Ask Debby Herbenick | The thinnest condom and holding an erection
Answers to your most penetrating sex questions.
Q This is difficult to write, but I find it difficult to have orgasms with my partner during oral or vaginal sex. I wonder if my habit of masturbating (usually once a day) reduces my likelihood of reaching orgasm with her. Might I even have trained myself to connect orgasms to my own manual manipulations only? If so, how would I go about breaking that connection? I am able to come when I masturbate (with or without my cooperative partner present). I hope I haven’t created a pattern that will be impossible to shift. I am trying to remain hopeful.
AWhile daily masturbation is not a problem in terms of one’s risk of going blind, developing hairy palms, or other calamities from scary old wives, it is true that recent ejaculation (from masturbation or partner sex) can make it difficult to ejaculate soon after. For example, if you masturbate in the morning and then have intercourse with your partner that afternoon or evening, you may find it difficult to ejaculate. The reverse is also true—ejaculation from intercourse in the morning may mean that it’s difficult to ejaculate during evening masturbation that same day. That’s not true for all men, as refractory periods vary and some men can ejaculate twice or more in a short period of time whereas others need a day or longer in between ejaculations. Men’s refractory periods tend to lengthen with age, too, and you may find that age-related ejaculation problems can by solved by spacing out your sex acts. All that said, I’d be surprised if it was your masturbation that was getting in the way of your partnered sex life. After all, you can ejaculate when with your partner, you just can’t make it happen the way you want to. As such, it seems that there is something about oral and vaginal sex that makes it challenging for you to orgasm (sometimes called “inhibited ejaculation”). Sometimes, this is a physical issue. If your partner lubricates up a rainstorm, then perhaps taking a break to dry things off a bit and restarting will help you to feel greater friction and thus stimulation. If she’s quite dry and you like your sex wet, try adding lubricant to see how it feels. If you prefer different oral techniques, let her know what types of licks or strokes you enjoy. Are there other lessons from your masturbation that you can apply to intercourse? For example, if your masturbation involves a high degree of fantasy or the use of porn, perhaps your partner would be open to using porn together or engaging in hot dirty talk related to your mutual fantasies. There could be other things going on, too. For some men, a fear of infection or pregnancy can unconsciously keep them from being able to ejaculate during intercourse. Anxiety about intimacy or control issues can get in the way of feeling as if one can “let go” (and thus ejaculate), too. These things can take time to address and are often best dealt with in sex therapy (see aasect.org). The good news is that inhibited ejaculation can often be improved, so your hope is well placed.
Q My boyfriend and I are both 18 and just started having sex for the first time. When we first started to have sex, he would stay erect. The last couple times, though, he wouldn’t stay erect long enough, and he’s never been able to last long enough for me to orgasm. How could we fix these problems?
A Though sometimes sex can be tricky to navigate, it’s encouraging that you have a sense of what you want your sex life to be like and that you have a level head about sex rather than freaking out because it isn’t perfect. That puts you in a good spot to make progress. I’m not sure how long you think his erections should last, but it’s not uncommon for penile-vaginal intercourse to last in the 2–15 minute range. With practice and the use of the stop-start technique, some men can learn to last on the longer side, possibly even past the 30-minute mark. Others never will, which is okay too. Trust me: It doesn’t have to go on forever to be some of the best you’ll ever have. You two both might enjoy reading The New Male Sexuality (Bantam, $24) for tips about men, sex, erections and ejaculation. Your boyfriend may feel pressured to give you an orgasm. However, his erections may not physically be able to last for the length of time required for you to orgasm—especially as many young women who are just beginning to have sex don’t orgasm at all from intercourse and/or can take a long time to orgasm from any kind of stimulation (hand, tongue or penis). Expecting him to perform magic with his penis—at a time when he’s trying to figure it all out, too—may not be reasonable. Consider expanding your sexual repertoire. Non-intercourse stimulation may, with practice, become orgasmic for you. Check out I Love Female Orgasm (Da Capo Press, $15.95) for tips.
Q My wife is at the tail end of the menstruating portion of her life. However, her doctor says we should continue the use of contraceptives for another year. I’m looking forward to the day where we can feel each other, without other barriers. The pill is out of the question. My question is: Short of buying up every condom type at Walgreens and taking them home for a test drive, can you suggest where one can identify the thinnest and most sensitive condoms? All the labels tout “thin,” “thinnest,” “sensitive,” for marketing reasons. Certainly the pimply faced kid at the checkout won’t know what to recommend, and I’m not about to ask the pharmacist.
A Menopause is generally considered to occur when—among other factors—a woman has gone for at least one year without a menstrual period, which is likely why your wife’s doctor suggested that you two use birth control for at least another year. Lest you get footloose and fancy-free (or, rather, condom-free) too soon, please do take that “wait a year” suggestion to heart. Couples who mistakenly think they are in their fertility-free menopause years and ditch birth control sometimes wind up with accidental bundles of joy. In terms of condom suggestions, Kimono’s MicroThin condoms win points for being thin while Trojan Ecstasy condoms and those coated with warming lubricant win points for sensation. Also, condoms with roomy heads (such as Inspiral or Trojan Twisted Pleasure) are less restrictive on the yummy nerve-rich head of a man’s penis (a.k.a. Ol’ One Eye) and thus may be more pleasurable to use. That said, if you have good ejaculatory control and generally can tell when you are about to come with enough time to do something about it, then you may be able to ditch condoms in favor of the withdrawal method. There are no sperm in pre-ejaculate, and as long as your urethra is sperm-free (you can pee before sex to increase your chances of a sperm-free urethra), the risk of pregnancy is very low. Some recent research even suggests the withdrawal method is almost as effective as condoms in terms of pregnancy prevention—however, that is true only if you are able to pull out before ejaculating. The possibility that you’ll fail to pull out in time—and the fact that withdrawal does nothing to prevent sexually transmissible infections—is why the withdrawal method is a poor choice of birth control for young or inexperienced guys who are less skilled at pulling out in time and at higher risk of infection.