Sex + Love Advice

Ask a Sex Researcher

May 27, 2015
Minter, Study of Amy Phelan

Dr. Zhana, the archangel of sex positivity, teaches us the right way to have butt sex, and how to break it to your partner that they’re not doing it right (the nice way)!

This is the third installment of Dr. Zhana Vrangalova‘s sex advice column here on Slutever. As a reminder, Zhana is a sex researcher, a PhD in Developmental Psychology from Cornell University, and an adjunct professor of human sexuality at NYU. She also founded the amazing Casual Sex Project, a website where people from all over the world come to share stories about their one night stands, fuck buddies, and the like–the good, the bad and the ugly. She also has a column for Psychology Today called Strictly Casual, about the science of hooking up. Without further ado, I’ll let Dr. Zhana solve all your problems. – into by Karley Sciortino, main image by Marilyn Minter

Zhana Vrangalova, Sex Researcher/NYU/Adjunct professor of psychology poses inside of Babeland with some sex toys, books and other sex paraphernalia at Babeland in Soho at 43 Mercer Street, New York on Thursday, July 17, 2014. Enid Alvarez/New York Daily News

Dr. Zhana

1) I’m a 20-year-old boy in the UK. I’ve been with my first boyfriend for over five months and it’s totally amazing. A few weeks ago we tried anal sex for the first time. I was bottom, and I enjoyed it a lot. Afterwards, though, I was left with this weird feeling of subordination. For him it was fun and easy – he just sticks his dick in and it feels great – while I had to endure pain for him. In my head, he spent the next day smug and proud while my ass was still hurting. I’m not one for cliches about sex, but penetration felt like a really weighty rite of (anal) passage, and an emotional experience. When I tried to top my boyfriend, he couldn’t deal with the pain and we bailed. But maybe that’s because I have a bigger dick. So ha. Am I being a misogynist asshole for associating penetration with subordination? Why can’t I embrace the pleasure and intimacy I felt without this sour sense of objectification? Is this how misogyny began in the first place? With penetration?!

Dr. Zhana: Congrats on your first anal sex experience! It is a bit of a rite of passage, indeed, and hopefully it will turn out to be a positive one. But you’re not alone in feeling ambivalent about it; lots of people have mixed feelings and misconceptions about butt sex.

First and foremost: Anal sex should NOT hurt! If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong. Some minor discomfort when just starting out is OK, but it should never really be painful, no matter how big the penis or dildo is. Sadly, too many people penetrating don’t know how to do it right, and too many people being penetrated come to think of anal sex as painful. What does “doing it right” entail? Here’s the cliff notes version: Start slow, with fingers and/or smaller dildos first, let the anal sphincters open up and adjust slowly, before you introduce bigger things. Every step of the way, go very very slowly, giving almost complete control to the person being penetrated in terms of speed and depth. And use tons of lube. And I mean, TONS. Too much lube is almost enough. For more info, I recommend The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Men by Bill Brent, or for the ladies reading this, The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women by Tristan Taormino.

Now, about the psychological meaning of penetration. There’s no doubt that in Western culture being penetrated = submission = femininity = female/woman, whereas penetrating = domination = masculinity = male/man. So much so that in certain Latino cultures, if two guys have sex, only the guy being penetrated would be considered gay, because he’s playing the “female” role. So no, you’re not a misogynist asshole for associating penetration with subordination; you’re a victim of a misogynist culture that has made that association for you.

Some people who are into Domination/submission like these associations and use them in their sex play – regardless of the gender of the partners. But these associations are by no means a given; they are purely a cultural invention. There’s nothing intrinsically submissive about being penetrated or intrinsically dominant about penetrating. Trust me, evolution wasn’t thinking about the subjugation of women by men when crafting penises and vaginas in animal species (from insects, to lizards, to mammals) that evolved millions of years before humans did; the only thing evolution cared about was figuring out the most efficient way for depositing sperm close to the eggs. So many (most?) people who are not into D/s just embrace penetration as one of many sexual acts that brings them (and their partners) pleasure without any implication for their gender, sexual orientation, femininity/masculinity, or submissiveness/domination, either in or out of the bedroom. Sounds like you should be one of them. Anal sex can be really awesome—if you’re into it. Don’t let stupid cultural hang-ups hold you back.

3)  My current boyfriend is older than me and has been with WAY more people than I have. This doesn’t matter to me at all—the only reason I include it is because I feel like the sex could be better. He’s a super sweet guy normally, but he’s selfish in bed and it’s frustrating. I don’t understand how he’s been able to get away with it with all these other women for so long! I know I need to talk to him about this, but I don’t want to offend him. (I’ve also made the classic rookie mistake of pretending to like the sex so far, oops.) How can I bring this up without really hurting his feelings?

Dr. Zhana: You’d think that someone who’s had sex with lots of partners would be a fairly good lover, but that’s not always the case. Unfortunately, we live in a world where women are not taught or encouraged to demand their sexual pleasure from their male partners; we sort of expect that the man knows what he’s doing and what’s good for him should be good for her, and also that sex ends when the guy comes. Thanks to these horribly harmful social scripts, lots of guys—especially those who are particularly good looking, charming, or well-endowed—never learn to please their partners properly. And each new encounter where the woman doesn’t complain or ask for something better further reinforces the guy’s sense that he doesn’t need to do anything more or better.

You want better sex? You have to break the cycle for your boyfriend. There are many ways to ask for things without hurting his feelings: Present your requests as suggestions, desires, and preferences (e.g., “Next time, could you try to do X?” “I really love/enjoy when you/men do Y to me…” “I think I’d like it if you…” “I actually kinda prefer Z to W”), rather than criticism (“You’re doing that wrong!”). You can express these needs before sex, during sex, or after sex; and you can express them verbally (e.g., “Could you go down on me some more before you put that beautiful big cock inside me, honey?;” “Would you put two fingers in me? Instead of moving your fingers in and out so fast, can you try the ‘come hither’ motion? That’s how you can hit my g-spot”) or nonverbally (e.g., push his head gently down to your crotch when you want oral sex; grasp his hand with yours and guide two of his fingers inside you). You can present them as a fun, exploratory experiments for both of you to embark on (e.g., “Wanna try and figure out if I can squirt? Let’s try X, then Y, then Z….”). And of course, if he ever comes before you do, ask him to do whatever you need him to do so you can come too (oral, fingers, toys…)

If you’re not trying to be a bitch about it, his feelings shouldn’t get hurt. And if he can’t take constructive criticism without getting his ego bruised, well, he needs to grow up.

Whatever you do and however you do it, please, please ask for what you need. Yes, men have the responsibility to try and please their partners (as well as themselves). And most men would really like to do that. But they are not psychic; they need help in figuring out what gets women off. So you have to speak up. You have to take responsibility for your pleasure.

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