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I have always been a bit of a worrier but since I got pregnant (I am in my first trimester), I feel anxiety ridden and depressed. Something happened this past week and I am not sure if I am right to be worried or not but in any case, I can’t stop thinking about it and feel sick to my stomach. I had a cold sore and one morning, after I touched it, I went to the bathroom and touched the toilet paper which I used after. Do you think I could have given myself genital herpes?

co-written by Ankit Dhawan and Ashley Bell

It is entirely reasonable to feel worried and anxious about your health, as deviations from a “normal pregnancy” can be frightening. The fact that you’re already concerned for the welfare of your developing baby suggests that you’re on your way to becoming a great mother.

Pregnancy itself is full of intense changes which affect your mood. Many women feel increased sensitivity, overwhelmed, stressed and anxious throughout gestation.[i] It is normal for many women to experience depression during pregnancy; this is known as prenatal or antenatal depression. Together, both antenatal depression and anxiety can act as precursors to postpartum depression; however, as it happens to be in your case, it is not a predictor if you experience this in the first trimester of pregnancy.[ii][iii] In order to contextualize, according to a study done in 2009, the prevalence of antenatal depression amongst women in Canada is as high as 29.5%.[iv] Therefore, don’t worry too much as your emotions and concerns are entirely valid.

To understand why it’s unlikely that you gave yourself genital herpes, you must first recognize the different strains of the virus and its transmission. Generally speaking, herpes is a generic name for a group of viruses. The one relevant to your question is from a group called “alpha- herpes viruses”, which is further categorized into herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2), and varicella-zoster virus (VZV).[v] HSV-1 primarily affects the mouth region, and is commonly known as oral herpes, whereas HSV-2 primarily affects the genital region, and is commonly known as genital herpes. However, genital herpes can also be caused by HSV-1, but the recurrence rate decreases further over time when compared to genital herpes caused by HSV-2.[vi] Both forms of herpes can remain dormant in your body and can cause recurrent episodes by reactivating the virus and transporting it back to the mucosal or skin surface through peripheral nerves in your body.[vii] Therefore, those infected do not often have the most classic and well-known characteristics including recurring lesions, blisters, and symptomatic viral shedding to the affected areas.[viii]  Although there is no cure for herpes, there are many medications available that can shorten the duration and make outbreaks less painful, including suppressive therapies for pregnant women.[ix],[x] Cold sores will typically go away without treatment within 7-10 days[xi]. However, if you have more concerns, it would be beneficial to discuss management options with your doctor.

Now, here’s the big question – How can herpes be transmitted? As you described, many people fear herpes transmission through toilet paper and toilet seats.[xii] However, research has indicated that HSV can only survive for a short period of time outside the host.[xiii] Therefore, it is highly unlikely that you have given yourself genital herpes, as it is nearly impossible to catch herpes from inanimate objects and non-bodily fluids. In order to acquire HSV, the uninfected individual is required to establish an intimate direct contact with the individual who is producing or shedding the virus.[xiv] For instance, this can occur through skin-to-skin contact during penis-vaginal intercourse in heterosexual males and females, or through saliva in oral sex and kissing. Due to an increase in the practice of oral sex in the past few decades, some studies have noted an increase in the diagnosis of genital herpes caused by HSV-1.[xv]

Some individuals develop cold sores or fever blisters, which are caused by recurring HSV-1 infections.[xvi] These cold sores are very common nowadays and most people do not recall how it was transmitted to them. Likewise, some of us may have experienced chicken pox in our lifetime, which is caused by VZV, and yet there is no “herpes stigma” associated with it. The general public often makes uneducated speculations, which cause those diagnosed with the virus to feel self-conscious and can lead to increased anxiety.[xvii] It is important that people reduce the stigma associated with herpes.

In one study, people described oral herpes as nothing more than an occasional nuisance similar to catching the flu.[xviii] Another set of studies used sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as a keyword on Google search engine; findings revealed that only 9 out of the top 29 websites were accurate in details about STIs acquired through kissing, which includes herpes.[xix] You can learn more about finding accurate information online by clicking here. It is best to consult your healthcare provider when in doubt, which would likely dispel any further anxiety about the presence of the virus.

Overall, it is okay to be worried in such stressful situations. Use support systems that work for you, be it confiding in a family member, going to a support group or a healthcare provider. Today, media plays a big role in what we learn and how we perceive things. It is important to ask questions when in doubt.


 

[i] Öhman, S. G., Grunewald, C., & Waldenström, U. (2003). Women’s worries during pregnancy: Testing the cambridge worry scale on 200 swedish women. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 17(2), 148-152.

[ii] Misri, S., Kendrick, K., Oberlander, T., Norris, S., Tomfohr, L., Zhang, H., & Grunau, R. (2010). Antenatal depression and anxiety affect postpartum parenting stress: A longitudinal, prospective study. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Revue Canadienne De Psychiatrie, 55(4), 222-8.

[iii] Norhayati, M., Hazlina, N., Asrenee, A., & Emilin, W. (2015). Magnitude and risk factors for postpartum symptoms: A literature review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 175, 34-52.

[iv] Bowen, A., Stewart, N., Baetz, M., & Muhajarine, A. (2009). Antenatal depression in socially high-risk women in Canada. Journal Of Epidemiology And Community Health, 63(5), 414-416.

[v] Mahendiran, Shavitri, Burkhart, Craig G., & Burkhart, Craig N. (2010). Herpes: Issues under the cold sore. Open Dermatology Journal, 4(1), 101-104.

[vi] Engelberg, R., Carrell, D., Krantz, E., Corey, L., & Wald, A. (2003). Natural history of genital herpes simplex virus type 1 infection. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 30(2), 174-7

[vii] Gupta, R., Warren, T., & Wald, A. (2007). Genital herpes. The Lancet,370(9605), 2127-37.

[viii] Delaney, S., Gardella, C., Saracino, M., Magaret, A., & Wald, A. (2014). Seroprevalence of herpes simplex virus type 1 and 2 among pregnant women, 1989-2010. Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey, 69(12), 726-728.

[ix] Sarnoff, D. S. (2014). Treatment of recurrent herpes labialis. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology: JDD, 13(9), 1016-1018.

[x] Public Health Agency of Canada. (2013). Genital herpes simplex virus (HSV) infections. Retrieved from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/std-mts/sti-its/cgsti-ldcits/section-5-4-eng.php

[xi] Sarnoff, D. S. (2014). Treatment of recurrent herpes labialis. Journal of Drugs in Dermatology: JDD, 13(9), 1016-1018.

[xii] Posner, T. (2000). The ‘Herpes’ phenomenon: Media myths, meanings, and medicines. Science as Culture, 9(4), 445-467.

[xiii] Pirtle, E., & Beran, G. (1991). Virus survival in the environment. Rev Sci Tech, 10(3), 733-748.

[xiv] Mahendiran, Shavitri, Burkhart, Craig G., & Burkhart, Craig N. (2010). Herpes: Issues under the cold sore. Open Dermatology Journal, 4(1), 101-104.

[xv] Scoular, A. (2002). Using the evidence base on genital herpes: Optimising the use of diagnostic tests and information provision. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 78(3), 160-165.

[xvi] Mahendiran, Shavitri, Burkhart, Craig G., & Burkhart, Craig N. (2010). Herpes: Issues under the cold sore. Open Dermatology Journal, 4(1), 101-104.

[xvii] Bickford, J., Barton, S., & Mandalia, S. (2007). Chronic genital herpes and disclosure… the influence of stigma. International Journal of STD & AIDS, 18(9), 589-592.

[xviii] Posner, T. (2000). The ‘Herpes’ phenomenon: Media myths, meanings, and medicines. Science as Culture, 9(4), 445-467.

[xix] Yen, Sophia. (2010). “Reputable” but inaccurate: Reproductive health information for adolescents on the web.(FEATURE). Knowledge Quest, 38(3), 62.

I recently met this great guy and we really hit it off. He says he’s in an open relationship. I’ve always been monogamous and feel completely clueless about this. Help!

co-written by Sadie Villeneuve

First things first, the terms open relationship and consensual non-monogamy (CNM) are often used interchangeably[i], as an umbrella term for various models of relationship.  These relationships like monogamy come with pros and cons, jealousy, the need for safe sex practices and cheating.

When finding out that this guy you hit it off with was in an open relationship, the first couple of thoughts that may have passed through your mind were open relationship? What’s that? Nonmogamwhatttt?!

Open relationships or CNMs are often viewed as out of the ordinary[ii] and illegitimate[iii].  Growing up we are presented with images of princes falling in love with princesses who live happily ever after just the two of them. Hetero-monogamous relationships are often pushed as “the norm” in our society.

Unlike monogamy which comes with what could be called default rules, expectations and social norms[iv], CNM relationships have the opportunity to negotiate an agreement where parameters are set to ensure relationships not only flourish[v], but all parties have their needs and desires met as well as feeling safe[vi]. These relationships are grounded on communication, trust and the ability of all partners to be able to convey their needs, concerns or desires openly at any time. CNM relationships can be nonexclusive sexually, emotionally or a combination of both[vii], depending on the model. The three most common models of CNM are:

  • Swinging: Couples who swing engage in extra-dyadic sex in the presence of their partner in a social setting/party. This form of relationship is strictly sexual in nature, not romantic or emotional [viii].
  • Open relationships: Couples are emotionally and romantically exclusive to each other, while allowing for secondary lovers strictly for sexual relationships[ix]. A large degree of autonomy exists within this type of relationship.
  • Polyamorous: Polyamorous relationships are often regarded more positively than swinging or open relationships; as the relationships are more then just sex – they are romantic and emotional in nature as well[x]. Polyamorous couples may have parallel relationships, with many “one and onlys”[xi].

Individuals in these relationships understand and agree they are non-monogamous.

Jealousy can become the big green monster of any relationship. Many would consider it a certainty in CNM relationships, however it is no more prevalent than in monogamous relationships[xii]. Jealousy can be a healthy relationship experience, bringing a couple closer together. This emotion often speaks to uncertainty an individual may be feeling or the inability to express an emotion, rather than the actions of the partner[xiii]. Jealousy management and communication is useful for CNM and monogamous relationships alike [xiv].

A positive CNM relationship facilitates dialogue and communication among partners to maximize mutual gain[xv]; promoting individual growth[xvi], autonomy, confidence and self-expression[xvii]. Individuals who engage in consensual non-monogamy often report improved lives, a high degree of openness, happiness and overall satisfaction[xviii]. CNM relationships allow for individuals to choose partners that can meet specifics such as sexual variety, instead of relying on one partner.

Like any positive relationship, a positive CNM relationship is based on trust, sharing and communication. Individuals partaking in CNM relationships will often spend a lengthy amount of time discussing STI testing, sexual history and health before engaging in any sexual acts fostering safer sex practices[xix]. Condoms are less likely to be used incorrectly as there is a mutual respect for all parties involved[xx].

Cheating whether in a monogamous or non-monogamous relationship can be defined in a similar manner: disrespecting or breaking implicit or explicit rules of the relationship structure[xxi]. CNM relationships view the transgression from communication, openness, emotional attachment and connection[xxii], as cheating. While individuals in monogamous relationships tend to focus on sexual infidelity and extra dyadic sex with others as cheating.

So, is it for you? That’s the question of the hour!

In order for a CNM relationship to work, you must be willing to communicate what you are looking for, your desires, any concerns you may have as well as being 100% honest. Ask yourself a few tough questions:

  • What are my expectations of a loving relationship?
  • How much security do I need to feel safe?
  • Do I need to be the “one and only” or can I share?
  • What pushes or provokes my jealousy and insecurity[xxiii]?

Don’t be afraid to “this great guy” to clarify any questions/concerns you may have! CNM is all about communication. Just like any relationship, CNM relationships are not always easy but they can be very rewarding. Spark conversation about what your goals, desires and boundaries are, and perhaps you’ll find yourself moving away from the default assumptions we often have about relationships and love[xxiv].

There are lots of great resources aimed at newcomers such as yourself such as www.morethantwo.com, and “The Ethical Slut” by Easton & Hardy as well as a large number of support groups and social networks avaliable to learn more.

No matter your decision, it’s just that – your decision – do what’s right for you!


 

[i] Labriola, K (1999) Models of Open Relationships. Journal of Lesbian Studies (The Hawthrone Press, Inc) Vol. 3, No. ½, 1999, pp.217-225.

[ii] Grunt-Mejer, K,. Campbell, C,. (2015): Around Consenaul Nonmongamies: Assessing Attitudes Toward Non exclusive Relationships, The Journal of Sex Research, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1010193

[iii] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961-982,.

[iv] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

[v] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961, 982,.

[vi] Grunt-Mejer, K,. Campbell, C,. (2015): Around Consenaul Nonmongamies: Assessing Attitudes Toward Non exclusive Relationships, The Journal of Sex Research, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1010193

[vii] Conley, T.D., Moors, A.C., Matsick, J.L., Zeigler, A. (2013). The fewer the merrier?: Assessing stigma surrounding consensually non-monogamous romantic relationships. Analysis of Social Issues and Public Policy, 13, 1-30.

[viii] Matsick, J.L., Conley, T.D., Zeigler, A., Moors, A.C., Rubin, J.D., (2014). Love and sex: Polyamorours relationships are perceived more favorably than swinging and open relationships. Psychology & Sexuality, Vol. 5, No.4, 339-348.

[ix] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961-982,.

[x] Grunt-Mejer, K,. Campbell, C,. (2015): Around Consenaul Nonmongamies:  Assessing Attitudes Toward Non exclusive Relationships, The Journal of Sex Research, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1010193

[xi] Grunt-Mejer, K,. Campbell, C,. (2015): Around Consenaul Nonmongamies: Assessing Attitudes Toward Non exclusive Relationships, The Journal of Sex Research, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1010193

[xii] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

[xiii] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961-982,.

[xiv] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

[xv] Mellesmoen, G., (2013). Open relationships get a bad rap. UWIRE text: p1.

[xvi] Moors, A., Chopkin, W., Edelstein, R., Conley, T., (2014). Consensual non-monogamy: Table for more then two, please. The inquisitive Mind. Vol. 6, Issue, 21.

[xvii] Rouse, R,. (2011). What is feels like…. to be polyamorous. Sunday Times, London England: p51.

[xviii] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961-982,

[xix] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

[xx] Rubel, A.N., Borgaert, A.F. (2015) Consensual Nonmongamy: Psychological Well-Being and Relationship Quality Correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961-982,.

[xxi] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

[xxii] Mellesmoen, G., (2013). Open relationships get a bad rap. UWIRE text: p1.

[xxiii] Labriola, K (1999) Models of Open Relationships. Journal of Lesbian Studies (The Hawthrone Press, Inc) Vol. 3, No. ½, 1999, pp.217-225.

[xxiv] Veaux, F. (2012) What is poyamory? (edited by Eve Rickert) Copyright©2012 Franklin Veaux

 

I live with a disability. It’s never stopped me from living my life to the fullest – and I have no complaints when it comes to my sex life. I recently started seeing this great girl and we’re totally into each other but when it comes to sex, she gets really nervous about hurting me or doing something wrong. I know my body and tell her constantly that she’s doing fine and what I need from her. What can I do?

co-written by Shaw Chard

Let’s discuss why being sexual with a person with a disability may be novel to your partner and how you both can use this information to grow and learn together.

Time for some background knowledge. Few of us are raised with adequate sexual education, and an oft-excluded factor which contributes to a good (hopefully great!) sex life is communication [1]. At the same time, the dominant discourse of sexuality is not inclusive of people with disabilities, both visible and invisible, and those people are seen as childlike, naïve, and incapable of sexual desire [2]. Sex-ed programs typically don’t include disability or communication in their curricula, and neither do media representations of sexuality. Because it’s never talked about, sexuality among people living with disability is assumed to either be non-existent or fundamentally “different”, which creates a divide between “normal people” and people living with disability [3].

Now, consider how these things may be affecting your partner and your sexual relationship. You’ve made it clear that you enjoy your sex life, that everything between you two in sexual situations is fine, and that you tell her what you need from her. But really, how much of that does she understand? Dominant sexual discourse is so exclusive; nobody talks about pleasure, planning, communication, and alternatives, so it’s no wonder that so many people are lost when it comes to any other idea of what sex can be. Both you and your partner were more than likely taught sexual education through this narrow lens, and although you have been able to find pleasure in tandem with, not despite of, your disability, it may be hard for your partner to get past what she’s learned. Change is not easy, and you can help each other by being as supportive as possible. Try to help her by introducing planning and open communication into your relationship.

When I say open communication, what I mean is that you not only be open with her, but with yourself: you have to be aware of and understand your own desires, as this is crucial to being able to communicate these things to your partner. If you care that she understands what you want, then you need to know what you want beforehand [4]. Even though you say you tell her she’s doing fine, and that you’ve let her know what you need from her, her nervousness could mean that she still doesn’t fully understand. Let your partner know that many people with disabilities, including yourself, don’t see their disabilities as detracting from their sex lives; on the contrary, many feel that their disabilities allow them to get more creative in the bedroom and allow for more open communication in sexual relationships [5]. Further, make sure you are inviting her to explain her wants and needs, and are validating and supportive of them when she opens up. This will facilitate better communication, and you two will likely feel closer, which cycles back to increasing confidence in sharing your desires and your abilities to achieve them in the future [6].

At the same time, you should both make an effort to be understanding of each other’s situations. You both learned that discussing sex is not the norm, but for you two that may simply not work. This is where planning comes into play. Sit down and discuss your respective wants, needs, and how to achieve both in an environment where you can really hear each other. Though the planning may seem like it detracts away from features we associate with good sex like ‘spontaneity’ or ‘immediate, silent understanding’, research has shown that this kind of open communication not only helps in the realm of sexual pleasure, but can also bring more closeness and intimacy into the relationship as a whole [7].

My advice may be starting to sound repetitive; how many times can I say communication? The point of it all is that, in any relationship, partners need to communicate with each other to make sure that everyone involved is getting the most out of their sexual relationship. Sometimes, you just need to be told what to do, and some relationships require more communication than others. There’s no reason that planning and discussion should be an impetus to your sex; on the contrary, it’ll likely make your relationship stronger and the sex better. I’ll dare to assume that most people want to enjoy their sex lives, and the best way to make sure that happens is to talk about your desires, your needs, and the desires and needs of your partner (or partners!). Now go forth, have a discussion with this great girl of yours, and then reap the benefits.


[1] Kaufman, M., Silverberg, C., & Odette, F. (2003). The ultimate guide to sex and disability: For all of us who live with disabilities, chronic pain, and illness (1st ed., pp. 1-345). San Francisco, California: Cleis Press

[2] Katari, S. (2014). Sexuality and Disability. Sexual experiences of adults with physical disabilities: Negotiating with sexual partners, 32, 499-513. doi:10.1007/s11195-014-9379-z

[3] Esmail, S., Darry, K., Walter, A., & Knupp, H. (2010). Attitudes and perceptions towards disability and sexuality. Disability and Rehabilitation, 32(14), 1148-1155. doi:10.3109/09638280903419277

[4] Kaufman, M., Silverberg, C., & Odette, F. (2003). The ultimate guide to sex and disability: For all of us who live with disabilities, chronic pain, and illness (1st ed., pp. 1-345). San Francisco, California: Cleis Press

[5] Katari, S. (2014). Sexuality and Disability. Sexual experiences of adults with physical disabilities: Negotiating with sexual partners, 32, 499-513. doi:10.1007/s11195-014-9379-z

[6] Katari, S. (2014). Sexuality and Disability. Sexual experiences of adults with physical disabilities: Negotiating with sexual partners, 32, 499-513. doi:10.1007/s11195-014-9379-z

 

 

 

 

For the past six months, my partner has had trouble maintaining an erection. Although we’re both in our late 20s, is it possible that he might have erectile dysfunction? What can I do to help us work through this problem?

co-authored by Lianna Hrycyk

Despite what the media might lead you to believe, erection problems are not exclusive to older men. On the contrary, around 7% of American men under the age of 30 report erectile difficulties. Hearing you say, “What can I do to help us work through this problem” is a good sign. Psychologists recommend looking at erection problems as a shared sexual concern, as they can affect both partners’ well being. Erectile dysfunction is clinically diagnosed as the constant inability to develop or maintain an erection for the duration of sexual intercourse. Erectile dysfunction can be a red flag for another serious medical problem, such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease. Your first step is to encourage your partner to visit his family doctor, in order to rule out medical complications. You may offer to accompany him to the clinic, so his doctor can conduct a thorough assessment of the various factors surrounding your partner’s erection difficulties.

Although only a doctor can make a diagnosis, remember that your partner’s difficulty maintaining an erection doesn’t automatically equal erectile dysfunction. Do you know if your partner gets erections while masturbating or sleeping? If so, then your partner isn’t necessarily unable to have an erection, but rather lacks erections in certain situations. Sex therapists warn against the medicalization of erection difficulties, where all deviations from the norm are considered “dysfunctional”. As famous sexologist Alfred Kinsey wisely wrote, “There is nothing more characteristic of sexual response than the fact that it is not the same in any two individuals”. The question then stops being, “Is this normal?” and becomes, “Is this a problem for you and your partner”[1].

It is important not to blame your partner; similarly, you should not blame yourself. It might also be tempting to comfort your partner by downplaying the impact his erectile difficulties have on your relationship. Instead, share your concerns openly with one another. For example, how has this affected your relationship? Are you both interested in making changes? Questions like these will increase your understanding of each other’s perspective on the issue.

Inability to have intercourse does not have to translate into a loss of sexual pleasure or intimacy. This brings us to challenge two prevailing myths: 1) that men can have erections whenever they want, and 2) that “sex” means sexual intercourse. Sex in our society focuses on male performance, in which the misconception is embedded that an erection is essential for satisfaction. This puts an incredible amount of pressure on men to be hard whenever the opportunity for sex presents itself. In reality, erections typically arise after sexual stimulation. Even more, remember that sex is more than just another word for sexual intercourse. Think of the purpose of sex as providing sexual pleasure. There are many other ways of being sexually intimate that do not require an erection. You and your partner may be surprised to learn that neither erection nor ejaculation is required for male orgasm. Once couples realize that pleasure is not dependent on erections or even orgasms, although these can be enjoyable when they do happen, partners are likely to have more frequent and better sex, according to therapist Bernie Zilbergeld.[2] Instead of thinking of touching and other sexual acts as “foreplay” to intercourse, engage in sex play for the pleasure it brings in itself. You might even end up enjoying a more diverse sex life.

Many sex therapists agree that talking about sex leads to better sex! Good communication is characterized by self-disclosure (partners openly sharing their personal feelings and thoughts), and partner responsiveness (partners showing understanding by acting in response to what their partners have shared). Ask your partner if he would like you to help him get in “the mood” and bring him pleasure. You can ask him if he is comfortable sharing his sexual fantasies with you, and don’t forget to share yours as well. Some couples find it helpful to make a list alone ahead of time. Either way, talking about your desires, preferences, and feelings can be exciting and arousing. If you are both willing, you can explore ways of turning each other on without the pressure of needing an erection. If you need some ideas to get you started, consider:

  • Kissing and hugging while one person stimulates the other with his or her hands or mouth
  • Bathing one another sensuously
  • One partner masturbating while the other kisses and touches the other
  • Simultaneously stimulating each other orally
  • Laying on your sides and looking at each other while masturbating

Overall, the most important thing is for you to talk to your partner openly and honestly. Then, you’ll be able to discuss a realistic plan together that will allow both of you to satisfy your sexual desires.


[1] Zilbergeld, Bernie. (1999) The New Male Sexuality. Revised edition. New York, New York: Bantam Books.

[2] Zilbergeld, Bernie. (1999) The New Male Sexuality. Revised edition. New York, New York: Bantam Books.

I have a 12 year old boy who has recently started to masturbate. We have a good relationship, but we haven’t yet talked about sex or sexuality. I want to make sure that he knows he can always talk to his parents about this and think it’s time to talk about safer sex with him. How can I talk to him about sex without embarrassing him or making him feel ashamed about his body and sex?

co-authored by Ashish Darji

Masturbation in adolescence is a natural exploration of one’s sexuality. It is common to see young adolescents start exploring masturbation around the age of 12 in Western society (and even earlier in other cultures). It seems that you are aware that your child must feel comfortable enough with his parents to talk to you about the sexually related experiences that he’s going through. An important part of parenting is to help guide your children as they grow so that they can make the decisions that are right for them. Open, clear, and honest communication between the child and parents is something that can help facilitate healthier decision making as the child gets older.

A child’s mind is very perceptive and receptive to minute emotions that parents elicit. Adults often don’t realize the influence they have over adolescents; they should use their power for positive youth development.[1] Feelings of shame and guilt can really stunt the sexual growth of adolescents.[2] A child’s home should be a space for open communication pertaining to the subject of sexuality. The most important thing that you can do is to meet your son at his level and view the world from his perspective. Be compassionate in that regard.

Open communication is central to healthy sexual development. No topic should be ‘off limits’ to talk about at home. As a parent, it’s important to communicate to your son by not simply making empty promises about open communication or saying things like “it’s okay to talk about anything” without following through. There is a vast and noticeable difference between saying you are allowed to talk about anything and actual honest and authentic communication, both verbal and non-verbal.

A child’s sexual development is proportional to that of his parents.[3] That is where he will learn the majority of decision making when it comes to sexuality. Your son may need you to approach him at his level of communication. Use what you know from your own experience and learning and be compassionate in answering his questions and supporting his sexual curiosity, to the point where his sexuality makes sense and fits in with his world view.

Discovering your sexuality as an adolescent can be a wonderful journey and open communication can help facilitate that. As a parent, you can help mitigate sexual risks through open communication about sexuality.[4] Open communication will do more than help your son navigate his own sexuality, it will also allow him to be more aware of the risks he may face in the future, such as unplanned pregnancies and contracting sexually transmitted infections. According to a study on parental monitoring and communication, constructive parental monitoring and effective parent-youth communication can play an important role in preventing risky behaviour during early to middle adolescence.[5] In the Netherlands, the societal and cultural narratives around adolescent sexuality are liberal and open minded. As a result, Dutch youth enjoy the benefit of having the fewest number of unplanned pregnancies and lowest rates of sexual infections.

Open communication about sexuality, social anxiety, intimacy, and sexual satisfaction are very closely linked.[6] When masturbation is considered by both the child and parents to be a healthy response to sexual development, it will benefit the child in many ways. Your son will have lower levels of social anxiety, greater intimacy and sexual satisfaction in the future if he is able to adopt and embody an honest and authentic dialogue about his sexuality.

Masturbation in adolescence is a complicated subject to navigate and must be approached with care as a parent. As a parent, you should first be aware of the intricacies that come with masturbation and how it affects the person both physically and psychologically. To allow your son to expand his sexual awareness properly, examine your parenting style so as to not impose any feelings of guilt or shame around sexual expression. Authentic and open communication between you and your child is the most important facet that will help your son navigate his way through any questions that he may have. It’s in your interest to inform him when he is seeking that knowledge.


[1] Clary, E. Gil, Rhodes, Jean E. (2006). Mobilizing Adults for Positive Youth Development: Strategies for Closing the Gap between Beliefs and Behaviors. The Search Institute.

[2] Aneja, J., Grover, S., Avasthi, A., Mahajan, S., Pokhrel, P., & Triveni, D. (2015). Can Masturbatory Guilt Lead to Severe Psychopathology: A Case Series.Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 37(1), 81–86. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.150848

[3] Wang, B., Stanton, B., Li, X., Cottrell, L., Deveaux, L., & Kaljee, L. (2013). The influence of parental monitoring and parent–adolescent communication on bahamian adolescent risk involvement: A three-year longitudinal examination. Social Science & Medicine, 97(Complete), 161-169. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.08.013

[4] Looze, M., Constantine, A. N., Jerman, P., Vermeulen-Smit, E., Bogt, T., Parent–Adolescent sexual communication and its association with adolescent sexual behaviors: A nationally representative analysis in the Netherlands – Routledge. doi:- 10.1080/00224499.2013.858307

[5] Wang, B., Stanton, B., Li, X., Cottrell, L., Deveaux, L., & Kaljee, L. (2013). The influence of parental monitoring and parent–adolescent communication on bahamian adolescent risk involvement: A three-year longitudinal examination. Social Science & Medicine, 97(Complete), 161-169. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.08.013

[6] Montesi, J., Conner, B., Gordon, E., Fauber, R., Kim, K., & Heimberg, R. (2013). On the relationship among social anxiety, intimacy, sexual communication, and sexual satisfaction in young couples. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42(1), 81-91. doi:10.1007/s10508-012-9929-3

 

My roommate is in an abusive relationship. I’ve only known her for a few months and we generally keep to ourselves. Is there anything I can do?

co-authored by Stephanie Gagnon 

It is very common, even understandable, that after realizing the complex situation your roommate faces you would wonder why she doesn’t just leave, and unfortunately, although the solution seems simple, it is not. There are ways in which you can give her help without unknowingly belittling or pressuring her, but first, let’s look into some reasons why some people may choose to stay in an abusive relationship.

Many victims cope with abuse by applying cognitive strategies to their situation that help them to rationalize what is going on by weighing out the pros and cons of the relationship.[1] Cognitive strategies are employed to minimize or rationalize the actions of the abuser. For example, someone could be thankful that his or her partner is abusive rather than cheating on them.[2] This embellishes the pros of the relationship and ignores the cons. Think of it as the cycle of abuse.[3] Tension builds up and the abuser is set off. The end stage of this cycle is called the honeymoon stage.[4] This is when the abuser “begs for forgiveness and promises never to hurt his partner again[5] and the victim is treated in such a way that no one else would ever be as compassionate or loving as the person they are with now. This stage does not last long, and the abuse starts again shortly afterwards. So, why could your roommate be choosing to stay? She values her relationship, and there is a part of her that still loves and cares for her partner regardless of the abuse. Looking past these outbursts may feel easy if the final outcome is always intense affection that isn’t otherwise experienced. A victim’s situation can be complicated if they aren’t only looking after themselves, but children as well – or if they are financially insecure by themselves, or if they’re culture does not permit leaving. All individuals are driven by different factors that we, as outsiders, may not understand. Social media created #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft to give victims of abuse an external outlet to explain their stories, and their experiences in order to help other people in the same situations as themselves.

It is no surprise that circumstances in which a person is being hurt, either physically or mentally can have long term repercussions. These effects are worrisome and put the victim at risk for developing many serious diseases such as autoimmune disease, cancer, coronary disease, and more.[6] Self-blame is a continual concern in abuse victims because their self-esteem is lowered, and the rapidly increasing possibility of depression is frightening.[7] More positively, while health benefits and increased life satisfaction are seen in healthy intimate relationships,[8] they can also be prominent outcomes of friendships – and that is something that you can absolutely provide her with.

Abusive relationships are obviously very hard on its victims, but there are ways you can help your roommate,[9] even if you aren’t very close:

  • Let her know she can talk to you. She needs someone to listen to how she feels and to believe her claims without a doubt, someone she can reach out to for support when she needs it most. Make sure she knows that any discussion with you is confidential and honour that commitment; she needs to be able to trust you.
  • Talk about what she can do. Sometimes, victims in such situations feel they don’t have any options, but they do. You need to let them know they do without being overbearing. Don’t take their autonomy away; it needs to be done on their own.
  • Respect her choices. Leaving an abusive relationship is not always clear cut, so whether she decides to stay or to leave, you need to make sure she knows you will respect her choices and continue to support her, even if you do not agree with them.
  • Don’t leave her hanging. Whether the decision is to stay or leave, the victim is going to need your ongoing support – make sure it is known that you are there unconditionally, no matter if they continue the relationship or not, whether it is just to listen, or to just to be a reliable friend.[10]

You can help your roommate locate a local shelter and peer groups or counseling services, and create a safety plan in case she needs to get out of the situation she is in immediately – be sure it includes dialing 9-1-1 as soon as she can, the local authorities are well equipped and trained to handle domestic disturbances in an immediate fashion, and remove the threat as quickly as possible.[11] Her experiences may be traumatic regardless of how they compare to other women. Thankfully, as her roommate, you have the ability to provide her with a safe and caring environment when she is home. Any individual should be granted the right to feel safe when at home, and although safety can be tricky, anyone facing abuse needs to know that not all people they trust are going to hurt them, and you are the perfect candidate to prove that by providing the support and care a victim needs.

As her roommate, you can give her care and respect, and you’ve already started by taking measures to optimize her safety.


[1] Bennett, T., Silver R., Ellard, J. (1991) Coping with an Abusive Relationship: I. How and  Why Do Women Stay?. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 53(2), 311-325.

[2] Bennett, T., Silver R., Ellard, J. (1991) Coping with an Abusive Relationship: I. How and  Why Do Women Stay?. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 53(2), 311-325.

[3] Miles, E. (1997). When someone you love is abused [How to help a friend]. Family Health. 13(4), 4

[4] Miles, E. (1997). When someone you love is abused [How to help a friend]. Family Health. 13(4), 4

[5] Miles, E. (1997). When someone you love is abused [How to help a friend]. Family Health. 13(4), 4

[6] Watkins, Le,. Jaffe, AE., Hoffman, L., Gratz, Kl., Messman-Moore., Tl., Dilillo, D. (2014) The Longitudinal Impact of Intimate Partner Aggression and Relationship Status on Women’s Physical Health and Depression Symptoms. Journal Of Family Psychology. 28. 655-665.

[7] Watkins, Le,. Jaffe, AE., Hoffman, L., Gratz, Kl., Messman-Moore., Tl., Dilillo, D. (2014) The Longitudinal Impact of Intimate Partner Aggression and Relationship Status on Women’s Physical Health and Depression Symptoms. Journal Of Family Psychology. 28. 655-665.

[8] Watkins, Le,. Jaffe, AE., Hoffman, L., Gratz, Kl., Messman-Moore., Tl., Dilillo, D. (2014) The Longitudinal Impact of Intimate Partner Aggression and Relationship Status on Women’s Physical Health and Depression Symptoms. Journal Of Family Psychology. 28. 655-665.

[9] Adapted from Miles, E. (1997). When someone you love is abused [How to help a friend]. Family Health. 13(4), 4

[10] Adapted from Miles, E. (1997). When someone you love is abused [How to help a friend]. Family Health. 13(4), 4

[11] Options for Victims. (2012). Myriad Media. Retrieved July 17, 2015, from https://www.victimsofcrime.org/help-for-crime-victims/get-help-bulletins-for-crimevictims/options-for-victims

 

 

I’ve just recently discovered that my girlfriend has been faking orgasms during sex. We’ve been having sex for about 6 months, and I thought it’s been great. What should I do to make sure that the sex is good for both of us?

co-authored by Renee Komel

Thanks for your question. In this response, you will find information on how often pretending to orgasm during sex generally occurs, the reasons why some women do it, and ways to help facilitate conversation between you and your partner. The following answer will focus on penile-vaginal sexual intercourse (PVI), since this is how I am interpreting what you mean by “sex,” which can mean different things. It’s important to remember that other ways of being sexual can be just as, if not more, pleasurable than PVI!

In order to contextualize, let me first clarify the prevalence of women who fake or pretend to orgasm. In one study, researchers found that 25% of men and 50% of women in their sample had pretended to orgasm at some point in their sexual experiences.[1] Of those women who had experience with PVI, 67% had reported pretending to orgasm; that is, almost seven out of ten women who’ve had this type of sex have pretended to orgasm!

Some other studies suggest that the range is closer to 53-58% of women who have faked orgasms during sex.[2] But either way, the data shows that it’s relatively common for women to fake orgasms during sexual intercourse. Now the question remains, why?

There have been many different reasons uncovered in research for why some women pretend to orgasm. One study suggests that women who pretend to orgasm may do so as a way to protect against infidelity.[3] This study revealed that women who saw their partners as likely to be unfaithful were more likely to fake orgasms during sexual intercourse to prove their commitment to the relationship. But don’t jump to conclusions just yet! This is only one of many reasons why some women pretend to orgasm.

Another study asked participants about why they pretended to orgasm in particular situations.[4] Four-fifths of the women pretended to orgasm to avoid the perceived negative consequences of telling their partner that they did not orgasm during intercourse. One participant reported, “My boyfriend would have probably gotten upset that he didn’t satisfy me” and another that she “didn’t want to hurt his feelings or his ego”.[5]

Women reporting that they pretend to orgasm to avoid hurting their partners’ feelings is a common topic in other studies as well. One such focus-group of young, heterosexual women discussed sexuality, orgasm, and communication.[6] A common theme discussed was that the female orgasm is more important for the male than for the female. They suggested that when men seek to sexually satisfy their partners, their goal is to help them orgasm. Therefore, if their partner doesn’t orgasm, they feel inadequate. Despite this, orgasm is not the only way to measure sexual satisfaction. In fact, some of these women “viewed female orgasm as a ‘bonus’ and not the goal.”[7]

Your question suggests that you may think your partner is not satisfied with the sex you are having. It is important to know that just because she has pretended to orgasm, it doesn’t mean that the sex was not satisfying for her. It is also important to think of how your own education or experience has framed what you believe about female orgasms. You may believe the myths or misunderstanding regarding female sexuality without even knowing it. Please take a look at the Sexual Pleasure section for more accurate information on female orgasm, pleasure, sexuality, and more.

The above explanations as to why some women pretend to orgasm may or may not be the reason that your partner has pretended to orgasm in the past. The only way to know for sure is, well, to ask her. Now for some suggestions to help guide you through this.

In all aspects of a relationship clear communication is very important, especially when it comes to intimate and sexual aspects of a relationship. Research has suggested that men and women vary greatly in their perceptions of orgasm and sex. Some researchers have suggested that communication between partners regarding concerns, expectations, and experiences is especially important for “young couples who are concerned about infrequent female orgasm in their sexual interactions.”[8]

It may also be helpful to consider specific behaviors that your partner may want more of. These could include foreplay, oral sex, manual stimulation, toys, etc. Another thing to consider is that because perceptions and experience differ between the sexes, it is helpful to focus on how sex feels rather than on achieving the orgasm.[9] This shift of focus can even help her orgasm by eliminating that pressure and exploring new experiences!

In all, exploring other areas of sex, like oral sex, may help both of you discover what feels best and can help you to better communicate expectations for sex and orgasm.[10]

Why some women pretend to orgasm during sex is a complex question. What is most important for you is that communication is key here. Being on the same page is essential. Remember not to enter the conversation pointing fingers or being accusatory, but understand that it may not have anything to do with bad sex or being unhappy with you. Good luck!


[1] Muehlenhard, C.L., & Shippee, S, K. (2010). Men’s and Women’s Reports of Pretending Orgasm. Journal of Sex Research, 47(6), 552-567.

[2] Darling, C.A., & Davidson, J.K. (1986). Enhancing Relationships: Understanding the Feminine Mystique of Pretending Orgasm. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 12(3), 182-196; Kaighobadi, F., Shackelford, T.K., & Weekes-Shackelford, V.A. (2012). Do Women Pretend Orgasm to Retain a Mate? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41,1121-125; and Wiederman, M.W. (1997). Pretending Orgasm During Sexual Intercourse: Correlates in a Sample of Young Adult Women. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 23(2), 131-139.

[3] Kaighobadi, F., Shackelford, T.K., & Weekes-Shackelford, V.A. (2012). Do Women Pretend Orgasm to Retain a Mate? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41,1121-125.

[4] Muehlenhard, C.L., & Shippee, S, K. (2010). Men’s and Women’s Reports of Pretending Orgasm. Journal of Sex Research, 47(6), 552-567.

[5] Muehlenhard, C.L., & Shippee, S, K. (2010). Men’s and Women’s Reports of Pretending Orgasm. Journal of Sex Research, 47(6), 552-567.

[6] Salisbury, C. M. A., & Fisher, W. A. (2014). “Did You Come?” A Qualitative Exploration of Gender Differences in Beliefs, Experiences, and Concerns Regarding Female Orgasm Occurrences During Heterosexual Sexual Interactions. Journal of Sex Research, 51(6), 616-631.

[7] Salisbury, C. M. A., & Fisher, W. A. (2014). “Did You Come?” A Qualitative Exploration of Gender Differences in Beliefs, Experiences, and Concerns Regarding Female Orgasm Occurrences During Heterosexual Sexual Interactions. Journal of Sex Research, 51(6), 616-631.

[8] Salisbury, C. M. A., & Fisher, W. A. (2014). “Did You Come?” A Qualitative Exploration of Gender Differences in Beliefs, Experiences, and Concerns Regarding Female Orgasm Occurrences During Heterosexual Sexual Interactions. Journal of Sex Research, 51(6), 616-631.

[9] Wiederman, M.W. (1997). Pretending Orgasm During Sexual Intercourse: Correlates in a Sample of Young Adult Women. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 23(2), 131-139.

[10] Darling, C.A., & Davidson, J.K. (1986). Enhancing Relationships: Understanding the Feminine Mystique of Pretending Orgasm. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 12(3), 182-196.