In This Chapter
* Understanding why people have sex
* Choosing the right partner at the right time
* Making babies
* Determining whether a potential partner is sex worthy
Sex. Once you're under its power, you're a captive for life. It starts when you're young. When you're a teenager and your hormones are surging, almost everything you do is connected to sex in one way or another. And although your sexual voltage goes down a notch or two as you get older, many of your daily activities are still influenced by sex.
And it doesn't matter whether you're single or married, young or old, all of us are interested in how the opposite sex reacts to the image we project. We want to be noticed. We want to know that we can still attract someone, even if we've been monogamously involved in a relationship for 50 years.
In this chapter, I give you a brief course in Sex 101, so that you and I will be clear about what I mean when I talk about sex. Although sex hasn't changed much since men and women emerged from the cave, today's sexual environment is open to confusion, so this chapter covers the basics.
What Is Sex, Anyway?
Is sex just the way we differentiate ourselves, male and female? Or is it the means by which we reproduce? Is it a yearning that makes us go a bit crazy until we can satisfy those urges? Or could it be the key to exchanging extreme pleasure? Maybe it's a way of cementing a relationship. What makes sex so amazing is that it's all of those, and more.
We have special organs that are made to have sex; they fit together and have many nerve endings so as to make sex pleasurable. But sex is really a whole body experience, from your brain right down to your toes. And becoming a good sex partner means that you have to understand how to fit all those parts together. I explain the basics of the male parts in Chapter 2 and the female parts in Chapter 3. If you want to know how they fit together, turn to Chapter 8.
Every generation believes that it's the first one to have discovered the pleasures of sex, and yet none of us would be here if it weren't for the sex lives of the previous generation. Even if it's too much to imagine your parents and grandparents having sex, just give 'em a tip of the old hat.
You can have sex many different ways, and yet the outcome of sex, the satisfaction that comes from having an orgasm, is the goal of each of them. (Of course, if your only aim is to make a baby, then the pleasurable aspects become secondary.) Part of the mystery of sex is why so many paths lead to this one end. Chapters 9, 10, 13, and 14 cover different ways you can achieve orgasms.
So Why Do We Have It?
Ultimately we have sex in order to keep the human race going and to participate in a very pleasurable activity. Throughout most of mankind's history, the two were almost always linked, but today they needn't be. Being able to have an orgasm without worrying about creating a baby has changed the nature of sex, though when the two are put back together, sex reaches its greatest potential.
Making babies: A natural outcome
The English language is a rich one because it has borrowed heavily from so many different tongues. As a result, people use a variety of words to describe the same thing - especially if that thing involves sex. (I'm sure you're familiar with some of these words, but, being polite, I won't mention them.) What never ceases to amaze me, however, is how often people who engage in sexual intercourse forget that what they're doing is directly related to procreation, propagation, continuing the species, conception, pregnancy, MAKING BABIES!
Some unlucky couples must go through a great deal of trouble to have a family, and some can't manage to do it on their own at all, so they turn to medical science for help. But for most people, the process is relatively easy - at least until the baby actually arrives. The man needs only to place his erect penis into the woman's vagina and ejaculate. A baby may not result the first time - though it can - but eventually one of the man's sperm will unite with the woman's egg, and, voilą, a baby is conceived.
Because baby making can be so easy, many women find themselves pregnant without intending to be. So here's my first of many tips:
If you absolutely, positively don't want to make a baby, then don't have sexual intercourse - be abstinent.
Yes, I know there are ways of preventing pregnancy from occurring - I talk about them in Chapter 5 - but none of these methods is foolproof. Believe it or not, in at least one recorded case, the man had a vasectomy, the woman had her tubes tied, and she still became pregnant. So remember, the only method that works 100 percent of the time is abstinence.
The facts: Sperm and egg together
The process of making a baby has not changed since Adam and Eve discovered sex: A sperm from the man must meet an egg inside of the woman (test-tube babies notwithstanding). When the sperm and the egg unite, the egg becomes fertilized.
Both the sperm and the egg are very special cells; they have only half of the genetic material (chromosomes) that other cells have. All cells need chromosomes to provide the instructions on how to divide and create an individual.
Fertilization occurs when the chromosomes and genes from both the sperm and the egg combine to form one single cell, called a zygote. As a result, instead of an identical copy of one of the parents (a clone), fertilization creates a unique individual that shares features of both parents. So now you know the reason you have your father's nose and your mother's feet: At least once in their lives, your parents mingled their genetic material.
Timing the union
Female humans differ from nearly all the rest of their gender in the animal kingdom because, rather than wanting sexual intercourse only when they can conceive (that is, when they're in heat), women can want sexual intercourse at any time (provided they don't have a headache). Despite this difference, female humans do share with other female mammals the trait that enables them to make a baby, or conceive, only at certain times - in most women's cases, from one to three days a month.
Just because a woman is fertile only a few days a month, don't assume that those are the only days that unprotected sexual intercourse can make her pregnant. A woman's reproductive organs are much more complicated than that, as I explain in Chapter 3.
Unlike a man, who continually makes sperm (more than 26 trillion a year!), a woman has all her eggs already inside her at birth. These eggs - about 200,000 of them - reside in a woman's two ovaries (see Figure 1-1). About every 28 days, a fluid-filled sac in the ovary, called a follicle, releases one of the eggs. When a follicle releases an egg, many women feel a dull ache, known as mittelschmerz, in the area around the ovary.
Becoming aware of when mittelschmerz occurs is a good point of reference for anyone practicing natural family planning. I talk more about family planning in Chapter 5.
Introducing the egg and sperm
Everyone's talking about what happened last night at Club Fallopian. Mr. Sperm bumped into Ms. Egg, and now they're really stuck on each other!
Just as people have to meet each other before they can form a relationship, the process of fertilization can't begin until a sperm gets up into the fallopian tubes and meets the egg. This introduction takes place as a result of sexual intercourse, which is defined as a man placing his penis in a woman's vagina. When the man has an orgasm, he releases millions of sperm into the back of the woman's vagina. These sperm bind to the cervical mucus and swim right up through the entrance to the uterus, called the cervix, through the uterus itself, and then into the fallopian tubes - each sperm hunting for an egg. And if an egg happens to be floating along, the fastest sperm takes the prize.
You should always keep in mind two very important points about sperm:
Because of Cowper's fluid, a man may deposit sperm inside a woman's vagina before he has an orgasm. That's why the pullout, or withdrawal, method does not work as a means of preventing pregnancy.
Going for a ride
Little finger-like appendages on the end of the fallopian tube called fimbria lead the egg into the tube, through which it makes its way into the uterus. If, during this trip, the egg encounters some sperm swimming along, then the first sperm to reach the egg and penetrate the hard outer shell, called the zona pellucida, will enter the egg and begin the life-creating process called fertilization.
A fertilized egg continues down the fallopian tube on a journey that takes about three days. During the first 30 hours, the chromosomes of the egg and the sperm merge, and the cells begin to divide. This new entity is called an embryo. When the embryo finishes its journey and enters the uterus (see Figure 1-2), it gets nourishment from uterine secretions, and the cells inside it continue to divide, causing the embryo to grow. Approximately six days after fertilization, the egg "hatches," emerging from its hard shell and then burrowing its way into the uterine wall, or endometrium.
The embryo releases a hormone called hCG. When the hCG reaches the mother's bloodstream, it signals that she is pregnant and causes the ovaries to continue producing the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which are necessary to maintain the pregnancy.
If the egg is not fertilized, it passes through the uterus. About two weeks later, the uterus sheds its lining, the endometrium, in a process called menstruation. A new lining then begins to grow, ready to receive a fertilized egg the next month.
Becoming a baby
After an embryo burrows its way into the endometrium, it grows until it has a human shape and all its organs - a process that takes about 12 weeks. At this point, the embryo is renamed a fetus.
The fetus grows inside the uterus until approximately nine months after the egg was first fertilized. Then, in a process called giving birth, a fully formed baby comes out of the uterus and through the vagina into the world (unless doctors have to remove the baby surgically, which is called a cesarean section, or c-section). If you want to know more about the specifics of pregnancy, pick up Pregnancy For Dummies, 2nd Edition, by Joanne Stone, M.D., Keith Eddleman, M.D., and Mary Duenwald (Wiley).
So an important possible consequence of sexual intercourse is the making of a baby that will be born nine months later. Of course, giving birth to a baby is only the beginning of providing the care a child requires. Having a child is a very big responsibility - not one to be taken lightly, and certainly not one to be ignored when having sexual intercourse.
Enjoying a sensory experience
So the mechanics of sex makes babies, but the main reason that people engage in sex is for the sensory experience, the wide range of physical and emotional pleasures that a person can derive from sexual activity. You may think that these pleasures would be enough to draw people into having sex, but in fact this sensory experience has two sides, like the proverbial itch that needs to be scratched. If you don't have sex for a period of time, and that period can be a matter of hours for some young adults to weeks for an older person, a little voice inside you tells you that the time for sex has arrived. You become aroused, or horny in the vernacular, meaning that as more and more time goes by, your desire for sex increases. Now, you can satisfy those desires without having sex with another person, called masturbation, which I cover in Chapter 14, but the preferable method of scratching this itch is to have sex with another person.
If a child wakes up in the middle of the night at an inopportune time, that is to say when his or her parents are having sex, the child is going to hear what may appear to be some very frightening sounds. But the very intense nature of those sounds is proof of how strong the sensory experience can be. Nothing surpasses the enjoyment that sex can bring.
Because the real center of all this pleasure takes place in the brain, it's important to understand the process because here's a case where the more you know, the better the results can be.
Understanding the Ins and Outs of the Sexual Response Cycle
The reason that sex therapists such as myself exist is due in great part to Dr. William Masters and Dr. Virginia Johnson, who studied the sexual response cycle in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
How did they study the sexual response cycle? They observed more than 10,000 sexual acts in their laboratories. Because even the most serious voyeur would probably have had enough after about the first 1,000, you can appreciate that they were really very dedicated scientists.
And scientists they were, because when I say observe, I don't just mean watch. The people who took part in these studies were wired up so Masters and Johnson could tell exactly what was going on, including how much lubrication the woman made and the quantity of ejaculate the man released.
As a result of these studies, Masters and Johnson came up with four distinct phases for human sexual response. Later, Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan, under whom I trained, created her own model, which included elements of Masters and Johnson's phases as well as one of her own.
Examining an individual's sexual response cycle is integral to the diagnosis that sex therapists make of anyone who comes to them with a sexual problem. Understanding the various categories of the sexual response cycle can also help you to become the best possible lover, so read the following definitions very carefully.
Dr. Kaplan examined and labeled this phase because of her work in sexual therapy, where she noted that some people's desire for sex was so low that they rarely or never reached the other phases of the cycle. Only by studying what was going on in this earlier stage could she discover what was causing their difficulties.
Excerpted from Sex For Dummies by Ruth K. Westheimer Pierre A. Lehu Copyright © 2006 by Ruth K. Westheimer. Excerpted by permission.
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