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Reality Check: Anal Sex

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First it was shocking, then it was having a cultural moment, now it’s practically standard in the modern bedroom repertoire—or so a quick scan of any media, from porn to HBO, will tell you. But the reality about anal is not, actually, that everyone’s doing it, says research psychoanalyst and author Paul Joannides, Psy.D., whose comprehensive book on sexuality, The Guide to Getting it On!, is used in college and medical school sex-ed courses across the US and Canada. The book is amazing not just for its straight-up factual information on practically any aspect of sex you can think of, but also for its easy, nonjudgmental, at-times humorous tone.

The CDC reports that the number of heterosexual men and women who’ve tried it vacillates between 30 and 40 percent (oddly, the CDC doesn’t report on how many homosexual men have tried it, except in a statistic that weirdly combines it with oral). If anal turns you on, you are definitely not alone, but its prevalence doesn’t change the fact that it’s the riskiest sexual behavior in terms of HIV and other STDs. Here, Joannides talks us through the realities of making anal both as safe and as pleasurable as possible.


A Q&A with Paul Joannides, Psy.D.

Q

When did heterosexual anal start to become a thing?

A

In the 80’s, I remember hearing from a friend that he had a videotape of anal porn. This seemed shocking at the time. (This was pre-Netflix: Everything was on videotape, from porn to Disney movies to highlights from the Olympics. Video rental stores were everywhere.) I’m not sure there are too many middle schoolers today who would be shocked or even surprised to watch anal sex on Pornhub or Xhamster.

Since porn became as easy to access as YouTube, porn producers have had to fight for clicks, and so porn has become more extreme. I’d say that by 2005, porn had totally blurred the distinction between a woman’s anus and vagina. This wasn’t because women were begging their lovers for anal, it’s because porn producers were afraid you’d click on someone else’s porn if they weren’t upping the ante in terms of shock value.


Q

Does the popularity of anal in porn reflect reality in both homosexual and heterosexual couples?

A

No. There are some couples who enjoy anal sex a lot, maybe 10 percent to 15 percent of all straight couples. But if you ask them how often they have anal vs. vaginal intercourse, they’ll say maybe they have anal one time for every five or ten times they have vaginal intercourse. We occasionally, as in once a year, hear from women who say they have anal as often as vaginal, but that’s unusual.

As for gay men, statistics vary widely, and studies aren’t always consistent in how they collect data—some might be looking at different levels of frequency, i.e. have you had anal once in the past year, or do you have it regularly? I’ve seen studies suggesting that 65 percent of men have anal sex, and others that suggest the figure is less than 50 percent. So, I don’t have exact figures for hetero or homosexual couples, but there is data suggesting that a good percentage of gay men would rather give and receive blowjobs than have anal sex.


Q

How should we modify the anal sex we see modeled in porn to best suit an in-real-life couple?

A

The way the rectum curves shortly after the opening tells us we need to make a lot of adjustments for anal to feel good. Also, the two sets of sphincter muscles that nature placed around the opening of the anus to help humans maintain their dignity when in crowded spaces (to keep poop from dropping out) mean there’s an automatic reflex if you push against them from the outside.

So one of the first things a woman or man needs to do if they want to be on the receiving end of anal sex is to teach their sphincter muscles to relax enough that a penis can get past their gates. This takes a lot of practice.

Also, unlike the vagina, the anus provides no lubrication. So in addition to teaching the sphincters to relax, and in addition to getting the angle right so you don’t poke the receiver in the wall of the rectum, you need to use lots of lube.

They show none of this in porn. Nor do they show communication, feedback, or trust. Couples who do not have excellent sexual communication, who don’t freely give and receive feedback about what feels good and what doesn’t, and who don’t have a high level of trust should not be having anal sex.


Q

What are the health risks of anal?

A

A woman has a 17-times-greater risk of getting HIV and AIDS from receiving anal intercourse than from having vaginal intercourse. So your partner needs to be wearing a condom and using lots of lube, unless both of you are true-blue monogamous, with no sexual diseases. Any sexually transmitted infection can be transmitted and received in the anus. Because of the amount of trauma the anus and rectum receive during anal intercourse, the likelihood of getting a sexually transmitted infection is higher than with vaginal intercourse.

Unprotected anal sex, regardless of whether it is practiced by straight or gay couples, is considered the riskiest activity for sexually transmitted diseases because of the physical design of the anus: It is narrow, it does not self-lubricate, and the skin is more fragile and likely to tear, allowing STDs such as HIV and hepatitis easy passage into the bloodstream.


Q

Are those risks all mitigated by the use of condoms and lube, or are there still issues, even beyond that?

A

The risks are substantially reduced by the use of condoms and lube as long as they are used correctly, but you won’t find too many condoms that say “safe for anal sex” because the FDA has not cleared condoms for use in anal sex. That said, research indicates that regular condoms hold up as well as thicker condoms for anal sex, so there’s nothing to be gained from getting heavy-duty condoms.

As for using the female condom for anal sex—studies report more slippage and more pain than with regular condoms.

Do not use numbing lube, and do not have anal sex while drunk or stoned. Pain is an important indicator that damage can occur if you don’t make the necessary adjustments, including stopping. If there is pain, perhaps try replacing a penis with a well lubed and gloved finger. The glove will help your finger glide more easily, and might be more pleasurable for the person on the receiving end. Also, this allows a woman to do anal play on a male partner. (When it comes to anal sex, what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.)


Q

Are there known health consequences of anal practiced over the long-term? Can you do it too much?

A

One of the urology consultants for my book believes that unprotected anal sex can be a way for bacteria to get into the man’s prostate gland. He prefers the person with the penis that’s going into the other person’s butt use a condom.

Also, small chunks of fecal matter can lodge into the man’s urethra. So if the couple has vaginal intercourse following anal intercourse without a condom, the male partner should pee first in addition to washing his penis with soap and water.


Q

Do pre-anal enemas make a difference in terms of health safety? What about preventing accidents?

A

I know of no studies on the relationship between pre-anal enemas and health outcomes. As for its general wisdom, people seem as divided on that as on politics in Washington. So I would say, to each her own. Also, some people use a “short shot,” which is a quick enema with one of those bulb devices instead of using a bag and going the full nine yards. In any case, accidents are likely to happen at one time or another.


Q

What tests should people be getting if they practice anal?

A

There’s “should” and there’s reality. If I were on the receiving end of anal sex, I would want to be sure my partner did not have HIV before I’d even let him get close to my bum with his penis.


Q

Probably more people try anal today than in the past—are there ways to make a first experience a good one?

A

Both of you should read all you can about it first. Spend a few weeks helping the receiving partner train her/his anal sphincters to relax. Make sure you and your partner have great sexual communication, trust, and that you both want to do it, as opposed to one trying to pressure the other, or not wanting to do it but doing it because you are afraid your partner will find someone else who will. Do not do it drunk or stoned, and do not use lube that numbs your anus. If it doesn’t feel good when it’s happening, stop.


Q

Do people orgasm from anal stimulation? Is it common or uncommon?


A

Some women say they have amazing orgasms from anal, but usually they will be stimulating their clitoris at the same time.


Q

Does it usually take a few tries to enjoy anal? Are there positions that make it easiest?

A

It depends on how much you are willing to work on training the receptive partner’s anal sphincters to relax, how good your communication is, how much trust there is, and probably on the width or girth of the dude’s penis. Common sense would tell you it should go way better if a guy is normal-sized as opposed to porn-sized.


Q

What should we be telling our kids about anal?

A

We don’t tell them about the clitoris, about women’s orgasms, about masturbation, about the importance of exploring a partner’s body, and learning from each other. We don’t tell them that much of what they see in porn is unreal, and we don’t talk to them about the importance of mutual consent. So I don’t see anal being at the top of most parents’ “should talk to our kids about” lists. There are more important things we need to be talking about first.

Paul Joannides, Psy.D. is a psychoanalyst, researcher, and author of the acclaimed Guide to Getting it On!, which is now in its ninth edition and is used in college courses across the country. He’s also written for Psychology Today Magazine and authors his own sex-focused blog, Guide2Getting.com. Dr. Joannides has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Sexual Medicine and the American Journal of Sexuality Education, and was granted the Professional Standard of Excellence Award from The American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists. Joannides also lectures widely about sex and sexuality on college campuses.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why men and women lie about sex, and how this complicates STD control

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When it comes to reporting the number of sex partners or how often they have sexual intercourse, men and women both lie. While men tend to overreport it, women have a tendency to underreport it. Although the story is not that simple and clear-cut, I have discovered some interesting reasons why this is the case – and why it matters to doing research on sexual health.

Lying is an inherent aspect of reporting sexual behaviors. For instance, more females report being a virgin (i.e., had not had sexual intercourse) despite having had genital contact with a partner, compared to males.

I have studied sexual avoidance and also frequency of sex in patient populations. In this regard I have always been interested in gender differences in what they do and what they report. This is in line with my other research on gender and sex differences.

The low validity and usefulness of self-reported sexual behavior data is very bad news for public health officials. Sexual behavior data should be both accurate and reliable, as they are paramount for effective reproductive health interventions to prevent HIV and STD. When men and women misreport their sexual behaviors, it undermines program designers’ and health care providers’ ability to plan appropriately.

Pregnant virgins, and STDs among the abstinent

A very clear example is the proportion of self-reported virginal status among pregnant women. In a study of multi-ethnic National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, also known as Add Health, a nationally representative study of American youth, 45 women of 7,870 women reported at least one virgin pregnancy.

Another example is the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) which are not expected among young adults reporting sexual abstinence. Yet more than 10 percent of young adults who had a confirmed positive STD reported abstaining from any sexual intercourse in the last year before STD testing.

If we ask youth who have had sexual experience, only 22 percent of them report the same date of first sex the second time we ask about it. On average, people revise their (reported) age at first sex to older ages the second time. Boys have higher inconsistency reporting their first sex compared to females. Males are more likely than females to give inconsistent sexual information globally.

Why don’t people tell the truth about sex?

Why do people lie about their sexual behavior? There are many reasons. One is that people underreport stigmatized activities, such as having multiple sexual partners among women. They overreport the normative ones, such as higher frequency of sex for men. In both cases, people think their actual behavior would be considered socially unacceptable. This is also called social desirability or social approval bias.

Social desirability bias causes problems in health research. It reduces reliability and validity of self-reported sexual behavior data. Simply said, social desirability helps us look good.

As gender norms create different expectations about socially acceptable behavior of men and women, males and females face pressures in reporting certain (socially accepted) behaviors.

In particular, self-reports on premarital sexual experience is of poor quality. Also self-reports of infidelity are less valid.

Although most studies suggest these differences are due to the systematic tendency of men and women to exaggerate and hide their number of partners, there are studies that suggest much of this difference is driven by a handful of men and women who grossly inflate and underreport their sexual encounters.

Even married couples lie

Men and women also lie when we ask them who is making sexual decisions regarding who has more power when it comes to sexual decision-making.

We do not expect disagreement when we ask the same question from husbands and wives in the same couples. But, interestingly, there is a systematic disagreement. More interestingly, in most cases when spouses disagree, husbands are more likely to say “yes” and wives “no.” The findings are interpreted in terms of gendered strategies in the interview process.

Not all of the gender differences in reported sexual behaviors are due to men’s and women’s selective under- and over- reporting of sexual acts. And, some of the sexual behaviors do vary by gender. For instance, men have more sex than women, and men less commonly use condoms. Men have more casual partners, regardless of the validity of their report.

Secretive females, swaggering males

Studies have found that on average, women report fewer nonmarital sexual partners than men, as well as more stable longer relationships. This is in line with the idea that in general men “swagger” (i.e., exaggerate their sexual activity), while women are “secretive” (i.e., underreport sex).

Structural factors such as social norms shape men’s and women’s perceptions of appropriate sexual behaviors. Society expects men to have more sexual partners, and women to have fewer sexual partners.

According to the sexual double standard, the same sexual behavior is judged differently depending on the gender of the (sexual) actor (Milhausen and Herold 2001). Interestingly, men are more likely to endorse a double standard than women.

In the presence of sexual double standards, males are praised for their sexual contacts, whereas females are derogated and stigmatized for the same behaviors, “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut.”

Research suggests that lifetime sexual partnerships affect peer status of genders differently. A greater number of sexual partners is positively correlated with boys’ peer acceptance, but negatively correlated with girls’ peer acceptance.

Self-serving bias is common

As humans, self-serving bias is a part of how we think and how we act. A common type of cognitive bias, self-serving bias can be defined as an individual’s tendency to attribute positive events and attributes to their own actions but negative events and attributes to others and external factors. We report on sexual behaviors which are normative and accepted to protect ourselves, and avoid stress and conflict. That will reduce our distinction from our surroundings, and will help us feel safe.

As a result, in our society, men are rewarded for having a high number of sexual partners, whereas women are penalized for the same behavior.

The only long-term solution is the ongoing decline in “double standard” about sexual morality. Until then, researchers should continue questioning the accuracy of their data. Computerized interviews may be only a partial solution. Increasing privacy and confidentiality is another partial solution.

Complete Article HERE!

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Sexual & Racial Politics in the Age of Grindr

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Much like Facebook and Twitter, Grindr is a community of people interacting politically, revealing how our desires are shaped and politicized by culture.

By Senthorun Raj

Why am I on it? What do I want? Who do I talk to? Which profile picture should I use? Where should I hook up? When am I going to delete this?

For those of us who use Grindr, these questions probably sound familiar. I know that they haunt my subconscious pretty much every time I load the app. Some of my friends even like to joke that I spend so much time talking about Grindr, as opposed to talking on Grindr, that I’m just a “Grindr Academic.” To them, I’m the person who writes about my sex life (like I’m doing right now) and then cites Michel Foucault to give it academic legitimacy. I find the joke endearing. But, we should not trivialize the politics of Grindr.

So, what can this space of hooking-up teach us about sexual and racial politics?

Whether you are cruising for casual sex or complaining about love or procrastinating online, Grindr has rapidly transformed the way we negotiate intimacy and frame sexuality. Erotic, platonic, and/or romantic relationships are now just a “click” away on our smartphones. With millions of users worldwide, Grindr has become a source of sexual sustenance. From the moment I tap on to Grindr, I’m connected to a range of other profiles via my geographical proximity to them. I am enmeshed in a process of—as one user so neatly describes—“window shopping.” What I choose to shop for as I scroll through profiles, however, tends to vary. Some profiles display semi-nude selfies that invite “NSA” (no strings attached sex) while others display a photo of a night out in a club to indicate their interest in “friends, dates and maybe more.”

I can use Grindr to organize casual sex, professional networks, neighborhood parties, friendship, and dating. There are infinite intimate possibilities. In the words of Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner, these new “sexual counterpublics” emerge to facilitate new forms of emotional and sexual labour that do not just revolve around the traditional imaginaries of reproductive or matrimonial relationships.

With such titillating possibilities, I could easily herald Grindr as a transformative and revolutionary space for queer connections. My optimism, however, comes with concern: filters cannot block the everyday cruelties of ignorance and inequality. Grindr, for example, relies on standard categories of defining bodies (ethnicity, height, weight, age) in order to mediate sexual desire. Many of the app users fashion their online identities through both visual and written statements that they are “masc” (masculine) and “str8 acting” (appearing heterosexual). In doing so, Grindr users mimic and reproduce norms of what is socially desirable.

Discussing our desires can evoke feelings of embarrassment or anxiety. We like to protect our intimate attachments from public interrogation. Apps like Grindr, however, blur such distinctions. When “personal preferences” take shape in rhetorical statements like, “Don’t be another old, ethnic, nelly bttm” or “If people can tell you’re gay … you’re not masculine,” private desires are woundingly public. Even if it is a virtual platform, much like Facebook and Twitter, Grindr is a community of people interacting politically.

Grindr users respond to these disaffecting profiles in various ways: some people angrily use the block button, more patient people try to challenge the rhetoric online, and others just take screenshots and vengefully send them to Douchebags of Grindr. For those who have not stumbled upon it, it is a website where we can revel in shaming those who shame. The idea of shaming arrogant Grindr users seems both fair and funny. But, despite this, the public “outing” and breach of privacy involved raise a number of ethical questions about how we should respond to the “Douchebag Politics” we encounter online.

We need to recognize that bigotry is a social malaise—not a personal pathology.  Grindr makes bigotry painfully apparent but this is not unique to the online platform. In making spectacles out of the purported douchebags on Grindr, we can make the more insidious forms of racialized activities seem palatable by comparison. After all, why does using overtly racist words in your profile attract moral opprobrium, while using an automatic filter to exclude certain kinds of bodies does not?

Making spectacles out of unrepentant bigots may satisfy or entertain us, but it does little to ensure that the intimate worlds we are building are inclusive and respectful. Whether we are on public transportation or networking online, racism is a systemic problem that is not just isolated to highly visceral tirades. Isolating people or profiles in order to stigmatize the individual person, rather than challenge the problematic behavior, is counterproductive. It just makes most of us more defensive (no one likes being labeled as a racist or homophobe even if they obviously are). Moreover, this usually limits our ability to confront the more insidious forms of prejudice that underscore such problematic behavior or that which is coded in terms of “preferences.”

This is not to suggest we can turn to anti-discrimination law in order to redress our sexual grievances. We should not treat desires as justiciable. There is little value in policing ourselves to desire others on the basis of exclusion. Finding someone solely attractive because of, or in spite of, their difference—whether it is their perceived “Asianness” or a specific body type—turns people into fetish or pitied objects to be consumed.

But, we do need some uncomfortable reflections. We live in a society that privileges certain kinds of body types, genders, ethnicities, and ages. From eroticizing heterosexual masculinity or whiteness to repudiating effeminacy or fatness, Grindr is saturated with social hierarchies that are pervasive in society. Grindr shows us how our desires are shaped and politicized by culture. Few of us would deny that.

While we are often quite willing to confront the scenes of bigotry that our visible to us in public forums, we need to extend this ethic when reflecting on the prejudices that operate at the most banal and emotional level of our lives.

Grindr is a tool for sex. It’s also a tool for politics. In the words of Audre Lorde, “our visions begin with our desires.” So, let’s be open about that. The political is personal.

Complete Article HERE!

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What is sexuality?

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By Kim Cavill

What is sexuality? When we talk about sexuality, what do we really mean? Are we talking about how many times a person has sex, or with how many different partners? Are we talking about who a person wants to have sex with?

Sexuality is all of those things…and none of those things. It’s actually a relationship, which means that it’s complicated. Lucky for you, Sex Positive Parents, I’ve got a simple way to explain this complicated relationship:

First, we have a person’s identity. I’ll use myself as an example: I identify as a cisgender female. This means I was assigned the female sex at birth, I have consistently identified as female, I perceive myself as female, and I identify as female today. This is my identity.

Next, we have a person’s sexual orientation, which refers to the identity of the people that person is attracted to. Examples of sexual orientations include, heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or pansexuality, among others. I am heterosexual, meaning I am consistently attracted to men and those who are male-identifying.

Lastly, we have a person’s sexual behavior. Sexual behavior is not necessarily constrained by a person’s identity or sexual orientation, or societal perceptions thereof. The Kinsey scale, which is the result of groundbreaking research into human sexuality, speaks to the non-linear nature of sexuality. As an example, a person might identify as a cisgender male, see themselves as heterosexual, and sometimes have sex with other men. Perhaps a transgender woman is homosexually oriented, and sometimes have sex with men. Or, a cisgender, heterosexual woman regularly fantasizes about having sex with women.

Sexuality is the relationship between identity, orientation, and behavior. For some, those things stay pretty consistent through time, which means their sexuality is fairly static. For others, however, those pillars may shift or evolve, making their sexuality more dynamic.

Why am I telling you about this? Because it’s important to focus less on labels and more on specific behaviors when we talk to our kids about sex and relationships. Focusing on behaviors allows for human difference and it also prevents leaving inadvertent gaps in traditionally heteronormative sex ed conversations (which unplanned pregnancies and STI’s are all too happy to slip through).

In practical terms, focusing on behaviors looks like this:

“You should to wear a condom because the birth control pill doesn’t protect against STD’s” becomes:

“You should wear a condom during any kind of sexual activity, including oral, anal, and vaginal sex.”

“You need to be serious about saying no because guys only want one thing” becomes:

“Healthy relationships involve mutual respect where no one feels pressured and sex is always consensual.”

“You don’t have to learn about anything except for condoms because you’re gay” becomes:

“There are a lot of different STD prevention and contraception options on the market and it’s good to be aware of what they are, how they work, and where you can get them.”

Complete Article HERE!

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It’s not sex that makes you healthier and happier—it’s what you do before and after

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by Leah Fessler

People who have sex more frequently report a greater sense of general happiness, according to numerous studies. One even found that having sex once a week, as opposed to monthly, boosts spirits more than earning an extra $50,000 per year.

Yet the sex-happiness association means nothing if we don’t know why it exists. New research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin sheds some light on the matter: Sex itself isn’t what makes us happier, it’s about the snuggles we share before, during, and after.

“We demonstrated that an important reason why sex is associated with well-being is that it promotes the experience of affection with the partner,” says University of Toronto postdoctoral fellow Anik Debrot, the study’s co-author. “Thus, the quality of the bond with the partner is essential to understand the benefits of sex.”

The new research actually comprises four separate studies. In the first two, researchers evaluated the correlation between sex and well-being through cross-sectional surveys of people in romantic relationships. In the first, 335 people (138 men, 197 women) in the US (predominantly married and straight) reported how frequently they have sex and engage in “affectionate touching” (e.g. cuddling, kissing, caressing). They also rated their “life satisfaction” on a one to five scale. The second was similar, but asked 74 couples in San Francisco’s Bay Area to rate their tendency to feel positive emotions such as joy, contentment, pride, amusement, and awe.

Both confirmed that more sexual activity correlates with increased positivity and life satisfaction. However, the association between sex and general happiness was dependent on affectionate touching, meaning that when the researchers accounted for for affectionate touching in their predictive model, the association between sex frequency and life satisfaction was insignificant. These results held steady regardless of participants’ age, relationship duration, and relationship status.

The third and fourth studies took a “Dear diary” approach—participants recorded their emotional state and sexual and affectionate activity on digital devices throughout the day, for several days. The third assessed 106 Swiss couples over ten days, 88% of which were married, and all of which had a child under age eight. It checked in on them six months later. The fourth included 58 Swiss couples, the majority of which were university students.

These daily diary studies showed that on days when people have sex, they experienced more affection and positive emotions immediately after sex, and hours later. “We could also show that sex promotes positive emotions, but that positive emotions do not increase the odds of having sex,” Debrot explains, “This indicates that people seem to feel good because they have sex, but not that they have sex because they feel good.” This finding supports the conclusion that affection—which has been proven to promote psychological and physiological wellbeing outside the sexual realm—is key to coital pleasure.

More, as Debrot explains, previous studies have found that positive talks often occur after sex, that exchanging signs of affection after sex means sexual and relationship satisfaction increases, and that frequent assurance of commitment and love after sex is the best predictor of a good relationship.

Importantly, participants who felt more positive emotions (like joy and optimism) after having sex with their partner in the ten-day study also showed higher relationship satisfaction six months later. This long-term correlation, however, only held true when participants experienced positive emotions after sex, regardless of how frequently they were sexually active.

This type of research always required some external imposition, and it’s impossible to determine exactly what about sex makes us happier. But it makes one reality clear: Sex promotes affection, and affection makes us feel good in the immediate, short, and long-term. And while more frequent sex is proven to make us feel better, prescribing participants to have more frequent sex on its own doesn’t help.

So if you’re looking to increase personal or relationship happiness (and a $50k bonus isn’t quite on the table) your best bet may be simple: Be attentive to your partners’ sexual and emotional needs, allow enough space and time for intimacy, and express your attraction and love before, during, after sex.

Complete Article HERE!

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