A Primer on Basic Sex Terms

Sex TermsDo you know what NSFW means? It took me a while to figure that one out—NSFW means Not Safe for Work.

I imagine there are sex terms you see and don’t know the meaning of as well.  Here’s a very basic primer on sex-related terms you might find on the internet. My disclaimer: There are many definitions and nuances to sex terms; what you find here is a loosely compiled list of definitions. I am not claiming to be the authority or to have done extensive research in making this list. Kinkly.com has one of the most comprehensive sex term lists I’ve ever seen if you want to explore.

BDSM: Bondage, Discipline/Domination, Sadism, Masochism. When you see the letters D/s it refers to the dominant, submissive power dynamic. As for defining BDSM, it means different things to different people-it general it refers to kink or power play. BDSM might range from the use of a pretty silky scarf as a blindfold to more involved and orchestrated practices involving spanking, using flogs/paddles and handcuffs, or role-playing, for example.

Kink: Kink refers to sex that’s outside of the norm. Of course we don’t really have a ‘norm’ unless you want to consider the standard missionary position intercourse. Kink might be wanting to wear latex or always having sex with blindfolds. It’s a term that encompasses many sexual preferences.

Sexual Agency: This is a great term that I’m seeing with more frequency lately. Sexual agency refers to the ability to make individual choices about the kind of sex you want, free of coercion. I find it an empowering term.

Consent: We tend to think of consent in connection with the Just Say No campaign used by colleges. It’s the understanding that both parties need to be willing and consenting. I think we can use the word consent to go deeper. To have conversations about exactly what you want to do and why. Saying, “well if you want to” isn’t really the level of consent you want in any aspect of life, certainly not in mutually enjoyable sex.

Top: With the buzz around 50 Shades of Grey you’re probably hearing more words that related to BDSM. Top is one of those. To top refers to an act, or role, in power play where the Dom, or dominant partner, taking the lead.  “She’s the Top to my sub.”

Sub: The one who is subservient or submissive to the dominant in a sexual power play.

Vanilla: The flip side of ‘Kink”–this is the straight up traditional approach to sex–missionary, lights out, conventional, etc. Deemed to be a little boring! You might enjoy, When is Sex Like Ice Cream? Are You the Vanilla Type or Dark Chocolate?

Poly: Someone who identifies as ‘poly’ is referring to their polyamory lifestyle–in short people who have more than one partner, often a ‘primary’ partner and one or two or more lovers/romantic interests. The focus is on romantic love, not just having sex with lots of people!

Maybe these aren’t the words you think you need at this point in life, and then again….maybe you’re going to step out into a new world of sexual pleasure. So if you do, these brief terms might help! Being informed is always a good thing. At the very least, the next time you see the letters NSFW you’ll know not to open the page unless you’re in a safe, discreet spot!

Photo: Claire Trafton, Morguefile

Finding Romance Online–Do Age and Maturity Matter?

online dating I read the book, Murder As a Fine Art by David Morrell (affiliate link), recently and was enthralled with the literary flavor of this thriller. Set in Victorian England, Emily is not your typical young woman. She refuses to wear a corset and has chosen to wear bloomers under a loose dress rather than the conventional hooped, heavily draped dresses. At age 21 she is comfortable speaking her mind and taking charge, in a firm yet gentle way. In the story she ends up assisting two policemen, one a young man her age, the other, significantly older.

A question in the interview with the author asks which of the two men might make a better romantic match for the young woman. And, for some reason that question stuck with me. Here’s how I would have answered the question had I been the author.  An intelligent woman, of any age, thoughtful and comfortable with her life, would naturally seek out an equally confident and balanced partner. She would want to be appreciated, which both a younger and older man might do, not just for her physical looks but for all she brings to a relationship–wit, intelligence, strength, self-confidence, and a willingness to speak up for her beliefs. She wouldn’t want an insecure man, or someone who wanted to reshape her or exert his control. She might find that acceptance from a man of any age but one could argue that an older man would feel less comfortable with a woman who was so free-spirited and independent. Emily might enjoy the youthful police officer, but I suspect a relationship with the older man would provide a more satisfying experience.

When looking for a partner, friend, or lover what is it we want? We might want the whole package or we might just want to focus on one thing. Lawyers might prefer lawyers;  librarians, only librarians, widows might prefer widows/widowers.  Individuals with specific sexual preferences, kinks or fetishes, will want to find a partner who feels similarly.

In some ways we are looking for a peer. I think our needs and expectations change with age and experience. What we want in a partner at age 30 might not be what we’re looking for at age 60. There are no rules, which makes dating more fun and more challenging at the same time.

If I were Emily, the young woman in the story, I would be drawn to the older detective. His age and experience give him a richness that a naive young 21-year-old wouldn’t possess. And, if he is attracted to her, in spite of her extremely unconventional behavior, then he has the wisdom and openness that would add nuance to a relationship. But, because he’s an older man does that mean the sex (moving away from 1894 England) might be more challenging? Would he suffer from possible erectile issues due to aging? Well, suppose sex isn’t on the top of your list of desirable qualities for a relationship? Or maybe you understand that sex is more than just intercourse and that a strong intellect and emotional connection enhances any level of sexual connection-regardless of age or ability.The author doesn’t go there with Emily. The book ends with a budding friendship with both police officers. It may be an ending or an opening for a follow-up book. We don’t know.

It’s that way with relationships, we don’t know what awaits us. The best course of action when dating is to be open to the widest range of experiences. It’s important to realize that what we want may not come in the traditional package, or at the time we expect it. I’m pondering this right now because I’m on 6 dating sites. Yes, you heard that right- SIX. I’m writing a dating review article for a client and felt it would be important to go through the sign-up process, upload a photo and fill out the profiles in order to assess ease of use for people over 60. I’m not active on any of them, outside of OKCupid, and as a nonpaying member that’s no way for me to contact anyone on the other 5 sites. But I’m getting inundated by messages from the online dating sites luring me to check out all the wonderful men who are waiting to meet me. I’m thinking about this dating process in a new way and wondering how people really figure things out.

One of the sites tells me I have 33 messages–it’s the site where I have the least information-no photo, no profile data. All these 33 eager men know is that I’m a white 60-year-old female living in Virginia. My admirers are from all corners of the US and are clearly taking the ‘try anything’ approach to dating.  I’m not sure that this tidbit applies to the current article, but it’s a fascinating aspect of the dating game in today’s online world. Maybe finding love was much simpler back in the ‘old days’.

photo credit: cammy♥claudia via photopin cc

Q&A- I Want Him to Have the Desire

libido, desire, sexuality Today’s question is a common one among older women visiting my website—lack of sexual desire. In this case  both parties are experiencing low libido.


I have a serious questions for you. My male partner is without libido and from what I gather, this is nothing new to him. We’ve talked about it and both feel if I were to instigate sexual activity he’d jump right in. The problem is I don’t have any desire, either. I am on Prozac but have been for years and don’t think that’s the problem. I’m in my 60s and my partner is in his mid 50s. Neither of us are really bemoaning the lack of sexual activity but obviously it bothers me more than I thought or I wouldn’t be posting. Honestly, I don’t want to be the instigator. I want him to be. I want him to have the desire. Thoughts?



Since we have met in person I’m going to take more liberty than I might with a stranger. You and your male partner have talked and I assume you told him you want him to instigate more? He needs to know what you want in order to figure out his role as your partner, and he needs to give you an answer—even if it’s not the one you want to hear.  This is a tough one because the responsibility lies with both of you and I am unwilling to tell you what you ‘ought’ to do to bring him out…especially if it feels likes an expectation that you will carry the burden of initiating sex. It needs to be mutual or one of you will end up resenting the other.

So, a few thoughts here:

  • Plan a night every two weeks for intimacy. I know it sounds forced but if you make a date then it becomes a mutual agreement—to be in that place and to consent to some level of intimacy. It doesn’t have to start with an explicit agreement to have sex but maybe a sexy movie (Lady Chatterley’s Lover or something similarly appealing). You sit next to each other, have a glass of wine or something relaxing, and make physical contact–holding hands, a caress–something. Alternately you could read to each other if that’s something you like doing (one of my biggest fantasies is being read to).
  • Send him an invitation. “I want you to ravish me tonight.” “I want a foot massage that lingers and turns into ___________”. You’re asking and inviting–telling him you are receptive and desirous of his company. Wrap the invitation up in a silk scarf and ask him to use it creatively (if one of you might like that kind of thing). You are trying to fuel his fire as well as your own.
  • Therapy/counseling is an option if you think that the two of you might need some help sorting out issues that are standing in the way of sexual desire. Or a dialogue:
    • This is what I like about our sex, ___________________.
    • When we do this I always feel ___________________
    •  I feel like I want more of ___________, or I’m missing those times of _________________

You both do this as a written exercise and then share if you are both willing. Shared or not the exercise might spur some awareness of what is keeping one of you from initiating sex.

  • This is rarely my first suggestion, but has he had his testosterone level checked? Or in general had a medical exam recently to see if everything is OK?
  • You could be the instigator for a while, hoping that the resumption of sexual activity gets him interested in sex more regularly. I think that for women, and I would assume for some men, desire is part mental and practice helps us fine-tune that particular muscle, if you will. The more you have it, the more you want it kind of thing.


I haven’t touched on your lack of desire. Maybe a good place to start is by getting yourself more aroused? I’d suggest a private sexual meditation practice (more to come on that). The focus is to get in touch with your body through touch and self-stimulation. It’s not about reaching an orgasm but increasing feelings of arousal–feeling the sensations when you touch yourself, awakening the skin and genitals. Combine this with a broader level of self-care like massages, surrounding yourself with sensuous experiences, and thinking about arousal and sex. You want to think yourself into feeling and being sexy.

It’s about you. AND…when we’re feeling more sexually awake we are sending out sexy vibes. Your partner will sense this and hopefully he’ll respond. You might suggest he work on his awareness around desire too.

I think it’s wonderful that the two of you are talking about this. Bravo!

And, two book suggestions:

Partners in Passion, A Guide to Great Sex, Emotional Intimacy and Long-term Love  by Mark Michaels & Patricia Johnson. It’s getting rave reviews and comes highly recommended.

A Passionate Marriage, Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships by David Schnarch. I loved this book.

Women’s Low Sexual Desire-Is It a Medical Problem or Something Else?

The Little Pink PillThis article was originally published at MidlifeBoulevard.

If you’re following the news reports about flibanserin, referred to as the female Viagra, or “the pink pill’, you know there’s been a lot of debate over the need for a pill for women who suffer from low libido, or hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD)*.

There are plenty of issues involved, from the idea that the FDA discriminates against women to the fact that the most ardent supporters of thos “promising” medication have some financial involvement with the drug’s manufacturer, Sprout Pharmaceuticals. And, somewhere in the midst of this debate is the question of women’s sexual dysfunction and how to best address it.

There isn’t really going to be a true female equivalent to Viagra because it’s not a drug designed to work with the female anatomy. Viagra increases blood flow, including flow to the penis, which can make it easier for men to get and sustain an erection. It’s all about mechanics, nothing to do with women’s low sexual desire.

The issue for women is about desire. Or is it?

There have been no studies I’m aware of that indicate a significant number of women have clitoral dysfunction. Do women really have HSDD or is that just a new way to create an illness so pharmaceutical companies can make more money? Would a pill fix what ails us as women? Not in a world where the norm is intercourse, which as we know, rarely provides the stimulation of the clitoris so necessary to achieving orgasms.

Maybe women, who don’t feel desire in the way they used, to have other issues contributing to their lack of interest in sex?

I can think of a number of reasons:

  1. A partner who doesn’t want, or know how, to provide the stimulation necessary to bring a woman to orgasm.  He doesn’t understand or appreciate the role of the clitoris.
  2. Fatigue and stress related to child rearing, a stressful job, caregiving, family issues, illness, menopause, financial challenges and on and on… If we’re stressed out we don’t have the energy to feel sexy.
  3. A failing relationship. Sex isn’t very satisfying when 2 people aren’t enjoying their time together. It takes mutual engagement and connections to build and sustain intimacy. Lack of interest in sex often indicates relationship problems of another nature.
  4. Sexual trauma—Child sexual abuse, sexual assault and rape and possibly genital-related surgery (hysterectomy, cancer) can lead to a fear or reluctance to have sex. Genitals may feel numb or hold residual pain. Trauma can resurface at different times in a woman’s life and have varying impacts on her relationships and her sex life.

No pill in the world is capable of fixing those issues. They each call for creative problem solving, therapeutic support or other life/ relationship changes


A recent study of French women  provides an answer that resonates with my experience and thoughts on the question of female desire. Researchers studied 251 women ranging in age from 18-67, all sexually active.

“The women in the study–176 who defined themselves as “orgasmic,” and 75 who defined themselves as “not orgasmic”- answered questions about the emotions, thoughts and behaviors that typically play a role in being able to orgasm, during both sex and self-stimulation.”

And what they found was that women who regularly reached orgasm during sex reported more erotic thoughts.

“Study author Pascal De Sutter, professor of sexology and family science at the University of Louvain in Belgium said “It seems that women have no problem focusing on erotic fantasies when they are on their own, but women who do not have regular orgasms during intercourse seem to have more difficulties focusing their attention on the present moment when they have sex with their partners.”

I love what Elke Reissing, the director of the Human Sexuality Research Laboratory at the University of Ottawa, has to say. She suggests “that mindfulness approaches to the treatment of sexual dysfunction might be helpful for women who have trouble achieving orgasm. Mindfulness techniques could help women focus on the present moment during sex and thus increase their arousal and reach orgasm.”  (Source)

When I talk about stepping into one’s desire and practicing sexual meditation, I urge women to focus on their bodies and their feelings of desire. By taking the time to think about sex, knowing what we want and what feels good we are focusing our minds on our bodies, our arousal and our desires. This awareness of our own bodies is what helps us achieve orgasm.

If a woman goes into sex thinking she’s not going to be satisfied, or she needs to be doing the laundry, writing the business report or whatever, she’s not present to her partner. More importantly, she’s not present to her own body and her arousal.

When we feel our genitals tingle and become wet. When we feel arousal as blood flows into our labia we are present to our bodies. We feel each sensation and touch and we recognize our arousal. That’s when we’re most likely to have an orgasm or, at the very least, feel pleasurable thoughts and an increased level of sexual satisfaction. And when sex feels pleasurable and we are satisfied—we want more. It’s not about ‘fixing’ a dysfunction, or popping a pill. It is about us stepping into our full sexual capacity as women, creating what we want and allowing ourselves to give and receive pleasure.

* “HSDD is defined as an absence of sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity that does not have an obvious cause, such as depression or libido-suppressing drugs, and that causes distress to the sufferer.” (Washington Post) Read more….


What do you think? Is this really a Disorder?