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In my last post, I talked about the importance of touch and foreplay, and encouraged you and your partner to talk about where you like to be touched—and how. Here are some top erogenous zones, according to several sources I’ve run across. Use this as a starter kit, and let us know if you discover something new.

Starting from the top:

Head and scalp. Who doesn’t like a scalp massage? Our scalp is loaded with nerve endings and experts say massaging it releases endorphins. This may be more feel-good than erotic, but who cares? Use fingertips, then fingernails to mix things up.

Some lists mention kissing the forehead, which reminds me more of mommy, but that could be sweetly intimate as well. One woman mentioned an erotic link between her forehead and her lower back, which begins “aching to be touched” when her forehead is kissed. Hmmm. Worth a try.

And of course, there are the ears. Blow gently. Make small, firm circles with your fingers along the outer rim. Massage the earlobe. Does that feel good?

Neck. Exquisitely sensitive, even ticklish to some, the neck is worth exploring. Try tongue, fingers, light touch and other textures. “The moment between feeling breath then feeling lips, tongue, teeth is incredible. It’s the combination of anticipation and pleasure foreshadowing what’s to come,” says one woman in this Huffington Post article.

Armpit. I wouldn’t have thought of this one, but apparently, it’s a hottie. Try licking and a somewhat firm touch so as not to tickle.

Breasts and nipples. This body part is too obvious, but the thing about breasts and nipples is that the right touch is orgasmic and the wrong touch is downright painful, so you’ll have to teach your partner how you like it. This goes in spades for women who’ve had a mastectomy. Your partner needs to know if and how you like to be kissed or touched in this area.

Lower abdomen. This part can be highly erogenous for men and women. Use a feather or light touch in circles from the navel. Head south. Men especially like the anticipation of light touch on their lower abs. For men “…the area of the abdomen between the navel and pelvis is a fun area to tantalize, and as blood flows to the pelvis and sexual tension gathers, it’s a good area to simulate,” says Dr. Ian Kerner, a sex expert in New York City in this Woman’s Day article.

Mons. A little farther south on women, Dr. Michael Krychman, a medical advisor to MiddlesexMD, recommends attention to that little mound above our genitals. The mons “… can also be interesting when incorporated into the sexual repertoire. Caressing the hair area or gentle touch to this area can be exciting and pleasurable.”

Inner thigh. “The gift wrapping to his package,” says this source. I say that we women like erotic touch on our inner thighs, too. Breathe, kiss, stroke lightly. It all feels good. Pay special attention to what’s called the “cut lines” in men—those creases where thigh meets torso. Try licking or kissing his abdomen while stroking the cut lines. Kind of like rubbing your tummy and patting your head, but maybe worth the effort for him.

Back of knees. This is an oft-mentioned sensitive spot for both men and women, the back of the knees can be ticklish, and may be more sensitive in men because it’s less hairy. “Some women find this area especially exciting and pleasurable when showered with gentle touch or caresses,” says Dr. Krychman. Try using massage oil on the legs and thighs.

Feet. Ever the focus of fetishists, the feet have their own beauty and sensitivity. What feels better than a foot rub? (Okay. Maybe a scalp massage.) Some people have a direct sexy link from the arch of their foot or their heel. Others just like the yumminess of it all. Why not spend a night on feet?

Or, work up from the feet. Or start at the top and work down. Or… ?

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You already know (you do know, don’t you) that the skin is your largest sex organ. We’ve talked about that, also about how important foreplay is now that we need a little more stimulation to get in the mood.

So let’s get specific about this whole skin thing.

Not all our parts are created equal: Some are ticklish; some are sensitive; and some are very willing to play along with our pre-sex games. We call these our erogenous zones. Since we have many of them, why not spend some time exploring this secret garden with our partner? I’m betting you’ll discover new ways to tantalize your mate as well as to become aroused yourself.

We are each unique. What turns you on may not excite your partner. A ho-hum move for you may electrify him. Men and women each have special turn-on zones that are unique to the gender. Cut lines for men; nipples for women, for example. Gentle touch may be more pleasurable in one place while another may require a firm hand or even a smack. Variations in touch and texture can also be exciting, so don’t overlook fur and feathers or heat and cold.

Women often wish their partner just knew what they like without having to be told (or shown), but let’s get over it. That may work for Christian in 50 Shades, but our real-world guys need a hint. Heck, you may not even know all your own sexy spots.

You and your partner could map out places on your bodies you’d like to touch and explore. Tell each other where you fantasize being touched just so. Make cards with the names of various erogenous zones and draw one or two randomly. Focus on those in your next love fest. Finally, and most importantly, let each other know when a particular touch feels good—or when it misses the mark.

In my next post I’ll list some top erogenous zones, according to several sources I’ve run across.

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Staying Close after Cancer

“Women often shut down emotionally from their partners [after a cancer diagnosis] for a number of reasons,” says Maureen Ryan, sex therapist and nurse practitioner. “Maybe they’re scared; maybe they’re afraid of what’s to come. So they shut down and build a wall against intimacy.”

It makes sense. Survival has suddenly become a priority. You’re faced with complex decisions, a long and difficult treatment with a big question mark at the end. You may already be stretched emotionally and physically with a career and children at home, and maybe other obligations as well. The demands of a relationship seem overwhelming.

Sex? Fuggedaboudit.

While you probably won’t be interested in sex for a while after treatment, staying connected—maintaining the bonds of intimacy—with your partner is critical. “Studies show that if you had a rewarding sex life pre-cancer, that’s the best indicator about your quality of life post-cancer,” Maureen says.

And if you didn’t, maybe this illness will be the catalyst that allows you to focus on what’s important as a couple. In a speech, sex therapist Emily Harrell points to a Canadian study of breast cancer survivors that found “almost half the couples felt the cancer brought them closer.”

Here are suggestions from doctors and therapists for keeping the flame alive through the tough times:

Talk. This is such a tired bromide, but without communication, what do you have left? Set aside time to talk when you usually feel good and are without interruptions—no cell phone, visitors, or television. You each need to share your thoughts, fears, and anxieties. You need to talk about decisions. You need to explain what you need. If either partner shuts down, the other will feel rejected and isolated. This is a fragile time. You need all the support you can get.

Talk about sex—how you feel about it, what feels good, and what you can’t tolerate right now. “It’s important to tell your partner that even if you don’t want [sex] right now, that you’d like to regain your desire again,” Emily says. “You’re hoping to one day feel the desire to be intimate again.”

And don’t forget to talk about the good stuff. “I think the biggest thing is not letting the cancer consume the relationship,” Emily says. “This can… happen to a lot of couples. Try to spend some time not focusing on the cancer.”

Touch. “We need touch from the moment we’re born until the moment we die,” Maureen says. Touch releases oxytocin—the cuddle drug—and that makes you feel better, like a big belly laugh. Touch heals and reinforces connection.

As Mary Jo Rapini mentioned, it’s important not to make assumptions about your partner’s motives for touching you. He’s probably not after sex, just the feeling of intimacy that can drain away without sex.

If touch is painful, Maureen suggests creating a body map. Draw a simple outline of a body, like a gingerbread figure, and mark the spots where you like to be touched. You can even prioritize what feels good, better, best. Also mark with a red X where you don’t want to be touched. This is a graphic, non-verbal aid for your partner.

Finally, sensate focus is a program developed by Masters and Johnson that incorporates gradually increasing levels of touch, from very light, non-sexual touching and increasing over time to include sexual touch. This can be a gentle way to introduce sexuality slowly and at a pace you can tolerate.

Move the goal posts. As we’ve said many times on MiddlesexMD, sex is much broader than the old penis-in-vagina experience. Explore new avenues of sexual satisfaction, from kissing and cuddling to erotic massage. Take it slow. Do what feels good. Take performance anxiety off the table.

Your body may feel and respond differently now, and sex may be different. But this doesn’t always entail less or loss. According to many couples, the sex can be better. In fact, a new study by the Duke Research Institute found that while cancer changes sexual intimacy and function, often for a long time after treatment, this didn’t correlate with a lessening of sexual satisfaction.

“Sex is about connection,” Emily says. “It’s about love; it’s about intimacy, and that can look a lot of different ways. I find that most rewarding skills that couples learn is not having goal-oriented sex, but really just exploring each other without judgment and experiencing each other and the emotions that they really feel for each other.”

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Play Date

We have had a great time listening to and talking with Mary Jo Rapini, our pal+resource for helping us put our minds to our sexuality. We asked her about the advice we hear a lot: Making an appointment for sex. And, she is all for it.

“But it’s not a business appointment you’re making,” she says. “Don’t be confused. What you are making ought to be more of a play date.

“We have to bring pleasure and playfulness back into the bedroom, and back into our experience of sex, especially as we get older. And the nice thing about being older, is — we have more time. No more awkward speed-sex after the kids have gone to bed. If we can make the time for a round of golf, we can certainly make the time to be together, for a half an hour or an hour or three hours, to play, to have fun, to touch and cuddle, and to have great sex.

“When couples come to me for counseling, I send them through their first assignments. It’s very relaxing, by the way, to have homework to do that is broken down into these discreet assignments. It helps people stay focused on one principle at a time, and that helps us relearn more thoroughly, so I wouldn’t skip those first assignments if you are trying this at home, on your own, without a counselor to coach you along.

“Next, I tell them they have to make time for each other, two to three times each week. An hour-long session. Write the appointments on their calendar. They can come up with a cute code-word for it, but it’s got to be on the main calendar they use throughout their week to stay on track. On the morning of a day with a scheduled appointment, they should remind one another that the appointment is coming, and if they can work it out, keep the reminders going throughout the day. Those reminders ought to be playful. They can include lunchbox notes, tantalizing vows, or texts or emails or phone calls. Flowers or candy. Whatever. Just make it obvious that you are thinking about one another, and looking forward to your time together.

“For your first few weeks of hour-long dates, forget intercourse. Use the time to eat fruit and cheese together, with tea or wine, or try a bubble bath, or dancing to music. The important thing is to block the time to spend with your best friend/lover. The time goes fast, so use it to really connect.

“And I tell them they need to prepare their body for this appointment. Men, take a shower. Everybody likes a clean body. Women, take time with your own body, bathing, using lotion, dressing in something that makes you feel good, running your hands over your body. Women take longer to get ready for sex the older we get. Just a little more time for arousal. Both partners, use your imagination to think about the time ahead and replay the sexual talks you have been having.

“When you are ready to include more sexual play, get ready in advance of your “dates” by having your lubes and touch toys, massage candles and tasty things ready for your evening together. Clean sheets when you do plan to make love on your bed.

“That is, pamper yourselves. Make this a special time. Build toward it. Make it important, because it really is important. Make it memorable, and the desire will build with every encounter. In short, make it as good for your imagination as it is for your body, and you can’t go wrong.”

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First Things First

If you follow us on Facebook or on Twitter, you’ve likely seen us posting stuff by and about Mary Jo Rapini, a psychotherapist who specializes in intimacy, sex and relationships. You may have “met” her already in her work with print and television media. She is often consulted as an expert in keeping relationships hot for a long, long time.

Well, Mary Jo has become our friend. She is helping us understand how we can help midlife women get their heads in the game, if you pardon the sports analogy. As they say, the best sex organ we have is our brains. When our sexuality gets away from us, the help of a specialist like Mary Jo can be the best first step to bring it back.

We will sit down with Mary Jo regularly, with our questions, and with yours, too. We caught up with her a little while ago, and put this question to her: If a midlife woman came to you looking for help to reinvigorate or retrieve her sex life, where would you typically begin?

“I will first make her aware that her sexuality is hers to claim,” says Mary Jo. “I want her to understand that her sexuality is one of the gifts every woman is born with. To hand that gift over to someone else to take care of is not only unfair to the person she has given that power to, it’s unfair to her too. When she understands that her sexuality and her pleasure is up to her, not up to her partner, the doors open, and we can move along.

“That’s usually a pretty big piece of the work right there, but I try to move quickly from that point to exploration. Once a woman knows she is in charge of her own pleasure, the next logical step is to find out what pleases her. And it’s surprising, but many, many women don’t know what pleases them because they haven’t spent much time exploring their bodies at all. Either they were trained not to or told that nice girls don’t do that, or whatever. But they haven’t been in touch with their own skin.

“So I try to get a woman to give herself permission to explore her body, explore her sexuality. If women only understood how much their partners really respond to being told what feels good. It’s impossible to do if you don’t know your own body. That’s one good reason to explore. Another is that the more options we have in sexual expression, the less trouble we have with our sexuality as we age. As we lose the ability to perform in sexual expression A, we still have expressions C, D, and E, you know? This is the pragamatic side of exploration and sexual play: Finding more options.

“But to start a woman off, I tell her that her first job is touch. I give her homework: ten minutes a day, sometimes in a nice warm bath, she is to touch her body. With her hands, with a feather, with fur, with scratchy things, with silky things. As many different textures and pressures and places she can find. And she is just to note: What feels good where? What is exciting? She is to do this by herself.

“Even women who have been pretty comfortable with sex, pretty expressive, can be surprised by this exercise, because our sense of touch changes, and what we like today may be very different from what we like in a couple of years. It’s fair to say most of us like different things every two to three years.

“The next week invites a partner into the picture, but we are not leading to sex yet. We are still just touching, but touching one another with different textures and pressures and parts of our bodies.

“Then comes talking, clothes on, outside the bedroom, for 10 minutes a day. Talking about what feels good and what doesn’t. Removing the expectation of sex from this work really helps to keep the couple focused on the importance of touch and cuddle, affection and care for each other’s pleasure. We can be a little too goal-oriented in our sexuality, and forget that half the fun is in the play and the arousal.

“I have some of my favorite toys for this work. A nice feather tickler is especially good for a woman to use, because when she uses it with her eyes closed, the textures can surprise her. So can a mitt made of fur. I like good tasting products that are good for keeping this exploration going, like tasty massage oils and creams and powders. Men, especially, respond to flavored products. I don’t really know why, but it works.

“These first meetings and assignments are there to demystify sex a bit, and maybe reset the target, making it all about feeling good. That helps a single woman who has no sexual partner, and it helps couples who have been happy together for years. Frankly these assignments are good for all of us to do every now and then just to stay in tune with our skin.”

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Gimme Some Skin!

Other than bemoaning wrinkles and slathering on moisturizers at night, who among us pays attention to our skin? Yet, that tough, resilient, and underappreciated mantle that covers our entire body performs a variety of complex and vital functions, not the least of which is to make sex the delicious experience that it is.

Our skin protects us from outside invaders, regulates our body temperature, and acts as the brain’s window to the world. Its outer layer (the epidermis) is stain-resistant and waterproof, yet it is thinner than plastic wrap. The middle layer (dermis) is a web of hair follicles, tiny blood vessels, glands that excrete sweat, oil, and hormones, and nerve endings—lots of them.

“Indeed, the skin is a powerful interface between the mind, the body, and the external world,” writes Dr. Bernardine Healy in US News and World Report. “The emerging concept of a neuro-immuno-cutaneous-endocrine network recognizes the skin as an almost independent, untamable intelligence.”

Not only is our skin the body’s largest organ, but all those nerve endings also make it incredibly sensitive to touch, and we humans need touch in order to thrive physically and emotionally. Touch releases  oxytocin, called the “bonding” or “cuddle” hormone. Some researchers suggest that men may need loving touch more than women, who tend to have greater opportunity for cuddling in the normal course of events.

Due to this exquisite sensitivity, our skin, then, is often considered the body’s largest sex organ. “At the very heart of sex is our need for touch,” writes Sandra Blanton in her doctoral dissertation. And touch is at the heart of our skin’s function. This concept gives us an expansive new erogenous zone—a giant sexual playground—to explore in bold and subtle ways.

Here are suggestions for beginning the discovery:

  • Soft touch. Lightly run your fingers over your partner’s arms and legs or the nape of the neck. This kind of light touch “activates the parasympathetic nervous system, inducing a relaxed state,” according to Barbara Keesling, PhD. It also feels good.
  • Close your eyes. Losing one sense (your eyesight, in this case) makes the others more acute. As you caress your partner (or vice versa), experiment with intensifying skin sensations by shutting down one or more senses. Enhancing the experience is the element of surprise—the inability to anticipate what’s going to happen next.  
  • Tease. The skin on the inner thigh, the belly below the navel, the breast around the nipple, the small of the back—the “almost” zones—is particularly thin and sensitive. Explore with hand or mouth these areas around the target without actually going in for the kill. The anticipatory buildup is incredibly erotic.
  • Be a little painful. As sexual excitement mounts, endorphins are released. These chemicals make us feel good, and they act as natural pain-relievers. At this point, a little spank, a light scratch, a pinch create both an element of surprise as well as increasing blood flow to the skin. As Kinsey Insititute researcher Debby Herbenick writes, “It hurts so good.”

In the end, of course, nothing beats the lusciousness of full-body contact, when all those neural connections are igniting, whether in anticipatory passion or in the tranquil delight of afterglow. Makes you grateful for a little skin, doesn’t it?

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The Nose Knows

We all know how powerful scents can be, from cinnamon rolls baking in the oven to the first lilacs of spring. Our sense of smell, which stimulates nerve endings behind the nose, can trigger many different emotions: It’s tied directly to the part of the brain that’s linked to memory and emotions.

You’ve probably heard of aromatherapy, the practice of using natural oils extracted from botanicals—flowers, leaves, stems, and other parts of plants—to enhance psychological and physical well-being. It’s been around for thousands of years, and as aromatherapy practitioners (and perfume researchers) know, it can also be very sexually stimulating. In fact, it’s referred to in the Kama Sutra, and rumor has it that Cleopatra used a special blend of oils and spices as an aphrodisiac to seduce Marc Anthony!

While I can’t say for certain whether that’s true, I do know that aromatherapy can “spice up” your sex life by helping to set the mood and stimulate desire. You can use it to create a sensual and romantic atmosphere right in the bedroom. It’s easy and requires very little effort. Candles, incense, potpourri, perfumes, and oils all offer a wide variety of soothing scents and can be found anywhere from health food stores to gift shops—and MiddlesexMD.

You’ll probably have to experiment a little to find the fragrances that appeal to you and your partner, but that in itself can be a fun exploration. You could start by using massage oils, combining scents with physical contact.

Scents that are said to be especially enhancing to sexual enjoyment:

  • Jasmine has a “quiet” aroma, which is not only exotic, but calming and comforting, too.
  • Cinnamon is a perfect blend of sweet and spicy (and who doesn’t love it?).
  • Basil also has a somewhat sweet aroma, but very pleasant.
  • Vanilla, soothing and familiar, is used in many perfumes for its universally appealing scent.
  • Rose, the symbol of love, is said to be emotionally uplifting.
  • Sandalwood has a woody, earthy aroma that many find relaxing.

If you’re using oil, remember that a little goes a long way. You don’t want the aroma to be overpowering, just to put a hint of sensuality in the air.

Using scents to enhance your sexual desire can be a rewarding and erotic experience, so if you don’t get it right the first time, try again. Finding the perfect blend will be well worth the effort!

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