Consent can’t be implied, Michael Valpy writes. Why is that so hard for men to understand?
By Michael Valpy
[I] begin each university course I teach by stating that my course syllabus includes a website link to the campus sexual-assault centre and by explaining to my students what sexual consent means in Canadian law.
I find it necessary in an ordinary classroom of young Canadians to caution half the population against the other half, which I’ve thought about as I make my way through The Globe and Mail’s Unfounded series on thousands of sexual assault complaints blocked by disbelieving police officers from ever arriving in court.
What I do in the classroom may as well be labelled Patriarchy 101. Men sexually assault women because they can – because on average, they are larger and stronger – and because a lot of other men with power believe that women either fabricate the assaults or else act in a way that invites the assaults.
In nice Canada, this is still going on after half a century of sex education in public schools, in a country with progressive sexual-assault legislation and jurisprudence (barring the declarations of knees-together judge Robin Camp), in a country with the world’s greatest proportion of the population having formal postsecondary learning and being the ninth-ranked country (out of 155) on the United Nations gender inequality index.
Canadian researchers have written in the New England Journal of Medicine that between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of all postsecondary students are sexually assaulted in a four-year enrolment period with the highest incidence in their first two years when they’re teenagers. Combining the NEJM analysis with Statistics Canada postsecondary enrolment and gender data, that works out to about 160,000 victims annually, 92 per cent of them young women.
Yet, the public conversation usually gets no farther than tweaking administrative rules on reporting protocols, police investigations, prosecutions and the hammers that the courts should bring down on offenders – all important – while leaving the root cause untouched.
Men are always going to sexually assault women, goes the cant.
All of us guys have done it, exerted a bit of, you know, persuasion, resulting in what philosopher Simone Weil described three-quarters of a century ago as “a gendered violation of the soul.”
It is a social norm.
Pierre Bourdieu, the late French anthropologist renowned for his study of the dynamics of power in society, said that, for heterosexual males, “the sexual act is thus represented as an act of domination, an act of possession, a ‘taking’ of woman by man … [and] is the most difficult [behaviour] to uproot.” Men use words for sex that relate to sports victories, military action or strength: to score, to hit on, to nail, to make a conquest of, to “have,” to “get.”
Synonyms for seduce include beguile, betray, deceive, entice, entrap, lure, mislead – not one word in the bunch implying two people intimately enjoying each other with respect.
Most condom purchases are made by women, even though men wear them, and, increasingly, condom manufacturers are directly marketing to women, albeit using more feminine packaging.
In an episode of Downton Abbey, Lady Mary Crawley, having decided to go off on a sexual weekend with Lord Gillingham, asks her maid, Anna Bates, to buy condoms. “Why won’t he take care of it?” Anna asks. Replies Lady Mary: “I don’t think one should rely on a man in that department, do you?” Dr. Mariamne Whatley, a leading U.S. scholar on sexual education, says women have long been expected to take responsibility for men’s sexuality for which there is no defensible rationale beyond the fact that it’s women who get pregnant.
Adolescent girls, she says, are encouraged to “solve” the “problem” of teenage pregnancy. Whistles, sprays, flashlights and alarms are marketed to women. Women are expected to screen out potential rapists among dating partners and to learn some form of self-defense.
Why? Because men allegedly are overcharged on androgen hormones – testosterone – and can’t stop themselves from going “too far.” Which has no biological validity. “As a student in my sexuality class put it,” psychologist Noam Shpancer wrote in a 2014 article in Psychology Today, “‘If your parents walk in on you having sex with your girlfriend, you stop what you’re doing in a second, no matter what.’”
Since the Supreme Court of Canada’s R v Chase decision in 1987, judges have been able to consider a complainant’s subjective experience and look beyond contact with any specific part of the human body to consider whether the victim’s sexual integrity has been violated.
Belief in so-called implied consent has been thoroughly repudiated by Canadian courts – just because a woman does not repeat her initial “No” or push a guy away, it does not mean she is legally consenting. Obviously, there’s a limit to how deeply that has sunk in.
Yet there is a line of feminist scholarly thought that says when subordination of women is replaced by sustained anger from women, men become more receptive to change and the conventional categories of masculinity and femininity dissolve once, as political theorist Joan Cocks puts it, “the masculine self moves away from a rigid stance of sexual command.”
So angry, angry women: That’s what I hope my female students will be. No tolerance. No forgiveness.
[I]n the prologue to her new book, What Love Is and What It Could Be, philosopher Carrie Jenkins is walking through Vancouver, from her boyfriend’s apartment to the home she has with her husband. She wonders at how the romantic love she experiences firsthand is so different than the model presented by popular culture and academic theory alike. “If indeed romantic love must be monogamous, then I am making some kind of mistake when I say, ‘I’m in love with you’ — meaning romantically — to both my partners,” she writes. “I am not lying, because I am genuinely trying to be as honest as I can. But if romantic love requires monogamy, then despite my best intentions, what I’m saying at those moments is not, strictly speaking, true.”
Her book examines the long, sometimes awkward legacy of philosophers’ thinking on romantic love, and compares that with a new subfield in close-relationships research — consensual nonmonogamy, or CNM. While singers and thinkers alike have been riffing on a “one and only” for decades, she argues that space is being made in the cultural conversation to “question the universal norm of monogamous love, just as we previously created space to question the universal norm of hetero love.” These norms are more fluid than they appear: In Jenkins’s lifetime alone same-sex and cross-ethnicity relationships have become common.
When I asked Jenkins to describe how it feels to have both a husband and a boyfriend — she rejects the “primary relationship” moniker altogether — she said that it’s like having more loving relationships in your life, like a close family member or friend. She and her boyfriend, whom she’s been with for about five years, used to work in the same building; he was teaching creative writing on the floor above her philosophy department, though they didn’t meet until they matched on OkCupid. While both men have met each other, they’re not close; Jenkins describes the relationship as having a “V shape,” rather than a triangle. Both helped in the development of the book: husband refining philosophical arguments; boyfriend editing the writing, and helping her to sound like a normal person, rather than an academic.
Still, CNM faces lots of stigma; even the study of it is stigmatized. Yet in the limited yet rich vein of research out there, the evidence suggests that it’s a style that, in some populations, leads to greater relationship satisfaction than monogamy. In any case, the researchers tell me, the insights into what makes more-than-two relationships work can be applied to any given dyad, given the communicative finesse required when three or more hearts are involved.
In a forthcoming Perspectives in Psychological Science paper, Terri Conley, a University of Michigan psychologist who’s driven the field, defines CNM as “a relational arrangement in which partners agree that it is acceptable to have more than one sexual and/or romantic relationship at the same time.” That’s distinguished from the “polygamy” practiced by some religious groups, where it’s not always clear whether wives can opt out of the relationship.
I was surprised to discover how common it is: A 2016 study of two nationally representative samples of single Americans — of 3,905 and 4,813 respondents, respectively — found in each case that about one in five people had practiced it during their lifetime. A 2016 YouGov poll found that 31 percent of women and 38 percent of men thought their ideal relationship would be CNM in some way. Other research indicates that around 4 to 5 percent of Americans in relationships are in some sort of CNM, be it swinging, where partners have sex with people outside their relationship at parties and the like; an open relationship, where it’s cool to have sex with other people but not grow emotionally attached to them; or polyamory, where both partners approve of having close emotional, romantic, and sexual relationships outside of the couple itself. People are curious, too: From 2006 to 2015, Google searches for polyamory and open relationships went up. Other data points to how sticking to the boundaries of monogamy doesn’t come easily to lots of people: A 2007 survey of 70,000 Americans found that one in five had cheated on their current partner.
Jenkins says that as a tenured philosophy professor at the University of British Columbia, she’s in a unique, privileged position to openly talk about being in a nonmonogamous marriage. She’d been interested in being in more than one relationship ever since she can remember, but it used to seem like some sort of impossible dream situation — she didn’t realize it could be an option in her real life until she was about 30. (She’s now 37.)
Jenkins met her husband, Jonathan, who’s also a philosopher, back in 2009, at a philosophy workshop that he organized at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland; they later got married in the same hall the conference took place. They took one another’s last names as middle names.
Now married for almost eight years, they talked about polyamory early on, though defining the relationship that way came later. As philosophers are wont to do, they soon wrote a bit of a manifesto about their arrangement. They observed that even if their wedding guests were woke in any number of ways — not batting an eyelid if a colleague was gay or bi, eschewing heteronormative assumptions, and the like — there’s still the shared assumption that a nonmonogamous relationship is less sexually safe and less committed than a regular ol’ monogamous one. “[E]ven our very liberal pocket of our relatively liberal society is massively — and, to us, surprisingly— mononormative,” they write. “Acquaintances, friends, and colleagues are constantly assuming that our relationship, and indeed every relationship that they think of as ‘serious’, is a sexually monogamous one.”
To Jenkins, the biggest struggle with polyamory isn’t from managing multiple relationships — though Google Calendar is a crucial tool — but rather the strong, sometimes violently negative reactions that she gets, especially online. When I spoke with her by phone, she was struck by a comment to a YouTube interview of hers, where a pseudonymous user invited “everyone” to read her column in the Chronicle of Higher Education about having multiple loves.
“THIS WOMAN IS A DISGUSTING ANIMAL,” the troll wrote. “Every bit as twisted and queer as the Mormons with their multiple lives [sic]. This femme-pig is the spectral opposite of Trump; a far far left-wing freak that desires to completely overthrow Western Christian Civilization.” Jenkins walked me through a deep reading of the bile: Bundling in politics — the “left-wing freak” bit — with the monogamy norms signals to her that there’s a judgment of what it means to be a good person in here, since politics is about living correctly, collectively. Plus “if you’re an animal, you’re out of the range of humanity,” she says. She’s also gets a lot of “get herpes and die, slut” suggestions, she says, which speaks to the hypersexualization of CNM. Nonmonogamy leads to lots of sex, the presumption goes, and with that STIs, and it proceeds from there. The way news articles covering CNM tend to be illustrated with images of three or four people in a bath or bed doesn’t help, either.
“The way we normally think about romantic love, we don’t imagine that it’s entirely about sex,” she says. “For a lot of people sex is a part of it; if we’re just having a hookup or a friend with benefits, we don’t call that romantic love. When it comes to polyamorous relationships, if you’re in love with more than one person, the same applies — to fall in love with someone is not the same as to sleep with them. We’re clear with that distinction in monogamous relationships, but in CNM that distinction between love and sex gets collapsed.”
Researchers who have studied stigma around CNM have found lots. In a 2012 paper, Conley and her colleagues found that monogamous relationships were better rated on every metric by different sets of the population, including nonmonogamous people. When 132 participants recruited online read relationship vignettes that were identical except for one being monogamous and the other not, the CNM was seen as riskier sexually, more lonely, less acceptable, and having a lower relationship quality. People in CNM were also seen as worse with non-relational things, like making sure to walk their dog or paying their taxes on time. Amy Moors, a co-author on the paper, says it had some of the biggest effect sizes she’s seen in her research. Elisabeth Sheff, a leading polyamory researcher who left academia for lack of grant funding, now frequently serves as an expert witness in custody battles; she says that often a grandmother or a former spouse will find out that a co-parent has multiple relationships, be scandalized, and demand to take the kids — even though her longitudinal research, reported in The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families, indicates that kids who grow up in polyamorous families aren’t any more screwed up than average American children.
That same paper finds that there were no differences in relationship functioning between monogamous and nonmonogamous couples. People in CNM had lower jealousy and higher trust — yet also lower sexual satisfaction with their partner. Polyamorists were more satisfied than people in open relationships, perhaps because it’s hard to block of feelings for people you sleep with frequently. Polyamorous people were a special case, with higher satisfaction, commitment, trust, and passionate love than monogamous individuals, though they had lower sexual satisfaction. CNM people also had higher sexual satisfaction with their secondary partners than their primary partners, though that difference fell away when controlling for relationship time, with primary relationships averaging three times the length of secondary relationships.
“Overall, the standard for human responses for relationships is habituation,” Conley says. “That involves a loss of sexual attraction, and we can tell that from stats from therapy. And to the extent that a couple is frustrated sexually, it spills over to other parts of life.”
There are other explanations for high satisfaction scores for polyamorous people, she adds. It could be that they’re just acting out a social desirability bias, given that they’re participating in a study about CNM and want the lifestyle to look good; it could also be that people who enter into polyamory have self-selected themselves into a hypercommunicative population — all the poly self-helpbooks emphasize the importance the need to explicitly talk things out. “People interested in polyamory are more relationship-y than the average person,” she says. “They like thinking about relationships, talking about relationships. That’s great in monogamy, but needed in polyamory.”
All this suggests the kind of people that are the right fit for CNM. Beyond being relationship-y, a Portuguese study out this year found that people with a high sociosexuality, or disposal to casual sex, had less relationship satisfaction when in a monogamous relationship, but those effects disappeared if they were in CNM. Still, they were just as committed to their relationships — signaling that exclusivity and commitment may not be one and the same. Harvard sexologist Justin Lehmiller has found that people who are more erotophilic — i.e., that love sex — will be a better fit for CNM; same with if they’re sensation-seeking.
Amy Moors, the Purdue psychologist, has found that people with higher avoidant attachment — where you’re just not that into intimacy — have positive feelings about and a willingness to engage in polyamory, but they were less likely to actually partake of it. While a correlational study, Moors explained that from a subjective perspective, it makes sense: “When you have avoidant attachment, you like a lot of emotional distance, physical distance, time by yourself,” Moors says, which is not a fit for the relationship-y remands of a poly lifestyle. Also, there’s reason to believe that folks who have relational anxiety, and are thus sensitive to separation, might be prone to the jealousy that’s known to flare up in CNM, though it’s not like that doesn’t happen in monogamy, too.
What motivated Jenkins to write What Love Is, she says, was a gap — or silence — in the philosophical literature, that polyamory was rarely discussed or even acknowledged as a possibility. “Noticing these philosophical silences and denials, while simultaneously being made aware of how society at large viewed me for being a polyamorous woman, made me realize there was something important here that I needed to do,” she says. “To do it meant bringing my personal life and my philosophical work into a conversation with one another. The familiar slogan says that the personal is political, but the personal is philosophical, too.”
Two key themes emerge from reading the book: that love is dual-layered, with social scripts overlaying evolutionary, physiological impulses. And that the “romantic mystique,” like the feminine one before it, assumes that love is mysterious and elusive and corrupted from examination — a sentiment that protects the status quo. But with investigation, and conversation, the mechanics of love reveal themselves, and norms can change socially, and be tailored locally. Like Jenkins, you can custom-fit your relationships to your life — if you dare to talk about them.
[M]y elder son David was fifteen when he told us he was gay – not that he had actually intended to tell us quite then.
He said he was meeting someone but was evasive as to who this might be? I forced the issue never expecting to hear that this was some guy he had met on line through a gay website.
Alarm bells rung at the possible danger!
David must have guessed we might find the news of him being gay difficult as he kept repeating, “It’s OK Mum, there’s nothing wrong”.
My husband’s first thought was “I love my son. I don’t want to lose my relationship with him”.
As for me, I have an unfortunate knack of sometimes putting my big feet in things.
Whilst reeling from the shock, thankfully I avoided saying anything that my son would feel hurt or rejected by.
We both understood that what mattered most was for David to stay believing in himself and to know that our love and support was unconditional.
David appreciated the way we had accepted his sexuality and to stop us feeling anxious, he agreed to cancel the internet date.
Having “come out” to his friends and immediate family, David visibly looked happier by the day.
Now the ball was in our court. Was it our turn to “come out” as parents of a gay son? Would that be fair to David? Was it for him to decide who and when to tell others or not? At the young age of fifteen, we felt it was. That made it much harder because I wanted to feel accepted too.
Up to the point when David told us he was gay, I had no knowledge or experience of what being LGBT+ meant.
My head was full of fears which were further fuelled when I went on-line and came across far right materials discounting LGBT+ as wrong and blaming being gay on abuse or an unhealthy mother-son relationship.
Was I a bad Mum? I feared being judged. I was worried now how David would be treated. Would his school teachers who had praised him as a role model now think less of him?
Would he find himself rejected as unsuitable to be an RSY Summer Camp Leader?
Having brought my boys up to feel strongly Jewish, I now felt anxious that this might not sit comfortably with fully accepting and supporting David’s sexuality.
My Jewishness is all bound up in family and home, celebrating Friday night and all the family traditions. So for validation and support, I turned to my Jewish roots. As I said, I wasn’t ready to “come out” publicly and so like my son before he “came out”, I turned to the privacy of the internet for help. I tapped into Google “Jewish Mum of gay son” and up came “Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians” with a number you could phone in confidence.
Going for the first time to the group “Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians”, I was scared as to quite who I would find there.
The wonderful thing was how unbelievably just like the two of us the other parents all were. They could have come straight out of any Shul – parents anxious to do right by their children. We were no longer on our own.
Hearing from other parents and sharing our own story in a Jewish group in which we felt understood and accepted, helped us feel better. The first pernicious lie it immediately destroyed for me was the idea that being gay had anything to do with upbringing or by extension anything I had done or not done. It was a fact of life, period.
A Dad said that the last thing he would ever wish on his son would be to be imprisoned in an unhappy marriage hiding his sexuality. That hit home and made me rethink the dream I had been nurturing of one day seeing my son under the Chuppah with grandchildren to follow. My son had his own life to lead. I just wanted him to be happy and true to himself. And so in the group we parents chatted on into the night. We discussed why it was that so many of our LGBT+ children were going to Shul less? Did our LGBT+ children no longer feel they could count themselves as proper members of the club?
Perhaps like me before I became aware of LGBT+, our kids assumed by default that within Shul life their sexuality was taboo and that they would not be understood or accepted unless they hid their sexuality.
To be fair, if I joined any club, I would want to feel that there was someone there a bit like me and that I wasn’t just going to be tolerated, but actually wanted by the club.
My journey has been much easier than for some as being of my own making – struggling with my own prejudices. Thankfully the positive attitude of both our Shul and my son’s school explains why David has never felt ashamed of his sexuality and why both his friends and our Shul friends when told have had no issues.
In the twilight zone before feeling ready to come out to the world as a Jewish parent of a gay child, it helps to share feelings in the trust of absolute confidentiality with likeminded parent souls who understand. I am now Co-Ordinator for the parents’ group, “Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians” which helped me so much and which I would like to see there for other parents.
It is a really important group not just for the parents but also for LGBT+ children as “happy parents make happy kids”. Unfortunately the group is hardly known about so if you get a chance to tell others about the group, I would ask you to please do so.
[A]fter Alice Radosh’s husband of 40 years died in 2013, she received, in addition to the usual condolences, countless offers of help with matters like finances, her car and household repairs. But no one, not even close friends or grief counselors, dared to discuss a nagging need that plagues many older women and men who outlive their sexual partners.
Dr. Radosh, 75 and a neuropsychologist by training, calls it “sexual bereavement,” which she defines as grief associated with losing sexual intimacy with a long-term partner. The result, she and her co-author Linda Simkin wrote in a recently published report, is “disenfranchised grief, a grief that is not openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned and publicly shared.”
“It’s a grief that no one talks about,” Dr. Radosh, a resident of Lake Hill, N.Y., said in an interview. “But if you can’t get past it, it can have negative effects on your physical and emotional health, and you won’t be prepared for the next relationship,” should an opportunity for one come along.
Yes, dear readers of all ages and the children of aging parents, many people in their golden years still have sexual urges and desires for intimacy that go unfulfilled when a partner becomes seriously ill or dies.
“Studies have shown that people are still having and enjoying sex in their 60s, 70s and 80s,” Dr. Radosh said. “They consider their sexual relationship to be an extremely important part of their lives. But when one partner dies, it’s over.”
In a study of a representative national sample of 3,005 older American adults, Dr. Stacy Tessler Lindau and co-authors found that 73 percent of those ages 57 to 64, 53 percent of those 65 to 74 and 26 percent of those 75 to 85 were still sexually active.
Yet a report published by the United Kingdom’s Department of Health in 2013, the National Service Framework for Older People, “makes no mention of the problems related to sexual issues older people may face,” Dr. Radosh and Ms. Simkin wrote in the journal Reproductive Health Matters. “Researchers have even suggested that some health care professionals might share the prejudice that sex in older people is ‘disgusting’ or ‘simply funny’ and therefore avoid discussing sexuality with their older patients.”
Dr. Radosh and Ms. Simkin undertook “an exploratory survey of currently married women” that they hope will stimulate further study of sexual bereavement and, more important, reduce the reluctance of both lay people and health professionals to speak openly about this emotionally and physically challenging source of grief.
As one therapist who read their journal article wrote, “Two of my clients have been recently widowed and felt that they were very unusual in ‘missing sex at my age.’ I will use your article as a reference for these women.”
Another wrote: “It got me thinking of ALL the sexual bereavement there is, through being single, through divorce, through disinterest and through what I am experiencing, through prostatectomy. It is not talked about.”
Prior research has “documented that physicians/counselors are generally uncomfortable discussing sex with older women and men,” the researchers noted. “As a result, such discussions either never happen or happen awkwardly.” Even best-selling memoirs about the death of a spouse, like Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking,” fail to discuss the loss of sexual intimacy, Dr. Radosh said.
Rather than studying widows, she and Ms. Simkin chose to question a sampling of 104 currently partnered women age 55 and older, lest their research add to the distress of bereaved women by raising a “double taboo of death and sex.”
They cited a sarcastic posting from a woman who said she was not a good widow because “a good widow does not crave sex. She certainly doesn’t talk about it…. Apparently, I stink at being a good widow.”
The majority of survey participants said they were currently sexually active, with 86 percent stating that they “enjoyed sex,” the researchers reported. Nearly three in four of the women thought they would miss sex if their partner died, and many said they would want to talk about sex with friends after the death. However, “76 percent said they would want friends to initiate that discussion with them,” rather than bringing it up themselves.
Yet, the researchers found, “even women who said they were comfortable talking about sex reported that it would not occur to them to initiate a discussion about sex if a friend’s partner died.” The older the widowed person, the less likely a friend would be willing to raise the subject of sex. While half of respondents thought they would bring it up with a widowed friend age 40 to 49, only 26 percent would think to discuss it with someone 70 to 79 and only 14 percent if the friend was 80 or older.
But even among young widows, the topic is usually not addressed, said Carole Brody Fleet of Lake Forest, Calif., the author of “Happily Even After” who was widowed at age 40. In an interview she said, “No one brought up my sexuality.” Ms. Fleet, who conducts workshops for widowed people, is forthright in bringing up sex with attendees, some of whom may think they are “terrible people” for even considering it.
She cited “one prevailing emotion: Guilt. Widows don’t discuss the loss of sexual intimacy with friends or mental health professionals because they feel like they’re cheating. They think, ‘How can I feel that?’ But you’re not cheating or casting aspersions on your love for the partner who died.
“You can honor your past, treasure it, but you do not have to live in your past. It’s not an either-or situation. You can incorporate your previous life into the life you’re moving into. People have an endless capacity to love.”
However, Ms. Fleet, who remarried nine years after her husband died, cautioned against acting precipitously when grieving the loss of sexual intimacy. “When you’re missing physical connection with another person, you can make decisions that are not always in your best interest,” she said. “Sex can cloud one’s judgment. Maybe you’re just missing that. It helps to take sex out of the equation and reassess the relationship before becoming sexually intimate.”
Dr. Radosh urges the widowed to bring up grief over the loss of sexual intimacy with a therapist or in a bereavement group. She said, “Even if done awkwardly, make it part of the conversation. Let close friends know this is something you want to talk about. There is a need to normalize this topic.”
Yet the sex-happiness association means nothing if we don’t know why it exists. New research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin sheds some light on the matter: Sex itself isn’t what makes us happier, it’s about the snuggles we share before, during, and after.
“We demonstrated that an important reason why sex is associated with well-being is that it promotes the experience of affection with the partner,” says University of Toronto postdoctoral fellow Anik Debrot, the study’s co-author. “Thus, the quality of the bond with the partner is essential to understand the benefits of sex.”
The new research actually comprises four separate studies. In the first two, researchers evaluated the correlation between sex and well-being through cross-sectional surveys of people in romantic relationships. In the first, 335 people (138 men, 197 women) in the US (predominantly married and straight) reported how frequently they have sex and engage in “affectionate touching” (e.g. cuddling, kissing, caressing). They also rated their “life satisfaction” on a one to five scale. The second was similar, but asked 74 couples in San Francisco’s Bay Area to rate their tendency to feel positive emotions such as joy, contentment, pride, amusement, and awe.
Both confirmed that more sexual activity correlates with increased positivity and life satisfaction. However, the association between sex and general happiness was dependent on affectionate touching, meaning that when the researchers accounted for for affectionate touching in their predictive model, the association between sex frequency and life satisfaction was insignificant. These results held steady regardless of participants’ age, relationship duration, and relationship status.
The third and fourth studies took a “Dear diary” approach—participants recorded their emotional state and sexual and affectionate activity on digital devices throughout the day, for several days. The third assessed 106 Swiss couples over ten days, 88% of which were married, and all of which had a child under age eight. It checked in on them six months later. The fourth included 58 Swiss couples, the majority of which were university students.
These daily diary studies showed that on days when people have sex, they experienced more affection and positive emotions immediately after sex, and hours later. “We could also show that sex promotes positive emotions, but that positive emotions do not increase the odds of having sex,” Debrot explains, “This indicates that people seem to feel good because they have sex, but not that they have sex because they feel good.” This finding supports the conclusion that affection—which has been proven to promote psychological and physiological wellbeing outside the sexual realm—is key to coital pleasure.
More, as Debrot explains, previous studies have found that positive talks often occur after sex, that exchanging signs of affection after sex means sexual and relationship satisfaction increases, and that frequent assurance of commitment and love after sex is the best predictor of a good relationship.
Importantly, participants who felt more positive emotions (like joy and optimism) after having sex with their partner in the ten-day study also showed higher relationship satisfaction six months later. This long-term correlation, however, only held true when participants experienced positive emotions after sex, regardless of how frequently they were sexually active.
This type of research always required some external imposition, and it’s impossible to determine exactly what about sex makes us happier. But it makes one reality clear: Sex promotes affection, and affection makes us feel good in the immediate, short, and long-term. And while more frequent sex is proven to make us feel better, prescribing participants to have more frequent sex on its own doesn’t help.
So if you’re looking to increase personal or relationship happiness (and a $50k bonus isn’t quite on the table) your best bet may be simple: Be attentive to your partners’ sexual and emotional needs, allow enough space and time for intimacy, and express your attraction and love before, during, after sex.
[F]ew things are as magical as the female orgasm, whether you are experiencing it, inducing it, or just a casual observer. It is essentially pure art in motion. Yet, there are many things we don’t know about the phenomenon, scientifically speaking, such as, why it exists. Scientists have been pondering this for centuries.
Apart from vestigial organs, there are few structures in the body we don’t know the function of. It seems that the clitoris is there merely for pleasure. But would evolution invest so much in such a fanciful aim? Over the years, dozens of theories have been posited and hotly debated.
One prevailing theory is the “byproduct hypothesis.” The penis gives pleasure in order to drive males toward intercourse and ensure the perpetuation of the species. The sex organs are one of the last things developed in utero. Due to this, and the fact that women develop their pleasure organ from the same physical structure the penis is formed from, the clitoris is therefore a “byproduct” of the penis. You could imagine how some women feel about this theory.
Another is the mate-choice hypothesis. Here, it is thought that since a woman take longer to “get there,” it would pay for her to find a mate invested in her pleasure. A considerate lover would make a good father, the theory posits. Yet, the female orgasm happens rarely during penetrative intercourse, undercutting this theory.
Researchers at Yale University posed this theory, in a study published in the Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B Molecular and Developmental Evolution. Gunter Wagner was its co-author. He is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the university. According to him, previous research has been looking in the wrong place. It focused on how human biology itself changed over time.
Instead, these Yale researchers began by analyzing a large swath of species and the mechanisms present in females associated with reproduction. Wagner and colleagues also looked at the genitalia of placental mammals. They focused on two hormones released during penetrative intercourse across species, prolactin and oxytocin.
Prolactin is responsible for the processes surrounding breast-milk and breast feeding, while oxytocin is the “calm and cuddle” hormone. It helps us to bond and feel closer to others. Placental mammals in the wild need these two hormones to trigger ovulation. Without them, the process cannot occur.
One major insight researchers found is that in other species, mammalian ovulation is induced by contact with males, whereas in humans and other primates, it is an automatic process operating outside of sexual activity, called spontaneous ovulation. From here, they looked at those female mammals who induce ovulation through sexual contact with males. In those species, the clitoris is located inside the vagina.
Evolutionary biologists believe that spontaneous ovulation first occurred, in the common ancestor of primates and rodents, around 75 million years ago. From here, Wagner and colleagues deduced that the female orgasm must have been an important part of reproduction in early humans. Before spontaneous ovulation, the human clitoris may have been placed inside the vagina. Stimulation of the clitoris during intercourse would trigger the release of prolactin and oxytocin, which would in turn, induce ovulation. This process became obsolete once spontaneous ovulation made it onto the scene.
“It is important to stress that it didn’t look like the human female orgasm looks like now,” said Mihaela Pavličev, Wagner’s co-author of this study. “Homologous traits in different species are often difficult to identify, as they can change substantially in the course of evolution.” She added, “We think the hormonal surge characterizes a trait that we know as female orgasm in humans. This insight enabled us to trace the evolution of the trait across species.”
While the hypothesis is compelling, it has drawbacks. The biggest is that it’s difficult, if not impossible, at least currently, to investigate what, if any, sexual pleasure other female animals derive during copulation. Other experts say, more data is needed from other organisms to shore up this theory. Still, it seems the most persuasive argument to date.
To learn more about the biological basis of the female orgasm, click here:
[F]ifteen years ago, as a junior scholar, I was advised not to publish my first book on the persecution of gay men in Germany. And now, one of the major journals in the field has devoted an entire special issue to the theme of queering German history. We have come a long way in recognising the merits of the history of sexuality–and same-sex sexuality by extension–as integral to the study of family, community, citizenship, and human rights. LGBT History Month provides a moment of reflection about struggles past and present affecting the LGBT communities. But it also allows us a moment to think collectively, as a discipline, about the methods and practices of history-making that have opened space to new lines of inquiry, rendering new historical actors visible in the process. In asking the question “why queer history? ” not only do we think about how we got here and the merits of doing this kind of work, but we question, too, whether such recuperative approaches always lead to more expansive, inclusive history. In other words, to queer history is not just to add more people to the historical record, it is a methodological engagement with how knowledge over the past is generated in the first place.
The great social movements of the 20th century created conditions for new kinds of historical claims making as working and indigenous people, women, and people of colour demanded that their stories be told. Social history, and later the cultural turn, provided the tools for the job. Guided by a politics of inclusivity, this first wave of analyses by scholars like the extraordinary John Boswell searched out evidence of a historical gay and lesbian identity–even marriage–in the early modern and medieval period. Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality vol. 3 would fundamentally alter the playing field, as he questioned the veracity of such quests, arguing that it said far more about our contemporary need for redress than about history itself. Modern homosexual identity–he instructed historians –first emerged in the 19th century through the rise of modern medical and legal mechanisms of regulation and control. The discipline was turned on its head. Instead of detail-rich studies of friendship, “marriage”, and kinship a whole new subfield emerged focused around the penal code, policing, and deviance. In the process of unmasking the mechanisms of power that circumscribed the life of the homosexual, lost from view was the history of pleasure, of love, and even of lust. Although providing a much-needed critique of homophobic institutions, the result was a disproportionate concentration on the coercive modernity of the contemporary age.
And yet, despite these pitfalls, the Foucauldian turn introduced much-needed interdisciplinarity into historical analyses of same-sex practices. Of those who took up the challenge of a critical history of sexuality that sidestepped the pitfalls of finding a fully formed pre-modern identity were medievalists and early modernists keen on questions of periodization and temporality, basically how people in past societies held distinct ways of knowing and being what it meant to live outside the norm. If Foucault had fundamentally destabilised how we understood normalcy and deviance, these scholars wanted to take the discussion further still, to interrogate how the experience of time itself reflected the presumptions and experiences of the heteronormative life course.
By queering history, we move beyond what Laura Doan has called out as the field’s genealogical mooring towards a methodology that might even be used to study non-sexuality topics because of the emphasis on self-reflexivity and critique of overly simplistic, often binary, analyses. A queered history questions claims to a singular, linear march of time and universal experience and points out the unconscious ways in which progressive narrative arcs often seep into our analyses. To queer the past is to view it skeptically, to pull apart its constitutive pieces and analyse them from a variety of perspectives, taking nothing for granted.
This special issue on “Queering German History” picks up here. Keenly attuned to how power manifests as a subject of study in its own right as well as something we reproduce despite our best intentions to right past wrongs, a queer methodology emphasises overlap, contingency, competing forces, and complexity. It asks us to linger over our own assumptions and interrogate the role they play in the past we seek out and recreate in our own writing. To queer history, then, is to think about how even our best efforts of historical restitution might inadvertently circumscribe what is, in fact, discernible in the past despite attempts to make visible alternative ways of being in the world in the present.
Such concerns have profound implications for how we write our histories going forward. Whereas it was once difficult to countenance that LGBT lives might take their rightful place in the canon, the question we still have to account for is whose lives remain obscure while others acquire much-needed attention? While we celebrate how far we’ve come–and it is a huge victory, to be sure–let us not forget there still remains much work to be done.
[B]odies do some pretty astonishing things. Everything from love to sex to reproduction is such a personal experience, and each experience means a different thing to each person. It is extraordinary when you consider all the experiences your body has allowed you to have and will allow you to have.
However, in order to understand these magnificent experiences, we need to gain a better understanding about our bodies as a whole. This will allow us to create and facilitate healthy sexual experiences and make healthy decisions about our bodies.
Sexual education does not stop at high school or middle school, it should continue in college. ASU provides STI testing to students, but not much is provided for students who do not have extensive sexual education. Of the programs provided at ASU, most are centered around sexual assault and not exactly sexual health.
Educating yourself about your body can include anything from reading about your anatomy to sexual exploration. It’s a personal learning experience, and it’s up to you to decide how you do it and with whom you share it.
Many people believe that their bodies are too complex and intricate that they are impossible to understand without a medical degree.
For example, it’s a common expectation for women to orgasm via penetration alone, when in fact this is only possible for 25 percent of women. Similarly, many people do not know that men have a G-spot. There countless other misconceptions about anatomy and sexuality that can curb positive sexual experiences.
It’s exceptionally important to learn about our bodies. We can’t expect to have good sex lives if we do not understand how our bodies function.
Knowing and understanding one’s body can be really overwhelming and difficult for some. A lot of people are very reserved when it comes to sex, which is completely okay.
“‘Normal’ has a wide range of possibilities,” Dr. David Glassman, an OB/GYN and member of the Phoenix OB/GYN Society, said. “Having knowledge of your body plays a role in feeling comfortable with yourself and (your) sexuality as well.”
Every person’s body is different. We can more easily celebrate this by learning about our bodies and understanding that our bodies do not have to look a certain way.
If we know our bodies, we can learn what feels good. This will enable us to communicate more effectively with our partners. As a result, we can develop healthier sexual relationships in which each partner feels fulfilled.
“As time has gone on sexuality has opened up a lot and has become more acceptable. People are much more comfortable talking about it. The more you know and understand the safer (your experiences) will be,” Glassman said.
Educating ourselves on this subject will also teach us about sexual experiences we do not feel comfortable with. This will allow us to prepare for when these situations arise, so that we can make healthy decisions and be able to accurately give and receive consent.
Learning and exploring our bodies will allow us to foster healthier body images, healthier sex lives and healthier relationships.By understanding ourselves and how our bodies work we can begin to construct more fulfilling lives and experiences as a whole.
Why is care for sexual health issues considered a luxury when it’s a necessary part of population health?
By Zachary Hafner
[W]hen Americans seek care for most common health conditions, there is rarely much question about coverage. Every day, consumers—including those on Medicaid and Medicare—seek care for sore joints, depression, and even acne without worrying about whether or not their insurance will cover their doctor visits and medications. For the most part, coverage for sexual health issues is less straightforward—but why? Is it because sexual health issues are not considered legitimate illnesses? Because the costs are significant? Or is it because raising the topic of sexual health can offend certain personal and organizational values? Whatever the reason, it is time for a change.
It’s hard to deny the human and economic burden of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) on this country. The CDC estimates that 110 million Americans are infected with an STI, resulting in direct medical costs of $16 billion annually. The most common and fastest growing STI in this country is human papillomavirus (HPV), and it is estimated that half of sexually active men and women will get HPV at some point in their lives. In 2006, a vaccine for HPV was introduced and now there are several. CDC guidelines recommend administering a multi-dose series, costing about $250–450, to all boys and girls at age 11 or 12. (Some states require the vaccine for school admission.) It was included in mandatory coverage under the ACA. Since the HPV vaccine was first recommended in 2006 there has been a 64% reduction in vaccine-type HPV infections among teen girls in the United States.
It seems clear that this kind of care for sexual health is necessary for public health and is also part of caring for the whole individual, a central tenet of population health. But what about sexual health care that doesn’t involve infectious disease? Is it still a population health issue if there’s no communicable disease involved?
Let’s take erectile dysfunction (ED) for example. It is nearly as common in men over 40 as HPV is in the general population—more than half of men over 40 experience some level of ED, and more than 23 million American men have been prescribed Viagra. With a significant portion of the population suffering from ED, is it important for payers and providers to consider ED treatment to be essential health care and to cover it accordingly? Medications like Viagra and Cialis are an expensive burden at upwards of $50 per pill. Medicare D does not cover any drugs for ED, but some private insurers do when the medications are deemed medically necessary by a doctor. A handful of states require them to do so, but they are typically listed as Tier 3 medications—nonessential and with the highest co-pays.
Almost 7 million American women have used infertility services. Coverage for infertility diagnosis and treatment is not mandated by the ACA, though 15 states require commercial payers to provide various levels of coverage. The cost of infertility treatments is highly variable depending on the methods used but in vitro fertilization treatments, as one measure, average upward of $12,000 per attempt.
Are treatments for ED and infertility elective or necessary? In an age of consumerism and heightened attention to the whole patient across a broader continuum of care, organizations that support the availability of a broad set of sexual health services to a diverse group of consumers will have a big competitive advantage, but they may face challenges balancing the costs. Health care has advanced in both technical and philosophical ways that allow people to manage their diseases, cure their problems, and overcome limitations. It has also shone light on the significant advantages to considering a diagnosis in the context of the whole individual—their social and emotional health as well as coexisting conditions. Studies have shown, for example, that infertility, ED, and STIs all have a significant relationship with depression and anxiety.
It’s time sexual health was folded in to the broader definition of wellness instead of marginalized as a separate issue. For too many Americans, it’s too big an issue not to address.
Do people with disabilities have sex? Should they marry and have children?
As part of a research project, Emily Hops, a graduate of CSU Channel Islands, and I interviewed eight college students with disabilities about their general experiences with intimacy and sexual health last spring.
Each student expressed his or her own internal struggle with whether or not they should bear children themselves.
One said, “Is it selfish to have a kid? Even if your kid doesn’t have a disability, are you putting that burden on that kid to one day take care of you because you have a disability?”
Some students shared stories about professionals, even teachers, who dissuaded them from developing intimate relationships with others.
Even though California passed the Healthy Youth Act of 2015, which mandates adapted sex education for students with disabilities, I wonder if we have fully embraced the sexual rights of people with disabilities — especially considering California’s dark past with something called the “eugenics movement.”
Eugenics is essentially selective breeding in order to increase the occurrence of desirable inherited characteristics. California was a leader in the eugenics movement, which resulted in the sexual sterilization of 20,000 people in the state between 1909 and 1979. Seventy percent of those sterilized without their consent had various disabilities, spanning from schizophrenia to a casual diagnosis of being “feeble-minded.”
With a total of 60,000 sterilizations across the U.S., California was responsible for a third of all the procedures. Castrations and tubal ligations were common procedures performed. Some even argue that the U.S. led the way for Nazi Germany’s mass use of sexual sterilizations during the Holocaust.
Along with sexual sterilization laws in the eugenics movement came laws prohibiting marriage between people with disabilities, with the assumption being that reproduction was the reason for marriage.
California passed an annulment law, which specifically stated physical or mental capacity and consent as reasons for deeming a marriage null and void.
While there were other reasons that a marriage could be annulled, physical and mental capacity as well as lack of consent were the only reasons that involved third parties, such as parents or physicians.
These third parties could argue that either the bride or groom was “physically incapable of entering into the marriage state” or “was of unsound mind” at the time of marriage, and the marriage could be annulled.
If third parties were aware of a couple with disabilities planning a marriage, those third parties could make an argument about the incapacity of the bride and/or groom before the marriage date and shut it down altogether. In the early 1900s, 28 percent of marriages were annulled on these grounds.
The law is still on the books. Although rarely enforced today, these reasons for annulment remain in the wording of California Family Code Section 2210.
Not only is marriage annulment due to disability still lawful, but our history of perceiving people with disabilities as “asexual” beings still lives on today.
My hope is that we can learn to appreciate all people with disabilities as sexual beings with full sexual citizenship in hopes that they themselves do not question their own rights as human beings.
About five years ago, I was in a psychology class at a local university. I was the oldest student in the room then at 55. We had a guest speaker who was one of the most intelligent, courageous, articulate, enlightened individuals I have ever encountered. Her name was Sarah.
Sarah was my age and she was a transgender woman. I use the past tense because I have never seen nor spoken with her since though I have often shared some of the things she taught me.
Sarah taught me one fundamental truth that seems obvious in retrospect but seemed revolutionary to me at the time. She said there are three distinct aspects of human beings that often get conflated. These three aspects are sex (our physical biological plumbing), gender (the continuum ranging from the feminine to the masculine) and sexuality which is who we are sexually attracted to and which may vary from no sexual attraction (asexual) to same-sex attraction, opposite sex attraction and both sex attraction.
Every human being has a different construct of the combination of these three factors. It’s easy to look at your own body and see your sex. Unless of course you are like Sarah and your body doesn’t reflect the sex you identify with. Sarah did have the sex change surgery long before I met her and she was quite pleased with the results. This physical plumbing is important to most of us in that it contributes to our identities, that understanding of who we are and how we want to be perceived by the world.
The second factor Sarah spoke of is gender, that feminine / masculine thing, and that is where I am the most grateful for her wisdom. Sarah taught me that maleness and masculinity actually have little to do with each other. Nor is the feminine the domain of females. Rather both genders are equally available to both sexes except as constrained by the cultures in which they live.
If this is true, and I believe it is, then our culture is stealing part of our human birthright by suggesting that as men we are not allowed to play on the feminine end of the spectrum. We must be masculine in order to be accepted. The only place for the feminine in men is if a man is gay. This is just so obviously wrong, false, and unreasonably limiting, I can’t imagine we haven’t rebelled against it sooner. Thank God we straight men have our gay brothers to lead the way in breaking down these detestable barriers.
And then there is the denial of the masculine in women. No one needs testicles to manifest masculinity. We all know women that show up with powerful masculine energy and this has absolutely nothing to do with their sexuality. And too often they pay dearly for it by being called dykes, ball busters, or worse. Again we are conflating sex with gender. Vaginas and penises are not determinates for the masculine and feminine. The sooner we learn what Sarah understood so clearly, the sooner we can move on to a culture of appreciation for who a person is as an all inclusive being with a sex, an ever-shifting gender and a sexual orientation that is not dependent on anything other than what turns us on.
[T]hink of the things you might have learned about BDSM from Fifty Shades of Grey. OK, now forget pretty much all of that. While the books and movies got a few things right, there’s a lot more to the multifaceted world of BDSM that people should know (and try out, if they’re interested!).
BDSM is an umbrella term comprising the words describing the erotic practices of Bondage and Discipline (B and D), Domination and Submission (D and S), and Sadism and Masochism (S and M). Carvaka Sex Toys — creators of the informational and ultra-classy Butt Plugs 101 video — just released another instructional video that breaks down the basics of BDSM. Here’s what anyone interested in delving into the kinky world should know.
Words to know:
Bondage — The act of tying someone up. This is done to render the submissive or “sub” vulnerable to the desires and actions of the dominant.
Dom — The dominant partner.
Sub — The submissive partner.
Switch — Someone who switches between the roles of dominant and submissive.
Discipline — When the submissive obeys the commands of the dominant.
Sadism — Enjoying the act of inflicting pain.
Masochism — Enjoying the act of having pain inflicted on you (ex: flogging, spanking).
Safe word — A word that is decided upon before the session and is said when the sub wants the act to stop. A safe word is used in place of “stop” because the safe word is supposed to be something that wouldn’t come up naturally during a session, in order to ensure that the word, when spoken, is taken seriously and that the action is stopped.
Hard limit — An act that can’t be tolerated and that cannot be done. Doing the action may provoke the usage of the safe word and can also end the session/relationship.
Soft limit — An act that stresses a sub but that he or she can “take in moderation.”
And one of the most common questions: why do people enjoy bondage? Well, it’s pretty simple. It’s fun!
BDSM can be exciting and can even allow participants to feel like they are experiencing a new world. Many subs enjoy the feeling of security they get from being controlled, and oftentimes doms enjoy the feeling of power that comes along with being the one in control. BDSM may not be for everyone, but for many, it’s the perfect way to explore their sexuality and add excitement to their sex lives and relationships.
[E]ver faked an orgasm? Or just had orgasm-less sex? If you’re a woman—especially if you’re straight—your answer is probably “Ugh.” Followed by “Yes.”
Not reaching orgasm during sex is, obviously, a real bummer. Not only does it make the sex itself unfulfilling, but can lead to envy, annoyance, and regret. Thoughts like “Stop grinning you idiot, your moves were not like Jagger!” and “I didn’t ask him to go down on me…does that mean I’m not actually a feminist?” come to mind. It’s exhausting.
Traditional western culture hasn’t focused on female pleasure—society tells women not to embrace their sexuality, or ask for what they want. As a result many men (and women) don’t know what women like. Meanwhile, orgasming from penetrative sex alone is, for many women, really hard.
Many studies have shown that men, in general, have more orgasms than women—a concept known as the orgasm gap. But a new study published Feb. 17 in Archives of Sexual Behavior went beyond gender, exploring the orgasm gap between people of different sexualities in the US. The results don’t dismantle the orgasm gap, but they do alter it.
Among the approximately 52,600 people surveyed, 26,000 identified as heterosexual men; 450 as gay men; 550 as bisexual men; 24,00 as heterosexual women; 350 as lesbian women; and 1,100 as bisexual women. Notably, the vast majority of participants were white—meaning the sample size does not exactly represent the US population.
The researchers asked participants how often they reached orgasm during sex in the past month. They also asked how often participants gave and received oral sex, how they communicated about sex (including asking for what they want, praising their partner, giving and receiving feedback), and what sexual activities they tried (including new sexual positions, anal stimulation, using a vibrator, wearing lingerie, etc).
Men orgasmed more than women, and straight men orgasmed more than anyone else: 95% of the time. Gay men orgasmed 89% of the time, and bisexual men orgasmed 89% of the time. But hold the eye-roll: While straight and bisexual women orgasmed only 65% and 66% of the time, respectively, lesbian women orgasmed a solid 86% of the time.
According to the study, the women who orgasmed most frequently in this study had a lot in common. They:
more frequently received oral sex
had sex for a longer duration of time
asked their partners for what they wanted
praised their partners
called and/or emailed to tease their partners about doing something sexual
wore sexy lingerie
tried new sexual positions
incorporated anal stimulation
acted out fantasies
incorporated sexy talk
expressed love during sex
And regardless of sexuality, the women most likely to have orgasmed in their last sexual encounter reported that particular encounter went beyond vaginal sex, incorporating deep kissing, manual genital stimulation, and/or oral sex.
The study’s authors noted that “lesbian women are in a better position to understand how different behaviors feel for their partner (e.g., stimulating the clitoris) and how these sensations build toward orgasm,” and that these women may be more likely to hold social norms of “equity in orgasm occurrence, including a ‘turn-taking’ culture.”
That might be true. But the study is pretty clear on the fact that anyone in a relationship of any kind can increase their partner’s orgasm frequency—and that it depends on caring about your partner’s pleasure enough to ask about what they want, enact those desires, and be receptive to feedback. Such communicative techniques—whether implemented by straight, gay, bisexual, or lesbian people—are what stimulate orgasm.