Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction

Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction

by Debby Herbenick
Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction

Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction

by Debby Herbenick



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In our sophisticated, liberated, Sex and the City age, women are eager to enjoy sex to the fullest. But for many women, it's not quite that easy. In fact, Men's Health columnist Debby Herbenick receives thousands of letters and emails from women across the country who admit to having less than spectacular sex lives—and they're looking for advice.

Herbenick is the kind of confidante every woman longs for—a sex advisor who is as approachable as a girlfriend and as knowledgeable as a sex education professor. At the core of her advice is the belief that sex should be fun, satisfying, and intimate—but first and foremost, it should simply feel good. From enlightening lessons on female anatomy to the complicated issue of libido to an overview of sex toys and positions, Because It Feels Good informs women about every aspect of sexual function, providing the knowledge they need to have the sex lives they deserve. This is a pleasure manifesto—and your handbook to a great sex life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781605295091
Publisher: Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 08/18/2009
Sold by: Random House
Format: eBook
Pages: 256
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Debby Herbenick, PhD, is a sex researcher, an educator at Indiana University and the Kinsey Institute, and the founder of the sexual advice blog She writes for a range of magazines and has appeared on the Tyra Banks Show. She is the author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction and the coauthor, with Grant Stoddard, of Great in Bed.

Read an Excerpt


Reclaiming Pleasure

Learning How to Say No Means More Yes, Yes, Yes!

Forget sex without love. Many women--whether they are in love, out of love, avoiding love, or hesitatingly dipping their toes into love--are having sex without pleasure. They might feel stuck in a rut, anxious that they aren't good enough lovers, focused entirely on their partner's desires rather than on their own, or resigned to thinking that adequate sex is as good as it gets. Others may be longing for affection but aren't sure how to reconnect with a partner who seems distant or disinterested. Still other women and men may feel like their sex lives, while not great, are decent enough, and the tips they've heard and techniques they've read about for having bigger, stronger orgasms or more exciting sex have ended up making sex feel too scripted. Rather than being blissfully absorbed in a rich experience of pleasure and intimacy, past attempts at learning new sex techniques have made them feel like they're following recipe instructions or the assembly manual for a piece of furniture.

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, you're not alone. Many people want to improve their experience of sexuality. Fortunately, you have the power--and here in this book, the information--to change your romantic or sexual life in a positive way and create pleasurable, sustainable sex (more on what that means later). Before we get in too deep, however, let's warm up with a little quiz.


1. In a 2007 study of college students, what was the number one reason that both women and men gave for having sex with another person?

a. They felt attracted to the person

b. They wanted to marry the person

c. They wanted to become pregnant

d. Because it seemed fun

2. In the past year, approximately what percentage of women and men likely had a period of several months during which they didn't find sex to be pleasurable?

a. 10% of women and 1% of men

b. 15% of women and 5% of men

c. 23% of women and 8% of men

d. 30% of women and 10% of men

3. Women who approach sex from a perspective of intimacy, calmness, or wanting to learn more about their partner are more likely to:

a. Experience orgasm

b. Masturbate

c. Be single

d. None of the above

4. Sexual satisfaction is most closely tied to:

a. Penis size

b. Relationship satisfaction

c. Sex toy use

d. Being single

Answers: 1) a; 2) c; 3) a; 4) b

How did you do? Did any of your answers surprise you? At the beginning of each chapter, I've included a quiz. The goal of this is to have you start thinking about various sex-related topics and what you'd like out of your sex life. This book, after all, is about celebrating the potential for sex to feel good--not just good as in toe-curling orgasms, but good as in you feel satisfied to the core of your being. It is also an invitation to explore how scientific information about sex can be used to enhance your experience of sexuality and to make intimacy more fun and fulfilling. That's true whether your sex life is shared with a partner, a vibrator, or a bit of each, and whether you are new to sex and relationships or well- seasoned in their ups and downs.

In subsequent chapters, we'll focus on specific topics related to our bodies, sexual arousal, desire, orgasm, sex toys, positions, communication, and various tools that can help make feel-good sex achievable for you. First, however, we'll consider the differences between pleasurable and unpleasurable sex (beyond the obvious fact that one feels good and the other doesn't) and work on getting you more of the sex that you want and less of the sex you're less keen on. Specifically, after reading this chapter I hope that you will:

* Understand how women and men become caught in cycles of dread

* Be able to identify at least one strategy that you can use to prevent (or get out of) a cycle of dread

* Learn how to decline sex in a way that actually enhances your relationship

* Begin to pay more attention to the sensual nature of your sex life--the sights, sounds, scents, textures, and tastes

* Be able to articulate what you want your sex life to look and feel like

I wanted to write a book about the pleasures of sex because over the past few years, I've become concerned that many people have lost sight of how good sex can feel, inside and out. It seemed to me that sex had increasingly become just another thing on many people's to-do (or to-dread) lists. It seemed, too, that certain pressures had developed around sex. Some of these were new versions of old issues, like the pressure to perform (now intensified by a decade of performance-enhancing medications like Viagra) and the pressure to keep up sexually with the neighbors (highlighted in 2008 by the publication of 365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy, a book by a married woman who chronicled her year of daily sex with her husband1 ). When it seems like everyone else is having frequent and amazing sex--thanks in part to medication and exaggeration--many people begin to wonder whether their own sexual experiences are good enough, occur often enough, or are exciting enough.


Over the past few years, I've noticed another growing trend: the suggestion that people should have sex because it is "healthy." As a sex researcher at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, Bloomington, and a sex educator at the Kinsey Institute, numerous newspaper, magazine, and online writers have interviewed me for articles about the "health benefits of having sex" or the "health-related reasons that people should have sex."

Collaborating with journalists is interesting work, particularly because they are a smart and curious bunch, and these stories were intended to help people improve their lives. Yet something about these "health benefit" articles began to frustrate me. Many of the articles seemed to highlight similar lines of research: namely, that having sex can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, boost immunity, relieve headaches, burn calories, reduce cancer risk, and encourage sound sleep. The implied advice was that women and men should have more sex more often--if not to save their relationships, then to save (or at least improve) their health.

The fact is, many of those benefits have been exaggerated or misrepresented. For example, while having sex can potentially reduce stress, it can also increase stress if the participant is worried about infection, pregnancy risk, emotional connection, or sexual performance. And while having sex burns some calories, it is rarely as effective an exercise as running, using the elliptical machine, or even taking a vigorous walk (unless you're having sex in a surprisingly athletic way!).

Don't get me wrong--as a sexual health and public health professional, it thrills me to no end when I read (or am interviewed for) positive articles about sex. Though it is important for women and men to understand the very real risks of having sex so that they can protect themselves physically and emotionally, our society spends so much time talking about the "bad" things that it's easy to forget that most of the sex we engage in is associated with positive, and often pleasurable, feelings or outcomes. When it comes to sex, I think we could all benefit from a more balanced perspective.

That said, and as much as I appreciate the fact that sex can improve health, I have to ask: Are health benefits primary reasons to have sex? The idea of living in a world in which people only have sex to burn calories does not appeal to me. From my perspective, having sex mainly to lower blood pressure is like eating a strawberry only because it is low in calories. Where is the joy in that? Call me a romantic, but toward the top of every person's list of "reasons to have sex," I would like to see the words "Because it feels good." Just as I eat a strawberry for its taste, its texture, and the way the juice dribbles down my chin when I bite into it, I'd hope we could embrace the sensual value of sex. I'm not suggesting that people can't ever have sex to relieve cramps or to help them fall asleep. People have sex for hundreds, probably thousands, of reasons, all of which are highly personal and valid. But most of the time, it should be about pleasure.

In August 2007, at the peak of the sex-for-health craze, I was happy to see the results of a study conducted by researchers from the University of Texas. Of the 237 reasons that college students cited for having sex, the third most common reason offered by women--and the second most common reason given by men--was "It feels good." ("Feeling attracted to the person" and "To experience physical pleasure" were the other top two reasons.) Finally, I thought. Evidence that people don't just have sex to lower their blood pressure! And yet, although the study got picked up by numerous media outlets, articles about the health benefits of sex continued to proliferate--and still do.


Aside from the fact that our society is in the midst of an overall health craze (consider the popularity of yoga, wheat grass, weight-loss reality shows, and smoking bans), I think that one of the reasons why "healthy sex" articles have become so popular is that many people are looking for reasons to feel good about sex in a world that often makes people feel bad about sex. Consider the numerous ways in which our culture makes people feel bad or uncomfortable about sex. Although most young children touch their genitals because they are curious, itchy, have diaper rash, or think it feels good, some parents and caregivers still warn children not to touch "down there," implying that doing so is "dirty" or "bad." Depending on the family, culture, or religion in which a child is raised, there may be other forms of guilt, shame, or embarrassment that come to be associated with sex. As kids grow up, they may be warned about the risks and dangers of sex, or they may get messages (both verbal and nonverbal) about a double standard: Young women who are sexual with others are sluts or have low self- esteem, whereas young men who are sexual with others are confident and popular (or at least "just being guys"). As young women and men begin having sex, they may struggle with how to transform an act that has been described as bad, dangerous, or shameful into an expression of love, intimacy, or joy. They may also worry endlessly about their ability to have strong erections, achieve orgasm easily, last long enough, or twist their bodies into practically acrobatic positions.

Therein lies a paradox. Although people commonly have sex for reasons related to pleasure, we know that sex doesn't always feel good. In fact, one nationally representative study of women and men reported that a full 23 percent of women and 8 percent of men said that during the previous year they had gone at least several months without feeling that their experience of sex was pleasurable. That's a lot of people to be feeling "blah" or even bad about sex within just one year! You can imagine how many more people have found sex to be unpleasurable at some other point in their lives-- probably most of us.

We also know that even when sex does feel good, pleasure isn't the one and only reason that people seek it out. That 2007 study of college students doesn't represent the whole picture. As you likely know, although attraction, pleasure, and raging hormones may be the primary reasons why young adults or those in new relationships have sex, over time those reasons change. With an average age of 19, few (if any) participants in that study had experienced how sexual attitudes can alter in response to life-changing events like pregnancy, hysterectomy, aging, illness, parenthood, menopause, or simply feeling burned out after years or decades of working at a full-time job. At different times in people's lives or relationships, there will be different motivations to have sex. For many couples, starting a family is a major reason to have sex. While making a baby can feel exciting and arousing, sometimes it can also feel worrisome, stressful, or sad (particularly if pregnancy doesn't happen as easily as expected or at all).

Other women and men look around one day and realize that a good chunk of the sex they've had over the previous month or year was more about making their partner--not themselves--feel good. Has that ever happened to you or a friend? Maybe you noticed that sometimes you had sex because you worried that if you didn't, you might disappoint your partner, or he or she might leave you for someone with a higher sex drive. Or you hoped that your partner would stop nagging if you gave in. (Or the opposite might be true-- you wished you didn't have to nag your partner to have sex with you.) Then again, maybe you pulled your partner into the bedroom or grabbed a vibrator from the nightstand simply to relieve tension, de-stress, or fall asleep more easily. You may have even found yourself having sex with someone new because you felt so utterly betrayed, rejected, or hurt by someone you love that you sought revenge--or solace--in another person's arms. All of these are reasons that people give for having sex, but not all of them are paths to "feel good" sex. And if you're reading this book, then it is probably a safe assumption that the kind of sex you want--at least more of the time-- is sex that feels pleasurable, enjoyable, satisfying, and maybe even sends tingles up and down your spine.


Most people--no matter how much emotional satisfaction or intellectual stimulation their relationships provide--have a need to feel sexually desirable or gratified. It is okay to want that, and it is wise to seek out information about improving your experience of sex if that feels important to you or to your relationship.

Sex and Your Senses

Many people find that they can enhance their sexual experiences by paying attention to the sensual nature of their encounters. Read through the examples below and think about the things you notice while having sex. See if you can add one or two of your own sensual experiences to each of these categories, and indulge in noticing and enjoying them the next time you have sex (privately or with a partner).


Bodies; using candlelight or a dimmer switch to change how the light shines on your bodies; wearing lingerie; the look of your own or your partner's body in the shower, wrapped in a bath towel, in a swimsuit, or dressed up to go out; the freckles or wrinkles on your partner's skin; the way that your partner smiles or looks at you with love or lust.


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