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Actual things you can do to bridge the orgasm gap in your own bedroom


By Rachel Thompson

Your sexual partner just jubilantly crossed the finish line, but you’re still running a race with no end in sight. It’s frustrating. And, for an alarming number of heterosexual women, it’s the infuriating reality of sex. Metaphors aside, we’re talking about the gender orgasm gap—the disparity between men and women’s sexual satisfaction, and a struggle that many of us know all too well.

64 percent of men have an orgasm during sex, but only 34 percent of women can say the same, according to the Durex Global Sex Survey which surveyed nearly 30K adults worldwide. Women who identify as heterosexual are the demographic that have the fewest orgasms, according to a study by Indiana University. That same research also revealed something that many women are already fully aware of: penetrative sex alone simply doesn’t cut it for most women. And, that women need oral sex and clitoral stimulation if they’re going to stand any chance of coming.

The reasons for the orgasm gap are multi-faceted, and some of them will take a long time to remedy. Sex education that fails to teach sexual pleasure has been cited as one reason for the gap. A study from University of Wisconsin-Madison found a third of university-age women can’t identify their clitoris in an anatomy test. Communication, or a lack thereof, is one of the biggest obstacles in bridging the orgasm gap, according to the Durex Global Sex Survey. Over a third of people feel they can’t tell their sexual partner what they like. And, others say the reason behind the gender orgasm gap is the cultural prioritisation of the male orgasm.

We might not be able to change these things overnight, but there are a few things we can do. Mashable asked gynaecologists, sex therapists, sex educators, and orgasm equality activists what heterosexual sex partners can do to bridge the orgasm gap in their own bedroom. Here are the pearls of wisdom they imparted that will hopefully bring us all a little closer to that oh-so-coveted finish line.

Don’t fake it

Heather Corinna—founder of Scarleteen, a sex and relationships education site for young people—warns against faking your orgasm, which can cause a miscommunication between you and your sexual partner. “Orgasm tells a partner whatever you did together can gets you off. So, they’re often going to try and repeat those things to get that result again,” says Corinna. “If you faked, you gave them wrong information, and then they think things get you off that might not, or even most definitely DO not.”

Masturbate together

Angela Skurtu— sex therapist and cohost of the About Sex podcast—says couples should masturbate together so they can see see “how each person touches themselves.” “Women masturbate very differently than men do and we can teach each other,” says Skurtu. “You can also make this a competition—whoever finishes first wins something.”

Build arousal slowly

“Slow down,” says Sophie Holloway, founder of Ladies Come First, a campaign promoting pleasure based sex education. “No touching the vagina until you are really really really turned on,” says Holloway. “Your labia should be plump and erect just like the penis when you are aroused.” She recommends staying in foreplay for as long as possible to build arousal slowly and to achieve what she calls a “lady boner.” When it comes to pressure, Holloway says partners should start out “touching the clitoris with the same pressure as you would your eyelid” before applying more pressure.

‘Stay in’

Claire Kim, program manager at sex education site OMGYES, says in hetero penetrative sex, “in and out friction” is what’s pleasurable for the man, but this action isn’t conductive to the level of clitoral stimulation women need. “What’s often much more pleasurable for the woman is his penis staying inside,” says Kim. “So that the clitoris stays in contact with the area above the penis, and the top of the penis stays in contact with the inside roots of the clitoral cluster, which go around the urethra and up the vaginal canal.”

Think about what gets you off alone

We know what makes us come when we’re going solo. The obstacle usually arises when we bring another person into the equation. Corinna recommends examining “what floats your boat solo” and then “bringing it to your crew.” “Whatever that is, bring as much of it into sex with partners as you can,” says Corinna. “Whether that’s bringing the fantasies in your head, showing them how to do what you like with your own hands meshed with theirs, or doing it yourself during sex (or both!), using porn you like together.” Gynaecologist and sex counsellor Dr. Terri Vanderlinde recommends that women practice “alone, comfortably” with fingers or vibrators to learn “her body and how it works.”

Treat this as a learning curve

PSA men: this is gonna take some time. Holloway says men need to know that “until they have the map to their partner’s pleasure” it’s going to be a “voyage of discovery.” “This takes time, and patience, and love, and respect, and placing their partners pleasure and orgasm as their primary goal is a big part of it,” she says.  Partners should listen and learn their partner’s pleasure signals, and be receptive when your partner tells you when something’s not working for them.

Get on top

When it comes to positions for penetrative sex, all experts interviewed by Mashable were in agreement: getting on top will help get you off. Dr. Vandelinde says being on top provides open access for clitoral stimulation, which most women need in order to orgasm. It also gives the woman “the freedom to have more control of the movements” so you can get into a rhythm that feels good, according to Holloway. Online sex therapist and host of Foreplay Radio podcast Laurie Watson says “woman on top at a 45 degree angle gives the penis the most contact with the G-spot, and is a good position that she can reach her clitoris.”

Experiment with positions

Getting on top isn’t the be all and end all, though. Vanderlinde says doggy style can be a good position for clitoral stimulation. “Anything that can give direct stimulation to the clitoris works,” says Vanderlinde. Watson recommends lying on your back, hooking your legs around your partner’s elbows with your pelvis rocked up. “To climax during intercourse I suggest a position where their partner or themselves can simultaneously touch their clitoris,” says Watson.

As Corinna points out, women have “incredibly diverse bodies, and even more diverse sexualities.”  They say orgasm can occur with “any kind of sexual activity” and each person over time will find what works for their own bodies. “There are going to be certain positions, angles or other specifics that work best for them. But what those are is so varied, that’s something we all have to find out by experimenting,” they say.

Talk about sex outside the bedroom

Corinna says it’s actually really hard to talk about what you like and don’t like during sex. “It’s just such a high-stakes situation, and people, especially women, are often so worried about how what they say will be perceived,” says Corinna, who suggests building communication about sex when you’re not having sex. “Start by doing more talking about sex when you’re not actually engaging in sex. That can help build trust and comfort and practice that makes doing it during easier,” says Corinna.

Tell your partner when something feels good

We know that faking your orgasm will give your partner the wrong message about what’s working for you. If you feel comfortable doing so, Corinna says you should “voice it when things do feel good” and “show them what you like when you can.” “Don’t be afraid to ask a partner to keep doing what they are doing when you’re into it, or to adjust when something isn’t doing it for you,” they say. “Be explicit and clear and open.”

Add toys to the equation

If you use a vibrator on your own, then it’s worth considering using it when you’re having sex with your partner. “If someone enjoy sex toys alone, why wouldn’t they bring them into sex together at least sometimes? The idea that toys are just for people alone is silly,” says Corinna.

If you want to add toys to the equation during penetrative sex, Vanderlinde recommends using a “cock ring with a vibrator” which will afford “hands free stimulation” as well as vibrators that can fit between your and your partner’s bodies. “Or simply wait ’til he finishes and then he can stimulate her to multiple orgasms,” says Vanderlinde.

Plan to give oral

Sex therapist Deborah Fox says that the “majority” of women won’t come from intercourse alone and that’s simply down to biology. The clitoris is full of nerve endings, while only the outer third of the vagina tends to have responsive nerves,” says Fox.

If the man comes during intercourse, his next move should be to find a way to make his partner come. Skurtu says if the man comes during intercourse, he should plan to perform oral sex afterwards. “If a person finishes first, the next person can perform oral on the first or use a vibrator and/or fingers,” she says.

Don’t fret

Try not to get stressed if you don’t come. Vanderlinde says there are sometimes other things at play that could be standing in the way of reaching orgasm. “There can be interfering medical diagnoses, medications, pain, low desire, hormones, partner issues, prior abuse, trust issues, stresses, worries, depression, that have a major effect on a woman’s ability to have an orgasm,” she says. In these situations, consider seeking advice from a medical professional or trained sex counsellor.

Go forth, explore. And most importantly, have fun.

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!


‘Bad Girls’ say no


Women who value their sexual pleasure are less likely to engage in unwanted sex


So-called “bad girls” who acknowledge themselves as sexual beings may be more likely to turn down unwanted sex, according to new research on college students.

The study in Sexuality & Culture found that women who valued their own sexual pleasure as much as their partner’s pleasure were less likely to have engaged in unwanted sexual acts to please their partners.

“Drawing on the work of psychologists such as Deborah Tolman and Sharon Lamb, I was inspired to explore the presumed ‘dangers’ of young women’s sexual desire,” said Heather Hensman Kettrey, a research associate at Vanderbilt University.

Dominant cultural scripts tell young women that their sexual desire is unimportant at best and can invite victimization at worst. These scripts perpetuate the stereotype that young men have strong sexual desires that they try to fulfill through their less desiring female partners.”

“The belief that sex is all about fulfilling male desire may set women up to engage in undesired sex for the sole purpose of pleasing a partner. If a young woman’s desire is not sufficient justification for engaging in sexual activity then her lack of desire in a given situation will not be sufficient justification for refusing sexual activity. I explored this hypothesis with a large sample of college women from across the United States.”

Kettrey analyzed data from 7,255 students who participated in the Online College Social Life Survey, which collected data from 22 colleges and universities between 2005 and 2011.

She found that a majority of women — nearly 9 in 10 — said they had performed undesired sexual acts to please their partner. Additionally, roughly 8 in 10 prioritized their partner’s pleasure over their own.

Kettrey was particularly interested in the answers to two survey items: “I try to make sure that my partner has an orgasm when we have sex” and “I try to make sure that I have an orgasm when I have sex.”

She found that female students who prioritized their own orgasm equally with their partner’s orgasm were less likely to report having engaged in unwanted sexual activity.

“I want the average person to question the ways we, as society, talk about masculine/feminine gender roles in sexual relationships. Stereotypes about men’s (presumed) strong desire and women’s (presumed) lack of desire are not helpful,” Kettrey told PsyPost.

“In my study, I found young women who equally value their own pleasure with their partner’s pleasure (whether equally high or equally low) were less likely to engage in undesired sexual activity than those who value their partner’s pleasure over their own.”

“Interestingly, I did not observe this same pattern for young women who value their own pleasure over their partner’s pleasure. This suggests there needs to be a place for equality (rather than female desire alone) to be integrated into discussions about gender and sexual desire,” Kettrey said.

The study, like all research, does have some caveats.

“The main caveats to this study are that it does not rely on a random sample and the data are retrospective. Young women were asked about their sexual attitudes and their experiences with their most recent male hookup partner at a single point in time. This does not allow one to draw conclusions about causality or directionality,” Kettrey explained.

“That is, one cannot say with certainty that young women who equally value their partner’s pleasure and their own pleasure at one point in time are protected from engaging in undesired sexual activity at a later point in time. Longitudinal research in which women are asked about their sexual attitudes and then followed over time could address this limitation.”

“I would like to see young men more fully integrated into the scholarly work on sexual desire,” she added. “Sexuality scholars have become critical of cultural scripts that prioritize young men’s desire over young women’s desire. However, we implicitly reify these messages by empirically exploring assumptions about women’s desire more frequently than we explore assumptions about men’s desire.”

The study was titled: ““Bad Girls” Say No and “Good Girls” Say Yes: Sexual Subjectivity and Participation in Undesired Sex During Heterosexual College Hookups“.

Complete Article HERE!


‘Sex Invades the Schoolhouse’


Fifty years ago, panicked parents helped spread sex-ed programs to schools across the country, even as panicked critics mobilized to stop them.

By Conor Friedersdorf

Earlier this month, The New York Times Magazine published “What
Teenagers Are Learning From Online Porn,” a feature that probed the frontier of sex education: a 10-hour course for high schoolers titled, “The Truth About Pornography.”

The course aims to make teens in this age of ubiquitous porn “savvier, more critical consumers of porn by examining how gender, sexuality, aggression, consent, race, queer sex, relationships and body images are portrayed (or, in the case of consent, not portrayed) in porn,” the Times reports. One of its creators, Emily Rothman, explained that the curriculum “is grounded in the reality that most adolescents do see porn and takes the approach that teaching them to analyze its messages is far more effective than simply wishing our children could live in a porn-free world.”

While the conversation that ensued focused on porn’s place in American life, the story struck me as a useful point of comparison for a look back at sex-ed 50 years ago. In 1968, The Saturday Evening Post ran its own feature on the frontiers of the subject, billed as “The Truth About Sex Education” on the cover and “Sex Invades the Schoolhouse” on the page. The story documented a rapid shift in attitudes.

Until 1965, biology students in Chicago schools “might scarcely have imagined, for all the teachers ever told them, that humans had a reproductive system,” it reported. A principal in Miami said that, only recently, a pregnant pet rabbit couldn’t be kept in the classroom. Superintendent Paul W. Cook of Anaheim, California, was quoted as saying, “Not long ago they’d have hanged me from the nearest telephone pole for what I’m doing.” By 1968, all had formal sex-ed programs.

“America seems to have suddenly discovered an urgent need for universal sex education—from kindergarten through high school, some enthusiasts insist—and is galloping off in all directions to meet it,” the journalist John Kobler reported. “The trend is nationwide. Nearly 50 percent of all schools, including both public and private, parochial and nonsectarian, are already providing it, and at the present rate the figure will pass 70 percent within a year. Clergymen, including many Catholic priests, not only do not oppose sex education, they are often members of the local planning committees.” The impetus behind the change: “parental panic,” he wrote.

Venereal diseases among teenagers: over 80,000 cases reported in 1966, an increase of almost 70 percent since 1956—and unreported cases doubtless dwarf that figure. Unwed teen-age mothers: about 90,000 a year, an increase of 100 percent in two decades. One out of every three brides under 20 goes to the altar pregnant. Estimates of the number of illegal abortions performed on adolescents runs into the hundreds of thousands. One of the findings that decided New York City’s New Lincoln School to adopt sex education was a poll of its 11th-graders on their attitudes toward premarital intercourse: the majority saw nothing wrong with it.

Teen-age marriages have risen 500 percent since World War II, and the divorce rate for such marriages is three times higher than the rate for such marriages contracted after 21. Newspaper reports of dropouts and runaways, drug-taking, sexual precocity and general delinquency  intensify the worries of parents. But these evils are only the grosser symptoms of a widespread social upheaval. Communications between the generations has stalled (“Don’t trust anyone over thirty”), and moral values once accepted by children because Mom and Dad said so have given way to a morality of the relative. In addition, parents’ own emotional conflicts, and reluctance to recognize in their children the same drives they experienced … make it all but impossible for them to talk honestly … about sex.

Giving young people more information suddenly seemed less risky to many than the alternative. And in this telling, many parents preferred to let teachers do the hard part.

In Talk About Sex: The Battles Over Sex Education in the United States, Janice M. Irvine noted that the first calls for in-school sex education came in the early 1900s “from a disparate group of moral reformers including suffragists, clergy, temperance workers, and physicians dedicated to eliminating venereal disease.” They disagreed among themselves about the purpose of sex education, but united against Anthony Comstock and his anti-vice crusaders in arguing that expanding public speech about sex would better advance social purity and retard vice than restricting it.

A similar divide endured as sex-ed began to spread rapidly in the 1960s. Its proponents believed that talking openly about the subject would help cure social ills, as they had since at least 1912, when the National Education Association passed its first resolution calling for the introduction of sex curriculum in public schools.

1960s social conservatives countered that “if we talk to young people about sexuality, it should be restricted so as not to lead to destructive and immoral thoughts and behavior”—and that “controlling or eliminating sexual discussing best allows for the protection of young people and the preservation of sexual morality.”

For them, too much information posed the greater threat.

Some conservatives even saw sex education in schools as a Communist plot, causing local controversies like one in Utica, New York, where a contemporaneous newspaper article reported that “Joseph Smithling of Syracuse, a member of the Movement to Restore Decency, told an Oneida County Patriotic Society meeting that the national sex education movement is part of the ‘International Communist conspiracy.’ He said local teachers are being fooled by a Communist plot to take over this country by getting American children ‘interested in sex, drawing them away from religion and making them superficial and less rugged.’”

The era’s most far-reaching anti-sex-ed pamphlet was published in September 1968. Selling at least 250,000 copies, Is the School House the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex? took aim at the Sex Education Council of the United States, the biggest and most influential group creating sex-ed curricula and spreading them to public schools.

The pamphlet’s first section portrays its opponents as a bunch of sex-positive relativists who can’t even be counted on to declare premarital sex morally wrong. “The public school is intruding into a private family and church responsibility as it frightens and coerces parents to accept the teaching of sex,” its second chapter begins. One can only imagine how these conservatives would regard media that children are exposed to in 2018 when reading their take on teaching materials circa 1968:

Sex education, as a symbol of curricular innovation, is in the classroom with all of its rawness, its tactlessness, its erotic stimulation. The flood of materials for classroom use includes books, charts, and unbelievably clever models which even include multi-colored plastic human figures with interchangeable male and female sex organs––instant transvestism.

The sexologists, who we cannot help but feel are Johnny-come-lately pornographers, are devoting their full creative powers to inventing sexual gimmickry.

Other passages could as easily be critiques of sex education (and especially porn education) today. “The embarrassing frankness of many sex education programs force the sensitive child to suppress his normal, emotion-charged feelings in listening to class discussion,” the pamphlet’s authors fretted. “This may develop into serious anxieties. On the other hand, he may either become coarsely uninhibited in his involvement in sex, or develop a premature secret obsession with sex.”

The pamphlet ended with a rousing call to parents to resist sex education and the notion that only teachers—“the professionals”—are qualified to decide what kids should be taught. In its telling, “the sex educators are in league with sexologists—who represent every shape of muddy gray morality, ministers colored atheistic pink, and camp followers of every persuasion, from off-beat psychiatrists to ruthless publishers of pornography. The enemy is formidable at first glance, but becomes awesomely powerful when we discover the interlocking directorates and working relationship of national organizations which provide havens for these degenerates.”

While the spread of sex education in the late 1960s undoubtedly changed the socialization of young people, giving progressive educators more relative influence and social conservatives less, claims that the curriculums were “sex positive” or grounded in “moral relativism” were very much exaggerated, as scenes from the Saturday Evening Post feature and other contemporaneous accounts illustrate.

The birth-control pill was deliberately excluded from many curricula. In Evanston, Illinois, which boasted a well-known sex-education program, “a junior high school teacher responds to the frequent question ‘Why is premarital sex wrong?’ by handing around a list of horrifying statistics on venereal disease, illegitimacy, abortion, and divorce,” Kobler wrote. San Diego described its goal as promoting “wholesome attitudes toward boy-girl relationships and respect for family life.”

In Miami, a youth counselor answered a common question posed by ninth-grade girls as follows: “Should a girl kiss a boy on their first date? Certainly not. A kiss should be a token of affection, not a favor freely distributed. Going steady? It’s too easy to slip into an overly close relationship.” In a separate classroom, boys were told, “Don’t you and a girl go pairing off in a corner. It’ll only lead to frustration. You’re not prepared for sex except as animals. Don’t start a relationship you’re not ready for.”

Only the most liberal educators were advocating for co-ed sex-education classes, that no position be taken on the morality of premarital sex, and that students be given “full information.” Fifty years later, Americans remain divided on many of these same questions. One change is that “full information” back then meant a curriculum that covered, for instance, birth control and homosexuality; by the 1990s, advocates of “full information” favored teaching students about masturbation, a taboo that cost Joycelyn Elders her job in the Clinton administration when she forthrightly broke it in response to a question.

And today? That New York Times Magazine story on porn noted a survey of 14-to-18-year-olds. Half said they had watched porn. And among them, “one-quarter of the girls and 36 percent of the boys said they had seen videos of men ejaculating on women’s faces (known as ‘facial’)… Almost one-third of both sexes saw B.D.S.M. (bondage, domination, sadism, masochism), and 26 percent of males and 20 percent of females watched videos with double penetration, described in the study as one or more penises or objects in a woman’s anus and/or in her vagina. Also, 31 percent of boys said they had seen ‘gang bangs,’ or group sex, and ‘rough oral sex.’”

Put another way, if sex educators today are to cover just the terrain that millions of American teenagers have already been exposed to through the Internet, they will be covering acts that even the most liberal sex-education teachers of 1968 would’ve found unthinkable to teach, and that they had more than likely never seen themselves. Imagine the confusion typical adults of that bygone era would feel if told about the content available to today’s teens—and then told that alongside porn’s rapid rise, teen pregnancies, abortions, and STDs have fallen simultaneously and precipitously.

Complete Article HERE!


Sex myths create danger and confusion


Stigmas around discussing sexual behavior often prevent vital information from being shared accurately, if at all. With all of the rumors and myths floating around about sexual health, trusting these myths can be misleading at best, and dangerous at worst.

Terms like “always” and “normal” can be particularly misleading when discussing sexual health and behavior. Because everyone’s body is different and everyone’s sexual experiences will be personal, no two people’s “normal” is exactly alike. Normal, healthy and common are not all the same thing. There are very few sex facts that are black-and-white. Some rules, however, are pretty universal. Some common sexual misconceptions deserve to be addressed openly and debunked once and for all.

Is using multiple condoms at once more effective?

Not at all. In fact, using more than one condom increases chances of them breaking. Because of the amount of friction during sex, two condoms will rub against each other and wear each other down. Doubling up on the same type of condom is inadvisable, just as using a male condom and female condom at the same time increases the chance of them both failing.

Are all condoms the same?

No, there are multiple options for condoms to fit various needs. In addition to different sizes, condoms are made of different materials. The most common is latex, but various plastics and animal skin options are also available. It is important to note that while all types of condoms prevent pregnancy when used correctly, animal skin condoms do not protect against STDs.

Is lube actually important?

Not only can lube be a vital tool for having comfortable sex, but it can also make sex safer. Because lube eases friction, it can significantly reduce the chances of irritation. It also helps prevent small cuts that increase chances of transmitting STDs between partners. However, the ingredients in some lubricants may not be compatible with the materials in the condoms. Oil-based lube makes latex condoms more likely to tear. Always check the label before using it.

Can you use saliva as lubricant during sex/masturbation?

While the consistency of saliva is similar to many personal lubricants on the market, it isn’t an ideal option. The bacteria that live in the mouth may irritate delicate genital skin. Not to mention residual compounds in the mouth from food or toothpaste may throw off the chemistry or, in some extreme cases, cause infections. Lube is specially formulated to be used on genitals, whereas saliva is not.

Is bleeding supposed to happen during the first instance of penetrative sex?

The vagina is never supposed to bleed. While the hymen, a thin and stretchy membrane that partially covers the vaginal opening, is often expected to tear during intercourse, it certainly isn’t required. Many people never notice their hymens during intercourse.

Some bleeding can also occur from small cuts in the genital skin due to intense, repeated friction. Blood and pain are not guaranteed, nor are they necessary, during a first sexual experience. If aroused, comfortable and protected, someone’s first sexual activity doesn’t have to be less enjoyable than future instances.

Are hymens indicative of virginity?

No! A hymen can tear or stretch in a multitude of ways over someone’s lifetime. Using tampons, athletic activities and penetrative masturbation are common ways of stretching the hymen. While sexual activity can stretch a hymen, it is not the only way it happens. The presence or absence of a hymen is not an accurate representation of someone’s sexual behavior.

Are condoms still necessary for safe anal sex?

Unprotected anal penetration isn’t any safer than unprotected vaginal penetration in terms of STD prevention. Anal sex, particularly unlubricated, comes with increased risks of certain STDs because the likelihood of exchanging bodily fluids is higher. It also doesn’t completely eliminate the possibility of conceiving for male-female partners, due to unintended fluid exchange. However, condoms with spermicidal lubricants should not be used during anal sex.

Is oral sex always a safe alternative? 

Not at all. The mouth and throat are highly sensitive areas and are susceptible to many STDs that also infect genital skin.

Is it possible to get pregnant during your period?

Ironic as it may seem, menstruating doesn’t completely prevent pregnancy. It’s less common, and it depends on the details of an individual’s menstrual cycle. Sperm can survive around three to five days in the body, on average. For those with shorter cycles, ovulation may occur soon enough after menstruation for pregnancy to occur after unprotected sex, even during their periods.

Should women all be able to orgasm from vaginal sex?

No, in fact the majority of women do not orgasm exclusively from penetrative sex. Planned Parenthood reports that up to 80 percent of women do not orgasm without the aid of manual or oral stimulation.

Does drinking pineapple juice improve the taste of oral sex?

It’s true that diet has a direct effect on the taste and odor of genitals, both in men and women. However, the effects aren’t immediate or direct enough to be influenced by a glass of pineapple juice. A balanced diet and adequate hydration does more than drinking any amount of juice before oral sex.

Complete Article HERE!


What’s the difference between sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape?


Physician Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for the sexual assault of girls on the USA Gymnastics team.

By , &

The terms “sexual abuse,” “sexual assault,” “sexual harassment” – and even “rape” – crop up daily in the news. We are likely to see these terms more as the #MeToo movement continues.

Many people want to understand these behaviors and work to prevent them. It helps if we are consistent and as precise as possible when we use these terms.

But what does each term mean?

We are three scholars who have specialized in the scientific study of sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment over several decades.

Let’s start by defining each of these terms. Then, we can look at how these behaviors sometimes overlap.

Sexual abuse

The term that has been in the news most recently with reference to sports doctor Larry Nassar’s trial is sexual abuse, a form of mistreating children. Sexual abuse is mainly used to describe behavior toward children, not adults.

All 50 states have laws that recognize that children are not capable of giving informed consent to any sex act. In the United States, the age at which consent can be given ranges from 16 to 18 years.

Sexual abuse can include many different things, from touching a victim in a sexual manner to forcing a victim to touch the perpetrator in a sexual way to making a victim look at sexual body parts or watch sexual activity. Sexual abuse of a child is a criminal act.


In 2012, the FBI issued a revised definition of rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” The revised law is gender neutral, meaning that anyone can be a victim.

When carefully examined, the FBI definition does not look like most people’s idea of rape – typically perpetrated by a stranger through force. The FBI definition says nothing about the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator and it says nothing about force. It does, however, say something about consent, or rather, the lack of it. Think about consent as your ability to make a decision about what happens to your body.

A perpetrator can compel a victim into a penetrative sex act in multiple ways. A perpetrator can ignore verbal resistance – like saying “no,” “stop” or “I don’t want to” – or overpower physical resistance by holding a person down so they cannot move. A person can penetrate a victim who is incapable of giving consent because he or she is drunk, unconscious, asleep, or mentally or physically incapacitated; or can threaten or use physical force or a weapon against a person. Essentially, these methods either ignore or remove the person’s ability to make an autonomous decision about what happens to their body. State laws vary in how they define removing or ignoring consent.

Perpetrators can’t defend against charges of rape by claiming they were drunk themselves or by saying they are married to the victim.

In November 2017, participants combined the ‘Take Back the Workplace March’ and the ‘#MeToo Survivors March’ in Hollywood.

Sexual assault

Rape and sexual assault have been used interchangeably in coverage of events leading to the #MeToo movement, and this practice, though unintentional, is confusing. In contrast to the specific criminal act of rape, the term sexual assault can describe a range of criminal acts that are sexual in nature, from unwanted touching and kissing, to rubbing, groping or forcing the victim to touch the perpetrator in sexual ways. But sexual assault overlaps with rape because the term includes rape.

Social and behavioral scientists often use the term “sexual violence.” This term is far more broad than sexual assault. It include acts that are not codified in law as criminal but are harmful and traumatic. Sexual violence includes using false promises, insistent pressure, abusive comments or reputational threats to coerce sex acts. It can encompass noncontact acts like catcalls and whistles, which can make women feel objectified and victimized. It includes nonconsensual electronic sharing of explicit images, exposure of genitals and surreptitious viewing of others naked or during sex.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a much broader term than sexual assault, encompassing three categories of impermissible behavior.

One is sexual coercion – legally termed “quid pro quo harassment” – referring to implicit or explicit attempts to make work conditions contingent upon sexual cooperation. The classic “sleep with me or you’re fired” scenario is a perfect example of sexual coercion. It is the most stereotypical form of sexual harassment, but also the rarest.

A second, and more common, form of sexual harassment is unwanted sexual attention: unwanted touching, hugging, stroking, kissing, relentless pressure for dates or sexual behavior. Note that romantic and sexual overtures come in many varieties at work, not all of them harassing. To constitute unlawful sexual harassment, the sexual advances must be unwelcome and unpleasant to the recipient. They must be “sufficiently severe or pervasive” to “create an abusive working environment,” according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Unwanted sexual attention can include sexual assault and even rape. If an employer were to forcibly kiss and grope a receptionist without her consent, this would be an example of both unwanted sexual attention and sexual assault – both a civil offense and a crime.

Most sexual harassment, however, entails no sexual advance. This third and most common manifestation is gender harassment: conduct that disparages people based on gender, but implies no sexual interest. Gender harassment can include crude sexual terms and images, for example, degrading comments about bodies or sexual activities, graffiti calling women “cunts” or men “pussies.” More often than not, though, it is purely sexist, such as contemptuous remarks about women being ill-suited for leadership or men having no place in childcare. Such actions constitute “sexual” harassment because they are sex-based, not because they involve sexuality.

Come-ons, put-downs: They’re both bad

In lay terms, sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention are come-ons, whereas gender harassment is a put-down. Still, they are all forms of sexual harassment and can all violate law, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Historically, social attitudes towards all these hostile actions have assumed a continuum of severity. Sexist graffiti and insults are offensive, but no big deal, right? Verbal sexual overtures cannot be as bad as physical ones. And, if there was no penetration, it can’t have been all that bad.

These assumptions do not hold up to scientific scrutiny, however. For example, researchers at the University of Melbourne analyzed data from 73,877 working women. They found that experiences of gender harassment, sexist discrimination and the like are more corrosive to work and well-being, compared to encounters with unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion.

We have tried to clarify terms that are now becoming household words. Of course, life is complicated. Abusive, assaulting or harassing behavior cannot always be neatly divided into one category or another – sometimes it belongs in more than one. Nevertheless, it is important to use terms in accurate ways to promote the public’s understanding.

Finally, we take heed that society is in a period like no other and one we thought we would never see. People are reflecting on, and talking about, and considering and reconsidering their experiences and their behavior. Definitions, criminal and otherwise, change with social standards. This time next year, we may be writing a new column.

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