Saturday, October 27, 2012

Nocturnal Orgasms in Women: Dream Lovers

Whether we’re lesbian or straight, bi or transgender, once in a great moon, and if we're very lucky, we come across a person who physically, at least, is the potential stuff of our dreams. It could be at the mall, or on line at the movie theatre. It might even happen at a pre-dawn political rally somewhere as we’re trying to re-elect President Barack Obama for a well deserved second term in the Oval Office. The point is that it happens; the stuff of dreams appears like some ethereal paragon in the mist, usually when we least expect it. Sometimes, though, our “dream stuff” is a person we already know; someone else’s significant other, maybe, and a potential emotional or relationship catastrophe were we to act on it.

Still, regardless of whether or not we’re in a position to pursue said eye candy, it’s completely within the purview of every woman’s reality to explore the “what if” in our fantasies and in our dreams. And often, the very act of dream exploration itself is exceedingly delicious, brimming with heat and spice and wild, unfettered abandon.

According to a recent study conducted by the University of Montreal that included participants up to the age of 89, women are just as likely to dream about sex as men. In fact, sexual fantasies, including sexual dreaming, are a regular, positive and completely healthful reality of millions of women’s lives. Moreover, the older we get, the more active and enjoyable our sexual dreaming can be with around 37% of women in the US having dreams leading up to nocturnal orgasms by the age of 45.

Dubbed “dreamgasms” by well-known sex researcher and performance artist Dr. Annie Sprinkle in her essay, Annie Sprinkle’s Models of Orgasm, this unique and awesome kind of female orgasm occurs totally without genital stimulation. “Often we dream that we’re having an orgasm, and simultaneously have one physically,” says Sprinkle. Many times the sensation wakes us up!

If this has happened to you, were you surprised? Were you receptive to the experience?

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Female Masturbation: Loving Self

I’m always troubled, and more than a little sad, when women I speak with in 2012 continue to express feelings of shame and guilt about taking their own pleasure in hand. Let’s face it: puritanical and repressive views of female masturbation continue to rob many women of the ability to see sex for one as the viable, self-affirming and celebratory act of pleasure-filled empowerment that it was always meant to be.

Depending upon where we live, our cultures of origin, and even our ages, there are lots of terms out there that describe the same thing. Some of the ones you may have heard include sex for one, flying solo, self-cultivation and of course, plain, old, lovely and exquisite masturbation.

Whatever it’s called, you might find it interesting to know that aside from providing tangible health benefits such as headache relief, increased vaginal health and better muscle tone “downtown,” there have been several recent studies showing that women who engage in sex for one actually have higher self-esteem in general than women who don’t.

Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, at a time when many of us were in our early or middle childhoods, Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues published the historic and groundbreaking Kinsey Report, a wide-ranging and highly respected study of sexual behaviors the US.

Some of the aspects they focused on were the masturbation techniques of women at that time, reporting that 84% of women who masturbated stroked or stimulated the inner lips and or clitoris, and 10% crossed their legs and exerted a steady rhythmic pressure on the whole genital area. Breast stimulation was involved for 11% of women, although none reported that solely, 20% inserted dildoes or various “household items”, and 11% reported using other techniques, including 2% who could orgasm from fantasy alone, while others used vibrators, pillows and other objects upon which to apply pressure. On average, it took women about 4 minutes to orgasm using whichever masturbation technique they preferred.

Fast forward to the present, and as author Martha Cornog reports in her 2003 book The Big Book of Masturbation, not much has changed in terms of technique over the past fifty years. Women still use their hands most often to stimulate themselves. However, techniques have begun to diversify a bit due to recent changes in the culture as a whole. One such change is the internet, which allows greater access to the accounts of the experiences of others, often across cultures. For example, in some rural areas of China as well as Oceania, where venerated old ways and cultural wisdoms have withstood the onslaught of Western influence, many women continue to masturbate with their feet by sitting on the floor, bending the right leg and pulling the heel of the right foot against the vulva.

Have you thought about whether or not outside pressures have influenced your freedom to fully explore ways to love your body? Has this changed as you’ve gotten older?

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tantric Sex: Eastern Possibilities

I sometimes hear post-menopausal women speak about their worries that they may have lost touch with their innate sexual passion in some scary, unexplainable but fundamental way. Sometimes there's the feeling that both their energy and interest have permanently abated, and for many of us, this can be a cause of deep and serious concern. In the course of our conversations, however, lots of women are happy to discover that learning about the practice of Tantric sex, and familiarizing ourselves with some of its techniques, can help us reclaim the sexual intimacy that's, quite literally, our birthright.

Practiced in Eastern cultures since ancient times, the word "Tantra" means to "manifest, expand, show and to weave." From this perspective, it's a set of practices thought to expand consciousness and sexual response by weaving together the polarities of male and female. Worldwide, devotees of Tantric sex number in the millions. A common thread for the vast majority of them is the belief that sex can be a doorway to the divine, and that Tantra offers the benefit of a sexual wisdom that's a resilient, vital and valuable resource, particularly as we age.

The more you learn about the practice, it becomes quite clear that Tantra, in its multiple manifestations, can also be quite health enhancing. Even more interesting, leading practitioners of Tantric sex attest that women whose male partners experience premature ejaculation often find that lovemaking becomes way more satisfying using Tantric techniques.

Have you ever had any desire to experience Tantric sex? If it's already a part of your sexual repertois, how has it changed the quality of your experience?

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sex After Hysterectomy: Then and Now

Many women I talk with want to know if sex is ever experienced the same way again after a hysterectomy. It’s a great question, and when you ask around, lots of women who've had the surgery are happy to share that their enjoyment of sex has stayed constant and unchanged. For these very fortunate women the “feel” of their orgasms was quite indistinguishable prior to and after their surgeries. But overall, and while individual experiences certainly vary, for so many women who have undergone the removal of the uterus (sometimes including the removal of the ovaries as well), the issue continues to be an important one long after the event.

There seem to be some common experiential threads, though. For example, total hysterectomy, a procedure that includes removal of the ovaries as well as the uterus, causes severe drops in hormone levels, which may cause women to experience sex-related issues that require intervention after the surgery. Also, since uterine contractions are a hugely pleasurable part of orgasm for many women, losing one’s uterus to hysterectomy may change the character and/or the perceived intensity of the orgasm. In addition, the removal of the cervix may change the sensation experienced by both partners, especially during deep penetration. Some women also tell me that, while still very pleasurable, their post-hysterectomy orgasms feel somewhat “shallower” and less complex than they did prior to the surgery. However, there are some witty little strategies that can be helpful here. For example, some women have discovered that coming to orgasm with a partially full bladder really helps to intensify the sensation in ways that are similar to what they remember prior to the surgery. Who would’ve thought it? But whatever works, right?

If you’ve had a hysterectomy, do your experiences resonate here? If you haven’t had one, do you think about the “what if?”

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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Sexual Ageism: It Always Amazes

The older I get, and the more I read, go to the movies, and write, I'm increasingly amazed at how difficult it is to find compelling, empowering plot lines in novels and film that shine a positive, celebratory focus on the sexuality of women over the age of fifty-five. In fact, older women are effectively rendered invisible except as matronly asexual grandma types - as if we got to be grandmothers by way of some long-ago forgotten or abandoned magic. I’m not sure why that is, except perhaps, because of  US culture’s continued, tedious and myopic obsession with either caricaturing or erasing the sexual identities of over 70 million of its female residents. This seems to be a glaring omission, since that’s the estimated number of midlife and older women currently alive in the US.

In my capacity as a teacher and speaker, I consider myself deeply fortunate to work with lots of smart, candid and creative women who fit into this age group. Especially in my Human Sexuality classes, their intimate and exuberant talk is usually grounded in their enormous enthusiasm about sharing the feelings of empowerment, autonomy and resilience that characterize the sexuality of women in later life.  

They’re also almost always thrilled to learn about the ways in which remaining sexually active can improve the quality of our lives throughout our 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond! Whether we are straight, lesbian, bi, or trans, remaining active sexually can reduce many of the annoying physical changes we experience as we age. For example, having an orgasm can help with pain relief from conditions like arthritis since orgasms release powerful endorphins in the brain. They can also help protect our hearts and assist in lowering blood pressure in women. As if that’s not enough, having an orgasm can increase joint flexibility as well as assist in headache relief for many women, regardless of age.

And while it’s true that straight women can expect to outlive their partners by an average of six to eight years in the US, orgasms can be equally delicious and useful whether you’re engaged in partnered sex… or yummy sex for one!

Do you have any thoughts about why more people don’t talk and or write about post-menopausal women and sex?

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Sex Drive After Menopause: Down and Up Again

Women over the age of 60 or so often want to talk about the interesting trajectory of women's sexual desire as we approach perimenopause, the approximately 18 month period directly before and immediately after one's "period" actually disappears for good. They also have concerns about sex beyond that time frame as we move through the process into the latest stages of life. Their commentary and questions sometimes revolve around society's stereotypical assumption that the older women get, the less sexual desire we can expect to experience and enjoy.

However, the reality for lots of older women isn't nearly as intuitive as all that. For example, many women have found that after an initial - sometimes dramatic - decrease in sex drive during their 50s and 60s, their levels of desire actually surged to new, exhilarating heights when they reached their 70s and even their 80s.

While any number of reasons can be theorized for why this unexpected rise takes place, and why for some women, it might take decades to occur, many women find that it helps to track the changes in their levels of desire over time. Keeping a journal or diary of changes can be helpful, they argue, since journaling can help identify whether or not subtle shifts and changes may be linked to other factors. 

Are you surprised to hear about this happy phenomenon?  Does it reflect your lived experience or that of an older woman you know?

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