The freedom to express yourself in any way you see fit is an amazing gift that everyone should experience. For those of you heading to Burning Man, you know preparation is key. Thinking ahead can give you the freedom to stop thinking so much and to just enjoy and explore, and still come home healthy and free of regrets.
Clothes have definite benefits but how often do we get a chance to be naked? If wearing very little is the way you want to go, be mindful of the more delicate parts of your body. Foreskin and public hair both serve the purpose of providing some protection from external irritants, but many of us are without these protections. Pubic hair functions as a soft screen that catches things like dust before it reaches your vulva. If it is an option, you may want to take the counter-culture stance of letting it grow out for now. If not, just be aware that your vulva is exposed and treat it accordingly. Body paints and glitters are generally not designed to play nice with genitals, so work around. And of course, if a body part has not seen the light of day in a long time - sunscreen!
In Girl Scouts we had “sit-a-pons” which were cushions to sit on that we carried with us. This is not a bad idea, even in decidedly non-Girl Scout-ish environments, so you have a soft place to land. Still everything is going to get dirty. Anytime showers are hard to come by, it is good to get body wipes to clean up easily. A lot of the body wipes sold in stores are not designed for genitals, so find ones that are, like After Glow Toy Tissues (with the added bonus of being safe for cleaning your toys too!) You can use the tissues before sex and after sex to minimize dust or other dirt getting places it shouldn’t. If you are prone to UTIs you can ask your doctor for an emergency travel prescription if you are going somewhere without access to pharmacies. They may not give it to you, but it is worth asking.
Looking forward to a little ecstasy-induced trust or other escapes from your reasoning mind? Be honest with yourself up front about what you want to experience and prepare to make it easy to protect yourself. Acknowledge with yourself up front that even awesome, loving, beautiful people can have STDs and, since so many can be carried with no symptoms for years, they may not be aware that they are putting you at risk. Practice safer sex and be prepared by carrying your own condoms or other barrier methods. Communicate your boundaries ahead of time and while you are engaging with a partner. That way you can enjoy yourself without unwanted consequences later.
You probably planned for months so that you can have an amazing break from the everyday realities of life and still be comfortable. You deserve a chance to let go of worries and be playful but our bodies’ needs and realities are a constant. Make your sexual health a part of your plans. Plan ahead then play hard.
Don't abstain for Aunt Flo's sake
Put two things that people rarely talk openly about together – sex and menstruation – and what do you get? A lot of myths, exaggerations, unexamined worries, and questions..and a lot of people not talking about what they are doing. Despite old cultural taboos about the nastiness of menstrual blood, a woman having her period is perfectly viable and healthy sexual partner. Some women suffer considerably while menstruating, for others it is a mild annoyance and they would be happy to engage in sex play during their bleeding time. An overview of all studies done on sexual desire and sexual activity levels and menstrual cycles (up to 1980) found mostly variations. Some studies found peaks at mid-cycle, some pre-menstrually, some during menstruation, post menstruation. (Schreiner-Engel, 1980). So once again, everyone is different. If you or your partner are one of the ones who feel desire during her period, not to worry, you get a thumbs up for all kinds of play.
Not only is sex during menstruation not bad for you, it may have some benefits. Orgasm can be a great way to relieve menstrual cramps and headaches, so that can be a good reason to invite a partner to play with you even while bleeding. Of course is you are feeling shy, orgasms from masturbation work just as well. A really interesting study (Meaddough et al, 2002) found that women who had sex and orgasms during their menstruation were less likely to develop endometriosis than women who rarely had sex during their period. This may have something to do with the uterus’ role during orgasm. Uterine contractions that happen during orgasm actually change direction based on the phase of the menstrual cycle. This is amazing to me. Mid-cycle when a woman is most fertile the uterine contractions pull semen up towards the uterus. But during menstruation the contractions serve to expel material out of the vagina. This can also cause your period to last fewer days as the blood gets expelled more quickly. I find this fascinating fact out in Mary Roach’s Bonk.
Fresh menstrual blood is a normal body fluid and is not going to hurt you. It is fine to get it on thighs, penises, hands, etc. It is even fine to engage in oral sex with someone who is menstruating. Of course, if the woman menstruating is carrying an STD or HIV her menstrual blood can transmit this. So practice safer sex, as always. Otherwise, your main concern is messiness. You can shower first, make gently wiping each other down with warm washcloths part of the play, have sex in the shower (use lube!), or just put down towels or old sheets and clean up after. But there is no need to be afraid of your body or your body’s natural cycles. If you feel desire and you want to act on it, go for it.
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.
It is not uncommon for couples to come in to therapy with me and act ashamed when they report that they sleep in separate beds. Usually this is due to snoring or restless sleep, but it is presented as though it is a sign of lack of passion or intimacy. I encourage people to not discount the need for sleep as a paramount need. An exhausted body will not put focus on sexual desire. An exhausted partner will not make the best communication choices. An exhausted self will find everything in life just a little more annoying and overwhelming. You know how you feel when you are not rested. It is not pretty.
A recent study from Toronto on couple’s sleep patterns found that a surprising 30-40% of couples sleep apart. They also found that couples who sleep in the same bed missed the deeper sleep stages. Couples I have talked to who sleep apart say that the most difficult thing about it is the perceived stigma and embarrassment about it. So we have the opposite situation from the 1950s when we only saw couples presented as sleeping chastely in separate beds (remember Ricky and Lucy?). Now we only see couples cuddled lovingly around each other as they drift off to sleep. Knowing that 30-40% of couples are drifting off to peaceful sleep with a bed to themselves may help ease the sense that this is a sign of a bad relationship.
In fact, the idea that where we sleep and where we have sex have to be the same is limiting to our relationships. Also the fantasy that just by proximity of bodies in bed we roll in to each other and have more sex can make us lazy about actually planning time for sex. If you feel the need for separate space for sleeping, just be conscious of also making space for sexuality. You can have fun inviting each other into your beds, and/or eliminate beds from your sex life altogether and find new private places to come together for pleasure. If you are less tired maybe you will find an hour opens up at night for being sexual together. Make long sensual kisses a good night routine and appreciate the times you do take to lay close to one another. Just don’t let other’s ideas of what a good relationship looks like diminish the things you do to make your relationship work. A good night’s sleep may be your key to a happy, sexy love life.
Big news – elderly people still enjoy and want sex. And it is good for them. Last year researchers with Australian Centre for Evidence Based Aged Care, made the long overdue statement in the Journal of Medical Ethics that nursing homes should not discourage residents from having sex. Does it surprise you that researchers need to even make this statement? Did you imagine that once you left your parents house, or the dorms, or got rid of roommates that you wouldn’t have to worry about finding a place to have sex in private? Think again.
As the US’s elderly population grows, there will be more and more people faced with the need for caregivers – either moving in with their grown children and families, having in-home care, or moving into residential care facilities. And few of these caregivers are prepared to support an elderly person’s sexuality. Issues of privacy are key. Can the elderly person ask for private time to masturbate? Can they invite a new sexual partner to the home? Do they have freedom to shower or do other self care tasks when they want to, can they ask for help with these tasks on their own schedule? Also issues of access and resources come into play for the elderly. If they can’t drive themselves to the store, who can they ask for help if they need to buy lube or condoms (In fact, the elderly are a growing risk population for HIV and a clear reminder to all of us that safe sex is an ongoing life concern, even when birth control is no longer needed). Even more importantly - would they or their caregivers be comfortable talking about these things with each other?
If you are currently in a young and healthy body, it may be easy to read this and think, “Old people are too tired or sore to want sex, or old people have put sex behind them”. You may be blind to the elderly as sexual beings. I encourage you to think differently about this issue. Sex fulfills many needs in us. Our desire to be desired and to receive physical affection and sexual release outlives many other desires in our life. It is, in many ways, ageless. Someday, if you live long enough, you may reach a point in which your independence starts to wane and you may rely on others for help with your daily living. How do you want to be treated? How do you want your body, your desires, your sexuality to be honored or acknowledged? And thinking of the elderly around you now, how can we do better in honoring them?
Interested in reading more about sex and aging? Follow the link to my article for YourTango on Preparing for a Sexy Old Age. http://www.yourtango.com/experts/melissa-fritchle/preparing-sexy-old-age-start-now