Welcome to the first of The Verge's two new advice columns. The internet and technology have totally changed sex and relationships, we know you — you adults, anyway, this column is not for children! — have questions about the world of sex. In order to answer them, we've asked our friend Stoya — a professional sex-haver — to field any inquiries. You can write to her at email@example.com. Look for our second column (and columnist) next week.
Are you at least 18 years old?
Hi. I’m Stoya.
I’ve had a lot of sex — ask any search engine (but maybe outside of work, with the explicit content filter off). I’ve found that having sex on public record can have a number of side effects: difficulty keeping a bank account, for instance. But the one maybe most pertinent here is that I often find myself on the receiving end of details about other people’s sex lives.
These details are usually followed by a request for advice.
It makes sense that people turn to their semi-friendly neighborhood porn star Most formal sexual education in the United States is pretty useless. There’s a wide gap between abstinence-only programs and pornography — which is largely made for entertainment purposes and should be used as such. What that chasm means, in practical terms, is that there isn’t much nuanced and detailed information presented in ways that a person without a PhD can easily access and understand. The scant material that does exist isn’t getting nearly the amount of attention and visibility that it deserves.
So it totally makes sense that friends, acquaintances, and strangers — seriously, sometimes people on a bus — would occasionally turn to their semi-friendly neighborhood porn star. I’d love to see a world where we have as much open and readily available discussion of sex and sexuality as we do of food — but until then I’m happy to answer questions and provide context where possible.
You can send questions! I’m super stoked that my advice column has a new home here at The Verge. You can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the years I’ve noticed that two questions and one answer recur regularly. So let’s go ahead and talk about those:
"Do my labia look normal?"
Yes. I don’t need to see them. I really don’t even need to hear or read a description of them. Your whole vulva probably looks normal, too. There should be a glans clitoris, two sets of labia or "lips," a urethral opening, and a vaginal opening. If you’re missing a part or have an extra one (or weren’t born with a vulva and need to have one installed) then you should probably talk to your doctor. Otherwise: you are normal.
your whole vulva probably looks normal, tooInner labia can be super pale beige, pink, red, purple, brown, or black. Sometimes they’re darker along the edges. They might be small and tucked in, long, thick, wobbly, asymmetrical, or symmetrical. They might change size, color, or consistency when you’re sexually aroused. All of these characteristics are normal.
The same thing goes for pubic hair. Pubic hair can be super curly, medium curly, straight, or silky; blonde, red, brunette, or black. Pubes can also start to go grey just like the hair on your head. Pubic hair might be thick or sparse. Again, all normal. Pro tip: Be extra careful if you decide to shave with an electric razor.
"How can I always be clean and ready to go for anal sex?"
There is no way to always be "clean" for anal sex. (Unless you just never eat again, which would quickly result in death.) See, your butthole is specialized for pooping, or moving solid waste out of your body. The fact that we can use our anuses and rectums for sexual purposes if we want to is pretty nifty, but that’s really a bonus activity.
You've seen porn scenes where nobody ever poops on anyone else I know, I know. You see porn scenes where nobody ever poops on anyone else — and sometimes the people in the scene dive straight into anal pounding without any warmup. That’s because pornography is entertainment, and all the preparation that goes in beforehand is boring to watch. Also I’m not even sure the companies that handle payments and video distribution would allow us to show certain parts of the process.
Tristan Taormino’s "The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women" and Charlie Glickman’s "The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure" are fantastic guides to anal sex for people with female and male bodies, respectively. It really does take a whole book to cover all of the major basics.
And lastly, the recurring answer: You need to talk about it.
Sometimes the talking needs to be done with a doctor. If a part of your genitals hurts, smells different than it usually does, is oozing fluids that are unusual for you, burns, itches, or has a rash on it, you need to talk to a medical professional. It might be nothing to worry about, an easily curable STI or yeast infection. But it could bean early warning sign of a serious condition. WebMD will not suffice. If you’re strapped for cash, free clinics do exist and Planned Parenthood does sliding-fee scales.
You have to talk about your sexual needsOther times the talking needs to happen with your partner or partners. Want more oral sex? Have a specific fantasy about being covered in honey and popcorn or penetrating a unicorn (the stuffed kind, not the rare woman looking for casual F/M/F threesomes with established couples)? Feeling neglected, stifled, or overwhelmed? You have to talk about your sexual needs if you want to get them met.
Sexual partners aren’t psychic, and they have their own desires, limits, and squicks. Many people find that talking about sex can be difficult for a number of reasons: embarrassment, fear of rejection, inexperience, and a lack of nuanced and specific vocabulary.
Yes, even the professionals get uncomfortable talking about sexEven people who have sex professionally and spend a considerable amount of time navigating preferences and boundaries with new partners — myself very much included — sometimes find themselves at a loss. Sometimes, we don’t have the language to accurately describe a feeling, or what it is, specifically, we want. Sometimes we just feel weird or embarrassed. Yes, even the professionals get uncomfortable talking about sex.
If you’re struggling with face-to-face discussions, consider turning the lights off and looking at the ceiling. Or try talking about it via email or text message, mediums that allow all parties the time to consider their responses and choose their words carefully. It matters less how you do it and more that you find a way to communicate with each other that works for everyone involved.
But please, for everyone’s sake, elaborate on highly subjective words like "rough," "hard," or "dominant." It is far better to feel a little uncomfortable or awkward during a conversation before sex than to deal with emotional trauma or physical harm afterwards.
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