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Intercourse questions and answers to the third power

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Teenie asks:

I've had one my questions answered before and I'd like to thank you for answering it because it was very useful :) Now I've got more!

Sex with my significant other has been wonderful the past few times we've done it, emotionally. I still wonder about physical, though. I have orgasmed before but only with my own clitoral stimulation. Is there a possible way or technique used to attain vaginal orgasm?

• I've also wondered about unprotected sex...I have not done it yet, but I don't want to rush into things before something bad happens. I am on the pill and we were both virgins when we started. So I know that there is no possible risk of STD's. I heard it feels better for both partners with no condom, so what are my risks and options?

•I always thought that sex in the water was unhealthy. Then I came across a book in my local sex shop about how to have sex in the water! Doesn't the water ruin the latex of the condom or is it safe not to use one in the water?

Heather Corinna replies:

1.First and foremost, understand that terms like "clitoral orgasm" and "vaginal orgasm" aren't actually sensible, and are also really outdated. Orgasm happens primarily in the nervous system, as well as the cardiovascular system. We feel its effects genitally, and it can be -- and often is -- brought about through genital stimulation, but there really is no such thing as an orgasm which happens in this place or that one. Orgasm is a whole-body, not a localized, event.

Generally, orgasm through vaginal intercourse all by itself is not common for most women. That has a lot to do with the fact that most of the vagina -- the back 2/3rds, basically -- is pretty much without sensory nerve endings at all. In other words, when something is deeply and fully inside our vaginas, we can often get a general feeling of fullness in the abdomen, but not specific sensation past that first 1/3rd. This is why, for example, you can forget you have a tampon in, because you usually can't feel them at all.

So, it's probably a little obvious why orgasm from ONLY vaginal intercourse isn't as common as orgasm from more combined sexual stimulus. That said, understand, too, that the clitoris is bigger than it looks. That shaft and hood you can see on your vulva are only part of the story: the clitoris has internal portions too, which can be felt in the outer labia, the top of your inner thighs, between the shaft and the vaginal opening, as well as around that first 1/3rd of the vaginal canal. Too, the G-spot -- that bit of spongy tissue on the anterior (front) wall of the vagina, just an inch or so in, is also very sensitive, however, it is usually felt more acutely from really targeted stimulation, which penis-vagina intercourse is not. For more on your sexual anatomy, have a lookie here: Pink Parts - Female Sexual Anatomy.

If you want to try and reach orgasm during intercourse, then, what you're aiming for is either combining activities -- such as masturbation during intercourse, manual sex, adding a vibrator -- and/or finding positions for intercourse where you're feeling some stimulus or friction around more of your vulva than just your vaginal opening or vaginal canal. But it's also not required. Like any other sexual activity, intercourse can be an appetizer or dessert: it doesn't need to be dinner, nor does it need to be dinner without the salt and spices. Adding clitoral stimulus to intercourse doesn't make it any lesser in any way, just like, for many men who like having stimulus from a hand during receptive oral sex doesn't make it any less oral sex.

If it feels good for you but not so great that it gets you to orgasm, you can do other things before or after to reach orgasm, too. And just because we don't reach orgasm from something -- or something very exclusively -- doesn't mean it's no good: because sex is so many different things, most of us will have activities we enjoy more emotionally than physically, and vice-versa, and that's just fine, so long as we keep things mixed up so when it's all put together, it's all-around satisfying.

2. There is ALWAYS a risk of STIs with partnered sex. Always. There is no such thing as no risk whatsoever, for anyone. It's simply a matter of how great or small a risk there is.

If you and your partner have never had ANY kind of sex with anyone else, then for most STIs, your risks are minimal to none. But if you've had any sort of genital sex of any kind with other partners, your risks are the same as anyone else's, and some STIs -- like oral Herpes, Hepatitis and pubic lice -- are often first acquired non-sexually.

Really, the recipe for safer sex is simple and easy: six months of monogamy, six months of latex barrier use (for oral, vaginal and/or anal sex), and at least two full and negative STI screens for you both. After that, then it is considered safe to go without latex barriers, so long as you stay monogamous and get those screenings once a year. It's still not a no-risk scenario, but it's a very low risk scenario. Rather than gambling or guessing, I always suggest that people just follow that formula, since we know that it works very well, and because it's so very easy to do. That six-month wait isn't a biggie, especially when you bear in mind that a) sensation differences are really not that profound -- consider how many times we talk to couples where the condom came off and no one even knew it happened -- and b) again, unless you're not using lubricant with your condoms, for most women, condoms aren't going to limit or alter their sensation at all, especially since the vagina is not that sensitive.

3. Sex in water isn't unhealthy. Nor will water ruin the latex of a condom. However, water does wash away lubrication pretty easily, so vaginal intercourse is often not that comfortable, and without enough lube, you risk your condom breaking. Personally, I suggest folks keep the intercourse for dry land, and if they want to fool around in the waves, that they limit that to the external stuff.

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