[A] new survey reports that men who watch large amounts of porn are more likely to have sexual dysfunction, while no such correlation is true for women. Needless to say, there are some issues with this study, and some more with the mediacovering it.
In those men who report that they prefer masturbating to pornography rather than sexual intercourse (3.4 percent), the researchers say they found a link between sexual dysfunction and the amount they used pornography. This is not to say that there is a correlation between the consumption of porn and sexual dysfunction among all men, as some media have implied, just that on average male sexual dysfunction is linked to a greater preference for porn than physical intercourse.
When it comes to how solid the results are, well it leaves a lot to be desired. The study itself only surveyed 312 men and 48 women, meaning the sample size, and thus the conclusions that can be drawn from it, are limited to say the least.
The study is also based on a survey given to people as they passed through a urology clinic. People, in general, are really bad when it comes to self-reporting, and even more so when it is related sex and sexual behavior. Their self-reporting, coupled with the small sample size, suggests the conclusions drawn from this survey are very restricted.
The researchers claim that they have found a statistical correlation between how much porn a man consumes and whether he is also sexually dysfunctional. Aside from the issues above, there is no way to show that the former leads to the latter. It could, for example, be that those men who are sexually dysfunctional are more likely to turn to pornography to get their rocks offs and find some satisfaction.
Or it may be that those men who watch lots of porn are more confident with their sexuality and thus more likely to report any health issues they have relating to it. Either way, to use the results of this tiny survey to make larger claims about the population as a whole seems, shall we say, misplaced.
One woman in five is unhappy with her sex life, a major survey carried out for the Daily Mail reveals.
By SOPHIE BORLAND
[A]nd only 17 percent of women say they are very satisfied.
One in ten has sex only once a year at most, while two thirds make love once a month or less. Just 10 percent said they had sex at least once a week.
The survey of 2 002 women aged 30 to 80 was commissioned by the Daily Mail in association with LloydsPharmacy.
A quarter of all women said they sometimes avoided sex because they were too tired, while 13 percent did so because they were too anxious, 11 percent due to a lack of intimacy with their partner and 11 percent because sex was painful. Six percent said their partner had issues such as erectile dysfunction.
About 27 percent – mostly those who were single, divorced or widowed – said they never had sex.
The survey found that the 30 to 44 age group are the least happy with their sex lives, despite having sex the most often.
A quarter of this group said they were dissatisfied, including 11 percent who were very dissatisfied. Half those aged 65 to 80 declined to say how often they had sex, believing it a private matter.
Experts said many couples find sex a chore because they are too busy or exhausted to make it enjoyable. Peter Saddington, a Nottingham-based sex therapist for Relate, which provides counselling services, said: “The common problem is lack of time.
“People say they haven’t got the time, haven’t got the energy, they’re feeling pressured, it’s hard to switch off from work.
“Actually being in a relaxed enough state to have sex just doesn’t happen. You go through a period of time of squeezing sex in, then it becomes dissatisfying so you end up not doing it at all.
“It can become a chore, it can become boring if it’s repetitive, uninteresting and there’s no involvement or enjoyment.”
Krystal Woodbridge, a psychosexual counsellor based in St Albans, Hertfordshire, said: “It’s a very common issue and arguably it is becoming more common.”
Women do not enjoy sex if they do not feel a strong, emotional bond with their partner, she added. “If she’s angry, upset or resentful to her partner for any reason, she is going to have a low sexual desire.”
Professor Mary Ann Lumsden, senior vice president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said women who experience pain during sex may suffer from a medical condition.
“If women are concerned about changes in their sexual feelings, they should speak to a healthcare professional,” she said.
“Many women may feel too embarrassed to discuss intimate issues and suffer in silence, but it is important to remember that healthcare professionals are used to talking to women about this and are happy to offer treatments that could help women enjoy sex again.”
Natika H Halil, chief executive of the Family Planning Association said: “Sexual wellbeing is an important aspect of many people’s lives, but unfortunately many different factors can get in the way. Good communication can go a long way to help address anything that might be impacting your sexual wellbeing.
‘By sharing your sexual likes and dislikes, ideas about what you’d like to try, or speaking up about things you don’t want, it’s much easier to find pleasure with each other. It also means you don’t have to act as a mind reader and play a guessing game of what works.”
[I]t was a long way from Princeton. After graduating from the Ivy League school, Vichi Jagannathan and Liz Chen both wanted to give back by teaching. So they joined Teach for America, the program that places talented graduates in low-income schools around the country. They found themselves placed in adjacent classrooms in a high school in rural Eastern North Carolina.
Here, Jagannathan and Chen both had the experience of seeing students struggle with unplanned pregnancies at as young as 15 or 16. They wondered why: was it a lack of health education? Could something be done about it?
“Vichi and I talked to students and realized that health was not a huge priority in the school; it came second to physical education,” says Chen, who is now in a PhD program in health behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
There were health classes, but teachers didn’t necessarily have good resources like prepared lesson plans and PowerPoints to use. And even when the teachers in the area did have resources, they often felt ill at ease discussing certain aspects of sex and sexuality openly.
“Some of them didn’t feel comfortable answering questions, or discussing topics, potentially because of their religious affiliation,” Chen says.
So Chen and Jagannathan—and later a third woman, Cristina Leos—decided to create a resource that could speak directly to students. That tool became Real Talk, a sexual education app that uses real teenagers’ stories to address questions about sex, puberty, gender, relationships and more. The project has received a $325,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health, and an additional $25,000 in funding from a student entrepreneurship prize at Yale, where Jagannathan is completing an MBA.
While the app was originally intended for high schoolers, the women realized that many of the teens they were talking to began having sex before 9th grade. So they decided to target the app to middle schoolers instead. To design Real Talk, they spoke with more than 300 students in North Carolina, Texas, Connecticut and elsewhere, conducting long interviews, doing group sessions, and soliciting real life stories about the kind of things most people, teens and adults alike, feel awkward talking about. Not surprisingly, they found that, even in schools with comprehensive sex ed, students still had questions.
“We got the sense that not all of them are comfortable talking about the topic of sex ed in school, which could be for a number of reasons—they’re around their peers, they don’t want other people to know their questions,” Jagannathan says.
They also realized that it was important that students feel the source of information was credible—and to them, that often meant it came from a peer who had been through an experience themselves. They also wanted that story to be written in an authentic way, which meant plenty of slang and emojis. Teenagers, for instance, often use fruit and vegetable symbols to represent genitalia, a fact perhaps not known to most adults.
“Once we started developing the idea of sharing experiences, we learned that stories are a really engaging way to get middle school students to listen and be curious,” says Leos, who is in the same PhD program as Chen. “There’s a lot of development science research that shows that facts and statistics are pretty difficult for teen brains to recall, particularly when they’re in situations of high emotional arousal. But stories are easier to recall.”
Using the app, teens can select their topic of interest and read a text interaction between real teens dicussing the subject at hand—acne, say, or wet dreams. The story will link to factual information from reliable sources, so teens can learn more.
The team says many of the students they interviewed were actually less interested in traditional sex ed topics like pregnancy and how to avoid STIs, and were more interested in puberty and hearing about other peoples’ experiences with things like embarrassingly timed erections.
Students were also “surprisingly both comfortable with and interested in speaking about gender identity and gender fluidity,” Jagannathan says. They wanted to have the option to read stories from real teens of various genders, including genders beyond the traditional male/female binary.
“It’s been refreshing and very surprising to have that pressure from our users,” Jagannathan says.
Some of the stories featured on the app are from students that Chen, Jagannathan and Leos met in person, but many came from an ad placed on Instagram asking for teens to share about their sexual health questions and experiences. The team plans to use Instagram as a key part of their marketing strategy for the app, which they hope to have in iTunes by early next year.
“Over 90 percent of the teens we worked with check Instagram every single day,” Jagannathan says.
The team also plans to offer Real Talk to sex ed teachers and other educators, who can share it with students. While there’s no lack of high quality sex ed websites aimed at teens, the team hopes having an app will make the information more accessible to rural students and students of color, some of whom may not have reliable internet access at home. They can use their school’s wifi to get the app, which comes with some stories loaded to be read without an internet connection. While it’s not the only sexual health app for teens on the market, its storytelling format gives it a unique edge.
Real Talk’s founders plan to assess the app’s efficacy by looking to see if using it makes teens more likely to understand various sexual health topics, or if it makes them more likely to speak openly with trusted adults about these topics. Ultimately they would like the app to have real-world effects such as reducing the teen pregnancy rate.
Teen pregnancy rates have been declining for some 20 years—in 2014, there were fewer than 25 births for every 1,000 females between 15 and 19, a decline of 9 percent from the previous year. Interventions like Real Talk can help ensure that rate stays low, or perhaps drops even further, said the judges who awarded the team the government grant.
“These interventions will help ensure that this important national success story continues,” said Lawrence Swiader, vice president of digital media at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, in a press release.
But reducing teen pregnancy is not the only important thing. Learning about sex and relationships can potentially teach a number of self-care and interpersonal skills too.
“Since we’re focusing on such a young age group, really one of the best things for us is to help middle school students develop some foundational skills that will improve a variety of other behaviors and outcomes,” Leos says.
[T]he sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s came to an abrupt and brutal end for many gay and bi men the moment AIDS was traced to sexual contact. In the early days of the epidemic, sex between men was equated with AIDS, not just in the mainstream media, but also in prevention efforts by other gay men. Since AIDS in those days was seen as a death sentence, for men who had sex with men, every sexual interaction carried the risk of death. Indeed, tens of thousands died of AIDS-related conditions.
“I was alive when homosexuality was [still] considered to be a psychological illness,” David Russell, pop star Sia’s manager, recently told Plus magazine. “The two generations ahead of mine, and a good portion of my generation, were completely decimated by AIDS. They’re gone.”
While some men with HIV outlasted all predictions and became long-term survivors, the widespread adoption of condoms is credited with dramatically reducing HIV transmissions among gay and bi men in subsequent years. Yet reliance on nothing but that layer of silicone — a barrier some complain prevents true intimacy and pleasure — couldn’t erase the gnawing dread gay men felt that every sexual encounter could be the one where HIV caught up to them.
There have been, of course, moments when nearly every gay or bi man has allowed their passions to override their fears and enjoyed the skin-on-skin contact that opposite-sex couples often take for granted. Thinking back on those unbridled and unprotected moments of passion filled many of these men with terror, regret, and guilt.
“Shame and gay sex have a very long history,” acknowledges Alex Garner, senior health and innovation strategist with the gay dating app Hornet. “And it takes much self-reflection — and often therapy — to feel proud and unashamed of our sex when everything around us tells us that it’s dirty, immoral, or illegitimate.”
Since the late 1990s and the advent of lifesaving antiretroviral drugs, some of the angst around sex between men faded — and with that came changes in behavior. Condom use, once reliably high among gay and bisexual men, has dropped off in the past two decades. According to a recent study published in the journal AIDS, over 40 percent of HIV-negative and 45 percent of HIV-positive gay and bi men admitted to having condomless sex in 2014. Researchers found the decrease in condom use wasn’t explained by serosorting (choosing only partners believed to have the same HIV status) or antiretroviral drug use. And despite what alarmists say, condom use had been declining long before the introduction of PrEP.
Garner, who has been HIV-positive for over two decades, says he’s almost relieved he acquired the virus at 23, because “My entire adult life I have never had to worry about getting HIV.”
The Rise of PrEP
Now there’s hope the younger generation may also experience worry-free sex lives — without the side effects of living with HIV.
The use of the antiretroviral drug Truvada as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP (it’s the only medication approved for HIV prevention), has been shown to reduce the chance of HIV transmission to near zero. Since the medication was first approved as PrEP in 2012, only two verified cases of transmission have been documented among those who adhere to the daily schedule (a third, according to HIV expert Howard Grossman, could not be confirmed). New, longer-lasting PrEP injectables should reach market in the next few years. Studies suggest that on-demand PrEP (such as taking it before and after sexual activity) may also be effective.
“This is a revolution!” Gary Cohan, MD, who prescribes PrEP, told us in 2016. “This should be above the fold in The New York Times and on the cover of Time magazine. A pill to prevent HIV?”
Undetectable Equals Untransmittable
Those who are already HIV-positive also have a sure-fire option for preventing the transmission of HIV that doesn’t rely on condoms. It’s called treatment as prevention, or TasP. Those who are poz, take antiretroviral medication, and get their viral load down to an undetectable level, can’t transmit HIV to sexual partners. Last year, The New England Journal of Medicine published the final results of HPTN 052, a study that proved antiretroviral medication alone is enough to prevent HIV transmission among serodiscordant couples. In a Facebook Live interview for AIDS.gov, Dr. Carl Dieffenbach, director of the Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted, “The chance of transmitting [HIV] if you are virally durably suppressed is zero.”
Since Dieffenbach’s statement, a number of HIV organizations and medical groups have joined the “Undetectable Equals Untransmittable” bandwagon, including GMHC, APLA Health, and the Latino Commission on AIDS.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of condoms in addition to PrEP or TasP, primarily because neither biomedical approach prevents other sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea or syphilis. Still, PrEP and TasP make it safer to have condomless sex — and that could jump-start the new sexual revolution. “When the threat of HIV is removed from sex there is a profound sense of liberation,” Garner says. “Sex can just be about sex.”
One hurdle is PrEP stigma, furthered by the myth of “Truvada whores,” and AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Michael Weinstein’s deliberate efforts to portray the HIV prevention pill as “a party drug.”
“Fear and shame have been ingrained in gay sex for decades,” Garner admits. “And it will take time and a great deal of work to extricate those elements.” But he remains optimistic that “together negative and poz men can shift the culture away from fear and toward liberation.”
He argues that what’s at stake is far more than just a better orgasm.
“Our sexuality is at the core of our humanity,” Garner says. “Our sexuality is as integral to us as our appetite. We can’t advance social justice without including sex. As queer people and as people of color, our bodies have been criminalized, our sexuality has been pathologized, and structures continue to dehumanize us. It’s a radical act of resistance when, as gay men, we choose to find pleasure and intimacy in our sex. Our sex has been, and will continue to be, intensely political. It can change our culture and our politics if we embrace it and run to it instead of away from it.”
You’re not naturally interested in commitment until you find someone just as exciting and adventurous as you are. This means that you have a lot of short relationships (or long ones where you’re secretly extremely bored most of the time). You don’t want to slow down and have a huge fear about being tied down to someone who wants you to “settle down”. You’re going to keep sucking at relationships until you meet someone whose version of “growing old” is as exciting as yours.
(April 20th to May 21st)
You suck at opening up to people.
You scare people off because you appear to be such an emotionless rock from the outside. Not many people are willing to stick around as long as it takes for you to trust them and open up. You’ve got to give them something that lets them know you’re interested and they should keep trying to get to know you.
(May 22nd to June 21st)
You suck at being the adult sometimes.
Geminis live in their own positivity bubble where everything is sunshine and unicorn frappucinos. Relationships require unpleasant work from time to time and when a Gemini fails to realize this, it can make their partner feel alone (which makes them question the viability of the relationship as a whole). You’re going to keep sucking until you find a way to infuse all your passion into the mundane things like relationship maintenance, too.
(June 22nd to July 22nd)
You suck at standing up for yourself.
Cancers love love and hate conflict. It’s very hard for them to handle any kind of disharmony, but moments of conflict are necessary for the longterm health of the relationship. Instead, they prefer to sweep issues under the rug and continue to idealize their partner until their emotions explode out of them. You’re going to continue to suck at relationships until you realize that small, unpleasant conversations are better than waiting until the issues are too big to casually discuss.
(July 23rd to August 22nd)
You suck at trusting people to give you your due.
It’s no secret that Leos love attention and this can often present itself as feeling overlooked or under-appreciated when their love isn’t piling compliments on them. Admit it, you’ve started fights because you think your partner is taking advantage of you. At the beginning of the relationship you need to communicate clearly to your love that you need attention and affection from them to come in the form of concrete words. You’ll both be happier when this expectation is clearly defined.
(August 23rd to September 22nd)
You suck at picking the right people.
You view garbage people as a fun project, something for you to challenge yourself with fixing. And then, months later you wonder why you feel more like your bf’s mom than his partner. You’re going to keep sucking at relationships until you force yourself to be vulnerable enough to pick someone who is on equal footing with you.
(September 23rd to October 22nd)
It’s not that you suck at relationships, it’s that everyone else sucks at relationships.
Seriously. You’re totally out of place in the cold-hearted world of modern dating. You genuinely care about people and want to form relationships with them. You’re not interested in commitment just for the sake of commitment, but it’s hard to find someone who isn’t scared off by wanting something real. You’ll stop sucking when everyone else wises up (or you find another Libra to get with).
(October 23rd to November 22nd)
You suck at letting people know you like them.
People get exhausted by having a crush on a Scorpio because Scorpios never want to be vulnerable enough to return someone’s affection. But this is how good, healthy relationships start. You end up in the same game-playing relationships because you refuse to do this. You’re going to keep sucking at relationships until you humble your ego a little bit and put yourself out there.
(November 23rd to December 21st)
You suck at taking potential relationships seriously.
Because of your laid back nature, you’ve let healthy relationships slip through your fingers. You prefer to take things as they come, and it can read to others like disinterest. You need to realize that if you meet someone great, they are a rare commodity and worth the occasional stress it will take to lock them down.
(December 22nd to January 20th)
You suck at realizing that everyone has flaws.
Your standards are sky high and you justify it because you’re just as hard on yourself as you are on everyone else. However, you prevent yourself from meeting and dating a lot of really incredible people because they don’t perfectly fit the mold of what you think you want. You’re going to keep sucking at relationships as long as you think love is going to come to you in a cookie cutter form.
(January 21st to February 18th)
You suck at thinking anyone else is on your level.
Intellectually, you don’t think anyone is really on your speed and this is the kind of snobbery other people pick up on. Instead of showing off all the things you know, you need to spend time building bridges and drawing the conversation out of other people. That’s a skill! You can read about it! As soon as you take this as a challenge and put your mind to conversation as a discovery process instead of a sparring match, you’ll be a lot more successful with people.
(February 19th to March 20th)
You suck at welcoming people into your world.
Pisces are extremely intimidating people to date, but they never realize this is true about themselves. They think they are warm and open, when in fact they disappear into their own world without inviting their partner in. They’re these unattainable smart dreamy people who don’t ever seem as focused on the relationship as their partner is. You’re going to keep sucking at relationships until you realize perception is reality and the people you date need to see how much you care.
A Winnipeg doctor who specializes in treating sexual issues with cancer patients is hoping to spread the word about doctors being up front with their patients.
Dr. Anne Katz held an online forum for Windsor Regional Hospital workers about cancer, intimacy and sexuality.
Katz is the author of several books dealing with the issue.
“Really the message is that sexually it is really important for people, for all of us, and I really want to encourage oncology care providers to raise the topic of it with their patients, because when we don’t talk about it, the patients thinks it’s a taboo,” said Katz.
“And 80 per cent of cancer survivors experience sexual difficulty after cancer treatment.”
Katz said doctors should be more willing to bring up sex issues with their cancer patients.
“So it really is something where we have to expose people to having that conversation,” said Katz.
“All cancers, all people, men, women, gay, straight, people recognize things aren’t going right during treatment, but all more commonly sexual problems aren’t recognized until after treatment.”
Katz said many people undergoing cancer treatment don’t realize there is an issue until later.
“Usually people during treatment are really not feeling that well, so it’s kind of on the back burner but it really is a sentinel of survivorship,” Katz said.
“People come to see me and we know certainly that most men who experience prostate cancer are going to experience erectile difficulties, most women with breast cancer often experience body issues, early menopause, or exaggerated menopausal symptoms, people with colorectal cancer have problems.”
Katz said everyone who is experiencing cancer needs to address the issue.
“It really is all cancers,” Katz said. “We’re all sexual beings, literally, from cradle to grave, whether you act on it or not.
“Even if you’re not partnered. It’s so much a part of quality of life for cancer survivors. So it goes away, there are some couples that lose that connectedness, there are some couples that use sex to make up after fights. They are fighting a lot because there is no way to resolve the fights.
“Unless oncology workers can address it and talk about it, patients are very reluctant to bring up the topic.”
[E]very one knows that May is Masturbation Month, but they may not be observing this as an occasion to improve their masturbatory skill set. That’s why it’s a stroke of genius that a new book written by author Magnus Sullivan, Better Than The Hand: How Masturbation is the Key to Better Sex and Healthier Living, was just published, tossing off a toolbox of masturbation techniques and providing meaty tips to extend these practices into partner sex (if you will).
“Even after 22 years of International Masturbation Month, we still find that so many people hold a bias against masturbation,” Good Vibrations staff sexologist Dr. Carol Queen tells SF Weekly. “How can that be a good thing, to disrespect the one sexual pleasure-focused act that everyone can access whenever they want?”
Queen’s lessons on masturbation served as the inspiration for Better Than the Hand, a volume of pocket pinball tips for men or anyone with a penis. It describes a series of hand-y steps and exercises to maintain erections for longer than 15 minutes, employing various sex toys for unique penile arousal scenarios, and using masturbation tricks to regain that erection after having already blown your load once.
“Male masturbation is a very taboo thing for us to talk about, much more so than female masturbation,” Sullivan says.
Although it’s listed now, Better Than the Hand was not always available on Amazon. The online retailer’s censors shut down access to the book once they discovered it was about male masturbation, and other websites have been similarly unreceptive.
“I can’t advertise the book on Facebook,” Sullivan tells SF Weekly. “They rejected every single ad.”
He’s been able to get out of Amazon purgatory, but not without a fight.
“They sent me a note saying, ‘Your book is currently being reviewed for explicit content,’” he recalls. “There’s no explicit content in the book. We’re talking about masturbation!”
But ‘explicit content’ may be in the eye of the beholder. After all, this is a book that contains sentences like, “If you haven’t experienced the deep, muscle-penetrating hum of a Magic Wand on your perineum, anus, and cock, then you’re living in the sexual dark ages.”
Yes, this guy is advocating that men should apply the clitoral sex toy known as the Hitachi Magic Wand not only to their own junk, but to their intimate booty regions as well.
“I got one of the most powerful orgasms I’ve ever had from the Hitachi Wand,” Sullivan tells SF Weekly. “When you use it as a man, I think it’s the closest thing you can experience that’s akin to a female orgasm, because it just kind of happens to you. It isn’t this cock-centric stroking experience, it’s just like all of a sudden there’s this welling up of sensuality, sexuality, and orgasmic sensations that result in an orgasm.”
“For me, that was an eye-opener that there’s a much bigger world out there regarding my own body,” he adds.
Needless to say, there are some pretty freaky masturbation techniques described in this book. It’s called Better Than the Hand because your hand is what you’re already using for jackin’ the beanstalk, but this book sets out to expand your rubbing-out repertoire to include a number of unconventional sex toys that many heterosexual guys would be embarrassed to admit owning.
Better Than the Hand lists and evaluates a whole range of penis sleeves, Fleshlights, cock rings, penis pumps, Tenga eggs, prostate massagers, and more. There is even a section on those humanoid sex dolls, which the sex doll-owning community prefers we refer to as “full-size masturbators.”
“Masturbation isn’t seen by 99 percent of men as a way to experiment,” Sullivan says, passionately defending these sex toys for men. “Toys can be used to manage premature orgasms, to stay hard after orgasms, and to have multiple orgasms.”
Men’s sexual problems, as Sullivan sees it, can be attributed to male masturbation being a task traditionally handled quickly, quietly, and with great shame. Men have a tendency to go straight for their own primary erogenous zone and ejaculate as quickly as possible.
That’s bad technique, and why the Journal of Sexual Medicine estimates men last, on average, 5.4 minutes during vaginal intercourse. Sullivan sets out to establish male masturbation as a “process-oriented rather than a goal-oriented activity,” with specifics strategies to enhance the four separate identifiable stages of Excitement, Plateau, Orgasm, and Resolution.
In doing so, men can enhance not only their quality of sex but also their personal health. The book argues that masturbation has specific male health benefits, like reducing the risk of prostate cancer, boosting the immune system, and improving the quality of your sleep.
But most importantly, coming to grips with your masturbating habits — and being able to talk about them — can make men better lovers, and less chauvinistic as people.
“As men explore their own bodies, they’re also becoming much more skillful, knowledgeable, sensitive lovers,” Sullivan says. “When you have sexual identity and sexual behavior being constrained or restricted, it leads to a problem of toxic male sexuality.”
This toxic male sexuality has been seen in the headlines around Brock Turner, the Stanford student who assaulted an unconscious woman, or with our pussy-grabbing president. Having produced both straight and gay adult films for more than 20 years, Sullivan sees toxic male sexuality as a primarily straight male phenomenon.
“Most gay men have come to terms with what it is to be sexual,” he tells SF Weekly. “Most straight men aren’t dealing with questions like that, so they never develop the vocabulary, the empathy, or the emotional intelligence to have these subtle interactions.”
A lack of empathy or emotional intelligence can be seen in the pornography that straight men watch, and why this porn profoundly bothers their female partners.
“The biggest fantasy of most straight men is fucking some 18-year-old girl in the ass,” says Sullivan, who also manages an online porn streaming platform. “By far, the largest-watched category of porn is anal sex with young models.”
It might be fair to say this represents arrested emotional development among porn-watching straight men. But it also represents a psychological toll for their female partners, creating body-image issues and a sense of betrayal over how the porn-consuming straight guy prefers these adult-film starlets.
Men forget that feeling desired is a primary erotic trigger for many women, and that to desire someone else may feel like a violation of the couple’s intimacy. This sense of violation can also play out when masturbation or porn interferes with a guy’s ability to get erections.
“The desire thing is probably linked to the way some women freak out when their male partners can’t get erections on demand,” Queen says. “It feels like the cock is the barometer of desirability. It’s fucked up, but there it is.”
Better Than the Hand addresses many of the sticky topics that surround male masturbation, and it has some dynamite chapters on communicating masturbatory habits and the use of toys for couples, plus a detailed script for an outrageously hot mutual-masturbation scenario.
But the book’s main thrust is to give men a curiosity on how to make their dick work better, and how masturbating is key to this process. As so capably said by our long-lost muse Whitney Houston, “Learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all.”
[Z]hana Vrangalova had hit a problem. On a blustery day in early spring, sitting in a small coffee shop near the campus of New York University, where she is an adjunct professor of psychology, she was unable to load onto her laptop the Web site that we had met to discuss. This was not a technical malfunction on her end; rather, the site had been blocked. Vrangalova, who is thirty-four, with a dynamic face framed by thick-rimmed glasses, has spent the past decade researching human sexuality, and, in particular, the kinds of sexual encounters that occur outside the norms of committed relationships. The Web site she started in 2014, casualsexproject.com, began as a small endeavor fuelled by personal referrals, but has since grown to approximately five thousand visitors a day, most of whom arrive at the site through organic Internet searches or referrals through articles and social media. To date, there have been some twenty-two hundred submissions, about evenly split between genders, each detailing the kinds of habits that, when spelled out, can occasionally alert Internet security filters. The Web site was designed to open up the discussion of one-night stands and other less-than-traditional sexual behaviors. What makes us engage in casual sex? Do we enjoy it? Does it benefit us in any way—or, perhaps, might it harm us? And who, exactly, is “us,” anyway?
These alarms have sounded before. Writing in 1957, the author Nora Johnson raised an eyebrow at promiscuity on college campuses, noting that “sleeping around is a risky business, emotionally, physically, and morally.” Since then, the critiques of casual sexual behavior have only proliferated, even as society has ostensibly become more socially liberal. Last year, the anthropologist Peter Wood went so far as to call the rise of casual sex “an assault on human nature,” arguing in an article in the conservative Weekly Standard that even the most meaningless-seeming sex comes with a problematic power imbalance.
Others have embraced the commonness of casual sex as a sign of social progress. In a widely read Atlantic article from 2012, “Boys on the Side,” Hanna Rosin urged women to avoid serious suitors so that they could focus on their own needs and careers. And yet, despite her apparent belief in the value of casual sex as a tool of exploration and feminist thinking, Rosin, too, seemed to conclude that casual sex cannot be a meaningful end goal. “Ultimately, the desire for a deeper human connection always wins out, for both men and women,” she wrote.
The Casual Sex Project was born of Vrangalova’s frustration with this and other prevalent narratives about casual sex. “One thing that was bothering me is the lack of diversity in discussions of casual sex,” Vrangalova told me in the café. “It’s always portrayed as something college students do. And it’s almost always seen in a negative light, as something that harms women.”
It was not the first time Vrangalova had wanted to broaden a limited conversation. As an undergraduate, in Macedonia, where she studied the psychology of sexuality, she was drawn to challenge cultural taboos, writing a senior thesis on the development of lesbian and gay sexual attitudes. In the late aughts, Vrangalova started her research on casual sex in Cornell’s developmental-psychology program. One study followed a group of six hundred and sixty-six freshmen over the course of a year, to see how engaging in various casual sexual activities affected markers of mental health: namely, depression, anxiety, life satisfaction, and self-esteem. Another looked at more than eight hundred undergraduates to see whether individuals who engaged in casual sex felt more victimized by others, or were more socially isolated. (The results: yes to the first, no to the second.) The studies were intriguing enough that Vrangalova was offered an appointment at N.Y.U., where she remains, to further explore some of the issues surrounding the effects of nontraditional sexual behaviors on the individuals who engage in them.
Over time, Vrangalova came to realize that there was a gap in her knowledge, and, indeed, in the field as a whole. Casual sex has been much explored in psychological literature, but most of the data captured by her research team—and most of the other experimental research she had encountered—had been taken from college students. (This is a common problem in psychological research: students are a convenient population for researchers.) There has been the occasional nationally representative survey, but rigorous data on other subsets of the population is sparse. Even the largest national study of sexual attitudes in the United States, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of close to six thousand men and women between the ages of fourteen and ninety-four, neglected to ask respondents how many of the encounters they engaged in could be deemed “casual.”
From its beginnings, sex research has been limited by a social stigma. The field’s pioneer, Alfred Kinsey, spent decades interviewing people about their sexual behaviors. His books sold, but he was widely criticized for not having an objective perspective: like Freud before him, he believed that repressed sexuality was at the root of much of social behavior, and he often came to judgments that supported that view—even when his conclusions were based on less-than-representative surveys. He, too, used convenient sample groups, such as prisoners, as well as volunteers, who were necessarily comfortable talking about their sexual practices.
In the fifties, William Masters and Virginia Johnson went further, inquiring openly into sexual habits and even observing people in the midst of sexual acts. Their data, too, was questioned: Could the sort of person who volunteers to have sex in a lab tell us anything about the average American? More troubling still, Masters and Johnson sought to “cure” homosexuality, revealing a bias that could easily have colored their findings.
Indeed, one of the things you quickly notice when looking for data on casual sex is that, for numbers on anyone who is not a college student, you must, for the most part, look at studies conducted outside academia. When OkCupid surveyed its user base, it found that between 10.3 and 15.5 per cent of users were looking for casual sex rather than a committed relationship. In the 2014 British Sex Survey, conducted by the Guardian, approximately half of all respondents reported that they had engaged in a one-night stand (fifty-five per cent of men, and forty-three per cent of women), with homosexuals (sixty-six per cent) more likely to do so than heterosexuals (forty-eight per cent). A fifth of people said they’d slept with someone whose name they didn’t know.
With the Casual Sex Project, Vrangalova is trying to build a user base of stories that she hopes will, one day, provide the raw data for academic study. For now, she is listening: letting people come to the site, answer questions, leave replies. Ritch Savin-Williams, who taught Vrangalova at Cornell, told me that he was especially impressed by Vrangalova’s willingness “to challenge traditional concepts and research designs with objective approaches that allow individuals to give honest, thoughtful responses.”
The result is what is perhaps the largest-ever repository of information about casual-sex habits in the world—not that it has many competitors. The people who share stories range from teens to retirees (Vrangalova’s oldest participants are in their seventies), and include city dwellers and suburbanites, graduate-level-educated professionals (about a quarter of the sample) and people who never finished high school (another quarter). The majority of participants aren’t particularly religious, although a little under a third do identify as at least “somewhat” religious. Most are white, though there are also blacks, Latinos, and other racial and ethnic groups. Initially, contributions were about sixty-per-cent female, but now they’re seventy-per-cent male. (This is in line with norms; men are “supposed” to brag more about sexual exploits than women.) Anyone can submit a story, along with personal details that reflect his or her demographics, emotions, personality traits, social attitudes, and behavioral patterns, such as alcohol intake. The setup for data collection is standardized, with drop-down menus and rating scales.
Still, the site is far from clinical. The home page is a colorful mosaic of squares, color-coded according to the category of sexual experience (blue: “one-night stand”; purple: “group sex”; gray: the mysterious-sounding “first of many”; and so on). Pull quotes are highlighted for each category (“Ladies if you haven’t had a hot, young Latino stud you should go get one!”). Many responses seem to boast, provoke, or exaggerate for rhetorical purposes. Reading it, I felt less a part of a research project than a member of a society devoted to titillation.
Vrangalova is the first to admit that the Casual Sex Project is not what you would call an objective, scientific approach to data collection. There is no random assignment, no controls, no experimental conditions; the data is not representative of the general population. The participants are self-selecting, which inevitably colors the results: if you’re taking the time to write, you are more likely to write about positive experiences. You are also more likely to have the sort of personality that comes with wanting to share details of your flings with the public. There is another problem with the Casual Sex Project that is endemic in much social-science research: absent external behavioral validation, how do we know that respondents are reporting the truth, rather than what they want us to hear or think we want them to say?
And yet, for all these flaws, the Casual Sex Project provides a fascinating window into the sexual habits of a particular swath of the population. It may not be enough to draw new conclusions, but it can lend nuance to assumptions, expanding, for instance, ideas about who engages in casual sex or how it makes them feel. As I browsed through the entries after my meeting with Vrangalova, I came upon the words of a man who learned something new about his own sexuality during a casual encounter in his seventies: “before this I always said no one can get me of on a bj alone, I was taught better,” he writes. As a reflection of the age and demographic groups represented, the Casual Sex Project undermines the popular narrative that casual sex is the product of changing mores among the young alone. If that were the case, we would expect there to be a reluctance to engage in casual sex among the older generations, which grew up in the pre-“hookup culture” era. Such reluctance is not evident.
The reminder that people of all ages engage in casual sex might lead us to imagine three possible narratives. First, that perhaps what we see as the rise of a culture of hooking up isn’t actually new. When norms related to dating and free love shifted, in the sixties, they never fully shifted back. Seventy-year-olds are engaging in casual encounters because that attitude is part of their culture, too.
There’s another, nearly opposite explanation: casual sex isn’t the norm now, and wasn’t before. There are simply always individuals, in any generation, who seek sexual satisfaction in nontraditional confines.
And then there’s the third option, the one that is most consistent with the narrative that our culture of casual sex begins with college hookups: that people are casually hooking up for different reasons. Some young people have casual sex because they feel they can’t afford not to, or because they are surrounded by a culture that says they should want to. (Vrangalova’s preliminary analysis of the data on her site suggests that alcohol is much more likely to be involved in the casual-sex experiences of the young than the old.) And the old—well, the old no longer care what society thinks. For some, this sense of ease might come in their thirties; for others, their forties or fifties; for others, never, or not entirely.
This last theory relates to another of Vrangalova’s findings—one that, she confesses, came as a surprise when she first encountered it. Not all of the casual-sex experiences recorded on the site were positive, even among what is surely a heavily biased sample. Women and younger participants are especially likely to report feelings of shame. (“I was on top of him at one point and he can’t have forced me to so I must have consented . . . I’m not sure,” an eighteen-year-old writes, reporting that the hookup was unsatisfying, and describing feeling “stressed, anxious, guilt and disgust” the day after.) There is an entire thread tagged “no orgasm,” which includes other occasionally disturbing and emotional tales. “My view has gotten a lot more balanced over time,” Vrangalova said. “I come from a very sex-positive perspective, surrounded by people who really benefitted from sexual exploration and experiences, for the most part. By studying it, I’ve learned to see both sides of the coin.
Part of the negativity, to be sure, does originate in legitimate causes: casual sex increases the risk of pregnancy, disease, and, more often than in a committed relationship, physical coercion. But many negative casual-sex experiences come instead from a sense of social convention. “We’ve seen that both genders felt they were discriminated against because of sex,” Vrangalova told me. Men often feel judged by other men if they don’t have casual sex, and social expectations can detract from the experiences they do have, while women feel judged for engaging in casual experiences, rendering those they pursue less pleasurable.
Perhaps this should come as no surprise: the very fact that Vrangalova and others are seeking explanations for casual-sex behaviors suggests that our society views it as worthy of note—something aberrant, rather than ordinary. No one writes about why people feel the need to drink water or go to the bathroom, why eating dinner with friends is “a thing” or study groups are “on the rise.”
It is that sense of shame, ultimately, that Vrangalova hopes her project may help to address. As one respondent to a survey Vrangalova sent to users put it, “This has helped me feel okay about myself for wanting casual sex, and not feel ashamed or that what I do is wrong.” The psychologist James Pennebaker has found over several decades of work that writing about emotional experiences can act as an effective form of therapy, in a way that talking about those experiences may not. (I’m less convinced that there are benefits for those who use the site as a way to boast about their own experiences.) “Often there’s no outlet for that unless you’re starting your own blog,” Vrangalova points out. “I wanted to offer a space for people to share.”
That may well end up the Casual Sex Project’s real contribution: not to tell us something we didn’t already know, or at least suspect, but to make such nonjudgmental, intimate conversations possible. The dirty little secret of casual sex today is not that we’re having it but that we’re not sharing our experiences of it in the best way.
[T]he hanky code (aka. “flagging”) was a ‘60s and ‘70s era way for gay men and BDSM fetishists to covertly signal their sexual interests in an age when seeking and having gay sex could get you arrested, beaten up or fired (it can still get you fired, by the way). Though it has largely fallen out of disuse, several queer artists have created new hanky codes in new and interesting ways.
What was the old hanky code?
Different colored handkerchiefs signified what sex acts you wanted (red for fisting and yellow for water sports, for example) and the pocket position indicated whether you were a dominant/top (left pocket) or submissive/bottom (right pocket).
Here’s a simple hanky code color chart:
As the hanky code became better known, marketers began creating meanings for every bandana color imaginable (dark pink for tit torture and leopard print for tattoo lovers, for example), but it’s likely that few people actually knew the entire spectrum because — as you’ll see in the chart below — who could possibly remember all 65 variations or tell the difference between orange and coral in a dark bar?
What is “the new hanky code”?
In our modern age of legalized gay sex and social apps, the hanky code has become more of a fashionable conversation starter at leather bars rather than an active way to solicit sex. Nevertheless, around 2014, a queer Los Angeles art collective called Die Kränken (The Havoc) began discussing what a new hanky code might look like.
Incorporating the sexual inclinations and gender identities of their members, Die Kränken designed 12 new hankies and created an exhibition entitled, “The New Rules of Flagging.” Their new hankies included ones for polyamory, outdoor sex, the app generation, womyn power, Truvada warriors and “original plumbing” (which was either a reference to the transgender male magazine or to urine and bathroom sex).
You should see all 12, but here’s some of our favorites:
In addition to displaying the hankies, Die Kränken gave surveyed and interviewed attendees to figure out what hanky best fit them. He then invited the attendees to perform a short, pre-choreographed dance demonstrating the spirit of each hanky. The Truvada warrior’s dance, for instance, had people mimic a scorpion crawling up their arm before confidently brushing it off and flinging invisible pills into the air.
We asked Jonesy and Jaime C. Knight, two members of Die Kränken, why their hankies were so much more explicitly designed than the in-the-know ’70s era hanky code. They more or less responded, “Because we wanted to design something cool.” Their handkerchiefs aren’t for sale, sadly.
“The New Hanky Code” is also a hilarious stand-up routine….
In his 2014 stand-up routine, gay comedian Justin Sayre, plays the Chairman of the International Order of Sodomites who announces, “The board is thrilled to announce that we will be bringing back the hanky code, but this time, it’s to talk about your damage.”
“Long have these issues laid in the shadows of a second date,” Sayre says, “but no more. We’d like to put it out there.”
In Sayre’s new hanky code, wearing a handkerchief in your right pocket means that you self-identifying as having a particular issue whereas the left pocket means you’ve only been called out on it, “so it becomes a playful game amongst friends.”
According to Sayre, white hankies now signify racists, gray equals boring, yellow is for commitment-phobes, baby blue means you have mother issues, pink stands for ingrained homophobia (i.e. “masc-seekers”), mustard means you drink too much, magenta is poor personal hygiene and so on for conspiracy theorists, those who don’t like The Golden Girls and others.
In Sayre’s version, people can make up their own personal hankies (like charcoal for workaholic and eggshell for undiagnosed) and also assign hankies to one another. “We ask you all to be kind when assigning colors to other people,” he concludes. “because remember: You’ll be wearing them too.”
… and there’s also a Hanky Code film for queer fetish fans too.
Hanky Code is also the name of a 2015 queer indie film made up of 25 shorts from different international queer directors that each explore a different color and fetish from the hanky code. It’s quite artistic, avant-garde and even a little graphic (the segment on piercing almost made our squeamish editor pass out), but it’s a fine piece of film that re-interprets the decades-old hanky code for a new age.
[A] few years ago, while an ex-partner was going down on me, I realized I was having trouble breathing. Then a sense of dread filled my head, and I felt like I was being stabbed in the chest. So I quickly asked him to stop — not because he was doing anything wrong, but because I was having a panic attack during sex.
One of the (few) good things about panic attacks is that they usually only last for about 15 minutes, says Gail Saltz, MD, psychiatrist and author of The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder And Genius. When I had my attack, I sat on the edge of the bed and did a series of breathing exercises. Gradually, I did begin to feel better.
But one of the most perplexing aspects of panic attacks is that they’re intensely fearful physical reactions that occur in the absence of any real danger or identifiable cause, as the Mayo Clinic explains. In my case, I was in a safe space with someone I trusted when my ex was going down on me. However, I had very real and terrifying feelings of detachment, the aforementioned shortness of breath, and chest pains.
Of course, I’m speaking about panic attacks during consensual sex. Fear that happens during an assault or dangerous sexual experience is completely different than having a panic attack during healthy sexual intimacy. (Reach out to RAINN if that’s the case.)
Although there are many causes for panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often to blame, says Barbara Greenberg, PhD, clinical psychologist and relationship expert. That was true for me: I’m a survivor of multiple sexual assaults and have been diagnosed with PTSD by a psychiatrist. As a result, sometimes during sex, I’ll have a flashback of an incident and experience a panic attack. Although the attacks subsided thanks to therapy and medication, it’s an ongoing process.
That said, panic attacks during sex can also happen to people who haven’t been sexually assaulted or diagnosed with PTSD. Dr. Greenberg says that generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder can also trigger panic attacks during intimacy, but anyone can have one during their life — with or without a diagnosed disorder. Sometimes these things just happen.
However, if your panic attacks are, like mine, recurring and have an identifiable root cause, it’s an especially healthy idea to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Saltz says. “If you are having multiple panic attacks or PTSD flashbacks you should 100% get treatment,” Dr. Saltz says. Treatment will begin with an evaluation of the cause of the panic attacks with a mental health professional. Then, that person will suggest therapy, medication, or both.
At that point, Dr. Aaron says it’s okay to take any anti-anxiety medication you’ve been prescribed, such as benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin). Because you can become dependent on such medications over time, they’re meant to be used on an as-needed basis, Dr. Aaron says. But, depending on your individual needs, you may be taking them for a week or have a prescription at-the-ready for the rest of your life. While you’re taking these medications, though, you’re also (ideally) learning other self-soothing techniques in therapy that will come in handy when you stop taking the meds as frequently.
On top of managing what’s happening in your own mind and body, explaining it to your partner presents another challenge. In particular, when I had a panic attack, my partner had a hard time understanding that he did nothing wrong. But Dr. Saltz says that, in the moment, it’s enough to “tell your partner [your panic attack] will pass, take slow and deep breaths, and relax your muscles.” After the crisis has passed, you can get into a more detailed description of what you experienced — and how it wasn’t your partner’s fault.
If you’ve been a witness to someone else’s panic attack, know that they have likely experienced panic attacks before meeting you and probably will have them after you’ve parted ways, says Amanda Luterman, MA, OPQ, a psychotherapist who specializes in sexuality. “What you can do is be a soothing and stabilizing partner for that person, keep the focus on them, and reassure them that it’s going to pass,” she explains.
So, remember that panic attacks do go away. But if you continue to have them during sex as part of a larger mental health issue or due to unresolved trauma, you should seek treatment. Trust me, it can be a life- (and sex life-) saving experience.
These treatments prey on our insecurities – our deep, dark worry that there’s something wrong with our genitals. That they’re not ‘normal’.
It’s no wonder we think that, though, when we don’t get to see a range of all the different ways vaginas and penises can look.
If you’re interested in same-sex relationships or, well, sex, you’ll likely get to see a few more genitals that look a bit like yours.
But this only happens once you start getting to the point of stripping down – a point you’re unlikely to reach if you’re so filled with doubt and self-hatred for the appearance of your genitals that you can’t even imagine letting someone else see them.
And for those who exclusively get busy with people of the opposite sex, it’s easy to never see a real-life alternative of your own sex-specific genitals out in the world.
Instead, you see smoothed, Barbie-perfect versions of vaginas and whopping great penises that stay erect for hours in porn.
You see blurred out images online or dainty flowers, or bananas and crude doodles to illustrate their place.
When you never see genitals that look even a tiny bit like yours, you’re going to worry that you’re abnormal, that something’s wrong, that you need to change yourself.
That’s why we need to get in there early, and show students actual photos of actual vaginas and penises.
Not just vague diagrams of the reproductive system.
Actual photos or – if that greatly offends you for reasons I don’t understand – a wide range of illustrations that shows all the parts of the genitals and all the different ways they can look.
Students should see where the clitoris is, because if they don’t they’ll struggle to give women pleasure or experience it themselves.
Students should understand what a circumcised penis looks like versus an uncircumcised one.
Students should see longer labia, different skin tones, penises that are short and fat, penises that are long and lean. A range of healthy genitals to expand the definition of ‘normal’ in young people’s minds.
‘Relationships and Sex Education is an opportunity to challenge the idea that any one type of body is ‘normal’,’ Lisa Hallgarten, coordinator of the Sex Education Forum, told metro.co.uk.
‘Learning about and celebrating body diversity may start with simply thinking about the different heights; body shapes; hair, eye and skin colour of people we can see around us; and learning about the difference between female and male body parts.
‘When it comes to genitals young people may think their own are unusual or unhealthy because they haven’t seen any images of different bodies, or because many sexual images they have accessed online depict a particular type of body (e.g. men with very large penises and women with hairless, surgically-altered vulvas).
‘Whether we use photographs, anatomical drawings or art works (such as Jamie McCartney’s Great Wall of Vagina) it is essential that any images we show properly represent the great diversity that exists in the shapes and sizes of people’s genitals.’
Seeing these images before we start having sex or having the power to make changes to our bodies through surgery or other means is incredibly important.
How we view our bodies informs how we view ourselves. It affects our sexual relationships, our decisions, our mental state.
Knowing that our genitals are okay, that there’s nothing wrong, gross, or weird about them just because they don’t match the images we see in porn, will inform healthier sexual decisions, make us more confident, and prevent people from considering drastic measures to ‘fix’ themselves.
As someone who was so self-concious about my vagina that I blamed it for breakups and went to the doctor to beg them to change the appearance of my vulva, I know how powerful learning that your genitals are normal can be.
It’s not just about seeing genitals similar to your own, mind you.
Seeing real, intimate pictures of bits of all genders will make sex significantly less intimidating.
If you’re shown accurate images of all different genitals, you won’t be confused and horrified when you start having sex and are greeted by a penis or vagina that looks entirely unlike the ones you’ve seen in porn.
Adding real images to sex ed will make people more understanding of the range of normal for the opposite sex, too. So boys won’t take the piss out of women’s labia or the size of their vagina*, and girls won’t say cruel things about the size of someone’s penis.**
*No, you can not tell how much sex someone’s had by how tight or loose a vagina feels. No, you should not make up songs about women’s ‘flaps hanging low’.
**No, it’s not cool to tell people your ex has a small dick just because he p*ssed you off.
It’ll make our sex lives better, too. There’ll be a greater understanding of how penises and vaginas work, and lots more pleasure happening when everyone understands where the clitoris is, which bits of the penis are more sensitive, and what to expect when they start going down.
Oh, and knowing the range of normal will make it easier to know when something’s gone a bit wrong.
If we know all the different ways a healthy vagina or penis can look, we’ll be more able to quickly notice a change in appearance or a dodgy symptom – and because we’re not holding on to the heavy worry of ‘what if my entire downstairs area is completely abnormal and the doctor will recoil in horror’, we’ll feel more able to ask for help.
And, of course, openly presenting students with pictures of genitals is all part of chipping away at our general silence and squeamishness around our bits.
Penises and vaginas are not inherently gross, or dirty, or wrong. We should be able to talk about them, ask questions about them, and not feel disgusted or scared when it comes to being presented with their natural states (*cough* periods are not gross, neither is body hair, and ‘vagina’ is not a dirty word *cough*).
Many of us are all too familiar with the “beer goggles” effect: friends and strangers alike become more attractive after a drink or two. Undoubtedly, drinking alcohol lowers our inhibitions and makes us more open to experimentation with the same sex. In a new study, published in The Journal of Social Psychology, straight men were found to be more physically attracted to other men after a few drinks.
“Most notably, alcohol intake was related to increased sexual willingness of men with a same-sex partner, suggesting a potential shift in normative casual sexual behavior among heterosexual men,” wrote the authors in the study.
Researchers recruited a total of 83 straight men and women who were bar hopping in the Midwest at night. The participants were asked to complete a survey about how many drinks they’d had that night. In addition, they had to watch a 40-second video of either a physically attractive man or woman drinking at a bar and chatting with the bartender. Then, the participants rated their sexual interest in the person in the video, from buying them a drink to going home together to have sex.
Unsurprisingly, men showed high interest when the attractive woman was on the screen; women naturally were more attracted to the man. Moreover, men were more likely to make sexual comments about the woman after the video. Overall, they expressed more sexual interest in the women, regardless of how much they had. This coincides with previous research that concedes men tend to be more lax about casual sex with strangers.
However, the researchers noted an interesting observation: the more alcohol men drank, the more interested they became in the man in the video. Men who had nothing to drink showed no interest. Those who consumed over 10 alcoholic drinks were more likely to entertain the idea of gay sex just as much as having sex with a woman.
“Sexual willingness was only influenced by alcohol intake and perceived attractiveness of a same-sex prospective partner,” the authors wrote.
In women, the more alcohol they drank, the more interested they were in other women, and the opposite sex.
This suggests sexuality for men and women does not fall under straight and gay, but instead is fluid. A 2016 study found women have been evolutionarily designed to have same-sex encounters. The researchers proposed women’s sexuality has evolved to be more fluid than men’s as a mechanism to reduce conflict and tension among co-wives in polygynous marriages.
In men, studies have found a large number of straight men watch gay porn and even have gay sexual fantasies. Researchers believe homosexuality has evolved in humans because it helps us bond with one another. In other words, sexual behavior is not a means to an end of reproduction, but it can also be used to help form and maintain social bonds.
It’s no surprise drinking alcohol leads to sexual behavior, and even makes us sexually fluid, and less inhibited. Alcohol’s influence on specific brain circuits has led us to feel euphoric and less anxious. It makes us more empathetic and leads us to see other people — even the same sex — as more attractive.
Alcohol may allow us to freely express our sexual side, without judgment or reservations.
[G]rowing into our sexual selves is a lifelong process, like growing up in general. But because we don’t have a lot of language for our sexual lives, we somehow erroneously expect that sex is something we are born knowing how to do. Like any other physical and emotional skill, our sexual capacity to both give and receive pleasure increases with education and practice.
We begin waking up to our emerging erotic consciousness in our early adolescence. This awakening process is mostly subconscious, as our maturing brain connects the powerful arousal mechanism to historic and unresolved painful events and relationships. Like our fingerprints, or the subtle distinctions in our sense of smell—what turns us on sexually is largely outside of our control and often contradicts the way we view ourselves outside of the bedroom.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder that the first and often the most persistent issue for most of us on our sexual journey is reconciling our interests with our sense of what is “normal.” Quite often, sexual discovery tests the boundaries of normalcy. Our sexual selves are the unique, wild streak in us that cannot be contained and whose full pleasure potential cannot be achieved if we try to rein it in.
“Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” —Sydney Harris
Instead of healthy dialogue and reliable information about what it means to become and embrace who we are sexually, our curiosity and confusion about emerging sexuality are often met with archaic teachings, generational discomfort from those we trust, misinformation from our peers, and a complex cultural obsession.
The majority of us never have the opportunity to adequately explore the questions that arise from our earliest adolescent erotic awakening. Maturing beyond our initial discomfort requires education, and real sexual education is hard to come by.
For many young people, low-grade anxiety prevents them from engaging in any real conversations, whether with a friend, doctor, or even their partners about their fears and the obstacles they face sexually. Often, even the more progressive will turn their sexual concerns into a joke, laughing at their discomfort and communicating either that sexual concerns are not to be taken seriously or at least not to be discussed seriously.
What we suppress becomes more powerful. Suppressing our sexual nature only exacerbates our preoccupation with it. Asking honest questions about our sexual selves and being able to get reliable information allows us to use sexual privacy in healthy ways. Studies show that the kids who are given the most sexual education are often the last ones to engage sexually. They don’t need to learn about it by doing it—their theoretical learning allows them to make healthy choices about when and with whom they want to do it.
People who have come to terms with this essential aspect of their being are happier and more satisfied in every other aspect of their life as well.
Likewise, adults who move beyond their adolescent sexual anxiety through education gain not only the courage to take ownership of their erotic preferences but also the skills to engage in sexual behavior that is consistently pleasurable. Sexually mature adults are not waiting for someone else to make them feel sexy or give them permission to explore the range of their sexual function.
Taking full responsibility for their own sexual needs allows them to also be truly responsive to the sexual needs of others, which makes them attractive partners that tend to stay partnered. Aspiring to sexual maturity evokes a host of other essential skills for life—sexually mature adults tend to also be emotionally intelligent and capable of dealing with life changes.
Our sexual selves are often perceived as a locked box of bizarre fantasies and out-of-control impulses toward carnal pleasure. While it’s true that a mature sex life employs these tools for pleasure, working at our sexual evolution is more like developing core strength. Because our erotic identity is so central to who we are, people who have come to terms with this essential aspect of their being are happier and more satisfied in every other aspect of their life as well.
[S]eventy-nine-year-old Jane Fonda is doing for vibrators what 44-year-old Jane Fonda did for aerobics videos: mainstreaming them.
And not a moment too soon.
The new season of her critically acclaimed Netflix series, “Grace and Frankie,” co-starring Lily Tomlin, sees the two women launch a business selling sex toys for women. If you happen to drive down Vine Street in Hollywood, you might see a giant billboard of Fonda and Tomlin holding ribbed, purple objects under the words “Good vibes” — in case there was any confusion about what they’re holding.
And if you watch “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” you may have happened upon Fonda unveiling a vibrator on daytime TV. (Take that, “The View”!)
“Use it or lose it, right?” Fonda says to DeGeneres, who seems uncharacteristically bewildered.
“Was this something you knew about before the character?” DeGeneres asks. “Before you researched it, was this something you knew about, I mean, were familiar with? Used?”
Fonda offers an emphatic “yes,” before explaining that she owns one vibrator that doubles as a necklace. “It looks like a beautiful piece of silver jewelry.”
Until it doesn’t.
“I applaud her,” said Lauren Streicher, medical director of Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause. “I’ve been trying to talk about this on daytime TV for years, and no one will have any part of it.”
Fifty-two percent of American women use a vibrator, Streicher said, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. And women over 60, in particular, need to know about their benefits.
“Sometimes nerve endings aren’t as sensitive as they used to be, so what did it for you before isn’t going to necessarily do it anymore,” said Streicher, who wrote “Sex Rx: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever” (Dey St.). “In addition, you have a lot of medical conditions — diabetes, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis — that can cause a desensitization of nerve endings, so there is a need for increased stimulation.”
Which may explain why the Carol Wright Gifts catalog — known mostly for its compression support knee-high socks, bunion bandages and denture liners — features a two-page spread of “personal massagers” with such names as Couple’s Raging Bull and The Amazing Butterfly Kiss.
There should be no shame in the vibrator game.
“It’s really just an acknowledgment that women are entitled to pleasure,” Streicher said. “It’s OK for men to have sex and pleasure and to desire that until the day they die, but when you look at women in their 70s talking about sexuality, that’s been something mainstream media has absolutely no interest in.”
Maybe Fonda will help change that.
“I hope so,” Streicher told me. “When I teach medical students, I tell them: Don’t ever say to a woman, ‘Do you have a vibrator?’ That is the wrong question. What you say is, ‘When you use your vibrator …'”
She continued: “When I ask a patient, as part of her history, ‘Are you able to have an orgasm?’ and she says no, I say, ‘How about when you use your vibrator?'”
It lessens the stigma and leads to a more honest discussion, Streicher said.
“We know, at best, maybe 25 percent of women are able to have an orgasm through intercourse alone,” she said. “If men weren’t able to have orgasms and there was a device that made it happen, there would be nothing taboo about it.”
And if Fonda has her way, there won’t be for much longer.
BDSM is still viewed as an unconventional sensual, erotic, and sexual behavior, yet couples who practice this tend to develop a better sense of self. These couples are more likely to communicate their likes and dislikes with their partner. In the previously mentioned 2013 study, Dutch researchers found BDSM lovers were more extraverted, more open to experience, more conscientious, less neurotic, less sensitive to rejection, more securely attached, and higher in subjective well-being. Specifically, all three BDSM subsets, including dominants, submissives, and switches, outscored controls on “subjective well-being”; the difference was significant for dominants.
So, what’s the connection between BDSM and healthy relationships?
It’s a combination of self-awareness and communication. BDSM helps couples recognize their sexual identity and desire. Communication is a standard in BDSM activities because couples must be able to negotiate boundaries and safe practices. According to O’Reilly, some couples feel their overall levels of communication improve with kink play.
“These benefits spill into other areas of the relationship (e.g. parenting, division of labour, emotional expression) and serve to deepen their existing bond,” she said.
Communication and consent are critical in BDSM, especially when it comes to pain play.
5. Pain Is Pleasure: Why It Feels So Good
Several couples will admit they get pleasure from experiencing pain, or inflicting (consensual) pain on others. Yet, some of us will yell in pain when we twist our ankle or break a bone, and even a papercut can produce misery. There’s actually a difference between good pain and bad pain.
“Interestingly, our brain processes social rejection in the same place where it processes physical pain. When we experience pain in a sexual act, we’re going to enjoy that pain differently, because we have a different interpretation to it than an accident where we don’t have control,” Wanis said.
When we experience bad pain, this indicates something is not right, and needs immediate attention. However, when we feel good pain during sadomasochism — giving or receiving pleasure from the infliction or reception of pain and humiliation — it is enjoyable. A 2014 study found sadomasochism alters blood flow in the brain, which can lead to an altered state of consciousness similar to a “runner’s high” or yoga. Brain changes were seen in the prefrontal and limbic/paralimbic pain regions when participants either received pain or gave pain.
Here, the pain led the central nervous system to release endorphins, which are proteins that act to block pain, and promote feelings of euphoria.
It seems pain and pleasure have always been intertwined.
There’s one other reason pain may sometimes feel good: The range of interests in BDSM could possibly possess an evolutionary advantage.
6. Evolutionary Advantage: Is BDSM A Reproductive Strategy?
BDSM involves role playing, with aspects like dominance and submission, which can be roughly translated into lower and/or higher-ranking partners. In mammals, high hierarchical status is linked with increased reproductive success, and Czech researchers believe BDSM-induced arousal could be a manifestation of a mating strategy.
In a 2009 study, published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers found sexual arousal through overemphasized hierarchy, like dominant-slave play, can represent a reproductive strategy. Role play allows someone who has a need to be dominant to feel dominant, and someone who is submissive to be able to reproduce. It joins two people who have varied, but complementary, sexual preferences to reap benefits from each other.
People who engage in BDSM also show adaptability and knowledge of various sexual behaviors. They’re able to relate in socially and sexually unconventional ways that can give them an evolutionary edge. In other words, BDSM can make someone become more open-minded, self-aware, and more expressive in communicating their needs and desires, which is advantageous in any relationship — not just those that are intimate.
7. BDSM: The ‘New’ Way To Have Sex
BDSM has been a thing for a very, very long time, so it’s hardly “new”, but Fifty Shades expanded the conversation around it. The movie inspired people to explore their own sexual preferences, and embrace their naughtiest desires. However, it’s important to note its representation of BDSM is problematic; it is indeed shades of grey.
Couples seem to be enticed by BDSM because it steers away from the conventional, and encourages the exploration of the unknown, or taboo. It’s against society’s norms, and solicits more intrigue.
“We want to break the taboo, and that becomes sexually exciting,” Wanis said.
If we’re willing to hand over our physical, mental, emotional, and psychological safety to our partner — that’s more than just kinky sex, that’s trust. Hopefully, that trust has been earned.