If a couple like each other, have fun together, and basically have a good relationship, they shouldn't call it quits if everything is there but the sex. Chemistry can grow if you give yourself permission to learn about yourself as a sexual human being and to communicate your desires. That's probably better than falling for someone in a mad, passionate heat. Because when you realize you don't actually like each other, sex is the first thing to go. And then you have nothing.
—Sue Johanson, RN, host of Oxygen's Talk Sex with Sue Johanson and author of Sex, Sex, and More Sex (Regan)
Can you have a great, long-lasting sex life with the same partner?
Absolutely—but you're not going to be having movie-style sex. Movie sex is romantic and passionate: You idealize your partner, you're turned on even before you begin, and you make love every time you're together. In an ongoing relationship, sex is more about intimacy and security, and it's integrated with who you really are. It also doesn't happen as often.
Couples who keep their sex lives going develop a style early on—who initiates, how much foreplay is included, do they like taking turns, do they or don't they appreciate quickies. They also consciously make time for sex. The idea that the best sex is spontaneous is a myth. Most long-term couples plan their sexual experiences; it's like going to a show—part of the pleasure is looking forward to it. Sexually satisfied couples also know that sometimes the "show" will be great, and other times it'll be mediocre or worse. You have to be realistic and not panic, thinking this means you're falling out of love or failing as a lover. Healthy, mutually pleasuring sex really helps strengthen the bond between couples. The more you avoid having sex, and the more self-conscious you become about it, the harder it is to get back on track.
—Barry W. McCarthy, Ph.D., professor of psychology at American University in Washington, D.C., and coauthor of Getting It Right the First Time (Routledge)
Are there any taboos left?
Talking about sex! Americans probably watch more porn than any nation in the world, but they don't talk about it with their own partners. It's too personal, too private. They're afraid that if they reveal anything about themselves, it will be used against them as a weapon in an argument: "You're a slut, just like your mother."
—Sue Johanson, RN
What's the latest on sex toys?
So many people are using them. Vibrators have helped some women have orgasms for the first time, and since women now expect sexual pleasure, it makes sense they would buy sex toys. The Rabbit Habit is the most famous—there's a shaft to penetrate, with vibrating pearls that stimulate the opening of the vagina, and two ears that tickle the clitoris. Vibrators also are getting smaller. There's one that slides over a fingertip, so it's easy to incorporate into sex with a partner, and less like having a third party there. Some are stealth toys, like the Vibra Pen—a ballpoint with a vibrator on the tip. There's the Stowaway, which comes in a plastic case that makes it look like makeup, to avoid embarrassment with airport security. Every woman should own at least one sex toy. It's like buying a tennis racket—you may not end up playing tennis, but why not try it?
—Rachel Venning and Claire Cavanah, cofounders of the Toys in Babeland store
Next: Shopping for sex toys online, erotic literature, and more!
Some Web businesses sell, rent, and exchange customer information. (Toys in Babeland doesn't.) If you want to protect yourself, look for that assurance, and make sure you're dealing with a real business—one that has a phone number, address, and contact information. Our merchandise comes in a plain brown wrapper that says only TIB. But it's probably better not to order from work. If someone checked your Internet history or used spyware, our real name would come up.
—Rachel Venning and Claire Cavanah
What about erotic literature?
Until about 20 years ago, there wasn't the kind of female erotica that we have now. The first editor in the Herotica series, Susie Bright, says that in the beginning, getting writers to submit stories was like pulling teeth. It's not like that anymore. I receive huge numbers of submissions every year, from both professional and amateur writers. The books I edit sell really well.
I think women read erotica to get in a sexy mood, but they don't get so excited that they masturbate. Erotic literature isn't like male porn. What I pick are stories—there are characters, purpose. The sex isn't the point. I think that's what women want, the context. I hate to admit it, but I guess we want the love.
—Marcy Sheiner, editor of the Herotica (Plume; Down There Press) and Best Women's Erotica series (Cleiss)
Is there a typical erotic-lit fantasy?
In my experience, there are two. One is the multiple partner scenario, in a variety of configurations—especially introducing a stranger into the mix. The whole idea of bringing someone new and anonymous into your lovemaking, and the urgency of an encounter like that, is really appealing. The other involves dominance and submission.
—Violet Blue, editor of Taboo and the erotic literature series Sweet Life (both Cleis)
Is it true that women are now selling sex aids the way they used to sell Tupperware?
At least 10,000 Passion Parties are held each month in private homes. We sell toys and lingerie, but the products that encourage foreplay are the most popular. These include edible lotion, apple-cinnamon-flavored body powder, and white-chocolate-flavored body pudding. You don't say, "I haven't been satisfied." You say, "How about trying some chocolate pudding?" You communicate in a way that won't hurt his fragile ego.
I'm 60, and when I started at this company, I didn't have any idea that these types of products existed. Women are amazed to find out what's available. Right now we do most of our business in California, but we're growing in Wisconsin and parts of the Midwest, and we're very strong across the Bible Belt. I think all women want the same thing—love and romance.
—Pat Davis, president of Passion Parties
With so much information and so many products on the market, are there areas of sexuality that we still don't know about?
There's a lot about the chemistry, physiology, and neurology of female sexual response that we still don't understand very well. It's kind of shocking. All our attention has focused on women who manifest too little libido, but I've identified a condition I call persistent sexual arousal syndrome: A woman experiences constant arousal without conscious feelings of desire, which can go on for days, weeks, even months, despite orgasms. We don't know what causes this, and isolated women who've complained about it to doctors have been made fun of or told, "You think that's a problem?" Doctors don't realize that these ongoing sensations are distracting and intrusive.
We also haven't paid much attention to the fact that "normal" women's sexual responses differ enormously. Some can have an orgasm simply through fantasy, no touch involved. Others require half an hour of vibratory stimulation, and even then they say their orgasm is muted. We don't know what to attribute these differences to, and until we have an approach that involves physicians, sex therapists, psychologists, and anthropologists who explore cultural differences in sexual expectation, we won't.
—Sandra Leiblum, Ph.D., director of the Center for Sexual and Relationship Health at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, New Jersey, and coauthor of Getting the Sex You Want (Crown)
What's the best time to raise delicate sexual issues with a new partner?
If it's something like "I have herpes," you tell the person even before you become intimate. When you're alone together, and in a nonsexual moment—though preferably not when you're driving—you say something like "I enjoy being with you, and I have the feeling that this has the makings of a relationship. But before we go any further, there's something I need to tell you, although I'm scared it might affect the way you feel about me." But let's face it, a lot of partners hear herpes and they're out the door.
If what you want to talk about is that you most enjoy sex swinging from the chandelier, wait until you've made love a few times. Then you don't say, "I want this because it always works for me." You say, "I have a fantasy that might be fun. Why don't we try it?"
—Sue Johanson, RN
Next: Is it possible to be happy without sex?
Most men aren't wishing their partners look like these women. They just wish they were as comfortable with their bodies and with sex. We're a lot harder on ourselves than men. All you need is a body that's soft and smells and tastes good. Keep the lighting low if you like. Find a flowing elegant gown or outfit you feel comfortable in, and forget the elaborate bustier. Not all men are into lingerie, and there's nothing worse than squeezing into some skimpy thing you're bulging out of.
—Candida Royalle, former adult film star, president of Femme Productions, and author of How to Tell a Naked Man What to Do (Fireside)
Is there anything women still don't get about masturbation?
There's still the perception that it's "lesser"—what you do if you can't get a date. But masturbation is a sexual relationship you have forever. Lovers come and go, but you always have yourself. Masturbation is also a wonderful way to explore your responses. There's no performance anxiety. Nobody else to please. You can let your mind wander, try things out in fantasy, and see what works. It's a way of staying in touch with what makes you hot, and a great way to pass the time.
—Rachel Venning and Claire Cavanah
Can you be happy without sex?
As a sex therapist, I can tell you that when a couple who haven't been sexually active suddenly have a good experience, you can see the difference. They come in laughing and talking; there's more physical affection between them. It's better than any therapy session. It would be great if we could package the feeling, although it usually lasts only 24 hours, and you have to do it again. On the other hand, there are women out there who simply don't care very much about sex. And there are more sexless marriages than you'd think—relationships that can be bonded, loving, companionable, and devoted. Single women may find that what they most miss is a close relationship, not sex, and they can often find that closeness with friends. That's why women do so well alone.
—Sandra Leiblum, Ph.D.
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