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Hello again, dear friend Anonymous. Welcome back to our sex talk column where readers submit questions, and we do our research and craft a story to answer. The topic of our latest submission: What is shallowing?
We already used up our one allotted A Star Is Born joke in the preview line, so we’ll just jump right in. We tapped Good Vibes Staff Sexologist Dr. Carol Queen, Ph.D. (she’s also the curator for the Antique Vibrator Museum) to share.
Below, she explains what shallowing is, why you should try it, and different ways to do it.
“Shallowing is basically a way to say ‘shallow insertion.’ Rather than inserting a penis, fingers, toys, etc. deep into the vagina, it involves entering just a little bit, into the part of the vagina called the introitus. Think an inch or so, not all the way in.”
What does shallowing feel like?
“The nerves that are most plentiful deep inside the vagina feel primarily pressure, motion, and fullness. Those are great sensations. But the external vulva and the introitus (the opening of the vagina) have more nerves that can feel sensations like stroking. So this kind of play can be extremely pleasurable. The entry is actually the vagina’s most sensitive part and so often, we rush past it during sex and play.
Anyone with a vagina who is up for insertion play can benefit. In fact, you could do anal shallowing as well. The neurology there is also different between shallow and deeper penetration. This kind of play can be explored solo or partnered. And a person who doesn’t really enjoy deeper penetration (whose cervix hurts during deep insertion, for instance), might really love this because they can get penetration pleasure without the discomfort they may fear.
“This might not sound as much fun for the person with the penis. Honestly, if that person isn’t intrigued by how they can make you feel by teasing you and slowing down the scene, they might not be a very intuitive or (your) pleasure-focused lover. But besides that, the head of the penis, which is all they’d insert when shallowing, is usually the most sensitive part of the penis. This technique will be sensation-filled for both partners if they are mindful and focus on what’s going on.”
If you explore this with a partner with a penis (or strap-on):
- “For most people with a vagina, any vaginal insertion, whether shallowing or deep, is better when turned on. And that can mean what we often call ‘foreplay,’ such as making out, sexy touching, and cunnilingus. It helps get us ready for and (often) desirous of insertion. That’s good to remember for any kind of sex. With shallowing, the more turned on you are, the more sensitive the introitus will be. In other words, it will be hotter and more worthwhile.
- “This can be done in most positions. Think of it as kind of a controlled, chill intercourse where there isn’t as much movement, but every movement is intensely pleasurable.
- “Here’s a method with a kind of intuitive foreplay that heightens anticipation: rubbing the penile (or dildo) head over the clitoris and up and down the vulva between the labia as though insertion is imminent, but stopping and teasing before entry. Do that for a while, and when the head of the penis pushes in and stops right there, it can be amazing. Then in a bit, start a little movement. Not full thrusting though, until you are ready to go from shallowing to longer thrusts. Don’t hurry to that step because there is so much pleasure to be had in shallowing.”
If you try this with any gender:
- “Again, it’s always better to be turned on already. A partner can stroke the clit and vulva (use lube for the slickest, sexiest sensation) with their fingers and gradually begin dipping a fingertip or two in. Don’t go past the first knuckle. Make sure your nails are smooth or wear a glove. Once you’ve entered, begin exploring with a little bit of movement.
- This is also a great way to enhance cunnilingus.
- With a toy, you can use a vibe or not, but smooth and/or cushy might feel especially nice.”
If you do this solo:
- “Same principles as above—turn-on is good, take your time, tease and explore, and use lube, fingers, or a toy. Unlike some solo positions where it’s challenging to get your own fingers deep into the vagina, this won’t be a problem when you’re just exploring up to the first knuckle. This is easy to do solo and can be a lovely addition to a clitoral focus. Or just relax and try shallowing by itself for a while.”
What are some reasons to try shallowing?
- Get to know your body and sexual responses better.
- Explore a broader range of pleasure options (especially vaginal ones).
- Experience more vaginal and vulval sensation.
- Slow down and savor the pleasure.
- Decenter the idea that sex = full penetration and thrusting. There is so much more to sex than that, and many people who focus on it miss opportunities to get more aroused, which ironically would make f*cking-style insertion hotter and more pleasurable. A partner who does this with you learns (or already possesses) more nuance and finesse even if full-on f*cking is on the menu.
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Shallowing is short for “shallow insertion,” which involves a penis, fingers, toys, etc, entering the vagina just a little bit versus going deep. And, yep, “just the tip” can be very pleasurable. The most sensitive part of the vagina is actually the entry.