F.Birchman / MSNBC.com
By msnbc.com contributor
msnbc.com contributor
updated 8/4/2005 1:06:43 PM ET 2005-08-04T17:06:43

Tell your friends you are traveling for work and they might commiserate about security checkpoints, plane delays and musty hotel rooms. Tell them you are going to a sex conference, though, and all the sympathy evaporates.

But hey, it’s not like I recently spent three days in Montreal at the World Congress of Sexology sitting around looking at porn. Well, not much porn, anyway.

The congress is a biennial gathering of some of the world’s leaders in the fields of sexual education, sexual health and sex therapy. Among the attendees were some folks you've encountered in Sexploration before, like porn-for-women impresario Candida Royalle , erotic technique instructor Lou Paget , and experts like the queen of the G-spot, Beverly Whipple .

I was somewhat surprised to find so many of the delegates had come from as far away as Nigeria and Mongolia. While TV in Ulan Bator might not play many Viagra-Cialis-Levitra drug ads, people there like to have good sex, too.

It was sobering to listen to some delegates describe the ways sexual issues have an entirely different flavor in their home countries than they do in, say, Chicago or Austin. When you are trying to keep some misguided local honcho from cutting bits off your genitals as part of the practice of female circumcision, you just aren’t all that worried about whether a new rabbit head vibrator will finally make you multiply orgasmic.

There were all sorts of sessions, everything from masturbating your way to better orgasms, to sexy food, to how to make love to a transsexual. A doctor who performs penis-lengthening operations like the ones I wrote about recently showed a video of just how the operation works. My testicles have still not relaxed after leaping north like scared squirrels when I saw that scalpel make the first cut. I’m shivering now just thinking about it. 

But though the congress had its wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say-no-more moments that made for cackles over drinks in the bar afterward, the headline from the congress is that sex is complicated and is only getting more complicated as time goes on.

That seems silly, seeing as how sex is about the most basic thing we do. So how hard can it be? But of course sex comes with a basket full of cultural, personal and moral meanings and implications, and sexual expression is so varied it’s become a Babel of languages. 

Some highlights:

The P-spot?
Experts are still arguing about whether there is such a thing as a G-spot. Is it actually a “female prostate”? Should we call it the P-spot? Should we care?

Sex — or lack of it — after menopause
A controversy is raging over what, if anything, to do about female menopause and the resulting sexual side effects like dry vaginas, lack of interest, drop in frequency, missing orgasms. Some argue that this is natural and decry the “medicalization” of menopause and sexuality. Others say “Hey! We LIKED sex! We want it back!”

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At age 55, according to Lorraine Dennerstein of Australia’s University of Melbourne, about 20 percent of men say they are essentially sexually inactive. But about 45 percent of women say so. Presumably, a lot of those women are married to the 80 percent of active men. Where are those men getting the sex?

“Sexual inactivity is a cause of marital discord,” pointed out Jeanne Leventhal Alexander of the Northern California Kaiser Permanente Psychiatry Group for Women’s Health. So it’s not always that middle-aged men leave their wives for younger women because the guy is missing his youth or wants to impress his golfing buddies. He’s missing the sex.

In its normal course, menopause symptoms can begin subtly, appearing at age 38, said Alessandra Graziottin an Italian ob-gyn who specializes in sex and menopause. She often prescribes estrogen treatments like suppositories for dry vaginas, and testosterone gels and creams for desire and energy if a woman’s level is proven to be low.

But there are even simpler ways to help mitigate the effects of menopause on sex. Above all, stop smoking. Smoking reduces genital arousal in women. Have good overall health. Have a loving relationship.

Porn may not be so bad
Jenna Jameson doesn’t create deviants. Gert Martin Hald of Denmark’s University of Aarhus conducted a study of 200 young men and women aged 18 to 30 and “failed on nearly all measures to find negative effects” from video porn. You’ll be reading more about Hald’s study in a future column.

Arousal before desire
In women, arousal typically comes before desire, according to Rosemary Basson of the University of British Columbia’s departments of psychiatry and gynecology. In fact, arousal triggers desire, and arousal develops by anticipating reward, something good about to happen. In other words, men, if you aren’t rewarding her with strokes, massaging, kissing, happy talk, good oral sex, and all the other ways to please a woman, what’s in it for her? You still think you can appear at the bedroom door wearing the funky man-pouch and sucking in your gut and expect her to feel the heat? Not unless she has reason to believe something good is coming. Like, uh, her.

How far will it stretch?
A doctor in Uruguay, Carlos Moreira, has helped develop a penis-stretching device that does not rely on surgery. Instead, it uses a miniature version of the rack, that all-time torture favorite. Wear his device for seven hours every day for four months and you too can have a stiffy that is all of .7 centimeters longer.

Yep, the chicks’ll dig ya.

Woman power
A big hit at the conference was a video presentation of a movie called “The O Times” celebrating women’s orgasms. Sort of freedom-expression-woman-power stuff. I’m happy for women who have orgasms. Really. But do you think there will ever be a movie celebrating male ejaculation? With, you know, close-ups of our funny, scrunched-up faces and grateful puppy dog eyes?

Just wondering.

Brian Alexander is a California-based writer who covers sex, relationships and health. He is a contributing editor at Glamour and the author of "Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion" (Basic Books).

Sexploration appears every other Thursday.

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