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Let’s talk about intimacy – and why it makes for better love and sex

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The key to a great relationship is more than physical – it’s about taking off the mask and really revealing yourself

Embracing intimacy – the best way to forge a real connection.

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Is there anything we still need to know about sex? Apparently, yes: and the missing ingredient is a gamechanger not just for individuals, but entire nations.

Sex has been centre-stage in western culture for decades, but what has been absent, according to Adam Wilder, creator of the world’s first Festival of Togetherness, is the magic element that makes it all meaningful.

“The holy grail,” he says, “is intimacy. Intimacy’s the real taboo in our society – it’s the thing we fear, because it’s about taking off the mask that so many of us hide behind. But it’s the key to being freer, happier and more alive and it could change not only our personal lives, but the political decisions we take as a society.”

Wilder hopes his festival, in central London on 20-21 May, will herald “the next revolution we need to embark on – a revolution that will transform everything we thought we knew about sex”.

Sex and intimacy, says Wilder, are closely connected. But in the decades since the sexual revolution of the 1960s the focus has been more and more on sex and less and less on intimacy. “Of course, you can have sex without intimacy, just as you can have intimacy without sex. But when you put the two together you have an experience that is in a different ballpark when it comes to fulfilment,” he says. “The problem is, people are afraid of intimacy, they’re afraid to articulate the desires that could lead to real intimacy – but if we don’t articulate those desires we will never experience the potential of a relationship.”

So scary is the word intimacy, says Wilder, that he has shied away from using it while planning his festival. “When I talk to people about it, I talk mostly about human connection, about enriching relationships and about togetherness, because these are words people seem more comfortable with.”

The festival focuses on learning the skills the organisers say are essential to allowing ourselves to practise intimacy. “But this isn’t hippy stuff: what I’m interested in is ordinary people who don’t like words like ‘consciousness’ and ‘tantra’,” says Wilder. “I want to make intimacy more visible in our culture, and that means drawing everyone in. Intimacy is something everyone can gain from, whether they are in a relationship or not.”

The movie Lost in Translation, starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, has much to share about intimacy, says Wilder. The plot centres on a growing closeness between an ageing movie star and a young college graduate that far outweighs the connection she feels for her husband, a photographer who is away on an assignment.

The festival’s highlights include a “cuddle workshop” that, according to the programme, promises to “explore touch outside the sexual realm”, a session on “mindfulness for better sex” and a session on language and communication skills that help build intimacy into relationships. One of the most exciting workshops, Wilder hopes, is called the Soulmate Delusion.

“There is this idea in Disney films that so many of us buy into, that’s about connecting with one person who is right for you, and who will change your life. But the truth is, that’s a view that is a really damaging for relationships in the 21st century. As soon as things start to go wrong you think, uh-oh, he’s not my  soulmate.”

Wilder’s event seems to be tapping into a broader zeitgeist. Last week saw the launch of the Amorist, writer Rowan Pelling’s new magazine, which aims “to counter the modern tendency to see sex through a purely functional prism”.

… and they all lived happily ever after. Nice idea, but you have to work on it.

Pelling agrees with Wilder that intimacy, not sex, is fundamental. “Is sex better with intimacy? The answer is almost always yes. I’m really shocked by how many people say they’ve never been to bed with someone who looked them in the eye, particularly at the point of orgasm. Of course there’s something about people being in their box and having fantasies during sex, but if people are having a lifetime of sex without eye contact, it’s an indication of how common it is to be physically close to someone, yet remain disconnected.

“There’s something peculiarly British about it. What it means is you can have had many lovers, yet not ever had something as fundamental as intimate sex.”

Wilder says feelings of isolation and a lack of true human connection have fed into the seismic political shifts that produced Brexit and elected Donald Trump as US president. That is the view, too, of philosopher Shahidha Bari of the Institute of Art and Ideas, who is one of the people behind an event called Love in the Time of Tinder taking place this weekend in Hay-on-Wye.

Amid talks, debates and workshop about the meaning of love, whether it can be chemically engineered and how it can be used to change society, the weekend also encompasses the idea that these things matter in a global, and not just a personal, landscape.

“If we can get love right in our individual lives, we might start to get things better in the political arena,” says Bari. “We think of love these days as an app on our phones, but in fact it’s a model of ethical relationships.

“There’s something miraculous about love, which allows us to care for someone to whom we are not genetically related. Love isn’t some sentimental thing, it’s about recognising this miracle for what it is, and learning from it for the rest of our lives.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Why do people visit a dominatrix?

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These men explain the appeal

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Everyone recognizes the popular image of the dominatrix standing over a cowering man, usually with a whip in her hand.

‘S&M’ has been a popular theme in art and films for a very long time, although it’s now generally referred to as BDSM (a surprisingly recent term which covers a whole heap of different kinky activities).

The development of the internet has made it easier than ever to find people willing to indulge your kinks and the pro-domme business is more popular than ever. But what makes men want to pay for the privilege of being hurt and humiliated?

I spoke to two men who use professional domme services and asked them – why?

Jason

‘I had fantasies around pain and punishment from a very young age. When I was about eight I was left in a car by my parents while they went to a dinner.

‘Unable to sleep I came across the hard case my father kept his glasses in and smacked myself with it. I guess it developed from there.

‘In my teens I bought a riding crop and had to create a complex lie to explain its presence in the house when it was found. Ours, by the way, was a loving, completely abuse-free family with almost no corporal punishment.

‘My first marriage was completely vanilla. When we separated I finally went to see a Domme I found in the back pages of a London newspaper.

‘She tied me to a chair and beat me so hard the bruises lasted a fortnight. At first I was too shocked and horrified to enjoy it but by the end I was surfing a huge wave of pain and endorphins and I floated out of her apartment.

‘I’m more masochistic than submissive, so it’s about pain more than humiliation. It’s hard to explain.

‘It’s the intimate interaction with the Domme, the sense of giving up all control to her, it’s the extreme sensations she causes and the beautiful clarity of focus that comes from the need to master them.

‘It’s the floaty subspace that pain can take you to, it’s the sense of having been challenged and survived. It’s all those things and more.

‘[If you want to visit a domme] think carefully about what you want to explore and read a lot of Dommes’ websites first.

‘Make it clear you are inexperienced and ask for an introductory session where you can try different aspects of BDSM at a mild level.

‘Be patient though – like any sex workers, Dommes unfortunately have to filter out a lot of timewasters and abusive people for each genuine new client.’

Stefan

‘A girl I played with at primary school would spank me if I misbehaved in the games we were playing – I think I was supposed to be a very disobedient puppy.

‘I then went to a boys’ school so met very few girls until sixth form college. We played a card game called ‘rappsies’ – if you lost you would have your knuckles hit with the pack of cards. I did my best to always lose to the girls.

‘I was a late starter outside my fantasy life. I studied hard and went to university before losing my virginity.

‘I’ve been with the same woman all my adult life – she shared my fantasies for a long time but then her interest in sex gradually waned away to nothing.

‘I could find fellow kinky people on the internet but I wasn’t looking for a relationship outside my marriage.

‘My wife is my wife and I love her but she no longer seems to have the need to have a sexual relationship, whereas I still enjoy sex – or at least my version of sex.

‘There can be pain but it is always balanced with pleasure – have you ever had a sore tooth that you bite on every now and again just to see?

‘The dommes I visit are all incredibly attractive and I have the need to please them. They all seem to genuinely enjoy what they do and ensure I get the experience I desire.

‘Strangely I don’t see being pissed on or spat on as being humiliated, I find it incredibly personal and intimate. It’s all down to the scenario.

‘I feel honoured – I’m getting exactly what I asked for. I would say I enjoy sensual domination and wouldn’t visit a domme who I thought didn’t care for me.

‘The mistresses I see (and their partners) are all regularly tested for STI’s so I feel that I’m not really putting myself at that much of a risk – and I get tested regularly too.

‘I don’t think [fetishes] have a psychological trigger. Probably I have a need to be liked and accepted by a woman, but what heterosexual man doesn’t? In my work life I’m generally the one in charge, on call 24hrs a day.

‘I have taken part in cuckold sessions where the mistress has sex with another man while I am ‘forced’ to watch, then to have to clean up the mess. Again I actually enjoy watching the mistress enjoying herself (I knew it was something she was looking forward to!).

‘It’s role play and I enjoy my role. Life is all about experiences – why leave this world knowing you have missed out on some that were within your grasp?’

What’s it like to be one of the women providing these services? I spoke to professional domme Ms Slide, who gave me the lowdown on dominating men for a living.

Have you always been interested in kink?

‘Dominatrix work has always been an integral part of who I am. Everyone has their own individual kinks and fetishes and I’m no different.

‘Practices perceived as unconventional are too often stigmatised. There is no such thing as ‘normal’ when it comes to consenting adult sexuality.’

How did you end up being a domme?

‘Kink was something that always fascinated me and I crossed over into the fetish scene from goth and cosplay.

‘Friends of friends began to contact me privately for sessions before I ever advertised as a pro-domme.

‘My career started almost by accident, but it’s something I love and will continue to do for as long as I’m able.

‘I am also a writer and illustrator and am now privileged enough to be able to take months out from pro-domming if I have a big project on the go, but I don’t ever see myself stopping entirely. It’s who I am.’

Where does the law stand re domme work?

‘UK law is tricky about what does or doesn’t constitute sex work.

‘Sex workers are all equally stigmatised (and put in danger) because of the legislation around how many of us can work together in one place without it being classed as a ‘brothel’.

‘The proposed criminalisation of all clients – the ‘Nordic Model‘ – would push our work underground, making the most vulnerable of us take greater risks for less money and undermining our safety.

‘Solidarity is important. Whatever our circumstances – whatever kind of sex work we do and whatever reason we have for doing it – we deserve the same rights and safety as workers in any other industry.

‘The law should protect us, not harm us – this can only be achieved through full decriminalisation, destigmatisation and unionisation.’

Is there a typical client?

‘No! The stereotypes you see on television of rich old bankers are largely inaccurate (unless that’s the demographic you specifically choose to market to – some dommes specialise).

‘Most of my clients have been men, but not all. I choose clients depending on how compatible we are.

‘If they have the wrong attitude, or have interests outside of what I enjoy, they don’t get to meet me.’

Do your friends and family know about your work?

‘I’m largely ‘out’ to friends and family, which is a privilege that many don’t have.

‘I have had problems in the past due to people’s misconceptions about kink and sex work which just makes me more determined to challenge the media misrepresentations of who we are and what we do. We are real people, not stereotypes.’

Complete Article HERE!

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Cross-Cultural Evidence for the Genetics of Homosexuality

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Mexico’s third gender sheds light on the biological correlates of sexual orientation

By Debra W. Soh

The reasons behind why people are gay, straight, or bisexual have long been a source of public fascination. Indeed, research on the topic of sexual orientation offers a powerful window into understanding human sexuality. The Archives of Sexual Behavior recently published a special edition devoted to research in this area, titled “The Puzzle of Sexual Orientation.” One study, conducted by scientists at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, offers compelling, cross-cultural evidence that common genetic factors underlie same-sex, sexual preference in men.

In southern Mexico, individuals who are biologically male and sexually attracted to men are known as muxes. They are recognized as a third gender: Muxe nguiiu tend to be masculine in their appearance and behavior, while muxe gunaa are feminine. In Western cultures, they would be considered gay men and transgender women, respectively.

Several correlates of male androphilia — biological males who are sexually attracted to men — have been shown across different cultures, which is suggestive of a common biological foundation among them. For example, the fraternal birth order effect—the phenomenon whereby male androphilia is predicted by having a higher number of biological older brothers—is evident in both Western and Samoan cultures.

Interestingly, in Western society, homosexual men, compared with heterosexual men, tend to recall higher levels of separation anxiety — the distress resulting from being separated from major attachment figures, like one’s primary caregiver or close family members. Research in Samoa has similarly demonstrated that third-gender fa’afafine—individuals who are feminine in appearance, biologically male, and attracted to men—also recall greater childhood separation anxiety when compared with heterosexual Samoan men. Thus, if a similar pattern regarding separation anxiety were to be found in a third, disparate culture—in the case, the Istmo region of Oaxaca, Mexico—it would add to the evidence that male androphilia has biological underpinnings.

The current study included 141 heterosexual women, 135 heterosexual men, and 178 muxes (61 muxe nguiiu and 117 muxe gunaa). Study participants were interviewed using a questionnaire that asked about separation anxiety; more specifically, distress and worry they experienced as a child in relation to being separated from a parental figure. Participants rated how true each question was for them when they were between the ages of 6 to 12 years old.

Muxes showed elevated rates of childhood separation anxiety when compared with heterosexual men, similar to what has been seen in gay men in Canada and fa’afafine in Samoa. There were also no differences in anxiety scores between women and muxe nguiiu or muxe gunaa, or between the two types of muxes.

When we consider possible explanations for these results, social mechanisms are unlikely, as previous research has shown that anxiety is heritable and parenting tends to be in response to children’s traits and behaviors, as opposed to the other way around. Biological mechanisms, however, offer a more compelling account. For instance, exposure to female-typical levels of sex steroid hormones in the prenatal environment are thought to “feminize” regions of the male brain that are related to sexual orientation, thereby influencing attachment and anxiety.

On top of this, studies in molecular genetics have shown that Xq28, a region located at the tip of the X chromosome, is involved in both the expression of anxiety and male androphilia. This suggests that common genetic factors may underlie the expression of both. Twin studies additionally point to genetic explanations as the underlying force for same-sex partner preference in men and neuroticism, a personality trait that is comparable to anxiety.

These findings suggest childhood separation anxiety may be a culturally universal correlate of androphilia in men. This has important implications for our understanding of children’s mental health conditions, as subclinical levels of separation anxiety, when intertwined with male androphilia, may represent a typical part of the developmental life course.

As it stands, sexual orientation research will continue to evoke widespread interest and controversy for the foreseeable future because it has the potential to be used—for better or worse—to uphold particular socio-political agendas. The moral acceptability of homosexuality has often hinged on the idea that same-sex desires are innate, immutable, and therefore, not a choice. This is clear when we think about how previous beliefs around homosexuality being learned were once used to justify (now discredited) attempts to change these desires.

The cross-cultural similarities evinced by the current study offer further proof that being gay is genetic, which is, in itself, an interesting finding. But we as a society should challenge the notion that sexual preferences must be non-volitional in order to be socially acceptable or safe from scrutiny. The etiology of homosexuality, biological or otherwise, should have no bearing on gay individuals’ right to equality.

Complete Article HERE!

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It’s time to end the taboo of sex and intimacy in care homes

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Imagine living in an aged care home. Now imagine your needs for touch and intimacy being overlooked. More than 500,000 individuals aged 65+ (double the population of Cardiff) live in care homes in Britain. Many could be missing out on needs and rights concerning intimacy and sexual activity because they appear to be “designed out” of policy and practice. The situation can be doubly complicated for lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans individuals who can feel obliged to go “back into the closet” and hide their identity when they enter care.

Little is known about intimacy and sexuality in this sub-sector of care. Residents are often assumed to be prudish and “past it”. Yet neglecting such needs can affect self-esteem and mental health.

A study by a research team for Older People’s Understandings of Sexuality (OPUS), based in Northwest England, involved residents, non-resident female spouses of residents with a dementia and 16 care staff. The study found individuals’ accounts more diverse and complicated than stereotypes of older people as asexual. Some study participants denied their sexuality. Others expressed nostalgia for something they considered as belonging in the past. Yet others still expressed an openness to sex and intimacy given the right conditions.

Insights

The most common story among study participants reflected the idea that older residents have moved past a life that features or is deserving of sex and intimacy. One male resident, aged 79, declared: “Nobody talks about it”. However, an 80-year-old female resident considered that some women residents might wish to continue sexual activity with the right person.

For spouses, cuddling and affection figured as basic human needs and could eclipse needs for sex. One spouse spoke about the importance of touch and holding hands to remind her partner that he was still loved and valued. Such gestures were vital in sustaining a relationship with a partner who had changed because of a dementia.

Care staff underlined the need for training to help them to assist residents meet their sexual and intimacy needs. Staff highlighted grey areas of consent within long-term relationships where one or both partners showed declining capacity. They also spoke about how expressions of sexuality posed ethical and legal dilemmas. For example, individuals affected by a dementia can project feelings towards another or receive such attention inappropriately. The challenge was to balance safeguarding welfare with individual needs and desires.

Some problems were literally built into care home environments and delivery of care. Most care homes consist of single rooms and provide few opportunities for people to sit together. A “no locked door” policy in one home caused one spouse to describe the situation as, “like living in a goldfish bowl”.

But not all accounts were problematic. Care staff wished to support the expression of sex, sexuality and intimacy needs but felt constrained by the need to safeguard. One manager described how their home managed this issue by placing curtains behind the frosted glass window in one room. This enabled a couple to enjoy each other’s company with privacy. Such simple changes suggest a more measured approach to safeguarding (not driven by anxiety over residents’ sexuality), which could ensure the privacy needed for intimacy.

Conclusions

Our study revealed a lack of awareness by staff of the need to meet sexuality and intimacy needs. Service providers need guidance on such needs and should provide it to staff. The information is out there and they can get the advice they need from the Care Quality Commission, Independent Longevity Centre, Local Government Association and the Royal College of Nursing.

Policies and practices should recognise resident diversity and avoid treating everyone the same. This approach risks reinforcing inequality and doesn’t meet the range of needs of very different residents. The views of black, working-class and LGBT individuals are commonly absent from research on ageing sexuality and service provision. One care worker spoke of how her home’s sexuality policy (a rare occurrence anyway) was effectively a “heterosexuality policy”. It may be harder for an older, working-class, black, female or trans-identified individual to express their sexuality needs compared to an older white, middle-class, heterosexual male.

Care homes need to provide awareness-raising events for staff and service users on this topic. These events should address stereotyping and ways of achieving a balance between enabling choices, desires, rights and safeguarding. There is also a need for nationally recognised training resources on these issues.

Older people should not be denied basic human rights. This policy vacuum could be so easily addressed over time and with appropriate training. What we need now is a bigger conversation about sex and intimacy in later life and what we can do to help bring about some simple changes in the care home system.

Complete Article HERE!

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Sexual assault awareness | Sex in the Suburbs

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month — and here’s what you can do.

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1. Believe survivors:

If someone comes to you and discloses sexual assault, believe them. Don’t ask what they were wearing. Don’t ask what they were thinking. Tell them you are sorry that it happened. Tell them it’s not their fault. And most of all, believe them.

Why?

Sexual assaults are dramatically under-reported in our society, for a variety of reasons. According to RAINN, a national anti-sexual violence organization, less than a third of sexual assaults are reported to police. One of the most prominent reasons is the concern that the survivor will not be believed. Consider the recent expose by the Salt Lake Tribune about BYU’s Honor Code, used against sexual assault survivors. More than two dozen survivors told the paper that they did not report crimes committed against them because they, the survivors, would get in trouble. Believing survivors is important.

2. Engage your voice:

Teens — lift your voice to counter any messages that any sexual assault is the survivor’s fault. Talk about consent with your friends and peers. Have speakers in to your school and other organizations to teach about consent. Don’t be silent.

Parents — talk with your teens about consent. Let them know that they can come to you safely if they are uncomfortable in a situation, even if they have broken a house rule. Think about it: Would you rather have a child who has had a few drinks call you for help and a ride, or would you rather have a child who didn’t want to get in trouble end up sexually assaulted?

Coaches — use your authority to counter cultural messages that pressuring people into sexual activity is OK. It isn’t. Make that clear with your teams and students, no matter what gender they are. Athletes are often leaders in their schools and popular. Help create an atmosphere that makes clear consent popular, too.

Fraternities and sororities — get educated and keep getting educated. Traditions can be wonderful, and they can be harmful. Make a commitment to work together in your organizations to create a healthier culture around consent, including caring for each other when alcohol is involved. Be smart. Engage your voices together.

Religious leaders — make a difference by shattering the silence so prevalent in our religious communities about talking about sex. Create healthy faith communities by having clear boundaries, smart supervision policies for children and youth, and engaging your voices in conversations around healthy relationships, communication and consent.

3. Get involved:

• Learn more by going to www.nsvrc.org to find ways to engage on social media, download posters for coloring, download postcards with healthy messages and more.

• Consider hosting a viewing and discussion of the movie “Spotlight.”

• Learn more about sexual assault, types of sexual violence, laws in Washington and the effects of sexual violence at www.rainn.org/about-sexual-assault.

Now is not the time to be silent. Engage your voice. Take action to become more aware of and to prevent sexual assault.

Complete Article HERE!

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