by Kate Kelly and Sharon Liao for SHAPE.com
All your most personal sex questions, answered!Chatting about orgasms, lagging libidos, or STDs can be intimidating. So we stepped in and did the asking. Our experts insights may reassure you, surprise you, and even inspire you to turn up the heat on your sessions in the sack.
1. I had unsafe sex. What are the chances I really have an STD? You have good reason to be concerned: Sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with 19 million new cases occurring each year. Unfortunately, infections aren't detectable in your body immediately, so you'll have to wait an anxious week or so before you can see your doctor to get screened for chlamydia and gonorrhea, says New York City gynecologist Carol Livoti, M.D.-and then another three to seven days for the results. "A course of antibiotics will nix these bacterial infections," says Livoti. "But if left untreated, they can cause long-term damage and harm your fertility." You should also schedule a follow-up appointment in three months to get a blood test for hepatitis, syphilis, and HIV.
"These take longer to show up in your system," she explains. There is one thing to address right away, however: Unless you're on the Pill or using an IUD, you should take the morning-after pill (available over the counter) ASAP to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. "You can start Plan B up to 72 hours after unprotected sex," says Livoti, "but it's most effective early." And for the future, stock up on condoms so you always have some in your purse and bedside table.
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2. I'm 30…and I've never had sex. You're definitely in a small minority: According to the National Survey of Family Growth, only one in 53 women ages 30 to 34 is still a virgin. "But there's nothing wrong with waiting, especially if you're abstaining for religious reasons or until you find the right person," says Tammy Nelson, author of Getting the Sex You Want. If you would like to be sexually active and aren't, however, that's a different story.
"As women get older, many begin to panic and feel out of step with their peers if they haven't done the deed yet," says Nelson. "If you feel anxious about your situation, consider seeing a therapist to find out what might be holding you back. It could be fear of intimacy, low self-esteem, or an issue from your childhood." Working through these roadblocks can help you gain more confidence, along with the pleasure and emotional connection that comes from sex.
3. I'm not as interested in having sex as my boyfriend is. "It's normal for one person in a relationship to want sex more than the other at times," says Nelson. And women's desire is more emotionally driven than men's, she adds, "so stress from work or personal issues can take a toll." That's one reason why 9 percent of women ages 18 to 44 confess to having a low libido at any given time, say researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital. But if your sex drive has gone missing for months, the cause might be physical.
"Many medications, such as antidepressants, birth control pills, and antihistamines, can have sexual side effects," says Nelson. You may want to switch to another type of drug. If you're not on an Rx, check your hormone levels, which can be altered by diabetes, hypertension, and other problems; using an estrogen or testosterone cream may help. Once your doctor has identified or ruled out causes, work on raising your drive naturally. Exercising and eating right can help by improving body image and upping your energy-and so can simply going for it. "Sex boosts hormones that promote desire," says Nelson. "It's the best aphrodisiac out there.
4. It hurts when I have sex. Join the club: As many as 60 percent of women have experienced pain during intercourse, according to a study in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. "In most cases, a lack of lubrication is to blame," says Livoti. Birth control pills, antihistamines, and other meds can all contribute to vaginal dryness, but often there's no medical reason. And it can happen at any age. "Plus, the friction during sex can use up your natural lubrication," adds Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., a research scientist at Indiana University and author of Because It Feels Good. Keep a tube of lube by your bed-water-based is best because it's not messy, is compatible with latex and silicone, and it's readily available. But if the discomfort persists after a few romps, or if tenderness is accompanied by a fever or bleeding, it's important to consult your gynecologist. "Irritation at the vaginal opening could signal a pelvic, bladder, or urinary tract infection that needs medication," says Livoti. "And pain caused by deep thrusting might be the result of an ovarian cyst."
5. I'm not really into oral sex. There are two typical reasons why women don't like receiving oral, says New York City sex coach Amy Levine: Their partner isn't skilled, or they're self-conscious that they don't smell or taste okay. For the first issue, point your guy in the right direction by saying, "I love it when you…" For the second, showering is a quick fix. In terms of giving oral, Nelson notes that while some women say they find it demeaning, "many feel the opposite: Pleasuring their partner gives them a sense of power." However, remember that you can contract an STD like herpes or HPV from oral sex, so have an honest talk with your partner first.
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6. I've never had an orgasm. Ten percent of women are in your shoes, according to Rachel Needle, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida. "Letting yourself go can be scary," says Needle. "And the more you stress out about it, the harder it is to focus on climaxing." But it's really worth the effort: Not only do they feel good, research suggests that orgasms can reduce stress, alleviate pain and symptoms of PMS, and may even help you live longer. There's no universal map to "getting there" because everyone is different; learning about your body is key. "Masturbating is the best way to do this," says Levine. "Once you've orgasmed on your own, you'll be better able to guide your partner." Often intercourse alone isn't enough stimulation, adds Nelson, so experiment by using your hands and trying various positions. Don't fret about how long it takes-anywhere from seven to 30 minutes is normal. Just lie back and enjoy.
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by Kate Kelly and Sharon Liao for SHAPE.com