As a sex writer, asking professionals (sexologists, sex and relationship therapists, doctors, educators, you name it) questions that many would regard as totally TMI is part of my average day. What do I do when I have a burning question about sex (like whether analingus is safe and sanitary or how acceptable it is to share a sex toy with multiple partners) that may make others blush? Easy. I just tap my network of pros to get a well-rounded answer from several points of view.
Even though most people’s job descriptions don’t include routinely (or even rarely) asking such questions, a lot of us are curious about the same exact conundrums. That’s why I asked sex educators to share the top questions they’re asked most frequently—plus how they respond. Keep scrolling to get down to business.
Sex educators answer the dozen dirty questions they get asked most often.
1. “Can a sex toys hurt my relationship?”
“Sex toys are all about enhancing your sexual experiences—not replacing anything or anyone. Whether it’s high-speed vibrations or a tingling change in temperature, sex toys can add sensations you’ve never felt. Sometimes we simply don’t have enough hands to touch all the parts at the same time, so sex toys can be a fantastic, not detrimental, asset in that regard.”
—Dominnique Karetsos, sex expert at inclusive sex-toy company MysteryVibe
2. “Is it okay to masturbate in a relationship?”
“Yes, yes, and YES. Masturbation is normal and natural. You can masturbate when you’re single, and you can masturbate when you’re in a relationship. Masturbation is not an indication that something is lacking in your life and/or your relationship; it’s a healthy way to explore your own body and discover what feels good to you. There are all sorts of reasons to masturbate: because you’re horny, to help you fall asleep, horny, to alleviate menstrual cramps, and even to relieve stress. It’s also important to note that it’s okay to not masturbate as well. Masturbation is a personal choice.”
3. “What do your parents think about the fact that you’re a sex educator?”
“My parents love me and think my work is impacting the world.”
—Alexandra Fine, CEO and co-founder of Dame Products
4. “If my boyfriend likes to have anal sex, does that mean he’s gay?”
“Believe it or not, people ask me this very frequently. There is an assumption that if cis men enjoy any type of anal stimulation or pegging, they are automatically gay or bisexual. The obvious response to that is ‘NO!’ and a way for me to help couples understand this is by educating them on the difference between sexual orientation and pleasure. The former is not determined by the type of sexual stimulation they enjoy but by whom you would like to have sexual experiences with. This is also an opportunity for me to educate someone about the anatomy of the prostate. If someone has a prostate, there is a chance that they can explore it and enjoy the stimulation that can lead to an orgasm.”
5. “Am I/is this normal?”
“Everyone asks me some iteration of this. For instance, the following are all asked and followed by, ‘is that normal?’
- I have ___ fantasy.
- I’m turned on by ___ thing.
- I’ve always wanted to try ____.
- Sometimes I feel like ____.
- When my partner does ____, I really like it.
- Everyone else really seems to be into ____, but I’m not.
My answer? Probably. Chances are, most people have thought/felt/experienced/done the same thing. But even if you are statistically an outlier, that doesn’t mean it’s bad or invalid. Yes, you are acceptable.”
— sexologist, Jill McDevitt, PhD
6. “My partner wants to try anal, but I’m uncertain. Will it hurt? How do you do it?”
“Anal play can be exciting, but it can also feel confusing or overwhelming to start out. Your anus is a very strong muscle—one that holds onto all of your stress and anxiety. So, if you’re feeling nervous or uncertain about anal play, it’s going to know say ‘nope, no thanks.’ So first things first: Know if this is really something you’re interested in partaking in.
If you are, you must, must, must lube up, because the anus doesn’t self-lubricate. Then, start small. Stimulate the exterior of the anus with your lubricated fingertips. Once you’re all warmed up, you can begin building up to different sizes. Start out with something small, like a finger, and slowly work your way up. Just remember that anything you put in your butt needs to have a flared base on it. And, if you experience pain, that’s your body asking for you to take a break. I recommend honoring that feeling, and returning to anal play again when you’re ready.
—Cassandra Corrado, sex educator with O.school
7. “Why is my partner watching porn?”
“On a regular basis, I get asked questions about whether porn is bad for libido, if it counts as cheating, and how to get a partner to stop watching it. The answer I give for all of these is that porn, like every good thing, is best used in moderation. Porn is entertainment, not sex education, and it’s not a replacement for sex. Watching porn together can be a great way to bridge the gap between your partner’s porn use and your wanting to be a part of their erotic material.”
—Gigi Engle, certified sex coach and sexologist
8. “Is it okay if I like x, y, z, during/before/after sex?”
My answer is almost always, YES! We have built up a lot of stigma and fear around sex and sexuality in our society, and a lot of the education that I do is around helping folks feel validated and unlearn the shame they’ve been taught around desire and pleasure. I believe that if you, and any/everyone else involved consents and feels safe, there isn’t anything wrong with liking or doing x, y, z. Pleasure is healthy and normal, and you deserve it.”
—Andrea Barrica sex educator with O.school
9. “I’m always in my head during sex with my partner. How do I get out of my head?”
“Usually, I recommend starting by breathing, which helps to downregulate the nervous system. Then I encourage my clients to notice what’s happening in their body. (For example: ‘I notice that my chest feels tight and my stomach feels warm.’) It sounds overly simple, but once you regularly start to use this type of awareness, you learn how to listen to your body and can ask questions like, ‘How do I want to be touched at this moment?’ This is a crucial step in being able to communicate your authentic desire with yourself and your partner without it coming from your mind.”
10. “Will consistent toy or vibrator use ‘ruin’ my orgasm?”
“Achieving climax in a consistent way can be difficult for some of us, so when you find a toy or method that works for you, it can be tempting to hold onto it and only use this method. However, if you do something over and over again, you form a habit.”
—Amy Boyajian, co-founder and CEO of online sex toy boutique Wild Flower
11 “I have an STI…how do I become sexually confident again?”
“Before answering the question, I always validate this person’s experience. Disclosing a positive STI diagnosis to anyone, even an expert, can be daunting. My answer typically sounds something like, ‘Regaining your confidence and unlearning herpes and STI stigma depends on the identities you hold and your attitudes about sexuality. It’s something that requires patience and vulnerability with yourself.’ That response elicits frustration from some folks because most are in search of a clear, quick pathway to healing. There are certainly overlapping themes in stories of folks with STIs, but we all come from different walks of life, which uniquely affect our experience of sexuality. Unlearning the shame around STIs often requires further education in addition to a deeper awareness of self.”
—Emily Depasse sexologist and STI educator
12. “How do you open up your relationship without destroying it?”
“It’s absolutely possible. I highly recommend doing it after reading together some of the key books on open relationships (at minimum The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, and Opening Up by Tristan Taormino), and/or seeing an open-relationships coach or therapist to guide you through the process. Then go slowly, communicate openly, and practice patience and kindness toward yourself and your partner. Also, make sure you have at least some friends (if not an entire community, whether online or offline) who are also doing open relationships and with whom you can talk to about what you’re going through.”
—Zhana Vrangalova, PhD, professor of human sexuality at NYU
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