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Time to make room for sex in our care homes

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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.

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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!

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The Beginner’s Guide to BDSM

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How friends with benefits can actually make a friendship stronger

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By Jack Rushall

When I was an insecure 16-year-old, I came out to my female best friend. What followed was just as bold, but it involved both of us: We hooked up.

Our sexual escapade developed into casual encounters that spanned a year-and-a-half. Of course, our friendship inevitably veered into unsettling romantic terrain, like a car creeping into a bike lane. We stopped being physical after concluding that emotional attraction can’t compete with innate sexual desire. Two years later, she had a boyfriend and I had my OkCupid profile set exclusively to men. We began texting. Now, we are tentatively planning on becoming housemates. Platonic housemates.

Our history may read a bit unusual, but it speaks for quite a few modern friends with benefits (or FWBs). With the rise of dating apps, sex is boisterously unromantic; one 2009 study of college students found that two-thirds had been in this type of relationship and a third were still in one. Still, there’s a common perception – in romantic comedies and in the media – that such pairings are unhealthy and ruin friendships.

“I think, in general, there’s a backlash toward casual sex anything,” explains Jesse Owen, the chair of the counseling psychology department at the University of Denver. “Friends with benefits can threaten the traditional relationship. This idea of friends with benefits is like saying: ‘This person is not your true love, and you’re continually in search of something better.’ True love is what sells on TV and in the movies.”

In 2013, Owen conducted a study measuring how many FWBs ultimately remained close after the benefits expired. He took 119 male and 189 female university students and found that 80 percent of FWB pairings continued being friends. And 50 percent of FWBs claimed to feel closer to their former partner after they went back to being platonic.

“People feel closer after intimacy because they feel that they know somebody, and they’d like for that relationship to continue,” Owen explained. “It’s a different sense of intimacy because there’s this idea of actually caring about the person and following their life story. Even when the intimacy stops, the nature of the friends with benefits is a true friendship. They got to experience more intimate moments that most normal friendships actually involve.”

While some friendships can tighten following the benefits, negotiation is necessary. Similar to real romantic relationships, communication provides stability. For example, after my high school friend and I stopped sleeping with each other, we decided to end our friendship as well. If we had noted that the intimacy was drowning our friendship, perhaps we wouldn’t have needed years of distance.

“Friends with benefits is a term for ambiguity; it conveys what Facebook would call ‘It’s Complicated,’ adds Kendra Knight, a communications professor at DePaul University who has studied FWBs. “Success depends on what each person is hoping for out of the relationship. If two friends find themselves sexually involved and they are relatively symmetrical with what they’re hoping for – like, ‘this is fun!’ or ‘let’s just get to know each other better’ – and they mutually negotiate the cessation of the sexual intimacy, there shouldn’t be many drawbacks.”

Another finding from Owen’s work is that there was no difference in FWBs remaining friends post-benefits along gendered lines, or even in terms of mismatched sexual orientations. For instance, if a gay male and his straight female buddy experiment while he sorts out his sexuality, this couple is not more likely than a heterosexual male-female pair to remain friends post-sex.

“It shouldn’t make a difference,” says Owen, admitting many participants in his study could have been closeted college students. “In all cases, communication is key.”

In retrospect, my ongoing foray with my straight female friend helped both of us during those vulnerable, John Hughes years. The result of our intimacy was a determination to seek relationships that are more fulfilling, both inside and out. For us, the “benefits” outweighed the costs.

Complete Article HERE!

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How a sex menu could help your relationship woes in the bedroom

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All you need is a pen and paper 

By Kashmira Gander

Writhing about naked, covered in sweat: sex is one of the most uninhibited things you can do with another person. So it’s sort of odd that a lot of us are so terrible at talking about it.

And whether a relationship is in those heady stages when you fumble around trying to work out what marks “ooh that’s nice” from “er, please don’t do that”, or together for so long that you think you know their body better than Google Maps knows our planet, it can be tough to express exactly what you want.

Enter the sex menu. This is list of what a person loves, hates, and would be up for trying during foreplay and sex. The depth that this goes in to depends on the person. Yes, this sounds cringe-worthy, but so is sex and that is why we are in this mess in the first place. And judging by a recent study by relationship charity Relate – which found that less than half of people are satisfied with their sex life, and 51 per cent had not had sex in the last month – a lot of us could do with some help in the bedroom.

Sex expert Dr Stephen de Wit suggests taking twenty minutes to be completely open with yourself, and run down his detailed list of turn-ons and positions, from holding hands to bondage, cross-dressing and caning, and marking ‘yes’ or ‘no’. To refine the list further, the answers can be ranked from one to five for willingness, with a section for notes explaining any concerns, fears or specific requests.

This simple exercise enables a person to build awareness about their body, and to take the time to consider what they enjoy, and how best to share this information with future partners.

“Do not judge others” he adds on his website. “There will be things on the list that turn you on tremendously and some that you’ll say ‘Oh Hells No’ or think something is gross. That is perfectly ok that you are not comfortable with it at this time of your life and it may be something that turns someone else on.”

Sex menus also avoid goal-oriented sex, where orgasms rather than pleasure, experimentation and exploration are the focus.

 

Peter Saddington, a sex therapist in the Midlands who works for the relationships charity Relate and is a chair of the College of Sexual Relation and Therapy, told The Independent that sex menus can certainly be a useful tool.

“Consistently people assume when they get together and they are sexual they develop a way to work and stick with it and don’t experiment.”

“Sex is still a strange subject. There is pressure to think that people are having lots of great sex and that you need to do the same, but that is not the case for lots of couples.”

Saddington goes on to argue that a lack of understanding when it comes to sex starts from a young age. “Sex isn’t talked about successfully by parents talking to kids or in schools. There is a general lack of knowledge and understanding about it as a subject.” As such, people can feel embarrassed and pressured into having sex they don’t fully enjoy.

An alternative to a sex menu is a three circle exercise, adds Saddington, where a person lays out what they are OK with, what they are no OK with, but also what they are happy have to give but not receive and visa versa.

But he stresses that while a sex menu is a good guide, it should still be perceived as flexible.

“How and whether you want to have sex is affected by that day and the relationship. There are questions you need to consider each time you are being sexual. Just because something worked last time, it doesn’t mean a person wants it a second time.”

For couples with clashing lists, Saddington suggests discussing the actions. “This can help ensure you are talking about the same thing, and see if the partner is willing to explore or meet half way.”

From there, try exploring verbally and physically but be sure to stop if something is uncomfortable.

Complete Article HERE!

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Extra weight can dent sexual confidence

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by Maureen Matthews

Q: I’m a larger lad than I was a few years ago. Even though my boyfriend still says he finds me attractive and wants to sleep with me, I no longer have any interest. How can I learn to be confident in the bedroom?

A: Carrying extra weight can dent a person’s sexual self-confidence, regardless of their gender and sexual orientation, but the precise nature of the negative self-talk can vary from person to person.

Melbourne sex therapist Dr Christopher Fox (sexlifetherapy.com.au) says gay men are often confronted with cultural images of svelte, muscular, hairless young men. “This is not the only image in the gay community. ‘Bears’ [hairy, and often larger men] also feature. Yet, like the straight community, youth and beauty is still a focus.”

When we carry a mental template of what a “sexy” person looks like, even if we know, intellectually, that it is an unrealistic and unachievable ideal, we cannot help feeling we fall short by comparison, which causes us to feel ashamed of our bodies.

Carrying weight can impact on your self-esteem, Dr Fox says. “The self is an important aspect of us feeling sexy. The way we view our bodies also impacts on our feeling sexy. When our sense of self [esteem] and our body are both challenged, our levels of desire, and of feeling sexy, are also challenged.”

Once low self-esteem and negative self-talk have become entrenched, they can lead to a general feeling of ennui, and a shutting down of the senses. That sluggish, dulled mindset makes it difficult to truly enjoy all of life’s pleasure, but it particularly affects the libido. One of the first challenges you face is to find the motivation to make any changes, no matter how small. So make yourself move your body.

I am not talking about going to the gym, taking up yoga, or doing anything with a view to losing weight. Simply get your system turning over, like warming up the engine of your car. Research has shown that physical activity, even merely going for a walk, releases the feel-good hormones, endorphins. You will start to feel a little more positive, which will help you to take another step.

Fox warns that learning to accept our bodies and ourselves is not an easy process. “It is an achievable process though,” he says. “On an immediate level I think it is important for you to challenge your thinking about yourself. Your boyfriend says he finds you attractive and he wants to sleep with you. Consider how he looks at you. Maybe he sees something you don’t. This is important to consider.”

When we feel bad about ourselves we often react to compliments with “deflection”. We challenge every compliment, or counter a positive observation by drawing attention to a perceived flaw, “but what about my gut!”. This can feel like rejection to your partner, and, if you do it too often, he might either give up, or start to agree with you.

Practise accepting compliments and endearments graciously, with a simple “thank you”, even if that inner voice is screaming out objections. Let the positive words land, and allow yourself to enjoy them.

It can be difficult to make changes without support, and another good way to begin would be to seek professional assistance. Fox suggests finding someone who has experience in working with gay men, body image and sexuality.

“Through therapy we would explore how your changing body impacts on your sense of self and your body image,” he says. “We would explore how you could develop tools and strategies to challenge your own perceptions.”

Remember that although sex and arousal involve elements of fantasy, the true enjoyment comes from the lived experience in the moment. Car lovers might drool over images of unattainable Ferraris and Bugattis, but the pleasure of enjoying the car that belongs to them, that they can drive, and polish, and experience, is the real pleasure.

Complete Article HERE!

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