Is everyone you know unhappy or neurotic? Perhaps it’s time to find a new crowd—a group of open-minded individuals who are happier and better adjusted than most.
That is to say, people whose sexual preferences lean toward bondage and sadomasochism.
According to new research from the Netherlands, the psychological profile of people who participate in these types of erotic games “is characterized by a set of balanced, autonomous, and beneficial personality characteristics.” Compared to those who engage in more mainstream sexual behavior, such aficionados report “a higher level of subjective well-being.”
“We conclude that (these activities) may be thought of as a recreational leisure, rather than the expression of psychopathological processes,” psychologist Andreas Wismeijer of Nyenrode Business University writes in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
“Overall, a picture emerges of the psychological characteristics of the average BDSM practitioner that, compared with non-BDSM practitioners, is quite favorable.”
Wismeijer notes that, in spite of evidence to the contrary, both public opinion and the psychological establishment tend to equate BDSM activities (bondage-discipline, dominance-submission, or sadism-masochism) with some form of psychological damage. “BDSM is to some degree still pathologized in the upcoming fifth edition of the DSM,” he notes.
Along with statistician Marcel van Assen, he conducted a study at Tilburg University to determine whether there is truth behind this belief.<
Wismeijer created a detailed survey designed to reveal respondents’ personality traits and attachment style: how secure they feel when bonding with others and how they deal with their insecurities. In addition, the respondents rated their subjective level of well-being over the previous two weeks.
The participants were 902 people who “responded to a call posted on the largest BDSM Web forum in the Netherlands,” and another 434 contacted through a popular Dutch women’s magazine. The control group was 70 percent female; the group of people interested in BDSM was roughly half men and half women. (Those in the latter group were also asked if they preferred playing a dominant or submissive role, or regularly switched.)
The results will certainly produce intense feelings, although whether they are painful or pleasurable largely depends on the person.
“Our findings suggests that BDSM participants as a group are, compared with non-BDSM participants, less neurotic, more extroverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, yet less agreeable,” the researchers write. They add that females in the BDSM group had “more confidence in their relationships” and “a lower need for approval” than those in the mainstream sample.
“Finally, the subjective well-being of BDSM participants was higher than that of the control group. Together, these findings suggest that BDSM practitioners are characterized by greater psychological and interpersonal strength and autonomy.”
Why might this be? Wismeijer notes that “BDSM play requires the explicit consent of the players regarding the type of actions to be performed, their duration and intensity, and therefore involves careful scrutiny and communication of one’s own sexual desires and needs.”
In other words, it requires thought, awareness, and communication—all of which lead to happier relationships, both in and outside of the bedroom.
Like sadomasochistic sex itself, these results shouldn’t be taken too far; the differences between the groups were, for the most part, not huge. And there were some differences among members of the BDSM community: “Scores were generally more favorable for those with a dominant than a submissive role.”
Nevertheless, “Overall, a picture emerges of the psychological characteristics of the average BDSM practitioner that, compared with non-BDSM practitioners, is quite favorable,” Wismeijer concludes.
This may be hard for some to accept. But think of it this way: Old prejudices are not something you want to be handcuffed to.
Have you ever wondered about the term, sex positive?
[I]f you’re like me, you see it all over the place, especially on sex-related sites. I confess I use it way more often than I should. It’s become one of those industry buzzwords that has, over time, become so fuzzy around the edges that it’s now virtually meaningless. In fact, if the truth be known, I believe the term sex positive has been taken over by the sex Taliban who have made it a cover for their strict code of political correctness. Oddly enough, this is the very antithesis of its original meaning.
If you want to shame someone in the sex field—be it a sex worker, blogger or adult product manufacturer—you label that person as sex-negative. You may not know anything about that person other than you were offended by something they did, said or made. But still, you hurl the epithet as if you were exorcising a heretic. This is a very powerful tool for keeping people in my industry in line. But I’ve begun to wonder, who is setting themselves up as the arbiter of what is and what is not sex positive? I have to ask: What is the agenda? I mean, could compulsory ideological purity of some artificial standards of thought or behavior be “positive” anything? I say, no!
Like all good ideas that have gone bad due to overuse—or worse, sloppy use—the sex positive concept once had meaning that was life-affirming and enriching. Sex positive has been in the lexicon at least since the mid-1950s. It frequently appears in journals and research papers to describe a movement that examines and advocates for all the other beneficial aspects of sex beyond reproduction.
I’ve been using the term since 1981 when I opened my practice in Clinical Sexology and Sexual Health Care. The opening words of my mission statement read: “I affirm the fundamental goodness of sexuality in human life, both as a personal need and as an interpersonal bond.” Way back then, I was flush with my quixotic pursuit to stand steadfast against all the cultural pressures to negate or denigrate sexuality and pleasure. I dedicated myself to spreading the gospel that healthy attitudes toward sex not only affect a person’s sex life, but his/her ability to relate well with others.
This came relatively easy for me, because I’d learned something very important about evangelization in my life as a Catholic priest. (Another quixotic pursuit, but we’ll have to save the details of that misadventure for another time. Or you could read about it HERE!) One of the first things one learns in seminary is how to proselytize, to sow the seeds of a creed, and then nurture them taking root by endless repetition of the articles of faith. Of course there is a downside to this, too. Repetition fosters mindlessness, stifles creative thought, and worse makes things boring.
But the creed statements of the world’s three great monotheistic religions are masterful works of theological art.
Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam!
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit!
Each contains the most profound kernel of religious truth the believer needs to know, but all are easy enough for a child to learn. And like I said, the secret is in the repetition. For the true devotee, these creedal statements are uttered dozens of times a day and to great effect.
Early on in my career as a sexologist, I decided to put the principles I learned in the Church into disseminating my new belief system. First, keep the message simple! I settled on: “Sex is Good—and Good Sex is Even Better.” This has been my mantra for decades. It contains everything you need to know about being sex positive, but it’s easy enough for a child to learn. Even now it soothes me to hear myself say these words. And it comforts me in the same way blessing myself did in my priestly days.
Despite my apprehensions, I continue to be an apostle of the sex positive doctrine. I know that even though my industry has corrupted the concept, others have yet to hear the good news. And there’s something almost spiritual about seeing someone grasp the idea for the first time. Let me tell you about one such instance. Some time ago I was asked to address a group of doctors on the topic Health Care Concerns Of Sexually Diverse Populations. Unfortunately, just a handful of doctors attended the workshop—which was pretty disconcerting, considering all the work I’d put into the presentation. I guess that’s why kinksters and pervs, as well as your run-of-the-mill queer folk, are often frustrated in their search for sensitive and lifestyle-attuned healing and helping professionals.
Since the group of doctors attending was so small, I decided to ask them to pull their chairs in a circle so that our time together could be a bit more informal and intimate. Frankly, I’ve never found it easy talking to doctors about sex; and discussing kinky sex was surely going to be very tricky. So, I decided to start off as gently as I could. My opening remarks included the phrases “sex positive” and “kink positive.”
Sitting as close to my audience as I was, I could see at once that these fundamental concepts weren’t registering with them. I was astonished. Here was a group of physicians, each with a large urban practice. Could they really be this out of touch? I quickly checked in with them to see if my perception was correct. I was right! None of them had heard the term, sex positive. The two who hazarded a guess at its meaning thought it had something to do with being HIV+. I had my work cut out for me.
I decided to share my creed with them. “Sex is Good—and Good Sex is Even Better.” I asked them repeat it with me as if I were teaching a catechism to children. Surprisingly, they did so without resistance. After we repeated the mantra a couple more times, I exposed them to the sex positive doctrine unencumbered by political correctness.
Sex Is Good! Sex is a positive force in human development; the pursuit of pleasure, including sexual pleasure, is at the very foundation of a harmonious society.
And Good Sex Is Even Better! The individual makes that determination. For example, what I decide is good sex for me, may be boring sex to someone else. And their good sex may be hair-raising to me. In other words, consensual sexual expression is a basic human right regardless of the form that expression takes. And it’s not appropriate for me, or anyone else, to call into question someone else’s consensual affectional choices.
Sex Is Good! Everyone has a right to clear, unambiguous sexual health information. It must be presented in a nonjudgmental way, particularly from his or her health care providers. And sexual health encompasses a lot more then just disease prevention, and contraception.
And Good Sex Is Even Better! The focus is on the affirmative aspects of sexuality, like sexual pleasure. Sexual wellbeing is more than simply being able to perform. It also means taking responsibility for one’s eroticism as an integral part of one’s personality and involvement with others.
Sex Is Good! Each person is unique and that must be respected. Our aim as healing and helping professionals is to provide information and guidance that will help the individual approach his/her unique sexuality in a realistic and responsible manner. This will foster his/her independent growth, personal integrity, as well as provide a more joyful experience of living.
And Good Sex Is Even Better! Between the extremes of total sexual repression and relentless sexual pursuit, a person can find that unique place, where he/she is free to live a life of self-respect, enjoyment and love.
Finally I told them they ought to think creatively how they could adapt this concept to their own practice. It was up to each of them to make this creed their own. As it turned out, this primer was just the thing to open my planned discussion of health care for kinksters.
In a way this experience was a bit of a spiritual reawakening for me, too. Despite my misgivings about the contamination of the sex positive doctrine by malicious people bent on using it as a weapon against those they disagree with. I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to watch these sex positive novices hear, and then embrace, the message for the first time. It was nothing short of a religious experience.
My husband and I have been together for 23 years and have a great sex life. I love giving him blowjobs and he says he enjoys it too, but he never has an orgasm from the BJs. He says that the head of his penis (circumcised) is just not very sensitive. Is this common and is there anything we can do to increase the sensitivity? Thanks for your help.
Hey Glenda! Your concern about your husband not gettin’ off on your blowjobs is a familiar complaint. Lots of men can’t get off that way. And I don’t think it has much to do with his desensitized dickhead.
If you want to know my secret to gettin your man off with your mouth, try diddlin’ his prostate with your finger while you blow him. Or kick it up a notch and use a slim-jim vibrator in his bum to get his juices flowin’.
Location: Duluth MN
I’ve been practicing periods of celibacy and the way that I practice celibacy is by not ejaculating. I’ll still have fornication with my girlfriend and things like that but without ejaculation. My question is that I notice that when I end a period of celibacy by finally ejaculating that my energy level is extraordinarily low afterwards. Are there supplements I can take to counteract the sleepy feeling I have after I ejaculate? Basically I would like to have the same focus day to day as when I am practicing celibacy but while I have a sexually active life. Any thoughts or answers would be great.
Before I get to your question. Richard, let’s work on some of your vocabulary, shall we? The sexual practice you describe is not a type of celibacy. Celibacy has a very specific meaning. It is the state of being unmarried. Curiously enough you actually happen to be celibate. Not because you’re practicing ejaculation control, but because you’re not married (you have a GF). For the sake of clarity, the only thing we ought to be able to say for sure when someone identifies him/herself as celibate is that he/she is not married. Period!
You’re not really being sexually abstinent either, which is a concept that is often confused with celibacy. Sexual abstinence is refraining from any kind of sexual activity with others or alone.
Ya know why it’s important to differentiate between the two? I’ll tell ya. There are a lot of people who are celibate (i.e. not married), but who are being sexual, by themselves or with others (like you for example). There are also lots of people who are married (i.e. not celibate), but who are refraining from being sexual with themselves or others for any number of reasons. And, of course, there are celibates who are also sexually abstinent. Ya see, if we are careless with our vocabulary when describing ourselves, we aren’t able to clearly share with one another who we are, what we are doing, or what we want to do. Get it? Got it? Good!
I’m also gonna go way out on a limb here and guess that you’re a Catholic or a fundamentalist Christian, or was raised as one. Who else would use the term “fornicate” when talking about having sex with his GF?
While technically you are correct, in “church-speak” unmarried partners who fuck are fornicating. This is opposed to adultery, which is a when a married person fucks someone other than his or her husband or wife. The term fornicate has a very pejorative connotation. It’s a word religious people use to describe sinful behavior. Is fucking your girlfriend sinful, Richard? If it is, stop fucking her right away! If it isn’t, then don’t refer to your sexual relations with her as fornication. If you can’t bring yourself to use the term “fuck” to talk about what you two do together, there are plenty of other less negative euphemisms. For example, intercourse, or even coitus works. Just not fornication!
Now, on to the very interesting sexual practice you describe in your message. If it isn’t a “type” of celibacy, what is it? I think you maybe talking about a tantric sex practice. You have sex — solo as well as partnered sex — but you avoid ejaculating, right? You don’t really go on to say why you do this other than you seem to believe you conserve energy this way. Tantric practitioners talk about this practice in similar terms — preserving one energy or chi. And that’s what leads me to think what you’re doing is a form of tantra.
Tantric sex is very interesting, if for no other reason it distinguishes between orgasm and ejaculation. Although they often happen at the same time, men are capable of having orgasms without ejaculating. Perhaps, you’re already discovered this. Ejaculatory control, which is what I think you are doing, is what makes it possible for Tantric lovers to harness and extend the energy of orgasm. By refraining from, or holding off on an ejaculation, men can become multi-orgasmic. Some men achieve this by a practice known as edging or controlling the wave of orgasmic energy without ejaculating.
Further, you ask if there are any drugs that can help you regain your strength, or chi after you finally ejaculate. Rather than seek a pharmaceutical solution, why not delve deeper into tantra for the answers you seek. You are already more than half way there. You might want to look into chi power training too. Because, if I’m not mistaken, that’s what you’re actually talking about.
It appears that my posting of last week, Female Sexual Dysfunction Is A Fictional Disorder, caused quite a stir. As you recall, I was answering a question from a woman who asked if FSD, or female sexual dysfunction is real or a fictitious “ailment” that is being promulgated to sell pharmaceuticals to unsuspecting women. I replied; “I think that, for the most part, female sexual dysfunction, or FSD, is a fictional disorder. I also think pharmaceutical companies are trying to hit on a female version of Viagra to treat this imaginary disorder so they can make a bundle, just like they did with as the male version.”
Well, that didn’t sit well with some friends and colleagues. One among them, Dr. Serena McKenzie took the most exception. She sent me a little note: “Your blog on female sexual dysfunction being fictitious is – respectfully – fucking bullshit sir.” Ok then!
I invited Serena to make her case not only to me, but to all my readers. What follows is Serena in her own words.
Flibanserin, the first and only medication available for use in reproductive aged women with low libido, becomes commercially available this week after a rocky and controversial road that led to its FDA approval Aug. 18. The view on the medication whose brand name is Addyi (pronounced ADD-EE) ranges from a historical achievement in women’s health care to an epic failure of commercialized medical propaganda. Despite the lengthy debate that has surrounded flibanserin, what most people want to know is whether it will help their sex life or not now that it is here.
First Things First
While sexual concerns can be difficult to discuss for many women and their partners, it is important to acknowledge that sex and intimacy are some of the great extraordinary experiences of being human. When sex goes badly, which statistically it does for 43 percent of U.S. women, the consequences can devastate a relationship and personal health. One of the biggest applauds I have for the FDA is their statement of recognition that female sexual dysfunction is an unmet clinical need.
Sexuality Is Mind-Body But Not-Body?
Sexuality is usually complicated, and problems with sex such as loss of libido are multifactorial for most women. Antagonists to flibanserin cite psychosocial contributions such as relationship discord, body image, or history of sexual abuse to be the most pinnacle causes of a woman who may complain of problematic lack of sexual desire, and that sex is always a mind-body phenomenon. While these factors often implicitly correlate to loss of sexual interest for a woman, they don’t always, and you cannot advocate that women’s sexuality is all inclusive of her mind, body, and spirit — and assert simultaneously that a biochemical contribution which flibanserin is designed to address in the brain to improve satisfying sexual experiences does not exist.
The Biochemistry of Sex
Antidepressant medications that alter brain biochemistry are notorious for having sexual side effects which can be prevalent up to 92 percent of the time, and are known to decrease sexual interest, disrupt arousal, and truncate orgasm in some women. Ironically, flibanserin was originally studied as an antidepressant, and while the exact mechanism of how a medication can impair or improve sexual interest is unknown, it should not be difficult to consider that if biochemical tinkering can crush sexual function, it may also be capable of improving it.
Efficacy Data Dance
Flibanserin is a pill taken once nightly, and has been critiqued as showing only modest increases in sexual desire, with improvements in sexually satisfying events rising 0.4 to 1 per month compared with placebo. However just because flibanserin has lackluster efficacy data, that does not mean it is ineffective, and even small improvements in sexual function can be life altering for a woman struggling with disabling intimate problems. If only 1 percent of women with low libido were to improve their sexual function with use of flibanserin, that equates to 160,000 women, or the population of Tempe, Arizona.
Blue Sky Side Effects
Flibanserin has side effects, and the sky is blue. All medications have pro and con profiles, and for flibanserin the most common consequences of use include fatigue, dizziness, sleepiness, and a rare but precipitous drop in blood pressure. Women may not drink alcohol while taking this medication. Providers who will prescribe it and pharmacies that will dispense flibanserin must be approved through what is called a Risk Evaluation and Management Strategy, or REMS, which means they are educated on advising women on how to take flibanserin safely. While a REMS program is arguably overkill compared to numerous higher risk, common prescriptions which do not require a REMS, it is an excellent opportunity for clinicians who have a background in sexuality to be the main applicants since they are far more qualified to assess proper candidates for treatment as well as continue to endorse holistic measures alongside flibanserin. Women who are interested in trying flibanserin should only obtain it from sexuality trained professionals.
We simply cannot overlook how astronomical of an achievement it is to even have a mediocre medication approved for female sexual dysfunction. Women’s sexuality has been ignored by medicine for most of history. At least now we have something to fight over.
The controversy about flibanserin is in fact magnificent, and frankly, the entire point. We must talk openly about sexuality and sexual concerns to improve them, personally for one woman at a time, but also uniformly to embrace female sexuality as a vastly larger societal allowance.
A satisfying sexual life is far more than the restoration of sexual dysfunction, it’s a thriving, multi dimensional, ever evolving weave of psychology, relationships, life circumstances, and yes can include a milieu of biochemistry and neurotransmitter pools.
Is a pill ever going to replace the vastly complicated arenas that fuse into our sexual experience? Of course not — it’s absurd and lazy-minded for anyone to suggest that is even being proposed. But it is necessary and inherently responsible to allow for all possible puzzle pieces to be utilized through the ever evolving navigation of sensuality, intimacy, and erotic fulfillment.
So will flibanserin make your sex life better? Maybe. But considering the conversation about it valuable as well as its use as merely one tool among many options to improve sex and intimacy would be the better bet. Ultimately, we “desire” sex that is meaningful, erotic, and dynamic. The journey of seeking sexual vitality deserves every key, crowbar, heathen kick, graceful acrobatics, or little pink pill that lends its part to the process, no matter how small or big, for the opportunity to discover and embrace a sexual aliveness.
Follow Serena McKenzie, Holistic physician, certified sexual medicine specialist, sex counselor, medical director of the Northwest Institute for Healthy Sexuality on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SexMedDoc
People are freaking out over weed lube. Rightly so, I guess, because it’s apparently magical. But while weed lube is lubricating, it isn’t lube, per se. As in, its main use is not to facilitate intercourse.
Lena Davidson, the marketing manager for botanicaSEATTLE—the company behind BOND Sensual Oil—told me that what most people would call weed lube is really more of a massage oil. Like other cannabis topicals and unlike a traditional lube, it takes 20 to 40 minutes to work and is a self-contained experience that can be enhanced by sex. Being oil-based, it is also not latex safe. People call it weed lube, she says, because we’re basically all teenage boys and we can’t talk about weed or sex without snickering.
As much fun as it is to giggle about getting one’s “pussy stoned” (as Vice did), weed lube is serious business. Sensual cannabis oil, as it is more accurately called, has all sorts of awesome ramifications for sexual equity. Davidson pointed out that while there are more than 26 products approved by the FDA to treat sexual dysfunction in men, there is only one approved for women, and it is the subject of much controversy. Sensual cannabis oil is a long way off from FDA approval, but judging from testimonials thus far, it seems to be doing consistently what that one drug does inconsistently: increasing female sexual pleasure. Women who have used BOND reported “ethereal, long-lasting, and out of this world” sexual experiences, and the ability to rapidly “peak… and then do it again quite quickly,” according to testimonials on BOND’s website. Multiple orgasms are apparently common.
How does it work? Davidson writes: “THC is absorbed through the mucous membranes that are in high concentrations in a woman’s vagina. Once applied and absorbed, THC acts locally on the cannabinoid receptors, much like an edible. Functionally, the THC dilates the capillaries and increases blood flow in the smallest blood vessels in our body—this enhanced microcirculation magnifies sensitivity and sensation.” (She also mentioned that this same capillary reaction is what causes stoney red eyes.) The experience is not like the head high one gets from smoking or eating weed, but rather a localized sensation of pleasure, users report.
It’s also important to note that, at least here in Washington, sensual cannabis oil is safe. Davidson cautioned that not all weed lube is created equal, but BOND and Ethos Extracts‘ Temptress are made in a WSDA-approved kitchen with food-grade organic coconut oil and ultra-pure cannabis extracts. Coconut oil, though unfriendly to latex, is ideal for internal use because of its natural pH-balancing and antimicrobial qualities.
While the potential to help women with issues such as vaginismus (vaginal pain) and low libido is great in its own right, perhaps the most exciting thing about sensual cannabis oil is that it is a decidedly non-heteronormative phenomenon. What I mean by that is it takes the focus off of the penis as the center of sexual pleasure, where it has been for far too long.
My good friend Kat, a big proponent of sensual cannabis oil and the source of much of my education on feminism, put it thusly: “It’s unfortunately common during heteronormative sex that women feel like their partner’s ejaculative experience is the focal point. I’m usually acutely aware of the other person’s level of satisfaction, which takes me away from my own body. With the weed lube, I’m like, ‘Fuck yeah, I’m getting it and it feels fucking amazing.’ I’m actually relaxed and stimulated enough to invest in my own delectation.”
And though much has been made of sensual cannabis oil not working for men, that’s not entirely true. It doesn’t work well for selfish straight men who are only interested in receiving blowjobs and having vaginal intercourse (because the penis does not absorb the cannabis oil in the same way that the vagina does). It does, however, work really well for men (and women) who are into anal play, as the absorption of THC through the back door is rapid. Used anally, sensual cannabis oil does not offer the same direct enhancement of physical sensation as it does to the vagina, but it does get you high as fuck, which enhances sex in its own right. Also, anyone willing to perform a little enthusiastic cunnilingus—as any self-respecting straight dude should be—will get a light edible-style buzz. Basically, anything that has not traditionally been part of the penis-obsessed, heteronormative sexual canon is made better with sensual cannabis oil. If that isn’t sweet sexual justice, I don’t know what is.
Speaking of sexual justice, sensual cannabis oil also works well for older women—another segment of the population whose sexual lives are often not valued in the heteronormative conversation. Women’s bodies produce less lubrication during and after menopause, and older women can also suffer from decreased libido and other sexual difficulties—problems that sensual cannabis oil can help with. Edward Lafferty, Ethos’s CEO, said that women older than 45 and gay men make up the bulk of his business for the Temptress oil. During product testing of BOND, “nearly every woman had a ‘Eureka!’ moment,” said Davidson. And “for women who had felt estranged from their innate sexuality by age or physical conditions, it instigated a wave of natural physiological desire.”
Davidson worries that those who might benefit most from sensual cannabis oil will not do so because of the continued cultural awkwardness around weed, sex, and weedy sex. She pointed out that women are statistically less likely to try cannabis products in general, let alone walk into a weed store and ask a scruffy dude about something as personal as their sexual health. What’s more, sensual cannabis oil is still perceived as a sex-shop novelty—something for young party people to rub on one another after the rave, not something that can help women have more sexually fulfilling lives.
But, as Lafferty put it, “The people who use it need it. It’s important. We can be squeamish, but it works.” So let’s get one thing straight: Weed lube isn’t lube, and it’s also not a novelty. According to many of those who’ve tried it, it’s a godsend.
I’ve been reading a lot lately about FSD, or female sexual dysfunction. Is there such at thing? It strikes me as a fictitious “ailment” that is being promulgated to sell pharmaceuticals to unsuspecting women. What are your thoughts?
I share your skepticism. I think that, for the most part, female sexual dysfunction, or FSD, is a fictional disorder. I also think pharmaceutical companies are trying to hit on a female version of Viagra to treat this imaginary disorder so they can make a bundle, just like they did with as the male version.
So much of female sexuality is caught up with the cultural context of a women’s role in society — family obligations, body image and patriarchal views of marriage, etc. For the most part, men aren’t nearly so encumbered. So when one talks about female sexuality, particularly when the notion of a condition or a disorder arises; ya gotta ask yourself, what’s going on here?
I too have been noticing a lot of discussion in the popular culture lately about female sexual dysfunction. My first response is to ask myself, who’s raising the issue and why? Sure some women, like some men, experience difficulties in terms of desire, arousal and orgasm, but what of it? Is it a syndrome? Is it really a dysfunction? I personally don’t think so. The sexual difficulties most people experience can be explained and dealt with in a less dramatic way then with drugs?
And here’s an interesting phenomenon; the repeated appearance of the term female sexual dysfunction in the media lately actually gives the concept legitimacy. I’m certain the pharmaceutical industry is hoping that it will. If they can make the connection in the public mind between what women experience in terms of desire, arousal and orgasm concerns and what men describe as erectile dysfunction, then most of the work is done. In other words, I think the entire effort is a marketing ploy.
I think we can safely say that, in order to determine what female sexual dysfunction might be, one has to clearly understand what a “normal” sexual response is for a woman. This is where we traditionally run into problems. Sex science is notoriously lacking in this endeavor. One thing for certain, although both women and men have a discernable sexual response cycle, a woman’s sexual response is not the same as a man’s. Even though we can’t say with certainty what “normal” is, therapists are famous for turning difficulties into disorders. And once you have a disorder it becomes the basis for developing a drug therapy. So you can see how this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Currently there’s a real buzz among clinicians concerning the efficacy of Addyi, the so-called “female Viagra”. But most sexologists, myself included, are unimpressed. Basically, the drug in question is an antidepressant. When I heard that, red flags began to fly. Antidepressants are notorious for their adverse side effects, especially in terms of sexual arousal in both men and women. The second problem with the study was the whole notion of desire and distress. Lots of women experience diminished sexual arousal but are not distressed by it. But if there’s no distress, clinically speaking, then it can’t be considered a disorder. You see where I’m going with this, right? If there’s not a “disorder” there’s no need for a pharmaceutical intervention.
According to the research some of the women in the clinical studies leading up to the approval of the drug claimed they were less distressed by their “condition,” Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, than they were at the beginning of the study. According to clinical trials of Addyi held in 2013, only 8% – 13% of the women experienced “much improved” sexual desire and only about 2 more satisfying sexual encounters per month were had. In other words, when behaviors were studied, the actual number of satisfying sexual episodes reported by these less distressed women hardly changed of all. This indicates to me that the antidepressant helped lift the spirits of the distressed women, but did nothing to increase their satisfaction with their sexual outlet.
Twice the FDA rejected Addyi for its severe side effects and marginal ability to produce the effect that it is being marketed for. And despite the fact that the drug is now available, those side effects still exist. Women who take the pill are likely to experience dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, fainting spells, and falling blood pressure. Coupled with alcohol and even hormonal contraceptives the odds of these potential side effects occurring increase. Persons with liver ailments, or taking certain other medicines, such as types of steroids are also at higher risk. On the other hand Viagra has very mild side effects that may include headaches, indigestion, blue-tinted vision and in some cases a stuffy nose.
While a man can pop Viagra an hour or so before he plans to have sex, women who are looking for increased sexual desire need to take Addyi daily for up to a month before they should expect to see any effects.
In February, Robert McGarey’s partner of 24 years died. It was the most devastating loss McGarey had ever encountered, and yet, there was a silver lining: “I had this profound sadness, but I don’t feel lonely,” McGarey told me. “I’m not without support, I’m not without companionship.”
That’s because he has other partners: Jane, who he’s been with for 16 years, and Mary, who he’s been with for eight. (Those are not their real names.) And while his grief for Pam, the girlfriend who died, was still immense, polyamory helped him deal with it.
There’s not a lot of research into how poly families cope with death—probably because there’s not a lot of research about how poly families choose to live. By rough estimates, there are several million poly people in the United States. And while polyamory can bring people tremendous benefits in life and in death, our social and legal systems weren’t designed to deal with people with more than one romantic partner—so when one person dies, it can usher in a slew of complicating legal and emotional problems.
“Whether people realize it or not, the partner to whom they are married will have more benefits and rights once a death happens,” explained Diana Adams, who runs a boutique law firm that practices “traditional and non-traditional family law with support for positive beginnings and endings of family relationships.”
Since married partners rights’ trump everyone else’s, the non-married partners don’t automatically have a say in end-of-life decisions, funeral arrangements, or inheritance. That’s true for non-married monogamous relationships, too, but the problem can be exacerbated in polyamorous relationships where partners are not disclosed or acknowledged by family members. In her work, Adams has seen poly partners get muscled out of hospital visits and hospice by family members who refused to recognize a poly partner as a legitimate partner.
McGarey and his girlfriend Pam weren’t married, so the decision to take her off life support had to go through Pam’s two sisters. The money Pam left behind—which McGarey would’ve inherited had they been married—went to her sisters too, who also organized Pam’s funeral.
This kind of power struggle can also happen among multiple partners who have all been romantically involved with the deceased. The only real way to ensure that everything is doled out evenly is to draft up a detailed prenuptial agreement and estate plan. Adams works with clients to employ “creative estate planning” to ensure that other partners are each acknowledged and taken care of.
Adams is a big proponent of structured mediation as a way of minimizing post-mortem surprises, like when families discover the existence of mysterious extra-marital partners in someone’s will. It’s much better to have those conversations in life than on someone’s deathbed, or after death.
But many poly people remain closeted in life and in death, according to sociologist Elisabeth Sheff, who has studied polyamorous families for 15 years and authored The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families. A person might have a public primary partner—someone they’re married to, for example—plus other private relationships. That can make it harder to grieve when one of the non-primary partners dies, because others don’t recognize the relationship as “real” or legitimate in the way the death of a spouse might be.
Take, for example, something like an employee bereavement policy. Guidelines from the Society for Human Resource Management spell out the length of time off given in the event of the death of a loved one: a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, in-laws, aunts, uncles, grandparents. Unsurprisingly, extra-marital boyfriend or girlfriend is not on the list. (Actually, “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” aren’t on the list at all.) It’s possible for an employee to explain unique circumstances to an employer, but in her research, Sheff has found that some poly people prefer not to “out” themselves this way. People still disapprove of extra-marital affairs and some poly people, according to Sheff, have even lost their jobs from being outed, due to corporate “morality clauses.”
It’s similar, she says, to the experiences of same-sex couples who are closeted. “It’s much less so now because they’re more acknowledged and recognized, but 20 years ago, it was routine for [the family of the deceased] to muscle out the partner and ignore their wishes—even if [the deceased] hadn’t seen their family for years and years,” Sheff said. “They would come and descend on the funeral and take over. Or when the person was in the ICU. That same vulnerability that gays and lesbians have moved away from to some extent is still potentially very problematic for polyamorous people.”
Legal recognition of polyamorous unions could provide some relief. After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 and legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, calls for legalizing plural marriage have only become louder. Adams noted that an argument put forth in Chief Justice John Roberts’s 2015 dissent may provide a legal foothold for legalization advocates. “As Roberts points out, if there’s going to be a rejection of some of the traditional man-woman elements of marriage… those same arguments could easily be applied to three or four-person unions,” she said in an interview with US News & World Report earlier this year.
In 2006, Melissa Hall’s husband Paul died at the age of 52. Both were polyamorous, but Paul’s death presented “no special problems,” since they were legally married and Hall had all the rights of a spouse. Instead, she found unexpected benefits in dealing with her husband’s death: In particular, she told me that “being poly made it easier to love again.” Since they had both dated other people during their life together, Hall knew her husband’s death wouldn’t stop her from dating again.
In traditional relationships, it’s not uncommon for people to impose dating restrictions on themselves to honor the desires of their dead spouses, or to feel guilty when they start dating again. Of course, you don’t win if you don’t date either, as people eventually get on your case to “move on with your life.” All this goes out the window when you’re polyamorous, where dating doesn’t necessarily signal the end of an arbitrary acceptable period of mourning.
More partners in a relationship can certainly mean more support. It can also mean more people dying, and with that comes more grief. In an article about loss among polys published in the polyamory magazine Loving More, one man wrote: “Those of us who have practiced polyamory through our lifetime must be grateful for the abundance of love in our lives. But having those wonderful other loves means we must accept a little more grieving as well, when our times come.”
Is the trade off worth it? McGarey certainly seems to think so. “There is more grieving, but… we are held and cradled in the love of other people at the same time.”
He compares his relationship to the Disney movie Up, which starts with a guy falling in love and marrying his childhood sweetheart. “And then [she] dies, and he turns into this grumpy old man because he lost his love,” McGarey said. “I don’t see myself turning into a grumpy old man. I don’t know if I can attribute that to poly, but maybe that’s why.”
Andy is a muscular dystrophy patient who lives with his parents in southern Taiwan. Due to his severe physical disability, he was home-schooled and couldn’t leave his house alone, so never really had the opportunity to develop either an active social life or a romantic relationship.
When the Taiwanese NGO Hand Angel—an organization promoting the sexual rights of disabled people—first spoke to Andy, they realized this situation meant he’d also never been able to have a frank conversation with anyone about his sexuality. And as a young gay man who didn’t want to speak to his parents about his feelings, this wasn’t exactly the healthiest situation to be in.
So, over the course of a few months, representatives from the NGO counseled Andy online, helping him to understand his own sexuality and place in the world. Next, they “smuggled” him out of his house and took him to a motel for a handjob.
Taiwan—officially known as the Republic of China—has one of the best health systems in the world; its million or so disabled citizens receive some of the most thorough medical attention you’ll find, including everything from long-term care to traditional herbal medicine. What they don’t receive from this system, however, is any kind of aid when it comes to slightly more intimate issues, namely: orgasms.
It was for this reason that a group of social campaigners and volunteers took it upon themselves to create Hand Angel, an NGO whose main service is giving handjobs to the severely disabled. Members say that their work raises awareness of the fact that disabled people are often depicted as desexualized—as well as having their sexuality constantly neglected—despite the fact they share exactly the same desires as anybody else.
In the Netherlands, the national health system provides a grant scheme for people with disabilities to receive public money to pay for sexual services up to 12 times a year. In Taiwan, sex remains a taboo, and some Buddhists—the sovereign state’s primary religion—believe that someone suffering from a disability means they’re paying for bad deeds in a past life. So not the best mix for those like Andy, really.
“I can’t tell my parents that I also have sexual desires, and I can’t come out of the closet in front them,” he told me. “My family’s care puts lots of pressure [on me] and sabotages me from normal romantic relations.”
Vincent, the 50-year-old founder of Hand Angel, lost his legs to polio and says his disability allows him to better empathize with applicants’ needs, without any of the patronization disabled people can sometimes face. He emphasized that “disabled people share the same physical and emotional needs as any others, and therefore should have the right to pursue them.”
In order to decide who’s entitled to use their services, Hand Angel first assess an applicant’s level of disability. The person has to be recognized by the government as having a serious physical impairment, but can’t be mentally disabled. Once they’re cleared, the service is totally free, but each applicant can only receive three bouts of sexual stimulation.
Volunteers—the group of 10 people actually giving the handjobs—come from varied backgrounds; some are gay, some are straight, some are disabled, some are PhD students, some are social campaigners and some work in the media. It’s made very clear to me that these volunteers only use their hands for second-base kind of stuff—that hugging, caressing, and kissing on the face are all fine, but anything penetrative (fingering, oral sex, vaginal sex, and anal sex) is not.
When Hand Angel took Andy to the motel, the volunteer caressed him thoroughly and gave him a handjob. He described the intimacy being so intense that, for a minute, he believed he was in love. He knew it was only temporary, of course, but the experience provided him with an emotional connection he’d never felt before.
This is part of Hand Angel’s mission: not just providing a sexual service, but also bringing forth an emotional and social transformation in applicants.
“[Andy] was very introverted before, and didn’t really know how to interact with people,” said Vincent. “However, through months of talking online, I discovered something changed inside him. When our group was reported by the media and got lots of criticism, I saw Andy joined the public debate and argued with those [critical] internet users, trying to illustrate his opinions.”
In Taiwan, where a discussion of sexuality is restrained by strict moral codes, there was also plenty of mockery leveled at Hand Angel. Internet users starting posting comments like: “Do they also offer ‘Mouth Angels?'”; “I’m retarded; can I apply for Hand Angel service, too?”; and “Only three times in a lifetime?”
There even appeared to be negativity on an official level. The executive secretary of the Taipei United Social Wealth Alliance, Yi-Ting Hu, commented on the NGO, saying: “Speaking from personal opinion, I don’t think we need to bring up disabled people’s sexuality as an independent issue. There are more important and urgent problems we need to deal with. Don’t you think if you advocate their sexual rights, it is like another form of discrimination?”
Of course, he seemed to only be proving Hand Angels’ point; to suggest that advocating a disabled person’s sexual rights is a form of discrimination is, first, patronizing in itself, and secondly, just completely bizarre—how is consensually receiving a handjob in any way discriminatory?
Andy summed it up: “I didn’t feel I was the target of pity. The whole process was full of respect and equality. This might be deemed as controversial by society, but as long as you’re willing to look into it, what we desire is no different from others. Just ask yourself: do you need to consult your parents before having sex?”
Location: St Louis
My best friend can’t bring herself to sever her ties with her ex-boyfriend. Even though their last attempted reunion ended in a very violent fight. My friend has this weird nostalgia for the relationship she had with her ex at the beginning. Back then, before he started drinking and drugging, they did have a couple of good years, but that was a long time ago. I’m very concerned for my friend. She’s often depressed and she is pulling away from her friends. I think she is seriously considering getting back with her no-good, two-timing ex. I know that my role as a friend is to love and support her, but her ex is not to be trusted. I fear as much for her safety as for her heart. What’s a friend to do?
So many things are going on here, Clare. It’s hard to know where to begin. Your friend can’t sever her ties with her ex because she doesn’t want to. Even if she wanted to end it once and for all, it’s not an easy thing to do.
Anyone who has been there will tell ya that quitin’ a bad relationship is as difficult as quitin’ booze or dope…maybe even harder. Most folks in poisonous relationships can’t extricate themselves because they are part of the toxicity. Bad relationships, like the good ones, are completely dependent on the participation of both individuals in the couple. Each one feeds off the other and each one’s bad behaviors rewards and facilitates the pathologies of the other.
There is no such thing as a good, psychologically healthy person in a bad relationship. There may be one in the couple that is less culpable, or less abusive, or less self-destructive, but there is never one that is without blame.
Like all junkies, your friend is hooked. Her depression and withdrawal are outward signs of the pathology. Nothing is gonna change this for her until she acknowledges that she is caught in a downward spiral. Domestic violence — and we ought to label the nature of your friend’s relationship for what it is — will escalate. It always does. Will your friend get out in time? There’s no guarantee. Is there anything you can do? Well that, Clare, is a more difficult question to answer. If you do too much you are at risk of supporting her habit. Or worse, you could be co-opted into the pathological dynamic of the relationship.
The best you can do is to tell your friend how you feel about her predicament. Speak your mind in no uncertain terms. If you decide to confront your friend with an intervention, I suggest that you have some well-considered resources to hand her while you are doing so. For example, you could do some legwork and find some local domestic violence resources — a hot line, a shelter, counseling referrals and the like. Once you make this intervention and it’s over, drop it. Drop it for good. This is the hardest thing a friend has to do, but constantly badgering someone in your friend’s condition is counterproductive. If you can’t stand to witness the self-destruction, take your leave of the friendship and hope for the best.
However you play this, don’t hold your breath for a happy ending. They happen sometime, of course, but real life is so not like the movies.
Monogamous people catch STDs just as often as swingers, but use condoms and get tested less often, a new survey suggests. Some sex researchers say a scholarly bias toward monogamy makes studies like this all too rare.
People in monogamous relationships catch sexually transmitted diseases just as often as those in open relationships, a new survey suggests, largely due to infidelity spreading infections.
Reported in the current Journal of Sexual Medicine, the survey of 554 people found that monogamous couples are less likely to use condoms and get tested for STDs — even when they’re not being faithful to their partner.
“It turns out that when monogamous people cheat, they don’t seem to be very good about using condoms,” Justin Lehmiller, a psychologist at Ball State University and author of the study, told BuzzFeed News by email. “People in open relationships seem to take a lot of precautions to reduce their sexual health risks.”
The finding matters because people who think they are in monogamous relationships may face higher odds of an infection than they suspect, Lehmiller and other researchers told BuzzFeed News. And a stigma around open relationships that views such couples as irresponsible — even among researchers who conduct studies — may be skewing the evidence.
One in four of the 351 monogamous-relationship participants in Lehmiller’s survey said they had cheated on their partners, similar to rates of sexual infidelity reported in other surveys. About 1 in 5, whether monogamous or not, reported they had been diagnosed with an STD. Participants averaged between 26 to 27 years old, and most (70%) were women.
For people in supposedly exclusive relationships, Lehmiller said, “this risk is compounded by the fact that cheaters are less likely to get tested for (STDs), so when they pick something up, they are probably less likely to find out about it before passing it along.”
Psychologist Terri Conley of the University of Michigan told BuzzFeed News that the survey results echoed her team’s findings in a 2012 Journal of Sexual Medicine study that found people in open relationships were more likely to use condoms correctly in sexual encounters than people in exclusive relationships.
To bolster confidence in the results, Conley said, more funding is needed to test research subjects for STDs directly, rather than relying on their own notoriously unreliable self reporting of infections.
She compared just assuming that monogamous relationships are safer to assuming abstinence education will really stop teenagers from having sex: “Sure, abstinence would be great, but we know that isn’t reality.”
To put it another way, Lehmiller said, “there’s a potential danger in monogamy in that if your partner puts you at risk by cheating, you’re unlikely to find out until it’s too late.”
Sex researchers don’t want to criticize monogamy, Conley added, making funding a definitive study more difficult.
In a commentary on Lehmiller’s study in Journal of Sexual Medicine, Conley argued that sex researchers are “committed to the the belief that monogamy is best” and are “reluctant to consider contradictory evidence.”
“I’m not saying monogamy is bad,” Conley said. “What I found is that the level of hostility among reviewers to suggesting people in consensual non-monogamous relationships are more responsible is really over the top.”
Conley said she initially struggled to publish her 2012 study. When she changed the framing of its conclusion to find that “cheaters” in monogamous relationships were more irresponsible, the study was suddenly published.
“Even in a scientific review process, challenging researchers’ preconceived notions is perilous,” she wrote in her commentary.
Other relationship researchers disagree, however, saying that sociologists have cast shade on monogamy — finding declines in happiness, sexual satisfaction, and frequency of intercourse — for decades. “This is about as widespread a finding as one gets,” Harry Reis, a psychologist at the University of Rochester, told BuzzFeed News. He called the idea that social scientists are biased against studies showing the value of non-monogamous relationships was “poppycock.”
Sex researcher Debbie Herbernick of Indiana University echoed this view, saying funding is not an issue: “I’ve never seen much negative reaction or pushback.”
More critically, Reis said, reviewers might be dubious about the data collected on open relationships, given their relative rarity making reliable data collection difficult.
Although Lehmiller published his study, he agreed with Conley that a stigma still marks open relationships, even in science. “People, including many sex researchers,” he said, “have a tendency to put monogamy on a pedestal and to be very judgmental when it comes to consensual non-monogamy.”
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his girlfriend, the singer Ciara, recently announced plans to remain sexually abstinent until marriage.
It was a vow that came as a surprise to many. After all, sexual purity is a commitment that is historically expected of, associated with – even demanded of – women. However, sexual abstinence is not something assumed of men, especially men like Russell Wilson.
Wilson, an accomplished, attractive athlete, embodies contemporary ideals of masculinity, which include style, wealth and, yes, sexual prowess.
So how does a man like Russell Wilson navigate a commitment to abstinence while upholding ideals of masculinity? Wilson’s status as an athlete and heartthrob is likely giving him what sociologist CJ Pascoe calls “jock insurance.” In other words, due to his celebrity status, he can make traditionally nonmasculine choices without having his masculinity questioned.
But what does it mean for a man who isn’t in the limelight, who makes a similar type of commitment to abstinence? And what does it mean for the women they date, and might eventually marry?
I’ve been researching men who pledge sexual abstinence since 2008, work that comes out of a larger scholarly interest in masculinities, religion and sex education.
While men make this commitment with the good intentions for a fulfilling marriage and sex life, my research indicates that the beliefs about sexuality and gender that come hand in hand with these pledges of abstinence do not necessarily make for an easy transition to a married sexual life.
Who’s Pledging “Purity?”
Comedian Joy Behar recently joked that abstinence is what you do after you’ve been married for a long time. Here, Behar makes two assumptions. One is that sexual activity declines both with age and the time spent in a relationship. This is true.
The second is that abstinence is not something you do before marriage. For the most part, this is true as well: by age 21, 85% of men and 81% of women in the United States have engaged in sexual intercourse.
If we compare these numbers to the average age of first marriage in the United States – 27 for women, and 29 for men – we get the picture: most people are having sex before marriage.
Still, some in the United States are making “virginity pledges,” and commit to abstinence until marriage. Most of the data that exist on this practice show that those who make the pledges will do so in high school, often by either signing a pledge card or donning a purity ring.
Research on this population tells us a few things: that those who pledge are more likely to be young women, and that – regardless of gender – an abstinence pledge delays the onset of sexual activity by only 18 months. Furthermore, taking a virginity pledge will often encourage other types of sexual behavior.
Virgins In Guyland
But little is known about men who pledge and navigate this commitment to abstinence.
I was curious about how men maintain pledges in light of these statistics, and also balance them with expectations about masculinity. So in 2008, I began researching a support group of 15 men at an Evangelical church in the Southwest. All members were white, in their early to mid-20’s, single or casually dating – and supporting each other in their decisions to remain abstinent until marriage.
The group, called The River, met once a week, where, sitting on couches, eating pizza or talking about video games, they’d eventually gravitate toward the topic that brought them all together in the first place: sex.
On the surface, it would seem impossible for these men to participate in what sociologist Michael Kimmel calls “Guyland” – a developmental and social stage driven by a “guy code” that demands, among other things, sexual conquest and detached intimacy.
Rather, the men of The River approach sex as something sacred, a gift from God meant to be enjoyed in the confines of the marriage bed. At the same time, these men struggle with what they describe as the “beastly elements” – or temptations – of sexuality. And it is precisely because of these so-called beastly elements that these men find each other in the same space every week.
The men of The River grappled with pornography use, masturbation, lust and same-sex desire, all of which can potentially derail these men from their pledge.
It raises an interesting dilemma: to these men, sex is both sacred and beastly. Yet the way they navigate this seeming contradiction actually allows them to exert their masculinity in line with the demands of Guyland.
Group members had an elaborate network of accountability partners to help them resist temptations. For example, one had an accountability partner who viewed his weekly online browsing history to make sure he wasn’t looking at pornography. Another accountability partner texted him each night to make sure that he and his girlfriend were “behaving.”
While these behaviors may seem unusual, they work in ways that allow men to actually assert their masculinity. Through what sociologist Amy Wilkins calls “collective performances of temptation,” these men are able to discuss just how difficult it is to refrain from the beastly urges; in this way, they reinforce the norm that they are highly sexual men, even in the absence of sexual activity.
The River, as a support group, works largely in the same way. These men are able to confirm their sexual desires in a homosocial space – similar to Kimmel’s research in Guyland – from which Kimmel notes that the “actual experience of sex pales in comparison to the experience of talking about sex.”
A ‘Sacred Gift’ – With Mixed Returns
The men of The River believed that the time and work required to maintain these pledges would pay off in the form of a happy and healthy marriage.
Ciara, in discussing her commitment to abstinence with Russell Wilson, similarly added that she believes such a promise is important for creating a foundation of love and friendship. She stated that, “if we have that [base] that strong, we can conquer anything with our love.”
So what happened once after the men of The River got married? In 2011, I followed up with them.
All but one had gotten married. But while the transition to married life brought promises of enjoying their “sacred gift from God,” this gift was fraught.
Respondents reported that they still struggled with the beastly elements of sexuality. They also had the added concern of extramarital affairs. Furthermore – and perhaps most importantly – men no longer had the support to work through these temptations.
There were two reasons behind this development.
First, respondents had been told, since they were young, that women were nonsexual. At the same time, these men had also been taught that their wives would be available for their pleasure.
It’s a double standard that’s in line with longstanding cultural ideals of the relationship between femininity and purity. But it’s a contradiction that leaves men unwilling to open up to the very women they’re having sex with.
These married men and women were not talking to each other about sex. Rather than freely discussing sex or temptation with their wives (as they had done with their accountability partners), the men simply tried to suppress temptation by imagining the devastation any sexual deviations might cause their wives.
Second, these men could no longer reach out to their support networks due to their own ideals of masculinity. They had been promised a sacred gift: a sexually active, happy marriage. Yet many weren’t fully satisfied, as evidenced by the continued tension between the sacred and beastly. However, to open up about these continued struggles would be to admit failure as masculine, Christian man.
In the end, the research indicates that a pledge of sexual abstinence works to uphold an ideal of masculinity that disadvantages both men and women.
After 25 years of being told that sex is something dangerous that needs to be controlled, the transition to married (and sexual) life is difficult, at best, while leaving men without the support they need. Women, meanwhile, are often left out of the conversation entirely.
So when we urge abstinence in place of healthy conversations about sex and sexuality, we may be undermining the relationships that are the driving goal of these commitments in the first place.