Since the most common symptom is actually having no symptoms, talking to any partners about sexual health is even more important than it is awkward. The good news is talking about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and getting tested leads to more honesty, open communication and better relationships (and health) in the long run. Here’s how to start that particular conversation.
Taking the lead
“Just so you know, I got tested for STIs last month…” is a strong start. Taking the initiative yourself to get tested, get treated if necessary and know your status keeps you and your partner safer. Then, when you’re ready to have the conversation, you can open by sharing your results and normalizing getting tested for your partner.
If they respond that they haven’t been tested or it’s been a while since their last appointment, encourage them to do it, too, so you can be on the same page. This also is a good time to remind them that getting tested doesn’t mean they do have an STI, and if they do, most are curable and all are treatable (and having one doesn’t say anything about them).
Jumping in together
If you haven’t been tested recently either, start a conversation with your partner about both of you getting tested. You can even introduce it as something uncomfortable if that’s where you are, i.e., “This is awkward, but I care about our health and I think it’s time for us to get tested for STIs. Would you want to go get tested together?”
This kind of conversation lets you share an awkward experience while empowering you both to take care of yourselves and each other, creating stronger communication in the long run. It’s also a quick way to hear from your partner if they have recently been tested, and if so, they can serve as your support system in taking on your health.
Talking about an STI you had or have, or hearing about one from your partner, can be a stressful situation. A few things to keep in mind: STIs don’t define people or behaviors, many are curable and all are treatable, millions of people contract STIs every year and even in monogamous relationships an STI doesn’t necessarily mean someone cheated (in some cases, it can take years for symptoms to show up, if at all).
Start a conversation like this one in a safe place where you won’t be interrupted and practice what you’d like to say ahead of time. “I had chlamydia and took medicine, so I don’t have it anymore, but it made me realize we should be getting tested more…” or “I was just diagnosed with gonorrhea and my doctor said you can also get a prescription for the antibiotics…”
Sometimes people need time to process this information, and that’s okay—let them know you’d like to continue talking about it when they feel ready.
If your partner is disclosing an STI to you, remember these facts and consider how you’d want to be treated on the other side. Be compassionate, avoid judgment and take on your health as a team. If you have questions or would like to get tested, Medical Services offers STI testing by appointment with a health care provider and on a walk-in basis through the lab.
Free safer sex supplies (condoms, lubricant, etc.) are available through Health Promotion on the first floor of Wardenburg Health Center. For general information on sexual health and sexually transmitted infections, visit beforeplay.org
Getting in touch with your erotic self can help you feel more authentic, and confident too.
This may seem counterintuitive in a culture that celebrates the Kardashians and made 50 Shades of Grey a bestseller, but female sexual power has always been controversial.
Women who own their erotic power have, for pretty much all of human history, been seen as dangerous and disruptive. (Who is Eve, after all, if not a brazen woman who tempts an otherwise innocent man? And she, apparently, caused humanity to be kicked out of paradise as a result!) History and theology are full of tales of women whose sexual power caused the downfall of nations and peoples. From the Hindus’ Mohini to the Greeks’ Sirens to the Old Testament’s Jezebel, Delilah, and Salome to Stormy Daniels—sexually confident women have been long characterized as capital-T Trouble.
It’s not hard to figure out why: women’s sexual power has long been directly associated with men’s sexual weakness. Delilah’s cutting of Samson’s hair is a figurative castration: a sexually powerful woman can rob a man of his strength and will and render him vulnerable. Other cultures viewed a man’s falling under the influence of a woman as so disempowering that it could only be the work of demons or other supernatural forces. And we all know the tragedy of the cuckold (who persists to the present day in the idea of the “cuck”): sexually duped by a woman, the cuckolded man can’t know who his real children are, and so is effectively impotent. (That this became the basis for The Maury Povich Show is arguably a compounded tragedy.)
The idea that women shouldn’t be sexually empowered runs so deep that we often don’t realize how much it influences us. Take the notion of the “slut” and the double standard it purveys. According to author and journalist Peggy Orenstein, “A sexually active girl [or woman] is a slut while a similar boy [man] is a player.” Apart from “player,” we don’t really have words to describe the sexually active boy or man. Girls and women are called “sluts,” “whores,” “slags,” “slatterns,” and (for older women) “cougars,” to name a few. And although we shame unabashedly sexual women (think of how much vitriol gets aimed at Kim Kardashian), we also vilify the so-called prude who suppresses her sexuality. To say that these double standards and contradictions create a confusing landscape for girls and women is an understatement.
It’s not only confusing… it’s also a dangerous landscape. In the era of #metoo, #BelieveHer, and #WhyIDidntReport, we are more aware than ever that our confidence—sexual or otherwise—won’t protect us from the risk of assault. And even though we know that the arguments about constraining women’s sexual freedom for our own protection are completely bogus–even dangerous—it’s hard to not absorb the chill of those messages. So how do we claim and own our sexual power? How can we use it in a way that promotes our emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being?
We think the starting point is to get in touch with your erotic self. Explore your sexual identity so that you can get to know it better. As Amy discusses in our book, The Feminine Revolution, one of the ways she does this is by embracing her love of lingerie—a love that started for her, because it made her feel great and then if men appreciate it, even better. For Catherine it’s been a process of embracing sensuality in all its forms—not just sexual—and getting to know what moves and inspires her senses. For you, it could be something completely different—what matters is only that you get started. Ask yourself, What makes me feel good? What makes me feel sexually and sensually gratified—and confident? And consider trying a few of these tricks:
Practice the skill of erotic observation
Explore what it feels like to “love” a sunset or the curve of smoke above a fire—and cultivate connection to beauty everywhere you find it. Your erotic self is defined by its connection to beauty and spirit in all forms, so being in touch with your erotic—and, by extension, sexual—power requires practicing appreciation of those things outside the sphere of sex and romance.
Use your senses
Sexuality is a power of the mind, but also, of course, of the body, and so the practiced exercise of sexual power requires connection to the senses. But this isn’t restricted to the sexual experiences of the senses—on the contrary, honing your senses more broadly can only enhance more, um, specific sensual experiences. Pay attention to what delights your senses. Is it the taste of fine wine or great chocolate? Is it the warmth of crackling fires, the feel of wind in your hair, the tingling of your muscles after a run? Do more of that. Find more of that.
Own your physicality
The way you sit, the way you walk—every movement plays into your sexual power. How can this work to your advantage? How can you express yourself intentionally through your movement? Pilates is a great way to get really specific with your various body parts and learn how to move and control them. Dance allows you to free and express yourself. Bring attention to how you’re walking down the street and how you feel.
Try different ways of expressing and feeling your sensuality and sexuality. See how it feels. Play with it—visit extremes and fantasies. What feels right? Perhaps you’ll find you’ve been playing it too safe, and there’s room to indulge. Or maybe you’ll find that you want to dial it back. No matter what, the result is clarity and power.
Find inspiration in others
Look to sexual/sensual/erotic role models as a way to find your own approach to sexuality. Consider people across the gender spectrum: Whom do you find sexy? Why? What about that person is sexually or erotically compelling? Is it his or her physical beauty or sense of style, intelligence, or charisma? Understanding what we find erotic—what we desire—can help us find our own sexual being.
As we explore our femininity, our feminine power and, as part of that, our sexuality and sexual power, let’s not forget it’s a journey. A journey of freeing ourselves, learning what makes us feel our best and most confident and moving towards true authenticity. Towards a better world for us and for those around us.
The XConfessions app lets users swipe left or right on sex acts they’re willing or not willing to try
Erika Lust is currently making five films at once – no small undertaking, especially as her erotic films are cinematically beautiful; often feature-length, with professional crews who work on styling, location, cinematography, and everything else to make it visually arresting.
But that’s just a small part of the filmmaker’s mission to promote and create feminist pornography that centres women’s experiences and desires. Lust believes the most important thing with sex is communication and consent; clear rules that many people seem to skim over. She’s serious about promoting those values, too – she is determined to maintain an ethical work environment where all actors are comfortable, which she tells me goes from “feeding everyone on set” to “performers being able to stop shooting anytime they feel uncomfortable”.
Lust’s series XConfessions, which saw her win a Feminist Porn Award in both 2014 and 2015, is based on crowd-sourced erotic stories and fantasies from confessions that viewers can leave on her website. Now, she’s released the XConfessions app, an app which presents users (either playing alone or in a couple) with kinks: each person swipes left or right depending on whether they’re willing to try it. It’s billed as an inclusive app, taking into account all genders, sexualities, and types of relationships.
The XConfessions app takes the most awkward and complicated part of kink – the fear that your partner mightn’t want to try what you do; the fear of exposing yourself only to be embarrassed – and makes it disappear. We speak to Lust about the app, her work, and the ever-evolving porn industry.
I think the best thing about XConfessions is that – with trying new things sexually – there’s always the fear that your partner won’t want the same thing and it’ll get awkward. Was that your primary motivation?
Erika Lust: It was designed for exactly that – to open up conversation and take away some of the pressure of broaching the topic of fantasy with your partner. I think the fear of embarrassment is really common. It can be very difficult to open up about your fantasies, even to someone you’ve been with for a long time, but these conversations can potentially take your sex life to the next level and intensify your bond and relationship with your partner. It’s really important in a relationship to have strong, open communication and I believe that this is part of it. Sexual fantasies are perfectly healthy and normal, and sharing them can be a really fun experience.
Where do you think that embarrassment comes from?
Erika Lust: I think a lot of it stems from the shame tied up with sexuality. Unfortunately shame is cultivated in the society we live in and the sex education (or lack of) we receive growing up. We’re also taught to view sex in a very narrowly defined heteronormative way, which makes it seem that anything outside of this is deviant or weird. Women especially have to confront shame within their sexuality because they’re fed the message from a young age that they shouldn’t enjoy it too much.
Do you think that’s the most important thing in both kink and sex – communication?
Erika Lust: I think there are two equally important things, communication and consent. When we don’t communicate about sex, our wants and our needs aren’t met. A lack of communication means that we don’t try things that interest us and we will go along with things that we may not necessarily want to. We must always be aware of consent when having sex – ongoing conversation or clear non-verbal cues.
It baffles me that the kink community has a bad reputation in ‘mainstream’ circles when they have such a strong model of what it means to obtain consent and speak about what they’re comfortable doing. It’s the norm in kink situations to speak about what sexual activities you want to do. I’m not saying that the kink community is perfect or that boundary violations don’t exist, but I think there is a lot we can learn. I think it’s also important to remember that consent and communication are not one-time conversations.
The app takes away something that can be common in kink – a perceived pressure to comply. If your partner says ‘I want this’ and you say ‘well, I don’t’, you can feel ‘boring’ or like you’re depriving them of something they want. This makes the conversation more positive and takes away that fear, while prioritising pleasure.
Erika Lust: I wanted to make the app in a way that users can play individually, as well as with their partner. In part, to take away some of the pressure to comply, specially when fantasies are spoken about during sex, there can be a pressure to say yes to avoid making things uncomfortable.
I think it’s a good idea to first have the conversation of fantasy with your clothes still on with a fun app. This is where the app works well, by going through the cards individually, and thinking about them alone you can decide if the fantasy is something that interests you. This also allows you to develop your sexuality and fantasies independent from your partner.
What is it like for you looking back on your career?
Erika Lust: I often tell people about the book that influenced me which was Linda Williams’ Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the ‘Frenzy of the Visible’. It gave me my lightbulb moment and I realised that pornography was a genre, a specific cinematic trend with its own history. It wasn’t just ‘porn’ to me anymore, it was part of a discourse on sexuality making a statement and expressing ideologies and values on sex and gender.
I shot The Good Girl when I moved to Barcelona, which was a humorous take on the classic pizza delivery boy porn trope. To be honest I can’t really watch it now without cringing but it was a start and it changed my life! That’s when I realised there were other people out there looking for alternatives to mainstream pornography, and I decided to start making adult films that reflected my own ideas.
What drives you to make these films?
Erika Lust: My mission was, and always will be, to show that women’s pleasure matters. I want to show that women have their own sex drive and desires, and are not passive objects exclusively focused on pleasuring the men. XConfessions is adult cinema that is smart, sex positive and respectful to women. It offers a representation of women’s pleasure and sex on screen that challenges the unchecked misogynistic attitudes, racist categorisations, and degrading narratives of mass-produced porn. Gagging, slapping, vomiting… some women may like it. But it is not a niche, it has become mainstream. That is extremely problematic. Studios produce it as it is the alpha and the omega of sex while it is content made with a very misogynist male-centric standard. It seems it is not arousing unless it is degrading to women. In my cinema, I show women enjoying themselves while receiving and giving pleasure in relatable scenarios. Women have their own sexual agency and take ownership of their bodies.
I also want to fight the fetishising and categorising that the mainstream industry does. Performers are categorised by their race, age or body type. I am really concerned with such ‘othering’.
What else are you doing to change the industry?
Erika Lust: With my ongoing guest directors open call I also have that community of new filmmakers. There are more female filmmakers in the industry who have loud voices and who stand by their work, and it’s great to be able to get more depictions of sex and sexuality, and more people doing something different to a lot of the mass produced stereotypical porn on the free tube sites.
What sets your work apart?
Erika Lust: I think working with a female team really shapes my films. From the moment I created Erika Lust Films I knew I wanted to get more women in positions of power in all aspects of the business. I have a mostly female crew when I’m working on set, it can vary slightly but it’s usually 80 per cent women, with women working as camera people, producers, editors, runners. The female viewpoint is vital for me and to really get that I need to have a predominantly female team. With tube sites and the vast majority of studios, you don’t know who made those films. We should be asking ourselves who is making the porn that we watch.
You can download the XConfessions app and find out more about it here
The Trump administration continues its assault on transgender rights.
In July 2017, Trump sought to bar transgender people from serving in the military. Then, this past October, The New York Times obtained a memo indicating that the administration was considering narrowly defining gender “as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.” Anyone wishing to challenge their officially-assigned sex would have to have the matter resolved by genetic testing.
But recognition of transgender identity is no recent phenomenon: Some doctors acknowledged gender nonconforming people far earlier than most might realize. Perhaps the most important pioneer was German physician Magnus Hirschfeld, who was born 150 years ago, in 1868. As a historian of gender and sexuality in Germany, I’m struck by how he paved the way for the legal recognition of gender nonconforming people.
Hirschfeld’s ‘sexual intermediaries’
In recent years, the medical and psychological professions have come to a consensus that sex assignment at birth is inadequate for understanding individuals’ sexual and gender identity – and that failure to recognize this fact can have a devastating impact.
Magnus Hirschfeld was the first doctor to openly research and advocate for people whose gender did not correspond with their sex assignment at birth.
He’s often remembered today as an advocate of gay rights, and in the early 20th century, his activism played a major role in nearly overturning Germany’s law criminalizing male same-sex relations.
But Hirschfeld’s vision extended much further than homosexuality. He defined his specialty as “sexual intermediaries,” which included everyone who did not fit into an “ideal type” of heterosexual, cis-gendered men and women.
According to Hirschfeld, sexual intermediaries included many categories. One type was cis-gendered people who were gay, lesbian or bisexual. Another consisted of transvestites: people who comfortably identified as their assigned sex but who preferred to dress in the clothing assigned to the other sex. Yet others were “trans” in a more radical direction, like those who wanted to live fully as their non-assigned sex or longed for sex-change surgery.
A relentless advocate
As a gay man, Hirschfeld was aware of the legal and social dangers sexual intermediaries faced.
Since sexual intermediaries often turned to their doctors for help, Hirschfeld worked to educate the medical community. He published medical journals including the “Yearbook on Sexual Intermediaries” and the “Journal of Sexual Science.” In 1919, he founded the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin to promote further research.
In court he gave expert testimony on behalf of men who had been accused of violating Germany’s law banning male same-sex relations.
He even co-wrote and made a cameo appearance in the world’s first feature-length movie featuring a gay protagonist: the 1919 silent film “Anders als die Anderen” (“Different from the Others”).
Nor did Hirschfeld shy away from political engagement. In 1897, he founded the “Scientific Humanitarian Committee” to advocate for gender and sexual rights.
Then, from 1897 to 1898, Hirschfeld worked to decriminalize male same-sex relations in Germany. He collected over 5,000 signatures from Germans willing to be publicly identified with the effort, including such luminaries as Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann. A bill decriminalizing male homosexual acts gained only minority support when it was introduced in Parliament in 1898, but a new bill was reintroduced after the First World War. In the more progressive environment of the Weimar Republic, the bill advanced to parliamentary committee, only to stall when the Great Depression hit in 1929.
Importantly, Hirschfeld’s advocacy extended well beyond the decriminalization of gay male sex.
Like most European countries, Germany had – and still has – an “internal passport,” a government-issued ID that citizens are expected to carry with them. Germans whose passport indicated “male” but who dressed in female clothing were subject to police harassment or arrest for disorderly conduct.
Together with a colleague, Hirschfeld in 1910 convinced the Berlin police to accept a “transvestite certificate,” signed by a doctor, to nullify such charges. After World War I, he convinced the Prussian judiciary to permit legal name changes from gender-specific names to gender-neutral names, which enabled trans people to present as the gender that was most true to themselves.
Not all sexual minorities in Germany endorsed Hirschfeld’s views. Early twentieth-century Germany was a politically and culturally diverse place, and that diversity extended to same-sex and gender-nonconforming people.
Some gay men, for example, argued that far from being an “intermediary” sexual type, they were the most masculine men of all: After all, they didn’t form close bonds with women. The vision of these “masculinists” had little room for lesbians, bisexuals, or trans people.
A life’s work goes up in flames
By contrast, Hirschfeld’s approach was all-inclusive. In his view, all “sexual intermediaries” – whether L, G, B, T, Q, or I in today’s parlance – were worth recognizing and protecting. He once calculated that there were 43,046,721 possible variants of human sexuality. That was simply another way of saying that the human species was infinitely diverse.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Hirschfeld, who was Jewish, was on tour lecturing on sexual science. From abroad, he watched newsreels of his Institute for Sexual Science set aflame by Nazi Storm Troopers. Thousands of unique medical records, publications, photos and artifacts were destroyed.
Hirschfeld died two years later, and materials confiscated by the Nazis became evidence against gender and sexually-nonconforming people in the Third Reich. Male same-sex relations weren’t decriminalized in East Germany until 1968, and in West Germany until 1969. Full legal equality had to wait even longer.
Nearly a century after Hirschfeld’s institute burned, only tentative progress has been made in ending discrimination based on gender identity. And that progress is at risk.
Yet no bureaucratic definition of “sex” will change what Hirschfeld so clearly demonstrated over 120 years ago: Trans people exist.
I had just turned 11 when Salt-N-Pepa released a track that made my ears burn on first hearing: “Let’s talk about sex baby. Let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be. Let’s talk about SEX.” It was quickly recorded on to a cassette and listened to surreptitiously. God forbid my parents should hear and think I wanted to talk about sex with them. But of course, as a preteen and then teenager, it was a conversation I did want to have. One I hoped would make me feel normal amid the swirl of overwhelming hormones.
My parents were, for their part, ordinary in their attitude towards “the talk”. They could be best described as squeamish, preferring to be vague on details but with a huge dollop of fear because … PREGNANCY. They were, and are, not alone. Ineptitude sits close to denial; both act as effective weapons for those who’d rather shirk a tricky responsibility. On this matter our schools have proved no different. Deemed best placed to curate discussions around sex, they have done so with an incompetence that has left young people unable to talk about the good and bad of s-e-x.
Britney Spears was dressed in a school uniform demanding “Hit me baby one more time” when the current sex education curriculum was first published. That year Monica Lewinsky was pilloried by public opinion that was too sexist to recognise that the 22-year-old intern might be a victim in the grim spectacle. Our schools largely ignored these teachable moments and were silent on such milestones. No wonder then that it is a curriculum feminists have long criticised for inadequately meeting the needs of today’s young. Where is talk about consent, sexting and the explosion of online pornography? Nowhere. Why is there such a reluctance to arm young people with the information and discussions they need to go on to have healthier sexual relationships?
Thankfully in the government’s new relationships and sex education (RSE) draft curriculum there is now explicit mention of these issues, and on Wednesday the Department for Education (DfE) closes its consultation on it. Yet there is still a danger it could fail many of our young by repeating old mistakes – and by ignoring the issues young people want to talk about.
It’s clear from the draft curriculum that violence against women and LGBT experiences are still issues seemingly difficult to broach – best handled with the language of ambiguity or outright silence. There is talk about coercion, but no room to place that in the context of gender inequality.
There is, too, a repeated return to the centrality of marriage, admittedly with an acknowledgment that this includes same-sex marriage. Yet this jars with making the teaching of LGBT relationships discretionary. It is why the feminist organisation Level Up is calling for people, especially the young, to have their say and respond to the government’s draft consultation. The aim is to let the government know that LGBT experiences should be an integral part of sex education rather than a tacked-on optional extra. To ignore this would be to let down the thousands of LGBT young people grappling with their sexual identity, who are already made to feel out of place. A survey by the government itself found that for 31% of young people, it is a priority that they are taught about gender and sexual identity.
We all have stories of that one sex ed class where a teacher, usually barely able to contain their own discomfort, instructs a class of giggling teenagers on how best to place a condom on a cucumber. It tells us much that the memory of sex education for so many is one of awkward tittering – and a very clear sense that sex is something to be feared if not avoided.
But even in that scenario, most could at least say they found their sexual identity reflected in the content of discussion. The same could not be said for LGBT students whose teachers were legally bound under section 28 to desist from teaching “the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. Fifteen years on from the repeal of the act, and despite proposed changes to the curriculum, RSE in many schools might be more accurately described as heterosexual sex ed. If schools can decide to opt out of teaching LGBT experiences, the government must accept that those relationships will not be normalised and LGBT young people will be made vulnerable as a result.
That LGBT students would be given sex ed without seeing themselves reflected is a repudiation of their sexual identity. It is the type of silence that can easily breed self-doubt and loathing, not to mention bullying and coercion. This new curriculum is supposed to be a step forward. Instead it feels like we are stuck in the past.
Growing up we receive so many problematic messages about sex that it’s no wonder we still consider it such a taboo.
Although I consider myself a very sex-positive person now, it took years to unlearn most of what mainstream society taught me about doing the deed.
There’s a lot to be learned about the nuanced experience of sex and I full-heartedly believe that we can never stop learning.
But here are the things I think everyone, young women especially, should know in order to foster a healthy, fulfilling relationship with sex.
Virginity is a heteronormative myth
Almost everything we know about virginity is either wrong or misogynistic.
First of all, it completely excludes same-sex experiences and focuses only on hetero PIV (penis in vagina) sex, alienating gay sex and turning it into the ‘other’.
If we were to take virginity for how it’s taught, technically gay people are all virgins.
See? It makes no sense.
All sex is sex and, ultimately, it’s up to you to define what constitutes losing your virginity, because it’s nothing more than a concept.
Losing your virginity is also somehow simultaneously romanticised and made out to be this horrific, traumatising, painful milestone.
It’s an oxymoron, but your entry point to sex will most likely be unremarkable.
It doesn’t have to hurt and you might not bleed (I didn’t), because another fallacy is that losing your V-card is all about the hymen breaking.
We’re taught that the hymen is like a fleshy roadblock that needs to be crashed into to officially lose your virgin status, but none of that is true.
The hymen is a thin, perforated membrane most, not all, women have, and it can be torn from pretty much anything, like tampons, masturbation and even some types of sport. It’s not proof of your virginity or lack thereof because, newsflash, women don’t come with a freshness seal.
The first time can be uncomfortable and the pain often associated with it most likely comes from nerves and a lack of lubrication.
Relax, lube up and enjoy (once you’re ready of course).
Had I known this before my first time, I wouldn’t have looked forward to it with such dreaded anticipation.
All sex is sex
As mentioned above, society has a tendency to think of sex as intercourse.
Again, this alienates same-sex experiences and trivialises other sexual activities like oral, anal and masturbation.
This way of thinking is so embedded in how we understand and talk about sex that it took me a while to dismantle this way of thinking, but it’s crucial to abandon this hierarchy.
And – lazy, straight men – foreplay is sex. Stop acting like it’s a nuisance you have to quickly get rid of before sticking your dick in us.
Which brings me to my next point.
Sex is not a race
Orgasms feel incredible and provide a wide range of mental and physical benefits, but, that being said, they’re not the only reason we have sex. Sex should be a whole experience and should be enjoyed even though it doesn’t end in climax, especially since the sad reality is that most hetero women don’t come from intercourse alone. Slow down, savour the experience and stop trying to hit a home run straight away. Masturbating is awesome
Women do it too.
It doesn’t make you desperate.
You shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
It’s healthy. It’s amazing.
DIY sex is more than just satisfaction, it’s an act of self-love that reinforces your own pleasure and agency in sex.
Knowing how to please yourself means knowing what you want out of a sexual experience with a partner, if you wish to have one.
STIs don’t make you dirty
Although I was lucky enough to attend a school that offered a sex ed class, all it consisted of was our teacher showing us a slide show of disease-ridden genitalia.
The aim wasn’t so much to spread awareness but rather disgust us into not having unprotected sex.
It reinforced the stigma that people with STIs are dirty and stupid for catching them in the first place, most likely from having sex with a lot of different people.
Yes, we should teach kids to use a condom and get regularly tested – this advice applies to adults too – but we should also be taught how to talk about STIs without judgement or shame.
The easier it is to talk about them without wanting to recoil, the easier it is to approach the subject with a partner should you find out you caught something.
I didn’t get my first sexual health test until six years after being sexually active because I was terrified of knowing if I had anything.
Now I get a routine check every six months even though I am in a committed relationship, and it’s something I look forward to because it’s a way to make sure I’m being safe and keeping my partner safe too.
STIs aren’t something to be happy about, but they’re also not the end of your sex life.
Literally anything about consent
It’s 2018 and most people still don’t have a clear grasp on consent.
Growing up, I had never even heard of consent, because no one taught me.
Consent isn’t just the absence of a ‘no’, it’s a voluntary, explicit and enthusiastic verbal and non-verbal ‘yes’. It can be withdrawn at any point and consenting to one activity does not mean consenting to any future activities.
Sex without consent is abuse or rape, so it’s probably the first and most important thing we should be learning when it comes to sex.
Chances are, if you had sex ed in America, your sexual IQ is suffering. To help get you up to speed, we asked top experts to weigh in on their fave books on sex and sexuality, from newer releases to tried-and-true classics. Consider this your actually good resource on what to read.
A playbook for your vagina problems
Our Bodies, Ourselves,by the Boston Women’s Health Collective
“This classic belongs on every woman’s bookshelf. It is a very comprehensive guide to most sexual-health issues that you are likely to encounter in your life and frequently connects critical medical information to its cultural context.” —Laci Green, online sex educator and author of Sex Plus
An LGBTQ “instruction manual”
This Book Is Gay,by Juno Dawson
“Growing up, it’s common to have lots of questions about sexuality, attraction, love, and relationships. Being LGBTQ can add an additional layer to those questions and sometimes it’s hard to know who to talk to or where to get information. This book is filled with great info about sexual health, as well as stories from LGBTQ youth.” —Nora Gelperin, director of sexuality education and training with Advocates for Youth
A true story about sexual assault
Missoula, by Jon Krakauer
“I’m recommending this book to highlight sexual assault and rape on college campuses. This story stresses the need for sexual-assault education at the college campus level but provides insight on the need to provide this education at an early age. And it also sheds light on the need to address the justice system on college campuses.” —Jennifer Driver, state policy director for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)
An almost sci-fi take on female anatomy
Woman: An Intimate Geography, by Natalie Angier
“An OG guide to the female body. Natalie Angier does a great job dissecting stereotypes while outlining research (and lack of research) on the exact anatomy that life comes from. Twenty years later and this is still a go-to guide.” —Eileen Kelly, editor-in-chief and founder of Killer and a Sweet Thang
A refreshing brushup on periods, relationships, and consent
GIRL: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You, by Karen Rayne
“I chose this story because Karen runs one of my favorite sex-ed organizations, Unhushed. It’s similar to my book, Sex Plus, for those looking to expand their perspective.” –Green
An illustrated explainer on “sex stuff”
It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
“This read provides comprehensive information about how bodies work, how pregnancy happens, various attractions, and sexual orientations. My go-to sexual-health book with fantastic, inclusive content and wonderful illustrations that help explain all this complicated sexuality stuff.” —Gelperin
The textbook you should’ve had
Changing Bodies, Changing Lives, by Ruth Bell
“Ruth Bell was part of the team that wrote Our Bodies, Ourselves, which revolutionized sex education in 1976. In this book, she includes poems and cartoons from real teenagers, making it feel more lived-in and more realistic than many others. We desperately need more options for sex-ed books that have an intersectional feminist lens—especially ones that prioritize transgender kids—but Bell’s updated work is sex-positive and LGBTQ-friendly.” —Samantha Dercher, federal policy director for (SIECUS)
Gen Z giving their take on sex
Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, by Peggy Orenstein
“Peggy Orenstein traveled the United States interviewing more than 70 young girls between 15 and 20 to figure out what it’s like for girls growing up in today’s day and age. This is a highly insightful read into how the digital landscape is changing everything around us, shaping the way society views women and how girls and women view themselves. It’s a necessary read.” —Kelly
A classic about the angst of girlhood
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
“Judy Blume’s 1970s novels are iconic for a reason—the world has changed, but preteen anxieties don’t. Although today’s kids have probably never heard of a sanitary belt (recent editions of the novel have updated the text to more modern menstrual products, but I prefer the original book!), Margaret still serves as a representation of that universal tween feeling of not belonging. It might not feel as modern as it once did, but Judy Blume—and Margaret—revolutionized how preteen girls view themselves and their bodies and made the terrifying unknowns of puberty seem a little less scary to me.” —Dercher
Temperature play might sound kind of intense, but working hot and cold into your sex life is actually pretty easy. All you need to get started is a bowl of ice or a glass of hot water. But why play with temperature at all? Besides the obviously sexy thought of rolling an ice cube around your lips and then down your partner’s body, what does adding heat or cold to your sex life actually do? It’s all about the psychology of it.
“When temperature play is negotiated and consented to, the brain starts preparing for a sexy and exciting experience, and basically puts nerve endings in the body — erogenous zones, but also everywhere else — on high alert for new sensations,” says Dulcinea Pitagora, a sex therapist known as the Kink Doctor.
Of course, not everyone is going to be interested in temperature play. And if you’re not into it, don’t feel like you have to be, says Holly Richmond, PhD, a somatic psychologist and certified sex therapist (CST). Temperature play can be fun, but not wanting to play with ice or heat doesn’t make you boring in bed. “My husband absolutely detests cold,” Dr. Richmond says. So he wouldn’t find it sexy if she pulled out a bowl full of ice, and that’s totally fine.
If you are intrigued, using cold or heat can be a fun way to mix up your usual sex routine. Pro tip: Consider blindfolding the partner on the receiving end of the temperature play. Restricting their sense of sight can make the feelings of hot and cold more intense.
But like many kinks, temperature play can range from harmless to potentially dangerous. So if you’re a beginner, start slowly. You don’t want to dive in with the more edgy forms of temperature play like fire play or branding, Pitagora says. Instead, try the tips listed below
Put your dildo in the freezer, or stick it in a cup of hot water
Certain sex toys, like those made from glass or metal, are great for temperature play because they hold the heat or the cold really well. Put your toy in the freezer for a while or warm up a glass of water and dunk it in for a few minutes to heat it up.
Be careful: You don’t want to stick either a scalding or a totally frozen sex toy inside of your body. Place the dildo against your wrist to check that it’s a comfortable temperature before you start using it.
Drip ice cream (or whip cream, or another tasty treat)
Why not combine food play and temperature play — all you need is some ice cream or whip cream. Drip or spray the treat over your partner’s body. They’ll get to feel a fun cold sensation as it hits their skin and then a nice warm up when you lick it off. Sure, playing with food can be sticky, but it’s also sweet.
Be careful: If either partner has a vagina, be careful not to get ice cream too close to their vulva. Sugar can cause yeast infections, and no one wants that.
Warm your mouth before oral sex
Before you go down on someone, it can be fun to warm up your mouth. How do you make your mouth hot, you ask? With hot tea, coffee, or any other hot thing you want to drink.
Be careful: Again, sugar near a vagina can cause yeast infections. So if you’re planning to go down on someone who has a vagina, maybe drink your coffee or tea black.
Play with ice
This is maybe the most obvious tip, but it’s also one of the most versatile. With an ice cube, you can cool you mouth down before performing oral sex, drip melted ice water over your partner’s body, rub the ice around their nipples, and lots of other things if you know how to get creative.
Be careful: It might sound counter-intuitive, but there’s a chance your ice could be too cold. Like that scene in A Christmas Story when the kid sticks his tongue to a metal pole, a too-cold ice cube could stick to your partner’s skin. But it’s an easy fix: Either take some ice out and let it warm up in a bowl for a bit or stick the cube in your mouth and warm it with your body heat.
Try wax play
Think of it like dripping cold ice water over your partner’s body, except instead of freezing water it’s melted wax. With the right kind of candle, you can turn temperature play into a sexy massage.
Be careful: Don’t just use any old candle from your cupboard. Melted wax from regular candles can be so hot that it causes burns, Pitagora says. “When playing with hot wax, it’s important to use the right kind of wax, as some candles burn hotter than others and vary in terms of toxicity,” they say. Instead of a regular candle, use a massage oil candle that you can buy in any sex toy shop (or online, like this one). Candles made for sex burn at cooler temperatures, so they’re less likely to burn your skin.
Warm up your lube, or cool it down
If you’re a fan of lube (and really, why wouldn’t you be?), then you can use your favorite lube for temperature play. “If lube is at body temperature, we’re not feeling it. All we’re feeling is the penetration or the vibration,” Dr. Richmond says. “But if you add that extra layer, that extra element of warmth or cool, that takes things to another sensory level.” Stick your lube in the fridge for a few minutes to cool it down, Dr. Richmond suggests. Or, get a lube warmer, such as a Touch or a Pulse.
Be careful: Just like with your sex toys, you don’t want to get your lube too warm or too cold. Test a few drops on your wrist before using the lube if you’re concerned.
Sex is all about sensation and sensual touch. So whether you’re hitting the sack with a one night stand or spicing things up with a longterm bae, bringing new sensations into the bedroom will make for a night neither of you will forget. Read on for SlutBox Blog’s tips for adding unforgettable sensation to you next hookup!
By Amber Rose
1. Do More With Your Lube
Lube is super important for solo and partner play. Any time there’s friction, add in some lube to protect your skin, increase sensation and sensitivity and multiply those O’s. Now, why settle for any ol’ lube when you can slather on some extra sensation?
This cannabis lube is 100% natural coconut oil based, and totally compatible with latex barriers so you can stay safe and sexy. Another fave is the ON Arousal Gel for Her from Sensuva (featured in our very first SlutBox!). ON Arousal Gel is a water-based blend of essential oils that jumpstart natural arousal and increase natural lubrication in folx with vaginas. No further explanation needed!
Sizzle Lips is a warming massage gel that heels hot when you blow on it. Massage Sizzle Lips into a sensitive area on bae’s body, and gently blow to get them all hot and bothered. Kiss and lick it all off – the more you rub it in the warmer it’ll feel.
HandiPop is a super sweet edible massage gel for the slipperiest, longest-lasting handjob. Getting a hand cramp? Finish the job with your lips and tongue.
What’s more intimate than a massage? Indulge your sensuous side with the Lelo Flickering Touch Massage Candle, made from all-natural soy wax, shea butter and apricot kernel oil in luscious scents like Vanilla & Creme de Cacao, Snow Pear & Cedarwood, and Black Pepper & Pomegranate.
This gorgeously-designed candle melts into a pool of decadent massage oil. Never greasy, this massage oil is easily absorbed into the skin for a smooth, buttery touch. With a burn time of 36 hours, you have plenty of time to enjoy. Use alone, for a romantic night in, or invite a few friends. Netflix and Chill just got a major upgrade.
4. Ease Into Impact Play
Tickles don’t seem so silly now! Ticklers are an amazing, safe introduction to impact play and BDSM, especially when combined with a sexy blindfold! The Bijoux Indescrets Tickle Me Tickler (featured in the June Sluts 4 Love SlutBox) has a super cute retro look, but don’t be fooled: use this tickler can be used to tease and thrill your entire body.
Stimulate every inch of your lover’s bod with the tickler’s delicate feathers. Trust me, after just a few moments their skin will be super sensitive and they’ll be relishing a whole new world of unique sensation.
When it comes to understanding BDSM, non-practitioners generally equate the kinky lifestyle with the chains, ropes, whips, and handcuffs found in Christian Grey’s “red room of pain” in Fifty Shades of Grey. And among the different elements included in the BDSM portmanteau (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism), the middle portion (a dom sub relationship) may be the most difficult to understand for those outside the kink community.
Often equated with sadism and masochism (SM), dominance and submission plays with the concepts of power and control rather than physical sensation. In a Dominant/submissive, aka Dom/sub or simply D/s, relationship, the power dynamic between the participants is the kink. Essentially, the person in the dominant role takes partial or total control over the person in the submissive role.
What defines a dom sub relationship?
Types of dom sub relationships
While the D/s relationship can be physical and/or sexually intimate, physical contact is not necessary for domination and submission, which may be conducted digitally or over the phone as well. For example, financial domination (findom) doesn’t require any physical contact, just monetary transactions. There is no singular way to be in a D/s relationship. People in D/s relationships can also be romantically involved with one another or not, monogamous or not (as in polyamorous or open), and of any gender or sexuality.
Some dominants and submissives (doms and subs) only remain in their roles during play scenes; a “switch” can play either role and may even negotiate swapping in the middle of a session. The ones that take on their D/s roles full-time are often in what is called a Total Power Exchange (TPE) relationship. In the BDSM community, the participants in these types of relationships are typically referred to as a “master/mistress” or a “slave,” depending on their role. Master/slave relationships (M/s) must always be consensual, and sex is not necessarily involved in these relationships.
D/s relationships can be between BDSM lifestyle practitioners, or with a professional dominator/dominatrix (pro-domme) or a professional submissive (pro-sub).
Taking on the Dominant role
Also referred to as a “top,” the dom exerts power over the sub in a D/s relationship. This dynamic is made obvious even in the capitalization of the letters, as members of the BDSM community intentionally leave the “s” in D/s lowercase to easily denote the lower hierarchical position.
Subs are usually required to address their doms by a specific title—for example ”sir” or “mistress.” Doms can wield their power in various ways, in and out of the bedroom. There are different play scenes they can perform with their subs, from whipping and bondage to humiliation and forced chastity. Doms must have received consent from their sub to carry out any of these acts.
There are many misconceptions about doms. “Women who take on the dominant role are stereotyped as cruel and bitchy,” dominatrix and BDSM practitioner Yin Q. said in an interview with Apogee. “But to be a responsible dominant or top, one must embody humility and mercy.” Contrary to the optics, there is a lot of care and labor that goes into being a dom, from getting proper training on how to tie ropes and use toys to providing aftercare following a scene.
Two popular categories of domination are “femdom,” in which the dom is female, and “maledom,” in which the dom is male. However, a quick Google search reveals that the search term “femdom” has over 20 times more search results than “maledom” (309 million vs. 14.5 million)—it was also searched far more frequently by users, according to Google Trends.
How to be a sub
Even as femdom imagery becomes more popular online, the archetype of the feminine submissive (i.e., Anastasia Steele from the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy) remains ever-prevalent, though there are subs of all genders.
A sub, or “bottom,” releases some or all control over to the dom in a D/s relationship. In the case of male submission (malesub), scenes can take the form of forced feminization, cuckoldry, and more. Because gender is inexplicably entangled with sex and power, it often—though not always—plays a major role in scene playing. Once again, the sub must consent everything that occurs during a play scene or session with a pro-domme.
The necessity of consent ensures the sub is never truly powerless during D/s play. The sub is also playing out their own kinks and fetishes in a D/s relationship. While less common than pro-dommes, pro-subbing also exists for those seeking to play the dom role in a more professional setting.
“A pro-submissive session is similar to what’s happening when you go to see immersive theatre or performance art,” pro-sub Louisa Knight told Dazed. “You go into this space that has been created, it’s very atmospheric, and you’re able to lose yourself in the experience, because you know it is a held space.”
Taking on submission as a lifestyle can lead to more than just satisfying one’s kinkiness; D/s or M/s relationships can even lead to self-improvement in other areas, including improving one’s diet and health.
Consent is key
In case you haven’t caught onto the recurring theme yet, consent is vital to a functional D/s relationship. While the Fifty Shade of Greymisses the mark on consent, it at least introduced the masses to the concept of a D/s contract, which those beginning a D/s relationship can draw up to negotiate and define their arrangement. Contracts can be drawn up per play scene, as well as when entering a longer-term TPE or M/s relationship.
A safeword can also be used if a player gets uncomfortable during a scene—”mercy” is a commonly used safeword.
There is a massive difference between D/s relationships and abusive relationships, and that distinction is consent. Without consent, BDSM acts—such as sexual humiliation and caning—would be considered immoral and likely felonious.
Demystifying dom sub relationships
Being in a D/s relationship doesn’t mean you’ll start dressing up in latex and bondage gear 24/7 all of a sudden. People in D/s relationships do many of the same things as those in “vanilla” relationships—which is what those in the kink community call couples who engage solely in normative, kink-free sex—like fart in front of each other or get the flu.
Though some lifestyle slaves or subs may choose to sport a collar to signify their D/s relationship, others may be wearing more covert accessories, like labeled underwear, or otherwise appear completely vanilla. While sex positivity has allowed some to be more open about their kinks, including BDSM, there are still many who choose to keep this part of their lives private due to the stigmatization of non-normative sexuality.
Sarah, a lifestyle practitioner who has been in different types of D/s relationships for 10 years, didn’t want to share her last name, as she has yet to come out publicly about her kink. “I have not shared it with my parents, because as immigrants and as people of color, I don’t think they would appreciate the appeal or value of something that appears akin to slavery,” Sarah said.
The benefits of D/s relationships
While BDSM and/or kink cannot substitute real psychotherapy, sex therapists and practitioners have suggested that playing out these fantasies can have therapeutic benefits and can help some heal from trauma.
“I also don’t think that people would understand the spiritual or therapeutic way in which I approach D/s.” Sarah elaborates, “When I was a 24/7 slave, I really feel like it helped me stay grounded and attached to the world. The stability of that relationship did a lot for my feelings of abandonment and desire to be heard. My master had a singular commitment to me, my well-being physical and mental. I am no longer in that relationship, but we are still in touch over five years later.”
When it comes to improving our sex life, we’re told over and over how important it is to talk to our partner about our desires, turn-ons, worries, ideal frequency, and every other little detail. Communication is crucial to making sure both partners are satisfied with every encounter and are maximizing their pleasure; one recent study found both members of a couple were more pleased with their sex lives and their relationships the more each person communicated about their sexual needs.
But according to a new study in the International Journal of Sexual Health, it’s not just talking to your partner about sex that matters. Talking about sex with your squad is also crucial.
Researchers surveyed over 600 women about a handful of their sexual behaviors, how often they talked to their women friends about sex, and what those conversations involved—such as general support and encouragement, advice about specific sexual activities, and advice about STIs and birth control, to name a few. The study found that women who talked more with their friends about this stuff also tended to have more of two specific qualities: more sexual self-esteem, meaning they felt way more confident about how they express themselves and perform in bed, and more self-efficacy, meaning they felt more confident about protecting their sexual health and asking for what they needed to feel safer.
Let’s be clear here: Those are two huge benefits! Not only are these conversations just a great way to bond with the people in our lives, but it seems they’re also making us more confident and able to assert our needs when it comes to sex. These findings prove just how powerful it can be to share even the most intimate parts of ourselves with the people we care about.
“The relationship between sexual self-esteem and expressive sexual communication is not surprising, given that expressive communication is about encouragement and other confidence-building communications,” writes Katrina L. Pariera, Ph.D., a George Washington University communications professor who led the study. “Women may also benefit from exposure to sexual scripts that promote sexual agency and assertiveness.”
And by the way, the women in the study were an average of 36 years old, so we’re not just talking about teen girls giggling about crushes at a sleepover here. If you’re someone who tends to be pretty unsure or anxious during sex, consider reaching out to a close friend and opening up some sincere dialogue about what’s going on. You don’t even necessarily need to ask for help or advice—the study found the majority of women mostly talked to express themselves and simply seek encouragement and validation about their own experiences. Everyone can benefit from knowing they’re not the only ones going through something weird behind closed doors; it’s a great way to turn something that you might feel embarrassed about into something you can laugh about and grow from.
“The current study adds to mounting evidence that peer sex education is a promising avenue for promoting sexual health and wellness,” Dr. Pariera writes. “Silence begets shame and misinformation.”
In a country like America, where comprehensive sexual education is seriously lacking, it looks like plain ol’ word-of-mouth information sharing might be an effective way of disseminating knowledge about safer sex.
You may have joked to friends that you don’t need therapy—you have them. But sometimes working through the hard stuff requires help from a neutral party who happens to be a licensed professional. If your hard stuff is about sex, a sex therapist may be your best option. Here are eight signs a sex therapist could be a great addition to your life, and after that, advice on actually finding one.
1. You’re experiencing pain or physical difficulty when you try to have sex.
If you see a medical doctor and there is no physical issue at the core of your trouble with sex, that doesn’t make what you’re dealing with any less significant. Seeing a sex therapist to discuss any psychological components at play can be helpful, Richmond explains.
For instance, vaginismus, which causes painful vaginal muscle spasms during penetration, can stem from anxiety about having sex, according to the Cleveland Clinic. (That could include anxiety about it being painful even if any condition causing the pain has been treated.) It can also happen due to issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder from a sexual assault. Stress is one of many possible psychological causes behind erectile dysfunction, too.
Point is, the mental and physical are often so closely intertwined that painful sex is a very valid reason to see a sex therapist.
Of course, recovering from a sexual assault is a different process for everyone. But for some people, a sex therapist is a better option than a more generalized mental health professional. “Oftentimes therapists will talk about the trauma, but there’s no resolution on how we move forward as our sexual selves,” says Richmond, who treats many survivors. “[Sex therapists] process the trauma and move forward to help you have sex with your partner. We can help you move from survivor to thriver.” That’s not to say a therapist who doesn’t specialize in sex can’t help you heal after an assault. But if you’d like to specifically focus on the sexual aspect, a sex therapist may be ideal.
3. You’re in a partnership with mismatched desires.
This can mean many things, like one person having a higher libido than the other or being interested in exploring a kink such BDSM, sex therapist Liz Powell, Ph.D., who often sees partners with mismatched desires, tells SELF.
While having a kink is generally becoming more accepted, disclosing one can still be scary. This is where a sex therapist can help. For instance, Richmond recalls a couple who came to her because the male partner was struggling with the female partner’s urge to explore her submissive side in a specific way. “She wanted to be called a slut, a whore, and her partner just could not do it. So, we had to figure out other ways for her to work within her fantasy,” Richmond says
If necessary, a sex therapist can also guide you through the realization that the partnership isn’t working due to incompatible desires. “So many people are just petrified of breakups [and] they choose to stay even when they’re not happy,” Powell says. Seeing a therapist together may help you figure out whether to salvage the relationship or bring it to a respectful end.
4. You want to explore opening up your relationship.
This is another scenario Powell, who specializes in LGBTQ+ communities along with kink and polyamory, sees quite often. A sex therapist can help a couple in this situation craft a relationship format that allows both of them to feel safe and fulfilled. That can mean everything from the freedom to have a one-night stand once a year while in another country to dating multiple partners.
Having an impartial, trained person involved can help ensure that no one is simply capitulating to something like an open relationship due to pressure (even the internal kind) and that both partners are respecting each other’s boundaries—even if that means splitting up.
5. You have questions about your gender identity.
The gender revolution is making progress. In one recent win, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law a provision that creates room for a third gender, X, on birth certificates.
But there are setbacks, too, as evidenced by the recent news that the Department of Health and Human Services wants to define gender as a fixed identity determined by a person’s genitals at birth. (It’s not.)
In light of the continued fight to have everyone’s gender identity respected, figuring out the right words or expression for your gender can be a daunting task. A sex therapist, particularly an LGBTQ+ friendly one, may be able to help you alone or with a partner, Powell says.
6. You’re exploring your sexual orientation.
As with gender, a sex therapist can help you navigate questions about your sexual orientation, reassure you that there’s nothing wrong with you, and aid you in your journey of self-discovery. This can be especially helpful if you’re in a monogamous relationship and experiencing sexual curiosity for people of genders other than your partner’s, Powell says.
A sex therapist could also be useful if you’re wondering whether or not you’re asexual or would like to talk about being asexual. “Some people think it’s a sex therapist’s job to make people have more sex and crazier sex, and [it’s] definitely not,” Richmond says. “You don’t have to have any sex. As long as you’re OK with it, I’m OK with it.”
7. You’re a current or former sex worker or dating someone who is.
Richmond says she frequently sees couples in which one person is or used to be a sex worker. A good sex therapist can help people uncover and eradicate any kind of internalized stigma around the profession. “In many people’s minds, because of our cultural lens, that’s something to be ashamed of,” Richmond says. “That’s not my view
Another important component may be helping the person not in the adult industry separate their partner from their sex work, Richmond says, explaining that people who are dating sex workers sometimes fetishize their partners accidentally. “Helping separate the person’s identity from [the adult industry] can be tricky because of the shame, but at the end of the day, you’re just dating another person,” she says.
8. You want to overcome sexual shame.
You may have noticed a theme here. From gender identity to surviving an assault to sex work and more, a sex therapist can help you deal with something that brings you shame even if that emotion is totally unwarranted. (As it is with everything on the above list.)
Both Powell and Richmond say that, deep down, most people who see them want to know if they’re “normal.” Shame has a funny way of making you feel like you’re not, and it’s the opposite of conducive to enjoying a healthy sex life. But it can also be almost impossible to escape. “Having grown up in a culture with so much shame, I think most of us could benefit from seeing a sex therapist,” Powell says. If anything is keeping you from having the love or sex life you always wanted, a sex therapist might be able to help you work through it.
Wishing you could teleport to a sex therapist’s office right now? Here’s the next best thing: advice on finding a great sex therapist you can afford.
Finding the right therapist can feel like dating. Despite their qualifications, therapists are humans, too. You might run into a therapist with their own sexual hang-ups or old-fashioned views, or just someone you don’t gel with. But when you find “the one,” there’s no feeling like it. Here are a few steps to try 1. If you have insurance, call and ask for help finding a local sex therapist. You can also look through their online directory. Since that may not allow you to filter specifically for sex therapists, you might still need to do some digging on the therapists’ backgrounds.
3. Online services such as ZocDoc and Psychology Today have filters that allow you to get more specific about what you want. For instance, on Psychology Today, you can drill the results down to sex therapists who specialize in gender identity, take your insurance, and participate in online therapy. (Even if it seems like you’ve landed upon your dream therapist, it’s always smart to call the office and verify that all the information you’ve found is up to date.)
4. Try asking your potential therapist’s office if they ever accept payment on a sliding scale and, if they do, which income brackets qualify. Unfortunately, not all therapists take insurance. Even if they do, your insurance may not cover your One True Sex Therapist. If your therapist accepts payment on a sliding scale, that can be a great way to lower your financial burden.
5. If price is still an issue, consider seeing a sex educator or a counselor instead of a therapist. Someone with a degree such as an M.S.W. (masters in social work) may have a lower rate than someone with a degree like a Ph.D., but should still be highly skilled.
6. Google “sex-positive therapist in [insert your city here].” You may find a network such as Manhattan Alternative, which lists sex-positive therapists in New York City who specialize in areas such as kink, ethical non-monogamy, and sexual assault survivorship.
7. If you’re looking for help specifically related to an LGBTQ+ issue, check out SELF’s guide on how to find an LGBTQ+ friendly doctor. Much of it extends to finding a sex therapist as well.
8. Ask about virtual sessions. If the best therapist you find isn’t in your city, remember that many are open to coaching you over the phone or virtually with a service like Skype or FaceTime, Richmond says. For all its potential ills, technology can be a beautiful thing.
The complexity is more than cultural. It’s biological, too.
By Anne Fausto-Sterling
Two sexes have never been enough to describe human variety. Not in biblical times and not now. Before we knew much about biology, we made social rules to administer sexual diversity. The ancient Jewish rabbinical code known as the Tosefta, for example, sometimes treated people who had male and female parts (such as testes and a vagina) as women — they could not inherit property or serve as priests; at other times, as men — forbidding them to shave or be secluded with women. More brutally, the Romans, seeing people of mixed sex as a bad omen, might kill a person whose body and mind did not conform to a binary sexual classification.
Today, some governments seem to be following the Roman model, if not killing people who do not fit into one of two sex-labeled bins, then at least trying to deny their existence. This month, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary banned university-level gender studies programs, declaring that “people are born either male or female” and that it is unacceptable “to talk about socially constructed genders, rather than biological sexes.” Now the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services wants to follow suit by legally defining sex as “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.”
This is wrong in so many ways, morally as well as scientifically. Others will explain the human damage wrought by such a ruling. I will stick to the biological error.
It has long been known that there is no single biological measure that unassailably places each and every human into one of two categories — male or female. In the 1950s the psychologist John Money and his colleagues studied people born with unusual combinations of sex markers (ovaries and a penis, testes and a vagina, two X chromosomes and a scrotum, and more). Thinking about these people, whom today we would call intersex, Dr. Money developed a multilayered model of sexual development.
He started with chromosomal sex, determined at fertilization when an X- or Y-bearing sperm fuses with an X-bearing egg. At least that’s what usually happens. Less commonly, an egg or sperm may lack a sex chromosome or have an extra one. The resultant embryo has an uncommon chromosomal sex — say, XXY, XYY or XO. So even considering only the first layer of sex, there are more than two categories.
And that’s just the first layer. Eight to 12 weeks after conception, an embryo acquires fetal gonadal sex: Embryos with a Y chromosome develop embryonic testes; those with two X’s form embryonic ovaries. This sets the stage for fetal hormonal sex, when the fetal embryonic testes or ovaries make hormones that further push the embryo’s development in either a male or a female direction (depending on which hormones appear). Fetal hormonal sex orchestrates internal reproductive sex (formation of the uterus, cervix and fallopian tubes in females or the vas deferens, prostate and epididymis in males). During the fourth month, fetal hormones complete their job by shaping external genital sex — penis and scrotum in males, vagina and clitoris in females.
By birth, then, a baby has five layers of sex. But as with chromosomal sex, each subsequent layer does not always become strictly binary. Furthermore, the layers can conflict with one another, with one being binary and another not: An XX baby can be born with a penis, an XY person may have a vagina, and so on. These kinds of inconsistencies throw a monkey wrench into any plan to assign sex as male or female, categorically and in perpetuity, just by looking at a newborn’s private parts.
Adding to the complexity, the layering does not stop at birth. The adults surrounding the newborn identify sex based on how they perceive genital sex (at birth or from an ultrasound image) and this begins the process of gender socialization. Fetal hormones also affect brain development, producing yet another layer called brain sex. One aspect of brain sex becomes evident at puberty when, usually, certain brain cells stimulate adult male or adult female levels and patterns of hormones that cause adult sexual maturation.
Dr. Money called these layers pubertal hormonal sex and pubertal morphological sex. But these, too, may vary widely beyond a two-category classification. This fact is the source of continuing disputes about how to decide who can legitimately compete in all-female international sports events.
There has been a lot of new scientific research on this topic since the 1950s. But those looking to biology for an easy-to-administer definition of sex and gender can derive little comfort from the most important of these findings. For example, we now know that rather than developing under the direction of a single gene, the fetal embryonic testes or ovaries develop under the direction of opposing gene networks, one of which represses male development while stimulating female differentiation and the other of which does the opposite. What matters, then, is not the presence or absence of a particular gene but the balance of power among gene networks acting together or in a particular sequence. This undermines the possibility of using a simple genetic test to determine “true” sex.
The policy change proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services marches backward in time. It flies in the face of scientific consensus about sex and gender, and it imperils the freedom of people to live their lives in a way that fits their sex and gender as these develop throughout each individual life cycle.
This year, MysteryVibe is taking a step away from anatomy-neutral malleability to try its hand at selling an explicitly penis-centric product, the Tenuto. They announced the new toy, their sophomore offering, in May, though the $130 device likely will not ship until sometime in December.
An L-shaped, flexible silicone loop similarly studded with six app-connected, variable intensity motors, the Tenuto fits onto a user’s penis in several possible ways. But no matter how one wears it, MysteryVibe suggests that it will offer a unique form of stimulation, more holistic and varied than any other male sex toy—the industry term for penis- and prostate-targeted devices—on the market now boasts. MysteryVibe co-founder and “Chief Pleasure Officer” Stephanie Alys recently told me that she thinks the Tenuto, by offering sensations people with penises may never have experienced or even conceived of before, could help men explore a satisfying new world of “pleasure-centered, versus orgasm-centered, goal-orientated sex. Slowing down, learning more about their bodies, trying new things.”
“That whole narrative,” she added, “is something we’re really keen to push forward.”
Granted, researchers haven’t probed how men engage with sex toys too deeply. Social psychologist and sex researcher Justin Lehmiller has speculated this may be because so many people only think of toys as a part of female sex and sexuality that few even consider exploring male toy usage.
Some sex store sales figures do suggest that men shop for sexual goods about as often as women. A 2014 deep dive on one chain’s sales by data journalist Jon Millward, though, showed that men mostly dominated purchases of things like condoms. Women dominated purchases of vibrating toys, the retailer’s highest selling device category. Men did dominate purchases in the lower selling anal toy category. But non-heterosexual men seemed to drive those figures, reflecting widespread and persistent stigmas around anal stimulation among straight men. Many men who bought toys that weren’t explicitly made or marketed for their gender seemingly did so for their female partners to use, whether in sex or on their own. And few women bought toys for their male partners. A 2009 survey similarly found that only a minority of American men had ever used a vibrator, and the vast majority of them only used these toys with (and likely only on) their female partners, rather than for solo fun.
When men do buy items for their own use, Millward and others have found, most seem to opt for penis rings, or other devices mostly meant to help people with erectile dysfunction get or maintain an erection. In Millward’s data, only about a fifth of his already limited pool of male consumers actually bought a device specifically made for penile stimulation. And his data came from the tail end of an apparent spike in male toy sales from the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s.
Sex culture observers have suggested any number of reasons for the anemic state of the male sex toy market, all of which probably have some merit: Most media, for instance, only depicts women as toy users—and increasingly represents them as sexually liberated souls. In the rare instances pop culture does show men using sex toys on their own, they are typically portrayed as sad sacks or weirdoes who can’t find a partner. The zeitgeist also increasingly seems to view sex toys as a vital tool for accessing female pleasure, and this pleasure as a vital component of holistic wellness, or a strong relationship. That is likely why big chain retailers like Walmart feel comfortable selling vibrators now. But the zeitgeist also insists that male sexuality and pleasure are simple, built around the quest for a quick and efficient orgasm, for which one only needs a hand and one frictional, repetitive motion. That implies that men who might want, or even need, toys for themselves are somehow deficient or deviant.
This is a fair amount of cultural and behavioral baggage for a company to push against. So I asked Alys: Why did MysteryVibe decide to move into the fraught male sex toy space in the first place? And how does the company plan to sell a novel device like the Tenuto to a limited, and likely skeptical, consumer base?
According to Alys, the MysteryVibe team decided to create Tenuto for a pretty simple reason. Their existing consumers said they wanted the company to make an explicitly male-facing toy.
Alys noted that while the Crescendo is gender-neutral, many consumers “still conceive of it as a product for people with vulvas.” That is not necessarily a problem. Many men find, through partnered or solo exploration, that they can bend even toys built explicitly for use on vulvas or in vaginas towards their wants and needs. So plenty of people who assume the Crescendo is a female-focused toy may learn, rather intuitively, that they can get some mileage out of it for their own erogenous anatomy.(Similarly, MysteryVibe points out that people with vulvas can likely still find uses for the Tenuto.) But many, if not most, men never do figure out that seemingly female-facing toys can work for them, too. “One of the core pieces of feedback we were getting from men who bought it for their partners,” Alys said, was “‘when are you going to create something for me?’”
MysteryVibe, in other words, seemed to see a clear male consumers base open to buying a high-end and novel toy for their own pleasure and exploration, like the company’s existing product, but waiting for something explicitly gendered that would, in a sense, give them permission to buy and use it.
Looking at the male sex toy space, Alys said, the MysteryVibe team realized there was plenty of room for innovation, especially by moving away from designs that try to mimic human anatomy in function and in form. Variable, unique sensations and a discreet design could together offer, as Alys put it, “something that people with penises can be proud to walk into a store, buy, and use.”
Alys seems to believe that stressing the Tenuto’s novel form(s) of stimulation can effectively draw men towards it—that many men are eager not just for a respectable company to tell them it is okay to buy a toy for their own pleasure, but for a product to encourage them to explore their bodies. “Elevating the conversation around pleasure is where we’re aiming, in terms of some of the marketing and some of the ways we’re hoping to talk to people” about the Tenuto, she explained.
However, she does acknowledge the massive gap in the way pop culture and society talk about female versus male toys and sexuality. She also seems to acknowledge that there are not as many cultural forces normalizing male toys as there have been for female toys over the past couple of decades (e.g. Sex and the City, Goop), much less cultivating a complex view of male sexuality and encouraging slow, pleasure-not-orgasm-centered self-exploration. She maintains that this exploration would be valuable for the many men who have internalized a simplistic view of male sexuality. Exploring themselves, she stresses, could clearly help men achieve new heights of personal pleasure, and learn to explore their partners’ bodies as well, leading to more satisfying sensual lives overall. But it is hard to see how the sort of pleasure exploration-focused pitch she makes for the Tenuto could push past the largely intact cultural barriers against, and stigmas around, male sex toy usage to reach the bulk of male consumers.
So perhaps unsurprisingly, while the promotional materials for the Tenuto mention novel pleasure and self-exploration, they lean just as heavily, if not more so, on the rationales men already use for buying sex toys: satisfying their female partners and managing their erectile dysfunction.
“Why use a vibrator,” one promo asks, “when you can be the vibrator” by wearing the device so some of its motors act as a clitoral stimulator during penetrative vaginal sex? This, MysteryVibe’s press release materials argue, could help men close the orgasm gap between them and their female partners. They also boast that the Tenuto’s sensations can spark blood flow, which can help men get, or maintain, an erection.
These sales points position the Tenuto as a cross between a penis ring and a vibrator, items men might already be willing to buy for partnered sex. Its inconspicuous design, seen from this perspective, further positions it as something men might feel less embarrassed to buy than existing devices that could, in combination, serve the same purpose.
For Alys, though, that messaging is just a good hook to grab people initially. She believes that the same narratives that have helped to diversify female sex toys in recent years are bleeding into discussions of male sexuality. This seems to give her faith that, after the right introduction, men will be willing to engage with, and want to buy, the Tenuto as a more revolutionary tool for exploring new types of pleasure.
She also believes that, by presenting the Tenuto in spaces that usually do not feature sex toys, like tech conferences, she can create a moment of shock in unwitting audiences that opens a door of potential for some to reconsider the role and meaning of male sex toys. Novelty and surprise may be enough to give people permission to explore the Tenuto on its own unique sensory terms.
None of this is certain, though. The question of how to overcome the cultural forces that have limited male sex toys in the past “is a lot of the stuff that we’re still trying to figure out,” Alys admitted. She added that the Tenuto alone isn’t going to tear down longstanding social-sexual stigmas, and by so doing open up new potential in the male sex toy market. “I will probably spend my entire life talking about sexuality and breaking things down and establishing new attitudes,” she said.
In that sense, Tenuto may be as much a piece of sexual activism as entrepreneurship. It is, in part at least, a MysteryVibe manifesto on the realities and needs of male sexuality. And it is a gamble on the power of a few established marketing entry points, surprise, and innovation to encourage people to engage with, and hopefully embrace, a (for many) new and complex vision of male pleasure and sexuality. It is impossible to say whether the startup’s gambit will pay off. But even if it succeeds in moving the needle slightly, it could be a major step towards a more diverse, dynamic (and lucrative) male sex toy market.
Humans have always boxed everything up into black and white contrasts and standardised ideals, essentially losing touch with what it means to be human. In this ever-changing, quick-paced world, where everyone is in a hurry, let’s take a step back and get down to the basics of being human – identity. Specifically, sexual and gender identity.
It’s time to break the binary by understanding the LGBTQIA+ community.
Let’s first understand the difference between gender, sex and sexuality.
Sex – At birth, the genitalia and reproductive system humans possess, determines their sex. This could be male, female or intersex (more on this later).
Gender – A combination of innate traits and learned behaviour, gender is how one identifies and expresses themselves regardless of sex. Gender and sex cannot be used interchangeably.
Cisgender – describes a person who is comfortable and identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Sexuality – Completely separate from gender and sex, sexuality only refers to the romantic and sexual attraction one experiences towards other people.
Heterosexual – describes a person attracted exclusively to the opposite gender (men attracted only to women; women attracted only to men) romantically and sexually.
Now that we have this basic understanding, what does LGBTQIA+ mean?
L – Lesbian
Lesbian (n.) is the term for women who are only attracted to other women, romantically and/or sexually.
Usage: A lesbian; Lesbians; “I am a lesbian”
G – Gay
Gay (adj.) is the term for men who are only attracted to other men, romantically and/or sexually. Gay is also an umbrella term for same-sex attraction and can be used by lesbians to describe themselves as well.
Usage: A gay man; Gay men; Gay women; “I am gay”
Wrong usage: A gay.
B – Bisexual
Bisexual (n., adj.) is the term for people who are attracted to both men and women, romantically and/or sexually. Contrary to what many believe, bisexual people are not, in fact, “half gay, half straight, or confused”.
Usage: A bisexual person; “I am bisexual”
T – Transgender
Transgender (adj.) defines people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. is the antonym, denoting people who are comfortable and identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Some transgender people also undergo gender-affirming surgery to align with their identity.
Usage: A transgender person; “I am transgender”
Transgender woman/trans woman
A transgender woman or trans woman is someone who was assigned male at birth but identifies as a woman.
Transgender man/trans man
A transgender man or trans man is someone who was assigned female at birth but identifies as a man.
Wrong usage: Transgendered; transgenders
Q – Questioning/Queer
The ‘Q’ in LGBTQIA+ refers to people who are still questioning and exploring their identity. It may also stand for “queer” – a word that originated as a slur against people in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Many members of the community have reclaimed the word “queer”, and use it amongst themselves as a blanket term for the community. However, there are some members who find the word offensive and don’t condone its usage. If you are not part of the LGBTQIA+ community, refrain from using this word.
I – Intersex
Intersex (adj.) is the term for people born with any of the several variations in chromosomes and hormones, and a reproductive system or genitalia that does not align with the typical definitions of female or male.
However, many intersex children are brought up as the gender their physical appearance most resembles. Some of them are also subjected to irreversible genital surgeries as infants, thought to help them “grow up normally”. This is an unnecessary procedure, as being intersex is not a medical problem. It may actually cause them psychological harm.
It is also important to note that intersex is exclusively about varying reproductive and sex characteristics, therefore it is not the same as transgender.
A – Asexual
An asexual person, “ace” for short, is someone who does not experience sexual feelings towards others, regardless of gender. This does not mean asexual people do not enter romantic relationships or occasionally engage in sexual activity. It simply means that they rarely, if ever, have sexual desires. Note: Asexuality and celibacy are not the same thing, as celibacy is a conscious choice and decision.
There is a host of other sexualities and gender identities apart from those mentioned above. Let’s take a look at a few of them
Pansexual – Describes a person who is attracted to others regardless of their gender; different from bisexual, as a bisexual person experiences attraction to only two genders.
Demisexual – Describes a person who is sexually attracted to others only after establishing a close relationship with them.
Genderfluid – Describes a person whose gender identity varies from time to time, or is fluid.
Non-binary – Describes a person who does not identify as man or woman/boy or girl at any given point of time. Read about non-binary poet Alok Vaid-Menon here.
Gender non-conforming – An umbrella term for people with alternate gender identities, including but not limited to genderfluid and non-binary people.
Related terms to keep in mind:
Coming out of the closet – Coming out of the closet, or just “coming out”, refers to the process of a person accepting themselves for their sexuality and gender identity, and letting people around them know.This can be a rather terrifying process for many, as it involves risks including being abandoned, alienated and even violence. If someone comes out to you, always remember that they trust you and hope that you will not treat them any differently because of their identity. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a sexuality and/or gender identity different from the majority. There is no shame in knowing someone from the LGBTQIA+ community.It is also important to note that you should never disclose someone else’s identity, or “out” them, without their consent, as it could be dangerous for them. Plus, it’s not your story to tell
Pronouns – Pronouns are especially important when it comes to trans people and gender non-conforming people because it directly aligns with their identity. Referring to trans women as “he” or “him”, and trans men as “she” or “her”, based on their assigned gender at birth, is extremely disrespectful.We’ve all learnt that “he/him” and “she/her” are singular pronouns, and that “they/them” is a plural pronoun. However, many gender non-conforming people go by “they/them” pronouns as it is gender-neutral and can be used in the singular form.Do not purposely refer to them with gender-specific pronouns. It is ok to forget or slip up sometimes but always correct yourself without being overly apologetic.
Heteronormativity – The deep-rooted idea that gender falls into strictly two categories and that only heterosexual relationships are valid. Gender and sexuality vary from person to person and are not limited to rigid boxes. A large part of this mindset is due to what we watch on TV and read in the news, which is almost entirely made up of heterosexual couples, stereotypical portrayals of gender roles and depicting gay and transgender people in derogatory and/or excessively comical light. We need to consciously remove this veil of heteronormativity and look at the world with a wider perspective.
The LGBTQIA+ community has faced and continues to face immense discrimination and violence. As times change, there have been a lot of positive changes in mindsets, opinions and laws all around the world, including the recent de-criminalisation of Section 377 in India, but there still remains the discomfort and awkwardness when we talk about sexuality and gender.
Parents shield themselves and their children from such conversations, labelling them “bad” and “inappropriate”. Forced “conversion therapy” takes place behind closed doors. Classrooms, corridors and washrooms have heard and seen too many slurs being hurled, “jokes” being made, and bullying being overlooked. Teenagers and young people are thrown out of their own homes, with nowhere else to go.
There have been innumerable incidents of targeted violence that have turned fatal. The list of injustices faced by the members of the LGBTQIA+ community goes on and on and needs to stop. Use your knowledge and voice to stand up for and with the community.
How you can be a better ally:
Don’t laugh at “jokes” that throw the LGBTQIA+ community under the bus. Instead, call them out and make your stance known firmly.
If someone comes out to you, support and respect them.
Remember to use the right pronouns.
Don’t disclose anyone’s identity without consent.
If you don’t fully understand something, do some research about it. Don’t hold opinions that are based on incomplete knowledge.
Have an open mind, because the world is more than just black and white boxes. Celebrate the differences!