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

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

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

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

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

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

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

philippe-brenot-and-laeticia-cory

Philippe Brenot and Laeticia Cory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete Article HERE!

Why more and more women are identifying as bisexual

By Megan Todd

This is the pro-LGBT rights image that saw an Italian woman suspended from Facebook after the social media site claimed it violated rules on 'nudity and pornography'

This is the pro-LGBT rights image that saw an Italian woman suspended from Facebook after the social media site claimed it violated rules on ‘nudity and pornography’

The Office of National Statistics has released its latest data on sexual identities in the UK, and some striking patterns jump out – especially when it comes to bisexuality.

The number of young people identifying as bisexual has apparently risen by 45% over the last three years. Women are more likely to identity as bisexual (0.8%) than lesbian (0.7%), whereas men are more likely to report as gay (1.6%) than bisexual (0.5%). That last finding chimes with other studies in the UK and the US – but why should this be?

Women’s sexuality has historically been policed, denied and demonised in very particular ways, and for a woman to be anything other than passively heterosexual has often been considered an outright perversion. Lesbians have historically been seen as a more dangerous breed, a direct challenge to patriarchal structures, perhaps explaining why women may be more likely to self-identify as bisexual. Some research into women’s sexuality has also suggested that women take a more fluid approach to their relationships than men.

But then there’s the more general matter of how much sexual labels still matter to people – and here, the ONS findings really start to get interesting.

Among young people aged between 16 and 24, 1.8% said they identified as bisexual – exceeding, for the first time, the 1.5% who identified as lesbian or gay. In total 3.3% of young people identified as LGB, a significantly higher proportion than the 1.7% of the general population who identified as such. (Just 0.6% of the over-65s did).

In a society that still tends to see the world in often false binaries – man/woman, gay/straight, white/black and so on – how can we explain such a difference?

A pessimistic view of why more young people are identifying as bisexual rather than as gay or lesbian might be that conservative, rigid and polarised understandings of what gender is still hold sway. This, in turn, might also have an impact on attitudes to sexuality, where an investment in a lesbian or gay identity may be more frowned upon than a bisexual one – which in many people’s minds still has a “friendly” relationship with heterosexuality.

And yet it’s clear that identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual carries less stigma for the younger age group than it does for their elders.

 

Older generations grew up in a time where any orientation besides heterosexuality was taboo, stigmatised and often criminalised. The lesbian and gay movements of the 1970s and 1980s, inspired by the US’s Civil Rights movement, were often staunchly radical; the concept of the political lesbian, for instance, was a very prominent and powerful one. At the same time, both heterosexual and lesbian and gay communities were also marked by misunderstandings and distrust of bisexuality (in a word, biphobia).

But in the UK at least, gay and lesbian identities have lost a good deal of the political charge they once carried. Once “peripheral”, these sexual categories are well on the way to being normalised and commercialised. Many in the community remember or identify with a more radical era of political lesbianism and gay activism, and many of them are dismayed that non-heterosexuals’ current political battles for equality and recognition are often focused on gaining entry to heterosexual institutions, especially marriage.

Bisexuals march at Pride in London.

Bisexuals march at Pride in London.

But that doesn’t mean people have become more rigid in the ways they think about themselves. So while many in society will be the victims of homophobic and biphobic hate crime, things have improved, at least in terms of state policies.

This, alongside the now extensive reservoir of queer thought on gender and sexual fluidity, and the increasing strength of trans movements, may explain why the younger generation are taking labels such as bisexual, lesbian and gay in greater numbers than their seniors. That celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevigne and Anna Paquin have come out as bisexual in recent years can’t have hurt either.

Beyond labels?

The ONS survey raises empirical questions which are connected to those of identity. It specifically asked questions about sexual identity, rather than exploring the more complicated links between identity, behaviours and desires.

The category “bisexual” is also very internally diverse. Many would argue that there are many different types of bisexuality and other sexual identities which the ONS survey does not explore.

This much is made clear by the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle (NATSAL), which has taken place every ten years since 1990 and is perhaps the most detailed picture we have of what people do (or don’t do) in bed. It suggests that the number of people who report same-sex experience is much higher than the number of people who identify as gay or bisexual.

Laud Humphreys’ infamous 1970 book Tearoom Trade, a highly controversial ethnographic study of anonymous sex between men in public toilets, showed us that plenty of people who seek out and engage in same-sex sexual contact do not necessarily identify as exclusively gay or even bisexual – in fact, only a small minority of his respondents did.

However far we’ve come, there’s still a social stigma attached to being lesbian/gay/bisexual. That means the statistics we have will be an underestimate, and future surveys will need a much more complicated range of questions to give us a more accurate picture. If we ask the right ones, we might discover we live in a moment where people are exploring their sexualities without feeling the need to label them.

But are we headed towards a point where the hetero/homo binary will collapse, and where gender will play less of a role in sexual preference? Given the continued privilege that comes with a heterosexual identity and the powerful political and emotional history of gay and lesbian identities and movements, I don’t think so.

Still, it seems more people may be growing up with the assumption that sexuality is more complicated than we have previously acknowledged – and that this not need not be a problem.

Complete Article HERE!

Kinky Sex For Stress Relief

BDSM Creates Mindful Mental State To Make You Better In Bed And More Relaxed

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your kinks

It’s no secret the Hollywood blockbuster Fifty Shades of Grey and the impending release of the Fifty Shades Darker sequel has sparked our interest in the 6-for-4 deal acronym: Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadism and Masochism, also known as BDSM. It has become a gateway for sexual experimentation among couples of all ages, steering them away from the conventional “vanilla sex.” Now, a study published in the journal Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice suggests BDSM not only adds novelty to the bedroom, it can make us more mindful partners in bed.

The intensity and pain associated with BDSM is presumed to do everything but induce stress. However, BDSM is more than just kinky sex; some practices can enhance our psychological well-being, and even have anti-anxiety effects and other mental health benefits. Previous research has found giving or receiving pain can alter blood flow in the brain, and lead to a feeling of living in the here and now, while reducing anxiety.

Now researchers at Northern Illinois University add further evidence that BDSM creates an altered state of mind. Participants in a study who practiced BDSM showed reduced levels of stress, better mood, and a high level of flow, or energized focus.

The transformative effects of bondage are well known within the BDSM community. According to the researchers, people in the BDSM community will often talk about being transported into a state of flow: “the idea that the rest of the world drops away and someone is completely focused on what they’re doing,” said Brad Sagarin, study author, and  professor in the department of psychology at Northern Illinois University, TIME reported.

In the study, Sagarin and his colleagues recruited seven couples who practice BDSM, including: two couples in a long-term relationship; two in polyamorous arrangements; two pairs who are friends; and one pair who met the day of the study. Each person in a pair were assigned to the “top” role (dominant), or the “bottom” role (submissive). The couples were allowed to engage in BDSM for as long as they wanted, with the average encounter lasting roughly an hour.

The researchers observed and marked down the activities that were happening while the couples practiced BDSM. Before and after each session, the researchers measured the participants’ cortisol levels and testosterone, while also measuring their mood, level of stress, sense of closeness, and whether they were experiencing mental flow.

The findings revealed BDSM helped couples become more present in the here and now, or be more mindful of their partner and the situation. Sagarin hypothesizes the intense sensations and the potential restriction of movement could influence someone’s ability to stay in the moment, and really tune in to it. This could potentially help people who otherwise have a hard time getting out of their own head.

Sagarin and his colleagues compared the BDSM-induced altered state of mind to that of pro athletes, prolific novelists, musicians, or anyone who loses themselves in an activity they’re skilled in. For example, scoring a touchdown requires intense focus to make sure it’s done effectively and safely; cracking a whip requires a similar focus. The athlete and the bed partner both transcend to a flow state of energized focus and full enjoyment of what they’re doing — it’s about letting go of the clutter in the mind.

Sandra LaMorgese, a professional dominatrix, refers to the meditative or mindful form of BDSM as “subspace.”

“My submissive clients describe it as an altered state of consciousness in which they feel completely liberated from stress. It’s a practice that allows you to completely let go of internal and external stress so that you can fully immerse yourself in the present moment,” she told The Huffington Post.

While the recent study only looked at BDSM-style sexual encounters, this could also have implications for those with less adventurous sex lives. If people are really focused on each other, and making the experience enjoyable for their partner, similar benefits may be reaped. Sex could be a new way to bring mindfulness into our lives, and even make us better partners in bed.

Next time you decide to get freaky in the sheets, think of your bed as your yoga mat, and meditate your way to better sex.

Complete Article HERE!

13 Ways Non-Monogamy Has Made Me a Better Partner (and Person)

By Maya M

nonmonogamy

In our culture and many others, the typical relationship narrative goes like this: You date around a little, eventually finding one true soulmate—the one person you’ll grow old with, raise children with, and the one and only person you’ll have sex with.

But there are a lot of people who don’t subscribe to this narrative, myself included. The problem with the concept of “the one” is that it undermines each and every human’s capacity to love many different people in many different ways.

After I decided to try out non-monogamy with a former girlfriend, I realized how the standard concept of monogamy erases the complexities of sexuality, passion, and romance. Though I still loved her as deeply as ever after opening up the relationship, I also learned to love another person on a completely different level. With my girlfriend, the love was deep, full of history, and adventurous; with my second partner, the love was fiery and playful.

Non-monogamy gave me the opportunity to intimately learn about another person’s body and mind without restriction or fear, and ever since that relationship, I’ve practiced non-monogamy with all my partners. While it can look different for different people, in my case, I prefer having a primary partner—someone I can call my girlfriend, make a home with, and introduce to my friends and family. I’m also comfortable with us having other partners, whether they are sexual, romantic, or a combination, as long as there is open communication about all relationships. We make sure we’re on the same page about what is and isn’t OK.

What I’ve been most grateful for is how non-monogamy has made me a much better partner and person. Here’s what I mean.

1. I’m not as jealous.

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When someone hits on my girlfriend or when I see her express interest in someone else, I actually get excited for all the potential thrill and adventure that relationship could bring. This decrease in jealousy helps me fully enjoy my time with my partner and not question her use of time when we’re not together.

And when I do feel jealous, I handle it better than I used to. No relationship, whether monogamous, polyamorous, or non-monogamous, is totally exempt from jealousy. If you’re someone trying out an open or non-monogamous relationship for the first time, know that it’s totally normal and OK to get a little envious.

I like to sit down with my partner the moment I start feeling this way and ask some questions: Where is this coming from? Is it a little irrational? How can we work together to fix the problem now and avoid it in the future? By tackling these questions head-on, we avoid the nasty things that sometimes happen when people let jealousy fester.

2. I see partners as humans—not people I can control.

People in monogamous relationships often say things like “that’s my girl” or “you can’t talk to my man.” This reduces your partner to property, and though many people don’t mind this kind of language, I prefer to see, treat, and speak about my partner as her own person. When my partner is on a date with someone else, I am reminded that, though I love her, she’s not only mine to love.

3. I’ve completely stopped slut-shaming.

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As I’ve come to understand that my partner’s body does not belong to me, I’ve become opposed to policing others’ bodies. To me, bodies are about safety, health, and pleasure, and while I may feel bodily pleasure through exercise, sex, and deep-tissue massages, other people may feel that pleasure through different sensations and actions. Before I started practicing non-monogamy, I gave my friends who abstained from sex a hard time about their choices. But opening up that aspect of my romantic life has taught me all the nuanced ways people use (and don’t use!) their bodies, and I’m a better person for it.

4. I find joy in others’ happiness.

Compersion is a term used in non-monogamous and polyamorous communities to describe the romantic or sexual pleasure that comes with seeing your partner loved or aroused by someone else. The first time I experienced compersion was during a threesome with one of my former girlfriends. I enjoyed watching the third person kiss her because I knew she enjoyed the kiss.

Compersion can cause an immediate surge of endorphins and arousal in sexual situations, but I’ve learned to translate the feeling into non-romantic and non-sexual situations as well. By embracing other people’s joy, I’m able to feel genuine excitement for their accomplishments (instead of jealousy) and happiness for their successes (instead of bitterness).

5. My sex life is way richer because I’m more open-minded.

Many people think non-monogamous people only open up their relationships for sex. While this isn’t always true, the improvement in my sex life has been undeniable. I’ve learned so much more about different ways human bodies feel pleasure, and I’m generally willing to act on fresh ideas in bed.

6. I can connect with diverse groups of people.

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As a queer, non-monogamous woman of color, it’s sometimes hard to stumble upon communities who share all my identities and can intimately relate to my trials and triumphs. But when I do, the feeling is magical. Though I love my straight, white, monogamous friends, meeting a non-monogamous brown or queer girl like myself helps me expand my perspective on my own identities as well as empathize with (and learn from!) the perspectives of someone else in a position similar to mine.

7. I don’t take my relationship for granted.

In a monogamous relationship, when an S.O. is expected to spend all their romantic and sexual energy on you, things can sometimes get a little stale and monotonous. When I opened up my relationship, I treated all the time we spent together like a gift and not necessarily an expectation. Despite what people may think, we didn’t spend significantly less time together. But on the nights she would be on a date with another person, I would have time to reflect on how much I loved her (and missed her!), so I was better able to cherish the time we spent together.

8. I’m a lot better at talking about my relationship.

From improvement strategies to big next steps (like moving in together or adopting a puppy) to simple check-ins, non-monogamy has made me a better communicator in general. I’m able to apply the same open communication principles to serious relationship talks, positive or negative.

9. I’m not quick to judge others.

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It’s no secret that non-monogamy is unconventional and often frowned upon. As someone who takes pleasure in something society deems “unnatural” or “irregular,” I understand how important it is to approach any other lifestyles with an open and accepting mind (as long as those lifestyles don’t bring harm upon others).

10. I understand my own sexuality (and others’) better.

When I was 17, I came out as a lesbian and understood my sexuality to be strictly one that aggressively favored women. But as I opened up my relationships and started sleeping with men, I found that though I still prefered women over men in every way, there was definitely room for men (both cis and gender non-conforming) and people who don’t identify within the binary. I started identifying as queer and learned that my own sexuality can be very fluid. Understanding my own sexuality helps me talk to my partners about theirs and ultimately helps me create safe spaces for friends and family to discuss the issue with me as well.

11. I take better care of my physical and reproductive health.

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Having a variety of different partners means taking responsibility to ensure pleasant and safe experiences for everyone. I get tested for STIs more often and also make sure to tackle infections more quickly now that a variety of people may be exposed to them. Taking better care of my reproductive health contributes to better communication, since sharing sexual history with partners can be crucial in many non-monogamous relationships.

12. Saying “no”—without hurting someone’s feelings—has become much easier.

Since I go on a lot more dates, I’ve become much better at sensing when I’m not compatible with someone. Because of this, it’s easier for me to tell people that things won’t work out, which spares a lot of hurt feelings.

13. I’ve become more loving and open-minded overall.

As a final thought for anyone confused about non-monogamy or considering exploring it with a partner, I want to emphasize it is not just fueled by a desire to have sex with other people; in fact, people who are non-monogamous often seek to better their relationships with their primary partner and lead more understanding, open lives.

Complete Article HERE!

Having Kids Helped Me Embrace My Own Sexuality

By

Margaret E Jacobsen

My children’s first interactions around sex and sexuality are actually taking place in our home right now. I’ve worked hard to establish where we live as a safe place for them to grow, make mistakes and learn from them, and to inquire about life. It’s why I made the choice early on in their lives to make sure that they learned about sex from me and from their dad, and that in teaching them about sex, we taught our kids to be sex positive. As much as people warned me that the conversation around sex is awkward between a parent and child, I didn’t let the fear of being uncomfortable keep me from taking about sex with my 3- and 2-year-old children.

I’m sure that talking to a 3 year old and a 2 year old about sex sounds like it’s a bit young, but I feel like that’s because we’re so used to framing the sex conversation around the “birds and the bees” conversation. When I was growing up I never had that conversation with my parents and had to frame my own ideals about sex and sexuality through experience and age. I didn’t want that for my children, though. So I felt that a toddler age was actually a wonderful time to start talking to them about how to love their bodies and how to appreciate them. I felt like the intro into sex isn’t about diving head first into questions like “where does the penis go?” and “what is the purpose of the vagina?” I wanted to give my kids a foundation for understanding and respecting their bodies before I ever taught them how about the intimacy shared between two people.

Margaret E Jacobsen2

More than anything, I wanted my kids to understand as soon as possible how to love themselves, to understand consent, and to respect others’ bodies. I believe that sex positivity isn’t just about the act of having sex, it’s also about learning that the experience starts with you and will eventually (if you choose) include others.

By the time I was 18, I had disassociated myself from my body because of how my parents talked about it. now I had the chance to do things differently.

My upbringing kept me from understanding what sex was. My parents sex hidden, far above my reach. I was told we’d open that box when I was old enough, but only when I was was getting close to marriage. I found this strange — even at 10 years old. I would look sex up in the dictionary and in the encyclopedia. I often wondered what sex was and what was so special about it — why was it something only adults could understand? I’d hear my friends talk about boobs, about liking boys, and wonder if I’d ever feel comfortable enough to be naked around another person I liked. At the time, the thought horrified me.

I was uncomfortable with my body. I didn’t understand what was happening to it, or why I was suddenly getting hair under my armpits and on my vagina. My parents were constantly telling me to “be modest,” and I felt so much pressure and responsibility to look and behave and act a certain way. By the time I was 18, I had disassociated myself from my body because of how my parents talked about it. now I had the chance to do things differently.

Margaret E Jacobsen & kids

When I was 18, I was in love and I had sex for the first time. It was amazing, and I had no idea why I’d been so afraid and so ashamed. I was raised Christian and was taught to believe that sex before marriage was shameful. But after having sex for the first time, I didn’t want any forgiveness. I simply wanted to keep having sex, without feeling guilty because of it. After I’d gotten married to my then-husband and had two kids, I looked back on my own sexual experiences and realized that I didn’t want my children gaining their sex education from the world around them without some input from me. I didn’t want them feel ashamed of the fact that they liked having sex or pleasuring their bodies. I wanted my kids to know that they could always come and talk to me, that I would always support them.

I tell them dressing my body in things that make me feel confident makes me feel empowered, as if my body hold some kind of magic. They love that. So do I.

So I started to talk to them about celebrating their bodies when they were young. And because of that, I had deeper conversations with myself surrounding my own sex positivity. I had some sexual trauma in my past, which has always made it a bit difficult for me to grapple with wanting to be sexual and carving out safe spaces to practice having sex. I made changes in my personal life: I was more vocal with myself about my needs and wants, then with partners. It helped me shape the conversations I’d have with my children about how they can and should voice what they want, not with sex because that’s still a ways off, but when interacting with others. I wanted them to learn and understand the power of their own voices. I taught them to say, “No, that’s not something I would enjoy,” or “I would really like if we did this” in their everyday lives, knowing that these lessons will help them in their sexuality later on. We’ve focused on how important it is for them to speak up for themselves and to advocate for themselves.

Margaret E Jacobsen's kids

Another thing we do in our house is walk around naked. I used to shy away from showing parts of my body, like my stomach or my thighs. I have stretch marks and cellulite — both things I’ve been told aren’t “sexy.” My kids, however, could care less about whether or not my body is sexy enough, because they just like how soft my body is. It’s soft for cuddling and for hugging, two things that are very important to them. My kids move so confidently with their bodies, both with clothes on and with clothes off. My daughter’s favorite thing is to stand in front of the mirror and compliment herself. She’s actually inspired me to do the same. I’ve taken up the practice. They’ve seen me in some of my lingerie, and tell me it’s beautiful. They don’t know that lingerie is “just for sex” or that it’s something I should feel wary of other people seeing. Instead, I tell them dressing my body in things that make me feel confident makes me feel empowered, as if my body hold some kind of magic. They love that. So do I.

I watch them be confident in their bodies. I watch them say “no” strongly to each other, and to others, and most importantly, I watch them hear and respect each other.

My kids are 6 and 7 years old now, and we’ve talked about what sex is. The conversation has changed as they’ve grown up. They understand that sex is a beautiful act, one that mostly happens when people are naked. They don’t really care to know more yet, but I watch them be confident in their bodies. I watch them say “no” strongly to each other, and to others, and most importantly, I watch them hear and respect each other. As a person who is non-monogamous, I’ve shown them that sex and love are not limited to one person. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. In turn, my children have taught me to respect and be proud of my body. They think it is magic — and I agree.

Lately, the children have been exploring their bodies, which I’ve told them is fine, but it’s reserved for their alone time. I’m trying to make sure that when we talk about our bodies and about sex that we do so in an uplifting, positive way. I don’t want my children to ever question or feel any shame around their bodies or their wants. I want to equip them with the right knowledge so that they’ll be able to enjoy. Most of all, I want them to be happy.

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