Category Archives: Sex And Relationships

Casual Sex: Everyone Is Doing It

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Part research project, part society devoted to titillation, the Casual Sex Project reminds us that hookups aren’t just for college students.

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Zhana Vrangalova had hit a problem. On a blustery day in early spring, sitting in a small coffee shop near the campus of New York University, where she is an adjunct professor of psychology, she was unable to load onto her laptop the Web site that we had met to discuss. This was not a technical malfunction on her end; rather, the site had been blocked. Vrangalova, who is thirty-four, with a dynamic face framed by thick-rimmed glasses, has spent the past decade researching human sexuality, and, in particular, the kinds of sexual encounters that occur outside the norms of committed relationships. The Web site she started in 2014, casualsexproject.com, began as a small endeavor fuelled by personal referrals, but has since grown to approximately five thousand visitors a day, most of whom arrive at the site through organic Internet searches or referrals through articles and social media. To date, there have been some twenty-two hundred submissions, about evenly split between genders, each detailing the kinds of habits that, when spelled out, can occasionally alert Internet security filters. The Web site was designed to open up the discussion of one-night stands and other less-than-traditional sexual behaviors. What makes us engage in casual sex? Do we enjoy it? Does it benefit us in any way—or, perhaps, might it harm us? And who, exactly, is “us,” anyway?

Up to eighty per cent of college students report engaging in sexual acts outside committed relationships—a figure that is usually cast as the result of increasingly lax social mores, a proliferation of alcohol-fuelled parties, and a potentially violent frat culture. Critics see the high rates of casual sex as an “epidemic” of sorts that is taking over society as a whole. Hookup culture, we hear, is demeaning women and wreaking havoc on our ability to establish stable, fulfilling relationships.

These alarms have sounded before. Writing in 1957, the author Nora Johnson raised an eyebrow at promiscuity on college campuses, noting that “sleeping around is a risky business, emotionally, physically, and morally.” Since then, the critiques of casual sexual behavior have only proliferated, even as society has ostensibly become more socially liberal. Last year, the anthropologist Peter Wood went so far as to call the rise of casual sex “an assault on human nature,” arguing in an article in the conservative Weekly Standard that even the most meaningless-seeming sex comes with a problematic power imbalance.

Others have embraced the commonness of casual sex as a sign of social progress. In a widely read Atlantic article from 2012, “Boys on the Side,” Hanna Rosin urged women to avoid serious suitors so that they could focus on their own needs and careers. And yet, despite her apparent belief in the value of casual sex as a tool of exploration and feminist thinking, Rosin, too, seemed to conclude that casual sex cannot be a meaningful end goal. “Ultimately, the desire for a deeper human connection always wins out, for both men and women,” she wrote.

The Casual Sex Project was born of Vrangalova’s frustration with this and other prevalent narratives about casual sex. “One thing that was bothering me is the lack of diversity in discussions of casual sex,” Vrangalova told me in the café. “It’s always portrayed as something college students do. And it’s almost always seen in a negative light, as something that harms women.”

It was not the first time Vrangalova had wanted to broaden a limited conversation. As an undergraduate, in Macedonia, where she studied the psychology of sexuality, she was drawn to challenge cultural taboos, writing a senior thesis on the development of lesbian and gay sexual attitudes. In the late aughts, Vrangalova started her research on casual sex in Cornell’s developmental-psychology program. One study followed a group of six hundred and sixty-six freshmen over the course of a year, to see how engaging in various casual sexual activities affected markers of mental health: namely, depression, anxiety, life satisfaction, and self-esteem. Another looked at more than eight hundred undergraduates to see whether individuals who engaged in casual sex felt more victimized by others, or were more socially isolated. (The results: yes to the first, no to the second.) The studies were intriguing enough that Vrangalova was offered an appointment at N.Y.U., where she remains, to further explore some of the issues surrounding the effects of nontraditional sexual behaviors on the individuals who engage in them.

Over time, Vrangalova came to realize that there was a gap in her knowledge, and, indeed, in the field as a whole. Casual sex has been much explored in psychological literature, but most of the data captured by her research team—and most of the other experimental research she had encountered—had been taken from college students. (This is a common problem in psychological research: students are a convenient population for researchers.) There has been the occasional nationally representative survey, but rigorous data on other subsets of the population is sparse. Even the largest national study of sexual attitudes in the United States, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of close to six thousand men and women between the ages of fourteen and ninety-four, neglected to ask respondents how many of the encounters they engaged in could be deemed “casual.”

From its beginnings, sex research has been limited by a social stigma. The field’s pioneer, Alfred Kinsey, spent decades interviewing people about their sexual behaviors. His books sold, but he was widely criticized for not having an objective perspective: like Freud before him, he believed that repressed sexuality was at the root of much of social behavior, and he often came to judgments that supported that view—even when his conclusions were based on less-than-representative surveys. He, too, used convenient sample groups, such as prisoners, as well as volunteers, who were necessarily comfortable talking about their sexual practices.

In the fifties, William Masters and Virginia Johnson went further, inquiring openly into sexual habits and even observing people in the midst of sexual acts. Their data, too, was questioned: Could the sort of person who volunteers to have sex in a lab tell us anything about the average American? More troubling still, Masters and Johnson sought to “cure” homosexuality, revealing a bias that could easily have colored their findings.

Indeed, one of the things you quickly notice when looking for data on casual sex is that, for numbers on anyone who is not a college student, you must, for the most part, look at studies conducted outside academia. When OkCupid surveyed its user base, it found that between 10.3 and 15.5 per cent of users were looking for casual sex rather than a committed relationship. In the 2014 British Sex Survey, conducted by the Guardian, approximately half of all respondents reported that they had engaged in a one-night stand (fifty-five per cent of men, and forty-three per cent of women), with homosexuals (sixty-six per cent) more likely to do so than heterosexuals (forty-eight per cent). A fifth of people said they’d slept with someone whose name they didn’t know.

With the Casual Sex Project, Vrangalova is trying to build a user base of stories that she hopes will, one day, provide the raw data for academic study. For now, she is listening: letting people come to the site, answer questions, leave replies. Ritch Savin-Williams, who taught Vrangalova at Cornell, told me that he was especially impressed by Vrangalova’s willingness “to challenge traditional concepts and research designs with objective approaches that allow individuals to give honest, thoughtful responses.”

The result is what is perhaps the largest-ever repository of information about casual-sex habits in the world—not that it has many competitors. The people who share stories range from teens to retirees (Vrangalova’s oldest participants are in their seventies), and include city dwellers and suburbanites, graduate-level-educated professionals (about a quarter of the sample) and people who never finished high school (another quarter). The majority of participants aren’t particularly religious, although a little under a third do identify as at least “somewhat” religious. Most are white, though there are also blacks, Latinos, and other racial and ethnic groups. Initially, contributions were about sixty-per-cent female, but now they’re seventy-per-cent male. (This is in line with norms; men are “supposed” to brag more about sexual exploits than women.) Anyone can submit a story, along with personal details that reflect his or her demographics, emotions, personality traits, social attitudes, and behavioral patterns, such as alcohol intake. The setup for data collection is standardized, with drop-down menus and rating scales.

Still, the site is far from clinical. The home page is a colorful mosaic of squares, color-coded according to the category of sexual experience (blue: “one-night stand”; purple: “group sex”; gray: the mysterious-sounding “first of many”; and so on). Pull quotes are highlighted for each category (“Ladies if you haven’t had a hot, young Latino stud you should go get one!”). Many responses seem to boast, provoke, or exaggerate for rhetorical purposes. Reading it, I felt less a part of a research project than a member of a society devoted to titillation.

Vrangalova is the first to admit that the Casual Sex Project is not what you would call an objective, scientific approach to data collection. There is no random assignment, no controls, no experimental conditions; the data is not representative of the general population. The participants are self-selecting, which inevitably colors the results: if you’re taking the time to write, you are more likely to write about positive experiences. You are also more likely to have the sort of personality that comes with wanting to share details of your flings with the public. There is another problem with the Casual Sex Project that is endemic in much social-science research: absent external behavioral validation, how do we know that respondents are reporting the truth, rather than what they want us to hear or think we want them to say?

And yet, for all these flaws, the Casual Sex Project provides a fascinating window into the sexual habits of a particular swath of the population. It may not be enough to draw new conclusions, but it can lend nuance to assumptions, expanding, for instance, ideas about who engages in casual sex or how it makes them feel. As I browsed through the entries after my meeting with Vrangalova, I came upon the words of a man who learned something new about his own sexuality during a casual encounter in his seventies: “before this I always said no one can get me of on a bj alone, I was taught better,” he writes. As a reflection of the age and demographic groups represented, the Casual Sex Project undermines the popular narrative that casual sex is the product of changing mores among the young alone. If that were the case, we would expect there to be a reluctance to engage in casual sex among the older generations, which grew up in the pre-“hookup culture” era. Such reluctance is not evident.

The reminder that people of all ages engage in casual sex might lead us to imagine three possible narratives. First, that perhaps what we see as the rise of a culture of hooking up isn’t actually new. When norms related to dating and free love shifted, in the sixties, they never fully shifted back. Seventy-year-olds are engaging in casual encounters because that attitude is part of their culture, too.

There’s another, nearly opposite explanation: casual sex isn’t the norm now, and wasn’t before. There are simply always individuals, in any generation, who seek sexual satisfaction in nontraditional confines.

And then there’s the third option, the one that is most consistent with the narrative that our culture of casual sex begins with college hookups: that people are casually hooking up for different reasons. Some young people have casual sex because they feel they can’t afford not to, or because they are surrounded by a culture that says they should want to. (Vrangalova’s preliminary analysis of the data on her site suggests that alcohol is much more likely to be involved in the casual-sex experiences of the young than the old.)  And the old—well, the old no longer care what society thinks. For some, this sense of ease might come in their thirties; for others, their forties or fifties; for others, never, or not entirely.

This last theory relates to another of Vrangalova’s findings—one that, she confesses, came as a surprise when she first encountered it. Not all of the casual-sex experiences recorded on the site were positive, even among what is surely a heavily biased sample. Women and younger participants are especially likely to report feelings of shame. (“I was on top of him at one point and he can’t have forced me to so I must have consented . . . I’m not sure,” an eighteen-year-old writes, reporting that the hookup was unsatisfying, and describing feeling “stressed, anxious, guilt and disgust” the day after.) There is an entire thread tagged “no orgasm,” which includes other occasionally disturbing and emotional tales. “My view has gotten a lot more balanced over time,” Vrangalova said. “I come from a very sex-positive perspective, surrounded by people who really benefitted from sexual exploration and experiences, for the most part. By studying it, I’ve learned to see both sides of the coin.

Part of the negativity, to be sure, does originate in legitimate causes: casual sex increases the risk of pregnancy, disease, and, more often than in a committed relationship, physical coercion. But many negative casual-sex experiences come instead from a sense of social convention. “We’ve seen that both genders felt they were discriminated against because of sex,” Vrangalova told me. Men often feel judged by other men if they don’t have casual sex, and social expectations can detract from the experiences they do have, while women feel judged for engaging in casual experiences, rendering those they pursue less pleasurable.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise: the very fact that Vrangalova and others are seeking explanations for casual-sex behaviors suggests that our society views it as worthy of note—something aberrant, rather than ordinary. No one writes about why people feel the need to drink water or go to the bathroom, why eating dinner with friends is “a thing” or study groups are “on the rise.”

It is that sense of shame, ultimately, that Vrangalova hopes her project may help to address. As one respondent to a survey Vrangalova sent to users put it, “This has helped me feel okay about myself for wanting casual sex, and not feel ashamed or that what I do is wrong.” The psychologist James Pennebaker has found over several decades of work that writing about emotional experiences can act as an effective form of therapy, in a way that talking about those experiences may not. (I’m less convinced that there are benefits for those who use the site as a way to boast about their own experiences.) “Often there’s no outlet for that unless you’re starting your own blog,” Vrangalova points out. “I wanted to offer a space for people to share.”

That may well end up the Casual Sex Project’s real contribution: not to tell us something we didn’t already know, or at least suspect, but to make such nonjudgmental, intimate conversations possible. The dirty little secret of casual sex today is not that we’re having it but that we’re not sharing our experiences of it in the best way.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Embracing Your Sexuality (Fetishes & All) Makes You A More Attractive Partner

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Growing into our sexual selves is a lifelong process, like growing up in general. But because we don’t have a lot of language for our sexual lives, we somehow erroneously expect that sex is something we are born knowing how to do. Like any other physical and emotional skill, our sexual capacity to both give and receive pleasure increases with education and practice.

We begin waking up to our emerging erotic consciousness in our early adolescence. This awakening process is mostly subconscious, as our maturing brain connects the powerful arousal mechanism to historic and unresolved painful events and relationships. Like our fingerprints, or the subtle distinctions in our sense of smell—what turns us on sexually is largely outside of our control and often contradicts the way we view ourselves outside of the bedroom.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder that the first and often the most persistent issue for most of us on our sexual journey is reconciling our interests with our sense of what is “normal.” Quite often, sexual discovery tests the boundaries of normalcy. Our sexual selves are the unique, wild streak in us that cannot be contained and whose full pleasure potential cannot be achieved if we try to rein it in.

“Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” —Sydney Harris

Instead of healthy dialogue and reliable information about what it means to become and embrace who we are sexually, our curiosity and confusion about emerging sexuality are often met with archaic teachings, generational discomfort from those we trust, misinformation from our peers, and a complex cultural obsession.

The majority of us never have the opportunity to adequately explore the questions that arise from our earliest adolescent erotic awakening. Maturing beyond our initial discomfort requires education, and real sexual education is hard to come by.

For many young people, low-grade anxiety prevents them from engaging in any real conversations, whether with a friend, doctor, or even their partners about their fears and the obstacles they face sexually. Often, even the more progressive will turn their sexual concerns into a joke, laughing at their discomfort and communicating either that sexual concerns are not to be taken seriously or at least not to be discussed seriously.

What we suppress becomes more powerful. Suppressing our sexual nature only exacerbates our preoccupation with it. Asking honest questions about our sexual selves and being able to get reliable information allows us to use sexual privacy in healthy ways. Studies show that the kids who are given the most sexual education are often the last ones to engage sexually. They don’t need to learn about it by doing it—their theoretical learning allows them to make healthy choices about when and with whom they want to do it.

People who have come to terms with this essential aspect of their being are happier and more satisfied in every other aspect of their life as well.

Likewise, adults who move beyond their adolescent sexual anxiety through education gain not only the courage to take ownership of their erotic preferences but also the skills to engage in sexual behavior that is consistently pleasurable. Sexually mature adults are not waiting for someone else to make them feel sexy or give them permission to explore the range of their sexual function.

Taking full responsibility for their own sexual needs allows them to also be truly responsive to the sexual needs of others, which makes them attractive partners that tend to stay partnered. Aspiring to sexual maturity evokes a host of other essential skills for life—sexually mature adults tend to also be emotionally intelligent and capable of dealing with life changes.

Our sexual selves are often perceived as a locked box of bizarre fantasies and out-of-control impulses toward carnal pleasure. While it’s true that a mature sex life employs these tools for pleasure, working at our sexual evolution is more like developing core strength. Because our erotic identity is so central to who we are, people who have come to terms with this essential aspect of their being are happier and more satisfied in every other aspect of their life as well.

Complete Article HERE!

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Let’s talk about intimacy – and why it makes for better love and sex

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The key to a great relationship is more than physical – it’s about taking off the mask and really revealing yourself

Embracing intimacy – the best way to forge a real connection.

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Is there anything we still need to know about sex? Apparently, yes: and the missing ingredient is a gamechanger not just for individuals, but entire nations.

Sex has been centre-stage in western culture for decades, but what has been absent, according to Adam Wilder, creator of the world’s first Festival of Togetherness, is the magic element that makes it all meaningful.

“The holy grail,” he says, “is intimacy. Intimacy’s the real taboo in our society – it’s the thing we fear, because it’s about taking off the mask that so many of us hide behind. But it’s the key to being freer, happier and more alive and it could change not only our personal lives, but the political decisions we take as a society.”

Wilder hopes his festival, in central London on 20-21 May, will herald “the next revolution we need to embark on – a revolution that will transform everything we thought we knew about sex”.

Sex and intimacy, says Wilder, are closely connected. But in the decades since the sexual revolution of the 1960s the focus has been more and more on sex and less and less on intimacy. “Of course, you can have sex without intimacy, just as you can have intimacy without sex. But when you put the two together you have an experience that is in a different ballpark when it comes to fulfilment,” he says. “The problem is, people are afraid of intimacy, they’re afraid to articulate the desires that could lead to real intimacy – but if we don’t articulate those desires we will never experience the potential of a relationship.”

So scary is the word intimacy, says Wilder, that he has shied away from using it while planning his festival. “When I talk to people about it, I talk mostly about human connection, about enriching relationships and about togetherness, because these are words people seem more comfortable with.”

The festival focuses on learning the skills the organisers say are essential to allowing ourselves to practise intimacy. “But this isn’t hippy stuff: what I’m interested in is ordinary people who don’t like words like ‘consciousness’ and ‘tantra’,” says Wilder. “I want to make intimacy more visible in our culture, and that means drawing everyone in. Intimacy is something everyone can gain from, whether they are in a relationship or not.”

The movie Lost in Translation, starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, has much to share about intimacy, says Wilder. The plot centres on a growing closeness between an ageing movie star and a young college graduate that far outweighs the connection she feels for her husband, a photographer who is away on an assignment.

The festival’s highlights include a “cuddle workshop” that, according to the programme, promises to “explore touch outside the sexual realm”, a session on “mindfulness for better sex” and a session on language and communication skills that help build intimacy into relationships. One of the most exciting workshops, Wilder hopes, is called the Soulmate Delusion.

“There is this idea in Disney films that so many of us buy into, that’s about connecting with one person who is right for you, and who will change your life. But the truth is, that’s a view that is a really damaging for relationships in the 21st century. As soon as things start to go wrong you think, uh-oh, he’s not my  soulmate.”

Wilder’s event seems to be tapping into a broader zeitgeist. Last week saw the launch of the Amorist, writer Rowan Pelling’s new magazine, which aims “to counter the modern tendency to see sex through a purely functional prism”.

… and they all lived happily ever after. Nice idea, but you have to work on it.

Pelling agrees with Wilder that intimacy, not sex, is fundamental. “Is sex better with intimacy? The answer is almost always yes. I’m really shocked by how many people say they’ve never been to bed with someone who looked them in the eye, particularly at the point of orgasm. Of course there’s something about people being in their box and having fantasies during sex, but if people are having a lifetime of sex without eye contact, it’s an indication of how common it is to be physically close to someone, yet remain disconnected.

“There’s something peculiarly British about it. What it means is you can have had many lovers, yet not ever had something as fundamental as intimate sex.”

Wilder says feelings of isolation and a lack of true human connection have fed into the seismic political shifts that produced Brexit and elected Donald Trump as US president. That is the view, too, of philosopher Shahidha Bari of the Institute of Art and Ideas, who is one of the people behind an event called Love in the Time of Tinder taking place this weekend in Hay-on-Wye.

Amid talks, debates and workshop about the meaning of love, whether it can be chemically engineered and how it can be used to change society, the weekend also encompasses the idea that these things matter in a global, and not just a personal, landscape.

“If we can get love right in our individual lives, we might start to get things better in the political arena,” says Bari. “We think of love these days as an app on our phones, but in fact it’s a model of ethical relationships.

“There’s something miraculous about love, which allows us to care for someone to whom we are not genetically related. Love isn’t some sentimental thing, it’s about recognising this miracle for what it is, and learning from it for the rest of our lives.”

Complete Article HERE!

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You Can Wow Her with Sexy, Masculine Respect

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Coupled with mutual physical attraction, respect is the sexiest display of masculinity you can show her!

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Anyone who has read a dozen or more articles in The Good Men Project knows there is no single definition of masculinity. Rather, it varies from culture to culture–even among subcultures–and further by each person’s perception. Likewise, I’ve discovered there is no one set of attributes, characteristics, and traits that comprise “my type” of a man as lover and mate.

I am a single woman who thoroughly enjoys men–from their physique to their ways of processing experiences, to communication, to the way they smell. Well, maybe not all of their smells; let’s keep it real. Still, I love men.

When I was in my 20s and newly divorced, I used to think I had a type: dark hair and green eyes, olive skin, somewhat athletic without being a jock . . . until I realized I was still attracted to my ex-husband. It took maturity to eventually notice that I was only focusing on superficial qualities.

After several failed relationships with men whom I thought were my type, and a great deal of conscious work on my part, I finally recognized that the way a man treats me and others is far more important than his appearance or social status.

With increasing awareness, I also realized the way I treat a man–or any person–is also of greater significance than my appearance or accomplishments. I had to “be the change I wanted to see in the world”–a lesson from Mahatma Gandhi. In this case, I had to be a better woman to attract a better man. I had to demonstrate self-respect and respect for those around me before I could attract a man who respected himself and would respect me.

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Coupled with mutual physical attraction, respect is the sexiest display of masculinity you can show her!

(1) Respect yourself. Take care of your health and appearance in an authentic manner. When getting better acquainted with her, don’t do something in the dating stage that you won’t want to continue to do once you win her. If you don’t like to wear cologne, don’t do it while dating; when you stop wearing it later she’ll miss it and think you no longer want to make the effort for her. Self-respect and authenticity will also help you two to identify compatibility or lack thereof before either of you gets emotionally invested.

(2) Makes eye contact with her and listen attentively. When communicating in person, forget the multitasking for a few minutes! Mute the television, flip your phone face down on the table, or lower the screen of your laptop. Listen to her words in the context of the conversation or situation. If something she says doesn’t make sense to you, ask for clarification in a neutral tone of voice without making assumptions.

(3) Show up when you said you would. Women appreciate dependability. If you say you will be somewhere to pick her up, meet her, or do something for her, be on time. If you must cancel or change the timing, give her as much advance notice as possible.

(4) Be honest and tactful in expressing your thoughts and feelings. While most people prefer honesty to lies, tact goes a long way in softening an ugly truth. Caution: If she is one who would ask you, “Baby, does this dress make me look fat,” come to an agreement in advance. Ask her to select two or three dresses or outfits that she likes and you can tell her which one you likes best on her. If it is true, you can also tell her that you find her beautiful no matter what she wears. However, if you think the dress looks bad on her, let her know that it doesn’t flatter her natural beauty and suggest something else you’ve seen look great on her.

(5) Show appreciation for her efforts. When she does something or gives you a gift that requires thoughtful effort, thank her. The book 5 Love Languages is a good way to understand if she feels loved most by 1) words of affirmation, 2) acts of service, 3) receiving gifts, 4) quality time, or 5) physical touch.

(6) Be respectful of others, even those you don’t like. If you speak ill of those who are not present to defend themselves, she will think you may do the same when she is not around. If you want a good woman, you’ll have to be a good man. Practice The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Men, if there is enough of a spark between you and a conscious, self-respecting woman, demonstrating self-respect and respect for her will make you more desirable to her.

Women, all of the above apply to you, too, but in #4 above, please reserve the “does this dress make me look fat” question for your sisters and platonic girlfriends!

Complete Article HERE!

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Married LGBT older adults are healthier, happier than singles, study finds

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Same-sex marriage has been the law of the land for nearly two years — and in some states for even longer — but researchers can already detect positive health outcomes among couples who have tied the knot, a University of Washington study finds.

For years, studies have linked marriage with happiness among heterosexual couples. But a study from the UW School of Social Work is among the first to explore the potential benefits of marriage among LGBT couples. It is part of a national, groundbreaking longitudinal study with a representative sample of LGBT older adults, known as “Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality/Gender Study,” which focuses on how historical, environmental, psychological, behavioral, social and biological factors are associated with health, aging and quality of life.

UW researchers found that LGBT study participants who were married reported better physical and mental health, more social support and greater financial resources than those who were single. The findings were published in a February special supplement of The Gerontologist.

“In the nearly 50 years since Stonewall, same-sex marriage went from being a pipe dream to a legal quagmire to reality — and it may be one of the most profound changes to social policy in recent history,” said lead author Jayn Goldsen, research study supervisor in the UW School of Social Work.

Some 2.7 million adults ages 50 and older identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender — a number that is expected to nearly double by 2060.

Among LGBT people, marriage increased noticeably after a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. A 2016 Gallup Poll found that 49 percent of cohabiting gay couples were married, up from 38 percent before the ruling.

For the UW study, more than 1,800 LGBT people, ages 50 and older, were surveyed in 2014 in locations where gay marriage was already legal (32 states and Washington, D.C.). About one-fourth were married, another fourth were in a committed relationship, and half were single. Married respondents had spent an average of 23 years together, while those in a committed, unmarried relationship had spent an average of 16 years. Among the study participants, more women were married than men, and of the respondents who were married, most identified as non-Hispanic white.

Researchers found that, in general, participants in a relationship, whether married or in a long-term partnership, showed better health outcomes than those who were single. But those who were married fared even better, both socially and financially, than couples in unmarried, long-term partnerships. Single LGBT adults were more likely to have a disability; to report lower physical, psychological, social and environmental quality of life; and to have experienced the death of a partner, especially among men. The legalization of gay marriage at the federal level opens up access to many benefits, such as tax exemptions and Social Security survivor benefits that married, straight couples have long enjoyed. But that does not mean every LGBT couple was immediately ready to take that step.

According to Goldsen, marriage, for many older LGBT people, can be something of a conundrum — even a non-starter. LGBT seniors came of age at a time when laws and social exclusion kept many in the closet. Today’s unmarried couples may have made their own legal arrangements and feel that they don’t need the extra step of marriage — or they don’t want to participate in a traditionally heterosexual institution.

Goldsen also pointed to trends in heterosexual marriage: Fewer people are getting married, and those who do, do so later.

“More older people are living together and thinking outside the box. This was already happening within the LGBT community — couples were living together, but civil marriage wasn’t part of the story,” she said.

The different attitudes among older LGBT people toward marriage is something service providers, whether doctors, attorneys or tax professionals, should be aware of, Goldsen said. Telling a couple they should get married now simply because they can misses the individual nature of the choice.

“Service providers need to understand the historical context of this population,” she said. “Marriage isn’t for everyone. It is up to each person, and there are legal, financial and potentially societal ramifications.” For example, among the women in the study, those who were married were more likely to report experiencing bias in the larger community.

At the same time, Goldsen said, single LGBT older adults do not benefit from the marriage ruling, and other safeguards, such as anti-discrimination laws in employment, housing and public accommodations, are still lacking at the federal level.

Over time, Goldsen and colleagues will continue to examine the influence of same-sex marriage policy on partnership status and health.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging. Other researchers were Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, Amanda Bryan, Hyun-Jun Kim and Sarah Jen in the UW School of Social Work; and Anna Muraco of Loyola Marymount University.

Complete Article HERE!

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