5 Things I’ve Learned from Teaching People about Sex

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BY KATE MCCOMBS | KateMcCombs.com

Even before I got my first formal sex ed job, I was teaching friends about how to use safer sex methods.

Like most Americans, I didn’t get much in the way of sex ed in school, so it was up to my budding sex geeky research skills to get information I needed on my own. With this knowledge, I became an unofficial peer educator, sharing what I knew with friends (and even their friends) at after-school hangouts and parties.

In college, I became an official peer educator and continued teaching about safer sex and birth control, this time in one-on-one counseling sessions and workshops. It was a great training ground for the sex ed career I have now where I specialize in educating adults about the intersections of health and pleasure.

Through the research I did during my masters of public health, workshops and lectures I’ve taught on two continents, and through years of causal conversations with folks about their sex lives, I’ve learned five key things from teaching people about safer sex

1. Health and pleasure are not mutually exclusive.

The single most common reason people give for not using condoms is that it “doesn’t feel as good.” There is some reality to barriers diminishing sensation for some people, but the research doesn’t back up the claim that it ruins sex. In a study carried out by Indiana University, they found that on the whole, people’s sexual pleasure and satisfaction were not diminished by condom use.

There are many things people can do to increase their pleasure and satisfaction during sex, regardless of whether barriers are used. For some people, using barriers allows them to relax more fully, which increases their enjoyment of the overall experience.

2. Finding the right lube is paramount.

I am a lube evangelist and I still marvel at how many people aren’t aware of the benefits of using lube with condoms. Lube helps transmit more sensation, reduce uncomfortable friction, and keep condoms form drying out. It’s also handy to have around for other types of pleasure, like mutual and solo masturbation.

Not all lubes are created equal. Finding a formulation that feels best to you and your partner’s body is essential and experimenting with lubes can be a fun thing to sex lab too.

3. One size does not fit all.

I remember one of the first times I saw someone teach how to put on a condom. The educator stretched a condom over his whole arm and said, “No one is this big!” and that men who complained that condoms were too tight are just making it up. This is neither helpful nor true.

Condom fit is hugely important in pleasure and safety. A condom that’s too tight can break more easily and a condom that’s too loose can slip off. A bad fit can make using barriers less pleasurable too. Get a sampler pack from Lucky Bloke and find one that fits you like a glove.

4. Communication is key.

For many people, talking about sex at all can be really challenging – especially with the people they’re having it with. Learning to talk, listen, and learn about sexuality is a key adult skill, but there are few opportunities for people to learn the things about sex that help build an amazing, healthy sex life.

Having meaningful conversations about sex with our peers can be great practice for having challenging conversations within our romantic relationships. By fostering curiosity, learning compassion, and creating safe spaces within our relationships, we can more easily negotiate the kind of pleasure and health we desire.

5. It’s important to meet people where they’re at.

Early in my sex ed career, I was very absolutist in my opinions about condoms. People should just wear them! As I’ve listened, learned, and taught more, it’s become clear to me that this message doesn’t land with some people. It’s not empathetic and it doesn’t reflect understanding of the complexity of people’s feelings and desires.

All humans make calculated risks and meeting people where they’re at to help them reduce their risk is a more fruitful strategy then telling them what they “should” do. What I can do is give people information and support them in making choices that align with their health goals.

 

kate_mccombs

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

Should Older Women “Use It or Lose It”?

use it or loose itFor both sexes, the old saying “use it or loose it” is indeed true. Sex educator and aging specialist Melanie Davis explains why maintaining a sex life is healthy and does your body good.

As we age, however, our sexual bodies change and Melanie Davis advises that we adapt to those changes and re-think our ways of being sexual. For example, investing is lubrication, trying new sex positions to protect joints, being sexually active during the afternoon instead of the evenings, etc. Melanie Davis explains the biological changes to expect in post-menopause and offers ways to accommodate these changes in order to maintain a healthy sex life (men are no exception to the “use it or loose it” rule and do experiences changes as they age too. This article happens to focus on women.)

In sum, our sexuality is not solely for reproduction. Just because a woman’s body no longer produces eggs does not mean she is void of sexuality.

Here are Melanie Davis’ key points on why the “use it or loose it” approach is beneficial to your health:

  • Solo or partnered sex exercises muscles and increases flexibility. The contracting vaginal muscles during sex and orgasm conditions the vaginal walls and works the tendons and muscles of the pelvic floor.
  • Sex can be physically energetic which gives the heart and joints a great workout!
  • Research has shown that orgasm can ease pain for hours.

All of these benefits point to the power of “using it!”

This article was originally published here.

BY MELANIE DAVIS, PhD | MelanieDavisPhD.com

I’ve consulted with several women lately who are 50-65 year old and are planning to have sex after a multi-year break. Their main concern has been whether that old “use it or lose it” adage is true.

It can be, since the ability to enjoy penetrative sex depends in large part to tissue moisture and suppleness. The good news is that women can maintain and regain their sexual enjoyment.
Decreasing estrogen in an older woman’s body plays a large role in her level of sexual enjoyment. If you look at sex from a strictly biological standpoint, once there’s no guarantee of “good eggs” due to age, the body shuts down the reproductive factory, starting with estrogen production. Estrogen keeps tissues supple and triggers transudation (the process of natural lubricant flowing through tissues in the vagina and vulva). Once a woman can no longer reproduce, the body has no biological use for sex; ergo, there’s no use fornatural lubrication or supple tissues.

But that’s not what women want to hear! Women consider ourselves more than reproductive vessels, and many women want to be sexually active — for myriad reasons — until the day they die.

Because the loss of estrogen causes tissues to thin, the already delicate vaginal, vulvar and anal skin is more apt to tear or feel painful from handling that once might have felt great. Also, the muscles in the pelvic floor start to get lax, so the bladder and other organs may droop, causing unpleasant pressure during penetration. This news can sound dreadful, and many women just assume their sex lives are over. However, if women make accommodations mentally, behaviorally, and, if need be, medically, they can enjoy post-menopausal sex. The key to enjoying sex while aging is to understand naturally occuring changes and to adapt to them.

Older women may need to consider some sexual behavioral changes, i.e., body positioning to protect joints and tissues, using condoms or dental dams if they have new partners, and rethinking when they engage in sex. For example, switching from late night to late afternoon sex can be helpful because medications have kicked in and fatigue hasn’t. Now’s also the time to load up on lubricant — silicone or water-based or even olive oil from the kitchen cabinet (but don’t use oil with condoms!)— to lubricate vulvar tissues and the entrance to the vagina or anus. If tissues are uncomfortably dry, see a healthcare practitioner for advice on whether an estrogen-containing product is indicated.

The act of sex, solo or partnered, exercises muscles and increases flexibility. The clenching and unclenching of vaginal muscles during sex and orgasm conditions the vaginal walls and works the tendons and muscles of the pelvic floor. And, if a woman expends a modicum of energy and movement during sex, the heart and joints get a workout. Orgasm has another benefit — research has shown it to ease pain for hours. All of these benefits point to the power of “using it.”

If you don’t have partnered sex, pleasure yourself. If you’ve never masturbated before, experiment with what feels good to you. If you have a partner who’s willing to get back into the groove after a long break (or if you have a new partner), schedule an internal exam with your healthcare provider to see whether your vagina is supple enough for penetration. If you’ve had some atrophy, stretching with dilators or physical therapy may be indicated.

Communicating with a partner is important because older women may require more time to become aroused enough to naturally lubricate. And those delicate tissues mean that the level of sexual touch and/or penetration may need to change. Older adults typically feel an decreased need for athleticism in the bedroom, too. Getting used to this change may require on-going conversations so both partners get the sexual satisfaction they desire.

Older women also need to attend to their self-esteem as they deal with the loss of their younger body — including less firm breasts, changing fat deposits, the thinning and graying of pubic hair and less plump labia. There may also be the diminishment of a partner’s looks or sexual function to adapt to, as well. It can be helpful to re-think was sex “looks like,” so to speak. Perhaps the goal need no longer be orgasm, but intimacy — at least some of the time. It’s also good to be aware that intimacy may be very different in older age if one’s partner dies and cuddling with a friend becomes the easiest way to satisfy skin hunger.

Unsure what size

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

Reclaiming Sexual Intimacy After Cancer

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Dealing with cancer can easily re-orient your sex life. During and even after treatment, being sexual can seem unappealing, painful or maybe completely off your radar. Dr. Melanie Davis offers guidance for reclaiming sexual intimacy after cancer and facing the challenges that entails.

This article is intended to help you navigate sexuality after cancer treatment. Here are some main points to take away:

  • Making small changes in your mindset can help to successfully reframe intimacy.
  • Non-goal oriented sexual intimacy (activities that do not lead to orgasm)
    eliminates the chance of “failure”.
  • Communicate with your partner— agree on how you define “sex”.
  • Take care of yourself so as to ensure comfort during sexual encounters.
  • Put sexual intimacy on your priority list on your own terms.

This article was originally published on Coping Magazine.

BY MELANIE DAVIS, PhD | MelanieDavisPhD.com

You may have crossed sexual intimacy off your priority list when you found out you had cancer. If you’re in active treat­ment, you may not feel like being sexual in the same ways you were before diag­nosis. After treatment, sex may still seem unappealing or even painful. This is all normal. But if you’re ready to bring sexual intimacy back into your life, you can work through the challenges – one small step at a time.

Defining Intimacy

Many people think of sexual intimacy as sexual in­tercourse or other genital stimulation resulting in orgasm, including any ac­tivities that lead up to it. However, if you broaden your definition of intimacy to include other pleasures that may or may not lead to orgasm, you can be sexually intimate without the pressure to engage in activities that aren’t com­fortable for you right now.

Sexually intimate activity can be goal oriented or non-goal oriented. Goal-oriented activities are considered complete when they end in orgasm. The problem with goal-oriented sexual inti­macy is that there’s a chance of failure if you or your partner do not experience orgasm. Failure can be frustrating, es­pecially if it happens on a regular basis.

On the other hand, non-goal-oriented sexual activity can’t fail because there is no goal, other than pleasure. Orgasm may happen, or it may not. There is no pressure to do more than you can comfortably do, given your interests, level of desire, and physical capability. Examples of non-goal-oriented intimate activities include kissing, fondling, body rubbing, massage, watching or reading erotic material, taking a shower or bath together, recalling past sexual encoun­ters, envisioning future encounters, reliving your favorite dates, cuddling with or without clothes, holding hands, walking arm in arm, or engaging in any other activities that you enjoy. They can also include genital stimulation or pen­etration as long as you and your partner agree to stop the activity if it becomes anything other than pleasurable for either of you.

Reframing Intimacy

Changing your mindset from goal-oriented sex to non-goal-oriented sex doesn’t happen overnight. It takes some time to get used to the idea that even though you or your partner may be aroused, sexual activity could end prior to orgasm. Communication and trust are crucial because you need assurance that you will not be pressured to do more than is comfortable or desirable for you.

New Jersey-based “reinvention catalyst” Gailann Bruen, LCSW, suggests making changes in imaginary 1/16-inch increments – tiny steps so small you are almost guaranteed success.

“My husband and I always planned to travel, but when he developed heart issues, he chose not to fly,” Gailann says. “A friend advised us to create local memories together. It turned me around. Now I tell people, ‘Don’t focus on what you can’t do, but on small things you can do together.’”

Gailann suggests taking a drive, going out for coffee, and hugging and touching throughout the day. “Work within what’s possible, and focus on all the tender intimacies. Touch and sweetness are so important,” she adds.

Redefining intimacy in this way requires communication. You and your partner both need to agree to change the way you define sex. Start by discussing how you can maximize closeness and intimacy within your levels of energy, desire, and physical ability.

“Talk to your partner about what’s possible for you now,” says Melissa Donahue, LCSW, of the New Jersey Center for Sexual Wellness in Bedmin­ster, NJ. “If intercourse is off the table, say so, and make sure your partner agrees not to push for it. Once you know that your boundaries will be respected, you won’t have to be anxious when your partner touches you.”

It’s also important to make the most of what you have by eating a healthy diet, getting ample sleep, finding ways to reduce stress, following your doctor’s post-treatment plan, and getting regular exercise. Take pain medications 30 min­utes before you begin any type of sexual activity if you typically experience pain during intercourse, and arrange for inti­mate encounters to coincide with your most comfortable, energetic times of day.

You can put sexual intimacy back on your priority list once you realize you can do it on your own terms. Take things one step at a time – you can make changes in tiny, 1/16-inch increments.

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