Recently, I joined with two colleagues to produce a “continuing medical education” unit for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Our topic was “Vibrators and Other Devices in Gynecologic Practices” (if you’re a health care practitioner, you can investigate the CME offer here).
I was joined by Mary Jo Rapini, a sex psychotherapist and long-time friend of MiddlesexMD, and Debra Wickman, a gynecologist who teaches at the Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix. We talked about a 2009 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine that says that 52.5 percent of women have used a vibrator; that led us to talk about the roughly half who have not.
A number of myths might get in their way, and we hope we made some progress in busting them.
Myth #1: Vibrators are for people whose relationships are in trouble. Based on what the three of us have seen, the opposite is true. As Mary Jo explains, “Vibrators are for couples who want to explore, who want to try new things, who want to play and have fun in their sex life.” Couples who share that desire are typically interested, trusting, and care about each other.
Myth #2: Vibrators make it hard to have an orgasm any other way. I’m happy to debunk this one with a medical reality: As the muscles involved in orgasm grow stronger, orgasm becomes easier and more intense. Vibrators are good at stimulating—and they don’t get tired or fumble, as we sometimes do as we lose a little strength and dexterity. Staying sexually active with a vibrator will increase your responsiveness to manual stimulation—that’s just the way we work.
Myth #3: There’s something sinful about a vibrator. Again, it’s Mary Jo who addresses this most directly. She’s had a number of conversations with faith leaders on her patients’ behalf, when religious concerns weighed on their minds. The ministers she’s talked to are invariably in favor of keeping marriages strong, and maintaining physical intimacy is a natural part of those relationships.
Myth #4: Vibrators are only for self-stimulation. Vibrators are good for self-stimulation, and that’s a good option for women who want to maintain their sexual health when they’re without a partner. But they’re also part of intimacy for couples. They’re especially good for couples who see a need to slow down and spend more time in foreplay. Which, now that I think about it, could be any of us who’ve achieved midlife!
If you’re among those who haven’t tried a vibrator, I support your right to decide for yourself. Here’s hoping, though, that none of these myths is what’s standing in your way.
Surely this has happened to you: You read one article, and it leads you to another. From that second article, you’re pointed to another. Before you know it, you’ve spent an hour diving into a topic that wasn’t quite on your to-do list.
Today I’m glad I did. The first article was “A Good Sex Life Can Help Older Couples Cope with Illness and Other Difficulties,” in the Washington Post (a long title, but you don’t have to read the whole article to get the point). That led me to the full research in The Journals of Gerontology. And a reference in the full research prompted me to seek out an earlier article by researcher Adena M. Galinsky, published by the National Institute of Health.
That article, published in 2012, is called “Sexual Touching and Difficulties with Sexual Arousal and Orgasm among U.S. Older Adults.” The author defines “sexual touching” as “non-genitally focused sexual behavior,” including “but not limited to, kissing, stroking, massaging, and holding anywhere from one part to the entirety of a partner’s body.”
This, ladies and gentlemen, is foreplay, and what I love about this article is that it presents empirical data of its importance! With more foreplay, both men and women experienced fewer “difficulties with orgasm, sexual pleasure, and sexual arousal” and more physical pleasure in their relationships.
We all have “sexual scripts,” Galinsky says, which we learned growing up and tell us, without our thinking about it, how to be intimate. Depending on where and when you and your partner learned about sex and romance and relationships, your scripts may not include much sexual touching. If that’s the case, it’s time to call “Rewrite!”
Having the time and the cues of desirability, safety, intimacy, and arousal are critical to us in midlife. If we don’t have them and still expect our bodies to respond as though we’re 20, we’re setting ourselves up. And we can fall into the downward spiral I’ve talked about before: We’re uncomfortable or unsatisfied when we have sex, so we’re unmotivated for a repeat performance. Because we’re not having sex, it’s less comfortable next time we try, so we put it off longer. We may begin to wonder if there’s something wrong with us, which is the opposite of feeling sexy. And before we know it, we’ve abandoned a part of ourselves that made us feel loved and lovely and powerful—and our partners quite happy!
You can talk to your partner about a collaborative revision of your “sexual scripts.” You can share this guest post by a “man friend” of MiddlesexMD, or this “Open Letter: How to Really Turn Me On” to start the conversation. And then, you know, one thing can lead to another. In a very good way.
Dear beloved partner of mine:
If you read my last letter (you did, right?), then maybe you understand how I feel—and how to make me feel better—sexually speaking.
So let’s stop beating about the bush. (Music to your ears, I know.) I’m going to get very specific about how to turn me on. But I’m hoping that if I take this step, you’ll reciprocate, and maybe we can begin talking about sex more openly, about what we each like, and about how to make it good for both of us.
Prime the pump. Always remember that, for a woman, sex begins in the mind and imagination. Use that to your advantage. Begin early. Make the coffee and bring it to me in bed. Leave me a provocative note in the morning. Send me a sexy text. Bring home lovely wine and chocolate. Help me get my head in the game.
Finesse the foreplay. I recently read that it takes a woman an average of 20 minutes to reach orgasm—and it takes a man four! Those numbers may be optimistic for both of us these days, but they illustrate one important difference between Venus and Mars: I need time! Besides, we’re sitting on Golden Pond now. What’s the rush?
Try starting in a different room. (Variety is always spicy.) Whisper sweet nothings. Tell me I’m beautiful. Show me that you desire me.
So once we get down to business, don’t just go for the goal posts: tease me. Use light touch. Use your tongue. Use your imagination. Experiment. Try running your hands over my inner thighs, tickle my neck. Try stimulating my perineum. (That’s the spot between my vagina and my anal opening.) Once I begin to steam up, hone in on the erogenous zones—my breasts and vulva. Lightly touch, lick, or kiss. Back off and do it again. Ask me to show you how I like to be touched.
Many ways to score. Despite all you’ve heard about how hard it is for women to reach orgasm, we’re actually equipped with several ways to do it. In fact, according to an article in Everyday Health, “researchers have even found a nerve pathway outside of the spinal cord, through the sensory vagus nerve, that will lead a woman to orgasm through sensations transmitted directly to the brain.”
Pretty fancy, huh?
But the surest way to orgasm for most women is through the clitoris—it’s the tail that wags the dog. And while it may take some practice to get it right, that little number isn’t choosy about the medium. Both oral and manual stimulation work just fine.
I know you’re not completely clueless, but let’s run over some technique. First, remember the tease. Don’t dive right in and go for gold. Kiss my abdomen and thighs, then move to the vulva and its inner lips. Gently lick or kiss. Explore with your tongue. Lick my clitoris lightly, then move away. Then come back. Don’t lick one spot too intensely or too long, because it just becomes numb. Let me know you like this. Pay attention to how I’m responding. Do I seem to be getting turned on? You can ask, you know.
When I’m good and ready, you can focus on the clitoris. At this point, a firm, repetitive licking should do the trick. You can also place your finger in my vagina at the same time. Maybe you can find the elusive G-spot. I’ll let you know. Or, you can caress my breasts as I’m coming into full-blown orgasm. You can also try to stimulate my perineum and see if I like that.
Another move (only slightly acrobatic) would be to move up to missionary when I begin orgasming clitorally and get your own orgasm started. (You should be pretty turned on by now—it’s been more than four minutes.) It’ll feel pretty good to me.
If this is a little overwhelming, or if you need more detail, I’ll buy you the book She Comes First: A Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman by Ian Kerner.
Good positioning. Finally, let’s not neglect positions that might work better for me than our standard missionary. We could try what the kids call the “reverse cowboy,” or the doggy-style, rear-entry position. Or maybe I could sit on your lap? That might hit some different nerve endings, plus we can get real cozy.
We could also try some of those fancy pillows to help us get into all kinds of positions. (And to support our less-than-agile parts.)
And remember, if you’ve come and gone, and I’m still unsatisfied, we can always go back to the good old dependable clitoral orgasm. I just know how good you’re going to get at it.
But really, honey, the point isn’t to learn a bunch of new tricks, but to learn to accommodate our changing bodies and to have a more deeply satisfying time together.
And that’s going to take some good communication and a lot of practice.
So, let’s get started. I’ll bring the lube; you get the wine and chocolate.
When “intimate massagers” are placed between the flannel pajamas and the birdhouses in the Vermont Country Store catalog you know that vibrators have gone mainstream! The ad rightly points out that sometimes, as we age, we need a little more help getting where we used to go effortlessly.
As I've said before, regular stimulation helps keeps our sexual organs responsive and functional, and the stimulation might have to be stronger and longer. That’s where a vibrator comes in handy. The steady stimulation it provides tones the muscles and reinforces the nerve and vascular pathways to your genitals. But using a vibrator can also help you learn where you’re sensitive and how you respond to different stimuli (which will improve your lovemaking). It can get you aroused during foreplay, and it can be a gentle way to “cool down” afterward.
A vibrator is an equal-opportunity toy, and it can be a useful aid for couples as well. In this post, we’ll discuss some features to consider before buying a vibrator, and we’ll offer some suggestions for your first session or two.
Generally you want your first vibrator to be a versatile, multi-function machine until you know more specifically what you like. Perhaps choose a wand-style vibrator that can stimulate you internally and externally. (Some do both at the same time.) Typically, models with a good rechargeable battery last longer and deliver stronger vibrations than those with disposable batteries—but there are some nice exceptions; check for motor strength. Opt for a vibrator with variable speeds so you can change the level of stimulation.
Some women use a vibrator in the bathtub, so you might consider a waterproof model. If noise is an issue, that might factor into your decision. You also have a choice of materials, from stainless steel and hard plastic to soft, fleshlike silicone. Some users recommend starting with a hard plastic model that doesn’t mute the vibrations and is easy to clean. If you want a less direct sensation, you can cover it with a towel or hand cloth.
Don’t spend a lot on your first vibrator until you know what you like. Better to be out $40 than to spring for $80 and find out you don’t like vibration at all. (Some women don’t.) After a few practice sessions, you might end up ordering several vibrators for different uses—small, discreet numbers for travel, say, or multipurpose gadgets for vaginal and clitoral stimulation.
Once you’ve received your first vibrator, however, take some time to get acquainted. Remember that part of the object is to learn about your own body—what stimulates you, where the sweet spots are, how you like to be touched.
Set aside a few hours of undisturbed time when you can relax. You might want to start in the tub. You can set the mood with music, a glass of wine, dim light, scent, even candles. You could read a sexy story or watch a movie that turns you on. Begin exploring your erogenous areas gently with your hand—labia, clitoris, nipples, vagina, thighs, belly, noticing the various sensations and what spots are more sensitive.
Lubricate your hands, genital areas, and the vibrator. (Don’t use silicone lubricant on a silicone vibrator, however). Turn it on and feel the sensation with your hand. If you have variable speeds, start with the lowest one. Place the vibrator on your thighs. Try your nipples if you like stimulation there. Place it on your perineum (the space between your vagina and anal opening). Move on to your labia; place it on your clitoris.
Try various speeds. Let youself become aroused, then back off. Your orgasm will be more powerful if you let the arousal build. Can you orgasm clitorally? Can you orgasm more than once? Do you need more stimulation or a higher speed?
Maybe that’s enough for one session. Or maybe you want to move on to the vagina. Insert the vibrator (assuming you have a wand-style model) and move it around. Try different speeds. Can you find your G-spot? Try clitoral and vaginal stimulation simultaneously. (Use your hand and the vibrator.)
For many women, the clitoris, labia, and first few inches of the vaginal opening (the vestibulum) are the most sensitive.
Use your vibrator to stay “in shape” between lovemaking sessions or to “warm up” beforehand. But let’s not neglect the new possibilities a vibrator brings to couples’ sex as well.
“And the women crazy ’bout me ’cause I take my time.” --Taj Mahal, “Little Red Hen”
I was 12 years old when I first heard about what goes on during foreplay. A mouthy teenage boy from across the street told me about it as he smoked a morning cigarette on his front porch. I really didn’t want to hear it, and when I did I couldn’t understand why anyone -- man or woman -- would want to do such things to each other. I was barely able to fathom what foreplay led to, and this just made the whole thing even more bizarre, at least to a kid living in the Midwest in the late 1950s.
I learned too many things about sex from other, usually older, boys. My parents stayed away from the subject, figuring, I guess, that I’d learn from other boys. So, much of what I learned was from their raging-hormone perspectives. The focus was always on them and their pleasures, their “conquests,” imaginary or not. I can’t remember hearing guys talk about sex (much less intimacy) from the girl’s point of view -- sex was more, as we say now, all about them. I saw this attitude flourish in college in the late 60s, when guys practically competed for sexual supremacy, which you couldn’t achieve with just one partner. “Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am” relationships were fine and dandy. Numbers mattered.
Which brings me back to foreplay. It’s hard to say that it’s a lost art if it was never discovered in the first place. Or maybe, like so many things in relationships, it’s been allowed to languish, to become an afterthought in a hurry-up world, especially as we grow older. There are all kinds of reasons why foreplay might get shortchanged or forgotten. And it’s not as if it can just be wished back into existence. Mutually exciting foreplay depends on couples being willing to take an unhurried approach to their lovemaking, to find out what makes each person feel sexually energized and ready for more. In our haste to get to home base, we men tend to want to bypass first, second, and third. Women, seeing our haste, assume that that’s just the way it is -- that men prefer sex with no prologue.
I’ve learned that if you miss the prologue, the play’s not nearly as good; you can’t drive a woman wild by rushing into the final act. But you can heighten her lust for you, and yours for her, if you learn to let the present moment linger for a while and enjoy it to its fullest. You’ll both know when it’s time to move on, and you’ll both be ready for it.
I think that words are a key part of foreplay. Words that precede any touch. Words that express your appreciation of her, your attraction to her. Words that ask her what she’d like you to do. Words that continue during foreplay and beyond, not a lot of them but occasional affirmations, expressions of desire, words that keep you connected both physically and, well, orally.
Everybody is happier and more satisfied when foreplay is part of the experience. It’s something that makes both men and women want to have more of where that came from. Who can argue against such self-perpetuating pleasure?