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We Never Talk! But I’d Like To…

I know you do sex advice, but I need some relationship advice. My boyfriend and I have been dating for about half a year and he shows zero emotion. I want to bring it up to him, but not in a way that will make him clam up more, ya know? Any advice would be awesome. Thanks!

— Emote My Boat

The longer I contemplate this question, the curiouser and curiouser I get about what the exact situation is here. Are you in love with this guy and you want to know if he’s in love with you? Have things been kind of lighthearted so far and now it’s time to have the DTR (Define the Relationship) talk, but he’s just not picking up the breadcrumbs you’re dropping?

Did you go on one of those YouTube binges of videos about courageous puppies who were found abandoned and injured so they lost their back legs, but now they’ve been lovingly outfitted with amazing doggie-mobility devices and they can now play fetch like their puppy peers and your boyfriend somehow DIDN’T SHED A TEAR and now you suspect he’s a heartless robot?

First, here’s what we’re up against: an ingrained socialization that tells young men that they can’t emote and still be men unless that emotion is anger. This same socialization tells young women that they should shoulder the weight of everyone else’s emotions, but shouldn’t burden others — especially their boyfriends — with theirs.

What you can do, EMB, is be brave and unapologetically, emotionally expressive.

If “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” emotionless for emotionless makes the whole world disconnected. You say you don’t want to ask him to express his emotions because you fear it’ll push him further into his emotional clamshell. Are you also worried this would turn you into one of those girls who “nags” her boyfriend about emotions?

But more importantly: How does his lack of emotional expression make you feel? Hurt, abandoned, unclear, insecure, disconnected, invalidated, underappreciated, and lonely are some words that pop into my mind when I imagine my own partner shutting off his emotions in our relationship. Maybe some of those ring a bell for you…continue reading…

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Cover Story // We Can Do It! V-Spot sex advice columnist Yana Tallon-Hicks has made it her mission to get us all to O-Town

Climbing the stairs to V-Spot sex columnist Yana Tallon-Hicks’ apartment, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Would there be a lot of framed Georgia O’Keefes on the wall? A swing hanging in the bedroom? Penis-shaped drinking glasses?

I was sort of right.

IMG_3755There are no vagina-esque flowers on the walls. Instead the neat apartment is awash in dark blue and decorated with vivid tattoo-inspired art. However, there is a giant vibrator drying next to a stack of Tupperware in the kitchen dish rack. And while there is no sex swing set up in the bedroom, Tallon-Hicks does own one. I wasn’t offered a beverage in a phallic glass, but, upon request, Tallon-Hicks did break out her chest of sex toys and educational props. Her fiance, Patrick MacDonald, a tattoo artist at Lucky’s in Northampton, laughs when she plunks the heavy box on the coffee table. “I tripped over that last night on my way to the bathroom,” he says.

The first item she shows me is Dolores, an anatomically-correct velvet vulva puppet with a pink rose for a clitoris. Dolores does a lot of work with 30-year-old Tallon-Hicks who, for the past year has dedicated herself full-time to helping people have better sex. Last year, Tallon-Hicks quit her restaurant serving job and threw herself into holding workshops on everything from female ejaculation to polyamory, speaking at sexual awareness forums, and writing a weekly sex advice column for the Advocate (Check out this week’s column, “Oh! Oh! Oh? Where’s My Orgasm?”.) She’s also studying at Antioch University New England in Keene to become a sex therapist.

Though people have been having sex for, well, ever, Tallon-Hicks is working to place herself in the vanguard of a sexual revolution, what she describes as “pleasure-positive sex.”

This might seem redundant — isn’t all sex pleasure-positive? Far from it, Tallon-Hicks says. In the United States sexual education is a disaster, she says, that aims to scare people out of getting down by focusing on sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Education rarely, if ever, touches on orgasms, the intended outcome of nearly all sexual encounters. Many people don’t understand their own sexual desires because they have been discouraged and shamed out of that healthy exploration, she says. For example, she marvels, people are still debating whether the G-Spot exists! When people don’t know what they want sexually, they have a hard time asking for it. Sexual communication needs serious improvement in America, Tallon-Hicks says, and pleasure-positive is all about talking with your partner(s) about what you like, about what she/he/they likes, and providing direction so that everyone gets what they want.

The idea behind the communication is to reconcile with another revolutionary sexual practice that Tallon-Hicks is promoting:
consent.

Her message of consensual relations and good orgasms for all is reaching more and more people daily as she has a large online presence and strong readership. And she’s about to go international with it. In May, Tallon-Hicks will be giving a Tedx Talk in Vienna, Austria, about how porn has become the way most Americans learn about sexual pleasure — and exploring the implications of this.

“Sex education has nothing to do with the reasons people have sex, which is usually to feel good,” Tallon-Hicks says. “But all sex education is, if there’s any at all, is if you have sex you’ll get an STI and die or get pregnant. So, people go to porn to learn what’s really the deal with sex.”

With all the excitement about sex in the air, this seemed like a good time to sit down with the woman driving the magic bus to O-Town and see what makes her tick … just tick. Patrick MacDonald, and their Chihuahua-Doxen mix Brewster joined in.

Kristin Palpini: How did you wind up landing a Ted Talk?

Yana Tallon-Hicks: I get a lot of weird emails — so when [an invitation from Tedx organizers to do a talk] arrived I was in Europe and I didn’t pay attention to it at first. Then I Googled it and saw that it’s legit. They do these sex conferences in Vienna every year. So, I wrote my Ted Talk proposal at a hostel community table and sent it in. I’ll be speaking with seven others. I’m talking about access to pornography online and how porn is providing a lot of sexual education for young people and it’s changing the way we have sex. We’re focused on what to do, now what we want to do for us.
Kristin: So, we shouldn’t be having sex like porn stars?

Yana: Not all porn is created equal and the most accessible, the most mainstream is the stuff you see on PornHub. And a lot ofFullSizeRender (77) people are learning about sexual pleasure from porn or Google and in all that, no one is talking. It’s not real: no one falls off the bed, no one needs a break, no one’s ever too tired so nothing happens. But the biggest problem is, [the actors] don’t talk about sex, but they look like they’re having good sex.

Kristin: What does good porn look like?

Yana: When I was interning at Good Vibrations [sex shop] in San Francisco, we had to have a porn education. A big part of the education was reviewing porn so we could carry it — making sure it’s not violent toward women or racially fetishizing someone, things like that. I can watch porn with a critical eye.

My favorite porn director is Erika Lust, but there’s also the Feminist Porn Awards, which chooses some pretty good stuff. What you’re looking for is transparency. Good porn will have interviews with the actors, who will have a say in which acts they will perform.

Kristin: Any advice for people new to watching people get it on?

Yana: You need to go through all the emotions of gross, embarrassment and finally this is cool. Watching porn is private and you should feel free to experience all the emotions that come with it without being worried about what you look like.

Kristin: How did you get into this line of work?

Yana: I feel like this has been a circular journey for me. I got interested in sex education long ago when I took a youth sexual education class at Hampshire College. But most of the reason of it is because of my personal sexual experiences as a teen — they weren’t super-positive. It motivated me to say, Wait. I would see my female friends get coerced into doing things or slut-shamed for not doing things. There wasn’t any communication. There wasn’t any consent. … I didn’t see the sexual education I needed available to me or my peers, so I thought I’d figure it out.

Kristin: How did you do that?

Yana: At first that meant getting on the bus and spending half a day going to Tapestry Health [in Northampton] with my friends and loading up on free condoms — and getting ice cream. I’d go back to campus and hand them out to my peers. I became known as the condom lady, the person everyone would come to to get sexual advice.

One day someone said to me, “You should do this for a living. You could be like Dr. Ruth.” And I thought, ‘Yeah right. People don’t get to do this for a living.”

Kristin: But here you are doing it for a living.

Yana: I work my ass off. We both do. Patrick and I work 50 hours a week, easy.

Patrick Macdonald: It’s why the office is the biggest room in our house — bigger than our bedroom, bigger than our living room.

Yana: I’ve been to Bennington, Smith, Brandeis, Simmons, UMass, and Amherst high school in the last year.

Kristin: How did you land the V-Spot sex-advice column with the Advocate?

Yana: People ask me, “How did you get to do this,” and I tell them, I asked. If you don’t say what you want, you’re unlikely to get it — that’s true with sex, too. I cold called the Advocate. I sent an email to the editor about what I like to write about, all these things I could write about, and at the end I closed with “ultimately I’d love to write a sex column.”

Kristin: You do a lot of workshops. What’s it like to get up in front of an audience and start talking about lube and prostates?

Yana: I’m always nervous. I don’t like public speaking. The first three minutes are always a lot of butterflies in my stomach. Then people start talking. It can be shocking to show up in a room to talk about butt plugs and ejaculation in public with strangers, but I try to use humor and personal stories to get in with people to be like we’re all in this.

The most freeing thing I do is ask people to give themselves permission to be awkward. If I can get someone to hold a dildo or put some lube on their hands, I’ve done it. The conversation is started.

IMG_3757Patrick: What Yana does, almost universally with college students is to bring out a white board and ask people what they learned about sex in high school. And the answers are, you have sex you get an STD and die or get pregnant and die or whatever they’re telling kids now. At first it can be quiet, but once one person starts talking, everyone starts talking. They realize we’re all here to get an addendum to that education.

Kristin: What do you enjoy most about your job?

Yana: Working with teens. They’re at the right age where they’re curious and no one is talking to them, so they’re Googling porn to get answers. I got to do a workshop at Amherst high school for their Consent Week last year. I agreed, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to make [one of my workshops] PG.

Kristin: Hence the birth of the “consent sundae?”

Yana: I didn’t want to do the traditional education on STIs or pregnancy. So, I was thinking, how can I package consent for young people? So I made up an activity with ice cream sundaes — we now use cookies because they’re more portable. But I had to talk strategy, not sex. The sundae is a metaphor for consent. Everyone gets a partner and you have to build your partner the perfect sundae by asking what they like, and how much, and sometimes partners change their minds and you have to roll with it. It’s accessible and you can see it click with them. It shows consent can be fun...continue reading…

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Oh! Oh! Oh? Where’s My Orgasm?

Hi Yana!

I started having sex with males this past summer. It’s fun and exciting, but I’ve yet to reach an earth-shattering orgasm. That may be too high of an expectation for myself, but it feels like I’ve never had an orgasm at all.

I feel the build up, but there’s no release. I think this may be contributing to my extremely low sex drive, because sex isn’t really beneficial for me. I really do want to be having more sex, and more fulfilling healthy sex with my long-term partner.

How do I have an orgasm? How do I go about figuring out what I like, what gets me off? Am I getting in my own way somehow?

Usually when I have sex it’s vaginal penetration with short bursts of clitoral stimulation. I guess my main problem is starting the dialogue, “Hey, can you try this?” because I don’t know what to ask for. Should I watch more porn, go on kinky websites for ideas? Or, considering how sex in mainstream media is depicted in a way that is largely unbeneficial to women, is that more hurt than help?

— Still Searching

Dear SS,

Your questions echo the many, many questions I get from people trying to overcome this sexual hurdle — or just come at all. An orgasm is typically characterized by a pleasurable build-up which ends in a climactic release.

It sounds like you’re on your way, but haven’t quite reached Orgasm Town — a common experience.

You’re on the right track in your thinking about this — your search for an orgasm is going to take a lot more than basic P-in-V penetration. Logistically speaking, direct and consistent clitoral stimulation is a requirement for most. More importantly, orgasms take personal work both in between our legs and in between our ears. What I mean to say, is the brain is our largest sex organ; so let’s start there…continue reading…

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Help Me Teach My Kid About Consent

Hi Yana,

I have a seven-year-old son and I want to start teaching him about consent. Do you have any resources and tools for me as a parent to help him learn about consent as a kid?

— Proactive Parent

Dear PP,

The brilliant Dutch sex education curriculum starts what they call “sexuality education” early and often for their students. Children as young as five years old start talking about respecting their own and others’ bodies and making choices that feel good to them in this model — essential building blocks to the gender-and-sexuality-inclusive, medically accurate, and consent-focused sex education they receive in their public schools as middle and high school students.

And they do so with impressive outcomes: Research done at our very own UMass Amherst in 2011 found that among 12- to 25-year-olds in the Netherlands, most say they “wanted” and had “fun” during their first sexual experiences. By comparison, a 2004 national survey done by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy reported that 66 percent of sexually active American teens surveyed said they wished that they had waited longer to have sex for the first time.

Teaching consent early on in your child’s life matters and can happen in small, everyday ways. Conversations about consent don’t even need to be tied explicitly to sex, though they can be, to make a positive impact on the consent practices used in their future sexual interactions.

Teach your child to ask other people, especially his peers, questions such as “Is it okay if …?” before he touches them or their things. Set an example with your own actions by asking people these same questions, especially in his presence.

Tell your child that he’s the only person who owns his body and help him set his own physical boundaries. Require other children and adults in his life to ask permission before hugging, kissing, picking up or otherwise touching him. (Yes — even family members.)

When your child makes a statement that he doesn’t like a particular physical touch — for example, when people tousle his hair— teach him what he can say to assert that boundary. For example, he might tell someone: “It’s okay if you hug me, but please don’t touch my hair.”…continue reading…

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Intro to Vaginas: 9 lessons for bi-curious beginners

Art by Vicky Leta

Art by Vicky Leta

The first time I slept with another girl, it was awkward as hell.

Sure, I had dabbled in the giggling French kisses of curious high school sleepovers, but never did I go to a girl’s room with the intention of having Lesbian Sex Official with her. But this is what I did one tipsy night my first year in college (#classic). As a girl, making out with a girl is easy — their lips are softer, the absence of stubble is refreshing, and mixing lip glosses all over your face is a tasty mess. It’s the rest that stumped me.

The vagina, by sheer design, is just trickier than the penis. And the clitoris? It’s hidden in all these folds and it’s wearing a tiny hood? WTF?! Penises, on the other hand, are just…out there, seemingly more easy-to-please by design. So, mid-roll-around in this girl’s tiny college bed, it suddenly dawned on me: Though I had gotten the penis down, I had no idea what to do with this vagina-having human.

And how could I have? It’s no secret that it’s a penis-penetrates-vagina world out there when it comes to popular representations of “what sex looks like.” Even in regards to this “acceptable” version of heterosexual sex, government-funded sex education programs aren’t doing much for us, no matter how we identify. In fact, the Public Religion Research Institute found in a 2015 survey that four in 10 millennials reported that American high school sex ed classes weren’t helpful to them in making decisions about sex and relationships at all. In a sexist world of sexual shaming, the details of sexually pleasing vaginas are back-burnered in educational efforts, as they have little to do with reproduction and rarely result in anything but pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Because of this, heterosexual men and even women themselves struggle to learn about vaginal pleasure. Throw homophobia and stereotypes into the mix and us LGBTQ folks are screwed when it comes to learning how to screw.

While sex ed is a required part of the health curriculum in the public schools of 22 states and the District of Columbia, information specifically for LGBTQ youth is not mandated as part of the lesson plans. According to a statement from the HRC titled “A Call to Action: LGBTQ Youth Need Inclusive Sex Education“: “Fewer than 5 percent of LGBT students have health classes that included positive representations of LGBT-related topics.”

Though LGBTQ-inclusive sex education is absolutely needed in our high school sex education efforts, what of those of us exploring the spectrum of our sexualities later in life as adults, fumbling around in our dorm rooms, boardrooms and hot tubs, a la Gaby Hoffman’s vaginally curious character in Transparent? Where do we go to learn how to sexually pleasure another vagina?

If formalized sex education in schools is failing us, we’re left to media, porn, word-of-mouth and Google to educate us about how to have good, safe(r) sex. These self-education avenues rarely if ever teach us how to communicate with our partners about sexual pleasure, and they barely skim over consent, two key components of healthy and pleasurable sex. Mass media manages to offer us a limiting, predetermined course of action for penis-and-vagina sex: foreplay, intercourse, male ejaculation, fin. But there is no classical road map when it comes to vagina-on-vagina action (not even a half-baked one!), and the robotic, unrealistic girl-on-girl scenes in mainstream, male-gaze-satisfying porn certainly aren’t helping.

It should be no surprise that back in my college dorm room of yesteryear, things weren’t headed in any particular direction. It seemed to take hours before our shirts came off. Awkwardly stalling with my hands frozen unnaturally at my sides, my gracious hostess finally put me out of my bi-curious misery: “You know, we don’t have to do this at all,” she said. “We can just snuggle.” I wonder how audible my sigh of relief really was.

We were more successful the next time, and over the course of our year-long relationship, I really got the sex-with-a-girl-thing down. These days my lady-laden romance resume speaks for itself: I can do (and even teach workshops about) The Vagina² Sex. And all you straight, bi-curious, bisexual and/or newly queer women can, too….continue reading…

 

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Are Tasty Lubes Giving Me Tonsillitis?

Hi Yana,

I have been using flavored lube for mostly oral, but recently this has been causing tonsillitis for me. I forgot to read the fine print, “Use within 3 months,” so now I must chuck out a full bottle (I hate wastage!).

What brands of flavored lube would you recommend using to avoid wastage? What are the best brands to use? Also I live in Australia, so would it be okay to order it online if it’s not available in the shops?

— Lickety Sick

Hi LS,

Tonsillitis? From expired lube? I gotta say I’ve never heard that one before and my research isn’t coming up with any definitive answers. As tonsillitis is caused by bacterial infection I would say to get thee to a doctor to get that checked out. Bacteria and oral sex do not mix well and you certainly don’t want to be tossing something back and forth with your partner/s or be chronically contracting something that’s bad for your health.

Oral thrush — which can cause pain similar to tonsillitis like a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, and white pustules on the inner cheeks and back of the throat — can occur via performing oral sex on someone with a yeast infection, for example. (And yeast infections can find home in both the vagina as well as in the cozy folds of an uncircumcised penis, btw!)

I myself learned an itchy, unfortunate lesson about the joys of lube and lover-licking many years ago as a college freshman. For months on end I was coming down with yeast infections — itching, burning yeasties that would not quit. Finally I went to my campus’ health services and pleaded with the nurse to help me put an end to this vicious cycle. She asked me two questions: Is your boyfriend uncircumcised? Are you using KY Jelly? Answers: yes and yes.

Anyone who has attended my workshops or reads my column knows I hate glycerin-containing lubes (KY and Astroglide being the biggest offenders) with a fiery, yeasty passion. And that, well, memorable time during my freshman year in college is exactly why. The nurse enlightened me to the fact that my boyfriend could harbor a yeast infection and that the glycerin in the lube we were using (ahem, KY!) was off-setting the pH balance of my precious pussy, tripping up yeast infections which I was then passing to my boyfriend and he back to me again…continue reading…