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The V-Spot: IPAs Run My Sex Life

Editor’s Note: This column refers to sexual trauma responses.

Hi Yana,

My girlfriend and I have been together for four months, but lately I’ve been noticing we’ve only been having sex when we’re drinking. Nothing to put consent into question for either of us, of course, just a couple beers.

I asked her about it over dinner, and she said, “It’s nothing you’re doing wrong, I’ve just hated myself lately.” I know she struggles with depression and anxiety and has some trauma in her past, so I’m unsure how to proceed.

I know I can’t “solve” her problems or make her have a more positive body image, but I care about her and don’t want our sex life to be dependent on how many IPAs are available. I try to be supportive and complimentary because she’s gorgeous and has a great body, but I also get that my opinion isn’t enough to alter what she sees in herself.

— Seeking Happiness, Not Hoppiness

 

Dear Seeking Happiness,

It’s so great that you noticed this trend in your sex life and had the bravery to bring it up to your girlfriend in the way that you did. That your partner feels comfortable telling you what’s going on for her, even if it’s something painful like “I hate myself lately” makes me think that you all have a solid communication foundation which is invaluable.

When people have experienced sexual/relational trauma, a person’s body and brain can register all sexual touch as potentially dangerous as it attempts to protect them from a repeat experience. The body and mind can start responding to sexual touch in ways that either triggers flashbacks or shuts the body down in some way to avoid danger.

It’s possible that your girlfriend’s drinks requirements help her get past this discomfort in order to engage in sex and/or helps her numb out whatever unpleasant responses are happening for her mentally, emotionally, or physically. If she’s willing or able to work with a therapist around this trauma, the therapist might help her identify and explore her trauma and how else she might be able to cope with it besides drinking before sex.

You’re absolutely right that you can’t “fix” her and in fact it can be harmful to her, you, and your relationship if you should make that your mission. However, you’re an equal part of this sexual relationship and it can be painful to witness your sexual partner essentially taking steps to numb herself out or block herself from you when you’re having sex. Even when our partners have traumatic histories, it’s still okay to desire a connected and engaged sex life, even if it’s not immediately possible.

Show and tell her that you’re here to be supportive and that her mental health is important to you as it’s part of your shared relational space. Offer support but don’t push, blame, or take too much charge.

How?…continue reading…

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How Do I Make My Orgasms Come Back?

Dear Yana,

I’m a single woman in my late twenties, with no relationships on the horizon. But that’s OK, because I have a super intense, cordless Hitachi that I’m in love with.

Problem is, recently, whenever I have attempted to reach orgasm, it never comes. I get the brink, right before the fall, but I’m just stuck. This has happened with lovers in the past; one even suggested it was a problem with not being able to “let go.”

Perhaps I am not relaxing enough when I masturbate. What are some tips, tricks, or techniques to have that incredible, solo experience?

— Absent Orgasms

Dear Absent,

I’m laughing a little at your partner’s (I’m sure well-meaning) suggestion to “let go” seeing as that is technically what an orgasm is, after all — a build-up followed by a release. It’s almost like your partner was like “Honey, have you tried just having an orgasm?”

I kid, but really, please let this sex columnist and educator tell you that nobody (not even your partner, not even me) can tell you the key to finding and experiencing your own sexual satisfaction. But, I can give you some suggestions to try out!

From your question, it sounds like you’ve been able to orgasm in the past and it’s only recently that the Os have hit the skids. This can be for a variety of reasons — new medications (especially antidepressants), new stress levels, new major life events, etc. Emily Nagoski’s free desire brakes/gas pedal worksheets (thedirtynormal.com) can help assess environmental, relational, and personal factors that may be impacting your current experiences of desire and pleasure.

In my opinion, with the rumbly, reliable, powerful Hitachi, you’re armed with the perfect tool for the titillating task at hand. But I find myself wondering how many laps you’re taking around the brink before attempting to push yourself over the orgasmic edge. Meaning, do you turn the Hitachi on high, make clitoral contact, and then smash the gas pedal straight to the finish line? Or do you take time with yourself to build up anticipation? Experiment with bringing yourself close to the tipping point of orgasm and then backing off on sensation…continue reading…

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SOS! I’m Spaced Out During Sex

Yana, I need your expertise!

I’m a 19-year-old guy in a hetero relationship. I was pleasuring my partner last night and I realized I stopped being present and could not become present again. She picked up on it and, well, I really wanted to be present for it but I seemed to be stuck in my head, which didn’t make her feel good and wanted. Do you know how I can become more present while sexually active?

— Spaced Out Sexually

There are many reasons why someone might check out during sex: sometimes it’s for reasons like sleepiness, boredom, or nervousness. Other times it’s for bigger reasons like fear, anxiety, or trauma.

Do you feel a similar kind of non-presence or stuck-in-your-headness in other areas of your life? Is it similar to the glazed-over feeling you get during a long lecture at school? Maybe you’re bored with your sexual activity. Is it similar to when you’re about to give a presentation or take a small risk? Maybe you’re having performance anxiety about being in the “pleasurer” position.

If this spaced-out feeling is accompanied by or preceded by racing thoughts, a quickened pulse, tightness in the chest, or the desire to flee, perhaps your non-presence is more closely related to your mind shutting down to protect you from unresolved trauma, high anxiety, or fear.

Doing some self-searching — whether independently or with the help of a therapist, mentor, or spiritual guide — is an important part of this. If you’re feeling bored or nervous due to performance anxiety, this can be helped by speaking frankly with your partner about the sex you have together. We aren’t often taught that good sex requires conversation before, during, and after, so this can feel awkward at first — especially if you’re new to sex. However, the outcome is always worth the bravery and initial awkwardness. A worksheet like the Yes/No/Maybe list can be a great way to break the ice.

Taking steps to discover what you’re both really excited about can go a long way in squashing boredom and nerves, and it is also a key component of keeping it consensual! You’re more likely to get that hot fantasy fulfilled if you put it out there, and you’re more likely to feel confident in the pleasure you’re dishing out if your partner has stated before, during, and after the act-du-jour that “YES that feels so good and is exactly what I want!”

Practicing enthusiastic and well-informed consent is extremely important and will likely inspire you to become more engaged in the sex you’re having on-the-whole and in-the-moment…continue reading…

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I’ve Had Enough With Vaginismus

Content Note: Sexual trauma addressed in this week’s column.

Hi Yana,

I really appreciate your column and the work that you do. I have a really embarrassing sex problem. I was sexually abused throughout various parts of my life, starting in my childhood and going into my twenties. I have vaginismus, but with therapy and dilation, it’s slowly but surely gotten better. I’m seeing someone new who I really like, and the vaginismus is coming back. I feel very safe and cared for with this person, so it’s both perplexing and embarrassing. I feel like I can never escape the sexual abuse of my past and move on to have healthy sexual relationships. Help!

— Reaching for Relief

Dear RR,

First, it’s crucial for you to hear, know, and reaffirm to yourself that neither the sexual abuse inflicted on you nor the resultant vaginismus is your fault. While it’s extremely common for sexual abuse survivors to feel shame and embarrassment as a result of their abuse and/or its aftereffects — in your case, vaginismus — these feelings of shame and embarrassment are misattributions of responsibility for the abuse onto you rather than rightfully onto your abuser/s. Again, neither the abuse or vaginismus are your fault.

I can only imagine how painful and frustrating it is to have to manage the aftereffects of these traumas inflicted on you in this new relationship with someone so great.

Vaginismus — the unexpected tightening of the PC muscles/vaginal canal during sexual penetration resulting in physical pain and discomfort — is an especially upsetting and fickle symptom of trauma as its root causes are often both physical and mental/emotional. It sounds like you’re doing all of the right things by digging down to these two roots via therapy and dilation.

Whether we have a trauma history or not — and so many of us do — our bodies aren’t always going to cooperate with our minds during sex…continue reading…

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My 2-Minute Orgasm

So, I was masturbating last night and set a timer. It took me under two minutes to orgasm. However, when someone else in involved, it takes forever or doesn’t happen at all. I can count the times it’s happened on two hands.

Every time I masturbate it’s like clockwork, and I wish I could experience that with a partner! I’ve heard from various ladies and witnessed firsthand that orgasming seems easier for them with partners than it is for me. Is this why some women fake orgasms? Is this something I need to see a psychiatrist about or just live with? Or is it some Kinsey situation where my vaginal measurements aren’t conducive to orgasming? Help!

— Clit Out of Luck

 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, probably for the rest of my sex educator career: your vagina is not broken! It’s the metaphorical vaginal “user manual” we’re handed via school sex ed, social stigma, and our peers!

That manual is seriously flawed – it’s stained, ripped, even missing whole chapters. Our current sex education system pretends that our clitoral and/or vaginal orgasm is unimportant or non-existent. Our social system convinces our sexual partners that asking us outright how best to pleasure our clits and vaginas is not the sexy or slick or cool thing to do. Simultaneously, this same system shames us into not speaking up about our own desires or how exactly to do our bodies right.

Yes, these flawed systems are why some women fake orgasms. Yes, these systems have convinced you that you have to see a psychiatrist to “fix” yourself and/or smoosh yourself into an outdated concept of “ideal vaginal measurements,” a la Kinsey.

But you, COOL, are perfect! Your experience of sexual pleasure is perfect. Your two-minute self-curated climax is perfect.

So, if our formal and social sex educational systems are screwing it up so hard, who’s supposed to do the real educating about your orgasms to your partners, COOL?…continue reading…

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New Pornographer Interested in Sex Ed

Hi Yana!

I saw your TEDx talk in Vienna and was copiously taking notes. The content was an eye-opener for me. I had never thought that both of our basic information sources about sex [school-sanctioned sex education and online pornography] are running their very own twisted agenda.

I started working in the porn industry six weeks ago — hey, the money is fantastic! — and my consumption of porn has gone way up as a side effect. I’m an animator on 3D animated porn shorts, so any porn clip is not only watched, but dissected frame by frame for all the details in body mechanics. (Yeah, it’s a tough life.)

What I wanted to ask you ever since that talk is: What resources can you suggest for filling that gap that both sex ed and porn leave?

I guess before your talk I would have let Google answer that question, but after your talk I’m somewhat weary of online sex education. Any books, videos, or online resources you recommend?

— Pornographer Across the Pond

Hello, PAP!

Thanks for such a great question and for your kind words. As someone actually working on porn sets,

Read this week's Intern Investigation!

Read this week’s Intern Investigation!

I’m so glad that you in particular attended the talk and are thinking about these things.

For readers who haven’t viewed my TEDxTalk yet, here’s the CliffsNotes version: Sex education is failing us hard. So, very naturally people — especially teens — are turning to Google and therefore often mainstream online porn to learn about what’s really going on with this whole sex thing beyond STDs and pregnancy risk.

But then mainstream porn paints a picture of sex that is limited to heterosexuality, penis-in-vagina penetration, and flawless and predictable mutual orgasm without any conversation about how this happens. If you’re a loyal reader, you already know that conversations about sex are crucial for practicing consent and having great sex.

Online porn, our new sex educator, teaches us what roles we should fit into during sex, what kinds of sex are “normal” and “abnormal,” and that sex needs to be wordless in order to be hot, sexy, and pleasurable.

So, PAP, what can you do to manage this deficit? The first is to work for and support pornography companies with ethical missions…continue reading…

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Husband Seeks Female-Friendly Sex Ed

Hi Yana,

My wife is interested in exploring her sexuality a little further — things she might be interested in trying, etc. — but is hoping to do so in a way that is female- and feminist-friendly. Do you have any suggestions for things she can do or read either individually or with me?

— Helpful Husband

Hello HH,

My favorite kind of husband is the one willing to lend a helping hand to his partner’s continued sexual exploration — especially when they’re flexible about their level of involvement!

Googling “sex” willy-nilly on the internet can get sticky to say the least. Before y’all surf the web, hit the books. Come As You Are by our very own local sexpert Emily Nagoski is the first thing to read. This is one of the most comprehensive, shame-reducing and normalizing books about sex I’ve read. Her helpful worksheets direct the reader through some great self-reflection and sexual explorations and can be done solo or with a partner (that’s you, HH!).

Other good readings include Mating in Captivity by my professional idol Esther Perel and O WOW: Discovering Your Ultimate Orgasm by Jenny Block.

Watching feminist porn either solo or with a partner is great sexploration fodder. Feminist porn isn’t that wam-bam-thank-you-whatever-your-name-was mainstream porn you find easily when you Google “porn.” Feminist porn is intentionally made for the non-male gaze, is often directed by women and queer people, features scenes co-created by the performers, and proudly displays real orgasms and consent practices. (Read my past column, Grass Fed Porn for more on feminist porn.)

Tristan Taormino directs great feminist-friendly sex educational porn she calls “expert guides” on topics that include female orgasms, the G-spot, oral sex, threesomes, and rough sex that blend smut and educational lecture for a real pleasurable learning experience.

Also, your truly humble sex columnist teaches a variety of workshops on topics such as the G-spot, kink, anal sex, non-monogamous relationships, and sex toys! You can find my upcoming workshops at yanatallonhicks.com.

Sexual shame can be a heavy shroud to lift for a lot of people — especially women, queer people and other folks who have not been granted the same social permission to talk about and explore their sexuality and experiences of sexual pleasure that straight men have enjoyed…continue reading…

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Is Being Basic in Bed a Bad Thing?

Dear Yana,

Recently my partner and I have talked about sexual exploration- or lack thereof – in our relationship. I don’t have any fetishes or kinks or fantasies. At least, I don’t think I do. I’ve never even owned a sex toy. Not that this is a problem, but I sense from my partner that he wishes otherwise.

He finds my “vanilla” preference for the sexual experience “interesting”- his words. Read: boring. Now I’m questioning if I’m suppressing a desire to expand my sexual horizons or if I really just don’t get off from a sexual experience separated from reality. I guess the only way to know is to try exploring or I’ll never know, but I wanted to hear what you have to say and what you recommend for proceeding.

Sincerely,

Basic in Bed

 

Dear BinB –

There are a few reasons why I tend to use the term “pleasure-positive” to describe my work rather than “sex-positive” (though I’m truly a mix of both): on the one hand the “sex-positive” movement has been really, well – positive! Sex-positivity counters slut-shaming, casts sex as a natural, albeit complicated part of our lives rather than inherently risky or negative, and has opened many doors for people that had been previously barricaded by shame, stigma, and repressive social norms.

Pleasure-positivity is sex-positive. However, it’s more heavily focused on what brings us pleasure as unique individuals. The reason I bring this up, BinB, is that while sex-positivity may help your partner feel empowered and excited about his kinks and fetishes, it may feel simultaneously disempowering to you as someone who finds pleasure in what feels, as you describe as, based in reality and/or vanilla.

Though your sexual pleasure may present as vanilla in comparison to his triple-chocolate chip with whipped cream, cherries, sprinkles, and handcuffs, your unique experience of sexual pleasure is just as valid as his. For some, intimate pleasure has nothing to do with sex at all!

Kate McCombs, MPH, my sex education colleague, states so gracefully; “There’s a huge variety of what’s ‘normal’ when it comes to sexual desire. Often people with lower desire for sex feel broken or weird. If that’s you, you’re not alone. In my opinion, prude-shaming is just as problematic as slut-shaming. As I like to say ‘I’m sex-positive – not sex-mandatory’”. Similarly, being kink- or fetish-positive doesn’t mandate it be a part of your sexual experience.

Of course, there are always two sides to every coin and endless sides to the complex shapes our sexual and romantic lives can take. If you would like to explore some other sides, there are a couple places to dig into.

You seem overwhelmed at the idea of exploring this wide realm of other-than-vanilla sex – understandable! A simple Googling of “kinky sex” can lead you into quite the overstimulating rabbithole, to say the least. Sexual exploration can be an extremely personal process and may look like fantasizing about something new for a few minutes while you masturbate, taking a vibrator for a spin, or diving headfirst into the porn pool. Some feel safe and comfortable exploring with their partners present and others need some solo space to process, feel awkward, or to just throw that new vibrator on the floor and swear them off for life.

For others, sexual exploration can mean a deeper process of unpacking what makes us feel hesitant about moving beyond the sex we know or the sex we’ve been granted social permission to have. I’m particularly interested in what you might discover by thinking about what makes reality-based sex feel good and safe to you.

Your partner has a responsibility to not pressure you into any kind of sex that you don’t feel consensually and enthusiastically YES about and also if you do decide to explore new sexual things with him, to be patient and supportive if certain things just don’t float your bangin’ boat.

Some suggested reading includes When Your Sex Drives Don’t Match by Sandra Pertot, Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski, and Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel.

No matter what, keep in mind this mantra by sex writer & educator Emily Nagoski, PhD: “Pleasure is the measure”; not your kink-o-meter, not the flavor of your freakiness, but your genuine pleasure.


This sex column appears in print on the back page of The Valley Advocate every week!

Email me your sex & relationship questions to be anonymously answered in the V-Spot!

 

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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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The Rules of Attraction

I’m a single hetero guy in my 60s. Since my divorce some years ago, I haven’t dated much. What I truly want is a loving, long-term relationship with a partner and to be a loving, giving partner in return.

Here’s my problem: I’m short and not terribly good-looking (at least I don’t think so) and I realize that no matter how attractive a person’s character and values may be, or how fun they may be, if there isn’t at least a spark of physical attraction, there won’t be sexual attraction even if you might wish for it.

Whenever I find myself in the presence of a woman whom I find physically and sexually attractive, I shrivel up inside just a little, feeling, “Oh, she won’t be physically attracted to me.” Of course, this is just what can make you come across as even less potentially attractive than you might otherwise be.

Do you have advice for people who may have this problem? I had a physically and emotionally rejecting mother (working on these issues in therapy) and I know that’s got something to do with it, but when I look in the mirror, I’m not terribly happy with what I see.

Thank you for this tender question! Professional therapeutic help in working out some negative messages you may have received during your upbringing is a great step. In some ways, your thinking about this is right-on; assuming that you are not attractive or, worse yet, worthy of others’ attractions, won’t inspire attraction to you. But let’s shift some of this other negative thinking.

The consumerist culture we live in feeds off of our self-hate like a yeast infection feeds off of glycerin-laced lube. Mass media bashes us daily with limited views of beauty (in terms of body weight, height, wealth, skin color, etc.), telling us that if we exist outside of this particular, minuscule box called “beauty” we aren’t deserving (of attention, jobs, happiness, sex) and therefore we should buy, buy, buy in order to “fix” ourselves. You aren’t broken, Shy Guy — the way we’re taught to assign sexual value to our appearance is.

So let’s talk about physical attraction and sexual attraction. What we consider to be physically attractive in other humans is evolutionarily informed, with multiple studies showing the importance of subconscious influences such as a person’s smell, hormonal cycle, body posture, and facial symmetry to our level of attraction to them.

A 2014 study found positive personality traits to have an influence, too, when 120 participants rated photographs of female faces in neutral expressions as more attractive when associated with positive personality descriptions like “kind,” “honest,” “funny.”

Then, there’s sexual attraction, which you have mixed up with both physical attraction and simply wishing for it to be so. Come As You Are author Emily Nagoski has done incredible work to show the difference between desire and sexual response. Her Dual Control Model is digestibly illustrated in a comic by Erica Moen on thedirtynormal.com, showing the difference between our sexual response’s gas pedal (physical attractiveness, trusting your partner, falling in love) and brake (body image, trauma history). …continue reading on ValleyAdvocate.com…