6 things we learned about sexual health this year

Sexual health is health — and, boy, did we learn a lot about it this year. After spending 2023 diving into studies, surveys and even pop culture moments that focused on all things sex, I’ve concluded that there’s always more to know about the more intimate side of our lives. Sometimes the things we learned may have felt a little TMI — like, say, the role Christmas ornaments have as potential sex toys. Most of the time, however, the stuff we learned about sex was pretty groundbreaking, such as how there are two types of desire, and neither is wrong.

Here’s a wrap-up of the top six things we learned about sex this year — and here’s to many more fun, sexy facts in the new year.

1. Many women keep a ‘sexual toolbox’

You may not find it at Home Depot, but more than half of menopausal women ages 50 and over who were asked about their sex lives in a September Kindra-Harris poll said that they kept a “sexual toolbox” to make intercourse more pleasurable. These products include lubricants, as well as vibrators, both of which can make sex more fun and comfortable, especially as many menopausal women experience vaginal dryness and other pain during sex, medically known as dyspareunia.

And speaking of lubricant — you may want to be careful about what you put in your own toolbox. If you are using condoms, whether that’s with a sex toy or partner, you should never use oil-based lube, as it can “destroy the integrity of latex condoms,” women’s health expert Dr. Jennifer Wider tells Yahoo Life.

You don’t have to be menopausal to benefit from lube either. “A myth surrounding lube is that people only use lube when something is not quite working correctly,” says Dr. Laura Purdy, chief medical officer at Wisp. “This couldn’t be further from the truth. Many people use lube to make things feel more natural, and lube can be your best friend during sex.”

2. There are 2 types of desire — and neither is wrong

In movies (and, of course, porn) all it takes is someone looking at their partner for Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” to start playing. In real life, sexual psychologist Laurie Mintz says that’s not exactly how things work — at least, not most of the time, and especially not for people in long-term relationships. That’s because there are two types of desire: “spontaneous desire,” which is when you feel aroused pretty much immediately, and “responsive desire,” which means you need some kind of stimulation in order to put yourself in a sexy mood.

“With this type of desire, one doesn’t wait to be horny to have sex, but has sex to get horny,” Mintz says, which means that “the desire follows the arousal, versus the reverse.”

Obviously, there are times when sex is completely off the table between two consenting adults — headaches and new episodes of The Golden Bachelor do exist, after all. However, these two kinds of desire may take some of the pressure off people who may feel like they have a lower libido simply because they don’t feel spontaneously sexual.

Instead of making yourself feel bad because you can’t go zero to 60, try engaging in things that make you feel in the mood before you get to your sexual main event, whether that’s masturbating, kissing your partner or even just relaxing and thinking about sex in the hours leading up to a planned encounter.

3. Young people are having less sex than their parents did at their age

Teen rates of sexual intercourse are declining, according to a 2023 published survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey found that only 30% of teens in 2021 said they ever had sexual intercourse, down from 38% in 2019. While, yes, the COVID-19 pandemic did likely have something to do with the declining rates (it’s a little hard to socially distance during sex), some experts think there may be other reasons for the decline, such as more teens identifying as LGBTQ and engaging in sex acts that don’t necessarily involve intercourse.

It’s also possible that young people just aren’t growing up as fast as they once did. Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor who reviewed the data for her book Generations, told the Los Angeles Times that more young people are living at home longer and delaying things like getting their driver’s license and going to college — which may also affect their sex life.

“In times and places where people live longer and education takes longer, the whole developmental trajectory slows down,” she said. “And so for teens and young adults, one place that you’re going to notice that is in terms of dating and romantic relationships and sexuality.”

4. People are using strange seasonal things as sex toys

TikTokers love to review the holiday items at Target each year, but Dr. Adam Gaston, an internal medicine physician since 2021, went viral on the platform for a different reason: by reminding his followers not to put said Christmas decor any place it “doesn’t belong.” Sure, that Christmas tree ornament may not be shaped all that differently from a dildo, but spending the holidays in an emergency room because glass broke inside your rectum or vagina is ho-ho-horrific.

Of course, it’s not just the holiday season that gets people hot, bothered and making bad decisions about what to use for sexual gratification: A 2013 case study revealed that things like ballpoint pens, a tea glass and even an eggplant were found in the rectum of different men, so really, why wouldn’t a Christmas ornament be on deck too?

Place those ornaments on your tree and add a silicone-based sex toy on your holiday wish list.

5. Libido gummies (probably) don’t work — at least not how you think

Popping a supplement or chewing on a gummy won’t make you instantly hot and bothered, even as more and more companies are selling libido gummies that claim to put women in the mood for love.

The jury is out on these products, says Dr. Tiffany Pham, an ob-gyn and a medical adviser for female health app Flo Health, as there is “a lack of robust research into the claims behind these supplements,” even as some individual ingredients show promise.

But that’s not the only reason they’re unlikely to be the sole solution for low libido for women: Libido involves more than just physical function and can be affected by everything from stress to past trauma to the connection one has with a partner. If you’re really struggling with a lack of desire, talking with a sex therapist will likely do way more than an over-the-counter supplement. And if you are curious about taking something to boost your libido, make sure to talk to your doctor, who can tell you if it’s safe to explore.

6. Dry orgasms are a thing for men

And Just Like That may be lacking the sex part of its predecessor’s name, but there’s still plenty of sex in the city for Carrie Bradshaw and her friends. In a 2023 episode, Charlotte and her husband, Harry, are having sex when Harry orgasms — only for no semen to come out. After consulting with a doctor, the couple learns he experienced a retrograde orgasm, or a dry orgasm, which occurs when semen enters the bladder instead of exiting through the penis, leading to little to no ejaculation. While Harry is instructed to do kegels — leading to Charlotte training him in the famed pelvic floor exercise — urologist Dr. Fenwa Milhouse told Insider that advice won’t help. Dry orgasms are typically a nerve issue and often caused by certain medications, like ones taken for diabetes, as well as pelvic injuries.

“It’s not dangerous. It’s not detrimental to the person’s body, but it can interfere with fertility because the semen isn’t getting where it needs to be, which is being deposited into the partner’s vagina,” Milhouse told Insider.

Bonus: Here’s how you find your G-spot (which may not be a ‘spot,’ after all)

Ah, the G-spot. If you’re a person with a vagina and have always found this famed alleged center of pleasure elusive, Martha Kempner’s breakdown of the G-spot includes where to find it. The G-spot is on the front wall of the vagina, nearly two inches in. Also worth noting? The G-spot may not be a spot at all but more of a zone, as, according to a 2022 article, there are actually “five separate erotogenic tissues that function in a similar way to the G-spot.”

One theory why stimulating the G-spot feels so good is that people are stimulating the clitorourethrovaginal (CUV) complex, which includes interactions between the clitoris, urethra and uterus, says Debby Herbenick, director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and author of Read My Lips. A come-hither motion with two (well-lubed!) fingers should do the trick.