Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Vaginal Lube: A Little Extra

You don't have to wear a vulva costume to know that over the age of 55 or so, vaginal dryness can be a bit of a challenge. It's also true that you certainly don’t have to be anywhere near the second half of your life to benefit from a nice little bit of extra lubrication. In fact, even when everything’s in fine working order, making the decision to augment one’s own natural vaginal lubrication with a little something more can be a smart move for women of any age.

Naturally, you ask why. Well...

Because regardless of whether we’re young or old, gay or not, whether we’re having partnered sex or sex for one, well lubricated sex organs are way more sensitive and responsive than dry ones are. And while there are definitely devotees of a well tempered bit of friction, the fact is that lubricated vulvas are also less prone to injury during enthusiastic sex play. 

Of course, if you’re worried that your partner - if you have one - might take offense and wonder why enhancing the slip and slide factor is even necessary, you might suggest to him or her what others already know - that mutual lubing, as in "I lube yours and you lube mine," is a pleasurable act in itself and well worth the time it takes to accomplish it. And if your partner happens to be a guy, in this culture, anyway, penises have been known to appreciate and enjoy the heightened sensation that increased lubrication provides them as well.

Of course, there are countries and cultures where really, really, REALLY dry vaginas are considered way more preferable than lubricated ones. For example, some societies in sub-Saharan Africa completely reject the notion of vaginal wetness and lubrication of any kind during sex. 

The prevailing opinion in these societies is that the sensation of wetness is both nasty and distinctly not pleasurable. Not surprisingly, this line of thinking is held nearly exclusively by the men of these overwhelmingly patriarchal groups. Sadly, the social dominance of men in these cultures is often so complete that women are effectively coerced into providing their husbands and lovers as dry a vagina as is humanly, or inhumanly, possible.

Called “dry sex,” this often includes the demand that prior to having sex, the women of these groups artificially dry out their vaginas by inserting tampon-like plugs of a rough, absorbent material. Often the plugs are a conglomeration of a variety of local leaves, grasses, even soil, animal dung or sand. 

Once inserted, the plug is left in place long enough to absorb any natural lubricating wetness from the vaginal canal. It’s then extracted immediately before penetration, providing a tight, dry friction for the man and an arid, excruciatingly painful, lacerated vaginal environment that leaves women dangerously susceptible to gross injury and soaring rates of disease transmission. 

Women who refuse to comply or complain about this painful and dangerous practice are often ostracized or labeled as sexually deviant. In the case of married women, to refuse or complain is often to be divorced and ejected from their homes - with or without their children.

Of course, as human rights workers and individuals all over the planet who care about social justice raise their voices in protest against this sort of thing, it is my fervent hope that such rampant abuses of women’s bodies will become yet another defunct nightmare relic of a haunting and misogynist past.

But at the other end of the lubrication spectrum, we can certainly assist our bodies in reaching the highest levels of pleasure by lubing up, and indeed, the pivotal question then becomes:

What do we use?

A couple of points and caveats spring to mind here. First, while there are lots of enticing options at the corner drug store, it’s wise to check out their labels and avoid any stuff that’s laced with glycerin. The reason for this is that glycerin is a kind of sugar and as such, it’s likely to give you and/or your partner a whale of a yeast infection.

Also, anything that’s oil-based will definitely not be kind to condoms, and in fact, oil-based lubes will probably render your condoms unsafe and compromise the protection they’re supposed to provide. And if you’re a user of sex toys, vibrators, dildoes and so on, unless they’re those really pricey, very cool glass types, oil-based lubes will probably change the appearance of your toys, if not the way they work as well. For the sake of one’s condoms and sex toys, water-based lubricants are usually the best choice. They also tend not to stain the way some oil-based formulations do.

But take heart, all. Even if oil is close to your heart, there are some exceptionally good options out there in both the water-based and oil-based categories, and the variety is growing all the time. For example, there are now water-based, organic products made specifically for sex that contain only fragrant and flavorful plant extracts. There are also silicone-based lubricants that are quite long lasting. The silicone options aren’t for people who have issues with using chemicals, though, since they’re full of them. Like the kind of lube that warms when you apply it? There are organic versions of that available as well.

When all is said and done, however, for some folk simple is best. Which brings me to good old almond oil, and even coconut oil, the likes of which you can buy in any health food store. True, they’re deliciously light-weight and don’t have the staying power of some of the more industrial strength stuff, but for sheer purity and ease of clean-up, they’re the favorites of many.

While we’re at it, let’s remember that vaginal penetration is only one aspect of sexual activity that folks enthusiastically engage in. In fact, lots of women find that other activities, which we used to so quaintly refer to as foreplay, is often way more pleasurable for women than the so-called “main event.” Think clitoral stimulation here. Nipples. Tummies and soft inner thighs. And certainly then, lube’s an absolute must all around those areas as well, especially if the touch is by hand or vibe or anything other than a really, slobbery hot wet tongue.

Which brings us full circle, some might say. While lots of us have been relying on good old saliva since the dawn of the species, this is the year 2013. And there’s only so much that a dollop of spit can do, when you get right down to it. Right?

Do you have any preferences regarding lubrication? 

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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Senior Sex: Why Not Tell Grandma?

An increasing number of women whom I talk with about sexuality issues are decades away from being senior citizens - which means, of course, no old folks’ discount movie tickets for them for quite awhile. 

Not surprisingly, though, lots of these women are lucky enough to still have their mothers, aunts, older female friends and acquaintances – even their grandmothers – with whom they’re blessed to be able to share their lives. And since remaining in active touch with our sexuality tends to help us live longer and better lives, many of these young women know that they have a vested interest in setting the story straight insofar as it pertains to older women’s sexuality. After all, anything that can help women of our mothers’ generation stay vibrant and healthy is worth the effort, right?

With that goal in mind, I’m hoping that as younger women continue to take control of their own knowledge-base about their bodies, they’ll feel both motivated enough and emboldened enough to share what they learn with the older women in their lives. 

After all, age is just a number, or so they say, and in order to keep those numbers adding up, there are cogent, compelling arguments to be made that staying sexually active is a life-affirming thing, so long as one stays within the confines of whatever one’s health, and one’s doctors, will allow. Not that many doctors are interested in talking about the sex lives of their female patients over the age of 65 or so, regardless of the fact that we are born, live and die as sexual beings.

So okay, before you gasp and swear before all the angels that your mother, your auntie, or your grandmother would NEVER want to talk about her sexuality, much less consider tapping into it in some sort of active way, contemplate the following:

When it comes to characterizing the nature of postmenopausal sexuality, a recent survey of more than 600 older women between 50 and 85 reveals much of what lots of us already know. 

Conducted by Beverly Johnson, Ph. D., in conjunction with AARP’s Modern Maturity magazine, the survey asked women to describe their degree of interest, participation and satisfaction for a variety of sexual activities including reading and/or looking at erotic materials, kissing, embracing, intercourse, masturbation and engaging in oral sex. 

Johnson asked the women to describe themselves in both specific and general terms as a way to help interpret her survey’s results. One half of the women who participated were married. One third were widowed which is not surprising since at least in the US, women tend to outlive their male partners by an average of 6 years. Three-quarters described themselves as being satisfied with their lives in general.

In terms of their physical health, 85 percent of the women in the study described their overall condition as “good,” while the most common health issues for these women were arthritis and hypertension. Forty percent had had a hysterectomy.

“I wanted to explore sexuality in older women from a broad perspective and not just equate sexuality with sex or sexual behaviors,” says Dr. Johnson. In that regard, she also asked respondents to characterize other aspects of themselves such as perceived level of self-esteem and intimacy. Highlights of participants’ responses included that:

Two-thirds of these women, between 50 and 85 years old, remained “very interested” in sexual intercourse. Around fifty percent said they participated in sexual intercourse “very often.” About one-third said they are “very interested, active in, and satisfied with” talking about sexuality, reading or watching erotic materials, daydreaming about sex, masturbation and oral sex. Thirty-eight percent said their overall sexual satisfaction had increased, rather than decreased, with age.

Since the participants in Dr. Johnson’s study weren’t chosen by random, we can’t really generalize about the entire population of older women based upon these results. But who needs to generalize, anyway? One woman's life, by one woman's life, our lived experiences are both meaningful and precious, no matter their frequency in the overall population. But beyond that, Johnson’s outcomes are proof positive that contrary to social stereotypes, there are large numbers of older women in the US who continue to feel positive, fulfilled and in touch with their sexual energy well into their 80s and presumably, beyond. Awesome, right?

Of course, it’s important – even critical – to note that the women in Johnson’s study used a broad definition of what being sexually active actually means, and that’s as it should be, for anyone, not just seniors. So often we make the mistake of narrowly defining what it means to be sexually active by suggesting that it’s only penis in the vagina action that makes the grade. Obviously, this is nonsense. Remember our reaction when a certain dearly loved former US President tried to assert that oral sex in the Oval Office and slipping a fat cigar into a White House intern's vulva was somehow NOT having sex? Though I remain an ardent fan of the guy, the bald-faced silliness of that particular notion still makes me smile.

In that context and every other, whether we’re gay, bi or straight, partnered or single, remaining active sexually includes a nearly limitless array of activities; oral sex, water play, masturbation, fantasy play, intimate touching and holding of all kinds, alone or in pairs or groups – happily, all of it counts.

And so the question becomes, why not tell Grandma? More than likely, she'll be happy to know that she's not alone in her feelings and that someone, at least, realizes and validates the importance of them, regardless of what society's rigid norms and negative expectations might be about grandmas "getting it on."

Have you ever discussed matters of sexuality with older women to whom you are close? If so, what did you learn? If not, how do you think they'd respond if you did?

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Aphrodisiacs: Food for Thought

“Homemade white cheese, sizzling in a pan melting inside a folded tortilla… My mouth salivates at the thought of the hot steaming tamales I would be eating… if I were home.”
“How To Tame a Wild Tongue,” 
               Gloria Anzaldua 

I suppose it’s almost a no-brainer that whatever our cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds, the natural collaboration of food and feelings is common to the experience of us all, generating a mix of visceral reactions in us that can span the enormous gamut of human emotions. For Anzaldua, memories of her Mexican girlhood, the loving warmth of home and family, were all tied up in the seductive sensory impact of hot, spicy, savory dishes that nourished her at her roots.

I remember a recent talk I was invited to give about, what else? Postmenopausal women and sexuality. My audience was to be a group of retired and semi-retired professional women. The venue? A high-end country club on Florida’s Gulf Coast. As is usually my preference, I arrived a bit early and to my happy surprise, was greeted by the group’s Chairwoman and the most beautiful display of fat, luscious freshly-dipped chocolate-covered strawberries that I have ever seen. “We hope you like them,” the Chairwoman beamed. “So ripe. So decadent. So perfectly juicy!” …. Indeed!

Of course, as Valentine’s Day approaches, the intricately entwined relationship between certain foods, desire and the performance of sex is often on our minds. And when you stop to think about it, the presumed connection between particular foods, desire and the performance of sexuality has been a source of human fancy and fascination since ancient times.

Called aphrodisiacs in honor of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexuality and love, we can’t get away from the notion that some foods have particular use when it comes to enhancing our sexual energies and desires. And when it comes to what really works in terms of libido-enhancement, torrents of folk wisdom have ebbed and flowed over time. 

Depending upon where you stand on the planet, it’s not out of the question to hear praises sung for the ingestion of emu eggshells sold in capsule form, or a nice, big helping of horny goat weed. And while almost anything is possible theoretically, scientific proof about lots of this stuff is pretty hard to come by. 

Still, the world is a wide one, as we learned in our girlhoods. Take the exotic truffle, for example. Ancient Greeks and Romans once thought that eating these earthy, buttery-tasting fungi greatly enhanced erotic pleasure and performance; some folk still do. And we’ve all heard the lore about oysters and their reported impact on the prowess of the notorious Don Juan. As legend has it, he regularly downed massive quantities of the hapless creatures as a way to ensure a long-lasting, rock-hard erection and make legend his ability to send many a swooning partner over the edge.

Indeed, Eastern cultures often look to the relationship between yin and yang-oriented food items as a way to affect sexual energy and performance; yin items are thought to be more passive and cool, like vegetables, while yang items are thought to be hotter, more protein packed, like meats. And let’s not forget, that some culture traditions prize certain exotic animal parts, like tiger penises, as the gold standard in maximizing sexual energy regardless of the fact that these animals and many others with sought after sex organs are in danger of becoming extinct.

And as always in the US, history frames our present reality. In fact, since reality really is shaped by our language, it’s easy to see how we’ve framed women’s sexuality in food-related terms, with objectifying words and expressions like “tart”, “tomato” or “tamale” which sound silly now, but were once commonly used in the US to describe women who were seen as hot, spicy, sexually exotic and permissive.  And let’s not forget the cultural use of the word “cherry” in referring to a female’s virginity.

Even today, such ubiquitous and well-known terms of endearment still in use like “honey”, “sweetie,” “sugar” and the like, all find their origins in reference to foodstuffs that sit easily on the tongue. What’s more, in 19th century New Orleans, brothels catering to gentlemen of the land-owning aristocracy often threw parties at which their affluent male clients were invited to spoon out and enjoy a rich, sweetened caramel custard that had been packed into the plump vaginas of young mulatto virgins.

Really… Can you imagine?

While there’s no real scientific proof to support such claims, generally, foods are thought to evoke sensuality if they exhibit one or a combination of the following characteristics: smooth, rich, creamy, exotic or spicy. In that regard, and based largely upon a wide expanse of cultural folklores, most edible aphrodisiacs have fallen into five general types over time.

First, foods that create warmth and moisture such as curries and peppers were thought by many cultures to arouse heated passion. 

On the other hand, cold foods like lettuce and other green leafy foods were thought to chill passion and slow things down.  Second, foods that stimulate the senses (sight, smell, taste, and touch) in a pleasurable way were thought to stimulate passion. Think about the old standbys here: rich, smooth chocolates, red ripe strawberries, thick, creamy caramel custards, not necessarily spooned out of someone’s vagina, and so on.

Third, foods that were involved in reproduction such as fish eggs or roe, bird eggs, and animal genitals were believed to increase sexual desire and potency, and foods considered rare, expensive or otherwise hard to obtain were believed to be sexually exciting. Of course, as these items became more common, their reputations as aphrodisiacs diminished. 

Fourth and finally, foods that resemble male or female genitalia were thought to increase desire, hence the reputation of Don Juan’s oysters, corn, some fruits and root vegetables like bananas, cukes and carrots. Lots of folks call this sympathetic magic. Cool, huh?

But on Valentine’s Day, though we’re not likely to be interested in serving our partners some of the truly exotic, storied sex-drive enhancers like ambergris, a thick semi-solid substance regurgitated from the gut of sperm whales, or a tasty side serving of tiger penis stew, many of us might still be looking forward to something special for that romantic dinner. And for those of us who aren’t partnered, whether by chance or by choice, there’s reason aplenty to treat ourselves to something especially, deliciously, lustfully decadent as well.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Clitoris Size: Under The Hood

“We tend to think of the erotic as an easy, tantalizing sexual arousal. The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane…”
- Audre Lorde

“Deeply female,” indeed… So wrote the amazing and prolific scholar-social activist and black lesbian mother, Audre Lorde in the 1960s in Harlem, New York. But while Lorde was teaching us about “The Uses of the Erotic and the Erotic as Power,” (the title of her eloquent, powerful, poetic manifesto on the critical strength and erotic potential of women) very few spoke to us in the kind of clear unambiguous language many of us back then needed to hear about our bodies.

After all, back in the day, as they say, nearly all of what we knew about our bodies was what a male-centered, or patriarchal culture wanted us to know. And the false, destructive, minimizing narrative was clear: ours were bodies less capable and less privileged than their own. 

Ours were bodies that needed to be controlled, needed to be harnessed in, needed to be trussed up and regularly douched out, not touched by us, nor spoken about, nor remotely understood. And ours were certainly not bodies for us to enjoy, not the way males were encouraged to enjoy their parts, grasping, jerking, panting, tensing, hurling themselves blissfully into stratospheric orbit with clockwork regularity.

But not so for women. Not so for well-bred, God-fearing females of the day, for whom wholesale enjoyment of their anatomy would’ve sent them way over the line of decency. And most every community influence emphatically told us so, including parents, teachers, clergy and the like, the message being that exploring what was between our legs might lead us straight to hell, or worse, send us crawling back into the confines of our homes with an out-of-wedlock baby and our prospects for a decent marriage, a decent future, in tatters and shreds.

But we wondered, and pondered, and wanted to ask questions. Wanted to know the whys and the hows of our bodies. Wanted to experience them. To touch. To smell. To taste. And many of us did, but mostly without the knowledge that would’ve empowered us to make safe, informed choices in the process. 

Back then, just as now, most of us were taught very little about what went on “down there” in that mysterious, humid dark-land under our skirts. But occasionally in the course of being, we’d stumble upon - fumble upon - something grand... and it wasn’t at all where we thought it would be. You didn’t find it by probing way up inside of you. But it was definitely there… Something wild and rich and exquisitely special that could explode your very core and steal your breath away.

Which brings me to the clitoris, the illustrious royalty of body parts, long misunderstood in all her amazing glory. Of course, nowadays, most women and their lovers know generally the what, why and wherefore of this not-so-tiny structure, tucked away beneath its fleshy hood, centrally above the entrance to one’s vagina. And I say not-so-tiny for very good reason. While lots of us think that when it comes to the clitoris, it’s a "what you see is what you get" sort of thing, absolutely nothing could be further from the truth. 

Packed with an unbelievable 8,000 nerve endings, the small button-like bulb that we can see and touch and stimulate is connected to the shaft which is in turn connected to a deep-seated, interior, nerve-rich clitoral structure with two long legs that extend like an upside-down “V”  embedded in the pelvis. 

Created for nothing else than to give its owner maximum, send-her-to-the-moon satisfaction, the entire clitoral structure actually comes erect when we’re turned on, stiffening and enlarging, its exquisitely sensitive head or “glans” igniting us with every touch.

And so while lots of our naive male partners still expect us to "come" through vaginal penetration alone, the fact is, women weren’t constructed that way. And though legions of women absolutely enjoy the feeling of penetration and something-in-the-vagina fullness, for the huge majority of us, the clitoris is the fountain of our body’s pleasure response, the platinum standard, like a smooth Ferrari engine under the hood. It’s a fact pure and simple, “deeply female” and completely normal, whatever that term “normal” actually means.

Of course, like breasts and hands, feet and noses, the clitoris comes in many lengths and sizes. Many are nearly invisible beneath their hoods; others extend out and beyond the vaginal lips, and for some particularly well-endowed women, the clitoris is literally as long as an adult pinkie finger, plump and pink and clearly visible, nestled inside panties or enjoying the air commando. 

And wouldn’t you know it? Ironically, in a society that prizes large breasts, the owners of large clitorises often feel stigmatized and ashamed, erroneously believing that their large, beautiful endowments are something to be hidden. "Mannish," as some uninformed straight folk used to say. Sadly today, some of these women resort to painful, disfiguring, minimizing surgery, paring their clits down to a more ordinary, so-called “acceptable” size and in the process ruin their ability to experience pleasure at all.

For a whole host of reasons, this is unfortunate in the extreme. But as far as desirability goes, for untold numbers of prospective lovers, both female and male, a large, exposed clitoris, 3 inches and sometimes longer, is an absolute turn on and completely, unequivocally, TOTALLY hot! For many, it’s often a case of the larger the better and definitely something of which to be proud! 

But large, small, visible or not, enough is enough. At the current time in our history, and whatever our cultural backgrounds, it's important to remember that whatever its shape and size, your clitoris, mine and all the collective clitori (also the plural) on the huge expanse of the planet are completely, wholly and absolutely normal. Exquisite in their individual appearance, like fingerprints, they’re different on every one of us, and that’s a beautiful fact.

So relax. And enjoy it. As often as possible, because you know what they say, use it or lose it.

The truth is that sometimes, particularly for older women, with hormonal changes and the decrease in blood flow to our sex organs after menopause, the clitoris can atrophy, or shrink down, and actually decrease in size. Fortunately ever faithful, it still responds to stimulation even if this happens, but the characteristic bump, which is the glans, can become more difficult, if not impossible to feel. Clitoral atrophy can also happen through - you guessed it - lack of use. 

So whether we’ve got a partner or not, it behooves us to put our hands and our vibrators to work. Experiment and play. Let your clitoris know you love it because no matter its age and size, the royalty under the hood, pink and precious and “deeply female,” deserves active, reverent, abiding admiration. And for that, it rewards us extraordinarily well.

How has your relationship to your own anatomy changed over the years?

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