Category Archives: Sex And Relationships

What it feels like to have more than one partner

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One woman opens up about the benefits of polyamory

Tired of conventional romances, sex coach Beth Wallace embraced polyamory – being in more than one relationship at a time – and has reaped the emotional rewards

Beth Wallace

By Beth Wallace

I‘ve been in relationships with women and men over my adult life and I guess from my teens onwards, I didn’t have that traditional heterosexual ‘normal’ perspective on relationships.

The idea that you meet someone, marry them, have kids and stay together until the day you die, that works for some people, but I think it’s a relationship choice that’s largely born out of societal norms and expectations. If you throw out that rule book of what a relationship ‘should’ look like, then what goes in its place?

“Polyamory means quite simply having a loving relationship with more than one person at a time, or being open to having a love relationship with more than one person at a time. Imagine a monogamous relationship and then imagine that with several people.

“In previous long-term relationships I’d talked with partners about the idea of having sex or relationships outside the primary relationship but it had never gone beyond the conversation. Then in my 40s I met a man who was already in an open relationship and if I wanted to be in a relationship with him then I had to be okay with how his life was already set up. That took a while to get my head around. We would be out for dinner with 12 or so people including his wife and he and I would leave together to be with each other for the night and she was fine with it. It made me question all the societal norms around relationships and this idea of how we’re supposed to behave. It redefined for me what love is.

“In my experience, polyamory is something like being gay, lesbian or bi, it’s an orientation, it’s who I am, not something that I do. It’s not something I can just switch off. If you’re a polyamorous person who finds it easy to love and be intimate with, and find a connection with, lots of people, you can’t switch that off just because someone isn’t okay with it, because then you’re going to feel like you’re not being true to yourself.

“People make a lot of assumptions. One of the most common reactions I get from women is that they think the men I’m involved with ‘just want to have their cake and eat it’. I find that very insulting because they’re assuming the male in whatever group of people it is the one calling all the shots, which isn’t my experience. Some people also assume I must be very sexually aggressive – I’m aware of some married friends who started holding their husbands a lot closer when I came out of my last relationship! But if someone is in a monogamous relationship then I would never cross that boundary. Polyamorous people are obsessed with talking about boundaries – which is hilarious because monogamous people tend to think we have none!

“In fact there’s so much discussion around boundaries, and time planning that goes on, there’s often more talking than sex. People assume being polyamorous is all about getting as much sex as you can, but it’s not like swinging or open relationships which tend to be more about sex, being polyamorous is about having a full -on relationship.

“It can be a logistical nightmare. Three relationships at once is my max. Recently I was seeing three men, two in Ireland and one outside the country. Each relationship offered me something different. With one of them, we had lots of fun. He was quite a bit younger than me and it was a very fun-based relationship where we laughed a lot and did fun, stupid things. The second guy was quite a bit older and we would have very deep meaningful conversations about life and spirituality, he brought out the philosophical aspect of my personality. The other guy was an artist who brought out the creative side of who I am.

“It can be the most emotionally challenging and difficult relationship to be in, because it really forces you to be vulnerable and deal with insecurities and excruciating jealousies. But, done right, polyamory can teach you to be an excellent communicator, very self-aware and good at listening. It also offers a very deep love for people that transcends what a relationship ‘should’ look like.

“It’s something I would say to somebody early on, because for a lot of people that would be a deal breaker. I’d tend to say ‘this is who I am, if I’m interested in someone else and I feel there’s a connection and something I want to explore, I’ll talk with you about it, but I don’t need your permission to go ahead and do anything’. That doesn’t necessarily go down very well. Most people would think that the majority of men would be super on-board with it but actually my experience is that they’re not. They might be okay with the idea of you having occasional sex outside the relationship but they’re not comfortable with an ongoing relationship. I think societal ideas of relationships are tied up with ownership, this idea that ‘you’re my woman and I don’t want ‘my’ woman having sex or being in a relationship with someone else because that makes me feel less of a man’.

“I’m not saying I would never be in a monogamous relationship, but if someone was to demand it of me, I’d be out the door. A couple of years ago I was with a guy and it got to a point where he said ‘well, you know eventually this has to stop’ and my response was ‘basically you’re saying I have to change who I am and you don’t actually love me for who I really am’ and the relationship ended.

“I’m single at the moment and happy with that. It’s hard to meet like-minded people and I find that quite a lot of openly non-monogamous people in Ireland already know each other.

“People might think that being polyamorous means you have to be in relationships, that you can’t be on your own. But I’ve found that polyamory has made me tackle my own insecurities and realise love isn’t about possession or control.

“I’ve learned not to cling on to people. Just because a relationship ends, doesn’t mean it didn’t work out. I think having the idea that there is ‘The One’ can be quite dangerous. It piles a lot of expectation on to one person and one relationship and no one person can give us everything.

“I think Ireland is becoming more open to non-traditional relationships. My family has mixed feelings about me being polyamorous varying from ‘sure whatever, if it works for you, great!’ through to ‘don’t talk to me about it’. Most of my friends are absolutely fine with my choices, although I reckon a few think ‘Oh Beth just hasn’t met the right man yet, she’ll settle down when she does’ – good luck with that!”

Beth runs a relationship course on polyamory see bethwallace.org.

Complete Article HERE!

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Affection And Romance Most Popular Forms Of Sexual Behavior, Says New US Study

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Have you ever thought about what your partner might enjoy most behind closed doors? Well, a study from researchers at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington and the Center for Sexual Health Promotion have shared that it is, in fact, different forms of romantic and affectionate behavior.

Finding new ways to create a romantic spark is something a lot of couples struggle with. However, hugging or simply kissing to set the mood has proven to be the answer for many.

“Contrary to some stereotypes, the most appealing behaviors, even for men, are romantic and affectionate behaviors,” lead author and professor Debby Herbenick said in a statement. “These included kissing more often during sex, cuddling, saying sweet/romantic things during sex, making the room feel romantic in preparation for sex, and so on.”

There are a number of studies that have touched on sexual behavior in the past, but they have either had an age cap or limited forms of sexual behavior explored. The recent study, published in PLOS One, goes into detail about a survey called Sexual Exploration in America Study, in which 2,021 people (975 men and 1,046 women) were recruited to complete it anonymously. The survey included questions on whether participants have engaged in over 30 sexual behaviors and the level of appeal of nearly 50 sexual acts.

Around 80 percent admitted to lifetime masturbation, vaginal sex, and oral sex. Lifetime anal sex was also reported by 43 percent of men (insertive) and 37 percent of women (receptive).

“These data highlight opportunities for couples to talk more openly with one another about their sexual desires and interests,” said Herbenick. “Together they may find new ways of being romantic or sexual with one another, enhancing both their sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness.”

The information gathered showed that many of the volunteers who took part in the survey had engaged in a wide variety of sexual behaviors. The study also shared the type of relationships they were in within the last year, which included being in a monogamous/open relationship or they hadn’t discussed the setup of intimacy.

Other sexual behaviors were wearing lingerie and underwear (75 percent women, 26 percent men) and sending/receiving nude images (54 percent women, 65 percent men). The team mention that while many of the survey participants described a lot of sexual behaviors as appealing, much fewer of them had engaged in the acts in the past month or year.

“These data highlight opportunities for couples to talk more openly with one another about their sexual desires and interests,” said Herbenick. “Together they may find new ways of being romantic or sexual with one another, enhancing both their sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness.”

Although this is just one sexual behavior study, the research within it has several implications for understanding adult sexual behaviors. Many sex educators as well as citizens will have an even better understanding of sexual behaviors amongst adults in the US.

Complete Article HERE!

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What to Do When You Want More—or Less—Sex Than Your Partner

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By Justin Lehmiller

Anyone who’s ever been in a long-term relationship knows that, when it comes to sex, we aren’t always on the same wavelength as our partners. Sometimes we’re in the mood, but our partner isn’t. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, it’s usually not a big deal—unless it starts happening over and over again. If your desire for sex gets completely out of sync with your partner and this lasts for months—maybe even years—you have developed what’s known as a sexual desire discrepancy.

Desire discrepancies are common. For example, a nationally representative British sex survey found that approximately one in four adults reported being in a relationship in which they didn’t see eye to eye with their partner regarding the amount of sex they’d like to be having.

There’s a popular stereotype that desire discrepancies are a gendered issue, such that men are always the ones who want more sex while women want less. However, this isn’t the case at all. In heterosexual relationships, it can be either the male or female partner who would prefer having more sex. Desire discrepancies can affect same-sex couples, too.

Discrepant sexual desires can happen in any relationship, but they usually don’t emerge until after a couple has been together for quite some time. Perhaps not surprisingly, when they occur, these discrepancies tend to be highly distressing and often cause serious damage to the relationship. Indeed, studies have found that they’re linked to more conflict, less satisfaction and greater odds of breaking up.

In light of how common desire discrepancies are and the harm they can potentially inflict, we’d all do well to better understand them so that we can be prepared to respond in productive and healthy ways should we ever wind up in that situation.

So where do desire discrepancies come from? It’s complicated . Numerous factors—biological and psychosocial—can affect sexual desire in one partner, but not necessarily the other. Everything from our medication use to our sleep habits to the amount of stress we’re under to the way we feel about our relationship has the potential to impact sexual desire. Given the broad range of factors that influence desire, identifying the underlying cause(s) is important when choosing the best course of treatment.

This means that, unfortunately, there are no quick and simple fixes, like pills that magically adjust the partners’ libidos to match one another. Drug companies have been hard at work trying to create pills like this, but they’ve found that sexual desire just isn’t easily changed this way. The good news is that there are a number of steps you and your partner can take that have the potential to help.

For insight into handling desire discrepancies, I spoke wih Dr. Lori Brotto, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who researches sexual desire. As a starting point, Brotto suggests that we step back and look at desire discrepancies as a couple’s issue—not a problem specific to the low-desire or high-desire partner. Blaming each another for wanting “too much” or “not enough” sex is counterproductive. This is a relationship issue that you both need to work on together rather than something one of you addresses alone.

Next, identify whether there are any health issues or stressors that might be impeding sexual desire, like chronic fatigue or adjusting to parenthood. According to Brotto, “Usually, addressing those other issues is necessary before addressing sexual difficulties.” In other words, there might be value in consulting a doctor and/or re-evaluating your work-life balance before anything else.

From here, it’s all about touch and communication. Part of the issue is that our partners don’t always know what we like sexually—and if your partner is doing things that you’re not really into, that can put a damper on desire. So you might need to step back and spend some time teaching each other what feels good and what doesn’t. Indeed, Brotto says that “couple touching exercises such as ‘sensate focus,’ which are designed to inform a partner where and how one likes to be touched, can be very effective.”

Touch isn’t just a valuable teaching technique but also a great lead-in to sex. For example, giving each other massages can help with relaxation and stress relief—and, in the process, it just might put both of you in the mood. This is probably why research has found that couples who give each other mini-massages and backrubs are more sexually satisfied than those who don’t.

Beyond this, we need to be mindful of how we deal with sexual frustration and try to approach sexual disagreements in productive ways. For example, if you feel like your sexual needs aren’t being met, being confrontational with your partner in the heat of the moment might make things worse in the long run. According to Brotto, such behavior “can further push [your] partner away sexually and widen the discrepant desire divide.” Therefore, consider ways of coping with bouts of sexual frustration, like masturbation, that aren’t going to escalate conflict.

Finally, as unsexy as it sounds, scheduling sex or having regular date nights can help, too. As Brotto notes, “by planning sex, it can help to promote healthy and sexy anticipation of it.” For example, one advantage of having sex on a schedule is that it allows time to prepare. For example, if you agree to shut off your phones for a few hours beforehand, this can help to clear your heads of distractions that might otherwise interfere with interest in—and enjoyment of—sex. Also, by planning sex, you can build up to it, such as by sexting your partner to let them know how attractive they are to you. “Foreplay need not be a few minutes, but can extend over several days,” says Brotto.

Though many couples facing sexual desire discrepancies feel hopeless, the truth of the matter is that there’s actually a lot you can to do manage these situations in healthy and mutually satisfying ways.

Complete Article HERE!

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Is being single bad for your health?

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According to a new series of studies from The University College of London, it appears that being single maybe bad for your health – well, sort of.

The researchers did 14 studies on the effect of relationships on the development of dementia. They studied more than 800,000 people over the age of 65 and found that those who weren’t married were at a 42% higher risk of developing dementia. On the other hand, widows only saw a 20% increase in their chances of developing the disease.

It’s not so much the act of marriage itself that’s beneficial, but rather everything that goes along with it. As Dr. Laura Phipps, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, recently told The New York Post, “there is compelling research showing married people generally live longer and enjoy better health, with many different factors likely to be contributing to that link.” She adds, “spouses may help to encourage healthy habits, look out for their partner’s health and provide important social support.”

But before you reach for your phone and begin frantically swiping through Tinder, here are a few things to keep in mind.

First of all, these headlines are nothing new. In the eight years that I’ve been writing about sex and relationships, rarely a season goes by without a shocking headline about how single people are essentially doomed. While I don’t doubt the validity of this research – I watched as my grandfather’s Alzheimer’s steadily went downhill after my grandmother passed away – I also can’t help but think that these kinds of studies help contribute to an overarching sense of “single stigma.”

My first experience with single stigma happened when a coworker inquired about my relationship status and I admitted that I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to marry my boyfriend at the time – or even get married ever, period.

“But aren’t you afraid of growing old alone?” she replied, with a pitying look.

I was 27 and still getting carded on a frequent basis. It seemed almost ludicrous to consider.

Almost a decade later I get carded less frequently, but still routinely find myself confronting the same question. I equate the idea of “settling” with staying in a job that makes me miserable, just so I can collect the pension. At 36, the concept seems just as ridiculous as it did at 27.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. As of the last Canadian census, married people were found to be in the minority for the first time since 1871. Yet, singledom continues to receive a bad rap.

Eric Klinenberg is a New York University sociologist and author of the book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. As he tells The New York Times, “for decades social scientists have been worrying that our social connections are fraying, that we’ve become a society of lonely narcissists.” He says, “I’m not convinced.”

I’m with Klinenberg. Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lonely. In Going Solo, Klinenberg uses data and statistics to show how most solo dwellers are actually deeply engaged in social and civic life. In fact, compared with their married counterparts, they are more likely to eat out and exercise, go to art and music classes, attend public events and lectures, and volunteer.

While I have a lot of friends who are in relationships where both partners support and push each other to be the best version of themselves, this isn’t the case for everyone. In my experience, you know what’s also unhealthy? Staying in a relationship that is no longer working.

I could be biased though. By the end of my last long term relationship, my former partner and I had admittedly let ourselves go. We were drinking. We were smoking. We were eating things that weren’t feeding our health. Since parting ways romantically, we’ve both become healthier. I look forward to sharing the things I’ve learned from my health journey if/when I meet another serious partner.

This is all to say that the studies mentioned above, while interesting and useful, aren’t prescriptive and shouldn’t be used as a guide on how to live your life. Good health and relationships aren’t about statistics, they’re about choosing what works best for you.

Complete Article HERE!

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What it’s like to talk to your doctor about sexual health when you’re bisexual

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There’s a misconception that bi people are just going through a phase — but what if our doctors believe it too?

“Are you sexually active?”

I’d been dreading this question since losing my virginity to a female friend a few weeks earlier, not long after my 16th birthday. Somehow, the harsh fluorescent lights in my doctor’s examination room made this query seem even more menacing.

“Yes,” I said, but there was an ellipsis in my voice. A hesitation. An unspoken “but . . . ”

“You’re using condoms, right? So you don’t get pregnant?” she prompted, and I didn’t know what to say, because we weren’t. We didn’t need to. It was the wrong question.

“Uh, I’m not having sex with a guy,” I managed to stammer.

My doctor peered at me over her wire-rim glasses, “Oh,” she replied.

There are a lot of things a teenager might be nervous to disclose to their doctor — a marijuana habit, some worrying mental health symptoms, a secret relationship their parents don’t know about. While we should all feel free to tell our doctors what’s really going on with us, it’s particularly egregious that so many of them are still in the dark about something so basic as sexual orientation, making these already-difficult situations even more challenging.

The day of my first difficult conversation about my sexual health, my doctor didn’t give me any medical advice on the sex I was having. She didn’t suggest my partner and I use dental dams or latex gloves. She didn’t suggest we get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). She didn’t ask whether my partner was cis or trans. She didn’t ask what sexual orientation I identified as (bisexual, for the record). She didn’t even ask me if I had any questions for her. She just moved on to the next part of our checkup.

I didn’t recognize these as problems at the time; I was too young and nervous to question the approach of my all-knowing doctor. Everything I later learned about safer sex — with the other cis girl I was seeing at that time, and with other partners later on — I learned from the internet. And while the internet can be a great resource for such information, doctors should be a better one.

Bisexuals are told all the time — both implicitly and explicitly — that we’re not queer enough to align ourselves with queerness, or that we’re too queer to align ourselves with straightness. I still find it hard to push back against these stereotypes today, at 25.

These presumptions are particularly upsetting in medical situations, where many of us already feel nervous and unempowered and, for many queers, apprehensive. The medical system has oftentimes failed us and our queer foreparents: inequitable health care access due to poverty, doctors’ lack of knowledge about LGBT identities and sexuality and the pathologization of queerness are just a few examples.

Two years later, in a different relationship with a person of a different gender, I returned to my doctor. I was a girl on a mission.

“I’m seeing someone new and I’d like to get an IUD,” I told my doc, with all the bravery and resolve I could muster as a meek 18-year-old still coming to terms with her sexuality.

“I thought you were a lesbian?” she replied coolly, barely looking up from her computer screen.

“No, I’m bisexual,” I clarified, my voice only shaking a little.

Medically speaking, it shouldn’t actually matter what word(s) I use to define my sexual orientation; my doctor should want to know, instead, what sexual activities I am participating in. I could’ve been a lesbian having sex with a man (they do exist!). I could’ve been having sex with a trans woman or a nonbinary person who had the ability to get me pregnant. There was no reason for my doctor to assume I was a lesbian in the first place, nor that a risk of pregnancy during sex meant my existing sexual orientation was being challenged.

I was reminded of a story I had read online. An American photographer I followed, Brigid Marz, wrote on Flickr that she and her girlfriend went to a hospital to get treatment for her flu symptoms. A staff member asked Brigid if there was any chance she might be pregnant, and she laughed, indicated her girlfriend, and said no. She’d dated and had sex with men before, but not recently enough that she could be pregnant. Months later, she received a $700 medical bill, $300 of which was for a pregnancy test she’d neither authorized nor needed.

“I am so sick of being treated differently just because I have boobs,” she wrote, but I would argue she was treated differently because she is non-monosexual – she is neither completely straight nor completely gay. Our medical system seems to assume everyone is one or the other, sometimes even when we’re loudly asserting otherwise.

In the end, my doctor refused to prescribe me an IUD on the basis that I was “just casually dating” and should wait until I was “in a serious relationship” before committing to a long-term birth control method that reflected my relationship status. She prescribed me the pill instead — the hormonal content of which exacerbated my mental health conditions for years, something the non-hormonal copper IUD may not have done.

What rankled me was that I was in a serious relationship at the time. My doctor may have assumed my relationship was casual because I was now with a man and I was previously with a woman, or she may have simply thought I was too young for the IUD — but I think it was because of negative stereotypes about bisexual people.

Bi folks’ relationships and attractions are often written off as “just a phase” or “just for fun.” We’re told we don’t know what we really want or who we really like — or, worse, that we’re intentionally playing with partners’ hearts, never intending to pursue commitment or depth in our relationships.

In my experience, this is about as true for bisexual people as it is for straight or gay people — some folks are looking for serious relationships and some just aren’t — but this assumption weighs most heavily on bisexuals. Whether or not my doctor was consciously aware of the stereotypes she was affirming that day, it’s clear to me that my relationship would not have been written off as “casual” if I identified as straight or gay.

If I could go back and talk to myself when I was a shy and shaking 16-year-old in my doctor’s office, I’d tell her to advocate for herself. I’d tell her to ask the questions she wanted answered, and double-check the answers on Scarleteen later. I’d tell her it was okay if she didn’t even know what questions to ask.

I’d tell her to be unashamed of her burgeoning bisexual identity, because it’s nothing to feel shifty about. But mostly, I’d wish I didn’t have to tell her all these things. Her doctor shouldn’t have made her doubt all this in the first place.

Complete Article HERE!

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