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Archive for September, 2017

If you visit the Dame Products website, the first thing you notice is that it is young, hip, straightforward, and unapologetic. The second thing you notice is that the company’s co-founders, Alexandra Fine and Janet Lieberman, are very smart. Janet, in fact, has a degree in engineering from MIT, and Alex has a master’s in Social Work, specializing in marriage counseling and sex therapy, from Columbia.

Their company is on a mission: “to design well-engineered sex toys, to heighten intimacy, and to openly empower the sexual experiences of womankind.”  And they aren’t kidding.

From their first meeting in June 2014 until they crowdfunded Eva, their first vibrator, on Indiegogo, raising $575,000 in six weeks, Dame Products has been on a tear.

What you notice about that first product, Eva, is that it is small-ish, unobtrusive, and kind of weird-looking—somewhat bug-like. And that it doesn’t come in pink. (There is, in fact, very little pink anywhere on the website.) Eva does come with wings, which are designed to be tucked inside your labia, making it a hands-free device during sex. In fact, the pressure of a partner’s body during sex ratchets up the sensation, according to one reviewer. (We hope to offer the Eva soon.)

Eva was followed by Fin, which we’ve just added to our shop, a two-finger device that comes with a detachable “tether.” You can either slip your fingers through the tether (for those of us lacking in the manual dexterity department) or use it without.

Both are high-quality (medical-grade silicon), carefully designed products made by women for women—an idea whose time is long overdue. Dame aims to uncouple sex toys from the provocative and erotic—the “male gaze”—and toward an everyday tool that actually works for women. “We want them to be like something from Ikea, not the lingerie shop,” says Fine. Tellingly, its products aren’t shaped like dildos, which don’t actually stimulate the clitoris. These ladies understand that female orgasm can be finicky and that the action has to be in the right spot.

Another element that distinguishes these vibes from many others is their low-tech simplicity. You can’t program a playlist with it or choose among a selection of designer vibrations. There’s a button on top and a choice of three speeds. Easy peazy. “Because that’s what women were telling us they want,” says Fine.

Although the brand has a young, millennial sensibility, chances are that the over-50 customer will appreciate it for the same reasons as her younger cohort: it’s petite and attractive; it’s practical; it works; and Eva, especially, is designed with couple sex in mind. Not to mention being the first fully-female-designed brand on the market, which we all appreciate.

Expect to hear more from Dame. A dedicated department—Dame Lab—is soliciting ideas and comments from women—and men—for future products. Do the vibes need more power for older users? Do you have suggestions that might make it better? Talk to the dames. “We welcome feedback,” says Fine. “The community really drives our ideas.”

Personally, I appreciate a company that’s unapologetic and passionate about designing quality sex toys. It’s time these products move from the realm of the semi-kinky to something that we all can talk about and use without embarrassment. These dames are doing a good job making that happen.

They call it the “female gaze.”

 

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I’ve got good news and bad news for you. The good news is that you’re just like 75 to 80 percent of women! The majority of women are not able to experience orgasm only with vaginal penetration or stimulation. Most of us need direct clitoral stimulation to orgasm, whether that stimulation is oral, digital, or with a vibrator.

You asked. Dr. Barb answered.A recent journal article on this topic described one factor of influence was the distance between the clitoris and the vaginal opening (read more in this blog post). A few millimeters can make a difference to how orgasm is experienced–and that’s an unmodifiable factor! Since each of us is individually made, the bad news is that if you haven’t experienced vaginal orgasm by now, you’re likely not going to.

There’s one option for you to try: Some vibrators, like the Gigi2 and the Celesse, are shaped specifically to put pressure on the “G spot.” If you’re one of the people for whom orgasm can happen through G-spot stimulation, one of those vibrators can help!

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I’m so sorry to hear of your childhood experience. Women—and men—can definitely move forward successfully from this history, but not without a good therapist. I recommend that you find a therapist as soon as possible specifically to address your molestation history, and a sex therapist would be best.

Your health care provider may be able to refer you to a specialized therapist in your community, or you can go to ASSECT’s (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists) website, where they have a referral directory that lets you specify your location.

You deserve fulfillment in this area of your life, and seeking a professional to help you navigate could be life-changing. I urge you to seek this professional assistance!

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Humankind has been trying to cover up its natural odor ever since we crawled out of the cave. Maybe this made sense when bathing was considered dangerous and soap was made from animal fat and wood ash. But in our obsessively hygienic and more enlightened time, why all the fuss about odor, specifically that of our nether regions? And why all the products meant to make our bottoms smell like a spring breeze, whatever that means? (Watch this Saturday Night Live clip for a hilarious take on the topic.)

As far as I can tell, these products follow a long, inglorious line of more or less successfully convincing women that they stink. In a 1930s ad, the “Love Quiz” asks why her man is avoiding his lovely wife’s embrace. The answer is that he’s no longer happy in the marriage because she’s neglected “proper feminine hygiene.”

The solution? “Every wife can hold her lovable charm simply by using ‘Lysol’ disinfectant as an effective douche.” Yeah, that Lysol.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Eighty-odd years later, have we really come such a long way? We may not be squirting floor cleaner up our yoni, but there are no lack of products on the market to camouflage our natural odor. Now, just as back in the day, the intent is to make us feel self-conscious and embarrassed about ourselves. To shame us into buying products we don’t need and that sometimes aren’t good for us.

Dr. Barb's book, Yes You Can: "Sound, reassuring, medically approved advice."Our vaginas don’t smell like a spring breeze, nor should they. Our vaginal smell comes from a delicate balance of certain bacteria called lactobacill—the same bacteria found in yogurt. When you think about it, a natural vaginal odor has that same slight pungency. In the vagina, lactobacilli produce lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide, to give us a slightly acidic garden that works with our bodily ecosystem to keep out bad bacteria and the fungi (yeast) that produce the really smelly stuff, sometimes accompanied by a ferocious, burning itch.

While our vaginas are quite resilient, if enough lactobacilli are killed off by medication, those nice-smelling douches, excessive sugar in our diet (encouraging sugar-loving yeast), trapped moisture in our crotch, or even blood or semen, which are fairly alkaline, the resulting bacterial mash-up can cause both odor (fishy or foul) and itch.

In that case, your doctor may advise treating the bacterial or fungal infection or using an over-the-counter product, like Balance Moisturizing Personal Wash, to restore the natural pH balance in your vagina.

Vaginal smell can also be affected by:

  • Sweat glands. We have a lot of them in the crotch area—the same kind as those in our armpits. Just so you know, sweat is basically odorless, but the bacteria living on our skin like our sweaty selves and produce yet another substance that gives sweat its distinctive odor. Wear cotton panties, take a shower, and change underwear after a workout. Let your crotch breathe—don’t wear tight clothes or pantyhose; go pantless when you can.
  • Medications. Obviously, antibiotics can change vaginal flora. If you take antibiotics, ask your doctor about replacing vaginal (and gut) flora with probiotics, yogurt, or RepHresh. Antihistamines can dry the vagina. Some herbal therapies can change vaginal odor.
  • Foods. If certain foods, such as asparagus, garlic, or curry, make your urine smell, they could also affect vaginal smell. No reason not to eat them, they just create a temporary odor.
  • Hormonal changes. The vagina is exceptionally sensitive to hormonal changes, as you probably know all too well. Menstruation, hormone therapies, birth control, even sex can change the bacterial garden. Loss of estrogen during menopause makes vaginal tissue thin and dry, thus more susceptible to bacterial and yeast infection. With menopause, we may have to adjust our vaginal housekeeping somewhat with regular use of vaginal moisturizerstopical estrogen, and sexual lubricants.

Left to its own devices, our vaginas are hardy and self-sufficient. They wash away dead cells and grow new ones. They don’t require special hygienic measures—just the normal shower wash of the external parts with warm water and a gentle soap. Just make sure the soap is fragrance-free and not antibacterial.

I’m betting that by now most of us have grown comfortable enough in our own skins and with our own natural smells not to be overly influenced by commercial messaging. Not that it is any less relentless, nor is there any lack of products and procedures to alter our appearance. By and large, we’ve just become wiser and less susceptible to the barrage. So maybe pass along the message to our younger sisters that they are beautiful and smell fine just the way they are.

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Recently I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Joan Vernikos for my podcast series “Fullness of Midlife,” which are conversations with interesting people about health, love, life, and meaning. Dr. Joan was director of Life Sciences at NASA until 2000 when she “retired” to write and speak (some retirement!) about some of the groundbreaking research she had conducted from her special perch at NASA.

You can listen to the entire interview here, but I wanted to also distill the pertinent bits for MiddlesexMD readers.

As you might imagine, the effect of gravity, or lack thereof, is a fundamental concern for scientists at NASA. Astronauts are exposed to low-gravity environments, sometimes for months at a time, which has wide-ranging and deleterious effects on bones and organs, blood and cardiovascular systems. During her time at NASA, Dr. Joan specialized in the effects of gravity on the human system.

But here’s the thing: Dr. Joan came to understand that gravity operates on earthbound humans in similar ways! When we are upright and moving around, we are subject to the full effects of gravity pulling us to the center of the earth vertically. But when we are horizontal, lying in bed, for example, gravity’s pull is spread evenly throughout our bodies and is much less intense—similar to the experience of astronauts. “…The changes that accompanied lying in bed… 24 hours a day… are very similar to those we see in astronauts. Granted, maybe a little less intense,” said Dr. Joan.

Interestingly, these metabolic changes don’t happen when we sleep at night. Normal sleep appears to have a restorative, “detoxing” effect on the body and the brain, which is also important to good health.

The body is designed to move all day long...Since the few astronauts who actually spent time living in micro-gravity were harder to find than subjects willing to lie in bed, Dr. Joan began studying the effects of long stretches of time spent horizontally. She found, for example, that after about four days “very significant changes” began to happen in the way her subjects metabolized fluids, in the cardiovascular system, and in stress responses. Of course, as with astronauts, these changes mostly were reversed when the test subjects got up and walked around or the astronauts came back to earth, and gravity took over.

Then, Dr. Joan visited a friend’s elderly mother who was bedridden, and she realized the low-gravity changes she’d been studying looked a lot like aging. Was there a link between our increasingly sedentary culture and the symptoms of early aging? Dr. Joan feels that the chronic diseases of the elderly—diabetes, cardiovascular problems, obesity, bone loss and muscle wasting—are happening at younger ages, even in childhood, because we no longer allow gravity to do its work. We sit too much and move too little.

Dr. Joan hypothesized that the body is meant to move all day long, and in the not-so-distant past, that happened pretty naturally. Our grandparents “…bent over and reached up and made beds and cleaned and washed and gardened. And went and bought groceries and walked home or rode a bicycle, or whatever.”

Following several studies, Dr. Joan feels that simply standing up is “fundamental” to countering the effects of inactivity. Simply standing up and then moving around reverses the micro-gravity effects of lying in bed—or of aging. Trouble is, we don’t live like our grandparents. More likely, we sit for hours in front of one screen or another in the office and at home. Then, if we’re disciplined, we might exercise a few times a week.

Exercising, while good in itself, isn’t enough to counteract the effect of sitting around for hours every day. Our bodies are designed to move, to work against gravity. That, not sitting, is our normal state, the result of eons of evolution.

After her 2011 book, “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals,” was published, a slew of new research supported the hypothesis she’d developed from her work at NASA: Long periods of inactivity have deleterious health effects. “…sitting makes worse absolutely everything. Whether you’re talking about cancer—prostate, breast cancer, cardiovascular conditions, stroke, metabolic conditions, diabetes, obesity—you name it, it makes it worse,” said Dr. Joan. (Here, for example, is NPR’s report on recent studies of aging subjects. The conclusion? If you don’t walk now, you might not be able to later.)

So, what should we do, especially if we’re still working and chained to a desk all day—but even if we’re retired and reading or knitting? Fortunately, the solution is simple. “Stand up!” says Dr. Joan. Go to the water-cooler, the bathroom, just take a break every 30 minutes or so. You don’t need to hop on a treadmill or take a 30-minute walk, just stand up and move for a few minutes. You won’t lose weight or tone your muscles with this regimen; it isn’t meant to take the place of exercise and a healthy diet, but it’s a good habit to develop if you regularly sit for hours every day.

Gravity is your friend, says Dr. Joan. Embrace it!

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In a sense, the most “natural” replacement for lost estrogen is estrogen, which is a prescription product (like Premarin or Estrace vaginal cream, Estring, Vagifem, or the non-estrogen Osphena).

You asked. Dr. Barb answered.If, for a number of reasons, you prefer not to take that path, the next-best option is to maintain vaginal tissues by using a moisturizer regularly, two to three times a week. Moisturizers are designed to bring more moisture–no surprise–into the vagina to prevent the progressive dryness that occurs in menopause with the absence of estrogen.

Both Emerita and Prevaleaf Oasis are natural vaginal moisturizers.

One more option might be an oral nutritional supplement, Stronvivo, which some research shows improves vaginal moisture. It does this by improving blood flow, and that circulation also supports tissue health.

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Oh, I feel for you. You say you have pain (and no doubt other symptoms—like fatigue and depression) from lupus, fibromyalgia, and Sjogren’s syndrome. You see your lack of interest in sex becoming a larger problem in your marriage as the difference between your sex drive and your husband’s increases.

The first order of business is to find a health care provider with whom you can discuss this aspect of your health. The pain you mention may be generalized pain from the autoimmune conditions you have, or it may be pain with intercourse. Painful intercourse is nearly always a treatable condition, so addressing that if you experience it is critical.

You asked. Dr. Barb answered.The harder issue is the “desire discrepancy” you describe in your marriage. While the situation is not uncommon, your additional health issues add a degree of difficulty. Assuming any issues with painful sex have been addressed, there are some medications that can be helpful for low libido: Addyitestosterone, and Wellbutrin, to name a few. Your health care provider can help you understand if any of these can be an option for you depending on your health history and other medications you’re taking.

For more about low libido, you can read this blog post on the emotional component and this one that includes an overview of the condition and common causes. It could be helpful to read these to have some terminology in mind when you meet with your health care provider.

The situation you describe might best be addressed with a (sex) therapist—perhaps not a dedicated sex therapist but one who has expertise in health-related relationship concerns. (Here are two blog posts on sex therapy: one I hoped would demystify it and one that explains how it works.) Your health care provider is likely to be able to direct you to someone with experience to assist you and your husband as you navigate this significant challenge.

Best of luck in reaching some common ground!

 

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