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. She teaches multiple courses at IU's School of Public Health 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.
Dear Dr. Debby & Sarah,
Let's get real: does size matter? -MeteredPeter
S: What the hell do you want me to say to that? No? Do you want me to lie to you like that, reader? The fact is that size matters, but not in a universal "bigger-is-better" kind of way. There's a whole boatload of socialized expectations that come with every sexual encounter you'll have in your life. One of the more unfortunate ones is that penetration is supposed to be this instant affirmation of your sexual chemistry, like some Avatar-esque joining of magical glowing braids that binds you for life. Unfortunately, here on 2014 Earth, we're just bodies with nerve endings and sticky-outie parts and holes and sometimes you have to try putting the parts and the holes together in different combinations (yoga may be required) until it feels good for both partners (unless you're a total jerk). But for the most part, it's not really an issue until there's a seriously mismatched, hot-dog-in-a-hallway/bratwurst-a-keyhole situation, in which case, you might need some professional advice.
Typically when men ask me this question, what they are actually asking is, "Is my penis big enough?" The only person who can answer whether your parts are the right fit for their parts is your partner. Chances are, though, your size is fine. Here's why. Although penises come in various shapes and sizes, most cluster toward the middle. In a study my research team at Indiana University conducted, we found the - of 1,661 men who measured their erect penises - the average erect length was about 5.57 inches (consistent with other studies). The average erect circumference was about 4.8 inches. Averages are only slightly helpful, though; more important is that the majority of men are within an inch or so of these numbers. Though some men are 2 inches erect and some men are 9 inches erect, most are somewhere around 5 or 6 inches erect. This works out nicely for vaginal intercourse between women and men because the average vagina (at about 3 or 4 inches unaroused) stretches fairly comfortably and easily to 5-6 inches when aroused. A few more key details about size and fit: just as most penises are similar in size, so are most vaginas. Even the vaginas of women who have had babies, in spite of whatever myths/lies you may have heard. Feeling very sexually aroused (and thus well-lubricated) may make some women feel less sensation during intercourse, and their partners may feel their vagina is "big", but it's not - they're likely the lucky partner of a very aroused, responsive woman. Couples who feel like fit is a problem can usually improve sensation or comfort through more or less lubricant, different sex positions, communication, pace, and/or sex toy use.
I'm 23, a woman and still a virgin! It's not a religious thing, I've just never... done it. Now I'm into my mid-twenties and I still have my V-card and it's starting to become A Thing. How do I deal with it with boyfriends? Help! - Anonymous
S: Let's just pause here for a quick minute and talk about the concept of virginity. Let's put it out there: it's totally BS. There are a lot of things that I've never done before, like shoot a paintball gun or race a camel, and I don't refer to myself as a "camel race virgin" or a "paintball virgin." That having sex is made out to be this enormously transformative personal experience just proves how much silly expectation we as a society have built up around sex - doing it, not doing it, doing it differently, doing it really differently. It's not "a thing." Or, rather, it's as much of A Thing as you want it to be. My advice is to learn to file that personality trait in the same mental location you keep other mundane facts about yourself, like shoe size and blood type. Date people who you feel like you can have open, emotionally honest conversation with about absolutely everything, sex included ("dialogue" being the operative, two-way word), and don't walk around like you have an enormous neon sign over your head that says, "VIRGIN: PENISES PROCEED WITH EXTREME CAUTION."
According to our 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, in which we surveyed a nationally representative probability sample of Americans ages 14 to 94 about their sex lives, about 30% of women and 15% of men ages 20-24 had not yet had vaginal intercourse (which is how most people define virginity even though, as Sarah rightfully points out, there are lots of kinds of virginity, including oral and anal). Try not to make it a big deal and do find a situation that feels right to you. There's no reason at any age to have sex you're not into. And when you are ready for it, try to relax and make it what you want. Sometimes sex is super fun the first time, sometimes it's meh. Also, sex is rarely orgasmic for women the first time they do it (unless perhaps you're been using your V-years for serious masturbation practice time?) just like many men experience premature ejaculation or erectile problems during their first time. It usually gets better with practice, though - and that practice can be lots of fun.
I hate condoms, but I know I need to wear them. They make sex way less fun for me but my girlfriend insists. How do I make them feel better? - Dan
S: Condoms are just the best kind of awful thing, aren't they? No babies, no diseases, and oh, yeah, also less sensation for the person wearing it, yet allows sex to be relatively (but not completely) consequence-free. A girlfriend of mine once dated a guy who would go limp at the sight of one, like a dog running under the bed when he hears the bathtub filling up. However, I also used to really hate wearing jeans because my mom bought me the kind with a high waist and no stretch, but she had the car and the money so I just thought jeans were uncomfortable and accented your FUPA until I was 16. The point is, like jeans, sometimes you have to experiment with brands, materials, and shape to find a condom you can't wait to put on (or at least won't make you dread the process to anxious flaccidity). Dr. Debby has tips for that too.
Your girlfriend "insists" - sounds like you've got a smart girlfriend who wants to be a parent only if/when she and her partner are ready for it and she's being safe about sexually transmissible infections (STI). Maybe you can be more excited about how smart and protective she is? A few options: the female condom takes some getting used to but some men really like how it frees up their penis to enjoy sex. In an independent test I ran for a men's magazine a few years back, the Trojan Ecstasy condom received rave reviews from the men in our study, and that's another option (its unique baseball bat shaped design gives the penis more breathing room and thus greater sensation). Adding lubricant to the outside of the condom once already on the penis can also add more sensation for both partners. Be safe, have fun!
My boyfriend tells me I'd be "perfect" if my breasts were just a cup size or two larger. He has offered me breast augmentation as a Valentine's day present and has promised that it won't be as painful since they're not going to be much bigger. What should I do?
S: You should set him on fire and roast marshmallows over the flames.
There's no reason to change your body to make someone else happy unless that changes is what YOU want. Also, breast size doesn't many anyone more or less perfect. And breasts change over time anyway! They change in size with weight loss and gain. And gravity does its own number on breasts. Plus, a little known secret is that breast augmentation (boob jobs) often reduces breast sensation. Even among natural breasts, women with A/B cup breasts often have more sensitive breasts than C/D cup women, likely because smaller breasts keep the nerves closer together and more concentrated. Enjoy your sensitive, perfect-as-you-are breasts and be wary of anyone who doesn't love you as you are.
Got questions for Sarah & The Doc? Email us at email@example.com.