There is a lot available to you at your local sex toy store nowadays. Lots of items that will enhance your self pleasuring time and lots that can be added to play with partners. People imagine that these fun little items will increase physical pleasure, up the naughtiness factor, add a fun fantasy component. But what they don’t often think is that these toys can increase the intimacy factor, but they can do that too.
People who take the risk to add some accessories to their sex play build intimacy with each other because of the newness. Couple’s who take a trip to Pure Pleasure together are suddenly talking about sex more explicitly. They are negotiating, “no way that is way too intimidating!...but this looks fun”. When they bring an item home, they know this is new so they don’t have to be experts about it. Now they may have sexual interaction that includes giggling and needing to stop and re-adjust positions and maybe someone saying, “This isn’t really working for me”. The fact that toys can open up that dialogue is great. The fact that they can be beginner’s again is great.
So I see part of the gift of sex toys to be the gift of awkwardness. I think getting comfortable with awkwardness is great, since learning something new is often awkward. Couples who try to avoid feeling uncomfortable at all costs, often end up feeling bored instead. Intimacy builds from experiences of sharing a moment, however flawed or blissful or vulnerable, not from performing without a hitch. So maybe sex toys aren’t your thing. Can you invite a sense of trying something new to your sex play? Can you embrace a little awkwardness as a sign that things are fresh and growing? What will you use as inspiration?
One of those sex myths out there that are holding people back from having better sex is a simple one – the belief that lube is for old people. I get a lot of people, of the younger variety, who look at me blankly when I mention using lube as part of their sex play. I can almost hear their thought process, “Isn’t that for post menopausal women’s sex?” No, adding lube to your sexual tool kit can benefit a lot of people.
Lube is for anyone who wants to have a lot of sex at one time or sex that lasts long time. It is for people who want to have quickies. It is for people who want to have sex when they are feeling a bit stressed and their body may be slower to respond. It is for people who want to use toys as part of their sex play or include parts of their body that don’t self lubricate. Lube is for people who chose to use condoms or other barrier methods for safe sex. Lube is for anyone who wants to have genital sex while using antihistamines, blood pressure medications, or many other varieties of medications people commonly take that impact natural lubrication. Lube is for people who want to add some new flavor to their oral sex. Lube is for people who want to play in wet environments like showers, hot tubs, heavy rain storms. Lube is for anyone who likes the sensation of slippery.
So lube is pretty sexy stuff. And now there are so many types, flavored, organic, kinds that heat up, kinds designed for use with toys or for anal sex… It’s a good thing to have in your night stand. So go to your local sex friendly store and see what is available to you. Soon you may write your own ode to lube.
What would the media like us to believe about women’s sexual confidence? I see a lot of messaging out there designed to convince us that American women are getting more and more sexually bold, empowered, and creative. Call it the Sex & the City affect or the Miley Cyrus affect, if you like. What we see are stories about how we are increasingly more sexually liberated and daring. We see feminist empowerment portrayed as the right to be unabashedly sexy (you can twerk if you want to!). But, in reality, for many people these public displays of sex seem to be making them feel more inhibited rather than less.
Take for example a recent comparison of sex questionnaires, from 2 very mainstream media publications, Glamour and Mademoiselle, looking at people’s answers from 1993 and 2013. Sure, there was some great news about women receiving more oral sex than before and more women have used a sex toy. But it also showed that 48% of the women questioned felt that men enjoy sex more than women, a sharp rise from the 33% who said that in 1993. So, all the talk about women’s increasing sexual ownership and desire are not translating to people’s actual bedrooms. And here is one potential reason, the surveys also showed that 73% of women now said that they would enjoy sex more if they lost weight! This number is staggeringly sad on its own, but even more dismaying in relation to the survey results from 1993 in which only 39% of women said this. Suggesting, in relation to body image empowerment is declining.
It is a good thing to like the way you look and to feel comfortable in your own body. But let’s be clear, there is not a lot that 20 extra pounds of fat can do to decrease your sexual pleasure – except for what your mind does with it. Sure being obese may limit some positions. Being out of shape may limit your endurance. But sex can still be fun. Orgasms will still feel good. And, the part that is clearly the hardest for people to accept – your partner can still desire you, think you are hot, and enjoy the privilege of interacting with your body. The fact that so many women are linking weight loss to their ability to enjoy sex speaks to the cruelty and arbitrariness of our minds. You can decide that you only have the right to enjoy sultry, uninhibited sex if you look like an airbrushed advertisement. You can turn off desire by allowing critical voices free rein in your head. You can doubt your partner’s touch or belittle their passion while with you. You can hold out for impossible standards while your body does its natural thing and ages. But it is such a waste.
I share with the mass media a desire to tell a story of sexual liberation. I just acknowledge that there is still a battle people need to fight in their own minds to really liberate themselves, and so many of us are losing it. And the cost is denying something that is natural, that we don’t have to purchase or earn, that always belongs to us – the pleasure our body can take in sexual stimulation.
Does this topic hit a nerve? Consider joining Melissa’s upcoming women’s group, Aligning With Your Body
A Special Gift List from Conscious Sexual Self:
I hope you get...
A conversation about sexual fantasies that turn you on
A day in which you don’t have to leave the bedroom
A lube that you like the taste of
To experience 20 different ways of touching a nipple
A chance to do something out of character for you
The relief of not having to be a sexual rockstar all the time, or at all
An elder who will talk to you honestly about their sexual life lessons
A completely satisfying sexual experience that doesn’t involve your genitals
A completely satisfying sexual experience involving your genitals
A moment of transcendence
A sexual partner you can laugh uncontrollably with
Time to be outside and feel the air on your bare skin
A definition of sexy that goes beyond body parts and sizes
The ability to surprise yourself –and not be freaked out by that
Peace with the parts of you that jiggle, droop, disobey, wrinkle, or in general are not under your control
Freedom from the shame, fear, doubt that you have been encouraged to feel
Excitement from seeing your own hands on your body
Conscious, fully alive sexuality
Imagine this scene…The lights are low. You have just taken a shower and your skin is tingling from the hot water. You smell good. You put on some music and minimal clothing. You are in the mood. You go to find your partner. You walk, no you sexy thing, you strut into the room. Your partner doesn’t look up. They sit slack, eyes glued, face illuminated by the screen. You say, “hey” (very smooth by the way). Their response is barely comprehensible as they are typing and speaking at the same time. You consider throwing something at their head, no, the screen. You are no longer in the mood.
Sound familiar? Maybe a little bit? Possibly you have played both roles in this scenario. Honestly the biggest sexual problem I see couple’s having these days is that they have so many distractions that they let sexual opportunities pass by unnoticed. Let’s just admit it, it is very unappealing to initiate any attempts at seduction when you are competing with the numbing allure of a screen. I am not talking about porn here, which actually might be easier to interrupt with a real life sexual invitation. I am talking about TV shows, video games, Facebook, work emails, Awkward Family Photos and, oh damn you, Pinterest. All great distractions. But we need to be careful that they are not distracting us right out of having an actual vibrant physical relationship.
It is time to be honest with ourselves that sitting in front of screen entertainment is not us “being available”. Making time for sex requires freeing your attention. It means being aware of your body, your partner, the shifts in energy between you. The best thing you can do for your sex life? Plan to unplug from any distraction besides your partner. Do this regularly and often. Be vigilant about looking up from other things and taking in the person sitting next to you. Remind yourself that sex can be relaxing, rejuvenating, and entertaining too. After all, sexting doesn’t let you feel their breath on your earlobe or see their eyes widen. I promise you Facebook will be there tomorrow. Then you can post with a smile on your face and your partner on your mind.
Studies looking at teenagers use of condoms suggest that 70 % of sexually active teen boys say they use a condom “occasionally”. The problem is occasionally doesn’t work. If you are effectively aware of a female partner’s fertility cycle, occasionally using a condom may provide some protection against pregnancy, but is still risky. But for use against STDs occasionally just won’t cut it. Age us up a little bit and those same people who have been “occasionally” exposed to STDs are still not using condoms very often. According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, only 18 % of single women aged 20 – 40 are regularly using condoms.
There are over 24 sexually transmitted diseases that we can be exposed to and many of them are asymptomactic – but still can be spread from partner to partner. And we are spreading them. In the US, one on five people has Herpes. Nearly 50% of sexually active people will contract HPV in their lifetime.
STDs are so common, they are a fact of our sexual lives. It is time we stopped thinking of them as a moral issue or as something only certain people get. The most common excuse I hear for not having safer sex is that the partner seemed safe & responsible. Of course they did – because normal, healthy people have STDs, many of whom have no symptoms and have not actually been tested for any STDs because they didn’t think they needed to be. We need to accept this reality and still do what we can to reduce our chances of being infected. Getting STD screenings can be a part of the new relationship milestones for those choosing monogamy or to be fluid bonded, but for people with new sexual partners using a condom is still the best protection you have. In Victorian England they used to believe that only the “dirty poor” got certain illness, until they found that bacteria causing it was in water and impacted everyone. We don’t assume only certain sloppy people get colds. STDs are easily transmitted, it is time we see that everyone can get them - even that perfect new partner you have your eye on.
cue sound of storm outside....
I love this time of year. I like to be scared, in that mostly safe kind of way. I cannot stop smiling as I make my way through haunted houses and plot for months on how to creep the trick-or-treaters out. But that is me. Creepy horror movies are not for everyone. I have friends who do not find glimpsing my life-size rubber zombie baby behind a door funny at all.
But maybe this season’s spookiness is actually doing us a favor. Studies have found that our libidos apparently do enjoy a little scare. A study done in the 1970s by Arthur Aron & Don Dutton found that mild risky situations make men feel more attracted to a female stranger. Online games or scary movies that have mild stress involved give us boosts of both adrenaline and endorphins. The enthusiasm and focus of adrenaline and the pleasure–taking relaxation of endorphins seem like a good mix for sex drive, right? And in fact, this chemical release can boost sex drive and increase arousal and put many of us in the mood. We, humans, have a history of blending the thrills of scary stories and the thrills of sex- from the original tragedies in Greece featuring gouging out eyeballs and other punishments, to the private boxes at the turn of the century horror theater the Grand Guignol, to the monster movies of the drive-ins.
Then we must consider the simple benefits of huddling together on the couch, clutching each other in scary moments, the close contact of hiding your face in someone’s chest. Oh, and in the category of random facts --- apparently 83% of Americans rated rainy nights the best time to have sex (Trojan’s Degrees of Pleasure Study (2010) so enjoy the creepy sound of the storm outside. Why not let the excitement of the season stoke your arousal.
Ah the forgotten nipple – so important in the early teenage years of sexual exploration but overlooked once penetration comes in to the picture. Don’t let this happen to you. I encourage you to not forget that nipples have serious pleasure potential. Include them in your sexual play.
Nipples may not be the most effusive body part or the most dramatic, but they are often asking for attention. Both men and women’s nipples are sensitive and responsive erogenous zones. Everyone’s nipples are different; actually they are like fingerprints, each unique. So the type of stimulation that feels good will vary a lot. Some people like a gentle touch, some people are excited by fairly rough play with their nipples. Nipples are more sensitive when they are hard, but erect nipples occur for several reasons so they are not necessarily a sign of sexual arousal.
Studies suggest that women’s nipples are more enervated, and therefore more sensitive, than men’s. A 2011 MRI study found that when women’s nipples were self –stimulated it lit up the area of their brain associated with genital sensation, (Komisaruk, B. R., Wise, N., Frangos, E., Liu, W.-C., Allen, K. and Brody, S), giving scientific background for many women’s reports that they orgasm more easily when their nipples are being touched. Many women can achieve orgasm from nipple stimulation alone. Women’s nipple sensitivity is also very affected by hormonal fluctuations throughout the month, so they are great teachers for us in the need to vary the way we approach our partner’s bodies and our own. What feels great today may not do it for you tomorrow, best to have some variety in your approach.
So touch them with a feather, your lips, your tongue, fingers or the tines of a comb. Touch your partners when you are together, touch you own nipples when you masturbate. Just don’t ignore them!
As age-related self criticism (“I have so many wrinkles, I am so old, my body is changing…”) is on the rise in the US, I will share a fascinating research experiment with you. Harvard psychologist Dr. Ellen Langer wanted to study the effects of mind-set on our aging process. So she created a nostalgia summer camps of sorts. She took a group of elderly men to a retreat where they were exposed to cues reminding them of their youth, old newspapers, magazines, radio, music, etc. They were told to talk and interact as though they were back in the 1950s and young men. For one week they were invited to play at being young again.
And what happened? You could say magic happened, if you were so inclined. Dr. Langer conducted physical and mental testing on the men before and after the retreat. She found that the men had improvements in grip strength, healthy posture & gait, manual dexterity, memory, hearing & vision! Their bodies responded as though they were growing younger. And that was just in one week.
So before you decide that your best days are behind you, before you critique your looks, your sexual performance, your libido, your relationship, your self, consider who you are imagining yourself to be. Who is your mind telling you to be? Can you remind yourself of who you want to be? Do you need to listen to some hair metal or smell like pachouli? How would you have acted 10 years ago? What might happen if you deciding to play that part now? How might you approach your partner differently? How might you walk into the coffee bar differently? Care to try? Maybe your body will take you up on the invitation. In any case, I bet you will have fun.
Prevention Magazine, June 2013
So often we approach our relationship to our body from a place of judgment and striving. We look at our body from the perspective of an external critic – how does my body look, what size does it fit into, how is it performing? But our body has so much more to offer us, if we approach it with different eyes, a different mind. So today I invite you to approach your body more like a poet or like an adventurer of the senses. Explore your body in a new creative way. Believe that it really is worthy of odes, sonnets, time and attention. Think of this as an imaginative scavenger hunt…
What part of your body has the texture of a rose petal just unfurled? What place on your body crackles like lightening? Where are you cool and smooth like a pebble polished by river water? Where does your body flicker like beating wings? Where do you feel like a dandelion waiting for a breath to be blown apart? What part of your body could be best described as sweet like candy? What part of your body would be described as salty like the inside of a shell?
What kind of touch would polish your body to a shine like it was preparing a sacred altar? How would you touch yourself like a shadow of a cloud on a sunny day? How can you touch yourself like ice cream dripping down the side of a cone? What kind of touch feels like bubbling water in a fountain? If your touch left trails of colored paint on your body, what designs would you make?
What else do you find when you truly explore? Who do you want to share these discoveries with?