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What Teens Say Teens Should Know About Sexually Transmitted Diseases

(Planned Parenthood)

(Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts)

By Joey Boots-Ebenfield
Guest contributor

I’ve gotten used to hearing myths and misinformation when I talk about sex with fellow teens.

And I talk about sex often in my role as an 17-year-old peer educator with the Planned Parenthood Get Real Teen Council (GRTC) — a year-long high school sexual health program for 10th-12th graders who are trained to facilitate sex education workshops and serve as resources for peers, families and communities.

If teens are uncomfortable talking about topics related to sex and sexuality, or don’t have a trusted source of information about their health, it’s easy for all kinds of misinformation to spread. And of course, there’s the Internet, where bad information is often rampant, so it’s not always a reliable place to find accurate health information.

The subject of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is no exception. I’ve heard some pretty interesting misconceptions about what STDs are and what it’s like to get tested. One myth is that STDs have obvious symptoms, like localized pain or some other physical sign.

In fact, this is quite the opposite! STDs often show NO symptoms. This myth is especially dangerous because it means that someone can have an STD and not even know it. As a result, many STDs go untreated, which can cause cause some pretty nasty complications. Continue reading

Women’s Anal Sex More Common And Still Taboo, Says Researcher

Sexual health researcher Debby Herbenick often says what the rest of us are merely just silently, sheepishly thinking.

A few years back, Herbenick, a researcher at Indiana University, co-director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, and a sexual health educator at the Kinsey Institute, raised the issue of pain during sex based on her landmark study of sex in the U.S. And here she is again, discussing the pros, cons and surprising new data on women and anal sex in America.

It’s worth reading her full report at Salon, titled Anal Sex: Science’s Last Taboo, but here’s a snippet:

That anal sex remains taboo may explain why a study about anodyspareunia – that is, pain during anal penetration – received little attention when it was published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. The study should have turned heads: It was the first research on anodyspareunia among women; it was conducted by a well-respected scientist (Dr. Aleksander Stulhofer from the University of Zagreb); and it was centered on young women and sex. That’s often the kind of research that attracts media attention (Young women sext! They get pregnant! They give oral sex! You get the picture …). However, anal sex remains such a strong taboo that this otherwise important study barely turned a head.

younglove

Except it did turn mine. Here’s why. In an incredibly short period of time, anal sex has become a common part of Americans’ sex lives. As of the 1990s, only about one-quarter to one-third of young women and men in the U.S. had tried anal sex at least once. Less than 20 years later, my research team’s 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior found that as many as 40-45 percent of women and men in some age groups had tried anal sex. With its rising prevalence, I felt it was important to devote a chapter of my first book, “Because It Feels Good,” to anal health and pleasure — only to find that a magazine editor wouldn’t review it because the topic of anal sex was “not in the best interest of our readership.” Even though nearly half of American women in some age groups have done it! She added, “In the correct circles, I personally will be suggesting the book to those with whom I can share such a resource.”

Hmm. The correct circles. Which ones would those be? The ones where scores and scores of women openly sit around talking about anal sex between glasses of wine? Continue reading

Marriage Revisited: On Soulmates, Paramours And Avoiding Suffocation

Marriage, and how to improve it, is a bottomless pit kind of discussion.

So it’s not terribly surprising that CommonHealth’s recent post on a new, “all or nothing” model of marriage, in which researchers questioned whether we’re asking too much of our spouses, went viral.

Like sex, child-rearing and religion — everyone’s got an opinion to share.

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Some commenters say they’ve had to readjust their expectations of finding the fantasy soulmate:

Deborah Rebisz wrote: “After a series of broken engagements, I went on an eight-year dating hiatus. My goal was to learn to rely upon myself for my own happiness…Expecting someone else to fill that spiritual, psychological, or emotional gap in my life was unrealistic, not to mention there was little chance of finding someone who could do all that.” Continue reading

Why ‘Perfect’ Valentine’s Sex Tends Not To Be, And A Low-Key Alternative

(Dan Moyle/Flickr Creative Commons)

(Dan Moyle/Flickr Creative Commons)

By Dr. Aline Zoldbrod
Guest contributor

It’s almost Valentine’s Day — and all the messages out there say that if you’re in a relationship, it’s time for the perfect sexual experience.

But as a sex and couples therapist, I’m going to suggest an alternative: a somewhat obscure model of sexuality and sexual pleasure that I think can provide a blueprint for a really wonderful (but maybe not perfect) sensual/sexual connection with each other on Valentine’s Day.

Added bonus: these suggestions can form the scaffolding for a loving, freeing, warm sensual/sexual bond way beyond Feb. 14 — even if you’re one of those long-married couples who have kids, logistics and technology standing in your way.

First, a bit of academic theory as background:

You may be familiar with the Masters and Johnson sexual response cycle: Human sexual response is made up of the excitement phase, then the plateau phase, followed by the orgasmic phase, and finally the resolution phase.

Not to diss Masters and Johnson’s work, because it was groundbreaking, but I’m just saying… this model has caused a lot of performance anxiety in and of itself.

Dr. Aline Zoldbrod (Courtesy)

Dr. Aline Zoldbrod (Courtesy)

My brilliant colleague, Dr. Leonore Tiefer, has criticized the Masters and Johnson model of sex because it’s so linear, so physiological, and so focused on intercourse.

My personal mantra for good sex is “connection, not perfection.” The Masters and Johnson’s model sets up an expectation that everything has to be “perfect” for sex to be good. Perfect erections in men, perfect arousal in women (stemming from who knows what? Just springing out of the air and the joy of folding laundry?), and perfect orgasms all around.

For many of us, that’s like the pressure of trying to find a perfect gift for someone we love: just fraught with trepidation.

In 1998, psychiatrist David Reed proposed a different model, one that is much more psychologically and relationally oriented. He calls it the Erotic Stimulus Pathway Theory. I’m going to adapt it here a bit in hopes that this experiment could help you have a better Valentine’s Day.

1. Seduction Continue reading

The Checkup: Yes, Really. One-Third Of Women Have Pain During Sex

A while back we wrote about a national sex survey that found one-third of women experienced pain during sex. There were skeptics back then who thought, nah, that can’t be possible, otherwise we’d be having a nationwide conversation about how to fix such a huge problem. But now, the lead author of that study, Debby Herbenick, a researcher at Indiana University, co-director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, and a sexual health educator at the Kinsey Institute, confirms those numbers in a follow-up survey.

The Checkup

We discuss these surprisingly high numbers, and other new findings, in the second episode of our new podcast, The Checkup, which is just out at Slate.com here. (To listen to The Checkup now, click on the arrow above; to download and listen later, press Download; and to get it through iTunes click here.)

The theme of podcast #2: “Matters Below The Waist.” This segment features frank talk about sex problems — and some solutions. We delve into Herbenick’s fascinating research on pain during sex and more (including personal insights from one of our hosts…) and speak with a physical therapist who specializes in various treatment options that can help women deal with this rarely discussed but incredibly widespread problem.

Not to leave men out, we also explore a little-known disorder called Peyronie’s disease, in which the erect penis becomes crooked, sometimes making it difficult to have intercourse. (Yes, this came up during the Bill Clinton impeachment era, and there’s more on that in the podcast.)

Herbenick’s initial survey of sex in America was the largest nationally representative study of sex in the country; her team surveyed 6,000 men and women, ages 14-94, and asked them about their sexual behavior.

Results of the latest survey (which Herbenick says were presented at an International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health annual meeting) are expected to be published in several months.

In the meantime here, lightly edited, is more from my interview last week with Herbenick, also the author of several books, including Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva and Sex Made Easy: Your Awkward Questions Answered-For Better, Smarter, Amazing Sex:

DH: We did another national survey of sex in America. And this time, knowing that we had this stark difference between how women and men experience pain during sex – only 5% of men reported any degree of pain, and most of theirs was mild, too. We did ask a series of follow-up questions. This time, for people who did experience pain, we collected information about how long the pain lasted, where in their body it was located, whether they told their partner, what they did in response to the pain, and we also separated it by vaginal and anal intercourse.

RZ: What else did you find?

So the first thing that was important is the 30% number is still there. And that’s important because it does show that it’s a stable and reliable estimate, which some people in the media had questioned [whether] it could really be that that number of people experienced pain — Continue reading

Cancer From Oral Sex? Michael Douglas Is Not Making It Up

Actor Michael Douglas in a 2004 photo (Wikimedia Commons/US Navy)

Actor Michael Douglas in a 2004 photo (Wikimedia Commons/US Navy)

Michael Douglas: Oral Sex Gave Me Cancer, The New York Post headline blares. The story begins:

Michael Douglas has made a jaw-dropping revelation about his throat cancer: He didn’t contract it from smoking or drinking — but from oral sex.

The Oscar-winning Hollywood star set tongues wagging after he told The Guardian newspaper that he contracted HPV, or human papillomavirus, through a sex act and it developed into cancer.

“Without wanting to get too specific, this particular cancer is caused by HPV, which actually comes about from cunnilingus,” he told the British newspaper in an interview published yesterday.

Your first reaction may be suspicion that Douglas is trying to scapegoat sex when other factors could be to blame, particularly his past smoking.

‘HPV-positive oral cancer cases could soon surpass cervical cancer diagnoses.’

But in fact, a growing body of research suggests that his claim is not entirely far-fetched: Rates of head and throat cancer linked to HPV have been rising dramatically in American men. (File under: Reasons the new HPV vaccines are recommended for boys as well as girls.)

Here are some basics courtesy of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute:

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease. It may cause cervical cancer and increasingly a type of throat cancer called oropharyngeal (or-o-fair-en-jeel). Unlike cervical cancer, there is no screening test (like a Pap Test) for this form of head and neck cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, there will be an estimated 41,000 new cases of head and neck cancer this year – 14,000 being cancer of the pharnyx (which includes the tonsils and base of the tongue). Most of these patients will be young and three out of four will be male.

And here’s some background from a prize-winning story in the cancer magazine Cure: “Facing The Facts: HPV-Associated Head and Neck Cancers Get A Second Look.”

HPV-positive oropharyngeal malignancies—most typically found on the tonsils or at the base of the tongue—increased 225 percent from 1988 to 2004. If current trends continue, HPV-positive oral cancer cases could soon surpass cervical cancer diagnoses, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

I just spoke with Dr. Barry Benjamin, an ear, nose and throat specialist who has been practicing at Dedham Medical Associates for 35 years and has seen the prevalence of HPV-related head and neck cancers skyrocket in recent years. Continue reading

FDA Approves New Pill To Alleviate Pain During Sex

As we’ve reported, about one-third of women in the U.S. say they experience pain during sex.

There a number of non-medical interventions that can help fix the problem, such as pelvic floor physical therapy, which we’ve also written about here. Still, for some, medication may be called for, so it looks like a positive development that the FDA earlier this week approved a new drug to alleviate the pain that many post-menopausal women experience during intercourse.

MedPage Today reports that the newly approved “selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM)” called ospemifene (Osphena) is taken as an oral tablet and “targets vulvar and vaginal atrophy resulting from menopause, which is the underlying cause of dyspareunia, or pain during sex.” There are risks, however:

The treatment, however, will come with a boxed warning stating that it may thicken the uterine lining, with the concern that unusual bleeding may be a sign of endometrial cancer or a condition that can lead to it. Continue reading

News Flash: Sex With A Condom Still Fun, Study Finds

peachy92/flickr

peachy92/flickr

News Flash: Sex is fun — even with a condom.

That’s the takeaway from a nationwide online sex survey of men and women ages 18-59, just out in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. When asked to quantify their pleasure quotient, both men and women rated their most recent sexual experience as quite high, in general, with few differences based on condom and lubricant use.

Notably, the new study, which included 1,645 respondents, didn’t ask whether people preferred sex with or without a condom. It simply asked for a detailed accounting of a recent sexual encounter. So, among those who chose to use condoms (27.5% of men and 22.3% of women in the survey) the self-reported arousal rating and other key pleasure indicators appeared to be essentially comparable to non-condom users.

“Not everyone wants to or has to use a condom, or lubricant, when they have sex,” the study’s lead author, Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., MPH, with the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University told me via email. “But if they want to use a condom or lubricant – to make sex safer or more comfortable – it’s unlikely to have a significant impact on overall pleasure for many (but not all) people.”

(I should say here that the study was funded by condom and vibrator maker Church & Dwight. This set off my skeptic’s alarm bells; I asked Herbenick whether the company played any role in analyzing the data. She said that Church & Dwight “did not intervene in that way. Our team at Indiana University analyzed the data on our own, we wrote the papers, and we managed the review process directly with the Journal of Sexual Medicine where the study was published.”)

Of course, conventional wisdom holds that sex is far hotter without a condom. See: Christian Grey on condom-free sex in “Fifty Shades Of Grey,” p. 271:

“I scoot out of bed, too, and grab my sweatpants and a cami top, then sit back on the bed, cross-legged, watching him. I don’t want him to go. What can I do?
“When is your period due?” He interrupts my thoughts.
What?
“I hate wearing these things,” he grumbles. He holds up the condom, then puts it on the floor and slips on his jeans.
“Well?” he prompts when I don’t reply, and he looks at me expectantly as if he’s waiting for my opinion on the weather. Holy crap…this is personal stuff.
“Next week.” I stare down at my hands.
“You need to sort out some contraception.”

(Also, read this single guy’s lament in which the author blames condoms for triggering “deflationary” erectile events.) Continue reading

Study: Men Who Pay For Sex Really Want Love

More proof that all you need is love: a new analysis of men who pay for sex suggests that what these customers really want is a deeper bond — even love — from their sex workers. (Could there be a movie here?)

Pretty Woman, the movie. (T Hoffarth/flickr)

I won’t paraphrase, just share the press release:

While it is commonly believed that men who pay for sex are attempting to avoid emotional commitment, a new study finds that men who become regular clients of sex workers often develop feelings of romance and love. This study is published in a recent edition of Men and Masculinities, a SAGE journal.

“In recent years, we have come to see a gradual normalization of independent escort prostitution, where sexual encounters have come to resemble quasi-dating relationships,” stated study author Christine Milrod. “Our study shows that regular clients of a particular sex provider often come to experience feelings of deep affection, which can progress into an authentic love story.”

In this new study, Milrod and co-author Ronald Weitzer analyzed 2,442 postings on an online discussion board from a sex provider review site where more than a million clients of sex workers read and post about their experiences. Approximately one-third included a discussion about emotional intimacy between sex workers and their clients, many of whom expressed a desire to grow their relationships beyond the physical level in the form of sharing private feelings and mutual love.

“These relationships follow a conventionally romantic script that normalizes the liaison and destigmatizes both provider and client,” stated Milrod. “The study shows that this kind of normalization may manifest itself in a merger of finances, families and finally monogamous partnerships – the provider is no longer just a supplier of the girlfriend experience, but a real-life romantic partner.”

Commentary: How I Talk About Sex With My Kids

By Dr. Annie Brewster
Guest Contributor

My thirteen-year-old daughter is now in the throes of seventh grade Sex-Ed. Yesterday, while lingering at the table after dinner, just the two of us left, she asked: “Rubbing the clitoris is what makes sex feel good, right?” I swallowed hard, hesitated for half a second, and then said “Yes. That’s a big part of it.” And the door was open for further discussion. What are the other ingredients of sex that “feels good”?

We have always talked openly about sex and the human body. I am not squeamish on these topics, perhaps in part because I am a doctor, and when my children (now ranging in age from 5-15) ask questions, I believe in answering directly and honestly.

Dr. Annie Brewster says her three-year-old daughter loved asking questions about baby-making. That daughter is now 13 and the questions are more explicit.

My now thirteen-year-old, a relatively uninhibited and curious child, asked about how babies are made when she was three. Her favorite book was “It’s So Amazing” by Robie Harris, and she begged me to read it to her over and over again, so I did. She asked questions, and I answered. We talked about the sperm and the egg, the penis and the vagina, and how the sperm and egg meet up (i.e., the penis goes into the vagina), and for a while, we stopped there. At some point, she discovered my diaphragm in the bathroom drawer, and, more than once, I found her using it as a frisbee. “That’s not a toy,” I would tell her. “That’s mommy’s.” For a while, that was enough, and she would obediently put it away. It was a few more years before she pressed for more details, and I told her about birth control, after explaining that grown-ups sometimes have sex even when they don’t want to make babies. Now, we have moved on to the clitoris and the concept of pleasure.

In our house, we are not shy about nakedness, or at least I’m not. Continue reading