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THE SEXY TIMES, THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’…

THE SEXY TIMES, THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’…

The female body - and what turns you on - can change throughout your lifetime… and even from week to week. Sex ed specialist Alix Fox explains how.

You are not a statue. You are not made of stone. Your body is a wonderful, fascinating, complicated, intricate living thing, that changes, grows and develops all the time. How it feels and behaves is affected by millions of different interacting factors.

It makes perfect sense, then, that what turns you on might not be set in stone either. What feels good in bed or what brings women to orgasm can change through life, and even from one day to the next.

That’s why it’s important to keep experimenting, try new things, be self-aware, and view learning about your body and your sexual pleasure as an ongoing voyage of discovery.

Here are some of the influences that can affect women’s sexual urges and responses, tha can be useful to be aware of so you can consider how they might affect you, as a woman, achieving orgasm.

The menstrual cycle

Several studies suggest women’s sex drives tend to increase just before and during ovulation, when levels of estrogen and luteinizing hormone reach their peaks, so you may feel at your most frisky and interested in getting intimate midway between periods*. Some people find they’re more likely to orgasm around this time, too, or say their orgasms feel stronger. You might find it intriguing to keep a diary, noting down what you notice each day to help you understand (and make the most of!) your own personal patterns.

After ovulation, estrogen levels start to drop. Estrogen does many jobs in the body, including helping to keep the vaginal tissues moist, so at this stage you might spot that you produce fewer natural secretions and your vagina feels drier. A few drops of lubricant, like Durex Play Feel, can help make your bits feel wetter and movement feel better during sex and self-pleasure.

When your period is due, PMS may put you off doing anything even vaguely X-rated. But other folks actually find that the way their genitals and pelvic area swell just before they come on make them feel intensely turned-on: they feel more ‘plumped up’ and deliciously sensitive to even the most delicate touches.

During menstruation itself, having an orgasm can help relieve cramps. When you climax, the body produces two feel-good chemicals, the endorphins oxytocin and dopamine, which are natural painkillers. The uterus contracts during orgasm too, which can expel blood and uterine lining from the body faster, potentially making periods a touch shorter**. Nifty!

Durex condoms help make play less messy when you’re on your period, as well as safer: the risk of contracting an infection can be higher at this time as the cervix is more open, so make sure you keep a box by your bedside. And did you know you can use them to cover sex toys as well as penises? Not only do they make clean-up quicker after you’re done having fun, but varieties like Durex Intense Orgasmic condoms can give your favourite battery-operated buddy a new, exciting boost: they’re ribbed, dotted, and coated with a stimulating gel to give tingling, warming or cooling sensations – slip one over a buzzing vibrator for a mind-blowingly multi-sensory experience!

Stress

Anxiety can quickly make you feel much more like curling up and hiding beneath your duvet than rampantly rolling around between the sheets.

When you’re worried and tense, your nervous system releases a stream of stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol, which are designed to prepare your body for emergency fight-or-flight action against whatever’s troubling you. It’s a protection mechanism, but in the modern world it’s not always as helpful as Mother Nature intended it to be. And it can certainly make your libido limp: stress hormones deliberately suppress the production of sex hormones because your body thinks it’s more important to deal with ‘danger’ than procreate. They can also mess with your metabolism, making you feel sluggish and sleepy.

Aside from these chemical effects, stress can be a massive distraction, making it difficult to get into the right headspace to make love and to relax enough to enjoy it. Mental tension can trigger physical tension and tight muscles, too, which can make penetration painful – increasing anxiousness even further.

If you can manage to have a pleasurable sensual session, though, sex can contribute to relieving stress, by prompting the release of endorphins that elevate your mood. Try going for a walk with your partner in the fresh air; watching a TV show that makes you laugh; treating one another to a massage; or sharing a warm bath to wind down before you begin.

Entering your thirties

Did you know that you may well find it easier to have G-spot orgasms once you enter this era? Around the age of 30, your body’s overall production of estrogen starts to decline, which has a range of effects – but one of them is that the walls of the vagina become slightly thinner. This can make the G-spot area more exposed, sensitive, and simpler to stimulate. So, there are benefits to aging after all!

Pregnancy

So long as your doctor gives you the go-ahead, there’s nothing wrong with a little bump ‘n’ grind while you have a baby bump. Women’s experiences of how their bodies feel during this immense time of change can vary dramatically: while morning sickness and aching are common, many mums-to-be also report soaring sex drives due to hormone surges, while the development of fuller, more sensitive breasts and increased blood flow to the genitals can result in more intense sensual sensations.

Childbirth

Although some doctors and midwives advise*** new mums not to have intercourse until after their six-week post-natal check-up, there are no set rules, and the time it takes every woman to heal will be highly individual, depending on how smoothly their labour went and whether it was a vaginal or caesarian birth. Worries about pain or ‘looking and feeling different down there’ afterwards are totally typical; gently exploring on your own before resuming partnered sex can be reassuring, as can remembering that ‘different’ does not equal ‘bad’. Kegel exercises can strengthen strained vaginal muscles, and lashings of lube (like  Durex Play Massage 2-in-1 Aloe Vera) are essential.

And remember: the best lubrication is communication! Men can be afraid of sex hurting their lovers after childbirth too. Give him some guidance on what feels good to put him at ease about how to please.

Menopause

Cultural taboos mean that we still only tend to hear negative whispers about hot flashes, sleeplessness and mood swings with regard to the menopause. It’s rare to hear conversations about how ‘the change’ affects the sexy side of life.

Yet in fact, regular sexual activity can help offset a lot of the health challenges post- menopausal women face, by boosting circulation to the genitals; toning pelvic floor muscles; and working to maintaining the elasticity of the vaginal tissues.

Hormone therapy, long-acting vaginal moisturizers and lubricants can help counteract issues like a decrease in the natural stretchiness and wetness of the vagina. And not having to deal with the inconvenience of periods any longer has obvious benefits! Just be sure to use condoms like Durex Invisible Extra Lubricated with partners unless you’ve both been tested negative for STIs, even if pregnancy is no longer a risk.

Medications

Various medicines can have side-effects that impact sexy stuff. For example, some anti- histamines can make your vagina drier. Some anti-depressants can make it more difficult to climax. And some hormonal birth control can (ironically) lessen your libido and make you feel less lusty. Speak directly to your GP if you have any questions or concerns about how certain meds might be affecting you in bed****.

*Bullivant SB1, Sellergren SA, Stern K, Spencer NA, Jacob S, Mennella JA, McClintock MK. “Women's sexual experience during the menstrual cycle: identification of the sexual phase by noninvasive measurement of luteinizing hormone.” J Sex Res. 2004 Feb;41(1):82-93. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15216427

Pillsworth EG1, Haselton MG, Buss DM. “Ovulatory shifts in female sexual desire.” J Sex Res. 2004 Feb;41(1):55-65. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15216424

**http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/hidden-health-benefits-sex/story?id=16278890

"When a woman orgasms, her uterus contracts and, in the process, rids the body of cramp-causing compounds," explains Meston. The increased number of uterine contractions can also help expel blood and tissue more quickly, helping to end your period faster, she adds.

Cindy M. Meston, Ph.D., is director of the Sexual Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin and coauthor of Why Women Have Sex. 

http://labs.la.utexas.edu/mestonlab/cindy-meston-ph-d/

***http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/postnatal-check.aspx

**** "Over-the-counter cold and allergy formulas contain antihistamines that dry out the mucus membranes in your nose, as well as your vagina," says Alyssa Dweck, an ob-gyn in Westchester, New York, and co-author of V Is for Vagina

https://www.amazon.com/Vagina-Guide-Periods-Piercings-Pleasures/dp/1612430155?tag=cosmopolitan_auto-append-20&ascsubtag=cosmo.article.56619

Anti-depressants: http://www.mdedge.com/currentpsychiatry/article/64123/depression/how-do-ssris-cause-sexual-dysfunction

Alix Fox

Alix Fox is a multi award-winning journalist, broadcaster and sex educator. She fervently believes in open, honest conversation about sex, and thinks everyone should have access to dependable information to help them become their most liberated, healthy, happy sexual selves.