The Sexy, Secret History of Leather Fetish Fashion

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From post-war motorcycle groups to modern-day sex apps, this is the story of how leather became a symbol of masculinity and sexuality

By Louis Staples

This article is part of a series on AnotherManmag.com that coincides with LGBT History Month, shining a light on different facets of queer culture. Head here for more.

“When I’m wearing my leathers, I like the way I get to be such a symbol, a trope, of masculinity and sexuality,” explains Max, a 38-year-old gay man from London. Max is a “leatherman” or “leatherdaddy”, two common descriptors for gay and bisexual men who fetishise leather clothes and accessories.

“Fetish fashion” is the term used to describe the intrinsic link between clothing and sexual fetishes, with materials like leather, lace, latex, and rubber holding particular prominence. Dr Frenchy Lunning, author of the 2013 book Fetish Style, writes that fashion has historically been the easiest way to “traverse” from one spectrum of fetish to the other. Lunning gauges that, in the history of fetish fashion, there have been two climaxes – no pun intended – with the first occurring between 1870 and 1900. “The Victorians went crazy over silk and velvet,” writes Pat Califia, author of Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex. “As quickly as new substances were manufactured, somebody eroticised them.”

When fetishwear resurged for its second peak a century later, between 1970 and 2000, leather was the material of choice. On the gay scene, an infatuation with leather was alive and well as early as the 1950s. Today, leather fetishwear is worn by leathermen like Max in sex clubs, parties, Pride parades and hook-ups, but some incorporate leather into their everyday lives, too. Common clothes and accessories include leather trousers, boots, jackets, gloves, ties and caps, with harnesses, masks and jockstraps more often worn during sexual encounters.

While leather fetishwear is not exclusively queer, there is a widely acknowledged parallel between the increased visibility of gay and lesbian identities and leather-based fetishes in contemporary culture. Recon – a fetish app for gay and bisexual men – allows leather wearers to connect with others and follow a year-round calendar of global events such as “London Fetish Week” and “Leather Prides” in cities from Los Angeles to Belgium. Paul, a 34-year-old Recon user, tells me that he equates leather with “power, strength and dominance”. He doubts that he could be with someone “vanilla” – a term for someone who doesn’t have any fetishes. “There’s nothing hotter than the feeling of leather on my skin, it’s peak masculinity,” he says. Max, who was first drawn towards leather five years ago, also associates it with manhood. “It’s just so fucking masculine,” he explains. “The more masculine I’ve become over time, the more I’ve been into it. When I wear leathers, it feels like my exterior is reflecting my interior. It’s weighty too: the opposite of something light, diaphanous and feminine.”

“There’s nothing hotter than the feeling of leather on my skin, it’s peak masculinity” – Paul, 34

These remarks reveal leather fetish fashion’s significance to masculine gay identities, particularly those relating to sadomasochistic (S&M) sexual practices. In Hal Fischer’s seminal photography book Gay Semiotics, which analyses coded gay fashion signifiers in 1970s San Francisco, leather accessories like caps were indicators that the wearer was interested in sadomasochistic sex. Lesbians also adopted leather and, nowadays, female sex workers and dominatrixes often wear the material. Though, traditionally, the gay leather scene centres on “dominant” men wishing to “own”, or exert control over, a “submissive” male partner.

Sociologist Meredith G. F. Worthen, author of Sexual Deviance and Society, writes that the leather community first emerged after the Second World War, when military servicemen had difficulty assimilating back into mainstream society. For many of these men, their military service had allowed them to explore homosexual desire for the first time. When the war ended, a void was left by the absence of homosexual sex and same-sex friendships. Instead, many found sanctuary in motorcycle communities where leather clothing was popular. The men who rode these bikes were icons of cultural masculinity, conjuring up an image of dangerous rebelliousness that was alluring to many gay men who were weary of seeing themselves depicted as effeminate pansies. Peter Hennen, author of Faeries, Bears and Leathermen, believes that this caused gay men to “invest in leather with a certain erotic power intimately tied to the way it signalled masculinity.” Queer cultural historian Daniel Harris suggests that the “raw masculinity” that leather evokes “shaped a new form of masculinised gay identity among leathermen.”

Leather’s military routes, combined with its significance in hierarchy-driven male social groups, are thought to be behind its importance to sexual practices like S&M, which centre on order, discipline and control. Yet outside the leather fetish scene, artist Andy Warhol famously used garments such as the leather jacket as a device to appear more masculine from the 1950s to 1960s. Transforming his personal style, Warhol sought to present a more macho, aloof persona to the heterosexual male-dominated New York art establishment.

“Tom of Finland ‘set the standard’ for the ‘quintessential leatherman replete with bulging chest, thighs and cock’”

Max tells me that cultural imagery, such as “Tom of Finland, Robert Mapplethorpe, Marlon Brando and James Dean” contributes to his love for leather. Finnish artist Touko Valio Laaksonen, commonly known as Tom of Finland, is behind leather’s signature homoerotic aesthetic. According to feminist studies professor Jennifer Tyburczy, Finland “set the standard” for the “quintessential leatherman replete with bulging chest, thighs and cock.” By depicting working-class men like construction workers, bikers and lumberjacks, Finland allowed gay men to feel masculine and strong while maintaining their interest in those of the same sex. His images are the antithesis of the effeminate gay stereotype that was widely circulated at the time, bringing connotations of hyper-masculinity, strength and, of course, sex to black leather. After being circulated in physique magazines such as Physical Pictorial throughout the 1950s, his work quickly became emblematic of the gay fetish community.

Following the popularity of leather in the queer sanctuary cities on America’s coasts, international travel increased its global appeal, with leather kink scenes developing in London, Berlin, Amsterdam, and parts of Scandinavia. Imitations of Finland’s images became the customary advertisement of fetish events in these places, which were often disguised as motor sport or biking clubs. For the first time, Finland’s reclamation of masculine imagery provided gay men with what communications professor Martti Lahti describes as an “empowering and affirmative” gay image.

Though after years of resurgence, the leather fetish scene is facing challenges. Rising rents and gentrification in the world’s queer-friendly cities have caused most clubs to shut their doors. Fetish apps and websites now mean that attending a leather event is not necessary to connect with leather admirers. Lesbian leather wearers, who have traditionally operated their BDSM club scene separately, have been most harshly impacted by club closures as most gay leather nights purposely ban women from entering. With a full outfit of leathers costing several thousand pounds, it is little wonder that younger kinksters are turning to cheaper alternatives like rubber or sportswear to fulfil their fetish needs.

“Rising rents and gentrification in the world’s queer-friendly cities have caused most clubs to shut their doors. Fetish apps and websites now mean that attending a leather event is not necessary to connect with leather admirers”

The extended rights and freedoms won by queer people in recent decades have also resulted in pressure from wider heterosexual-focussed society to assimilate to their norms. Queer historian Lisa Duggan has described how the pressure to comply with what she calls “neoliberal” aims has resulted in a “depoliticised” and “desexualised” gay identity revolving around “domesticity” and heteronormative institutions like marriage. This gay identity can be exclusionary to those that fall outside its “acceptable” norms.

As the visibility of “vanilla” gayness has extended, heterosexual kink aesthetics have moved further into the mainstream, ushered in by pop moments like Madonna’s Justify My Love, Rhianna’s Disturbia and Christina Aguilera’s Bionic era, plus books such as 50 Shades of Grey. Reality star Kylie Jenner even graced the cover of Interview magazine dressed as a “sex doll”, clad entirely in skin-tight black latex. Though despite figure skater Adam Rippon wearing a leather harness once on the red carpet and the occasional performance costume from Jake Shears, the Village People’s Tom of Finland-inspired outfits and Robert Mapplethorpe’s extremely explicit photographs – both almost 40 years old – remain gay fetish fashion’s most visible representations.

With visible mainstream gay identities remaining “desexualised”, the false link between kink, sexual deviance, immorality and even criminality – a trope peddled for decades to depict gay men as “socially wrong” or “sick” – still lingers, even within the LGBTQ+ community. Andrew Cooper, author of Changing Gay Male Identities, suggests that overt sexuality has become less important to gay identities since the AIDS crisis, when sex – and communities like the leather scene that revolve around sex – became associated with death and shame. In Beneath the Skins, a book that analyses the politics of kink, Ivo Dominguez Jr writes that, as gay identities and attitudes become more sanitised, “leatherphobia” remains a significant barrier. Dominguez suggests that those who practice leather are seen by the wider LGBTQ+ community as “poor relatives they wish to hide” or an “albatross around their public relations neck”.

Yet the leather scene could certainly be more inclusive itself. In addition to its exclusion of women, it is overwhelmingly white. When combined with the fact that elements of the leatherman aesthetic have been co-opted by various sub-fetishes and groups that eroticise white supremacist roleplay and Nazi iconography, this paints a particularly objectionable picture. Then there’s the fact that much of the hyper-masculine culture that surrounds leather promotes the idea that feminine men are inferior. Society’s ever-evolving understanding of the effects of entrenched, socially-constructed gender binaries and toxic masculinity has undoubtedly reduced its appeal further.

However, despite its current challenges, the history of leather fetish fashion is as fascinating as the black cowhide is transformative to those who lust over it. Leather can conjure solidarity among those who feel alienated, while acting as a symbol of sexual liberation. Its history tells a nuanced, important story of just how integral fashion can become to communities and subcultures. To its devotees, it represents more than mere aesthetics or the leather-clad bikers of the past. To them, leather fetish fashion is a way of life.

Complete Article HERE!

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What porn taught us about sex, romance and ourselves

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For a generation that went through puberty in the digital age, sex-ed often began in front of a desktop. But what happens when porn is your teacher?

By Tyler Griffin

Whenever eight-year-old Gabrielle Clarke watched Rihanna or Christina Aguilera music videos on YouTube, she would get an intense feeling of desire she couldn’t explain. She eventually came across the word ‘sex’ and Googled it in an attempt to satisfy her curiosity. Thousands of images and videos popped up, showing naked men and women and body parts she had never seen before. Realizing she could describe exactly what sexual acts she wanted to see and have them displayed on her computer screen with the click of a mouse, it wasn’t long before she was surfing sites like Pornhub and XHamster every night before bed. It was then that something in Clarke’s head clicked. As a devout church girl, she knew it was wrong to watch porn online. She felt dirty, ashamed, guilty—and yet she wanted to see more. 

Watching porn was not only enjoyable, Clarke found it filled the gaps in her knowledge of sex—her immigrant mother never gave her “The Talk.” From that point on, porn sites became Clarke’s main source for sex education. From penetrative sex to blowjobs to rimjobs—if it involved pleasure, porn taught it to her. When Clarke eventually had sex for the first time, she was beyond prepared. “Porn taught me how to be more confident.”

But as much as she learned, an education through porn didn’t come without lasting effects on her sex life. Now a second-year student in the RTA School of Media, Clarke has noticed she subconsciously chases after white men—a manifestation of what she’s always seen in porn. As a Black woman, she tries to avoid categories like BBC because she can’t stand to see Black men in such an objectifying light. Yet, whether she’s watching amateur, Ebony, Asian or whatever’s on the homepage of Pornhub, it’s “always a white guy,” Clarke says. “It’s a default.”

For curious youth, easy-to-access online pornography can become the go-to educator when they don’t have comprehensive sex education in their classrooms, making porn the de facto sex curriculum for many. But the porn industry is filled with racist and misogynistic narratives and practices. It’s also developing the sexual psyches of Canadian youth. According to André Grace, Canada research chair of sexual and gender minority studies, teenagers who use porn as a method of instruction are often perplexed about “what constitutes healthy sexual relationships and consent,” when translating online sex to their real life romantic and sexual relationships.

Grace says porn can be validating for those whose sexual and gender identities historically deviate from cultural norms. There should be comprehensive sex-ed that includes content on sexual and gender minorities, he says. These students often turn to porn and develop their understanding of sex through online depictions of gender, sexuality, aggression, consent, race, queer sex, relationships and body images in porn.

Taught by middle school teachers who would dispel myths about porn, Liam considers himself one of the lucky ones. The third-year RTA student began watching porn in Grade 6, after he he already started sex-ed two years earlier in Grade 4. He learned about contraceptives, male and female anatomy and everything else a curriculum for straight people could offer. His sex knowledge even diffused a pregnancy scare with a female partner when she got back some strange blood test results. Liam knew she wasn’t pregnant, as he had worn a condom every time and neither of them had finished during sex. If he’d been poorly instructed through sex-ed, Liam says he probably would have had a nervous breakdown. “I was actually very calm while she was freaking out,” Liam says. “I was just laughing like, ‘there’s no way I’m the unluckiest man in the world.’”

But Liam’s sex-ed didn’t prepare him when he started to sleep with men in Grade 11. So he turned to gay porn to provide him with instructions on how to have anal sex. In classes, his teachers wouldn’t talk about lube, tearing or the dangers of barebacking (anal sex without a condom). “Prepping for anal sex sucks so much,” he says. “In porn, you never see any mess, but you’re fucking someone’s ass, you know.”

With gay porn and Yahoo Answers as his guide, Liam got a warped perception of his sexual identity. As a young, queer, feminine man, he immediately categorized himself as a bottom, playing into the feminine-equals-bottom, masc-equals-top dynamics he saw in gay porn. He branded himself as a bottom looking for a masculine, dominant top. Every video he watched portrayed ripped, white-bred men as the gospel body type for queer men. This took a toll on his self-esteem, especially as someone who was bullied for being a chubby adolescent. “I was like, I want that. I want that so bad,” Liam says. “I feel like I had better sex education than the majority of the people I know and I was still fucked the moment I came out.”

Researchers at the University of Toronto said in a 2018 report that white, fit, muscular and masculine bodies are favoured in Toronto’s gay community—a reflection of dominant body imagery in the media. Many men resort to steroids, eating disorders and unsafe sex to reach these unrealistic body ideals.

Queer stereotypes in porn are often seen perpetuated in the profiles of gay men on Grindr, where it’s commonplace for users to boast their racial preferences (“Whites only,” “Sorry, not into Blacks” and “No Blacks, fats, femmes or Asians!!!” are a choice few). Liam points out it’s common to be offered money for sex on Grindr, because anyone can message anyone regardless of if they’ve matched. “I got offended by someone’s offer one time,” Liam says. “I was like, that is so low!”

In his classes, he was taught that the biggest risk with having sex was getting a girl pregnant. Since he wasn’t going to get any of his male partners pregnant anytime soon, he ended up having a lot of unprotected sex—not realizing he could contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE) says gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men are 131 times more likely to get HIV than men who do not have sex with men, and according to a report from the Public Health Agency of Canada, one in four queer men in Toronto have HIV/AIDS. “Porn armed me with the idea that barebacking was fine, and so did my sex-ed curriculum—because they didn’t bother.”

Liam also had sex with older men while he was still in high school, including a brief hookup with a 27-year-old when he was only 16—something he still grapples with. “I look at it and see that type of relationship represented in all the porn I watch,” he says. “I have a hard time rationalizing that as wrong because that’s in so much of the sexualized content I can see.”

Watching porn for so long made Clarke an expert in the field of pleasuring men.

Now, Clarke asks her potential partners what their favourite porn genre is to get an idea of what to expect in bed. As a Black woman, she wants to know if guys are interested in her for what she has to offer personality-wise, or if their only interest is fulfilling their own sexual fantasies. One guy she met on Tinder said, straight up, “I like Ebony.”

When he showed her his whole dating history consisted entirely of Black women, she quickly realized she wouldn’t be sticking around to satisfy his exotic dreams.
She knew how to scream and moan to make her partner feel good, but was at a loss when it came to her own pleasure and sexual gratification. “I’m afraid to tell guys to do this or to do that because I don’t want to make the guy uncomfortable,” Clarke says. “I literally did not understand what an orgasm was from a female perspective…like it happened off-camera or something.”

One day, Clarke brought home who she thought was the hottest man she’d ever seen. When they got to the bedroom, he became increasingly assertive, putting his hands around her neck, growling and pushing her around. She had never had rough sex, nor was she ever really into watching it online. He was about the same height as Clarke, and she reckons she could have bodied him if she needed to. But as it goes in porn, where women are so often a vessel for the male’s satisfaction, she believed she was expected to pleasure her partner. So she kept quiet and went to sleep with a sour taste in her mouth, despite her extreme attraction to him. “I was so scared because I was so focused on pleasuring him,” she says. “I didn’t want to upset him.”

Now aware of the harmful values and practices porn has instilled in her and her sexual partners, Clarke is working to save money so she can afford to buy more ethical porn that doesn’t portray rape, racism or strict gender roles. Sites like Make Love Not Porn aim to showcase the differences between real sex and sex in porn through user-submitted amateur videos, while sites like Pink and White Productions are dedicated to producing porn that reflects “the complexities of queer sexual desire.” The Feminist Porn Awards, an alternative to the Adult Video News (AVN) Awards, have been celebrating porn films that prioritize equity and real pleasure since 2006. They also have an educational section with how-to videos on things like bondage and pegging.

“Ethical porn doesn’t just present boring, rose-petals sex,” says Clarke. “It does talk about situations that involve consent or a person’s fantasy.’”

There’s also Erika Lust, a Swedish feminist porn producer, who runs a series called XConfessions. Lust takes user-submitted fantasies and turns them into artistic and erotic short films. Her project aims to change the way we watch and consume porn, centring women’s and non-binary people’s pleasure. Her series is for those looking for ethical porn that includes diverse bodies and realistic sex, reflecting their own sexual experiences. Users can submit their own sexual fantasy on her website for a chance to see them played out in her next video. “It’s raw, it’s the closest to looking like real sex,” Clarke says.

Now, Clarke asks her potential partners what their favourite porn genre is to get an idea of what to expect in bed. As a Black woman, she wants to know if guys are interested in her for what she has to offer personality-wise, or if their only interest is fulfilling their own sexual fantasies. One guy she met on Tinder said, straight up, “I like Ebony.”

When he showed her his whole dating history consisted entirely of Black women, she quickly realized she wouldn’t be sticking around to satisfy his exotic dreams.

Complete Article HERE!

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Almost two-thirds of women have experienced sexual discomfort…

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but only around half of men have noticed

By Jessica Lindsay

Lubrication is one of the main ingredients for a successful sexual experience.

It turns out, however, that many women are experiencing sexual discomfort, and are reluctant to use lube for a variety of reasons. What might be even sadder is that there is a big disconnect between women having painful sex and men’s awareness of it.

A study by Durex found that 73% of British women have had discomfort during sex, but only 57% of men have noticed it with their female partners.

One third of women said discomfort made them want sex less, and 9% said it had affected their relationships as a result.

Surprisingly, however, only a third would use lubricant in bed despite 9 out of 10 agreeing that sex felt better with it.

This resulted in a number of those asked saying they’d faked orgasms, hurried their partner to finish, or quit having sex altogether due to the pain.

Although the reasonings behind the discomfort range from simply feeling drier at points in their menstrual cycle to not enough foreplay, it’s odd that this taboo still exists around using lube.

This study clearly shows that lack of lubrication is a common problem faced by women of all ages, even if it is one that isn’t often publicised.


 
Durex’s campaign aims to take a stand against the idea that we’re supposed to lie back and think of England, and instead asks why we’re still putting up with pain during sex that could be easily rectified.

They’ve got a number of influencers on board to raise awareness, including author Chidera Eggerue, who says: ‘In a world where women are constantly scrutinised for existing, it isn’t surprising that so many of us choose to silence ourselves in exchange for comfort or safety. But it’s time we choose ourselves for once.

‘We’re calling for all women to stop suffering in silence and prioritise their pleasure!’

Which lube should you go for?

Steer clear of sugars in lube (if you want to try something with flavour, look for those with aspartame or stevia instead to avoid thrush).

Water-based lubes are best for use with condoms or sex toys.

Silicone lubes can be more long-lasting, which is better suited to anal. Just make sure you don’t use these with silicone sex toys, as they can make surfaces more porous and more likely to harbour bacteria.

Try a small bottle first, and stay attuned to whether your body reacts well to it. You can then decide whether it’s the one for you.

Don’t bother with DIY solutions. Although you might that think the coconut oil or petroleum jelly in your bedside cabinet will do the trick, neither of these are condom-safe, and could cause a reaction.

Use as often and as much as you need. Forget the stigma, and forget putting up with uncomfortable sex.

Hannah Witton, British sex and relationships YouTuber echoed Chidera’s statements: ‘Using lube should be a totally normal part of sex as not only does it avoid any discomfort, but it’s also really fun! The female body is an amazing thing but depending on where we’re at in our monthly cycle, we shouldn’t have to ‘grin and bear it’ by pretending we’re enjoying sex when really we’re uncomfortable.

‘I hope this campaign encourages women to put their pleasure first and enjoy sex without compromise.’

The Durex study spoke to over 1,200 people, and the breadth of those grinning and bearing vaginal dryness issues is staggering.

It shows that there’s nothing to be ashamed of, and that taking control of your sex life is something we should all be doing, whether that’s using lubrication for ourselves, or being more in tune with our partner’s needs.

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

Complete Article HERE!

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Cannabis, Women and Painful Sex

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Sex can be painful for women. There, we’ve said it. Now let’s talk about natural ways to deal with it.

We’ve all heard that women experience vaginal dryness after menopause, but what some of us on the Ellementa team have experienced goes way beyond a moisture-free environment.

“It feels like jagged razor blades slicing me up inside during penetration,” she said.

“It’s like having little elves with knives inside my vagina, cutting away.”

That is what we were hearing around our virtual water cooler when the topic of menopause and sex came up.

Being on a mission to help women better understand the health and wellness benefits of cannabis and CBD, one of our intrepid founders decided to try cannabis and CBD products to address unpleasant symptoms from menopause. She confessed that for the past year she had been experiencing mind-blowing pain that put a damper on any possibility of mind-blowing sex.

“Here I was telling women how beneficial cannabis and CBD can be for our health, and I wasn’t addressing a very real health and wellness issue of my own,” she said.

One evening, she decided to try some of the sample products she had received to review. And they worked!

Here is the recipe for relief that she found useful:

  1. Use a natural vaginal lubricant daily. Many women don’t realize you can apply lubricants daily, particularly after a shower or bath, inside your vagina. We’re not talking about drowning your vagina in oil but applying it internally using a small amount on your finger. Organic coconut oil can be a natural vaginal lubricant, and can be used intra-vaginally if you’re not allergic to coconut. Other fast-absorbing oils include Jojoba and Sweet Almond.
  2. Use a THC-based sexual lubricant or topical 20-30 minutes before sex. Note that many of the THC-infused sexual aids may not be very lubricating but are more warming as well as offering the analgesic effects of THC. THC shouldn’t actually numb the vaginal area but instead reduce the sensation of pain while increasing blood flow to the vagina.
  3. Add a CBD-based lubricant. Our intrepid team member tried a sample packet of Privy Peach’s Personal Lubricant with 250mg CBD. The product claims to “help stimulate your body’s own lubrication, increase circulation, and alleviate any present discomfort.” Note: NOT FOR USE WITH LATEX CONDOMS as any oil may degrade latex.

The results? Nearly pain-free penetration, and definitely pain-free, awesome sex.

This information was a revelation for another one of our founders who went into surgical menopause after a hysterectomy.

“I was just so unprepared for menopause,” she said. “I had no idea my sex life would end, and that I’d have my own private desert.”

As with many other women, she hadn’t looked up THC- or CBD-infused sexual products.

“I’m always taking care of everybody else,” she admitted but vowed to search her market for the right products to relaunch her sex life.

It’s Not Just Older Women Experiencing Painful Sex

“I personally faced quite the battle with my vagina the minute I started having sex,” Cyo Ray Nystrom, the founder and CEO of QuimRock, recalls. “I’ve had years of awful UTIs, forcing me to take intense rounds of antibiotics that, in turn, killed off all the natural vaginal flora and caused yeast infections. It affected my life and sex life greatly as vaginal health is such an important part of intimacy and sex for so many people.”

QuimRock is a cannabis-infused self-care line for women’s intimate care.

Cyo says cannabis can be “powerful sex-medicine for anyone using it intentionally and with her own personal needs in mind.” She also notes that the shame that’s historically associated with vaginal health issues, including those related to menopause, can be “particularly scarring.”

“Personally, cannabis has always been a great tool for getting me into my body, which is essential for me to really show up in my sex life,” Cyo explains, adding, “Cannabis has helped me in many ways—from cramp relief after getting a UTI to pain relief-focused topicals to the amazing benefits of cannabis-infused lubricants.”

What Does a Medical Expert Say About Cannabis to Relieve Painful Sex?

One of our Ellementa Advisors, Dr. Elaine Burns is the founder and medical director of Southwest Medical Marijuana Evaluation Center and founder of DrBurns’ ReLeaf tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) products. Dr. Burns was working with bio-identical hormones for women before she entered the cannabis industry seven years ago. We asked her about cannabis and specifically CBD for women’s sexual health during peri-menopause and post-menopause.

According to Dr. Burns, menopause is a “multifactorial issue,” meaning no woman can expect that what worked for someone else will work for them, too. She also emphasized that cannabis is only part of an overall health-care plan that could include botanicals (such as black cohosh, evening primrose and chamomile) for women before menopause or bio-identicals—non-synthetic, all-natural hormone replacements—for women no longer experiencing menses. She told us she would never solely recommend cannabis or CBD to relieve menopausal symptoms.

THC, by the way, can also be helpful with low libido and stress related sexual dysfunction. Dr. Burns reminded us there are two parts of support during menopause:

  • Relief from unpleasant symptoms ranging from vaginal dryness to hot flashes to painful sex.
  • Prevention of diseases such as osteoporosis.

Depending on your health goals, cannabis—and specifically CBD—can be integrated into your overall care plan to alleviate specific menopause symptoms and also help with general good health as you age.

As Cyo from QuimRock explains, “It’s hugely important to figure out what turns you on and what turns you off.” And that takes time and trying different things. Just as menopause is a journey, so is naturally addressing your sexual health with botanicals like cannabis.”

Complete Article HERE!

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A lesson on consent

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The difference between writing and BDSM is… kind of a lot

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Despite living mere blocks from a sex shop, I’d never been inside. Until one sweltering evening this past summer, when my writer friend, Elle, invited me to a “Scene Building 101” class hosted by Pleasures & Treasures (2525 University Ave.).

It sounds like a writing class, we joked. Let’s go learn a thing or two! 

But, no, it was not a writing class. This was a BDSM class. “Scenes” and “play” are what we plebes lump into the cliché umbrella of roleplaying, but to the BDSM community this sort of thing is fundamental.

Scene Building 101, taught by Bikkja Amy, is considered a “soft skills” class. Hard skills, on the other hand, are things like spanking and mummification. (I’ll save you the private browser googling session: Mummification is wrapping your sub entirely in plastic wrap for an escape scene or for sensory deprivation.)

Elle, it turned out, had been to a Pleasures & Treasures class before (FYI it was a hard skills class). I learned this as we went around the room for introductions. Everyone was asked to identify themselves as a top, a bottom or a “switch,” and whether it was our first time at a class. It was hard for me to focus on everything I had just discovered about Elle, but I was up next.

“I’m Julia. I’m–” Oh god. I didn’t want to out myself as a nothing, nor did I want to pretend. I also didn’t want to out myself as a writer because it felt just as incriminating to either be a journalist or a wannabe BDSM novelist who was there to gather material.

For the love of God don’t say, “I’m a writer,” I thought.

“Just say you’re a switch,” Elle whispered.

“I’m a writer,” I said.

The class was primarily structured around where to find new ideas, and how to start and configure a “play date.” Seated in folding chairs in a circle, it was less instruction and more of a brag-adjacent discussion. I wrote in my notes, I think this class could really benefit from narrative and character elements!

I also wrote down some of the zingers: “I saw someone with a fishnet outfit and people cutting it off with a knife. And I was like, gonna try that!” one woman said. “I like to light people on fire and throw them in the pool,” someone else said.

As the class progressed, I was so busy marveling at the sheer variety of previously unfathomable BDSM kinks that I almost didn’t notice the bulletproof lesson on consent rippling quietly beneath the surface. 

Everyone here had braved a stuffy evening discussing pervy stuff with near-strangers to master the “ask,” and to learn how to lay groundwork. Scene building in the BDSM community is not about developing relatable characters with a full narrative arc ahead of them. It’s laying out expectations, boundaries and, most importantly, consent.

“If I didn’t mention it [beforehand], those things are off the table. It is the stupidest thing on the planet to say you have no limits,” the instructor explained.

A woman spoke up, in a weirdly chill voice: “So, I’m a masochist? And I don’t want to top from the bottom.” Her concern was that spelling out her boundaries ahead of time can sometimes feel like “topping,” but the instructor was steadfast. Set the boundaries and exchange consent, all the time, and every time, they told us. Find creative ways to do it, but definitely do it.

It wasn’t the place I expected to hear such a clear message on something so wholesomely universal. I think I found my kink.

Complete Article HERE!

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Dead Bedrooms:

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Ten things you should know about your waning sex life

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In a 2014 survey by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, it was found that 12 percent of married people hadn’t had sex for at least three months. Six and a half percent of married women and almost five percent of married men reported that they hadn’t had sex with their spouse in over a year.

A lack of sex in marriage or otherwise committed long-term relationships is something that’s joked about all of the time. In general, though, married couples do have more sex than people who are single or dating.

However, for the not insignificant minority of committed couples who have lost the sexual side of their relationship, it is anything but funny.

It is important to note that regular sex is not an imperative part of life or of some relationships. If you’re both happy with anniversary sex, or never sex, then we’re happy for you.

For those of you that aren’t happy, for those of you who feel stuck, confused, resentful, guilty or scared, we talked to two experts—Amy Bucciere, a certified sex and relationship therapist practicing in Pittsburgh, and Dr. Erika Evans-Weaver, the director of the Center for Human Sexuality Studies’ Sex Therapy Clinic at Widener University—to find out what you should know.

1. Rule out physiological causes.

Both experts agree that it’s important to first rule out medical conditions that could be causing changes in your libido or bodily function.

“Diseases or conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer—any of those conditions can impact your sex drive,” said Evans-Weaver.

2. Don’t assume that you know how your partner feels.

Simply put, the only way to find the cause of the problem is to look for the cause of the problem. We all have a tendency to assume that the way our partners are acting is directly related to how they feel about us. In many cases, this isn’t the truth.

Bucciere says that’s why it’s important to stay curious about what’s causing the sexual problems in your relationship, instead of coming to a conclusion on your own.

“[Ask yourself] is this actually true or is this something that I’m assuming? What is genuinely going on here? And it can be a lot of work to get an accurate answer to that question,” Bucciere said.

3. Remember that things are always in flux.

As your life circumstances change, so will the circumstances of your relationship. One of the hardest times is what Evans-Weaver refers to as the “sandwich generation,” which is when a couple is caring for both their young children and their aging parents.

“You’re exhausted, so you might want to be sexual, but at the same time you might say ‘I’d like to just cuddle up and take a nap,’” she explained. “And that’s real and fair.”

You may think that the root of your problem is that your partner has a different sex drive than you, and you could be right. But, that’s a reality in most relationships and it, too, can change over time.

“What are the chances that two people are going to be 95 percent in the same place when it comes to desire and arousal and availability to be intimate?” Bucciere said. “So it’s kind of a given that somebody is going to be higher and somebody is going to be lower, and you may go through different seasons…It’s not a stable position.”  

4. Be mindful of the story you tell yourself.

“The most important thing is that if my goal is to assign blame and to alleviate myself of doing the hard things then what happens is nothing changes,” Bucciere said.

Believing that you are right and your partner is wrong is easy and convenient, and it doesn’t get you any closer to a solution.

“It’s in our ability to make a conscious, painful decision to say, ‘I wonder what’s really happening here because if the story I’m telling myself is somehow a reductionist story about my goodness and your badness’ or something like that, then that’s the story I’m going to end up with,” Bucciere continued.

5. Talk to your partner, not everybody else.

To get more familiar with this issue, I dove into some online forums for people in sexless relationships. What I found was a lot of people commissorating about their problems, while encouraging a lot of vitriolic behavior.

“Everybody wants to let off some steam, but you’ve got to let it off with the person that’s driving you batty, not everybody else,” said Evans-Weaver.

“The folks that you are commiserating with validate you, so you feel right, and by the time you get ready to actually have the interaction with your partner, it’s still [the same] issue but not necessarily one that you have the same motivations to confront because you already felt this validation,” she continued.

So whether they’re your friends, or strangers on the internet, it’s often best to avoid airing out your grievances with people who aren’t your partner. Consider going to your partner first.

6. Don’t lose sight of the ‘us’ in your relationship.

A lot of people end up sitting with and dissecting this problem for a while, and in that time the frustration, desperation and resentment have been piling up. It’s easy to lose sight of the point of it all.

“What happens is you end up neglecting what I have come to refer to as the ‘physics of the relationship’ and you’ve become solely focused on ‘me’ and ‘you,’ and I’m neglecting the ‘us’ that exists between us and it’s in that misfocus that we end up trekking down a long and painful road,” Bucciere cautioned.

7. It’s not all about intercourse.

Evans-Weaver said that sometimes the problem can be due to boredom because the societally-driven focus on penetrative sex isn’t satisfying to one or both partners.

“[People] get stuck in these really basic sexual scripts that are no longer pleasurable for them, but they don’t know how to communicate about creating something different that is fun and invigorating to them,” she said.  

“We have to expand our perspective on what it means to be sexual with our partners because it can be anything from a sensual massage to mutual masturbation. Or it can be oral sex. It could be just touching. And it could be penetrative intercourse, but doesn’t have to be.”

And it isn’t all about orgasm, either. Making sex too goal-orientated can kill sex drive. According to Evans-Weaver, the focus should be pleasure and fun.

8. Affection and connection.

Sometimes you need to create the space for sex in your relationship though affection and re-establishing a connection.

“I remember working with folks and saying, ‘alright, what’s going on here is that one of you just wants more expression of affection and one of you actually wants to be more sexual with one another. Two different things, but the more that you express affection it’s going to also titillate your partner which might increase their desire to be sexual,’Evans-Weaver said.  

Bucciere emphasizes that feeling truly connected to your partner can change your whole approach to the issue for the better.

“It’s this idea that if we’re really feeling connected and the space between us feels safe and warm and open and loving, from there we’ll be able to figure it out,” she said.

9. Relationships take work. And they can work, if you do.

Start from a place of understanding that lasting relationships don’t happen because there’s no conflict or messiness, they last because both partners have decided that they’re going to work through the bumps.

“If people are genuinely looking to one another to say ‘I want this to get better,’ the implications of that are life-giving and tremendously healing and just a shit ton of work,” Bucciere said.

If you can develop a healthy method that you use to handle problems in your relationship, that’s a tool you’ll be able to come back to again and again.

“I genuinely, 100 percent believe that when two people are truly committed to making a process work, that it will,” Bucciere said. “If we can have our process down about how we work on this stuff, then we’re ultimately going to be able to handle whatever comes down the pike.”

10. Get help if you need it.  

This is a complicated problem. There are professionals out there, like Bucciere and Evans-Weaver, who can help. Whether you need a mediator, an idea-generator or a fresh set of eyes to look at your situation, therapists are trained to assist you.

“My approach is: listen, nobody has all the answers, right? I don’t have all the answers to fixing the problems in my own life. So my role is not to tell you, ‘well, you’ve been doing this wrong all your life,’” Evans-Weaver said.

“It’s really just to ask insightful questions that provide you with an unbiased opportunity to examine what it is that you want to do and how do you want to get there.”

Complete Article HERE!

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The Uncomplicated Truth About Women Sexuality

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Is women’s sexuality more complicated than men’s? Well, not really, no, says author Sarah Barmak.

In this frank, eye-opening talk, she shows how a flawed understanding of the female body has shaped this discussion for centuries. She debunks some age-old myths (you’re welcome) and offers a richer definition of pleasure that gets closer to the simple truth about women’s sexuality.

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Why Doesn’t Sex Ed Cover Body Image?

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By Tiffany Lashai Curtis

Without a doubt, American sexual education needs a lot of work. Only 25 states even mandate that it be taught in public schools, and only 13 states require those sex ed programs to be medically accurate. In 2016, a study published by the Guttmacher Institute found today’s teens are actually receiving less education on topics like contraception and STI prevention than they did in years past.

In addition to improving access to this kind of basic sexual health information, a new paper published by the American Journal of Sexuality Education suggests we also need to expand the very definition of sexual health. One big addition that the researchers behind the paper recommend: make body image a core part of the curriculum.

How body image affects sexual well-being.

We don’t often think of body image as being directly related to our sex lives, much less our sexual health, but a growing body of research shows the two are actually intimately related. Led by Virginia Ramseyer Winter, Ph.D., MSW, director of the University of Missouri Center for Body Image Research and Policy, the researchers outlined dozens of past studies that demonstrate this connection.

Most prominently, several studies have found negative body image is often associated with increased participation in risky sexual behaviors among girls and women, including not using any contraceptives, having more unprotected sex with casual partners, and tending to be drunk before sex. Meanwhile, women who are more satisfied with their bodies are more likely to use condoms and less likely to have unprotected sex after drinking, Dr. Ramseyer Winter’s team reported: “Increased body image satisfaction acted as a protective factor for this population.”

Why would having poor body image lead girls to having more unsafe sex? One 2002 study that surveyed 522 black teen girls suggests part of the problem is the sexual beliefs and attitudes that tend to come with having a negative view of one’s own body: These girls tended to deal with a nagging fear of being abandoned while asking their partners about using condoms, and they also worried about things like not having a lot of “options” for sexual partners and not having a lot of control in their relationships. They also tended to have generally low self-esteem and more symptoms of depression.

It seems that this concoction of negative beliefs about one’s own sexual and personal worth can lead to difficulties with communicating, the researchers explained: “Self-objectification and poor body image may interfere with a young woman’s ability to advocate or negotiate on her behalf regarding her sexual health.” But Dr. Ramseyer Winter’s past studies have demonstrated the opposite is also true: Women who feel better about their bodies tend to be more comfortable talking about sex in general, which likely allows them to better negotiate their sexual boundaries and needs and thus make better decisions regarding their sexual health.

In other words, being able to comfortably talk about sex is crucial to being able to advocate for oneself in bed, and that comfort is usually closely related to how comfortable a person is with their own body. That makes sense—sex involves a person being naked and exposed, and if the idea of their body being viewed like that is frightening to them, it’ll be harder to confidently talk about sex without all those negative feelings getting in the way.

Indeed, just this month another study found that your perception of your partner’s appreciation of your body can affect your own sexual functioning. If you perceive your partner as loving your body, you have more sexual desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasms, satisfaction, and relationship satisfaction.

Why we need a larger definition of “sexual health.”

Part of the problem is our conceptualization of sexual education as primarily a means of preventing negative health outcomes without talking much about how to promote good sexual outcomes—things like more sexual pleasure, confidence, and overall well-being.

“Instead of considering overall improved sexual health of the individual, sexuality education curricula tend to focus most heavily on reducing unplanned or teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections,” the researchers point out in the paper. “While results from curricula with the aforementioned focuses provide significant immediate results showing improved condom use or abstinence, the results are not significant over time. To work toward a model of sexual health that is more than the absence of negative sexual-health-related outcomes, we must approach sex education from a theoretical perspective that is congruent with this definition.”

The researchers recommended an assessment of current sex ed curriculum and the addition of body image as a core topic for all kids. While people of all genders struggle with body insecurities, the researchers noted that girls tend to be more prone to “self-objectification,” or internalizing other people’s views of their physical appearance, which makes them particularly susceptible to body image issues. A 2006 study found upward of 80 percent of young women reported experiencing dissatisfaction with their bodies, and a 2012 study on girls in the eighth, 10th, and 12th grades found girls experience a decrease in satisfaction with their bodies as they move through adolescence (with Latina girls particularly experiencing this hit to their self-esteem as they got older).

“New curricula should begin prior to puberty, as girls experience intense negative shifts in their body image during puberty and should be delivered in all settings (e.g., churches, schools, community centers),” the researchers recommend. “We can truly make sexuality education comprehensive and reflective of theoretical constructs relevant to girls. New curricula [would] incorporate topics beyond the traditional birth control and STI prevention messages, such as body image, race, gender, relationships, and more.”

If body confidence can begin in the classroom—with young people being actively encouraged to love their bodies—it might help set a precedent for healthier intimate relationships as adults.

Complete Article HERE!

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Where Sex Education Fails, Technology Can Help

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The Juicebox app connects people with sex coaches to get their questions answered—anonymously.

Juicebox, along with similar apps, has made it a mission to take the awkwardness and shame out of the “birds and bees” talk and encourage more sex-positive conversations.

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One day last year, Evan Conaway realized he had a problem. He’d been through a series of breakups in a short span of time, and the ensuing stress manifested with the onset of erectile dysfunction.

He didn’t know what to think. And he felt embarrassed even talking about it.

After trying to research solutions to his problem online, he discovered Juicebox, a smartphone app that connects anonymous users with certified sex coaches to ask questions about sex or relationships.

Working with a coach motivated him to talk about the issue with his sexual partners. “She made it seem like a normal thing to go through,” Conaway said.

Conaway said he didn’t know how to talk about what he liked or expected out of a sexual encounter. In his home state of Georgia, sex was treated as a shameful subject, especially for gay people like Conaway.

“Before I was talking to the coach, I don’t think I would’ve had the confidence to express myself,” he said. “The way I approach sex is way more open and transparent.”

The slow process of public policy making means that technology has become a resource for filling in the gaps left by sparse sex education curricula that dominate U.S. schools. Juicebox, along with similar apps, has made it a mission to take the awkwardness and shame out of the “birds and bees” talk and encourage more sex-positive conversations.

While an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee, Brianna Rader, Juicebox’s founder, saw her peers enduring the consequences of a poor sex ed curriculum. She’d grown up in the state and also had to educate herself, especially as she came to identify as bisexual.

“Being queer in the South made me question the information I was given more critically,” Rader said.

Many students who had come through Tennessee’s mandated abstinence-only curriculum had a general lack of knowledge about sex and sexual health that, combined with newfound freedom at college and the ready availability of alcohol, led to disastrous situations.

Rader saw other schools like Yale and Harvard organize Sex Week, a campus event that held workshops and talks from sex educators, plus free HIV testing. But when Rader decided to organize Sex Week on the Tennessee campus, the ensuing controversy across the state led the university to succumb to political pressure and defund the project. Rader and her co-organizers kept Sex Week running for two years solely from their own fundraising.

Founder and CEO of Juicebox, Brianna Rader.

The experience sparked Rader’s newfound passion for sexual health. It also led her to seek solutions that would address people’s needs immediately, and not have to wait for policy makers to come around in their thinking.

Rader later moved to San Francisco and got a master’s degree in global health. The proximity of Silicon Valley helped her realize technology’s ability to have a faster and more wide-ranging impact.

This lack of education about sex in many parts of the U.S. has led to some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections when compared to other industrialized countries.

Only 24 states require sex education be taught in public schools, and even when sex education is offered, the curriculum varies from state to state.

A 2017 report from the Guttmacher Institute said that 20 states require information on contraception, but 27 states also must stress abstinence. HIV education is required in 34 states, but only 12 states discuss sexual orientation. And out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, only 13 require the information presented to be medically accurate.

Research published by the Public Library of Science found that abstinence-only education does nothing to prevent teen pregnancy. In fact, it actually contributes to higher pregnancy rates in the U.S.

The LGBTQ community has suffered the brunt of poor sex education. The exclusion of sexual minorities from curricula has contributed to higher rates of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and unwanted pregnancies among the group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Even with this data available, comprehensive sex education has yet to be universally adopted in the U.S.

Conaway didn’t receive much of a sex education growing up in Georgia, a commonplace situation throughout the South.

He said that when he began questioning his sexuality in middle school, he had to resort to the internet for information. At first, Conaway thought he was bisexual. Without anyone in school talking about LGBTQ identity positively, he assumed that something must be medically wrong with him.

“The first thing I Googled was ‘the cure for bisexuality’ because I’ve only heard of that as a disease, so it must be something that I can get rid of,” Conaway said.

Karen Rayne, a sex educator from Texas, has seen firsthand the result of a dearth of sex education. Much like Rader’s native Tennessee, Texas’ curriculum stresses abstinence. Texas also is one of the few states that forbids the curriculum from portraying LGBTQ identities positively.

Texas has some of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. About 35,000 teens get pregnant each year in the state. Rayne said that teens in other states have access to more progressive and medically accurate information, and the lack of that in Texas is largely to blame for the state’s high rate of teen pregnancy.

Juicebox initially launched as a resource for teens to ask the questions that couldn’t get answered in sex ed class. But then Rader noticed more adults using the app to get answers for much different questions. Users needed help with topics like erectile dysfunction, the female orgasm, or couples’ issues, for example.

An example of how the chat function on the Juicebox app is used.

Influenced by the reality of that additional demographic, Rader relaunched Juicebox last spring with an option that pairs users with a certified sex coach so they can receive personalized attention.

Rader now wants to help users move past sexual shame and learn to communicate openly about sex—both lingering effects of inadequate sex education.

“We’re helping address the trauma that comes from our country’s horrible sex ed system, pornography, and the way media discusses sex,” Rader said.

Juicebox users span across the country—they’re even in big cities like San Francisco and New York City, where sex education is more comprehensive than Texas or Tennessee. Rader said that despite how good the education system can be, there’s still a lot of confusion around sex.

That’s why Rayne stresses that nothing can really replace comprehensive sexuality education earlier in life. Without a template to understand sex, it’s hard to know how to broach the topic with a teen.

Both Rader and Rayne believe open communication will be key in addressing an epidemic of teen pregnancies and STIs and helping people feel comfortable in their sexuality.

“Sex education is fun—or at least it should be,” Rayne said. “Our sexuality should be forces of joy and pleasure, whether we’re actively engaging with sexual partners or not.”

Even though apps like Juicebox can serve as a supportive tool in developing a comprehensive curriculum, Rayne said a face-to-face education must still be the priority. Without it, people often don’t know what questions to ask. She sees tech working more in conjunction with sex education programs rather than substituting for it.

Rader hopes Juicebox can be an accessible resource for people wanting to learn more about sex and adopting a more sex-positive attitude.

“I believe we’re at the very, very beginning of a hopefully larger movement,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

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For elders and others, drugs are available that aid sexual experience.

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But insurers and Medicare won’t pay for them.

A tablet of Pfizer’s Viagra, left, and the company’s generic version, sildenafil citrate.

By Michelle Andrews

For some older people, the joy of sex may be tempered by financial concerns: Can they afford the medications they need to improve their experience in bed?

Medicare and many private insurers don’t cover drugs that are prescribed to treat problems people have engaging in sex. Recent developments, including the approval of generic versions of popular drugs Viagra and Cialis, have helped consumers afford the treatments. Still, for many people, paying for pricey medications may be their only option.

At 68, like many postmenopausal women, Kris Wieland, of Plano, Tex., experiences vaginal dryness that can make intercourse painful. Her symptoms are amplified by Sjogren’s syndrome, an immune system disorder that typically causes dry eyes and mouth, and can affect other tissues.

Before Wieland became eligible for Medicare, her gynecologist prescribed Vagifem, a suppository that replenishes vaginal estrogen, a hormone that declines during menopause. That enabled her to have sex without pain. Her husband’s employer plan covered the medication, and her co-payment was about $100 every other month.

After she enrolled in Medicare, however, her Part D plan denied coverage for the drug.

“I find it very discriminatory that they will not pay for any medication that will enable you to have sexual activity,” Wieland said. She plans to appeal.

Under the law, drugs used to treat erectile or sexual dysfunction are excluded from Part D coverage unless they are used as part of a treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration for a different condition. Private insurers often take a similar approach, reasoning that drugs to treat sexual dysfunction are lifestyle-related rather than medically necessary, said Brian Marcotte, chief executive of the National Business Group on Health, which represents large employers.

So, for example, Medicare may pay if someone is prescribed sildenafil, the generic name for Viagra and another branded drug called Revatio, to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension, a type of high blood pressure in the lungs. But it typically won’t cover the same drug if prescribed for erectile dysfunction.

Women such as Wieland may encounter a similar problem. A variety of creams, suppositories and hormonal rings increase vaginal estrogen after menopause so that women can have intercourse without pain. But drugs that are prescribed to address that problem haven’t generally been covered by Medicare.

Sexual-medicine experts say such exclusions are unreasonable.

“Sexual dysfunction is not just a lifestyle issue,” said Sheryl Kingsberg, a clinical psychologist who is the chief of behavioral medicine at University Hospitals MacDonald Women’s Hospital in Cleveland. She is the immediate past president of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), an organization for professionals who treat women with these problems. “For women, this is about postmenopausal symptoms.”

Relief may be in sight for some women.

Last spring, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent guidance to Part D plans that they could cover drugs to treat moderate to severe “dyspareunia,” or painful intercourse, caused by menopause. Plans aren’t required to offer this coverage, but they may do so, according to CMS officials.

The NAMS applauded the change.

“Dyspareunia is a medical symptom associated with the loss of estrogen,” Kingsberg said. “They had associated it with sexual dysfunction, but it’s a menopause-related issue.”

For men who suffer from erectile dysfunction, treatment can confer both physical and emotional benefits, sexual health experts said.

“In my clinical work, I see a lot of older couples,” said Sandra Lindholm, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist who is also a nurse practitioner in Walnut Creek, Calif. “They are very interested in sex, and they feel like they’re able to embrace their erotic lives. But there may be medical issues that need to be addressed.”

About 40 percent of men over age 40 have difficulty getting or maintaining an erection, studies show, and the problem increases with age. A similar percentage of postmenopausal women experience genitourinary syndrome of menopause, a term used to describe a host of symptoms related to declining levels of estrogen, including vaginal dryness, itching, soreness and pain during intercourse, as well as increased risk of urinary tract infections.

Low sexual desire is another common complaint among women and men. A drug called Addyi was approved in 2015 to treat low sexual desire disorder in premenopausal women. But many insurers don’t cover it.

Unfortunately, medications that treat these conditions may cost people hundreds of dollars a month if their insurance doesn’t pick up any of the tab. A 10-tablet prescription for Viagra in a typical 50-milligram dose may cost more than $600, for example, while the price of eight Vagifem tablets may exceed $200, according to GoodRx, a website that publishes current drug prices and discounts.

In recent years, much more affordable generic versions of some of these medications have gone on the market.

Generic versions of Viagra and Cialis, another popular erectile dysfunction drug, may be available for just a few dollars a pill.

“I never write a prescription for Viagra anymore,” said Elizabeth Kavaler, a urogynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “These generics are inexpensive solutions for men.”

There are generic versions of some women’s products as well, including yuvafem vaginal inserts and estradiol vaginal cream.

But even those generic options are often relatively pricey.

Some patients cannot afford $100 for a tube of generic estradiol vaginal cream, said Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at Yale School of Medicine.

“I’ve asked, ‘Did you try any of the creams?’ And they say they used up the sample I gave them. But they didn’t buy the prescription because it was too expensive,” she said.

— Kaiser Health News

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How this polyamorous couple makes their marriage work

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‘Just because it doesn’t look or sound ‘normal,’ doesn’t mean that it can’t be wildly beautiful’

Bryde MacLean and Jeremie Saunders, a married polyamorous couple, talk candidly about sex and relationships on their podcast Turn Me On.

Bryde MacLean and Jeremie Saunders have talked about sex and relationships more than most couples.

That’s partly because they co-host Turn Me On, a podcast they describe as “a no-holds-barred conversation about what it is to be a sexual being in the world.”

It’s also because they’re a married, polyamorous couple, and in the last few years they’ve been navigating the rocky terrain that comes with opening up a committed relationship. Polyamory is a form of non-monogamy in which individuals form intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the consent of all partners involved.

Today MacLean has a long-term boyfriend. Saunders has a long-term girlfriend and casually dates other people.

“Together the four of us have a very platonic and supportive relationship,” said Saunders.

He recognizes that their marriage is not a conventional one.

“I also feel like it’s important to remind people that just because it doesn’t look or sound ‘normal,’ or doesn’t fit inside a particular box that that you’re used to, doesn’t mean that it can’t be wildly beautiful and work really well, and be super valuable to the people involved.”

Here are some of things that have helped keep their marriage on track.

Put it on paper

Bryde MacLean: “[Before opening up our marriage] we wrote up a contract [which is on our website] in as much detail as we could about all the potential concerns we had. Don’t talk about our problems with other people, don’t criticize each other with other people, have lots of respect and no sleep-overs… We pretty much reviewed and edited that, almost every day, if not once a week, for the least the first six months to a year. It really helped us define what we were doing as we went.”

Be trustworthy

Bryde MacLean: “I remember the first time Jeremie told me that he was in love with somebody else. That was really, really challenging. After a couple of weeks of them hanging out a lot, I had to ask him, to ask them both, if they could take it a little slower, if they could limit the number of days per week … Neither one of them wanted to do that, because you’re in the the energy of a new relationship and it’s exciting … But they did and it was really respectful. It’s really important to be trustworthy.”

Work together

Jeremie Saunders: “It was always an experience that we were doing together, not separately, even though we are separately seeing other people, we’re doing this as a team.”

Choose your path

Bryde MacLean: “It doesn’t have to be … one path fits all. And if you choose monogamy, that’s fantastic. You’ve just got to choose it. If it’s something that you just fall into, because that’s all you’ve ever been taught, then you might feel like something’s wrong with you if it’s not working. It’s just important to recognize that there are there are other choices and they don’t have to threaten one another.”

Family matters

Jeremie: “My parents are super cool and they’ve always been very supportive. We struck gold with the people we’ve chosen to surround ourselves with, because they’ve all been extraordinarily supportive and understanding and excited for us.”

Bryde MacLean: “In Jeremie’s family, Bekah (his girlfriend) and I will both be over for Christmas and birthdays… That evolution has been really nice.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Why are we so coy about sex education for gay teens?

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For novelist Lev Rosen, school sex ed involved putting condoms on fruit. We need to be much more creative – and fun, he argues

By Lev Rosen

When I was 13 years old, when I knew I was queer but wouldn’t be saying so for a year, I remember some boys at school during lunch talking about gay sex. They called it “gross”, they laughed about it. That’s what I heard from my peers about the topic. I heard nothing from my teachers; I wasn’t about to ask my parents; and the gay people on TV never did more than peck each other on the lips.

Sex education for teens is one of those topics we tend to dance around. No one wants to talk to them about sex. It sounds pervy to tell kids how to have sex – as if you’re ruining their innocence or, worse, grooming them. I don’t know what your sex education was like, but I remember mine: it was putting condoms on bananas.

Fun fact about bananas: they’re all genetically identical. Every banana you’ve eaten is the same as every other banana you’ve eaten. And many of the sex-education classes taught today are exactly the same as the one I attended more than a decade ago. Condoms on bananas, STDs, reproduction – no talk of pleasure or consent, much less gay sex.

So, I wrote a novel for teens that features guides to oral sex, anal sex, and basic BDSM. I didn’t do this just so people had someone new to send hate mail to; I did it because teens have heard all this already from TV, playground talk, and online porn. Even sheltered teens already have some idea about how sex works; pretending they don’t isn’t going to help anyone. And while not all of them want to try these things, those who do, need to know how to do it safely, and with consent. Instead, they learn all of that from the media.

In most media aimed at teens, queer men tend to be sweet and sexless. You’ve seen or read the gay best friend character who talks about how hot guys are but never touches one. Or you’ve experienced mainstream gay romance – with gentle kissing, hand-holding, maybe a hug (fully clothed). Even when they get to say what they want, these boys on TV or in film rarely long for more than a kiss and a cuddle. We never see the mimed, under-the-covers sexy-and-shirtless making-out that our straight peers are treated to. Straight teens get to have sex on TV. Gay ones, not so much.

There’s this thing I call the glass closet: the idea that liberal-minded, well-meaning folks who genuinely don’t think they have a problem with queer people tend to confine them to a rigid definition of “good” queerness. For women, this means not going too butch, usually. For men, it means not going too femme, and also, not being too slutty. “I love gay people, but do they have to be so in-your-face about it?”; “I love gay people – but not being ‘too gay’, OK guys?”

And gay sex? That’s way too gay.

Society likes to keep gay teens sexless. It likes to maintain that gay content (even something non-sexual, like the representation of gay parents) is inappropriate for children’s TV or books. Those who complain say it’s too adult – implying that queerness, essentially, is all about sex, while straightness is just what a normal relationship looks like. It’s a weird dichotomy: straight people holding hands are non-sexual, while queer people holding hands is somehow the same as broadcasting pornography. The message is clear across all media: gays have to be kept sexless because they’re already too much about sex.

And so, if all the gay teenagers on our screens are portrayed as “good” gays, kept safely in the confines of the glass closet, and sex-ed doesn’t discuss more than bananas and STDs, then real queer teens turn to the one place they can see their desires: porn.

If you haven’t seen any gay (male) porn, let me describe most of it: everything is clean and polished (yes, even most of the dirty stuff). Everyone has lots of vocal fun. No one ever flags until they finish.

Of course, porn is fantasy, and the men in these videos do massive prep for these scenes. It looks much easier than it is – that’s half the fantasy. And as fantasy, it’s fine. But as a primary source of education, gay porn leaves young queer men with an idealised, routine set of acts that suggest a (wrongly) regimented set of requirements for “real” queer sex. Standardised sexual imagery, it turns out, is just bananas with abs.

I’ve also spoken to queer women about their sexual education. They didn’t always go to porn for their sex-ed, but they didn’t find it at school or home either. Those who did look for it in porn had the additional problem that the fantasy being presented wasn’t even being presented for them.

“Many young women will encounter lesbian sex through mainstream porn,” says Allison Moon, sex educator and author of Girl Sex 101. “This means everyone, not only girls, can get some very wrong ideas about lesbian sex, because the lesbian sex in mainstream porn is designed for male visual pleasure. So queer women have to navigate male sexuality whether or not it interests them.”

And that leaves queer teens in sex-education classes in an awkward place. Straight teens can ask about things they’ve seen on TV, they can apply condoms-on-bananas to what they learn from the media, and come away with a basic framework of sex. Queer teens can only turn to porn.

The good news is that, in some places, things are changing. When I contacted my old high school to find out how the condom bananas were going, I spoke to the director of health and wellness about how the sex-education curriculum has changed, and how it’s about to change even further.

“We can do better, and we’re on the cusp,” she told me, before going into future plans: a curriculum that covers the usual safe-sex issues, but also talks about consent, healthy relationships, porn literacy and queer sex. I was thrilled to hear it. I may have even become a little teary, thinking about a class of young queer people who get a real sexual education that applies to them.

But not every school does this. And they need to, because queer people are everywhere. We’ve made strides in acceptance, but today I still see gay men in their 20s and 30s online saying they don’t know how things work. I get emails from men saying my book taught them things they wish they had learned as a teen. Teens today tell me that it’s so nice to hear someone talk about gay teens having sex, about how they feel, as though, even if they’re out, they’re still not allowed to act on their desires – or are unsure how.

Right now, teenagers’ choices for learning are two extremes (the “good gay” or the “bad gay”) – neither of which is helpful. Either way, these teens end up feeling as if they’ve done something wrong. And we can fix that so easily. Just start talking about it, teaching it. We do it with straight sex. We can fix this the way we can fix most things in life: just gay it up.

What gay teens should watch and read

Another Gay Movie (2006) A raunchy teen sex comedy about four gay guys trying to lose their virginity before graduating. There are gross sex gags, some nudity, and the pressure to lose one’s virginity is problematic, but if you wanted a queer male version of the American Pie movies (or the more recent Blockers), this is it.

I Killed My Mother (2009) A French-Canadian film that features young gay men having fun, sexy sex without being porn – like many of the straight teens you see on TV today.

Release, by Patrick Ness There are plenty of graphic, but beautifully wrought sex scenes in this book about a queer teen trying to find some freedom for himself in a small American town and with his deeply religious family.

Under The Lights, by Dahlia Adler This fun romp on the set of a Hollywood television show has explicit lesbian sex behind the scenes, as the character deals with who she’s playing on TV, and who she is when she’s with her publicist’s daughter.

Princess Cyd (2017) In this quiet and beautiful film about a teen girl (Cyd) spending the summer with her aunt, there’s one great scene between Cyd and Katie, who is a “little bit boy” (and played by a non-binary actor). It’s exactly the sort of sex we should be seeing everywhere.

Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) by LC Rosen is published in paperback by Penguin on 7 February at £7.99.

Complete Article HERE!

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This Empowering Art Confronts The Awkwardness Around Sex

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By Jazmin Kopotsha

If you’ve not watched Sex Education yet, no doubt you’ll have heard about it. The teen-focused sitcom starring Gillian Anderson landed on Netflix in January and quickly captured the hearts and minds of its audience. We follow Otis (Asa Butterfield) as he attempts to navigate the usual pressures of sixth form – mates, dates, bullies and deadlines – with the added pressure, knowledge and delightful adolescent awkwardness that follows from having a sex therapist for a mother (that’s where Anderson comes in).

Besides being really funny and introducing us to an exciting lineup of rising stars, the series has been praised for tackling love, sex and romance in all their complicated glory. In tandem with the release, Netflix partnered with women artists whose work speaks to the themes explored in the show and asked them to create a new piece that specifically tackles the awkwardness surrounding sex. Multimedia artist Stephanie Sarley focused on genitalia; ceramicists, illustrators and identical twins Liv and Dominique Cave-Sutherland explored Sex Education‘s prevalent topic of virginity; and illustrator Alison Rachel (the talent behind the Recipes For Self Love Instagram account) focused on body acceptance. The pieces produced are great, obviously, and celebrate a lot of the intimate things we’ve all felt uncomfortable addressing before.

Stephanie Sarley (@stephanie_sarley)

“Grapefruit”

Sarley’s earlier piece is all about exploring your sexuality. Here we see how her fun and at times absurd work, which challenges how sexuality is defined and understood, fits so closely with the conversations Sex Education is encouraging. “Sex Education has a humorous way of talking about sex, which is something I do in my art,” Sarley says.

“Fruit Salad”
Inspired by Sex Education

Mirroring many of the key themes explored in the series, Sarley’s new piece “Fruit Salad” celebrates the fact that all our bodies are different. Both the show and Stephanie’s work aim to move us into a more sex and body positive society. Speaking about the work she created for the occasion, Sarley says: “Sex Education demonstrates the complexities of sexuality in all its awkwardness, but in the funniest way possible.”

Liv and Dom (@livanddom)

“Girls Masturbate Too”

This work by sisters Liv and Dom encourages us to embrace sexual expression. They explain that this piece “is depicting how fun and freeing it can be to explore your sexuality alone for the first time, to gain confidence and understanding in your own body as a young person.”

“The First Time”
Inspired by Sex Education

This newly commissioned piece is pretty self-explanatory. They use clay models to suggest the awkwardness and insecurity surrounding virginity – which we all know is reinforced by societal and peer pressure. “It’s something that so many people relate to when recalling their first time or thinking ahead to how it could be,” Liv and Dom explain. “We’re looking at the insecurity and timidity that come with losing your virginity.”

“It was interesting to take a step back from our usual work where figures are more comfortable with their nudity – and to recall what it was like to be a teenager. We’re excited to see how much the series pushes the envelope.”

Alison Rachel (@recipesforselflove)

“Be Sex Positive”

Quite plainly, we should all be more sex positive and Rachel’s illustration encourages us to do just that. Her outlook on sex has much in common with Sex Education’s honest and humorous love letter to human connection, closeness and vulnerability. “I believe that so many of the world’s problems can be addressed through sex positivity and sex education,” Rachel explains.

She adds: “The world is in desperate need of sex positivity that encourages people to embrace their own and others’ sexual expression while being conscious of consent and safety, that shows us how sex can be a tool used to explore intimacy.”

“Masculinity Is Multidimensional”
Inspired by Sex Education

This new illustration explores masculinity in the modern world. Fans will immediately recognise the theme in a number of Sex Education‘s storylines, and Rachel hopes to break down patriarchal views of masculinity and create a safe environment for exploration. “There are so many unconscious lies about sex and sexuality that we are led to believe over the course of our lives and it’s great that this is shedding some light on these very important topics.”

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‘I couldn’t deal with it, it tore me apart’:

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Surviving child sexual abuse

As a boy, Tom Yarwood was assaulted by his musical mentor. Decades on, telling the story has not become any easier

In telling of the sexual assaults I endured as a child, I have always had the sensation of speaking into the void. I usually offer only the bare bones of the story, because I want my listener to fill in the emotional content, to tell me what I felt, what they might have felt in my position. I want them to explain to me how I could have suffered, when I felt pleasure, and how I was not to blame, though I didn’t resist. But their response is always underwhelming: they seem to understand so little about this kind of thing, less even than me. And it’s all so exquisitely embarrassing that I soon move on, apologise for myself, repeat the usual reassurances. It was nothing, really, it didn’t matter, I coped.

Each telling is a new humiliation, a new disappointment. And yet, like an idiot, I always go on to attempt another. Six months or a year later, usually when I’m drunk, at four in the morning, suddenly I can imagine it again – the moment someone will explain me to myself at last. Because on the one hand, I really do tend to think it was nothing, what happened. But on the other, it never leaves my head, the image of it, the stink of it, and he never leaves me, he is always there, the loathsome, pathetic man. And there’s this enduring longing to relieve myself of the weight of my silence, my slow-burning despair.

Still, something in this picture has shifted lately, since my father’s death three years ago, and my 40th birthday not long after. In childhood and youth, I knew, with the heroism of the young, that I would vanquish the effects of the abuse, by 20, then by 30, or by 35. The idea it might stay with me, in me, was as inconceivable as my own death. But now I’m closer by far to 60, the age at which my father had his first heart attack, than to 12, my age when the other man first laid hands on me. It has dawned on me that the assaults are with me for good. And so in talking about them again, I’m less inclined to defer to others. This time I will stand, for once, at the centre of myself.

As a small child, I was obsessed with classical music. My parents bought a piano from a junk shop in Ludlow, read us stories about the great composers. We didn’t have a television at home on our Shropshire housing estate, and so I spent a lot of time sitting in a little green velvet chair by the record player with my eyes closed, elaborating wild fantasies about my musical heroes as I listened to their symphonies. I started piano lessons at the age of four, but rarely practised, preferring to delight the neighbours (I felt sure) with endless improvisations, generally fortissimo and con fuoco.

In the summer of 1987, when I was 11, my mother took me and my siblings on holiday to Europe. My father was working abroad at the time, as he often did. In Bruges, we came across a grand exhibition of musical instruments, where I was thrilled to have the chance to try out a harpsichord. While I played, a man approached my mother and told her I was gifted. He said he was a conductor – a specialist in baroque music – and would love to foster my talent. Phone numbers were exchanged, and a couple of cassette tapes offered to my brother and sister and me – his own commercially produced recordings of Handel and Purcell. He was evidently a prominent figure in his field.

That autumn, my father took me to London to visit this dazzling new mentor. We spent the afternoon at the conductor’s house, playing the harpsichord and talking about music. I was self-conscious, and desperate to impress. He was charm itself, but I found something faintly peculiar about him. He had a manic, childlike energy, a tendency to clowning in which I detected no genuine mirth, and beneath it I sensed he was very tense. Still, we got on well enough, and my father trusted him sufficiently that I went back to see him for another day of music-making a few weeks later.

Before long, I was spending whole weekends on my own with the conductor, sleeping in his spare bedroom in London and attending rehearsals and recording sessions with him and his orchestra. There was little formal teaching, but I got to listen to some good live music, and doubtless soaked up some other valuable lessons – not least how to make tea, and set up a music stand – and occasionally we looked at scores or listened to recordings together. He would sometimes drive me all the way back to my parents’ house in Shropshire himself, and stay for supper.

My anxiety around him never abated. It wasn’t only the unnerving air of inauthenticity about his manner. He also seemed very driven, and he could be vituperative towards timewasters. Then there was the social gulf between us. My parents were bohemian members of the new middle class, but the conductor was an upper-middle-class product of the public school system. All was well in his world when people cleaved, outwardly, to the “sensible” values expressed by the authority figures of his childhood – headmasters, barristers, clergy. Those who made a fuss of their differences were “mad”. More unsettling still was his disdain for children of a certain kind – the vast majority, I suspected – the rude ones, the dirty ones, the ones who were not good.

He introduced me to alcohol, mixing gin and tonics for me, and cocktails sweet and heavy with cassis or curacao. I was drunk when he assaulted me for the first time. It was early on a Sunday afternoon, and he was in the kitchen, making a bland English bachelor’s lunch of pork chops, potatoes and frozen peas. He seemed to find something about the peas amusing. With wildly contrived laughter, he tossed them about the kitchen, pretending he was dropping them. I was embarrassed for him. He tipped several peas down my T-shirt, and chased me into the living room and around the sofa with the rest. I’m not six years old, I wanted to say. I grew out of this sort of thing quite a while ago.

He dropped a frozen pea down my trousers and wrestled me on to the sofa, undoing my trouser button. I ceased to struggle when he grabbed my penis. “Ah, the pea!” he said, as he tugged at it. After a while, he pulled down my pants, and complimented me on my first pubic hair, which I had noticed only days before. Nothing more was said as he went about his business. I did not move a finger. Afterwards, he cleaned me up, pulled up my trousers and did up my fly, telling me meanwhile that this was what boys did, and wasn’t something to worry about. We returned to the kitchen and the pork chops.

Not a single day has passed in the three decades since this incident without some effort on my part to cut through the tangle of dark thoughts and feelings it induced, and to understand the insidious effects it has had on my life. The physical sensations were pleasurable. But I did not want any kind of sexual contact with the conductor. I found him repugnant, and had he asked me whether I wanted him to continue at any point, I would have said no, and meant it. I had experimented sexually with friends in childhood; I had turned down sexual overtures from other friends. In this respect, I knew my own mind. And this is why it always seemed so strange to me that I said nothing, and didn’t resist.

I still remember the all-consuming shame I felt on being manhandled by a bigger creature, at relinquishing control of my body to another person, against my will. And I remember too how destroyed I felt at the exposure of my sexuality to an adult. The secret, underdeveloped heart of my psychosomatic being – still fraught with danger, still hedged around in thorns – had been torn out and thrown quivering before me, in full public view.

But it is only in recent years that I have gained the distance from these horrors – the sense of security in myself – to acknowledge their intensity. As a child, it was impossible for me to face my victimhood, impossible to own and name what had come to light.

I withdrew into a kind of mental panic room. This is nothing, I told myself. This doesn’t matter. This is him. This is not me. I will remain aloof. I will rise above. I marshalled all my contempt for the conductor and all my knowledge of sex. He thinks I find him attractive, but in fact I find him repulsive. I saw him, the adult in control of me, as a child – a “silly” child, as my mother would say, still fixated on other children’s penises like this. It was an extension of his general puerility, his weird clowning, his fake laughter. How pathetic, how contemptible, how sad. I had reversed our roles in my imagination – a fatal self-deception.

The panic room became a prison, a lunatic’s cell. This, I hazard, is the snare in which many victims of childhood sexual abuse find themselves – they are traumatised, but unable to face the fact. For almost three decades, I could not look back (or look down) at what the conductor did to me, but had to keep moving on, moving up, clinging to a reassuring sensation of balance like one of those weighted toys that always rights itself, no matter how hard you hit it.

Now that I can gaze more steadily at the ancient scene, I am struck by how very strange it appears. How strange it sounds, to have sex, to feel your body consumed by that fire, and actively to deny to yourself that you are involved in it at all. And how strange it looks – the child’s mute stillness, and the adult’s complete camouflage of his own desire, his voice never wavering from an even, nannying tone, as if he were teaching chess or changing a nappy.

The memories of the abuse still return many times a day, stirred up by chance impressions – scents like the soap the conductor used, or of his sweat, music that reminds me of his – even, of course, my own sexual thoughts and erotic sensations. And with these impressions come the associated emotions – the shame, the fear, the grief. But I always recoil instinctively from naming them, from facing the half-known horror that paralysed me during the assault. Lots of boys go through this, I might tell myself. He didn’t mean any harm. I’ll survive. Anything but the truth, the big taboo, the real words of power: I didn’t want it, I couldn’t deal with it, it tore me apart.

The loneliness was terrible. The abuse came between me and my parents, my siblings, my peers, sapped art of meaning, experience of joy. I felt a constant, immense pressure to speak, but something always seemed to intervene at the last minute, catching my words in my throat, forcing them back down, sickeningly, into my belly. I was, I can see now, the dream victim for a predatory paedophile. My father was often absent, and my mother’s attention was taken up by my adopted younger sister, who had severe behavioural problems. Since toddlerhood, my older brother and I always felt that we were holding the fort: the idea of turning myself into a problem child was anathema.

After the first attack, I buried my head in the sand, imagining that perhaps it had been a one-off, like a trip to Alton Towers. But on the next visit, I woke up late at night to find the conductor sitting on the edge of the bed with one hand under my duvet, stroking my thigh. He assaulted me again, and another sleepless night ensued.

I started working on my mother, trying to communicate my distrust of him. For a while, after several more assaults, it worked: she stopped phoning him, and each time he called, she found an excuse for me not to see him. Then, to my horror, he appeared on our doorstep in Shropshire – like a sexual Terminator, quite unfazed by what I thought of as the vast gulf between my family and the city. Although it makes me feel unhinged to think of it now, I had an overwhelming fear of what might come out if he were crossed, and so I insisted repeatedly to my parents that everything was fine.

When he had me strapped into the passenger seat of his Volvo, he drove a little way, pulled into a layby, took off the Schwarzenegger shades he wore when motoring, looked at me with wide eyes (his face, as usual, too close to mine), and told me that he knew he had upset me by what he had done, and that he promised, absolutely promised, that should I please him by resuming my visits, he would never, ever touch me again.

After that – and after he had been redeemed entirely in our family conversation – the assaults started again, becoming steadily stranger. He would pick me up and carry me up the stairs like an infant, apparently expecting me to find this humiliating horseplay as amusing as he pretended it to be. He would insist on bathing me. And as the assaults escalated, he took to putting a pillow over my head so I didn’t have to involve myself in what was going on – but I found this the greatest mortification thus far. It suggested he imagined I had thoughts and feelings about what he was doing, whereas I needed him to understand that I was not there.

It didn’t matter to me what he did, so long as he would let me be alone, inviolate, in my head. As an adult, I notice people often want to know the mechanics of the abuse you went through, and especially whether it was painful. Did he beat you, cut you, tie you up? If not, you sense, perhaps you’re making a bit of a fuss over nothing. The law also seems to operate like this, with its intricate scale of sexual transgressions, escalating in perceived severity, above and beyond the mere fact of exploiting a child for your own erotic gratification.

Pain and physical injury are traumas in their own right, but I suspect that the insult specific to sexual abuse in childhood is simply to have another person take ownership of your body against your will – to destroy your sense of sexual self-possession – after which everything can feel, indifferently, like rape.

Perhaps that is hard to imagine if you haven’t been through it yourself – if you haven’t felt forced, for the sake of your psychic survival, to dissociate yourself entirely from your erotic response, and then struggled to put these two aspects of your being – you and your capacity to feel – back together, to get them to work again as one.

I went to Eton on a music scholarship at 14, entering the school in the second year. The conductor had suggested it to my parents, after I was offered similar bursaries by Shrewsbury and Westminster. I came top of the music exams during my first term there, competing against boys who had spent years at choir schools and had enjoyed Eton’s excellent music tuition for a year longer than me. And that term I also told a wonderful new friend about the abuse, bursting into tears as I reassured him it was nothing. He told a senior music teacher. The teacher did nothing.

The conductor assaulted me more than 20 times over the course of three interminable years. The last attack came after a gap of several months, when I was 15 – old enough to acknowledge what he was doing. I objected repeatedly, and he overruled me, repeatedly, returning to my bedroom three times through the course of a single night, and finally getting what he wanted when both of us were haggard with sleeplessness, well after dawn.

At 16, I finally plucked up the courage to tell another adult at Eton the story in person. I gave them no room for doubt that I had hated my encounters with the conductor, but they explained to me that such incidents often cropped up in boys’ lives, and generally originated in the younger man’s admiration for the older. If there was no force used, they said, there was no reason to suspect harm.

Though I had long feared it, the revelation that the grown-up world as a whole couldn’t understand what I had been through came as a shock. My anger, my shame, and the ceaseless war between them – all this was my fault, it seemed, a fault in me. I was, in short, crazy. My immediate response was to give up music. It was a cry for help, a deliberate act of self-harm – killing off the great love of my life – but no one took much notice.

(It amazes me that I had kept going with music for so long; it is so tightly bound up with sex in our brains and bodies. My skin used to crawl every time the conductor called a favourite piece “erotic”, but somehow I had succeeded in imagining that there was music like his and music not like his, sex like his and sex not like his. Those lines became hopelessly blurred after I told my story to an adult at Eton. Touchingly naive adults such as my parents aside, the world was teeming with paedophiles and their sympathisers, and I was damned if I was going to open my body and soul to share the food of love with them again.)

I spent puberty and adolescence trying to construct in fantasy a relationship with my sexuality that was pristine, personal, free of the stain of rape. But when at last I went to Oxford and plucked up the courage to pick up another man for the first time, a friendly PhD student in his mid-30s, I was shocked to find that this mental construct had not taken root in my body. Something within me just wouldn’t move, wouldn’t melt, wouldn’t let go. Anger followed, shame, despair – all muted by stoicism. This is just me, I said to myself, this is my fate, I’ll get by. As a young adult, I developed an anxiety disorder to set beside the depression and insomnia that had plagued me since the first assault, and became prone to panic attacks.

The voices of denial – denial not that children have sex with adults, but of the fear and shame that shackle them, and of the violence of the act – always leave me feeling faintly deranged.

First came the voice in my head during the assaults. Then came his voice, explaining that the abuse was just a fact of life, an inevitable expression of my nature as a boy. And later, there were the voices of those from whom I sought help during my 20s – the mentors and teachers and parents and police and therapists and boyfriends – in whose responses I always found some admixture of bewilderment, embarrassment, incomprehension or indifference.

But only recently did I notice how closely these voices echo one another. It strikes me that our resistance to confronting the horror of child sexual abuse has common roots in human nature. The silence of victims and the general silence must also have reinforced one another over the millennia. I imagine those to whom I looked for help were simply as fearful as me – as fearful and more ignorant. I should have been bolder all along.

In 2007, when I was 31 years old, I heard from a friend that the conductor had been arrested and charged with sexually abusing four other boys in the 1980s. I am sceptical about the value of retributive justice, but I decided to join the prosecution. I needed to tell the world the truth.

The conductor was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison. I had no desire to see him punished, but I took this jail term as an indication of how seriously our society regarded his crimes. It seemed rather light. In his ruling, the judge apparently drew attention to the fact that the conductor had recently married and had a child, arguing that in doing so he had entered a new phase of life.

Searching the internet for commentary on the case not long afterwards, I found the loudest voices were those raised in my attacker’s defence. In classical music discussion forums, his admirers persuaded others that his “alleged” victims could well be liars, and had most likely suffered no harm anyway. And in the Observer, the poet James Fenton used his opportunity to comment publicly on the conductor’s conviction – the most prominent proven case of child sexual abuse in the history of classical music – not to consider the hurt he might have caused to the talented young musicians he assaulted, to their hopes of fulfilling themselves through music, nor to ask how the music industry as a whole had so long allowed the conductor to get away with it – but to argue passionately that his mistakes in life should not be allowed to damage his career. Fenton was relieved that the judge had allowed the conductor to keep associating with children: “To be debarred for life from working with the male treble voice would have been a harsh fate.”

In all this, I saw further evidence of our culture of denial. And I see it too in the way the music industry has welcomed the conductor back since his release from jail. Singers and instrumentalists with MBEs and honorary positions at the Royal Academy of Music go on appearing with him in the world’s most famous concert venues – the Wigmore Hall in London, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the KKL in Lucerne, and so on – and fans go on funding his performances and recordings.

They have restored to him the power and status with which they had entrusted him before, in putting their talent, labour, property and good names at his disposal. And they have done so despite the fact he abused all this – abused them – to gain the confidence of families and attack their children, and even though he called his victims “liars” and “loonies” during the trial, and has not expressed remorse.

There’s nothing more we can ask of the conductor himself. He apologised to me when I was 13, and went on to assault me again: another apology would be meaningless. And he has served his time. I don’t want revenge. I don’t want to dwell on the past. And there are doubtless many other moderating thoughts to which I should also give voice – about the value of mercy, for instance, and about how blessed my life has been in other respects.

But it has fallen to me to say something simpler here. I did not ask to be one of the ones who had these words to speak. They were a burden given to me a long time ago. I might have felt less crazed by others’ silence, or by their denial, had I spoken them earlier – shouted them from the stage of a London concert hall 30 years ago, perhaps, into the darkness of the stalls.

They are the words for which I have reached so often, the words I needed to hear when I was a child. Make of them what you will.

Complete Article HERE!

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Let’s Talk About (Depressed) Sex

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What to do when you have trouble maintaining a healthy romantic life while dealing with depression

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For people who have depression, even the most basic activities can seem daunting—and that includes sex. But because both depression and sexual problems are things that are difficult to talk about, even with intimate partners, the issues surrounding having sex while dealing with depression often wind up being ignored. As mental health advocate and writer JoEllen Notte puts it: “It’s the intersection of two taboo topics.” And it can lead to even more problems relating to a person’s mental and physical well-being.

Notte breaks the negative sex experience that comes with depression into two categories: loss of interest and side effects of medication. Notte says about the former: “I tend to reinterpret [it] as ‘everything seems incredibly hard and not worth doing’… Not wanting to be touched, and not wanting to deal with people.” While that applies to people who have depression and both are and aren’t on medication, the side effects specific to medication are a significant problem, too, and include, Notte says, “erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, genital numbness, delayed orgasm, and what’s usually referred to as ‘lost libido.'”

This loss of libido is symptomatic of a larger problem of depression: anhedonia, which Dr. Sheila Addison, a licensed marital and family therapist, tells me is “a loss of pleasure in ordinary things.” One of the things people with depression do to combat anhedonia is try to self-medicate and force pleasure, including through sex. Addison explains, “People with depression sometimes wind up chasing ‘peak’ experiences, little bursts of endorphins that seem to cut through the depression for a moment, but it’s a short-term fix for a long-term problem. And if it turns into having sex that they don’t really want, hoping to feel better, it can contribute to feelings of emptiness and self-loathing.”

The best thing to do when dealing with depression is to seek out a doctor, but even if you are comfortable seeking out help for depression, it can be difficult to broach the topic of sexual health, without feeling anxious. As Notte points out, “So many people have had bad experiences with doctors not wanting to deal with [sex] or prioritizing it as a topic.” My own doctor’s flippancy toward the subject was enough to shut me down for months, and it seems like this is all too common, leading to further stigmatization of this sensitive topic. Notte says, “All of the data that says these [sexual] side effects don’t happen is skewed, because people aren’t reporting them.”

Nevertheless, each person I talked to stressed that even though it’s difficult, if you are having issues with sex and experience depression, talk to a doctor first. Addison says that online forums can be the source of “a lot of unsolicited advice, pseudoscientific ‘cures,’ and supposed remedies that will lighten your wallet more than your mood.” And if you find the first doctor to be unsympathetic to your problems, then look for another one.

But how to find the right doctor? Notte recommends looking for keywords like “sex-positive” and “trauma-informed,” as it often means they’ll be more willing to discuss sexual issues or at least be able to point you in the right direction to someone who could. Addison herself is a member of LGBTQ Psychotherapy organization GAYLESTA and listed amongst kink-friendly professionals. These keywords tend to suggest the doctor has a more nuanced, whole-body approach to understanding and treating mental illness, but, of course, it may take a bit of searching to find someone whose methods you are comfortable with.

Once you find a doctor with whom you’re comfortable talking, you can also utilize them when you want to talk with your partner about any problems you might be having with regards to sex. “People often don’t know that you can bring anyone with you to your doctor visit if you want,” Addison points out. “Sometimes it’s easier to have the doctor talk directly to your partner because it’s not so personal.” Addison advises that the partner who isn’t experiencing depression seek care as well, saying, “Get support for yourself, from a therapist or from a group for partners of people with mental illness. Take good care of yourself, physically and emotionally

The main theme here, as with any taboo topics, is that talking about them is key, and the only way to remove the stigma. It’s particularly apt in this situation, though, as conversation, and communication in general, are also at the core of maintaining healthy romantic and sexual relationships no matter what your mental state.

But even though we know we should communicate openly, it can be difficult to get started. That’s why Allison Moon, sex educator and author of Girl Sex 101, recommends beginning conversations with “I statements” when breaching the topic of sexual issues. “It’s easy for people to catastrophize when partners bring up sexual issues, and they may be tempted to take responsibility for the issues of their partners,” Moon says. “It’s a good idea to use extra care when explaining one’s own experience, and be clear that the partner isn’t at fault or causing anything.” When considering the problem as a whole, Notte advises a team mentality for couples. She says, “What happens a lot is it gets treated as an issue of the healthy partner versus the other partner and their depression, and if we can be couples who are working on one team while the depression is on the other team, it’s a much healthier dynamic.”

Moon also recommends “speaking in concretes” when describing the ways depression affects your life and sexual experience to your partner. “Because mental health is so individuated, saying something like, ‘I have depression’ doesn’t always convey what one intends. Instead, I suggest discussing how something like depression manifests in a way the partner can understand. For instance, rather than saying ‘Depression makes me insecure,’ you could say, ‘Sometimes I need extra verbal validation from you. Can you tell me you find me sexy and wonderful? Can you remind me that I’m a good person?'”

Describing symptoms associated with depression can be difficult, though, and Notte often advises individuals to use what she refers to as “accessible” resources (“things that are not scary, that are not medical journals”) to work on coming to a mutual understanding of what you are going through. “Find things that are the language you and your partner speak,” she says; she sends her own partner comic strips and had them play Depression Quest, a role-playing game in which you navigate tasks as a person with depression.

We treat mental health very different than physical health,” Notte points out, adding, “If I were dating somebody and I had diabetes and wanted them to know I’d have to inject myself with insulin at some point, I wouldn’t have to be embarrassed to tell them that.” As with any disease, depression shouldn’t be treated as a liability in dating, and people who would treat it as such are not worth your time. Addison tells me, “Anybody who’s going to make you feel bad or weird about how your body works, does not deserve access to it. Disability rights folks have taught me, don’t apologize for how your body works or feel like you need to make someone else feel okay with you. If they can’t handle you, they can’t get with you.”

But that doesn’t mean it will always be easy—for either of you. So being present with your feelings and communicating them to your partner is vital. Moon says, “When you notice something coming up for you, whether it’s an emotion, a sensation, or a memory, practice giving it attention and letting it give you information.” Perhaps there is a “need attached to the emotion that you can turn into a request,” like needing more lube, or a moment to process your feelings before hooking up, etc. “If you notice that you’re going to cry, for instance, you can mention that so it doesn’t scare your partner,” Moon suggests. “Saying something like, ‘I’m having a great time, but I’m noticing some sadness come up. So if I start to cry, that’s okay, you’re not doing anything wrong. I’ll let you know if I want to stop, but I don’t want to right now.'”

Likewise, Addison recommends acknowledging the experience in the moment in a way that reassures your sexual partner that you don’t blame them for what’s happening. You can do this, she suggests, by saying something like: “This is just a thing my body does sometimes, and I”m not worried about it, so you shouldn’t worry about it either. Thanks for understanding. And I’m really enjoying [kissing you] so let’s do more of that.”

While the physical manifestations of depression in sexual relationships cannot be solved by medication, Notte recommends “workarounds” to address your specific sexual issue. Notte recommends using lubricants and not shying away from toys if experiencing anorgasmia, genital numbness, or erectile dysfunction. Exploring these types of options are especially great for people whose depression-related sexual problems manifest as specifically physical.

While all of this information is important for people with depression, it’s also essential for the partners who don’t have depression to understand how to respond in these situations. Addison tells me the best way is the simplest—nothing more than a “thanks for letting me know.” She explains, “Viewing someone as broken, or suffering, or in need of special treatment, is actually a poor way to approach sexual intimacy. If someone trusts you enough to let you know what’s going on with them, appreciate the gift that has been given to you, and treat it accordingly, with respect. [If your partner says,] ‘I don’t come through intercourse, and I might or might not finish myself off afterward,’ it is not an invitation for you to try to complete the Labors of Hercules to prove what an awesome lover you are. It’s information for you to let you know how this person’s body works, so be grateful that they trusted you enough to share something private with you, and act accordingly.”

And, she points out, “There’s nothing wrong with enjoying your climax when you’re with someone who’s said, ‘I probably won’t get off, but it’s still fun for me.'” Above all, Addison states, “Treat them like the expert on their own body, and you’ll be on the right track.”

Of course, finding people who will do that, especially at the beginning of a relationship or when dating around, can be difficult, but Addison advises to “decide what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to do or not do in order to get it… then screen your dates accordingly.” Finding someone who is comfortable with and respectful of your depression and sexual issues is a trait that can be filtered right in with your usual set of dating criteria. Addison says, “If you say, ‘Hey, I have medication that means I probably won’t come, and I’m looking for a partner who won’t be hung up about it—are you cool with that?’ and they try to inform you about how they’re going to be the one who makes you scream down the rafters, that’s a good reason to swipe left.” After all, she explains, “You can’t fuck somebody out of depression with your Magic Penis or Magic Vagina.”

If you or a loved one are seeking out further information about experiencing the sexual side effects of depression, seek out a psychologist or psychotherapist near you, and remember, as Addison says, “The only people who deserve to get close to you are people who can understand your needs and treat you with appropriate respect and care.”

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