What Happens to Relationships When Sex Hurts

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Women who suffer from the chronic-pain condition vulvodynia often feel isolated from their partners. But a better medical understanding is helping.

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In her 18 years as a sex therapist in Orange County, California, Stephanie Buehler has come to recognize a certain tense, fraught dynamic in couples when a female partner has vulvodynia. The chronic-pain condition affects female genitalia, sometimes manifesting itself in generalized pain throughout the vulva and sometimes in localized pain that can be provoked through vaginal penetration. Either way, vulvodynia can make sex extremely painful.

Often, “these couples have stopped having any kind of physical contact. Usually they’ve stopped being affectionate,” Buehler told me. Particularly in mixed-sex couples, she’s found that “sometimes it’s because the woman is afraid that if there’s any physical contact, he’s going to get aroused and she’s going to have to say, ‘I’m not interested.’ Or it’s because he doesn’t want to burden her with his needs.” Not every couple whose love life has been affected by vulvodynia fits that description, Buehler noted: “Sex is not the be-all, end-all for every couple.” But many, she’s found, are frustrated by the loss of a way to communicate their love to each other. Sometimes a partner, especially a male partner, feels rejected, believing the female partner is exaggerating the pain she feels during sex as a way to brush him off. Sometimes the female partner feels guilt or frustration because she feels she isn’t able to fulfill her role in the sexual partnership. Some couples feel mutually resentful of their partner’s apparent failure to meet or understand their needs.

For more than a century, pain during penetrative sex was murkily understood and often presumed to be a physical manifestation of women’s dislike of or anxiety toward sex. Today, as Buehler puts it, it’s less common for people to have to visit 10 different doctors to finally get a diagnosis, but it’s still likely they’d have to see three. The Mayo Clinic explicitly states that doctors still don’t know what causes the condition, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists calls it a “diagnosis of exclusion.”

Still, researchers and physicians have made significant strides in understanding and effectively treating what’s now recognized as a real and common physical condition. In the process, they’ve helped many couples find hope in a situation that not so long ago felt hopeless.

Vulvodynia can affect more than just a person’s sex life (using tampons, getting pelvic exams, riding bicycles, and even wearing tight-fitting pants can cause pain), and any chronic condition can take its toll on a marriage or relationship. But not many chronic-pain conditions affect relationships in quite as direct and obvious a way as vulvodynia does.

When Buehler meets one of these couples, she first works with them on integrating some forms of affection back into their lives—kissing hello and goodbye at the start and end of the workday, sitting together on the couch, holding hands as they walk to their car. She works with them on how to talk about their feelings toward sex, separating their feelings about sex from their feelings about each other, and she works with them on how to engage sexually in ways that don’t involve penetration. Buehler also puts women in touch with pelvic-floor physical therapists or physicians who can treat the parts of the vulva that experience burning or stabbing sensations through massage, biofeedback therapy, injection of Botox, or surgery. (Frequently, she said, a male partner’s suspicion that his wife or girlfriend is exaggerating her pain level dissolves once he’s observed a physical-therapy session or two.)

After physical therapy, counseling, treatment, or some combination thereof, Buehler said many of the couples she works with are able to enjoy pain-free sex; all at the very least learn new strategies for how to manage the pain and/or maintain intimacy. Many couples leave “feeling like, Wow, we got through something together, and we’ve grown closer because of it,” Buehler said.

Female pain during sex has a long history of being misclassified, misunderstood, and blamed on the women themselves. As Maya Dusenbery writes in Doing Harm, a book about sexism in medicine, vulvar pain was first described in medical texts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a sort of recurring but mysterious phenomenon, a pain with no known cause.

Throughout much of the 20th century, however, the burning or stabbing sensation many women reported was considered “more of a marital problem than a medical one,” as Dusenbery puts it. Vulvar pain, which often shows up in tandem with vaginismus (a condition involving spasms of the pelvic-floor muscles that can make it painful or impossible to have intercourse), was frequently believed to be a physical manifestation of unhappiness in a relationship, and thus methods for treatment included things like hypnosis, couples therapy, and numbing ointments—the last of which often made sex possible, though not necessarily enjoyable.

But even in the 1970s and 1980s, after feminist activism had more firmly embedded female sexual pleasure into the conversation about sexual health, vulvar pain—now beginning to be called vulvodynia—was still widely considered to be linked to psychiatric or psychological problems. “Inexplicable pain in a woman’s genital area that often interfered with sex? The symbolism proved too tempting to resist, and pseudo-Freudian theories ran rampant,” Dusenbery writes. As a result, many women who suffered from pain provoked by sex and other genital touching were told that they were simply frigid or uptight, or that they just needed to relax.

It wasn’t until the 2000s that researchers came to recognize vulvodynia as a chronic-pain condition rather than a sexual dysfunction—and that was largely thanks to the efforts of a group of women living with vulvodynia who lobbied for more research funding. Phyllis Mate co-founded the National Vulvodynia Association in 1994, and today she serves as the president of its board. Within a few years of the NVA’s founding, she told me, the organization had successfully lobbied the National Institutes of Health to hold a conference on vulvodynia. “That did a lot to legitimize the disorder,” she said. “If you were a doctor, it was like, If the NIH is interested in it, it must be real.” In the years since, and especially in the 2010s, she added, public awareness and medical understanding of vulvodynia have improved significantly.

The new attention to vulvodynia also revealed just how common the condition is. Research conducted in the mid-2010s suggested that some 8 percent of women were currently experiencing vulvodynia symptoms; a 2012 study found that an additional 17 percent of women reported having symptoms in the past. One 2007 study found that a quarter of women with chronic vulvar pain reported an “adverse effect on their lifestyle,” while 45 percent reported adverse effects on their sex lives.

Of course, heightened awareness doesn’t mean universal awareness. A 2014 study found that more than half of women who reported experiencing chronic vulvodynia symptoms had sought care, but received no diagnosis. As Dusenbery points out in Doing Harm, research conducted in the mid-2000s found that one-third of women with vulvodynia considered the most unhelpful care they had received to be from doctors who had explained that their physical pain was “psychological” or “all in their head.”

When Haylie Swenson, a 33-year-old writer and educator who wrote earlier this year for the blog Cup of Jo about her experience with vulvodynia, got married 10 years ago, she had never had penetrative intercourse, but because she’d experienced vulvar pain in other situations, she worried she’d never be able to have sex without pain. Swenson’s fears were confirmed on her honeymoon in Paris, and upon returning home, she started calling doctors.

The first, she recalled, told her to “use lube, make sure you’re warmed up, and have a glass of wine.” Which was terrible advice, Swenson added, and not just because Swenson was a Mormon at the time and didn’t drink. The problem wasn’t the amount of lube or foreplay, she insisted; the doctor wasn’t listening. “I felt gaslit,” she told me.

Eventually, Swenson managed to get a diagnosis, but the next two years—the first two years of her marriage—were punctuated by doctors offering new treatments and those treatments failing to solve the problem, and by Swenson’s hopes rising and crashing accordingly.

In July 2018, Allison Behringer told the story of her own experience with vulvodynia on the first episode of Bodies, the documentary podcast on medical mysteries that she hosts. In the episode, titled “Sex Hurts,” Behringer tells a story that begins when she was 24: She met a man, fell in love, and enjoyed a loving, rewarding sex life with him until one day, on vacation (also in Paris), she experienced a mysterious sharp pain during sex. The relationship intensified, but so did the pain, and as Behringer searched for a remedy, her partner became more and more frustrated by her inability to have penetrative sex with him.

In the end, with treatment and physical therapy, Behringer’s pain subsided. But soon afterward, the relationship dissolved. Behringer and her ex had started to fight about a lot of things, even after the sex got better. But “in the inevitable post-relationship ‘what went wrong’ analysis that we all torture ourselves with,” she said in the episode, “I’ve wondered so many times how things would have turned out if it weren’t for the pain.”

In the year and a half since “Sex Hurts” was released, Behringer said she has been contacted by “somewhere between 50 and 100” women—via email, Facebook message, and LinkedIn—who got in touch to tell her their own strikingly similar stories. Not only do their long, discouraging searches for care sound a lot like Behringer’s, but so do their stories of relationships that suffered or crumbled entirely as a result. “A lot of people are like, ‘My partner was really unsupportive. My partner sounds like he was just like your partner,’” she told me in an interview.

Despite the strides researchers have made in recent years toward understanding vulvodynia, living with it can still be a profoundly isolating experience. It can be like having all the frustrating everyday complications of any other chronic condition plus the added hardship of being shut off from one important and primal way to feel close to a partner. (Of course, other kinds of sexual expression are in many cases still possible, but penetration is often considered an important or primary objective of heterosexual sex.)

Recent research has found, however, that how partners respond can greatly affect the relationship quality of couples affected by vulvodynia. For instance, researchers have found that “facilitative” behaviors from male partners (things like showing affection and encouraging other kinds of sexual behaviors) lead to better sexual and relationship satisfaction than “solicitous” behaviors (like suggesting a halt to all sexual activity) or angry behaviors. Many studies have linked localized (or “provoked”) vulvodynia to decreased sexual satisfaction, but not necessarily to decreased relationship quality, and other research has suggested that even the intensity of the pain women report can be affected by partner responses.

Swenson, who describes herself in her blog post as “the higher-desire spouse” in her marriage, said she and her husband found other ways to enjoy sexual pleasure that didn’t involve penetration. “I think it’s sort of damaging, the way that people hold up penile intercourse as, like, the be-all, end-all,” she told me. Still, the limitation of their sex life, she said—the knowledge that “we didn’t have this one thing”—was frustrating. “It made me feel sad,” she said, “and it sucks when sex makes you sad.”

While Swenson’s husband shared her sadness and frustration, she remembers feeling alone in her search for a remedy: “It was my body, my vagina, that I had to take to all these strangers,” she said. “It was my story that I had to tell over and over. It was my struggle to be believed and be taken seriously.”

Swenson eventually underwent surgery for her vulvodynia. (In cases like Swenson’s, where other treatments have failed, doctors often recommend removing the painful tissue.) After a two-month recovery and an all-clear from her doctor, she and her husband had penetrative sex for the first time. It didn’t hurt, Swenson told me, and afterward, she cried.

“When intercourse got easier, everything got a little easier,” she said. Still, “it took a long time to untangle those knots,” she added. “It was just this fraught, tangled thing, representing so many emotions. Anger, and regret, and this sort of feminist rage I had toward the medical-industrial complex that didn’t care—all of that got tangled up in my sex life.”

Perhaps the most important aspect of vulvodynia that the flurry of recent research has revealed is its prevalence: It’s newly apparent that thousands of women, along with their partners, have quietly faced agonizing challenges like Swenson’s and Behringer’s. But while the outlook for these couples a generation ago would likely have been bleak, today help, and hope, are possible.

Complete Article HERE!

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Slow sex

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How embracing the ‘mindful sex’ trend could boost your wellbeing

By Mary-Jane Wiltsher

There’s no denying that our interest in slow sex, or mindful sex, is on the rise. From sexy audio stories to carefully curated ‘pleasure packages’, there’s a whole new world of thoughtful, creative approaches to sex out there – and for many brands, female pleasure is finally being made the focus.

Slow sex. What do the words mean to you? If it’s dimming the lights, blasting Marvin Gaye and taking the pace of your bedroom activities down a notch, then in this case, you haven’t quite hit the spot.

That’s because, while all of those things could well feature in a session of slower sex, in this instance ‘slow’ refers to mindfulness, not speed.

In the last two decades, our mile-a-minute, tech-driven lives have sent us in search of ‘slow food’ (lovingly prepared seasonal ingredients), ‘slow travel’ (offbeat, eco-friendly journeys) and ‘slow journalism’ (deep-dive features that go beyond the breaking news cycle). 

These mindful movements involve fully engaging in the moment and putting more thought into the choices we make as humans. Contrary to its name, mindfulness helps us reconnect with our bodily senses and dislocate from the everyday worries that rattle around in our brains. MBCT (mindfulness based cognitive therapy) has even been used by the NHS to treat recurring depression.

How does mindfulness translate to our sex lives, though? Slow sex sounds a bit, well, dull. How do we define the vastness of sex – swift and unhurried, wild and comforting, awkward and joyous – in a ‘slow’ or ‘mindful’ context?

Writer, sex educator and ambassador for sexual wellbeing brand Tenga, Alix Fox, describes mindful sex as follows: “Mindful sex is about being truly in the moment during an erotic experience. It involves being utterly present and focused, and paying attention to all the sensations and emotions flowing through you, without judging yourself for whatever you happen to feel.”

In a world where we devote more time to our screens than our sex lives, mindful sex may seem laughably impractical, but Fox explains that there are multiple benefits.

“Having mindful sex – indeed, practicing mindfulness full stop – can be challenging if you’ve got a lot on your plate, or you’re knackered or anxious. Yet mindful sexual sessions can help us to feel more rested, relaxed, calm and contented. It may sound hippy dippy, but mindful sex is certainly worth putting your mind to.” 

“It’s hard, especially for women, to really know what we want from sex. To separate what we want to do, from what is expected of us”

While mindful sex is moving into becoming a trend in 2019, it certainly isn’t a new thing. Tantric sex, or tantra, which centres on heightening the senses through mindfulness and connection, is an ancient practice that appears in Hinduism and Buddhism. Fast forward to the 00s and a string of books on tantric or slow sex appeared, published by the likes of couples therapist Diana Richardson, whose 2018 TED Talk on mindful sex has so far racked up almost half a million views.

We’re not only talking about the sensations of the act itself, though. Mindful sex encompasses anything that enhances our sex lives – from apps and websites to books – and that’s where a new wave of brands comes in.

With more women writing and theorising about sex than ever before, and greater numbers of women working and consulting in the sextech industry, a plethora of female-founded brands, publications and collectives have emerged. These range from Dipsea’s sexy audio stories for women, to mindful sex app Ferly, sex education website OMGYes and ‘pleasure package’ subscription service The Sway, via Flo Perry’s sex-positive book How to Have Feminist Sex, to name a handful.

United by a thoughtful and creative approach to sex, their focus is on female pleasure. Perry’s guide to bringing feminism into the bedroom is a great instructional tool for women who want to make more mindful choices about sex. Reliably smart, frank and relatable, it covers everything from masturbation to monogamy, pubes to sending nudes, and is crammed with her playful illustrations.

“I like the idea of more conscious sex,” says Perry. “I think it’s hard, especially for women, to really know what we want from sex. To separate what we want to do, from what is expected of us during sex.”

On the rise of ‘slow sex’, she says: “Not everyone wants to have romantic fireside tantric encounters, some people want to be fingered hard and fast on the back of a bus, and both of those fantasies can be done equally consciously, and full of feminism.”

The rise of audio porn or audio erotica, too, reveals a growing interest in slower, more immersive forms of stimulation. Gina Gutierrez, co-founder of Dipsea, the sexy short story app for women, sees a connection between the numbers of women working in sextech and the slow sex movement.

“While we don’t necessarily think about it as ‘slow sex’, we’re proud to be part of a movement that’s re-imagining sex as mind-first vs. body-first,” she says, adding that the wider societal change is likely down to, “a growing curiosity around, and interest in, serving women in all the ways they uniquely experience sexuality.”

Crafting fantasies through scene-setting and tension-building, Dipsea’s stories can be adjusted according to sexual orientation and explicitness, and listened to solo or with a partner. Based on research that, especially for women, tapping into sexual feelings has a lot to do with mood and context, Dipsea creates scenarios that listeners can envision as they like. As one subscriber puts it, “It leaves room for my own imagination to fill in the blanks”.

Gen de Rohan Willner and Sinead O’Hare, co-founders of The Sway – a subscription service that sends bi-monthly ‘pleasure packages’ full of thoughtful prompts and products discreetly to your door – believe “we are seeing a huge shift in sexual wellbeing as a whole being valued alongside physical health and mental wellbeing, which is fantastic.”

“Women are being more vocal than ever, demanding equality in all aspects of their lives””

The Sway was born out of that very change in perception. “Sex often took the backseat in our busy lives,” says de Rohan Willner. “Between the yoga, facials and green juices we were purchasing to ‘look after ourselves’, neither of us were lifting a finger to keep our sex lives alive and kicking. That little shift in our minds that sex is also something that needs ‘looking after’ is where The Sway started.”

Education and curation are important to the brand. Unlike other subscription services, each box is themed around a new ‘area’ of pleasure. This promotes exploration and communication while introducing subscribers to new products they may not have otherwise discovered.

Like Gutierrez, de Rohan Willner believes mindful sex is part of a wider zeitgeist in which “women are being more vocal than ever, demanding equality in all aspects of their lives”.

Interestingly, The Sway’s most popular products don’t involve vibration. Instead, orgasm enhancer balms and good old-fashioned lube are forever popular. The founders note that there’s also “a rising interest in massage products – the perfect example of a product that helps spice things up while slowing things down”.

The lack of ‘buzz’ may tie into what Alix Fox coins ‘The NoZap Movement’, referring to women who periodically give up vibrating sex toys, feeling they have become over-reliant on intense stimulation, which can make it harder to appreciate the comparatively delicate sensations of human touch. Similarly, some men may “give up porn and masturbation for a set period of time in an effort to ‘reset’ their mental outlook and physical sensitivity”.

Solo sex is alive and healthy, though, and also ties into the slow sex movement. Research by Tenga reveals that masturbation is starting to be seen as a form of self-care – a view which very much feeds into more mindful attitudes to sex.

 

The Self Pleasure Report, produced in May this year, revealed that 64% of Brits used masturbation as a form of self-care, with 52% saying it improved their wellbeing. British respondents ranked masturbation as more pleasurable and more stress-relieving than wellness activities like taking a bath or listening to music.

What does all this mean? Cheeringly, we’re thinking and talking about sex in broader, more explorative and progressive ways. Female entrepreneurs aren’t waiting for sextech to catch up to their needs. Ancient taboos about masturbation are beginning to be dismantled. We’re being kinder to our bodies.

Once we forget the idea of mindful sex as a specific kind of candlelit tantric experience, and instead see it as a much-needed shot of thought and imagination for our sex lives, it becomes a whole lot more accessible and, well, sexy.

Could we see people giving up sex toys altogether in favour of mindful sex and tantric practices? As with anything, it’s all about balance. We wouldn’t live on ‘slow food’ alone – sometimes we want a sugary snack – and our sexual appetites are just as diverse. You might want to dip into audio porn one day, and be gratified in an entirely different way the next.

So, while slow sex is on the rise, it remains part of a vast and colourful array of sexual pleasures – and that’s altogether more stimulating.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to ask for what you want (in bed)

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Having great sex is not a privilege for the few. Everyone should feel able to have pleasurable and intimate sex in the way they want – whether that’s with someone you are in a long-term relationship with, or if it’s with someone you’ve just met or hooked up with.

But let’s be honest, talking about your sexual desires may feel like something that’s hard to do. For many gay men who’ve lived alongside the HIV epidemic for decades, the double challenge of negotiating safety and pleasure has left us feeling like we need to choose one or the other.

We want to tell you that this shouldn’t be the case. New ways to feel empowered about your health (HIV testing, being ‘undetectable’, PrEP) have radically altered relationships and the sexual dynamics between men. But even with these new strategies it can still be hard to prioritise sexual desires and ask for what you want in bed.

In our new video, we give you some practical tips on how to ask for what you want in bed. You can also listen to Alex Garner, Senior Health Innovation Strategist at Hornet, and Alex Liu filmmaker, writer and sex expert of @Asexplanation, chat about all thing sex, shame and communicating everything you want to do in bed, in our new video for Talking HIV

Find out more about the other videos in our gay sexual health series.

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What’s your fetish:

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Power dynamics

By Shay Rego

Fetishes may seem like a taboo subject, but they’re much more common than we may think. Fetishism is defined as a form of sexual behavior in which gratification is linked to an abnormal object, activity, part of the body, etc.

College students’ curiosity and sexual exploration can increase curiosity in fetishism. From a sample of college students in a study conducted by Harvard, 22% said they were interested in fetishes, and 43% said they have or believe they have a fetish.

There are many different categories that span the fetishism criteria, and each category has multiple subcategories within it. Many fetishes can overlap with other fetishes. For now, I will discuss the fetish of power dynamics and its various subcategories, from the familiar to the rare.

Using power dynamics in the bedroom means allowing one partner to have more control over the situation than the other partner. Even the most vanilla of relationships show some type of power play.

Being the one in control can feel empowering and can lead to even more of a turn on. Being the one out of control can also be a huge turn on, as this allows someone to not have to worry or think about what to do next — they can simply enjoy.

BDSM

BDSM is the umbrella term used to describe relationships that use any single type of bondage, dominant, submissive, sadist or masochist scenario. These categories will be explored below.

Generally, BDSM can be anything from something as harmless as blindfolding your partner to having a full-blown sex chamber similar to Christian Grey’s in “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Partaking in BDSM doesn’t mean you and your partner have to specifically comply with one or more of the subcategories, but certain activities may lean more toward one.

Dominant and submissive

This is one of the most entry-level forms of BDSM. Basically, it’s an agreement between both partners where one pledges to be in charge of how everything in the bedroom is going to be, known as the dominant, and the other pledges to do everything that is asked of them by the dominant, known as the submissive.

Being submissive to the dominant can take place erotically in the bedroom, but it can also be carried into everyday lifestyles.

Bondage and discipline

Bondage is a subculture of BDSM. Bondage includes the practice of consensually restraining your partner for erotic purposes. Common restraint practices include handcuffing, gagging, blinding or shibari.

Shibari is a style of bondage developed by the Japanese and typically involves rope tying. This rope tying is also a form of art and, for some, a form of therapy or meditation.

Discipline falls directly in line with the dominant and submissive roles. If the submissive disobeys the rules or refuses to listen to the dominant, then the submissive is subjected to discipline. Punishments can include flogging, nipple clips, slapping and more. Punishments can carry on outside the bedroom as well.

Sadist and masochist

Sadism and masochism are on the more extreme end of the BDSM subcategories. A sadist is someone who directly derives sexual pleasure from inflicting pain onto their partner. A masochist is someone who receives sexual gratification from the pain inflicted on them from their partner. So naturally, sadists and masochists go hand-in-hand.

The idea is that the sadist, usually the dominant, enjoys carrying out punishment for something their partner may have done that was naughty. It’s not necessarily that the sadist enjoys inflicting long-term and significantly painful damage onto their partner. The masochists, usually the submissive, tend to feel like they deserve punishment for their naughty act and may feel better receiving their punishment.

Rape play

Rape fantasies are normal, despite how others might grimace in disgust and misunderstanding. It’s another form of a power dynamic. Usually, this type of power dynamic is done with a trusted individual or an already dominant/submissive relationship. This could be seen as an extremist form of sadism and masochism, but keep in mind that this fantasy is still consensual for both parties.   

The infliction of pain, feeling under ownership and loss of self for the “victim” incites sexual pleasure, whereas the simulation of violence can serve to show ownership or attachment to the “victim.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Survey sheds light on fluid teen sexual orientation

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At least one in five teenagers reports some change in sexual orientation during adolescence, according to new research.

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“This work highlights the fluidity that many adolescents experience in terms of how they label their sexuality and who they feel sexually attracted to,” says lead author J. Stewart, a PhD student at North Carolina State University.

For this study, researchers looked at data from 744 students from rural high schools in the southeastern United States; 54% of the students were girls, 46% were boys. Students filled out surveys each year for three years, spanning either their freshman through junior years or their sophomore through senior years. Researchers collected the data between 2014 and 2016.

The researchers found that at some point during the three-year period, 19% of students reported at least one change in their self-labeled sexual identity—for example, classifying themselves as heterosexual in year one and as bisexual in year two. Some students reported multiple changes, such as switching from heterosexual to bisexual between years one and two, and then back to heterosexual in year three.

There were also notable differences between male and female students, with 26% of girls reporting some change in sexual identity over the three-year study period, compared to 11% of boys.

In addition to how teens labeled their sexualities, researchers looked at the extent to which teens reported being romantically attracted to boys and/or girls. The study found that 21% of students reported changes in who they were attracted to over the course of the study. As with sexual identity, some students reported changes in romantic attraction between years one and two, and again between years two and three.

Again, there were notable differences between boys and girls, with 31% of girls reporting changes in romantic attraction, compared to 10% of boys.

“Some adolescents shifted between sexual minority identities and/or attractions—gay or lesbian, bisexual, etc. as well as varying degrees of same-sex attractions—across all three years,” Stewart says. “Others fluctuated between heterosexual and sexual minority groups. And when we looked at the extent to which sexual identity, attraction, and sexual behavior aligned, we saw some interesting trends.”

The researchers found that the majority of people who identified as sexual minorities also reported some degree of same-sex attraction—and most had engaged in some form of sexual behavior with a person of the same sex.

However, there was more variability among students who identified themselves as heterosexual—particularly for girls.

For example, 9% of all female students labeled themselves as both heterosexual and having at least some attraction to girls. And 12% of girls who reported being both heterosexual and having no sexual attraction toward girls also reported engaging in same-sex sexual behavior.

“The results for boys mirrored those for girls, albeit to a lesser degree,” Stewart says.

“Adolescence is a time of identity exploration, and sexual orientation is one aspect of that. One takeaway here is that the process of sexual identity development is quite nuanced for a lot of teens. And based on research with young adults, we expect these patterns will continue for many people into their late 20s and even beyond.

“To be clear, we’re talking about internally driven changes in sexual orientation,” Stewart says. “This research does not suggest these changes can be imposed on an individual and does not support the idea of conversion therapy. There’s ample evidence that conversion therapy is harmful and does not influence anyone’s sexual orientation.”

The researchers are already considering future directions for the work.

“The data in this study comes from kids growing up in the rural South,” Stewart says. “It would be interesting to see if these numbers vary across different sociopolitical environments. Additionally, we weren’t able to identify how these patterns looked among trans and other gender minority adolescents. That would be an important direction for future work.”

Complete Article HERE!

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The Link Between Commitment & Good Sex

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Researchers May Have Finally Figured It Out

By Kelly Gonsalves

Sex with a stranger or a new flame can be thrilling, but there’s something to be said for the kind of intimate, comfortable, deeply connected sex you can have with a committed partner you’ve been with for years. A lot of research has demonstrated that commitment is associated with higher sexual satisfaction, such that a person enjoys sex more when they’re having it with a person they’re committed to. 

Here’s the question, though: Does commitment make sex better, or does good sex make you more committed?

For a new study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, a team of researchers surveyed 366 couples about their commitment levels and sexual satisfaction over the course of their first five sessions of couples therapy. The researchers wanted to understand whether an increase in commitment one week would predict an increase in sexual satisfaction the following week, or vice versa. 

“Partners may be more committed to a relationship which offers them more sexual benefits,” they write in the paper on their findings. “Partners who are satisfied with the extent to which their sexual needs are met may be more devoted to the future of their relationships.”

But the opposite could also be true: “As partners’ commitment to each other grows, they may be more likely to devote more time and energy into the sexual component of their relationship, thus enhancing each partner’s sexual satisfaction,” the researchers hypothesize. “With a foundation of strong commitment, couples may develop a sense of safety in their relationships that leads partners to engage in more sexual exploration and thus enjoy more satisfying sexual lives together. Conversely, lower levels of commitment may inhibit partners from communicating about or enjoying their physical intimacy to the fullest extent.”

So which was it? Well…both.

When they analyzed the data, they found a bidirectional relationship between commitment and sexual satisfaction—more of either during one week led to more of the other the following week.

That said, after the first three sessions, these effects plateaued. Between the two directions, sexual satisfaction continued to predict commitment longer into the five weeks than the other way around. The researchers surmise that as time goes on, “the benefits of sexual satisfaction are important in improving commitment, but the safety and investment of commitment is less important in predicting sexual satisfaction.”

There are many ways to interpret these findings. The biggest take-away is that the two really are linked: When you improve your overall relationship and stability as a couple, your sex life will indirectly improve as well. And when you improve your sex life, your overall relationship will probably also get a boost. It may be that after a certain commitment threshold is met, being more and more dedicated to or in love with each other stops increasing the pleasure you get out of sex. Fair enough.

But the general principle definitely still stands: Want better sex? Work on strengthening your relationship. Want to strengthen your relationship? Sex is a great place to start.

Complete Article HERE!

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Surrogate Therapy Takes a Hands-On Approach to Overcoming Sexual Trauma

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—Up to and Including Intercourse

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Touch, erotic or not, can communicate painful memories, insecurities and vulnerabilities that are hard to verbalize.

One of the most revelatory moments of Carlene Ostedgaard’s career was the time she got an orgasm from having her shoulder touched.

It happened a few years ago, when Ostedgaard, 35, began training to become a surrogate partner. Typically treating sexual anxiety or trauma, surrogate partners work in collaboration with licensed therapists to teach their clients relaxation tools, hands-on intimacy exercises and social skills—eventually leading to unstructured, penetrative sex.

Part of Ostedgaard’s training included a two-week program in Los Angeles, in which trainees paired up for a series of exercises that slowly became more intimate, from holding hands to footbaths. One exercise involved “erotic body mapping,” in which Ostedgaard and her partner took turns touching, licking and sucking spots on each other’s bodies and rating the sensation. When Ostedgaard’s partner got to her scapula, she began to feel a current running down her spine.

“It was super cool,” she says. “I thought I knew all these wonderful things about my body, and that was a totally new experience.”

Orgasms, though, are rare in surrogate therapy, and somewhat beside the point. Instead, the focus is on understanding why and when relaxation becomes difficult. Touch, erotic or not, can communicate painful memories, insecurities and vulnerabilities that are hard to verbalize.

“You can decide what you tell your therapist and what you don’t tell your therapist,” says Ostedgaard. “The body is not very good at lying.”

Ostedgaard has been working in Portland as a surrogate partner for three years. The practice exists under the broader category of “touch therapy.” In almost every case, hands-on coaches tend to work with clients whose symptoms—whether it’s erectile dysfunction or pelvic pain—stem from shame, anxiety or sexual trauma, and the treatment can encompass a range of physical contact. Somatica, for instance, focuses on breathing exercises and nonerotic touch, while sexological bodywork often involves genital touch but not necessarily penetrative sex.

Surrogate therapy, however, almost always involves sexual intercourse. But Ostedgaard stresses that it is only a small part of the overall treatment. Most of the time is spent working on communication skills and relaxation techniques.

“Ninety-five percent of what we do has nothing to do with sex,” says Ostedgaard. “It’s getting someone to that place where they’re relaxed enough to be present in their bodies so they can enjoy sex. It’s learning to communicate about sex.”

Even in the realm of sex therapy and coaching, touch-based work is a niche practice—Ostedgaard says she is among only a few dozen nonmedical sexual health practitioners in Portland who use physical contact as part of their treatment.

Because it involves sex, the legality of the profession is complicated. Few states have directly addressed surrogate therapy. While serving as deputy district attorney in Alameda County, Calif., Kamala Harris said of the practice, “If it’s between consensual adults and referred by licensed therapists and doesn’t involve minors, then it’s not illegal.”

In Oregon, commercial sexual solicitation is broadly defined as paying for any kind of “sexual conduct or sexual contact.” But according to certain experts, the therapeutic purpose of surrogate partner therapy could dissuade prosecution.

“It’s not the actual sex that’s criminalized, it’s the business aspect,” says Lake Perriguey, a Portland lawyer who has represented defendants facing sex crimes charges. “If the agreement is more broadly stated as a joint effort to overcome an impotence through therapy, that may not run afoul of the criminal statue. If there is an agreement, written or oral, that includes the words ‘You’re going to pay me to eat you out and then your sexual blockage will be cleared,’ that would be illegal.”

In other words, it’s mostly legal in the sense that it’s not explicitly illegal. Still, according to Ostedgaard, no surrogate partner has been prosecuted in the 50 years the treatment has existed.

“I’m a little bit tired of having the conversation,”she says, “because it’s never happened, no one’s gotten in trouble, and it’s such good therapy. That’s why people leave us alone.”

The American Psychological Association’s code of ethics prohibits any kind of sexual intimacy between patients and therapists. Hands-on workers are not recognized as therapists, and refer to those they treat as “clients” rather than patients. But surrogate partners are unique in that they work in conjunction with a licensed therapist. Clients see a therapist throughout the duration of their surrogacy treatment, and sign disclosure agreements so the two professionals can share notes.

Some therapists can be skeptical about the collaboration. It’s usually the client, rather than the surrogate, who does the convincing.

“When someone comes to this stage in therapy, they’ve tried everything else,” says Ostedgaard. “If someone needs this therapy, in my mind, it’s unethical to deny them when it is so effective.”

Of the various disciplines of hands-on sex therapy, surrogate therapy is perhaps the most regimented. At the beginning of each session, the surrogate checks in with the client to see if he or she is ready to proceed with the plan for the day. Sometimes, that means repeating hand caress exercises for a session before moving on to touching one another’s faces. Just before surrogates and clients have sex, there’s usually a session that involves “quiet penetration,” sometimes colloquially referred to as “stuffing,” which is essentially just penetration without the intent of having an orgasm, and with little movement (the vast majority of clients who seek surrogate therapy are cisgender men).

“We just hang out there for like five minutes,” she says. “What we’re really doing is normalizing that sensation, whether that’s bringing them to the point of ejaculation and teaching them like, you can control this, or normalizing the feeling of a vagina, because for a lot of these folks, that’s why they’re prematurely ejaculating, it’s because they’re excited or they’re fearful.”

Treatment typically takes one to two years of weekly sessions. Emotional involvement is inherently part of the treatment—the closing sessions are somewhere between an exit interview and a breakup. The surrogate recaps the skills the client has built, and the pair say goodbye.

“The client knows from the beginning that the relationship is going to end,” says Ostedgaard. “We frame it a lot from the perspective of, ‘Look at all these beautiful new skills you have. You deserve to go spread that to the world. Why on earth would you choose to share with only me?'”

After treatment is over, clients continue to see their therapist, but cannot contact the surrogate for at least three months. “It’s painful and there’s crying and you’re going to miss them and they’re going to miss you,” says Ostedgaard. “Then they come back and they tell you like, they’ve gotten married, they’ve had a baby—really wonderful things like that.”

Sex coaches and surrogate partners often speak about their work as a way of not only healing individual clients, but also recoding cultural attitudes about sex and pleasure.

Few believe a mass shift is going to happen anytime soon. Though the practice is gaining in recognition—this weekend in New Orleans, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Educators will hold its first conference for certified members who use hands-on touch—Ostedgaard says legalizing sex work, regardless of a worker’s philosophical leanings, would be a big step.

“It would change attitudes so much if it wasn’t in the shadows,” she says. “It would change to the idea that pleasure and sex are a birthright.”

Complete Article HERE!

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What does a healthy open relationship look like?

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In a culture that favors monogamy, is it possible for couples to have open relationships that work? Recent research that used a novel framework to explore types of monogamy and nonmonogamy suggests that open, consensual nonmonogamous relationships can be healthy and satisfying.

New research delves into the conditions that make open relationships happy and healthy.

by Catharine Paddock, Ph.D.

The new study does not draw sweeping conclusions about successful open relationships. Instead, the findings identify the conditions that can promote healthy consensual nonmonogamous relationships and those that can put them under strain.

These conditions relate to the extent to which there is mutual consent, comfort, and — perhaps most importantly — communication about sex with other people.

A recent paper in The Journal of Sex Research gives a full account of the study and its findings.

“We know that communication is helpful to all couples,” says senior study author Ronald D. Rogge, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester in New York.

“However,” he continues, “[communication] is critical for couples in nonmonogamous relationships as they navigate the extra challenges of maintaining a nontraditional relationship in a monogamy-dominated culture.”

Three dimensions of commitment

A 2016 study suggests that about 1 in 5 individuals in the United States engage in open relationships at some stage of their lives.

Despite this relatively high statistic, a culture that favors monogamy can present a challenge to nonmonogamous couples looking to introduce new sexual partners into the relationship.

Such couples would need, for example, to protect each other from potential feelings of jealousy and judgment from others, note the study authors.

Previous studies in this area have yielded mixed findings. The reason for this could be that the frameworks that they have used to understand nontraditional relationships have tended to focus only on one or two dimensions, for example, monogamous or nonmonogamous.

To probe these inconsistencies and gain fresh insights into the nature of nonmonogamous vs. monogamous relationships, the researchers behind the new study devised a model of commitment that embraces three dimensions: mutual consent, communication, and comfort.

Consent, communication, and comfort

In their study paper, the authors explain why they consider these three conditions — which they refer to as the Triple C model — to be fundamental building blocks of healthy relationships.

Citing other studies, they argue that the conditions describe an “adaptive process that would help to buffer relationships from the adverse effects of enduring vulnerabilities and stressful events across time.”

They define mutual consent as a condition in which both partners agree explicitly the nature of their relationship. For example, is there to be sexual exclusivity? Would this decision also apply to emotional exclusivity? And what types of other sexual partners would be allowable?

The communication dimension covers the ongoing discussion about the relationship and its boundaries. While it is an important cornerstone of any relationship, the researchers argue that communication specifically about sex with other people has a central role in open relationships.

Communication allows, for instance, couples to negotiate rules about sex outside the relationship “while maintaining high levels of respect and consideration toward the feelings of each other,” write the authors.

Comfort, for instance, includes whether partners feel that they have to agree to an open relationship even though they really want it to be monogamous.

A question in connection with comfort would ask how upset the individual would be if they knew that their partner was having sex with other people or how upset their partner might be if it were the other way around. Both partners not being very upset would signify high levels of mutual comfort.

Five types of relationship

For the study, the team analyzed responses from 1,658 people in relationships who completed an online questionnaire that included items within the Triple C Model.

Nearly four out of five of the respondents were white, and about two-thirds were in their 20s and 30s. Nearly 70% described themselves as female, and most said that they were in long term relationships — on average, these had been going for almost 4.5 years.

The researchers arranged the participants into five groups according to the type of relationship that they described. The relationship type of each group is as follows:

  • Monogamous relationship: In the early stage.
  • Monogamous relationship: In the later stage.
  • Consensual nonmonogamous relationship: Neither partner is interested in staying monogamous, and there are high levels of mutual consent, comfort, and communication about sex with other people.
  • Partially open relationship: Mixed views on monogamy and lower levels of mutual consent, comfort, and communication.
  • One-sided relationship: One partner wants monogamy, while the other engages in sex with other people. There is low mutual consent and comfort and hardly any communication about sex outside the relationship.

The findings revealed that monogamous and consensual nonmonogamous groups appeared to have high functioning both in their relationships and as individuals.

In contrast, the partially open and one-sided relationship groups demonstrated lower levels of functioning.

Secrecy about sex with others can be ‘toxic’

There were reports of healthy relationships from both monogamous groups. These groups also featured some of the lowest levels of distress and loneliness.

Both monogamous groups and the consensual nonmonogamous group reported levels of distress and loneliness that were similarly low. In addition, these groups reported high levels of satisfaction relating to their needs, relationship, and sex.

Sexual sensation seeking was lowest in the monogamous groups and highest in the three nonmonogamous groups. Individuals in the nonmonogamous groups were also the most likely to report having a sexually transmitted infection.

Overall, the one-sided group had the highest proportion of people dissatisfied with their relationships. These individuals comprised 60% of the group — nearly three times as high as the proportions in the monogamous and consensual nonmonogamous groups.

The researchers caution that a limitation of their study was that they looked at a snapshot in time. Another study that used the same model but followed people over some time could come to different conclusions.

The bottom line of the findings appears to be that, regardless of the type of open relationship, without mutual consent, comfort, and communication, sex outside the relationship can be felt as betrayal and can put an enormous strain on the couple.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to Handle Sexual Problems

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(And Get Your Sex Life Back On Track)

by Bonnie Evie Gifford

The results are in: we’re officially having less sex than ever – but not through choice. Could our trouble discussing our sexual worries be getting in the way of having a good time?

Sex. It’s not something we really talk about as a nation, is it? For many of us Brits, talking about sex is right up there with discussing our finances and actually confronting queue jumpers instead of tutting angrily. Somehow, sex has been relegated to something we don’t talk about in polite company. Why is that? Sex is great!

According to researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, our decline in having sex isn’t because we’re feeling less inclined to have a little quality alone time with our partner(s). Half of women and nearly two-thirds of men would like to be having more sex, but due to our busy schedules, stress, and feelings of exhaustion, we just aren’t making it a priority.

Could we be unwittingly missing out on the health benefits of regular sexual release, and could our reluctance to speak about of sex-related worried be making things seem that much more scary?

The benefits of sex – it’s more than just gratification

Don’t just take my word for it – science has been proving the benefits of a healthy sex life for years. According to the NHS, sexual arousal is good for your heart, penetrative sex can act as a stress buster, plus other forms of orgasms can help you feel more relaxed in similar ways to exercise or meditation.

The feel-good hormones released during sex can also temporarily help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. The increase in physical activity that often comes with intimate relations can also help you to get a better night’s sleep, particularly if you orgasm as this releases prolactin (a hormone that makes you sleepier).

Sexual arousal and orgasm can also boost your oxytocin (the hormone that helps you feel connected to your partner) whilst lowering cortisol (a stress-related hormone). It’s a win-win. Sex just once or twice a week can help you fend off illness and boost your immune system, whilst those who have sex report a better sense of wellbeing and feeling healthier.

Doing the deed isn’t the only part of sexual relations that can benefit us. Hugging can help lower your heart rate and blood pressure, not to mention the benefits of feeling loved and supported; according to one study of 10,000 men, those who felt “loved and supported” faced a reduced risk of angina regardless of age and blood pressure.

Being single doesn’t have to present a problem. Masturbating can release the same feel-good hormones we benefit from with others, along with the added benefit of allowing us to better explore our own bodies, helping us figure out what we do (and don’t) like. Studies have even suggested a little solo fun can help you improve your body image.

The benefits don’t stop there. For men, more frequent ejaculation has seen evidence of decreased chances of a prostate cancer diagnosis before 70. For women, the benefits can be even greater. Sexual activity has shown to help relieve menstrual cramps, improve fertility, help strengthen pelvic muscles and vaginal lubrication, decrease incontinence, and even protect against endometriosis.

Encountering sexual problems

Sexual problems can affect anyone, at any time, regardless of age, sexual preferences, or experiences. Nearly half a million of us are diagnosed with an STI each year. Only one in three of us are satisfied with our sex lives, with nearly a fifth of us experiencing a different sex drive from our partners that we feel has put a strain on our relationships.

The Let’s Talk About Sex report revealed that one in three UK adults have experienced a sexual problem. It may not feel like it, but we aren’t alone. Sexual problems are more common than we may realise. What’s important is recognising when we encounter an issue that we need to talk, find out more, or seek support with.

5 common sexual problems (and how to handle them)

1. Decreasing sex drive and impotence

A loss of libido or decreased desire for sex can be particularly common for women during certain times in their lives. If you are feeling depressed, are pregnant or recently gave birth, these can all be common factors that may affect your sex drive.

Other psychological or physical factors can affect men and women. Diabetes, hormone disorders, depression, tiredness, as well as addiction (drug or alcohol) are all issues that can lead to a loss of libido. Relationship problems or past sexual experiences can also impact your desire for intercourse.  

While a decrease in sexual desire isn’t necessarily a cause for concern, if you are worried it may be affecting your relationship, causing disappointment, arguments, or even leaving you feeling like you may be drifting apart, it could be time to seek help.

Psychosexual therapy offers the chance to speak with a specially trained therapist who can help you explore and overcome sexual dysfunctions. Knowledgeable in a wide range of sexual problems with individuals of all ages, a psychosexual counsellor can help you to better recognise your sexual needs and desires, working through negative thoughts that may be affecting your ability to enjoy sex and intimacy.

Relationship counselling can be another form of talking therapy that can help you and your partner(s) to explore how you are communicating physically and verbally. Helping you to identify areas which may be affecting your ability to feel safe, relaxed, and able to enjoy sex, relationship counselling can help you to become more aware of each other’s needs, working together to find a solution that fits.

Talking therapies aren’t the only options to help handle your sex drive. Yoga can have a surprising benefit on not only your health and sense of wellbeing, but also on your sex drive. According to one study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, regular yoga practice can improve women’s levels of sexual desire. The study revealed 75% of participants sex lives improved significantly, particularly for women in their 40s and older.

If stress, anxiety, or depression is affecting your sex drive, hypnotherapy may be able to help. A clinical hypnotherapist may be able to help you handle related symptoms, as well as improve your confidence or sense of self-worth. Hypnotherapy can help some people connect with their subconscious mind, addressing events or issues that may be affecting their mood, self-esteem, or enjoyment in life.

What we eat can be something we overlook when it comes to considering our overall health and wellbeing. If stress may be affecting your sex drive, it could be worth considering what you’re eating.

Nutritionists can offer natural, healthy, simple tips and advice for how we can reduce our stress levels through our eating habits. Remembering to eat regularly, keep refined carbs for treats, and include enough protein in our diets can all have a surprising impact on how we are feeling.

If you are concerned about potential erectile dysfunction or impotence, speaking with your GP can be the first step towards finding the option that works for you. Visiting a sexual health clinic can also provide the same treatment you would recive with your GP, with most offering walk-in services and quicker results.

Common in men over 40, this is usually nothing to worry about, however, if the issue persists, your GP is the best port of call. Most frequently due to stress, anxiety, tiredness, or how much you drink, erection problems can also be caused by physical or emotional problems.

2. Sex addiction

While people have joked about being nymphomaniacs and sex addicts for quite some time, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has only recently accepted sex addiction as a recognised mental health condition. Also known as compulsive sexual behaviour, many experts hope that this official recognition will help dispel the shame and worry that may be stopping individuals from seeking help and support.

But how do you know if you are a sex addict? And how do you begin seeking support? Counsellor and Vice Chair of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity (ATSAC), Ian Baker, explains how identifying sex addiction isn’t as simple as assessing how much porn you watch, or how frequently you masturbate.

“You don’t just say you’re a sex addict because you watch an hour of porn a day. I’m not here to say masturbation is wrong, or fetishes are wrong, because someone’s sexual identity is important.

“It’s how it is affecting other parts of your life. Are you dropping friends? Are you not picking up your kids because of this? Are you using it to manage low mood or anxiety? [Speaking with a counsellor and gaining a diagnosis] isn’t walking in and saying ‘you’re sleeping with sex workers – you’re a sex addict.’”

Signs of sex addiction can include frequently seeking casual sex, having multiple affairs, excessively using pornography, experiencing feelings of guilt after sex, obsessive thoughts around sex or planning sexual encounters.

If you are concerned about how your relationship with sex, masturbation or pornography is impacting other areas of your life, there are a number of different places you can turn for help.

Working with a psychosexual therapist or a relationship counsellor can help you to better identify, accept and change behaviours that may be affecting other areas of your life. Psychosexual therapy (also known as sex therapy) can help you improve physical intimacy with your partner; manage sexual difficulties; identify physical, psychological, emotional, or situational causes of sexual issues.

If you have recognised you have a problem and are seeking to make positive changes, working with a hypnotherapist for sex addiction can be another option. Helping you to change the thought patterns and behaviours that may be causing you problems, a clinical hypnotherapist will use the power of suggestion to help you alter how you think and react to certain situations.

Taking into consideration your potential triggers, past experiences and lifestyle, your hypnotherapist can tailor your sessions to you, helping you break out of the negative cycle you have become caught up in.

3. Premature ejaculation

Coming too quickly (known as rapid or premature ejaculation) is a common ejaculation problem. While there is no standard or right length of time for sex to last, one study revealed the average time it takes for a man to ejaculate after beginning penetrative intercourse is around five and a half minutes.

Common causes of problems with ejaculation can include depression, stress, anxiety about performance, and relationship problems, as well as physical issues such as recreational drugs, prostate or thyroid problems.

International guidelines say regularly coming within one minute of entering your partner is considered to be premature ejaculation. While studies have found that premature ejaculation can have any impact on all parties involved, it’s worth noting that there isn’t a right or wrong way to achieve mutual sexual gratification. It’s completely up to you (and your partner) to find what you are happy with. If the time taken to come is causing you distress or emotional turmoil, it could be worth seeking advice.

Speaking with your GP can help you to identify and treat potential physical and underlying conditions. Your GP may be able to offer medication options such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), though they may suggest you try self-help options first.

If you are unsure about seeking professional advice, there are a number of self-help options you can also try (though speaking with an expert is always advised). Self-help options can include:

  • Switching to thick condoms to decrease sensation
  • Masturbating up to two hours before intercourse
  • Taking breaks during sex to distract yourself and prolong the experience

Couples therapy can be another option for those in a long-term relationship. A therapist can help you work towards improving your communication, speaking openly about issues that may be causing you stress or distress, as well as helping you to become more mindful in the moment.  

Another complementary option that studies have shown may help includes acupuncture. Using fine needles to balance the energy levels within your body, acupuncture can be used to help treat sexual performance, reduce stress and balance hormone levels. Techniques can also be used to prolongue sexual performance and boost your sex drive.

4. Pain during sex

Feeling pain or discomfort during or after sex is most often a sign that something is wrong and shouldn’t be ignored. This pain may be caused by an infection, illness, physical or psychological problem. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort, it’s important to speak with your GP or visit a sexual health clinic.

For women, changing hormone levels during the menopause can cause new vaginal dryness in a third of women that may lead to pain, as well a uncomfortable hot flushes, trouble sleeping, and other symptoms. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or SSRIs may be two options your may offer. Trying over the counter lubricants and moisturising creams from pharmacies may also help.

For men, pain during sex (also known as dyspareunia) is less common, but may occur during or after ejaculation. As causes can be physical or psychological, it is always worth checking with a medical professional before trying complimentary or alternative therapies. Hypnotherapy for pain management can help some individuals change their thought patterns surrounding pain, helping them to perceive pain in a different way.

Life coach and podcaster Ben Bidwell, better known as The Naked Professor, shares his own experiences with dyspareunia.

5. Boredom or differing libidos

Feeling bored in the bedroom or having vastly different libidos can have a significant impact on both our relationships and sense of wellbeing. Differing sex drives can lead to partners feeling guilty that they may not be satisfying their other half, or worry that their partner no longer finds them attractive.

Counsellor Graeme recommends speaking with your partner as one of the best courses of action.  “Talking to your partner about your relationship and the sexual side is very important. If [you] don’t discuss how [you’re] feeing, then misunderstandings inevitably appear as you assign thoughts and feelings to your partner.

“It can be difficult to talk about, but in the long run being honest bout how you feel is going to allow you to be clear about what can and cannot change. It’s important to recognise that there is an element of reality that you can’t change. Libido is another part that needs to be integrated into the relationship, and will require negotiation and compromise.

“While relationship counselling and visiting health care professionals can be useful, remember that it is your relationship so only you and your partner will know what it is like to be in that relationship ad how it can work. Outsides can help when it is difficult to talk to each other, but they cannot decide what is right for you.”

If you are worried that your differing libidos may be causing problems, there are a number of natural ways to increase your sex drive. One option, herbalism, can help you regain your balance, counteract illness and stress (both of which can affect your libido). Tracking what you eat can also help you to counter signs of stress, improve blood flow, and promote the release of endorphins.

Try eating more almonds and walnuts to increase your mineral intake and help combat stress, or switch your regular sweet treats for dark chocolate. Containing phenylethylamine, this amino acid promotes the release of endorphins and can help naturally boost your libido.

Making sure you’re getting enough sleep can also help to increase your sex drive. Try exchanging massages with your partner; this can not only help ease tension and lower stress levels, but can help you to feel closer to each other and may act as a simple catalyst for more frisky activities.

Worried boredom and routine may be settling into your bedroom romps? Counsellor Jo explains why and how sexual boredom can occur, and what you can do to get past it. Sex and relationship psychotherapist, Thomas, explains more about sexual desire and the search for ourselves in relationships.

“Sexual desire doesn’t happen in isolation. We live in a highly sexualised culture, yet more and more people are unhappy with their sex lives and are unsure what to do about it.

“It’s difficult and confusing to be present and always in touch with our true self. It’s an ongoing discovery between who you are, who you think you should be, and who you want to become.

“Sexual desire is an aspect of a person’s sexuality. It varies significantly from one person to another, and also varies depending on circumstances as a particular time. It’s constantly moving and complex. It can be aroused through imagination and sexual fantasies, or perceiving an individual that one finds attractive.

“Sexual desire can shift from intensely positive, to neutral, to intensely negative. It’s normal for our desire to go up and down at different times in our lives. The main issue is if this is causing you distress, that you are able to discuss it and find a way to reduce this distress.”

If you’re worried about a sex-related issue we haven’t covered above, check out these sex and intimacy questions, as answered by sex and relationship therapist Lohani Noor from the hit BBC Three show, Sex on the Couch. As well as answering questions, Lohani shares her three top tips for talking about sex with your partner.

For more information about relationship couselling and hypnotherapy for sexual problems, visit Counselling Directory or Hypnotherapy Directory now. Or if you’re on your PC, enter your location in the box below to find a qualified therapist near you.

Complete Article HERE!

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Cheating Doesn’t Have To Involve Sex To Count

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By Erika W. Smith

Imagine you’re asleep next to your partner. But in the middle of the night, you wake up. You notice they’re facing away from you in bed, staring at their phone and smiling. A five-line response comes back. It’s from their ex. That’s right: they’ve been texting their ex all night.

If you’re anything like me (and I’m a jealous, possessive Scorpio, to be fair), you wouldn’t be happy. You might consider this cheating, even though it’s not physical. The text exchange could be harmless, but depending on what they’re chatting about, or how this chat is making them (or you) feel, you might consider it an emotional affair.

Psychology Today defines an emotional affair as “a relationship where the level of emotional intimacy is excessive and where the level of emotion invested in someone outside of the marriage infringes upon the intimacy between spouses or committed partners.” Importantly, it affects your relationship: “This extramarital emotional involvement replaces a couples’ intimacy and obviously, may drive a wedge between partners. This in turn, may very well create distance and a feeling of separation, alienation, and loneliness.”

Emotional affairs can be just as devastating as physical affairs. “In fact, these can be very intense relationships that can have a lot more damaging effects on the primary relationship than a sexual affair could,” Jean Fitzpatrick, LP, a premarital and marital therapist in NYC, previously told Refinery29.

Every relationship has different boundaries. Some people consider flirting cheating. Some people in open relationships are fine with their partners having sex with others, as long as they’re not emotionally involved. And some people in polyamorous relationships are fine with their partners dating and falling for others, but want to be kept informed. While it will vary depending on your specific situation, here are some common warning signs of an emotional affair.

You’re keeping information from your partner

If you instinctively keep information about interactions with a friend or crush from your partner, that’s a warning sign. “It’s not that you necessarily need to be telling your partner everything, like that you ran into an old friend on the street,” Fitzpatrick said. “But when you’re making the active decision to keep something from them, because you think they might have a negative reaction, then that points to a problem.”

You don’t mention your partner to your crush

Similarly, if you never mention your partner to your crush, that’s not a great sign, either. Basically, if you’re keeping secrets, something is up — even if you might not have realized it yet

You’re not prioritizing your relationship

If you’re putting more energy into your relationship with your crush than your relationship with your partner, it’s time to reassess. And if your partner seems like they’re putting more energy into a new friendship, you might want to talk to them about it.

You’re texting or messaging the other person… all the time

The rise of social media and dating apps have made emotional affairs much easier. It’s simpler than ever to friend an old flame on Facebook, and you can text someone all day (and all night) without your partner knowing.

You know it’s different from a friendship

You probably text your best friend often, maybe even more than your partner. That doesn’t mean you’re having an emotional affair with your BFF. When it’s an emotional affair, something just feels different, even if you can’t describe exactly what it is.

Something just feels “off”

According to Psychology Today, when an emotional affair is going on, “it’s no surprise that a person who has shared a certain degree of connection and intimacy with their spouse suddenly realizes that something just doesn’t feel right any longer. They may literally feel their partner pulling away from them, feel a partner’s preoccupation with something (someone) else, and may find it hard or impossible to connect intimately in the same way they once did.” Listen to your gut reaction and consider if you need to set some boundaries with your crush — or even come clean to your partner.

Complete Article HERE!

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‘It’s a human right’:

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The campaign for learning disabled people’s love lives

Pam Bebbington and her husband, Mike. ‘Relationships are important because they give you a life companion,’ she says.

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Care staff are being encouraged to support people to develop intimate relationships and enrich their emotional lives

Pam Bebbington met her husband, Mike, through a personal ad in her local paper. She’s been married for 21 years, and appreciates having a soulmate. “Relationships are important because they give you a life companion,” she says. “You can share things and cuddle up.”

But Bebbington, a consultant at self-advocacy charity My Life My Choice (MLMC), says many of her learning disabled peers struggle with relationships. “Finding the right person is hard. Parents and carers can get in the way and curfews [such as in supported housing], money and travelling all make it difficult.” She says care staff must “allow people to have a relationship and encourage them to do so”.

This is the aim behind the nationwide Supported Loving campaign MLMC is involved in, which offers practical advice on enabling people’s intimate and emotional lives. Research has shown that young people with a learning disability lack accessible sex education resources and only 3% of people with a learning disability live as a couple, compared with 70% of the general population.

Supported Loving originally began two years ago as a social media campaign. Since then it has grown according to demand, offering good practice resources developed by support organisations and people with learning disabilities, some of whom feature in videos used in training.

Claire Bates, Supported Loving founder, says the campaign’s ultimate aim is mandatory training in sex and relationships.

She believes supporting someone’s emotional and intimate needs should be par for the course in social care. “This shouldn’t be [in] the ‘too difficult’ pile,” she says. “People with learning disabilities are often so far away from having a sexual partner, they need support to meet someone first. We need to help people have meaningful friendships and from that will come a sexual relationship, if they want one.”

Supported Loving’s latest development is an online toolkit contributed to by a range of organisations, including family planning associations, care providers, specialist dating agencies, and staff working in relationship and sex education. There is practical advice on topics including contraception, sexual health, masturbation, online dating, LGBT relationships and sex workers.

There are also plans to publish a charter promoting the relationship rights of learning disabled people, which MLMC, Supported Loving and social inclusion charity National Development Team for Inclusion are developing.

One of the toolkit’s guides outlines how relationship support should be a vital part of a care professional’s role. The tips and examples, contributed by training organisation Paradigm, suggest staff receive face-to-face guidance on how to have conversations about and support people in exploring sexuality, love and relationships. There must be clear policies around relationships rather than incorporating this issue into safeguarding training. Staff must also not assume people lack the capacity to form loving bonds or have sexual relationships.

Such online guidance is available alongside quarterly meetings that take place across the country. These aim to discuss issues and share best practice on everything from sexual abuse to online dating, with participants including people with learning disabilities or autism, family members and professionals working in social care and health.

Supported Loving is also complemented by research at the Tizard Centre University of Kent (Bates is the project’s honorary research associate). Michelle McCarthy, the professor leading the work, says of social attitudes: “Historically we didn’t expect people with learning disabilities to have rich, emotional lives – as if they were somehow ‘other’, and if they were physically cared for that was enough. That attitude hasn’t entirely gone.”

McCarthy’s project, which included four advisers with learning disabilities, explored the views of 40 learning disabled adults and 40 family carers and support staff. The research has yet to be published but emerging findings illustrate the very specific barriers created by social care services. These include a lack of one-to-one support, restrictions about overnight visitors and safeguarding concerns.

McCarthy explains: “The way services are structured and run is that they themselves can be barriers to people. So if you’ve only got only a few staff you can’t offer people one-to-one support to go and meet someone to have a date.”

The comments from learning disabled people gathered by McCarthy and her researchers underline just how vital it is to achieve progress in this area. When asked about why relationships are important, one learning disabled participant replied: “Sometimes I get lonely and I think if I’ve got somebody who I could trust it would make me happier.”

As Bates says: “It is people’s human right to have a relationship. It shouldn’t be a ‘nice to have’, but something that adds value to people’s lives. We are social animals; if you don’t see someone in that way, then you don’t see them as human.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How to Move Forward When You’re in a Sexless Marriage

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A Q&A with a clinical psychologist who specializes in getting couples to talk openly about sex.

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Recently, a 36-year-old man posted something stupid on Reddit. This is not breaking news—this happens likely thousands of times per day, but the post made it over to Twitter, and people went in. The issue at hand? The guy hated his wife’s haircut. While he knew he couldn’t tell her not to get her hair cut, he admitted, “I know it sounds stupid, but every trip back to the hairdresser feels like a little slap in the face.” However, the husband mentioned one small detail that got everyone’s attention: he and his wife do not have sex.

Redditors mostly provided uncharacteristically astute commentary: “I don’t think this is about her hair. The haircut is just a tangible thing that you are focusing on. Your main issue is the lack of sex,” one user wrote. Reddit has long been a sanctuary for people in sexless marriages. There’s a whole subreddit with 182,000+ subscribers called r/DeadBedrooms, where people go to complain, commiserate, and seek help for their relationships. (There is no official demarcation of what makes a marriage “sexless,” but studies usually count couples who haven’t had sex in the last year, or marriages where sexual intimacy happens ten times or fewer a year.) The subreddit’s top post of all time is actually the story of a person with a lower libido (dubbed “LLs” on the site) trying to initiate sex with their partner. The poster triumphantly explains their realization after initating sex the night before, “My husband’s mood today is fantastic…I’m realizing how much of his joy is missing in a sexless marriage[.] I will keep reading here and working on my end of initiating.” For most posters, that’s the ultimate fantasy: their partner finally understanding just how important sex really is to them, and more importantly, why.

The traditional (read: heteronormative and sexist) narrative is that men are always ready to have sex, while women are constantly faking headaches to avoid it. That’s simply not the case. According to Pam Costa, M.A. in clinical psychology and founder of Down to There, a site devoted to getting people to talk about sex more, men and women pretty much experience low sex drive equally. Costa asserts that while sex can feel “easier” at the beginning, after a few years with someone, the “in love” hormones fade. Sex can start to become less frequent as couples encounter road bumps like depression, physical health concerns, the loss of loved ones, pregnancy, childbirth, and miscarriages, or as a result of mismatched desire levels. But sometimes, the problem is simply that people don’t know how to talk about the sex that they want to be having. And no matter the reason, Costa says that honest communication about sex can help. We asked Costa our biggest questions about sexless marriages and how to address them.

How common are sexless marriages?
The accepted rate is somewhere between 10-20 percent of marriages; I consider that pretty common. One of the first things I want people to know, if they’re in a sexless marriage, is that they’re not alone. They’re in good company. It’s very common.

Are men and women equally concerned about sexless marriages?
Absolutely. I think it’s harder when a male partner has lower desire, because we do have this cultural narrative that men should always be ready. Because of this, in a hetero relationship, there can be additional shame when it is the male partner who has a lower sex drive. But, again, you’re not alone.

What makes a sexless marriage so damaging?
Sex is often a very important component of intimacy, and we all seek out intimacy in different ways. For some of us, emotional intimacy is more important than physical intimacy, or cuddling is more important than penetration. When it comes to a relationship, having shared forms of intimacy is really important. Often, in couples that come to me, one person says, “But I’m fine. Everything’s fine!” And the other person says, “How can you say that? This is anything but fine.” That’s where it starts to impact other parts of the relationship: If one person is missing the intimacy that’s important to them, they can start to be resentful or frustrated. Or the person who doesn’t want to have sex can start to feel guilty or broken.

So, you could have a sexless marriage and still believe you have a good marriage?
Yes, exactly. You can have a sexless marriage and have a happy marriage. You also don’t have to have sex to make it a marriage.

Right. Some people, including those who are asexual, might be completely fine not having any sex.
Yes, if one partner is asexual (doesn’t feel sexually attracted to anyone, or has low or absent interest in or desire for sexual activity) this could absolutely play a role in a marriage being or becoming sexless. For someone who already knows they are asexual, choosing who does not require sex to be part of a satisfying relationship—or who is more invested in the emotional or other aspects of the relationship—can work very well. For someone who only discovers once in the marriage that they are asexual, discovering this identity can provide a lot of relief to both the person who identifies as ace [asexual], as well as their partner: the tension around the ace partner not wanting sex suddenly has a reason that is not related to the relationship itself.

What are some of the common causes of sexless marriages?
There are usually two big reasons. One, there’s a desire mismatch, just like how people like to eat different amounts. What can often happen with that mismatch is that the person who desires sex more asks and initiates; when the other person says no, they start to feel rejected. And no one wants to feel rejected, so they slowly stop asking. That’s very common. The other thing that also happens is that you have some sort of life milestone that makes sex difficult. Maybe you have kids, who are taking more of your time and attention. Maybe you got laid off at work. There are also things like health crises, and maybe you didn’t have sex during that period. Or maybe you have pain during sex.

Are there situations that cannot be “fixed”? Couples whose sexual desires are simply too incompatible? What do you do then?
Yes, which I why I encourage couples to review their sexual history together. What peak sexual experiences have you had?—or have you never had any? That way you can learn more about what you need to have sex that you enjoy. When you can do that—and not from a pressurized standpoint of “You have to provide that for me” but from a standpoint of “Wow, when we were on vacation in Hawaii and we had sex in a bathroom that was really a turn on for me because it was spontanteus”—that really helps. Then you can ask, “What are other ways that we can bring spontaneity into our sex life?” That’s a really good thing to learn about yourself.

When you are able to actually start to having those difficult conversations more from a curious angle than from a pressure angle, you can start to see whether or not there’s enough overlap between what the two of you desire to make it work. Certainly I work with couples who do that and realize: “We’re not enough of an overlap; does that mean we need to separate? Does that mean we need to be creative about how we get our intimate needs met? Or do we need to go outside of this relationship?”

How should partners communicate about desire discrepancies?
When I work with couples with a desire discrepancy, what we often figure out is that one of the things often underlying that is: “I’m not getting the type of sex that I want in order to desire it.” If you’re the partner who has higher desire, relative to your partner—and these are probably the people who are going to be most distressed by a sexless marriage—I think a little bit of introspection is usually helpful to acknowledge that maybe the reason you guys stopped having sex is that your partner stopped getting what they need to desire sex.

This can happen for a lot of reasons. In the beginning hormones make it easier, so we think we don’t have to try hard. There’s also lack of sex education: Sometimes someone hasn’t learned about their own desire, or how to give a partner pleasure. Or maybe they weren’t taught about how to talk about sex. So maybe they lack the skills to communicate with their partner about what they desire. Maybe if I’m the higher desire partner, I never learned how to ask my partner what they want, and create an opportunity for them to provide feedback.

What’s the first step of course correcting a sexless marriage?
When someone comes to me in a sexless marriage, wanting to have more sex, there are four steps that I go through with them:

  1. Know that you’re not alone.
  2. Seek support. Talk with your friends about it or find a coach or a therapist. Read a book—I recommend Come As You Are.
  3. Speak up. If you want to bring this up with up with your partner, speak up lovingly about why sex is important to you because otherwise they don’t know. The script I usually encourage goes something like this: “Hey this relationship is important to me, you are important to me, and intimacy in a relationship is important to me. I care about us and I want to work on improving our intimacy.”
  4. Ask what’s important to them. Because maybe sex isn’t important to them, but something else is—better communication, help around the house, or mental health.

What happens after you first bring this up? What’s the work that has to be done?
I think it’s important, when talking about a sexless marriage, to realize that the idea of going from no sex to the classic script that we have around sex might be a bit of a stretch. If you’re a hetero cis couple, you might need to expand your definition of sex—outside of “penis in vagina,” or beyond orgasm. Throw away the myth that you have to finish, because that’s a lot of pressure. When I have couples who are trying to go from a sexless marriage to a marriage where they’re having sex again, expanding that definition of sex is really helpful.

Complete Article HERE!

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Meet the BDSM therapists treating clients with restraints, mummification and impact play

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By Gillian Fisher

When we say BDSM, you probably think of chains, whips, and all sorts of sexy stuff.

But there’s far more to it.

BDSM has long been recognised as an erotic practice, with more people than ever introducing aspects of bondage, domination, sadism and masochism into their sexual pursuits.

A combination of changing sexual attitudes and greater representation in mainstream media has sparked a new curiosity surrounding the pleasures of submission.

While BDSM has typically been categorised as a sexual preference, some professional dominants have decided to apply the key principles of control and abandon to therapeutic practice. According to these specialists, their specific brand of holistic BDSM has helped clients with a range of emotional issues from trauma to anxiety.

London-based Lorelei set up her own business as the Divine Theratrix in September 2018 after two years working as a therapeutic counsellor. Marketing herself as a ‘loving female authority’, Lorelei uses BDSM components such as restraint and impact play (rhythmic hitting) to enable her clients to open up.

Lorelei, 33, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘The first time I introduced BDSM to a therapy session, the client progressed more in two hours than they usually would in two months of traditional counselling. Having your physical presence is so powerful.’

Lorelei began to explore BDSM therapy after becoming frustrated by the rigid detachment she has to retain during traditional counselling sessions.

‘I was struggling with the barrier,’ she explains. ‘I thought “Christ if I could actually have contact with clients, I know it would make a difference to them”.’

The former lawyer became involved with BDSM while exploring her own sexuality at sex parties and was particularly drawn to the role of a dominant. Lorelei looks entirely unimposing, with a youthful, elfin face and a petite frame clothed in black trousers and a lacy black top. Despite her delicate appearance and obvious warmth, Lorelei has a certain air of command; a no-nonsense kind of confidence that one can imagine her using to great effect in her work.

Having gained her diploma in therapeutic counselling, Lorelei was struck by the similarities between BDSM and conventional therapy. A BDSM session with her is broken down into three main parts, which are holding (establishing the power dynamic and trust), opening and then putting back together again, which could easily describe a formalised counselling session.

But unlike standard psychoanalysis where everything is achieved through talking, Lorelei will apply physical and occasionally painful actions such as nipple tweaking or flogging to facilitate the different stages. This is always a detailed conversation about the client’s limits and session goals.

She also holds her £200 per hour sessions in a rented dungeon while garbed in classic fetish wear, which Lorelei explains reinforces the power balance and takes clients outside of their daily reality.

Lorelei tells us: ‘I deal with a lot of clients who have a lot of early trauma, which is incredibly difficult to shift because it’s in your primal brain, which predates any cognitive thought processes.

‘I know from personal experience that these feelings can be very overwhelming and they need to come out. In this setup, clients know that because I am completely in control, they can totally let go and I will be there to make sure they feel safe and feel held.

‘Just because I’m a dominant doesn’t mean I can’t be nurturing.’

Because of its reliance upon specific power roles, anticipation and the relinquishing of control, BDSM is an inherently psychological practice. But how does a BDSM healer make emotional catharsis and not sexual gratification the primary goal of a session?

New York based Aleta Cai tells us: ‘Making sure that client understand what they want to achieve through a session is key. I make it very clear that healing and self-actualisation are the primary objectives of my sessions.’

Aleta practices what she describes as Sacred BDSM which combines new age modalities such as reiki and clairvoyance with traditional BDSM devices, including sensory deprivation and restraint. A self-described empath, Aleta explained that the BDSM template allows clients to access a deeper level of surrender.

‘I feel that in the West, there is a focus on psychoanalysis and probing the rational mind, which can lead to people getting stuck in their own narratives,’ Aleta says. ‘Things may be alerted to the rational mind that the body needs to process, and BDSM can facilitate that processing.’

Born in China, Aleta moved to Los Angeles during infancy and has retained her tinkling LA inflection. However, the 29-year-old speaks in a slow, measured manner which demands full attention. After completing her degree in Psychology at NYU, Aleta worked as a professional dominatrix at a well-known BDSM dungeon for two years.

Her transition towards Sacred BDSM began three years ago. The turning point came during a standard mummification session (this process involves being wrapped up like its Egyptian cadaver’s namesake) where Aleta introduced crystals and healing energy devices to the process.

Aleta said: ‘I was amazed, in just 20 minutes I felt the client’s different energies being unblocked and the immense sense of release he experienced. That’s what began my journey towards introducing certain elements into my own healing work.’

The reiki master also runs what she calls a ‘vanilla’ healing practice alongside her multiple artistic projects. Spirituality informs both practitioners’ work, with Lorelei being inspired largely by branches of matriarchal mysticism and paganism while Aleta is particularly influenced by Eastern medicine and esoteric theologies.

Aleta says: ‘My intention is to maximise their healing through BDSM so for instance if I felt someone’s root chakra is very heavy, I would cane them repetitively until I saw a somatic relief in that chakra. If I mummify someone, I will take them into hypnosis which will allow them a deeper layer of catharsis that is not just the physicality of being wrapped up.’

The concept of accessing a kind of heightened consciousness through BDSM makes sense scientifically as pain triggers adrenaline and endorphins which can lead to feelings of euphoria. For this to be experienced in a therapeutic and emotionally releasing manner is mostly dependent upon how the activity is framed.

Seani Love said: ‘A lot of BDSM does involve some level of therapy anyway, because sexuality is humanity’s inherent driving force. But when you outline the BDSM experience as an emotionally healing practice, it involves all aspects of the person making the release not only psychological, but also emotional, physical and spiritual.’

The Australian native applies a variety of disciplines to his BDSM work, including Pagan ritual and Qigong, in what he describes as a ‘hodgepodge of healing practices’.

The former software engineer began working part-time as a Shamanic BDSM practitioner eight years ago, finally going full time in 2013. Seani now prefers the title of sex worker and has won awards for his travail, which earn him £390 for a three hour booking. However, the 49-year-old still runs sessions and workshops specializing in Conscious Kink and BDSM therapy. It was Seani who personally mentored Lorelei while she was deciding what path she would take.

At the start of our meeting Seani seems slightly nervous; softly spoken and prone to fidgeting. As the interview gets further underway he seems to relax a little, obviously passionate about the remedial aspects of his work. When asked about his greatest achievement during his BDSM therapy career, Seani describes an intense experience with a 65-year-old client who had been rejected by his mother after being dropped on his head.

‘I called in a female assistant so he could experience some maternal love in his body during the session,’ Seani tells us. ‘We retraced some particular steps, used some impact play to get him out of his head and got him back to that pre-verbal stage, then invited the assistant to hold and nurture him. It was so powerful; he finally found peace with his mother from the ritual we created.’

Seani also has a background in gestalt therapy and a level 3 diploma in counselling, but has found his particular therapeutic niche within the erotic and BDSM sphere. While he has helped many people through applied BDSM, he is quick to state that it isn’t the right path for everyone.

‘I think it’s important for me to say that I wouldn’t prescribe shamanic BDSM as a healing path for all people,’ he notes. ‘I would never directly recommend it, but if people are drawn to it, it’s available.’

At first glance, BDSM therapy seems contradictory. Alleviating emotional distress with physical pain seems illogical, even detrimental. But when done skilfully, this practice enables the expression of raw emotion, without rationalisation or any holding back from the client.

People have turned to primal scream sessions, isolation tanks and rebirthing therapy in pursuit of emotional balance and found such practices effective. With mental health conditions making up 28% of the NHS’s total burden, perhaps for some select people, an overtly physical approach could provide the release that is so desperately needed.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why You Should Start Your Day With Morning Sex

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By Erika W. Smith

Back in 2004, Maroon 5 released “Sunday Morning,” a hit single all about the joys of having sex on, well, Sunday morning. Fast-forward thirteen years, and a 2017 study by British health and beauty retailer Superdrug confirmed what Maroon 5 already knew: the best time of the week to have sex is 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. (If by “best” you mean “voted most popular in a survey of 2,000 Brits,” that is.)

There are many reasons why you should have morning sex — yes, even on weekdays. “Morning is one of my favourite times for sex. Whether or not there is an orgasm involved, it is a great way to begin the day,” Liz Goldwyn, founder of The Sex Ed, a multimedia platform for sex, health and consciousness education, tells Refinery29.

You’re at your best

Depending on how we spent our evenings, nighttime sex can be less than ideal. “Focusing sex as a highlight at the end of an evening or date isn’t always ideal — we may not be at our ‘freshest,’ whether we’ve consumed a big meal, alcohol, or are just tired from our day,” Goldwyn says.

Your body is ready

No matter your gender, all of us sometimes wake up with “morning wood” — an erect penis or clitoris. This is all thanks to your body’s changes during the REM changes of sleep. Waking up with an erect penis or clitoris doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re turned on… but hey, it might help you get there quicker.

Sex might feel better

Some studies suggest that sex may feel better in the morning because our testosterone levels are highest at the start of the day. We all have testosterone in our bodies, and this hormone plays a big role in how we experience sexual desire. And there’s an extra benefit for people with penises: studies have indicated that higher testosterone levels can improve erection strength and sexual function for them.

You’ll relieve stress

Sex is a proven stress-reliever, and can even help you start your day off feeling calmer, thanks to the chemicals dopamine and serotonin. Some people even use masturbation as one tool to help manage anxiety (though it’s not a cure-all).

You’ll be more productive at work

A 2017 showed that for around 24 hours after you have sex, you’re more productive at work. Researchers found that employees who had sex were not only in better moods, but also showed “more sustained work engagement and job satisfaction.”

Your immune system will get stronger

Some research indicates that morning sex can boost your immune system throughout the day by enhancing your IgA levels (that’s an antibody that protects against infection). Hey, anything to help stave off a cold.

You’ll feel connected to your partner

If you have a partner, having morning sex can help you bond. “Often in a partnership, we are busy and may have trouble finding time and energy to have sex that suits differing schedules and libidos. Knocking it out first thing in the morning leaves you both smiling during the workday,” Goldwyn says. “This can increase connection and intimacy, giving you more to look forward to later!”

You’ll start your day in a good mood

Sex just makes us feel good — and it’s not all about physical pleasure. We also experience increased levels of dopamine and oxytocin. As Lawrence Siegel, a clinical sexologist and certified sexuality educator, once told Refinery29, “An orgasm is a massive release of feel-good chemicals that leaves you in a meditative state of consciousness.”

BTW, all of these benefits (except for bonding with your partner) also apply to solo sex — so go ahead and place a fully-charged vibrator in your nightstand for easy access in the A.M

Complete Article HERE!

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How female sexuality is finding its voice

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By Remy Rippon

After centuries of secrecy, female sexuality is finally finding a voice, with women entering a new era of enlightenment and fulfilment thanks in part to the booming wellness industry.

Considering how long females have graced this earth, it’s astounding to think it was only 21 years ago that scientific research discovered something fundamental about that crucial female sexual organ, the clitoris.

In 1998, Melbourne-based urologist Dr Helen O’Connell published a groundbreaking paper debunking the long-held belief that the clitoris was merely a small glans, proving instead that it extends up to nine centimetres long underneath the pubic bone. The findings set a more accurate representation for medical professionals, sexologists, educators and womankind of the inner workings of one of the most complicated areas of the female body.

Revolutionary as the research was, however, there is still a lot we don’t know about female sexuality. At least 50 per cent of women don’t orgasm from intercourse alone and some don’t experience orgasm at all. While science made great leaps, the taboos surrounding female sexuality are still stuck in a time warp.

But change is afoot. In 2019 vaginas are big business and the female gaze is casting its eye over the US$30 billion sex industry. A recent report by trend forecasters J. Walter Thompson Intelligence, coined the term vaginanomics – an emerging market addressing women’s sexual fulfilment, which runs the gamut from aesthetically pleasing sex toys, female-positive porn and an increasingly open conversation led by fact and research.

Once a topic only discussed with your inner circle (or frankly, not at all), female sexuality is now seemingly all around us. And we have the wellness movement to thank for it. Having stocked our wardrobes with a lifetime supply of sportswear, our pantries with activated everything and our schedules with an endless roster of workouts, the final frontier of wellness has set it sights on another heart-rate-raising activity: sex.

“We need to be open to the idea of more a holistic model around sex. For us to feel healthy and happy we need to be enjoying a healthy sex life, too … having a healthy relationship with our sexuality is a good start,” says Australian sexologist and Authentic Sex podcaster Juliet Allen.

All this pillow talk is also being championed by some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Love her or loathe her, Gwyneth Paltrow has fuelled a positive conversation about sex and has become the closest thing we have to a grown-up incarnation of Dolly Doctor. Want to know the ins and outs of orgasmic meditation or how water can improve your sex life? It’s all in her book: The Sex Issue: Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about Sexuality, Seduction and Desire.

While the tome isn’t without is fair share of Goop-isms (sacred snake ceremony, anyone?), in the foreword Paltrow addresses the selfconsciousness we harbour around sex: “Women talking about sex – about what they like and don’t like, what they are getting and not getting in their intimate relationships, the toll of sexual trauma and how they heal – has a tendency to make people (both men and other women) extraordinarily self-conscious and uneasy,” she writes, continuing: “Whether tantra or BDSM or threesomes or vanilla are your thing will never be the point; knowing yourself, all your options, and how to ask for and pursue what feels good to you, is.”

New Yorker Eileen Kelly created Killer and a Sweet Thang, a sex-demystifying website which promotes an open and honest dialogue around sex, for similar motivations. What started as a Tumblr for Kelly to offer peer-to-peer sex education – information which, she says, was off-limits in her Catholic household – quickly transitioned into a popular Instagram account and website serving up real-world sex advice and coming-of-age titbits from more than 100 writers. “Whether you talk about it or not, sex is constantly around you in advertising, in movies, in magazines – you can’t escape, so we might as well have a conversation about it,” the 23-year-old founder says.

Elsewhere online, a lack of reliable information around female sexuality has ushered in a new wave of honest, female-created and approved content. OMGyes, a one-time-purchase site with the seal of approval from actor Emma Watson, is a research-backed education resource with a singular objective: female pleasure and orgasm. “The more we talk about it and learn about it, the better it gets. And we made OMGyes to accelerate that shift – with new scientific research and a frank, honest showcase of the findings,” says program director Claire Kim, who notes that Australia has the most subscribers per capita.

The site’s not-safe-for-work video tutorials demonstrate a host of techniques and cliterature – prepare to add adjectives like edging, signalling and orbiting to your bedroom vocabulary – but uniquely, they feel as safe and inclusive as if you were hearing this information first-hand from a friend.

With OMGyes Kim wants “more people to see and feel the way the current generations are releasing those old taboos. Many ways of thinking that have been passed down aren’t really good for anyone. And we’re so excited that, maybe, we can shift culture so the next generation can enjoy pleasure more.”

Millennials and Gen Z are driving much of this shift, which could be credited to logistics – excellent information and purchasing power is at their fingertips. According to the 2018 Global Wellness Summit Report, it’s thanks to young people that “sexual pleasure brands are strongly aligning themselves with wellness, and sex is fast shedding its taboo status”.

In fact, the sex and tech worlds are now happy bedfellows, with the newest haul of toys being designed by women, for women. A report by Technavio released last year notes the sexual wellness market is set to grow by almost US$18 billion by 2022. The most buzzed-about products – everything from vibrators, clitoral stimulators, devices for Kegel training and pelvic floor exercises – rival beauty brands with their aesthetically pleasing packaging and whipsmart innovations. Lioness, the world’s first smart vibrator, even collects data from your experiences and links that information to your smartphone.

And forget exploring the dark, often-irksome depths of the web: the e-tailers promoting these goods are beautifully curated and, dare we say it, cool. Co-founded by ex-magazine publisher Monica Nakata, online store Par Femme aims to “destigmatise the whole consumer purchasing decision around sex toys”. “Sexual empowerment is such an important step in empowering women overall,” says Nakata.

On the site, white cotton basics sit alongside editorial-worthy imagery of sex toys and candid discussions and reviews. Nakata notes the fact that as the sex and wellness industries have converged, conversation has opened up to “a wider audience group than ever before and reinforcing the idea that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. In the past, sex positivity was something we didn’t really hear about, and now it’s actually becoming aligned with body positivity,” she says.

Women, it’s time to bring your O-game.

Complete Article HERE!

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