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Sex And Catholic Moral Theology

For those of you who don’t already know, I’m contributing to the Fearless Press site.


I’m writing a series of articles on Catholic Moral Theology. Look for the series HERE!

How your relationship with your mother can impact your sex life

Women and girls who have closer relationships with their mothers are likely to lose their virginity later in life

Women and girls who have closer relationships with their mothers are likely to lose their virginity later in life

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According to a study published in Paediatrics magazine, women and girls who have closer relationships with their mothers are likely to lose their virginity later in life. Of the 3,000 women questioned, 44 per cent who reported having a ‘high quality relationship’ with their mothers also reported having sex for the first time after the age of 16.

Why?

The obvious explanation is that having a healthy mother-daughter relationship gives you a stronger start in life. A parent who educates their child about sex, in an open and honest way, has been proven over and over again to have more sexually secure children.

Sex therapist Vanessa Marin  explains: “This study is yet another piece of proof that it’s important for parents to talk to their children about sex and sexuality throughout a child’s entire life. There are age appropriate ways to talk about sex at every stage of a child’s development. The more information a child has the better prepared they are to make healthy designs for themselves.”

002Anecdotally, the evidence certainly seems to stack up. When I asked friends, their answers seemed to echo my experiences: those who weren’t particularly rebellious waited until they had left school or even until after university for their first sexual experiences. While those who had screaming rows with their mums, did it earlier. After all, having sex is the ultimate two fingers up to your parents, right?

Stephanie, 24, told me: ‘I was 14 when I lose my virginity, and I wasn’t very close to my mum. We certainly clashed a lot in my teens. I’m not entirely sure about the connection but I think there was an aspect of misbehaving. Also, from a young age most of my closest and most trusting relationships were outside of my family, which made me feel very grown-up and independent. Looking back, I see a very vulnerable and silly girl – though I don’t especially regret when I started having sex.’

Emancipation is a big deal for teens. Whether they’re dying their hair pink, getting forbidden piercings or having sex –  the motivation is largely the same. Its about distancing oneself from childhood and pushing parental boundaries.

It’s no surprise, then, that if you’re not close to your mother the temptation to take that road would come earlier.

That process of emancipation has been heralded as a bad thing. Being a ‘wild child’ is something to worry about – a sign that parenting has gone wrong. That you’ve failed.

Is it really any healthier to cling on to your childhood?

Is it really any healthier to cling on to your childhood?

But is that really the case? We’re concerned for teens who experiment with sex or alcohol, but is it really any healthier to cling on to your childhood?

Alexandra, 32, told me that she lost her virginity aged 23. “As the youngest child of the family,  I think that my relationship with my mum was a big part of why I lost my virginity relatively late. I didn’t want to make her sad by ‘growing up’. I really think that was a huge issue for me.

“It wasn’t that I thought it would disappoint her morally, but that I was somehow worried it would break our bond. It felt like [by having sex] I was bringing about change and getting closer to growing up and apart from her.”

Alexandra’s experience was as a result of a close and happy relationship with her mum, but a deep connection between mothers and daughters isn’t always positive.

“I grew up very close to my mother,” Emma, 31, told me. ” She taught me that sex was a special, sacred thing between a man and woman who loved each other. She also taught me that a certain type of woman has multiple sexual partners, and that those women would probably end up in hell. She taught me and my sisters that sex was something that women had done to them by men.

“So I waited to have sex until I was engaged, and even then I felt like I’d failed her. We’re still close, but if I’m honest, I resent the way that she treated sex. It made me lose my virginity later, but it didn’t make me happy.”

001In researching this article, I had a moment of clarity about my own experience. My mother took a prosaic attitude towards teenage sex, keeping the lines of communication open and regularly offering me contraceptive options. But I didn’t start having sex until I was almost 19.

Why did I wait? I saw losing my virginity as an ending – severing my attachment to being a child and taking me away from my mother.

I have written before about how harmful the concept of ‘virginity’ is. But this article is the first time that I’ve really questioned how the concept affected me personally.

Years later, I now know that ‘losing your virginity’ is  no bigger milestone than, say, finishing your university degree or taking your first solo trip abroad. Yes, it’s an exciting new experience, but it’s not a ‘loss’ of anything. It’s just having tried something new for the first time. Looking back, I feel angry on behalf of my teenage self who was so scared that by giving in to perfectly natural instincts she would be forfeiting her maternal relationship.

Women who are closer to their mums may well have sex later in life. But it doesn’t add up to having got it right – anymore than having a daughter who had sex in her early teens means you’ve got it wrong.

Complete Article HERE!

Long-term relationships may reduce women’s sex drive

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Female sexual function is an important component of a woman’s sexual health and overall well-being. New research examines the relation between female sexual functioning and changes in relationship status over time.

Female sexual functioning is influenced by many factors, from a woman’s mental well-being to age, time, and relationship quality.

Studies show that sexual dysfunction is common among women, with approximately 40 million American women reporting sexual disorders.

A large study of American adults between the ages 18-59 suggests that women are more likely to experience sexual dysfunction than men, with a 43 percent and 31 percent likelihood, respectively.

Treatment options for sexual dysfunction in women have been shown to vary in effectiveness, and the causes of female sexual dysfunction still seem to be poorly understood.

New research sheds light on the temporal stability of female sexual functioning by looking at the relationship between various female sexual functions and relationship status over a long period of time.

Studying the link between relationship status and female sexual desire

Previous studies that examined sexual functions in women did not look at temporal stability and possible interactions between different female sexual functions.

But researchers from the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University – both in Finland – looked at the evolution of female sexual desire over a period of 7 years.

The new study was led by Ph.D. candidate in psychology Annika Gunst, from the University of Turku, and the results were published in the Psychological Medicine science journal.

Researchers examined 2,173 premenopausal Finnish women from two large-scale data collections, one in 2006 and the other 7 years later, in 2013.

Scientists used the Female Sexual Function Index – a short questionnaire that measures specific areas of sexual functioning in women, such as sexual arousal, orgasm, sexual satisfaction, and the presence of pain during intercourse.

Researchers took into consideration the possible effects of age and relationship duration.

The average age of the participants at the first data collection was 25.5 years. Given that the mean age was quite low and the average age of menopause is much later, at 51 years, the researchers did not think it necessary to account for the possible effects of hormonal changes.

Relationship status influences sexual desire over time

Of the functions examined, women’s ability to orgasm was the most stable over the 7-year period, while sexual satisfaction was the most variable.

The ability to have an orgasm improved across all groups during the study, with single women experiencing the greatest improvement.

Women with a new partner had a slightly lower improvement in orgasmic ability than single women, but a higher improvement than women who had been in the same relationship over the 7-year period.

The study found that women who had stayed in the same monogamous relationship over the entire 7-year observation period experienced the greatest decrease in sexual desire.

By contrast, women who had found a new partner over the study duration experienced lower decreases in sexual desire.

Women who were single at the end of the observation period reported stable sexual desire.

According to the researchers, relationship-specific factors or partner-specific factors that have no connection with the duration of the relationship do have an impact on women’s sexual functions. Consequently, healthcare professionals should account for partner-specific factors when they treat sexual dysfunction in women.

However, researchers also point out that sexual function needs to be further examined in a short-term study to have a better understanding of the diversity in sexual function variation.

Strengths and limitations of the study

Researchers point out the methodological strengths of the study, as well as its limitations.

Firstly, because the study was longitudinal, it reduced the so-called recall bias, meaning that participants reported their own experience with higher accuracy.

The study also benefited from a large study sample, validated measures, and structural equation modeling, which reduces errors in measurement.

However, the authors note that the long 7-year timeframe may not account for short-term fluctuations, and varying sexual functions may interact differently when studied over a long period of time.

The study did not examine sexual dysfunctions.

Finally, the authors mention that they did not have access to data about cohabitation, or about the duration of singlehood.

Complete Article HERE!

A graphic history of sex: ‘There is no gene that drives sexuality. All sexuality is learned’

Changes in sexuality over time have made the modern family what it is. What next? Homa Khaleeli asks the authors of a groundbreaking graphic guide, The Story of Sex

The Story of Sex … some images from the book. Illustration: Laetitia Coryn

The Story of Sex … some images from the book. Illustration: Laetitia Coryn

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Philip Larkin famously announced that sexual intercourse began in 1963 (“Between the end of the ‘Chatterley’ ban / And the Beatles’ first LP”). Being French, and a psychiatrist to boot, Philippe Brenot takes a rather longer view. In his latest book, The Story of Sex, a bestseller in France, he runs an anthropological eye over the sexual mores of human societies from prehistoric times to today. Yet Brenot believes that the sexual revolution did spark a dramatic change, creating the modern couple, which is the basis of our families today. Now, however, he thinks this partnership of equals is under assault from all sides.

The academic, who has the wonderful title of director of sexology at Paris Descartes University, has spent his life studying sexuality. The Story of Sex is an irreverent, graphic novel (in both senses), filled with fascinating – if alarming – history. Cleopatra used a vibrator filled with bees; the word “trousers” was considered to be positively pornographic in Victorian England. Illustrator Laetitia Coryn’s extremely cheeky, but never sordid, pictures liven up the page and keep the narrative zipping along. The book was a real collaboration, says Coryn, who says it was made easier by Brenot’s firm ideas – and the fact he liked her jokes.

The illustrator admits she hesitated slightly over collaborating on the book. “I told my publisher we have to be careful with the drawings and with the jokes – we have to be sensitive,” she says, because she wanted the book to have as wide an audience as possible. “I didn’t put any porn in it!” As a reader, however, the frankness of the pictures still shocked me (you, er, might not want to whip out the book on public transport or in the office).

philippe-brenot-and-laeticia-cory

Philippe Brenot and Laeticia Cory.

Talking to Brenot over the phone (through charmingly accented English that becomes somewhat eccentric as he struggles with the complexities of his ideas) it’s impossible to escape the psychiatrist’s anxiety about our attitudes to love and intimacy today. We have never been freer to define our own relationships, and follow our own pleasure, he says, but despite this we are far from satisfied; and the modern couple is looking dangerously fragile.

“It’s incredible the difficulties couples have,” Brenot declares, in a tone that makes me imagine he is throwing his hands in the air in despair. Of the couples he sees in therapy, he says, “there is nothing wrong with them psychologically, but still they cannot communicate quietly, live calmly and have sexual fulfilment”.

While we think of lovers as a timeless relationship model, it has been the family that has been paramount in society for most of history, the 68-year-old says. “The couple used to get together for the sake of the family,” he explains. And the idea of equality in long-term pairings is even more recent, with “traditional” marriages putting men firmly in charge of their spouses.

“Love marriages have only been widespread for a century or so, and homosexuality was condemned until very recently,” Brenot notes.

“Since the 1970s, we have begun to invent modern couples with respect for each other and equality between the sexes,” he says. “This only came about after ‘marriage’ as a concept began dying out. Not because people stopped getting married, but because marriage stopped being seen as a sacred union – couples instead started developing on their own terms.”

Yet the rise in divorces since the 1970s and breakups of long-term relationships shows that the modern couple is not surviving, Brenot argues. In part, he says, this is because we are demanding more than ever before.

“It is difficult to live intimately, because we want perfect love and perfect sex and that is very difficult in a long-term relationship. We want a lot more than a reliable person to raise kids with.”

The solution, he says, is for us all to learn more about sex – which is where his book comes in. “It’s not possible to understand our intimate sex lives without looking at centuries of history, and even the origins of human life,” he says. “We understand what we live today if we understand from where we came.”

For instance, he says, if we look at the way relationships were formed in early human societies we can see echoes of our own problems. “We came from primates, but in chimp society there are never couples or families. There are lone males and females with children.” It was only as our brains evolved and emotions developed – including love – that monogamous relationships set in. For the first time (“somewhere between 1 million BC and 100,000BC”), it was possible to know the paternity of a child.

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While the beginning of family life may sound like a wonderful moment, Brenot argues that it was also the start of women’s subjugation, with men taking possession of their female partner and offspring – which traditional marriage legalised. “Paternity is the beginning of male domination,” says Brenot simply. “The day that happened, men took possession of women.”

In the animal kingdom, Brenot argues, there is none of the domination of female partners that has been a hallmark of human societies through history, nor is there domestic violence. Instead, among animals “males fight against other males and females fight with other females,” he says.

“Violence between men and women is only in humans – because of marriage, which puts men above women.”

During antiquity, meanwhile, a woman’s role was to provide a child – and female sexual pleasure was dismissed. But this role was also a dangerous one. “There were so many impediments to female pleasure. In the 18th and 19th centuries, one in six pregnant women died in childbirth. Then there were the infections and sexual violence.”

For men, of course, things were different. “Men have always done what they wanted,” says Brenot.

Even for men, sex for pleasure was something that happened “outside the home – for instance with prostitutes. Women were seen either to provide offspring or pleasure.” In ancient Rome, these rules were so strictly upheld that women could take their husbands to court for ejaculating anywhere but inside her body during intercourse, “because sex within marriage was for procreation, and the wife’s role was to receive sperm”.

Even during periods that today we think of as being golden ages for same-sex relationships, such pleasures were “reserved for the elite” – and the reality was often less accepting than we think. In ancient Greece, for instance, it was only the man who was “receiving” who was not stigmatised in a pairing. Similarly for the libertines in the 18th century, “there was a fluid sexuality, but it was also the top end of society – the intelligentsia and aristocracy. Throughout the centuries and the world’s rural populations, to be gay – or for women to have control of their own sexuality – has always been frowned upon.”

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Today too, Brenot argues, while much has been written about more people exploring fluid sexualities, entering polyamorous relationships and breaking down gender norms, “we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that this is trickling down to all sections of society”. And he warns too about a backlash from “new moralists” who oppose gay marriage, and will, no doubt, do the same for trans rights and alternative relationships as they gain more legal rights. Coryn says this is one of the reasons she enjoyed creating the book. “In France, people who don’t want gay people to be married, is a huge phenomenon. It’s awful. We say in the book this is a misunderstanding of sexuality; homosexuality is normal. I hope this is one topic on which people will change their mind in reading the book.”

For heterosexual couples, relationships began to look up about the time of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Up until this period, “men were having fun outside the home – hunting animals or chasing women. While women were always at home,” says Brenot. But the new spirit of education and the pursuit of knowledge changed this. Finally, says Brenot, men and women could be friends and even have platonic love.

Yet it took contraception for men and women to gain a semblance of equality. Previously “women were immobilised by marriage. They can’t get out of it, they don’t have the possibility of working or being free. The story of sex is, first of all, the story of marriage and the difficulties [it creates] for women.”

To start combating the problems that these historical inequalities have left us with, the psychiatrist insists, we need better sexual education, and one that starts at an early age. “People think sexuality is just an instinct,” he says, “that it is natural like eating and drinking. No. There is no gene that drives sexuality. All sexuality is learned.”

Because of this, says Brenot, the models for our sexuality are very important. Today, talking about sex is still taboo, and the dissemination of pornography has filled the void. “People say pornography changes adolescent life. But it changes everyone’s sexuality,” he says. “We have sex differently now; we try to imitate what we see [on our screens]. People feel bad and say, ‘I can’t do what they do.’”

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To displace this dangerous model, “sexual education should teach the rules that should govern relationships; it should teach us about communication, about consent and respect. This is not natural [to us]. We have to learn this.”

Coryn says that while the Story of Sex is not a sexual education manual, “we wanted it to be uninhibited”, to make talking about sex seem as natural as it should be.

“From the time children are little girls and boys, we have to teach them that everyone should be respected and to start accepting difference,” says Brenot. But, he says, while men and women are equal, that does not mean that they are the same. Railing against the teaching of “gender studies” departments, he says that a refusal to admit this difference is allowing gender inequality to become entrenched.

“They say, ‘Don’t speak of differences – a man is the same as a woman. Society is guilty of making differences, but underneath we are the same.’”

Unpicking these ideas, he says, is the only way to combat our most pressing problems. For example, “physical strength is different from a very young age. So [children] need to understand boys are stronger and take that into account – because that is the start of domestic violence, which is a real problem.”

If we leave this teaching too late, he says, the battle is already lost: “In children’s fairy stories it is the boy who seduces the girl, so there is power play early on.” Then there is the fact men have always been free to have multiple partners throughout history, because men don’t get pregnant. It is only by introducing the idea early on that “contraception is a joint responsibility” that we can challenge this.

Today’s modern couple, he points out, faces new challenges from the rise in options for dating to “new forms of relationship,” says Brenot. Yet Coryn stresses, as does Brenot, that there has never been a better time for people to live in terms of sexuality. Yet one thing has not changed, says Brenot – everyone still wants to find somebody to love. “People are afraid to be alone at the end of their life. They are afraid not to find the perfect person to live with. It is a difficult problem for everyone today.

“We have to learn how to live together anew.”

Complete Article HERE!

Screw Science: The Futuristic Sex Tech Aiming to Penetrate Your Bedroom

From fully customizable vibrators to bioelectronic headsets, smart sex toys are on the way up. But does personal pleasure necessarily make for better health?

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Pleasure is personal, mostly because it has to be, and not least because female scientists continue to face grinding discrimination regardless of their area of research. And when it comes to sexual health, breakthroughs are few and far between: in spite of increasing documentation of associated health risks, birth control hasn’t really been reformulated since the 60s, and last year’s much-anticipated release of Addyi, a pill meant to fix female sexual dysfunction, only worked for ten percent of the women who tried it.

It’s clear that sexual emancipation has not yet been freed from the bedroom. In spite of its roots in scientific misogyny—the vibrator was developed in the 19th century to cure women of hysteria, after all—a swathe of new devices have people looking hopefully to sex tech (or sextech, as it is also known) as the answer to systemic gaps in sexual health. History, it seems, is coming full circle; where the 1960s saw the vibrator de-medicalized and uncoupled from science, today’s consumer market is beginning to see pleasure and health unified in the pursuit of wellness. Yet what we call “sex tech” is tied more to the lucrative sex toy industry—worth $15 billion this year—than it is to scientific institutions, with much of its promise linked to idea that personal pleasure makes for better health.

These days, more people than ever understand that a woman’s ability to understand what turns her on and why is a crucial step in developing a healthy perspective on her sexual life. So it makes sense that we’re seeking out masturbatory experiences that are more tailored than your average stand-in phallus. It’s the driving force behind the popularity of devices like Crescendo, the first-ever fully customizable vibrator, which raised £1.6 million in funding to date and shipped out over 1,000 pre-orders after a successful crowdfunding round.

Designed to cater to the inherent complexities of female arousal, the vibrator can be finely customized, equipped with six motors and the ability to be bent into any favorable shape. An accompanying app allows users to control each motor individually; it remembers favorite behaviors, provides pre-set vibration patterns, and responds to mood-setting music.

“We were inspired by the concept of tech designed for the human, rather than the human having to adapt their behaviour to tech,” says Stephanie Alys, the co-founder of Crescendo creators Mysteryvibe. “Human beings aren’t just unique in terms of our size and how we’re put together genetically, but also in terms of what we like. What turns us on can be different from what turns another person on.”

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Mysteryvibe’s flagship product is the Crescendo, a customizable sex toy.

But in spite of the life-improving promises of consumer sex tech, the reality is that official, peer-reviewed studies remain crucial to reforming policy and education. Founded by Dr. Nicole Prause, Liberos Center is one of the few sex-centric research institutions in the United States. Much of its work investigates the relationship between psychology, physiology, and sex, with an emphasis on the hard data that is often lacking in sex tech.

Liberos presses on in a particularly antagonistic climate; the American government is famously skittish about sexual content. Sexual material is banned from government-funded computers, says Prause, making it difficult for researchers to, say, screen porn to test subjects as part of a study on arousal. She adds that congressional bodies actively seek to pull funding from research that addresses the topic head-on—four recent studies that had already been awarded funding were re-opened for assessment because of their sexual content.

“People report having certain types of experiences all the time,” says Prause. “But they’re often poor observers of their own behaviour, and don’t see anyone’s behaviour but their own. They don’t really have that external perspective, which is why I think it’s important to take both a psychological and laboratory approach. For example, in science, people haven’t been verifying that orgasm actually occurs. So we’ve been developing an objective way of measuring that, and of measuring the effects of clitoral stimulation—on how to best capture the contractions that occur through the orgasm.”

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Liberos is also investigating the effect of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and direct current stimulation (tDCS) on sexual responsiveness. Both are non-invasive treatments, meaning anyone seeking a cure for low libido may not require anything more than the use of a headset. TMS holds potential for long-term changes to a person’s sex drive; the technique, which uses a magnetic field generator to produce small electrical currents in the brain, has already been used to treat neuropathic pain and otherwise stubborn cases of major depressive disorder. DCS, on the other hand, uses a headset to deliver a low-intensity electrical charge, stimulating the brain areas where activity spikes at the sight, or touch, of a turn-on.

If using the brain’s electrical signals to control the rest of the body sounds like a dystopian fantasy, the reality is that these medical treatments aren’t far off. Bioelectronic firms are now backed by the likes of Glaxosmithkline and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and similar applications have already been established for hypertension and sleep apnea, while chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, and arthritis are targeted for future development.

According to Dr. Karen E. Adams, clinical professor of OBGYN at Oregon Health and Science University, anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of women experience varying degrees of sexual dysfunction. Medication that targets neurotransmitters, like the SSRIs used to treat depression and anxiety, can fluctuate in efficacy depending on the unique makeup of the person using it.

Combined with the trickiness of locking down the nebulousness of desire (and lack thereof), it’s no wonder that Addyi, a failed antidepressant pursued because of its unexpected effect on serotonin levels in female mice, was a flop. Non-sex-specific studies have shown that electrical stimulation can be more adaptive to the brain’s constantly-shifting landscape than medication that interacts with its chemistry. For the 90 percent of women who found Addyi to be a sore disappointment, bioelectronic treatments could soon offer an alternative solution to low sexual responsivity.

“By giving women information about their bodies that they can decide what to do with, we’re enabling more female empowerment,” says Prause. “And by allowing women to decide which aspects of sex they want to be more responsive to, we’re giving people more control, and not with charlatan claims. We actually have good scientific reasons that we think are going to work, that are going to make a difference.”

Yet the field’s burgeoning successes are only as good as the social environment they take hold in. Sociopolitical hurdles notwithstanding, money remains a significant roadblock for developers, as the controversial nature of sex research has many investors shying away from backing new projects in spite of consumer interest. Whether they’re seeking government funding or VC investments, sex start-ups and labs alike are often forced to turn to crowdfunding to raise money for development.

“It’s pretty unsurprising that heavily female-oriented tech products do so well on crowdfunding sites; these are solutions to problems faced by half of the population, that are overlooked by a male-dominated industry where male entrepreneurs are 86 percent more likely to be VC funded than women,” says Katy Young, behavioral analyst at research firm Canvas8. “But the audience is clearly there—Livia, a device which targets nerves in order to stop period pains, raised over $1 million on Indiegogo.”

Outdated sex ed programs, which emphasize procreation and normalize straight male sexuality without addressing female sexual development, are ground zero for unhealthy social perspectives on sex. Acknowledging that change can’t just come from devices alone, New York’s Unbound, a luxury sex toy subscription service, is teaming up with “campus sexpert” app Tabù to bring both sex education and affordable masturbation tools to colleges across the country.

“There’s a national discussion right now surrounding consent, which is 100 percent needed and super important,” says Polly Rodriguez, CEO and co-founder of Unbound. “But for women to be able to engage in sex and address consent as equals, they need to learn about female pleasure—they should understand their own bodies so that when they are engaging in sexual activities with someone else, they know what feels good to them, they know how to communicate that, and they don’t feel uncomfortable about it.”

It’s tempting to buy into the idea of tech as freeing: that the increased presence of smart devices in our lives will help us form healthier habits and a better understanding of our ourselves, or that the availability of medically-approved tech will be a panacea in the intricately fraught landscape of female sexual dysfunction—which is as socially determined as it is biological, and as cultural as it is psychological.

But sex tech is still far from being paradigm-shifting. Its success will be dependent not only on consumer dollars but on government policies and public attitudes; at a level of engagement this intimate, tech is only any good if people feel free to use it.

Complete Article HERE!