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It’s time to rethink the social construction of “virginity”

The false concept of purity can be detrimental for healthy sex lives and self-image

“Virginity is a fictional concept constructed by society.”

By Sky Jordan

Virginity has always been a big deal. Countless cultures have been obsessed with the concept from their beginnings.

Yet, many people fail to consider the concept of virginity from different perspectives.

The way we view virginity as a culture is extremely detrimental to the health of our sexualities, especially when you consider that technically, it is not even real.

Virginity is conceptual, it is a social construction. When we have sex for the first time we do not actually lose anything. It does not change our identity, it is not life-altering and it does not affect our worth. It is simply a new experience.

While it is perfectly healthy to want to wait until you are in a committed relationship or married before you have sex, shaming others for not choosing the same path is hurtful.

This is exactly what our cultural view of virginity does. It praises those who remain “pure,” and shames those who choose to have sex before marriage.

“Just because something is a social construction doesn’t mean that is doesn’t carry a lot of emotional weight for people,” Dr. Breanne Fahs, Ph.D. in clinical psychology and women’s studies and associate professor at ASU, said. “However, purity is never a good thing. Whenever that word shows up we should get nervous.”

The idea of purity is used as a means to control and manipulate us into following social norms, especially gender norms. It reinforces the idea that women lack sexuality. Virginity is treated as a commodity that can be lost. So according to this concept, when a woman has sex, she loses her value.

“Who gets saddled with the discourse of purity? Women do,” Fahs said. “When women are trying to feel like they’re negotiating sexual purity, that is never good.”

However, the construction of this ideal does not just hurt women, it’s destructive to men’s sexualities as well. Men are widely shamed for remaining virgins, as it’s loss is a sign of their masculinity and manhood. It’s a “rite of passage,” an exclusive club one can only join by engaging in one of the most intimate human experiences.

“It (virginity) is a new thing that someone is doing, but we mark it as a loss,” Fahs said. “There’s hardly any other experience like it that we frame in that way. You can’t definitively say that virginity is useful or useless, but it definitely points to strong gender dynamics that we want to be careful about.”

Virginity is also exclusively heteronormative. It focuses solely on straight male/female penetrative sex. As a result, it invalidates any sex that does not fit this strict definition, and excludes LGBTQ relationships and sexualities.

The concept of virginity makes it hard to make our own decisions about sex. It attaches guilt and shame to sexuality, and makes it seem like a scary experience that transforms you into completely different person.

As a result people often feel overwhelmed and pressured when deciding if they are ready to have sex, and guilty after the fact.

By buying into the idea of purity, we effectively begin to dismantle the possibility of having a healthy sex life. Many people report feeling dirty after sex, even if they are married. They did everything society would perceive as right, but because they were taught that virginity is such a big deal, losing it is devastating.

If we begin to reframe the idea of virginity, our culture will be able to foster much healthier ideas about sexuality. Everyone should be free to make their own decisions about sex without being held to some gross and damaging social construct.

Complete Article HERE!

Childhood cancer treatment may hinder later-life sexual relationships

 

Neurotoxic treatment for cancer during childhood may influence sexual activity and relationships in adulthood, according to new research.

Study co-author Vicky Lehmann, Ph.D., of Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Ohio State University – both in Columbus, OH – and colleagues found that adults who received high-intensity neurotoxic treatment for cancer as a child were less likely to meet certain sexual and romantic milestones.

However, the team found that childhood cancer treatment did not affect overall satisfaction for sexual and romantic relationships in adulthood.

Lehmann and team recently reported their findings in the journal Cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that around 10,380 children aged 15 and under were diagnosed with cancer in the United States last year.

Leukemia is the most common form of childhood cancer, accounting for around 30 percent of all cases, followed by brain and spinal cord tumors, which make up around 26 percent of all childhood cancer cases.

Childhood cancer treatment and psychosexual development

While cancer was responsible for more than 1,200 childhood deaths last year, over 80 percent of children diagnosed with the disease will survive for at least 5 years. This is due to significant advances in cancer treatment, which include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

However, such treatment is certainly not without risk. For example, studies have shown that cranial radiation – often used to treat brain tumors – may cause harm to the developing brain, leading to long-term neurocognitive impairment.

Previous research has shown that neurocognitive impairment as a result of childhood cancer treatment may impact social interaction in adulthood, but studies investigating the effects of such treatment on psychosexual development are few and far between.

“Psychosexual development entails reaching certain milestones, such as sexual debut, entering committed relationships, or having children.

It is a normative part of becoming an adolescent or young adult, but only comparing such milestones without taking satisfaction into account falls short. These issues are understudied among survivors of childhood cancer.”

Vicky Lehmann, Ph.D.

To address this gap in research, the team enrolled 144 survivors of childhood cancer aged between 20 and 40. A further 144 participants who were not treated for childhood cancer (the controls) were matched by age and sex.

All participants completed questionnaires on psychosexual development, sexual satisfaction, and relationship satisfaction.

To determine the brain toxicity of cancer treatments in childhood, the researchers used data from the participants’ medical charts.

Neurotoxic cancer treatment might predict later-life psychosexual issues

Overall, the team found that adults who were treated for cancer in childhood did not differ significantly from the controls in terms of psychosexual development, sexual satisfaction, and relationship satisfaction.

However, on analyzing subgroups of childhood cancer survivors, the researchers found that those who previously received treatments high in neurotoxicity were less likely to have had sexual intercourse, be in a relationship, or have had children, compared with controls.

The type of cancer treatment in childhood did not appear to affect sexual satisfaction, the team reports. “This highlights the subjective nature of psychosexual issues, and the importance of addressing any concerns in survivorship care,” notes Lehmann.

The researchers say that their findings indicate that the neurotoxicity of cancer treatment in childhood may predict the likelihood of psychosexual problems in adulthood. They add:

“Additional research is needed to delineate how neurocognitive impairment undermines social outcomes for survivors, as well as other related factors.

Given the findings of the current study, healthcare providers should assess romantic/sexual problems among survivors, especially those who received high-dose neurotoxic treatments. Referrals to psychosocial care could prevent or reduce potential difficulties.”

 
Complete Article HERE!

Swinging offers sexual freedom, but you have to play by the rules

Don’t assume ‘the lifestyle’ does not come with a rulebook. Communication is important, and rules can make relationships better.

Fatima Mechtab, Marketing Supervisor and events coordinator at Oasis Aqualounge, poses at the Toronto adult playground.

Toronto’s Oasis Aqualounge, at Carleton and Church Sts., is a pretty open environment. The clothing-optional sex club hosts events each week for people to explore their sexual fantasies. But for such a sexually free venue, there are certainly a lot of rules.

No photos. Certain areas are off limits to men unless accompanied by a woman. No touching of any kind unless given permission. No means no, of course, but the club takes it a step further: only yes means yes. That means there are no sexy times until consent is verbalized, says Fatima Mechtab, the marketing and events co-ordinator at Oasis, which had approximately 16,000 members last year.

The clothing-optional space, where sex is allowed, is by its nature vulnerable, she says. The rules are to make sure everyone feels safe, comfortable and encourage people to talk. “A big problem with consent is people assume it’s something you don’t have to verbalize,” she says. In fact, when it comes to sex, there’s lots that people don’t talk about — but should.

Mechtab, a queer woman who has explored swinging and polyamorous relationships in the past, says these types of strict rules — don’t make assumptions, ask before touching — are common in “the lifestyle,” a term for consensually nonmonogamous couples. And, she says, rules make relationships better.

Couples and the locations they go to play have to create an environment in which all parties feel not only safe, but also heard. These boundaries take away the grey areas, forcing couples to say what they do or don’t want and what they need from sexual encounters. And there’s a lot non-swingers can learn from them about building a healthy (and satisfied) relationship.

A successful swinging relationship is based on constant communication, says Carol Hunt, founder of VenusCouples, a Montreal-based online forum for “sex-positive” exploration of the lifestyle. She and her husband have been swinging for a decade. Before any party or outing, they agree upon a set of boundaries (such as they’ll always be in the same room during sex) and expectations for the evening (be it sex with another person or a night observing others). Afterwards, they always break their experience down: what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what would they like to try in the future?

While it might seem exhausting to always talk about sex, Hunt says it means both parties feel their needs are being heard. If her husband wants to try something new, but she’s not interested, the decision isn’t shut down entirely. Instead, they discuss both points of view and try and find a happy middle ground in which they can explore. No always means no — but that’s only the start of the conversation.

That consensus building trickles out of the bedroom, says Edward Fernandes, a professor of sexuality specializing in swingers, at Barton University in North Carolina. “I’ve had people say, ‘We used to have trouble with our finances — we couldn’t talk about this,’ and once we went into swinging, that (inability to communicate) went away,’” says the Toronto expat. “Now, they’re able to talk about everything.” If you can talk about a taboo topic like sex freely, there’s nothing to stop you from vocalizing issues with the chores, he says.

One 2014 study from the University of Oklahoma, which compared monogamous and consensually nonmonogamous couples, found those in open relationships rated their happiness and health higher than their counterparts. Another study from 2000, found 90 per cent of couples said their marriage became happier after they started swinging.

“People will often avoid talking about things, because they don’t know how (their partner) is going to respond,” says Fernandes. “So we hide. Swinging tends to pull that curtain, and allows them to have direct communications with each other.”

Write your own sexy rule book

  • Hunt suggests couples looking to spice up their bedroom can start small: make it a point to go to a sex shop, for example, to discuss what both parties might enjoy or not. To avoid embarrassment, make it a rule that neither party can wander off on their own: you’re in it together and that can decrease the awkwardness.
  • Watching porn can be a great way to get both parties in the mood. But before hitting play, Hunt suggests setting expectations: you’ll only watch for an hour, and collectively pick one act to try and re-create.
  • If you’re trying something new and don’t enjoy it the first time, Hunt say don’t shut it down right away. Commit to revisiting the act at least once at a later date, and if you still don’t enjoy it, then it’s OK to take it off the table for the future.
  • Great relationships need work, she says. Set aside a couple hours each week just to be with each other. No television, no distractions (and if you want, no clothes).
  • Make a relationship rule to do one sexy thing a day — even if it’s just kissing each other deeply for a few minutes, Hunt says. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that, but it ensures a daily connection with your partner.

Complete Article HERE!

Contraception influences sexual desire in committed relationships

The role of human sex outside of reproduction remains something of an evolutionary mystery. But scientists believe that it is partly about tying the parties in the relationship together.

By Liv Ragnhild Sjursen

How often women in heterosexual couples desire sex depends on how committed the relationship is and what type of birth control the woman uses.

Sex is quite wonderful when the goal is to have children. But sex can also serve as a “glue” in a committed relationship.

Most animals have periods when they come into heat, and outside of these periods they don’t find sex interesting at all.

Humans, however, are constantly interested in sex. This interest can seem like a waste of energy, but an evolutionary perspective may explain why we function this way.

More sex with progesterone and commitment

A new study from NTNU and the University of New Mexico confirm that sex is important for pair–bonding between men and women in relationships.

The researchers also found a correlation between the type of oral contraceptive women use and how often couples have sex.

The findings were recently published in the scientific journal Evolution & Human Behavior.

“The function of sex in humans outside ovulation is an evolutionary mystery. But we believe that it has to do with binding the parties in the relationship together,” says Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, a professor of psychology at NTNU.

Kennair worked with Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, Nick Grebe and University of New Mexico Professor Steve Gangestad to ask hundreds of Norwegian heterosexual women about contraception, sex and relationships.

Their results show that of women in long-term relationships and who are using hormonal contraception, those who are more committed to their relationships have more sex with partners, as one might expect.

“But this association was especially true when the contraceptive that women used had potent levels of synthetic hormones that mimic the effects of the natural hormone progesterone, and lower levels of the hormone oestrogen,” Gangestad said.

“We’re talking about intercourse here, not other types of sex like oral sex, masturbation and such. This strengthens the idea that sex outside the ovulation phase has a function besides just pleasure,” says Grøntvedt.

Big differences between types of contraceptives

Hormonal contraceptives, like birth control pills, implantable rods and patches, contain two types of hormones:

Oestrogen, which naturally peaks just before ovulation when naturally cycling women can conceive offspring, and hormones that have the same effect as progesterone, which naturally peaks during the extended sexual phase, a time when offspring cannot be conceived.

The levels of each hormone type vary in different contraceptives. Hence, some contraceptives mimic hormones that are more characteristic of ovulation, whereas others mimic hormones when women can’t conceive.

The women who used contraception with more oestrogen were most sexually active when they were in a less committed relationship.

On the other hand, women who used contraception with more progesterone were the most sexually active when they were faithful and loyal to their partners.

“Before we did this study, we didn’t know how much difference there was between the two types of hormonal contraceptives,” says Grøntvedt.

A credible holistic picture

The researchers surveyed two groups of women. All the women were using hormonal contraception and were in committed, heterosexual relationships.

One group consisted of 112 women that researchers followed over a 12-week period. The women were asked how often and when in their cycle they had sex.

The second sample group consisted of 275 women in long–term relationships who used hormonal contraception.

This group was not followed over time, but the researchers asked them how many times they had had sex in the past week. This type of study – using data collected at a specific point in time – is called a cross-sectional study.

Both groups were asked to indicate the type of contraception they were using, and if a pill, which brand it was.

“Since we examined these two groups using different methods – a snapshot for the one group and a longitudinal study for the other – we can be confident that the results provide a reliable overall picture,” Grøntvedt said.

Natural or synthetic hormones had similar effects

The basis for the NTNU study was a 2013 American study, where 50 women and their partners answered a series of questions about their relationships, menstrual cycles and frequency of sex.

None of these women were using any kind of hormonal contraception, so only their natural hormones were involved.

The study showed that women initiated sex more in the extended sexual phase – when they were not ovulating and progesterone was the dominant hormone – if they were invested in the relationship.

NTNU researchers wanted to verify the American results in their study, but with participants who were using a hormonal contraceptive that simulates a natural cycle.

Their results were the same as in the US study, in which women were not using any hormonal birth control.

The researchers were thus able to show that how often women have sex is linked to how committed they feel towards their partner and the type of hormone they are governed by, whether natural or synthetic.

“A lot of social psychology studies that have led to cool discoveries through the ages have lost status, because it hasn’t been possible to copy them and verify the results.”

“We are extremely pleased to have been able to verify the results of the study by Grebe and his colleagues, and we are equally pleased that we have also made new discoveries,” Kennair says.

Complete Article HERE!

3D-printed sex organs help blind students learn about sexual health

3D-printing technology is letting blind students experience comprehensive, accessible sex ed for the first time ever.

3D-printed sex organs help blind students learn about sexual health

By Katie Dupere

Advocates and researchers collaborated to create more than 18 3D figures that model sex organs during a various states of arousal. They range from a flaccid penis to a dilated vaginal opening, allowing students to “feel” their way though sexual health lessons.

While it may be a NSFW (let alone not-safe-for-school) endeavor, these models are game-changers for blind students who often need to learn about sexual health through verbal instruction alone.

Sex ed classes overall often rely on dull videos and static illustrations, and while that type of stale education is a disservice to all students, it presents a unique problem for blind students.

“That approach does a blind student no good whatsoever because they, of course, cannot see the pictures and videos.” Dr. Gaylen Kapperman, a professor at Northern Illinois University who was involved with the project, told Mashable via email.

Studies show that 61% of blind adults or those with low vision say their vision status had a negative impact on the way they were able to participate in sex education.

It’s a gap advocates and researchers at Benetech, a nonprofit organization specializing in tech for good, set out to solve by creating these models of various penises and vulvas.

“3D models are the only types of models that make any sense to blind people,” Kapperman said. “Many people believe that if you provide raised-lined 2D tactile pictures of sex organs that blind people will be able to generalize this information. [That approach] makes no sense whatsoever for blind persons.”

But these models don’t only break sex ed barriers for blind children. Researchers say the models could make the instruction more meaningful for sighted kids, too.

The project’s goal is to eventually provide open-source 3D printing files for teachers. This means school districts would only have to finance the materials and printers to make the models.

Many experts predict the technology will become a staple for schools anyway. Once a school district owns a printer, 3D printing is a low-cost way to create models for classroom instruction, making it ideal for schools on a budget.

A sizable 90% of blind students attend school with sighted children, relying on modified lessons to fully absorb material. But there are only about 61,700 blind students in the U.S. Buying commercial models of genitalia already on the market can cost up to $500 per model — something low-funded schools would likely be reluctant to do, especially when only a handful of blind students may ever pass through their district.

To develop prototypes, Benetech partnered with LightHouse for the Blind and Northern Illinois University, where the models were first tested on blind college students. The project was funded entirely by a private Benetech donor.

Now in the second phase of the pilot program this spring, the models will make their ways into the hands of middle school and high school students — the target demographic.

By the end of the 2017 school year, researchers hope to have feedback from students on the current prototypes. Then they’ll release files with detailed printing instructions for classroom use.

Benetech plans to offer pre-printed models to accommodate schools without 3D printers, for a fee much lower than commercial models.

“It is our hope that these models will be an effective teaching tool for teachers to communicate sex education in a way that works for students who are blind and visually impaired,” said Dr. Lisa Wadors Verne, program manager of education and partnerships at Benetech.

Complete Article HERE!