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Casual Sex: Everyone Is Doing It

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Part research project, part society devoted to titillation, the Casual Sex Project reminds us that hookups aren’t just for college students.

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Zhana Vrangalova had hit a problem. On a blustery day in early spring, sitting in a small coffee shop near the campus of New York University, where she is an adjunct professor of psychology, she was unable to load onto her laptop the Web site that we had met to discuss. This was not a technical malfunction on her end; rather, the site had been blocked. Vrangalova, who is thirty-four, with a dynamic face framed by thick-rimmed glasses, has spent the past decade researching human sexuality, and, in particular, the kinds of sexual encounters that occur outside the norms of committed relationships. The Web site she started in 2014, casualsexproject.com, began as a small endeavor fuelled by personal referrals, but has since grown to approximately five thousand visitors a day, most of whom arrive at the site through organic Internet searches or referrals through articles and social media. To date, there have been some twenty-two hundred submissions, about evenly split between genders, each detailing the kinds of habits that, when spelled out, can occasionally alert Internet security filters. The Web site was designed to open up the discussion of one-night stands and other less-than-traditional sexual behaviors. What makes us engage in casual sex? Do we enjoy it? Does it benefit us in any way—or, perhaps, might it harm us? And who, exactly, is “us,” anyway?

Up to eighty per cent of college students report engaging in sexual acts outside committed relationships—a figure that is usually cast as the result of increasingly lax social mores, a proliferation of alcohol-fuelled parties, and a potentially violent frat culture. Critics see the high rates of casual sex as an “epidemic” of sorts that is taking over society as a whole. Hookup culture, we hear, is demeaning women and wreaking havoc on our ability to establish stable, fulfilling relationships.

These alarms have sounded before. Writing in 1957, the author Nora Johnson raised an eyebrow at promiscuity on college campuses, noting that “sleeping around is a risky business, emotionally, physically, and morally.” Since then, the critiques of casual sexual behavior have only proliferated, even as society has ostensibly become more socially liberal. Last year, the anthropologist Peter Wood went so far as to call the rise of casual sex “an assault on human nature,” arguing in an article in the conservative Weekly Standard that even the most meaningless-seeming sex comes with a problematic power imbalance.

Others have embraced the commonness of casual sex as a sign of social progress. In a widely read Atlantic article from 2012, “Boys on the Side,” Hanna Rosin urged women to avoid serious suitors so that they could focus on their own needs and careers. And yet, despite her apparent belief in the value of casual sex as a tool of exploration and feminist thinking, Rosin, too, seemed to conclude that casual sex cannot be a meaningful end goal. “Ultimately, the desire for a deeper human connection always wins out, for both men and women,” she wrote.

The Casual Sex Project was born of Vrangalova’s frustration with this and other prevalent narratives about casual sex. “One thing that was bothering me is the lack of diversity in discussions of casual sex,” Vrangalova told me in the café. “It’s always portrayed as something college students do. And it’s almost always seen in a negative light, as something that harms women.”

It was not the first time Vrangalova had wanted to broaden a limited conversation. As an undergraduate, in Macedonia, where she studied the psychology of sexuality, she was drawn to challenge cultural taboos, writing a senior thesis on the development of lesbian and gay sexual attitudes. In the late aughts, Vrangalova started her research on casual sex in Cornell’s developmental-psychology program. One study followed a group of six hundred and sixty-six freshmen over the course of a year, to see how engaging in various casual sexual activities affected markers of mental health: namely, depression, anxiety, life satisfaction, and self-esteem. Another looked at more than eight hundred undergraduates to see whether individuals who engaged in casual sex felt more victimized by others, or were more socially isolated. (The results: yes to the first, no to the second.) The studies were intriguing enough that Vrangalova was offered an appointment at N.Y.U., where she remains, to further explore some of the issues surrounding the effects of nontraditional sexual behaviors on the individuals who engage in them.

Over time, Vrangalova came to realize that there was a gap in her knowledge, and, indeed, in the field as a whole. Casual sex has been much explored in psychological literature, but most of the data captured by her research team—and most of the other experimental research she had encountered—had been taken from college students. (This is a common problem in psychological research: students are a convenient population for researchers.) There has been the occasional nationally representative survey, but rigorous data on other subsets of the population is sparse. Even the largest national study of sexual attitudes in the United States, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of close to six thousand men and women between the ages of fourteen and ninety-four, neglected to ask respondents how many of the encounters they engaged in could be deemed “casual.”

From its beginnings, sex research has been limited by a social stigma. The field’s pioneer, Alfred Kinsey, spent decades interviewing people about their sexual behaviors. His books sold, but he was widely criticized for not having an objective perspective: like Freud before him, he believed that repressed sexuality was at the root of much of social behavior, and he often came to judgments that supported that view—even when his conclusions were based on less-than-representative surveys. He, too, used convenient sample groups, such as prisoners, as well as volunteers, who were necessarily comfortable talking about their sexual practices.

In the fifties, William Masters and Virginia Johnson went further, inquiring openly into sexual habits and even observing people in the midst of sexual acts. Their data, too, was questioned: Could the sort of person who volunteers to have sex in a lab tell us anything about the average American? More troubling still, Masters and Johnson sought to “cure” homosexuality, revealing a bias that could easily have colored their findings.

Indeed, one of the things you quickly notice when looking for data on casual sex is that, for numbers on anyone who is not a college student, you must, for the most part, look at studies conducted outside academia. When OkCupid surveyed its user base, it found that between 10.3 and 15.5 per cent of users were looking for casual sex rather than a committed relationship. In the 2014 British Sex Survey, conducted by the Guardian, approximately half of all respondents reported that they had engaged in a one-night stand (fifty-five per cent of men, and forty-three per cent of women), with homosexuals (sixty-six per cent) more likely to do so than heterosexuals (forty-eight per cent). A fifth of people said they’d slept with someone whose name they didn’t know.

With the Casual Sex Project, Vrangalova is trying to build a user base of stories that she hopes will, one day, provide the raw data for academic study. For now, she is listening: letting people come to the site, answer questions, leave replies. Ritch Savin-Williams, who taught Vrangalova at Cornell, told me that he was especially impressed by Vrangalova’s willingness “to challenge traditional concepts and research designs with objective approaches that allow individuals to give honest, thoughtful responses.”

The result is what is perhaps the largest-ever repository of information about casual-sex habits in the world—not that it has many competitors. The people who share stories range from teens to retirees (Vrangalova’s oldest participants are in their seventies), and include city dwellers and suburbanites, graduate-level-educated professionals (about a quarter of the sample) and people who never finished high school (another quarter). The majority of participants aren’t particularly religious, although a little under a third do identify as at least “somewhat” religious. Most are white, though there are also blacks, Latinos, and other racial and ethnic groups. Initially, contributions were about sixty-per-cent female, but now they’re seventy-per-cent male. (This is in line with norms; men are “supposed” to brag more about sexual exploits than women.) Anyone can submit a story, along with personal details that reflect his or her demographics, emotions, personality traits, social attitudes, and behavioral patterns, such as alcohol intake. The setup for data collection is standardized, with drop-down menus and rating scales.

Still, the site is far from clinical. The home page is a colorful mosaic of squares, color-coded according to the category of sexual experience (blue: “one-night stand”; purple: “group sex”; gray: the mysterious-sounding “first of many”; and so on). Pull quotes are highlighted for each category (“Ladies if you haven’t had a hot, young Latino stud you should go get one!”). Many responses seem to boast, provoke, or exaggerate for rhetorical purposes. Reading it, I felt less a part of a research project than a member of a society devoted to titillation.

Vrangalova is the first to admit that the Casual Sex Project is not what you would call an objective, scientific approach to data collection. There is no random assignment, no controls, no experimental conditions; the data is not representative of the general population. The participants are self-selecting, which inevitably colors the results: if you’re taking the time to write, you are more likely to write about positive experiences. You are also more likely to have the sort of personality that comes with wanting to share details of your flings with the public. There is another problem with the Casual Sex Project that is endemic in much social-science research: absent external behavioral validation, how do we know that respondents are reporting the truth, rather than what they want us to hear or think we want them to say?

And yet, for all these flaws, the Casual Sex Project provides a fascinating window into the sexual habits of a particular swath of the population. It may not be enough to draw new conclusions, but it can lend nuance to assumptions, expanding, for instance, ideas about who engages in casual sex or how it makes them feel. As I browsed through the entries after my meeting with Vrangalova, I came upon the words of a man who learned something new about his own sexuality during a casual encounter in his seventies: “before this I always said no one can get me of on a bj alone, I was taught better,” he writes. As a reflection of the age and demographic groups represented, the Casual Sex Project undermines the popular narrative that casual sex is the product of changing mores among the young alone. If that were the case, we would expect there to be a reluctance to engage in casual sex among the older generations, which grew up in the pre-“hookup culture” era. Such reluctance is not evident.

The reminder that people of all ages engage in casual sex might lead us to imagine three possible narratives. First, that perhaps what we see as the rise of a culture of hooking up isn’t actually new. When norms related to dating and free love shifted, in the sixties, they never fully shifted back. Seventy-year-olds are engaging in casual encounters because that attitude is part of their culture, too.

There’s another, nearly opposite explanation: casual sex isn’t the norm now, and wasn’t before. There are simply always individuals, in any generation, who seek sexual satisfaction in nontraditional confines.

And then there’s the third option, the one that is most consistent with the narrative that our culture of casual sex begins with college hookups: that people are casually hooking up for different reasons. Some young people have casual sex because they feel they can’t afford not to, or because they are surrounded by a culture that says they should want to. (Vrangalova’s preliminary analysis of the data on her site suggests that alcohol is much more likely to be involved in the casual-sex experiences of the young than the old.)  And the old—well, the old no longer care what society thinks. For some, this sense of ease might come in their thirties; for others, their forties or fifties; for others, never, or not entirely.

This last theory relates to another of Vrangalova’s findings—one that, she confesses, came as a surprise when she first encountered it. Not all of the casual-sex experiences recorded on the site were positive, even among what is surely a heavily biased sample. Women and younger participants are especially likely to report feelings of shame. (“I was on top of him at one point and he can’t have forced me to so I must have consented . . . I’m not sure,” an eighteen-year-old writes, reporting that the hookup was unsatisfying, and describing feeling “stressed, anxious, guilt and disgust” the day after.) There is an entire thread tagged “no orgasm,” which includes other occasionally disturbing and emotional tales. “My view has gotten a lot more balanced over time,” Vrangalova said. “I come from a very sex-positive perspective, surrounded by people who really benefitted from sexual exploration and experiences, for the most part. By studying it, I’ve learned to see both sides of the coin.

Part of the negativity, to be sure, does originate in legitimate causes: casual sex increases the risk of pregnancy, disease, and, more often than in a committed relationship, physical coercion. But many negative casual-sex experiences come instead from a sense of social convention. “We’ve seen that both genders felt they were discriminated against because of sex,” Vrangalova told me. Men often feel judged by other men if they don’t have casual sex, and social expectations can detract from the experiences they do have, while women feel judged for engaging in casual experiences, rendering those they pursue less pleasurable.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise: the very fact that Vrangalova and others are seeking explanations for casual-sex behaviors suggests that our society views it as worthy of note—something aberrant, rather than ordinary. No one writes about why people feel the need to drink water or go to the bathroom, why eating dinner with friends is “a thing” or study groups are “on the rise.”

It is that sense of shame, ultimately, that Vrangalova hopes her project may help to address. As one respondent to a survey Vrangalova sent to users put it, “This has helped me feel okay about myself for wanting casual sex, and not feel ashamed or that what I do is wrong.” The psychologist James Pennebaker has found over several decades of work that writing about emotional experiences can act as an effective form of therapy, in a way that talking about those experiences may not. (I’m less convinced that there are benefits for those who use the site as a way to boast about their own experiences.) “Often there’s no outlet for that unless you’re starting your own blog,” Vrangalova points out. “I wanted to offer a space for people to share.”

That may well end up the Casual Sex Project’s real contribution: not to tell us something we didn’t already know, or at least suspect, but to make such nonjudgmental, intimate conversations possible. The dirty little secret of casual sex today is not that we’re having it but that we’re not sharing our experiences of it in the best way.

Complete Article HERE!

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Multiple Orgasms for Men?

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Multiple Orgasms for Men? The Fascinating Technique That Might Open Up Whole New Sexual Experience

 

Women aren’t the only ones capable of a multi-orgasmic experience

By Carrie Weisman

As a society we carry a lot of entrenched ideas about sex. Perhaps one of the most deeply ingrained assumptions is that women can have multiple orgasms, and that men can’t. But is that really true?

In 1986, sex therapists William Hartman and Marilyn Fithian put together the book, Any Man Can. They describe that by withholding ejaculation, men can experience “a number of sexual peaks.”

“The multi-orgasmic men we have studied have chosen to develop that capacity (stopping ejaculation using learned techniques)… The behavior itself (interrupting orgasm via such techniques) appears to be at least four thousand years old,” they wrote,

More than a decade later, sex educator Jack Johnston came out with a training program to help men work towards this experience. Johnston told me over the phone that he’s made it his life’s work to dispel the myth that only women are capable of experiencing multiple orgasms.

“Men and women are physiologically a lot more similar than people realize. Vive la différence, of course, but in terms of the neurological capacity for experiencing the orgasmic impulses, we’re wired in quite a similar manner.”

He added, “I try to help reacquaint people with the idea that orgasm is an energetic event, and that for men, it’s not automatically linked to ejaculation. They’re two separate events. Two separate reflexes.”

In contrast to other “experts,” Johnston avoids conventional “squeeze techniques” that encourage men to stop just short of “the point of no return.” These techniques typically require that men clench pelvic floor muscles, slow their breathing and allow the urge to ejaculate to pass.

As Johnston explained, “That’s not really a whole lot of fun for anybody. You’re constantly monitoring, it’s like ‘Am I there yet? Maybe I can go a little further. Oh shucks, I went too far.’”

“My working hypothesis was that there’s got to be a better way than that. I don’t think our creator was sadistic in that way.”

Johnston’s program is known as The Key Sound Multiple Orgasm (KSMO) training. The “Key Sound” refers to a particular sound one can make while engaging in some light stimulation during solo (or partnered) practice sessions, separate from the act of intercourse. He insists the vibrations brought on by the sound can help “unlock” the key to multiple orgasms.

One satisfied client writes, “As the sensations became stronger, my vocal expressions became deeper and louder. I continued until I was so overwhelmed by this feeling I literally could not move anymore – pleasantly paralyzed by orgasm with no urge to ejaculate.”

But while most men believe penile stimulation to be the primary means by which to experience orgasm, Johnston recommends  guys bypass the penis and head for the perineum (the area between the scrotum and anus) during their solo sessions.

Johnston’s refers to the perineal area as the “the male G-spot.” Part of his training revolves around “helping men locate that area of their body, and then, as part of the ‘Multiple Orgasm Trigger,’ practice to gently massage [the perineal] area just enough to get a little tingle, or a little rush.” Johnston calls these sensations “Echo Effects.”

“How does one increase arousal to orgasmic intensity without using lots and lots of stimulation? For men in particular, more and more stimulation tends to trigger the ejaculation reflex. So the idea is, in a sense, how do you learn to sneak up on the orgasm?”

“Very often, orgasm is centered right in the genital area, whereas the method that I teach tends to occur throughout ones body. One experiences arousal throughout one’s body. Neurologically, it’s all connected throughout the body, so the idea is to become aware of that. To become aware that when someone becomes aroused it’s not just in the genital area, those waves of energy start flowing throughout one’s entire body.”

On the official forum, one of Johnston’s clients reports, “As I am doing my sessions, I am really getting new sensations each time. Presently, I am feeling my prostate pumping (for lack of a better word) and this is causing me to get a slight erection. When my prostate pumps, it is sending pre-cum and I am beginning to leak a little. I have to stay relaxed because I feel that I could cross over and ejaculate. This pumping of my prostate are mini orgasms (I assume) and they feel great. My entire body is hot, shaking, and feeling really amazing. I can do this for about an hour and maybe a little longer.”

Another writes, “Tonight, after doing my 20 minutes and then sort of absent mindedly continuing, I do believe I had my first full body, non-ejaculatory orgasm. It just sort of came on as I was massaging the base of my penis, from out of nowhere–NOT like it came from within my body. It felt like a heat throughout my body, and a sort of giddiness, almost like the light, first rush of MDMA (er…or so I’ve read…).

“And the crazy thing was, instead of feeling like the orgasm was in me, it felt like I was in the orgasm–like it was surrounding and suffusing my whole body like a field of energy. Pretty wild.”

Johnston recommends that his clients practice the technique for 20 minutes every other day. He notes that ejaculation should be avoided on days devoted to practice.

He explained that in contrast to the “traditional” male ejaculatory orgasm, multiple orgasms typically arrive in “waves.” And since they aren’t linked to ejaculation, one’s energy doesn’t dissipate as it does when one ejaculates. He added that after having mastered the technique, most men come to prefer these kind of orgasms.

He continued, “It lasts so much longer. The after glow lasts so much longer too. It’s the kind of energy that can infuse your whole being.” He also notes that, after having completed the training, many men report experiencing more intense ejaculatory orgasms as well.

But mastering the physical technique is only half the battle. As Johnston explained, a good part of his training revolves around teaching men to expand their understanding of sexual pleasure, and open themselves up to the different means by which it can be attained.

He tells me, “There are a lot of people who think that it’s important for intellectual integrity to be really, really skeptical. I think it’s appropriate to have some skepticism, but it’s also really essential not to just be attached to being a skeptic. In the face of evidence to the contrary, one needs to have the intellectual integrity to consider it.”

“Once we learn the facts about our physiology, and what’s really possible. That’s a whole new world.”

Some people have years of sexual experience under their belt. Some don’t. But no matter where you land on the path of sexual self-exploration, it’s never too late to rewrite certain standards, and never too soon to start experimenting with different points of pleasure, no matter how obscure they may seem.

Complete Article HERE!

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Staying Married Through a Gender Transition

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“Sometimes I see myself as a lesbian, and sometimes I don’t.”

By Evan Urquhart

Six years ago, Cassie and I met and began dating as lesbians. At the time, I didn’t know I was transgender. Then about two years ago, just nine months after we were married, I told her I thought I might want to transition and live as a man. It’s hard to overstate how difficult this was for us at first, but we stuck with one another and managed to preserve our marriage. I spoke with Cassie about staying together, and about being a lesbian (or maybe not) in a relationship with a trans man.

Think back to when I first told you I thought I might want to transition. What was your initial reaction?

When you first told me, I was surprised by how angry I was. I mean, you weren’t my first experience with a trans person. I’ve had a number of friends come out, and it’s never been hard to adjust. Plus, I was in the queer dorm at UMass, and many of the kids I lived with were trans. I always figured I was well prepared for the possibility of a romantic partner coming out. I didn’t know what I’d do, exactly, but I didn’t think I’d be angry. But when you told me, I don’t know … We were trying to get me pregnant at the time, and all I could think was that you were fucking up my adorable little lesbian life.

I wasn’t!

I know. It just felt like you were. I know that’s unfair, but it’s true. I was also angry at myself, because I wasn’t actually that surprised by the news. There was no way I could convince myself that it was just a passing thought. I knew it wasn’t. We’d talked about your gender in the past, and I told you I thought you had some issues to work out. We had so many conversations about how you thought every woman would want to be a man if they could, and I would tell you, no, I wouldn’t want that, and you wouldn’t believe me. It was frustrating, but I forgave it, because I sensed you had some internal issues to work out. But I guess what I thought (or maybe hoped) was that one day you’d recognize a sort of queerness in yourself and stop arguing with me about my own gender, not that you would go full-on with testosterone, surgery, changing your name, everything. Now I tell people I have a husband.

It’s been really tough. How do you think we’ve managed to stay together?

A lot of things. I think I was scared at first because I didn’t think I’d end up breaking up with you. We’re so compatible in so many ways. Part of me was afraid that your personality would change so much I’d not want to be with you, but I didn’t really think that I would leave.

You felt trapped?

Marriage is a trap. That’s a weird question.

Argh. My nonjudgmental leading questions don’t work on you—you’re on to me. What eventually made it OK, when at first it didn’t feel OK?

We talked a lot, all the time, about everything. Even when it was hard, we hashed things out rather than ignoring them. And should I talk about the open relationship? We opened things up, as we’d done before, but I think it was especially important in this case.

The release valve. Not feeling like you’d never be with a woman again. Being able to explore other relationships with other people without ending everything we had to do it.

Something like that.

Do you still consider yourself a lesbian?

Oh, geez. We’re jumping to that question now?

It seemed relevant.

Sometimes I see myself as a lesbian, and sometimes I don’t. Part of me thinks it’s wrong to consider myself a lesbian because if I do, and I remain in a relationship with a trans guy, or even admit attraction, on a certain level, to any other trans guys, I’m effectively invalidating their gender. That said, coming out to myself was such an important thing for me. It made so much about myself make sense, not just who I was attracted to but my personality and how I interacted with the world. It made me so much happier. I don’t want to let that go.

I always said I didn’t have the power to unilaterally change your orientation.

Right, but your transition did make me think about my sexuality in a different way. A number of different people that I’ve been attracted to, whether I dated them or not, were people I thought at the time were cis women who came out later as trans men. If it was really just you, well, you could be the exception. You could be grandfathered in. But I feel like it might say something about me—about the sort of people I like—that you’re not the only one.

I’ve always butted heads a little with the lesbian community, anyway. But at the same time I feel like that’s part of what it means to be a lesbian, to butt heads with the lesbian community. I once got into a fight with a girl who said I wasn’t a real lesbian because of what I was wearing. I got kicked off a lesbian forum for saying I thought you could still be a lesbian if you had enjoyed sex with a penis, even once. God forbid.

This reminds me, we’ve been talking about trans men, but what about trans women? Are you attracted to trans women? Have you ever been with a trans woman? Do you think you can be with trans women and still be a “real lesbian”?

Yeah, I’ve been attracted to and been with trans women. I know it’s a point of contention for some people, but I think that’s silly. At least for me, if I’m hanging out, flirting, feeling attraction and chemistry with someone, then there’s a good chance I’m going to enjoy having sex with that person if I get the chance. I guess if you’re only attracted to genitals, that could be more limiting, depending on the specifics, but I feel like you’re probably having pretty boring sex. Maybe I’m wrong, and to each their own, but it’s not an issue for me. And I kind of suspect it would be less of an issue for other people than they think, but they just don’t want to think about it.

So, my being a trans man was more of a threat to your sexuality than your being attracted to a trans woman was.

Yeah. I’m really not worried at all about sometimes being attracted to trans women.

Talk about my physical changes, and how you feel about them.

Well, it’s better now that you’ve come out of the weird little hole you were in. You were spending all your time on Reddit or in the other room, alone, doing God knows what. You acted so weird at first, so totally in your head about things. You never wanted to have sex, and having a conversation with you was like pulling teeth. I was more annoyed with that than anything. The actual changes didn’t bother me as much as I’d feared. I guess they’ve been gradual enough it’s been easy to get used to. But then you’d do things like repeat the same phrase three times in a slightly deeper voice, and I just had no patience for it. I was finishing a master’s degree and dealing with infertility, and I didn’t have time for your issues.

And I’ve settled down now?

Definitely. We’re about back to normal, I’d say. I’ve settled, too. At this point I’m just kind of embarrassed by how I reacted early on. I think that once I just chilled out and accepted your transition as what was happening, and as a good thing for you, our relationship could just be what it was. No pressure. We started getting closer again, and you started relaxing. Plus, we had a friend at the time, a trans girl, who helped a lot.

Because she was very political.

She was very no-nonsense. She handed you a trans pride flag at the pride parade when you were still only partially out. I’ll never forget the look on your face when that happened. She also started using male pronouns for you and calling you Evan and told me to just get over it. And I did. Probably in part because I liked her, and I didn’t want her to think I was mean. But still, it helped.

So, how are things now for our relationship?

They’re really good. I mean, there are no guarantees. Changes are still happening, and I’m sure we’ll have some ups and downs in the future. I don’t want to jinx anything. But we’re connecting again, we’re having sex again, and sometimes when someone from your family forgets and uses your old name, I have a moment where I’m not even sure who they’re talking about. You’re just my Evan. It works.

And, how do you feel about your sexuality?

I think I still see myself as a lesbian in a lot of ways, and I don’t know if I’ll ever completely change that, but I’ve been referring to myself as queer more often, and I like that as a compromise. I feel like that word fits me pretty well, and maybe I’ll ease into using it completely in the future. But right now I’m not completely over thinking of myself as a lesbian, especially since I’m still generally more attracted to women.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Straight Rural Men Have Gay ‘Bud-Sex’ With Each Other

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A lot of men have sex with other men but don’t identify as gay or bisexual. A subset of these men who have sex with men, or MSM, live lives that are, in all respects other than their occasional homosexual encounters, quite straight and traditionally masculine — they have wives and families, they embrace various masculine norms, and so on. They are able to, in effect, compartmentalize an aspect of their sex lives in a way that prevents it from blurring into or complicating their more public identities. Sociologists are quite interested in this phenomenon because it can tell us a lot about how humans interpret thorny questions of identity and sexual desire and cultural expectations.

Last year, NYU Press published the fascinating book Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men by the University of California, Riverside, gender and sexuality professor Jane Ward. In it, Ward explored various subcultures in which what could be called “straight homosexual sex” abounds — not just in the ones you’d expect, like the military and fraternities, but also biker gangs and conservative suburban neighborhoods — to better understand how the participants in these encounters experienced and explained their attractions, identities, and rendezvous. But not all straight MSM have gotten the same level of research attention. One relatively neglected such group, argues the University of Oregon sociology doctoral student Tony Silva in a new paper in Gender & Society, is rural, white, straight men (well, neglected if you set aside Brokeback Mountain).

Silva sought to find out more about these men, so he recruited 19 from men-for-men casual-encounters boards on Craigslist and interviewed them, for about an hour and a half each, about their sexual habits, lives, and senses of identity. All were from rural areas of Missouri, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, or Idaho, places known for their “social conservatism and predominant white populations.” The sample skewed a bit on the older side, with 14 of the 19 men in their 50s or older, and most identified exclusively as exclusively or mostly straight, with a few responses along the lines of “Straight but bi, but more straight.”

Since this is a qualitative rather than a quantitative study, it’s important to recognize that the particular men recruited by Silva weren’t necessarily representative of, well, anything. These were just the guys who agreed to participate in an academic’s research project after they saw an ad for it on Craigslist. But the point of Silva’s project was less to draw any sweeping conclusions about either this subset of straight MSM, or the population as a whole, than to listen to their stories and compare them to the narratives uncovered by Ward and various other researchers.

Specifically, Silva was trying to understand better the interplay between “normative rural masculinity” — the set of mores and norms that defines what it means to be a rural man — and these men’s sexual encounters. In doing so, he introduces a really interesting and catchy concept, “bud-sex”:

Ward (2015) examines dudesex, a type of male–male sex that white, masculine, straight men in urban or military contexts frame as a way to bond and build masculinity with other, similar “bros.” Carrillo and Hoffman (2016) refer to their primarily urban participants as heteroflexible, given that they were exclusively or primarily attracted to women. While the participants in this study share overlap with those groups, they also frame their same-sex sex in subtly different ways: not as an opportunity to bond with urban “bros,” and only sometimes—but not always—as a novel sexual pursuit, given that they had sexual attractions all across the spectrum. Instead, as Silva (forthcoming) explores, the participants reinforced their straightness through unconventional interpretations of same-sex sex: as “helpin’ a buddy out,” relieving “urges,” acting on sexual desires for men without sexual attractions to them, relieving general sexual needs, and/or a way to act on sexual attractions. “Bud-sex” captures these interpretations, as well as how the participants had sex and with whom they partnered. The specific type of sex the participants had with other men—bud-sex—cemented their rural masculinity and heterosexuality, and distinguishes them from other MSM.

This idea of homosexual sex cementing heterosexuality and traditional, rural masculinity certainly feels counterintuitive, but it clicks a little once you read some of the specific findings from Silva’s interviews. The most important thing to keep in mind here is that rural masculinity is “[c]entral to the men’s self-understanding.” Quoting another researcher, Silva notes that it guides their “thoughts, tastes, and practices. It provides them with their fundamental sense of self; it structures how they understand the world around them; and it influences how they codify sameness and difference.” As with just about all straight MSM, there’s a tension at work: How can these men do what they’re doing without it threatening parts of their identity that feel vital to who they are?

In some of the subcultures Ward studied, straight MSM were able to reinterpret homosexual identity as actually strengthening their heterosexual identities. So it was with Silva’s subjects as well — they found ways to cast their homosexual liaisons as reaffirming their rural masculinity. One way they did so was by seeking out partners who were similar to them. “This is a key element of bud-sex,” writes Silva. “Partnering with other men similarly privileged on several intersecting axes—gender, race, and sexual identity—allowed the participants to normalize and authenticate their sexual experiences as normatively masculine.” In other words: If you, a straight guy from the country, once in a while have sex with other straight guys from the country, it doesn’t threaten your straight, rural identity as much as it would if instead you, for example, traveled to the nearest major metro area and tried to pick up dudes at a gay bar. You’re not the sort of man who would go to a gay bar — you’re not gay!

It’s difficult here not to slip into the old middle-school joke of “It’s not gay if …” — “It’s not gay” if your eyes are closed, or the lights are off, or you’re best friends — but that’s actually what the men in Silva’s study did, in a sense:

As Cain [one of the interview subjects] said, “I’m really not drawn to what I would consider really effeminate faggot type[s],” but he does “like the masculine looking guy who maybe is more bi.” Similarly, Matt (60) explained, “If they’re too flamboyant they just turn me off,” and Jack noted, “Femininity in a man is a turn off.” Ryan (60) explained, “I’m not comfortable around femme” and “masculinity is what attracts me,” while David shared that “Femme guys don’t do anything for me at all, in fact actually I don’t care for ’em.” Jon shared, “I don’t really like flamin’ queers.” Mike (50) similarly said, “I don’t want the effeminate ones, I want the manly guys … If I wanted someone that acts girlish, I got a wife at home.” Jeff (38) prefers masculinity because “I guess I perceive men who are feminine want to hang out … have companionship, and make it last two or three hours.”

In other words: It’s not gay if the guy you’re having sex with doesn’t seem gay at all. Or consider the preferences of Marcus, another one of Silva’s interview subjects:

A guy that I would consider more like me, that gets blowjobs from guys every once in a while, doesn’t do it every day. I know that there are a lot of guys out there that are like me … they’re manly guys, and doing manly stuff, and just happen to have oral sex with men every once in a while [chuckles]. So, that’s why I kinda prefer those types of guys … It [also] seems that … more masculine guys wouldn’t harass me, I guess, hound me all the time, send me 1000 emails, “Hey, you want to get together today … hey, what about now.” And there’s a thought in my head that a more feminine or gay guy would want me to come around more. […] Straight guys, I think I identify with them more because that’s kinda, like [how] I feel myself. And bi guys, the same way. We can talk about women, there [have] been times where we’ve watched hetero porn, before we got started or whatever, so I kinda prefer that. [And] because I’m not attracted, it’s very off-putting when somebody acts gay, and I feel like a lot of gay guys, just kinda put off that gay vibe, I’ll call it, I guess, and that’s very off-putting to me.

This, of course, is similar to the way many straight men talk about women — it’s nice to have them around and it’s (of course) great to have sex with them, but they’re so clingy. Overall, it’s just more fun to hang out around masculine guys who share your straight-guy preferences and vocabulary, and who are less emotionally demanding.

One way to interpret this is as defensiveness, of course — these men aren’t actually straight, but identify that way for a number of reasons, including “internalized heterosexism, participation in other-sex marriage and childrearing [which could be complicated if they came out as bi or gay], and enjoyment of straight privilege and culture,” writes Silva. After Jane Ward’s book came out last year, Rich Juzwiak laid out a critique in Gawker that I also saw in many of the responses to my Q&A with her: While Ward sidestepped the question of her subjects’ “actual” sexual orientations — “I am not concerned with whether the men I describe in this book are ‘really’ straight or gay,” she wrote — it should matter. As Juzwiak put it: “Given the cultural incentives that remain for a straight-seeming gay, given the long-road to self-acceptance that makes many feel incapable or fearful of honestly answering questions about identity—which would undoubtedly alter the often vague data that provide the basis for Ward’s arguments—it seems that one should care about the wide canyon between what men claim they are and what they actually are.” In other words, Ward sidestepped an important political and rights minefield by taking her subjects’ claims about their sexuality more or less at face value.

There are certainly some good reasons for sociologists and others to not examine individuals’ claims about their identities too critically. But still: Juzwiak’s critique is important, and it looms large in the background of one particular segment of Silva’s paper. Actually, it turned out, some of Silva’s subjects really weren’t all that opposed to a certain level of deeper engagement with their bud-sex buds, at least when it came to their “regulars,” or the men they hooked up with habitually:

While relationships with regulars were free of romance and deep emotional ties, they were not necessarily devoid of feeling; participants enjoyed regulars for multiple reasons: convenience, comfort, sexual compatibility, or even friendship. Pat described a typical meetup with his regular: “We talk for an hour or so, over coffee … then we’ll go get a blowjob and then, part our ways.” Similarly, Richard noted, “Sex is a very small part of our relationship. It’s more friends, we discuss politics … all sorts of shit.” Likewise, with several of his regulars Billy noted, “I go on road trips, drink beer, go down to the city [to] look at chicks, go out and eat, shoot pool, I got one friend I hike with. It normally leads to sex, but we go out and do activities other than we meet and suck.” While Kevin noted that his regular relationship “has no emotional connection at all,” it also has a friendship-like quality, as evidenced by occasional visits and sleepovers despite almost 100 miles of distance. Similarly, David noted, “If my wife’s gone for a weekend … I’ll go to his place and spend a night or two with him … we obviously do things other than sex, so yeah we go to dinner, go out and go shopping, stuff like that.” Jack explained that with his regular “we connected on Craigslist … [and] became good friends, in addition to havin’ sex … we just made a connection … But there was no love at all.” Thus, bud-sex is predicated on rejecting romantic attachment and deep emotional ties, but not all emotion.

Whatever else is going on here, clearly these men are getting some companionship out of these relationships. It isn’t just about sex if you make a point of getting coffee, and especially if you spend nights together, go shopping or out to dinner, and so on. But there are sturdy incentives in place for them to not take that step of identifying, or identifying fully, as gay or bi. Instead, they frame their bud-sex, even when it’s accompanied by other forms of intimacy, in a way that reinforces their rural, straight masculinity.

It’s important to note that this isn’t some rational decision where the men sit down, list the pros and cons, and say, “Well, I guess coming out just won’t maximize my happiness and well-being.” It’s more subtle than that, given the osmosis-like way we all absorb social norms and mores. In all likelihood, when Silva’s subjects say they’re straight, they mean it: That’s how they feel. But it’s hard not to get the sense that maybe some of them would be happier, or would have made different life decisions, if they had had access to a different, less constricted vocabulary to describe what they want — and who they are.

Complete Article HERE!

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8 lessons for my sexually uneducated teen self

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By Scott Roberts

modern_teen

By what I can only assume was an issue with the timetable I ended up having sex education at least three times during my years of education at middle and high school (yes I went to a ‘middle school’).

And for all their effort I remember being confused, uninformed and altogether none the wiser when the teaching staff tried to inform us about the goings on of the birds and the bees, (a saying I actually still don’t fully understand the significance of. Birds don’t have sex with bees as far as I’m aware).

Having a partner who’s part Dutch and who received (in my opinion) the best sex education in the world, thanks to the Netherlands government, I’m taking the time to look back on my sex-ignorance and highlight some of the key things I’d wished I’d known back then.

1 – Porn is not an accurate representation of real bodies or real sex.

I could quote a load of statistics but I think it’s well enough known that my generation are among the first to grow up in a world where pornography is in such easy reach. I can hardly blame my education for being a little slow on the uptake of something relatively new, but for future sex ed it seems essential to incorporate teaching on how we should perceive pornography as fantasy and not based on real sex lives. It also seems more important to bring parents into sex ed to try and bridge the generation gap that the internet has caused.

2. How to properly check yourself.

I remember plenty of talks on what to do to prevent STIs but I cannot remember ever being told what’s healthy and good and what I should look out for in my own body. I learned more about my own body by visiting my GP for an MOT than I did from a whole series of sex education lessons. Even Youtube provided better sex ed than my school ever did thanks to guys like Riyadh K uploading videos on how to check your testicles for cancer – we were never told that in school.

3. Pleasure is one of the most if not the most important part of sex.

Pleasure was completely missed out of our sex education curriculum. There was such a strong emphasis on the adverse effects of sex and the dangers; the risks of STIs and unwanted pregnancy, that its main purpose was more or less completely ignored. An understanding of the body and pleasure seems essential if you’re going to teach sex ed. There is something intrinsically British about being embarrassed when communicating about our own bodies and all the weird and wonderful things they do. That needs to be swept away.

4. Some men have sex with other men and some women have sex with other women.

As a gay man (well, gay boy at the time) I was excluded from most topics covered by our sex ed. Everything catered to a heterosexual norm and the sex lives of gay people, let alone the relationships of gay people, were left well alone. Thank the lord for Queer as Folk.

5. The specific things you can do as a gay man to help protect yourself.

I only learnt of the real dangers for me as a sexually active gay man through taking some initiative and going to a clinic. I had no clue about hepatitis jabs and emergency HIV treatments and windows of infection. I learned a lot through being able to ask questions of someone I could trust who knows what they’re on about. I also found that going to a clinic completely reversed my expectations which were based on the stereotype of sexual health clinics being sleazy and disgusting. I found it to be a place where I could freely ask all the questions I had which weren’t being met by the teaching at school, (big up Worthing sexual health, woo!).

6. Relationships are a big part of sex education too.

There was so much focus on the physical that the emotional side was almost forgotten. All of the emotional side of things more often than not were put down to hormones. Those pesky hormones were responsible for everything! Nobody attempted to delve deeper into the way we were feeling emotionally and why we were driven to think that the Smiths really did understand us like nobody else did.

7. Consent. A topic that as far as I can remember was not even covered.

The darker side of things including abuse and rape was not touched on, which seems absolutely ridiculous. Teaching consent is essential, especially in an age where pornography is distorting the idea of what is perceived as acceptable and unacceptable in a healthy sexual relationship.

8. Confidence is the most important part of your body image.

In our teenage years we spend so much time obsessed with wanting to look good and fighting Mother Nature who has destined us to be spotty, greasy-haired, squeaky-voiced slobs. Accepting body image and being confident with your own body is probably one of the lessons that comes with age but it certainly would have helped having some reassurances from school forcing our eyes away from the skinny catwalk models and the chiselled muscle men that we were thinking we should look like.

I feel like this may have just turned into a list of failings of our education system. But maybe it isn’t ALL bad and maybe things are changing. If you had a similar experience or if you had a totally different experience of sex ed let me know your thoughts!

Complete Article HERE!

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