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We need to talk about the social norms that fuel sexual assault

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The recent spate of sexual harassment accusations against prominent men in Westminster comes as no surprise to many of us. We expect them to know better – to have been better people – but we have also seen this kind of behaviour before … over and over again. It isn’t just powerful men – but it is almost always men.

It’s time to start looking at the deep-rooted causes of harassment. We need to try to understand why sexual harassment is carried out much more by men against women than vice versa. And this is going to involve an evaluation of our sexual norms. Once we’ve done this, we can start a conversation about the kind of sex we do want – and how to create a culture where that is more likely to happen.

Let’s consider three gendered social norms that might have a role in why men sexually harass women.

1) Men are entitled to sex

The view that men are constantly thinking about sex, and feel somehow entitled to it due to their superior status to women, is one that we are familiar with: from sexist chants at universities, to pick-up artists, to lyrics that eroticise sexual coercion (such as Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke) and films that revolve around the “winning over” of an uninterested woman. We also take it for granted that there is a large sex industry, which caters – for the most part – for men’s sexual desires.

2) Men call the shots

It is still a common expectation that men should ask women out on dates, decide where to go, and pay for them. Women, on the other hand, should play hard to get and be submissive. Consider the well-known “Rules” dating book, which has tips for women such as: “don’t tell him what to do” and “let him take the lead”.

Power imbalance.

Men are also expected to be dominant sexually – and this is implicit in the way that we talk about sex: men fuck/screw/bone women. The male dominance norm carries forward into marriage. It is still usual for the woman to wait for the man to ask her to marry him and to take his name when they marry, for example.

3) Women should be sexually pure

Women’s sexuality is controlled through slut shaming. Many men would still be uncomfortable being with a woman who had slept with many more people than he had – and many men still feel comfortable referring to women as “slags” or “sluts” for indulging in behaviour that would make a man a “stud” or a “lad”.

It is implicitly believed that women must help men to control their sexual desire and aggression. They can do this by dressing modestly, and not being too flirtatious with men. Peter Hitchens recently helpfully suggested in the Daily Mail that the niqab is what women will get from all this “squawking about sex pests”, since, as he put it: “No minister would put his hand on the knee of anyone dressed like this; indeed, he’d have trouble finding her knee, or anything else”.

So, let’s talk

These norms are obviously extreme, and are not held by everyone. They are also, I hope, being slowly eroded. But they do exist – and it is not too far-fetched to say that they have a role in creating a culture in which men, much more so than women, feel that they want to and are able to engage in sexual harassment. After all, if there is an implicit assumption that you are entitled to sex (and this view might be held particularly strongly by men who believe they are entitled in all aspects of life), that you call the shots in the sexual arena, and that if a woman is dressed “provocatively”, or acting “flirtatiously”, you just can’t help yourself, then you might feel that you do nothing wrong in harassing her.

The revelations from Westminster have opened up a debate surrounding men’s actions within that small bubble, a debate that needs to be had. But we should also use it as an opportunity to talk about gendered sexual norms, because sex is a part of sexual harassment.

We need to do more than just train men in sexual consent. Consent, after all, is a bare minimum requirement for good sex. What we need is a conversation about what makes good sex – and what kind of gender norms would improve gender relations more broadly. And I think they might end up being quite different to the norms we have now.

Complete Article HERE!

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All forms of sexual harassment can cause psychological harm

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“Being exposed to non-physical sexual harassment can negatively affect symptoms of anxiety, depression, negative body image and low self-esteem,” say Associate Professor Mons Bendixen and Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology.

This applies to derogatory sexual remarks about appearance, behaviour and sexual orientation, unwanted sexual attention, being subject to rumouring, and being shown sexually oriented images, and the like.

The researchers posed questions about sexual experienced in the previous year and received responses from almost 3,000 high school students in two separate studies. The responses paint a clear picture.

Worst for girls. This is not exclusively something boys do against girls. It’s just as common for boys to harass boys in these ways.

Girls and boys are equally exposed to unpleasant or offensive non-physical sexual harassment. About 62 per cent of both sexes report that they have experienced this in the past year.

“Teens who are harassed the most also struggle more in general. But girls generally struggle considerably more than boys, no matter the degree to which they’re being harassed in this way,” Kennair notes.

“Girls are also more negatively affected by sexual harassment than boys are,” adds Bendixen.

Being a girl is unquestionably the most important risk factor when teens report that they struggle with anxiety, depression, or .

However, non-physical sexual harassment is the second most important factor, and is more strongly associated with adolescents’ psychological well-being than being subjected to sexual coercion in the past year or sexual assault prior to that.

Level of severity

Bendixen and Kennair believe it’s critical to distinguish between different forms of harassment.

They divided the types of harassment into two main groups: non-physical harassment and physically coercive sexual behaviour, such as unwanted kissing, groping, intimate touch, and intercourse. Physical sexual coercion is often characterized as sexual abuse in the literature.

Studies usually lump these two forms of unwanted behaviour together into the same measure. This means that a derogatory comment is included in the same category as rape.

“As far as we know, this is the first study that has distinguished between these two forms and specifically looked at the effects of non-physical sexual harassment,” says Bendixen.

Comments that for some individuals may seem innocent enough can cause significant problems for others.

Many factors accounted for

Not everyone interprets slang or slurs the same way. If someone calls you a “whore” or “gay,” you may not find it offensive. For this reason, the researchers let the adolescents decide whether they perceived a given action as offensive or not, and had them only report what they did find offensive.

The article presents data from two studies. The first study from 2007 included 1384 . The second study included 1485 students and was conducted in 2013-2014. Both studies were carried out in Sør-Trøndelag county and are comparable with regard to demographic conditions.

The results of the first study were reproduced in the second. The findings from the two studies matched each other closely.

The researchers also took into account a number of other potentially influential factors, such as having parents who had separated or were unemployed, educational programme (vocational or general studies), sexual minority status, , and whether they had experienced physical coercion in the past year or any sexual assaults previous to that.

“We’ve found that sexual minorities generally reported more psychological distress,” says Bendixen. The same applied to with parents who are unemployed. On the other hand, students with immigrant status did not report more psychological issues. Bendixen also notes that sexual minorities did not seem to be more negatively affected by sexual harassment than their heterosexual peers.

However, the researchers did find a clear negative effect of non-physical sexual harassment, over and beyond that of the risk factors above.

Uncertain as to what is an effective intervention

So what can be done to reduce behaviours that may cause such serious problems for so many?

Kennair concedes that he doesn’t know what can help.

“This has been studied for years and in numerous countries, but no studies have yet revealed any lasting effects of measures aimed at combating sexual harassment,” Bendixen says. “We know that attitude campaigns can change people’s attitudes to harassment, but it doesn’t result in any reduction in harassment behaviour.”

Bendixen and Kennair want to look into this in an upcoming study. Their goal is to develop practices that reduce all forms of and thereby improve young people’s psychological well-being.

Complete Article HERE!

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The Science of Passionate Sex

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How to have hot sex, according to science

By Scott Barry Kaufman

Our culture is obsessed with sex. Everywhere you look is another article on how to have hot sex, harder erections, mind-bending orgasms, and ejaculations that go on for days. What people seldom realize, though– and which the latest science backs up– is that this is exactly the problem.

There’s nothing wrong with desiring sex. I’m extremely sex positive. Rather, I believe it’s the obsessive focus on the pragmatics and mechanization of sex– in isolation from the rest of the person— that is making us actually less satisfied with sex. We aren’t integrating our sexual desires into the totality of our being, and our whole selves are suffering as a result.

In a series of clever studies, Frédérick PhilippeRobert Vallerand, and colleagues studied a concept they refer to as harmonious sexual passionpassion for sex that is well integrated and in harmony with other aspects of the self, creating minimal conflict with other areas of life. Harmonious integration of ones sexual desires frees one up to fully engage and enjoy sexual activity in an open, spontaneous, and nondefensive manner. Items measuring harmonious sexual passion include: “Sex is in harmony with the other things that are part of me,” “Sex is well integrated in my life,” and “Sex is in harmony with the other activities in my life.”

In contrast, those who have obsessive sexual passion have not well integrated their sexuality into the totality of their being. Their sexual desires remain detached from other areas of their self as well as other domains in life. This leads to more narrow goals, such as immediate sexual gratification (e.g., orgasm), and leads to more of an urgent feeling of sex as a goal, compelling us to perform, instead of us being in control of our sexuality. This can significantly limit the full enjoyment of sex as well as life. Items measuring obsessive sexual passion include: “I have almost an obsessive feeling for sex,” “Sex is the only thing that really turns me on,” and “I have the impression that sex controls me.”

Across a number of studies, the researchers found that these two forms of sexual passion– obsessive and harmonious– differ remarkably in the way sexual information is processed, and how sexual activities are experienced. During sexual activities, obsessive sexual passion was related to negative emotions. Outside of sexual intercourse, obsessive sexual passion was related to intrusive thoughts about sex, conflict with other goals, attention to alternative partners, and difficulty concentrating on a current goal when unconsciously viewing pictures of sexually attractive people.

Obsessive sexual passion was also related to the biased processing of information. Those scoring higher in obsessive sexual passion were more likely to perceive sexual intent in ambiguous social interactions as well as to perceive sexuality in words that don’t explicitly have a sexual connotation (e.g., “nurse”, “heels,” “uniform”). Obsessive sexual passion was also related to violent actions under threat of romantic rejection, as well as greater dissolution of romantic relationships over time.

In contrast, harmonious sexual passion showed much greater integration with more loving aspects of the self, as well as other life domains. For instance, participants were asked to list as many words as they could in 1 minute related to the word “sex”. Those scoring higher in harmonious sexual passion were still sexually passionate beings: they listed quite a number of sexually-related words. However, they had a more balanced profile of purely sexual representations (e.g., “penis”, “breasts”, “vibrator”) and sexual-relational representations (e.g., “intimate,” “caress,” “intercourse”). In fact, the magic number seemed to be a ratio of 2: once the number sexual words outweighed the number of sexual-relational words by a factor of 2, there was a substantial increase in obsessive sexual passion and a marked decrease in harmonious sexual passion.

Those scoring high in harmonious sexual passion also showed greater control over their sexual drive. Whenever a sexual stimulus was subconsciously encountered (e.g., a beautiful person), they were able remain on task (which was to identify natural vs. artificial objects). Harmonious sexual passion was also related to less sexually intrusive thoughts and was unrelated to attentiveness to alternative partners. This greater integration and absence of conflict led to higher relationship quality over time.

It’s important to note that obsessive sexual passion is not the same thing as sexual compulsivity, or even sex addiction (although it is still hotly debated whether sexual addiction really exists). Even though obsessive sexual passion was correlated with negative emotions during sexual activity, it did not lead to greater feelings of distress. Also, both harmonious and obsessive sexual passion were related to loving and enjoying sex-related activities.

In fact, both harmonious and obsessive sexual passion were equally correlated with sexual desire. This is a really important finding, because we have a tendency to stigmatize those with greater sociosexuality in our society. Those with a more unrestricted sociosexual orientation are more willing to engage in casual sex, and report greater sexual desire and frequency of fantasizing about sex. These results suggest that sociosexuality itself is not the problem; rather, it’s how your sociosexuality is integrated into your identity and other areas of your life that really matters.

Perhaps instead of our cultural obsession with sexual performance, we should shift more towards helping people accept and feel comfortable with their sexuality, embrace sexual passion, and help them harness that passion in ways that bring joy, vitality, and openness to all areas of their life.

Complete Article HERE!

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Study: Sexual Harassment, Misogyny Prevalent Among Young People

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Teenagers and young adults often experience misogyny and sexual harassment in their relationships, according to a new report from Harvard University. The report found many adults are highly concerned about “hookup culture,” causing them to neglect more prevalent concerns among young people.

Report Highlights Relationship Concerns Among Young People

The study is part of the Making Caring Common project, a project dedicated to nurturing responsible, justice-oriented young people. Dr. Richard Weissbourd, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, directs the program. He is also the study’s lead author.

Weissbourd and his colleagues drew upon more than 3,000 formal and unstructured interviews with teens and young people across the country. The interviews uncovered some trends:

  • Sexual assault among young people is high, but parents and educators often fail to discuss consent-related issues. Sixty-one percent of survey participants ages 18-25 said their parents had never discussed ensuring their partners wanted to have sex. More than half (56%) said their parents had failed to highlight the importance of not pressuring another person into sex, and 49% said their parents had not encouraged them to ensure they were comfortable before having sex.
  • Young people reported feeling unprepared for lasting romantic relationships, and many were anxious about developing them. Seventy percent said they wish their parents had provided them with more information about this topic.
  • Gendered discrimination and sexual harassment are highly prevalent among young people. Eighty-seven percent of women reported experiencing sexual harassment. Yet, many young people reported being untroubled by gendered harassment. Forty-eight percent agreed with or were neutral about the notion that “society has reached a point that there is no more double standard against women.” One in three men and 22% of women said they thought men should dominate romantic relationships.

Lack of Meaningful Discussion Between Adults and Teens

The survey found adults consistently fail to address the topics that most frequently and harmfully affect young people. For example, 76% of participants said their parents had never discussed with them how to avoid sexually harassing others. When parents did discuss topics such as sexual consent, respondents said those discussions wielded significant influence.

Both teen and adult respondents expressed excessive worry about “hookup culture.” Research suggests hookups are not as pervasive among young people as many adults believe. However, myths about hookup culture can pressure young people into sex before they feel ready. Teens and young adults may also feel shame and embarrassment.

The study’s authors urge parents, educators, and other adults to be ready to respectfully and frankly discuss the issues that most frequently affect young people. They highlight the need to educate teens about respectful relationships, move beyond clichés and platitudes, intervene when they witness degrading behavior, and openly discuss what it means to ethically handle romantic relationships.

Complete Article HERE!

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Sexual assault awareness | Sex in the Suburbs

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month — and here’s what you can do.

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1. Believe survivors:

If someone comes to you and discloses sexual assault, believe them. Don’t ask what they were wearing. Don’t ask what they were thinking. Tell them you are sorry that it happened. Tell them it’s not their fault. And most of all, believe them.

Why?

Sexual assaults are dramatically under-reported in our society, for a variety of reasons. According to RAINN, a national anti-sexual violence organization, less than a third of sexual assaults are reported to police. One of the most prominent reasons is the concern that the survivor will not be believed. Consider the recent expose by the Salt Lake Tribune about BYU’s Honor Code, used against sexual assault survivors. More than two dozen survivors told the paper that they did not report crimes committed against them because they, the survivors, would get in trouble. Believing survivors is important.

2. Engage your voice:

Teens — lift your voice to counter any messages that any sexual assault is the survivor’s fault. Talk about consent with your friends and peers. Have speakers in to your school and other organizations to teach about consent. Don’t be silent.

Parents — talk with your teens about consent. Let them know that they can come to you safely if they are uncomfortable in a situation, even if they have broken a house rule. Think about it: Would you rather have a child who has had a few drinks call you for help and a ride, or would you rather have a child who didn’t want to get in trouble end up sexually assaulted?

Coaches — use your authority to counter cultural messages that pressuring people into sexual activity is OK. It isn’t. Make that clear with your teams and students, no matter what gender they are. Athletes are often leaders in their schools and popular. Help create an atmosphere that makes clear consent popular, too.

Fraternities and sororities — get educated and keep getting educated. Traditions can be wonderful, and they can be harmful. Make a commitment to work together in your organizations to create a healthier culture around consent, including caring for each other when alcohol is involved. Be smart. Engage your voices together.

Religious leaders — make a difference by shattering the silence so prevalent in our religious communities about talking about sex. Create healthy faith communities by having clear boundaries, smart supervision policies for children and youth, and engaging your voices in conversations around healthy relationships, communication and consent.

3. Get involved:

• Learn more by going to www.nsvrc.org to find ways to engage on social media, download posters for coloring, download postcards with healthy messages and more.

• Consider hosting a viewing and discussion of the movie “Spotlight.”

• Learn more about sexual assault, types of sexual violence, laws in Washington and the effects of sexual violence at www.rainn.org/about-sexual-assault.

Now is not the time to be silent. Engage your voice. Take action to become more aware of and to prevent sexual assault.

Complete Article HERE!

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