According to Miranda Kerr, Lara Stone, Isabeli Fontana, Karlie Redd, Carolyn Murphy, Linda Blair, Naomi Campbell, Rita Ora, Candice Swanepoel, Sara Sampaio, Amy Adams, Erin Heatherton,
Everything You Need to Know About Sex in 2017
We all want to have great sex. To follow our desires. To ﬁgure out what feels good, and how to ask for it. To be present. Connected. At peak firework emoji. The search for all that, though, can be complicated, and most of us have questions: WTF do I like? Why do I know more about what gets a guy off than what gets me off? Is everyone doing that thing I saw in a porno on my phone? In this special section, we’re going after answers—starting with 12 queries on all our minds now. Read, respond—and shake off any shame you feel about going after whatever it is you want. Fun times await.
Here’s what sex ed for women should really include.
The sex ed at my artsy middle school was probably the best an American kid could hope for: I actually heard the word condom. But a lot was left out—desire, consent, LGBTQ issues. As a result I ended up adrift in a sea of hormones with no idea what to do with myself. Here are seven things I wish someone had taught me before I had to learn them the awkward way:
Women want sex. This was never mentioned to me by anyone, ever. I learned about erections, but nothing about my own body’s potential for arousal. At 12 I was told that if a guy moved too fast, I should tell him to stop. At 16 I started to wonder: Where are these guys who move too fast? Can I get their numbers? I had never been told that I might want sex.
And men can say no to sex. Guess what: Guys don’t always want it! I was floored by my first experiences with sexual rejection, because I thought saying no to sex was something only girls did, like going to the bathroom in groups and wishing their dresses had pockets. An understanding of consent is crucial to having sex with people of any gender.
Desire is important, but so is communication. Most of my early sexual experiences were fumbling and unsatisfying because I hadn’t learned to talk about what I wanted with a partner. I just tried to beam my thoughts into their brain—or whatever characters in movies do when they have beautiful, romantic sex in silence. In real life, though, you have to say what you want and what your boundaries are. The first time a partner said, “Tell me what you want to do,” I was like, “Um…sex?” Not a sufficient answer, folks.
Sex shouldn’t be painful. If penetration hurts, either you’re not turned on, you need additional lubrication, or you have a condition that you should talk to your gynecologist about. Usually, though, the answer to uncomfortable sex is to go slower and use more lube. Always more lube.
Queer and trans people exist! At least a couple of kids in every sex ed class are going to grow up and learn firsthand that there are ways to have sex that don’t involve one penis and one vagina. I was one of them. Wouldn’t it have been awesome if my sex ed class had acknowledged my existence?
Which reminds me: Vaginas are acidic. This seems like an interesting but inconsequential piece of trivia until you try to finger-bang someone while you have a hangnail. I keep a box of latex gloves around—your partner should too.
Masturbation is always there for you instead of bad sex, unsafe sex, or sex with someone you don’t want to have sex with. I remember being 20 and on a date with a boring dude, gritting my teeth through uninspiring conversation because there was a chance I’d get laid, when it dawned on me: I have a vibrator! I can just leave! The clouds opened and angels sang. If I’d been taught earlier in life that I was not only capable of but actually entitled to safe, healthy, and enjoyable sex on my own, I might not have suffered through the boring date at all.
Emma Koenig—the anonymous (till now!) editor of the popular Tumblr feed How to Make Me Come—has heard it all.
I am not a sex expert. I’m not even a professional pussy whisperer (although how cool would that business card be?). But recently one of the focuses of my life has been trying to understand the modern female orgasm. A while back, after an uncomfortable sexual experience left me thinking a lot about intimacy, I started asking women for anonymous entries to a Tumblr I called How to Make Me Come.I asked them: Imagine you could give this essay to a past or future sexual partner, free of judgment or repercussion. What would you say? The result became something of an orgasm-ipedia of the endless ways a woman can achieve climax. Some women told me they can come like that [snaps fingers in cool, West Side Story way]. Some women have never had an orgasm. And while that spectrum must be acknowledged and explored, editing 83 essays on everything from masturbation to squirting did reveal a few universal truths, including:
Sex doesn’t live in a vacuum.While plenty of the essays riff on physicality—see “Tongue plus fingers makes me shake all night”—nearly all explore the emotional reverb of hooking up. Makes sense: You’re human, so having sex with another human will impact you in some way, and how we treat one another during the nonsexual moments affects the sexual moments. So many women wrote about how basic, being-a-nice-person things can pay off in bed. As one put it: “Chivalry is the best lube.”
Narrating your hookup is hot.
There’s no such thing as a dumb question during sex. It can be as simple as, “Does this feel good?” or as specific as “Does it feel good when I do x to your y?” And don’t forget to cheer on the stuff you like. Not only does it get all parties on the same page, a little voiceover can be fire: “There’s nothing hotter than telling you what I want and you listening,” wrote one contributor. Another recalled a night that began with her partner whispering, “Nuh-uh. You’re not going anywhere until I make you come.”
If you build it, you will come.So much of being able to climax is about being vulnerable and trusting your partner to take care of you in that moment. Many women who shared their stories said that writing about what they like, dislike, and need in order to orgasm gave them the courage to have real conversations about those subjects with their partner. And they almost always reported that their sex life improved overall.So what do all of these truths have in common? What really gets women off? Communication. I know, it’s not the sexiest concept of all time, but it is so, so important. If we talk about our orgasms, other areas of our lives will improve. And if we talk about other areas of our lives, our chances at orgasm will improve. You just gotta trust me on this one: I’m an amateur pussy whisperer.
Writer Liza Murphy road tests the controversial vaginal gemstone.
After a Tinder date last fall, I was watching a video on the “twin flame” theory on YouTube—was my date mine?—when it eventually autoplayed into an explainer about the yoni egg practice: Slip this polished crystal inside your vagina and get better, stronger orgasms. Wha?!
It seemed freaky—good freaky. I’m able to orgasm with partners, but it takes a long time (and often one specific position). Anyway, I ordered one. Before the egg ($60) arrived, I brought it up with my gyno. She told me to look up Layla Martin, a yoni egg advocate, to learn the basics.Here goes: A yoni egg supposedly activates and strengthens your vaginal muscles. Some people wear one during the day; others, at night. There are plenty of cons to the idea (some of which you may have read about after Goop’s controversial yoni-egg post last winter): Many pelvic-floor experts say the benefits are just hype, and there are no studies to determine efficacy or safety. And the egg (like other things inserted into the vagina) could cause toxic shock syndrome, especially if you leave it in too long.
Some users complain of cramping. But my gyno wasn’t against it, so I decided to go for it. I started putting in my egg (similar in size to a quail egg) at night—no more than eight hours—and taking it out in the morning.Each time it inspired me to get more in touch with my body: I would ask myself, What do I want, sexually, right now? Not long after, on a trip to Israel, I hooked up with this guy pretty much every day and orgasmed every time. I’m not naive; maybe the yoni egg was a placebo, and the real reason for the orgasms was my being much more in touch with my sexuality. But one thing is for sure: I was more tuned in to my pleasure, and that is a good thing.
Madeleine Holden has more than 4,000 penis photos in her inbox. No, it’s not a bad dream—she asked for them, through her Tumblr, Critique My Dick Pic. Men send images seeking feedback, and Holden delivers. Let’s discuss.
Why did you start the site?
“One day, after getting a good dick pic, I realized I’d never been happy to receive one before. I joked that there should be a public service telling men what they’re doing wrong and made the site that afternoon. It blew up.”
What have you learned overall about men through their submissions?
“Men go through a lot of the body insecurities we do—around weight or hairiness—in addition to concern about dick size. Often men send their exact measurements, like ‘4.55 inches in girth.’ They really overthink it!”
What do you think women want to see in a dick pic?
“We’re looking for more than one body part—a clean setting, a narrative. It doesn’t have to be complex, but it should be more thoughtful than a dick in a hot dog bun (I’ve seen it).”
Any suggestion for how to respond when the image is welcome and good?
“That’s when you get out a string of heart-eyes and clap emoji.”
Meet (and thank!) the women who helped normalize our desires, whatever they may be.
1971: The Boston Women’s Health Book Collective gives an early clitoris how-to. Our Bodies, Ourselves demystifies the clit: “Feel your outer genitals until you hit upon the most sensitive spot,” it reads. And if you don’t orgasm during intercourse? “You should not feel inadequate or ashamed.”
1973: Erica Jong coins the phrase zipless fuck. Her book Fear of Flying immortalizes a rip-off-your-clothes kind of sex, pioneering the idea of liberation for women. “Zipless because when you came together…underwear blew off in one breath like dandelion fluff,” she wrote.
1976: Joani Blank hails sex toys. A year before opening her sex-toy shop, which became a trusted resource for women, Blank wrote Good Vibrations, a guide to orgasming with a vibrator—or, in seventies-speak, “buzzing off.” She suggested the Hitachi Magic Wand, then the brand-new Cadillac of vibrators.
1982: Audre Lorde gets real about sex with women. Her autobiography, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, helped normalize lesbian sex simply by describing it: “Her body answered the quest of my fingers, my tongue, my desire to know a woman, again and again.”
1992: Madonna praises anal. The Queen of Pop’s erotic-photography book shows her simulating sex with men and women in many of the photos. But raciest of all is her edict on the joys of anal sex: “The most pleasurable way to [have sex],” she wrote. “It hurts the most too.”
2004: Jenna Jameson pulls back the curtain on porn. Her memoir How to Make Love Like a Porn Star is explicit about her sex scenes. In one, a costar “slammed” her so fast and hard that “trying to maintain eye contact with him was like trying to read Dostoevsky [sic] on a roller coaster.”
2017: Slutist touts shameless sex positivity. The feminist website has become one of many elevating young women’s voices on pleasure and consent as well as sexual expression and freedom. How will female sexuality evolve in the next decade? That’s for you to decide.
Three questions—designed by a sex therapist who knows her stuff—will help you find out.
On her way to becoming a sex therapist, Brittany Lacour has racked up quite a résumé. She has studied lab rodents humping (rat porn is her phrase), worked as a dominatrix at the Dungeon of Mistress Jasmine in New York City (just for research!), and done comedy at the Dangerous Theatre (known for its sexually-charged shows) in Denver, where she now lives. As part of her therapist certification, she also completed the Sexual Attitude Reassessment (SAR), a semi-nar designed to help counselors uncover their own biases before they treat others. It was so revealing she agreed to adapt it for Glamour.
More: Now take the sex therapist quiz.
That’s short for asexual, and Beth Damiano knows what it’s like.
I came out as bisexual when I was 15 and have slept with both men and women. But at 28 I still don’t understand why everyone is like, “Oh my God, sex is so great.” I can masturbate and orgasm, but I’ve never wanted sex with someone else. It’s not for lack of foreplay—I’ve had plenty!—or because my partners are clueless (I know my body well enough to help, thank you). Nor is it about “finding the right person.”
I’ve been so in love I was practically hyphenating my partner’s name with mine, wondering how many kids we’d adopt. And still, during sex I lay there, looking for patterns on the ceiling. It’s like, Is it really going to take you this long? Nothing is happening for me. Two and a half years ago I came across an explanation for my disinterest on Tumblr: I learned I am asexual.Asexuality is on a spectrum, from people like me who feel sexual attraction only once in a blue moon to those who are totally repulsed by sex. As with any other sexual orientation, asexuality is not a disorder or a pathological problem; there is no medical test or treatment for it.
When women in a relationship ask me, “Well, I’m not big on sex either; am I asexual?” I tell them: “If sex has always been a chore or obligation, maybe. But if there’s an actor, a guy at a bar—anyone—you do want to have sex with, you’re probably not asexual; you’re just not feeling it for the person you’re with.”I have to admit, dating has been tricky. I let anyone know upfront I’m asexual (I’ll say, “I’m comfortable kissing and cuddling, but anything further would need to be discussed”).
But I look at it this way: My grandparents have been together 68 years. Even without sex (he’s in hospice), they share a deep and abiding love. Someday I hope to find that.
Try to count the examples of female-centric sex scenes in films, where a woman’s desire leads the encounter, where a woman achieves orgasm. Try hard. Chances are, you haven’t filled an entire hand. In film, sexuality and desire are still mostly coded as male. “Women feel desire all the time; it’s just not represented in film,” says Sarah Barmak, author of Closer: Notes From the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality. “Sexy women have been a building block of cinema since the silent era, but women’s experiencing pleasure or, God forbid, an orgasm in film, is much more rare….Mainstream film is a reflection of the language our culture has around sexuality. In the narrative now, men push sexual encounters forward, and women are the objects of sexual desire.” Or as director Dee Rees sums it up: “A woman’s pleasure is always framed as her submission.”
The studios founded what is now the Motion Picture Association of America in 1922; its ratings board self-regulates movies in lieu of government interference. Most films that get released in theaters are rated by a panel of primarily anonymous reviewers—all of them parents—who Joan Graves, chairman of the ratings board, says are representative of America. Filmmakers aim for PG-13 or R ratings (the more explicit NC-17 limits audience size and financial success). The board has one rule around sexuality: “Any sex-related nudity is usually an R rating,” says Graves. But otherwise, she says, “there are no written guidelines.”
Critics of the ratings board say it has a double standard—favoring male pleasure over female, heterosexual sex over same-sex sex (which Graves denies). “I don’t see them as evil, but I don’t see them as trying to change anybody’s mind, either,” says Jon Lewis, distinguished professor of film studies at Oregon State University, who has studied the ratings board. “They are a reflection of American values.”
In the new Netflix docuseries Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On, coproducer Rashida Jones explores how technology is transforming sex. (The series drew controversy after some subjects said they hadn’t given filmmakers consent to feature them, which Jones disputes: “We take consent very seriously, and I understand that these are deeply personal issues,” she says. “That said, all footage on the series was obtained legally.”)
Here, her thoughts on a world with porn- and Tinder-equipped phones:
Glamour: One episode features a man who ghosts on the women he met on Tinder. “This is a superficial app, so therefore my behavior is incredibly superficial,” he says, but “it does not represent me as a person.” What is that disconnect?
Rashida Jones: Technology has made it OK to not be accountable. We don’t have to face the reality of what we’re doing…. It’s [also] dehumanizing. Your Tinder app is next to your Amazon cart. So you’re putting toilet paper and razors in your cart, then flipping through profiles. It creates a marketplace feeling.
You directed an episode on female porn creators. How does porn change when women direct?
RS: In most porn you’re concentrating on the female character by design. Men would rather have a “floating dick”; it’s easier to project themselves onto the sexual act if they don’t see the actor’s face or hear him talk. A woman behind the camera is a different gauge. She’s going to focus on what she considers arousing.
What tech can women use in a sexually empowering way?
RS: Indulge in porn as a way to discover your own sexuality. [A porn favorite: .] I think women should do that more. It’s a great tool to explore what turns [you] on.
Actually, Glamour editor Justine Harman found the adult programming of her youth to be rather enlightening.
As a kid I watched a lot of television and movies intended for adult audiences. And I mean a lot. Though my parents drove a hard line on things like making my bed or eating only two Oreos in one sitting, there was little regulation on the amount and type of entertainment my older brother and I consumed. Dan and I were the second wave of offspring for both of our parents, and any preciousness in their child-rearing methods had been long eroded. A move to Los Angeles after my mom’s older kids went off to college in 1991 left me, Dan, and the cable box to our own devices. Mom and Dad worked late.
By seven I was hooked on Beverly Hills, 90210. Though references to suicide and drug use often went over my head, I was very aware of the series’ linchpin plot: Kelly and Brenda both wanted to ride Dylan’s surfboard. By third grade I was heavy into Æon Flux, a dialogue-free cartoon about a scantily clad lady assassin who was unabashed in her pursuit of sex and justice. Rated-R films I screened included Kalifornia, Poetic Justice, and My Own Private Idaho. In 1994, when I was 10 and Dan was 12, Playboy TV (yes, it was a thing) switched to 24-hour programming. From matching futons we spent hours drinking diet soda and watching women strip down for an ahead-of-its-time cam show.
Though I hadn’t yet developed a feminist radar or even a social-weirdness one (what do you mean it’s strange to watch soft-core porn with your brother?!), I’d argue that this early exposure did not mess up my worldview, as you might assume—it was actually quite beneficial to my development. With each version of sexuality I saw, I picked up another morsel of information about what it means to be a desired female being. Sure, some takeaways were not so good (for one, that my developed body should be like the women onscreen, both impossibly sinewy and supple). But I also encountered things I couldn’t yet make sense of. So whether it was Fergus’ lust for a trans woman in The Crying Game, Dawn Wiener’s curiosity about rape in Welcome to the Dollhouse, or Dionne’s “techni-cal” virginity in Clueless, I filed it away the same way I had the 90210 love triangle: automatically and without bias. When I recently emailed Mom for her take on my juvenile viewing habits, 20 years after the fact, she wrote back: “Yikes! Did not know. Feeling sad that it didn’t occur to me to block stuff, but frankly don’t like the idea of censoring.” Then: “I’ve never watched the Playboy Channel. Had to be pretty yucky, right?” Yes and no, I guess.
Unlike freshmen who get to college never having chugged a beer and end up puking all over the quad, by the time I entered my own experimentation years, I had seen everything, so I was surprised by nothing. As a result of my highly visual sex education, I actively took learning my body into my own hands. I asked my mom to help me get birth control, because I’d seen what happens when young women don’t. I didn’t balk when I saw a dick in real life. Hell, my very first real sexual encounter was my idea. And when the boy I was on my bed with said, “You don’t have to,” I was able to look at him and say, confidently, “I want to.”
Teledildonics—that’s the science of app-connected sex toys—promises to let you feel your partner from thousands of miles away. One couple put it to the test.
My husband, Kale, and I pride ourselves on our willingness to try pretty much anything in bed at least once. Now, thanks to some pretty futuristic sex toys, we can even say we’ve had sex without touching each other.
The tech is called teledildonics, and it has the potential to let people truly engage in virtual-reality sex when they’re apart. At its most basic level, teledildonics connects corresponding toys via the Web; each toy uses haptic feedback (similar to your smartphone’s touch screen) to respond to touch, so your partner feels what you’re doing and vice versa. But can the technology mimic real intimacy? Or does it feel more like sleeping with a sex robot? Kale and I were game to find out.
Candice Swanepoel and Sara Sampaio