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How to enjoy sex even when your mental ill-health is working against you

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Anxiety and low self-esteem can seriously impact your sex life

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Ever had one of those days when your brain seems to be dead set on working against you?

You’re planning a nice bit of sexy time – whether with a partner or simply some solo fun – but your head’s just not in it.

However much you might want to get jiggy with it, your brain is skipping around elsewhere and you just can’t concentrate, let alone roll around in orgasmic delight.

So what causes your head to seemingly separate from your body at just the moment you want to be able to focus on fun times?

All too often it boils down to lack of confidence in yourself and what you’re doing.

If you have problems with self esteem, it can trickle into all areas of your life – and that includes the bedroom.

The saying ‘first you have to love yourself’ is bit of a cliche – but like most cliches, it’s actually true. Many things can sap your confidence, both mental and physical.

For my friend Amy, the problem is a lack of confidence caused by physical issues.

The problem has grown over the years, to the stage where it’s such a big issue that she’s unsure how to even start working through it.

‘I was born with cerebral palsy and I also have ME and fibromyalgia,’ Amy says.

‘I’ve gone from being moderately active and social to spending most of my time at home and sleeping a lot.

‘I was never particularly confident with guys because I have always been overweight.

‘I’ve had four sexual partners so far, three men and a woman. All were basically one night stands that were pretty unsatisfactory for me (and probably them too).

‘I’ve not had sex in years now and have never really dated anyone.

‘I’m pretty fed up of that to be honest but I feel quite isolated socially and wary of anyone who might take an interest because I feel so unattractive.’

You need to learn to love yourself

My personal suggestion in any situation like this always boils down to that same cliche – you have to learn to love yourself first.

Mirrors, masturbation and practice is the key.

Look at yourself so that you’re used to what your own body looks like and learn what really turns you on.

If you practice this alone then you’ll have all the more confidence when it comes to getting down to it with someone else in the room.

Amy’s story is just one of many I hear all the time from people whose sex lives have become unsatisfactory through no fault of their own.

I spoke to relationship and sexuality counsellor Jennifer Deacon and asked for her general advice on separating sex from anxiety.

‘When you’re anxious it’s often hard to feel turned on – or even have any desire at all.

‘That in turn can feed the anxiety more, particularly if you’re in a relationship where you might feel you’re letting your partner down, bringing up a whole heap more anxiety.

‘As with any anxiety the first thing is to try and find that tricky balance between reflecting on what’s going on with your thoughts and over-analysing.

‘What’s stopping you – is it the thought of being naked with someone else? The physical acrobatics that you might feel you ought to be performing?

‘Or is your sexual desire being suppressed because of meds that you’re taking?

‘Try to reflect on what’s going on, and then work through the ‘what ifs’ and ‘shoulds’ that often make up a huge part of anxious thoughts.

‘If you have a partner, try to communicate with them what you need – for example if you’re missing intimacy but are scared of initiating hugs or cuddles because you’re not sure you want full sex, then try to find a way to talk about this with them.

‘If your anxiety has roots in a trauma that you’ve experienced then communication becomes even more important – both communicating with yourself as to what you need and want, and communicating with your partner so that they can support you.

‘Lack of libido can be a common side effect from medication so if you notice that your sexual desire has waned since you started a new medication or changed your dose, consider discussing this with your GP or specialist.’

Many prescription drugs do indeed have side effects that affect the libido – and doctors aren’t always up front about explaining the risks.

Okay, so ‘losing interest in sex’ might be a long way down the list of worrying potential side effects, but given that antidepressants often cause this issue, I’m always amazed that it isn’t discussed more.

Sex is a healthy part of life and if you still want it but struggle to get any joy out of it, that’s going to affect your happiness levels.

After literally decades of living with chronic anxiety, I’ve been through endless different drugs in the hope of finding one that will help without ruining the rest of my life.

The problem is that drugs affect everyone differently – what works brilliantly for one person can potentially have drastically negative effects on another.

The first antidepressant I was given was Prozac.

Back then it was the big name in drug therapy and widely considered to be suitable for everyone.

And yes, it helped my depression – but it also completely removed my ability to orgasm.

I still wanted to – my sex drive itself wasn’t affected in any way – but I simply couldn’t ‘get there’.

I still regale people about ‘that time I gave myself RSI through too much w*nking’ – it’s a funny story now, but at the time it was utterly true and completely miserable.

I went back to the doctor and had my meds changed.

At the last count, I think I’ve tried about thirteen different anxiety meds and I still haven’t found one that I can cope with.

Ironically, if I was happy to lose my libido then several of them would have been perfect – but why should we be expected to go without one of the most enjoyable life experiences?

Personally, that makes me just as miserable as being anxious or depressed, so it invalidates the positives anyway.

Currently I’m med-free – and not very happy about it – but at least I still have my sex life.

For some people, finding the right medication without it affecting their libido will be easy.

But everyone has to find their own balance – some might prefer to take the meds and sacrifice their physical enjoyment.

But it’s okay to want both.

Complete Article HERE!

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Debunking Common College Sex Myths

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Sex is among the most talked-about subjects on college campuses. Yet myths and misconceptions pervade almost every discussion of sexual activity and sexuality, subtly infiltrating the beliefs of even the best-informed people. Sexually inexperienced young people are likely to become confused by the dizzying array of information and opinions that assails them in conversations about sex.

Only by evaluating common sexual myths and the harmful effects they can have are we able to move past ignorance into a healthier understanding of our bodies and ourselves.

Myth 1: The withdrawal method is safe.

The withdrawal method, which is when the penis is pulled out of the vagina before ejaculation, is among the most dangerous and least effective birth control techniques. According to Planned Parenthood, this method is 78 percent effective. Pre-ejaculatory fluid can sometimes contain sperm, which can put a partner at risk of pregnancy. In addition, physical contact and the exchange of fluids can put both partners at risk for sexually transmitted infections. Just because the man has not ejaculated does not mean that the sex is safe.

Moreover, this technique requires very good timing and self-control to be successful.

“It’s just not very reliable to rely on that in the heat of the moment,” said Talia Parker (COL ’20), director of tabling for H*yas for Choice. If the man accidentally ejaculates before pulling out, the woman will be at an even greater risk of pregnancy, have to deal with a sticky cleanup and sex will end without satisfaction. Plan B, emergency birth control, costs more than $50, too. Getting a condom might seem inconvenient or less fun, but it’s worth it to prevent the consequences possible with the pull-out method.

Myth 2: Men just want sex all the time.

One of the most pernicious sex myths is the notion that men only think about sex all the time. This myth would have us believe that the primary motive behind male behavior is lust. But men have many motivations and drives apart from their sexuality. Relationships between men and women do not always have to be about sex, nor should we callously assume that a man’s actions are motivated by the desire to have sex.

The next time we attribute a man’s actions to his desire for sex, we should take a step back and evaluate why we believe that. More often than not, we will find that we have been making gendered assumptions. Moreover, if a person who identifies as a man does want consensual sex, we should accept this and not try to shame him.

Furthermore, we must remember that not all students in college are having sex. Some students may be choosing to abstain for personal or religious reasons, and others, including asexual students, may not be interested.

“Just having a positive attitude about sex is important and not judging other people for their choices as well,” Parker said.

Myth 3: The only way to experience pleasure is through penetration.

In most of our imaginations, sex means one thing: intercourse between a man and a woman with vaginal penetration. But this image is deeply flawed. It neither incorporates the experiences of gay, queer or intersex people nor accurately conveys the whole array of sexual possibilities available to people regardless of preference or gender.

“The arousal period for a woman is almost twice than [that of] a man,” Lovely Olivier (COL ’18), executive co-chair for United Feminists, a student group dedicated to combating influences of sexism and heteronormativity, said. “Oral sex, erotic massage, hand jobs, mutual masturbation, petting and tribbing, to name a few, are all non-penetrative options for you and your partner to consider. Furthermore, non-penetrative foreplay can increase satisfaction in intimacy altogether. Talk with your partner, share what you want and be open to new experiences.”

Myth 4: Protection doesn’t exist on a Jesuit campus.

Throughout the week, H*yas For Choice tables in the middle of Red Square from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., giving out lube, latex condoms, internal condoms and dental dams for free. For some, long-term birth control, like the pill, may be a better solution. Although intrauterine devices do not prevent STI transmission, the Student Health Center hopes to start giving the devices out next month.

Myth 5: Women do not masturbate.

The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior published by the Indiana University School of Public Health found that 24.5 percent of women aged 18 to 24 said they masturbated a few times per month to weekly, compared to 25 percent of men in this range who masturbate a few times per month to weekly. Masturbation can help people achieve pleasure and help individuals in relationships by “finding what is best for you,” Parker said.

Trying sex toys can also allow women to embrace their sexuality and experience their first orgasms.

Complete Article HERE!

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A Very Useful Guide to Sexy Spanking

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Spanking is fun and sexy, but you’re still hitting someone. Here’s how to do it right.

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Spanking must have a terrific PR person. Though frowned upon as a punishment for children, spanking is currently a super-popular, super-sexy method of “punishment” between two consenting adults. The spanking spectrum covers a lot of ground. At one end are the playful taps you do every now and then, and at the other end is “impact play” (when one person—the top/dominant—strikes another—the bottom/submissive—for sexual gratification). But whether you’re a beginner spanker or a powerful dominant who wants to leave a handprint on your submissive, let’s be real: While spanking is totally normal and fun, it’s still hitting someone. Here’s how to do it respectfully…and sexily.

Lesson 1: Spank inside the lines.

It’s safe to spank someone in your bedroom, but unsafe to spank someone at Buffalo Wild Wings because you’ll freak out the other diners. But where on the body is it safe to spank someone? Anywhere with muscle and fat, like the booty, is safe. David Ortmann, a San Francisco– and Manhattan-based psychotherapist and sex therapist, says his trick is to have the woman he’s spanking put on her sexiest pair of panties (that covers the butt—not a thong). Then, he says, you spank just the clothed area—you can take off her panties later. Stay away from the sides of the body, because it’s more painful. You should also avoid spanking areas that are not protected by fat or muscle. That includes the kidney area, neck, joints, and the tailbone and hip bones.

Lesson 2: Talk about intensity.

Along with spanking, common forms of impact play are slapping, paddling, caning, and whipping. (Please note that single-tailed whips are ill-advised for newbies because they can wrap around the body like a python.) Before adding any of the above to your sex life, pick a safe word. “Safe words are mandatory for anything that involves striking or hitting. You should come up with one that’s not ‘No, please stop,’ ” says Ortmann. With BDSM play such as spanking, begging and whining can be dirty talk that’s part of the action, so Ortmann recommends selecting a word that’s completely out of context. Pick something that you know will snap you out of an Inception-ish sex fugue, like “hedgehog,” “Ralph Lauren,” or “La Croix.”

While choosing a safe word is super-fun (like naming a puppy!), with impact play you also need to communicate with your partner before, during, and afterward. Use touch to get a feel for the spankee’s preferred intensity. Ask your partner, “So what’s your pain threshold like? How hard do you like to be spanked?” while running your hand down their back. Move your hand down to their ass and try a few practice rounds to learn what their comfort level is. And even after you’ve laid out ground rules and established a safe word, pay attention: “Consent can change. If I’m spanking someone and we agreed on a certain level of intensity, but they change their mind, I have to know. It’s okay for them to change their mind,” Ortmann says.

Lesson 3: Level up with non-hands.

If you’re new to impact play, start with your hands, because they’re easily accessible/attached to you and won’t hurt your wallet. “They also allow for skin-to-skin contact, which is a great way to connect to each other,” says Goddess Aviva, a New York City–based dominatrix. But if you do want to level up and spank someone with an object, simply waltz through your kitchen. If you don’t want to spend on expensive kink toys, Aviva recommends a wooden spoon. Unless you’re an impact-play expert, stick with tools that make a “thuddy” sound, like a paddle. I’m a snob, so when I want to be spanked with something other than a hand, I love a BDSM-black paddle.

Complete Article HERE!

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This sex ed series tackles LGBTQ issues in an honest, groundbreaking way

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While the fight for LGBTQ rights might make headline news, that doesn’t mean queer education is making it into schools. For most Americans, sex ed courses barely talk about the ins and outs of being gay, bisexual, queer, or transgender, making it hard for many students to learn about themselves, their bodies, and their sexual preferences.

To fix that problem, Advocates for Youth, Youth Tech Health, and Answer at Rutgers University have teamed up to launch AMAZE. Dedicated to making sex education “approachable, engaging, and informative for very young adolescents,” AMAZE talks about a variety of issues impacting teens. From forming healthy relationships, to understanding queer sexual orientations, to discussing cisgender, transgender, and non-binary gender identities, AMAZE breaks down topics into simple lessons that are perfect for middle and high school students.

Many videos also explore sex ed topics through a scientific lens, explaining everything from mood swings to male erections. Seeing how public school classrooms rarely talk about these issues, and some schools are still stuck in abstinence-only mindsets, AMAZE is serving as a true trailblazer for reforming American sex education.

Interested viewers can check out AMAZE’s videos on its official YouTube page. And through My AMAZE, educators can create their own playlist to share with students for lessons and discussions.

Complete Article HERE!

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The nitty-gritty of middle-age sex

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‘It’s good to experiment’

By Alana Kirk

If you are drinking your morning coffee while reading this, then perhaps this article should come with a warning. There are going to be phrases that we tend not to discuss much in public such as vaginal dryness, loss of libido and erectile dysfunction. However, they are a natural part of life, and if we want to continue to be active sexual people well into middle age and beyond, then we have to acknowledge and then address them, because turning the trials and tribulations of middle-age sex into the joy of sex is not difficult.

Sex is important to all of us, regardless of age. Not only is it excellent for getting the blood pumping and putting a youthful spring in your step, it has a number of other benefits too, such as reducing stress, strengthening your immune system, boosting self-esteem, and relieving depression.

The famous manual, The Joy of Sex, still has some salient advice for middle- aged and older people even though it was written nearly 50 years ago. It’s author Alex Comfort wrote: “The things that stop you enjoying sex in an old age are the same things that stop you from riding a bicycle – bad health, thinking it’s silly and no bicycle”.

Well, we can pump up a flat tyre, add some lubricating oil, and still be having sexual enjoyment with no partner. As recent research has shown, and despite an ageist societal view on the topic, our sexuality doesn’t die with middle and growing age. Our sexual needs and levels evolve and change over the years, and the particular issues that might arise from menopause, for example, do not mean we should give up on it. We just need to learn to adapt.

Emily Power Smith may be Ireland’s only clinical sexologist, and talks to large numbers of middle-aged women in her clinics and at talks around the country. “I’ve spoken and written more on this topic than any other related to sex, and the main driver for women coming to me with an issue is poor education. Generally women are very misinformed about what they should be expecting and are very quick to blame themselves.”

If we look at sexual activity as a life-long issue, there can be plenty of interruptions to the normal flow, including illness, childbirth and child rearing, loss of confidence, menopause, and hormonal fluctuations. Low libido, erectile dysfunction, and vaginal dryness are all just normal challenges that can affect our sexual lives, but importantly, ones that can be easily addressed.

“We do specific menopause consultations and counselling for women who start experiencing changes and want to know that they are a normal part of the ageing process,” says Dr Shirley McQuade, medical director of the Dublin Well Woman Centre. “Many women come in with a specific symptom thinking it’s all over, but in fact nearly all issues can be addressed. You just need to realise that your, and your partner’s body changes.”

So what are the main issues and what can be done about them?

Peri-menopausal symptoms

Menopause can effect every aspect of your being, and symptoms including hot flushes, not sleeping, and poor concentration levels, can affect how you feel about yourself.

“Hormonal changes can mean your libido and sex drive go, as well and the emotional havoc they can play,” explains Dr McQuaid. Mood swings, empty nest syndrome, trying teenagers, or work/life balance can weigh in to make us feel less than energetic about sex.

“It is really important to take the time for yourself when you are peri-menopausal, to take stock and adjust to the changes that are happening. I see lots of women who have reached senior career level or have lots of people depend on them and it can be difficult because they feel overwhelmed and aren’t giving enough time to themselves to deal with how they feel.”

The advice is to take pressure off yourself, and try and cull some of the responsibilities. Exercise, eat and sleep well and acknowledge that you can seek help if you need it. “I’ve seen women go to cardiologists because they think they have heart problems when they wake up sweating in the night, or go to rheumatologists with joint pain, when in fact they are just the symptoms of hormonal change.”

Hormone Replacement Therapy

HRT is a common treatment for women who are suffering from continued and difficult symptoms, and it only takes two or three weeks to find out if it will work for you. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NicE) in their 2015 recommendations, the benefits of HRT, available in tablet form, gels, and patches far outweigh any risks.

According to Dr McQuaid, it is a positive option to take. “About 15 years ago there were scares about risks relating to heart disease and cancer, but the studies were seriously flawed. For women who take it through their 50s, the benefits are significant.”

HRT is available for as long as your symptoms last, with the average duration being eight years. Despite scaremongering to the contrary, there are no withdrawal symptoms or problems when you stop taking the drug, as long as you leave it long enough for your natural menopause to conclude. HRT masks the symptoms, so if you stop before they have fully receded, they will return.

Not all women experience menopausal symptoms, and for women who do, they do eventually pass.

Vaginal dryness

It is completely normal for most women in menopause to experience dryness. The drop in your body’s oestrogen levels means the vaginal membranes become thinner and drier which can makes for uncomfortable dryness. As a result, thrush and Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) are also more common. Lubrication is widely available and will transform your sexual experience if dryness is a problem. Dr McQuaid also recommends treating the underlying issue rather than just the symptom. A prescription product, licensed in Ireland as Vagifem, provides low levels of oestrogen to the local area, and if taken over the longer term can alleviate all symptoms of dryness. Regular sexual activity or stimulation from masturbation also promotes vaginal health and blood flow.

Erectile dysfunction

For men who may identify their every maleness with work and sexual ability, a lowering of libido or erectile dysfunction can be catastrophic. However, accepting that this will happen occasionally, and seeing it a normal part of the ageing process and hormonal changes may encourage them to seek help. The advice is to go to your GP to get checked out to make sure erectile dysfunction is not related to vascular changes and bold pressure / diabetes, and then again there is a simple medication solution.

Painful intercourse

Again this can be a common change in sexual experience, usually due to vaginal dryness. However, other reasons could be a prolapse of the uterus or front wall of vagina which can cause discomfort, so the first port of call for any pain is to get examined by your GP or at the Well Women clinics. All issues can be addressed with medication or procedures.

Heavy periods

A common complaint for women entering peri-menopause is very heavy periods, which are caused by the womb being uncomfortable and bulky. Some women from the age of 40 develop fibroids which make the womb heavier and along with hormonal fluctuations, combine to make structural and hormonal changes that affect the flow of periods. Some women have low iron levels, because heavy periods are the main reason for low iron which makes you tired, so it’s important to keep a medical check on your body while going through the menopause.

Traditionally this was often treated by a hysterectomy, whereas today women can access the pill or coil. All countries where the coil has been introduced have seen a significant reduction in hysterectomy operations.

Change of mind

Addressing specific symptoms is only one way of evolving our sexual lives. Changing the way we have sex is another. “I meet women who have only ever used one position, and now that that proves painful they are at a loss,” explains Dr McQuaid. “It’s useful to experiment and change. It’s more interesting too!”

What we need to remember is that sex is not just about intercourse. There is a variety of sensual, loving, exciting activities that can bring joy and satisfaction. For women experiencing menopause especially, they might need and want more touching and foreplay than before, but after years of marriage, it can be more difficult to change. Asking for what you need is important. Tantric sex – slightly ridiculed in the press after Sting and Trudie Styler admitted to it – is encouraged by many counsellors as it focuses on the sensual intimacy rather than an orgasmic goal.

Whatever the issue with sex may be, Dr McQuaid advises you start with a medical to check to make sure everything is okay. Once that is done, it’s just about dealing with specific issues. “I’ve had a 78-year-old woman come to me recently having a little bit of trouble because her partner has been given Viagra. So she went on Vagifem and has no more problems,” says McQuaid. “I have lots of women come to us for help and they’re happy and healthy and they certainly don’t stop having a sex life. Nor should they.”

Psychologically however, it is also important to rise above the social conditioning that we lose our sexiness as we get older. “There is just no scientific evidence to back this up,” explains Power Smith. “Irish women are very quick to blame themselves and feel guilty for not being better, not feeling enough or good enough. In part we are brought up to feel this way with magazines and media, and then when middle age hits, physical things happen to compound that.” She has three golden rules for women in their middle age with regards to keeping their sex lives healthy and functioning: masturbation, lubrication and communication.

So while the number of potential causes of sexual changes and challenges during menopause and middle ageing can seem overwhelming, there are just as many strategies and treatments for overcoming them.

You can go back to drinking your coffee now.

Complete Article HERE!

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