Sexual health is vital to human society, as we have to produce healthy children if society is to survive. Human sexuality is a complicated topic that affects everybody. Most societies impose strict rules about who may do what with whom, because those rules have helped those societies survive. These rules are not universal, but they are almost always very strongly enforced either by public authorities, or informally through social ridicule or castigation.
Most people experience strong periods of sexual desire, or engage in sexual fantasies at some points in their lives. Because most societies prohibit or inhibit any exploration or discussion of sexual topics, many people also worry whether or not their particular fantasies or desires are "normal". As long as your objective is to give pleasure to your real or imagined partner, your fantasies are perfectly healthy and mature. If your objective is to cause pain or harm to yourself or others in order to provoke a pleasant feeling in yourself, there might be a serious problem that you should discuss with a professional psychologist or medical doctor. However, if both partners are willing and wanting, you may be part of the completely healthy and normal "BDSM" subculture. (BDSM stands for Bondage and Discipline, Sadism and Masochism.)
Masturbation is the action of a person manually stimulating their own genitals to achieve orgasm. Masturbation is a completely normal activity, and most people do it, at least occasionally. Masturbation does not carry any of the risk associated with sex: there is no way to become pregnant from masturbation, and there is no risk of contracting an STD from masturbation, except in the case of mutual masturbation (performed with other people).
For very young males, 'inadvertent' masturbation can occur when writhing about on the belly, playing with things such as toy cars, or building blocks on the ground. Older boys may use their hands. There is some risk of causing some minor distortion to the erect penis if the penis is held tightly in the fist, rather than being caressed gently with thumb, middle finger and index finger, but the shape of the shaft is purely cosmetic and most unlikely to have any functional effect (see Peyronie's disease). Very young females often stimulate themselves by rhythmical rocking, and later may find certain sports, especially cycling and horse riding, to be socially acceptable and attractive activities. Reliable data is almost impossible to obtain, but it seems girls are far less likely to discover manual masturbation techniques, which seem to be almost universal in boys by about the time of puberty.
Contrary to popular myth, masturbation does not cause deafness or blindness, nor provoke 'weak mindedness' or other disabilities.
Sexual fantasy, or the act of fantasizing about specific sexual acts, or acts with specific partners, is a normal practice that many people engage in. Sexual fantasy can occur in dreams at night, or can take the form of daydreams.
Sexuality is very much imposed upon us according to our sex. Boys are traditionally given masculine toy guns and either allowed or encouraged to fight, whilst girls are given feminine baby dolls and encouraged to cook and clean. This sexual and gender polarization helped society to survive in primitive times. Homosexuality among males (gays) has always been highly regulated, even in early Greek society, where it was sometimes encouraged or mandated between a boy and his mentor. Queers (males engaging in anal sex, known as sodomy with females or buggery with other males) have frequently been punished by death.
Since the middle of the 20th century, homosexuality has been decriminalized in many western societies, but there is still much social castigation of any sexual activity not intended to produce children. Most people are somewhat bisexual and sexually attracted to both males and females in different proportions or in different situations. However, any human society depends on the production of children, and so tend to produce rules to promote stable and supportive families. It is considered important, by some, for young people to nurture their heterosexuality and suppress their homosexual desires. Many strongly homosexual people do contract marriage and engage in heterosexual relationships whilst privately fantasizing their secret, homosexual desires. In such cases, psychological counseling may be helpful.
Sexual partners can come from many different venues. It is generally considered ideal for sexual partners to also be romantic partners, or "lovers" who are in a stable social relationship in which they wish to conceive children. However, sexual partners can also be "casual partners", with whom there is no lasting romantic relationship after the act of sex is over. Since sexual activity has strong physical and emotional consequences for many people, a quick fling often has serious and unexpected side effects, particularly when performed by those in a romantic relationship of whom sexual faithfulness or trust is expected. Sexual partners may be male or female, but the types of sex that you can engage in is highly dependent on the gender of your partner. People that are mostly attracted to their own gender are said to be "homosexual". People that are mostly attracted to the opposite gender are said to be "heterosexual". Religious, moral, political, and many other factors, may be involved in the process of selecting a sexual partner.
Sex Toys are inanimate objects that are used to stimulate the genitals or other sensitive regions to facilitate reaching orgasm. Sex toys may be used alone (during masturbation), or with a partner. Some of the most common sex toys are dildos and vibrators, which are penis-shaped objects (usually metal, silicone, or plastic) that can be inserted into the vagina or the anus, or attached to a penis. There are many other types of sex toys in existence, however, and it is not possible to list or describe all of them.
Note: Sex toys should always be well cleaned, and they should not be shared. Sex toys can transmit STDs from one partner to another. Silicone sex toys are often recommended by manufacturers as they are non-porous, and can be submerged in boiling water for proper sterilization. Non-silicone plastic sex toys should not be shared, or if they are shared, should be used with a barrier of sorts placed between the toy and the user of the toy.
Cleaning for Boys
Males should clean their genitals by first withdrawing any foreskin (if uncircumcised) to fully expose the glans and applying gentle (toilet) soap with water and then rinsing thoroughly. The penis, testicles, and perineum (the area between the testicles and the anus) and the anus itself all should be cleaned regularly. Any flesh ordinarily protected by the foreskin is more sensitive to certain chemicals, such as soap, than other parts of the body; some sources advise using water only to clean it. A waxy substance known as smegma builds up under the foreskin. While smegma helps protect the skin by keeping it moist and assisting in lubrication, excessive build-up may provide a medium for bacterial infection. The area under the foreskin should be dried completely after cleaning, to prevent moisture from attracting germs and mildew. Shaving of the penis and testicles is not uncommon, but care should be taken not to cut yourself in those sensitive areas.
Cleaning for Girls
The vagina is a self-cleaning organ. Douching (inserting solutions into the vagina) can alter the types of bacteria that are present, change the pH level, and increase the risk of infection. Wearing cotton underwear and loose clothing to promote air circulation can reduce the risk of infection.
The skin in the vulva may be more sensitive to certain chemicals, such as soap, than other parts of the body. While the vulva may be cleaned with just water, or with water and soap (as long as none is inserted into the vagina), this type of cleaning is not normally necessary.
After urination, women should always wipe beginning near the front of the vulva, and move backwards toward the anus. This is to prevent dragging harmful bacteria from the region near the anus into the urethra, where they can travel to the bladder and cause an infection.
Any object inserted into the vagina (such as a diaphragm and hands) should always first be washed with soap and water. It is not uncommon for women to shave or wax their genitals, but again, care should be taken to avoid cuts or scalding.
A person who has never had sex is known as a virgin. There are many different definitions of virginity. Some people claim to be virgins as long as they have not had vaginal intercourse, even if they have engaged in oral or anal sex. Some people use the word "virgin" to describe a person who has had no sexual contact (or limited fondling), while others use the word "virgin" to describe someone who has never had sex willingly.
Women may experience some discomfort during the first few times they engage in vaginal intercourse. This can be due to the stretching of the vaginal canal, and possibly through the breaking of the hymen.
People who have had sex, but choose to stop having it sometimes refer to themselves as born-again virgins.
Many women are born with a special membrane in their vagina known as a hymen. The hymen blocks part of the vaginal canal, and can be broken during the first time a girl has vaginal intercourse. However, the presence or absence of the hymen is not sufficient to determine whether a woman is a virgin or not. Some women are not born with a hymen, and the hymen may be broken or stretched open by activities such as riding a bicycle, strenuous exercise, or even (occasionally) tampon use.
If a woman has her hymen intact during her first experience with vaginal intercourse, the hymen will be broken by the penetration. Breaking the hymen often causes pain and bleeding. In cultures where the hymen is considered a vital mark of virginity prior to marriage a surgical 'repair' operation may be performed clandestinely.
There are a number of specialized types of doctors that deal with sexuality, pregnancy, and childbirth. Here are some of the most common types:
- Gynecologists are doctors who specialize in the female reproductive system. Gynecologists help women find appropriate contraceptives, do pelvic exams and pap smears (to test for cancer or other abnormal conditions of the reproductive organs), and diagnose and treat vaginal infections. Gynecologists also help women who have problems associated with intercourse, such as pain. While all of these services are also offered by internists and family doctors, gynecologists have more experience with them.
- Obstetricians are doctors who who specialize in the female reproductive system, pregnancy, and birth. Gynecologists are usually also obstetricians. This combination is frequently abbreviated as "OB/GYN".
- A urologist is a doctor who specializes in the urinary tracts of men and women, and also the reproductive system of men.
- An andrologist is a doctor who specializes in the male reproductive system. Andrologists are not as common as urologists or gynecologists.
- Reproductive Endocrinologist
- Reproductive endocrinologists specialize in treating infertility in both men and women.
- Oncologists specialize in treating cancer. Some common cancers include breast cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, and testicular cancer.
In addition to these specialist doctors, men and women should also regularly have check ups with a family physician or internist (an internist specializes in treatment of adults, while a family physician treats both adults and children). It is important to keep all doctors aware of the medicines you are on, so that they don't accidentally prescribe conflicting medications.