Is My Penis Size Normal?

Photo credit: JD Hancock

Photo credit: JD Hancock

Melissa White, CEO of Lucky Bloke once said, “Size does matter, but not in the way you might think.”

She was referring to the importance of wearing the right size condom. In order to experience more pleasurable with reliable safe sex, you need to know what condoms fit your penis size. Beyond that, size really isn’t as big a deal as many make it out to be.

Who does size really matter to most? Almost always it is men. One of the most common questions males ask Heather Corinna, founder of the sex education site, Scarleteen, is about penis size: Is my penis too small? Is the curve on my penis normal? Is my girlfriend going to find me weird?

According to this recent study that reviewed more than 60 years of research about penis size, 85% of women are satisfied with their partner’s penis. However, it also revealed that only half of men find their own size satisfactory.

So to help guys feel more comfortable, Heather Corinna breaks down actual penis size averages and goes into detail about erection size, shape and foreskin.

Here are some interesting and less known facts about penis size.

  • Average adult penis girth (erect) that fits a medium size condom is between 4 to 5 inches.
  • Average adult penis length (erect) is around 5.5 to 6.2 inches long.
  • The size of a flaccid penis does not indicate the size when aroused. For some, a flaccid penis can be the same size when erect. For others, an erection can grow double in size.
  • Erection size can vary day to day for men. It depends on the level of arousal.
  • A small degree of curvature is actually more common than a straight penis.

This article was originally published here.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

Throw a rock at any sex education site or service, ask what the most common question we get is from people who identify as men and we’ll all tell you — with an air of exhaustion, mostly because we get asked it so often and it’s so clear to us how these worries hold men back from feeling good about themselves and their sexuality, as well as how they often negatively impact sexual relationships — that it’s about penis size.

While many statistics show that around half of all men are dissatisfied with their penis size (despite the fact that their partners don’t feel the same way), with younger men it often seems even more common.

One typical reason is that younger men will often have unrealistic ideas about penises. When you’re young, if you’re making comparison, they’re probably either to only a few different people — like your Dad, maybe your best friend, maybe a few guys you’ve seen in passing in the restroom — when the range of penis size varies enough that to get realistic ideas about it, we’ve got to be looking at more than just a few penises. With pornography becoming more and more accessible over the years, more guys are also looking at penises in porn, a really unrealistic place to look since the actors cast in porn don’t tend to be the norm at all when it comes to size or how long or often they can become or remain erect for.

Is my penis size normal?

Let’s start by looking at some basic averages, based on broad, credible studies of a variety of men. When you flip through most studies, what you’ll usually find is that:

– The average adult penis flaccid (not erect or soft) is around 3 to 4 inches long.
– The average adult penis erect (hard) is around 5.5 to 6.2 inches long.
– The average adult penis erect is around 4-5 inches around (in circumference).
This image based on a study done by Lifestyles condoms can give you a good look at what the size range between men is like.

What size a penis is when it’s flaccid (not erect) doesn’t necessarily indicate what size it will be erect. As I explain here, some penises flaccid are very nearly the same size as they are when they are erect, while others are smaller than they are erect. Neither “growers” nor “showers” are better than the other: they’re just different.

When looking at studies and statistics on penis size, pay attention to who measured the penises involved. In studies where people measure themselves and self-report, we usually see larger averages than we do when doctors or nurses are doing the measuring and reporting. As stated in this study by Ansell, where people were not self-measuring, when medical staff are the ones holding the tape measures, average sizes are always below six inches in length. They also note that looking at self-reporting studies, on average people seem to overstate their own penis sizes from a quarter to a half an inch.

(If you want to dig around for yourself, the kinds of studies our averages come from here can be found neatly organized in the notes for the Wiki on penis size here.)

Read the full article at Scarleteen.com

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).

I’m Trans. Do I Need Birth Control?

Image from Bedsider

Image from Bedsider

All pregnancies require 4 things to get going: a uterus, an egg, a sperm, and for the egg and sperm to come together.  

Just like cis-gendered people, not all trans people use birth control to prevent pregnancy. There are important things to consider before waging your chances of getting pregnant. As Juno Obedin-Malvier, MD, explains, pregnancy depends on “what equipment you’ve got, what you’re doing with it, who you’re doing it with (and what they’ve got), and whether pregnancy is a goal or not”.

Here are important points about the possibilities of getting pregnant for trans people:

  • Testosterone isn’t both control. For many trans men, taking testosterone may halt the menstrual cycle. However, testosterone doesn’t complete end egg production from the ovaries and some trans men have gotten pregnant even without a period.
  • Birth control methods available for cis-women are equally effective for trans men.
  • Likewise, estrogen is not birth control. Trans women who take estrogen and have a penis and testicles can still get their partner(s) pregnant.
  • Condoms are a great option for trans women. Plus they are the only form of protection that helps prevent STIs and pregnancy.
  • There are many health care providers that specialize in the trans community. Check out the resources at the bottom of this article.

This article by Juno Obedin-Maliver was originally published at Bedsider.

BY BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

Do trans people need to use birth control? Well, it all depends. It depends on what equipment you’ve got, what you’re doing with it, who you’re doing it with (and what they’ve got), and whether pregnancy is a goal or not.

For any readers who aren’t familiar with the terminology, here’s a primer. Briefly, being transgender (“trans” for short) is about living in a gender that is different than the sex you were born with. Being cisgender is about having that sex and gender line up. Whether one needs birth control depends on what sex you were born with and what sex your partner was born with.

Transgender folks and cisgender folks come in all shapes and sizes. But everyone—no matter whether they identify as a transgender man, transgender woman, man, woman, or another identity—is born with only one set of gametes (if any). Gametes are the cells from two different people that come together to make a baby. For humans, gametes come in two types: the sperm type and the egg type. And all pregnancies require at least four things to get going: a uterus, an egg, sperm, and for the egg and sperm to come together.

Trans men

(FTM, or folks who were assigned female sex at birth and identify on the male gender spectrum)
For those guys who were born with a uterus and ovaries (where eggs are made), if you still have those parts, you can get pregnant. So, if you’re doing someone who has a sperm delivery system (a penis and testicles) you have to think about the possibility that you could get pregnant.

Many, but not all, trans men use testosterone (T). For most, that stops the monthly visit from Aunt Flo. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get pregnant. Some trans men have gotten pregnant even when they weren’t having their periods and were still taking testosterone. How is that possible? Well, testosterone doesn’t completely stop egg production, so some guys will still release eggs even on T and even without a period. In other words, T isn’t good birth control.

So if getting pregnant isn’t in your plan, what are your options? All the methods that cisgender women may consider are also good options for trans guys. You should talk about them with your health care provider, who can help you tailor the method to your needs. If you want to get pregnant, you should also talk with your provider because there are things you can do to make sure you’re as healthy as possible before you do.

Trans women

(MTF, or folks who were assigned male at birth and identify on the female gender spectrum)
For those gals who were born with a sperm delivery system (penis and testicles)—if you still have those parts and your partner has a uterus and ovaries, you can get them pregnant. Many trans women think that if they are on estrogen they can’t get another person pregnant, but that’s not true. Though it may be harder to get an erection, make sperm, and ejaculate when you are on estrogen, it’s not impossible.

So if you and your partner have the equipment to get pregnant but don’t want to be, you’ve got to think about birth control. All the things that cisgender men think about for contraception are on the table. Condoms are especially cool because they protect against both sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.

If you want to have kids and you’ve got sperm, you should talk with your health care provider—ideally before starting estrogen—about saving those spermies for a rainy, pregnancy-desiring kind of day.

Finding good care

If you want to talk to a health care provider about any of these issues and don’t already have one you trust, check out the providers on this list. If you’re in one of the following cities, you can go to a health center that specializes in care for the trans community:

Baltimore : Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center

Boston: The Fenway Institute

Chicago: Center for Gender, Sexuality and HIV Prevention at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, the Howard Brown Health Center

Cleveland: The PRIDE Clinic at MetroHealth Medical Center

Los Angeles: The Los Angeles LGBT Center

New York: Callen-Lorde Community Health Center

Philadelphia: The Mazzoni Center

San Francisco: Lyon-Martin Health Services, the Tom Waddell Health Center, the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center

Washington, D.C.: Whitman-Walker Health

There are also Planned Parenthood clinics—like the ones listed here under “What health services”—that have providers who can help trans folks with general health questions, as well as birth control questions.

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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

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?

When Your Own Kid Might Be Gay

Photo credit: Judy van der  Velden

Photo credit: Judy van der Velden

How do you know if your child is gay? It’s hard to be certain because adolescence is often a time of experimenting sexually, often with both sexes. Studies tell us that it is not uncommon for adolescent boys to explore their sexuality with the same sex.

If you suspect your child may be gay, do you, as a parent, know how to approach the topic with him/her? Do you have the right to ask your child? According to Wesley Davidson, guest writer on Dr. Karen Rayne’s site, your kid will tell you she is gay when she is ready. You may be dying to have your suspicions confirmed, but that can backfire.

In this guest post, Wesley Davidson tackles to DOs and DONTs of discussing sexual identity with your child, particularly if you suspect he/she is gay. Below is a useful list of conversational ice-breakers to try.

Here are some key parenting tips:

  • Do not ask point blank: “Are you gay?” Respect personal boundaries. And don’t force a confession. He or she will tell you when the time is right.
  • Reflect on your own judgments about gender and sexuality. What stereotypes do you subscribe to?
  • Ask you child open-ended question such as his/her opinion of same-sex marriage and offer you positive opinions that demonstrate you accept and respect diversity.
  • Do discuss safer sex, STIs, and contraceptive methods with your child.
  • Be supportive. Studies show that positive reactions by parents of gay teens result in happier and healthier youth.

This article was originally published on Unhushed.

BY DR. KAREN RAYNE | KarenRayne.com

I am delighted to have a guest blog post from Wesley Davidson today.

Wesley is an award-winning writer. She has written articles on health and childcare for such publications as Good Housekeeping, Adoptive Families, and American Baby. She is on a panel of experts for the on-line publication, KIDZEDGE.com. Wesley has been on Internet radio, cable TV, and lectured to business groups.

She is currently collaborating with Dr. Tobkes, a New York City psychiatrist, on an advice book for straight parents of gay and lesbian children. She writes the blog Straight Parent, Gay Kid in which she offers support to parents on raising gay and lesbian children, and also writes about LGBTQ issues on gay agenda.com.

Sexual Orientation Doesn’t Necessarily Show Up Right Away

Not every parent is as cognizant as John Schwartz, a national reporter for The New York Times and author of his memoir about raising a gay child, Oddly Normal (Gotham Books). In Schwartz’s family, by the time his youngest son Joe came out at age 13, Schwartz and his wife had “progressed from inkling to conviction.” Their toddler Joe wore a feather boa around the house and pleaded for pink light-up sneakers with rhinestones.

Schwartz’s hunch, as it turned out, was right. While some kids may self-identify as gay or lesbian as young as three, others may not know they are gay until their adult years. Time tells.

How Can You Tell If Your Child Is LGBTQ?

It’s hard for parents to know. You can’t necessarily tell by looking at your children if they are gay. Heck, the kids may not even know themselves.

Many teens may wonder if they are gay or bisexual. It’s normal for them to have sexual feelings for both the same and opposite gender partners. They experiment with the same, or opposite gender relationships as they try to discover and develop their identities. Sometimes, their experiences are the signs of their sexual orientation, sometimes they aren’t. Or, it may just be a simple process of questioning.

Gay Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

If parents perceive that all male children must be sports-oriented, “rough-and-tumble” by nature, then they will be aghast at seeing their son playing house or with his sister’s Barbies. Does this necessarily indicate that this child is gay or is this behavior a reflection of society’s perception of how a male should not act or a parent’s read of behavior that’s not boyish or expected ?

Similarly, if a daughter refuses to wear dresses and plays football on a mostly-male football team, is she considered a feminist-in-the-making, a “tomboy” or a future lesbian? It depends on who is judging her according to their standards of how a girl should act.

Don’t Out Your Child

Even if you suspect your child is gay, you don’t want to force your suspicion down his/her throat to try and get a confession. You may be dying to know, but it’s up to your child to educate you when he/she is ready. Your kid may not want to disappoint you with the big news. He/she may be in denial. Or, he/she may simply not know. After all, it’s his/her story.

Offer Acceptance, Not Judgment

Carolyn Wagner, Former National Vice-President of Parents of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) said a good place to start is with a statement that offers acceptance instead of judgment. Accepting dialogue lets Mom and Dad be approachable and open to discussion about sexual identity.

Some Sample Ice-Breakers

Ask open-ended questions with a light touch. It’s non-threatening to talk about others, rather than about yourself. For example:

  • What do YOU think of same-sex marriage?
  • Should celebrities be outed or feel they have to come out to their fans? Why should it matter?
  • Do shows like Modern Family depict a gay family as normal as the straight ones?
  • Why is the teen suicide rate higher for youth who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer) than for straight youth?
  • Why are businesses like Starbuck’s and Oreo stepping forward to be allies with LGBTQ causes while others like Chick-Fil-A are thriving while espousing anti-gay philosophy?
  • Why do some churches accept gays and others tout condemnation based on their interpretation of the Bible? Isn’t religion about universal love and acceptance of all human beings?
  • What does your school do for its diverse population?
  • Are most of your friends having sex (define sex as it is interpreted differently by persons, often according to their beliefs and upbringing).

Sometimes teens who are considering coming out start by testing their parents’ perception of being LGBTQ by gauging their reactions to gay characters on television or religious leaders and remarks on same-sex relationship.

Your Kids Need to See You As An Ally

By bringing up these open-ended talks that can be discussed many times, you’re making your home a safe haven where any subject can be broached. In this environment, your adolescent is more apt to open up about his/her sexuality.

By now, you’ve probably had the talk about “the birds and the bees.” Hopefully, it’s an ongoing discussion that includes STI prevention.

Just as important as discussions about disease is imparting your values about love and sexuality to your child. By teaching them that civil rights are for all people, you are teaching an inclusive attitude and tolerance for all individuals. These attitudes open the gateway for acceptance and security for your child.

Stability and Permanence

Parental support is so important for a gay child. In fact, studies show that positive reactions by parents of gay adolescent result in happier and healthier youth. In fact, The Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University has ongoing studies that show that gay teens whose parents accept their sexual orientation are less likely to do drugs, be depressed, or attempt suicide than gay teens with parents who react badly to their news about being gay. These conversations can save your child’s life.

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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

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.

Should You Provide Sexuality Education to Your Patients?

Photo credit: Eva Blue

Photo credit: Eva Blue

It is a rare thing these days to receive comprehensive sex education from a health care practitioner. When it is offered, it’s typically limited to the health of sex organs. However, as Melanie Davis explains in the following article, sex and sexuality go beyond the biological. Crucial aspects of sexuality that influence one’s individual choices are often overlooked by health care providers- such as one’s degree of autonomy as well as knowledge about safer sex tools.

The article speaks to health care providers and offers concrete examples of how sexual health envelops aspects about identity, relationships, and intimacy- all of which impact a person’s overall health.

This article was originally published here.

BY MELANIE DAVIS, PhD | MelanieDavisPhD.com

Physician involvement in sexuality education began in 1904, when dermatologist Prince Morrow, MD published Social Diseases and Marriage. His goal was to protect women whose husbands were bringing home sexually transmitted infections (then called venereal disease) from sex workers.

Sexuality education and medicine became more enmeshed when other physicians and the American Purity Alliance joined Morrow’s work to reduce STIs as a way to promote sexual morality. Today, healthcare providers don’t usually discuss sexual morality with patients, but you are an important source of information about sexuality.

Sexuality education is a lifelong process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values about identity, relationships, and intimacy. Sexual health and decision making are critical aspects of sexuality education, and you may have more opportunities to educate patients than you may realize.

The Breadth of Patient Sexuality

If you limit your exam room consultation to discussions of the function and health of sexual organs only, you risk missing out on information that could have an impact on a patient’s sexual health and overall wellness. There are five categories of sexuality that comprise every person’s sexual being:

  • Sensuality = awareness, acceptance and enjoyment of our own or others’ bodies.
  • Intimacy = the degree to which we express and have a need for closeness with another person.
  • Sexual identity = how we perceive ourselves as sexual beings in terms of sex, gender, orientation, expression.
  • Sexual health and reproduction = attitudes and behaviors toward our health and the potential consequences of vaginal, oral, and anal intercourse.
  • Sexualization = using sex or sexuality to influence, manipulate, or control others.

The area of sexuality in which healthcare providers address most often is sexual health and reproduction for two reasons: 1) It is where most acute medical issues fall, and 2) There are fewer gray areas that can be time-consuming to discuss. However, the other areas of sexuality are less concrete but equally important to discuss, as these examples illustrate:

  • Patients may avoid sexual intercourse or masturbation because they believe genitals are ugly or shameful.
  • Patients may not experience sexual pleasure because they don’t understand their sexual anatomy or the sexual response cycle.
  • A partner’s turn-ons may hurt your patient emotionally or physically.
  • A patient may be struggling with gender identity or sexual sexual identity.
  • A patient may be too embarrassed to disclose sexual coercion/abuse.
  • Research shows that patients often fear being judged by their providers or being embarrassed, so they may not bring up their concerns. Be sure to open the door to conversations about sexuality — One quick way to begin is to ask, “If there were anything you would change about your sex life?”

Contact me if you’re interested in learning more about essential, yet easy educational conversations you can have with patients about sexuality.

melanie_davisMELANIE DAVIS, PHD, consults with individuals and couples to help them build sexual knowledge, comfort, and pleasure through the New Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness. Through her firm Honest Exchange LLC, she provides professional development in sexuality. She’s a popular speaker on self-esteem and body image, and the sexual impact of cancer, menopause and aging. She’s an AASECT-Certified Sexuality Educator. On Twitter @DrMelanieDavis

Sexuality: WTF Is It, Anyway?

Photo credit: Cobalt123

“The Circles of Sexuality are an altering flux of different parts working together.” Photo credit: Cobalt123

Sexuality is made up of various working parts, all of which are fundamental to being human. It involves a vast array of experiences including family and peer relationships, dating, physical development, emotional development, sensuality, gender, body image, media, and so much more. That is why it is such a difficult term to define. What one person deems important to their sexuality will be different from another person.

So how can we understand sexuality in a way that is inclusive to people’s diversity?

One way to think about it is what some sex educators call the Circles of Sexuality. Heather Corinna explains in detail how this model works.

Here are key points she covers in the article below:

  • There is no one-fits-all model. Definitions are not fixed and change dramatically over time as we learn more about about people’s sexuality. If this model doesn’t resonate with you, this does not reflect something wrong with you; rather there is a problem with the model.
  • Think about the Circles of Sexuality as an altering flux of parts. Each of the five circles can change from the size and position in which they overlap. For example, one person’s sexuality might be more influenced by their experience with reproduction, while another person will see their sexual orientation as more important. And it’s not just between people that this varies, but also across one’s individual life.
  •  Sexuality is made up of any or all of the following: physical, chemical, emotional, relationships, identity-based, intellectual, and sociocultural. Read below for a comprehensive explanation of each.
  • For more information about sex and sexuality, check out Heather Corinna’s book, All About S.E.X.: The Scarleteen Book.

This article is originally publish at Scarleteen

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

WTF-sexuality-v2The term “sexuality” can be used a lot like the word “sex.” They’re both terms we say and hear a lot, but which often aren’t clearly defined, or even defined at all. We can take for granted that everyone, including ourselves, knows what terms like this mean, a heck of an assumption to make with something that covers a lot of really important things and can feel as murky as Lake Erie.

So, what is sexuality all about? You might say it’s about our bodies or our hormones, about our feelings and our relationships, or about touching and being touched. You might think it’s about doing or engaging in one kind of sex or any kind of sex, or about wanting, seeking out or experiencing certain kinds of pleasure. You might say it’s about parts of our identity, like our gender identity or sexual orientation. You might say it’s about reproduction: about making babies (or not). You might say it’s about our desires to be close to — or far away from — other people in ways we define or experience as sexual, or about feeling horny, lusty, tingly, mingly, hungry, itchy, twitchy or whatever words you use to express a strong feeling of “I can haz sex NOW, plz.”

If any one of those things were your answers, you’re right. If all or most of those things were your answers, you’re even more right (and may not even need to read this article at all: go get outside for a change, wouldya?). Sexuality is BIG. Mount Everest big: that’s why trying to scale it without a guide or two doesn’t go so well for most people. It’s a lot bigger than it can look and certainly a lot bigger than it’s often presented by most places and in most ways we see it presented. It’s complex as all get-out, both because it’s so big, and also because it’s about everyone, and as a whole people, we’re all incredibly different so something that’s about all of us is always going to be seriously complicated, not simplistic.

As with anything this big, there are a lot of ways we can talk about what sexuality is and can be. There’s no one exactly-right model when it comes to defining sexuality: we’re going to talk about it a couple of ways here, based on where we’re currently at with definitions in comprehensive sex education and sexology, but if neither of them feels right to you, that probably means these models just don’t fit you well, rather than meaning you’re wrong. Models or definitions of sexuality can and often do change over time, especially as we learn more and more about everyone’s sexualities. Even in just the last 50 years, the way we talk about sexuality and the models we create for it have changed a lot: in the next 50 years, it may change, too.

Sexuality, as we know so far, is a mix of many different things in varying proportions: things that are physical, chemical, emotional, interpersonal, identity-based, intellectual, social and cultural, and that mix is different for, and unique to, everyone. Sexuality also isn’t something that is technically “adult,” or something that pops out of the blue when anyone reaches puberty or a certain age: no one isn’t sexual one day, then the next day, suddenly is because they’ve reached a certain age, had sex with a partner or sprouted hair in places they didn’t have it last month. Even though the sexualities of people tend to vary when it comes to age and development — infant sexuality, for instance, is a very different thing than adolescent or young adult sexuality, which can be a very different thing from the sexualities of people in their 60s or 70s — it’s been with all of us in some way from the day we were born, and maybe even before, believe it or not.

Sexuality: Key Ingredients for a Very Adaptable Recipe

What can sexuality be made of? Any or all of the following:

The physical: The development, health and function of what are considered our internal and external sexual organs and reproductive systems and our unique experiences with that development, health and function, our brain and nervous system (the biggest drivers of sexual arousal and function), and the whole of our bodies. The experience of our senses — of hearing, tasting, touching, feeling and seeing — are also part of our sexuality, even though they are part of our whole lives and life experience, not just our sexualities. The experience of our sexual responses and something often called “skin hunger,” the human desire to be touched. Advocates for Youth points out that teens and young adults often experience less touch from family members than they did as children, and so people often don’t recognize how big a part just wanting to be touched can play when it comes to young people and their developing sexuality.

Another part of the physical aspect of sexuality is information about our sexual anatomy, and our experiences with and of reproduction and our reproductive systems, of our reproductive and sexual health are also part of the physical part of sexuality, as well as playing a role in other parts of our sexual whole, including the chemical, social and cultural.

The chemical: AKA, hormones. Hormones take the blame all too often for hasty or poor sexual choices: choices there seem no other way of accounting for, as in “Those dirty hormones made me do it!” Hormones are not anything close to all of what our sexuality is — nor are they things that can make people do sexual things against their will or are a sound scapegoat for poor sexual decision-making — but they can certainly play a part. “Sex” hormones include testosterone, a big chemical libido driver for everyone, and estrogen, but there are also others which take part in sexuality that you experience even without sexual activity, like progesterone, adrenaline, serotonin, vasopressin, oxytocin (which is a real thing, but has been the source of many a myth), dopamine and endorphins. When people talk about sexual chemistry, some of what they mean is how we do or don’t neurochemically respond when it comes to sex and sexual feelings, something — unlike our sexual behavior — we don’t have any control over and often may not even have much awareness of.

The emotional & intellectual: Our feelings, values and ideas about sexual development and sexual changes through life, body image, gender identity and sexual orientation issues, sexual desires and fantasies, sexual activity with oneself and/or with partners, sexual relationships and sexual self-image, the ways those may drive us sexually, and the way we feel about sexuality and sex as a whole, not just our own. How we may or do feel sexually attracted to others and how they may or do feel attracted to us is another piece of the emotional and intellectual, and our sexual fantasies are part of this, too, as are our sexual ideals: what we feel sex and sexuality are supposed to be or should be, either for ourselves or for everyone. Our gender identity and our sexual orientation are also big pieces of the emotional and intellectual aspects of our sexuality, as well as part of the social and interpersonal, cultural and physical parts of sexuality.

Feelings are a part of our sexuality in every and any sexual interaction or desire. Sometimes we’ll hear people say they’ve had or want to have sex “without feelings,” but the only way we could do that, really, is to cut our heads off. While we may not have, be open to or experience the same kinds of feelings in every sexual interaction, when we’re alive and conscious at all, emotional feelings are always some part of the picture. We can’t magically turn them off during any part of life, including with sex and sexuality.

The social and interpersonal: Your sexuality in the context of your relationships — sexual partners or potential partners, but also friends and family — and the influences those relationships have had and have now on your feelings about your sexuality, your sexual wants and needs from others, and your sexual choices with others and your ability to make them. This includes experiences with taking the emotional risks we do whenever we expose or express ourselves sexually with someone else: what has happened to us, for instance, in sharing sexual feelings or interest, or in being out about some part of our sexual selves. How others have expressed themselves sexually to us, including when we weren’t expressing ourselves sexually with them, also plays a part here.

This piece is about what, if any, sexual relationships with others a person wants, seeks out or experiences, but also about all kinds of other relationships that tend to play a part in our sexuality, like the relationships we had and have with family members and friends. How all the people we are in any kind of relationship with treat or react to our sexuality is also a piece of this and the cultural aspects below.

The cultural: None of us can live in the world without being influenced by it. How the rest of the world — including our peers, local and larger communities, your government, the media — views sexuality, and all the parts of our sexuality, like our gender, our bodies, or the kinds of sexual relationships or experiences we have or want, is a part of our sexuality, as are our feelings, attitudes, and conformity or resistance to those views. How the world or some in it view our sexuality when it isn’t even ours at all, but only their idea of it is also part of cultural influence on our sexuality.

In other words, this part is about what messages about sexuality we get overtly and covertly, what we feel or experience our culture allows and disallows, idealizes (says is good or right) or punishes (says is bad or wrong), what our culture tells us to feel comfortable with and tells us to be afraid of, the effect and influence it has on us, consciously and unconsciously, and where and how we and our own sexuality, sexual identity and ethics, body image, gender identity, orientation and relationships fits or doesn’t within cultural attitudes towards, approaches to and presentations of sexuality. To give you one easy example, a lot of the words, the very language, and the approaches you’re reading here are, themselves, cultural: someone from a very different culture or cultures than my own may write or conceptualize all of this very differently.

You might have noticed a lot of overlaps with things in each of those groups above, and for good reason. That’s because we can’t really compartmentalize those things much: we can’t really put them each in tiny little boxes where everything always stays neatly in each box. One model for defining and explaining sexuality that’s really helpful, and illustrates that overlapping well, is the Circles of Sexuality model, designed by Dr. Dennis M. Dailey. There are a lot of versions and explanations of this model, but the one I like best is from the Interagency Gender Working Group , which is what our version of the circles here is adapted from.

What’s Inside the Circles of Sexuality
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Sensuality: “Sense” is the key part of this word: we’re talking about your physical senses and your awareness and experience of them. Sensuality also involves our awareness and experience of our bodies as a whole, including our body image, and our experiences, if any, of physically exploring the bodies of others, and not just with certain kinds of sex, like intercourse, recognized as capital-S Sex. Sensuality is about pleasure: seeking, exploring and experiencing pleasure, both as something we may receive or have, and as something we may give others or share with others.

Intimacy: Intimacy is a word sometimes people use as a euphemism for sex, like by saying someone was “intimate” with someone else to mean they had some kind of sex with them. Intimacy is certainly a part of the whole of sexuality and often part of people’s experience of sex and sexuality through life, but when we say intimacy here, we’re talking about the ability and desire for emotional closeness with other people, and as a part of sexuality, not as the whole of it. That can include sharing, caring, emotional risk-taking, and vulnerability. Emotional intimacy may not always occur with every sexual experience, and when it does, it doesn’t always look or feel the same way for everyone, or with every experience — including for two people sharing a sexual experience together at the same time — nor happen to the same degree for every person or with every sexual experience. When and if we seek out sex with other people, we are usually seeking out intimacy, even if it’s not the same kind of intimacy every time, or the same kind of intimacy someone else may be seeking. We’re usually all looking to share something in which we’re close to someone else in some way.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: This is about a person’s feeling, sense or understanding of who they are when it comes to their gender — their feeling of being a man, a woman, neither, both, or a different way of experiencing gender altogether and the ways they express those feelings — and when it comes to what gender of people, if any, they feel sexual desire about: who, based on (or not) gender, they feel sexually attracted to, whether or not they seek out or have the opportunity to be in sexual relationship with or not. Sexual orientation — our sense of being queer or straight, homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual or asexual, and so forth — and gender identity are obviously involved with each other, because they both have to do with gender, but one doesn’t automatically determine the other, and how linked they are for each person can vary, as can how big a part they play in a person’s sexuality.

Our biases, stereotypes or fears can play roles here, too, just like they can in all the other circles. In other words, ways that we think about other people or ourselves when it comes to gender or orientation — just like ways we may think of others when it comes to ability or disability, race or ethnicity — can also play a part in our sexuality. If that’s tricky to get a grasp on for you, a good example of that is the idea some men have that that only gay men want to engage in receptive anal sex: many men of all orientations may have the desire to explore that or know they have enjoyed that, but those with that bias can find the bias plays a part in their sexuality around that activity, either making it something they desire but don’t do because of homophobia and that makes them feel bad about their sexuality, or something they may find even more exciting, or taboo, because of that fear or bias. Ravishment fantasies can be another example of that, as can people using pornography that turns them on, but where doing what they’re watching is something they’d feel disgusted by in real life. Sometimes things people feel most afraid of, or repulsed by, can be things that turn them on a lot.

Sexual and Reproductive Health: One’s capacity or ability (or lack thereof) to reproduce, feelings about and experiences with reproduction, and the behaviors and attitudes that play a part in sexual health and enjoyment. This includes the information we have about sexual anatomy, sexual activities, reproduction, contraception, STI prevention, and self-care, among others and the messages that information has given us about all of those things. This circle is also about our experiences of sexual wellness or illness, and how they influence our sexuality and sexual desires or experiences. Healthy sexual relationships are also a part of sexual and reproductive health.

Sexual behaviors and practices: This is one of the easier pieces to grok: it’s about what we or others actively do sexually to enact or express our sexuality; about who is doing what when it comes to their own body parts and/or those of a sexual partner or partners, sex toys or other objects. This part of sexuality won’t always be a “do” or “have done” for everyone: some people may want or desire certain behaviours or practices, but not engage in them, or not yet engage in them, for any number of reasons, whether that’s about lack of opportunity or ability, fear or something else. Even if someone doesn’t or hasn’t yet actively done something sexual, the behaviours and practices they are interested in or want often play a big part in their sexuality. This also isn’t just about sex with partners: masturbation is part of this, too. What we do not want to do sexually can also be part of our sexuality and how we experience it, too.

Power and Agency: Power is the ability or capacity to do something, and can also be about strength or force, or the ability or capacity to exercise control over oneself or others. Agency is a sociological or philosophical term that addresses a person’s capacity to act: what a person has the right, ability or power to do. How much power or agency each of us has in general and in specific situations varies a whole lot, in really big ways — like based on what power and agency we may or may not have in the world based on how rich or poor we are, what color we are, what our gender is, how our bodies do or don’t work — and then in smaller, more situational ways, like in one given relationship.

Power and agency play a huge part in all aspects of sexuality, in the healthy stuff and the unhealthy stuff, which is why this version of the circles puts it right in the center. We can experience power and agency, and have them influence our sexuality from a “sense of self-worth and understanding of one’s [sexual] preferences and values, which enables a person to realize sexual well-being and health.” We may or may not have, or may have or feel varying amounts of power or agency to influence, negotiate, decide, consent or decline when it comes to sexual experiences. We or others may also use power or agency to manipulate, control or harm others in our sexual experiences, too.

Not everyone’s sexuality or the way they express it is healthy, and what’s emotionally healthy or isn’t tends to have a whole lot to do with power and agency. If we feel and use whatever power and agency we have when it comes to sex to care for ourselves and others, to seek out mutual pleasure and well-being, and it comes from an emotional place where we give ourselves and others high value and worth, then chances are good we’re using or enacting our power and agency sexually in healthy ways.

On the other hand, people can also sexually use — or more to the point, abuse — power and agency to do others harm. For sure, sometimes people can use power and agency to try and influence others sexually in ways that aren’t about trying to do harm — or being so self-centered that one doesn’t even consider the other person, which makes doing harm very likely — or trying to control them, like flirting, which is usually harmless even though it is about trying to influence someone else around sex. As well, some people bring powerplay into their sexual lives in ways that in another context would usually be about doing harm, but where consent and mutual pleasure are present and prioritized, instead of dismissed or discounted, like for people who engage in consensual, mutually wanted BDSM activities.

But sexual violence like rape, molestation and incest, sexual harassment, forced prostitution, withholding sex as a way to try and manipulate harm or control (rather than declining sex because it isn’t wanted), sexualization: these are all some things that come from an emotional place of devaluing, or not having value for, oneself and others, and about using power in ways with or around sex that are not healthy, neither for the person doing them or the people that person is doing them to. Power and agency is also in the middle of all of those other circles because how much power and agency people have, and what they do with power and agency, as well as how they are impacted by it, is connected to all of those other issues.

Phew! It’s a lot to think about, we know. And there’s more.

It might help to look at a model like that one and figure that the size of those circles might not all be the same for each person. For instance, one person’s sexuality may be very influenced by reproducing or their experience with reproduction, while it may have little to do with someone else’s. Some people’s sexuality may not have yet involved, or may not ever involve, engaging in sexual behaviors with themselves or others; one person’s sexuality may involve a lot of intimacy, while someone else’s may not. And of course, how a model like this — and the size of the circles and the places they connect — looks for even one person may be very different when they’re 15 than it is when they’re 55. Our sexuality does not stay the same throughout our lives, so how it looks and feels, and what parts of it seem bigger, and which smaller, will often shift quite a few times in each of our lives.

Sexuality is a lot like an ecosystem: one change to one part of the system usually impacts other parts of it, and one tiny shift in one place can sometimes change the whole thing quite radically. And just like with ecosystems, the same shift in one system won’t always have the same impact as it would in a different one: the great diversity of people, our lives and experiences — and all of those pieces we’ve been talking about — means that sexuality is also greatly diverse.

Even the language we or others use to describe our sexuality tends to reflect the kind of vast diversity we’re talking about when it comes to sexuality.

When someone uses words to describe their sexuality, they may mostly or only use terms about sexual orientation and gender identity, like heterosexual (straight), homosexual (gay or lesbian or queer), bisexual or pansexual (queer, bi, pan, omni), asexual or questioning; or terms like cis gender, femme, butch, fey, trans, agender or genderqueer, or stick to terms about chromosomes or how people are assigned sex, like male, female or intersex. Or they might use words that talk more about their sexual behaviours or practices; about what they actively do sexually or find arousing in terms of sexual activities, like kinky, vanilla, foot lover, oral sex fangirl, pictophiliac (someone aroused by visual pornography) or arachibutyrophiliac (someone aroused by the sensation of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth: shared primarily to give you the most winning Scrabble word of ever).

Some people use terms that are about a sexual role they like to play, like bottom, top or switch. Some people may include their reproductive status or experiences in their terms for their sexual identity, like if they’re a Mom or Dad, or if they’ve chosen to be childfree. Some may use words that focus on the kind of relationship they are in or want. Some people feel that one word describes, or should describe, their sexuality, like “male” or “straight,” while another person feels like a word like that is way too broad to be useful or feel like it says anything at all about their sexuality. Of course, some people may, and do, use more than one of those kinds of terms based on what their sexuality feels like and how they identify with it. Someone might define their sexuality or their sexual selves as a trans-femme-lesbian-vanilla-Mom, for instance, while someone else may define themselves sexually as a hetero-kinky-poly-dude. Some people may not use any terms at all.

Too, one thing that trips a lot of people up is trying to figure out how to separate their sexuality from all the other parts of themselves and their lives; where sexuality ends and everything else begins. When I did our version of the circles, I made the text in them bleed outside the circles for a reason. I did that because often, we’re not going to be able to draw very clear lines between our sexuality and the rest of who we are, what we feel and the lives we live. Sometimes it is clear-cut: sometimes we can identify things, situations or feelings that very clearly don’t incite or involve our sexuality in any way. We can sometimes do the same with some things we know are a part of our sexuality, and seem to only or mostly: like things that we find very sexually arousing, but find totally boring, ridiculous or offensive in any other context.

Just like with models for sexual response, you get to come up with your own if you don’t read or see a model that sounds like it really works for you. Sexuality itself involves some things we can’t control or direct — like our life histories, our feelings and our attractions — but for the most part, a lot of our sexuality, and certainly how we define and direct it, is very much a Choose Your Own Adventure.

One person’s sexuality, experience or understanding of sexuality can be radically different from another person’s, but that doesn’t mean one person is right and the other wrong, or that one person has a sexuality and the other doesn’t.

Like anything made of people and our collective lives and experiences, sexuality is hella diverse, and while some sexualities (or more accurately, the way some sexualities are expressed or acted out) are physically, emotionally or interpersonally healthier than others, there’s no right way of having one; no one sexuality that is the default, or the way sexuality “is,” while others are deviations, derivatives or “perversions.”

While it’s important for any of us who talk about sexuality to define what we mean when we use that word, sexuality is really something we’re often best defining on our own, for ourselves, and understanding as something that, while it has a lot of common threads among all people, is tremendously individual and unique. If it were anything but as diverse, varied, big and complicated as it is, people would have gotten bored with it long before now, and no one would ever come to a website like this one.

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).

What Is Cis-Gender?

Photo credit: Elephant Gun Studios

Photo credit: Elephant Gun Studios

Gender identity is one of those overlooked concepts in sex education and yet is a basic part of our sexual lives. It influences how we dress, what roles we play in relationships and, to a large extent, what we’re attracted to sexually.

So why not incorporate discussions of gender identity within the framework of safer sex? Here, Robin Mandell reviews a gender category that is at the early stages of officialdom: “cisgender”.

The term “cisgender” can be thought of as the linguistic complement to “transgender”.  Since it was first coined in the 1990s, “cisgender” has slowly seeped out of the confines of academia jargon into mainstream language. On Facebook, for example, you can now tick off “cismale” or “cisfemale” (or variations of) as your gender.   In Germany, birth certificates now have four categories to choose from: “cismale”, “cisfemale”, “intersex”, and “indeterminate”.

Simply put, the term refers to people who feel their assigned sex at birth matches their gender identity. However, as Robin Mandell explains in this article, the “cis” category is more complicated than simply being aligned with one’s genitals.

This article was originally published at robinstoynest.com

BY ROBIN MANDELL | ReadySexyAble.com

…A cisgender person, or a cisman or ciswoman, is someone who feels themselves to be, and lives as, the same gender they were identified as having at birth. So, a ciswoman would have been identified as a girl at birth, raised as a girl, thought of herself as a girl, and thinks of herself as a woman, or lady, or whatever is her preference, in adulthood.

We’ve been using the Latin prefix trans, meaning through, across, other, and so on, for a while, to talk about people who are transgender, or a person who is a transman, or a transwoman, et cetera, et cetera.

A transgender person is someone whose experience of their own gender, their gender identity, doesn’t line up with the gender they were assigned when they were born.

Complex? In many ways, yes, in many ways no. . This business of there being two clearly defined genders, and that whichever gender you are, that gender remains static your whole life, feels more unnatural to me the more I learn.

Kate Bornstein, in her pivotal book Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us, points out that babies are given a gender identity via a quick glance at their genitals to determine their sex. I don’t know about you, but that seems awfully simple for an identity that’s with us our whole lives. Other identities we’re given come and go as we grow, change, and establish (then sometimes reinvent) our place in the world. People don’t insist that our occupation remain the same, that our fashion sense never change, that our bodies and how we deal with them remain static our whole lives. There’s even—most of the time—minimal resistance to people changing their names (the most common examples of this are people ditching a diminutive like Sammy or Becky, or taking their partner’s name after marriage). Why shouldn’t gender identity be more flexible.

I’m getting ahead of myself though….

Continue reading the full article at robinstoynest.com

condom ad condoms too loose

ROBIN MANDELL is a healthy sexuality and disability rights advocate based in the Washington D.C. area. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies from Queen’s University in Canada and a Professional Writing Certificate from Washington State University. Over the years, Robin has amassed extensive experience working with people at vulnerable times of their lives, both as a crisis hotline worker and a sexuality and relationships education advocate with Scarleteen. She’s discovered that disability issues receive significantly less attention in academia and social justice movements than they’re due. She has developed a passion for starting dialogues on sex, disability and accessibility, and has come to the realization that, as much as she just wants to be like everybody else, she can use her visible reality as a blind woman to start these dialogues.Robin blogs on disabilities, sexualities, and the connections between them at ReadySexyAble.com and has published articles on various sexuality and sexual health topics at Scarleteen and Fearless press

Can Pre-Ejaculate Cause Pregnancy?

Photographer Zen Sutherland

Photographer Zen Sutherland

Can pre-ejaculate cause pregnancy? This is an important question for anyone who can become pregnant, or is having sex with someone who can get pregnant. Particularly for those who use the “pull-out” or fertility awareness method, understanding the risks involved is fundamental to making proper health choices for yourself.

The answer to this question, however, is not so certain and still under going research. In this article, Heather Corinna explains what exactly we do know for certain about pre-cum and how best to approach risks with the information that is out there.

Here are her key points:

  • There is far less sperm in pre-cum than there is in ejaculation.
  • Chances of sperm in pre-cum are lowered if one has recently urinated and has not ejaculated before intercourse.
  • Pre-cum can transmit infections.

This post was originally published on Scarleteen.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

Jess asks:

Can a woman become pregnant off of pre-cum fluid alone?

Heather Corinna replies:

The short answer is that it is possible, yes, but is not very likely.

The longer answer is that there are a lot of variables, and we still need more study to be done on this to give a better answer.

Do we know that pre-ejaculate fluid can contain sperm? Yes, we do. We also know that there are far, far less sperm in pre-ejaculate — when there are any at all — than there are in a full ejaculation: a full ejaculation contains as many as 100 million sperm, whereas when sperm is in pre-ejaculate, it’s more like a few million, if that many. But it only takes one active sperm and a few hundred helper sperm to create a pregnancy, so sometimes there may be more than enough sperm in pre-ejaculate when sperm are present in it to make that happen. However, sperm also need the fluid they’re part of to create a pregnancy, so the limited volume of pre-ejaculate is also an issue, as is the far fewer sperm which may be (and often are not) part of it.

There’s no 100% way to know at the time if pre-ejaculate contains sperm, but it’s generally agreed upon that it is most likely or only likely to when a man has recently ejaculated and has not urinated afterwards (urine flushes the urethra out, removing traces of sperm). It’s generally considered to be least likely to contain sperm when a man either hasn’t ejaculated in a while and/or has recently urinated before he’s pre-ejaculating.

Since you’ll often hear a lot of argument when it comes to whether sperm are or are not present in pre-ejaculate, here’s what some other credible folks have to say on the matter:

Go Ask Alice at Columbia University says:

Sperm could be in pre-cum, but only after a recent ejaculation, after which some sperm may be left hanging around in the urethra. “Recent” means masturbating earlier and then having sex with a woman, or during the same sexual episode of the recent ejaculation. Urinating in between ejaculations flushes the urethra of stray sperm and makes the way clear for the sperm-less pre-ejaculate fluid. If sperm remains after a prior ejaculation, then it’s possible that they can enter the vagina and make their way to meet an egg.

The Feminist Women’s Health Center says about it:

During sex, the penis releases two kinds of fluids. The first is pre-ejaculate or pre-cum, a lubricant made in a gland in the penis. This fluid usually contains no sperm, but can transmit infections. The second, released with ejaculation, is semen, which is made in the testicles and carries thousands of sperm in addition to any sexually transmittable infections that may be present.

Many sources that discuss the ineffectiveness of withdrawal argue that pre-cum can contain sperm. This is because previous ejaculations can leave some sperm behind in the folds of the penis. While there is a need for further study, it is likely that urination before intercourse washes leftover sperm from the urethra, the tube from which both urine and semen exit the penis.

Here’s what Student Health Services at Oregon State University has to say:

Pre-cum is the pre-ejaculate fluid that can be released from the penis during sexual activity. It is usually released before the male reaches orgasm, which results in the ejaculation of semen. Pre-cum prepares the urethra for the semen and helps in lubrication during sexual intercourse. Also the pre-cum may contain sperm. Since the pre-ejaculate can contain sperm, a pregnancy can occur if the man’s pre-cum comes in contact with the woman’s vaginal canal.

However, there is inconclusive evidence as to where the sperm in the pre-ejaculate comes from. Many researchers suggest that the sperm in the pre-ejaculate comes from leftover sperm from a previous ejaculation of semen. These researchers suggest that urinating after the ejaculation of semen will remove any sperm from the urethra, so as to prevent the pre-ejaculate from containing sperm. However, research is still being conducted to support this widely accepted idea.

And here’s what Contraceptive Technology has to say:

Some concern exists that the pre-ejaculate fluid may carry sperm into the vagina. In itself, the pre-ejaculate, a lubricating secretion produced by the Littre or Cowper’s glands, contains no sperm. A study examining the pre-ejaculate for the presence of spermatozoa found none in the samples of 16 men. However, a previous ejaculation may have left some sperm hidden within the folds of the urethral lining. In examinations of the pre-ejaculate in a small study, the pre-ejaculate was free of spermatozoa in all of 11 HIV-seronegative men and 4 or 12 seropositive men. Although the 8 samples containing spermatozoa revealed only small clumps of a few hundred sperm, these could possibly pose a risk of fertilization. In all likelihood, the spermatozoa left from a previous ejaculation could be washed out with the force of a normal urination. However, this remains unstudied.

So again, the only right answer we can give right now is a maybe.

But we also do know that withdrawal isn’t one of the most effective birth control methods, in either perfect or typical use, and that enough people report using it perfectly — saying they withdrew well before ejaculation — and still becoming pregnant (including my parents as well as a close friend of mine, for a personal perspective), that we’d be remiss to rule out pre-ejaculate as a pregnancy risk. Bear in mind that during the Baby Boom in the United States — a period in history when we had more births than any other — that withdrawal was the most common method of birth control people were using. Of course, many of those pregnancies may well have been due to men who said they pulled out on time not realizing they had actually ejaculated, and we have no way of knowing what the real deal was. What we can know, for sure, are the success and failure rates of withdrawal as a method, however it is practiced, and know that most other methods of birth control are more effective.

Too, unprotected sex, period — ejaculate or no — poses risks of all sexually transmitted infections, which should be just as great a concern as pregnancy. And pre-ejaculate can transmit the HIV virus just as much as full ejaculate can.

So, having unprotected sex, period, just isn’t a good idea unless you are trying to become pregnant AND you and your partner have both been practicing safer sex for at least six months, monogamously, AND each have at least TWO full and clear STI screens under your belts. While it’d be nice if we had more data on pre-ejaculate at this point, at the same time, it’s not all that essential. We already have the essential information we need, which is that ANY unprotected intercourse presents risks of pregnancy and STIs, and that people who want to prevent pregnancy achieve that best with the most reliable methods of contraception, used properly and consistently, or by abstaining from the kinds of sex which present pregnancy risks.

If you want to engage in intercourse safely, you need a condom at a minimum, and if, for whatever reason, that or some other reliable method is not an option, then the only good choice is to choose not to have sex until sound contraception can be used.

Here are some extra links to grow on:

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

What Makes Someone A Slut?

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Slut. It’s a loaded word. What does it mean? When does someone qualify as a slut? Renowned sex educator, Megan Andelloux, shares how she handles the question in workshops: “What Makes Someone a Slut?”

Don’t miss her tips on steps you can take when you hear someone called a “slut”. Key points:

  • It’s ambiguous. There is no single definition. Different people have different ideas of what “slut” means.
  • Due to differing definitions, any number of situations can lead to a woman being labeled “slut”.
  • Some women are reclaiming the word in an empowering way.
  • Most importantly- call people out when they use the slut word. Ask them what they mean.

BY MEGAN ANDELLOUX | ohMegan.com

megan_andellouxMEGAN ANDELLOUX is a Clinical Sexologist and certified Sexuality Educator, listed on Wikipedia as one of the top sexuality educators in America, her innovative education programs, writing, social media presence, and ambitious speaking schedule has made her one of America’s most recognized and sought-after experts in the growing field of sexual pleasure, health, and politics.
Follow Megan on twitter @HiOhMegan