Imagine this: You and your partner are getting hot and heavy in between the sheets. You’re feeling sexually aroused — but you’re unable to climax. In frustration you ask yourself: “Why can’t I orgasm during sex?”
The Kinsey Institute indicates 20 to 30 percent of women don’t have orgasms during intercourse, compared to only 5 percent of men who don’t climax every time they have sex. Men and women who are unable to sustain an erection or reach orgasm, respectively, are usually labeled as having some type of sexual dysfunction. However, the inability to orgasm could be triggered by several issues that range from physiological to psychological.
Below are six causes of why you have trouble orgasming during sex.
Condoms are often seen as an “evil” necessity that reduces sensitivity and sensations for men. The truth is condoms can inhibit male orgasm if they do not fit properly. A condom that is too tight can feel like the penis is in a chokehold, which can be distraction, and make it difficult to keep an erection. A 2015 study in journal Sexual Health found about 52 percent of men report losing an erection before, or while putting a condom on or after inserting into the vagina while wearing a condom.
High levels of stress impact your psychological and physiological health, which can interfere with the ability to orgasm. This makes it harder to concentrate on the sensation and relax during sex. Women with high salivary cortisol and stress levels have significantly less desire to masturbate or have sex with their partner.
Stress causes us to produce fewer sex hormones, like estrogen and testosterone, and more cortisol and stress hormones. When the body releases cortisol, a fight-or-flight response kicks in, and redirects the blood flow away from the sex organs, causing you to breathe shallowly.
Depression affects your mood, and even the desire to have sex. A 2000 study in the American Family Physician found 70 percent of adults facing depression without treatment had problems with their sex drive. This is because sexual desire starts in the brain as sex organs rely on chemicals in the brain to jumpstart your libido, and change blood flow. Depression disrupts these brain chemicals, making sexual activity more difficult to initiate and enjoy.
More than 75 million people live with persistent or debilitating pain, according to the national pain foundation, which can often lead to a low sex drive. Chronic pain sufferers find it difficult to feel pleasure during sex since the body hurts all the time. This is unfortunate since having an orgasm can alleviate some pains and aches.
Drugs tend to be among the most common causes of sexual problems. Prescription meds are responsible for as many as one of every four cases of sexual dysfunction. A 2002 study published in Family Practice found statins and fibrates (used in lowering LDL “bad” cholesterol) may cause erectile dysfunction, while later research has found both men and women taking statins showed increased difficulty achieving orgasm. The levels of sexual pleasure declined along with LDL cholesterol.
Negative Body Image
When you feel good about your body, you tend to feel better psychologically as well. The mind-body connection is imperative in sexual pleasure. For example, if you feel bad about your body, it;ll become more difficult to enjoy sex and have orgasms. A 2009 study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found women between the ages 18 to 49 who scored high on a body image scale were the most sexually satisfied. Positive feelings associated with weight, physical condition, sexual attractiveness, and thoughts about our body during sex help promote healthy sexual functioning.
[T]o start, they are not the same thing as polygamy (that’s when you have more than one spouse). They are also not maintaining secret relationships while dating a person who believes he or she is your one and only (that’s just cheating).
Polyamorous open relationships, or consensual non-monogamy, are an umbrella category. Their expression can take a range of forms focusing on both physical and emotional intimacy with secondary or tertiary partners , though some relationships can veer toward strictly the physical and resemble 1970s-era swinging or groupsex.
To better understand open relationships, we talked to several experts: Dan Savage, an author and gay-rights activist who writes a column about sex and relationships called Savage Love; Elisabeth Sheff, who over two decades has interviewed more than 130 people about non-monogamy and written three books on the topic; and Karley Sciortino, sex and relationships columnist for Vogue and Vice and creator of the blog “Slutever.”
We distilled their thoughts into seven key points.
1. Open relationships aren’t for everyone. Neither is monogamy
Among people who study or write about interpersonal relationships, there’s a concept known as sociosexuality, which describes how willing people are to engage in uncommitted sexual relationships. Sociosexuality is considered an orientation, such as being gay, straight, bisexual or somewhere in between.
If you’re on one end of the sociosexual scale, it might be hard to match with a potential partner on the other . “Growing up, you’re told to find people with the same interests and hobbies, but never told to find someone sexually compatible to you,” Ms. Sciortino said. She recommends figuring out early on whether the person you’re dating is a match on the scale.
Mr. Savage explained that people who would prefer an open relationship sometimes avoid asking for it as they drift into an emotional commitment because they’re afraid of rejection. But “if monogamy isn’t something you think you’ll be capable of for five or six decades, you should be anxious to get rejected,” he said. Saying quiet about your needs can lead to problems down the line and result in cheating.
That said, a lot of people aren’t on opposite ends of the scale. Mr. Savage, who is in a non-monogamous marriage, said that when he first brought up being open to his husband, he rejected the idea. But several years later, it was his husband who suggested they try it.
“If I had put that I’m interested in non-monogamy on my personal ad, and my husband had seen that personal ad, he wouldn’t have dated me,” Mr. Savage said.
2. Polyamory is not an exit strategy.
Open relationships aren’t the way to soften a blow or to transition out of a committed situation. “If they cheat first, and say, ‘Honey, I’ve found someone else; we’ve been together six months,’ it’s very hard to successfully navigate that,” Dr. Sheff said.
Doing something with other people before discussing it essentially betrays your partner’s trust. And trust and communication are crucial in any relationship, whether it’s monogamous or not.
3. Nor is it an option to just keep a relationship going.
“If it’s to avoid breaking up, I have never seen that work,” Dr. Sheff said. “I’ve seen it limp along for a few months. If it’s out of fear of losing the polyamorous person, that’s a disaster in the making. It’s like a lesbian trying to be happy in a relationship with a man.”
Pretending to be happy with a situation while suffering inside doesn’t work for anyone.
4. Rules and situations can change.
“Non-monogamy is a basket of possibilities,” Mr. Savage said. He said that sometimes a person’s first reaction to a suggestion of opening the relationship is anxiety. “They’re going to have this panic response and assume you’re going to have 7,000 partners in a year and they’re never going to see you,” he said. But non-monogamy can be expressed in a range of ways: Some couples only have sex with other people, others date them and fall for them, others are open about being open and yet others keep their openness “in the closet” socially.
“It seems boundless,” Ms. Sciortino said. “But actually, there are so many more rules in non-monogamous relationships than in monogamous ones. There’s only one rule in monogamous relationships.”
For her, pushing her boundaries and talking about them forced her to be honest with herself about what she prefers and to learn to communicate well and clearly. “I don’t think it’s possible to understand your comfort zone until you try,” she said.
5. Prioritizing a primary partner is key.
A term familiar to people who practice non-monogamy is “new relationship energy.” It’s that excited feeling when two compatible people are getting to know each other and want to spend every minute together.
The problem with new relationship energy is that it can make a primary partner feel forgotten. “Your long-term partner can feel hurt if you’re taking your relationship for granted,” Dr. Sheff said. “Wear your special lingerie, surprise them, bring them flowers.”
For some people, it’s not a big deal if their partner has sex with someone else, but they can feel slighted if they are being emotionally neglected.
“It’s emotional cheating that people want to protect themselves from,” Mr. Savage said. He brought up an example from when he was dating his now-husband, who bought a Christmas tree with a good friend. The situation made Mr. Savage jealous in a way that his boyfriend’s having sex with someone else wouldn’t have. “Going Christmas tree shopping is what you do with your boyfriend,” he said.
So his pro tip? “Demonstrate that they are your first priority.” It’s called a primary partner for a reason.
6. Those sharing a lover can get along too.
Dr. Sheff said that in her experience, the most successful non-monogamous relationships are the ones in which the lovers’ partners (the ones who aren’t sleeping with each other) get along. As an example, she brought up a married couple in which the woman developed a relationship with another man when she was pregnant with her second child.
“The boyfriend and husband would do all sorts of stuff together,” Dr. Sheff said. After eight years, the relationship between the woman and her boyfriend ended, but her husband maintained his friendship with the other man.
“They had lunch every other Saturday where the husband would bring the kids,” Dr. Sheff said. “It worked because the husband didn’t have a sexual relationship with the boyfriend.”
In this polyamorous situation, and others she has seen succeed, the partners who are not sexually involved are the glue that kept the group together.
7. Jealousy is present, but not unique.
“A woman once asked me, ‘Don’t you get jealous?,’ ” Mr. Savage said. “And I looked at her and said, ‘Don’t you?’ Monogamous commitments aren’t force fields that protect you from jealousy.”
Jealousy is a universal emotion that transcends sociosexuality states.
“I always say I want to do whatever I want, and I want my partner to be in a cage when I’m not around,” Ms. Sciortino said. And while that kind of setup is possible, it’s not exactly the one she’s looking for.
So what does she recommend? “Put yourself in their position,” she said. “If you can have sex with someone else and it doesn’t take away from your love and even enhances it, you have to allow them the same freedoms.”
Dr. Sheff suggested taking a close look at the underlying causes of the jealousy: Is it insecurity? Fear? Maybe it’s even justified? “Sometimes jealousy is a signal that you really are being slighted,” she said.
Tips for confronting jealousy in open relationships are the same as in most other relationships: writing down your thoughts, talking out your feelings with your partner, seeing a counselor.
And that, all three experts were quick to note, may be the most important point to understand: In many ways, open relationships aren’t all that different from monogamous ones. The best way to feel comfortable is up to individuals and their partner(s).
Ladykiller in a Bind is a visual novel by Christine Love. It’s about affection, sex, consent, manipulation, and expression. Video games can often be a vector for experimentation and escapism. Playing Ladykiller in a Bind has taught me a surprising amount about myself.
The core conceit of Ladykiller can feel a bit flimsy. You play as a woman impersonating her brother on a school cruise. There’s a contest going on; whoever gets the most votes will receive a heap of cash. This conflict ends up feeling largely secondary to the main interactions you have with many characters, which often focus more on sex and power dynamics.
There is a message at the title screen: “In real life, all power exchange must be negotiated. That is to say, there’s nothing more important than clearly communicating your desires and limits in advance, without either party feeling uncomfortable or pressured.”
A focus on power dynamics is what makes me far more comfortable with Ladykiller in a Bind than my previous visual novel/otome game Mystic Messenger. While many of the routes in that game are tame, things escalate quickly during the route for Jumin Han. Jumin is a detached billionaire who gets very possessive once you start a relationship. At a later point in the route, he refuses to let you leave his apartment. You remain there for days.
In our discussion about the game, I mentioned my discomfort with this moment. My co-worker Cecilia D’Anastasio pointed out that some people might be into it. This is a completely fair point. Captivity and notions of ownership can be very powerful as a sexual fetish. Viewed in this light, Jumin functions as an incredibly commanding dominant.
The thing that made me uncomfortable with Jumin was my inability to approach the situation with nuance. My choices were to gleefully assent to his domination or largely equivocate and rationalize his possessiveness in a way that felt incredibly enabling. I felt forced into a role that I was not ready for and ill equipped to handle.
Ladykiller in a Bind has a mechanic were you generate suspicion for acting differently than your brother might. A way to remove all accrued suspicion is to spend the night with another classmate. These liaisons are distinctly BDSM affairs. Unlike Mystic Messenger, I had much more ability to express myself. I could get greedy and press for kisses, I could struggle when tied, or I could completely submit. If I felt uncomfortable, I had the option to signal my discomfort. The power dynamics flowed in multiple directions. I was not helpless.
I eventually found myself submitting more and more often in these scenes. Safe within the confines of a virtual realm, I was free to experiment with sexual exchanges far different than any real world experience I’ve had. Without kissing and telling too much, it is enough to say that I’ve never particularly considered sexual submissiveness as a significant form of intimate expression. Yet here I was actively, excitedly, and consensually submitting in scenes. Game or no, I was engaging in a form of sexual exploration, sampling an experience previous foreign to me. I liked it.
A notable thing about Ladykiller’s interactions is how much they still stress the act of being a sub as an active decision. To be submissive is to make a choice and it’s actually pretty remarkable how clear the mechanics of a visual novel make this. While video game systems can often feel reductive and lacking when it comes to simulating the real world, Ladykiller’s format makes decision making incredibly clear.
I had my character largely remain silent during these scenes. To do so I still had to make a conscious and continued decision to pass up dialog options up in favor of remaining passive. The process was still engaging and deliberate. I was never forced to do anything. I chose to play along. I trusted that the situation would never move beyond a point where I did not feel secure.
I’m not suggesting that my exploration in Ladykiller constitutes anything equal to real world experience but I do believe that the game provided a significant vector for me to experiment with certain sexual arrangements and behaviors while maintain a remarkably safe space for said experimentation. It was illuminating and respectful to me as a player. That respect is appreciated and I hope that more games might extend the same courtesy to me in the future.
Porn images are everywhere but we need better ways to teach children about love, intimacy and yes, masturbation
[A]t the start of this third millennium, sex seems to be all around us – within easy reach, on our screens, constantly talked about in the media. What used to be concealed, shameful and forbidden only a century ago is today regarded as evidence of progress in the freedom of thought. Artists use sex to push the limits of creativity: Paul McCarthy’s “butt plug” sculpture, for example, was installed at the Place Vendôme in Paris in 2014, even though it provoked outrage among residents.
The sexual metaphor is ever-present. Paradoxically, however, sex is rarely explained and almost never taught. Do you know how our sexual organs changed when we evolved from animal to human? When did the first couple show up? Where does our sense of modesty come from? Or eroticism? Or love, that most momentous of human concerns? What about our earliest customs? Which ancient civilisation championed equality between men and women? And why was masturbation frowned upon?
Sex is one of those realities that for a long time we neither wanted to see nor hear about. The sexual liberation of the 1970s – which was, in my opinion, the biggest social revolution in the history of humanity – signalled the transition from a traditional male-dominated society to one in which sex with all its nuances could finally be examined openly and understood. But as sex has dared to uncover itself, to live, to speak, we face the challenge of expressing what for so long has been kept under wraps. How are we to communicate what so recently caused so much shock and outrage?
In the west, the union of two individuals is in complete flux, with a drop in those getting married (in France 57% of births now happen outside marriage); same-sex marriage; and the option of “slices of life”, relationships with different partners in the course of a lifetime. But however free our customs may be, censorship persists when it comes to the communication of sex, the words, the particular way of defining sexuality and the idea of sensuality. Literature and fiction have always attempted to push the boundaries of this censorship: in the 18th century we had Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s Dangerous Liaisons; and in the 21st, EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey. But mostly our discussions fall somewhere between sincerity and provocation as we attempt to understand intimacy and the fullest expression of sexual pleasure.
No history book will delve too deeply into the sexual realm, yet it’s clear that history is a timeline of instructions and condemnations about sexuality. Each culture, each religion, each era has defined its own normality.
But without learning the history of love and intimacy, how can we understand the extraordinary evolution in customs that has led us from an existence ordered by family and society, and reinforced by religion, to the freedoms we know today? In his collection of aphorisms, Monogamy, the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips says that “most people would not live as a couple if they had never heard of it”. In this, he is reflecting the artificial nature of our customs and the need for a way to express our thoughts on sex, intimacy and being with other people.
We know today that human sexuality is not innate: it is learned and constructed through the images that society offers us. Even among our cousins, the primates, who live in a natural habitat, sexuality is learned through experience – young monkeys witness the courting and frolicking of the adults. The need for a model is evident: a young chimpanzee isolated from its peers is incapable of mating when it reaches adulthood.
Yet there is a fundamental difference: we invented modesty. Humans always make love away from the group. This is one of the great problems with sexuality: on the one hand it requires education; on the other, culture and religion collude to suppress sexual education.
The physician Thomas Beddoes was probably the first person to teach a course in sex education, complete with public demonstrations on the differences between men and women, in the early 19th century. But in the following two centuries, sex education failed to gain ground. Opposition was widespread and aggressive, on the part of the church as well as among teachers.
But other western countries such as France and the UK provide little more than a perfunctory discourse on contraception and safeguarding against STDs. In France, a 2001 law stipulates three classes of sex education a year in middle and secondary school. However, as teachers have no training in this very particular field, it is often organisations such as those devoted to family planning that ensure these classes go ahead. In most cases, they rarely take place at all, and when they do they are limited to the three Ps: “prevention, pill, protection”, in other words, information on fertility and STDs. In this educational void the internet and porn offer themselves as models.
This is quite evidently the worst possible model, and the reason why a more reliable source of knowledge is indispensable, from primary school through to the last year of secondary. The average age at which children are first exposed to pornography is 11. Such an artificial vision of sex has altered our most intimate behaviour and has become the frame of reference not just for our teenagers but for us all. It makes us ask ourselves: am I sexy enough, am I the best lover?
Nothing could be more damaging than these images devoid of explanation. We can’t stop young people from encountering porn, but a formal, educational approach would allow our society to explain its context and prevent misunderstandings that could otherwise compromise a fragile or still developing personality.
A genuine sex education should take the bio-psychological, emotional and social aspects of sexuality into account, should allow children to understand differences between the sexes, interpersonal relationships, the importance of developing critical thinking, an open mind and respect for the other. We must banish negative terms (sin, adultery, prostitution, Aids and STDs) in favour of positive schooling that allows children to understand desire, pleasure and excitement; the importance of sensitivity in love; the importance of masturbation, even. We must understand that everything can be taught, even the practicalities of how people live together, and we should start in primary school with discussions not only of genital differences but about the variations between boys and girls, the significance of love and of respect that may help with later relationships, notions of gender equality and domestic violence.
Only by speaking frankly, lightheartedly and wide-rangingly about sex, love and intimacy can we provide an education that enables adolescents, both boys and girls, to begin their lives with a better understanding of human relationships.
“Uh oh! You see how our kitty is arching her back and moving away from you? That means she doesn’t like how you’re playing with her right now. She’s using her body to tell you to leave her alone. Let’s go play with something else together.” I have conversations like that with my almost 2-year-old son multiple times a week, not only because I want him to be a respectful friend and pet owner, but because that’s one of the many sex positive things you can say to your son that don’t necessarily even have to do with sex, but do lay an important foundation for his sexual behavior in the future.
Sex positivity is simply the idea that sex and sexuality are normal and positive parts of life, as long as they’re expressed in healthy, respectful, and consensual ways. Sex positive people recognize that sex should feel good— emotionally and physically — which means everyone involved needs to feel knowledgeable and comfortable enough with their own bodies and their partners to give and get what they want out of any sexual interaction. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation and mythology about sex that prevent people from living their sexual lives this way, which is a source of much needless trauma and pain in our lives. However, as parents we can end that cycle, by ensuring that our kids know the truth about their bodies, about their rights and boundaries, and about sex itself.
As sex positive parents — and parents of sons in particular — we have a special responsibility to make sure our sons don’t grow up with the kind of shame and misunderstandings that not only put them at risk of harm, but may make them a danger to others in their future sexual interactions. Our sex negative culture teaches us all many lies about male sexuality, including that boys and men are inherently bad and sexually aggressive. Yet, the mythology goes, because they have these “base” desires, it’s OK for them to trick, manipulate, or even force women and girls into sex. This is rape culture in a nutshell, and it’s on us to stop it. As parents, we have a huge role to play in interrupting these kinds of messages before they shape our sons’ behavior (whether our sons are gay or straight).
The following kinds of sex positive statements can help us raise boys into men who are safe for others to be around, and capable of having the kinds of fulfilling, satisfying relationships we hope will enrich their lives.
“Yep, That’s Your Penis!”
I find myself saying this at nearly every diaper change, usually in between saying things like, “Yep, that’s your nose!” or “Yep, that’s your knee!” Even as little babies, our sons notice their bodies during diaper changes, bath time, and any other time, really. It’s important to use those moments to make sure they learn the proper language for all of their body parts from a young age, and to treat their private parts as no more inherently shameful as any other body part.
“It’s OK To Touch Yourself, As Long As You Have Privacy”
Eventually, boys and girls alike discover that touching their private parts can feel good. That’s a perfectly healthy development. Instead of shaming or punishing them for doing so, sex positive parents model setting boundaries and reinforce the normalcy of sexual pleasure by letting them know it’s OK, but that they should only do so in their own private spaces (like alone in their own bedrooms, or when they bathe themselves).
“If Your Friends Say ‘Stop’ While You’re Playing, That Means You Stop Right Away”
Consent and boundaries are fundamental concepts in all relationships, not just sexual ones. That’s why teaching consent can and should happen in lots of other, totally non-sexual contexts from a very early age, including when they’re learning how to play fairly with friends.
“It Looks Like That Dog/Cat/Friend Doesn’t Want To Be Touched. Let’s Leave Them Alone.”
I don’t use words like “sex positive” or “consent” when I help my son interact with our or others’ pets (or with new people, for that matter). That’s what I’m thinking about, though; teaching him how to read others’ body language for signs that indicate their openness or unwillingness to be touched. Those are skills he’ll need in a variety of future situations, sexual and otherwise.
Just like we should always ask them before giving touches, we’ll need to remind them to ask, too. These reminders are more effective if we always ask them, so they know what asking looks like in practice.
“Adults Have Sex To Make Babies…”
When our sons ask where babies come from, we should tell them the truth (in age-appropriate ways). We don’t need to give very young children all the details or lots of concepts they can’t understand. However, by telling them the simple truth that grown ups usually make babies by having sex (putting their private parts together in a way that lets a man’s sperm meet a woman’s egg inside her body) is better than lying to them, or treating the subject like a shameful secret they’re not allowed to know yet.
“…And Also Because Sex Feels Good…”
Older kids and teenagers eventually need to understand that sex doesn’t always result in pregnancy, and that making children isn’t the only reason people have sex. They also need to know sex is supposed to feel good, physically and emotionally, for everyone involved.
It’s incredibly important that our sons understand that their partners deserve and should expect sexual pleasure just as much as they do, once they are mature enough to actually have sex. When boys and men don’t understand that their desire is normal and healthy — and that girls and women experience desire too — we run the risk of having things like pressuring or drugging someone in order to meet their sexual needs, seem “normal.” They need to understand that that is rape, and that they don’t need to resort to coercion or rape to experience sexual release. If they are safe, comfortable, respectful, caring people, they can cultivate the kinds of relationships in which they can have truly (and mutually) fulfilling sex.
“…But That’s Only True When You’re Mature And Ready Enough To Have Sex”
Some critics of the notion of sex positive parenting worry that being honest about sexual pleasure will make kids vulnerable to sexual abuse. However, kids who misunderstand sex, or who feel too ashamed to discuss their bodies with the trusted adults in their lives, are far more easily manipulated into situations where they can be sexually abused. Abusers use kids’ innate curiosity about sex, their desire to be cooperative, and their body shame against them, and exploit their shame and lack of language about sex to maintain the silence they need to get away with abuse.
Again, sex positivity revolves around the notion that sex should feel physically and emotionally good. That means all participants need to be in a position to freely consent to sex, which children fundamentally can’t. Even if any sexual contact they experienced were to incidentally feel good physically, the emotional damage of adults (or even more powerful and/or older kids) manipulating or forcing them into sexual conduct fails that fundamental test.
So it’s important to ensure our kids know that sex isn’t fundamentally bad, and that it is inappropriate for anyone to try to engage them in any kind of sexual conduct — from inappropriate touching, to asking them to look at others’ private parts or have theirs looked at, to taking inappropriate photos of them, and so forth — while they are young.
“No One Should Ever Touch You In A Way That Doesn’t Feel Good…”
Our sons need to understand that they have a right to decide who touches them, and when and how, and that if that doesn’t feel good to them, that they can ask and/or do whatever else they need to do to make it stop. They need to understand that this is true for any kind of touch, whether it’s a prospective hug from a relative, or a sexual touch from a future sex partner.
It’s also important for our sons to understand that not all sexual touches will feel good to them, that that is normal, and that it’s OK for them to demand that it stops (even if the person touching them is female). Our culture teaches boys and men that “real men” always want and enjoy sexual touch, and that straight men always enjoy touches they receive from women. These myths not only leave them vulnerable to sexual abuse and assault, but leaves them without social support and understanding if these things happen to them.
“…And You Should Never Touch Anyone Else In A Way They Don’t Want And Like”
And of course, our sons need to know that just like they have a right not to experience touches they don’t want, everyone else they meet has that same right and expectation of them. Recognizing that all the people they meet have the same rights they do, and that other people have their own complex mixes of desires, fears, curiosities and discomforts like they do, will help them avoid becoming a danger to others, and lay the foundation for the kinds of mutually fulfilling relationships we want for them in the future.
It’s no secret that Apple has a fraught relationship with sex. Since the debut of the iOS App Store, the company’s made every effort to keep its wares “family friendly” (read: porn free), often employing a very, very broad definition of what, exactly, constitutes porn.
But as iOS has moved more and more into the health space, Apple’s had to contend with the reality that sex isn’t just some seedy business it can push into the corner, but instead an integral, and unavoidable, part of healthy human life. And that’s starting to change the way the company interacts with sex… at least a little bit, anyway.
Case in point: take a look at how HealthKit handles sex. Initially, the combination of health tracking app and developer tools was completely sex free, refusing to even acknowledge the existence of menstruation. After pushback from angry female users (who reminded Apple that, even though it involves a vagina, menstruation isn’t some pervy thrill), the Health app was updated to sync with period tracking and fertility apps. In its current iteration, it even allows users to track their sexual activity. Yes, your HealthKit is also a HumpKit.
At first glance, the sexual activity tracking function appears to be extremely limited. As one iPhone user noted, it only integrates with period tracking and fertility apps (in spite of the fact that there are plenty of appsspecifically designed to track sexual activity itself). Viewed this way, the Health app assumes that boning is purely about reproduction—whether you’re trying to get pregnant, or trying to avoid it—and the only people who need to keep track of when and how and with whom they’re doing the dirty are people at risk of getting pregnant.
But there’s more to Apple’s sexual activity tracker than just app integration. Users have the ability to manually input every time they get down and dirty (noting date, time, and whether or not protection was used), allowing users to create a calendar of when, and how, they’re having sex. While this may seem like nothing more than a virtual bedpost for would-be Casanovas to etch notches into, it’s actually a great step forward for sexual health tracking—and, hopefully, for the tech world’s attitude towards sex.
Why would Health app users want to track their sexual activity (aside from the standard baby making or baby avoiding reasons)? Well, for starters, STIs. If your latest health check up turned up a chlamydia infection, it’s helpful to have access to data that allows you to pinpoint when you may have become infected—and how many partners you may have spread that infection to.
Although the app does not currently allow users to indicate who they were having sex with (perhaps due to privacy concerns, although existing sex tracking apps like Bedpost have been navigating that issue for almost a decade), having a baseline for when an infection might have occurred is at least a good start.
On the flip side of the STI equation, people managing chronic STIs might want to keep tabs on their sexual activity as part of their strategy for keeping partners safe (something that would be even more useful when combined with a log of herpes outbreaks, for instance).
And even users in committed, monogamous relationships where there’s zero risk of STI transmission can still find value to keeping tabs on their sexual activity. Just like mindfulness and nutrition and exercise and sleep, sex is an important part of life that has an impact on wellbeing and general health. If the frequency with which you’re having sex is affecting your stress level, or your emotional wellbeing, or your general health and happiness, that’s useful and important information to have.
As the app itself notes, “sexual activity can affect both physical and emotional health,” and keeping track of when you’re boning can provide a better, broader understanding of what, exactly, is affecting your health.
Apple has long viewed sex as something taboo—and when it comes to porn and sexual entertainment, that probably won’t change anytime soon. But the latest iteration of Health is a step in the right direction.
And while it could certainly benefit from a bit of expansion—recognition of the possibility of multiple partners, a more nuanced reflection of what “protection” might mean for different users, ability to indicate a partner’s gender, just for starters—it’s still a huge step forward from a historically-sex-unfriendly company. Much as we try to deny it, sexuality is a fundamental and important part of human life. It’s wonderful to see Apple finally allowing it to be truly integrated into our tech as well.
[H]ow open are you to your partner having sex with other people? The answer may depend on your age.
A new poll from YouGov.com indicates that young Americans are more likely to accept non-monogamous relationships than their elders. Nearly a fifth of people under 30 had some kind of sexual activity with someone else while their partner knew about it. This is not to say that the youngsters are rejecting monogamy outright, as 56% of them still think it’s the only way to go. That number rises to 74% for people between 45-64 and 78% in folks 65+.
Perhaps this is not very surprising as people under 30 are less likely to be married and are still looking for a partner. It’s even less surprising once you consider the rise of what has been described as “hookup culture”, courtesy of the proliferation of apps like Tinder, which streamline the process of finding a temporary sexual partner.
Notably, the median age for marriage in 1970 was 21 for women and 23 for men. By 2010, that’s risen to 27 and 29, respectively. Marrying later certainly increases the opportunity for premarital sexual encounters. On the larger scale, a bit over half of Americans are not married at all, so that creates quite a few singles.
The overall number of Americans who are not ok with their partner stepping out on them is at 68%. Still, some certainly do it. About 11% of Americans report having had sexual relations with someone else with their partner’s consent, and 19% have done so on the sly (basically, cheated).
Again, younger Americans are more likely to cheat, with 17% of under-45s reporting such activity, while only 3% of over 65s admitted to having sex with someone without their partner’s knowledge. This last statistic can also be explained by generational mores. It’s likely the older folks aren’t as open about such behavior as the much more open younger generation, which grew up in the era of social media and reality TV.
Other studies have found that, puzzlingly, even though millennials may have a more open attitude towards sex than their parents, the average number of sexual partners for Americans has actually decreased. The number of sexual partners for baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) was mostly the same, clocking in at 11.68, as the number of partners for those born in 1980s and 1990s. This number for millennials? 8.26.
If you are in a non-monogamous relationship, what rules should you follow to make it work for you? Certainly, each situation is different, but research has shown that key components of what’s being called “ethical non-monogamy” should be trust and communication.
Without honesty, such a relationship is just cheating, and openness can go a long way towards defining the boundaries of what is acceptable to you and your partner. Non-monogamous partners are less likely to experience jealousy if the situation is properly discussed. They know that what their partner finds in another relationship (especially if it’s merely sexual) may be the kind of fulfillment they are not willing or able to provide.
If you’re bolting right after sex, you could be ruining your sex life for you and your partner.
Take it from me. One of my first sexual experiences as a young adult was with a guy we’ll call Jay. He was older, more experienced, very good-looking and hence, seemed slightly intimidating to me.
We had great chemistry and spent an entire summer making out in the backseat of his mom’s car. However, everything shifted the first time we had sex and he wouldn’t even make eye-contact. Before I could roll into an upright position, Jay had managed to jump out of the bed and get dressed. He was out the door within minutes. Years later, my therapist would explain to me that Jay likely had “intimacy issues.” But at the time, the experience left me feeling completely naked – literally and figuratively.
I’ve since come to realize that what comes after sex is almost as important as the act itself. Even if a relationship is casual, being able to cuddle, connect and check in with your partner following sex is not only really enjoyable, it also has the potential to make or break the experience.
Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when Trojan and The Sex Information and Education Council of Canada surveyed midlife Canadians and found that after-sex behaviour contributes to overall sexual satisfaction.
According to the study, women who reported 6 to 10 minutes of affectionate behaviour after sex were much more likely to rate their intercourse experience as very pleasurable compared to women who reported 0 to 5 minutes. Researchers say it all comes down to what they’ve dubbed “the 6-minute rule.”
So, how exactly does it work?
“When couples are being sexual, it’s an opportunity for intimacy and connection. The 6-minute rule refers to cuddling and intimacy that occurs AFTER sex (the counterpoint to foreplay),” explains Robin Milhausen, a sexuality and relationship researcher and associate professor at the University of Guelph. Biologically speaking she says, “during sex, and after orgasm, men and women experience a boost in the hormone oxytocin. This hormone has been associated with feelings of connection, affection, and bonding. So we are primed after sex, in part because of oxytocin, to bond with our partners, especially if we spend a few minutes being affectionate.”
As Milhausen points out, “sex makes us vulnerable – we are physically (and emotionally!) naked. As a result, what happens during a sexual encounter can make us feel wonderful – loved, beautiful, sexy – but it can also make us feel worse – self–conscious and disconnected. So those minutes after sex are crucially important to creating a positive experience.”
What’s exciting about the 6-minute rule is that it’s an “intervention” that most couples can implement with very little difficulty. It’s literally as easy as not rolling over and going to sleep immediately after sex. “Cuddle! Talk about the high points of the encounter,” says Milhausen. For example, you can let your partner know, “I really loved when you did ____” or “that was so hot when______ happened.”
These six-minutes post-sex are a great opportunity to experience a good sexual encounter again.
“ Being kind after sex can help your partner feel valued and appreciated. And it’s the perfect time to communicate that message.”
You’re stressed so you clench. When you clench, it cramps. It’s a cycle that starts in the mind and finds its way down into the body. And I’m not talking about your jaw, I’m talking about your genitals.
Anxiety presents itself in many ways, but one of its more clandestine manifestations takes place below the belt. For men, that can lead to erectile dysfunction, an ailment we’re all familiar with thanks to late-night ads. Far fewer of us can list the effects anxiety has on the female sexual response cycle.
After researching 5,865 adolescents and adults ages 14 to 94, researchers at the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB) found that upwards of 30 percent of women report pain during vaginal intercourse. The most common approach to the problem was to “do nothing.”
As Andrew Heartman, a certified sex surrogate based in California, has reminded us,“[Women] can engage in sexual activity, but not really be present, and not really enjoy it… they can perform sufficiently to have their partner be satisfied.”
Sometimes, it’s worse than just a lack of enjoyment.
“I would say one of the main reasons women come in to see a sex therapist is because they have painful sex,” says Houston-based sex therapist Mary Jo Rapini. “When you talk to them further, you start understanding it’s their anxiety.”
She explained that some women are so hard hit with anxiety during sex that their vaginal muscles tighten up to the point that penetration becomes impossible. “When they do try to have intercourse, they can’t,” she says.
Rapini treated one woman who had gone 12 years without having sex because it was too painful. Even on her wedding night, she was unable to consummate the marriage. In other extreme cases she’s seen women unable to undergo a procedure as simple as a pap smear. “They can’t get the speculum in,” she says. “It’s so tight.”
Unfortunately, stigmas surrounding sex, specifically sexual dysfunction, run deep, and most people shy away from addressing the issues head on. “There’s an element of shame, with anxiety and depression. We’re used to seeing it as a weakness or proof there’s something wrong with you,” says Rapini.
As opposed to the platter of pills available to help enhance male sexual performance, the FDA has approved just one pill to treat sexual dysfunction in women. It’s called flibanerin, and it was originally marketed as an antidepressant.
But just because it’s an uncomfortable topic to bring up doesn’t mean it’s uncommon. As Rapini explains, “Anxiety is growing in the population and it’s incredible… Our brains have trouble just throwing stuff out.” According to Rapini, it’s not uncommon for this kind of anxiety-induced vaginal tightening to occur in women the week before their periods. Many women are also affected during the pre-menopausal period. “Your hormones are all over the place,” she says.
But not all instances fit neatly into a timetable. Rapini explains that women can be especially sensitive to situational factors relating to sex. Women who aren’t comfortable with their partners, women in bad relationships, even women turned off by something said during sex can find themselves closing up at a moment’s notice. “As a sex therapist, my job is more finding tools for them to help them relax,” says Rapini.
Within clinical circles, the condition is known as vaginismus, which the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists defines as a “reflex contraction (tightening) of the muscles at the opening of the vagina.” Because the condition has been linked to stress and anxiety, therapy is recommended. Often, vaginal dilators are also employed. As WebMD notes, “The approach is called progressive desensitization, and the idea is to get comfortable with insertion.” For women who experience more mild symptoms, other approaches may apply such as antidepressants, warm baths, breathing exercises, and heating pads.
Of course, when it comes to arousal issues with women, you’ve also got to give a nod to lubrication. Vaginal dryness is a big issue, and according to Rapini, it often works alongside anxiety to sabotage women’s pleasure. “For an orgasm to happen, first of all, the woman has to create the scene or the excitement in her mind. You can’t do that if your mind is focused or taken over by anxiety… and especially if you’re not using lubricant,” she says.
Experiencing pain during sex may not be the easiest thing to admit to, but Rapini says it’s not as unusual as one would think. “First of all, this is not abnormal. It affects a large part of the population.” Reports hold that women are twice as likely to experience anxiety as men. But the first step to securing sexual satisfaction in women takes place in the mind. “There’s a rhythm to recovery,” says Rapini. “That rhythm starts by slowing down.”
[P]atrick Mizelle and Edwin Fisher, who have been together for 37 years, were planning to grow old in their home state of Georgia.
But visits to senior living communities left them worried that after decades of living openly, marching in pride parades and raising money for gay causes, they wouldn’t feel as free in their later years. Fisher said the places all seemed very “churchy,” and the couple worried about evangelical people leaving Bibles on their doorstep or not accepting their lifestyle.
“I thought, ‘Have I come this far only to have to go back in the closet and pretend we are brothers?” said Mizelle. “We have always been out and we didn’t want to be stuck in a place where we couldn’t be.”
So three years ago, they moved across the country to Rose Villa, a hillside senior living complex just outside of Portland that actively reaches out to gay, lesbian and transgender seniors.
As openly gay and lesbian people age, they will increasingly rely on caregivers and move into assisted living communities and nursing homes. And while many rely on friends and partners, more are likely to be single and without adult children, according to researchpublished by the National Institutes of Health.
But long-term care facilities frequently lack trained staff and policies to discourage discrimination, advocates and doctors said. That can lead to painful decisions for seniors about whether to hide their sexual orientation or face possible harassment by fellow elderly residents or caregivers with traditional views on sexuality and marriage.
“It is a very serious challenge for many LGBT older people,” said Michael Adams, chief executive officer of SAGE, or Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders. “[They] really fought to create a world where people could be out and proud. … Now our LGBT pioneers are sharing residences with those who harbor the most bias against them.”
There are an estimated 1.5 million gay, lesbian and bisexual people over 65 living in the U.S. currently, and that number is expected to double by 2030, according to the organization, which runs a national resource center on LGBT aging.
Nationwide, advocacy groups are pushing to improve conditions and expand options for gay and lesbian seniors. Facilities for LGBT seniors have opened in Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and elsewhere.
SAGE staff are also training providers at nursing homes and elsewhere to provide a more supportive environment for elderly gays and lesbians. That may mean asking different questions at intake, such as whether they have a partner rather than if they are married (even though they can get married, not all older couples have). Or it could be a matter of educating other residents and offering activities specific to the LGBT community like gay-friendly movies or lectures.
Mizelle, 64, and Fisher, 86, said they found the support they hoped for at Rose Villa, where they live in a ground-floor cottage near the community garden and spend their time socializing with other residents, both gay and straight. They both exercise in the on-site gym and pool. Fisher bakes for a farmer’s market and Mizelle is participating in art classes. Fisher, who recently had a few small strokes, said they liked Rose Villa for another reason too: It provides in-home caregivers and has a nursing facility on site.
But many aging gays and lesbians — the generation that protested for gay rights at Stonewall, in state capitols and on the steps of the Supreme Court — may not be living in such welcoming environments. Only 20 percent of LGBT seniors in long-term care facilities said they were comfortable being open about their sexual orientation, according to a recent report by Justice in Aging, a national nonprofit legal advocacy organization.
This summer, Lambda Legal, a gay advocacy group, filed a lawsuit against the Glen Saint Andrew Living Community, a senior residential facility in Niles, Illinois, for failing to protect a disabled lesbian woman from harassment, discrimination and violence. The resident, 68-year-old Marsha Wetzel, moved into the complex in 2014 after her partner of 30 years had died of cancer. Soon after, residents called her names and even physically assaulted her, according to the lawsuit.
“I don’t feel safe in my own home,” Wetzel said in a phone interview. “I am scared constantly. … What I am doing is about getting justice. I don’t want other LGBT seniors to go through what I’ve gone through.”
Karen Loewy, Wetzel’s attorney at Lambda Legal, said senior living facilities are “totally ill-prepared” for this population of openly gay elders. She said she hopes the case will not only stop the discrimination against Wetzel but will start a national conversation.
“LGBT seniors have the right to age with dignity and free from discrimination, and we want senior living facilities to know … that they have an obligation to protect it,” Loewy said.
Spencer Maus, spokesman for Glen Saint Andrew, declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit but said in an email that the community “does not tolerate discrimination of any kind or under any circumstances.”
Many elderly gay and lesbian people have difficulty finding housing at all, according to a 2010 report by several advocacy organizations in partnership with the federal American Society on Aging. Another report in 2014 by the Equal Rights Center, a national nonprofit civil rights organization, revealed that the application process was more difficult and housing more expensive for gay and lesbian seniors.
Recognizing the need for more affordable housing, the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing organization opened Triangle Square Apartments in 2007. In the building, the first of its kind, residents can get health and social services through the Los Angeles LGBT Center. The wait for apartments with the biggest subsidies is about five years.
Residents display rainbow flags outside their doors throughout the building. On a recent morning, fliers about falls, mental health, movie nights and meningitis vaccines were posted on a bulletin board near the elevator.
Ed Dehay, 80, moved into one of the apartments when they first opened. His partner had recently passed away and he couldn’t afford the rent on his old apartment by himself. “This was a godsend for me,” said Dehay, a retired floral designer who has covered every wall of his apartment with framed art.
His neighbor, 74-year-old Lee Marquardt, said she came out after raising three children, and didn’t want to spend her elder years hiding her true self as she had as a younger woman. Marquardt, a former truck driver who has high blood pressure and kidney disease, said she found a new family as soon as she moved into the apartment building two years ago.
“I was dishonest all the time before,” she said. “Now I am who I am and I don’t have to be quiet about it.”
Tanya Witt, resident services coordinator for the Los Angeles LGBT Center, said some of the Triangle Square residents are reluctant to have in-home caregivers — even in their current housing — because they worry they won’t be gay-friendly. Others say they won’t ever go into a nursing home, even if they have serious health needs.
In addition to facing common health problems as they age, gay and lesbian seniors also may be dealing with additional stressors, isolation or depression, said Alexia Torke, an associate professor of medicine at Indiana University.
“LGBT older adults have specific needs in their health care,” she said. And caregivers “need to be aware.”
Lesbian, gay and bisexual elders are at higher risk of mental health problems and disabilities and have higher rates of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. They are also more likely to delay health care, according to a report by The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. In addition, older gay men are disproportionately affected by some chronic diseases, including hypertension, according to research out of UCLA.
Torke said LGBT seniors are not strangers to nursing homes. The difference now is that there is a growing recognition of the need to make the homes safe and welcoming for them, she said.
At Rose Villa, CEO Vassar Byrd said she began working nearly a decade ago to make the community more open to gays after a lesbian couple told her that another facility had suggested they would be more welcome if they posed as sisters. Today, several gay, lesbian and transgender people — individually and in couples — are living there, Byrd said. Her staff has undergone training to help them better care for that population, and Byrd said she has spoken to other senior care providers around the nation about the issue.
Bill Cunitz and Lee Nolet, who began dating in 1976, didn’t come out as a couple until they moved to Rose Villa last year. Cunitz is an ordained minister and former head of a senior living community in Southern California. He said he didn’t want to be known as the “gay CEO.”
Nolet, a retired nurse and county health official, said it’s been “absolutely amazing” to find a place where they can be open— and where they know they will have accepting people who can take care of them if they get sick.
“After 40 years of being in the shadows … we introduce each other as partner,” Nolet said. “Everyone here knows we’re together.”
“So, we’re autistic” said the man on the screen, flatly. I played the clip over and over again, searching for the joke. “So, we’re autistic.” “So, we’re autistic.” The meme was a clip from the show The Undateables, and it had surfaced on my news feed because someone I’d recently hooked up with had liked it. I typed out various increasingly explicit formulations on the response “Undateable? that’s not what you said the other night” before deleting them and throwing my phone across the room, furiously wiping tears from my eyes and a warm wave of familiar self-disgust churning through my stomach.
Confession: the main reason I don’t tell anyone about being autistic is that it isn’t very sexy. Disability in all its forms is utterly desexualised in our society – autism particularly so, in part due to it’s inaccurate representation as something which primarily affects young children. Autistic characters don’t have sexual relationships unless their clumsy attempts at doing so are a source of comedy for neurotypical viewers. We are “undateable.”
Young autistic women exist in a strange and dangerous contradiction. Young women are taught their primary value is their sexual attractiveness; disabled people are constantly publicly desexualised. As a result, I spent much of my teenage life obsessively chasing something which would always be, by definition, just a little out of my reach.
No matter how hard I worked to look pretty enough, sound smart enough, deliver flirty and funny enough comebacks, something about me still felt inherently undesirable. I cut my hair a different way every few months and saved my school lunch money for fake nails, a rainbow of lipsticks and boxes of hair dye in bright red, peroxide blonde, jet black, pastel pink and chocolate brown, hoping that one day I’d hit on some magic combination of chemicals that erased what felt like a ugly, rotten core.
Like many young women who’ve always felt something was a little out of place, I was drawn to fourth-wave feminism’s mantra of self-love and body positivity like a moth to a bulb. But while I saw women around me flourish in these spaces, they weren’t what I was looking for. In fact, as a slim, white, blue-eyed blonde, I am slightly incongruous in them; women who look like me are already constantly validated as being physically attractive. My sense of inadequacy hadn’t been coming from my body; conversely, I realised, I had been using making my physical self look as good as possible in order to to compensate for the insecurity I felt about my disability. When your insides feel uglier than your outside, the concept of inner beauty just makes you feel worse.
It’s not hard to predict how this deep-rooted sense of undesirability can manifest in unhealthy relationships. While the logical, stridently feminist, #StrongIndependentWoman side of me knows to take no shit from creepy men who feel entitled to my body, there is a part of me, larger and more influential than I’d like to admit, which feels someone like me should be pathetically grateful for sexual or romantic attention. Even when it comes to full relationships, it’s still very difficult for me to separate genuine attraction to a man from intense gratitude at his interest in me. Whether it’s likes on a selfie or a series of incredibly inadvisable involvements with boys I should theoretically despise, I am constantly looking for ways to compile quantifiable proof that I am desirable.
Women with invisible disabilities struggle with sex and relationships in many different ways; some of us become terrified of engaging in sex or dating at all; some of us attempt to fill our deep sense of inadequacy with as many flings and one night stands as possible. Some of us become prime targets for abusive relationships due to our predisposition to self-doubt and our fear that nobody else will accept us; some of us hold partners at arms length or self-sabotage as quickly as possible, fearing that if anyone gets close enough to find out what we’re really like they will be repulsed and hurt us more.
It sounds like a cheesy platitude, but you can’t conduct healthy relationships when you don’t truly believe that anyone could ever be in love with you, and you can’t believe that anyone could be in love with you until you’ve learned to love yourself. It’s hard to do this when you’ve only ever seen people like you degraded and mocked for their efforts to feel wanted. A lot of the people cracking jokes about your disorder will have no idea how many brilliant, captivating, engaging disabled people they’ve been attracted to. If that makes you “undateable” to them? Their loss.
New research shows that couples who are responsive outside of the bedroom have more interest in sex
By Elizabeth Bernstein
[H]ow can a couple keep their sexual desire going strong for the long haul?
Be nice to each other.
New research shows one way to keep desire strong is to be responsive to your partner’s needs out of the bedroom.
People who are responsive do three things: They understand what their partner is really saying, validate what is important to their partner, such as his or her attitudes, goals and desires, and care for or express warmth and affection toward their partner.
“Responsiveness creates a deep feeling that someone really knows and understands you,” says Gurit Birnbaum, a social psychologist and associate professor of psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), a private university in Herzliya, Israel, who is the lead researcher on the new studies. “It makes you feel unique and special, and that is very, very sexy.”
In the beginning of a relationship, neurotransmitters such as dopamine push the partners to have sex as much as possible. Scan the brain of someone in this early, passionate stage of love and it will look very much like the brain of someone on drugs.
The addiction doesn’t last. Research suggests the chemical phase of passionate love typically continues between one and three years. Desire fades for different reasons: the chemical addiction to a partner subsides; people age and hormones decrease; emotional distance can cause passion to drop.
The new research—by psychologists at the IDC, the University of Rochester, Bar-Ilan University, in Ramat Gan, Israel, and Cornell Tech in New York, published this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology—consists of three studies of more than 100 heterosexual couples each. In the first, partners rated each others’ responsiveness and their own feelings of desire after a back and forth in an online app, where one person described a recent experience and thought his or her partner was responding. It was really a researcher.
In the second study, researchers reviewed videotapes of couples as one partner told a positive or negative personal story and the other responded. Then they were told to express physical intimacy. Researchers coded the subjects’ responsiveness and their expressions of desire.
In the third study, couples were asked to keep a daily diary for six weeks, reporting on the quality of the relationship, how responsive each partner felt the other was, and their level of desire. The participants were also asked to rate whether they felt their partner was valuable that day—someone others would perceive as a good partner—and how special he or she made them feel.
The studies showed that both men and women who felt their partner was more responsive felt more sexual desire for their partner. But women were affected more than men when their partner was responsive, meaning their desire for their partner increased more. The researchers believe women’s sexual desire is more sensitive in general to the emotional atmosphere than men’s.
The new research contradicts a decades-old theory that psychologists call the Intimacy-Desire paradox, which proposes that desire drops as two people become more emotionally intimate. It purports that people seek intimacy in a relationship, but desire thrives on distance and uncertainty.
Dr. Birnbaum says that certain types of intimacy are better for your sex life than others. Impersonal intimacy—familiarity without an emotional component—does kill desire. Think of your partner shaving in front of you or leaving the bathroom door open. But emotional intimacy that makes the relationship feel unique can boost it.
Tips to boost desire in your relationship by being responsive:
Start now. It is better to prevent a decline in desire than to try to revive it when it is lost, Dr. Birnbaum says.
Listen without judging. Don’t interrupt. Don’t spend the time while your partner is speaking thinking about how you will respond. “Most people want to give advice,” says Dr. Birnbaum. “It’s not the same as being there as a warm and wise ear.”
Pay attention to details. Look for ways to show your understanding and support. Does your wife have a big interview coming up and need solitude to prepare? Take the children out to dinner. Is your husband’s team in the playoffs? Don’t ask him to clean the garage right now. Being responsive is often expressed by behaviors, not just words, Dr. Birnbaum says.
Talk about your desire. Share your fantasies. Watch a sexy movie and talk about what parts you liked best.
[P]leasure is personal, mostly because it has to be, and not least because female scientists continue to face grinding discrimination regardless of their area of research. And when it comes to sexual health, breakthroughs are few and far between: in spite of increasing documentation of associated health risks, birth control hasn’t really been reformulated since the 60s, and last year’s much-anticipated release of Addyi, a pill meant to fix female sexual dysfunction, only worked for ten percent of the women who tried it.
It’s clear that sexual emancipation has not yet been freed from the bedroom. In spite of its roots in scientific misogyny—the vibrator was developed in the 19th century to cure women of hysteria, after all—a swathe of new devices have people looking hopefully to sex tech (or sextech, as it is also known) as the answer to systemic gaps in sexual health. History, it seems, is coming full circle; where the 1960s saw the vibrator de-medicalized and uncoupled from science, today’s consumer market is beginning to see pleasure and health unified in the pursuit of wellness. Yet what we call “sex tech” is tied more to the lucrative sex toy industry—worth $15 billion this year—than it is to scientific institutions, with much of its promise linked to idea that personal pleasure makes for better health.
These days, more people than ever understand that a woman’s ability to understand what turns her on and why is a crucial step in developing a healthy perspective on her sexual life. So it makes sense that we’re seeking out masturbatory experiences that are more tailored than your average stand-in phallus. It’s the driving force behind the popularity of devices like Crescendo, the first-ever fully customizable vibrator, which raised £1.6 million in funding to date and shipped out over 1,000 pre-orders after a successful crowdfunding round.
Designed to cater to the inherent complexities of female arousal, the vibrator can be finely customized, equipped with six motors and the ability to be bent into any favorable shape. An accompanying app allows users to control each motor individually; it remembers favorite behaviors, provides pre-set vibration patterns, and responds to mood-setting music.
“We were inspired by the concept of tech designed for the human, rather than the human having to adapt their behaviour to tech,” says Stephanie Alys, the co-founder of Crescendo creators Mysteryvibe. “Human beings aren’t just unique in terms of our size and how we’re put together genetically, but also in terms of what we like. What turns us on can be different from what turns another person on.”
But in spite of the life-improving promises of consumer sex tech, the reality is that official, peer-reviewed studies remain crucial to reforming policy and education. Founded by Dr. Nicole Prause, Liberos Center is one of the few sex-centric research institutions in the United States. Much of its work investigates the relationship between psychology, physiology, and sex, with an emphasis on the hard data that is often lacking in sex tech.
Liberos presses on in a particularly antagonistic climate; the American government is famously skittish about sexual content. Sexual material is banned from government-funded computers, says Prause, making it difficult for researchers to, say, screen porn to test subjects as part of a study on arousal. She adds that congressional bodies actively seek to pull funding from research that addresses the topic head-on—four recent studies that had already been awarded funding were re-opened for assessment because of their sexual content.
“People report having certain types of experiences all the time,” says Prause. “But they’re often poor observers of their own behaviour, and don’t see anyone’s behaviour but their own. They don’t really have that external perspective, which is why I think it’s important to take both a psychological and laboratory approach. For example, in science, people haven’t been verifying that orgasm actually occurs. So we’ve been developing an objective way of measuring that, and of measuring the effects of clitoral stimulation—on how to best capture the contractions that occur through the orgasm.”
Liberos is also investigating the effect of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and direct current stimulation (tDCS) on sexual responsiveness. Both are non-invasive treatments, meaning anyone seeking a cure for low libido may not require anything more than the use of a headset. TMS holds potential for long-term changes to a person’s sex drive; the technique, which uses a magnetic field generator to produce small electrical currents in the brain, has already been used to treat neuropathic pain and otherwise stubborn cases of major depressive disorder. DCS, on the other hand, uses a headset to deliver a low-intensity electrical charge, stimulating the brain areas where activity spikes at the sight, or touch, of a turn-on.
If using the brain’s electrical signals to control the rest of the body sounds like a dystopian fantasy, the reality is that these medical treatments aren’t far off. Bioelectronic firms are now backed by the likes of Glaxosmithkline and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and similar applications have already been established for hypertension and sleep apnea, while chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, and arthritis are targeted for future development.
[A]ccording to Dr. Karen E. Adams, clinical professor of OBGYN at Oregon Health and Science University, anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of women experience varying degrees of sexual dysfunction. Medication that targets neurotransmitters, like the SSRIs used to treat depression and anxiety, can fluctuate in efficacy depending on the unique makeup of the person using it.
Combined with the trickiness of locking down the nebulousness of desire (and lack thereof), it’s no wonder that Addyi, a failed antidepressant pursued because of its unexpected effect on serotonin levels in female mice, was a flop. Non-sex-specific studies have shown that electrical stimulation can be more adaptive to the brain’s constantly-shifting landscape than medication that interacts with its chemistry. For the 90 percent of women who found Addyi to be a sore disappointment, bioelectronic treatments could soon offer an alternative solution to low sexual responsivity.
“By giving women information about their bodies that they can decide what to do with, we’re enabling more female empowerment,” says Prause. “And by allowing women to decide which aspects of sex they want to be more responsive to, we’re giving people more control, and not with charlatan claims. We actually have good scientific reasons that we think are going to work, that are going to make a difference.”
Yet the field’s burgeoning successes are only as good as the social environment they take hold in. Sociopolitical hurdles notwithstanding, money remains a significant roadblock for developers, as the controversial nature of sex research has many investors shying away from backing new projects in spite of consumer interest. Whether they’re seeking government funding or VC investments, sex start-ups and labs alike are often forced to turn to crowdfunding to raise money for development.
“It’s pretty unsurprising that heavily female-oriented tech products do so well on crowdfunding sites; these are solutions to problems faced by half of the population, that are overlooked by a male-dominated industry where male entrepreneurs are 86 percent more likely to be VC funded than women,” says Katy Young, behavioral analyst at research firm Canvas8. “But the audience is clearly there—Livia, a device which targets nerves in order to stop period pains, raised over $1 million on Indiegogo.”
Outdated sex ed programs, which emphasize procreation and normalize straight male sexuality without addressing female sexual development, are ground zero for unhealthy social perspectives on sex. Acknowledging that change can’t just come from devices alone, New York’s Unbound, a luxury sex toy subscription service, is teaming up with “campus sexpert” app Tabù to bring both sex education and affordable masturbation tools to colleges across the country.
“There’s a national discussion right now surrounding consent, which is 100 percent needed and super important,” says Polly Rodriguez, CEO and co-founder of Unbound. “But for women to be able to engage in sex and address consent as equals, they need to learn about female pleasure—they should understand their own bodies so that when they are engaging in sexual activities with someone else, they know what feels good to them, they know how to communicate that, and they don’t feel uncomfortable about it.”
It’s tempting to buy into the idea of tech as freeing: that the increased presence of smart devices in our lives will help us form healthier habits and a better understanding of our ourselves, or that the availability of medically-approved tech will be a panacea in the intricately fraught landscape of female sexual dysfunction—which is as socially determined as it is biological, and as cultural as it is psychological.
But sex tech is still far from being paradigm-shifting. Its success will be dependent not only on consumer dollars but on government policies and public attitudes; at a level of engagement this intimate, tech is only any good if people feel free to use it.
The number of young people identifying as bisexual has apparently risen by 45% over the last three years. Women are more likely to identity as bisexual (0.8%) than lesbian (0.7%), whereas men are more likely to report as gay (1.6%) than bisexual (0.5%). That last finding chimes with other studies in the UK and the US – but why should this be?
Women’s sexuality has historically been policed, denied and demonised in very particular ways, and for a woman to be anything other than passively heterosexual has often been considered an outright perversion. Lesbians have historically been seen as a more dangerous breed, a direct challenge to patriarchal structures, perhaps explaining why women may be more likely to self-identify as bisexual. Some research into women’s sexuality has also suggested that women take a more fluid approach to their relationships than men.
But then there’s the more general matter of how much sexual labels still matter to people – and here, the ONS findings really start to get interesting.
Among young people aged between 16 and 24, 1.8% said they identified as bisexual – exceeding, for the first time, the 1.5% who identified as lesbian or gay. In total 3.3% of young people identified as LGB, a significantly higher proportion than the 1.7% of the general population who identified as such. (Just 0.6% of the over-65s did).
In a society that still tends to see the world in often false binaries – man/woman, gay/straight, white/black and so on – how can we explain such a difference?
A pessimistic view of why more young people are identifying as bisexual rather than as gay or lesbian might be that conservative, rigid and polarised understandings of what gender is still hold sway. This, in turn, might also have an impact on attitudes to sexuality, where an investment in a lesbian or gay identity may be more frowned upon than a bisexual one – which in many people’s minds still has a “friendly” relationship with heterosexuality.
And yet it’s clear that identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual carries less stigma for the younger age group than it does for their elders.
Older generations grew up in a time where any orientation besides heterosexuality was taboo, stigmatised and often criminalised. The lesbian and gay movements of the 1970s and 1980s, inspired by the US’s Civil Rights movement, were often staunchly radical; the concept of the political lesbian, for instance, was a very prominent and powerful one. At the same time, both heterosexual and lesbian and gay communities were also marked by misunderstandings and distrust of bisexuality (in a word, biphobia).
But in the UK at least, gay and lesbian identities have lost a good deal of the political charge they once carried. Once “peripheral”, these sexual categories are well on the way to being normalised and commercialised. Many in the community remember or identify with a more radical era of political lesbianism and gay activism, and many of them are dismayed that non-heterosexuals’ current political battles for equality and recognition are often focused on gaining entry to heterosexual institutions, especially marriage.
But that doesn’t mean people have become more rigid in the ways they think about themselves. So while many in society will be the victims of homophobic and biphobic hate crime, things have improved, at least in terms of state policies.
This, alongside the now extensive reservoir of queer thought on gender and sexual fluidity, and the increasing strength of trans movements, may explain why the younger generation are taking labels such as bisexual, lesbian and gay in greater numbers than their seniors. That celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevigne and Anna Paquin have come out as bisexual in recent years can’t have hurt either.
The ONS survey raises empirical questions which are connected to those of identity. It specifically asked questions about sexual identity, rather than exploring the more complicated links between identity, behaviours and desires.
This much is made clear by the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle (NATSAL), which has taken place every ten years since 1990 and is perhaps the most detailed picture we have of what people do (or don’t do) in bed. It suggests that the number of people who report same-sex experience is much higher than the number of people who identify as gay or bisexual.
Laud Humphreys’ infamous 1970 book Tearoom Trade, a highly controversial ethnographic study of anonymous sex between men in public toilets, showed us that plenty of people who seek out and engage in same-sex sexual contact do not necessarily identify as exclusively gay or even bisexual – in fact, only a small minority of his respondents did.
However far we’ve come, there’s still a social stigma attached to being lesbian/gay/bisexual. That means the statistics we have will be an underestimate, and future surveys will need a much more complicated range of questions to give us a more accurate picture. If we ask the right ones, we might discover we live in a moment where people are exploring their sexualities without feeling the need to label them.
But are we headed towards a point where the hetero/homo binary will collapse, and where gender will play less of a role in sexual preference? Given the continued privilege that comes with a heterosexual identity and the powerful political and emotional history of gay and lesbian identities and movements, I don’t think so.
Still, it seems more people may be growing up with the assumption that sexuality is more complicated than we have previously acknowledged – and that this not need not be a problem.
I’m going to assume you are two adults who want to try a bit of kink or BDSM, and you’re looking for a bit of helpful advice.
I’m going to make that caveat because I’m tired of seeing advice columns labelled ‘How do I tell my partner I want to try kinky sex?’
You just do – you open your mouth and ask.
I’m sorry if you don’t feel like you’re in an open and honest enough relationship and I feel bad for you son. But you got 99 problems and your kink ain’t one.
In recent years the S&M moniker has extended to BDSM – Bondage, Domination, Sadism, Masochism. (The S stands for Sadism – the art of hurting Someone else. The M stands for Masocism – the art of hurting Myself.)
I’m going to take you by the hand, and give you a few hints, tips and tutorials to help you start exploring your kinky side. But first, some housekeeping –
The key phrase in BDSM is ‘safe, sane and consensual’
1. Is it safe?
Figure out a safe-word, or if you’re planning a gag, try a click of fingers or a tap on the bed.
A signal of some sort to know this is where you need to stop and have a cup of tea and a cuddle.
2. Be sane
Yes, I know you get braver after a few drinks.
I know it sounds sexy to do it all when you’re full of Dutch courage but it’s not safe, and I promise you it’s not half as enjoyable as when you get to look back on it and remember it all – that feeling of power, or submission – with full clarity.
3. Be consensual
Strike an agreement. Sit down, and discuss how far you’re willing to go. If you want to go right up to 11, but your partner wants to sail on a steady 3, then fine. Start in the shallow pool.
When they say the safeword, you stop.
This goes for both sides – I’m always wary of subs who ‘Top from the bottom’ – they can be tied up and crying out for me to start doing things to them I’m not comfortable with, so I have no qualms in stopping the session.
Don’t run before you can walk.
Many people will ask who is the Dominant, and who is the submissive?
But perhaps you don’t know. Maybe you want to try both. You don’t have to put yourself into a box so early on.
You also don’t need fancy-schmancy equipment
You don’t need a dungeon. You don’t need props, costume, or lighting.
You just need confidence, communication and a bit of imagination.
I say ‘a bit’ because there’s porn and your partner – a wealth of ideas and suggestions will come from both.
However, if you do want to try and bring some toys in the bedroom, then you can’t go wrong with visiting one of the monthly fetish fairs in the city.
In fact as a Londoner, it’s your civic duty to support these kinky artisans.
The London Alternative Market and the London Fetish Fair are monthly events who both offer handmade, sturdy and reasonably priced items to help anyone – from the beginner to the professional.
Clothing and articles are made to measure, furniture to suit all needs! I have to stop before I burst into a song worthy of ‘Oliver’.
But they’ll also provide demonstrations on various bits of equipment you might not be so familiar with.
‘Oh, but Auntie Miranda, these are all just WORDS! Give us something practicaaaaal!!’
Ok, your homework for this evening…
We’ll start slowly – work with what you know, and if you don’t know your partner all that well (hey, it’s 2016. It’s allowed) – explore.
If your partner enjoys going down on you, tell them you want them to go down on you.
Grab them by the hair and say ‘you’re going to please me until I tell you to stop.’
They’re going to be your toy, your plaything until you’ve had your fill and they’re going to like it.
And if you don’t know them, they’ll either just say no, and you get a brownie badge for trying, or they might throw their own suggestion into the ring.
If you’re not too sure what each other would enjoy, you can make this part of a kinky game.
ext them, say ‘Hey, I read an interesting blog in the Metro today (It’s OK, you can blame me) and it suggested I tell you three things I want to do to you tonight and you should say three things you want to do to me…’
Enjoy it at home.
Don’t then launch into a massive sextathon – this isn’t about blowing your load before the fun has begun in person.
Also, fantasy sexting may lead down avenues you can’t necessarily repeat in real life and it might become intimidating for your partner.
Instead, use it to gauge what you think you would both enjoy – and try it.
If you’re too shy to even start that kind of conversation, then just remember a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.
Enjoy it. That’s what this is really about.
It’s not about sticking to the rules, just following some guidelines.
It’s not about being perfect and faithfully re-enacting half of Porntube, it’s about finding what makes you feel powerful or what makes you feel submissive.
It’s about positive re-enforcement. Did you enjoy that? Say so – thank your partner, tell them how good it was (either as the Dom or the sub).
You have both tried something new, and you’re both dying to know what each other thought of it, so lie back and tell them how much you enjoyed the fruits of their labours.
Remember, this is a small step to a much bigger world so don’t feel like you have to run before you can walk.