Ask the Sex Doc: Episode 4


We are answering all your questions about all things sex, with less-than-expert advice from NUVO's Sarah Murrell, who has no formal training other than a sense of adventure and a sex-positive outlook on life. Answering with much more authority is real-life sexpert, Dr. Debby Herbenick, who holds both a Ph.D. and M.P.H. from IU and has published more than 75 scientific papers about sexuality. She teaches multiple courses at IU's School of Public Health (including Human Sexuality classes for the past decade) and contributes to publications all over the U.S.; she has written multiple books and blogs for Kinsey Confidential. She also chatted with Managing Editor Ed Wenck about what kinds of questions she gets most often. Got a question? Shoot us an email. Want to ask anonymously? Go to our Tumblr. 

Dr. D & S:

How do I get my wife to have anal sex? She says it will hurt, but we've never tried it and it's something I want to try. She says she wants to but she is scared. - LL, from email.

S: What what in the butt, am I right? I was going to follow this up with a really unsavory anecdote that taught me a valuable lesson about having conversations before taking off clothes, but that's not the situation you're dealing with. The truth is, your lady has a right to be a little freaked out when it's her body that you're going to be entering; no matter how old you get or comfortable with your partner, trying out new moves (let alone orifices) is going to bring up some inevitable anxiety. More importantly though, anal sex requires some preparation and forethought that oral or vaginal sex do not. Luckily for you, LL, Dr. Debby is the leading expert on all things anal.

Dr. Debby:

Here's the thing: anal intercourse (what most people mean when they say "anal sex") hurts a lot of women a lot of the time. Data from our 2012 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior show that anal sex was painful for nearly ¾ of women the last time they had it. That's striking! Though we don't know why the prevalence of anal sex has nearly doubled in the last 20 years, some people attribute it to porn which tends to show anal sex in about 55% of sex scenes according to some research. (By comparison, only about 3% of women had anal sex the last time they had sex.)

Using gobs of lubricant and going slowly can help make anal sex more comfortable and possibly pleasurable. However, if your wife doesn't want to do it, don't pressure her. If she's scared, why are you pushing it? If you're curious more globally about anal play, why not try other non-penetrative or less-penetrative forms? Would you consider asking her to penetrate you with a dildo or her fingers? (If not, and if the answer is you're scared too, then maybe find some empathy for her). You might also explore analingus (oral-anal play) or asking how she'd feel about having her anal area gently massaged or penetrated with a finger or small sex toy. Or you could try asking her what gets her excited (e.g., sex toys, oral sex, role play, other fantasy play, etc). Reading books such as Moregasm or Great in Bed can help you both explore your options, too.

How long should sex typically last? This includes foreplay. - RandomGuy, From the comments

S: This question reminds me of when our interns ask how long a task should take them to complete. Like internships, RandomGuy, knowing when you're done and if you've done well requires a lot of feedback from the person you're trying to please, which will require asking some very direct questions until you learn her body's cues that tell you you're doing it right.

Think of becoming a satisfying partner as a career and not a job, where each experience is more of a skill-learning opportunity instead of leaving your shift at the Candy Shop when your scheduled hours are over. Fill out a performance review for each other every quarter. Hire an efficiency consultant to observe your lovemaking. Wear power suits to bed. In a serious nutshell though, you are done when you're confident your partner is satisfied (assuming that you care about satisfying your partner.) If you're not worried about your partner's pleasure, high-five bro! Mute the TV during the Sportscenter commercials and bore blow her mind and body!

Dr. D: There is no "should" except between partners. One person's perfect duration of sex is another person's warm-up period and yet another person's nightmarishly long marathon of sex. Focus less on time and more on building connection so that you two can feel like you really "get" each other whether it's for one evening or an entire lifetime. Sex research frequently shows that intimacy, connection, and/or psychological closeness are better predictors of sexual satisfaction than things like how long sex lasts. If you're a guy and want to learn how to last longer, check out The New Male Sexuality by Dr. Bernie Zilbergeld. If you're looking to enhance style, technique, or your seduction strategy (regardless of gender), check out Great in Bed or Moregasm and ask your partner what she or he is into. And whatever you do, don't look to porn to tell you how long sex should last as it often goes on far longer than it does for most people in real life. All that said, if you're just into sex stats, people generally - on average - want sex (the whole thing, not just intercourse) to last around 12 to 20 minutes. Keep in mind it takes some people to bring the average down and others up, so there will be people happy with 2-5 minutes of sex and others who want to go longer.

Ever since I started birth control, I have no sex drive. I realize the point of birth control is not to get pregnant, but this crazy! Any suggestions? - From Tumblr

S: Hormones are real sons of bitches, aren't they? Off The Pill, the emotional rollercoaster estrogen straps you into will whiplash you from giggling at an episode of New Girl, then crying at a Feed the Children commercial thirty seconds later. Get on the pill and all kinds of things become wonderfully predictable: your period, your pregnancy chances, your complexion, your mood from week to week. Tada! The miracle of science!

Except you went to all the trouble of paying a doctor put his or her fingers up your hoo-ha so you could get your BC prescription and now it's as worthless as the aspirin-between-the-knees method if your desire is gone. In this situation, you might want to talk to ol Vaginal Puppetmaster in the white coat about this side effect; your doc might want to try a few different hormonal combinations (not all BC brands are formulated the same), but he or she can't know that this prescription isn't working for you unless you speak up. And don't wait! Sex and desire are really important to your health and relationships, so just own it! You want to bang, and you want to want to bang, and both are A-OK.

Dr. D:

There have only been a few studies on how hormonal birth control (mainly the pill, and we need more research on other kinds of birth control) can affect women's sexual function, including sexual desire and interest, and they generally find that a subset of women experience lower desire when on the pill. There are many different kinds of birth control pills, and it may be that some formulations have more of an effect than others (or are less likely to impact sexual desire), but currently we lack good research that compares each type. It's far more of a guessing game, and trial and error, than I wish. I know it can be frustrating. You can ask your healthcare provider about trying a different formulation and how long you should give it a go before deciding if it's for you or not. Or you might try other methods, or combinations of methods. For example, you and your partner could use condoms plus withdrawal. Or you could try a non-hormonal IUD. You might even look into the cervical cap, diaphragm, or sponge. Check out to learn about the range of options available to you and your partner so you can reduce the risk of pregnancy and have pleasurable sex, confident that you're unlikely to become pregnant as a result.

Is it possible to desensitize your clitoris? A friend of mine recommended a Hitachi and it's wonderful but I've been warned not to overuse it as it could desensitize the clitoris. Is this true? - Tumblr

S: Look at you, being all coy and using its brand name. Internet-anecdotally, it's known by its truest and most telling brand moniker: The Magic Wand. Here are some other common reactions, paraphrased from online reviews: "Abracadaaaaaaaamn!" "I'm never leaving my house," and "Thus ends my search for romance."

Some people consider it the finest marriage of man (well, woman) and machine. I myself have not experienced its power but, like home-cooked meth, you don't have to Google very far to discover a wealth of experiences detailing its euphoric properties. And just like with meth, while your brain may give your flesh permission to indulge in all the sensory delights available to the modern woman (and boy howdy, are there some options), your flesh has limitations. Setting aside the physical side effects, if you spend all your time taking the bullet train to Pleasure Town alone, you might forget how to enjoy it at regular Amtrak speeds when you're traveling with a companion.

Dr. D:

Of the roughly 110 million adult women in the United States, about 52% have used a vibrator. And our clitorises are doing pretty well. As for the Hitachi Magic Wand or other super intense vibrators, it's a personal decision. Some vibrators feel too intense for some women. Using lubricant and/or putting a small towel between your body and the vibrator may help to make it more comfortable. You can also try a less intense vibrator. I often recommend silver bullet vibrators with multi-speed dials to beginners; check out and They are low-cost and the multi-dial speed allows users to find the level of intensity that's right for them.

As for the sensation part, we don't actually know how vibrator use (or intercourse or hand stimulation or oral sex, for that matter) affects genital sensation over time. But nearly all women are sexually active and more than half have used vibrators and we still tend to have pleasurable masturbation and partnered sexual experiences. To learn more about vibrators and other sex toys, and how to use them safely and pleasurable alone or with a partner, check out my first book, Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction, in which I devoted an entire chapter to them.

Got questions for Sarah & The Doc? Email us at


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