porn, relationships, and confusion

Dear Sexpert,

I just found out that my boyfriend prefers a certain type of porn a few months into our relationship. When we first started dating, I asked him and he lied to me repeatedly saying he has never watched porn. What he’s into isn’t bad, but it is different than what I was expecting. Is it a red flag that he lied to me when I asked the first few times?

– Confused Viewer

Dear Confused Viewer,

Watching porn is fairly common, and can be a healthy part of sexuality. Unfortunately, it is also very stigmatized, and many people avoid talking about their habits and views surrounding porn for fear of being judged negatively. Watching porn is common among both people who are single and those who are in relationships; in fact, in a large study of people in relationships, 85% reported watching pornography in the last six months (Psychology Today). Some people who watch porn consider it a part of their sexuality that they would like to share with their partner(s); others consider porn something they like to enjoy only by themselves, or something that should be kept private. Others may also prefer to involve porn in their sexual relationships only after becoming comfortable with other types of sexuality together. How someone chooses to watch and talk about porn, if at all, really depends on the individual’s preferences and comfort level. However, let’s talk more about the dynamics surrounding your and your boyfriend’s interactions with porn.

It seems like what you are most concerned about is not the porn itself, but the fact that he lied to you, and that it might be a bad sign. While it’s ultimately up to you how you assess the fact that he lied, it makes sense to consider the bigger picture and reasons he might have done so. Porn is still considered very taboo in society; people have varying viewpoints on the ethics of porn in general, and especially about specific types of porn or the fetishes/fantasies represented in them. Many people who watch porn don’t talk about it with friends or partners, perhaps because they believe it is something to be kept private or they fear adverse reactions. One possibility is that your boyfriend worried that you would disapprove of his watching porn, and was embarrassed or hesitant to tell you. Something else that might contribute to this is myths about gender surrounding porn. It’s a mistaken common view that porn is something only viewed by men. In fact, in the study of people in relationships, 73% of women (vs 98% of men) had watched porn within the last 6 months (Psychology Today). If you don’t identify as male, the mistaken conception that your gender indicates your interest in porn may have contributed to an assumption on your boyfriend’s part that porn wasn’t something you would be interested in or approve of. Also, porn is notably very different than real life sex. It’s scripted and performed for the enjoyment of the viewer, and very often does not portray realistic (or healthy) sexual encounters. You said the kind of porn he watches is “not what you were expecting”; from that, it sounds like what he is into might not be something that’s part of your current sexual experiences together. It is possible some people, like your boyfriend, might be worried that sharing with you what porn arouses him would seem too different from what you do together sexually. There is a big difference between fantasy and reality; some people’s sexual fantasies are not things they would really want to do in real life. Your boyfriend might have been worried that you might assume he wants your sex life together to be like the porn he watches, or that he wants something different. Finally, it is possible that your boyfriend was worried you might consider his watching porn a violation of the boundaries of your relationship, and hoped to conceal it from you.

With all of these possibilities, and possibly more, it seems like the best thing to do would be to have an honest conversation with your boyfriend. It’s likely that a lot of what led to his lying was miscommunication and mistaken assumptions. An open conversation about porn, your sex life, and your relationship could bring clarity and reassure him that what you most want is that you are both honest with each other. Approaching the conversation with an open mind can assure him that you won’t judge him, and allow you to understand the motivations behind his withholding his porn usage from you. It is up to you from there to decide, ideally in conversation with him, what to do going forward. Lying is never a positive in a relationship, but it is not necessarily a red flag. It might instead be a sign that the two of you need to work on having more open communication. However, if it turns out that he withheld his porn usage from you because he thought you would consider it a violation of your relationship, then this might be a more serious issue to consider and talk about. Lying to avoid acknowledging the breaching of boundaries in your relationship is a red flag. If you do consider watching porn to be a violation of these boundaries, it might be best to clearly establish your boundary and ask him his opinions. Your partner should always respect your boundaries and what you are comfortable with, but porn is often a non-talked-about “gray area”, especially in otherwise monogamous relationships. Being clear with each other on your feelings is important going forward.

Porn can (within limits) be a healthy part of one’s sexuality within any relationship status. However, stigmas against watching porn can often cause feelings of shame that result in a lack of communication surrounding porn, including with one’s partner(s). It is completely reasonable to be upset that your boyfriend lied to you, but it is important to have an honest conversation with him about your feelings surrounding his lying to you, porn, and your relationship. From there, it is up to you to assess with yourself what boundaries to set and changes to make in the future, as well as how you feel about his lying to you once you know why.

Best of luck!

– The Sexpert

Resources:

https://www.bustle.com/p/how-to-talk-to-your-partner-about-porn-according-to-a-sex-therapist-1 0 248693 (an article about how to talk about porn with your partner, as advised by a sex therapist)

global trotter: Sexual health care abroad

Dear Sexpert,

I want to go abroad this summer but I am concerned about receiving sexual health care abroad in a more conservative country. I am also gay going to a country where gay relationships are generally not accepted. What should I do?

-Global Trotter

Dear Global Trotter,

Whenever travelling abroad for internships or vacation, you should always consider your health and safety. It is important to have a plan in place in the event that you become ill or injured while traveling. It’s great that you are learning more about how to keep yourself healthy and safe before traveling.

Sexual health resources vary between countries and if you require sexual health care while abroad or if you expect that you will need specific sexual health services while abroad, it can be useful to know what resources are available in the country that you will be traveling to before deciding to go there. If you travel with a University-sponsored trip such as for an internship through the International Internship Program, the Streicker Fund, the Global Health Program, or the Princeton Environmental Institute, or for thesis research funded through University sources, you are automatically enrolled in International SOS, which is an international emergency medical assistance and insurance service. International SOS will be able to connect you to accredited, English-speaking doctors in the country and will often be able to connect you to LGBTQ+ healthcare allies at your request. Before traveling, consult with representatives at ISOS either by phone or email to inquire about the medical resources available and if you should be concerned about any security risks. They will be able to let you know if they recommend that you travel. If you find yourself needing medical attention abroad, you should contact International SOS for assistance regardless if it is a general medical concern or a sexual health concern.

If you are planning to travel internationally to places other than Western Europe and Australia, it is recommended that you make a Travel Health appointment with University Health Services 4-6 weeks prior to international travel to learn about country-specific risks and precautions and how to stay healthy while traveling. During this appointment, you may also ask your medical provider questions related to sexual health concerns or services while abroad. If you take medication such as birth control or PrEP, let your provider know so they can guide you through the steps needed to acquire enough drug for the duration of your trip.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it is important to also consider the social climate, local laws, and norms around sexual orientation and gender identity within the country that you wish to travel to. Before your trip, advisers at the Office of International Programs (OIP) can discuss options with you. OIP’s website also resources to help you navigate identity in other countries, including a geographic map of sexual orientation protection and criminalization laws by country. You can also email the LGBT Center (lgbt@princeton.edu) to discuss some pre-departure safety considerations or to get in contact with other LGBTQ+ identified students, who have studied abroad in your host country, to learn from their experiences.

Different cultures may also perceive gender identity or sexual orientation differently. For example, while you might be more easily seen as “gay” at home, locals in your host country might read you as straight. Additionally, you may have to decide whether and/or how to “come out” to your new social circles while abroad. Or how to safely find community with other LGBTQ+ folks in your host country.

If on University travel, you are subject to the host country’s laws, as University travel policy states that the University will not provide any legal services to students arrested while traveling abroad. In some countries, being gay is considered illegal and a punishable crime. In other countries, being gay is legal but not as socially accepted (i.e., may be met with hostility). You may be able to travel to extremely conservative societies by “hiding” your sexuality but it is important to consider the emotional toll of doing this. If you are concerned about this, reach out to Counseling & Psychological Services at McCosh Health Center to discuss your concerns, and to talk through support options while abroad.

Remember, there are a ton of campus and online resources to support you in navigating this decision. Consulting with International SOS, University Health Services, Office of International Programs or your specific program, or the LGBT Center should be able to help you make an informed decision about where to travel and how to maintain your health and safety.

Safe travels,

The Sexpert

Here are some additional resources:

U.S. State Department LGBTI traveler information: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/before-you-go/travelers-with-special-considerations/lgbti.html

https://www.gooverseas.com/blog/lgbtq-study-abroad-safety-issues

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (IGLA World) – https://ilga.org/maps-sexual-orientation-laws

https://case.edu/lgbt/sites/case.edu.lgbt/files/2018-04/lgbt-study-abroad-guide.pdf

Information for this article provided by Global ProgramSystem – Princeton University, LGBT Center, Office of International Programs and University-Sponsored International Travel regulations.

Campus sexplorer: is it okay to have sex in public spaces?

Hi Sexpert,

My partner and I have made a bucket list of places to have sex before we graduate. We were thinking of places like Frick, Frist, and Firestone. Do you have any tips for us?

-Campus Sexplorer

Dear Campus Sexplorer,

Thank you so much for your question. People have different preferences in regards to where they choose to have sex. While some may prefer having sex in a private place (or a traditional space like a bedroom), some may prefer having sex in a more public place (and are even aroused by the excitement of potentially getting caught). Others are open to all options. Wherever you choose to have sex is up to you but there are several things to take into consideration when selecting a location. First, it is important to take into consideration the attitudes of other people. While you may enjoy having sex in Frick, students, staff, and visitors do not necessarily want to be involved or witness your sexual act.

From a legal standpoint, it is also important to keep in mind that it is illegal to have intercourse or sexual activity such as oral sex in public places (N.J.R.S. 2C:14-4). If caught, you could be charged with a misdemeanor which if found guilty may remain on your permanent record and you may be placed on the sex offender registry. Even if you have sex in a car in a secluded place at night, that is still considered public sex in almost all jurisdictions. Although sex in a public restroom stall with the door closed is out of public view, most state decency laws prohibit sex in public restrooms. Dancing or grinding on each other is not considered a violation of the law but oral and manual (handjobs) copulation is considered sex and you can be charged with public indecency even if the genitalia is not visible. Having sex in a public place at Princeton is also considered a violation of Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities and you may face additional disciplinary action by the university if caught (RRR 1.3.3 “Sexual Misconduct”).

While we do not condone illegal behavior, if you choose to engage in sex acts in more public places, consider times when it might be less populated, like late at night or early in the morning. Or look for places where you can lock the door. This way you are less likely to get caught, or to be inconsiderate to the people around you.

It is completely understandable if you are aroused by the danger aspect of public sex. If that’s the thrill you’re looking for, you could try having sex in your room with the blinds open, as a safer way to experiment with exhibitionism without getting caught. You can also fantasize aloud with your partner about what you want to do in public to get your engines revved up, but then take it to a private place to play it out.

Ultimately, when deciding a place to have sex always remember to remain respectful of your community members and ensure both you and your partner feel comfortable, consent to all activities, and practice safer sex.

Best,

The Sexpert

Information for this article provided by NJ State Legislature, Princeton University’s Rights Rules and Responsibilities, and Criminal Defense Lawyer.com

Sexpert topic round-up: seeing healthcare providers over the holidays

Hi Readers,

Heading home for the holidays can be a great time to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider(s). Check out previously posted articles about different health-related screenings, switching birth control, and starting PrEP. We hope this is a friendly reminder to talk to your healthcare provider(s) about any health-related concerns you may have and about preventative care options.

-The Sexpert

Fluid Detective: Cum or Discharge?

Dear Sexpert,

Basically, my boyfriend and I were in bed. He was going down on me while simultaneously fingering me. When he was doing that I felt like something was going to be released but I thought it would be squirting. My body did become a little tensed up and my muscles felt stuck. When we finished having intercourse, he said that there was some liquid that has flown down my vagina. He thought it was cum. I have a history of white discharge, but this one seemed a lot more liquidy. I don’t know if I came or if it was white discharge. Could you help me out? 

-Fluid Detective 

Dear Fluid Detective,

For people with vaginas, ejaculation is a topic that’s widely contested, infrequently researched, and often misunderstood, so I’m happy to provide you with some information.  Let’s start by distinguishing between orgasm/coming and “squirting.”  Orgasm can occur from oral or manual stimulation of the clitoris, as well as vaginal penetration.  Although the physiological and emotional responses associated with an orgasm vary from person to person, an orgasm is associated with contraction of pelvic floor muscles (the muscles located under the uterus, bladder and bowel), intense pleasurable sensation, and the release of hormones, endorphins, or fluid.  Some people experience altered states of consciousness, changes in  breathing or heart rate, or feelings of warmth.  Therefore, the sensation of tense and tightened muscles you described could have been an orgasm!

As mentioned, orgasm may or may not be accompanied by the release of fluid.  A literature review published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2013 found that 10-54% of women have experienced orgasm accompanied by release of fluid.  Limited research suggests that this release of fluid,  sometimes known as “squirting”, has been associated with a specific area on the vaginal wall called the G-spot.  The G-spot is a sensitive area behind the front wall of the vagina located between the back of the pubic bone and the cervix.  When stimulated with penetration of a penis, fingers, or other object, some women report a gush of fluid rushing from the urethra.  Recent research has found that this fluid, produced by the Skene’s gland near the urethra, is similar to that produced during penile ejaculation–minus the sperm– and may contain urine.  The fluid is generally odorless and can be clear or milky.  Fluid from “squirting” is not to be confused with arousal fluid or vaginal lubrication, which is a common physiological response to sexual excitement.  During arousal, an increase in blood flow to the genital area pushes fluid to the surface of the vaginal walls.  This lubrication allows for smoother penetration of the vagina.

Due to the broad range of sexual responses and experiences with orgasm, there is no way to tell whether the liquid you are referring to was an experience with “squirting” or vaginal lubrication. Experimenting with G-spot and clitoral stimulation by yourself or with your partner could give you a better idea of your body’s physiological responses and the range of orgasmic experiences that are possible.  For clitoral stimulation with the mouth, be sure to use a dental dam to lower risk of transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).  For stimulation of the G-spot via penile penetration, use a condom as a physical barrier method for STI and pregnancy prevention, or other form of birth control to prevent pregnancy, if you know your partner has tested negative for STIs.

If you have further questions or want to learn more about sexual health in general, you can make an appointment online with a sexual health provider through MyUHS.

-The Sexpert

References:

  1. https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/g-spot
  2. https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/male-and-female-orgasm-—-different-0
  3. https://helloclue.com/articles/cycle-a-z/getting-wet-cervical-fluid-vs-arousal-fluid-vs-discharge
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23634659%20

 

Risky Business: Consuming Ejaculation

Dear Sexpert,

I hang around in the evening with friends and we sometimes have some beer. We were hanging recently and we all got a McDonald’s. I was with three guys and we were fooling about and they ejaculated into a shake and got me to drink it. I was like Eew at first but when I started drinking it I quite liked that they were all focused on watching me and the attention I got. I couldn’t taste their stuff and it was fine. Is this risky? I’m guessing they may want to try it again soon.

 -Risky Business

Dear Risky Business,

Let me start out by saying there’s no single definition as to what “risky” sexual behavior is. For example, risk can refer to the likelihood of getting pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI), your personal safety during an encounter, your comfort level and how close the encounter came to any personal boundaries you may have, or to potential social or interpersonal impacts of a sexual encounter. Additionally, some sexual activities can be legally risky or illegal. While legality, and the risk of getting pregnant or contracting an STI can be somewhat objectively interpreted (through the known effectiveness of different types of contraception and knowledge of your partners’ and your own sexual history and STI test results), your comfort and safety regarding a sexual encounter have to be interpreted through your own feelings. Let’s address each aspect of risk of your encounter in turn, but remember that many of the aspects solely rely on what you want to do sexually, and what you consent to.

First, you cannot become pregnant through drinking ejaculate (or through oral sex, for that matter). However, you can still contract STIs through contact with bodily fluids (i.e., blood, semen, vaginal fluid). Many of the most commonly spread STIs, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, and herpes, can be spread through oral contact with ejaculate. Without knowing the STI statuses of your friends, you were potentially incurring risk for STI transmission. Engaging in oral play is safer with use of barrier methods (e.g., condoms) and/or confirming negative STI status of partners involved.

Consent by all parties, and trust that your partner(s) will abide by the limits of your consent, is crucial for any sexual encounter. Consent must be affirmative (“yes, I want to do this with you”), specific (“I want to do ___ with you, but not ___”), ongoing (“I am still okay with what we’re doing”), and uncoerced. If someone pressures you to do something until you give in, that is not consent freely given. Additionally, if someone is incapacitated (due to drugs, alcohol, or mental or physical incapacitation), they cannot give consent. By your description of the encounter, it is unclear whether you fully consented to the activity, or may have felt pressured into it. You said that you were initially uncomfortable with it and it also sounds like you had not discussed ahead of time what you were going to do, and what you were comfortable with. If this is the case, it could suggest that future encounters with these friends are risky in the sense that they may again not listen to and respect your wishes. I encourage you to reflect upon how much you trust them, and whether you are comfortable with what happened and/or feel confident that you can be honest with them in the future about your boundaries.

Legality also factors into the risk of this experience. From your question, it sounds like you may still have been near the McDonald’s and in public when this occurred. In many states, including New Jersey, public sex acts are considered misdemeanors, and depending on the state and manner of the offense, they can count as sex crimes. It’s legally risky to have any kind of sexual encounter, including exposing one’s genitals, in public (N.J.R.S. 2C:14-4). As well, if you were drinking beer in public, this violates restrictions on public consumption of alcohol, and also underage drinking laws if you or any of your friends are under 21. If you were in a car at the time, it is also illegal to have an open container in a motor vehicle, and it is dangerous (and depending on age and level of impairment, possibly illegal) for anyone to drive after consuming alcohol. Finally, keep in mind that consent requires full competence; people who have been drinking to the point of incapacitation cannot consent.

Finally, it’s important for you to think about what exactly about your encounter you liked, and whether you want to repeat it. It sounds like you may have liked the way your encounter made you feel (paid attention to) more than you liked the encounter itself. If this is the case, consider whether you were actually happy and comfortable with what you did, or whether you were only comfortable with it because it had an emotional pay off. Doing things you’re not comfortable with sexually for an emotional payoff may leave you feeling cheated if you do the act and don’t get the reward. Don’t be afraid to consider other things that may make you feel the same way, like planning an event for your friends or finding another outlet for social exploration.

There is no sexual activity that is ultimately “good” or “bad”, but each has varying risks associated with it. In the case you described, there are many possible risks: contracting an STI, engaging in illegal acts, and/or of having your consent or boundaries violated. However, all of these can be prevented or addressed with some forethought. Consider the questions posed in this article, and if you still want to talk to someone about your sexual health, your feelings surrounding sex, or your thoughts on your emotional and physical needs, you can make an appointment with a counselor at Counseling & Psychological Services (CPS). McCosh Health Center also has STI testing, or can refer you to an outside testing facility for any of your friends that may not be students.

Best wishes,

The Sexpert

Information for this article provided by UK’s National Health Service and NJ State Legislature.

Don’t Test Me: Virginity Testing

Dear Sexpert,

My parents are very adamant about me abstaining from sex until after college.  Whenever I come home, they ask if I am still a virgin. I am sexually active, and I’m afraid they will find out I am lying.  Is there any test that can be done to confirm a woman’s virginity?

–Don’t Test Me

Dear Don’t Test Me,

First, let’s explore the term virginity.  Although it is widely believed that one “loses their virginity” after the first instance of penetrative intercourse, the concept of virginity is a heteronormative social construct.  A first sexual experience can encompass a multitude of different forms and personal, cultural, or religious significance. For some, the loss of virginity might include engaging in any form of sexual activity involving the genitals (e.g., oral or manual stimulation), engaging in new sexual experiences or activities with a current partner, engaging in sexual activities with a new partner, or having an orgasm.

Virginity testing has a controversial history here in the U.S. and around the world. I’m not sure what your cultural background is but you can find out more information about some cultural practices here and here.

Beyond being heteronormative, the emphasis on women’s “virginity” is a form of gender discrimination. The social expectation that girls and women remain “virgins” is based on stereotypes that female sexuality should be restricted until marriage. Virginity testing, or gynecological examinations looking for the presence of an intact hymen (a thin membrane that completely or partially surrounds the entrance of the vagina) have been popularized in many cultures.  Breaking of the hymen can occur through other non-sexual activities (e.g., using tampons, biking or horseback riding) and also may not result from penetrative sex.

In 2018, the United Nations and World Health Organization (WHO) called for the global elimination of virginity testing.  According to the WHO, there is no evidence that the appearance of female genitalia can indicate a woman or girl’s history of sexual activity. Beyond being a medically unnecessary process, virginity testing is oftentimes humiliating and painful for a woman.

I hope I’ve clarified that there is no anatomical indicator of virginity.  No one will ever be able to find out about your sexual experiences through anatomical indicators, and no one has the right to perform a vaginal examination without your consent. Additionally, rest assured that your medical care is confidential– in that your providers cannot share your medical information with your parents without your written consent.  If your parents’ restrictions are causing you distress, you may want to consider talking to a counselor (at Counseling & Psychological Services or outside of the University) – they can help explore possible conversations to have with your parents regarding your autonomy or ways to manage your feelings about navigating this tough dynamic.

If you have further questions about virginity, or sexual health in general, you can make an appointment online with a sexual health provider through MyUHS.

-The Sexpert

Information regarding virginity testing provided by National Public Radio (NPR), Huffington Postthe World Health Organization and The Telegraph.

Forgetful

Hi Sexpert;

I’ve been on birth control the past 2 weeks, being new to it, I’ve either missed a day or taken them hours late numerous times. I’ve had unprotected/no pull-out sex about 5 times this week, including today which was my original ovulation day (before I started BC), am I at risk for pregnancy?

-Forgetful

Dear Forgetful;

Thank you so much for your question! With our busy lives, forgetting to take an oral contraceptive method of birth control (i.e., the pill) happens to lots of people. It is great that you are making efforts to reduce your risk of pregnancy by using contraception; however, not taking it consistently while engaging in unprotected penetrative sex can increase your risk of becoming pregnant.

Birth control pills like many other forms of contraception are not 100% effective at preventing pregnancy. If you use birth control pills perfectly, meaning that you take it every day at the same time, it is over 99% effective. In reality, the pill is 91% effective because people are not perfect and forget to take or miss pills. If you forget to take the pill more than two days, the chance of ovulation (when a mature egg is released from the ovary and has the potential for fertilization) increases, meaning your risk of getting pregnant also increases.

How soon birth control takes effect after starting it depends on what kind of birth control you take. Combination pills (containing estrogen and progestin) can take anywhere from five to seven days after the first dose to become effective depending on when you begin taking the pill. Progestin-only pills, also known as mini pills, are effective after two days of starting the pill. During this time, it is best to use a second form of contraception such as an internal or external condom to prevent pregnancy. Progestin-only pills are really most effective if you take them at the same time every day. If you take the progestin pill three or more hours late, it is recommended that you use a backup-method for the next two days. If you are taking a combo pill and miss a day, you can take two pills the next day to get back on schedule. If you miss two or more consecutive pills anywhere in a combo pill pack, a backup birth control method, such as condoms or a diaphragm, is recommended for seven days. If you are unsure of which kind of birth control you are taking, ask your primary care physician, gynecologist, or a provider at McCosh and they will be able to provide more information regarding the effectiveness of the birth control you use.

If you are concerned about being pregnant, it is best to take a pregnancy test which can be purchased at the University Store, CVS on Nassau Street, or at McCosh Health Center. If you have any questions regarding how to use a pregnancy test or which one to purchase, feel free to make an appointment with a provider at McCosh.

If you choose daily birth control as your preferred method of contraception, is it very important that you take the pill every day to ensure its effectiveness. Missing just one day increases your risk of becoming pregnant. Setting a daily alarm or opting for a text reminder service can be helpful. If you continue to miss pills, it may be advisable to speak to your healthcare provider to discuss other contraceptive options, such as an intrauterine device (IUD), birth control patch, implant, or shot – which are sort of “set it and forget it” methods. If you are ever in doubt in regards to the effectiveness of your birth control or if you want to explore other options of contraception, speak to your primary care provider, gynecologist, or a provider at McCosh Health Services. You can make an appointment online at www.princeton.edu/myuhs.

— The Sexpert

Information on birth control provided Planned Parenthood, WebMD, and Bedsider

 

 

Summer Swooner: Dealing with Distance in a Relationship

Dear Sexpert,

My boyfriend and I have been together since the beginning of spring semester.  Unfortunately, he’s going to be going back home on the west coast this summer, while I’m staying on campus to do thesis research. I’m worried the distance might be hard on our relationship. How do we keep our relationship, and more specifically, our sex life, going strong?

Sincerely,

Summer Swooner

Dear Swooner,

It’s totally normal to feel apprehensive about the impending separation between you and your partner. However, it’s important to remember that it’s only for three months. It seems like you want to be together when you return to campus in the fall, so let’s talk about ways to make sure you two can keep the fire burning, despite the geographic distance!

The first place to start is having an honest discussion with your partner about how you want your relationship to be defined during the summer months. Oftentimes, people can feel conflicted when separated from their partner over the summer — likely, you’ll be meeting new people and living different day-to-day lives. If you feel like you or you partner might want to explore other romantic or sexual relationships during the summer, then you should try and have a conversation about the boundaries of your relationship in person, before you two part ways. It can be hard to have these conversations over the phone, since a lot of feelings might be “lost in translation.” Remember to be honest with yourself and with your partner so that during the summer you can feel connected with the space and people around you and confident in the status of your romantic relationship. It is possible that as summer goes on either you or your partner might want to revisit your original agreement; that’s understandable. Be sure to keep those lines of communication open and be true to what you are feeling and what you need in the relationship.

What’s great about modern-day, long-distance dating is that we have the gift of the internet to stay connected. You can use these (text, call, video chat) to communicate regularly but can also get creative for special occasions. For example, use video chat to “have a date”. Get dressed up, set the mood with lighting or decor, and video chat while eating a meal “together”. Of course it’s not the same as being together in-person and may even be a little awkward at first, but it can add something special to your routine of communicating via text or phone call. Furthermore, intentionally having to carve time out for one another may lead to a stronger relationship and getting to know each other on a more emotionally intimate level.

Regarding your sex life, as long as both you and your partner are comfortable, you can use video-chat services (e.g., Facetime, Skype, Snapchat) as a tool to keep the sexual aspects of your relationship alive without being physically together. Video-chatting can make it feel like your partner is right there next to you, so don’t be ashamed of getting a little steamy over Skype! Partners can masturbate to each other over video-chat or share sexual fantasies. It’s great practice for pillow talk, since you’ll likely have to use your words more so than in person!

There may also be times when you really miss your partner and the distance feels too difficult. Make sure you have a support system–friends, family, etc.–who you can talk to for comfort and even distractions when things get tough. They can help you get through the rough patches and feel grounded.

As always, I wish you the best of luck, Swooner. Maintaining honest communication and trust with your partner during the summer will prove useful in building and maintaining your relationship and sex life.  But remember to have some conversations about how you plan to approach the summer before you leave campus.

Yours,

The Sexpert

 

Dry and Dissatisfied: Vaginal Lubrication

Dear Sexpert,

Hi, I don’t get much lubrication in my vagina when I’m having sex, is there any food or drink to help get wetter?

Best,

Dry and Dissatisfied

Dear Dry and Dissatisfied,

Thank you for reaching out to the Sexpert with your question!  Many people with vaginas struggle with lubrication during sexual activities.  First, a quick anatomy lesson: vaginal walls are hydrated by a thin layer of clear, odorless fluid.  The hormone that regulates this fluid is estrogen.  Estrogen influences lubrication of the vagina by influencing the pH of the vagina and vaginal secretions.  Without adequate moisture, vaginal tissues become fragile and irritated, and may even tear.  Beyond causing discomfort in everyday life, dryness can lead to painful sexual intercourse for many people with vaginas.

There are many reasons, ranging from physiological to emotional, why your vagina may be less lubricated when taking part in sexual activities.  For one, decreased moisture may be tied to a decline in estrogen levels as a result of menopause, breastfeeding, or taking oral contraceptives (i.e., birth control pill).  In addition, a variety of oral medications, from antihistamines (allergy season, anyone?) and decongestants to antidepressants, have been shown to decrease vaginal secretions.  Alcohol or other drug use (such as marijuana), in addition to impacting ability to consent, may also dehydrate you and increase vaginal dryness. Douching, or using a solution intended to “clean” the vagina can interfere with your natural pH and may increase dryness, as well. Emotional factors such as feeling stressed or distracted may also decrease natural lubrication by making it difficult to become aroused.

Perhaps the easiest issue to remedy is short duration of foreplay.  Since vaginal moisture is tied to arousal, you may find that lubrication improves when more time is spent focused on arousal before any penetration. This might involve stimulation of parts of the body other than the vagina, such as the breasts, neck, or other erogenous zones. Even simulation of your mind, such as exploring fantasies or watching porn, can increase arousal.

That being said, there are effective interventions for women struggling with painful sex as a result of vaginal dryness.  You may consider buying over-the-counter lubricants to provide additional lubrication.  However, make sure you purchase water-based or silicone-based lube (not oil-based) if using a latex condom to prevent the material from breaking down.  Do not use silicone-based lube on silicone toys, which can also cause material break-down. When it doubt, water-based lube works safely with most materials. It does, however, tend to dry up quicker when exposed to air, so make sure to have plenty on hand and add more as needed! In addition to over-the-counter lubricants, some healthcare providers might recommend taking supplemental estrogen to provide a more permanent solution to vaginal dryness.  A variety of estrogen products are available by prescription; you may be prescribed a vaginal estrogen ring, a vaginal estrogen tablet, or a vaginal estrogen cream. Consult with your provider if you find the other, non-prescription remedies insufficient.

In addition to over-the-counter lube or prescribed medication, some studies have found that certain food or drink has the ability to enhance vaginal lubrication.  Perhaps the easiest dietary solution to promote lubrication would be to drink more water!  Dehydration undoubtedly will lead to a dryer vagina.  In addition to water, other food and drink have been shown to enhance lubrication.  For example, the phytoestrogens in unprocessed soy products have been shown to enhance vaginal moisture.  In addition to soy, avocados, apples and flaxseeds have been shown to prevent dryness.

If vaginal dryness persists, you may want to make an appointment with a University Health Services’ clinician at McCosh Health Center by phone (609-258-3141) or online at MyUHS.  In some cases, a discussion of your health history and a physical examination may be useful in determining the cause of, and most effective methods to treat, vaginal dryness.

Information for this article provided by Bedsider and Cleveland Clinic.

Sex Toys in Relationships

Dear Sexpert,

I have been dating my girlfriend for about 3 months now. Recently, I’ve noticed that after we have sex, and I’ve seemingly fallen “asleep,” she sometimes reaches in her backpack for her vibrator. The mechanic hum isn’t what keeps me up, but the embarrassment from the fact that sex with me isn’t enough for her. I really care about her, but I don’t know how to confront her about this. What do you think I should do?

Sincerely,

Lackluster Lover

Dear Lover,

Take a breath – this situation sounds challenging but not necessarily something to take personally. Good news, with some open channels of communication with your girlfriend, you will likely find a mutually pleasurable sex life together!

First off, it is important to note that people (more often women-identified individuals) sometimes have more difficulty reaching orgasm (with or without a partner) for any number of reasons. One reason is that traditional depictions of female pleasure often show orgasm resulting from penetrative sex and happening in tandem with a partner’s orgasm — creating that as the model for “how it should work”. Feeling stressed, being distracted/having trouble focusing, not being aroused enough, not yet knowing what feels good, experiencing physical discomfort, etc. can all impact whether or not someone experiences an orgasm.

Your girlfriend’s desire to pleasure herself after sex could indicate a need for trying something different together. If your girlfriend is comfortable masturbating in the same bed as you, then she will likely be comfortable enough to have a conversation about it. Although she’s waiting until after you’re asleep, she’s clearly not trying that hard to hide it from you. You two haven’t been together for that long, so it’s possible that she is apprehensive about bringing this to your attention, or is worried that you will take it personally. But, like I said, it’s important to establish honest and clear ways to communicate about it.

So how do you go about starting the conversation? Well one thing is for certain, don’t wait until she pulls out her vibrator and confront her in a “gotcha!” moment. Instead, bring it up to her over a meal, when you’re just hanging out in your room, or in some other relatively private and comfortable space. Mention that you have noticed her doing this recently, and, if you’re comfortable, express your openness to trying out new things together. Vibrators and other sex toys don’t always have to be used for masturbation; maybe you can try your hand at wielding the mechanical hum. In fact, many sex toys can be used with a partner — some (e.g., vibrating rings) are even made for use during penetrative sex to enhance pleasure of both partners, but be sure to wash your toys thoroughly with soapy water after use, especially if you plan on sharing them between yourselves. You can also use a new condom on toys (e.g., dildo) for each use. Also, if you two often skip straight to penetrative sex, then you might benefit from some additional foreplay to “get things going”. Try oral sex or a sensual massage. Some couples find mutual masturbation (masturbating, individually, near one another) arousing and can also help your partner better understand what works for you.

Anyways, I wish you the best of luck, Lover. These sorts of things can be uncomfortable to initiate at first, but it is likely that, after bringing it up in a mature manner, your sex life (and relationship) will only benefit from the conversations that follow!

Yours,

The Sexpert

Tear Preventer: What are my Lube Options?

Dear Sexpert,

 Can I use micellar water or v-wash as anal lubricant (since it should be water-based)? What can I use apart from expensive lubes?

Sincerely,

Tear Preventer

Dear Tear Preventer,

Thank you for reaching out to the Sexpert with your question!  Since the anus does not lubricate naturally, many people find that adding a lubricant makes anal penetration a more pleasant experience.  Additionally, using an effective lubricant lowers risk of condom breakage (from friction) and helps protect sensitive tissue.  As you note, making sure a lubricant is water-based (as opposed to oil-based) when using with latex condoms or other latex-based protective barriers is ideal to preventing the latex from breaking down. With such a wide variety of lubricants on the market, and a wealth of information about lubricants on the internet, it can be difficult to choose the option that will be best for you.

First, I’d like to start by talking about micellar water and v-wash for our readers who are not familiar with these products.  V Wash Plus Expert Intimate Hygiene is marketed as a vaginal wash to ease vaginal discomforts (e.g., itching, pain) or infections.  V Wash is a water-based wash that includes the ingredients: lactic acid, tea tree oil, and sea buckhorn oil.  Alternatively, micellar water is a combination of purified water, hydrating ingredients, such as glycerin, and low concentrations of extremely mild surfactants (substances which tend to reduce surface tension of a liquid in which it is dissolved).  The molecules of surfactants group together to form microscopic spheres called micelles, which act like magnets for dirt and oil.  Recently, micellar water has become popular in the United States amongst models, celebrities, and makeup artists as a makeup remover, cleanser, and toner.

I would advise against using v-wash or micellar water as anal lubricants.  First off, these products contain chemicals, such as glycerin, that can cause infections if not cleaned off properly and could damage the lining of the rectum.  Further, in general, lubricants and other care product designed for the vagina*, such as V Wash, are acidic to cater to the slightly acidic pH of the vagina. Since the rectal pH is more neutral, surrounding tissues could be damaged upon exposure to these products.

Now, let’s talk about good lubricants to use depending on sexual act.  If you will be using a latex condom or silicone sex toy, use water-based lube to prevent condom breakage or damage to the toy.  Look for non-flavored (flavored varieties often have sugar and other added ingredients) varieties of water-based lube to minimize sensitive tissue irritation.  Note: it might require some reapplication as water based lube dries more quickly. Some people who have penetrative anal sex may prefer silicone-based lube because it is typically slicker and stays wetter longer, thus reducing friction upon sensitive tissues.  Although safe for use with condoms, silicone-based lube is not safe for use with sex toys unless there is a condom on the toy.  Finally, oil-based lube is not safe for use with latex condoms.  Because of the sensitivity of anal tissues and incompatibility of lubricants with condoms and sex toys, I would also advise against using household products such as petroleum jelly, coconut oil, or olive oil as anal lubricants.  To ensure pleasure and safety for all parties involved in anal stimulation or penetration, it is best to use an unscented product that is suitable to your preferred activity.

To learn more about safer anal sex practices or to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), you can make an appointment with a University Health Services’ clinician at McCosh Health Center online at MyUHS.

*For more information about care products and cleansers designed for the vagina, see Sexpert article https://thesexpert.princeton.edu/2018/04/are-feminine-hygiene-washes-safe-to-use/

References:

  1. https://www.allure.com/gallery/micellar-water-facial-cleanser
  2. Identification of Personal Lubricants That Can Cause Rectal Epithelial Cell Damage and Enhance HIV Type 1 Replication in Vitro. AIDS RESEARCH AND HUMAN RETROVIRUSES, Volume 27, Number 9, 2011
  3. https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/olive-oil-anal-sex-lubricant

 

 

 

 

 

Is it Time to see a Gynecologist?

Dear Sexpert,

I’ve been looking into taking better care of my sexual health lately. My friend mentioned that she went to see her gynecologist recently, and I was wondering when I should start seeing a gynecologist?

Sincerely,

Gynecologically Inspired

Dear Gynecologically Inspired,

Thank you for your question! In short, it really depends on your unique needs and medical history. Gynecologists are excellent resources for in-depth and specialized knowledge and care for individuals with any of these reproductive organs: vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. They provide services such as breast and pelvic exams to look for any abnormal growths, a Pap test (which checks for abnormal cell growth on the cervix), tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and can provide advice about contraceptives and prescriptions for birth control*.

The current recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is that patients see a gynecologist as early as 13 years old. This helps to address concerns or questions related to the menstrual cycle, hygiene, contraception, etc. and establish a comfortable relationship. A preventative annual visit is recommended (and covered by many insurance plans) for established patients for visual breast exam and external pelvic examination. It is during this time that the patient can ask questions, discuss concerns or get prescriptions for birth control methods. For more information about the preventative screenings that might be conducted during a visit, check out one of our older articles.

It is not until age 21 that getting a Pap test regularly is recommended, regardless of sexual history. So, if you are not already going annually, this might be a good age to start seeing a gynecologist. How frequently you get a Pap test from there is dependent on your age, medical history and previous test results. For example, generally healthy 21-29 year olds, may only need a Pap test every 3 years.  Your healthcare provider can tell you what is appropriate for you.

However, if you are sexually active, it might be a good idea to start seeing a gynecologist earlier than 21 so you can be prepared and well-informed about your sexual health and ways to lower your health risks. Anything that seems to be out of the ordinary is also reason to see a gynecologist – for example, discovering a lump in your breast, pain during sex, painful or debilitating menstrual cycles, or any sign of infection in your genital region.

On campus, seeing a gynecologist might not be an option, but the same services provided by most gynecologists can be found at University Health Services! The list of services and instructions for scheduling an appointment can be found on the UHS website. The Sexual Health and Wellness services at UHS caters to all patients, and unlike many gynecologists also has specialists in LGBTQ+ health. They can perform annual exams, Pap test, STI screens, provide birth control prescription and counseling, and investigate any additional health concerns.

As always with health concerns, it is better to be safe and have your questions answered and concerns addressed, and UHS health care professionals are here for that reason!

Sincerely,

The Sexpert

*Note: Pap tests and other examinations can be done by practitioners with other credentials, including nurse practitioners.

Information for this article came from the Mayo Clinic Website (https://mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/when-should-a-female-start-seeing-a-gynecologist) and the UHS Website (https://uhs.princeton.edu/medical-services/sexual-health-and-wellness). Planned Parenthood https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/cancer/cervical-cancer/whats-pap-test

https://thesexpert.princeton.edu/2017/10/happy-pappy-what-does-a-pap-smear-involve/

 

Lookin’ Hairy: Dealing With Body Hair

Dear Sexpert,

I’ve heard a lot about “manscaping.” What is this and should I be doing it? 

– Lookin’ Hairy

Hi Lookin’ Hairy,

Thank you for your question! Manscaping refers to men-identified folks waxing, shaving, or trimming body hair..  While women were traditionally those to whom services or products to trim or remove their unwanted hair were geared, today people of all sexes have moved towards managing their unwanted hair, thus the emergence of the term “manscaping”. This term encompasses altering of the hair anywhere from eyebrows and ears, to chest and back, to the pubic region. According to a 2014 survey, 39% of men aged 18 and older report “manscaping” and 2017 study reported that 50.5% of men report grooming “down there” regularly.

It is important to note that by no means should you feel forced to alter your body hair – whether implicitly by advertisements or magazine articles, or explicitly by a partner or someone else’s demand. Body hair is a natural occurrence and plenty of people leave it to do its thing. But if you do want to shape, trim or remove it, there are many methods to choose from depending on your preference.

Waxing pulls the hair out from the follicle and slows the reemergence of the hair. Over time, waxing can also permanently make your hair thinner and less noticeable. Experts recommend that you go to a certified, reputable, and clean waxing salon to wax your hair to prevent infection and injury. You can also use at-home waxing kits which are cheaper but also carry more risk of user error. Be sure to read and follow all of the directions that accompany your waxing kit. Some considerations if you are thinking of waxing your pubic hair: some professional salons require parental consent for people under 16 years old. If waxing at home, be extremely careful around your genital area, so as to avoid burns or tears of the skin.

 

You can also choose to shave but be sure to use shaving cream or gel and a sharp razor to prevent cuts and irritation, and shave in the direction of the hair growth. Shaving leaves the follicle of the hair in the skin which means that the hair will grow back faster than waxing and may seem darker and thicker due to the blunt end caused by the razor (the hair is not actually thicker). If the hair is long, trimming beforehand to about 1/4 – 1/16 inch length can make shaving easier. For some people shaving is not ideal as it will sometimes irritate the skin, cause razor bumps, and put you at a higher chance of having ingrown hairs (where hairs grow into the skin instead of out of the skin). Both shaving and waxing will sometimes result in a couple days of itching a few days after removing hair as the hair begins to grow back. When shaving pubic hair, pull skin taught and shave with light, gentle strokes. Using a portable mirror can help to see what you’re doing.

 

If you wish to just trim your hair but not completely remove it, you can use scissors or invest in an electric trimmer. Both will allow you to control how much hair to remove. When using scissors, make sure they are clean (wipe them down with rubbing alcohol beforehand) and you don’t cut too close to the skin. For electric razors, there are all kinds of attachments that help trim ear and nose hair, or select the length of hair that remains. If trimming your pubic region, take care not to trim too close to the genitals.

Lastly, you can also choose to use a depilatory creams, such as Nair, to chemically remove hair. These chemicals loosen hair from the follicle. These creams can cause allergic reactions or breakouts. If you choose to use this method for pubic hair, make sure you use products formulated specifically for sensitive areas. Using creams is the most dangerous way to remove pubic hair due to the risk of chemical burns or severe skin irritation. Be sure to read and follow all directions accompanying the cream if you decide to use this method.

After-care also matters! Use a gentle astringent like witch hazel or alcohol-free aloe vera gel on the area. If you do experience any minor cuts, wash thoroughly with soap and warm water and hold pressure with a damp piece of paper towel or toilet paper to clot for 10-15 minutes. Cuts that bleed for longer might require medical attention. For any more injuries or infections, do not hesitate to contact a health provider, even with just questions.

With trimming and maintaining pubic hair becoming more mainstream, your options have grown drastically!  Remember to do and proceed with what you are comfortable and feel free to explore! The good news with all of these methods is that if you get a “bad haircut”, it’ll grow back.

Best,

The Sexpert

 

Sources:

American Journal of Men’s Health

Go Ask Alice! Columbia

Multisponsor survey

 

A Division of Peer Heath Advisers, Princeton University @princeton_pha