Ask Debby Herbenick | HPV, Magnum condoms
Debby Herbenick answers your most penetrating sex questions. This week: HPV, Magnum condoms and the importance of foreplay.
Q Why is it so darn difficult for women to have orgasms?
A In a sea of one million women who find it difficult to experience orgasm, there would probably be a million reasons. I’m going to list some of the most common here, with the caveat that these can appear in shades from “a little bit of an issue” to “a lot of an issue.” Ready? In no particular order: difficulties “letting go”; fear of losing control; lack of knowledge or information about their bodies (e.g., the clitoris) or sexual response; lack of experience masturbating or otherwise self-pleasuring their bodies; religious, cultural or family-induced guilt or shame about sex; embarrassment; fear of making an ugly “O” face; partner with lousy technique; uncooperative partner who doesn’t want to do the things they ask; medical conditions; certain prescription medications (hello, SSRI antidepressants!); stress; anxiety; feeling pressured by one’s partner; feeling bad about one’s body and/or genitals; a cat scratching at the bedroom door; and so on. All of these things, by the way, can also interfere with men’s sexuality. The good news is that many of us are able to identify the things that interfere with our sexual pleasure and create change. We’re able to find ways to relax, to let go of family-induced sex guilt, or give the cat something else to do, like play with a new toy. Sex therapy helps some people (sstarnet.org). A visit to one’s health-care provider helps others. Depending on the issue, learning to relax through stretching, meditation or yoga, reading a good sex book together, switching places of worship, ending a bad relationship or adopting healthier behaviors (e.g., eating better, getting more sound sleep and exercising) can help, too. The bottom line: Sex is a bit of a maze, but with the right pointers, most of us can find our way out.
Q Are Magnum condoms only meant for guys who are huge? I always thought of myself as being average both in length and girth, but sometimes wearing a condom feels restricting or even will leave a mark at the base. Should I try Magnums or is there another type of condom that is only slightly larger than regular-size condoms that I can try first?
A The Trojan Magnum condoms aren’t much bigger than standard-sized condoms. However, Trojan Magnum XL condoms are indeed larger—about 30 percent larger (according to the TrojanCondoms.com website)—than standard-sized condoms. For guys who are actually larger, the Magnum XL can be a great option. For average- or smaller-sized guys who just want to appear bigger by having a Magnum XL box on their nightstand, they’re not a good option, as condoms that are too large may more easily slip off. You might also try Trojan Ecstasy condoms, particularly if girth is an issue, as they’re roomier around the entire shaft—so roomy that many men can’t even feel them during sex. The base remains snug for security and so that men can tell if the condom is still on or whether it’s slipped off during sex (unlikely, but possible).
Q How important is foreplay, really? I always read things in magazines that say “spend more time in foreplay,” but my girlfriend seems to get wet even with just a few minutes, so is that enough?
A If your girlfriend gets wet with just a few minutes of stimulation, then that’s a very good start. But here’s why I would recommend spending more time in foreplay (10 or 15 minutes, when you can): Although some aspects of sexual response (like vaginal wetness/lubrication) begin happening quickly, the full shebang can take longer. And you want the full shebang, because it’s the total package—not just a little wetness—that can make for more pleasurable sex. Also, the longer a couple stays together, the more important this aspect of sex can be (because things get less exciting or more routine, like it or not). So here’s the full shebang: When a woman spends time doing something she finds arousing, then blood flows to her genitals, which increases vaginal lubrication. But that’s not all— muscular tension pulls the uterus upward, making more space in the vagina through a mystical process called vaginal tenting. This transforms an unaroused four-inch-long vagina into a seven-inch-long aroused vagina. In other words, show a little more patience and there will be room for comfortable, pleasurable sex. Plus, waiting for good build-up can enhance her arousal, making orgasm easier to experience.
Q My girlfriend told me that she was tested before we got together and didn’t have anything. Then at her recent gyn exam, she found out that she has HPV (which she says isn’t surprising because her ex had HPV, but she thought she wouldn’t get it from him because they always used a condom). She and I used to use condoms, but haven’t for months. I’m kind of pissed because I know that all of my exes didn’t have HPV (I asked them) and now this means that I probably have it. I mean, I haven’t been tested for it yet, but I assume I must have it now, right?
A HPV (human papillomavirus) is very confusing and many people have questions about it. Here’s the skinny on it: Basically, there is no way to know where your partner got HPV if she and you have both had other partners. Even though her ex had it, it’s also possible that you have it and gave it to her, as there’s no widely used HPV test for men so I doubt you would have known if you had it. Many women, possibly including your exes, also don’t know if they have it. Given that the majority of sexually active men and women have or have had HPV, there’s a good chance that you and/or your exes have, too. Then again, maybe you and your exes were all HPV-free and your girlfriend got it from her ex. The good news is that HPV is rarely a problem. Fortunately, most people’s immune systems kick in, stopping HPV from causing noticeable problems—such as abnormal Pap tests or genital warts—within two years. If your girlfriend had an abnormal Pap test result, she has about an 85 percent chance of having a normal Pap again within one year. And though it has yet to be proven, there is some preliminary research that foods high in beta-lycopene (think pink and red foods, like tomato sauce, papaya, etc.) may help to keep HPV from becoming a problem. Although an HPV diagnosis can be surprising or scary news at first, it’s great that she was honest with you and it’s unlikely to cause you any harm. That said, you will both of course want to check in with your health-care providers and consider their advice related to testing, treatment and follow-up care.
Dr. Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., M.P.H., is a research scientist at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute and author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. Send letters to Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., c/o Time Out Chicago, 247 South State Street, 17th floor, Chicago, IL 60604, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.