Marriage and #MeToo

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Behind the millions-loud movement, there’s a quiet fringe of women not comfortable posting the hashtag—because to out their perpetrator would be to out their husband.

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After the half-hearted foreplay, but before the lousy sex—that’s when the argument happened. It was nearly midnight on a Tuesday and Jess T. was just getting home from work. “I was going for a promotion and putting in really long hours at the office,” says the 33-year-old from San Francisco, California. “I felt so exhausted, I crawled into bed without even washing off my makeup. As I laid down next to my husband, who I thought was asleep, he started rubbing my thighs, pulling up my shirt—I knew.” For the next minute she debated two things: Should she take off her mascara after all? Should she have sex? No. No.

At first, her husband of four years tried to sway her by softly whispering in her ear (“I’ll make you feel so good”), but when she reaffirmed she wasn’t in the mood, his tone hardened. “He told me that he has needs as a man and that if I didn’t fulfill them he wasn’t going to be able to concentrate at work the next day,” Jess says. “As a woman, I’ve been socialized to put other people’s happiness before my own. I guess I feel responsible for their emotional wellbeing, and so I ended up consenting. Not because I wanted to or found it enjoyable, but because I felt I had to. It’s a very unsexy threesome—me, my husband, and the guilt.”

Been there, done that, says Marni Z., 35, from Phoenix, Arizona. “If I’m tired or just not into it, my husband will sigh with disgust, grab his pillow, and sleep on the couch,” says Marni, who has been married for eight years. “Or he’ll expect things from me—like coming to bed naked—and get irritated when I don’t comply. Sometimes I just numb myself into having sex so I don’t have his cloud of anger hanging over me.”

If domestic labor is a woman’s second shift, the gray-zone, on-demand sex sessions that they feel obligated to have with their partners is the third. After interviewing couples across the country, one study published in The Journal of Marriage and Family found that many husbands expect their wives to perform sexually, and cited additional research that this causes women “to become disconnected from their own sexual desires” and experience feelings of resentment. Many participants in the study were only compliant to “reduce marital conflict…and to help a spouse feel better about himself.”

It’s something that Ian Kerner, Ph.D., a psychotherapist who specializes in sex therapy, has certainly seen play out. “When people get married, their views on sex tend to shift a bit,” he says. “Some men feel that they now have constant access to sex, while women take on an obligation that they have to be sexual even when they don’t want to be.”

It’s not that married women are docile damsels of the domestic kingdom. They’re strong enough to set boundaries—and often do—but that doesn’t prevent men from plying, prodding, and pushing them. One study out of the University of Nebraska in 2005 found that men used comments like “you would have sex if you loved me” to gain sexual access to women. While separate research found that men relied on verbal tactics of repeated requests until women gave in to sex. The pushy, supposed primal instincts of men are deeply threaded into our sheets—and our scummy sexual culture.

mAnd that, perhaps, is the more dispiriting reason why wedded sex has such an antique flavor: Marriage may be the last frontier where the belief that sex is mandatory still somewhat rings true, and where consent has been flattened and pushed to the edge. While a single woman’s right to say no to sex is championed and society-approved (damn, right!), once you’re married, it becomes all about saying yes. In fact, in order to decline sex, women in long-term relationships have been socialized to believe that they need an excuse: I have a headache. I’m not feeling well. I’m on my period. They aren’t allowed to opt out of sex because, you know, they just don’t feel like it (damn, wrong!). “I’m lusty, I like sex,” Jess says. “I just don’t like that I always have to like sex.”

In fact, when Jess went searching online for advice on how to deal with the bang-it-out sex sessions her husband sometimes pressured her into, she found “a blog post from a psychologist that told me I should have sex anyway because I would eventually get turned on—not true, by the way, I just got mad. And then a first-person article from a woman who never said no to her husband when he asked for sex for an entire year. The author painted herself like a goddess with an 24/7 vagina. Everything I read just made me feel that, as a married woman, I was no longer the sole boss of my body.”

Muddying the situation more: Unlike when you’re just dating, when you’re married there’s no ghosting, submarining, or sending screenshots of your shitty date to your friends. There are bills to pay and a dog that needs walking. “I was in a long-term relationship where, even when I wasn’t physically responsive, my partner would continue with sex and make sure his needs were met,” says Sarah W., 38, from New York City. “I was confused about what rights I had to sexual boundaries. We lived together, were engaged, shared finances.”

Sweet sex. Hot sex. Sucky sex. It all seemed like part of the marital knot.

But then came the shift. The ‘Cat Person’ story in The New Yorker went viral, and shortly after, a piece that detailed one woman’s account of a bad date with Aziz Ansari did, too. Suddenly the #MeToo movement had ballooned beyond sexual harassment and assault in the workplace, floating the idea that women should have the right to good sex and shouldn’t feel pressured to suffer through a sexual encounter they don’t want or find pleasurable. Suddenly, there was a term for bad sex: bad sex. But this time, with context.

“Women started to have these soul-searching conversations that were really important,” says Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist in Los Angeles, California, and creator of The Passion Project, an online course for couples with mismatched sex drives. “I think it’s a woman’s obligation to be respectful of her partner’s desires and to take them into consideration. It’s her obligation to have conversations about her partner’s intimate needs. But it is absolutely not a woman’s obligation to have sex with her partner when she does not want to. Every woman gets to decide what she wants to do with her own body. Any advice to the contrary is really outdated.”

And out of the good-sex revolution has come better advice. For starters, the notion that sometimes rejection is involved in the sexual process, even when you’re married. “Initiating sex does take a lot of vulnerability,” Marin says. “That’s why in addition to sexual desires and needs, couples need to talk to each other about how to turn each other down gracefully. If you aren’t in the mood for sex, explain why, making it clear it doesn’t have anything to do with your partner—it helps show that you aren’t rejecting them. Also, while it’s normal to feel sad if your partner isn’t interested in being intimate with you, it’s each partner’s responsibility to soothe their own hurt feelings.”

Kerner agrees. “Men feel rejected, women feel bullied, but what we’re missing is this emotional vulnerability that both partners feel,” he says. “Talking through those emotions and connecting to that underneath space can be really intimate and can help you get back on the same page sexually.”

In the post-Weinstein world, so much changed. And yet, so much hasn’t.

“I’m so glad that we’re having these conversations and that women feel empowered to demand good sex,” Jess says. “But I do wish the conversations around the movement didn’t just include coworkers, bosses, bad dates, and strangers on the street. Sometimes, for change to happen, these conversations need to include the people who we are most intimate with—even if those honest conversations start just with ourselves.”

So better sex for everyone? Yes to that—every time.

Complete Article HERE!

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How Orgasms Actually Happen

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The complicated ways we experience sexuality.

By Gigi Engle

What leads us to orgasm? What if we haven’t experienced an orgasm? What happens to the body during orgasm? Have you had an orgasm? Is orgasm important?

These questions have been asked for many, many years. We’re constantly trying to break down orgasm. We want to know how to have one, how we get there, and how we get our partners there.

There is so much variance in the way women experience desire, pleasure, arousal, and orgasm. There are no true black and white answers. “Most of us tend to think of sex as linear and it doesn’t have to be. It’s great to use it as a guideline, but everyone’s experience is subjective,” Dr. Emily Morse, a sexologist and host of the Sex With Emily podcast tells Brides.

While we can suss out facts based on scientific research, it is important to recognize that there are vast personal differences. We each fall on a kind of spectrum. In no way is this information meant to incite feelings of “lacking” or “abnormality.”

The only normal that exists is the abnormal. We are all complex, unique, and different.

That being said, here is everything we know on the stages of sexual response and, yes, orgasm.

A wee bit of history

Not to bore you with a bunch of facts and history, but it’s actually quite important when discussing the ways we’ve come to understand (and not understand) female sexuality. If we don’t have the facts, what do we even have? It’s not like the information we receive on sex from school or family is highly reliable. (If you hate history and facts, just skip to section three).

When we talk about human sexual response, orgasm, etc. we usually jump to the original model created by pioneering sex researchers, Masters and Johnson, in the 1960s. These groundbreaking researchers broke the human sexual response cycle into excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. While a huge contribution to sexual science, Rena McDaniel, a certified sex therapist, tells Brides that this isn’t where the story ends.

In the 70s, this original model of human sexual response was further developed by Helen Singer Kaplan, adding in desire as the beginning of the sexual response cycle. This made way for a new framework which broke sexual response into a Triphasic Model: desire, arousal, orgasm.

“I’m most concerned with women knowing the difference between desire and arousal. Desire is our sex drive, our pilot light, or mental stimulation – whereas arousal is what happens when we’re physically turned on,” says Morse. Desire is in your mind, arousal is in the body. Including desire in the overall sexual cycle is crucial.

This three-part model may seem a little simpler than the Masters and Johnson’s, but it actually accounts for the overlapping, broad way we experience desire and arousal. Each of these three phases is complex and are experienced differently from woman to woman.

But, there’s more!

Sexual response was even further developed by researchers Janssen and Bancroft’s Dual Control Model and Basson’s Sexual Response Cycle.

These models map out sexual response as a super complex, overlapping, nonlinear system. McDaniel tells us that for female sexual experiences, desire may not be the first thing you feel; it might develop as you brain recognizes and codifies sexually relevant contexts. For example, your partner has lit candles and you start making out. Your vagina may lubricate before you think, “This is hot. I’m into it.”

“The Dual Control Model speaks to a similar system of ‘accelerators’ and ‘brakes’ that govern sexual response in a non-linear way,” McDaniel says. Accelerators move you forward in the sexual response cycle, while breaks slow you down. (To learn more, read on here.)

It’s complicated to say the least!

So, why does this matter?

It’s, like, why are we talking about this history stuff when there are juicy sex things to discuss? Because if you’re a woman, or a man, or a genderqueer person, or a non-binary person, or ANY person, you know that sexuality is complex AF.

It’s important to know how far science has come in order to get a better grasp on how your body works. If anything, all of this history and research can show you how we’re still figuring stuff out. You are not broken or lacking. Bodies are not a one-size-fits-all model.

Orgasm is not some ‘big finish” or “goal”

If the history lesson above should teach you anything it’s that sexual response and experience is anything but simple. Orgasm is defined as the involuntary release of sexual tension. That’s it. The word pleasure ain’t present in there, y’all.

We put a bunch of pressure on “orgasm” as this exciting big finish. If we don’t “get there” or if our orgasm is anything other than earth-shattering, we’ve failed. This is the wrong way to think about it. And frankly, it just makes women feeling like crap about themselves.

Orgasm isn’t the goal—sexual pleasure is the goal. If orgasm happens to take place, great. If not, your sexual experience is not invalidated. “When we reframe orgasm as the ‘cherry on top’ of a pleasurable and intimate sexual experience, it takes the pressure off and gives us more space to be present and enjoy the pleasurable sensations for their own sake instead of a means to an end,” McDaniels explains.

What this all means

Stop forcing an orgasm! It’s not doing anything for you. Putting pressure and stress on yourself will not result in the framework needed to relax into an orgasm.

If your partner is constantly asking you, “Did you come?” Have a conversation with them about how orgasm works. Pressure = breaks.

“It’s most important for women to figure out what turns them on and explore their body rather than worrying about whether or not they’re experiencing the ‘correct’ model of sexual arousal,” Morse says.

If we stopped freaking ourselves out so much, we’d probably all have more orgasms. Ah, a lovely sexual catch-22. Take time for yourself and figure out what works for you. Whatever works is right. That’s all there is to it. “Self-exploration is the key to understanding what it takes to orgasm during sex,” Mose says.

Masturbate, masturbate, masturbate. Consider this your call to action.

Complete Article HERE!

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Meet the Swedish feminist bringing ethical porn to Spain and the world

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Swedish porn director Erika Lust, based in Barcelona.

By Ellie Day

Erika Lust has spent the last 14 years creating feminist, ethical porn. In 2004, discouraged by the mainstream porn she found on offer, the Barcelona-based Swedish filmmaker set out to put forward an alternative to adult content.

“The men who control the porn industry seemed to have the emotional intelligence of a teenage boy,” Lust tells The Local. “I wanted to make an alternative to the degrading mainstream porn gaze; something that would express my ideas and my values. Something that I would like myself and that I thought other women and men looking for something more sensual and ethical would also like.”

It was clear from the outset that there was an audience for her films – her first pornographic short, titled The Good Girl, was downloaded by millions of people in the first few weeks after she put it online. From there, her career grew. She set up her own adult film company, LustCinema, and in 2013 launched XConfessions, a collection of erotic videos with storylines created by submissions from members of the public, to reflect the broad tastes of those watching them.

It was in Lust’s native Sweden, while a student at Lund University, that the first seeds of her unconventional career in the adult industry were sown. “I studied Political Science and Gender Studies and was reading Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the Frenzy of the Visible by Linda Williams when I had my ‘lightbulb moment’. It was the first book to treat pornography as a genre with its own history and as a specific cinematic trend.” This sparked her lifelong interest: promoting sex-positive feminism.

Though the definition of feminism has been widely debated, Lust sees it as simple: “For me feminism is the belief that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities in all aspects of life. It is sisterhood. Supporting another woman’s right to do whatever she wants – however different another woman’s expression may be from yours. That includes sexual freedom, which is a basic human right.”

The focus for Lust on ethical porn is at the heart of her work – ensuring the environment for all of her teams emphasizes safety, mutual respect, and the culture of consent.

It’s a particularly sensitive topic at the moment, with the #MeToo campaign continuing to dominate headlines across the world following widespread accusations of sexual assault, but Lust is reluctant to consider pornography as having a negative impact in and of itself.

“Porn is a discourse but I don’t think we can say that porn alone has mainstreamed sexual assault. Across the world, the film and TV industry continues to foist outdated gender roles upon viewers. The adult industry definitely mirrors our society which blatantly neglects female autonomy and pleasure but the media sexism also demeans women and fuels abuse by men.

“Movements such as #MeToo show what we all knew before: that there is a gender dysfunction and a power imbalance in society that is visible in every single field but this is not a new phenomenon. Power abuse is not a male trait; it’s a human trait, and we have always lived in a culture of toxic masculinity that allows and encourages men to perpetrate acts of violence and disrespect towards women. This is the story of humans,” she adds.

However, the director is hopeful that taking porn away from a more traditional ‘male gaze’ offers a chance to change society’s accepted vision of sexuality as a whole: “By making porn which represents individuals having sex, not men ‘doing’ sex to women, we can squash the belief that women are not aroused by representation of sex or sex on screen as much as men. We can help society to overcome sexist gendered stereotypes and show a more realistic and relatable version of sex and human sexuality.”

“With more female pornographers making films, we can offer diversity and represent all the different parts of society and the people in it, people will be able to see themselves in those films, to see the sex they have, to be inspired, become educated, and receptive to the huge range of different sexualities out there. And most importantly they won’t be exposed to one version of sex, sexuality and gender representation.”

Having experience of living both in Sweden and Spain, Lust has observed noticeable differences in attitudes to sex between the two countries: “Sweden is one of the more progressive parts of the EU in terms of attitudes towards sex education. Swedish people are definitely more willing than Spaniards to speak about sex and sexuality since sex education is treated with ease and it has been compulsory in schools since the 1950s; something that is hard to understand here in Spain.”

She is quick to note that Sweden should not yet be held up as a prize example of a flawless approach to gender and sexuality, claiming that Sweden’s approach to sex work is “completely off. The ‘Nordic Model’ [in which the act of selling sex is decriminalized, but buying sex is punishable by the law] does not understand, nor care for, the well-being of sex workers.”

“Sex workers have repeatedly stressed that the legislation is not beneficial for them at all. In fact Amnesty International conducted research with sex workers living under these laws and found that criminalization laws of sex work lead to human rights abuses against their community. I firmly believe decriminalization is absolutely essential to improve working conditions in the sex trade and I feel Sweden is very far from this point and shows no willingness to speak about it.”

Erika Lust and her crew on set.

Lust sees attitudes towards sex and consent in Spain progressing much more quickly:

“Spain has typically been behind Sweden in this area, but things are definitely starting to change. I truly believe that this is the year feminism will take centre stage in Spain. This International Women’s Day in Spain was overwhelming; there were hundreds of protests across the country, a general 24-hour strike, walkouts by five million workers, and huge demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people. There was a lot of media coverage and its success placed Spain at the cusp of a global movement. And especially in the wake of the awful La Manada (‘Wolf pack’) case, the discourse is starting to evolve.”

Lust’s community is growing and evolving, too. In 2016, Lust invited aspiring adult filmmakers to pitch their own story ideas via her website, with successful applicants offered the chance to see their concepts made reality. So far, she has financed more than 25 guest-directed films, with an investment of more than 250,000 euros.

In looking to the future, Lust is hopeful. “As porn becomes less of a taboo in society and women are able to speak more openly about their own sexual desires, more people are exploring different types of adult cinema. They’re starting to look for something outside of what the mainstream offers. Different types of porn are being made and we are starting to see that sex, sexuality and gender roles aren’t limited to a narrow idea. There is a huge female audience for porn, it is bigger than has been assumed so far, and it is continuing to increase as our society overcomes gendered stereotypes in general.”

Complete Article HERE!

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‘The king and his husband’: The gay history of British royals

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King Edward II was known for his close relationships with two men.

By Kayla Epstein

Ordinarily, the wedding of a junior member of the British royal family wouldn’t attract much global attention. But Lord Ivar Mountbatten’s has.

That’s because Mountbatten, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, is expected to wed James Coyle this summer in what has been heralded as the “first-ever” same-sex marriage in Britain’s royal family.

Perhaps what makes it even more unusual is that Mountbatten’s ex-wife, Penny Mountbatten, said she will give her former husband away.

Who says the royals aren’t a modern family?

Though Mountbatten and Coyle’s ceremony is expected to be small, it’s much larger in significance.

“It’s seen as the extended royal family giving a stamp of approval, in a sense, to same-sex marriage,” said Carolyn Harris, historian and author of “Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting.” “This marriage gives this wider perception of the royal family encouraging everyone to be accepted.”

But the union isn’t believed to be the first same-sex relationship in the British monarchy, according to historians. And they certainly couldn’t carry out their relationships openly or without causing intense political drama within their courts.

Edward II, who ruled from 1307-1327, is one of England’s less fondly remembered kings. His reign consisted of feuds with his barons, a failed invasion of Scotland in 1314, a famine, more feuding with his barons, and an invasion by a political rival that led to him being replaced by his son, Edward III. And many of the most controversial aspects of his rule – and fury from his barons – stemmed from his relationships with two men: Piers Gaveston and, later, Hugh Despenser.

Gaveston and Edward met when Edward was about 16 years old, when Gaveston joined the royal household. “It’s very obvious from Edward’s behavior that he was quite obsessed with Gaveston,” said Kathryn Warner, author of “Edward II: The Unconventional King.” Once king, Edward II made the relatively lowborn Gaveston the Earl of Cornwall, a title usually reserved for members of the royal family, “just piling him with lands and titles and money,” Warner said. He feuded with his barons over Gaveston, who they believed received far too much attention and favor.

Gaveston was exiled numerous times over his relationship with Edward II, though the king always conspired to bring him back. Eventually, Gaveston was assassinated. After his death, Edward “constantly had prayers said for (Gaveston’s) soul; he spent a lot of money on Gaveston’s tomb,” Warner said.

Several years after Gaveston’s death, Edward formed a close relationship with another favorite and aide, Hugh Despenser. How close? Walker pointed to the annalist of Newenham Abbey in Devon in 1326, who called Edward and Despenser “the king and his husband,” while another chronicler noted that Despenser “bewitched Edward’s heart.”

The speculation that Edward II’s relationships with these men went beyond friendship was fueled by Christopher Marlowe’s 16th-century play “Edward II”, which is often noted for its homoerotic portrayal of Edward II and Gaveston.

James VI and I, who referred to a man as his “wife” in a letter.

James VI and I, who reigned over Scotland and later England and Ireland until his death in 1625, attracted similar scrutiny for his male favorites, a term used for companions and advisers who had special preference with monarchs. Though James married Anne of Denmark and had children with her, it has long been believed that James had romantic relationships with three men: Esmé Stewart, Robert Carr and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

Correspondence between James and his male favorites survives, and as David M. Bergeron theorizes in his book “King James and Letters of Homoerotic Desire”: “The inscription that moves across the letters spell desire.”

James was merely 13 when he met 37-year-old Stewart, and their relationship was met with concern.

“The King altogether is persuaded and led by him … and is in such love with him as in the open sight of the people often he will clasp him about the neck with his arms and kiss him,” wrote one royal informant of their relationship. James promoted Stewart up the ranks, eventually making him Duke of Lennox. James was eventually forced to banish him, causing Stewart great distress. “I desire to die rather than to live, fearing that that has been the occasion of your no longer loving me,” Stewart wrote to James.

But James’s most famous favorite was Villiers. James met him in his late 40s and several years later promoted him to Duke of Buckingham – an astounding rise for someone of his rank. Bergeron records the deeply affectionate letters between the two; in a 1623 letter, James refers bluntly to “marriage” and calls Buckingham his “wife:”

“I cannot content myself without sending you this present, praying God that I may have a joyful and comfortable meeting with you and that we may make at this Christmas a new marriage ever to be kept hereafter … I desire to live only in this world for your sake, and that I had rather live banished in any part of the earth with you than live a sorrowful widow’s life without you. And may so God bless you, my sweet child and wife, and grant that ye may ever be a comfort to your dear dad and husband.”

A lost portrait of Buckingham by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens was recently discovered in Scotland, depicting a striking and stylish man. And a 2008 restoration of Apethorpe Hall, where James and Villiers met and later spent time together, discovered a passage that linked their bedchambers.

Queen Anne

One queen who has attracted speculation about her sexuality is Queen Anne, who ruled from 1702-1714. Her numerous pregnancies, most of which ended in miscarriage or a stillborn child, indicate a healthy relationship with her husband, George of Denmark.

And yet, “she had these very intense, close friendships with women in her household,” Harris said.

Most notable is her relationship to Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, who held enormous influence in Anne’s court as mistress of the robes and keeper of the privy purse. She was an influential figure in Whig party politics, famous for providing Anne with blunt advice and possessing as skillful a command of politics as her powerful male contemporaries.

Whether Churchill and Queen Anne’s intense friendship became something more is something we may never know. “Lesbianism, by its unverifiable nature, is an awful subject for historical research and, inversely, the best subject for political slander,” writes Ophelia Field in her book “Sarah Churchill: Duchess of Marlborough: The Queen’s Favourite.”

But Field also notes that when examining the letters between the women, it’s important to understand that their friendship was “something encompassing what we would nowadays class as romantic or erotic feeling.”

Field writes in “The Queen’s Favourite”:

“Without Sarah beside her when she moved with the seasonal migrations of the Court, Anne complained of loneliness and boredom: ‘I must tell you I am not as you left me … I long to be with you again and tis impossible for you ever to believe how much I love you except you saw my heart.’ (…) Most commentators have suggested that the hyperbole in Anne’s letters to her friend was merely stylistic. In fact, the overwhelming impression is not of overstatement but that Anne was repressing what she really wanted to say.”

Their relationship deteriorated in part because of Anne’s growing closeness to another woman, Churchill’s cousin, Abigail Masham. Churchill grew so infuriated that she began insinuating Anne’s relationship with Masham was sinister.

The drama surrounding the three women will play out in the upcoming film, “The Favourite,” starring Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone and Olivia Colman.

Though there is much evidence that these royals had same-sex relationships with their favorites or other individuals, Harris cautioned that jealousy or frustration with favorites within the courts often led to rumors about the relationships. “If a royal favorite, no matter the degree of personal relationship, was disrupting the social or political hierarchy in some way, then that royal favorite was considered a problem, regardless of what was going on behind closed doors,” she said.

Harris also noted that it was difficult to take 21st-century definitions of sexual orientation and apply them to past monarchs. “When we see historical figures, they might have same-sex relationships but might not talk about their orientation,” she said. “Historical figures often had different ways of viewing themselves than people today.”

But she acknowledged that re-examining the lives, and loves, of these monarchs creates a powerful, humanizing bond between our contemporary society and figures of the past. It shows “that there have been people who dealt with some of the same concerns and the same issues that appear in the modern day,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

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Brands Are Dipping Into Life Coaching and Sex Advice

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Lola tampons, Coach, and more are offering life advice with your purchase.

An ad for Lola’s hotline.

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In a calm voice, Dr. Corina Dunlap gave me a short overview of the meaning of low libido. “One thing I really want women to know is that many factors can impact libido,” she said. “These interests and desires can be impacted by a number of internal as well as external factors, ranging from anxiety, relationship conflict and stress to vaginal infections, hormone imbalances, and common medications.”

I had called a sexual advice hotline created by reproductive health company Lola and, after weighing my options, selected a recording of Dunlap — a naturopathic doctor based in Portland, Oregon — who gave a short spiel and then requested that listeners leave a message after the beep for “a chance I’ll be calling you back.” It was a little thin on helpful information, but it did advise me to consult a professional with any questions.

On July 11, Lola (which started off selling tampons but expanded into a broader reproductive health products line in May) launched its month-long “Let’s Talk About It” campaign, including the new temporary call service (supported by dedicated phone booths set up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) aimed at encouraging open conversations about sexual health. The service, which ended the weekend of August 11, was described as a “one-of-a-kind national hotline that features Lena Dunham, Bethany C. Meyers, Shan Boodram and other thought-provoking women” on a variety of topics, from the right to orgasm and sex after surgery to opening up about your sexuality and period sex as great sex.

Women typically look to tampon companies to fulfill utilitarian purposes like comfort and absorbency, but Lola has also been thinking about what value it might add when it comes to overall sexual health and fulfillment. And Lola isn’t alone in its effort to provide consumers with life advice related to its core product line. A number of brands are starting to offer a new twist on the idea of retail therapy.

Stole My Heart, a lingerie shop in Toronto, recently hosted a “Ladies’ Night” on the topic of “dating in 2018,” where a panel of female experts (including relationship columnist Jen Kirsch and Bumble representative Katryna Klepacki) tackled sex and love in the contemporary age. Marks & Spencer, the UK-based department store, recently launched mental health drop-in sessions at several of its store cafes, noting that the brand aimed to provide a space “where people can talk openly with others who understand how they are feeling.” In June, Coach launched Life Coach, a new interactive NYC pop-up designed to encourage self-discovery through tarot card readings and sessions with the AstroTwins, identical twin sister astrologists. And the online sex toy vendor Unbound started a temporary promotion in April that offered free sessions with a sex coach.

Hotels are also adding a range of personal betterment options: The William Vale in Williamsburg has a course on “applied empathy” and the art of building better relationships, and the Hoxton in Amsterdam has launched the “Motherhood Project,” which covers everything from eating for improved energy to attaining balance in a hectic world.

Encouragingly, a lot — though not all — of these brands have partnered with experts with some degree of legitimacy, which means much of the advice being dispensed is through referral to a knowledgeable organization rather than a customer service rep expected to dispense answers about low libido in addition to facilitating returns. Collectively, they underscore a key point: the idea that their customers are ravenous for certain conversations, whether it’s about sexual or mental health, work-life balance, or building confidence.

Earlier this year, the womenswear brand Tuxe — perhaps best known for making polished bodysuits, including one famously worn by Meghan Markle — launched a Coaching + Clothing program, which offered a free life coaching session with every purchase. Tuxe is presently revamping its coaching offerings, but it’s working on a series of pre-recorded sessions with an all-female cast of performance coaches on topics including dealing with setbacks and building confidence, and setting achievable goals.

Tamar Daniel, the founder and CEO of Tuxe, refers to this program as “part of addressing the whole woman.” She says her business model has been heavily influenced by a 2011 Northwestern University study that suggested that how you dress affects not only how others perceive you but your actual behavior. “As a team, we got really excited about this whole idea and felt that it speaks to the core of what we had been trying to express,” she says. “I never liked the idea of just selling product. I want to put our money where our mouth is and delivering on more than just what you wear.”

Daniel says she launched the Tuxe coaching program in response to customer feedback. “We were getting a lot of emails from people telling us that they bought Tuxe to boost their confidence before an interview or a big presentation, or from mothers who bought them for their daughters on their first day of college or other big milestone events,” she says. The emotional connection between their clothing and the hopeful ambitions of their consumers created an opportunity to tighten the weave.

Daniel sent me a sample video being prepared for their late summer relaunch in which career coach Katie Fogarty talks about building a strong personal brand (Martha Stewart is cited as a role model) and offers practical tips for getting there. There’s nothing revolutionary about this advice, of course. But it’s the kind of thing you might watch to get fired up just before you head into an important pitch meeting while wearing your new Tuxe bodysuit. “It’s very TED talk-y but these positive messages can make a difference,” says Daniel. “It can get your blood pumping.”

Getting your blood pumping — especially when it creates a positive brand association — is a big part of the goal. Peter Noel Murray, a consumer psychologist based in New York City, says these programs tie into a very current self-care trend that says to the customer, “We care about you and we care about your mental health.”

“It’s a way for retailers to say, ‘We’re good people and we’re not just after your money,’” says Murray. “A brand is just a mental image of something; from a psychological perspective, this is just a way to enrich that mental association the customer has with whatever brand. We are naturally attracted to things that are positive and make us feel good.”

This feel good, self-empowerment-oriented Goop-ification of a spectrum of businesses speaks to a some very contemporary issues: rising concerns about mental health and accessible care, the pervasiveness of the self-care movement, our obsession with self-improvement, and the increasing lengths retail and hospitality brands will go to cultivate a “lifestyle” persona in order to create perceived intimacy and drive customer loyalty.

“Programming like this allows us to offer a space for our customers to talk about these intimate things that they care about,” says Amy Pearson, co-owner of Stole My Heart in Toronto. “You take out the impersonal business aspect and connect on a more personal level.”

Connecting on a more personal level can be tricky, depending on the angle. Mary Pryor, a digital marketer based in New York City, visited Life Coach in June and thought the pop-up served as an interesting introduction to the metaphysical or paranormal world. “Coach is in the business of leather handbags, not crystals, so I’m glad they brought in programming by people who know what they’re talking about,” she says. “It was the kind of thing that might leave some bread crumbs in your brain.” She also noted that there wasn’t a heavy push on product but rather overall brand awareness. “It would be hard to push self-reflection with a leather bowler bag. That would be a stretch.”

But the promise of authentic engagement and subsequent customer loyalty is a powerful incentive for brands to keep building platforms for engagement in the self-care space. Pryor’s sense as a consumer is that many of these associations are being driven by a particular sense of vulnerability — especially among women. “I think people are really looking for tools and answers to find their way,” she says.

Brands are seemingly happy to light a path. Polly Rodriguez, the co-founder and CEO of Unbound, says her company’s partnership with Maven (an online sexual health clinic) was based on a conversation vacuum. “The government and public education system should be addressing sexual health and wellness, but over and over, we’ve seen these institutions walk away from that role,” she says. “So there’s a place for us to provide that value for our customers. We want women, femme-identifying, and nonbinary people to be able to find these resources and tools that they need. And when you offer your customers genuine solutions and help, it builds customer loyalty in a way that’s authentic.”

Unbound is also planning to expand on this idea — though it’s looking to build online tools to connect women who need support. Rodriguez says she hopes the program will launch in the early fall. “We’re seeing a really organic community emerging on Instagram and at events,” she says. “There’s palpable demand for women to feel less alone.”

Jordana Kier, a co-founder of Lola, says that their recent initiative is also part of a broader effort to build community. “In this day and age, so much of our lives and interactions are online,” she says. “But people like that IRL interaction and they want to feel connected.” Lola was inspired, she says, by concerns related to continuing stigma surrounding sex. “We wanted to find a way to use advertising to drive a touchy conversation. We’re providing women an opportunity to ask questions and feel supported.”

There’s an interesting duality to these new offerings: On one hand, they’re clearly feeding a need from a group of consumers hungry for information about how to be a woman in today’s world; on the other, there’s an undeniably cynical rationale behind this kind of programming, drawing a customer or potential customer closer while engaging in a form of emotional manipulation — even when intentions extend beyond a company’s bottom line.

San Francisco psychotherapist Daphne de Marneffe says there’s a risk that in attempting to create positive associations, some brands might inadvertently present the idea of a quick fix to sometimes serious mental or sexual health problems. “Sitting with strangers in a closed cafe is not going to resolve your psychotic break or addiction issues,” she says.

Still, de Marneffe acknowledges that creating spaces to have these conversations is valuable. “Some of these programs acknowledge that people are feeling emotionally stressed out and that they can’t always talk about things with their spouses or friends. There’s a question of whether there’s a false promise in here, but it could serve as a gateway for people to get help.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Christopher Sherman’s Sex Positive Nudes

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By Ryan Cahill

Photographer Christopher Sherman has just woken up in Toronto. It’s lunchtime in London, where I’m currently trying to connect a transatlantic FaceTime. Storm clouds overhead mean that only fragments of Sherman’s voice are audible through our phone, which isn’t ideal when we’re here to discuss his provocative nude photography — the interrupted line means I’m just hearing words like “butt,” “sex” and “cock” being yelled down the line without much context. After the storm finally clears, we reconvene our conversation. I’m here to dissect Sherman’s work, to scratch the surface of his awe-inspiring personal film photography, which often depicts men in their most intimate moments; pre, post and during orgasm.

Sherman started his foray into photography in his pre-teen years. He first picked up a camera at the age of 8 after finding it in a McDonald’s Happy Meal. He says the neon pink toy provided a Summer-worth of fun for him and his sister, and together they would take turns to photograph Barbie naked in their backyard. Unbeknownst to him, his adolescent play was a pre-cursor for his career later in life. Upgrading from a plastic play-thing to real life subjects, the guys that Sherman shoots are real people; friends and acquaintances that he’s amassed over the years — and whom feel comfortable enough to let him capture them entirely naked, and often in the throes of passion.

“To me sex is one of the greatest forms of human expression,” Sherman tells me. “Sex is art, sex is funny, sex is clever, sex is intelligent, sex is joy.” He first started shooting nudity and sexuality as a way of answering a question; could pornography be turned into an art form that people would want to hang on their walls? After years of shooting and regular commissions, it’s safe to say he’s answered that question. Sherman’s style of photography has gained attention from the varying industries, and he’s now brought his use of light, 35mm film, rawness and intimacy to the fashion landscape, regularly working with brands and publications to produce work featuring both male and female subjects — sometimes clothes, sometimes nude.

“Sex is art, sex is funny, sex is clever, sex is intelligent, sex is joy.”

Unlike most photographers specializing in nude photography, Sherman’s personal subjects are wide-ranging; an array of ethnicities, body shapes and sizes. They’re often relatable figures, and not the conventional “porn” ideal that many of us are accustomed to seeing in sexual situations via porn materials and in film, television and more often than not, music videos. “The male body is incredibly beautiful in all its forms, in all its sizes, colors and shapes. It’s a very conscious decision to explore and tell the story of a diverse group of bodies,” Sherman says of his casting choices. But why does he feel it’s important for everyday people to be seen through a sexualized lens? “Well, I think we should all see ourselves as sexual beings, I think we should all see ourselves as bodies of sexual fantasy and sexual exploration. It’s not safe when the idea of sex and sexuality is associated with one body type.”

In today’s photographic landscape, shooting nudity is arguably more revered than ever, and requires caution. We’re rife with stories about sexual assault and unprofessionalism; major photographers have had their careers destroyed overnight with allegations of misconduct. I ask Sherman about how he ensures that he’s creating a safe space for his subjects, and to him, it comes as second nature. The people are so relatable and recognizable because they’re people in his everyday life, friends and acquaintances that he’s established relationships with over the course of weeks, months and even years. “When you see a photograph, I’ve already been either engaging in conversation or dialogue with this person,” Sherman shares. “The naked moment captured by the camera is literally one per cent of the relationship, friendship or the conversation that I’m having with that person.”

The result is something raw, explicit and all-encompassing. His photography transcends taboo topics and breaks barriers when it comes to conversations regarding sex and sexuality. His imagery provides a viewer with the opportunity to see oneself in his work via his everyday subjects and their relatable sexual situations. Through his imagery, he tells us that sex doesn’t have been something we’re embarrassed about — it fills every one of our lives and is something we should address head-on, rather than shying away from.

In today’s photographic landscape, shooting nudity is arguably more revered than ever, and requires caution. We’re rife with stories about sexual assault and unprofessionalism; major photographers have had their careers destroyed overnight with allegations of misconduct. I ask Sherman about how he ensures that he’s creating a safe space for his subjects, and to him, it comes as second nature. The people are so relatable and recognizable because they’re people in his everyday life, friends and acquaintances that he’s established relationships with over the course of weeks, months and even years. “When you see a photograph, I’ve already been either engaging in conversation or dialogue with this person,” Sherman shares. “The naked moment captured by the camera is literally one per cent of the relationship, friendship or the conversation that I’m having with that person.”

The result is something raw, explicit and all-encompassing. His photography transcends taboo topics and breaks barriers when it comes to conversations regarding sex and sexuality. His imagery provides a viewer with the opportunity to see oneself in his work via his everyday subjects and their relatable sexual situations. Through his imagery, he tells us that sex doesn’t have been something we’re embarrassed about — it fills every one of our lives and is something we should address head-on, rather than shying away from.

Complete Article HERE!

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Enjoy kink?

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Here’s how to handle the ‘drop’ you may feel after you play.

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‘I tend to play pretty hard,’ Rizzo Barajas from Martinez, California told Gay Star News. ‘Usually involving blood or very hard physical impact play.’

Rizzo identifies as a queer agender person of color.

He’s also a switch, which means he alternates between taking either the submissive or dominant role during Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism (BDSM) sessions.

But sometimes after a heavy session (also known as a scene) he’ll go from extreme pleasure to an intense drop in his mood.

‘It’s kind of like extreme temperature changes,’ he said. ‘Running from the pool to the hot tub and then back to the pool.’

He continued: ‘It’s jarring for me to go from having the hell beaten out of me to sitting and having a cup of water while trying to socialize.’

Marilyn Hollinger from Millbrae, California describes herself as a ‘sadist, mistress, femme top who likes to play very hard’. She’s been in the leather scene since 1986 and identifies as a lesbian.

She described a ‘drop’ as a bit like a skydive.

Marilyn said: ‘In a usual scene, I find I experience euphoria and it’s almost like an altered state – it can feel like a drug sometimes where you’re just in such a state of pleasure and extreme emotional or physical feelings.

‘So when you’re in this high state, at some point, you come down. You come down into this normal state but sometimes you dip and that’s called a drop,’ she said.

What is a ‘drop’?

Susan Wright from Phoenix, Arizona is the founder and spokesperson for the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom.

She said: ‘A drop is a feeling of depression or bodily decline.’ Susan said it’s a drop from the intense emotional, physical and mental feelings you had during the scene.

Dr Brad Sagarin is the Head of the Science of BDSM Research Team at Northern Illinois University.

Their research examines the positive physiological and psychological effects of consensual BDSM activities.

Sagarin explained: ‘Both bottoms and tops show increases in relationship closeness and reductions in psychological stress from before to after their scenes.’

Bottoms show increases in cortisol (a hormone associated with physiological stress) during scenes and tops show a ‘pleasurable altered state associated with optimal experiences.’

Dr Richard Sprott at the California State University wrote in the 2016 Journal of Positive Sexuality that ‘drops’ can happen to anyone.

They believe there are two different types of drop – immediate after-scene drop and drops that can happen days later.

Both types can leave people in a deep psychological process that leads to feeling ‘lost, ungrounded, disconnected, unsatisfied, depressed, irritable, vulnerable, raw, sad’.

The science behind a drop

Sprott and Randall theorize a ‘drop’ can be a process of grief and bereavement. Grief ‘refers to the emotional and cognitive reactions that a person has when one experiences a loss or separation.’

They also believe drops can be the result of a person losing their identity.

They wrote: ‘One’s self, or a central identity, is changing in some way. And that change involves a loss of the old self – the old identity.’

Susan said drops can range from being very mild to very intense, boiling down to endorphins and adrenaline.

She said: ‘After a scene, my body is trying to deal with flushing those chemicals out of your system and you really feel it.’

Susan also says a person experiencing a drop might have a little internalized shame.

She said: ‘For some people, the shame of being kinky and having done what you did may be the reason for a drop. We have so much societal disapproval and perhaps what they did conflicts with what their ideas of what a good person does.’

She added: ‘It’s a terrible thing for someone to feel bad about who they are – it’s why community is so important.’

Marilyn agreed: ‘Sometimes the bottom might think: “Oh well how can I be a good person if I like being hit?” or humiliated, or whatever it is we’re doing.

‘How can I be a good person and person of value? That all hits you in a drop,’ she said.

Another part of feeling a drop might be a physical reaction.

During an intense scene, you might be putting your body through strenuous positions.

If you strain your muscles too hard, you might get a build up of lactic acid. This, in turn, can lead to you feeling sore.

How to prevent a drop

The best way to prevent a drop is open and honest communication with any scene partner you might have.

An important way to do this is to negotiate with your partner beforehand about what you might need after the scene.

This could be as simple as a back rub, a cuddle or sharing a meal together.

Another great way to prevent a drop is to take things slow.

Susan explained: ‘One of the ways to prevent a drop is to have a more gradual build-up in the scene and then a more gradual drop off.

‘For example, if you wanted to do a caning scene, you start with the spanking, you warm up with a good 15 minutes of spanking and tapping lightly with the cane. Then you might administer a stroke of the cane.

‘Then you do your caning for however long you want and then you taper off. You stroke the rest of the body as a decline or you cuddle a lot afterwards,’ she said.

Rizzo agreed: ‘I like to do a cool down period where the impact is not as hard but is still present. It’s a slow change instead of a hard stop.’

Vigorous stretching beforehand and taking vitamin B is also a good way to deal with lactic acid build up.

Susan also said it helps not to do drugs or drink alcohol before or during a scene.

After care: Dealing with a drop

Every good BDSM-lover knows to have good after care when your scene is done.

After care is giving your body or mind what it needs in order to alleviate or stop a drop from happening.

Marilyn is a mistress and is currently in several master/slave relationships, where she’s the authority.

Even though she’s a top, she says she still experiences a drop in ‘virtually every level of play scene’ she does.

She explained she can be doing some very intense scene work, involving inflicting high levels of pain. But this is the complete opposite to how she is in the real world.

So a form of after care for her is scheduling a check-in with her partner after the scene is done.

She said: ‘Even though I’m the top, I need reassurance that I’m not evil. So that’s the reason I personally need a check in.’

Rizzo agreed and said he likes to follow up with subs he plays with in the days after, via text or phone calls. He always wants to make sure they’re OK physically and mentally, and if there is anything he can do for them.

He joked: ‘Remember – if you break it, you buy it. So don’t break it!’

Susan said a great way to deal with a drop is to have some chocolate.

She explained: ‘It helps mirror the oxytocin. So it can really help. Often, at parties, they can have little tables of sweets and chocolates.’

Marilyn said: ‘If I’m doing a scene on a Sunday for example, on Tuesday I’m going to time it so I’m not doing anything emotional because I know I’m going to be in a little bit of a funk.

‘That might be the time that I go do a massage,’ she said.

Complete Article HERE!

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Midlife sex problems?

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New research says you’re not alone

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Around 30 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 40 and 59 report at least one problem in the bedroom.

The most common sexual problem is low desire, according to a research study we recently published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. Around 40 per cent of the women we asked, and 30 per cent of men, reported experiencing problems with low desire during the last six months.

Many women also reported difficulties reaching orgasm (15 per cent), as well as problems with vaginal dryness (29 per cent) and vaginal pain (17 per cent). Nearly a quarter of the men had difficulty ejaculating and maintaining or acquiring an erection.

These rates suggest that a variety of sexual problems are quite common among midlife Canadians. Our findings are also largely consistent with published research from the United States and the United Kingdom.

I am a PhD candidate in family relations and human development at the University of Guelph and my research typically focuses on “keeping the spark alive” in long-term relationships. My main interest is the intersection of relational and sexual elements within romantic relationships.

This study was co-authored with Robin Milhausen from the University of Guelph, Alexander McKay of the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada and Stephen Holzapfel from Women’s College Hospital Toronto. It was aimed at addressing a lack of available data on the frequency and predictors of sexual problems among midlife Canadians.

Novel sex enhances desire

Individuals who are married are more likely to report low desire than those who are not married, according to our results. Married men are more likely to report ejaculation difficulties.

These are interesting findings, and not unexpected. Other research has shown that sexual satisfaction decreases over time in long-term relationships. Together, this suggests that over-familiarity with a partner in some cases may lead to the sexual “spark” burning less bright, which may also contribute to sexual problems.

After years of marriage, it can take work to rekindle the sexual spark.

Our research also suggests that participating in novel sexual activities may enhance desire by breaking up routine and therefore enhancing the spark.

We also examined the effect of menopause — finding that postmenopausal women were more likely to report low desire and vaginal pain. This is consistent with other literature showing declines in desire for postmenopausal women. It complements other research, which suggests that physiological changes like thinning of the vaginal walls and reduced lubrication that can occur after menopause may lead to vaginal pain.

When doctors don’t ask

We conducted this research with a large national sample of 2,400 Canadians aged between 40 and 59. Our findings showed that sexual problems are very common in this age group. This is one of the largest Canadian demographics and will continue to grow. More national Canadian data is needed to understand the health-care needs for this group.

One important limitation of this study is that we based our research on participant self-reports and did not assess whether they met the diagnostic criteria for a clinical diagnosis of sexual dysfunction (e.g. erectile dysfunction).

Previously published research reveals that more midlife Canadians would like to be asked about sexual problems by their doctors, but more than 75 per cent had not sought help for these problems.

Read together with the results of our study, this suggests an emerging health-care issue that requires attention and research.

Complete Article HERE!

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Yes, Porn Can Be Healthy and Healing.

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Here’s How.

Most articles are written focusing on the negatives of porn, always slinging around a few good points but mostly just expressing sex and body phobia while ignoring the benefits. As a sex therapist and educator, my work is to help my patients use sex to heal, and to also see its medicinal values. And sometimes I can take advantage of how porn heals people as well.

Not all porn is the same, and I recommend the types that focus on sexual and body diversity, honoring the sexualities of all types of people: the butch, the femmes, the skinny, the queer, the POC, the kinky, the fat and also the unhung.

How porn heals people:

1. Helps normalize diversity

Not all art and media focus on representation of sexual and body diversity, leaving those not fitting into the white, cis, masc, gym-bodied industrial complex feeling both marginalized and not eroticized or valued. There are now many porn sites that focus on diversity in both sex acts and bodies. Viewing this type of porn heals sexual and body confidence, and also helps decrease erotophobia for those who have made their sexuality rigid and narrow by only sexualizing the standard one-size-fits-all sexual body and porn performer.

2. Provides sex to those without partners and the solosexual

Porn provides a sex life for those that don’t not have partners or don’t want partners. Not all people have access to or enjoy sex with Others, and solo sex as a lifestyle or sexual orientation is acceptable. Others don’t meet social desirability requirements and due to this oppression rely upon porn as one means of sexual health and expression. This is not a lesser form of sexuality; it’s just different.

3. Gives sex to the fetish sexual

Some of us are far kinkier than our partners, and for us porn becomes a way to engage fetishes and kinks. The ability to participate in your full sexuality is important for sexual health, and thankfully porn exists that can meet everyone’s needs. Anything can be eroticized, and porn for everything exists.

4. Helps higher desire partners in monogamous relationships

Monogamy is still a standard practice and means that the sex and body limits of your partner become your erotic limits. Porn allows for access to a diverse and creative spectrum of always-available sexuality. This takes the pressure and anxiety off the lower sexual partner and allows the higher or hyper sexual partner to not have to water down their sex drive.

5. Acts as a needed counter balance to our sex and body phobic culture

We live in a culture that is both obsessed and afraid of sex at the same time. We carry far too much anxiety about sexual bodies, arousal, and eroticism. The existence of porn, is an act of rebellion and resistance to the puritanical and modest values we are all raised in and oppressed by — or in other words, porn heals our culture, too.

6. Masturbation empowers and increases sexual autonomy

Due to our sex- and body-negative culture, its important, especially for women, the disabled, fat, POC and other minorities to see that their sexuality is not owned by anyone, including their partners.   Masturbation and porn act as practices and tools of liberation.

7. It’s a healthy place to learn sexual authenticity

Finding out who we are sexually is an important developmental stage that goes on for our entire lives, yet is legitimized by no one. Our sexuality is far more expansive and fluid than we realize, and sexual exploration is necessary. With your partners, and especially with porn, we can find and explore new parts of our eroticism, and discover new forms of arousal.

8. It’s a career choice

Porn and sex work are legit forms of labor, and also allow for many to further explore their sexual selves, help Others explore theirs, and provide sex for healing to those that need it. Studio porn, as well as the explosion of for-fee cam and amateur sex sites, allow all diverse bodies to now make an autonomous living with sex work.

Complete Article HERE!

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Fat Fetishes Are Complicated,

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Body Shaming Is Not

By Kasandra Brabaw

At 30 years old, Annette “Nettie” Hedtke is tired of dealing with family members, coworkers, and persistent diet ads all trying to control her weight. She’s fat, and she’s finally ready to embrace her body. We see her go through this journey, from pretending to drink a diet shake with her boss to loudly declaring “I’m fat!” at a family dinner, in TBS and Refinery29’s new web series, Puffy. But on her way to body positivity, Nettie encounters some roadblocks, including a cute man named Allen who seemed perfect for her…until he called her a cow.

It starts out innocently enough, when Allen tells Nettie that she’s hot “like a sexy farmer’s daughter.” Then, his fantasy quickly takes a turn from wanting to watch Nettie milk a cow to pretending that she is the cow and he’s “pulling on [her] soft pink udders.” Nettie backs off at this moment, feeling that Allen is calling her a cow and fetishizing her body. And her instinct to run is totally understandable. Fetishization is a complicated subject in the fat activist community. Like Nettie, many people want to run at the first sign that someone is attracted to them because of their body type. Many plus-size women have had similar experiences with people who reduce them to nothing more than a body, or want to control their body and size through feeding (a sexual kink where one partner gets pleasure from feeding the other). Those kinds of kinks are totally fine, as long as both partners share that interest. But if the plus woman doesn’t want to be fed, realizing that her partner sees her body as a sexual object can be dehumanizing.

Yet, some fat activists push back against fetishization concerns. “There are some fat women I know who describe nearly any physical attraction from men as fetishizing,” fat activist Your Fat Friend tweeted. She and other fat activists wish that wasn’t the case. “I’d love to get us to the point where attraction to fat bodies is normalized, and we don’t read it as somehow necessarily unsafe/unsavory,” she wrote. We call someone who has a preference toward plus size bodies a fetishist, but fat is only a fetish because society tells us that it’s not normal to find it attractive, body positive advocate Marie Southard Ospina previously told Refinery29. “Telling your bros you like fat chicks? That’s weird, at least in some communities,” Ospina said. “If your preference is something that isn’t conventionally attractive…it can still be deemed a fetish.” And having a fetish has it’s own set of stigma attached to it (just look at how quickly Nettie dismissed Allen when his farm role play stepped a little too outside of the norm for her interests).

So, having a fat fetish isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It all depends on whether the person who’s attracted to fat bodies is seeing their partner as a whole person, not just a soft stomach. And what Allen did at first, while definitely a little tactless and abrupt, wasn’t terrible. If he and Nettie had a chat about fetishization and desire and boundaries before they got into the farm role play, maybe she would’ve been able to go along with it. Maybe she could have dealt with being the cow in his fantasy if he explained that it had nothing to do with her weight or that he’s attracted to her fat body but also interested in her personality. But what he did next was unforgivable. And it happens way too often to fat women who reject thin men.

As soon as Nettie walks away from Allen, telling him “don’t call me,” he shouts back, “You know, I don’t even date fat girls.” It’s a reaction that happens all too often, says Laura Delarato, a body positive activist and sex educator who works at Refinery29. And it happens because being rejected by a fat person is so shameful that often, a person’s first instinct is to lash out. It’s like getting fired and then telling your boss that actually, you quit. “The idea of a fat woman rejecting a person is so outside of our understanding because we see plus size women, and fat women, and chubby women, and bigger bodies as desperate, like they’ll take anything,” she says. Of course, that’s not true. A fat woman can and will reject anyone she’s not interested in, especially if she feels that they’re objectifying her.

Ultimately, changing that reaction and changing the idea that being attracted to fat is a fetish at all comes down to representation, Delarato says. It’s 2018, and just about every fat woman on TV has a storyline about weight, as if they don’t have lives outside of worrying about their size. We need to see a plus-size woman who has already embraced her body and who has sex with people who find her desirable just because she is.

Overweight and overconfident, 30-something Nettie decides to openly embrace her abundance and “comes out” to the world as a fat person. When she’s met with a range of reactions, from BBW fetishizing suitors to her diet pushing family, she discovers that her weight is a heavy matter — for everyone but her. Watch the full film from Refinery29 and TBS’s comedy lab HERE.

Complete Article HERE!

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7 Ways To Have Sex Without A Penis

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— Because You Really Don’t Need One

By Kasandra Brabaw

When most people think about sex, their minds likely jump to penis-in-vagina (P-in-V) sex. And it’s no wonder, given that the sex ed many of us had (if we had it at all) focused on teaching us how to not get pregnant. When pregnancy is the concern (or the goal) then the only kind of sex that seems to “count” is P-in-V sex. We’re so invested in the penis’ involvement in sex, that when the story of a man who lost his penis in a childhood accident came out on Reddit, people had one burning question: How can he fuck his girlfriend?

“We typically end up having this picture in our brain that sex involves a penis and vagina,” says Laura Deitsch, PhD, resident sexologist of Vibrant. “It starts when a penis is hard and it ends when a penis ejaculates.” That fixation on penis-in-vagina penetration as “real sex” not only leaves a bunch of people out, it also ignores all kinds of sexy things couples could be doing instead of sticking a penis into a hole, she says. Plenty of people default to penis-less sex because they have to — including cisgender women in queer relationships and trans or non-binary people who feel gender dysphoria around their genitals — but even straight, cisgender people could benefit from giving the penis a break. Taking one night off from P-in-V sex could inspire creativity in straight couples’ sex lives, and that helps to stave off boredom.

Whether you’re a cis queer woman wondering what to do with her penis-less partner, a trans person looking for ways to avoid gender dysphoria, a straight and cis person whose partner can’t use his penis for medical reasons, or someone who simply wants to add a little excitement to your sex life, we’ve rounded up five ways to have sex without a penis. So, consider giving the P-in-V sex a break, and trying something new.

Put your tongue to work.
You’ve likely heard of the orgasm gap — the fact that straight women orgasm significantly less often than straight men — but have you heard of the oral sex gap? According to at least one study, women are more than twice as likely to go down on a sexual partner than men. So if you’re in a straight pairing, use your penis-less night to start filling in that gap.

Often, oral sex is way more effective (in terms of having orgasms) than penetrative sex alone for people who have vulvas, because there are about 8,000 nerve endings in the clitoris. But, regardless of your gender identity or sexuality, eating someone out for the first time can be scary. Vulvas and vaginas seem like this big mystery, simply because no one talks about them.

So let’s shatter the mystery. All it takes is a little bit of anatomy knowledge and some stellar communication to know what you’re doing. Things to remember: 1) All clits look different, but they’re generally located toward the top of your partner’s vulva. If you can’t find your partner’s clit, ask if you’re in the right spot. 2) Talk to your partner about what they like. It’s the best way to get them off, promise. 3) Have fun! Oral sex is hot.

Get your fingers (or fist) in there.
Fingering isn’t just for foreplay. When done correctly (meaning, there’s plenty of lubrication and it feels good), fingering can be just as satisfying as other forms of penetration. Plus, if your partner has a vulva, using your fingers gives you plenty of mobility to add another finger, tongue, or vibrator circling their clit. And that combo is amazingly good at creating explosive blended orgasms.

If your partner has a penis, you can finger them, too. It’s called “muffing.” People with penises have two spots tucked behind the scrotum and testicles called inguinal canals, which are about the diameter of a finger (but also stretch). Mira Bellwether first wrote about this kind of fingering in a zine called Fucking Trans Women, but the sex act can feel good for anyone who has a penis, regardless of gender identity.

Kick it old school.
Think back to the days of your first romance. You were likely waiting a while to have “real sex.” So, instead, you’d rub your fully clothed body against your partner’s. That, my friends, is dry humping and it can count as sex, too. If you rub in the right places, it can also result in orgasm.

“The main thing for people to remember is that you’re going to try getting some constant friction on the clit,” Laura McGuire, PhD, a sexologist and consultant, previously told Refinery29. So just swivel your hips around on a partner’s erection, hip, thigh, or a sex toy, until you hit a spot that feels good.

Take out the toy box.
Sex toys are your friend, and they can make any kind of sex much more interesting (whether or not the penis is in play). If at least one partner has a clitoris, toys like vibrators and dildos can be used either in combo with oral sex or fingering or they can be used on their own to stimulate any part of the body, Dr. Deitsch says.

Strap-ons can also be a great addition to your sex adventures, whether or not your partner has a penis. And if they do have a penis, toys can still come in handy. Anyone who has a prostate can get lots of pleasure from anal sex, so you can use a strap-on to peg your partner (aka, enter them from behind).

Share your fantasies.
Sex means so many different things to different people that it sometimes doesn’t require much touching at all, Dr. Deitsch says. “If we opened our minds, we’d realize that sex is a whole lot of stuff,” she says. “And I challenge someone, if they’re thinking that something like tying your partner up and reading them erotic fiction isn’t sex, would they do that with a family member or with someone who they just met at the grocery store?”

To some people, sharing sexual fantasies can be highly erotic. So Dr. Deitsch recommends laying with your partner and describing the sexy things you want to do to them, or watching porn together, or engaging in some light bondage as you read sexy stories.

Experiment with texture and touch.
If non-penetrative sex is new for you, then now is a great time to really get to know your partner’s body. “An interesting way to conceptualize a partner is having them be your canvas,” Dr. Deitsch says. Use whatever you can find, that your partner feels good having on their body, and explore different parts of your lover’s body. That can mean a wooden spoon or spatula, a comb, an ice cube, a smooth piece of cloth or a fork. “Rake a comb across their back or take a piece of cloth in between the cleavage area,” Dr. Deitsch says. “Just making a big long production out of feeling different types of touch with different materials.” It’s fun, but can also help you get intimately acquainted with all of your partner’s sensitive spots. (Maybe you can even attempt the elusive nipple-gasm.)

Make it booty-licious.
(Almost) everyone has an anus, Dr. Deitsch says. So anal sex is the great equalizer. “There are a plethora of new toys on the market, like butt plugs and anal beads, that you certainly don’t need a penis to be able to utilize,” she says. And whether any partner involved has a prostate or not, anal sex can feel amazing.

But, it’s also easy to have anal sex that hurts. So, if you’re a first-timer, make sure you’re buying smaller butt plugs that have a flared base and using plenty of lube.

Complete Article HERE!

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Men, like women, can have post-sex blues

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By Cheryl Platzman Weinstock

After sex, men can sometimes experience a myriad of confusing negative feelings, a phenomenon called post-coital dysphoria (PCD), which can interfere with relationships, researchers say.

The research team analyzed responses from over 1,200 men to an anonymous international online survey that asked whether they had ever experienced symptoms of PCD, which can include tearfulness, sadness or irritability following otherwise satisfactory consensual sex.

The men, aged between 18 and 81 years, were primarily in Australia and the U.S., but the sample also included men in the UK, Russia, New Zealand, Germany and 72 other countries.

The study team, led by Joel Maczkowiack, a master’s student at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, found that 41 percent of the men reported having experienced PCD in their lifetime, with 20 percent saying they had experienced it in the previous four weeks. Between 3 percent and 4 percent of the men reported experiencing PCD on a regular basis.

“I would like to think that this study will help males (and females) reflect on their experience of sex, as well as encourage communication between partners about their experience,” Maczkowiack told Reuters Health by email.

“In addition, we hope that this type of research will help people whose experience of sex is dysphoric (or dysphoric at times) to know that they are not the only ones who feel this way. In this sense, we hope this study normalizes a variety of human experiences following sex,” he said.

Past research has found that PCD is common among women. This is the first time it has been documented in men, Maczkowiack said.

PCD can occur despite satisfying and enjoyable sex. One man in the study reported that PCD made him feel “self-loathing.” Another reported, “I feel a lot of shame.” One participant said, “I usually have crying fits and full on depressive episodes following coitus that leave my significant other worried . . . .”

The study, published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, found that PCD may be related to previous and current psychological distress and past abuse, including sexual, emotional and physical abuse in childhood and adulthood.

Emotional abuse was the most common form of abuse reported by the men both before and after age 16, researchers found. Sexual abuse in childhood was reported by 12.7 percent of the men and sexual abuse in adulthood was reported by 3.5 percent of the men. Their most common reported mental health concern was depression (36.9 percent), followed by anxiety (32.5 percent) and bipolar disorder (3 percent).

Current psychological distress was the strongest variable associated with lifetime and four-week PCD. Higher levels of psychological distress were more strongly associated with PCD.

The data for this study was collected from February to June 2017 and drawn from a larger questionnaire that examined the post-coital experience of men and women.

“While this research is interesting, the study of PCD needs psychometrically valid instruments, said Rory Reid, an assistant professor of psychiatry and research psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study.

The study used a few questions to measure PCD, but there is ambiguity in those items, Reid said in a phone interview. “They lack precision and there was no specificity about frequency in responses as to exactly how often was ‘a little’ or ‘some of the time’,” he noted.

“Future studies of PCD need to utilize qualitative approaches where participants are interviewed about their PCD experiences so we can further understand this phenomenon, why people might experience it, the extent to which it is causing individuals psychological distress, and whether it is negatively impacting their romantic relationship,” Reid added.

One of limitations of the study was that the men self-reported their emotional response to previous sexual experiences. “This information can be difficult for participants to recall,” Maczkowiack, said.

“The findings of this study could influence marital therapy by normalizing different responses. In addition, it may open up communication between partners,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

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Yes, we can.

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And we can also change the way we talk about disability and sex

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There are major barriers for disabled people who want to pursue sex and relationships. They are real and deeply felt. Yet the stigmatising tone of public conversation makes me wary, writes Henrietta Bollinger

“Um … advice? From me? Yes, we can,” was my cautious, then tongue-in-cheek answer. “As Obama would say!”

The others laughed. It was a joke. But I’d just been asked what advice I might have for young people like me who were exploring sex and sexuality. It was also a pithy summary of what 16-year-old me had needed to know.

As a disabled woman this was not something I’d been sure of: could sex be part of my life? When I later conducted research on the experience of young disabled people in sexuality education the question repeated itself. Being unsure if sex and relationships would feature in their lives meant they were unsure if any of the information about safe sex or healthy relationships applied either. They largely disregarded what they had learnt as irrelevant , increasing the risk of abuse. So, I know how important it is to clearly say: “Yes. As a disabled person sex is for you, too.”

This sentiment in the piece headlined “The reality of having sex when you live with a disability” I had to agree with. I also agree that there are major barriers for disabled people who want to pursue sex and relationships. These range from a lack of affirmative education, to the inaccessibility of places where people usually meet potential partners, disabled people’s social isolation and stigma towards disabled people, including assumptions that may come from their own families or the people who support them. There are related issues too, like people’s rights to marriage, fertility or to have children. In this country, it is still legal under the Adoption Act for children to be removed from their parents’ care on the grounds of parental disability. Disabled people are also still far too frequently subjected to sterilization.

The barriers are real and deeply felt. They absolutely need addressing as part of realising equitable and full lives for disabled people. I would absolutely advocate for the removal of all barriers that inhibit us from exploring sexuality or entering sexual relationships as equals to non-disabled people. Yet the tone of public conversation makes me wary. On the rare occasions we do talk about disability and sex it is either to highlight the barriers or to equivocate about sex work. Advocacy which claims the act of sex as something we are entitled to often misses the fact that good sex should be a negotiation, a social interaction. Nobody – including those who work in the sex industry – owes it to anyone.

Sex work as a way for disabled people to access sex has been brought to popular attention by films like The Sessions or Touching Base. The Sessions was a dramatization of Mark O’Brien’s life; a man with polio who decided he wanted to have sex before he died. Touching Base is a documentary about an Australian sex worker who visits disabled clients. Stories like these have a lot of value in terms of amplifying the “Yes we can” message. For many disabled people working with sex workers provides intimacy they may not have and the opportunity to explore their own bodies, take “safe-risks”. But these stories are told into a context where sex workers continue to be stigmatised and so do disabled people.

When this is made the dominant narrative, it allows the rest of “able” society off the hook in terms of examining its own prejudices. Instead of asking hard questions about attitudinal, social, educational and physical barriers that exist to all people being full sexual citizens – we outsource. We tell sex workers that there are morally more and less acceptable ways of doing their jobs, instead of constantly supporting them in their choice of work.

Disabled people, we say to ourselves, are entitled to sex as a service, the uncomplicated meeting of a need. But as partners, lovers in their own right?

There is another story, too, a story that we tell less often – maybe because it is more mundane.

This is the idea that disabled people can and do have sex – without the help of any support or sex workers. We are straight, queer, alone, together. We are partners, lovers, parents and all the rest. It is the kind of conversation that is happening privately, or being just lived. It is the mundane story we need to make sure people know is out there too.

Because after we understand that “Yes we can” we ask: how? And we have to know there is not one reality of sex and disability but many. The more varied the stories we tell, the more will seem possible to the disabled kid in their sex ed class, as well as to their potential partners.

Complete Article HERE!

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The first app to get approved as birth control in Europe has now been green-lit in the US, despite controversy

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  • Birth-control app Natural Cycles has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration — the first app to be approved for contraception in North America.
  • The app uses an algorithm to tell women when they have the highest and lowest chances of getting pregnant, but it ultimately relies on men and women changing their behavior.
  • The app recently came under fire in Sweden when 37 women reported getting pregnant while using it.

A birth-control app called Natural Cycles has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, marking the first time an app has been approved for contraception in North America.

Designed by physicist couple Elina Berglund and Raoul Scherwitzl, the app doesn’t involve a pill and contains no medication. It works by giving heterosexual couples recommendations about when to avoid sex or use protection, based on a woman’s daily temperature measurements and the regularity of her period.

“Consumers are increasingly using digital health technologies to inform their everyday health decisions, and this new app can provide an effective method of contraception if it’s used carefully and correctly,” Terri Cornelison, assistant director for women’s health at the FDA’s Center for Devices, said in a statement. “But women should know that no form of contraception works perfectly, so an unplanned pregnancy could still result from correct usage of this device.”

Natural Cycles only helps prevent pregnancy if people using it behave in the way it prescribes. The app also recently gained regulatory approval in Europe — the first app to do so there as well — but it came under fire in Sweden several months later when 37 women reported getting pregnant while using it.

Those pregnancies ignited a small controversy about how the app works and what it can — and can’t — do. But Scherwitzl told Business Insider in January that he was not surprised women had become pregnant.

“We give red and green days and clear recommendations on which days to abstain and which days we consider the risk of pregnancy to be negligible,” he said.

The problem with saying ‘as effective as the pill using only math’

Natural Cycles was initially portrayed by multiple news outlets — including Business Insider — as being “as effective as the pill using only math.”

When is used properly, Natural Cycles may be comparable in effectiveness to the pill. But that doesn’t always happen, as the controversy in Sweden revealed.

So the problem with these types of statements is that the app relies on couples to change their behavior and either not have sex or use protection based on the app’s recommendations.

“Just like with the pill, you have scenarios where women take the pill everyday” and it’s as reliable as possible, Scherwitzl said, and then there are “scenarios where they don’t take it every day” and the reliability decreases.

How Natural Cycles compares with simply using a calendar

Natural Cycles’ approach puts it in a larger category of birth control known as fertility awareness, which is similar to the calendar-based approach people have used for decades.

The company’s founders published a study on the app’s effectiveness in the European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care in 2016. The research involved 4,000 women between the ages of 18 and 45, and the results showed that out of every 100 women who used the app in a “typical” way for a year (meaning certain common slip-ups were accounted for), seven of them got pregnant.

That rate is and significantly lower than the traditional calendar method, which has an average fail rate of 24%, according to the CDC.

The “typical use” scenario for the pill leads to about nine out of 100 women getting pregnant within a year, so the study suggests Natural Cycles is on par with an oral contraceptive. But the app still leads to more pregnancies than would be seen among people using injectable birth control or an IUD. The typical use fail rate for an IUD is 0.2-0.8%, or less than one out of 100 women getting pregnant each year.

Apps can ‘provide encouragement,’ but still have key limitations

As far as the women who got pregnant while using the Natural Cycles app are concerned, the same European study found that more than half of them had unprotected sex with men on the days when the app advised against it. Those instances are evidence of a longstanding human reality: behavioral control is difficult, especially when it comes to sex, and not a guaranteed way to prevent pregnancy.

“While smartphone apps may provide encouragement, they can’t stop [men and women] from … sex altogether,” Susan Walker, a professor of sexual health at Anglia Ruskin University, wrote in an article for The Conversation.

A handful of other factors can also get in the way of the app working correctly, including having multiple sex partners and having a partner who is not equally committed to birth control.

So if you’re planning on using the app — or one of the dozens like it that have not been approved as medical devices — experts say you should have a predictable sex schedule, regular periods, be willing to check your temperature every day, and have the ability to abstain from sexual activity on consecutive days every month.

If you can do all that, the app could work for you.

“In the end, what we want to do is add a new method of contraception that women can choose from without side effects,” Scherwitzl said. “I think there are many women who this will be great for.”

Complete Article HERE!

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What does it mean to be a submissive?

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Until a few years ago, unless you were part of the BDSM community, submissive was just a word. 

You’d probably have thought that submissive meant meek, respectful, compliant and passive. And then 50 Shades of Grey arrived and the word took on a whole new meaning.

These days, the sexual side of the word ‘submissive’ means something else. It’s a descriptive word for a role that some people like to take during sex, role play or within their kinky relationship.

The submissive partner can be either the male or the female. It’s also possible for people to take it in turns to be the submissive one, which is known as ‘switching’.

Being submissive can be limited to during sex, when the submissive partner might be on the receiving end of masochism, bondage or other forms of domination. However, some submissive don’t limit their submission to within the bedroom, and will be a ‘lifestyle’ submissive.

Lifestyle submissive have sets of rules between themselves and their partners which govern their relationship. It might be small things such as calling your partner a term like ‘sir’ or ‘master’, it could be doing domestic labour, or it could involve spending large amounts of time naked in a cage.

Every submissive and dominant relationship is different and has different levels of intensity and different rules. It is more common to keep the dominant and submissive roles to the bedroom (or to specific periods of time) rather than living the lifestyle 24/7, as it can be difficult to sustain a relationship with an inherent imbalance, especially if you have a family.

It can be hard to understand why another person wants to be submissive if that’s not something you’re personally interested in. It’s important to try to understand and not to judge. As we have written before, there is a real difference between kinky and abusive. That difference is active consent.

Submissive relationships only work when they are based around consent. If you’re worried that a relationship has become toxic or dangerous, you should contact Relate or the National Domestic Violence hotline.

Complete Article HERE!

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