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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete Article HERE!

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Cross-Cultural Evidence for the Genetics of Homosexuality

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Mexico’s third gender sheds light on the biological correlates of sexual orientation

By Debra W. Soh

The reasons behind why people are gay, straight, or bisexual have long been a source of public fascination. Indeed, research on the topic of sexual orientation offers a powerful window into understanding human sexuality. The Archives of Sexual Behavior recently published a special edition devoted to research in this area, titled “The Puzzle of Sexual Orientation.” One study, conducted by scientists at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, offers compelling, cross-cultural evidence that common genetic factors underlie same-sex, sexual preference in men.

In southern Mexico, individuals who are biologically male and sexually attracted to men are known as muxes. They are recognized as a third gender: Muxe nguiiu tend to be masculine in their appearance and behavior, while muxe gunaa are feminine. In Western cultures, they would be considered gay men and transgender women, respectively.

Several correlates of male androphilia — biological males who are sexually attracted to men — have been shown across different cultures, which is suggestive of a common biological foundation among them. For example, the fraternal birth order effect—the phenomenon whereby male androphilia is predicted by having a higher number of biological older brothers—is evident in both Western and Samoan cultures.

Interestingly, in Western society, homosexual men, compared with heterosexual men, tend to recall higher levels of separation anxiety — the distress resulting from being separated from major attachment figures, like one’s primary caregiver or close family members. Research in Samoa has similarly demonstrated that third-gender fa’afafine—individuals who are feminine in appearance, biologically male, and attracted to men—also recall greater childhood separation anxiety when compared with heterosexual Samoan men. Thus, if a similar pattern regarding separation anxiety were to be found in a third, disparate culture—in the case, the Istmo region of Oaxaca, Mexico—it would add to the evidence that male androphilia has biological underpinnings.

The current study included 141 heterosexual women, 135 heterosexual men, and 178 muxes (61 muxe nguiiu and 117 muxe gunaa). Study participants were interviewed using a questionnaire that asked about separation anxiety; more specifically, distress and worry they experienced as a child in relation to being separated from a parental figure. Participants rated how true each question was for them when they were between the ages of 6 to 12 years old.

Muxes showed elevated rates of childhood separation anxiety when compared with heterosexual men, similar to what has been seen in gay men in Canada and fa’afafine in Samoa. There were also no differences in anxiety scores between women and muxe nguiiu or muxe gunaa, or between the two types of muxes.

When we consider possible explanations for these results, social mechanisms are unlikely, as previous research has shown that anxiety is heritable and parenting tends to be in response to children’s traits and behaviors, as opposed to the other way around. Biological mechanisms, however, offer a more compelling account. For instance, exposure to female-typical levels of sex steroid hormones in the prenatal environment are thought to “feminize” regions of the male brain that are related to sexual orientation, thereby influencing attachment and anxiety.

On top of this, studies in molecular genetics have shown that Xq28, a region located at the tip of the X chromosome, is involved in both the expression of anxiety and male androphilia. This suggests that common genetic factors may underlie the expression of both. Twin studies additionally point to genetic explanations as the underlying force for same-sex partner preference in men and neuroticism, a personality trait that is comparable to anxiety.

These findings suggest childhood separation anxiety may be a culturally universal correlate of androphilia in men. This has important implications for our understanding of children’s mental health conditions, as subclinical levels of separation anxiety, when intertwined with male androphilia, may represent a typical part of the developmental life course.

As it stands, sexual orientation research will continue to evoke widespread interest and controversy for the foreseeable future because it has the potential to be used—for better or worse—to uphold particular socio-political agendas. The moral acceptability of homosexuality has often hinged on the idea that same-sex desires are innate, immutable, and therefore, not a choice. This is clear when we think about how previous beliefs around homosexuality being learned were once used to justify (now discredited) attempts to change these desires.

The cross-cultural similarities evinced by the current study offer further proof that being gay is genetic, which is, in itself, an interesting finding. But we as a society should challenge the notion that sexual preferences must be non-volitional in order to be socially acceptable or safe from scrutiny. The etiology of homosexuality, biological or otherwise, should have no bearing on gay individuals’ right to equality.

Complete Article HERE!

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What do men really think about sex? This is why we need better education

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We asked men how they learned about sex, and found that puerility and pornography have always trumped the facts. Mandatory sex education is most welcome

‘Alan, now aged 79, was evacuated to the countryside at the age of five – and spotted a bull mounting a cow. “It was a significant part of my sex education,” he said.’

It was announced this month that sex and relationship education is to become mandatory in schools for children aged four to 15. About time too. It’s never been easy for children who have wanted to learn credible information about sex.

We’ve recently been interviewing men for a project to find out what they really think, feel and do about sex, and found the early information they received was, in many cases, baffling. “Women don’t like it,” Bill was told as a teenager in the 1960s, “but you can do it all the same … [and] you only do it on Sundays when the children are out.”

Back in the 1940s, communicative adults were hard to come by, and children had to solve the mystery by themselves. Alan, aged 79, was evacuated from London to the countryside, aged five. There he spotted a large bull mounting a cow. “It was very significant,” he said. “I have never forgotten it.”

At primary school Bill, now 75, believed boys stood behind girls to do “it” (he was basing this on his observation of dogs). He was hugely embarrassed when told to stand behind a girl in a school folk-dance performance. “I thought that was very dirty.”

It was a rare grown-up who suggested that sex might be something pleasant, or something to look forward to; rather, a child’s sex education was more likely to elicit feelings of fear, danger and shame – and would often involve a lonely search for the facts. By the late 1950s, parental guidance was still fairly non-existent. At 14, Michael remembered finding a “dirty book” belonging to his father: “The Kama Sutra was an excellent source of information, but often mind-boggling too … the contortions! The big penises! And the pleasure shown on women’s faces. I couldn’t believe it could be like that!”

‘The Kama Sutra was an excellent source of information – but mind-boggling, too!’

While Michael was studying the Kama Sutra, the only sex still being taught in the classroom involved plants and rabbits, and was often expressed in Latin. Several more decades were to pass before human genitalia and procreation were bravely described in English. Not until the early 1990s did the national curriculum specify that sex education must be taught. But just the mechanics. Nothing about relationships. And making the subject even more shambolic was the decision that each school could have its own individual policy, and each teacher was stuck with their own capabilities, experiences, terrors and confusions in conveying this information.

The easy way out was to explain that sex happened “when people loved each other and wanted babies”. Pleasure, variety and consent were rarely mentioned. But some teachers bravely tried to further enlighten the children. In 1994, in his last year of junior school, Dean, who was then aged 10, went to a sex education lesson in which his teacher tried her very best to take an innovative, practical and robust approach.

“Miss Woods asked the class if they knew of any ‘barrier methods’. I didn’t really know what they were, but someone said ‘condoms’. Miss Woods said, ‘Yes, anything else?’ Then a boy called Dave said, ‘You can get them with feathers on the end, Miss.’ Miss Woods looked cross, and said, ‘No you can’t’ – but Dave went on and on, saying, ‘Yes you can, they’re called French ticklers, I read in my Mum’s book. It had pictures in,’ and then Miss butted in, and said ‘Nonsense’, so Dave had to shut up.”

Here was Miss Wood’s chance to grasp the nettle. But even then, in the late 20th century, she could not. Although bolder than many teachers, she was still not able to respond to any surprises that might crop up.

Even if teachers now manage to describe sex as pleasant, it sometimes seems to frighten and shock, rather than enthuse the children. Informed, six years ago, by a comparatively enlightened teacher, that people had sex “because it felt lovely”, eight-year-old George was horrified. “Miss made a terrible mistake,” he told his Grandma, with great authority and concern. “She said it felt nice! She’s got it really wrong!”

Age specificity hadn’t really been thought through. Slightly older, more intrepid boys, sensing that they still weren’t quite getting at the truth, or any satisfactory explanations – either from each other, or from adults – now gained access to a greater selection of more flamboyant, salacious, almost cartoonish information: porn.

“I think as boys we’d seen a few porno films here and there,” said Jason. “The first stuff I saw was on a video. I was 13, and the tape started doing the rounds – we thought that was the way you did it.”

As the years have passed, and porn has become more widely available online, younger and younger children have been seeing such imagery. In 2001, Jack, then aged 10, learned about sex from pornography. “Everyone was looking at it,” he said. “That’s how I found out I was gay. I didn’t want to look at the girls.”

Despite the overwhelming flood of pornography – and the continuing lack of guidance – there do appear to be a few glimmers of hope. The importance of relationships and feelings is now creeping into sex education at last, and it is a relief to find the idea of consent has surfaced. Many of the young men interviewed in the BBC3 documentary Sex on Trial were sympathetic when shown footage of a young woman whose consent had not been clearly given. In fact, they were more sympathetic than the young women. That’s reason to be hopeful, at least where young men are concerned.

Unfortunately, most sex education is still passed between children themselves, taught by the “naughty” peers who seem to have found out more than anyone else. Or are pretending that they have. Boasting has always been, and still seems to be for many boys, the beginning of proving that you are a proper man. Frequency, volume, conquest and size still matter to them. How are young men to understand women if they have never been taught to understand themselves, and the people teaching them have been taught even less?

Hopefully the new national curriculum mandatory sex education plans will bring about change for the better. It might help if lessons could be conducted in small groups, with the sexes separated. It would need to be age-appropriate, of course – with less emphasis on the mechanical details, and more on the importance of relationships, with appropriately trained teachers, prepared for anything the children might say, know or have experienced. They also need to be unshockable.

Complete Article HERE!

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Inadequate sex education creating ‘health time bomb’

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‘Shockingly high’ numbers of STI diagnoses prompt councils to call for compulsory sex education in UK secondary schools

A school nurse giving sex education advice to year 10 students at a school in Devon.

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Inadequate sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools is creating “a ticking sexual health time bomb”, councils are warning, amid concern over high numbers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among young people.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, has joined the growing clamour urging the government to make sex education compulsory in all secondary schools. Currently it is mandatory in local authority-maintained schools, but not in academies and free schools which make up 65% of secondaries.

Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said it was a major health protection issue. “The lack of compulsory sex and relationship education in academies and free schools is storing up problems for later on in life, creating a ticking sexual health time bomb, as we are seeing in those who have recently left school.

“The shockingly high numbers of STI diagnoses in teenagers and young adults, particularly in the immediate post-school generation, is of huge concern to councils.

The LGA argues that it is a health protection issue, with 141,000 new STI diagnoses for 20- to 24-year-olds in England in 2015 and 78,000 for those aged 15-19. Sexual health is one of local government’s biggest areas of public health spending, with approximately £600m budgeted annually.

The LGA appeal came as the government was reported to be close to making an announcement regarding SRE and PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education), after the education secretary, Justine Greening, flagged up the issue as a priority for government.

Campaigners hope the announcement will be made during the next stage of the children and social work bill, which is passing through parliament. An amendment with cross-party support was tabled last week which, if carried, would would amount to the biggest overhaul in sex education in 17 years, but it is not yet clear what the government announcement will amount to, and crucially whether it will make SRE compulsory.

Seccombe said: “We believe that making sex and relationship education compulsory in all secondary schools, not just council-maintained ones, could make a real difference in reversing this trend, by preparing pupils for adulthood and enabling them to better take care of themselves and future partners.”

The LGA says while SRE should be made compulsory for secondary school children, with statutory guidance on key issues including sexual health, parents should still be given the option of taking their children from the lessons.

Tory MP Maria Miller was among those proposing the amendment to the bill last week. It followed an inquiry by the women and equalities committee, chaired by Miller, which heard that most children have seen online pornography by the time they leave primary school and two thirds will have been asked for a sexual digital image of themselves before they leave secondary school.

According to Miller, research has shown that just one in four children at secondary school receives any teaching on sex and relationship issues, and Ofsted has said that when it is taught the quality of teaching is often poor.

“Different interest groups cannot agree on a way forward that suits them and in the meantime we are letting down a generation of children who are not being taught how to keep themselves safe in an online, digital world,” said Miller.

“We are not teaching them that pornography isn’t representative of a typical relationship, that sexting images are illegal and could be distributed to child abuse websites and how to be aware of the signs of grooming for sexual exploitation.

“Overwhelmingly parents and children are fed up and want change. They want compulsory lessons in school to teach children and young people about consent and healthy relationships.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Worried your partner might have a bisexual history? Why?

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Myths about LGBTQ sexual health need debunking – and healthcare professionals are part of the problem

‘You don’t have to openly identify as bisexual to get the bad side of bisexuality.’

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“Use a condom, the pill, or get an IUD – avoid pregnancy” was the drill from sexual health practitioners who came to speak at my comprehensive school in Kent. There wasn’t much detail or thought beyond, “Some of these boys are going to get some of these girls pregnant before they hit 16 – let’s try to get that down to a lower number than we had last year.”

Thankfully, when it comes to the subject of sexual identity, there’s now more guidance than ever trickling down into the societal subconscious in the west – hopefully in schools, but certainly during publicity rounds for films starring Kelly Rowland and Cat Deeley. While talking about Love By the 10th Date to the New York Post last week, Rowland espoused the importance of knowledge when embarking on a sexual relationship with another: “I can’t tell someone how to feel about dating someone who is bisexual or had a past gay experience, but it’s proper to ask [if they have] in today’s times.”

It is “proper” to ask? Maybe it’s unfortunate phrasing, or maybe not being able to hear the tone of voice in which the opinion was offered gives it negative impact, but the sentence rings faintly of suspicion and mild disapproval: “Please submit your history of sex with people of the same gender, and it will then be decided whether or not you are too risky to be intimate with.” That’s how it comes across to this particular someone who is “bisexual or [has] had a past gay experience”, anyway.

Bisexuality just continues to have a bad rep, even though it’s on the rise (according to CNN) … or then again, maybe it’s not on the rise (according to the Verge). Statistics on the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and which groups of people are spreading them, are easily found (and quickly wielded by those mistrustful of anything beyond heteronormativity), but they can obscure a simple and universal truth that applies to all groups, whether those groups are on the rise or not. And that is: whatever genitalia you and your partner(s) have, you should protect yourselves (condom/dental dam/wash your hands and accoutrement between uses, thank you). Ignoring that fact in favour of “it’s the bisexuals, mostly” is the source of so much harm.

You don’t have to openly identify as bisexual to get the bad side of bisexuality, because it goes beyond the myths of promiscuity, greed and dishonesty still held by some – biphobia also has an impact on physical health. Here in the UK, if you’re a man who’s had sex with another man in the last 12 months, you can’t donate blood (though that stance is currently being reviewed). Women who have sex with women are less likely to get a smear test, because many of us don’t realise we need to – we’re forgotten by the healthcare system, or our needs are misunderstood.

“Gay and bisexual women are at lower risk for HPV,” we confidently tell each other, “we don’t need a smear test.” A lot of us have heard that from our doctors, as well. It was only after seeing a leaflet about the issue from lgbthealth.org.uk during this month’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Week that I realised this was just ignorance.

In 2008, Stonewall released findings that one in 50 lesbian and bisexual women had been refused a smear test, even when they requested one. The 2015 survey on training gaps in healthcare, Unhealthy Attitudes, found that three in four patient-facing staff had not received any training on the health needs of LGBTQ people. Many women get variations of the “use a condom, the pill, or get an IUD – avoid pregnancy” mantra from our doctors to this day, if we don’t declare our gayness or bisexuality as we walk through the surgery door. Sometimes even a declaration is ignored by an uncomfortable practitioner. Straightness is still automatically assumed, unless you’re lucky enough to have a doctor who doesn’t see heterosexuality as the default for everyone they treat.

According to that 2015 Stonewall study, a third of healthcare professionals felt that the NHS and social care services should be doing more to meet the needs of LGBTQ patients, which is encouraging. Knowledge is wanted – needed – to undo the harmful myths that block help and prevent education. And that is what is “proper” (to quote the star of Freddy vs Jason and Love By the 10th Date) – fighting ignorance and biphobia, rather than continuing to be suspicious of sexual histories that might have featured people of the same gender. Whatever and whoever is in our sexual pasts, we must protect each other, and stay informed. That’s healthy.

Complete Article HERE!

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