Ask Debby Herbenick | Is my decreased libido normal?
Answers to your most penetrating sex questions.
Q My girlfriend’s vagina looks different when she’s excited. Is that normal?
A As long as it still looks like a vagina, then yes—it sounds like a normal human vagina rather than an alien being or a Transformer. Vaginas (the inside part of a woman’s genitals; also called the birth canal) and vulvas (the outside parts that you can see, such as the clitoris and vaginal lips) are pretty fantastic. During sexual excitement, the clitoral hood (which normally covers the clitoris) moves back to allow for more stimulation of the clitoris as the clitoris itself swells and grows slightly bigger, thanks to increased blood flow to the pelvic area. Also due to increased blood flow, you may notice slight color changes in a woman’s labia minora (the inner vaginal lips), which may grow more red, pink or purplish in color. As this happens, the labia minora even swell in size, showing off their bloodflow-enhanced loveliness. Depending on how small or large her labia are to begin with, this size difference may be quite noticeable. Inside a woman’s body, the vagina grows in length and width during sexual excitement, too. Though one can’t see this change in size from the outside, one can often feel it inside during finger stimulation or vaginal intercourse. To learn more about the remarkable female genitals, check out the video Viva La Vulva by Betty Dodson, the book Femalia (which features photographs of women’s vulvas; Down There Press, out of print, but available on Amazon starting at $85) or The V Book: A Doctor’s Guide to Complete Vulvovaginal Health (Bantam, $16). Enjoy!
Q I’m 27 years old and newly engaged. My guy and I have been together for a year and a half. In the first few months of our relationship, we were sexual animals and loving it. Almost like a switch, my libido tanked about a year ago. Although I still have the occasional sex dream, my waking hours have zero sexual desire. I never genuinely want to have sex, but I do initiate things and fake desire sometimes out of guilt for his situation. I feel like I’ve had this problem in past relationships but chalked it up to the idea that it wasn’t the right guy for me. This is obviously different. I am madly in love with my fiancé. He is a great guy and very attractive, but I am still completely uninterested in sex. I’ve considered several possibilities: Maybe I have some dysfunctional subconscious idea that sex is just for “catching” a guy (thus irrelevant in a committed relationship), or the birth control that I switched to when he and I started dating (Seasonale) is having an undesired side effect, or my fiancé’s nightly snoring is making me too tired, or I’m being sabotaged by my own poor self-image now that I don’t have the flirty attention of dating. I’m really not sure what my problem is! What would you recommend as my next step?
A Lust ebbs and flows in even the best relationships, and it often comes back as unexpectedly as it left. That said, it can be scary to go for months without much sexual desire, especially when you’re planning to spend the rest of your life with someone and are wondering how long it’s going to last (he may be wondering that, too—after all, most of us want to feel wanted). If your fiancé’s snoring gets in the way of your sleep, that could absolutely be tanking your desire. Fatigue isn’t good for anyone’s sex life. As severe snoring can be a sign of a medical condition, and it’s keeping you awake, your fiancé should see a sleep specialist. If your self-image is suffering, ask yourself why. Have you stopped dressing in ways that help you feel hot or seductive? What types of sensual experiences (such as a full-body massage from your fiancé) might help you get reacquainted with pleasure? As for birth control, any type of hormonal birth control can get in the way of desire, though it doesn’t have that effect on everyone. Some other medications (such as antidepressants) have also been known to have sexual side effects. If you’d like support working through the many possible influences on your desire, meet with a sex therapist (sstarnet.org). You might also check out Mating in Captivity (Harper, $13.99), a book that explores how committed couples sometimes become so achingly familiar with each other that the day-to-day comfort kills any spark of desire—and advises women and men on how to make positive, desire-rich changes.
Q My wife is really sensitive to condoms, to the extent where I feel miserable during sex. She complains about a painful, burning sensation around the entry point. The burning pain persists hours after intercourse. I’ve tried super-thin Trojans and Durex brands. What’s the deal? We’ve played around without condoms and she feels no pain at all (and I personally feel so much better). We use condoms to prevent pregnancy and are thinking about going to the pill. We don’t have sex until I’m ready to climax, so intercourse is short, but I still feel miserable and wouldn’t do it if she wasn’t so persistent in her requests for sex. What do I do? Is the pill the best option?
A The pill is certainly one great birth-control option, though the “best” method is up for grabs. Here’s why: Hormonal birth-control methods, such as the pill, are highly effective at preventing pregnancy, but they are not for everyone (for example, women over 35 who smoke are at higher risk for serious complications if they take the pill). Depo-Provera, the birth-control shot, is also highly effective against pregnancy and women need a shot only every three months, rather than having to take a pill every single day. However, the side effects for Depo vary and because of concerns about weight gain or mood changes related to Depo, some women decide not to use it (while others who use Depo can’t say enough good things about it). The IUD is another possibility—it’s a device that is inserted by a woman’s health-care provider and can be left inside her uterus for years. If you generally prefer condoms, however, keep exploring options. For example, it may be that she is having an allergic reaction to ingredients in the lubricant, rather than the condom. Try a non-lubricated condom with either no lube added (if she gets sufficiently wet on her own) or with a vagina-friendly lube such as Good Clean Love (goodcleanlove.com) or Just Like Me (pureromance.com). The wonderfully knowledgeable customer service reps at Early to Bed (5232 N Sheridan Rd, early2bed.com), Tulip (3448 N Halsted St, mytulip.com) or g boutique (2131 N Damen Ave, boutiqueg.com) can recommend vagina-friendly lubes or sell you sample-size packages of lubes to test. If she still experiences discomfort, then maybe it is the condom after all—has she been tested for a latex allergy? Non-latex options include polyurethane and animal-skin condoms (the latter are effective at preventing pregnancy, but not infections). The good news is that you have numerous birth-control options, and it is absolutely possible for you two to be having pleasurable sex with a low risk of pregnancy. Check out Planned Parenthood’s website (plannedparenthood.org) for more info about birth control.