Dr J's Sex Facts

Fun sex facts and accurate information from a clinical sexologist for a hotter and more fulfilling sex life.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Managing Your Sexuality: More Fun Than Brushing Your Teeth!

“Just saying ‘No’ prevents teenage pregnancy
the way 'Have a nice day' cures chronic depression”

Faye Wattleton, former President of Planned Parenthood

Growing up, we learn to manage various aspects of personal hygiene and care such as bathing and brushing our teeth, integrating them into our daily routine. Why, then, is it so difficult for us to incorporate sexual management issues into our regular routine? Could it be our discomfort with acknowledging our sexuality as something so valuable that it needs attention and management? And could it also be because we don’t approach risk reduction as having a potential for being fun?

Let’s take a moment to review the most effective means for risk reduction and/or pregnancy prevention:

1. For Both Risk Reduction and Pregnancy Prevention: Barrier methods such as condoms, latex gloves, etc. (prevent contact with sperm and semen)

2. For Both: Detergents such as Nonoxynol-9 (the active ingredient in spermicides), hydrogen peroxide and bleach kill sperm and many pathogens

3. For Both: Non-wet activities such as phone sex and mutual self-pleasuring (if you get pregnant this way, you’re definitely doing this one wrong!).

4. For Pregnancy Prevention: Hormonal contraceptives such as birth control pills, patches and shots (prevent ovulation)

It’s important that you experiment with these methods to determine which work the best for you in terms of ease of use, cost and comfort. Tip for men: To find your favorite condom, audition various brands during self-pleasuring (this also makes clean-up a snap).

What about Ineffective Methods?

Here are a few methods that automatically set you up with unrealistic expectations of protection:

HIV Test: “If I only have sex with someone who has tested negative, I’ll be safe, right?” So I carry around a card that says on October 1, I tested HIV-negative. Would you feel safe with me? What if I had unprotected sex on October 2, and now, on December 15, I’m HIV-positive? The test only tells you that on the day you took it, you tested negative. This is no guarantee of anything other than that fact. It may reassure you, but once you expose yourself to risky behavior again, all bets are off. And did I mention false positives and false negatives?

Monogamy/Chastity: Unfortunately, these two methods are being promoted as being ideal “protections” against STDs and pregnancy. Why don’t they work? Let’s talk monogamy. Current estimates indicate over 70% of committed primary relationships will end at some point. Many of those endings will involve previously monogamous partners engaging in sexual behavior with someone outside of their relationship. And when we do that, do we tell our primary partner we’ve just been sexual with someone else? Ha! The fact is most of us feel uncomfortable just talking about sex, so very often we end up saying nothing. The relationship continues on its inevitable slide; but in the meantime, we’re having sex with our partner and not talking about any other activities. In some cases, someone will be sexual one time outside the relationship and never tell their partner. That’s precisely how many people in primary relationships end up with various infections. Some STDs, like Chlamydia, can actually remain undetected in women for years, leaving the unsuspecting “hostess” merrily going about infecting others.

“But Dr. J, my partner and I have been monogamous for YEARS, why should I worry about risk reduction?” Why indeed. This is a grey area that falls into what I like to call my “seat belt rule.” Now, you wear a seat belt when you drive to ensure your personal safety, even though you don’t anticipate having an accident, right? It’s possible that you don’t need to use risk reduction at this time, but here’s a thought: what IF, some day, you find yourself in a situation where you DO need to use it, and you have no idea how to put on or use a condom, for example? It might behoove you to learn. You could even make a sexy fantasy game out of it. Pretend you and your partner are having your first sexual encounter: the two of you can negotiate what to use and then learn how to use it together JUST IN CASE

Chastity: Many of the programs that promote this—particularly to teenagers—have a covert moral agenda that contributes to sexual guilt and shame. My students report receiving these messages in high school, and many of them—particularly the young women—take the chastity pledge, ignoring their own sexual feelings and desires, with the usual result being that they go into total denial about their sexual selves. Then, one evening at a party, they get loaded on three wine coolers and end up having unprotected sex right there on the bathroom floor. (“But that was just one time” is the inevitable cry.) This is followed by yet another commitment to the pledge, then falling off the pledge wagon again—and so the cycle begins. Because of the guilt involved and the idea that one shouldn’t plan for sex that you’re not supposed to have in the first place, these interludes remain mostly unsafe and unprotected, leading to high rates of infection and pregnancy among those afflicted with this moral agenda.

Another contributing factor: We all know what happens when you tell someone not to do something: it becomes that much more attractive, right? So, paradoxically, this “just say no” message actually encourages our high rates of infection and pregnancy.

Whenever I speak about management, some of my students roll their eyes, as if to say, “Why do we have to pay attention to this stuff? Shouldn’t it just happen when you’re in love?” Or “When the moment is right, you’ll know, and you’ll do the right thing.” However, after considering the factors discussed here, most realize just how and why they’ve been living with their heads in the sand.

What Does Work?

These myths continue to prevent many of us from effectively managing our sexuality. Once we recover from the guilt and shame, we can acknowledge our right to pleasure and accept the necessity for risk reduction, treat it like brushing our teeth or similar acts, and begin to make it fun instead of a chore. Isn’t it your own experience that the more positive you feel about something, the more likely you are to do it correctly?

If risk reduction were actually treated as a public health issue instead of blunted with a covert moral agenda, our country would have an effective national policy like those of Scandinavian countries, which routinely report the lowest rates of HIV infection and unintended pregnancies.

Keep in mind that those who feel the most positively about their sexuality and are the ones who are the most comfortable with it will be the least likely to become infected and/or accidentally pregnant.

So have fun and play safe! Note: For contemporary, accurate information about contraceptive/risk reduction technology, please visit http://sfsi.org/links/medical.html

Coming Attractions: The Sexual Continuum, Desire Differences

This is a very hot topic; and as always, I welcome your comments and questions. We’d all love to hear about what works for you. The doctor is definitely in.

With Pleasure,
Dr. J

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Green-Eyed Monster: Sexual Jealousy and the Concept of “Ownership”

“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”
William Shakespeare

I heard an old song the other day, “You Belong to Me.” I think most of us can agree that the concept of “belonging” to someone—or “owning” someone—can be quite compelling and very hot when incorporated into a sexual fantasy. However, most of us have to live in a place I like to call “the real world,” and when fantasy spills over into reality, things can become problematic. When you pile on enough complications you can reach dangerous in no time.

But Isn’t a Little Jealousy a Good Thing?

While a little jealousy can be a good sign that a partner cares for you, too much screams “Danger!” If you have a healthy attitude towards jealousy, it's vitally important that you be aware of obvious early warning signs so you don’t wake up one day to find yourself in a relationship with an obsessively jealous (and usually insecure) person.

The flip side is, if you are the jealous type, you might be attracting partners who will reinforce that quality. As your relationships progress, they might lead to more and more bizarre behavior. Of course, there’s the other possibility, that your jealousy is actually repelling possible partners.

Origins of Jealousy

Most of our attitudes about jealousy are molded by social and cultural forces. For many of us, it begins in high school. Teenagers in particular can be extremely insecure about self-image, and it’s in our teens that we audition our new “adult” identity. Keep in mind that this time of learning and experimenting coincides with being very emotionally vulnerable.

The truth is that self-image is a major contributing factor to jealousy: the lower your sense of self-regard, the more likely you are to feel threatened by any perceived act of “disloyalty” by your partner. In fact, if you're the kind of person who lives your life through your relationship (as many of us do), you probably already have way too much at stake in how you perceive your partner's actions.

If you’re aware that you may be vulnerable to jealousy, here are some questions you might ask yourself:

· Does your particular family/social culture reinforce messages about ownership in relationships? Sometimes we don't even realize that we have such strong feelings about a particular issue because they've been so deeply ingrained as a part of our cultural heritage.

· How secure are you in your identity and in your relationship? Are there lots of conditions that must be met? (“I expect you to have my dinner on the table every night at 6 p.m.”) Examine these conditions to determine whether either of you has to meet the other’s unrealistic expectations.

· Does the concept of being owned or owning turn you on? If so, how do you feel about this outside of your sexual relationship? Are you beginning to have these feelings in nonsexual situations? (“I would never allow my partner to go to his office party without me!”)

· What are your perceived shortcomings? Do you feel you're too short, too heavy, too poor? Well, guess what? You've just set yourself up to feeling insecure around anyone who’s taller, slimmer or wealthier than you-in other words, JEALOUS. If you feel that you're too short, then whenever your partner talks to a tall person at a party, that might activate your feelings of jealousy (read: insecurity). I know a man who is absolute catnip to women: he’s gorgeous, funny, warm, etc. And he's never jealous of other men, EXCEPT: he feels that his income is inadequate. Can you guess who makes him feel jealous? A rather unattractive man who happens to be quite wealthy. He's worried his partner will find such a man much more compelling than him, even though she's told him it's not true.

One last thought: It’s important that you discuss the parameters of your sexual relationship with your partner. We often assume that we both play by the same rules. You know what they say: when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME. “After we got married, I ASSUMED he wouldn’t talk to his ex any more.” “After we moved in together, I ASSUMED she’d drop out of her wine tasting group because she knows I only drink beer.”

But wait, there’s more! Coming attractions: differing sexual needs and other issues that may emerge in sexual relationships.

This is a heavy topic; and as always, I welcome your comments and questions. We’d all love to hear about what works for you. The doctor is definitely in.

With Pleasure,
Dr. J

Friday, February 02, 2007

The “Happy Sex Camper”: Sexual Relationships on Your Terms

“You mustn’t force sex to do the work of love or love to do the work of sex.”
Mary McCarthy, American author

Welcome New Readers!

As regular readers can attest, you may find this blog a bit different from others because my intention is to be both entertaining and educational. Each new post is based on information presented in the previous one; so to get the maximum benefit, I recommend you begin with the introductory post from August and read forward from there.

As we were growing up, most of us were bombarded with the usual misguided messages about when it’s considered socially appropriate for a person to have sex (only when you’re in love, etc.); the reality is that we may use sex for different things at different times. Here is a sampling of what we regularly use sex for:

· Pleasure
· Recreation
· Self-esteem
· Loneliness relief
· Tension relief
· Security
· Power
· Revenge!

If you take the time to consciously determine what you want from a sexual encounter, you'll be more likely to approach it with your eyes open, and perhaps maximize the potential of having your deepest needs and desires met. Developing a pattern of using sex for nonsexual reasons can result in it being a chore instead of a pleasurable activity. While self-esteem is an important part of our individual sexuality, it still remains a critically unexamined area. Before having sex with someone, you might consider asking yourself a very important question: will sex with this person positively enhance my own feelings about myself or will it create negative feelings? In other words, it’s important to consider a few things before deciding to be sexual with someone, and our options also include being able to say: “Not yet,” “I’m not sure,” or “No thanks.”

Ethical Casual Sex

While not all partnered sexual activity is relationship-oriented, many people are often unsure of how to approach short-term, casual sex. Here are a few tips that may be helpful:

· Be honest with the other person (I’m only interested in a booty call—not looking for a relationship).
· Check out what each person wants to do sexually; that way, there’s a better chance for both of you to share a mutually satisfying experience.
· Decide on methods of birth control (if applicable) and risk reduction.
· Ensure a caring ending: Don’t just leave; say something in closing (“I had a really great time. Maybe we’ll run into each other again.”)

Beginning Intimacy

If you are looking for a relationship and wishing it would develop into intimacy, your first step would be to understand the difference between a crush and love. We get crushes on people that we don’t really know all the time; then we idealize them (“Ohh, Orlando Bloom is sooooo cool!”), and we even create sensual fantasies in which they perform as our “perfect” lover. However, the reality is that love begins with more than just self-love and self-respect, it also starts with us knowing what we want. Love additionally requires that we know and understand the other person–and that includes accepting their faults–so that we can love the total package, not just what we hope to turn them into. Please don’t delude yourself into expecting the kind of scenario served up regularly in romance novels that someone else is going to magically “complete” you or “heal” your past! This unreasonable expectation not only leads to disappointment, but reinforces the idea that someone else is responsible for your happiness.

Successful Couples

In a survey of “successful” couples (where success is defined by both partners rating their long-term relationship as being very happy) participants were asked to state the most important aspect of their relationship—in other words, what was the most critical contributor to their happiness. While most of us would expect their answer to be “good sex” or “good communication” or some such, here’s a surprise: the overwhelming winning response was: “I like my partner as a person.” These couples usually said that even if they hadn’t fallen in love with their partner, they’d still want to spend time with her/him, finding their partner endlessly fascinating and enjoyable company. In long-term relationships, it’s this kind of intimacy that gets you through the long winter nights, the illnesses and even the crushing tragedies—it’s not just the hot sex (sorry). Here are some of the other important aspects, in descending order of rating:

· I respect my partner (meaning s/he is basically a good person)
· I trust my partner (somewhat). None of us is 100% trustworthy, but a certain amount of reliability is important.
· We have good sex. This requires no comment other than to say that enjoyable sex can reinforce all the good feelings you have about your partner. Plus it’s fun!
· We have fun. It’s very important for adults to allow themselves to giggle and enjoy life; it keeps us young and vibrant, regardless of our chronological age.
· I can talk honestly with my partner (“If I decided to take up ballet at age 50, I know my partner wouldn’t laugh at me, but would at least listen to my feelings and honor them”)
· We share some interests. Too often, people believe they should do absolutely everything together all the time, but this can isolate you from opportunities to grow. Remember that when you’re learning new things on your own, those things enrich not only you but also the relationship.
· We have a commitment to growth, both separately and together.

This last item gets my most enthusiastic endorsement. Of the many couples I’ve worked with, most discover that sharing this commitment to growth provides an endlessly stimulating environment in which relationships grow rather than becoming stultifyingly boring (“Every Tuesday, we go bowling, and then we eat at the same restaurant every Friday where we always order the same food,” etc.) Believe it or not, I’ve spoken with many unhappy people whose lives are stuck in this kind of a rut, and yet they don’t realize just why they’re so bored with each other and themselves.

I’m sharing all of this with you in order to stimulate thought as much as to let it serve as a caution for everyone. However, just because the above-referenced couples listed these aspects as being important doesn’t mean you aren’t free to add your own bits of wisdom to the list. You may have discovered something equally critical to your own happiness. Go ahead: add it to the list, and live and love life to its fullest!

But wait, there’s more! Don’t forget the coming attractions: differing sexual needs and other issues that may emerge in sexual relationships, such as jealousy (oooooooh!).

As always, I welcome your comments and questions. I would also like to invite all of you to share your own additions to the above list. We’d all love to hear about what works for you. The doctor is definitely in.

With Pleasure,

Dr. J