African- American Relationships


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When Dryness is a Problem

Janet, a healthy woman in her 20s, enjoys regular sexual relations with Jerry. She finds him affectionate, tender and a real "turn-on." Together, they are wonderfully slow, playful and uninhibited in their lovemaking and she can be magnificently orgasmic. The problem is that she tends to dry up vaginally. If penile-vaginal intercourse lasts more than a few minutes, Janet often becomes dry and uncomfortable, even when she feels intensely aroused. If she and Jerry get excited and want to play vaginally more than once a day, Janet will not become moist enough to embrace his penis within her.

Linda's problem is somewhat similar but significantly different. Approaching her 50th birthday, she is accustomed to frequent and satisfying sexual relations with both male and female partners. Becoming "juicy" when excited was never a problem. Until recently. Now Linda finds her vaginal canal to be drier and less responsive, even when she is fully aroused in every other way. She feels this to be a loss for herself, and she has also had to deal with her regular male partner getting upset over the assumption that Linda must no longer be "turned-on" by him.

Although we may enjoy our eroticism in many and varied ways, some problems are encountered, sooner or later, by all sexually active women. Women usually experience erotic arousal not only in terms of exciting feelings and fantasies, but also in terms of bodily responses. A quickening of the breath, a feeling of warmth or skin flush, and an engorgement of the nipples, the clitoris and the lips of the vulva (as they fill with blood) are common responses to sexual arousal. Many women also experience changes in their vagina. With arousal, the vagina may tilt upwards and become longer. It may also become wet with a "sweating" of the vaginal walls.

This lubrication of a woman's genitals is caused by the release of a special fluid from the "vaginal epithelium" (the walls of the vagina). This fluid is not like the sweat of your skin, but is what scientists call a "modified plasma transudate." It can contain viruses, including HIV/AIDS, and so should not be taken into the body of your sexual partners by the mouth, penis, or shared sex toy.

In general, the release of this fluid serves you sexually by making vaginal and vulval play more comfortable. And, in particular, it probably evolved to make easier both penile-vaginal insertion and the movement of sperm up the vaginal canal, increasing the likelihood of impregnation.

Many people take this "sweating" of the vagina as a reliable sign that a woman is sexually excited, or even that she is "ready" for vaginal play or intercourse. Beware of such assumptions! Women sometimes lubricate vaginally when they are not sexually aroused, and women often feel erotically aroused without becoming vaginally wet. Excess lubrication, even though some women feel almost embarrassed by it, can easily be solved by use of an absorbent external panty-liner. Dryness, however is a common problem, and will probably require special solutions.

Some women simply do not lubricate so plentifully, or at least not plentifully enough to keep pace with their sexual wishes (and this is Janet's problem). Some women become dry when anxious or under stress. Many women become drier with the frequent use of tampons, other internal sanitary devices, or douches. And most women will become drier with the use of prescription medications that have anticholinergic or sympathomimetic effects which dry out the "mucosal" or wet tissues of the mouth and vagina. These include many common drugs for allergic, cardiovascular, psychiatric, and other medical conditions. Always ask your physician, "What effects, if any, will this medicine have on my vaginal canal and my sexual life?" You have a right to be informed and prepared.

All women become drier as they approach and proceed through menopause. And this is Linda's problem. This is because menopause causes a thinning of the vaginal walls (from about nine epithelial layers to about three), with a consequent loss of their elasticity and their capacity to produce fluid.

The solution to all these difficulties is to use artificial lubricants for sexual play. Many brands are available in the "Feminine Hygiene" or "Family Planning" sections of your local drug stores. Find your favorite brand. Many women still like K-Y Jelly (but be careful of using K-Y Plus which contains Nonoxynol and might irritate your vagina). Astroglide is also a favorite, as is Replens. These are basically all water-soluble lubricants with glycerin or a similar chemical giving them their slippery properties. They are usually odorless, tasteless, and sterile. They may also be hypoallergenic.

When finding a "lube" that suits your erotic life, there are three rules:

Always use a water-soluble lube. Never put a petroleum-based lubricant, such as Vaseline, into your vagina. Petroleum-based jellies are likely to increase your vulnerability to infections, and they will corrode the latex used for condoms and other safer sex practices.

Beware of confusions between moisturizers, anti-irritants, and drying powders. Vagisil, for example, markets all three under the same brand name. Anti-irritant creams (usually containing 5% to 20% benzocaine) numb the skin and are sometimes useful externally on the vulval tissue, but should never be applied inside the vagina. "Feminine powders" and talcs are sometimes used to absorb unwanted wetness of the vulval area, and should also never be applied inside the vagina. Moisturizers are lubes applied either directly inside the vagina, or delivered by a vaginal suppository (such as Lubrin and other brands).

Remember that, unless the label of your lube states otherwise, it is not a spermicidal (contraceptive), anti-viral, anti-bacterial or estrogen-supplementing agent. If you want an estrogen supplement or cream, you should consult a clinical sexologist or a knowledgeable physician. If you want your lubricant to do double duty and provide protection against sexually transmitted infections, buy one that contains Nonoxynol. However, there is a trick to be learned here: Nonoxynol can be irritating to the delicate tissue of the vagina, increasing the receptivity of the vaginal walls to infection; so if a Nonoxynol lube is going to come into direct contact with the vagina, a counter-irritant such as Avena Sativa should be used as well. This is why one of our favorite lubes is Erogel which contains a strong solution of Nonoxynol as well as Avena Sativa. Regrettably, Erogel has to be purchased through the mail or from specialty outlets, because most local drug stores do not keep it in stock.

In addition to using artificial lubricants, keeping healthy the musculature of your pelvic floor will increase the blood supply to your vaginal canal and will help with dryness as well as giving you an increased sense of comfortable control over your genitals. Start doing "Kegelling" exercises. Find the relevant group of muscles by stopping and starting the flow of your urine (while seated on the toilet). Then, with an empty bladder, squeeze these muscles tight and hold them for a count of three. Repeat this until they feel tired (initially you may only be able to squeeze these muscles a couple of times before they feel tired, later you should be able to gradually work up to twenty repetitions). Do "kegels" twice a day, every day if possible. Within a few weeks you will feel that they have improved your sexual life.

Sooner or later every sexually active woman who enjoys vaginal or vulval play will have a problem with dryness. Combat dryness by becoming accustomed to using your lube regularly and plentifully. Start young, before menopause is an issue. And don't be embarrassed with your partners because, when used properly, lubes will enhance sexual pleasure for you and for them. This practice would help Janet as much as Linda. And it will help you too. Lubricants make for a more relaxed erotic life whether your favorite form of vaginal play is with a finger, a sex toy, or a penis. Use them and enjoy!

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Sex before and after Childbirth