Monday, March 31, 2008

Contraception

I have a question from a female friend; she and her boyfriend are in a long term relationship. They're both serious about it and there's not really any risk of STD (since it's a single partner situation) so she was looking for an alternative contraceptive that would allow her and her boyfriend to have sex without a condom. What would your recommendation be, how reliable are the various options, and how safe are they?

As a biologist I know a fair amount, but I'm sure you have more specific knowledge of this than I do, so I thought I'd ask the expert.


Before they decide to go on an alternative form of birth control they should both get tested to find out if they are both disease free and keep in mind that 1. Sometimes certain STIs won't show up on a test for 6 months after it has been contracted and 2. There are some STIs that may not have tests like HPV in men and some STIs that aren't automatically tested for like herpes. When they go in to get tested they need to specifically tell the doctor/nurse that they want to be tested for HIV and Herpes as well.

If they are both clean then they can start thinking about what kind of birth control she wants to be on. There are several on the market, some are more effective than others and some have more side effects than others. Any hormonal forms of birth control are going to have more side effects than non-hormonal forms, but they will also be more effective. If a woman is over 35 or smokes she should not use hormonal forms of birth control as they increase the risk of blood clots and stroke.

First, the hormonal forms:
The most used form of birth control in the US is The Pill. There are many many different brands of pills out there with different hormone dosages. Finding the right one can be difficult, but worth it to find one that works well with a woman's body chemistry. The goal is to find the pill with the least amount of side effects that actually makes life easier, not more difficult. A woman's doctor or nurse should work with her to find the right dosage. Some possible side effects include: nausea, weight gain, fatigue, moodyness, loss of sexual desire, depression. The Pill is about 99% effective when used correctly. If you cannot remember to take your pills at the same time every day then they will not be anywhere near as effective. They are also less effective if you take St John's Wart or are on antibiotics.

If you cannot remember to take your pills every day at the same time there are a few other options. The NuvaRing is a small plastic ring that a woman inserts into her vagina that emits a low dosage of hormones. The ring is kept in place for 3 weeks and then on the fourth week the woman must take it out to allow for her period. After that week is over she puts in a new ring. The NuvaRing is just as effective as The Pill if used correctly and also has the same side effects. This option should not be used if a woman is at all squeamish about touching her genitals or feeling around inside of her vagina. It may also be more expensive than The Pill and is not covered under a lot of insurance plans.

Another option is The Patch, Ortho Evra. This is a patch that is placed on the body for a week at a time for 3 weeks, with a week off for your period. The patch sends hormones through your skin and into your blood system. The patch has more estrogen in it than The Pill and may cause more side effects because of that. It is as effective as The Pill if used correctly. There is risk of The Patch falling off if a woman leads an active (read: sweaty) lifestyle and if this is not noticed right away it can increase risk of pregnancy. The Patch can also cause irritation to the skin where it is applied.

Another option is Depo Provera. This is a shot that the woman gets once every three months. If a woman has a difficult time remembering to do the above three options then depo may be a good option. However, depo is in your bloodstream for 3 months, which means that you are stuck with any bad side effects that you may have for three whole months. This can be unbearable for some women. Depo is, however, very effective since there is very little risk of human error. It is about 99% effective.

There are two types of IUD (Intrauterine Device), hormonal and non-hormonal. The hormonal type is in the shape of a small T, is made out of plastic, and releases progesterone into the body, which thickens the cervical mucus making it difficult for sperm to reach the egg and also by changing the lining of the uterus so that a fertilized egg cannot implant. The device is inserted by a doctor and can be used up to a year. It is 98% effective, but should only be used by women in longterm monogamous relationships as the IUD can cause severe complications if the woman contracts an STI. This caution should also be noted for the non-hormonal IUD as well as the IUS, which follows.

The Intrauterine System (IUS) is very similar to an IUD but the big difference is that it releases a small amount of the hormone levonorgestrel into the body that thickens the cervical mucus which makes it difficult for the sperm to reach the egg. It has to be placed into the uterus by a doctor and stays in for up to 5 years. The IUS is 99% effective.

Non-hormonal options:
The diaphragm, like the condom, is a barrier method, which means that it blocks the sperm. Unlike a condom though, the diaphragm is put into the vagina, covering the cervix so sperm can get into the vagina, but not into the uterus or fallopian tubes. Diaphragms need to be fitted by a doctor and they are a lot less effective than hormonal methods. The chance for human error is also greater. Diaphragms should be used with a spermicide, which makes them more effective, but spermicides can also be harmful to the delicate tissues of a woman's vagina. Diaphragms with spermicide are about 86-94% effective. If a woman chooses this method she should not feel squeamish about touching her genitals or reaching inside of her vagina.

The cervical cap is a lot like the diaphragm, but instead of simply covering the cervix, it is fitted to snuggly cap the end of the cervix. The cervical cap should also be used with a spermicide and is about 84-91% effective, but that effectiveness goes down if the woman has previously given birth.

The sponge is a soft disk shaped device made out of polyurethane foam and contains the spermicide, nonoxynol-9. As stated above, spermicide can cause harm to the tissues inside of the vagina. It doesn't effect all women, but if a woman has had problems in the past she should not use this method or any of the non-hormonal methods mentioned above. The sponge is a bit easier to remove than the cervical cap, diaphragm, and NuvaRing because it does have a small loop attached for ease of pulling it out. But if a woman is at all squeamish about touching her genitals, she should still not use this method. The sponge is about 84-91% effective depending on correct usage, but that effectiveness goes down if the woman has previously given birth.

The IUD, or intrauterine device, is a small t-shaped copper device that is placed into the uterus by a doctor and left for up to 12 years. This device is very effective and there are a few theories as to why exactly. Some include the device's material and some include the shape of it. But basically what any woman needs to know is that it prevents pregnancy by making it practically impossible for a fertilized egg to implant itself in the lining of the uterus. It is about 99% effective. This device should only be used by women in longterm monogamous relationships for the same reason as described above for the hormonal IUD and the IUS.

The last 2 non-hormonal methods are the Rhythm Method and the Withdrawal Method and I really advise against both unless you are a couple who doesn't particularly want to get pregnant, but wouldn't mind it if it happened. These are methods that should never be used by young people as they do not have enough self control. The rhythm method is when a couple only has sex when a woman is least likely to get pregnant. The withdrawal method is when the man withdraws his penis from the woman's vagina right before he ejaculates so that he does not get any sperm into her vagina. Neither of these methods are very effective, but can increase the effectiveness of any of the methods listed above.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Condom Comparison: Trojan, Mamba, and Babeland

Here is that condom comparison blog I have been promising. This is the first time this young man has reviewed anything, but he is always bugging me about free condoms so I thought I'd make him work for them this time.

A little background info:
All three condom types are latex.
The Mamba condoms were provided by Babeland in the Eco-Sexy Kit. The blurb they include about them is "Made of silkiest feeling latex you'll find in a condom, the Mamba is a snugger fit than our others. The Swedish manufacturer's testing process is 15 times more stringent than any other condom company in the world. So the Mamba is not only built for sensation, it boasts a Volvo-like safety record."

The Babeland condom was provided by Babeland (obviously) in the Bunny Love Kit. There is no info about these condoms on the website, but the back of the wrapper said that it was studded.

Trojans are what this guy normally uses so he is comparing those to the aforementioned condoms.

And on with the show ...

The first condom is one I normally use: lubricated Trojan-ENZ. I use this particular number because I know it, I trust it, and it is easily found in virtually any convenience store. The material is latex and has a good amount of lubricant. The packaging can be difficult to open. This is troublesome especially when you’re girlfriend/date is getting out of the mood, or you have a time limit. While partaking in the act, it pretty much does what it is supposed to do: keep you out of parenthood. Clean up is a hassle as some of the excess fluid tends to seep out of the rim. I just figured all condoms were like this so I really didn’t think much of it. Until I sampled these next two brands: Mamba and Babeland.

I’ve never heard of either, but I was willing to try something different. The first thing about Mamba that tickled my fancy was that the packaging was really easy to open. You just tear it down the center. No more hassle and no more lost opportunities for me or my date. The fit is very comfortable as it conforms to the contour of the penis. It feels and operates like any other condom; however, taking it off is the money maker. The head end of it is larger than your everyday condom as it is more bulbous in shape. This is beneficial during clean-up because it traps all of the fluids in the head and reservoir tip. A good experience overall.

Mamba’s performance was notable, thus I was reluctant to try the Babeland-branded condom. However, for the sake of writing this comparative article, I gave it a shot. This one was different from the two I talked about because it was a studded condom. The package was very similar to that of the Trojans, therefore a little more difficult to open quickly. As for the usage, I had to consult my partner since it felt the same to me. She said that she can really feel the “little bumps” and enjoyed it overall. The bad part is that she may never let me use regular condoms again. The good part is that we both enjoyed ourselves; a goal that some sex partners struggle to achieve, especially in longer relationships. As a whole, the Babeland condom is a quality product.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Spontaneous Orgasm

How and more importantly why do men sometimes ejaculate without having an erection?

Further information was provided after I asked some more questions, specifically:

Without erection at all, arousal being anything from nothing to an unusually stunning person. Right before, my testicles get very ticklish and there's a euphoric tingling sensation. This usually happens while sitting down.

This question took me a really long time to get around to answering. The reason for this is because I'd actually never heard of this before and when I talked to the medical professionals that I know (and also someone at Planned Parenthood) they were all pretty puzzled. In researching I have found some information that may help you though.

An erection is not required to have an orgasm or to ejaculate. While they are all often tied together in our minds because they all usually happen together, there are different things going on in each and none are required to make the other one happen. However, this is mostly talked about with men who cannot get an erection.

When it comes to spontaneous orgasm it looks like the most likely culprit is antidepressants. There have been studies done that show that spontaneous orgasm is actually a side effect to antidepressants including: Wellbutrin, Paxil, Prozac, and Celexa. Most of the studies have been done on women and some report having as many as 15 spontaneous orgasms per day with very little or no stimulation whatsoever. So if you're on an antidepressant that may be what is causing it. Either way though you should probably go to a doctor and get yourself checked out. Spontaneous orgasms, especially ones where you ejaculate, can become pretty embarrassing in public situations.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

News

There have been a couple really interesting articles in the news lately. I thought I'd share them both as I feel they are both really important to sex, sexuality, and gender.

The first is an article about sexually transmitted infections/diseases. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently found that one in four teenage girls has an STI. This is a scary scary finding and one that points to the inadequate sex education that kids are getting in school. Abstinence-only education does not work! We should be teaching kids that abstinence and masturbation are the only ways to not get an STI, but if you do choose to have sex there are ways to reduce the risks. If you're interested in reading more about this you can look here.

The second article was a piece put out by the New York Times about gender and transmen at women's colleges. It is a really well written piece that I feel everyone should read. I think it does a great job of explaining how these men feel and gives them a voice to also explain for themselves. Read it for yourself here: "When Girls Will Be Boys"

And in other news, this blog has gotten its first syndication over at an adult networking site CreativeFilth.com. Go check it out!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Eco-Sexy Kit


Speaking of high quality feminist sex toy shops, here is another review of a kit that Babeland sent over for me to review.

The kit is The Eco-Sexy Kit and includes a Laya Spot vibrator, a massage candle, matches, Emerita Natural Lube, and 3 Mamba Condoms.

The Laya Spot is an ergonomic, battery-operated, hand-held vibe made by Fun Factory. Fun Factory is a company that sex toy lovers should keep an eye on. They are a German company that makes high quality, innovative, colorful, fun sex toys. The Laya Spot is no exception to this. It comes in lots of different colors; mine is lime green and magenta. It is made out of elastomer which is durable, hypoallergenic, and soft. It is porous so it can't be sterilized but this is not as big of a concern since this toy is only for clitoral stimulation and can easily be wiped down with soap and water.

But enough of the technical details. What you really want to know is how this toy performs. With 8 different speeds and 4 different pulsations almost anyone is bound to find a setting they enjoy. The controls take some getting used to, but after you figure them out (the toy comes with a manual) they are pretty intuitive. And unlike many vibes on the market that shut off when you keep pressing the button to make the vibe go faster, the Laya Spot does not turn off after you've hit the highest speed. As far as intensity goes, the Laya Spot is pretty good for a battery-operated vibe, but if you're used to a plug-in like the Hitachi Magic Wand it will only be good for a warm-up. The Laya Spot is great for partner sex as it is easy to hold and small enough that it won't get in the way. This is a high quality sex toy that would make a great addition to anyone's collection. Or am I the only one who thinks of sex toys as collector's items?

If you have never heard of or tried a massage candle you absolutely must go out and get one. I first started hearing about these little wonders a couple years ago and absolutely love them. If you don't know, massage candles are made out of soy wax which melts at a lower temperature. Light the candle for a few minutes, blow it out, and then pour the melted wax/massage oil onto your partner for a nice warm massage. Because the wax melts at a lower temperature, the wax is not scalding hot like most candle wax. One thing to keep in mind with massage candles is that they will stain your sheets so put an old towel down under your partner before giving them a massage.

Babeland carries these candles in a variety of scents including Chocolate Hazelnut, Mango Vanilla, Mojito Peppermint, Rice Flower, and Jasmine Ginger. I received the Chocolate Hazelnut, which smells really good, although a bit strong for my sensitive nose. The one thing that I did not like about this candle was the taste. I'm not saying you should be able to eat the stuff, but if you want to kiss your partner in the places you massaged earlier it is preferable for it to have either a nice taste or barely any at all. These massage candles taste awful. There are massage candles on the market with a better taste to them. If this doesn't bother you though, these candles are wonderful. Sending matches along with the candle was a nice touch.

The water-based lube that came with the kit was Emerita Natural Lube with Vitamin E. Emerita is a woman-run company based out of Portland, OR which seems to focus mostly on health and wellness products for menopausal women. I don't know about its claim of being natural (at least one of the ingredients cannot be found in nature), but I do know that natural doesn't always mean better. It is paraben-free, which is a preservative that may cause reactions in some women. It does have glycerin which some believe can cause yeast infections for women who are prone to them. Glycerin also leaves a sticky tacky feel after the lube dries up. It has vitamin E in it, which if you like that is fine. I personally think that additives like this are silly and unnecessary, but if you think they make a difference then that's great. This lube is of a medium thickness, which may make it ok for anal play and it is long lasting. It has an odd smell to it and its taste is a little on the sweet side from all the sugar alcohols in it. This wouldn't make it into my top favorite lubes, but I do like supporting woman-run businesses.

The Mamba condoms are, according to Babeland's website, "produced by a well-regarded Swedish non-profit whose testing process is 15 times more stringent than any other condom company in the world!" Sounds promising. I wasn't able to try them, but I have a male friend who will be comparing these condoms to a Babeland condom and his usual Trojans in an upcoming blog.

All in all, a pretty great kit, but what about this "eco-sexy" part Babeland is claiming? What makes these products more socially and environmentally-friendly?

Well, Fun Factory vibes are durable so they should last a long time, meaning that you will be creating less waste by buying fewer vibes. Their packaging is also a lot more environmentally friendly than many sex toy companies that like to wrap their toys in big plastic blister packs. Fun Factory toys are wrapped in a small amount of plastic which consists of pollution-free PET material. They are then housed in cardboard boxes that are sized perfectly for the toys. The packaging even reminds you of how to dispose of batteries in an environmentally-safe way.

Not sure exactly how the massage candle is "eco-sexy," but it is most likely vegan. Although I have not found anything that claims it to be so, so don't quote me on that one.

Emerita is a woman-run company, which we love and they claim that the lube is vegan and not tested on animals.

The condoms are made by a non-profit company with a higher standard of safety than any other company. Keeping the world disease free and doing it all without the goal of making a ton of cash in the process is definitely eco-sexy. Plus the company is in Sweden which is a very liberal and peaceful nation.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Sex Toy Shops

Some of you may have noticed that I have an affinity for woman-run sex toy shops, but many people may not know why or what the difference is between your average sex shop and a woman-run feminist sex toy shop. These are important things to know especially when you may get suckered in by websites that are advertised on sex-positive TV shows like Talk Sex with Sue. I understand that getting sponsors is important, but if it were me on that show I would make sure that my sponsors were in line with my ideologies. The website I speak of is TabuToys.com. I'm singling out tabutoys, but there are many many sex toy shops on the web that fall into this category.

These types of shops often advertise themselves as being some of the largest on the web. They boast about their huge selections. That may sound good at first, but stop and think about what they're really saying. They are boasting about the quantity of the sex toys they are selling, they are not boasting about the quality. I personally prefer a sex toy shop that will guarantee me quality sex toys; toys that do what they say they're going to, made from quality materials that are safe.

Sure you can buy quality merchandise on these websites. It does exist, but you can't always tell between quality toys and crappy toys because these sites are indiscriminate. They don't care if the toys are crappy, they only care that they're making money. This is a big problem for people who don't know what to look for in a sex toy and are going to be convinced by whatever toy has the best description.

Woman-run feminist sex toy shops need to make money too, but they are also very concerned about the quality of their sex toys. They test toys before they decide to sell them in their stores and will only sell toys that meet their standards. If down the road they find that a certain sex toy keeps prematurely breaking they will stop selling it. They sell toys that are made of superior materials that are safe and pleasurable.

Now unfortunately there are actually woman-run toy stores that don't follow these standards so you can't always go by the website's "about us" section. So what is the best way to tell if a store is really interested in only selling you quality goods? Go to their lube section and look for a desensitizing anal lubricant. If they are selling one or more then they do not care about your safety. You should NEVER numb your anus in order to have anal sex. If something hurts there is a very good reason for it. You could do a lot of damage if you don't stop anal play that hurts.

Here is a list of sex toy shops that I approve of:
Babeland
Early to Bed
Good Vibrations
Holistic Wisdom
Tulip
Smitten Kitten
Womyn's Ware
Venus Envy

If there are any others that you know of feel free to leave a comment.

There are also many other reasons I don't like sites like tabutoys.com, but we won't get into that ... at least not during this rant.