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Sex Q&A: I Haven’t Had My Period in 65 Days!

pantiesEver found yourself wondering how to introduce a new sex act to your partner, or how to have orgasms that really hit the spot?  If so, you’ve come to the right place!  The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health will be publishing a monthly question and answer series for all your sex and sexuality-related inquiries.  From sex toys to fantasies to safer sex, we’ll be doling out advice to keep your bedroom romps fresh and your inner sex kitten purring.

This month’s column is by staff member Gypsy Vidal. Email your pressing sex questions to sex@motifri.com, where they will be kept confidential!

Question:

I haven’t had my period in the last sixty-five days. I’ve taken a pregnancy test, which came back negative. I’m usually fairly regular. What could be going on?

For many vulva-owners, particularly those who have sex with people with penises, a missing or late period is a cause of great stress and anxiety.  Even with home pregnancy tests, it can be all too easy to freak out a bit– after all, Aunt Flo is more important than the average houseguest!

Before I delve into the ins and outs of pregnancy tests and missed or late periods, however, I’d like to note that none of what I write should be construed as medical advice.  The best person to answer this question is your local health care provider.

So, what’s up with the negative pregnancy test?

Depending on the circumstances, pregnancy may still even be in the picture.  For example, whether your pregnancy test was done at home or through a blood test is noteworthy, as blood tests are much more accurate than home pregnancy tests.

That said, it should be noted that home pregnancy tests are, in fact, quite reliable.  Most brands boast 99% accuracy, but this varies according to a few mitigating factors: use after the expiration date, not following the instructions, use too soon after missed period (you should take the test a week after), not waiting long enough for the test results (research recommends 10 minutes), and diluted urine.

If you take a home pregnancy test that comes back negative and you still haven’t started menstruating, try taking another test a week following the initial one.  Unfortunately, drugstore tests can be quite expensive and therefore prohibitive to some.  Thankfully, Amazon sells bulk pregnancy tests on the cheap– Wondfo in particular sells 25 test strips for $10-15.

Here is more information on how to use a home pregnancy test.

What about the absent period?

While textbooks describe a 28-day cycle, give or take 7 days, vulva-owners’ menses can be notoriously irregular.  In fact, some 30% of vulva-owners report having irregular periods.  Irregular menstruation is defined by menstrual bleeding more often than 21 days, longer than 8 days, missed, early, and otherwise late periods.

There are many reasons for irregular and absent periods, including drastic change in weight (either gained or lost), stress/anxiety, fluctuating hormone levels, and hormonal birth control.

Nevertheless, you mention that you are usually fairly regular, so your missed periods are likely the result of a change in your life and/or body.  Have you been experiencing a lot of stress lately, maybe due to school exams, financial troubles, or a big move?  Have your eating and exercise habits changed recently, and/or have you gained or lost a significant amount of weight?  Have you recently had a new sexual partner?  All of these things can throw a person’s cycle out of whack.

Other factors that influence the menstrual cycle are fluctuating hormone levels, hormonal contraception, and even spending a lot of time with or living within a household of multiple women, which causes estrogen level changes.

With that said, I will note that there is a difference between occasional irregularity and consistently irregular menstruation.  The latter situation may indicate underlying medical conditions such as thyroid disorders or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which affects up to 10 percent of vulva-owners of reproductive age.  A visit to your primary care provider will help assess the root of irregular periods, consistent or otherwise.

As irregular as periods can be, however, it is noteworthy that you have not menstruated in a little over 9 weeks, and that you are usually fairly regular.  Aside from pregnancy, this may be indicative of what is usually a minor health condition called amenorrhea.  There are two types of amenorrhea: primary amenorrhea, which is when a vulva-owner has not had their first period by the age of 16, and and secondary.  Secondary amenorrhea is characterized by at least 3 missed periods, which you may be approaching, depending on your cycle.

There are a number of potential causes of secondary amenorrhea, including not only pregnancy, but also menopause, breastfeeding, contraceptives (such as hormonal intrauterine devices), certain medications (antipsychotics, cancer chemotherapy, antidepressants, and blood pressure drugs, to name a few), stress, hormonal imbalances, extremely high or low body weight, and excessive exercise.

What do I do now?

It is recommended that people with absent menstruation visit a medical care provider following two consecutive missed periods.  A healthcare professional will be able to work with you to discover the cause(s) of your conspicuously late Aunt Flo, as well as help you get your period back on track.  Potential treatments for secondary amenorrhea include oral contraceptives to help regulate the patient’s menstrual cycle, visiting a nutritionist to help maintain bodily health, and stress-reducing techniques.

Reprinted with permission by The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health.




Sex Q&A: What Does Consent Mean?

Ever found yourself wondering how to introduce a new sex act to your partner, or how to have orgasms that really hit the spot?  If so, you’ve come to the right place!  The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health will be publishing a monthly question and answer series for all your sex and sexuality-related inquiries.  From sex toys to fantasies to safer sex, we’ll be doling out advice to keep your bedroom romps fresh and your inner sex kitten purring.

This month’s column is by staff member Gypsy Vidal. Email your pressing sex questions to sex@motifri.com, where they will be kept confidential!

Question:

Do you believe that it’s possible for consent to be given without a “yes”?  What about in a loving relationship?  What is your stance on the idea that  you can never consent to sex while drunk?

As much as we would like to think otherwise, consent and giving consent are trickier beasts than the typical “no means no” and “yes means yes” slogans. While both ideas delve into basics of consent, they ignore what is often the lived experience of giving consent, where sexual violence can occur even in the absence of a stated “no” and “yes.”

Considering these complexities, it’s understandable why confusion on the subject exists; your questions are in fact incredibly common! As such, I hope this article will help shed some light on how to navigate consent and ensure all parties are down to get down – or up, or however you (and your partner(s)!) like it.

What is consent?

At its most basic, “consent” is defined as giving permission for or agreeing to do something.  For example, when someone consents to a police search, they are permitting a search of their property or person.  Also like a police search, however, there may be factors that unduly influence the ability of someone to give consent: perhaps the officer lied about a search warrant, misled you into thinking you had no choice, or threatened your family.  While one can say that you technically allowed the police to search you or your property, in the eyes of the law, it’s likely whatever evidence found as a result of intimidation or lying would be thrown out, because the permission was not freely and knowingly given.

Sexual consent works similarly: sexual consent can only be given without coercion, intimidation or force.  It does not occur because the individual is pestered into saying “yes,” or because if they say no, their partner will make a big production out of their disappointment in order to instill guilt.  At the end of the day, sexual consent is the willful decision to have sex when not having sex.

When is consent obvious?

Some common phrases among many sex-positive and feminist circles are “enthusiastic consent” or “affirmative consent.”  In conjunction with my explanation above regarding sexual consent, the idea is that enthusiastic consent is obvious by virtue of, well, enthusiasm.  It is “yes means yes!”  It’s moaning and groaning and showing one’s partner just what you want, what you really, really want.

The idea of enthusiastic consent came about as a way to attempt to eradicate what many people feel are the “gray areas” of sexual violence by centering the conversation on desire and consent.  This is commendable. Unfortunately, while the concept is great at face value, it is not the be-all-end-all of consent.  There are a number of situations in which sex doesn’t happen enthusiastically that nonetheless involves the freely given consent of all parties. Attempting to label these experiences as implicitly rape due to a lack of enthusiastic consent ignores the lived experience of consent and the truth and agency behind the decisions people make when they decide to have sex.

For example, a couple struggling with infertility may feel less joyous about having sex, yet will still have it for the sake of attempting pregnancy.  Someone may consent to sex because they know it will allow for greater emotional intimacy, despite not being in the mood.  Another person may say “yes” because while they want to have sex, they may be navigating personal trauma that makes such activity difficult and even potentially triggering.  Yet another person may be so nervous they cannot express their enthusiasm, even if it’s felt.  Finally, sex workers may consent to types of sex and sex generally without any interpersonal coercion or force, but rather simply as a means of their profession.

That said, enthusiastic consent does answer part of your question, which is, when is consent obvious?  Basically, consent is obvious when one’s sexual partners make it obvious.  This can happen with the sounds we make, the words we use (yes, please, more), our eye-contact, and/or our body language in general.  When we affirmatively consent, our partners then know we’re good and ready and wanting it!

However, just as I mentioned before, even if consent isn’t enthusiastic, that doesn’t mean consent isn’t given.  Some people, particularly those on the autistic spectrum, may have difficulty establishing and maintaining eye-contact.  Others may feel self-conscious about their desires and/or their bodies, so they don’t feel comfortable saying what they want and how they want it, much less bumping and grinding away with wanton abandon.  Men in particular are often socialized into being non-verbal during sex, so they may not be moaning and groaning anyway.

Unsure whether your partner is consenting?  Are they stiff and/or unresponsive?  Do you feel like they’re deliberately avoiding eye-contact, or they’re particularly quiet?  Check in with them.  Consent should not be taken for granted, and a verbal, “Hey, is this okay?” or “I can stop” goes a long way in preventing unintended trauma.

Can consent be given without a “yes”?

As you’ve mentioned, it is possible for consent to be given and known without an explicit “yes.”

Consent without a stated “yes” can happen through pre-discussed consent, in which communicating with our sexual partners allows them to know when they are allowed to have sex with us and still have it be consensual.  A prime example of this is sex while one partner is asleep.  Maybe one person loves being woken up with sex or doesn’t mind their partner going at it while they’re zonked out.  This is fine!  As long as all sexual partners have discussed this type of bedtime rendezvous and have given the green, consent is known even without a “yes” in the moment.

On the flip side, just as consent can be given without a literal “yes,” it’s possible to give consent while explicitly saying “no.”  Consensual non-consent, also known as “rape play,” is the term in BDSM communities where individuals pre-negotiate scenes in which one party forcefully has sex with the receptive partner who is often struggling to “prevent” the sex from occurring.  While the struggling party may be screaming “no,” in this pre-negotiated scene, they really mean “yes.”

Of course, these kinky waters can get murky, which is why safe words are vital.  Safe words are words other than “no” that are intended to bring a stop to or pause play, sexual or otherwise, and that are generally not spoken during sexy times.  Common safe words are “red” and “yellow,” which mean “stop” and “pause/hold on/go slower,” respectively.  It’s also possible to have safe gestures, which are useful if one party is mute, gagged, or otherwise unable to communicate verbally.  A safe gesture may be snapping one’s fingers or dropping a scarf—one-handed actions are best in case of bondange.

I recommend that all romantic partners have a safe word, whether or not they’re of the kinky variety.  That said, I should note that as useful as I find safe words, it’s also ultimately important for the individuals involved to truly trust each other and respect the existence of the safe word.  When someone calls “red,” that doesn’t mean, “oh, maybe if I pause a little, it’ll be okay for me to start again;” rather, when someone calls “red,” all play stops without question or hesitation, and the person who called the safe word should be checked on.  Only when they give a “green” should play then be resumed.

Can someone consent to drunk sex?

This question can be answered in two parts: the legal answer and the more complicated response, which is defined by many people’s experiences with alcohol and sex.

Many states have laws that dictate that a person cannot legally consent to sex while drunk.  Of course, many of these states do not necessarily give a strict definition of “drunk,” so while unlike driving, where “drunk” is often defined as having a blood alcohol level of around 0.08% or above, we often do not know where the line between “drinking” and “too drunk to consent” is drawn.  This, of course, is exempting drunk to the point of unconsciousness, which obviously doesn’t allow consent, unless it’s been explicitly pre-negotiated between all parties, as I mentioned above.

Of course, it’s certainly the case that many people, especially college-aged individuals, use alcohol as a social lubrication tool.  Drinking can help give people a sense of ease so that they are more comfortable approaching a prospective sexual partner as well as actually engaging in sexual activity.  After all, when we’re blissfully tipsy, it can be much easier to stop worrying about one’s body, sex-related shame, or all the other hang-ups that can make sex unenjoyable.

In many cases, boozy sex can be wholly consensual, but it’s a slippery slope complete with black-outs, which is why many people find themselves advocating that all drunk sex is rape.  After all, it’s not always possible to know whether someone is too drunk or blacked out, in which case what seems and feels like a wholly consensual romp may in fact be sexual violence that can leave lasting trauma the morning after.  This becomes even more difficult to navigate with casual partners or one-night-stands, because there is little to no context for the sex and interactions.  With less known history of the person’s body and cues as well as less potential for debriefing and discussion after the hook-up, there is more room for misunderstanding and therefore mistakes that may result in real repercussions.

Furthermore, as individually helpful as drunk sex can be in helping us get more into the moment, it’s not something I personally endorse.  For one, there’s a difference between one drink and five, and since binge drinking is incredibly common among college-aged folk, it can be all too easy to have one too many.  In the case of sex, that one too many can leave people vulnerable to sexually aggressive and predatory behavior.  Over-drinking may also result in people being unable to read social cues, leading them to ignore all of the non-verbal ways people express non-consent.

Instead of seeking to numb our sexual anxiety with booze, I wholeheartedly recommend that people tackle their worries head-on.  Everyone starts somewhere, and it’s understandable that so many people feel worry about their bodies and abilities.  By seeking to understand the roots of our concerns, we can then navigate them, either alone, with a book, or alongside a group of friends, a local sex positive organization, or a sex therapist/sex educator.

At the end of the day, despite the nuances of consent, in practice it may be even easier done than said.  By incorporating safe words, paying attention to body language, checking in with our sexual partners, and limiting our drunken sexual encounters, we can help mitigate our concerns and the potentiality for assault.  So, the next time you find yourself frisky, remember that consent is never truly a given, and that part of being sexually healthy is ensuring our partners are just as good and game as we are.

Reprinted with permission by The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health. 




Sex Q&A: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Herpes

herpesEver found yourself wondering how to introduce a new sex act to your partner, or how to have orgasms that really hit the spot?  If so, you’ve come to the right place!  The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health will be publishing a monthly question and answer series for all your sex and sexuality-related inquiries.  From sex toys to fantasies to safer sex, we’ll be doling out advice to keep your bedroom romps fresh and your inner sex kitten purring.

This month’s column is by staff member Gypsy Vidal. Email your pressing sex questions to sex@motifri.com, where they will be kept confidential!

Question:

I received oral sex from someone yesterday, and today that person has a cold sore. My understanding is that oral and genital herpes are caused by different strains, hsv-1 and hsv-2.  So if it’s just hsv-1, I probably won’t get genital herpes, but if it’s the evil one that causes both, I could.  Is this correct?  What should I do?

Answer:

Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, with HSV-1 infecting some 50 to 80% of people and HSV-2 affecting a projected 30% of adults. Despite its prevalence, however, many misconceptions about this STI exist, and I hope my response will address most of these.

One herpes in myth in particular that I hope to debunk is the idea that people are sexually and romantically “ruined” following HSV, which resources such as Love in the Time of Herpes help disprove. For more information on living and loving with herpes, you refer to the resource list at the bottom of this Q&A.

If you’ve had a recent hook-up and are now concerned about having contracted HSV, feel free to skip to the final section of this article.

What is the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV)?

Herpes Simplex is a category of sexually transmitted viruses that oftentimes results in infections of the skin and mucous membranes, manifesting itself in blisters/sores. Following infection, HSV will establish latency within the nervous system, meaning the virus will attach itself to the cells of one’s sensory nerves, making it one of the few STIs for which there is no cure. Despite this, HSV is in fact a relatively minor infection; it is literally a simple, yet recurring skin condition.

As you mentioned, there are two strains of herpes: HSV-1, also known as “oral herpes” and “cold sores,” and HSV-2, which most often affects the genital and anal region. Despite this colloquial distinction, it is in fact entirely possible for both strains to affect both the mouth and genitals, as well as other parts of the body such as eyes, fingers, and thighs. Vulva-owners may also experience sores on the inside of their vaginal canal and on their cervix. HSV-1 in particular is also associated with potential complications such as oracular herpes and conjunctivitis (pink eye).

Is There a Good/Bad Herpes?

While many people are under the impression that there is a “good” herpes and “evil” herpes, the distinction is minor: both varieties of HSV may be contracted both orally and genitally, and while HSV-1 in particular is known as “oral herpes,” it is quite frequently transmitted to the genitals. However, it’s less common for HSV-2 to be transmitted to the mouth.

Furthermore, under the microscope, both strains are almost identical. HSV-1 and HSV-2 also manifest themselves similarly and, following infection, becomes latent in the nervous system. Neither type of herpes is curable, although their symptoms may be treated.

So, if the strains are so similar, why is there the misconception that there is a “good” virus and a “bad” one? The stigma likely lies in the sheer prevalence of HSV-1 — as I previously mentioned, up to 80% of people in the United States have HSV-1. Furthermore, the majority of affected individuals contract “oral” herpes during childhood, making it a “blameless” and more normative health issue. As such, for much of society, it’s easy to write off the STI as “only a cold sore,” whereas the much less common genital herpes is vilified as a “sexually transmitted infection.”

What are HSV Symptoms?

Upon initial infection, HSV may cause small, painful blisters or sores at the site of infection, enlarged lymph nodes of the neck or groin, decreased appetite, muscle aches, general malaise, burning while urinating, and fever. The first outbreak generally occurs within two days to two weeks after transmission or contact with infected areas, and symptoms can be quite severe should they occur at all.

A second outbreak may occur weeks to months following the first. Subsequent outbreaks are often less painful and disruptive, and symptoms may grow more mild over time. Some individuals, particularly those with HSV-1, may not experience outbreaks for months or years at a time. The average rate of outbreaks for HSV-2 is four times a year.

With that said, not all people who have contracted HSV experience symptoms. Indeed, estimates suggest that two-thirds of people with HSV have no symptoms or mild enough symptoms that the infection goes unnoticed. Furthermore, HSV may be transmitted even when there are no symptoms and between outbreaks; one study shows that more than half of asymptomatic HSV-2 carriers exhibit viral shedding.Viral shedding is how HSV is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact even without contact with open sores or bodily fluids.

Finally, symptoms of an oncoming outbreak include fatigue and itching, tingling and discomfort at the site of the outbreak. HSV outbreaks can be triggered by a number of sources, including but not limited to: physical and emotional stress, sun exposure, injury, a compromised immune system, surgery, hormone changes such as those that occur during the menstrual cycle, and even the common cold.

How is HSV Contracted?

Herpes Simplex is transmitted through direct contact with a lesion, or from the body fluid of or skin-to-skin contact with an individual with HSV. Unlike most other STIs, HSV may be contracted through kissing and even sharing drinks; it’s this reason that half of children under the age of six are infected with HSV-1. Furthermore, like Human Papillomavirus (HPV), HSV can be transmitted even when condoms are used due to exposed skin at the site of contact.

As I previously discussed, many people who come in contact with HSV do not, in fact, show symptoms, or otherwise have symptoms so mild they go unnoticed. However, whether the individual is asymptomatic or between outbreaks, there is still a risk of transmission. Indeed, it is suggested that up to 70% of HSV-2 transmissions occur in the absence of symptoms.

It is also important to remember that while HSV-1 and HSV-2 are technically two distinct viruses, oral herpes may be contracted from the genitals, and genitals may contract oral herpes. Research suggests that HSV-1 in particular is commonly transmitted through unprotected oral sex, with up to half of all new cases of genital herpes occurring as a result of HSV-1.

Finally, it should be noted that vagina-owners more easily contract genital HSV than penis-owners. Studies also suggest that HSV increases the risk of HIV transmission, due to the existence of open sores.

How Can I Prevent HSV Contraction/Transmission?

There are three main ways people can help prevent the contraction and transmission of HSV: use barrier methods during sexual activity; know your status and communicate it with sexual partners; and if you’ve already contracted HSV, consider managing future outbreaks through antiviral medication.

Other ways to help limit the possibility of HSV-2 contraction and transmission include sexual abstinence, washing after sex with soap and water, and using lubricants during sexual activity to help prevent microtears (tissue damage that increase the risk of HSV transmission and triggering an outbreak). Unfortunately, due to the prevalence of HSV-1, it can be incredibly difficult to prevent transmission.

However, if you are concerned about contracting or spreading oral herpes, you can avoid kissing people as well as avoid sharing items like kitchen utensils and lip balms, namely when a cold sore is present or you feel one forming.

With that said, I understand that kissing for many people is an important component to sexual activity, but not kissing doesn’t have to be unsexy or awkward. Whether you’re in a monogamous relationship or the type to hook-up casually and participate in orgies, you can sexualize preventative measures by incorporating an intentional “no kissing on the mouth” policy in your play, which may encourage some creative measures, or even using gags.

For both HSV-1 and HSV-2, contact with the sites of outbreak and/or kissing should be stopped as soon as individuals feel the warning signs of an outbreak. You shouldn’t touch a sore; doing so runs the risk of transmitting the infection to another body part.  If you do touch the sore, wash your hands with soap and water. Wait until seven days after the sore heals before resuming contact with the mouth, genitals or anus.

Barrier Methods

While the unfortunate truth is that even condoms do not completely protect against HSV transmission, studies show that condoms do, in fact, provide considerable protection, in particular to susceptible vagina-owners. For this reason, barrier methods are an incredibly important component of limiting the possibility of contractions and transmission of HSV.

In addition to external condoms, internal condoms are a great alternative barrier method. Internal condoms potentially provide greater protection from HSV transmission, as they also provide coverage for the vulva and outer anus, thereby reducing the amount of skin-to-skin contact.

Due to the nature of HSV, barrier methods should be used during not only penetrative sexual activity, but also any sexual activity that engages with the mouth, genitals, and anal region. This includes skin-to-skin frottage, also known as dry-humping; stimulation with one’s hands, during which latex gloves can be used; and oral sex. Safer oral sex consists of using condoms over penises and dental dams over the vulva and anus.

Know Your Status

As with all sexually transmitted diseases, one of the best things you can do to prevent contraction and transmission is to know your status. This can happen by being tested at a local medical care provider. With that said, while providers consistently test for STIs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, HSV is rarely tested for unless the individual is exhibiting signs of an outbreak. For this reason, you’ll likely have to explicitly request an HSV test, which I will discuss later.

In addition to being aware of your STI status, it’s important to use that knowledge to empower you in your relationships by discussing STI testing and your status with sexual partners. Not only is your status important, theirs is too! Although this can be an intimidating conversation to initiate, I nevertheless strongly recommend that you do so; this shouldn’t be understood as a sign of distrust, but rather an important step in keeping you and your partner healthy. This is especially important considering an estimated 80% of people with herpes are undiagnosed.

Consider Antiviral Medications

It’s important to note that while there is no cure for either type of HSV, there are antiviral medications that may help manage outbreaks and treat or relieve symptoms. If, following an outbreak and/or testing, you learn that you have HSV-2 in particular, you may want to consider such medications.

There are currently three kinds of herpes antiviral drugs, all of which are available in pill form and can be taken for two purposes: treatment for outbreaks (to shorten duration and severity of symptoms), and suppressive therapy (to reduce the likelihood of outbreaks.

I’m Worried I Contracted HSV – What Now?

When it’s all said and done, it’s understandable that you may be worried about your hook-up’s cold sore. For this reason, regardless of if you start showing symptoms of HSV, I suggest that you contact your medical care provider to discuss your situation and to get a professional opinion on the matter.

I standard STI testing often does not include testing for HSV unless the patient has a blister. This is because the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention does not currently recommend routine HSV testing for those in the general population who don’t exhibit symptoms. If you are exhibiting sores, however, you should visit your healthcare provider as soon as possible as the test is an easy viral culture swab. Unfortunately, false negatives are very common with this method.

If you are not exhibiting symptoms, you can still get tested. Serologic, or blood, exams will allow your medical care provider to test for HSV. There are two ways blood can be tested for HSV: polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests and antibody tests. The PCR test is the most accurate, and can type which strain of HSV you have. Antibody tests are less reliable and may yield false positives, so this may be a topic you want to discuss with your healthcare provider when being tested.

Finally, I want to stress that having herpes isn’t the end of the world. Figures suggest that some 50 million people in the United States alone have HSV-2, with even more people having HSV-1. Considering how common it is, it is unlikely that you will be the only person you know with HSV, and many health professionals are of the opinion that people should assume that everyone has herpes and act accordingly.

Furthermore, people with herpes continue to have healthy, fulfilling sex lives and happy relationships. In the greater scheme of things, herpes is merely a minor inconvenience for most couples. Having HSV of either sort is not shameful, nor is it indicative of your worth as a person or sexual being. Herpes is at its core simply a skin condition.

If you have any other questions about HSV, you can call the National Herpes Hotline at 919.361.8488. In addition, you can contact the Herpes Resource Center at 1.800.230.6039.

For more information on leading healthy, fulfilling (sex) lives with herpes, you can visit the following websites:




Sex Q&A: Head Bitch in Charge

SONY DSCEver found yourself wondering how to introduce a new sex act to your partner, or how to have orgasms that really hit the spot?  If so, you’ve come to the right place!  The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health will be publishing a monthly question and answer series for all your sex and sexuality-related inquiries.  From sex toys to fantasies to safer sex, we’ll be doling out advice to keep your bedroom romps fresh and your inner sex kitten purring.

This month’s column is by staff member Gypsy Vidal. Email your pressing sex questions to sex@motifri.com, where they will be kept confidential!

Question:

I’m a woman, and I recently entered a relationship with a man who wants me to be more dominant in the bedroom. I’ve never tried before.  How do I become more comfortable in the role?

In the hype following the release of 50 Shades of Grey, the fanfic-turned-million-dollar-series by E.L. James, it seemed like all the media could talk about was the salacious desires of women who want to be dominated. Significantly less conversation has gone on about men who desire the very same — and the women whose inclinations lead them to holding the leash rather than wearing one. Fortunately, your partner is not alone in his submissive wishes, nor are you the first woman to find herself looking to live large by taking charge.

Of course, teasing out one’s fantasies from the realm of mental delights into physical carnality isn’t always second nature. Hopefully this article will give you an idea or two of how to feel more at-ease in your dom shoes.

Before I delve into the nuts and bolts of the matter, I want you to take a moment to think about your own desires in exploring sexual dominance. Do you want this, or are you looking to simply fulfill your boyfriend’s fantasies? Do you even know where you stand in the matter? Indeed, it may very well be the case that for a number of reasons, including past partners and societal gender expectations, you never previously considered donning a Top hat. It may also be the case that you’ve been curious about taking charge in the bedroom, but have never had the opportunity.

In both scenarios, it’s understandable why you’d feel less than comfortable trying your hand at this role.  However, depending on the method behind the madness, your experiences in getting your feet wet might feel a little different.  To help determine where in the puddle you stand, I recommend that you spend a little time fantasizing about the role. If you could tell your partner exactly what to do to please you, would you? What would you tell him? What do you feel when you think about him serving you or lying beneath you, surrendered to your whim? Fleshing out your will and desires may help you take to the role more easily, and will give you more to communicate about when the time comes.

In addition to figuring out your own desires, it is also useful to think about what actions and behaviors you type as “dominant.” What comes to mind when your partner asks this of you? Also, what does dominance mean to your partner? While society seems to specifically focus on power games consisting of sadomasochism, being dominant does not require toys or pain. In fact, there are many dominant people who don’t incorporate either into their play, and while there are many who do, it’s up to you and your boyfriend to flesh out these dirty details through good ol’ fashioned conversation.

I’ll note here that dominance is in many ways an attitude and mindset of self-confidence, which often denotes a degree of power, capability, strength and even protectiveness.  For many people, sexual dominance simply means “taking charge in the bedroom,” as opposed to kinky, tie-you-up-and-flog-you debauchery.

Because dominance means different things to different people, before you delve into any play, you and your boyfriend should communicate about these definitions. By “dominant,” does your boyfriend mean that he wants you to initiate sex more often, or is he asking you to bring out the cat o’ nine tails? Does your beau want you to kiss him passionately and pull his body to you, or is he hoping that you’ll make him sleep in a cage? Does his idea of “dominant” consist of a stern voice and mild orders, such as “rub my feet,” or is he looking to be degraded?

Discerning these particularities in your desires is key, not only for mental and physical safety of you and your partner, but also in potentially helping you become more comfortable. By having a better idea of what your partner specifically wants, and by communicating your own interests and doubts, you may find yourself feeling more at ease in the role. After all, it’s often easier to embark on the unknown when you have a good guideline to lead you.

Naturally, it may be difficult to talk about what you and your partner want when you may not have the most comprehensive understanding of what types of dominance play are out there. For that, I recommend that you and your partner fill out a Yes/No/Maybe checklist. You can also check out online couples-oriented questionnaires such as MojoUpgrade and Sexionnaire. While none of these activity lists are all-encompassing, they will encourage both you and your partner to take a moment to consider what exactly it is you want to explore, as well as serve as a jumping off point to discuss all your unique ideas for sexy fun.

Of course, not only is it important to discuss desires, it’s also supremely important to discuss boundaries. The questionnaires and checklist above do a great job at expressing such limits, but I nonetheless encourage you and your partner to think outside the box in accordance to your own histories and experiences. I’ll also note that all boundaries are legitimate and should be respected, regardless of whether they make sense to other individuals. Moreover, there exist both “soft limits” and “hard limits,” in which the former consists of boundaries that may be pushed or teased either in specific, agreed-upon contexts or with specific individuals. The latter, hard limits, are boundaries that cannot and should not be broached. Understanding your own and your partner’s soft and hard limits is vital to safe power play.

Another key component to navigating the waters of BDSM is the necessity and inclusion of safe words. Safe words are specifically picked out to either pause, slow down or completely stop play, and are not words that are usually said during sex. Common safe words include “red” for stop, and “yellow” for pause/slow down, but they can be just about anything. Furthermore, if your partner is not capable of talking, either due to being gagged or having speech impediment, you should negotiate a safe action, such as snapping one’s fingers or dropping a handkerchief, which will bring a stop to play. You should also ensure that any potential journeys into bondage allow for either safe word or safe action, to ensure the full consent and safety of all parties.

In addition to communication and consent, another important aspect to playing with dominance and submission is acquiring the relevant skills. I urge you to do your research before any type of play, not only out of concern for safety, but also because I think learning may help you feel more comfortable with your capabilities.

One particular place to pick up and hone your kinky skills is through KinkAcademy.com, a comprehensive collection of instruction and educational videos about kink. While Kink Academy requires payment to use, it’s a resource that I highly recommend to both newbies and veteran kinksters alike, as its breadth of material is unlike anything else online. Are you looking for more interaction with like-minded folk? You can also visit Fetlife.com, a social networking website for kinksters and fetishists of various degrees of experience. Fetlife is a great place to find local events and classes, and it provides emerging kinksters the opportunity to find people who can mentor and train them.

Of course, as I said before, it may also be the case that your boyfriend isn’t exactly looking for a mistress; maybe he just wants you to be more assertive! If this doesn’t come naturally to you, it’s okay to cheat a little. I recommend setting an alarm to remind you to initiate. You can also jot down a quick list of actions that you feel exude sexual aggression. Maybe it’s a strong kiss, maybe it’s hair-pulling, maybe it’s a whispered, “I want you.” Whatever it is, the next time you’re with your boyfriend, try one or two of these moves and see how he reacts.

At the end of the day, I encourage you and your partner to be as safe as possible and have fun.  Learning to be sexually dominant can take a try or two to get used to, but should the shoe fit, you and your partner may very well have ahead of you a new, exciting sexual adventure. Should sexual dominance not be your cup of tea, that is also totally a-okay; people’s sexual desires run the gamut, and what’s most important is that all parties communicate and consent to play.




Your Sex Questions Answered! How Do Kegel Balls Work?

ballsEver found yourself wondering how to introduce a new sex act to your partner, or how to have orgasms that really hit the spot?  If so, you’ve come to the right place!  The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health will be publishing a monthly question and answer series for all your sex and sexuality-related inquiries.  From sex toys to fantasies to safer sex, we’ll be doling out advice to keep your bedroom romps fresh and your inner sex kitten purring.

Question:I keep hearing about kegel balls/ben wa balls that are supposed to make me tighter down there. Do they work? What do they do?

Excellent question! Kegel balls, or ben wa balls, are a type of tool you can use to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. We’d go beyond that, however, and even call them a toy because the effects they can have include tons of jiggly orgasmic feelings, and they’re a minimal effort exerciser. Even if going to the gym sounds like a total pain to you, Kegel balls facilitate a kind of exercise that’ll certainly help you gain ground in the bedroom, among other handy health benefits. But first, let’s start with the basics.

What are Kegels?

Your Kegel muscle is the muscle found along your pelvic floor, also known by its official name, the pubococcygeneus (PC) muscle. Have you ever had to pee really, really badly, but there isn’t a bathroom or suitable bush in sight? The PC muscle is what you’re clenching in order to stop urination. Bet you never thought you’d learn scientific terminology for “holding it in”! That squeezing motion is also the basis of all Kegel exercises, which rely on repeated contraction and release in order to grow stronger.

What can Kegel exercises help me with?
Although Kegel exercisers tend to be marketed primarily toward those with vaginas, everyone can do them, regardless of genitalia. Healthcare professionals recommend Kegel exercises for a variety of different health benefits. Strengthening the Kegel muscle can help treat urinary incontinence, prevent vaginal prolapse, speed up vaginal recovery post-pregnancy, and treat inflammations in the prostate gland.

However, even without pre-existing medical conditions, there isn’t a wrong reason to try them out. Try squeezing your pelvic muscles and holding that tension for three seconds, and then relaxing for three seconds. Repeating this exercise 10 to 15 times per session, over three to four sessions a day, is the typical recommendation, and you can multitask by doing your exercises while in class, on the subway, at your desk, or anywhere else, with complete discreetness.

In addition to medical benefits, Kegel exercises also can have a powerful effect on your sex life! You may notice while doing Kegel exercises that the tightening motion is very similar to contractions that occur in the body during climax: stronger Kegels make for stronger contractions, and often ramp up the explosive potential of orgasms – quite the reward with very little effort required on your part!  Furthermore, while Kegel exercises will not make the vagina tighter, they do allow for greater control of the vaginal muscles.

Strengthening your Kegel muscle can also help give you better control of orgasms and ejaculation, which is why we recommend them as a basic tool to address premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction and difficulties orgasming in general.

Painless, effortless and incredibly beneficial, these exercises are some of the easiest ways to increase sexual pleasure without tremendous cost or risk.

Where do these balls come in, then?

Although you can do Kegel exercises on your own without any tools, Kegel balls are helpful because they don’t require any concentration or forethought – no need to count sets or seconds, much less remember to do them at all. These useful balls directly stimulate the Kegel muscle, which is especially helpful for those who have difficulty isolating their Kegel muscle, which forgoes much of the benefits.

Kegel balls are body-safe hollow balls with tiny weights inside of them that are inserted into the vagina and left there. Once they’re resting inside of you, the weights will bounce around, and the kegel muscle will involuntarily contract as a result of this movement. While it may sound daunting, it is actually quite effortless, as the contractions are not uncomfortable, and you might find yourself wanting to wear them out and about all day. They’ll just be your little secret when you hand documents to your boss or stand on an escalator – your jiggly, orgasmic little secret.

When inserting Kegel balls, particularly for the first time, it helps to lie down with your legs relaxed. Apply an ample amount of lubricant to the balls (preferably water-based, as silicone lubes could break down your Kegel balls if they are also made of silicone), and slide them in one by one at a speed that is comfortable for you. If you feel pain during insertion, but don’t normally have pain during other kinds of penetration, try masturbating for a little bit beforehand to warm yourself up, especially if your Kegel balls are quite sizeable. Push them upward, similarly to how you might push in a tampon, as far as they will go comfortably. Once they’re in, just stand up and go about your business.

Where can I get my hands on them?!

There are so many different varieties of Kegel balls out there, it can be overwhelming to choose. Some are sets of balls attached by a string, some are made of metal or glass, and they come in a variety of weights and sizes. This is where the distinction between ‘ben wa balls’ and ‘Kegel balls’ becomes relevant, as ‘Kegel balls’ typically refer to larger balls with a string, encased in hard plastic or medical grade silicone, but both exercisers are effectively the same.

With all types, your top priority should be making sure they’re body safe, since you’re going to be putting them in and out of yourself on a regular basis. You should ensure the materials are non-porous: avoid rubber and jelly, and lean toward silicone, glass and metal. Make sure the string is not a braided cloth string, which quickly turns into a very nasty bacteria trap. If it has a string, it should be completely silicone coated.

In terms of size and weights, it comes down to what you feel is the most comfortable for you. Many manufacturers sell sets of Kegel balls with a gradation of different weights, so that you can get used to keeping the lighter ones in before you move to the heavier ones.  The heavier the ball, the more effort is needed to keep it in, and the more of a work-out your vagina will get.  It’s recommended that beginners try wearing Kegel balls for half an hour, three times a week. Like with weights, you can increase the time as your vagina masters your current difficulty level.

The JeJoue AmiLelo Luna Beads and The Adult Toy Shop’s Velvet Kegel Exercisers are some great examples. Of those, Luna and The Adult Toy Shop’s Kegel balls also feature interchangeable ball weights, so that you can use the same basic harness system to mix and match weights until you find what works for you. If you have a shortened vagina, you may find that solo models, which incorporate only a single ball, fit more comfortably. All three of the above sets have solo options. Duo models are also typical. We love Fun Factory’s SmartBalls for their jiggle factor. While some models are specifically recommended for post-childbirth bodies, the reality is that any of these Kegel sets can be used in any vagina they feel comfortable in, regardless of your childbearing status.

We’re also excited about the Aneros Peridise, the first unisex Kegel exerciser available for all bodies! This tool is inserted anally and held with the same Kegel movements. (Please note that you should not put Kegel balls into the anus! Vaginal Kegel balls are not anus-friendly, as they lack any kind of flared base, which means that they will get stuck in there … and you will have to wibble-wobble your way to the ER and explain yourself.)

What else should I know?

It’s not unheard of for people to orgasm just from having their Kegel balls in and moving around because they are just that awesome. Jumping up and down, running and riding a car or bus can all add to that delightful ‘jiggle factor’ that makes your Kegel muscle contract like you’ve just had a quickie instead of a typical work commute. There are lots of things you can do with Kegel balls inserted. Try keeping them in while you stimulate your clitoris, or using the anal exerciser while masturbating.

Finally, don’t confine your Kegel exercises to pre-coital activities alone. Try actively doing them while having sex, and see how that feels. It’s a great way to spice up one’s genital repertoire. From a tightening, pulsating vagina to a stronger, harder erection, Kegel exercises might be just what the sex doctor ordered.

This month’s column is by staff members Gypsy Vidal and Yvonne Yu. Email your pressing sex questions to sex@motifri.com, where they will be kept confidential!

 




Demystifying Asexuality

aSexualEver found yourself wondering how to introduce a new sex act to your partner, or how to have orgasms that really hit the spot? If so, you’ve come to the right place! The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health will be publishing a monthly question and answer series for all your sex and sexuality-related inquiries. From sex toys to fantasies to safer sex, we’ll be doling out advice to keep your bedroom romps fresh and your inner sex kitten purring.

Question:

I think I might be asexual, but I’m not sure. Can you explain a bit about asexuality?

Answer:

Just in time for Asexuality Awareness Week, this month’s article is geared toward demystifying this lesser-known and often misunderstood sexual orientation. Often talked about in the context of microbes and high school biology, asexuality in humans is in fact a wholly real and legitimate sexual identity, defined as a lack of sexual attraction toward other people.

Modern media, hormones, and even the existence of this column itself tends to suggest that sexual attraction is inherent to everyone, and the idea of pursuing a romantic relationship that may never include midday quickies or late night fondling is often laughed at. This kind of misinformation about asexuality only breeds bias and prejudice against those who are asexual, while making it difficult for individuals to speak freely about their lack of desire. Asexuality challenges a lot of people’s preconceived beliefs about human nature, and like other sexual minorities, people who are asexual may face reactions that range from general disbelief to more harmful actions, such as corrective rape.

Our hope here is that this article will answer some of your questions, guide you in how to examine yourself, and help educate the world at large with regard to this often undiscussed topic.

How do I know if I’m asexual?

It goes without saying that the only person who can answer this question is you. However, coming to a conclusion can be understandably difficult. Aside from the usual trials that may come with determining a label for one’s sexual identity, “asexuality” has the added complication of being a definition through negation, which isn’t the most helpful when you’re not sure what’s being negated.

People who are asexual come to understand their sexual identity in a variety of ways.  Here are some questions that may help you navigate your sexuality explorations:

  • What activities and behaviors do you associate with romance? Is sex one of them? Are you interested in romance at all?

  • Do you think about sex at all? How do you think about sex? Do you understand sex through more medical and/or anthropological terms, or do you think of sex as erotic?

  • Do you fantasize? Are your fantasies sexual?

  • How do you feel when people around you discuss sex? Do you feel discomfort or angst, or do you feel a vague sense of detachment? Is the experience akin to listening to people talk about a sport you don’t play – while you may understand the mechanics of the game, you’re not actually interested?

  • Do you feel that other people think about sex differently from you?

  • How do you evaluate other peoples’ attractiveness? Are you more prone to think of someone as “pretty” and/or “cute” as opposed to “hot” and/or “sexy”? Have you ever looked at someone and thought, “I’d hit that”?

If I’m asexual, does this mean I’m sexually dysfunctional?

Absolutely not. While there are definitely people who do not enjoy or seek partnered sexual activity due to sexual trauma, sexual shame, and/or medical concerns, this is not the case for people who are asexual. Asexuality is a naturally occurring sexual identity, and at present, there is no research that supports the idea that asexuality is the result of hormonal imbalances or trauma. Just like any other sexual orientation/identity, asexuality is not necessarily something that needs explanation; rather, it simply is, and therefore should be respected and validated.

Isn’t asexuality basically celibacy/abstinence?

Asexuality is different from both celibacy and sexual abstinence, which describe behaviors rather than a sexual identity.

Do people who are asexual still form romantic relationships?

Yes! Asexuality is merely the lack of sexual desire, and doesn’t mean you can’t dream of a Prince or Princess Charming to love. It’s important to remember that the lack of sexual activity does not negate or diminish the love and intimacy shared by people; just as sex can exist without love, love can exist without sex.  Many people who are ace-identifying form totally fulfilling romantic relationships, and just as with any romantic relationship, people who are asexual may go on to marry and have children, should such things be of interest to them. What goes on – or doesn’t –  between the sheets is only one facet of a relationship!

Do people who are asexual still experience arousal?

Can you still get it up? Absolutely – asexuality does not necessarily entail a low libido, and it doesn’t mean that sensation in the genitals is cut off completely. This means that some people on the asexual spectrum do experience sexual arousal, it just may be separate from a desire to engage in partnered sex. Becoming aroused can be due to a number of factors, including the body’s physiological response to sexual stimuli, such as erotica or being touched, because asexuality is a sexuality as opposed to a nerve disorder. Some people who are asexual do still masturbate and find pleasure in their bodies. This may be as a result of bodily arousal, for practical purposes, such as to help with concentration or sleep (a throbbing hard-on can distract from a lot of things), or simply because self-love feels good.

Do people who are asexual ever have sex?

Whether or not you have sex as someone who is asexual is wholly dependent upon you and your desires. However, it’s certainly the case that some people who are asexual do engage in sexual activity, which they may enjoy and find happiness due to a desire to pleasure their partner, as opposed to feeling sexual desire and/or attraction. When considering this, it’s important to keep in mind that informed, affirmative consent should be the prerequisite to all sexual activity. Work to make sure that your asexual partner/s are actively consenting to whatever sexual activity they are about to/are/will be engaging in, without pressure, emotional coercion, or physical force.

You mention the “ace umbrella.” What do you mean by this?

Asexuality exists on a spectrum, and the term encompasses a vast variety of behaviors, emotions, and beliefs.  Within the “ace umbrella,” some of these identities include demisexuality, which is when an individual does not experience sexual attraction unless there is first a strong emotional connection, and aromanticism, which is a lack of romantic attraction. Grey-asexuality is another common term; it is a catch-all term that describes any number of behavior and feelings, including but not limited to: people with low libidos; people who don’t usually experience sexual attraction but sometimes do; people who don’t usually desire sex but sometimes do; and those who sometimes experience sexual attraction and desire, but not strongly enough to want to act on such feelings.

Is it possible to be asexual but have sex/gender preferences in a partner?

Yes, most certainly!  Asexuality exists alongside a variety of sexual identities, sometimes in conjunction with them. Asexual people can also identify as straight, gay, lesbian, queer, etc., with these labels describing their romantic attractions. Some terms for these romantic attractions include hetero-romantic, homo-romantic, bi-romantic, and pan-romantic.

Where can I find more information about asexuality?

I recommend that you take a look at the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about asexuality in the United States and providing support to those who are are may be asexual. AVEN is a great resource for those who are seeking an of asexual community. You can find links to asexuality blogs, community sites, and even personals sites on the AVEN Links page.

Another amazing resource is the Asexuality Archive, which includes scores of informative articles about asexuality that are geared toward helping people who are asexual understand and navigate their sexual identities.

Finally, I want to stress that if you are asexual, you are not alone. Approximately 1 percent of the population identifies as asexual; the number is likely greater for all those under the ace umbrella. Being asexual is just one facet of human identity. With improved understanding, you can move past any difficulties you face in your asexuality, and begin exploring all the other facets that make relationships of any kind rewarding.