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Masturbation hacks and consent advice: how YouTubers took over sex education

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With UK schools increasingly falling short, vloggers such as Hannah Witton and Laci Green have stepped up to offer guidance on everything from body confidence to sexual pleasure

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When Lily was at school, she remembers the boys and girls being separated for a sex education class. The boys were given one booklet; the girls another. “In the boys’ booklet, there was a section on masturbation and there wasn’t in the girls’ booklet,” she says. “A girl put her hand up and said: ‘Why don’t we have that?’ and one of the teachers said: ‘Girls don’t do that, that’s disgusting.’ It shouldn’t be a shameful thing to talk about. It can be a bit awkward and embarrassing, but we should be talking about it.”

Afterwards, Lily, who is now 19 and identifies as bisexual, went online and discovered sex education videos on YouTube, particularly those made by a young woman, Hannah Witton. “Within my friendship group it has really opened up a conversation about things you don’t normally discuss,” she says. “In schools, LGBT sex ed is just not talked about. Sex was never discussed as a pleasurable thing, especially for women.” Magazines such as Cosmopolitan filled some of her knowledge gaps, she says, but most of her sex education has come from Witton.

YouTube sex educators are increasingly popular, and for the young people I speak to, such videos are where almost all their information about sex now comes from. Witton, who is 26 and British, is incredibly popular, with 430,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel and videos racking up millions of views. Why Having Big Boobs Sucks! has received 3.5m views; 10 Masturbation Hacks has had 1.2m. In the US, Laci Green has 1.5 million subscribers and her videos on, among many topics, nudity, vaginas, foreskins and pubic hair reach millions. There are several other hugely successful sex-ed vloggers, such as Shan Boody and Dr Lindsey Doe. In Poland, where sex education was recently removed from schools, young people are turning to vloggers such as Natalia Trybus, while the model Anja Rubik and a women’s rights organisation, Dziewuchy Dziewuchom, have also launched a series of sex education videos on YouTube.

Hannah Witton talks about masturbation on YouTube.

Amy, 16, says these videos are where almost all of her sex education has come from. “I only really started being given proper sex education in year 10 or 11, when I was about to leave school.” It would have been helpful to have had it earlier, she says. She started watching Witton’s videos when she was about 12. “Everyone around me seemed to understand sex stuff and I was completely clueless,” she says. What did she find most helpful? “Quite a lot of it was her masturbation videos. She presents it in a very positive way – female masturbation is a controversial subject when it shouldn’t be. It helped me understand that side of things. If I had questions, I could probably go on her channel and scroll back and see if she’d posted on it. I’m not that sexually active but I feel like I’m more understanding of what [happens]. I feel a bit more confident because I’ve learned about it in a way that isn’t porn. It’s helped me become more sex positive. It helps me feel like I can talk about it with my friends, whereas before it was like: ‘I can’t talk about that even though everyone’s going through it.’” Has it made it easier to talk to her parents, too? “A little bit,” she says.

It is not surprising that young people are turning to the internet for information, says Lisa Hallgarten, policy manager at Brook, the sexual health and education charity. “Partly because they get everything from the internet. But there is also the fact that in schools they’re just not getting what they need. Even in schools where they’re trying to do a good job, young people aren’t getting the information they need, when they need it. Young people are saying: don’t talk to us about contraception when we’re 17, because some of our friends are already pregnant.”

At the moment, personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) – in which sex education is often included – is not a statutory part of the curriculum in the UK, although schools are expected to provide it. Last year, the Department for Education announced that relationships and sex education (RSE) would be compulsory in all secondary schools, and an eight-week consultation on what should be included recently ended; the guidance has not been updated since 2000, during which time children have had to face then-unheard of things such as sexting, cyberbullying and access to online pornography. “What we would like is for RSE to be a mandatory part of PSHE and for PSHE to be a statutory subject and taught as a timetabled lesson,” says Hallgarten.

Some aspects of sex education are compulsory and taught in science classes. However, parents have the right to remove their children from RSE. “Most parents want RSE for their children but we are worried that those who get withdrawn are possibly the most vulnerable and the least likely to be in households where they get that information from their parents,” says Hallgarten. “They may well resort to looking on the internet of their own accord, and in that case more power to the vloggers. I think there are good vloggers and mediocre vloggers. Some of what people see will be misinformation. I think vlogs should be a supplement, not a replacement to classroom teaching.”

As it is, many teachers are not supported well enough to deliver great sex education lessons, she says. “I think there are a lot of teachers who feel awkward about talking about any aspect of RSE and that’s why we are lobbying hard to make it a real subject and provide real training. There are teachers who really love doing it and are really excellent, but lots of teachers don’t want to do it. If they feel awkward talking about it then it’s not really helpful for young people.” As Amy puts it: “Sex education isn’t seen as a positive thing. It’s seen as cringey. [Watching YouTubers] where it’s people who are only a little bit older than us and not like 40-year-old teachers, it might help people understand it better.”

Hallgarten identified particular areas in which conventional RSE is lacking. “Things like talking about sexual pleasure is something that lots of teachers would really shy away from. They are told about unhealthy relationships but they often don’t have a good model for what a healthy sexual relationship would look like. The vast majority of people will have sex at some point in their life and we hope that it will be a nice experience, but we don’t talk about that. That’s one of the things young people go online to try to understand.”

Some teachers have started even using YouTube sex-ed clips in a classroom setting. “We use a lot of the vloggers in our work,” says Eleanor Draeger, senior RSE trainer at the Sex Education Forum. “We go out and train teachers and show them a wide range of different resources they can use in their classrooms, and one of the resources is vlogs. The idea is that the teacher chooses the things they think will work with the students in their class.” Many of the topics might not be appropriate for secondary school age children; some of the most popular sex education videos are on topics such as encouraging stripping, and the use of sex toys and porn.

“One of the ways we might recommend using a vlogger is we show the video on whichever subject you’re teaching and then the teacher can explain anything the students didn’t understand or expand on the topic. If you were only getting your sex education from [videos] you might not get a rounded sex education. Having said that, I think they’re fantastic as an adjunct and I wish that kind of thing had been around when I was younger.”

Witton launched her first sex education video in January 2012 (she had been posting videos on YouTube for some time before that). It was a video on contraception, presented with a friend. “Sex education is pretty crap, at least in the UK,” she said in it, “so I wanted to make a mini series of sex education videos that hopefully you guys will enjoy and learn some stuff.” That “mini series”, as she endearingly described it, presented and filmed without her more recent polish, has turned into dozens of videos, millions of viewers, a book, and a full-time job as a YouTube star. Witton is smiley and chatty and presents her videos from her flat. She has covered sex toys, hormones, masturbation, porn, consent and open relationships (she doesn’t only talk about sex and relationships – in recent weeks she has been talking about undergoing surgery for ulcerative colitis and what it is like to live with a stoma).

“I was very much inspired by Laci Green in the US,” she says, “and I decided I wanted to start making content about that because I noticed that most of my audience were young women. I felt like I wanted to do something. In terms of my personal experience, [sex education] was very much lacking in school. I had more of an open household so I could talk to my parents, in theory. I remember meeting people once I got to sixth form, who had maybe been to a different school from me or had a different upbringing, who didn’t know some stuff I thought was really basic. I met someone who thought it was totally fine to not use a condom and just pull out. I was like, ‘nooo’.”

She is direct and funny. “I genuinely feel no awkwardness at all. It was one of the reasons I felt like it would be a good idea to start making videos like this, because I know some people don’t feel comfortable talking about these things. If I have a platform and I’m OK talking about them, I can use that platform for good.”

The videos that have done particularly well, she says, include those on masturbation, “especially female masturbation, which for some reason is still taboo. A lot of people either don’t want to admit it’s happening or feel too ashamed to talk about it. There is a general shame and stigma around that topic, in terms of actually doing it but also talking about it.”

Her main audience is women aged between 18 and 24, with 25- to 34-year-olds the next biggest group. People have to be 13 to have a YouTube account (or say they’re 13, and there will be many people who watch without an account) but the 13-17 age bracket makes up just 6% of her audience. Witton, who is an ambassador for Brook, is careful about accuracy. Are there sex education vloggers who are spreading misinformation? “I couldn’t [think of any] off the top of my head, but it’s the internet, so yeah.”

Does she feel that for many young people, she’s their main provider of sex education? “That feels like a lot of pressure, but I’m always really clear that I’m not a doctor. I like to think of my videos as a conversation-starter and from there people’s curiosity can lead them to other bits of information if they want to look into it further. I don’t want to ever take a didactic approach of ‘I’m the teacher’. It’s more of a peer-to-peer education thing.”

In the US, Green started making videos at university. Growing up as a Mormon, her only sex education at school was around abstinence. “A lot of the teenagers in my community just didn’t have the information and resources they needed, so I was a bit miffed about that. I didn’t really ever get sex ed in school. It was only in college, which for me was much later – I’d started having relationships, dating, having sexual experiences. I felt it was too late.” Her videos, she says, felt like “a good platform to have a conversation with other people who thought the same way I did and to share information. As I was trying to figure this stuff out, I was getting the information I needed and sharing it online.”

Around 60% of Green’s subscribers are young women. “I think a lot of the problems we struggle with in society fall around misogynistic ideas around women’s bodies and about relationships, and this is what women are supposed to be and this is what men are supposed to be, which feeds into homophobia and transphobia as well.”

She says around two-thirds of the people who contact her have had no sex education at school, or abstinence-based lessons. “Then the other third did have sex ed but didn’t have all their questions answered. I think a lot of people are awkward about sex. A lot of teachers in the US don’t know how to answer these questions, they’re very restricted in what they can say or do and that makes it really hard for them to have an honest relationship with their students.”

Thea, 19, started watching sex education videos by Green and then found Witton’s. “I definitely got most of my sex ed from YouTube videos,” she says. “Which is sad, because some of this stuff should be taught in school to educate young teenagers properly about sex, but also about the gender and sexuality spectrums. My parents weren’t a lot of help either. It’s really awkward to talk to them about that stuff and they’re another generation so they don’t even know most of it.” She says YouTube videos have changed the way she thinks about sex, sexuality (she identifies as “queer”) and herself. “I feel a lot more confident about my body and I feel a lot more comfortable talking about sex. I probably wouldn’t have been able to actually come to terms with my sexuality if it wasn’t for YouTubers talking about theirs so openly. Online, people aren’t as reluctant to talk about sex, their sexuality and their gender any more, and that’s beginning to be the case in the real world as well, which is awesome.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Can There Be Good Porn?

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In 2006, when I first considered performing in a hard-core pornographic video, I also thought about what sort of career doors would close once I’d had sex in front of a camera. Being a schoolteacher came to mind, but that was fine, since I didn’t want the responsibility of shaping young minds.

And yet thanks to this country’s nonfunctional sex education system and the ubiquitous access to porn by anyone with an internet connection, I have that responsibility anyway. Sometimes it keeps me awake at night — but I try to do what I can.

Pornography was not intended as a sex education program. It was not intended to dictate sexual practices, or to be a how-to guide. While some pornographers, like Nina Hartley and Jessica Drake, do create explicitly educational content, pornography is largely an entertainment medium for adults.

But we’re in a moment when the industry is once again under scrutiny. Pornography, we’re told, is warping the way young people, especially young men, think about sex, in ways that can be dangerous. (The Florida Legislature even implied last month that I and my kind are more worrisome than AR-15s when it voted to declare pornography a public health hazard, even as it declined to consider a ban on sales of assault weapons.)

I’m invested in the creation and spread of good pornography, even though I can’t say for certain what that looks like yet. We still don’t have a solid definition of what pornography is, much less a consensus on what makes it good or ethical. Nor does putting limits on the ways sexuality and sexual interactions are presented seem like a Pandora’s box we want to open: What right do we have to dictate the way adult performers have sex with one another, or what is good and normal, aside from requiring that it be consensual?

Context reminds people of all the things they don’t see in the final product. It underscores that pornography is a performance, that just as in ballet or professional wrestling, we are putting on a show. For years the B.D.S.M.-focused website Kink provided context for its sex scenes through a project called Behind Kink, with videos that showed the scenes being planned and performers stating their limits. Their films also showed a practice called “aftercare,” in which participants in an intense B.D.S.M. experience discuss what they’ve just done and how they’re feeling about it. (Unfortunately, the Behind Kink project lost momentum and appears to have stalled out in 2016.)

Shine Louise Houston, whose production company is dedicated to queer pornography, has live-streamed behind the scenes from the set, enabling viewers to see what making pornography is really like. I have always tried to provide at least minimum context for my explicit work, through blog posts and in promotional copy.

Many other performers and directors maintain blogs or write articles discussing scenes they particularly enjoyed doing or sets they liked being on, and generally allowing the curious to get a peek behind the metaphorical curtain. Some, like Tyler Knight, Asa Akira, Christy Canyon, Annie Sprinkle and Danny Wylde, have written memoirs.

When viewers have access to context, they can see us discussing our boundaries, talking about getting screened for sexually transmittable infections and chatting about how we choose partners. Occasionally, they can even see us laying bare how we navigate the murky intersection of capitalism, publicity and sexuality.

But this context is usually stripped out when a work is pirated and uploaded to one of the many “free tube” sites that offer material without charge. These sites are where the bulk of pornography is being viewed online, and by definition don’t require a credit card — making it easier for minors to see porn. And so the problems that come with porn are inseparable from the way it’s distributed.

How it’s distributed also shapes the type of porn that is most readily available to teenagers. I frequently hear pornography maligned as catering only to men. That’s not quite fair: Most heterosexual pornography caters to one type of man, yes, but to ignore the rest does a disservice the pornographers who have been creating work with a female gaze, or for the female gaze, for decades.

Candida Royalle founded Femme Productions in 1984 and Femme Distribution in 1986. Ovidie and Erika Lust have been making pornography aimed at women for over 10 years. Of course, their work also isn’t the sort of content that’s easy to find on free sites. But plenty of men enjoy this sort of work, too — just as some women like seeing bleach blondes on their knees.

Sex and sexual fantasies are complicated. So much of emotionally safer sex is dependent on knowing and paying attention to your partner. We in the industry can add context to our work, but I don’t know that it’s possible, at the end of the day, for what is meant to be an entertainment medium to regularly demonstrate concepts as intangible as these. We cannot rely on pornography to teach empathy, the ability to read body language, or how to discuss sexual boundaries — especially when we’re talking about young people who have never had sex. Porn will never be a replacement for sex education.

But porn is also not going anywhere. That means that we have a choice to make. We can hide our heads in the sand, or we can — in addition to pushing for real lessons on sex for young people again — tackle the job of understanding the range of what porn is, evaluating what’s working and what we can qualitatively judge as good, and try to build a better industry and cultural understanding of sex. I choose to try.

Complete Article HERE!

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8 sexual questions to ask your boyfriend or girlfriend before you get it on

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It is important to ask a few questions before getting jiggy with someone new.

Couple laying back to back in bed

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No, you don’t need to treat it like a job interview unless of course that’s your thing.

But there are a few things you should find out about the person you are about to get intimate with.

Perhaps it is checking they are happy to partake in certain kinks or all important questions about sexual health and protecting yourself against unwanted pregnancy.

Lianne Young, qualified nutritionist and sex and relationship therapist, is on hand to help you work out what needs to be asked before you get it on.

1. What kind of relationship is this?

Lianne explains why this should be your first question: ‘Firstly, the most important questions to ask will help you work out if your chosen partner is looking for an emotional or physical relationship.

Make sure you are both on the same page because if one of you is looking for more or less from the relationship then it may be wiser not to jump into bed together and make things more complicated.

Sex therapist Lianne also suggests asking what they see as a relationship, for example, is it exclusive dating or can you date others?

And, if this is an emotional relationship, she suggests making sure your life goals match up before you get too involved.

Do they want children? What do they want out of life? What are their life plans?

While you wouldn’t ask the ‘kids question’ to someone you were just engaged with physically, going too far down the path with someone who wants something entirely different to you can end up hurting.

‘After all,’ says Lianne, ‘would you invest in something if you knew it was only temporary? Probably not.’

2. What protection shall we use?

‘Got a condom?’ might not be the sexiest of questions but it is the most important question to ask.

Whether it is just purely a sexual relationship or long-term commitment, once you have established where you stand it is important to both decide what protection you are going to use.

Strawberry condom in handbag

At all times use precautions and, particularly if this is a casual relationship, never believe them if they say they have regular health checks so have no STIs.

‘Remember condoms can break, so you will also need a back up plan.

‘Also, maybe one of you is allergic to latex or silicon-based condoms so you need to make sure you have the necessary protection ahead of time.’

3. Do you want to try…?

Sex is best when everyone is on the same page.

While you may want to do x, y or z in the bedroom, it is important to check that your partner is comfortable too.

Consent is incredibly important, so make sure you both agree on what you expect will happen and what you’re both happy to do or have done.

‘Remember, when it comes to sex, no one has a road map to get you to your final destination – the orgasm,’ says Lianne.

‘Talk openly about what you like so your partner can satisfy you and vice versa.

Do you like doggy style?’

‘The most important one is to remember sex is about fun not just about reproduction and it’s ok to enjoy yourself.’

If you’re a bit too shy to say these things face to face, sexting might be an easier what to start the conversation.

But always remember that what they might say to you over a text message, may not be something they would be happy to do in reality.

Start a conversation about it: ‘You said in messages you would like to [xxx], shall we try it?’

4. Does that feel good?

There’s no good you getting cramp in your tongue, thighs or whatever body part you’re straining to pleasure your partner if they are lying there wishing it would be over.

Check what you’re doing feels good for them and get them to instruct you if it could be better.

Same goes for you, if you’re not feeling a certain move let your partner know.

Be kind though ‘That feels awful’ will probably kill the mood where as ‘move your [xxx] left/right/wherever’ will help you and them out.

5. Is there anything you don’t like?

Lianne says it is important to ask because: ‘You need to know each others’ boundaries and have respect for one another.’

6. Do you play safe?

Photo Taken In Sofia, Bulgaria

If you are in a long term relationship, Lianne does not advise asking about someone’s sexual history – including their ‘magic number’.

‘It’s history plain and simple. It’s the future you should be concerned about.

‘However, if it is just a physical one then these questions are important to ask.

‘How many other partners do they sleep with, and do they play safe each time?’

Complete Article HERE!

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7 Oral Sex Moves That Will Blow Your Mind

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Have you tried the two-tongue technique?

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What’s not awesome about getting oral sex? All you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. But while taking a totally hands-off approach can be blissful, it never hurts to know what you like (or want to try), and actually ask for it.

Oral sex is hot sex—and great oral can take your sex life to the next level,” says Jessica O’Reilly, Ph.D., host of the @SexWithDrJess Podcast.

And, of course, it increases the odds you’ll orgasm—clearly a big perk, says Rachel Needle, Psy.D., a sex therapist and licensed psychologist at the Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida.

Add these new moves to your repertoire (and clue your partner in, ASAP) to dial your experience up a notch.

The Tease

Teasing can be hot AF, which is why Needle recommends asking your partner to provoke you. “A lick here and a lick there, starting slowly and building intensity, can create anticipation, excitement, and increased pleasure,” she says.

The Lip Lock

Have your partner approach your vulva from the side and squeeze the inner lips between their lips, O’Reilly advises. While they’re doing this, they can run their tongue between the groove they’ve created while sucking on the area.

The Two-Tongue Technique

The goal with this one is to make your partner’s fingers feel like another tongue. Blindfold yourself (or have your partner blindfold you) and have them get their fingers soaking wet with lube, O’Reilly says. Then, encourage them to “lick” around your thighs, mons pubis (the fleshy tissue above your vulva), and outer labia with their fingers.

Have them move on to stroke your inner labia gently in an up and down motion with their wet fingers, using their real tongue in the mix, too. They can also use a flat, wet palm to stroke up and down over your vulva as they let out a heavy breath over your clitoris.

The Pocket

Have your S.O. place their palm flat against your mons pubis and bend their fingers down to press against the full width and length of your vulva, O’Reilly says. They can then slowly slide their fingers up and down while maintaining pressure against your vulva and clitoris. Your partner can also get some tongue action into the mix: Have them slip their tongue between the grooves of their fingers to tease your labia while their fingers go up and down.

The Sucker

Ask your partner to suck on your clitoris instead of just licking it. “Sucking allows for more deep pressure,” says Debra Laino, D.H.S., a sex therapist and clinical sexologist based in Delaware. She recommends having your S.O. start out gently and then increase the sucking pressure as you get aroused.

Breath Kisses

Dopamine levels are higher during the anticipation of pleasure than when you actually receive pleasure, O’Reilly says—that’s why she loves this move. It’s super simple: Have your partner breathe kisses all over your sensitive areas down there—your inner thighs, labia, etc. The goal is for them to hover their lips as close to the surface of your skin without actually touching it.

The Nose Job

The nose’s cartilage can actually do a lot for your vagina, which is why O’Reilly recommends having your partner rock their head back and forth, and up and down around your vulva. If your partner makes some noise while they’re down there, even better—the vibrations can feel amazing, she says.

Complete Article HERE!

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Finding power through play: How BDSM can fuel confidence

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By Emerald Bensadoun

Marianne LeBreton is suspended in mid-air, tied in an upside-down futumomo, legs bound together. The ropes cascade in intricate patterns, beginning at her ankles and working their way all the way around her wrists. The ropes arch her body backward. Her breathing steadies. Serenity washes through her. The slight discomfort of certain positions causes slow burns to spread across her body—but the pain is secondary to the relief. LeBreton becomes entrenched in a state of flow. Her mind is quiet. She’s enjoying the intensity, both emotionally and physically.

For LeBreton, bondage has become a meditative experience. When it comes to receiving pain, which she enjoys, it takes a certain focus and determination. LeBreton finds rope— especially Japanese rope bondage—to be particularly meditative. She equates BDSM to an empowering “sense of calm,” but it didn’t start out that way.

“What colour should it be?” thought LeBreton. She wanted her boyfriend to like it. As an 18-year-old student on a budget, it couldn’t be too expensive. For almost a week she scrolled through the internet until she finally came across what she was looking for. It was even in her price range. This was the one. Satisfied, she clicked “purchase.” LeBreton had just bought her first flogger—a whip with long tendrils coming out the end. “It felt like the beginning of something for me,” said LeBreton.

When asked about her first experience with BDSM, she grins from ear to ear, trying to visualize the details. “There wasn’t Fifty Shades of Grey but there was hentai,” she says. At the age of 13, LeBreton became fascinated with Bondage Fairies, an erotic manga about highly sexual, human-shaped female forest fairies with wings who work as hunters and police protecting the forest.

Now 30, LeBreton has an MA in sexology from Université du Québec à Montréal and owns KINK Toronto, an up-and-coming BDSM boutique in Toronto’s Annex. BDSM, she says, is about much more than pain—it’s about empowerment. LeBreton says we could use a little more playfulness in our lives. More sensuality. More discovery. “That’s usually what I hear from customers who are curious; they are excited and thrilled to be daring and to be doing this for themselves or their partners,” says LeBreton. “It’s definitely a journey of self-discovery and acceptance.” In her workshops, being naked and engaging in play publicly, she says, has helped with her confidence and body image.

In 2015, Christian Joyal, who has a PhD in psychology from the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, and his colleagues published a paper on fantasies; ranging from sex in a public places, to tying up a sexual partner, to watching same-gender sex and pornography. But there were also fantasies about being dominated sexually. These were present in 65 per cent of women and 53 per cent of men; dominating someone sexually, present in 47 per cent of women and 60 per cent of men; being tied up for sexual pleasure which appealed to 52 per cent of women and 46 per cent of men.

“From what we’ve seen, most people have a very strict image of what [BDSM] should look like, which is very restricting,” she says. BDSM, she notes, doesn’t have to involve leather. It doesn’t have to involve pain. Another mistake is attributing masculine or feminine traits to erotic behaviour. For many people, BDSM is a healthy way to express their sexuality and grain a sense of control in their lives and of their bodies.

In her workshops, being naked and engaging in play publicly, she says, has helped with her confidence and body image

When it comes to dominance and submission, negotiations, and boundaries, safety and consent are crucial. While the words “dominant” or “top” may conjure up images of complete control, those in the BDSM world know that the submissive, or “bottom” hold true power. “The bottom is the one who gets to decide what they would like, what they do not want, what their limits are,” says LeBreton, “It’s the top’s responsibility to follow that through. Of course some people have very specific kinks where it’s kind of like ‘I want you to take control.’ But that’s negotiated and within limits set by the bottom.”

Feeling in control can also be about letting go. Relinquishing that sense of control they exert in every other part of their lives can be therapeutic. For this reason, LeBreton says that men, especially those in positions of higher power, will often identify as submissives in the bedroom.

Alex Zalewski says he’s always been a little rough. But in a seven-year “vanilla” relationship, it was difficult to break routine. Months later, for the first time in Zalewski’s life, he felt horribly unsure of himself. He’d been flirting with a new girl for some time whose friends invited him to their apartment. But he was confused. “Spit in my mouth,” she demanded. “Slap me.” Zalewski was torn between arousal and inner turmoil. If there was one thing he’d ever been taught from a young age, it’s that good boys don’t hit women.

For Zalewski, empowerment is a quiet confidence, and feeling a level of control that builds pleasure from the knowledge that he is fulfilling his partners’ desires. Zalewski, who lives in Toronto’s downtown core, offers relationship and personal coaching for various clients in his spare time, but he doesn’t charge money for it. The women in his life kept asking him for advice on BDSM. He decided he would try his best. In 2016 he created Authentic Connections, to help people overcome their barriers in exchange for a relationship they’ve always wanted. His goal was to have someone open up to him enough about the types of barriers that were preventing his clients and their partners from having the sex life they wanted to have.

“What are your fantasies? What are your desires? What do you want out of your partner or partners?” He would ask them. Once he could get them to admit what they actually wanted, they would work out a plan. Develop themselves, develop their skills to be able to do the things that would help them achieve their goals. Zalewski says a lot of the time, this is the most difficult step for the people he’s met with. It’s hard for people to step outside their comfort zones sometimes, he says, because they’ve been conditioned into associating kink and BDSM with abuse and mental instability.

A person becomes curious in BDSM. They don’t tell their friends. Maybe they’re afraid of being ridiculed or judged. Maybe rejection. But maybe it’s none of those things. Maybe they just want to keep their personal life, personal.

In 2006, the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality published an article that compared BDSM practitioners to published norms on 10 psychological disorders. Compared to the normative samples, those who actively engage in BDSM had lower levels of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological sadism, psychological masochism, borderline pathology and paranoia.

But just because a person likes to be controlled in the bedroom doesn’t necessarily mean those needs translate into the real world and can have dangerous implications for parties involved.

Jen Chan was 16. Her boyfriend was 24. He was her dominant and she was his submissive. “That was generally the dynamic of how our relationship went,” she says. But chipping away at her self-esteem, her boyfriend would pressure her into doing things she wasn’t sure if she was comfortable with, and she would go along with them, afraid of appearing inexperienced and childish to her older boyfriend. While BDSM allows you to play out different scenarios from that of everyday life, she says her first experience with dominance and submission was just an extension of the life she already had.

It’s hard for people to step outside their comfort zones sometimes, he says, because they’ve been conditioned into associating kink and BDSM with abuse and mental instability.

After their relationship ended, Chan says it took her several years until she felt confident enough to engage in BDSM again. Coming out as queer, she says, has also made all the difference. Chan now identifies as a switch, which is someone who enjoys partaking in both dominant and submissive roles, or both topping and bottoming.

“There is something very staged, controlled and intentional about BDSM, at least that’s the way I interact with it,” says Chan, who adds that her empowerment with BDSM lies in feeling like she’s doing something adventurous in an environment of her choice. Feeling satisfied sexually, she says, has made her feel more confident in the real world.

Is what you’re doing safe? Is what you’re doing consensual? Zalewski says risk awareness, the amount of risk a person is comfortable taking in order to attain the pleasure plays a large role in BDSM. From flesh hook suspension to unprotected sex, it’s important to understand the personal level of risk you are comfortable with when it comes to the acts you want to perform.

Chan says that while engaging in BDSM gave her the opportunity to try new things and step into new roles, most importantly, it allowed her to reclaim control, sexually. As a person begins to immerse themselves in BDSM, Chan says, they start to learn more about what makes them comfortable, where their boundaries lie, all while pushing themselves to continually learn new things—and to her, that’s all empowerment really is.

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