Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Dual Control Model of Sexual Arousal

I have talked in previous posts about the importance of thinking about both sexual arousal and sexual inhibition when dealing with libido differences. Because this is so important to understanding libido and sex drive, I want to come back to the subject and add some background and additional depth.

Most people first encounter this model by reading Emily Nagoski's excellent book, Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life. Many readers will have also taken the Sexual Temperament Questionnaire, which is intended to help you understand where you fit in terms of the sensitivity of your "Sexual Excitation System" (SES) and the sensitivity of your "Sexual Inhibitory System" (SIS).

The SES/SIS questionnaire that Dr. Nagoski uses comes from what is known as the "Dual Control Model of Sexual Arousal." Because she teaches at Smith, a mostly-women's university, she uses a version of the questionnaire that is oriented somewhat more towards women. But the model and the SES/SIS questionnaire actually originated with research on men and their sexual problems.

For people who haven't read Nagoski's book, here's a brief description of the DCM, from an article I wrote about it a few years ago:
Eric Janssen and John Bancroft of the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research observed that most physiological systems in the body have dual control systems. For example, insulin responds to high blood sugar by lowering it, while glucagon responds to low blood sugar by raising it. Similarly, sweating responds to high body temperature by cooling you off, while shivering responds to low body temperature by warming you up.
At the most basic level, we know that neurons can be wired to either excite or inhibit other neurons when they fire. And at the highest level, we know that the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system have complex reciprocal and counteractive effects, where each is responsible for turning some activities on that the other one turns off, and vice versa.
Janssen & Bancroft's hypothesis, which has been born out by a great deal of research and experience in the last 20 years, is that sexual arousal is also controlled by two different systems in the brain. In effect, one of these is the accelerator pedal and the other is the brake. And this matters, because if the brakes are fully engaged – by stress, anxiety, fear, fatigue, frustration, or any other stressors – pushing down harder on the accelerator will create arousal only with difficulty, if at all, and it is not likely to be very enjoyable.
Janssen & Bancroft called the accelerator the Sexual Excitation System, or SES, and they called the brake the Sexual Inhibitory System, or SIS. And they found that people differ a great deal in the sensitivity of both of these systems.
This dual control model actually grew out of 30+ years of theorizing about and research on performance anxiety in men. Janssen and Bancroft began developing the model in the 1990s as a reaction to the inadequacy of single-scale approaches to male arousal.

For example, this paper from 2002 discusses use of the SIS and SES specifically with men:
The Sexual Inhibition (SIS) and Sexual Excitation (SES) Scales: I. Measuring sexual inhibition and excitation proneness in men.

By that point they had established the validity of their theoretical framework for men. The obvious question was whether it also applied to women, especially since there were obvious parallels in terms of the effects of stress versus arousal on female low libido and anorgasmia.

Research since then has illuminated some gender differences, but it has also has shown that the dual control model is a remarkably good general explanatory framework for many psychogenic sexual problems for both sexes. It remains the best meta-level model for explaining what researchers see happening in terms of both physiological and psychological processes.

As J&B wrote in 2007:
Although the concepts of excitation and inhibition are probably just as relevant (if not more; cf. Bjorkland & Kipp, 1996) to women's sexual responses, and although the SIS/SES questionnaire has demonstrated its value in research in women (Carpenter, Graham, Janssen, Vorst, & Wicherts, 2006), the measure was originally developed for use in men because the available research underlying the dual control model was largely restricted to the neurophysiology and psychophysiology of male sexual response. ...
We now also have a substantial amount of data from women on the role of sexual excitation and inhibition and of the relationship between mood and sexuality. ... Confirmatory factor analyses of women's SIS/SES scores provided moderate support for the higher-level model found in men. As we had previously found in men, correlations in women between the sexual excitation (SES) factor and the two sexual inhibition factors (SIS1 and SIS2) were low, while the SIS1 and SIS2 factors exhibited a modest positive correlation.
However, the original questionnaire had a tilt toward men's problems, so they developed alternatives that would be more gender neutral, or more suitable for women:
Gender differences were found, with women scoring higher on the ... inhibition factors and lower on the sexual excitation factor in comparison with men. The test-retest reliability and convergent and discriminant validity of women's SIS/SES scores, using the original factor structure, were similar to those we found for men. In this study we also developed and tested a short version of the SIS/SES questionnaire (SIS/SES--Short Form), which features items with similar psychometric properties in women and men. The 14-item version of the SIS/SES showed to be associated with test-retest reliability and convergent/discriminant validity that closely resemble the longer, 45-item measure.
While these preliminary findings suggest that the SIS/SES questionnaire may also be of value in research on sexual response, functioning, and behavior in women, substantial progress has been made in work on the development of a new measure, designed specifically for use in women (Graham, Sanders, Milhausen, & McBride, 2004). One of the starting points of this project is that the SIS/SES questionnaire may not tap all relevant sources of sexual excitation and inhibition in women, including effects of body self-consciousness, concerns related to reputation, and relationship variables.
The version used by Nagoski is the one developed for women ~2004 and later revised.

The Kinsey Institute for Sex Research is located at Indiana University. Nagoski was a graduate student at IU at the time this research was going on, and received her PhD in 2006. Although her own research and dissertation were in a different area, this was one of the hottest topics in her department in ~2001-2005 when she was doing her graduate coursework.

For a longer, gender-neutral version, google "SESII-W/M" or "Sexual Excitation/Sexual Inhibition Inventory for Women and Men" and follow the scoring instructions.

This article is an excellent summary of the inspiration, the concepts, and the research that has gone into the design of the various DCM questionnaires, as well as what researchers have learned from using them: The Dual Control Model of Sexual Response by J.Bancroft and E.Janssen.

Janssen's 2007 book, The Psychophysiology of Sex, is also excellent if you want to dig into this further. Or google 'the Dual Control Model of Sexual Arousal' for lots of additional information.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

For Girls & Women – First Time Masturbation Without a Vibe

This was an interesting question:

How can a woman masturbate and reach orgasm without sex toys?

This was my answer:

You don't need toys, but they do make it easier.  In most cases, the reason for not getting a vibrator or dildo is lack of privacy, but you can cope with that with a little bit of ingenuity.  

However, most women can manage without them.

Assuming you haven't done this before, here's a good twelve step program for learning how to have solo sex:

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Better Sex 101

This blog is mainly about tantric sex, and tantra is not for sexual novices.  However, I can remember reading things about sex when I was young that were way over my head, and I suspect that there may be a few other curious novices out there doing the same thing with this blog.

In addition, the comments and emails I receive tell me that there are many people who are fairly experienced, at least in terms of having had sex fairly often, who still don't know a lot of the basics of human anatomy and good sexual practices.

So I wanted to step back for a moment and create a guide to the basics, the kind of "sex ed" that young people need, but rarely get.

(Note: this guide was written for opposite-sex couples, but it should be fairly easy to adapt most things for same-sex couples and skip over the parts that are irrelevant.)

For Virgins

If you're looking forward to your first time and you want to know how to make it a success, here are two posts I wrote just for you:


Good Sex:  the Basics

People love self-help and self-improvement books that promise instant results without any pain or effort.  In the case of sex, it’s actually possible to write such a book without too much exaggeration (if you don’t mind padding a short article out to book length) because there are a few relatively simple things that would greatly improve sex for many couples.

More specifically, these simple steps would improve sex for many women and a lot of men, and we can hope that the rest of the men would be glad to go along because the women in their lives will be happier and more satisfied, and will thank them for being better lovers.

Here’s my 12-step summary for beginners:
  1. Take your time.  Fast, urgent sex is sometimes great fun, but it’s terrible as a steady diet.  It’s particularly hard on women, who on the average take considerably longer to get sexually aroused than men do.  (See #5 below.)  If you are routinely spending less than half an hour on a sexual encounter, including foreplay, you are cheating yourselves.
  2. Learn more about female anatomy.  This applies to both men and women.  If you’re unsure about where the parts are, what they do, how they are connected to each other both physically and neurologically, what they look like in different stages of arousal, and what usually makes them feel good, you’re really sailing in a fog.   (Understanding male anatomy is good, too, but male arousal and orgasm are much more straightforward and a guy’s manly parts are right out there and easy to see, so there’s not such a mystery.)  See the diagrams at the end of this article for a start, or go here for 3-D illustrations and here for a huge amount of good info!
  3. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!  You have to tell each other what feels good, what gets you aroused, what hurts, and what is just a downer.  Get over being shy about sex and talk about it.  If necessary, get out a good diagram of the male and female bodies and go over it together, so you know what she means when she says rub that!  It’s also a good icebreaker.  Even better, get naked and have a show and tell, finding, touching and naming the parts on the charts.
  4. Make sure you have a common language.  If one of you says “fuck,” “dick,” “pussy,” and “asshole,” and the other says “intercourse,” “penis,” “vulva,” and “anus,” then every time the two of you try to talk about sex you’re going to be triggering class- and culture-based resistance that blocks communication.  Find a common ground you can both accept.  In general, my advice is to use the least formal words that are acceptable to the more formal person.  Even if your partner’s sex vocabulary sounds ridiculously prissy to you, using his or her vocabulary will be less strain for you.  Your partner will have a much harder time using your words, and will not be able to stop the feeling that they are stupid and vulgar and make sex seem dirty and nasty.
  5. She comes first.  Most men can reach orgasm without any problem.  Most women, especially younger women, can’t simply hop in bed and expect an orgasm from straight vaginal sex.  Until you really know how to satisfy each other completely, make her needs the priority.  Guys, learn how to stimulate her vulva and clitoris with your fingers, lips, and tongue, a vibrator, or whatever works best for her.  In many cases, that means using oral and manual stimulation to give her at least one orgasm before starting vaginal sex.  Once you can get her to orgasm in one way, or in some combination, you can branch out to more variety.
  6. Use lots of lube.  Rubbing dry, delicate tissue hurts.  A woman's natural lubrication can be quite unreliable and inconsistent, and it is not an accurate reflection of arousal.  So, men, don't count on nature providing the lube she needs.  Make sure her whole vulva, including her labia and clit, is slick before you go rubbing and poking down there.  Ditto for the vagina.  Use spit if you have to, but be generous and renew it often.  I recommend silicone-based lubes.  They are safe with condoms, silkier than oil, and much longer-lasting than water-based lubes.  (Just don’t use silicone-based lubes with silicone sex toys.)
  7. Nothing goes into her vagina until she’s fully aroused.  That doesn’t just mean she’s a little damp around the entrance.  The outer labia, the clit, and the inner walls of the vagina should all be noticeably swollen and the vulva should get a lot pinker or redder.  Yes, I know, it’s hard to tell if the lights are low or she’s shy about you looking, but you can tell a great deal just by touch, particularly if you consciously notice and remember what things feel like at the very start.  Her breathing should change, too, and she may get noticeably flushed, but you have to be familiar with a particular person to know how much is enough.  So ask her to give you a signal when she's ready, and then wait for it!
  8. Ladies, take charge.  If you’re a woman, insist on rules 5, 6, & 7.  Carry your own favorite lube and either make the guy use it or apply it yourself.  Masturbate and explore your body on your own until you know how to tell for sure when you’re really ready for the next step.  When you are ready, and not beforehand, give your partner a clear signal to go ahead.  Too many women, especially young women, get intimidated into having bad sex, even painful sex, because they aren’t willing to speak up and tell guys what they need to do.  And you know what?  Most guys want to be good lovers, and they know deep down that they’re pretty clueless. But they don’t want to sound stupid, so they won’t ask you for help.  As long as you’re nice and non-judgmental about it, your partner will almost always grateful for some guidance.
  9. Guys, don’t pound away like you’re a human jackhammer.  You may think you’re John Henry the Steel Driving Man, but she’s not going to applaud your performance if all you do is thrust as fast and as hard as you can.  Slow down. Thrust gently, especially at first.  Try different tempos.  Switch between long, slow strokes and short, quick strokes.  Feel and listen to her response.  Try to catch her rhythm and match it.  If you feel like you’re getting ahead of her, stop and shift to a position where you can massage her clit with your fingers while moving very slowly inside her.  (Don’t forget the lube!)  Let her get ahead of you – you can always catch up!  She will love you for it.
  10. Have a threesome with a vibrator.  At a certain point “Ladies, take charge” means taking responsibility for your own orgasms.  If he’s not getting you fully aroused before penetration, ask him to hold and cuddle you while you stimulate yourself with your fingers or your favorite sex toy.  He’ll learn a lot just by seeing what you do.  If you get aroused enough for comfortable penetration, but still can’t climax with vaginal sex, try the cowgirl position.  But don’t bounce up and down!  Instead rock or slide forward and back, moving just enough to keep your partner erect while using your fingers or a vibrator to bring yourself to orgasm.  You may find that it happens faster and is more intense with him inside you, and hearing and feeling you come may be all it takes to make him come.  (If not, ride him hard until he does, and you may get a second orgasm as a bonus!)
  11. Check out the back door.  The anus is amazingly sensitive and can be a source of intense pleasure, if approached correctly – or intense pain if abused.  Rule #1:  If it hurts, STOP!  You’re doing it wrong!  Get a book, preferably Tristan Taormino’s The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women 2nd Ed.  Read it, think about it, get some anal toys, experiment on yourself, share the book with your partner, and then, if you both decide to go ahead, follow Tristan’s advice and use common sense.
  12. Love matters.  The hookup generation doesn’t know what it’s missing. The excitement that comes with having sex with a comparative stranger is real, but it fades fast.  Time, patience, love, trust, shared language, true intimacy, knowledge of each other’s wants and needs – these don’t come with hookups.  Most women, no matter how aggressive and independent they think they are about sex, simply cannot respond as fully with an uncaring stranger as with a loving and trusted partner.  And young guys, in particular, are often satisfied with getting laid and have no idea what they are missing.  All they know is that orgasms feel good, and getting one from a girl feels better than masturbating.  Until they have experienced real intimacy and good sex, they have no clue how much better that can be.
You can get all this from hundreds of different books and websites.  I repeated it here because a) there’s also a lot of bad advice out there, b) some readers of this blog may be young or inexperienced and not know some of these tips, and c) it only takes a few pages to make sure we’re all ON the same page, so why not?

This post is part of a blog about tantric sex, written mainly for couples.  If you’re single, or you’re in a relatively new relationship and things are not going well, I’m certainly not going to discourage you from reading about tantra on this blog.  It can really help to know what success looks like, even when you feel like you are discouragingly far away from it.

But I do somewhat want to discourage you from springing the idea of learning tantric sex on a partner or prospective partner until you have the sexual basics worked out and are comfortable with each other.  I’ve heard of men hustling women with the line that they are tantric masters who can promise to give a woman a night in paradise.  For myself, I’m skeptical about whether someone who has just read a book or blog about tantric sex could possibly do something as basic as a satisfactory yoni massage on a near-stranger without knowing a lot more about her body and her orgasmic curve than any book can teach.

In the meantime, though, there are a lot of things you can learn that will help make you better - more skilled, more knowledgeable, more confident, more joyful - in bed.

Some anatomical illustrations to get you started


Cross section view of the female reproductive system:

[Public domain image from the Wikimedia Commons;  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1b/Illu_repdt_female.jpg]

The "symphysis pubis" is the pubic bone, the hard bar just below the bikini line.  The "mons pubis" is the hairy, fleshy pad that covers and cushions the pubic bone.  The clitoris and the labia (or "lips") are described below.  The anus isn't labeled; it's the outlet from the rectum at the lower right.

The G-spot isn't labeled either, partly because it's not really an anatomical structure. Instead, it's an area on the front wall of the vagina, about 1-2" from the entrance, that has special sensitivity for many women.  In the image above, the arrow that points to the Vagina (in general) happens to point right at the upper edge of the G-spot.  The arrow that points to the Urethra passes through the lower edge of the G-spot.

If you feel along the front wall of the vagina between those two spots when you are (or your partner is) already fully aroused, you may find what feels like a lumpy or corrugated region behind the wall of the vagina.  That's the G-spot.  But remember that not all women have extra sensitivity in this area.

What's wrong with that cross-section view?
Several things make that drawing look distorted.  First, the bladder and rectum are drawn as if they were fully inflated.  When empty, they both collapse into flat structures that take up much less space.  So unless you really need to go pee or poop, they collapse like deflated balloons.

Second, the vagina is shown stretched out straight and slightly open, like a hollow tube.  In reality, the unaroused vagina is flat, not hollow.  The front and back walls touching each other.  It is also somewhat crumpled, like an empty sock, because the uterus and cervix are usually positioned somewhat lower than shown in the illustration, which lets the unaroused vagina slump down into the pelvic cavity.

(When you become sexually aroused, the uterus gets pulled upward into the abdomen, pulling up on the cervix, which lengthens and straightens out the vagina in preparation for sex.  But if you are just putting a tampon in, you may have noticed that you sometimes run into obstructions and have to follow something of a zigzag path.  That's because of the crumpling that occurs when everything in there is relaxed.)

Third, only about half of all women have a uterus that folds forward and rests on the bladder as shown in this drawing.  For the other half, it tips backward and rests on the rectum, or it is angled somewhere between those extremes.  This changes the angle of the cervix and the location where it attaches to the vagina.  This can make some important differences in how two people's genitals fit together.  (See "The Fabulous Fornix" for more on the difference this can make.)

The vulva or pussy (female external genital area):


[Public domain image from the Wikimedia Commons; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b7/Vulva_labeled_english.jpg/526px-Vulva_labeled_english.jpg]

Not shown:  The clitoral shaft is hidden under the clitoral hood.  The shaft also extends for a considerable distance behind the mons pubis.  The "legs" and "bulbs" of the clitoris then extend downward behind the labia and on either side of the introitus or vaginal orifice (opening).  This extended internal part of the clitoris responds to stimulation from the outside as well as through the front wall of the vagina, in the area commonly known as the "G-spot."

Below:  The glans, shaft, and legs of the clitoris are shown in the darker color on the right. The legs surround the "bulbs of vestibular" of the clitoris that are right behind most of the vulva and on either side of the vaginal opening.  You can see from this that only a tiny part of the clit is actually visible, even when the hood ("prepuce") is retracted.

[Source: Anatomy & Physiology, Cnx.org/content/col11496/1.6/, Jun 19, 2013.]

Vulvas differ A LOT in appearance

Compare the photo above with the photos below.  Vulvas differ much more than penises do.  As my gynecologist friend says, "There's no such thing as a standard model pussy."

For example, the woman pictured below is an "outie":  her clitoral hood is clearly visible and her inner lips (labia minora) extend well past her outer lips (labia majora).  Some women have inner lips that are even wider, with rippled or scalloped edges, as shown below.  Also, the left and right inner lips can be quite different sizes.

Other women have inner lips that are much narrower and are entirely hidden inside the unaroused vulva.  (See the left-hand picture in the pair labeled "What female sexual arousal looks like," further down.)

Colors vary, too, and even fair-skinned women can have inner lips that have dark brown or even purplish edges, as in the picture below.


[Source:  http://outiekitty.tumblr.com/image/60059716024]

Some outer lips are thinner (below left) than others, while some are quite a bit thicker (below right); some meet in the middle, while others leave a gap.


The Clitoris

The head of the clit is often said to be the size of a pea or pencil eraser, but it can vary quite a lot in size.  In fact, clitorises vary much more in size than penises do.  Some clits are hidden by the clitoral hood (above), or are small but visible when aroused (below left), while others (below right) are much larger and quite prominent.

Source: Befke's World (tumblr 60062695107 and 119547706886)








What female sexual arousal looks like:


"In the left image female genitalia are in the resting state. In the right image the female is sexually aroused, the vulva is moist and the labia are slightly swollen."  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vulva#Excitement)

Notice that this woman is an "innie"—her clit and inner lips (labia minora) are tucked away inside the outer lips (labia majora) in the resting state and are barely visible when she's aroused unless the outer lips are held apart.

Most of the clitoris is hidden.  The shaft is covered by the clitoral hood and the clitoral "legs" and "bulbs" extend down behind the vulva and around the vaginal opening.

The entire clitoris can become aroused and suffused with blood, including all the hidden parts.  However, it takes time, usually 20-30 minutes of effective stimulation, for this to happen.

Women naturally experience the greatest pleasure and the strongest orgasms when fully aroused, and many women are simply incapable of having an orgasm, even a weak one, without reaching full arousal.

This is one of the main reasons why so many women (70-80% in most studies) say they seldom or never have orgasms during "normal" sex.  Most men either aren't aware of how much time is required to get their partners fully aroused or else they are too impatient to take the time and make the effort before they begin vaginal penetration and thrusting.

Even if enough time is allowed, physical and emotional tension can inhibit arousal and orgasm for many women, so it is also essential to remove as many sources of tension as possible.  A woman who feels relaxed, confident, and safe is far more likely to become aroused and to have an orgasm.

Large Labia

Apparently some women feel self-conscious about having inner lips that stick out.  Or they worry that a man will be repelled by their vulva because it has an unusual appearance.  

This is based on understandable ignorance, since most straight woman aren't in a position to see other women's genitals up close.  So, instead, they compare themselves to marble statues and prepubescent girls, not realizing how much variety is normal and expected for a woman's vulva.

Some women have gone so far as to have "labioplasty" operations to change their vulva's appearance.  These operations have led to a rash of side-effects and complications including scarring, numbness, and pain during sex.

In reality, men seem to be universally fascinated by the variety and not at all turned off by an unusual appearance.  If you get any surprised comments from an inexperienced lover because your vulva looks different from the images he saw in some book or video, I strongly recommend sending him to websites like the Labia Libraryr/labia, or tumblr sites like the ones above, to discover for himself just how much normal variation there is.

Ironically, given some women's concern with purely cosmetic issues, it is the women with the smallest inner labia who miss out to some extent during sex.  In some cases the inner labia are so narrow (a quarter inch or less) that a lover has nothing to spread, caress, lick, or play with.  At the opposite extreme, a pair with frilled or scalloped edges or that spreads out like butterfly wings offers a creative lover much more scope for giving a woman pleasure.


Women and Pubic Hair

One obvious way that the pictures above are abnormal is that I've chosen ones without any pubic hair in order to make the anatomy easier to see.  In many cultures this is rare, and in some it is considered decadent or obscene.  On the other hand, it sometimes becomes fashionable and may seem almost mandatory.  This happened in certain circles in the U.S. not too long ago, though the fashion now seems to be fading.

Pubic hair does provide some protection for sensitive anatomy, but the benefit appears minor, so whether it is removed, trimmed, or maintained in its natural state should be entirely up to its owner.

One factor that may affect your choice is how abundant your pubic hair is naturally.  Some people have very little, while others have luxurious thickets, covering a great deal of the inner thigh as well as the crotch and lower abdomen.

Most people I know who have shaved completely have found that keeping the entire area bare is just too much hassle over the long run.  Shaving the outer labia, in particular, often leads to nicks, razor bumps, and stubble, while waxing is complicated, expensive, and painful, and all of the choices are time-consuming.  By all means try it if you and your partner like the bald look, but be aware that there are no simple, hassle-free ways to keep it immaculate.

My own preference, as someone with a lot of hair down there, is to shave my legs all the way up, shave above the bikini line, leave a modest bush above the pubic bone, and trim the hair on the labia majora to less than an inch.  This avoids having an irritating stubble in the genital area while still making sure that pubic hairs won't get in the way of oral.  (Also, I'm short, skinny, and flat-chested, so if I go completely bald down there I look way too much like a little girl!)

The male genitals:





[Public domain image from the Wikimedia Commons; author: Coastone; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e9/Penis_with_Labels.jpg]

The wrinkled area below and behind the shaft is the scrotum, containing the testes or testicles.  Urine and semen emerge from the “meatus” or urethral opening.

The development of a penile erection, also showing the foreskin gradually retracting over the glans:


[Public domain image from the Wikimedia Commons; author: OrlandoDL; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2b/Erection_Development.jpg]

Once again, appearances vary a lot!  Some penises are straight, some are even more curved than the one shown, and some hook left or right or down instead of up.  The shaft can be longer, shorter, thicker, or thinner than shown.  The glans (head) can be wider, thinner, or more bulbous.  The scrotum can be longer and looser, allowing the testicles to hang down further.  And, of course, circumcised men don't have a foreskin, so the glans is always exposed instead of being covered when the penis is relaxed.

The relaxed penis can be almost the same length as the erection, or it can be much shorter, as shown in the first frame.  (In the vernacular, 'some men are showers, and others are growers.') And the angle of the erection can vary from quite upright (a bit more vertical than shown) to straight out at a 90 degree angle or all the way down to pointing at the floor. It's the firmness, not the angle that matters.

Cross-section view:



[Public domain image from the Wikimedia Commons; author: Elf Sternberg; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d1/Male_anatomy_en.svg]

Unlabeled
The corona is the thickened ridge around the edge of the glans penis (the head of the penis).  The whole glans is sensitive to pressure and friction, but for many men the corona is especially so.

The frenulum is a small, sensitive membrane on the underside of the shaft of the penis, right where it joins the head.  In the drawing above, it's on the part of the shaft that is closest to the top of the testis (testicle).  In uncircumcised men, like the ones shown above, it is a membrane that attaches the foreskin to the shaft.  In circumcised men, some or all of the frenulum may have been removed.  What remains is often a thin line that runs for an inch or so from the head of the penis down the center of the shaft, right over the urethra.

The perineum, or "taint," is the space between the legs at the very bottom of the pelvic area, between the scrotum and the anus.

Notice that the root of the penis is located inside the body, above the perineum.  It is almost as long as the exposed external part of the penis, and it is sensitive to pressure in many of the same ways.

Massaging either the perineum or the front wall of the rectum also massages the prostate gland, a form of stimulation that many men enjoy.

Penis size

This can be a big source of anxiety for men, although it shouldn't be for most.  To find out where you and your sex partner(s) really stand in terms of size, and what difference that makes, if any, please read this:

    How Much Does Penis Size Matter?

Premature Ejaculation (PE)

This is very common among young men, especially those who are sexually inexperienced. It usually fades with time, but it can be extremely frustrating for both people if you let it become an obstacle to good sex.  If, instead, you follow Rule #5: She comes first, and make sure the woman has at least one orgasm before you start vaginal sex, PE can be nothing more than a nuisance, or a project that the two of you can work on together.

If you want to be more active about increasing your stamina, I put together a thorough collection of resources and information to assist you:


Tips for Men about Pubic Hair

Most people think of managing pubic hair as a woman's issue, but it can actually be more important for men.

If you're male, take a good look at your penis and scrotum.  Many men have hairs growing out of the shaft of the penis itself and don't realize it.  And almost all men have hairs growing upward around the base.

Those hairs are a major turnoff for anyone who might be considering giving you oral.  If they get in her teeth or her throat, you can expect her activities to come to a screeching halt while she deals with it.  Hacking up a hair that is caught in her throat can take a while and it sounds and feels incredibly unromantic, so it's a big buzzkill at best.

My advice to any man is to make sure that both the shaft itself and the area right around the base of the penis are kept completely hair-free.  My partner uses a multi-bladed manual razor and it takes him only a minute or two per week to swipe the hairs from the shaft and the base.

I also recommend using scissors every week or two to trim the bush above the penis to an inch or so if yours grows much longer than that.  Some men prefer to shave it completely, and some women prefer it that way.  (If in doubt, ask!)

One interesting tidbit:  trimming or shaving the long pubes down there can make a man's penis appear larger from his own perspective, contributing to a subtle confidence boost.

But what about the balls?  Most men have a lot of long hairs growing from the scrotum.  If you don't care about getting oral in that area, that's fine.  But if you like having your balls licked and sucked, you need to learn how to shave your scrotum and then keep it hair-free. This takes longer, perhaps 10 minutes a week, but it is definitely worth it.

A lot of men are scared to take a razor down there.  Don't be.  Modern multi-bladed razors work fine as long as you stretch the skin smooth.  

However, do NOT try using an electric razor on your penis or scrotum.  The result can be bloody and painful!

More Tips and Ideas

This post is part of a book-length collection of articles with a lot of information and practical advice about good sex. It's intended for individuals who want to be better in bed and especially for couples who want to have great sex that will be sustainable in a long-term relationship, without fading away or getting stale.  

Here's the whole collection:




Enjoy!

.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

How do I have sex for the first time with my husband on our wedding night?

I've been moving sex-related posts from other media over here whenever I have a chance. This post originated with a woman in the Middle East who was entering into an arranged marriage, and she had no idea what the wedding night would be like. I know this sounds strange to most Western readers, but it's a common problem for men and women in traditional cultures, particularly in India and in Muslim countries.

As an American girl, I've never experienced the sheer lack of knowledge about sex that is commonplace for traditional brides. But with my name and ancestry, I've been asked for advice many times in real life and on-line by virgin brides, and even some virgin grooms. Here's my attempt to demystify the big event:


There's an almost endless list of things that could affect the answer to this question. For example, you don't say anything about what country you're from, what your cultural and religious beliefs are about marriage, how long you've known your fiancé, how well you know him, how old you are, how old he is, whether you've been intimate at all with him or anyone else (from a kiss to "near-sex"), whether he's experienced or not, and so on. Even physical things can matter, like height, weight, what kind of shape you're both in, and whether either of you have any handicaps.

For all those reasons, any answers I give you here might not be appropriate. However, I just wrote a fairly complete guide to the wedding night for a friend of mine who lives where she can't ask questions like this locally, so I will share my response with you here. (Warning! It's long and NSFW!)

First, assuming you are a virgin, how do you minimize the chance of pain and bleeding and make your first time as enjoyable as possible?

I wrote this for my nieces when they were old enough to be interested, and recently expanded it a bit and put it on the web:

Aunt Shakti's Action Plan for Proactive Modern Virgins


Second, what is the wedding night actually like?

And the answer to that is that that depends on the two of you and your cultural expectations. However, here's one way it might go:

Getting ready
You will probably want to undress in different rooms. Maybe your husband stays in the bedroom and you change into your nightie in the bathroom. 


Take the opportunity to use the toilet and to freshen up. Brides get nervous, and nervous sweat isn't good, so wash your armpits and your crotch. 

Put a tiny bit of perfume behind your ears, in your navel, and behind your knees. Rub some lube* on your clitpris and vulva and put some inside the entrance to your vagina.

Put on your nightie (optional) and your robe. Braid your hair or brush it out.
Image source:  The Pajama Shoppe

When you come out, your husband will probably have a robe on too. Go to him, let him hug and kiss you. Rub your hands up and down his back. If he is willing to prolong this, great! Rub your body against him as you kiss.


Pretty soon, you should feel his erection against your belly. He will probably step back at this point and undo and remove your robe and his, and then return for more hugs and kisses. 

He will then probably signal or turn toward the bed. One of you should turn down the bedclothes and get in, then the other gets in and lies so you are side by side, facing each other.

Tip:  If he is right-handed, try to maneuver so you end up lying next to his left hand, or vice versa. You want his "good" hand to be on top when you are lying on your sides facing each other.

Tip:  
If it's a small bed, try to arrange your position so you are mostly centered on it and he is lying on his side in the narrow space to your right (if he's right-handed). If you end up on top, you'll have to rearrange this, but if he ends up on top, you want to be in the middle for balance.

Tip:  If at all possible, bring a towel with you from the bathroom and put it down in the center of the bottom sheet, about where your bottom and thighs will be when you lie down on it. This will catch any blood and semen and other fluids that leak out. Sex can get messy!

Tip:  For the same reason, try to have a box of tissues on the bedside table, or stash some in the pocket of your robe and put the robe where you can reach it without getting out of bed.

Warming each other up in bed
As you kiss facing each other, he will probably use his free hand to rub your back, butt, breasts, and thighs, and then start to explore your belly and groin area. That's your signal to roll so you are lying on your back, and to open your legs a bit wider so his hand has access to your vulva.


Encourage him to rub and stroke. A little shiver of surprise when he first touches the vulva, followed by a tiny "ah" or "mmm" when he actually rubs it is a good way to do that. If he needs guidance, put your hand on his and help him adjust the position and pressure.

If you're really lucky, oral sex is not taboo in your culture and either he has had experience with women or he has gotten good advice from a friend or relative. If so, he may slide backward toward the foot of the bed so his chest is between your legs and his face is even with your vulva. If he does this, open your legs wider, spreading your knees far apart to give him access, so he can lick and suck your clitoris:

Image source:  sweetecstacy.com

A sharp inhale or gasp when his tongue first touches your clit is always a good idea, followed a little later by some appreciative "mmmms" and "oh!s" when he does something that feels particularly good. It's also a good idea to stroke his head and twine your fingers in his hair. If you do this with both hands, you can gently guide him toward the right places and the right amount of pressure and away from anything that is too hard or rough.

If he does this and he's got the patience to bring you all the way to an orgasm... well, he deserves some kind of prize for being in the top 1% of all bridegrooms! But whether he goes that far, or just gets you warmed up and close to an orgasm, or completely skips the warmup, the next phase is likely to be vaginal sex.

(Note:  if he's planning to use a condom, he needs to put it on at this point!)

If he is willing to let you be on top for this, you should do so. It gives you much more control over the speed of penetration. which can make the first time much more pleasant for you. (See the guide above and this post for information:  
Woman on Top - Sex in the "Cowgirl" Position.)

Otherwise, it is likely that he will prefer the "missionary" (man on top) position. He will probably slide or roll on top of you, either lying on you or kneeling between your legs like this:
Image source:  sweetecstacy.com

The main event
He will then use his hand to guide the tip of his penis into the entrance of your vagina. If he's not quite sure where it is, this may involve a lot of fumbling and shifts in position. You can help by pulling your knees up and out to the sides to make more room. 


Once he does get the tip in the entrance, he SHOULD insert his penis the rest of the way very gradually, but he will probably just thrust hard instead, in which case you'll probably feel a brief, sharp pain.

The position you end up in looks something like this:

Image source:  Wikipedia

or this if he prefers more of a kneeling position and can get his knees that far apart:

Image source:  sweetecstacy.com

In this position, he thrusts his penis in and out by flexing his hips and lower back, so it's a good position for sustained sex with a lot of intimacy. You can control the angle of the penis in your vagina, which affects how much sensation it gives you, by moving your knees up or down, more toward your shoulders or more toward the foot of the bed.

Some women like to grab their thighs and pull their knees all the way up against their chests or biceps, raising their hips up off the mattress. This is a good position for getting pregnant if you stay that way after he ejaculates, because it reduces the sperm leaking out. It is also a good position for a man with a smaller penis, because it allows deeper penetration.

The opposite position is where you straighten your legs more, slide your feet further down toward the foot of the bed, and arch your back. This tilts the pelvis the other way and creates more friction for your vulva, but it reduces the penetration depth, so it is better for a man with a longer penis.

When he comes
But first times are usually very quick, so you probably won't get a chance to experiment with positions for your legs until much later. For the same reason, don't expect much in the way of pleasure from actual vaginal penetration the first time.


Most men who are virgins are so overwhelmed by the sensations that they ejaculate very rapidly. In fact, it's not uncommon for a bridegroom to actually ejaculate as soon as his penis touches your vulva, before he gets it in at all!

If that happens, don't worry, just mop up any mess, remind him that there's no hurry, and then cuddle with him and talk about what an amazing, crazy day it has been, or how strange all this is, or whatever you want, until he gets his second erection and you can restart the program where you left off.

If he seems uncertain or upset, take his face in your hands, kiss him, and say, "I can't believe how lucky I am to have you for my husband!" That will usually resolve all of a man's insecurities! :)

He may want to have sex several more times that night, or you may be too sore or you both may be too tired, in which case, you should wait for another day to do it again. I hear a lot of couples saying they were so exhausted from the wedding that they just kissed, cuddled, and went to sleep the first night, so they could save their first time for the next day, when they were rested and ready.


What if it's not like this?
There are so many ways things could be different from what I just described that I couldn't possibly list them all. If your fiancé has something radically different in mind, ask him to explain what he wants and discuss it with him if you don't understand or don't want to do it.

Other than that, do what all newlyweds do:  fumble around and improvise! And if things go wrong, be patient, be ready to laugh with him about how silly the whole situation is (but never at him!), and reassure him that there's plenty of time – you've got a lifetime to get it all figured out!


Babies and birth control
Have you two talked about kids and pregnancy? Do you both want a child right away? It's great if you do, but it's not great if you would both rather wait, but you never find that out because you're both too shy to bring the subject up. So talk about it ahead of time!

(I personally favor waiting a year or more. I think any couple needs at least that much time to really get to know each other and to really fall in love, in a deep way, before the intrusion of pregnancy and babies makes this much harder or impossible. However, I don't live in a culture where there's pressure on women here to have kids right away, and I recognize that many couples don't feel that they can wait.)

If you would prefer to wait, go to a doctor and get a prescription for birth control pills and start using them well before the wedding. If you don't have time for that, he should use condoms until you've been on the pill for a month.

*Lube (and birth control)
If you decide to use condoms, you should also get (or ask him to get) a good, non-oil lube to use with them.

This one is water-based, which means it dries out faster and needs to be renewed more often, but it won't get sheets and clothes oily:
Water-based Silky Safe Longlasting Personal Lubricant GEL by Slippery Stuff 8oz

This one is silicone-based, is more slippery, and lasts longer, so it might be a better choice for a wedding night:
PREMIUM Silicone Based Lubricant (8 oz): Health & Personal Care

I've never used either of those brands. All I know is that they got good reviews on Amazon. But there are hundreds of alternatives you can buy. Just be sure whatever brand you buy says, "Safe for use with condoms"!

If you're already on the pill, or you want to get pregnant as soon as possible, then of course you won't be using condoms and you can use any pure vegetable oil as a lube instead. I like almond, walnut, and coconut oil for their smoothness, flavor, and faint aroma, but any good vegetable oil will do. Just don't use oil and condoms together!


Okay, this is probably T.M.I., but I hope it helps. Whether it does or not, congratulations on your upcoming wedding! Have a wonderful first time and a great marriage!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Beginner's Guide to Good, Great, and Amazing Sex

An old friend of mine did a really cool thing last month. She combed through the non-Tantra posts that I have scattered through this blog and organized them into what amounts to a sex ed handbook. Although she called it "A Beginner's Guide," it's really for anyone who wants to have better sex.

She goes by the name "TantraGirl" on Reddit, and this was her original post.  It was a labor of love, and she has kindly granted permission for me to quote her. All of the comments below were written by her:

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Orgasm and its Enemies: Karezza, Daoists, and other anti-orgasm crusaders

Every now and then, I get a barrage of messages from someone claiming that male ejaculation is bad, or that all orgasms are bad. Responding individually is time-consuming and unproductive, so I thought it would be worthwhile creating a general response. Perhaps this will help those of you who have run into these sorts of anti-orgasm fanatics.

Monday, July 31, 2017

How to learn to enjoy sex

For most people reading this blog, this is going to be an irrelevant question. But I was reminded today that it's a serious problem for some people whose bodies and minds have never quite gotten synched up to experience sex as something pleasurable.

The most common causes of 'sexual anhedonia' (lack of pleasure) are drugs and medications, hormonal problems, depression, dysthymia (a form of chronic depression), and religious repression. These require major lifestyle changes and/or serious medical or psychological treatment.

But what about the mysterious cases of anhedonia that don't seem to be related to any of these causes?

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Art of the Handjob

I'm continuing to collect things I wrote in other places that are relevant here. In this case, I was asked to explain what I mean by "giving a great handjob." (I'm going to describe giving one to a man, but the setup is similar and there's a link at the end to more detailed instructions for women.)

For starters, I strongly recommend three things:

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Modern Buddhist Tantra

At the beginning of the main "how to learn tantric sex" part of this blog, I made some highly critical comments about the way religious tantra is being marketed in the West. Ninety-nine percent of it is a blatant scam, an attempt to sell a fake, cotton candy version of Tantrism using sex as bait to get people into a cult.

Most of the ideas that are being peddled by these scammers as "spiritual truths" can be traced back to 19th century European mysticism, not to Asian religions, and especially not to Tantra. Even some of the most basic elements, like chakras, were words borrowed from the East, given totally different meanings in the West, and then exported back to Asia in an unrecognizable form. But no matter what you have been told, Tantra is NOT just another flavor of Western mysticism in Eastern clothing.

Authentic mainstream Buddhism as practiced in Asia has never interested me. It is deeply ascetic and monastic, and I have no interest in renouncing the real physical world, stifling all pleasures and desires, or becoming a monk or nun. And the watered-down, sanitized form of Buddhism taught in the West has always struck me as passive and weak – a wimpy, artificially-neutered shadow of the real thing.

I am also severely prejudiced against the typical form of Tantrism currently practiced in India, the home of my ancestors. This is an embarrassingly sleazy form of fake witchcraft and sorcery that preys on poor people, with "tantric wizards" peddling useless charms and hexes and fake cures around the edges of Hindu temples.

And, until recently, I had not given Buddhist Tantra more than a glance, because it seemed to be filled with bizarre demons and spirits and a lot of the same magical nonsense as the Hindu version.

However, at the urging of several of my friends and tantric sex preceptors, I have recently been reading David Chapman's blog Vividness and a number of related sources. And Chapman has just about convinced me that the kind of tantric sex that I have been studying, practicing, and writing about CAN live comfortably within a modernized form of Buddhist Tantra.

Since I know some of the readers of this blog are looking for something more than "just" fantastic sex, I wanted to share some of Chapman's ideas about what a truly modernized form of Buddhist Tantra would look like.

For him, Tantra is not some tacky hedge wizard selling you amulets. Nor is it some goofy crystal-brained New Age guru selling you "sacred sex" on the installment plan. And it is definitely not an ascetic, life-denying way to achieve nirvana in some far-distant future. On the contrary, it is a muscular, no-nonsense application of a pragmatic problem-solving philosophy to effective action in this world.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Bad, good, and magnificent sex

This is another in a collection of pieces that I've written elsewhere and wanted to include in this blog. I wrote it in answer to a deceptively simple sounding question:

What is the difference between bad sex, good sex, and great sex?

Bad sex is easy. It's sex that leaves one or both people feeling bad: bored, uninvolved, hurt, used, abused, violated, shamed, humiliated, neglected, ignored, and/or unsatisfied.

Describing good or great sex is a lot harder, and it might be a good idea to divide it into two kinds, because they use different biochemical pathways in the body and brain and they feel so different: