So Your Partner Is a Survivor: Seven Ways to Be Supportive

In 2012, the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men in the United States were victims of contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner. This means that whether you know it or not, every day that you are out in the world interacting with others you are encountering survivors of sexual and relationship violence.

They hand you your morning coffee and hold elevator doors for you, send you birthday cards and jog past you on the Back Cove trail. They are among your classmates and coworkers. Your best friend might be a survivor, or your parent, or even your partner.

The endless parade of victims-of-the-week on Law & Order: SVU, screenwriters’ lazy reliance on rape as a backstory for female characters, and whatever the hell is up with Game of Thrones can give the impression that all survivors are consumed by their experiences of victimization, whether because it breaks them or because it sets them on a path toward vengeance. As viewers, we see or hear about the event and observe its immediate consequences, but the credits tend to roll before the long-term work of healing and rebuilding relationships occurs.

In real life, violence is more than just a plot device. Some people feel defined by their experiences, but others do not. Some experience long-term consequences, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, while others don’t. Most go on to have sexual and romantic relationships in the future. But in spite of the fact that these experiences are devastatingly commonplace, models for how to be supportive partners to those who have experienced them in the past are scarce.

The good news is that as long as you’re a decent person who cares about the wellbeing of others, it’s not rocket science. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy or intuitive.

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How Do You Know You’re Good at Sex?

A few years back, I was chatting with some friends about sex (shocker) when one of them confessed a half-joking, half-earnest secret worry: “Do you ever wonder if you’re actually good at sex? Like, what if for all the time you’ve been doing it, you’ve been doing it wrong, it’s just that no one has had the heart to tell you otherwise?”

In school, you get grades. At work, you have performance reviews. On The Bachelor, you get a rose or you get sent home. But in the bedroom, we don’t have an agreed-upon ritual for evaluating success. How do you know — really know — if you’re doing it well?

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A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Ass

“I’m finally comfortable with my boyfriend eating my ass, but I’ve never let anyone do it before. Is there anything I can do in preparation to make the experience more pleasurable/cleaner?”

Tasha Salad 


Hey Tasha,

You are not alone in your curiosity about booty-based oral exploration. Cultural references to ass-eating have been on the rise for a while — from Broad City to hip-hop to mainstream porn. And the more people see and hear about it, the more interest I see from curious questioners thinking about giving it a try at home.

Whether you call it ass-eating, a rim job, tossing salad, anilingus, or prefer to use the CDC-approved technical term anal-oral sex, we’re talking about any act that brings one person’s mouth in contact with another person’s anus. For some folks it’s an adventurous treat, while for others it’s a standard part of their sex-play repertoire. But no matter how often you venture down to booty town, here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind to ensure that you and your partner(s) have experiences that are as safe and enjoyable as possible.

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Better Sex in 2018 Starts Here

In my first column back in March, I said that I wanted to help you all have better sex. When most people hear that phrase, they tend to think about it in terms of pleasure, and of course that’s a huge part of why I do the work I do. But the way I see it, “better sex” means a whole lot more than just that.

Better sex doesn’t just feel better — it’s also healthier, emotionally and physically. It’s more respectful, more enthusiastic, more authentic, more ethical, more egalitarian. (And sometimes it’s also more kinky, if you’re into it.)

When people are having better sex, they come away from the experience without feeling icky or weird or like they had to compromise something about who they are or what they value. Whether it’s a steamy make-out sesh or an all expenses-paid trip to Pound Town, whether it’s the first time you’ve ever met or you’ve been married for decades, better sexual experiences leave all parties involved feeling whole.

That’s not to say that you’ll always have ten earth-shattering orgasms and float away in a golden ray of sex-glow sunshine. But it is to say that you’ll be treated with the basic care and consideration we all deserve as human beings. No one walks away from sex a winner or a loser. You walk away a person who also happens to have just had sex and hopefully had a nice time doing it.

I write all this because in recent weeks we’ve been bombarded with stories of the awful things that happen when better sex isn’t the norm. As the urgency and magnitude of the #MeToo movement have made abundantly clear, a lot is wrong with the way gender, sex, and power function and are deployed against more vulnerable people in our society. You don’t have to look far to find situations where folks are routinely discounted, degraded, and violated.

These experiences aren’t sex. They are incidents of harassment and violence that have been sexualized, and they are symptoms of a much larger sickness in the way our culture teaches us to think and act.

As individuals, we may not have a ton of control over what happens in the wider world, but we do have control over how we treat ourselves and each other. This toxic culture only exists because we participate in it. When we change the way we engage and demand better of our peers, we can change the way the larger system operates. A revolution can start anywhere, even — and perhaps especially — in the bedroom.

So in this funny year-end time where we simultaneously reflect backward and look ahead, I challenge you to set a goal for yourself to have better sex in 2018. Commit to something you can do for yourself, for your partner(s), or both. Let the good vibes spill out from between your sheets into the wider world.

And if you’re sitting there thinking, “is this weirdo seriously suggesting that being less of an asshole to people I meet on Tinder can change the world?”, the answer is yes, I am. I don’t hear you coming up with any better ideas, so you may as well try. What have you got to lose?

For inspiration, I asked readers to share their sex and relationship resolutions with me via an anonymous online survey. Borrow one or make your own and then get out there and make it happen.

But first, for the love of all that is holy, get yourself fucking tested.

  • “Masturbate more, work on communicating desires, play with toys.”

  • “Be in my first serious queer relationship with the woman I’ve been casually seeing.”

  • “To give my partner the benefit of the doubt more often. I don’t want my partner to feel caged or lessened by my presence. I want my partner to feel free, light, and loved.”

  • “Definitely more orgasms. More consistency in my sexual and/or romantic relationships. I tend to get bored quickly, so I would love to be interested in someone that keeps my interest for longer. Also, less taboo around butt stuff 2K18.”

  • “I want to communicate better and judge less.”

  • “More sex in my relationship! Marriage is hard, and that doesn’t always lead to boners. Maybe we’ll do a 30-day sex challenge? Resolution to doink in every room in the house? Have a doink-an-hour checklist (24 different opportunities!)?

This piece originally appeared in the Portland Phoenix.

Rhythm (Method) and Blues

If you’re one of the approximately 43 million American women who are currently having sex but would really rather not get pregnant, or if you know, love, and/or are banging one of them, listen up: The GOP is out for your birth control.

Early last month, the Trump Administration rolled back Obama-era regulations that required health insurers to cover a range of birth control methods with no co-pay. This comes at a time when abortion rates in the U.S. have dipped to a historic low, in part due to the increased accessibility of long-acting, reversible contraceptives (LARCs) made possible by the Obama Administration’s guidelines.*

One would think that politicians who claim to be zealous protectors of the unborn would see this as good news. In a sane world, contraceptive access would be a cause that people all across the spectrum of belief on abortion could get behind. But that’s not the world we live in. Instead, those same people are trying to reduce access to effective birth control and, as a leaked White House memo suggests, promote antiquated and ineffective fertility awareness techniques like the Catholic Church-approved “rhythm method” in its place. What could possibly go wrong?

LARCs like the IUD and contraceptive implant are among the most effective methods for preventing pregnancy currently available, but their high up-front cost placed them out of reach for many people prior to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s birth control coverage mandate.

Without that federal guarantee, cost-sharing expectations from health insurers may begin to rise again. Employers that claim a moral objection to providing contraceptive coverage could even push the entire financial burden for avoiding pregnancy on their employees. (Curiously, I have yet to hear about any employer seeking a religious exemption for covering Viagra. Apparently, unplanned pregnancy is God’s will, but erectile dysfunction isn’t. The Lord truly works in mysterious ways.)

Folks who can’t afford it will go without it and all the abstinence-only sex education in the world will never stop people from fucking. You can fill in the blanks about what happens next.

There is not a person alive in this country who has not benefited, whether directly or indirectly, from accessible, effective birth control. From children who grew up stronger and healthier in families of a size their parents could manage and afford to men whose partners were able to avoid pregnancy to both of their advantage to the actual human women who have been able to finish school, advance in careers, and live lives free of pain and distress from the many medical conditions that hormonal birth control can treat, modern contraception has changed lives, saved lives, and dramatically reshaped how we as a society relate to and experience sex and sexuality.

Contrary to claims made by the Trump Administration in their justification for retracting birth control coverage guidelines, access to effective contraception is essential not only to women’s health but to public health in general. 

Conservative stances on restricting access to contraception and abortion are not about saving unborn babies — as we’ve already established, if that were truly the case birth control would not be a controversial issue.

They’re not about fiscal responsibility, either. For every $1 we invest in publicly-funded family planning programs, we save $7.09 in Medicaid expenses that would have otherwise gone toward prenatal care, deliveries, and infant care for unintended pregnancies.*

In truth, the concern of modern Republican moralists has never been about pregnancy so much as it has been about power. Conservatives who oppose safe, legal abortion and contraceptive access aren’t so muchpro-life as they are anti-sex, particularly anti-women-having-sex-for-fun-and-then-not-suffering-for-it.There is great power in pleasure, and they are afraid.

Generations of people fought — and many literally died — in pursuit of the right and ability to control theirsexual and reproductive destinies. Thanks to them, many of us have grown up in a world where the power to prevent pregnancy until the time is right (or forever) has been a given. But we can’t let that privilege make us complacent.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, birth control has been there for you. For you, for your family, and for your friends, so don’t let it slip away. Speak up. Get rowdy. And while you’re at it, you might as well enjoy some baby-free sex while you can.

*Big ups to my pals at the Guttmacher Institute for these rad stats.

This piece originally appeared in the Portland Phoenix.

Looks Weird, Works Great: Test Driving the Internal Condom

When people talk about safer sex, the conversation almost always revolves around the importance of condoms. Maybe your eighth grade health teacher made you stretch one over a ripe banana, or perhaps your mom slipped a box into your bedside drawer while moving you into your freshman dorm room. They hang out behind the counters of gas stations in modest three-packs — hopeful, expectant, and awkward as hell to ask for when there’s a line forming behind you. The point is, they’re everywhere and we’ve all heard of them.

But the external (or male) condoms that most people are familiar with aren’t the only ones out there. When it comes to barrier methods, there’s an unsung hero that I think deserves more love: the internal (or female) condom.

Sold under the brand name FC2, the internal condom can be used by receiving partners of any gender. Like their latex siblings, internal condoms create a barrier between your body and your partner’s body to help prevent pregnancy and STIs. Used perfectly every time, internal condoms are 95 percent effective at preventing pregnancy; when you account for human error, they’re 79 percent effective. (For comparison, the corresponding stats for external condoms are 98 percent and 82 percent — not much different.)

As the word ‘internal’ suggests, rather than going over a penis or toy, they go inside the person who wants to be penetrated. To use them as protection during vaginal sex, the receiving partner inserts the inner ring of the FC2, which feels a lot like a NuvaRing or a glow bracelet, into their body and guides it into place near their cervix. The middle part of the condom lines their vagina, while the outer ring hangs outside the body and covers the vulva, providing an extra layer of protection against STIs that are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact such as herpes and HPV.

Despite being associated with the word ‘female,’ the FC2 can also be used for protection during anal sex regardless of a person’s anatomy or gender identity. Before inserting it, some folks prefer to remove the inner ring of the condom (it slips out easily). It’s a matter of preference, but however you choose to use the internal condom during anal sex, be sure that the outer ring always stays outside the body. Otherwise, you’re in for one hell of an ER visit.

Although more obscure and strange-looking than their external counterparts, internal condoms have a number of perks. They are made of nitrile, which makes them a great alternative for people with latex allergies. For those who like to plan ahead, they can be inserted up to eight hours before sex. And unlike external condoms, where control over whether and how to wear one lies primarily with the partner doing the penetrating, internal condoms shift agency around practicing safer sex to the receiving partner.

All of that useful information aside, you probably really just want to know one thing: What’s it like to use one? Well, I tried it out just so I could report back my findings to all of you. You’re welcome.

Getting the internal condom into place wasn’t too much trouble for me, but I’m also a person who’s extremely comfortable with her own vagina. If getting up close and personal makes you squeamish, this may not be the method for you. But once it was in, I couldn’t feel it at all.

For this experiment, I recruited a longtime casual sex partner who agreed to give it a try for science. When he saw the floppy nitrile mouth hanging out of my body, though, it definitely gave him pause.

“You good?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said, “Uh, it just looks … really, really weird.”

But once we got over the initial shock, things were fine. I definitely recommend using a water-based lube with the internal condom to keep things moving along. With some Sliquid on board, I personally found the sensation to be far better than using an external condom — to be honest, it pretty much felt like we weren’t using protection at all — and my partner agreed. Post-ejaculation, the internal condom doesn’t need to be removed immediately to prevent spillage like an external condom, so it also made post-coital cuddling a little more relaxed.

It might take some getting used to, but for the right people internal condoms are a fantastic option for practicing safer sex that can prevent pregnancy and STIs without compromising on sensation. Wanna see for yourself? Here in Portland, you can get them free at Planned Parenthood or Frannie Peabody, as well as some drugstores and online. Folks with insurance can also ask for a prescription from their healthcare provider to receive them free from a pharmacy. Happy experimenting!

This piece originally appeared in the Portland Phoenix.

Even Sex Columnists Get the Blues

In my adventures as a sex educator the last five years, I’ve worked with thousands of adults and teenagers across the country, designed curricula focused on healthy sexuality and relationships, trained more than 100 humans in the basics of sexuality education, and sacrificed a large portion of my free time to keep up with emerging research and trends in sexual health. I’ve done my damndest to teach people how to communicate with their partners and have great sex and fulfilling relationships, and I’m led to believe that I’ve done it well.

But in spite of that knowledge, in spite of feeling like there’s relatively little out there I haven’t yet seen or heard in my work and being someone other people routinely approach with their intimate genital concerns and thorniest relationship problems, even I am not safe from this universal truth.

Breakups really fucking blow.

I first learned this the weekend of my sixteenth birthday. I was born the day after Valentine’s Day, which means I tend to get dropped by love interests between late January and mid-February. To be fair, the pressure of a putatively romantic holiday and obligatory observance of your girlfriend’s birthday one right after the other probably isn’t worth enduring if a person is feeling ambivalent about a relationship. I get that.

But the first time it happened marked the end of my first relationship — with my first love, the person who introduced me to socialist theory, the first dude I let get to second base (under the bra, no less!) — and I was caught completely off-guard. My gut and the rumor mill supported a theory that he lost interest because I wouldn’t put out, and while I do not at all regret deciding not to let my first below-the-belt sexual experience be getting clumsily fingered in a community theater laundry room, it was nonetheless a devastating entrée into the bleak landscape of Splitsville.

That was years ago, but experience gained in the intervening years haven’t made  breaking up any less shitty. My most recent check-in at Heartbreak Hotel in July was — in retrospect — the product of a long, slow-motion train wreck that screeched fitfully along the track, on-again, off-again, for a little over a year. There were good times, of course, but it’s hard to keep that in perspective now. One day I’ll get nostalgic, but for now I’m stuck ruminating over months of missteps and mistakes, bad judgment calls and naïveté that kept me holding on longer than I should have. In moments like these, when I can’t help but overanalyze every action and word that passed between my past partners and me, searching for meaning in the madness, a way to avoid future pain, expertise can be a curse.

I’ve been asking myself the usual questions. What the hell is wrong with me? Am I destined to die alone? Am I fundamentally unlovable? Is it possible for daddy issues to be terminal? Literally why do I even still bother messing around with men? After embarking on an intense six-season journey with someone else by my side, am I ready to watch the last season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine solo? Should I just give up on dating and get a dog?

I don’t have answers yet. Mostly, I’ve just been moping and drinking and letting the housework slide. Work has been a good distraction, as was a truly magical midnight sea kayaking expedition with a close friend. While dancing at Bubba’s the other night, shouting the line You’re from the ’70s, but I’m a ’90s bitch with as much spite as possible when “I Love It” came on also brought a small measure of satisfaction.

But mourning anything — a person, a relationship, a chapter of your life—is messy and nonlinear. The process almost never moves at the pace we’d like it to and tends to drag on long past when we’d prefer it to be over. It demands attention, a certain self-reckoning, before scabbing over and leaving us be, a little scarred but maybe better off in the end.

If someone wrote into this column asking for help getting over a breakup, I’d give them all kinds of well-intentioned tips. Spend time with people who affirm your worth! Be gentle with yourself! Rediscover hobbies or activities you didn’t have time for when you were with your ex! But sometimes your own advice is the hardest to take.

So in lieu of advice this month, I offer this: Next time a breakup lays you low, know that you’re not alone in feeling shitty and lost. Trust me, I’m an expert.

This piece originally appeared in the Portland Phoenix.

Hot in Herre: Tips for Getting Down When the Temperature Is Up

It’s no secret that summer days in Maine are gorgeous, precious, fleeting things. Billboards, brochures, and travel guides obsess over this fact: So much sun! Look, a lighthouse! The rugged coastline! Charming seaside lobster shacks!

But however idyllic the daytime might be, the season has a shadow side: hellishly hot, humid nights. Unless you’re a member of the petite bourgeoisie willing and able to spring for a window A/C unit, chances are you’ve spent plenty of nights in bed, tossing and turning in an apartment you’re probably paying too much for, praying for a cross breeze that never seems to bring relief.

But in spite of the oppressive humidity that threatens to suffocate us all from time to time, the urge to knock boots with somebody cute persists. Still wanna get down when it’s too hot to? Desperate to avoid that hilarious fart sound two sweaty chests make when air gets forced from in-between them? Beat the heat with these sexy strategies:

What’s cooler than being cold? The only acceptable answer to that question is, of course, “ice cold” (OutKast, 2003). So if you want to cool off, you can try some sensation play with an ice cube, popsicle, or another cold object. Some people find this to be especially fun in tandem with a form of sensory deprivation,such as a blindfold. As always, just make sure you’re having a conversation about what’s going to happen with your partner before you get started. And if you or your partner has a vagina, keep popsicles a healthy distance away — that’s a yeast infection waiting to happen.

Too hot to stand physical contact? Mutual masturbation enables you to keep your personal space bubble intact while still getting off with your partner. Let go, talk dirty, and keep an eye on what your partner does to get themselves off — you might pick up a thing or two to try next time the temperature is reasonable enough to allow for skin-to-skin contact.

Sweaty (and horny) after a hike on one of Portland’s many scenic trails? Get clean and get off in a cool shower. While I am of the personal opinion that shower sex is wildly overrated, it does work for lots of folks and, if you’re environmentally inclined, arguably reduces water consumption by condensing two individual showers into one. One last thing: don’t be afraid to bring actual lube into the shower, because as anyone who’s ever tried it will tell you, water alone really doesn’t do the job.

Have a friend who’s going out of town? Figure out which of your friends have air conditioners. Subtly map out their vacation schedules. Generously offer to housesit. I think you can figure it out from there.

Like living on the edge? Drag an ottoman, end table, or other appropriately-sized piece of furniture close to your bed. Precariously balance a tower fan on top, aim it toward where you plan on getting to know each other biblically, and set it to oscillate. Because your bed isn’t near any convenient outlets, the cord to the fan will probably be stretched to its limit to reach as close to you and your partner as possible — ignore this clear safety hazard and proceed anyway. Inevitably, one of you will catch the cord with a stray arm or leg and bring the whole delicate operation crashing down, causing one or both of you to let out an embarrassing yelp of surprise and pissing off your downstairs neighbors. But it will be worth it, probably. I can’t say for sure. This is purely hypothetical and I am definitely not speaking from experience. Or multiple experiences.

So there you have it, five tried-and-true ways to make it through the dog days of summer without your sex life having to suffer for it.

This piece originally appeared in the Portland Phoenix.

Q&A: Talking to your partners about kink

Dear Kaylee,

Do you have any tips for talking to partners or potential partners about kink/fetishes? There are things I’m interested in trying that I haven’t been able to talk to anyone about because I’m nervous about accidentally freaking someone out or losing out on a relationship because of what I’m into. How and when should I start the conversation? 

Thanks,

M.B.


Dear M.B.,

You’re not alone in feeling that talking about kink, fetishes, and sexual fantasies with other people can be super hard. Getting what we want in bed — whether it’s trying something new or asking a partner to scooch a little to the left and slow it down — requires us to make ourselves vulnerable about our pleasure and desire in ways that most of us aren’t used to doing. And when desires or fantasies that have been stigmatized, made taboo, or even ridiculed by the culture we live in enter the mix, the emotional stakes of putting yourself out there can be even higher.

As with most things in the world of sex and relationships, there’s no right time or approach to having these conversations. It depends on a variety of factors, and you’re the only person who can decide when and whether you feel safe and comfortable enough to broach the topic with a partner.

Some folks prefer to get ahead of the conversation by seeking partners in places like FetLife.com, a Facebook-esque social network specifically for the “BDSM, Fetish, and Kinky Community.” For some, FetLifeand other networks like it provide a safer space for people to explore their sexual desires and curiosities, connect with others who share them, and even meet up in the real world for anything from friendship and support to casual sex and/or dating to long-term relationships.

But what happens when you meet someone outside of a context where interest in similar sexual adventuresis already on the table?

Of course, there’s always the option of just talking to your partner(s) directly. It can take a lot of courage and unfortunately leaves open the possibility that they may react in a way that is disappointing or even hurtful, but opening up and starting the conversation can also deepen your connection and give your partner(s) permission to talk about their own hidden desires as well.

Should a partner of yours have a negative reaction, remember: Your partner(s) always have the right to say no, but that doesn’t mean they have the right to disrespect, shame, or belittle you because of your sexual preferences. If a partner chooses to use your honesty and openness against you, it may be a flag that the relationship is treading into unhealthy territory.

While clear, direct communication is typically the gold standard for sex and relationships, sometimes coming right out and admitting what you’re into might not feel safe or comfortable. If you want to test the waters a bit before jumping into a candid conversation, here are a few suggestions:

  • Pose a hypothetical question or situation. “How would you feel about…” or “Have you ever wondered what X would be like?” can be helpful ways of asking about an act in a neutral way that puts your partner’s comfort or interest at the center of the conversation.
  • Use MojoUpgrade.com to fill out a free, anonymous questionnaire about various fantasies. You and your partner each complete the survey separately, and then the website will generate a report that only shows the items you’re both into. It’s like Tinder for fantasies.
  • If you and your partner are into it, you can suggest watching porn or reading erotica together that includes your particular desire, fantasy, kink, or fetish and use it as an entry point to a conversation about incorporating it into your own relationship.

However you decide to go about these conversations, know that as long as you’re engaging in sex that’s safe and consensual you deserve to be heard and respected by your partner(s). If they can’t accept your cool, kinky self, you deserve to be with someone else who will. Good luck!

This piece originally appeared in the Portland Phoenix

It’s Time to Up Your Masturbation Game

Imagine you’ve been hooking up with someone for a while. They’re not really the touchy-feely type — with this person, it’s all about the sex. They come over, make a beeline for your crotch, and as soon as you’ve had an orgasm, they’re gone. No cuddling. Not even a “same time next week?” They’re just out the door.

I’m willing to bet that even in spite of getting to come, a lot of folks out there wouldn’t be totally happy with that arrangement. But when you think about it, what I describe here is essentially how a lot of peopleapproach masturbation. If we wouldn’t be satisfied with that kind of treatment from a partner, why do so many of us accept it from ourselves?

Masturbation doesn’t just have to be a means to the end of getting off. It can also be an opportunity for connecting with yourself, an avenue for sexual exploration and experimentation, and a practice that supports your overall health and wellbeing.

That last bit isn’t just some woo-woo sex educator shit either. Studies have shown that masturbation can improve sleep quality, reduce stress, and improve body image. And for people who menstruate, there’spretty much no better cure for cramps. Self-love is self-care, y’all.

As long as you’re enjoying yourself and not engaging in behavior that could be harmful to your overall health, there’s no right or wrong way to masturbate. For those interested in taking their self-pleasure game to the next level, here are a few quick tips:

Seduce yourself. Spend some time treating yourself the way you’d like a partner to treat you. Take a long shower. Cook a favorite meal. Put down fresh sheets. Light a candle. Whatever it takes to boost your mood and chill you out, do it for yourself. Just like you don’t have to wait for someone else to come along and make you come, you don’t have to wait for someone else to make you feel special beforehand, either.

Take your time. Sex with yourself doesn’t need to be a speed run. Ease into it and give yourself space to actually notice and feel what’s going on in your body—not just in your genitals. One way of doing this is to…

Explore your erogenous zones. Put simply, erogenous zones are parts of your body that feel good to touch. While people tend to think of them only in a sexual context, erogenous zones may or may not be associated with arousal; for example, you may like having your back scratched, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it turns you on. It’s not all about your genitals — just like partnered sex, masturbation can be a full-body experience. Regardless of whether a particular erogenous zone turns you on or just feels nice, spending some time discovering and exploring themwill bring more of your body into the experience.

Mix it up. It’s not uncommon for people to fall into a masturbation routine where they do the same thing, in the same way, at around the same time, in the same place every time they try to get off. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, there’s also a lot to be said for incorporating some novelty here and there. If you typically masturbate to porn, consider reading some erotica or using your imagination alone instead. If you usually use a toy, try using your hands, or vice-versa. Maybe give a new lube a test run. Use this time with yourself to experiment in whatever way feels good to you.

Whether you’re in a relationship or not, giving yourself time and space to experience pleasure by yourself is a great way to feel good, de-stress, and learn what you like in bed. And what you learn on these solo expeditions is likely to help make partnered sexual experiences even better in the future.

So go on and get down with yourself. It’s good for you.

This piece originally appeared in the Portland Phoenix.