Saturday, April 20, 2013

Bad Vibes: The Buzz On Not-So-Safe Sex Toys


We're way past the point where sex toys are taboo — these days, it seems as though everyone from teenagers to grandmothers is in on the Rabbit Habit. For all the good they can do for a healthy sex life, though, these "pleasure enhancers" aren't always, well, healthy. A class of chemicals called phthalates, commonly used in vibrators and other sex toys, are potentially hazardous to our health.

Phthalates are frequently used to make plastic toys more flexible and durable. Unfortunately, they can leach into the body, and they're associated with endocrine disorders, birth defects, and sperm damage — and even cancer. (Yep, they're the same baddies in cosmetics that may lead to early menopause, too.) More and more research is piling up on the negative effects of phthalates, and both the European Union and the United States are beginning to restrict their use. In the meantime, though, these chemicals continue to be used.

To be clear, not all sex toys have phthalates. Ethan Imboden is the founder and chief creative officer of sex-toy company Jimmyjane, whose toys are all phthalate- and paraben-free. "At the time that I started Jimmyjane, the prevalence of unsafe materials was staggering," he recalls. "Even from a distance you could smell the chemicals off-gassing from the products, and it was clear that they could also leach into the body during use."

While Jimmyjane relies on third-party testing to ensure the safety of its toys, many other companies do not — so how can you find a nontoxic sex toy among a sea of faux phalli? First, if the product has a "new car smell" odor, it almost certainly has phthalates, so skip it. And, if the box says "for novelty use only," that's a big red flag; this wording is frequently a loophole to protect manufacturers' liability.

In addition, avoid jelly-textured and PVC toys, which usually contain phthalates. Instead, look for rigid materials such as polycarbonate or pure silicone. When shopping, experts at sex-positive stores such as Babeland and Good Vibrations can highlight phthalate-free toys. And, as a last resort, you can always protect yourself by wrapping a toy in a condom. Here's to a healthier sex life.
When you get a vibrator, you should take some time to think about what really feels good. A hands-on session can help you with that. When your hands are hanging out in your nether regions, even if you haven’t been able to bring yourself to orgasm, you can still take some deep breaths and use your fingers to explore what feels good.
Like to focus on your clit? Try a vibrator meant for clitoral stimulation. These are often the most inexpensive vibes, too—the basic model can be small, plastic, and power your play with just a AA battery or two. These one-setting beginner’s models are also great if you’re new to vibes and intimidated by the big dicks. I am not ashamed to admit that my first vibrator was a bright green caterpillar complete with little stimulation antennae and a silicone-stamped smile.
You can also graduate to multi-setting models, which can offer different strengths or tease you with different patterns—simpler start-and-stop rhythms, and more complex up-and-down waves. Personally, though, I’ve found that simple is best.
Like the feeling of the ol’ in-and-out? You probably have sensitive inner labia and vaginal opening. Vibration can bring this feeling to a whole ‘nother level. There are some great realistically sized vibes which will feel great entering you. You might want to go for length, as a longer vibe will give you better grip and maneuver and the ability to change vibration settings without stopping.
Some people have too much clitoral head sensitivity and can’t handle vibration, even on the lowest setting of a multi-setting model. This is where the penetrative function of toys is great. Hence, the dildo.
Dildos generally come in two aesthetic styles that you may want to consider before going into the store. Abstract dildos are generally sleek and may be phallic in shape (though in reality, it’s vagina-shaped), though not explicitly so. Realistic dildos are explicitly modeled after penises. They may be flesh-toned or not, have veins or not, etc. The lovely employees of Babeland know all about the two types and the proper diameter to choose, so be sure to take advantage of their vast knowledge since purchasing a sex toy can be pricey.
Now, I’m totally of the sensitive labia party (next house party theme?). I love me some in-and-out. But keep in mind that when you’re alone, you’re the only one stuck with the clean up. And I’m a lazy masturbator. The last thing I want to do after a good wank is to give my vibrator (and sheets) a major scrub-down. Not to mention, in-and-out takes work—some serious arm endurance. For me, touching a vibe to my clit gives me the orgasm without the workout (another reason I prefer a vibe to a dildo). Remember, it’s your alone time—you’re allowed to be as lazy as you want. Do what feels best.
A vibrator is also a great way to explore your G-spot. For this, there are special vibes with a curve, but really, if you get the right angle and size, a straight-up phallic vibrator should reach your sweet spot just as well. So the curve can be a help but not a priority—and if you’re trying to get your vibrator to multi-task, it might just get in the way. Really, a vaguely dick-shaped, dick-sized vibrator can be the way to go. You can focus it on your clit, you can penetrate and you can go in deep.
Now, I personally prefer to focus on one feeling at a time, but some people want to do all three at once. Dual/triple stimulation has been popular ever since “Sex in the City” waxed poetic over the Rabbit—a penis-shaped vibe with a bunny attachment that will tickle your clit as the dick part penetrates. A great way to try this out for cheap is the Butterfly Kiss vibe which, with its hot pink clit-tickling butterfly, may look like you’re shoving a Barbie accessory up your vag—but trust me, it’ll be worth it.
During partner play, vibrators shouldn’t make you feel insecure—look at you, you’ve harnessed the power to make your partner come on a whole new level! Vibes are great if you want to just lay there and watch your partner writhe with pleasure while you hardly move—the vibration does the work for you, especially with the clitoris.
You can also be your own dual-stimulation—f*** her and touch a vibe to her clit. I’ve found this is easiest if the man (or strap-on wielding lady) is standing at the edge of the bed with the woman laying down, her feet on his (or her) shoulders. Or ladies, take the vibe yourselves during doggie style or woman-on-top and double your pleasure.
A few final tips: if you know what you like, invest in a rechargeable vibrator. You’ll be saving in batteries, plus it’s better for the environment. And do think about what materials are in your vibe—chemicals such as parabens are converted into estrogen by your body. That’s why I recommend shopping at a place like Babeland, where they are careful to purchase only high quality vibes.

Lubrication is a better sexual experience in a bottle. Whether you’re using it on yourself, a partner or during penetrative (penile or toy) partner sex, the liquid goodness makes things more comfortable, smooth and sensual. To reduce friction with condom use and therefore tearing (which means bad news baby) apply lube on the inside and outside of the condom.
Most sex experts would agree that no sex should be without lube.
Maybe you’re under the impression that pre-cum or vaginal secretions are all you need and lube is an indication of failure of arousal on someone (let’s be real, the female partner[s] involved if there is one).
Au contraire: this is a poor attitude because that puts a lot of pressure on someone to perform. In my experience, the more stress, the less arousal, and with less arousal come less juice flowing. So suck it up and get some lube. It’ll be well worth your money.
You may also be thinking, “But the condom has lube!” Ahem, not NEARLY enough. That shit is gone like three nanoseconds in. If you are too proud to have some lube, even as a backup, it can be a real moodkiller.
A super important consideration in purchasing lube is if you will be using it in conjunction with condoms. Using oil-based lubricant or massage oil with condoms is risky business because the molecules interact with the latex in condoms and compromise the effectiveness of the condom. So steer clear from the genital area if you’re going to use these products during sexy time.
Water-based lube is pretty chill, but a common complaint is that it gets sticky and needs frequent reapplication. The latter is because vaginal tissue is absorptive and sucks it right up.
On the other hand, the gold standard of lube (sadly reflected in its usually higher price) is silicone-based lube, which is not absorbed by vaginal tissue, making it last much longer—you only need a few drops! This stuff is luxurious, silky, famed for not being sticky or tacky and it doesn’t stain clothes or sheets. One review online I read heralded it as infinitely superior than any lotion, Vaseline, oil, etc. for male masturbation.
As yet another bonus, probably my favorite part about silicone lube, is that it is ideal for penetrative sex in the shower because it won’t wash away. In my experience, shower sex with just a lubed condom is miserable because the water does the opposite of lubricating and it feels awful.
One important caveat concerning silicone-based lube is that it should not be used with silicone sex toys. It will degrade the material and it won’t be pretty.
Spermicidal lube shan’t be left out of this conversation, because it seems appealing on the surface. However, the main ingredient, Nonoxynol-9, is irritating to the genital skin and can increase one’s chance of contracting STDs—mainly HIV. So either skip it or really do your research.
Not to shamelessly promote only the coolest sex store ever, but Babeland in Seattle has great, high-quality products, especially lube. They watch out for sketchy ingredients so you don’t have to, which is important since lubes that aren’t silicone based are absorbed into your body.
So, in conclusion, lube it up as often as possible, but don’t go too crazy because there is such a thing as too much lube.

Boy toys
There are some really great things out there for those equipped with male gear.
For personal exploration and especially partner sex, cock rings are a wonderful, wonderful thing.
These magical rings take advantage of a quirk of the vascular system to keep blood in the penis for a sustained erection and a more powerful orgasm. Since veins (which carry blood back to the heart) are nearer the surface of the penis and arteries (which carry blood away from the heart) are deeper, a cock ring slips over the flaccid penis and balls to compress the “surface” veins. Blood can still pump into the penis through the arteries, but can’t escape.
Once you’re ready to orgasm, you simply remove the cock ring and enjoy. This quick removal is achieved best with a snap or Velcro-closed cock ring. Some cock rings even have vibrators, which can stimulate a female partner’s clit during penetration.
Also available are different toys to aid penile masturbation. There is an assortment of masturbation sleeves and “eggs” which are egg-shaped and focus on the glans and coronal ridge of the last couple inches of the penis. You can also invest in a FleshLight if outward discretion and a realistic vaginal opening or anus appeal to you. These are, of course, all available at Babeland, online or you can even find cock rings in some drugstores!

Using a Vibrator: Is it Safe During Pregnancy?


I like using a vibrator, but is it safe during pregnancy?
Is it safe during pregnancy? The good news is: yes! A pregnant woman should be able to engage in sex with a vibrator as long as she has not been instructed not to have sex.

However, there are some things to remember about sex toys and keeping them safe (during pregnancy or not): Keep them clean from use to use and do not share them. If a vibrator is going inside the anus, do not put it inside the vagina.

If you have placenta previa or are at risk for premature labor, any kind of sex could jeopardize your pregnancy.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sex Tips, Sex Toys & Fun

We can guess what comes to mind when we say "tantric sex": Sting. Ever since the musician made a drunken comment to an interviewer about having tantric sex for hours with his wife, Trudie Styler, the specifics of the tantra have become a bit murky. But don't fret: To enjoy everything tantric sex has to offer, you don't have to purchase an Oriental rug, shave your head or even listen to The Police.
Couple having sex together
To get to the heart of what tantric sex actually means, we caught up with Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson, authors of Great Sex Made Simple: Tantric Tips to Deepen Intimacy and Heighten Pleasure, who schooled us in the ways of the tantra — and how regular women (yep, that's you!) can get the most out of their sex lives using tantric techniques.

How Sting got it wrong

If you take away nothing else from this story, remember that the 5,000-year-old Eastern spiritual practice of tantric sex does not mean that you have to make love for hours. Instead, enlightenment and having a reverence for your partner that lasts beyond the length of any orgasm is at the core of the teachings, Michaels and Johnson say.
"The tantric approach has far more to do with your mental approach than with technique."
"It's funny that a comment Sting made over 20 years ago still has an enduring hold on the public's imagination," the couple says. "He's tried to explain it away or recant it in various ways. At one point, he said that he regretted making the statement and didn't really feel he could talk about the subject beyond saying that his wife, Trudy, is his church. That's much closer to what the spirit of tantric sex is all about."
"In the classical sexual ritual, the participants worship each other as embodiments of deities. We encourage people to bring an attitude of reverence into their lovemaking and to all their interactions. The tantric approach has far more to do with your mental approach than with technique. It's certainly got nothing to do with bragging about staying power."

But in tantric sex, you can feel pleasure longer...

"That said, prolonged lovemaking is part of the tradition," Michaels and Johnson say. "The tantrics of old recognized that orgasm can be a mystical experience, often the most readily accessible mystical experience of all. During orgasm, the mind goes quiet, and you may feel a sense of merger — be it with a partner or even with all that is.
For most of us, the transcendent potential in sex is something that's experienced only briefly, during the orgasm itself. If you extend arousal and focus on building it (this need not include genital intercourse), you may start to feel this sense of union well before you have an orgasm, and it is likely to last far longer than it would in more conventional lovemaking. So making it last is a means to an end, not an end in itself. If you can stay turned on for a half hour or so, you're likely to experience the altered state of consciousness we just described."
How to incorporate elements of tantric sex toys into your own bedroom:


Focus on your breathing and your (and your partner's) reaction to touch

"It's fairly common for people to check out during sex, to do things by rote and without a whole lot of reflection. Paying attention to what you're experiencing in your body, the way you are breathing and how your partner is responding are all very important," the couple says.


Give and receive — start with kisses

"To take this a step further, people tend to interact sexually based on a set of tacit understandings: Basically, I'll do you for a while, and then you can do me, and if we're lucky, we'll both have a good experience," Michaels and Johnson say.
"We encourage people to separate giving and receiving in a very methodical way. For example, it's great to experiment with giving and receiving kisses. Take a couple of minutes and allow your partner to kiss you and explore your mouth with his tongue. Then reverse roles. When you're kissing, see how fully you can give yourself over to the active role. When you're receiving, surrender to the experience completely."


Take 60 minutes and give each other a massage — but no sex yet!

"Set aside an hour or so to give and receive full body massages (culminating with genital stimulation but not intercourse). Do this on different days. As with the kissing exercise, the role of the giver is to give as fully as possible, and the role of the receiver is simply to receive. Taking this activity out of the realm of foreplay and keeping the roles clearly defined may help you discover new sources of pleasure, and may also give you new insights into the way you interact with your partner both in and out of bed."


Break a taboo by just talking about sex

"Many traditional tantric practices involved breaking cultural taboos, and there were many in medieval India," the couple says. "This was true both in the context of sexual ritual and more generally. In the simplest terms, the violation of these cultural norms had a liberating effect. Of course, we don't live in a society that has such clearly defined social rules, but we all have our own self-imposed limitations and our habitual ways of being, in lovemaking and more generally in life. If you can shed some of your inhibitions, you're likely to experience more pleasure. Talking frankly about sex is a big taboo for many, so for many, having frequent and explicit conversations about sex is a great first step."


Explore a personal sexual taboo together

"If you want to get a little bolder, you can identify a couple of personal taboos (you can also do this as a couple by identifying shared taboos), and then decide on one that you might be interested in breaking," Michaels and Johnson say. "Don't pick anything huge at first; it might just mean making love with the lights on or experimenting with light bondage, sensory deprivation or role-play. The purpose is to become more flexible and aware and to be less limited by preconceived ideas about yourself. Sometimes we deprive ourselves of a lot of pleasure by thinking, 'I'm not the kind of person who would enjoy that.'"