I'm on vacation for the next three weeks. But the "Savage Love" Letter of the Day—a.k.a. SLLOTD—must go on! I've lined up three guest columnists to field your questions while I'm away. First up is repeat "Savage Love" and "Savage Lovecast" guest expert Dr. Debby Herbenick. Debby is a research scientist at Indiana University, a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, and the author of five books. Her newest is Sex Made Easy. You can follow Dr. Herbenick on Twitter @DebbyHerbenick. Debby will be answering your questions all this week. -Dan
As you know, Dan is on vacation and I’m in charge for Week 1. I like to think Dan’s vacation consists of frolicking in a fairytale land full of trees that bear vulva-looking fruit, secret caves that look like vaginas, and waterfalls reminiscent of female ejaculation, but that’s just because I try to be a good vulva/vagina loving influence on him. And in honor of my love for genitals (my main area of research at Indiana University), it seems Dan’s been stockpiling questions about vulvas, vaginas, and the clitoris for some time now & we’ll get to them this week, along with a few good questions involving our friends the penis and anus, too, as well as some on stuff like desire, disappearing sex, and more.
Today let’s meet two readers—one man, one woman—who are feeling frustrated that their genitals are not behaving the way they want them to behave.
Take, for example, this guy:
I have had the wonderful fortune to find someone with whom I'm intellectually and emotionally compatible. We spent months talking and getting to know each other before we met in person. And when we did the physical attraction was immediately apparent to both of us. It's a relationship that's still very new but at 32, I am plenty capable of recognizing when I find what I want and I want her.
My problem is that in my prior loneliness I did not heed your advice about the importance of varying masturbation techniques. I've found that I can only climax while she is on top. I have no issue with stamina or holding an erection and I've been able to get her off with regularity. I am starting to get frustrated to the point that I know I'm just exacerbating the problem with my own insecurity but I was the recipient of a very sensual blow job that wasn't producing any results.
We had a discussion about it and she was so sweet in her attempt to reassure me. But she has occasionally blamed it on her own dryness which I am certain is just her insecurity starting to show. I cannot have her believing this is somehow her fault.
Do you have any suggestions that may help?
Dan has given great advice over the years to vary masturbation technique. It reflects some of the best suggestions from well-respected sex therapists, including Dr. Bernie Zilbergeld who wrote The New Male Sexuality (one of my favorite books about men and sex).
You’re only 32—and it’s never too late to teach your penis new tricks! Since you’ve built a good foundation with your partner, chances are she’ll be open to exploring with you in ways that help you to have a mutually pleasurable sex life.
When you’re on your own, switch things up: use lube sometimes but not others. Watch porn sometimes (if you’re into it) but other times rely on fantasy or focusing on physical sensations that tell you this feels good and you should keep going. You can also switch up your masturbation in terms of slow/fast, gentle/medium/firm, shaft vs head, penis vs balls, and so on. Rather than focusing on “results”—as you call it—try focusing instead on pleasure/what feels good.
Keep in mind, too, that lasting a long time—and coming in one specific way—isn’t necessarily a downer. Talk with your partner and ask how she feels about your current sex life. If she enjoys sex that takes a while, or if she’s multiply orgasmic, she might value spending ages doing the things you do together before you finally ejaculate with her on top (by the way, she might be totally fine with the fact that you come most easily with her on top; some women experience pleasure, or come most easily, on top).
As for her dryness concerns, about one-third of women—even younger women, according to a study my research team and I conducted—experience difficulties with vaginal lubrication. You’re right—in part she may be trying to reassure you. However, she may also just be a human with her own insecurities or concerns (dryness) just like you’re a human who your own insecurities or concerns (related to how and when you come). Wouldn’t it be great if you both could just talk about these things, change what you want to (and can), and not worry about the rest?
If your partner would like a little more wetness (dryness can make sex feel uncomfortable or even painful), try store-bought lube. I’m a fan of vagina-friendly lubes like Good Clean Love and Just Like Me.
A few final words: above all, keep your focus on being real with each other and accepting of how your bodies work. You found someone great! As you explore, try not to focus so much on specific outcomes, like where/when you come, but how you feel together. It’ll be much more pleasurable whether your story together ends up being a shorter story, or a longer one.
And now there’s this woman:
Hey Dan, I have a huge problem-my clit. Well, not huge, but anyway. I need a lot of stimulation when I want to cum-but sometimes I accidentally hurt myself in the process, which results in me not being physically capable of having an orgasm for a month or so while I heal. I like too much friction. So y question is, can I re-condition myself to like softer touch, the way guys can with their dicks? Ginny P.S. thank you.
Please. Step Away. From Your Clit.
At least for the time being.
Here’s the thing: it’s okay to like lots of stimulation; many women do. It’s okay to like stimulation that’s firm or a little rough or that involves very intense vibration. That said, if you’re frequently hurting your body to the point where it can take as long as a month to heal (ouch! Normally vulva/vagina tears heal in a matter of days), then it’s good that you’re starting to ask yourself how you can get your body to learn to respond to more gentle, or at least not harmful, stimulation.
First, please check in with a healthcare provider who knows vulvas and vaginas like the back of their hand – find a referral through the International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)—or, as I like to call them, “The Vagina Society” (this is my favorite professional organization that I belong to). There may be a medical reason related to why your genitals tear or injure easily. Some women have a skin disorder that affects their genitals—for example, women with lichen sclerosus may have white patches of genital skin, itching, and/or tear or injure easily during masturbation or partnered sex. Low levels of estrogen (such as due to breastfeeding or menopause) can also be a culprit of tearing or easy injury.
If everything checks out, take stock of your behaviors. Are you using lube while you masturbate? That can reduce friction and reduce the risk of hurting yourself. If you’re using an intense vibrator, have you considered placing a towel, underwear, or a soft sheet in between the vibrator and your clitoris? That’s another option. And are you feeling super mentally aroused when you go to masturbate, or are you masturbating while thinking about your laundry, work, school, or family issues? Since we’re in Olympics season, let’s think about athletes for a second (and not just because some of them are so beautiful, it’s difficult not to). Even the fastest runner or swimmer isn’t going to win if they’re not mentally in the game. Distraction slows things down – sports performance, but also time to orgasm. Waiting until you’re feeling very aroused to masturbate may help lessen the intensity you need, or the time it takes, to reach orgasm.
And finally—yes—many, many women re-train their genitals to respond to different types of stimulation. (See my advice up above for the guy and tweak it to your own needs in terms of varying lube/no lube, pace, etc.) Personally, I think more women could benefit from trying different types of touch, licks, penetrative thrusts, and toys rather than getting stuck in a rut of telling a partner exactly what works for you and never, ever, ever deviating from that one specific pattern. Yes, it’s good to know what you like, but it’s also good to switch things up.
Says the woman who orders the exact same salad at her favorite lunch spot to the point where there’s a button on the register that has my special order on it….
But sex is a totally different story.
Oh, and as the varieties of masturbation I listed are just a teensy, tiny sampling of the many ways people get off, feel free to share your favorite way to masturbate in the comments below—it just may inspire other readers to shake things up a bit.