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Why queer history?

By Jennifer Evans

Fifteen years ago, as a junior scholar, I was advised not to publish my first book on the persecution of gay men in Germany. And now, one of the major journals in the field has devoted an entire special issue to the theme of queering German history. We have come a long way in recognising the merits of the history of sexuality–and same-sex sexuality by extension–as integral to the study of family, community, citizenship, and human rights. LGBT History Month provides a moment of reflection about struggles past and present affecting the LGBT communities. But it also allows us a moment to think collectively, as a discipline, about the methods and practices of history-making that have opened space to new lines of inquiry, rendering new historical actors visible in the process. In asking the question “why queer history? ” not only do we think about how we got here and the merits of doing this kind of work, but we question, too, whether such recuperative approaches always lead to more expansive, inclusive history. In other words, to queer history is not just to add more people to the historical record, it is a methodological engagement with how knowledge over the past is generated in the first place.

The great social movements of the 20th century created conditions for new kinds of historical claims making as working and indigenous people, women, and people of colour demanded that their stories be told. Social history, and later the cultural turn, provided the tools for the job. Guided by a politics of inclusivity, this first wave of analyses by scholars like the extraordinary John Boswell searched out evidence of a historical gay and lesbian identity–even marriage–in the early modern and medieval period. Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality vol. 3 would fundamentally alter the playing field, as he questioned the veracity of such quests, arguing that it said far more about our contemporary need for redress than about history itself. Modern homosexual identity–he instructed historians –first emerged in the 19th century through the rise of modern medical and legal mechanisms of regulation and control. The discipline was turned on its head. Instead of detail-rich studies of friendship, “marriage”, and kinship a whole new subfield emerged focused around the penal code, policing, and deviance. In the process of unmasking the mechanisms of power that circumscribed the life of the homosexual, lost from view was the history of pleasure, of love, and even of lust. Although providing a much-needed critique of homophobic institutions, the result was a disproportionate concentration on the coercive modernity of the contemporary age.

And yet, despite these pitfalls, the Foucauldian turn introduced much-needed interdisciplinarity into historical analyses of same-sex practices. Of those who took up the challenge of a critical history of sexuality that sidestepped the pitfalls of finding a fully formed pre-modern identity were medievalists and early modernists keen on questions of periodization and temporality, basically how people in past societies held distinct ways of knowing and being what it meant to live outside the norm. If Foucault had fundamentally destabilised how we understood normalcy and deviance, these scholars wanted to take the discussion further still, to interrogate how the experience of time itself reflected the presumptions and experiences of the heteronormative life course.

By queering history, we move beyond what Laura Doan has called out as the field’s genealogical mooring towards a methodology that might even be used to study non-sexuality topics because of the emphasis on self-reflexivity and critique of overly simplistic, often binary, analyses. A queered history questions claims to a singular, linear march of time and universal experience and points out the unconscious ways in which progressive narrative arcs often seep into our analyses. To queer the past is to view it skeptically, to pull apart its constitutive pieces and analyse them from a variety of perspectives, taking nothing for granted.

This special issue on “Queering German History” picks up here. Keenly attuned to how power manifests as a subject of study in its own right as well as something we reproduce despite our best intentions to right past wrongs, a queer methodology emphasises overlap, contingency, competing forces, and complexity. It asks us to linger over our own assumptions and interrogate the role they play in the past we seek out and recreate in our own writing. To queer history, then, is to think about how even our best efforts of historical restitution might inadvertently circumscribe what is, in fact, discernible in the past despite attempts to make visible alternative ways of being in the world in the present.

Such concerns have profound implications for how we write our histories going forward. Whereas it was once difficult to countenance that LGBT lives might take their rightful place in the canon, the question we still have to account for is whose lives remain obscure while others acquire much-needed attention? While we celebrate how far we’ve come–and it is a huge victory, to be sure–let us not forget there still remains much work to be done.

Complete Article HERE!

A new study quantifies straight women’s “orgasm gap”—and explains how to overcome it

By Leah Fessler

Ever faked an orgasm? Or just had orgasm-less sex? If you’re a woman—especially if you’re straight—your answer is probably “Ugh.” Followed by “Yes.”

Not reaching orgasm during sex is, obviously, a real bummer. Not only does it make the sex itself unfulfilling, but can lead to envy, annoyance, and regret. Thoughts like “Stop grinning you idiot, your moves were not like Jagger!” and “I didn’t ask him to go down on me…does that mean I’m not actually a feminist?” come to mind. It’s exhausting.

Traditional western culture hasn’t focused on female pleasure—society tells women not to embrace their sexuality, or ask for what they want. As a result many men (and women) don’t know what women like. Meanwhile, orgasming from penetrative sex alone is, for many women, really hard.

Many studies have shown that men, in general, have more orgasms than women—a concept known as the orgasm gap. But a new study published Feb. 17 in Archives of Sexual Behavior went beyond gender, exploring the orgasm gap between people of different sexualities in the US. The results don’t dismantle the orgasm gap, but they do alter it.

Among the approximately 52,600 people surveyed, 26,000 identified as heterosexual men; 450 as gay men; 550 as bisexual men; 24,00 as heterosexual women; 350 as lesbian women; and 1,100 as bisexual women. Notably, the vast majority of participants were white—meaning the sample size does not exactly represent the US population.

The researchers asked participants how often they reached orgasm during sex in the past month. They also asked how often participants gave and received oral sex, how they communicated about sex (including asking for what they want, praising their partner, giving and receiving feedback), and what sexual activities they tried (including new sexual positions, anal stimulation, using a vibrator, wearing lingerie, etc).

Men orgasmed more than women, and straight men orgasmed more than anyone else: 95% of the time. Gay men orgasmed 89% of the time, and bisexual men orgasmed 89% of the time. But hold the eye-roll: While straight and bisexual women orgasmed only 65% and 66% of the time, respectively, lesbian women orgasmed a solid 86% of the time.

These data suggest, contrary to unfounded biological and evolutionary explanations for women’s lower orgasmic potential, women actually can orgasm just as much as men. So, how do we crush the orgasm gap once and for all?

According to the study, the women who orgasmed most frequently in this study had a lot in common. They:

  • more frequently received oral sex
  • had sex for a longer duration of time
  • asked their partners for what they wanted
  • praised their partners
  • called and/or emailed to tease their partners about doing something sexual
  • wore sexy lingerie
  • tried new sexual positions
  • incorporated anal stimulation
  • acted out fantasies
  • incorporated sexy talk
  • expressed love during sex

And regardless of sexuality, the women most likely to have orgasmed in their last sexual encounter reported that particular encounter went beyond vaginal sex, incorporating deep kissing, manual genital stimulation, and/or oral sex.

The study’s authors noted that “lesbian women are in a better position to understand how different behaviors feel for their partner (e.g., stimulating the clitoris) and how these sensations build toward orgasm,” and that these women may be more likely to hold social norms of “equity in orgasm occurrence, including a ‘turn-taking’ culture.”

That might be true. But the study is pretty clear on the fact that anyone in a relationship of any kind can increase their partner’s orgasm frequency—and that it depends on caring about your partner’s pleasure enough to ask about what they want, enact those desires, and be receptive to feedback. Such communicative techniques—whether implemented by straight, gay, bisexual, or lesbian people—are what stimulate orgasm.

 Complete Article HERE!

Coming down from the high:

What I learned about mental health from BDSM

By Jen Chan

Not too long ago, I took my first step into the world of kink. I was a baby gay coming to terms with my borderline personality disorder (BDP) diagnosis, looking for any and every label that could help alleviate the lack of self-identity that comprises my BPD.

I knew I was queer. I knew I identified as femme. But I didn’t know if I was a dominant (top), a submissive (bottom), or a pillow princess; I didn’t even know if I was kinky.

So I tried to find out.

I began to notice a pattern. The sheer rush of euphoria and affection created a high I felt each time I “topped” my partner, and it would sharply drop the minute I got home. I was drained of energy and in a foul mood for days, often skipping work or class. I felt stuck on something because I wanted to feel that intensely blissful sex all over again, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it back.

If you’re familiar with the after-effects of taking MDMA—the crash, the lack of endorphins, the dip in mood for up to a week later—then you’ve got a pretty good idea of how a “drop” felt for me. Just add in an unhealthy serving of guilt and self-doubt, a pinch of worthlessness and a dash of contempt for both myself and my partner, and voila! Top drop: the less talked about counterpart to sub drop where the dominant feels a sense of hopelessness following BDSM—bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism—if after care is neglected.

In the BDSM community, it’s common to talk about the submissive (sub) experience: To communicate the expectations and needs of the submissive partner before engaging in consensual kinky play, to make sure the safety of the sub during intense physical and/or psychological activities is tantamount, to tend and care for the sub after the scene ends and they’re brought back down to earth.

Outside of this, the rush of sadness and anxiety that hits after sex is known as post-coital tristesse, or post-coital dysphoria (PCD). It is potentially linked to the fact that during sex, the amygdala—a part of the brain that processes fearful thoughts—decreases in activity. Researchers have theorized that the rebound of the amygdala after sex is what triggers fear and depression.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that 46 per cent of the 230 female participants reported experiencing PCD at least once after sex.

Aftercare is crucial and varies for subs, depending on their needs. Some subs appreciate being held or cuddled gently after a scene. Others need to hydrate, need their own space away from their partner or a detailed analysis of everything that happened for future knowledge. But no matter what the specific aftercare is, the goal is still the same: for a top to accommodate a sub and guide them out of “subspace”—a state of mind experienced by a submissive in a BDSM scenario—as directly as they were guided in.

I asked one of my exes, who’s identified as a straight-edge sub for several years, what subspace is like. As someone who doesn’t drink or do drugs, I was curious about what it was like for them to reach that same ephemeral zone of pleasure.

“It gets me to forget pain or worries, it gets me to focus only on what I’m feeling right then,” they told me. “It’s better than drugs.”

My ex gave up all substances in favour of getting fucked by kink, instead. I’m a little impressed by how powerful the bottom high must be for them.

“The high for bottoms is from letting go of all control,” they added. If we’re following that logic, then the top high is all about taking control.

We ended the call on a mildly uncomfortable note, both trying not to remember the dynamics of control that ended our relationship.  Those dynamics were created, in part, by my BPD, and, as I would later discover, top drop.

In the days to follow, I avoided thinking about what being a top had felt like for me and scheduled a lunch date with another friend to hear his perspective.

“Being a dom gives you the freedom to act on repressed desires,” he told me over a plate of chili cheese fries. This is what his ex said to cajole him into being a top—the implied “whatever you want” dangled in front of a young gay man still figuring himself out.

He was new to kink, new to identifying and acting on his desires, and most of all, new to the expectations that were placed on him by his partner. He was expected to be a tough, macho top to his ex’s tender, needy bottom. His after-care, however, didn’t fit into that fantasy. If that had been different, maybe he wouldn’t have spiraled into a place where his mental health was deteriorating, along with his relationship.

The doubt and guilt that he would often feel for days after a kinky session mirrored my own. We both struggled with the idea that the things our partners wanted us to do to them—the things that we enjoyed doing to them—were fucked up. It was hard to reconcile the good people that we thought we were, the ones who follow societal expectations and have a moral compass and know right from wrong, with the people who are capable of hurting other people, and enjoying it.

For my friend, there was always a creeping fear at the back of his mind that the violence or cruelty he was letting loose during sex could rear up in his normal life, outside of a scene.

For me, there was a deep instinct to disengage, to distance myself emotionally from my partner, because I thought that if I didn’t care about them as much, then maybe I wouldn’t hate them for egging me on to do things I was scared of.

My friend has since recognized how unhealthy his relationship with his ex was. These days, he identifies as a switch (someone who alternates between dominant and submissive roles). The deep-seated sense of feeling silenced that was so prevalent in his first kinky relationship, is nowhere to be seen. He communicates his sexual needs and desires and any accompanying emotional fragility with his current partner. He’s happy.

I’m a little envious of him. My second-favourite hobby is rambling about all of the things I’m feeling, and it’s a close second to my favourite, which is crying. I credit my Cancer sun sign for my ability to embrace my insecurities, but there’s still something that makes me feel like I’m not equipped to deal with top drop.

There’s an interesting contrast between how a top is expected to behave—strong, tough, in control—and the realities of the human experience. When a top revels in the high of taking control, but starts to feel some of that control fading afterwards, how do they pinpoint the cause? How do they talk about that insecurity? How do they develop aftercare for themselves?

One of the hallowed tenets of BDSM and kink is the necessity of good communication; to be able to recognize a desire, then comfortably communicate that to a partner. Healthy, consensual, safe kink is predicated on this.

Complete Article HERE!

How your sex life can be improved with mindfulness

Being more present with each other can lead to better sex, therapists say

 

By Olivia Blair

People have turned to mindfulness to make them happier, less stressed and even more able to deal with their mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression – but could it improve your sex life too?

Being mindful essentially means being present and aware of both yourself and your surroundings. The brain is trained to deal with negative and anxious or depressive thoughts through breathing and meditation exercises all stemming in part from ancient Buddhist philosophy.

While therapists are increasingly using it as part of their individual counselling, sex and relationship therapists have also adopted the advice.

“In its broad terms, mindfulness means focusing on the present moment so with couples, because they are often so distracted, stressed and over-committed, it can lead to lots of couples’ mind being elsewhere. A classic complaint is that a partner is distracted,” Krystal Woodbridge, a psychosexual therapist and a trustee of the college of relationship and sexual therapists says. “Mindfulness can mean you are really present with your partner and actually experiencing them in the moment and really paying attention to them.”

This in turn can then lead to better sex – because when partners really feel like they are being listened to, focused on and paid attention to is when better trust is going to be built so they are more likely to be intimate with someone.

“Really being in the moment, noticing their partners body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and what is actually being said is hard to do but it is being present,” Woodbridge says. “… It builds rapport. It you don’t have rapport, you don’t have trust. If you don’t have trust you are not going to be intimate with that person as you are not going to allow yourself tp be vulnerable with them.”

When clients put mindfulness into practice with each other, even if it is a struggle because they are so used to being distracted, it often has a “massive impact on their relationship and sex lives”, Woodbridge says.

Additionally, if someone is struggling with an issue in their sex life such as a performance issue like impotence or the inability to orgasm, mindfulness can also help in this aspect.

“In a sexual scenario what can happen is ‘spectatoring’, which is when a person is not paying attention to arousal or enjoyment and are instead observing and over-analysing themselves fearing the worst. If it is an erectile problem they will be hoping it does not fail or will feel anxious about whether their partner is enjoying it,” Woodbridge explains. “Spectatoring is often quite self-fulfilling so the person might not be able to maintain their erection, will experience sexual pain or they will just feel completely unconfident so they get into a horrible cycle.”

Sex therapists will therefore instruct the client to be mindful and to notice how they are feeling, even if that feeling is anxiety. Once they are aware they feel anxious or nervous they can focus on bringing the mind back to the physical feelings, such as arousal, and divert their focus to this instead.

“Mindfulness gets the person to notice when they are ‘spectatoring’, notice that they are distracted and not focusing on their arousal and physical sensations. It is hard in that moment as the person is anxious but if you don’t the mind will wander and go elsewhere,” Ms Woodbridge explains.

Ammanda Major, a trained sex therapist and head of service quality and clinical practice at Relate told The Independent they regularly introduce mindfulness to their sex therapy sessions for couples.

“We use mindfulness in sex therapy to help people experience more pleasure by being able to relax and stay focused and present in the moment.  Mindfulness can also benefit our relationships as a whole by relieving stress, building intimacy and enhancing inner peace. This in turn allows us to have more positive interactions with our partners,” she said.

She says couples can try mindfulness exercises at home, such as the following:

Individually: 

“Set some time aside every day to focus on your breathing. It doesn’t have to be long to begin with – maybe start with just five minutes a day and work your way up to 20. 

A good way to start is on your own with no distractions.  Close your eyes, relax and start to become aware of how you’re breathing. Breathe in slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Repeat this and gradually become aware of sensations in your body. Recognise and welcome them and then allow those thoughts to drift away to be replaced with other feelings as they arise. Notice what you’re experiencing and feeling. The aim is to let go: rather than reject intrusive thoughts, just let them drift away.”

With a partner:

“Once you’ve practised the breathing exercise a few times on your own, why not with your partner?  Sit facing and look into each other’s eyes.  Breathe slowly in through your nose and exhale through your mouth as before but this time synchronise your breathing.  Do this for several minutes – it may feel a little strange at first but stick with it and it can have powerful results, increasing feelings of relaxation and intimacy.”

Complete Article HERE!

Time to make room for sex in our care homes

We need to open up to the significance of love and sexuality in later life

The persistence of romantic love in long-term relationships is, unsurprisingly, associated with higher levels of relationship satisfaction.

By

Although Valentine’s Day is often criticised as a cynical creation by florists and the greeting cards industry, it is a useful focal point for considering love and sexuality as elements of human wellbeing that often escape attention in healthcare.

This neglect is most marked in later life, when popular discourse on late life romance is dominated by simple notions of asexuality or by ribald jokes

There are many reasons why healthcare professionals need to learn more about human love and sexuality, not least of which is a fuller understanding of the nature and meaning of ageing.

exuality is a core element of human nature, encompassing a wide range of aspects over and above those related to genital functions, and the medical literature has rightly been criticised for taking too narrow a vision of sexuality.

We need to open up to the continuing significance of love and sexuality into later life

This narrow vision is paralleled by a steady trend in the neurosciences of “neuroreductionism”, an over-simplistic analysis of which parts of the brain light up in sophisticated scanners on viewing photos of a loved one.

We need to open up to the continuing significance of love and sexuality into later life, understanding that sexuality includes a broad range of attributes, including intimacy, appearance, desirability, physical contact and new possibilities.

Studies

Numerous studies affirm sexual engagement into the extremes of life, with emerging research on the continuing importance of romantic love into late life. There is also reassuring data on the persistence of romantic love in long-term relationships, unsurprisingly associated with higher levels of relationship satisfaction.

A growing literature sheds light on developing new relationships in later life, with a fascinating Australian study on online dating which subverts two clichés – that older people are asexual and computer illiterate.

The challenge in ageing is best reflected in the extent to which we enable and support intimacy and sexuality in nursing homes. Although for many this is their new home, the interaction of institutional life (medication rounds, meals), issues of staff training and lack of attention to design of spaces that foster intimacy can check the ability to foster relationships and express sexuality.

For example, is the resident’s room large enough for a sofa or domestic furnishings that reflects one’s style, personality and sense of the romantic? Are sitting spaces small and domestic rather than large day rooms? Do care routines allow for privacy and intimacy? Is there access to a selection of personal clothes, make-up and hairdressing?

Granted, there can also be complicated issues when residents with dementia enter new relationships and the need to ensure consent in a sensitive manner, but these should be manageable with due training and expertise in gerontological nursing and appropriate specialist advice.

Supports

A medical humanities approach can provide useful supports in education from many sources, ranging from literature ( Love in the Time of Cholera), film ( 45 Years or the remarkable and explicit Cloud 9 from 2009) or opera (Janácek’s Cunning Little Vixen, a musical reflection of the septuagenarian composer’s passion for the younger Kamila Stösslová).

We, as present and future older Irish people, also need to take a step back and consider if we are comfortable with a longer view on romance and sexuality.

The Abbey Theatre did us considerable service in 2015 with a wonderful version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in a nursing home. We were struck by a vivid sense of the inner vitality of these older people, suffused with desire, passion and romance.

This contemporary understanding of companionship and sexuality in later life was enhanced by casting Egeus as a son exercised about his mother’s romantic choices instead of a father at odds with his daughter.

We can also take heart from an early pioneer of ageing and sexuality, the late Alex Comfort. Best known for his ground-breaking The Joy of Sex, he was also a gerontologist of distinction, and wrote knowledgeably about the intersection of both subjects with characteristic humour.

He wrote that the things that stop you having sex with age are exactly the same as those that stop you riding a bicycle: bad health, thinking it looks silly or having no bicycle, with the difference being that they happen later for sex than for the bicycle.

His openness and encouragement for our future mirror Thomas Kinsella’s gritty poem on love in later life, Legendary Figures in Old Age, which ends with the line: ‘We cannot renew the Gift but we can drain it to the last drop.’

Complete Article HERE!