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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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The way we teach sex-ed is old and ineffective. Here’s how to fix it.

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By Stephanie Auteri

In a predictable bit of news, the results of a study released this past September show that students consider most sex-education programs to be out-of-touch, outdated, and lacking in the information that might actually prove useful to them. Among the deficiencies reported by teenagers were a focus on fear-based lesson plans, curricula that alienate LGBTQ+ students, instructors untrained in actually providing useful sex-ed, and a failure to acknowledge that some young people are  —  spoiler alert  —  sexually active.

When it comes down to it, though, these inadequacies do not stem from lack of trying on the part of certified sexuality educators. There are disparities in curricula, and in resources: Federal funding for sex-education flows to both abstinence-only and evidence-based approaches, and decisions about curricula are made on a state-by-state  —  and district-by-district  —  basis. There are still only 13 states that require sex-education to be “medically accurate.”

In fact, in the past year, 23 bills were introduced with the intention of restricting the quality of sex-ed. Such restrictions included moves to limit access to information about reproductive health options, and to exclude qualified sexuality educators from schools based upon their affiliation with abortion providers.

While the majority of these bills failed to advance, in many cases, educators continue to be hamstrung by red tape. And they worry that  —  in the wake of the most recent presidential election  —  their jobs will only become more difficult. What is an enterprising, conscientious sex-educator to do?

Recently, I attended the National sex-ed Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where I saw sexuality educator Francisco Ramirez present a keynote on “hacking” sexual health. During his talk, Ramirez spoke about how educators might possibly shake things up, in some cases taking sex-ed outside the classroom in order to reach those who need it most. Happily, many educators are already doing this, systematically toppling many of the barriers that have long stood in their way. Throughout the conference, I was reminded of the many forms such resourcefulness can take. Here are the six most important fixes currently happening in American sex-ed.

1. Where can students get the answers they crave without fear of embarrassment or other negative repercussions? These days: their phones.

Sex-educators often employ anonymous question boxes in their classrooms, but the new-media generation is taking this idea of anonymity to the place where it thrives best: social media. I recently wrote about a variety of new social-media applications, YouTube series, and other online resources that allow teens to seek out accurate sexuality information anonymously. Since then, it seems that not a day goes by where I don’t hear about a new sex-ed app.

What’s important to remember about any of these sex-ed hacks is that just because a program works in one place, that doesn’t mean it will work in every community.

One of the more recent ones to catch my eye is Capptivation’s Reach Out, an app that provides sexual assault survivor resources to college-age students. According to Capptivation, a similar app for high schoolers is on its way. And the Healthy Teen Network — a membership-based advocacy organization  —  is in the process of developing two phone apps, one for high school-aged teens, and one for people who are older. They were inspired to do so after receiving an RFP (a request for proposal — a document from an agency soliciting a proposal for a specific commodity or service) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alongside the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC has been looking to fund the development of a mobile app that would support teen pregnancy prevention.

This push for sex-ed apps is not without precedent. A 2016 study on mobile phone-based interventions for smoking cessation showed that mobile interventions can lead to positive behavioral changes. And additional research  —  including a 2016 paper published in BMC Public Health  —  has shown that sexual-health apps remove certain barriers youth often feel in seeking out sexual-health services: namely, embarrassment. HTN is in the midst of conducting its own randomized control trials in order to determine the efficacy of its apps.

2. How can students take a leadership role in their own sex-education? Through peer-led sex-ed.

A recent review of 15 peer-led sexual-health education programs shows that peer-to-peer sex-ed can be successful at improving teens’ knowledge and attitude about sexual health  —  which is good news, considering that many teens don’t think adults are doing the best job. And just as with social-media apps, new peer-to-peer training programs are popping up all around the country. Teen PEP, which operates in both New Jersey and North Carolina, is one such program that trains teens to provide sex-ed to their peers at school. Another example is the team out of Planned Parenthood of North, Central, and South New Jersey, which leads an annual Teen Conference that students travel to on a one-day field trip.

In Austin, Texas, the Peer 2 Peer Project trains teens to teach both on school grounds and at other locations within their communities, going so far as to pay them for their efforts. In Baltimore, Maryland, the Healthy Teen Network and its subsidiary, the Healthy Teen Leadership Alliance, also empower teens to influence the field of sexual health. These are just a handful of programs among many that are handing the reins over to teens. It can be difficult to keep track of all the peer-led programs popping up around the country, but Advocates for Youth  —  an advocacy organization with its focus on adolescent sexual health  —  has gathered the results of numerous studies on the impact of peer education. These studies show how peer education reduces risky sexual behaviors and empowers teens, who seem to find their peers to be more credible than adult educators.

Complete Article HERE!

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