In & Out
TOC's sexpert tackles your most penetrating questions.
As a sex columnist and sexuality instructor, I often hear from college students. Here are some of the more common questions I get. If you have questions, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Facebook.
Q Why does my girlfriend sometimes bleed after sex?
A There are at least two types of common postsex vaginal bleeding. One occurs when a woman has intercourse for the first time and tears her hymen, which is a thin tissue that’s filled with blood vessels. When the hymen tears, most women bleed just a little, though it varies. Then there’s the more common form of postsex bleeding, which results from tiny vaginal tears—so tiny that you usually can’t see them. This can often be reduced by using a personal lubricant (I like Good Clean Love, goodcleanlove.com) to reduce friction and make sex more comfortable. Because vaginal bleeding can be a sign of other health conditions, women who have regular bleeding, heavy bleeding, or bleeding that’s associated with itching, discharge or discomfort should check in with a health-care provider. Women who are thinking about becoming sexually active, or who are already sexually active, should be getting annual gyn exams anyway (they are not as bad as people make them out to be).
Q Which condoms are the best ones?
A All latex and polyurethane condoms that have FDA clearance have to pass the same tests in order to be sold in the United States, so—when used correctly—they are all highly effective at reducing the risk of both pregnancy and sexually transmissible infections (STI). Guys who can’t wear latex condoms, because of their own or a partner’s latex allergies, can go with polyurethane condoms. Adding a little water-based or silicone-based lubricant to a condom can reduce friction and make sex feel more pleasurable. Never add an oil- or petroleum-based product to latex condoms, as that can weaken the condom. Learn foolproof condom how-tos at plannedparenthood.org.
Q I’ve never had any kind of orgasm—vaginal, clitoral or G-spot—how do I have one?
A With practice, of course! Most women are absolutely capable of having an orgasm, but often times they go about it in ways that don’t make it very likely. Many women require direct clitoral stimulation in order to have an orgasm. Also, feeling pressured to have an orgasm—or to have one quickly—can make it difficult for women to have one (stress and performance anxiety are the enemies of orgasm—grrrr). Try spending some time alone, relaxing and masturbating to understand what works for your body. Many women have their first orgasms by themselves, sometimes with their own hands, sometimes by rubbing against a pillow, and other times with a vibrator (Early to Bed, Tulip and g Boutique are great local women’s sex-toy shops). The book Becoming Orgasmic (Fireside; $15) has practical, effective tips.
Q How can I deal with people on my dorm floor who do sex things—publicly—that make me uncomfortable?
A First try talking to the students who are doing the things that make you uncomfortable. If they’re having sex in the hallway, they can certainly take that into the privacy of their own rooms. If they’re filming porn in the hallway, they may be violating campus policies in addition to bothering you. You might also talk to your resident assistant (RA). If that doesn’t get you anywhere, talk to the person who’s in charge of your dorm, or your campus student-advocate’s office.
Q I’m gay, and too young to go to bars. Where can I go that’s legal and safe yet still fun to meet other gay people?
A Chicago has many great resources, but one of my favorites is the Broadway Youth Center (3179 N Broadway, 773-935-3151, email@example.com), which is connected with the Howard Brown Health Center (howardbrown.org) and offers a range of cool programs and services for people 24 and younger. You can simply hang out there or you can get involved in their art or social groups, or even their mentorship program, which I’ve heard great things about.
Q How will I know when I’m ready to have sex?
A People have different criteria for when they’re ready to have sex, such as being in love, being in a relationship of a certain length, being married or engaged, or simply having the right opportunity. Those criteria are based on your personal, and perhaps family or cultural, values. When you do have sex, I hope it is sex that feels good and safe (emotionally and physically). Use birth control if you don’t want to get pregnant (see your campus health center, plannedparenthood.org or chicagowomenshealthcenter.org); use condoms correctly to reduce STI risk; talk about each other’s STI risks (remember: Oral sex can pass STIs, and even naked dry-humping can transmit herpes or the human papillomavirus, or HPV, so be clear with each other about what you have or haven’t done, and what you have or haven’t been tested for). And don’t accept anyone telling you that they have been tested for “everything”—we cannot test men for HPV, even though most of them (like most women) have been exposed to it. Having sex also means being responsible for your sexual health, and sexually active women should seek out annual gyn exams. Make sure to talk to each other about your expectations: Are you friends, relationship partners or neither? If you have feelings for this person, think twice before agreeing to “friends with benefits”—same goes if you think the other person has feelings for you, but you don’t share those feelings. Know that the first time is rarely like it is in movies, so choose someone you can laugh with and reassure that those 20 seconds of sex were truly a fine start.
Q How soon should I tell someone that I am planning to wait until I’m married to have sex?
A There’s no need to rush the conversation on the first date or a hanging-out situation. I don’t think people need to disclose too much about their sexual histories until it seems like sex is a possibility. If all you’re doing is going for ice cream, it’s not an issue that needs pushing. I know several women and men who had previously had sex, then met people who planned to wait until marriage. Though it was frustrating for them to wait a few years to have sex again, they did, because they found a person they loved and wanted to be with. It’s a common enough choice, and important to bring up when you feel that if you didn’t, you would be keeping back an important part of yourself.
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.