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10 Most-Asked Questions About Sex

The questions and doubts about sex that plague the average man and woman run a wide-ranging gamut. But there are some that today’s sex counsellors hear more often than others. Here they are, along with the answers!

1. Is masturbation harmful?

This one of course tops the list. From acne to insanity, from impotence to memory loss – hardly any ailment in the medical encyclopedia has not been blamed on masturbation! Until the beginning of the 20th century even the physicians fell in line and prescribed “cures” ranging from leeches to suck out blood from the genitals, to “cages” in which children’s penises could be padlocked by parents and the key thrown away.

This was in the West. In India, although the amorous ancients joyously documented their masturbatory postures for posterity – the temples of Halebid in Karnataka flaunt masturbating males among their erotic carvings – the majority of Indian youth is tortured by crippling fears about the effects of masturbation on body and mind.

The fact is that no minister or medico has ever provided a shred of evidence to suggest that masturbation is harmful. To the contrary, current opinion among enlightened sexologists is that masturbation is not only not-harmful, it may be distinctly beneficial. To demolish the more common myths:

  • the penis has no muscles; hence there is no way that masturbation can lead to ‘weaknesses.
  • masturbation does not deplete the body’s supply of semen, leading to a scarcity situation. Semen is produced every day – and it’s produced in order to be used! As sexologist comments, “It is disuse, not use, that leads to atrophy.”
  • masturbation does not impair sexual intercourse or pleasure. In fact, there is growing evidence that lack of masturbatory experience may lead to problems like impotence and anorgasmia (difficulty in experiencing orgasms). Masturbation is the ultimate source of sexual self-awareness, and forms an important part of many sex therapy programmes. It seems the wheel has turned full circle!

Sexologists, however, do caution that masturbation may indicate some other underlying problem if it is indulged in compulsively and to the exclusion of other sexual outlets even when available.

2. Is there an aphrodisiac that works?

Not in the sense of directly elevating the libido. Many have been tried, but none proven. At best, they are useless, at worst they can kill. Some like rhino horn and ginseng appear to derive their reputations from little more than their physical resemblance to the penis – there is certainly no specific evidence of their alleged sex-enhancing qualities.

Others like yohimbine, from the bark of the yohimbe tree, increase the flow of blood to the genital area and thereby intensify the erection – but the effect is entirely physical, there is no corresponding increase in desire or pleasure. Spanish fly, made from dried beetles, has a similar effect – it can give a man an immense and immensely painful erection. It also causes irritation and inflammation of the urinary tract, sometimes even internal bleeding which can be fatal – and the dose that ‘works’ is about equal to the dose that kills.

Alcohol has the effect of causing inhibitions to slacken, and that may add some assertiveness, and even aggressiveness, to sexual performance. But, beyond a point (and this point is well below the level of intoxication), alcohol leads to fatigue and dissipation and may suppress rather than provoke an erection.

Cocaine also has a persisting reputation as a sexual stimulant, not only when taken orally but also when applied locally to the clitoris: the latter, say medical experts, is an especially puzzling belief when you consider that medically it’s used as a local anaesthetic – in the other words, to deaden physical sensitivity!

The very fact that people continue to believe that ginseng or ‘grass’ or whatever works, underlines one truism: if you believe it will work, it will work. After all, it’s the brain that’s the seat of the libido, not the penis or the vagina or the clitoris.

3. Is sex safer after a heart attack?

Most heart attack victims believe it isn’t, and the majority just decide to put “sex and all that” behind them. The fear of the heart “giving out” during sex is far too overwhelming among most of those who’ve suffered an attack.

But most cardiologists do not put a blanket ban, so to say, on sex for heart attack victims. There are, of course, certain categories that are at definite risk and would be advised extreme caution: Those with very poor cardiac reserve (indicated by treadmill test) or those with poor left ventricle functioning, or persons who’ve suffered repeated or major heart attacks i.e. in which a major portion of the heart muscle has been destroyed. The cardiac energy invested, on average, on one sexual episode appears to be the same as that involved in walking up two flights of stairs – but, for some heart attack victims, this may be much too much.

After even a mild, first-time heart attack, the person would be advised to keep physical activity to a minimum for the first two months. After that, a treadmill test would indicate his cardiac status, and his cardiologist should be able to guide him on whether he can safely engage in sexual activity. If he is prone to angina pain, it helps to keep a tablet of nitroglycerin under the tongue at the start of sexual activity.

4. Is sex safe during pregnancy?

Sexual activity is distinctly unsafe during pregnancy if a woman:

  • has a history of miscarriages (the more, the greater the risk).
  • is at risk for miscarriage/premature delivery in the current pregnancy.
  • suffers vaginal or uterine bleeding or pain during the pregnancy.

The reason is the risk from uterine contractions that results from orgasm. Masturbation that leads to orgasm can be even more risky than intercourse because the uterine contractions following masturbation are greater than those following intercourse.

Barring these conditions, sex during pregnancy is considered to be generally safe, although some doctors caution that orgasms in late pregnancy can cause premature delivery. Each woman is best advised by her own gynecologist, taking into account her medical history and the status of her current pregnancy.

5. What is the best cure for impotence?

That depends on what’s causing the impotence. Almost all men, at some time or the other, have difficulty getting an erection, or getting a satisfactory erection. These experiences occur as isolated episodes arising from fatigue / overindulgence in alcohol / guilt in an extramarital encounter or similar causes.

But in many men, a one-time failure can instil performance anxiety, which can itself lead to failure the next time round, and increasingly over and over again, setting the stage for psychological impotence, which is the kind that roughly half the numbers of impotent men suffer from.

In the other half, impotence is caused by organic (bodily) factors. These may range from clogged penile arteries (in those who suffer from arteriosclerosis), to leaky veins in the penis, to a deficiency of testosterone. Such cases can be helped by penile bypass surgery (similar to a heart bypass, except that it’ done in the penile area); penile injections that improve blood flow to the area and help bring on an erection; venous ligation (surgery to tie up leaky veins); and the latest option, penile implants, which give a man a synthetic erection.

6. Does vasectomy make a man impotent?

This fear arises largely because of the persisting confusion between impotency and infertility. Infertility (in a man) is the inability to fertilize the egg; and this is what a vasectomy produces. Impotence, on the other hand, is the inability to have an erection, and this is in no way affected by a vasectomy. Here’s the reason why:

Vasectomy involves snipping and tying off the vas deferens, the tubes that carry the perm from the testes. But, while sperm are produced by one variety of cells in the tests, the male hormone, testosterone – which is responsible for sexual desire and potency – is produced by another variety of cells in the testes, and it goes directly into the bloodstream (not into vas deferens). So, vasectomy does not in any way affect a man’s ability to have an erection.

7. What I can do to increase the size of my penis?

That question is best answered by another: Why do you want to? Most men feel that they’d be Olympic performers in bed if only their penises were “a little” longer, or a little broader… Although there are wide variations in the size of penises in the flaccid state, erection is said to be the great equalizer because penises that are small in the non-erect state enlarge proportionately more than penises that are longer or broader in the non-erect state. And of course the size of the flaccid penis is irrelevant to sexual performance!

What’s more, even during erection, not more than 5 cm of penile length is necessary or for reproductive purposes. The outer one-third (i.e. about 5 cm) of the vagina has the most concentrated nerve ending, and this is the portion that is sensitive to the thrusting penis. As for reproduction, man only needs enough penis to be able to deliver the semen into the vagina – from there on, the sperm speed upward with a momentum of their own!

8. Can I get AIDS from kissing an infected person?

There’s kissing, and kissing. Dry kissing, i.e. where the tongue or, more precisely, saliva doesn’t come into play is described as safe-sex activity even with an infected person. One study of households with AIDS-infected members showed that they kissed one another, on the cheeks as well as the lips, without passing on the virus to a non-infected member.

Can you get AIDS from tongue-kissing? So far, although there’s no scientific evidence of the virus being transmitted via the saliva during kissing, the fact is that the AIDS virus is transmitted through bodily fluids – and those include, in addition to blood, semen and vaginal secretions, also urine, tears and saliva. Although the opinion of scientists is that the amount of saliva that comes into play in deep kissing is insufficient to transmit enough of the virus, you are certainly better off not trying to find out if that’s so!

9. Is oral sex dirty and perverted?

Oral sex brings the tongue, lips and mouth into play in the genital area, and in that sense brings an added dimension to sexual activity: all the senses are now involved. In those who are at ease with it, it can heighten arousal, providing the final surge of excitement leading to intercourse; it can even directly bring on orgasm.

But not everybody is comfortable with oral sex; guilt and awkwardness are felt even by several of those who indulge in it. One reason for considering it ‘dirty’ is that most people are conditioned to think of the genitals themselves are dirty. But, from a scientific point of view, oral sex is no more unhygienic than mouth to mouth kissing.

Some people are put off by the genital odours, or the genital secretions. But the secretions themselves are relatively clean; and the odours partly reflect the kind of foods that the person eats. And, a good bath before engaging in oral sex should ensure cleanliness.

Nobody has yet been able to come up with a valid reason why oral sex is dirty or unhealthy or perverted. Yet, the feeling persists among many, and the most worrying thing about oral sex is the worry it causes. What it finally boils down to is that it’s just a matter of taste!

10. How can I make sex more satisfying?

Make sure you are:

  • with right partner. Someone you’re comfortable with and care about. Emotions are an important part of the sexual experience.
  • not over-tired or under stress. Both are poor starting points for good sex.
  • not plagued by fears about sex itself. This particularly applies to women – and the fears range from the fear of pain to the fear of pregnancy. Inhibitions or anxiety are instant passion-poopers.
  • ready to experiment and to innovate. Different positions, different places, even different roles (alternating between aggressor and passive partner) bring in the variety that puts the spice into sex.

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