Ask Debby Herbenick | 69ing, swelling vaginas and the masturbation thing

This week Debby talks about pleasing your partner and yourself.

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Q My boyfriend of eight months and I have a great sex life except for one little thing: He loves to 69 and I hate it. The problem is I’m self-conscious about my skills going down on him, and I struggle to even enjoy what he’s doing to me because I’m so focused on trying to get him off. Usually neither of us are able to get off using this position, but sometimes he tells me to stop trying on him and he gets me off. He promises me that he appreciates my efforts and he’s okay not getting off that way, that just the act of 69ing makes him feel closer to me, and that’s enough. But it really bothers me not being able to enjoy his favorite thing in bed. Any suggestions as to how I can get better at this?
A You know how to get rid of self-consciousness? You practice something. That, and you get major kudos. You already win a Great Sex Partner Award—as does your partner—because you seem to be talking about the issue, and he’s expressed appreciation and been able to communicate how 69ing makes him feel more intimate. That’s all well and good. And as you can communicate, now you get to say to him that you are more than willing to work on this, but you need applause. You need cheers. You need to explore in ways that aren’t focused on whether or not he or you gets off but in ways that help you learn what feels good and that help you establish an incredible technique that you can feel proud of. It sounds as if there’s a lot of flexibility here and he’s as willing to play around and work on this as are you. I say, have fun with it. Once a week or two, have a 69 session that’s built around fun. And make sure you also get to have 69-less sex sometimes, so you don’t always feel anxious about sex. Try to have fun with it, too, appreciating the new angles you’re getting to see your partner from. Not everyone gets to stare point blank into their partner’s butt while stimulating their genitals with their mouth. Lucky you! Seriously, it can be a blast, and it is lovely of you to give it a whirl. You should also feel more than willing to share with your boyfriend the many things you hope he will do for or with you, too.

Q After intercourse, my vagina swells and it is impossible for penetration for a second round without a lot of lube. Is this normal? And what could be the cause?
A If your vagina swells up after intercourse, it may be that you are allergic to your partner’s semen. One way to look further into this is to try having sex with a condom so that none of his semen touches your vagina. If you don’t swell up with condom use, then talk with a health-care provider and tell him about your vaginal swelling and your “condom experiment”—he may be able to provide you with testing and possibly treatment, or recommend other at-home strategies to reduce the risk of swelling or a more serious allergic reaction. If, on the other hand, you are already using condoms during sex, have you considered the possibility that you may be sensitive or allergic to latex condoms (try polyurethane ones instead) or to the lubricant on the condoms (an alternative is to use non-lubricated condoms and add your own vagina-friendly lubricant such as Good Clean Love or Just Like Me)?

Finally, it may be that you’re not swelling up at all. If your vagina just feels tighter, it may simply be related to the fact that we women are not eternally wet rain forests and sometimes the vagina just cannot keep up with all the sex that a woman wants or has. Your vagina may not be swelling at all, but just may be dry, and adding a little store-bought lubricant is a wise idea in that case.

Q I’m a 26-year-old girl. Being blunt: (1) What is the big deal about sex/What is the point (Beyond reproduction, which I am not interested in)? In books, etc., characters seem to enjoy it, but what is the “real life” point? (2) How does the masturbation thing work? Over the course of my life I have tried masturbating probably half a dozen to a dozen times but it did not do anything much. (3) What are some good resources on female sexuality/female masturbation/female views of sex?
A What’s the big deal about sex? Well, it’s not a big deal for everyone. Some people are repulsed by sex, though they’re in the minority. And some have just never felt sexually attracted to or sexually interested in other people and may consider themselves to be asexual. Check out the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network. For those of us who are into sex, there are lots of things we like about it. Some people like getting to see another side to a person that other friends and colleagues never see—it’s like seeing a secret sex side, or seeing a softer, emotional side, or a crazy animalistic side that has passion that knows no bounds. Some people like being naked with another person. And there are certainly joys to be had with touching vaginas and penises and breasts and playing with body parts that some consider taboo. Then there are the feelings of sexual arousal and orgasm, which differ for everyone, but for some people they feel powerful and euphoric, calming or exciting (like fireworks), and I’ll probably never be able to adequately explain orgasm to someone who hasn’t yet experienced it. I know that everything I ever read before having one didn’t do it justice (some texts overblew the whole thing and others were so clinical and boring about it). Books you might find interesting are Sex for One (Three Rivers Press, $14)—it deals with various aspects of sex and explains the whole “masturbation thing”—and Becoming Orgasmic (Touchstone, $16).

Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., M.P.H., is a research scientist at Indiana University, sexual health educator at the Kinsey Institute and author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. Send letters to Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., c/o Time Out Chicago, 247 South State Street, 17th floor, Chicago, IL 60604, or send e-mail to inandout@timeoutchicago.com.


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