Category Archives: Ask the Sexpert

Did You Know May was National Masturbation Month?

Masturbation_EECard_WideWho knew masturbation had its own month! I would have been thrilled if it just had a day. I thought I knew nearly everything there is to know about masturbation, but two recent articles (this one and this one) even taught me a few things. Masturbation is a way for everyone to increase their understand of their own bodies and consequently allows them to guide a partner to increase the chances of a favorable “outcome.” Many couples have discordant sexual needs, schedules or medical situations where one partner is not willing or able to have sex on a specific day. If a couple is open and honest about their sexual desires and needs, and don’t feel threatened by a partner masturbating, it can be an enhancement, not a detraction to their sex lives.

First, the male:

  • Apparently, male masturbation does not have the same health benefits as sex with a partner. Multiple studies demonstrate that intercourse benefits a male’s blood pressure, heart and prostate health, and helps manages pain. Even the makeup of semen is different.
  • It’s not entirely risk free. Frequent or rough masturbation can cause minor skin irritation and forcefully bending an erect penis can rupture the chambers. Surgery may be required.
  • How much is too much? There is never too much masturbation unless it starts to disrupt your work, social obligations, or you stop having sex with a partner because of it.
  • Most guys masturbate. They masturbate if they are single, in a good relationship, or in a bad relationship. It’s more about relieving stress, clearing their head or helping them sleep than a reflection of how attractive they find their partner.

Next, the female:

  • Even though most females don’t chat about masturbation with their friends like males tend to do, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Women tend to feel more shame, but most women have masturbated at least once. Since way fewer women than males fail to orgasm, masturbation can be very helpful to having her understand what she needs to do.
  • Women have a greater variation of methods and props than men. Most women need direct stimulation of the clitoris, so a vibrating ANYTHING may do the trick. Women who masturbate using a vibrator tend to have more orgasms with a partner.
  • Women tend to focus on pleasing their partner, be thinking about the kids, going through a mental “to do” list during sex with a partner. While masturbating, she may concentrate just on herself.
  • Masturbation can improve her mood, help her relax, and ease menstrual pain.

So, let’s be honest with what we need, what we do, and what we want to find pleasure and reap all the benefits of self-pleasuring.

To Pull Out or Not to Pull Out? That is the Question.

I am noticing that more of my friends are using the pull-out method when they are in a monogamous relationship versus a hormonal or barrier method. Several of them have asked me how effective the method is at preventing pregnancy so I thought I would share with you what I told them.

If someone used this method their chances of becoming pregnant would be:

  • Perfect Use: 4 out of 100 women will become pregnant within a year if they always use it correctly.
  • Typical Use: 27 out of every 100 women will become pregnant within a year if they don’t always use it correctly.

You may be asking yourself, “Well how hard is it to pull-out before ejaculation?” It can be very difficult to control when someone is going to ejaculate because a male ejaculates at 15-28 miles per hour. Even if he releases a few drops of semen it can contain millions of sperm. The average ejaculation contains 200-500 million sperm! It only takes one ‘Michael Phelps’ out of the group to make it to the egg. The other concern is even if he pulls out in time, there is the possibility of sperm being in the pre-cum/pre-ejaculate. FYI – pre-ejaculate and semen can contain any infection (ex. Chlamydia or HIV) he has in his body and be spread to his partner. There are a lot of people who have gone back and forth on whether there is sperm in the fluid from the Cowper’s gland. The fluid itself doesn’t contain sperm, but because the fluid is going through the same tube (urethra) it may pick up sperm on its way out that was left from a previous ejaculation.

leaking_tapIt is also possible that some men “leak” sperm. According to a small study administered by the NIH, some men repeatedly leak sperm in their pre-ejaculatory fluid while others do not. The study goes on to say that even urinating after ejaculation may not clear the tube and a male could still leak sperm. The study inferred that the use of this method might be more successful for some men because they are less likely to be leakers. In conclusion, if you want to help prevent an unplanned pregnancy or STD, a condom should be worn EVERY time.

Sex and Disability

We talk about sex a lot as a society. But we don’t talk about a lot of types of sex. The vast majority of the discussions follow a pretty predictable formula – take a young-ish, attractive guy and a young-ish, attractive girl, add chemistry, flirting and some amount of time, then you get to sex. There are lots of variations (as Netflix’s seemingly infinite number of Romantic Comedy subgenres will show), but the broad strokes don’t tend to vary all that much.

Now, obviously, a lot of us who don’t fit that mold are still having sex – norms aren’t rules, after all. But one area that doesn’t get talked about often at all is sex with disabilities. Part of this is because you’re not just changing the casting of the expected narrative – substituting in two queer women, someone older, someone heavier, etc. You often have to change up the story entirely.

When you’re in a wheelchair, the idea of just letting things progress from making out to making love can’t be done without some kind of discussion. Getting undressed and moving to the bed can be sexy and part of foreplay, but it’s not going to be something that can happen without talking about it. And for someone with a condition like Fibromyalgia, spontaneous sex at the end of the day can be amazing and fun, or something that’s physically off the table because of pain.


And this is all once you’re at the point of having sex – our society can resurrect its Puritannical roots with a vengeance when it comes to thinking about people with disabilities as sexual beings. Dating is hard enough – doing it when a lot of the dating pool thinks that you’re non-sexual is far trickier. (It’s particularly ironic since most of us will, at some point in our lives, experience disability in some capacity.)

Thankfully, there are some good discussions going on, even if they’re not yet part of the mainstream approach to sexuality. This piece from a couple of months ago has some great points about how sex with a disability (and sex with people with disabilities) can be way more amazing than “standard” sex. In a nutshell, communication and being in touch with your body are both things that make sex better, and they’re both elements that are a lot more present when one (or more) people who are having sex also have a disability.

And as complicated as all of this can be, there are still a ton of other areas that will come up depending on your situation. This is a great first-person account from Autostraddle about exploring kink with Cerebral Palsy, and this piece talks about a lot of the intersections between s/m and disability.

Here’s to more, better sex for all of us, and to making our stories about sex as diverse as we all are.

“So, You’re a Virgin!?”: Thinking about the “Morals” of Virginity

What do you think of when you picture a “virgin?” Do the pictures in your head change when you imagine the virgin as either a young man or a young woman? Often times, in mainstream culture, it seems as though virginity for young women is a “prize.” Virginal women are seen as pure and innocent, and the loss of virginity may be associated with shame. For young men, virginity seems to be thought of as more of a burden. It can be associated with a lack of masculinity or seen as a source of embarrassment. These stereotypes regarding virginity highlight the ways in which the concept of virginity is highly gendered, meaning that the way we think about virginity is different whether it’s applied to men or women. Discussions surrounding gender and virginity highlight a lot of the issues that our society has with sex and gender.

consentWhy would we value someone more or less for never having had sex? It is most definitely of the utmost importance that sex take place between individuals who are able to consent. Sex should also include risk management strategies such as a barrier method (condoms, dental dams), and birth control (such as the pills, the shot, or the ring) if there is a possibility of pregnancy.  However, why do we place more focus on the moral weight of purity or the burden of proving oneself masculine, instead of paying greater attention to legitimately preparing people to know whether or not they are ready to have safe, consenting sex?

Why do we “count” some forms of sex, namely penile/vaginal intercourse, while other kinds of sex, such as oral, are not given as much attention? By limiting discussions about various kinds of sex, and by ignoring discussions about safe sex and consent, in favor of gendered stereotypes we lose sight of what’s important in any sexual relationship! The gendered stereotype for young women might limit them from learning about safety, desire, and recognizing whether or not they are ready. Young men may relate not having sex to insecurity, and feel the need to push themselves when they aren’t ready! Additionally, stereotypes associated with young men can be hyper-aggressive, and ignore the consent of their partner in favor of male desires. Forcing these kinds of ideas onto young adults and teens may mean that their relationship with sex can have very negative components from the get-go. It’s time to place more value on personal awareness and safety, and move away from harmful stereotypes!

Fun Friday: Things To Do With Your Hands That Men Like

Friday is here! Woo-hoo! Time to laugh with us – today we’re sharing this *gem* dug up by the Huffington Post. “Things To Do With Your Hands That Men Like” appeared in a 1970’s issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine and it is the funniest thing I’ve seen all week. Nuance Communications, Inc.

Staying Connected to Your Partner

Couples-holding-handsI was in the airport the other day and came across an article on the breakup of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. They have been married for 10 years and have 2 children. Gwyneth stated that they are “consciously uncoupling” which is just a nicer was of saying they are getting divorced. I remembered seeing an interview with her several years ago and thinking she had it all figured out. She was balancing motherhood, fitness, her career, etc. She looked gleefully at peace with her life and the direction it was heading. We tend to envision movie stars as having lives that aren’t messy or difficult, but they obviously deal with the same challenges as the rest of us. I find for me that I need to continually check-in with myself to make sure I am creating a space and time to bond with my partner. Many of us have this idea that our relationships are supposed to be perfect and feel like we are characters in The Notebook. Unfortunately, relationships take time and a little effort to keep both parties happy. Here are a few quick tips to help ensure you stay connected.

  • Touch each other – a hug and a few kisses can go a long way.
  • Laugh together – watch a funny movie or your favorite standup comedian.
  • Recalling memories – talk about a vacation or moment that you remember fondly.
  • Disconnect from electronics – find time to talk to each other without distractions. You need to make sure you are actively listening and staying engaged in the conversation.
  • Don’t just say it, do it – telling your partner you appreciate them is great, but you should do something out of the blue to show them you care. It may be as simple as doing a chore that they usually do.
  • Have sex 3-4 times per week – watch the video below for the surprising secrets of happy couples.

The Power of Non-Engagement: Anti-Abortion Protesters and You

Found on the Nation</a.

Found on the Nation

We have a pretty active protester presence at the Planned Parenthood I work at. We are very lucky in that the protesters here mostly stick to yelling and being obnoxious as their main form of intimidation, as other health centers have to deal with individuals who are more willing to break the law. However, the fact that our local protesters are law abiding doesn’t mitigate their attempts to intimidate and shame our patients.

So, what should you do if you have to deal with abortion protesters?

Here at Planned Parenthood, we practice a non-engagement policy with anti-choice protesters. This means that we practice and promote avoiding any contact with the protesters ranging from physical, to verbal, to even non-verbal communication (i.e. no making faces or rolling eyes!) Before working here, I would have questioned the effectiveness of this policy. Often times when I tell patients or people visiting the health center that this is what we promote, they are confused. So, I think it might be time to explain why the non-engagement is awesome, and why it works so well for our health centers.
Pretty frequently, patients and their guests feel motivated to yell at the protesters, to try to defend their decision so that the protesters will know that their situation is different. It is an understandable desire to make someone see your side, especially when you have come to a decision that may have been very difficult to make. The words of the protesters are cruel, demeaning, and don’t reflect the individual life situations of our patients. The protesters aren’t taking into account financial situations, emotional states, health complications, or anything else related to the specific patient. They are making blanket statements about motherhood and fatherhood, and ignoring complex issues. However, it is important to remember that it is no one’s burden to change their minds, and that they are probably not the type of individuals who can easily have their opinions changed. They’ve heard lots of stories, from lots of people, and they are still stuck in their convictions. That is their right, just like it is our patient’s right to receive comprehensive, safe, and non-judgmental health care. By engaging with the protesters, by even acknowledging that they are important enough to talk to, they gain a certain level of power. Their opinion is important enough to get a rise out of someone. I have observed from working at the clinic that ignoring these individuals is the best way to take their power away from them.

When I talk to patients I try to frame them as “small people.” They’re not monsters or demons, they’re mostly just bullies. People who come to abortion clinics to yell at and intimidate individuals getting abortions are hoping they will catch someone in a vulnerable position. Does somebody who yells at strangers during a possibly difficult time seem like someone who is following a path that isn’t based on direct confrontation? It is generally not worth engaging with individuals who are just seeking to rile up emotions and rely on guilt and fear for their tactics.

At our health center, individuals receive time with staff and volunteers trained in non-judgmental options counseling. They have their space to speak their truth, and come to a decision to that is truly right for them. This time is much more important than the unfortunate and misguided insults and abuse that they have to face from clinic protesters.

We Tried It: Reusable Cloth Menstrual Pads

The Deluxe Kit from Party In My Pants, which we tried for this post.

The Deluxe Kit from Party In My Pants, which we tried for this post.

Have you ever thought about what you use during your period?

Many of us don’t. The common tampon and pad rule the market, but there is an increased awareness of reusable (read: non-disposable) alternatives. We’ve already written a copious post about all the options available, but today, I’ll talk about my firsthand trial of one method: the reusable cloth pad.

I’ve been intrigued about this option for a while, because I have the most sensitive skin in the history of the world. (Only slight hyperbole: my skin will react to anything – non-gentle washing detergent; fabric softener; dark liquors, the heat…you name it, my skin will become inflamed somehow.) I personally have always preferred pads to tampons, but the problem with pads is that, predictably, my skin would become irritated and I would get rashes from them. Much like how cloth diapers are anecdotally good at preventing diaper rash, I figured the same thing would work for me, right?

So, last week, I took the plunge and ordered The Deluxe Kit from Party In My Pants (yes, commonly known as PIMP. No comment on that for today). The company had come highly recommended from people I’d talked with who use cloth pads and they sold a good introductory kit, with a liner, large pad, and overnight (long) pad in adorable colors for an affordable price. I picked the three cutest patterns in organic – because, why not and really, how adorable is the Fox Trot pattern – and received them last Friday, just in time for my period.

Here’s the outcome: I love them. I’m switching over and here’s why.

  • They are as absorbent as advertised.
  • They’re also comfortable – it doesn’t feel any different than wearing a pair of underwear, whether or not you’re wearing a flannel or cotton pad.
  • You can wash them like any other piece of clothing. Throw them in your clothes hamper (important caveat: when they are not wet) and they come out with few stains and just as fresh as before. This was one of my big concerns, and I’m glad to say that it was unfounded.
  • They’re more breathable: while I tried both flannel and cotton, I live in Florida and cotton will be my go-to during almost all of the year.
  • I am, as of this writing, completely irritation-free. Hallelujah!

My preference is for the overnight pad (I like the longer length) and the luxe liner for lighter days, but everyone’s choice may be different, depending upon the kind of underwear you wear and your individual period.

If you’ve been thinking about it, give them a try: I bet you won’t regret it.

PS: We were not compensated by Party In My Pants for this post; we just tried something and wanted to share our thoughts with you.

The App That’s Helping Syphilis Spread

dsc_0094-e1367819041812Some scary news is coming out of Onondaga County, NY. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of syphilis cases nearly doubled, and the smart phone app called Grindr is partly to blame. Grindr is a global positioning app that allows users to locate other users (within feet) who want to meet up. Many times, these meet ups turn into hook ups. The app is targeted to men who have sex with men, very similar to other apps like Tinder, which targets a more heterosexual base. Grindr boasts over 7 million members across 192 countries. You can see why health officials are concerned.

Health officials in the Syracuse area confirmed that nearly all the cases involved men, and more than 70 percent involved men who reported having sex with other men. Many of these men reported using Grindr (and similar apps) to find their recent sex partners. In case you need a refresher, syphilis can be deadly if left untreated by antibiotics. It is a bacterial infection, like chlamydia and gonorrhea, but left untreated, syphilis has much worse consequences. To learn about the symptoms associated with syphilis, please visit this CDC fact sheet.

This news is especially hard to hear considering that the U.S. was doing so well at reducing syphilis cases that the CDC officially ceased its Syphilis Elimination Effort just months ago in December 2013.

The Grindr website encourages its users to stay safe by getting tested and using protection, but only specifically mentions HIV and hepatitis. Here are two tips to keep you (sexually) safer when using meet up to hook up apps: 1- Know your status by getting tested often. If you’re testing positive, don’t spread the infection. 2- Use condoms. Asking someone you’re dating to reveal their status is one thing, but expecting a complete stranger to be honest about their status is completely unrealistic. And remember, given the opportunity, sexually transmitted diseases will spread, regardless of who you have sex with.

If you do test positive and aren’t sure how to tell your past partners, alert them anonymously with inSPOT. For testing, visit your local health department or Planned Parenthood.

Jane Fonda Teaches How to Get Physical In a Safer Way

I regularly have parents contact me asking for resources for discussing sexuality related issues with teens. I usually refer them to Planned Parenthood, but I am always looking for new reading materialteen to recommend to teens. I recently stumbled upon a book called Being A Teen: Everything Teen Girls & Boys Should Know About Relationships, Sex, Love, Health, Identity & More, by Jane Fonda. I was unaware of her commitment and dedication to the issues of teens and preventing unplanned pregnancy. I only knew her as the actress, activist, and workout guru but I will now add sexuality educator to the list. Apparently, she always had a passion for helping youth, but in the 90’s lived in Georgia and became heavily involved in helping young people navigate adolescence. Jane went on to found the (formerly the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention) Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential and the Jane Fonda Center for Adolescent Health at Emory University.


Jane remarked,

“I have a passion for this work, partly because, when I was a teen, I was very confused, not particularly happy, awkward about negotiating relationships with boys and didn’t know where to go for answers. I wrote the book because I was asked many times over questions like (from girls) ‘how do I know if I’m in a real relationship?’ and ‘how can I say ‘no’ and still be popular?’ and ‘when is it okay to have sex?’ I would see boys so confused and sad because they felt they treated girls well and were their best friends but couldn’t seem to get them to be their girlfriends. So many young people my non-profits work with don’t understand enough about how their bodies work, don’t know enough about ways to prevent getting pregnant or getting someone else pregnant, or how to avoid getting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and think that oral sex isn’t really sex and can’t give them an STI.”

This book is written in a very simple way that allows teens or adults who have a teen in their life to skip around and find the chapters with the topics that concern them and come back to the others at another time. This would be a great book for parents and teens to read at the same time and then discuss with each other. She did a fantastic job at discussing the topics in a medically accurate, non-judgmental way. She must have been a sexuality educator in a previous life! She really gets teens and the issues they struggle with around their changing bodies, hearts, and brains.