Try new sexual positions The bestselling guide to a rewarding sex life and a deeperrelationship Looking for the straight facts on sex? In this friendly,authoritative guide, renowned sex therapist Dr. Ruth gives you thelatest on everything from oral sex and popular positions to newmethods of birth control. She also debunks sex myths and covers newtherapies to manage low libido, overcome sexual dysfunction, andenhance pleasure. Praise for Dr. Ruth and Sex For Dummies "Her energy level is higher than that of a charged particle." -People Magazine "Dr. Ruth writes the way she talks - enthusiastically,nonjudgmentally, and informatively. . . ." -Booklist "Her name and the distinctive thrill of her voice have becomeinextricably linked with the subject of sex." -New York Times Discover how to * Enjoy the first time * Enhance foreplay and afterplay with your partner * Avoid STDs and have safer sex * Discuss sex with your kids * Navigate cybersex
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by Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer with Pierre A. Lehu
Sex For Dummies®, 3rd Edition
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Copyright © 2007 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana. Text and author-created materials copyright © 2007 Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer.
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Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer is a psychosexual therapist who helped pioneer the field of media psychology with her radio program, Sexually Speaking, which first aired in New York in 1981. Within a few years, she had built a communications network to distribute her expertise that included television, books, newspapers, games, calendars, home videos, and computer software.
Dr. Westheimer studied psychology at the Sorbonne in Paris, received her Master’s Degree in Sociology from the Graduate Faculty of the New School of Social Research and her Doctorate of Education (EdD) in the Interdisciplinary Study of the Family from Columbia University Teacher’s College. Working at Planned Parenthood prompted her to further her education in human sexuality by studying under Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan at New York Hospital–Cornell University Medical Center. She later participated in the program for five years as an adjunct associate professor. She has also taught at Lehman College, Brooklyn College, Adelphi University, Columbia University, and West Point. She is currently an associate fellow at Calhoun College at Yale University, where she teaches a class on the family, a fellow at Butler College at Princeton University, where she teaches a class on the Jewish family in the Department of Judaic Studies, and an adjunct professor at New York University.
Dr. Westheimer is a fellow of New York Academy of Medicine and has her own private practice in New York. She frequently lectures around the world, including at universities, and has twice been named “College Lecturer of the Year.” She has received honorary doctorates from Hebrew Union College—Institute of Religion, Trinity College, and Lehman College, as well as a Medal of Excellence from Columbia Teacher’s College.
Dr. Westheimer has written 31 books. Some of the others include Dr. Ruth’s Encyclopedia of Sex, Dr. Ruth’s Sex After 50, The Art of Arousal, The Olive and the Tree: The Secret Strengths of the Druze, and Rekindling Romance For Dummies. AndDr. Ruth can be found on the Web at www.drruth.com.
Pierre A. Lehu has been Dr. Ruth’s “Minister of Communications” for more than 25 years. He has co-authored 13 books with her.
“The reticent do not learn; the hot-tempered do not teach.”
Chapters of the Fathers 2.6
To the memory of my entire family who perished during the Holocaust — I am thankful that they had the opportunity to instill in me the much cherished values of the Jewish Tradition before they were lost to me. And to the memory of my beloved late husband, Manfred Westheimer.
To my wonderful family of now: my daughter, Miriam Westheimer, EdD; my son-in-law, Joel Einleger; my grandson, Ari Einleger; my granddaughter, Leora Einleger; my son, Joel Westheimer, PhD.; my daughter-in-law, Barbara Leckie, PhD.; my granddaughter, Michal Leckie; and my grandson, Benjamin Westheimer!
I am grateful and appreciate the tremendous contribution in writing this book made by Pierre Lehu. Pierre and I are now entering our 26th year of working together! He is the best “Minister of Communications” anybody could wish for. A special toast to Pierre and to many more years of cooperation.
I have so many people to thank it would require an additional chapter, so let me just mention a few: David Best, MD; Gwynne Bloomfield-Pike; Marcie Citron; Martin Englisher; Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, PhD, and Howard Epstein; Gabe Erem; David Goslin, PhD; David Hager; Mark Hager; Alfred Kaplan; Steve Kaplan, PhD; Robert Krasner, MD; Ronnie and Michael Kassan; John Kilcullen; Marga and Bill Kunreuther; Stephen Lassonde, PhD; Gabrielle Lehu; Peter Lehu; Lou Lieberman, PhD, and Mary Cuadrado, PhD; John and Ginger Lollos; Sanford Lopater, PhD; Jonathan Mark; Mary Jane Minkin, MD; Dale Ordes; Fred and Ann Rosenberg; Cliff and Eleanor Rubin; Peter Schaefer; Joanne Seminara; Rose and Simeon Schreiber; Daniel Schwartz; Amir Shaviv; Jerry Singerman, PhD; Richard Stein; Hannah Strauss; Betsy and William Sledge, MD; Kathy Welton; Greg Willenborg; Ben Yagoda; and Froma Zeitlin, PhD.
To the Wiley staff: What a terrific, hard working, competent, and expert group you are to work with! Thanks especially to Stephen Kippur, Wiley’s president, for his overall supervision, and to Alissa Schwipps and Vicki Adang for their hard work. I also want to thank Kathy Nebenhaus, Kathy Cox, Lindsay McGregor, and our new technical editors, Christopher F. Fariello, PhD, MA, LMFT, and LeeAnne M. Nazer, MD.
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About This Book
Conventions Used in This Book
What You’re Not to Read
How This Book Is Organized
Icons Used in This Book
Where to Go From Here
Part I : Getting Ready for Sex
Chapter 1: So You Want to Know More about Sex
What Is Sex, Anyway?
So Why Do We Have It?
Understanding the Ins and Outs of the Sexual Response Cycle
Playing It Safe
Adjusting Over Time
Are You Ready to Get Busy?
Chapter 2: Tuning the Male Organ
The Penis: Inside and Out
Grasping the Basics of Your Testicles
The Prostate Gland
Chapter 3: Demystifying the Female Parts
Making Time for a Grand Tour
Translating All Those Latin Terms
The “Men” Words: Menstruation and Menopause
Breasts: Hanging in There
Chapter 4: Courtship, Marriage, and Commitment: Getting to Yes
Starting Off with Courtship
Moving On to Commitment
Sealing the Deal: Making Marriage Work
Chapter 5: It’s All about Control: Contraception and Sex
Why Use Contraceptives?
Considering Your Birth Control Options
Facing Facts about Birth Control Myths
If Your Method Fails
Chapter 6: Growing Up Fast: The Challenges of the Teen Years
Being a Teenager in the Twenty-First Century
Evolving into Adulthood
Dealing with Common Concerns
Protecting Your Privacy
Don’t Stop Here
Part II : Doing It
Chapter 7: Foreplay: Revving Up Your Engines
Foreplay for Life
Linking the Emotional to the Physical
Setting the Stage
Switching Gears: Engaging the Genitals
Moving on to the Main Event
Variety Is the Spice of Foreplay
Chapter 8: Intercourse: Coming Together for the First Time
What’s the Rush?
Making Your First Time Special
The First Time for Women
The First Time for Men
The First Time All Over Again
Chapter 9: Changing Positions: Variations on a Theme
The Good Old Missionary Position
The Female-Superior Position
Taking Her from Behind
East Side, West Side, Side by Side
The Oceanic Position
Oral Sex: Using Your Mouth
Anal Sex: Handle with Care
Safe Sex: Playing Alone Together
Sex During and After Pregnancy: Orgasms Are Okay, with Changes
Chapter 10: Going for the Big O
What Is an Orgasm, Anyway?
Experiencing Orgasms: Differences for Men and Women
Achieving Orgasm: Let Me Count the Ways
Don’t Try — Let It Come. You’ll Be Glad You Did
Putting on Your O-Face: Responding to the Orgasmic Experience
The Best Reason to Have an Orgasm
Chapter 11: Afterplay: Embracing the Moment
Understanding the Importance of Afterplay
Sharing the Moment
The Simplest of Techniques
Chapter 12: Spicing Up Your Sex Life
Using Variety to Add Some Va Va Va Voom to Your Sex Life
Expanding Your Toy Chest
Part III : Different Strokes
Chapter 13: Enjoying Oral Sex
Overcoming Your Inhibitions
Leaving Him Breathless: What Men Like
Making Her Toes Curl: What Women Like
Dealing with Some Delicate Details
Assuming the Position
Addressing the Safety Issue
Chapter 14: Savoring Solo Play and Fantasy
Exploring the Mythology of Masturbation
Avoiding Too Much of a Good Thing
Masturbation: Good for All Ages
Fantasy: It’s All in Your Head
Chapter 15: Keeping Up with Cybersex and Other Hot Stuff
Eyes Wide Open: A Word of Caution
Cybersex: Sights for Mature Minds
Sex and the Telephone: Aural Sex
Sex and the Radio: It’s All Talk
Sex and Television: A Different Meaning of Boob Tube
Sex with Multiple Partners: Where Do All of These Body Parts Go?
Chapter 16: Celebrating Same-Sex Relationships
Considering Sexual Orientation
Determining Your Orientation: What Turns You On
Revealing Your Sexual Identity
Sexual Practices among Gay Men
Sexual Expression between Lesbians
Marriage between Same-Sex Partners
Chapter 17: Conquering the Challenges of Mature Sex
Female Changes: Tackling Menopause
Male Changes: Not All the Same
The Psychological Bonuses
Chapter 18: Thriving Sexually with Illness or Disability
We Are All Sexual Beings
Sex When You’re Physically Disabled
Sex After You’ve Had a Heart Attack
Sex When You Have Diabetes
Sex and People Who Are Mentally Disabled or Ill
Sex and People Who Are Living in a Long-Term Care Facility
Uncompromising Compromised Sex
Part IV : Having a Healthy Sex Life
Chapter 19: What You Can Catch and How to Prevent It
STDs: Battle Scars No One Wants after a Night of Sex
Let’s Get Serious
Chapter 20: Erectile Dysfunction and Other Male Sexual Problems
Priapism — The Case of the Permanent Erection
The Bent Penis
Lack of Desire
Chapter 21: Low Libido and Other Female Sexual Problems
That Elusive Orgasm
Ouch! It’s Too Tight in There
When Cleaning the House Sounds Better Than Having Sex
Every Body Is Attractive
Sex After a Mastectomy
Chapter 22: Avoiding Sexual Relationship Pitfalls
Making Time for Alone Time
Making the Most of a Long-Distance Relationship
Dealing with Addictive Behavior: Hooked on Porn
Staying Close to Avoid the Empty-Nest Syndrome
Chapter 23: Sex and the Law
Sex, Children, and the Law
Rape: A Growing Concern
The Law and Contraception
The Law against Spreading Diseases
Abortion: A Legal Safeguard
The Law and Homosexuality
Prostitution: The Case for Legalization
Pornography: Erotic or Obscene
Adultery: Cheating the Law
Chapter 24: Teaching Your Children about Sex and Keeping Them Safe
Not Everything Is Dangerous: Teaching Proper Functioning and Etiquette
Answering Children’s Questions
Warning Signs of Possible Sexual Abuse
The Accidental Voyeur
Protecting Your Children from the Media
Protecting Your Children from Cyberporn: Good News and Bad News
Giving the Speech about Strangers
That Other Discussion — Sex Ed and the Older Child
Other Messages You Don’t Want to Send
Part V : The Part of Tens
Chapter 25: Ten Dumb Things People Believe about Sex
If I Haven’t Had Sex by the Time I’m 18, I’m a Loser
The More I Score, the More Pleasure I’ll Have
Being a Heterosexual Makes Me Immune to AIDS
The Grass Is Always Greener in the Neighbors’ Bedroom
Having Sex Will Make Everything All Right
A Good Lover Must Be an Open Book
I Should Always Compare Sexual Partners
I Can’t Become a Better Lover
Lovers Want and Need the Same Things
I’m Too Old to Have Sex
Chapter 26: Ten Tips for Safer Sex
Learn to Say No
Limit Your Number of Partners
Don’t Rely Solely on Your Instincts
Never Dull Your Senses When You’re with Strangers
Discuss Safer Sex in Advance
Develop a Relationship Before You Have Sex
Don’t Engage in Risky Behavior
Don’t Forget about the Other STDs
Don’t Sell Your Other Options Short
Chapter 27: Ten Things Women Wish Men Knew about Sex
Chivalry Isn’t Dead Yet
You Can’t Hurry Love
A Clitoris Is Not Just a Small Penis
Women Need to Bask in the Afterglow
Kinky Sex Isn’t Sexy Sex
Wandering Eyes Mean Less Sex
Slam-Bam-Thank-You-Ma’am Doesn’t Cut the Mustard
Changing Diapers Is Sexy
Just Because You Can’t Doesn’t Mean You Won’t
Chapter 28: Ten Things Men Wish Women Knew about Sex
Try Not to Give Mixed Signals
Lack of Sex Really Can Hurt
Sometimes Wasting Electricity Is Okay
Teamwork Is Important
The Playboy Playmate Is Not a Threat
The Day I Stop Looking Is the Day I’m Dead
If You Really Loved Me, You’d . . .
The Way to a Man’s Heart Is Not through His Stomach
To a Man, Sex Is Different than Love
The Older a Man Gets, the More Help He Needs
Chapter 29: Ten Tips for Truly Great Lovers
Don’t Make Love on Your First Date
Set the Mood as Far in Advance as Possible
Find Out What Your Partner Needs
Protect Yourself and Your Partner
Don’t Fall into a Rut
Fix the Potholes of Love
Use Your Sense of Touch
Become a Great Kisser
Satisfy Your Partner Even If You Don’t Feel Like Sex
Adjust to Changes Caused by Aging
Appendix A: Step into My Office
Baring All for the Sexual Status Exam
Sex Therapists Give the Best Homework
Finding a Sex Therapist
Choosing a Sex Therapist
Appendix B: Terrific Resources
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sexuality and Family Planning
Humans have been having sex since time immemorial, and not much changed as the centuries slid by. Then in the 1960s, the Pill came out, and the sexual revolution was said to begin. But the past 25 years, which coincidentally is the period when I first became well known, have seen the most major advancements. Many more women who couldn’t have orgasms are now orgasmic. Many older people, particularly men, can have sex into their 90s. People are talking to each other about their sexual needs, and as a result, they’re more satisfied with their sex lives. And although we’ve made progress, more needs to be done.
First of all, millions of young people are just beginning their sexual lives. They need to be taught what to do and how to do it. Secondly, millions of adults are still having sex the way cave men and women did in the Stone Age. For whatever reason, the message that terrific sex is possible hasn’t penetrated. Finally, many people are still derailed by sexual myths. So although the need for this book has lessened since it first came out, especially for the hundreds of thousands who’ve bought it here and those who purchased it in the 26 other languages into which it’s been translated, my job of educating people about good sexual functioning is not yet over.
How people learn about sex has a great deal to do with how well equipped they are to have sex. So where did most of you learn about sex? You learned a little bit from your parents and a little bit at school. But because much of this information was, rightfully, passed on before you were really ready to use it, it may not have meant all that much to you, and so it didn’t totally sink in. Later on, if you had another class, you probably felt the need to act blasé, as if you knew it all, and you may not have bothered to listen.
This Catch-22 makes having good sex difficult — you get the information before you need it, and you forget what you learned by the time you do need it. Or you get the facts so confused that they’re not helpful to you.
Our children are the same way. Often, despite our best efforts as parents, kids are more likely to pay attention to what they hear on the street or in the locker room or at a sleepover. How much of this information is accurate is anybody’s guess.
But even though some of this information is true, it leads only to more confusion, because it doesn’t match the sexual myths that are also out there. And when you’re confused don’t you often end up not paying attention to anything you’ve heard — preferring to trust your instincts?
Unfortunately, in sexual matters, trusting your instincts can often lead to problems.
In the end, you let trial and error become the teacher of last resort. And when that happens, not unexpectedly, you can often make serious mistakes — such as becoming pregnant when you don’t intend to be, or catching a sexually transmitted disease, or, at the very least, having a less-than-satisfactory sex life, or going through your entire life never having terrific sex.
In the 21st century, this process of misinformation and confusion can’t continue. In the past, we had rules in place to guide us so that, even if we didn’t understand human sexuality all that well, as long as we followed the rules and got married before having sex, we couldn’t stray too far.
But over the past 40 years, these rules have begun to disintegrate badly. Some people would say the results — millions of unintended pregnancies, millions of single parents, vast numbers of people with sexually transmitted diseases — were predictable.
Do you know how I learned about sex? I was about 10, and my parents kept a marriage manual in a locked cabinet way up high. I had to pile books on top of a chair to reach it, so I literally risked my neck to learn the facts of life. You’re so much luckier because everything you need to know is right here in the palm of your hand. In truth, maybe everything isn’t here, but this book certainly contains enough information to help you become a fabulous lover. If you have a serious problem, you may have to turn to a professional for help, but at least after reading this book, you’ll know whether you really need to do that.
Just as you can have sex many different ways, you can use this book a variety of ways. You can read it from cover to cover, but it’s okay if you skim it, too. The table of contents at the front of the book and the index in the rear can point you to the topics you’re interested in. Also, when I talk about something important that you should know that you may have skipped, I always refer back to the appropriate chapter.
And because I cover such a wide variety of material, I’m going to suggest that instead of keeping this book on a bookshelf in the basement, you keep it right by your bed — or on the kitchen counter if that’s where you most often engage in sex!
Now, let me say something about my philosophy at this point.
I am old-fashioned and a square.
I believe in God, I believe in marriage, and I believe in morality.
But, because I can’t dictate to you how you should live your life,
I believe that I must give you the tools with which to conduct yourself as safely as possible.
That’s why I believe in giving you information so that, even if you do have premarital sex, at least you have a better chance of not causing unintended pregnancies and not catching a sexually transmitted disease.
Do I encourage people to develop a relationship before they engage in sex with another person? Absolutely. And I’ll say it again and again throughout this book.
But even if you’re having a one-night stand that I don’t approve of, I still want you to wake up the next morning healthy and safe. And I look at this book as an important tool in reaching you and others of all ages to help you discover more useful information on this important subject.
To help you navigate through this book, I’ve set up a few conventions:
Italic is used for emphasis and to highlight new words or terms that are defined.
Boldfaced text is used to indicate the action part of numbered steps.
Monofont is used for Web addresses.
When this book was printed, some Web addresses may have needed to break across two lines of text. If that happened, rest assured that I haven’t put in any extra characters (such as hyphens) to indicate the break. So, when using one of these Web addresses, just type in exactly what you see in this book, pretending as though the line break doesn’t exist.
I’ve written this book so that you can 1) find information easily and 2) easily understand what you find. And although I’d like to believe that you want to pore over every last word between the two yellow and black covers, I actually make it easy for you to identify “skippable” material by presenting it in sidebars (or the shaded boxes that appear here and there). This information is the stuff that, although interesting and related to the topic at hand, isn’t necessary reading.
Also, because there are two sexes, some of what I write is addressed to one sex or the other. But because these two sexes interact, it’s not a bad idea to know what’s going on inside the head and body of the other. So although you may not have to read what’s addressed to the opposite sex, you still may want to.
I also include material for gays and lesbians. Straight readers may want to skip those parts, but gays and lesbians shouldn’t ignore most of this book’s contents, because much of the information doesn’t depend on the sex of your partner. Of course gays and lesbians don’t have to worry about causing an unintended pregnancy, and neither do seniors, so those groups definitely can skip that material.
One assumption I can make is that if you’re capable of reading this book, you’re a sexual being. Some other assumptions I’ve made include
You want to improve your sex life. I’m not assuming your sex life is bad, just that you’d like to make it better.
You don’t come from Victorian England when mothers would instruct their about-to-be-wed daughters to just “lie back and think of England.”
You’re reasonable enough not to engage in risky behavior after the dangers have been pointed out to you.
If you’re a newbie, whether a teen or just inexperienced, you’re eager to learn the facts of life and avoid the pitfalls of the myths.
And if you’re a parent, who either wants to give this book to your child or just have it nearby for reference when talking to him or her, you know how important this information is, but you also know that in the end, your child is responsible for his or her sex life.
To help you find information that you’re looking for, this book is divided into five parts. Each part covers a particular aspect on sex and contains chapters relating to that part.
Even if you’re not a virgin, if you want to be a terrrrific lover you have to have a solid foundation in sexual functioning. When you understand how the male and female anatomy works and how our bodies develop into sexual beings, you’ve mastered the basics. After you’ve found a partner with whom you want to get intimate, you need to be prepared for all sorts of conversations, including one about birth control. I provide the facts you need to know in this part.
If you have to ask what “it” is, then you’d better read Part I again before you jump ahead to all the juicy stuff related to traditional intercourse in Part II: ideas for foreplay; what to expect the first time you have intercourse; suggestions for moving beyond the missionary position; advice for making sure both of you have an orgasm; and ways to put some zing in your sex life. When you’re ready, spend as much time here as you’d like.
No two people are the same when it comes to sexual pleasure, and you have all sorts of ways of getting to the main goal of having sex: the pleasure of an orgasm. Some people prefer to have sex alone, others like oral sex, while others like to engage in intercourse with a partner of the same sex. All of those topics are covered here.
As you age, your enjoyment of sex and your body’s sexual responses change. If you’re older and wondering what’s going on, or if you have a chronic health condition or disability or are a partner of someone who suffers from one of these problems, I include chapters to help you make the most of your sex lives.
Many of you have questions about your sexual functioning that you’re too embarrassed to ask your doctor. You still need to talk to your doctor, but you can find some answers about premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, low libido, and elusive orgasms here. I also have some advice on how you can find time to have sex and ways to rejuvenate your sex life after you and your spouse have been together many, many years.
And as much as I wish such things as the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and safe sex really existed, sadly they don’t. But you can enjoy safer sex if you know how, so this part also includes information on sexually transmitted diseases and how you can prevent catching one. A chapter on how to talk to kids about sex, keeping them safe from strangers, and protecting them while they use the Internet wraps up this part.
This part gives you a chance to better understand the opposite sex and people’s attitudes in general about sex. I dispel ten myths about sex and give you insight about what men wish women knew about sex and what women wish men knew about sex. And if you really think you know all of that (but trust me, you don’t), you can read my ten tips on how to be a grrrrreat lover.
But wait — there’s more!
Over and over in this book I advise you to see a sex therapist if you can’t handle a specific problem on your own. Because most of you have never done this, you may be a bit intimidated. But after you read Appendix A, you’ll know a lot more about the process and should feel a lot more comfortable making that appointment, if necessary.
Because I can’t cover every little detail of human sexuality here, I leave you with Appendix B, which lists groups you can contact or Web sites you can visit for more information on many of the subjects I cover in this book.
Important information is highlighted with little pictures, called icons, lurking in the margins. Here’s what the ones used in this book signify:
This icon alerts you to a useful tidbit of information.
This icon points out tips to enhance sexual pleasure (so you won’t have to put sticky tabs on the pages).
This icon is the “men’s locker room” stuff that guys especially need to know.
This icon highlights “girls’ night out” stuff that women need to know.
This icon points to practical advice and my personal thoughts on today’s sexual dilemmas.
You’ll see this icon next to medical descriptions of your anatomy or physical conditions.
This icon highlights some of the things you may think you know about sex that are false or misleading.
This icon signals behaviors that could cause trouble, either for you or someone else, and tells you when to look before you leap to stay clear of pitfalls to your relationships.
Whether you consider yourself a Don Juan, a Lady Chatterly, or a sexual novice, the first piece of advice I have for you is that everybody can become a better lover given the proper instruction. And because we’re all sexual beings, whether we like it or not, why not get the most out of the pleasures our bodies are capable of giving us?
This book is organized so you can go wherever you want to find complete information. Want to know about genital warts, for example? Head to Chap-ter 19. If you’re interested in oral sex, go to Chapter 13 for that. You can use the table of contents to find broad categories of information or the index to look up more specific things.
If you’re not sure where you want to go, you may want to start with Part I. It gives you all the basic info you need to understand sex and points to places where you can find more detailed information.
Wherever you begin, relax and read on. I guarantee that, by the end of this book, you can take the dunce cap that you may be wearing off your head and perhaps replace it with a condom somewhere else!
In this part . . .
In this part I give you basic information that you need to master in order to fully enjoy good sex; chapters here cover male and female anatomy, preventing pregnancy, and establishing a good relationship in which to have sex. And just because you’re not a virgin, don’t think that you can skip over this section. No matter how much experience you may have in the bedroom, to become a great lover you still need to spend some time in the classroom. Sexual illiteracy is often the cause of sexual problems; increase your knowledge, and you increase your chances of enjoying good sexual functioning.
Understanding why people have sex
Choosing the right partner at the right time
Determining whether a potential partner is sex worthy
Sex. Once you’re under its power, you’re a captive for life. It starts when you’re young. When you’re a teenager and your hormones are surging, almost everything you do is connected to sex in one way or another. And although your sexual voltage goes down a notch or two as you get older, many of your daily activities are still influenced by sex.
You take a shower in the morning and do your hair to increase your sexual attractiveness.
You choose clothes that will draw the attention of other people.
You send sexual messages with your body language, from the way you walk to the angle you hold your head.
And it doesn’t matter whether you’re single or married, young or old, all of us are interested in how the opposite sex reacts to the image we project. We want to be noticed. We want to know that we can still attract someone, even if we’ve been monogamously involved in a relationship for 50 years.
In this chapter, I give you a brief course in Sex 101, so that you and I will be clear about what I mean when I talk about sex. Although sex hasn’t changed much since men and women emerged from the cave, today’s sexual environment is open to confusion, so this chapter covers the basics.
Is sex just the way we differentiate ourselves, male and female? Or is it the means by which we reproduce? Is it a yearning that makes us go a bit crazy until we can satisfy those urges? Or could it be the key to exchanging extreme pleasure? Maybe it’s a way of cementing a relationship. What makes sex so amazing is that it’s all of those, and more.
We have special organs that are made to have sex; they fit together and have many nerve endings so as to make sex pleasurable. But sex is really a whole body experience, from your brain right down to your toes. And becoming a good sex partner means that you have to understand how to fit all those parts together. I explain the basics of the male parts in Chapter 2 and the female parts in Chapter 3. If you want to know how they fit together, turn to Chapter 8.
Every generation believes that it’s the first one to have discovered the pleasures of sex, and yet none of us would be here if it weren’t for the sex lives of the previous generation. Even if it’s too much to imagine your parents and grandparents having sex, just give ’em a tip of the old hat.
You can have sex many different ways, and yet the outcome of sex, the satisfaction that comes from having an orgasm, is the goal of each of them. (Of course, if your only aim is to make a baby, then the pleasurable aspects become secondary.) Part of the mystery of sex is why so many paths lead to this one end. Chapters 9, 10, 13, and 14 cover different ways you can achieve orgasms.
Ultimately we have sex in order to keep the human race going and to participate in a very pleasurable activity. Throughout most of mankind’s history, the two were almost always linked, but today they needn’t be. Being able to have an orgasm without worrying about creating a baby has changed the nature of sex, though when the two are put back together, sex reaches its greatest potential.
The English language is a rich one because it has borrowed heavily from so many different tongues. As a result, people use a variety of words to describe the same thing — especially if that thing involves sex. (I’m sure you’re familiar with some of these words, but, being polite, I won’t mention them.) What never ceases to amaze me, however, is how often people who engage in sexual intercourse forget that what they’re doing is directly related to procreation, propagation, continuing the species, conception, pregnancy, MAKING BABIES!
Some unlucky couples must go through a great deal of trouble to have a family, and some can’t manage to do it on their own at all, so they turn to medical science for help. But for most people, the process is relatively easy — at least until the baby actually arrives. The man needs only to place his erect penis into the woman’s vagina and ejaculate. A baby may not result the first time — though it can — but eventually one of the man’s sperm will unite with the woman’s egg, and, voilà, a baby is conceived.
Because baby making can be so easy, many women find themselves pregnant without intending to be. So here’s my first of many tips:
If you absolutely, positively don’t want to make a baby, then don’t have sexual intercourse — be abstinent.
Yes, I know there are ways of preventing pregnancy from occurring — I talk about them in Chapter 5 — but none of these methods is foolproof. Believe it or not, in at least one recorded case, the man had a vasectomy, the woman had her tubes tied, and she still became pregnant. So remember, the only method that works 100 percent of the time is abstinence.
The process of making a baby has not changed since Adam and Eve discovered sex: A sperm from the man must meet an egg inside of the woman (test-tube babies notwithstanding). When the sperm and the egg unite, the egg becomes fertilized.
Both the sperm and the egg are very special cells; they have only half of the genetic material (chromosomes) that other cells have. All cells need chromosomes to provide the instructions on how to divide and create an individual.
Fertilization occurs when the chromosomes and genes from both the sperm and the egg combine to form one single cell, called a zygote. As a result, instead of an identical copy of one of the parents (a clone), fertilization creates a unique individual that shares features of both parents. So now you know the reason you have your father’s nose and your mother’s feet: At least once in their lives, your parents mingled their genetic material.
Timing the union
Female humans differ from nearly all the rest of their gender in the animal kingdom because, rather than wanting sexual intercourse only when they can conceive (that is, when they’re in heat), women can want sexual intercourse at any time (provided they don’t have a headache). Despite this difference, female humans do share with other female mammals the trait that enables them to make a baby, or conceive, only at certain times — in most women’s cases, from one to three days a month.
Just because a woman is fertile only a few days a month, don’t assume that those are the only days that unprotected sexual intercourse can make her pregnant. A woman’s reproductive organs are much more complicated than that, as I explain in Chapter 3.
Unlike a man, who continually makes sperm (more than 26 trillion a year!), a woman has all her eggs already inside her at birth. These eggs — about 200,000 of them — reside in a woman’s two ovaries (see Figure 1-1). About every 28 days, a fluid-filled sac in the ovary, called a follicle, releases one of the eggs. When a follicle releases an egg, many women feel a dull ache, known as mittelschmerz, in the area around the ovary.
Becoming aware of when mittelschmerz occurs is a good point of reference for anyone practicing natural family planning. I talk more about family planning in Chapter 5.
Figure 1-1: The egg begins an incredible journey in search of a sperm to produce a child. No wonder sex has been called “making whoopee”!
Introducing the egg and sperm
Everyone’s talking about what happened last night at Club Fallopian. Mr. Sperm bumped into Ms. Egg, and now they’re really stuck on each other!
Just as people have to meet each other before they can form a relationship, the process of fertilization can’t begin until a sperm gets up into the fallopian tubes and meets the egg. This introduction takes place as a result of sexual intercourse, which is defined as a man placing his penis in a woman’s vagina. When the man has an orgasm, he releases millions of sperm into the back of the woman’s vagina. These sperm bind to the cervical mucus and swim right up through the entrance to the uterus, called the cervix, through the uterus itself, and then into the fallopian tubes — each sperm hunting for an egg. And if an egg happens to be floating along, the fastest sperm takes the prize.
You should always keep in mind two very important points about sperm:
Sperm can live from two to seven days inside a woman. So although the egg may have only a short time during which it can be fertilized, sperm that a man deposited in the woman up to a week before can still fertilize the egg and cause pregnancy.
Even before a man ejaculates, his penis releases some liquid (called Cowper’s fluid, because the Cowper’s gland produces it), which serves as a lubricant to help the sperm go up the shaft of the penis. Any sperm that may not have been ejaculated during the man’s previous orgasms may be picked up by the Cowper’s fluid.Although that number is less than the millions of sperm in the ejaculate, how many sperm does an egg require for fertilization? One fast one.
Because of Cowper’s fluid, a man may deposit sperm inside a woman’s vagina before he has an orgasm. That’s why the pullout, or withdrawal, method does not work as a means of preventing pregnancy.
Going for a ride
Little finger-like appendages on the end of the fallopian tube called fimbria lead the egg into the tube, through which it makes its way into the uterus. If, during this trip, the egg encounters some sperm swimming along, then the first sperm to reach the egg and penetrate the hard outer shell, called the zona pellucida, will enter the egg and begin the life-creating process called fertilization.
A fertilized egg continues down the fallopian tube on a journey that takes about three days. During the first 30 hours, the chromosomes of the egg and the sperm merge, and the cells begin to divide. This new entity is called an embryo. When the embryo finishes its journey and enters the uterus (see Figure 1-2), it gets nourishment from uterine secretions, and the cells inside it continue to divide, causing the embryo to grow. Approximately six days after fertilization, the egg “hatches,” emerging from its hard shell and then burrowing its way into the uterine wall, or endometrium.
The embryo releases a hormone called hCG. When the hCG reaches the mother’s bloodstream, it signals that she is pregnant and causes the ovaries to continue producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which are necessary to maintain the pregnancy.
If the egg is not fertilized, it passes through the uterus. About two weeks later, the uterus sheds its lining, the endometrium, in a process called menstruation. A new lining then begins to grow, ready to receive a fertilized egg the next month.
Becoming a baby
After an embryo burrows its way into the endometrium, it grows until it has a human shape and all its organs — a process that takes about 12 weeks. At this point, the embryo is renamed a fetus.
The fetus grows inside the uterus until approximately nine months after the egg was first fertilized. Then, in a process called giving birth, a fully formed baby comes out of the uterus and through the vagina into the world (unless doctors have to remove the baby surgically, which is called a cesarean section, or c-section). If you want to know more about the specifics of pregnancy, pick up Pregnancy For Dummies, 2nd Edition, by Joanne Stone, M.D., Keith Eddleman, M.D., and Mary Duenwald (Wiley).
So an important possible consequence of sexual intercourse is the making of a baby that will be born nine months later. Of course, giving birth to a baby is only the beginning of providing the care a child requires. Having a child is a very big responsibility — not one to be taken lightly, and certainly not one to be ignored when having sexual intercourse.
One more thing about sexual intercourse and its pleasures: As great a feeling as you get when having an orgasm during sexual intercourse, I think that most couples will tell you that they got even more pleasure from the intercourse they had while trying to make a baby. You get an extra kick from knowing that the possible result of this union between two people who love each other is another little human being.
So the mechanics of sex makes babies, but the main reason that people engage in sex is for the sensory experience, the wide range of physical and emotional pleasures that a person can derive from sexual activity. You may think that these pleasures would be enough to draw people into having sex, but in fact this sensory experience has two sides, like the proverbial itch that needs to be scratched. If you don’t have sex for a period of time, and that period can be a matter of hours for some young adults to weeks for an older person, a little voice inside you tells you that the time for sex has arrived. You become aroused, or horny in the vernacular, meaning that as more and more time goes by, your desire for sex increases. Now, you can satisfy those desires without having sex with another person, called masturbation, which I cover in Chapter 14, but the preferable method of scratching this itch is to have sex with another person.
If a child wakes up in the middle of the night at an inopportune time, that is to say when his or her parents are having sex, the child is going to hear what may appear to be some very frightening sounds. But the very intense nature of those sounds is proof of how strong the sensory experience can be. Nothing surpasses the enjoyment that sex can bring.
Because the real center of all this pleasure takes place in the brain, it’s important to understand the process because here’s a case where the more you know, the better the results can be.
The reason that sex therapists such as myself exist is due in great part to Dr. William Masters and Dr. Virginia Johnson, who studied the sexual response cycle in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
How did they study the sexual response cycle? They observed more than 10,000 sexual acts in their laboratories. Because even the most serious voyeur would probably have had enough after about the first 1,000, you can appreciate that they were really very dedicated scientists.
And scientists they were, because when I say observe, I don’t just mean watch. The people who took part in these studies were wired up so Masters and Johnson could tell exactly what was going on, including how much lubrication the woman made and the quantity of ejaculate the man released.
As a result of these studies, Masters and Johnson came up with four distinct phases for human sexual response. Later, Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan, under whom I trained, created her own model, which included elements of Masters and Johnson’s phases as well as one of her own.
Examining an individual’s sexual response cycle is integral to the diagnosis that sex therapists make of anyone who comes to them with a sexual problem. Understanding the various categories of the sexual response cycle can also help you to become the best possible lover, so read the following definitions very carefully.
Sexual Desire Phase: The Sexual Desire Phase, sometimes called the libido, precedes actual physical or psychological stimulation. This part of the model is Dr. Kaplan’s alone. Dr. Kaplan observed that certain chemicals in the body (primarily testosterone — the male sex hormone, which is also present in females) trigger these inner sexual feelings. Sexual excitement builds upon these feelings.
Dr. Kaplan examined and labeled this phase because of her work in sexual therapy, where she noted that some people’s desire for sex was so low that they rarely or never reached the other phases of the cycle. Only by studying what was going on in this earlier stage could she discover what was causing their difficulties.
Excitement Phase: The Excitement Phase arises when the genitals experience vasocongestion, which is a swelling caused by an increase in blood filling the tissues.
In men, this excitement leads to an erection. In women, this excitement leads to a swelling of the clitoris and vaginal lips, increased vaginal lubrication, increased breast size, and erection of the nipples. Other physical signs of this phase include increased heartbeat, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Arm and leg muscles may begin to tense; some people experience a “sex flush” on the upper abdomen that may spread to the chest area.
This phase is usually generated by one or a combination of several physical, visual, or psychological stimuli, which can be caused either by oneself or a partner. Foreplay (which I cover in Chapter 7) usually gets these responses started.
Plateau Phase: In the Plateau Phase, certain aspects of the Excitement Phase reach a slightly higher level, with tensions building.
According to Masters and Johnson, men exhibit two physical signs during this period:
• First, a few droplets of fluid are released at the head of the penis to act as a lubricant for the sperm. (These droplets, released by the Cowper’s gland, may also contain sperm left in the urethra from earlier ejaculations, which is what makes the withdrawal method so risky. Chapter 5 gives more information on the pitfalls of the so-called pullout method of birth control.)
• Also, the man’s testes enlarge and are pulled closer to the body.
Dr. Kaplan incorporates all of these reactions of the Plateau Phase as an extension of the Excitement Phase because the individual doesn’t sense any difference between the Excitement and Plateau stages, making these subtle differences of no value to her in treating a sexual dysfunction.
Orgasm Phase: During the Orgasm Phase, in both men and women, your body goes through a whole series of muscular contractions and spasms, including facial contortions, an increased respiratory rate and heartbeat, and a further increase in blood pressure. Your genitals also experience strong contractions. (For more about having an orgasm, read Chapter 10.)
The man undergoes the further contraction of ejaculation, which occurs in two stages: the moment of inevitability, characterized by sensations that mark the so-called point of no return (which I talk more about in Chapter 20), followed immediately by ejaculation.
Resolution Phase: In this last phase (which only Masters and Johnson include), the body slowly returns to normal — the physical conditions that existed before the Excitement Stage began. This Resolution Phase is much longer for women than for men, making it the basis for afterplay (which is the topic of Chapter 11).
In addition, men have the refractory period, which is the time needed after orgasm before the man can respond to more sexual stimulation and have another erection and orgasm. In young men, this period can be as short as a few minutes; the length of the refractory period grows as a man ages.
The man reaches the Excitement Phase much more quickly than the woman, and the woman has a much longer Resolution Phase. I suggest extending foreplay as much as possible to help compensate for this difference.
People’s appetite for sex builds as time goes on, as I mentioned in the “Enjoying a sensory experience” section earlier in this chapter, but people have another need, and that is to form a bond with another person. It seems we are made to go by twos, the way the animals marched into Noah’s ark. The biological reason may be to bring up the children produced by sex, but we wouldn’t need love and romance if that were the only case. We also need companionship, someone to share our lives with, as well as to have sex.
When men were hunter-gatherers, you needed two people to raise a family, but today, the millions of single parents prove that one person can bring up children. But while sociological changes have taken place that promote people remaining single, the drive to find someone to love remains a strong one. The drive is so strong that many people who get divorced don’t give up on the institution of marriage but may undergo this rite again and again. Hope springs eternal that we will all find our true love, and that’s because we all feel the need to share our lives with another person.
With so many people all around us, it becomes almost inevitable that someone seeking love will find someone else with whom to share that love. Yes, love can be blind and sometimes you choose the wrong person, but more often than not, if love doesn’t last it’s because the two people didn’t know about the care that love needs. And part of the glue that holds love together is sex, and so the more you know about sex, the greater success you’ll have in love. I give you suggestions on finding a partner in Chapter 4, and if you’re in a long-term relationship and want to add some excitement to your sex life, I wrote Chapters 12 and 22 for you.
While sex improves love, and vice versa, sex can certainly exist without love. One-night stands may have inherent dangers, but they can also be quite pleasurable. And having sex with a person for the first time always heightens the experience. It comes from a mixture of curiosity (What does he or she look like naked?), fear (Will I satisfy this person?), lust (I don’t want all the entanglements of a relationship, I just want sex.), and selfishness (This one’s for me.).
However, one-night stands have a way of becoming two nights. Separating our arousal from the rest of our emotions isn’t always easy. Some people these days engage in sex with people who are just friends, sharing “benefits.” If that happens once, then perhaps that’s as far as it will go. But if two friends are having sex with some regularity, the odds are pretty good that at least one of them will want to be more than just friends.
Of course, if the urge to have sex becomes too strong, and no partner is available, then sexual satisfaction can be found through self-pleasuring or masturbation. To some degree, an orgasm is an orgasm is an orgasm. Masturbating does bring relief from sexual tension. Sex with a partner can add many more nuances to the overall pleasure of the act, but there’s no doubt that masturbation can be better than nothing.
Masturbation is also safer than sex with some stranger, though it’s not without any dangers. You need some sexual tension in your life, especially if you’re very busy, in order to motivate yourself to go out and find a partner. If you use up all of your sexual energy masturbating, especially if you do it so often that you have little or no time for any type of social life, then masturbation can wind up being a trap that can be hard to get out of. But if you’re in need of relief, then turning to masturbation can be a life-saver. I talk more about masturbation in Chapter 14.
If you’ve read this far, it should be pretty clear to you that engaging in sexual intercourse with someone of the opposite sex could lead to an unintended pregnancy. You can avoid that occurrence, but you have to be prepared. Knowing about condoms and birth control pills won’t help you if you’re in the heat of passion with someone else, especially if you’re both partially or fully undressed. Contraception isn’t difficult but it takes some planning. The most reliable methods of preventing pregnancy require a visit to a doctor or clinic. Others necessitate at least a trip to the drugstore. All of this has to happen before you’re anywhere near ready to have sex.
Deciding which contraceptive to use takes some thinking. And these days, because of sexually transmitted diseases, you may choose to use more than one, because not every birth control method protects against STDs. If you have no desire to cause a pregnancy, please read Chapter 5 carefully so that you’ll be prepared when the time comes to have sex. (And if you’re worried about STDs, please read Chapter 19 as well.)
We use the word sex to describe what two people do when aroused over their entire lifetime, but that doesn’t mean that sex remains constant. Young people, whose hormones are just kicking in, will feel the effect more intensely than older people. This lessening of sexual energy isn’t just because an older person has had sex thousands of more times than a young person, but also because of physical changes that everyone undergoes. But the more you know about those changes, the better you’ll be able to handle them so that your sex life can continue unabated until you reach 99. If you’re young and just starting your sexual journey, Chapter 6 is a good roadmap for what’s ahead. And if you’re at an age when you’re starting to hit some speed bumps on the journey, Chapters 17, 20, and 21 will help smooth out the ride.
Of course, your sex life can receive a negative impact in ways other than the normal aging process. The longer we live, the greater the odds that fate will throw us a curve or two. The onset of one disease or another can change the way you have sex. But again, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your sex life is over, only that some adjustments will be needed. Want to know what those adjustments are? Turn to Chapter 18.
Most young people find it hard to believe that their parents still have sex, no less their grandparents, but it’s true. Our looks may change, even our desires, but sex is an integral part of our humanity, and it remains so throughout our lives.
In a classic episode of Seinfeld,
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