Nervous but Determined

Friday, March 27, 2009

Question

I am a virgin with a capital V. As a woman in her mid-twenties, I feel I should know how to stimulate myself. The only problem is that my embarrassment threshold seems to be a lot lower than most people. I can't talk to people about sex or masturbation. (Believe me, I am crying in embarrassment over writing this.) I have no idea of how I should start, and I feel so ashamed about knowing so little about my own body. I am not ready to share my body with someone else (not to mention that I am a firm believer in love before sex), but I am ready to do research. Are there any good books or websites that I could go to? Should people play with toys when they haven't ever been with a person? Is doing stuff by yourself just going to mess you up when you finally get into a relationship?

Answer

I hope reading this answer will make you feel a bit more hopeful about your future. None of us was born knowing everything about our own bodies or what exactly we can or should do in bed. So please let yourself off the hook a bit. There's no shame in being a virgin—it's a natural condition! You've decided you don't want to have sex with another person until you feel it's in the context of a loving relationship, and I don't see anything wrong with that either. Many women find it much easier to relax and enjoy physical pleasure if they feel safe and loved, and love their partner as well.

I don't think you should feel embarrassed for the block that you experience when you imagine talking to anybody else about these things. I doubt that you got any good modeling for talking about sex from your parents, teachers, or peers. Like every other social skill, this is something that we learn as we get clarity about ourselves and our relationships. So relax and allow yourself to gently ease into this. You'll be okay. Sex is a good thing, provided it's done with mutual consent, and there's also mutual respect and a genuine desire to give as well as receive.

Fortunately, there are good resources for learning about sex in private. You don't have to worry about your confidentiality if you are reading a book. I recommend The Boston Women's Health Collective standard, Our Bodies Ourselves, and The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex. The first book will give you a lot of good information about how to take care of your body and stay healthy, and be an assertive advocate for yourself. The second book has a lot of great, clear information about sexuality. It's not written for a 100% female audience, but the authors bring a pro-woman sensibility to the work that I think makes it accessible and safe. Just be aware that they may discuss some erotic behaviors that don't sound sexy or maybe even morally okay to you. A sex educator needs to address the full spectrum of human sexuality. That doesn't mean that he or she advocates any of those choices, or recommends them. Just take what you need from the books and leave the rest. Both of them have bibliographies and resource lists that will steer you toward more books and Websites.

You don't need to have any toys to start enjoying or exploring your body on your own. You might want some water-based lubricant or massage oil. (Just remember that the oil will NOT be good to use with condoms during partnered sex. Oil can weaken latex.) Turn the phone off, make your bedroom or sofa feel pretty and clean, and lay down. You might want a hand mirror as well. Do some deep breathing. Visualize each part of your body relaxing. Then, using some of the massage oil, just touch yourself. You don't need to focus on your genitals right away. As your hands move across your upper arms, shoulders, breasts, and hips and thighs, you will know when the time is right to move toward the external sex organs.

The clitoris is a woman's most important pleasure center. You'll find it at the top of your inner lips. The hand mirror can be useful to identify it. The inner lips and clitoris can be a wide range of colors from dark brown to reddish-brown, pink, rose pink, etc. They also come in different sizes and shapes. Some women have very short, thin, and trim labia—others may have inner lips that extend past the outer lips. The clitoris is usually covered with some thin tissue—the clitoral hood. This skin protects the glans or very tip of the clitoris from too much stimulation.

Using the water-based lubricant or oil, try stroking between the inner and outer lips. You might like pressure or a vibration above the clitoris itself. Some women like fairly direct, hard pressure. This is all useful knowledge that you can hopefully share with a partner someday. For now, just focus on your own enjoyment.

Self-exploration can become erotic, especially if you are able to fantasize about sex or being close to someone you love. Allow yourself to do whatever feels good, until you are ready to stop. Some women are able to orgasm right away, but many need more than one session of self-exploration before they train their bodies to build up sexual tension, hold it, and then release it in an orgasm. If you fear losing control, practice building up excitement, releasing it, and then building it again. You don't have to do anything until you feel ready for the experience.

I don't recommend toys for women who are learning to have an orgasm unless they find that they can't quite get there using their hand alone. Sometimes women need stronger stimulation than fingers can provide, or they find that they are getting too much wrist or forearm fatigue to enjoy masturbating. A vibrator can be a big help. There's no reason why a toy can't be shared later on with a partner, provided they are mature enough to see it as a helper or an added spice rather than competition. Most women need additional clitoral stimulation so they can orgasm during intercourse. A vibrator can be a big help there.

Does it mess you up to use toys before you have been with a partner? No, it doesn't. But it does mean that you may start having experiences and gain knowledge that your partner won't have. I do think it's true that a human hand or tongue can't duplicate the sensations of an electric vibrator. But instead of refusing to use the toy, why not learn to have an orgasm in many different ways? You don't have to choose just one route to satisfaction. Oral sex or intercourse are or can be quite wonderful and fulfilling on their own terms.

Insertable toys (or dildos) are another possibility. Some women find that they really crave penetration, and don't want to wait for a partner to experience that sensation. I just recommend that you buy something on the small side for your first toy, to make sure it will fit and feel good, instead of being challenging or painful. Covering insertable toys with a condom makes it easier to keep them clean. If you don't want to go to the drugstore, condoms can be ordered on-line.

Doing stuff by yourself does not mess you up when you get into a relationship. In fact, the opposite is true. If more women learned how to masturbate to orgasm before they had partnered sex, there would be less unhappiness in the bedroom. You wouldn't expect a man to know how to have sex if he'd never handled his own equipment. It's the same thing for women. Clitoral stimulation is such an important part of what most women need to be satisfied, and it's much easier for you to find out what you like than it is for him to feel around and try to get a clue. Most considerate men appreciate a woman who can show them how they like to be touched. (The same is true of a female lover. You shouldn't assume, if you want to have sex with another woman, that she will automatically know how to pleasure you. By taking some responsibility for your own orgasm, you make sex better for everybody.)

Please write again if you need more information, or if any of this is not clear. Blessings of sexual wisdom and compassion be thine.

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