portions) will increase in size at least somewhat, and usually in sensitivity pretty profoundly. If you just feel your way around with your fingers during times like that — right between the top of the outer labia, and the hood is what connects the inner labia — it’s usually tough to miss because a pretty notable zing is to be felt. Some people find that the glans is so sensitive, it feels even like too much to touch directly, and find it feels better to stimulate it through the hood. Pressing unto the outer labia in different ways can also result in sensations of the vestibular bulbs and crura. And if no matter how hard you try, you just cannot find your clitoris, ask your gynecologist to show you: there’s nothing wrong with asking a doctor where any of your body parts are.

That Darned G-spot/ Urethral Sponge

There’s probably not another part of the vulva or vagina that has been argued about as much as the G-spot. There’s some sound reason for that: often enough, the reason people want to put so much focus on it seems to be about wanting to deny the importance of the clitoris and make it seem like vaginal intercourse should be enough for both partners to feel satisfied with and reach orgasm through, even though we know, from decades of study — and goodness known how many folks driving themselves up a tree to desperately try and make that happen — that isn’t true. Most people with vulvas don’t reach orgasm just from intercourse or other kinds of vaginal entry alone. When it all comes down to it, on the whole, the vagina is more of a reproductive organ than one that’s about pleasure.

Where-is-That-G-Spot

(I know I left it somewhere around here).

Here’s the funny part, though: based on everything we know to date, it’s clear that the G-spot is PART of the internal clitoris, making argument about them as two separate parts moot. The G-spot and urethral sponge have been linked, it’s just that research is still sparse to determine if they are the same, different, related or unrelated. Feminist healthcare and female-centered sexologists do most frequently recognize the urethral sponge as what is typically called the G-spot, and do most frequently recognize it as yet one more part of the clitoris as a whole.

Given all the argument around the G-spot, I’m going to lean on some words from others for this one: “The G-spot (named for Dr. Grafenberg who originally wrote about it) refers to an area inside our bodies (it surrounds the urethra but we can feel it when we press up against the front wall of our vagina). Stimulating this area may lead to orgasm and/or ejaculation. To feel your G-spot, try to touch the front wall of your vagina, below your belly button. You may feel it about 1/3 to half the way up your vagina, not as high up as your cervix.”

The urethral sponge is a very significant part of the clitoral system. Embedded in its spongy erectile tissue are up to 30 or more tiny prostatic-like glands that produce an alkaline fluid similar in constitution to the male prostatic fluid. Two of the largest, called the Skene’s glands, are near the urethral opening, where the urine comes out, but numerous others are buried in the spongy tissue surrounding the urethra. All of these glands together are referred to as paraurethral glands, meaning “around the urethra” and they are the source of female ejaculation.” (The Clitoral Truth, Rebecca Chalker, pp. 43)

Again, research on the G-spot and female ejaculation is limited: both have a lot of academic and medical disagreement around them. Whether or not Skene’s glands are the source of female ejaculation is also not agreed-upon: further research is needed for that one, too. But enough people report G-spot enjoyment and female ejaculation that neither can be be discounted: “An anonymous questionnaire was distributed to 2350 professional women in the United States and Canada with a subsequent 55% return rate. Of these respondents, 40% reported having a fluid release (ejaculation) at the moment of orgasm. Further, 82% of the women who reported the sensitive area (Grafenberg spot) also reported ejaculation with their orgasms. [sometimes]” (Darling, CA; Davidson, JK; Conway-Welch, C. (1990). “Female ejaculation: perceived origins, the Grafenberg spot/area, and sexual responsiveness.” Arch Sex Behav 19: 29–47)

And in case you’re wondering if female ejaculation is just urine in disguise, it’s clear by now that it’s not. Analysis carried out by Whipple and Perry in the early 1980s established substantially higher levels of antigen and glucose, and substantially lower levels of creatinine and urea in samples of ejaculatory fluid than in samples of urine from the same women. In other words, they found the chemical makeup of ejaculate to be substantially different than that of urine.

There are no “magic buttons.” Just like in The Matrix there is no spoon. There are no “magic buttons” on every body that if someone just touches them, or does in a certain way, then BLAMMO! the receiver of that touch has an instant orgasm or automatically feels massive pleasure. The G-spot isn’t a magic button, the clitoris isn’t a magic button, the penis isn’t a magic button, the prostate gland isn’t a magic button. Any of these areas of the body have the potential to be pleasurable for people, but if they are, how sensitive they are, what that touch results in, and how a given person does or doesn’t like them to be stimulated varies. And most people, full-stop, will tend to want and need more than one part of their body touched in order to feel sexually satisfied.

The Vagina

Our cultural understanding of the vagina as THE sexual organ of women is deeply flawed, most likely due to male sexual experience and male desire and fantasy writing the female genital script through most of history. We’ve said it before here, and we’ll likely need to say it fifty million times more: most studies and most self-reporting reflects that the majority of people with vaginas both do not reach orgasm from intercourse all by itself (as in, with nothing else going on sexually, or without stimulation to other more highly sensitive areas) and also don’t find vagina-only stimulation, especially with something like vaginal intercourse, to be all-that when it comes to physical pleasure.

The vulva is often incorrectly called the vagina. The vagina is an internal organ, a highly elastic fibromuscular tube with an external opening on the vulva, and which, at the end inside the body, leads to the cervix (the opening of the uterus). The vagina isn’t a straight line: it’s angled — curved upwards towards the belly, not the back — and it conforms to the shape of anything which is inside of it.

The back ⅔ of the vagina has essentially no sensitivity, which is why sometimes someone can put a tampon in and hours later, realize they completely forgot about it. The lower ⅓ of the vagina and the vaginal opening are quite sensitive, though: the outer one-third of the vagina contains nearly 90 percent of the vaginal nerve endings. But the vagina, as a whole is not that sensitive to that fine touch we were talking about earlier: it tends to be more sensitive to pain than pleasure (which is not to say intercourse will or must hurt or should hurt), temperature changes or pressure.

We get asked a lot around here when we talk about the realities of the vagina why, then, any vagina-owning folks at all might enjoy intercourse or other vaginal entry or why some do or can reach orgasm that way. So, let’s review.

Remember all those parts that came before this: all those nerve endings in the perianal region? The internal clitoris? The perineal sponge? The urethral sponge or G-spot? When there is pressure inside the vagina – in more a wide way than longways – be it with a penis, with fingers, with a sex toy, that can put pressure on all those other parts. Same goes for pressure on the mons or outer labia. And that’s all the more likely when a person is very aroused and all that erectile tissue of the clitoris is puffed up. Depending on the position someone is in for sexual activity that involves vaginal entry, too, that can put additional pressure or friction on the external clitoris. Just like you’re (hopefully) thinking now of the brain, the genitals and other body parts as pretty impossible to consider as totally separate places when it comes to sex, so it goes for the vagina and all of the other parts that are around it.

So, understanding what we do about the internal clitoris, the vaginal opening and the first 1/3rd of the vagina, the labia, the perineal sponge, the urethral sponge and the PC muscles, the pudendal nerve, the G-spot — AND everything going on in our brains emotionally, psychologically, socially, the works, just like with every other kind of sex — you can see how, even if vaginal sex alone does not result in orgasm for a majority, many people with vaginas aren’t just trying to stroke someone else’s ego when they say they enjoy vaginal intercourse or other stimulation of the vagina.

The Mons, Labia Majora and Labia Minora

The mons of the vulva (where most of the pubic hair is) is rich with nerve endings, and stimulation of the mons can indirectly stimulate portions of the internal and external clitoris. Both sets of labia contain sensory nerve endings, and the labia majora also house both the crura and the vestibular bulbs. Thus, stimulus of the labia stimulates portions of the clitoris.

  • If you don’t know what we’re talking about with those parts, or want some other diagrams, you can have a look at our larger piece on the vulva and vagina here.

Don’t forget that just like our brains, and what’s in them full-stop and from minute-to-minute, day-to-day, varies wildly from person-to-person, and just like our whole bodies all can look very different, our genitals and other body parts can also all look and BE very different. In other words, not everyone with a vulva has Skene’s glands the same size, or the same proportions of all the parts of their vulva. Not everyone with a penis shares the exact same most-sensitive areas. And when we take a partner into the equation, we have to remember that no two (or more) bodies all fit together the same way, either. Differences between partners when it comes to body and genital proportions, shape, size, strength and weight, as well as differences in how a partner engages in this sexual activity or that one, and the different dynamics of sexual relationships can all make any given kind of touch or sexual activity feel pretty different from one partnership to another.

Are you lovin’ on labia? In case you have issues with the appearance of your labia — or don’t have labia yourself, but you’ve got issues with other people’s labia — take a spin over here so you can let that go. Not only do labia look a whole bunch of different ways — more than you’ll probably ever know unless you have many sex partners with labia or work in sexual health — all variances with labia are just as okay as all variances of penises, hands or noses. If you get too caught up on what they look like, you’ll miss out on the good feelings they can bring you or your sexual partners. If you or a potential partner are totally freaked about seeing labia or having them seen (or other body parts), that can be a good hint you’re just moving too fast. When the time is right for sex with others, even if we’re a little nervous, we’ll feel okay about having our body parts seen and seeing the bodies of partners.

At the Bottom of Everything

To sum up: no two bodies are built exactly alike, genitally or otherwise, even those of the same sex or where people identify as the same gender. Hopefully, that’s obvious now if it wasn’t already.

There is also no one way everyone — male, female or otherwise, of any given sexual orientation or with partners of any given gender or embodiment — experiences sexual pleasure or orgasm. There’s not any one body part or way of engaging a given body part that equals pleasure or orgasm for everyone, or even for the same person every day. Not only can we never say “everybody likes [whatever]” or “everyone gets off on [whatever]” we also can’t say “women like [this thing]” men don’t like [that thing]” “gay people do [this other thing]” or “straight people do [that one].”

Well, we could say those things — many people do all the freaking time — they just will never be factual things to say, and will tend to limit how people frame, explore and experience sexuality. Hopefully all of that’s obvious now, too.

Sexual pleasure is never about just one part of the body. Not ever. We can’t segregate our genitals from our brains and everything else they’re connected to and influenced by, just like we can’t segregate our experience of any one thing in life from the whole of our lives, or any one part of a person’s personality from the whole of who they are. Any part of your body that can be part of pleasure is connected to and influenced by other parts.

People who talk about secondary virginity may be on to something even if they don’t realize it (or don’t like what I’m about to say they’re on to). Because all of our bodies and brains are so different and so multifaceted, in a lot of ways both every new sexual partner and every sexual experience with even the same partner is its own “first time.” If we’re not treating it that way, we, and our partners, are probably not having a sexual life that’s as good as it could be.

We often hear people who are worried about sex with partners because they’re “inexperienced” (and also hear enough from people bragging that they know everything there is to know about sex because they’ve had a few sexual partners), but the thing is, even if you manage to get to know one person’s body and sexual responses and how your sexuality works with one partner, that doesn’t mean you know all there is to know about that person’s sexuality and body or yours. If we could find out all of that in just a few months or years, sex would get hella boring very fast, which it usually doesn’t for most people, and we’d not hear older people expressing, as many of us do, that sex has held new discoveries for us for decades.

Not only can (and do) people’s sexual responses often shift and change over time, but just because you or anyone else has had sex with one or two people doesn’t mean you’re going to walk into sex with the next partner knowing all there is to know, and knowing exactly what to do with that person.

The value of sexual “experience” isn’t really about “getting good in bed” or becoming some sort of sexual expert in the way a lot of people think. What experience can offer us is things like increased sexual communication skills, a better degree of comfort with sexual partnership and our bodies in general, and the tangible understanding that we really can’t ever know all there is to know about sex for everyone, or even for ourselves: that there are often surprises, changes and new discoveries to be had, and that we should be open to those at any time.

Suffice it to say, all of that discovery should be the fun part and the deepest part (play and depth aren’t oxymorons, I swear), whether it’s discovery about yourself, by yourself, about yourself with a partner, or about a partner. What I hope to offer you with a piece like this isn’t some sort of road map where you can try and touch every point and feel like you covered all the bases, but an idea of how much there really is to explore, how complex, multifaceted and individual that exploration and discovery can be, and how much bigger all of our sexual bodies are than we often tend to think about them as, and than they often are presented as in our world.

It’s unsurprising if we come to sexually thinking it’s only six or seven inches in scope that our sexual experiences may feel that limited, too: and unfortunately, that tends to be the case for a whole lot of people. So when we say “think bigger,” in regards to sex and your body, hopefully you understand now that what we’re talking about isn’t the penis size spam you see in your inbox, but about seeing the sexual body as the whole, extensive system that it is, in all its diversity and depth and all its staggering, and seriously cool, complexity.

* Thanks to Rebecca Bak, Shannon O’Hern and/of the American Medical Student Association for giving me the impetus to construct this presentation for their Sexual Health Scholars Program, and a thanks to Cory Silverberg for his editorial eye!

heatherHEATHER CORINNA is an activist, artist, author and the director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for teen and young adult sex education and information. She is also the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College and was a contributor to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She’s received the The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism (2007), The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region’s, Public Service Award (2009), the Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Women’s Health Heroes Award (2009), The Joan Helmich Educator of the Year Award (2012), and The Woodhull Foundation’s Vicki Award(2013).

ISABELLA ROTMAN is a Chicago cartoonist and illustrator from Maine who truly cares about your genital well being. She is the author of the queer and quirky sexual health book You’re So Sexy When You Aren’t Transmitting STDs and a recent graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Other than educational comics, Isabella’s art is usually about the ocean, mermaids, crushing loneliness, people in the woods, or sex. If any of the above interests you then you may enjoy her self published comics or blog ThisMightHurt.Tumblr.com.