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The Ties That Bind

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 An Exploration of Anchorage’s Kink Community

by K. Jered Mayer

“Here’s a couch you can sit and relax on, or whatever. I like to suck dick while the guy is reading. It’s the sapiosexual side of me.”

Surprised, I glanced at the man guiding me through the rooms to see if the statement was meant for me. It was not. Not all of it, anyway. Everything after introducing me to the furniture had been an aside to a friend of my leather-clad cicerone as they passed by, but it had been said so offhandedly and received so earnestly that I knew right then I had never been in a place quite like this before.

The Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles–mercifully acronymized and more commonly known as ACAL–has been labeled in the past as “Anchorage’s only sex club.” It’s an oversimplification that people are quick to correct, not least of all the Center’s founder, Sarha Shaubach. The website she set up for ACAL is done so in a way as to put focus on the real purpose behind the organization’s inception. Not for scintillation nor sexploitation. Certainly not for orgies, which require “a lot of planning and connection” to arrange. Instead, the focus is on community.

“Your Kink Community Home Base” graces the top of the main page, followed by a description promising “elevated kink education and foundation building,” as well as a “judgement [sic] free, body positive environment,” and protection and equipment for healthy exploration.

The FAQ section on their website goes even further into detail. Here, BDSM is defined as a more complex, overlapping number of ideas, and not just whips and chains and ball gags. There are answers in this area to questions about privacy, membership costs and advantages and various other things to expect regarding dress codes (there isn’t one), alcohol–there isn’t any of that, either; it’s critical there is zero confusion regarding consent–and what else is offered for those not interested in the tying or whipping side of it. And there is plenty offered: card games, movie nights, bootblacking (the polishing of one’s leathers) and regular classes on rope and knot work to promote healthy bondage and prevent serious injuries.

While the club itself had some initial troubles starting up–Sarha notably sent the Press a letter in December 2014 detailing her struggles getting ACAL up and running in the old Kodiak bar building while co-leasing the space with “Fuck It” Charlo Greene–classes, play sessions, recurring memberships and group events have proven strong enough to keep the community thriving.

So much so, in fact, that it was inevitable a larger venue would someday be needed. When that day came this last summer, ACAL didn’t need to look far to find it. Back in June, weekend events began being held in an 8,000-square foot space on 3rd Avenue. By July, they were fully moved in.

When ACAL finally came to my personal attention last month, they had fully settled into the location and I was chomping at the bit to write about it. Sexuality has always fascinated me in its myriad forms, as has people’s reactions to it and how readily some subscribe to an opinion based on what they think something is and not based on what it actually is.

I wanted to know. I wanted to learn.

ACAL offers a text-based subscriptions service to alert people of upcoming events. When I reached out to Sarha for the first time, she asked if she could sign me up for what she called “the same spam stuff” she gave to anyone interested in attending the Center for the first time. I agreed–I wanted to approach this from the ground up.

So it is that I found myself downtown on New Year’s Eve opening a door with a leather pride flag draped over it. I ducked inside and scaled a gray stone staircase, then waited my turn as the woman in the box office window politely explained to a couple men that no, this wasn’t the entrance to the Latin dance party that was also going on, that was the other side of the building, this was something much, much different. They shuffled back past me. It was my turn.

“Yeah, I’m here for the, ah…” At the time, I only knew it as the Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles, which was a rigid mouthful, or as the “fetish club,” which seemed remarkably ill-informed. Which I was. So I stammered.

“Are you here for the dance night or for ACAL,” she asked. I confirmed the latter. When she asked me if it was my first time attending, I confirmed that too and she handed me a five-page pamphlet on the rules to follow, appropriate and inappropriate behaviors and the safe word. Safety, discretion, clear-mindedness, consent and a zero-tolerance policy on hate speech were all heavily emphasized. I signed a consent sheet and returned it to the box office, where I was quizzed on what I had read before being allowed entry.

I passed my quiz with rainbow colors, paid my $25 non-member entry fee and had my license number written down and filed away with my paperwork. Once that was finished, I was assigned a guide to give me a tour of the facility.

“Normally, we’ve got the whole floor,” I was told. “But sometimes, like tonight, we rent out the big room to other events. Only this side is open tonight, but that’s okay. Sometimes I like that more. It’s more intimate.”

The first room I was led into was the social room. Cell phones are allowed here, but strictly for texts. Pictures are prohibited and people are asked to take calls outside, to maximize privacy. There are plenty of seats around the space to relax or recline upon. Snacks or food are customarily set out for guests, as are sodas and water. The night I went, there was a hummus plate. It was delicious.

The social area serves multiple purposes. Members and guests can meet here to discuss activities for the evening, or to shoot the shit, or to take a break from anything that was too exhausting or discomfiting in the play room. I saw an even mix of men and women sprawled out under a number of fantastic art pieces. Variety was the spice of life in the social room when it came to age, body types and dress. T-shirts and jeans here, corsets and leather chaps there. I saw smiling faces. I heard giggles, chuckles and guffaws. It felt safe. Relaxed.

From there, we moved into a second, transitional room. The room with the couch. While my guide took a moment to discuss oral sex preferences and unrelated plans for the weekend, I took in the small area. Some pornography sat on top of a cabinet for anyone needing a primer to get in the mood. On the walls were photos of bound men and women. There was a bookcase packed with books on sexuality and erotica. There was also a healthy collection of close-up, black and white photographs of vaginas with varying grooming situations and piercing statuses. It was fascinating to me, from an artistic perspective, to see such a display of body variance.

The last room, just beyond, was the playroom. Low-lit, blue themed. A long, padded table was positioned near the door for massages or wax play. A mattress was pushed against one corner on the right, covered in a Minions blanket that honestly struck me as the most out-of-place thing in the room. The bed was unoccupied, but the other corner on the right side was not, as a young man practiced different knots while binding his girlfriend. They moved thoughtfully, conscious of each other’s bodies, a sensuous grace about them.

To their left, against the center of the back wall, was a stand meant for kneeling over. A couple was wrapping up their spanking session. It was loud and vigorous and I could feel my cheeks flushing as aggressively as, well, hers.

And still there was more. Directly in front of me was a cushioned bench. A wooden overhang had a metal ring affixed to it. A man walked by me, trailed by a woman, as my tour guide described the layout. He stripped down to his underwear and his companion helped slip a restraint through the ring, binding his wrists above his head. She followed that with some light whipping and tickling. She massaged his bare back. She slapped his ass. The entire time, they communicated clearly.

There was one more room, an off-shoot to the left, that held a cage and two X-shaped structures one could be bound to. Whatever had been going on before I stepped in was over and the women there were busy getting dressed and cleaning the equipment.

My tour ended then, with an, “And there you go! Have fun!”

I did have fun, though I couldn’t help but feel a little like an outsider. I watched these men and women during intimate moments. A woman undressing while her friends bound her with thin rope. A young couple using the open floor space to wrestle, asserting dominance over each other. A lady in a frilly blue skirt being digitally stimulated by a man who looked like a sexy train conductor. I was a voyeur, drinking in the sights, but though I was fascinated, I wasn’t quite prepared for the role. I retreated after a while to the social room. Did I mention the hummus plate was delicious?

I left around midnight. The New Year. The ball had dropped, people were toasting. I left with nothing but positive impressions in mind.

But Sarha and I had agreed that you couldn’t gauge the Center based off one experience. And so a week later I returned. The full floor was open this time for a 12-hour lock-in event. I brought two women with me, neither of whom had ever been, to see how it felt to others.

On my return trip, the playroom I experienced the first time had been rearranged into a general activity room. There were more attendees as well, but fewer sexual activities. Instead, everyone was more focused on games like no-money strip poker and Cards Against Humanity.

My friends and I checked out the other half of the floor eventually, walking into a room I can only describe as cavernous. The floor was bare concrete, which tied up the winter cold and exposed it to us. Heat bars were plugged in, to little effect. A handful of lamps provided gloomy illumination.

There was plenty more room here to put on a show. Tables and mats were set up to lay and play upon. At the back, a silhouette screen and photographer were set up for discrete erotic photo sessions. To one side sat a Sybian. If you’re unfamiliar with those, it’s a sort of vibrating saddle to which you can secure a synthetic dick. A box nearby had an incredible assortment of different lengths, girths and angles.

The room was impressive and filled with orgasmic opportunities, but with so much cold and open space and with so few people occupying it, it felt almost too bare. I recalled my guide’s preference for the more intimate arrangements, and it made sense to me now. This felt less like a shared moment and more like an impersonal display, a sentiment shared by one of the women with me.

All the same, both of my companions–neither identified as particularly fetishistic or kinky–told me they could definitely feel the sense of comfort and community that permeated the walls of ACAL. It was a reminder, again, that this place was meant to be more than just a “sex club.”

My friends and I left and talked about the evening over drinks and in the days that followed I reached out to other members of Anchorage’s fetish and kink community to talk about their experiences in general and to see what their relationship with ACAL–if any–had been like. The majority of responses were positive, but not all of them.

In fairness and full disclosure, I did hear back from a pair of women who had been decidedly turned off by their visits. One lady told me she had been pressured multiple times by men ignoring the No Means No rule–victims of this harassment are encouraged to approach management immediately so the violator can be dealt with. Astoria, who gave me permission to use her name, told me she didn’t have confidence in the level of security or protection the club promised.

I can see how this could be a concern. Aside from having documented signatures and taking down license and ID numbers, there isn’t a way to effectively run background checks on everyone rolling through. Instead, members and guests are expected to be self-reliant and cautious through conversation. When it works–as in the case of convicted sex offender Daniel Eisman who broke his probation by attending last October–the nefarious entity is quickly rousted from the club. But when it doesn’t work? Well, it comes down to observation, communication, crossed fingers and a knock on wood.

That being said, my experiences with ACAL and my research into the community around it left me with the firm belief that these types of incidents are in the minority and that the heart of the organization beats around the desire to provide a sense of normalcy to lifestyles different than what most might be used to. They do this by promoting education, patience, discussion, acceptance and understanding that not everyone is going to get off to the same thing. And that’s okay! The lesson is to be comfortable with yourself.

Wrapping this up, I thought it best to end with something for people who might be on the fence. For that, I went back to the community. I asked Astoria–a 26-year-old local fetishist who says she’s tried just about everything–for one thing she would tell anyone curious about alternate lifestyles.

“SSC,” she said. “Safe, Sane and Consensual. That phrase is a big part of being kinky. People are in the lifestyle because it’s something they enjoy or need to get by with the rest of what life throws at you.”

Being safe, considerate of the comfort of others and treating people rationally. Crazy how key behaviors in an “alternative” lifestyle are the same things everyone should already be doing regularly.

And was there anything else I took home from the experience, I’m going to assume you’re asking. Did I come away with any new interests myself? Well, I’ll just have to get back to you. I’m a little tied up at the moment.

Complete Article HERE!

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Nearly Half of U.S. Men Infected With HPV, Study Finds

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Although a vaccine is available, too few are getting it when young

 

Many American men are infected with the cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV), but unlike women, men are more likely to stay infected throughout their lives, a new study finds.

About 45 percent of U.S. men are infected with the sexually transmitted disease, as are 45 percent of women. Among women, the prevalence of HPV infection drops to about 22 percent as they age, but it remains high among men, said lead researcher Dr. Jasmine Han. She is in the division ofgynecologic oncology at Womack Army Medical Center, in Fort Bragg, N.C.

“We don’t know why it stays high in men while it drops in women,” she said. “Among men it’s higher than expected.”

Han speculates that the virus may remain in men because it lives in the penile glands, while in women, the virus is near the surface of the vagina and is more easily shed.

Although a vaccine against HPV has been available since 2009, coverage remains low. Only about 11 percent of men and 33 percent of women have been vaccinated, Han said.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease among men and women in the United States, according to background information in the study. About 79 million Americans are infected with some type of HPV, with approximately half of new infections occurring before age 24, the study authors said.

Most people infected with HPV don’t know they have it and don’t develop health problems from it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But HPV is not a benign infection. More than 9,000 cases of HPV-related cancers occur in men each year. HPV is the cause of 63 percent of penile, 91 percent of anal, and 72 percent of oral and throat cancers, the researchers noted.

In addition, HPV among men is an indirect cause of cervical cancer in women. The virus is also responsible for 90 percent of genital warts. HPV can also lead to tumors in the respiratory tract, called respiratory papillomatosis.

Han believes that the HPV vaccine should be mandatory for both boys and girls.

The CDC recommends that all boys and girls aged 11 to 12 get two doses of the HPV vaccine.

“We want our children to be vaccinated with the HPV vaccine because it is a cancer vaccine,” Han said. “By getting vaccinated, you can prevent your sons and daughters from getting these HPV-associated cancers in later years,” she explained.

Fred Wyand is a spokesman for the American Sexual Health Association/National Cervical Cancer Coalition. “This study underscores that HPV is common in men, and that’s true throughout most of their lives,” he said.

“We’re doing a better job of getting young males vaccinated against HPV, but uptake is still way below the levels we’d like to see,” Wyand added.

To get parents to accept the vaccine for their children, Wyand suggested that doctors need to give a “clear, strong recommendation for vaccination and treat HPV immunization as a normal, routine part of adolescent vaccinations.”

To gauge the prevalence of HPV infection among men, Han and colleagues used data on nearly 1,900 men who took part in the 2013-2014 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Samples from penile swabs were tested for HPV.

Overall, a little more than 45 percent of the men were infected with the cancer-causing virus. Among vaccine-eligible men, however, only about 11 percent had been vaccinated.

The lowest prevalence of the virus among men was about 29 percent for those aged 18 to 22, which increased to nearly 47 percent in men aged 23 to 27 and stayed high and constant as men aged, Han said.

It’s possible that the lower rate among younger men may have resulted from young men being vaccinated, the researchers said.

The report was published online Jan. 19 in the journal JAMA Oncology.

Complete Article HERE!

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Talking With Both Daughters and Sons About Sex

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Parents play a key role in shaping sexual decision-making among adolescents — especially for girls.

A 2016 review of more than three decades of research found that teenagers who communicated with their parents about sex used safer sexual practices. Likewise, new research from Dutch investigators who studied nearly 3,000 teenagers found that young adolescents who reported feeling close with a parent were unlikely to have had sex when surveyed again two years later.

Notably, both research teams found that daughters benefited more than sons, and that the effective conversations and relationships were typically had with mothers.

According to Laura Widman, lead author of the review study and an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University, “parents tend to talk about sex more with daughters than with sons, and we can speculate that that’s what’s probably driving these findings. Boys may not get the messages as frequently or have the kind of in-depth conversations that parents are having with girls.”

Given the results of her research, Dr. Widman said that she “wouldn’t want parents to get the idea that they only need to talk to daughters. In fact, it may be the opposite. We need to find a way to help parents do a better job of communicating with both their sons and daughters so that all teens are making safer sexual decisions.”

That parents have more frequent conversations with their daughters about sex and sexual development may be prompted by biological realities. Menstruation, HPV vaccination (which remains more common in girls than boys), and the fact that birth control pills require a prescription might spur discussions that aren’t being had with sons.

Yet experts also agree that gender stereotypes play a powerful role in sidelining both fathers and sons when it comes to conversations about emotional and physical intimacy. Andrew Smiler, a psychologist who specializes in male sexual development, noted that women generally “have a better vocabulary for talking about feelings and relationships than boys and men do. Fathers may be a little more stoic, more reserved and more hands-off.” And, he added, “they may play to the stereotype of trusting boys to be independent and able to care for themselves.”

These same stereotypes can also tend to steer the conversation in one direction with daughters and another direction with sons. When parents do address sexual topics with their teenagers, they typically adopt a heterosexual frame with boys playing offense and girls playing defense.

“We usually view our girls as potential victims who need to be protected from pregnancy and rape,” says Sheryl Ziegler, a psychologist who provides mother-daughter seminars on puberty and sexual development, while boys are often cast as testosterone-fueled prowlers looking for nothing but sex. These assumptions often drive how parents approach the conversation. Dr. Mary Ott, an associate professor of pediatrics at Indiana University and the author of a research synopsis on sexual development in adolescent boys observed that, “when parents talk with boys, there’s an assumption that they’ll have sex and they are advised to use condoms. Whereas for girls, there’s more of a focus on abstinence and delaying sex.”

Parental concern about the negative consequences of adolescent sexual activity can reduce “the talk” to a laundry list of don’ts. Don’t get a sexually transmitted infection, don’t get pregnant or get a girl pregnant and don’t proceed without gaining consent. Critical as these topics are, Dr. Ziegler points out that they can “become the focus, so much more than having a quality conversation about why we are sexual beings, or talking about all of the ways we can express love.” And failing to acknowledge the pleasurable side of sex can, according to Dr. Smiler, hurt the credibility of adults. “When parents only acknowledge the scary side of the story,” he said, “teenagers can devalue everything else the parents have to say.”

So how might we do justice to conversations with both our daughters and sons about emotional and physical intimacy?

Over the years in my work as a clinician, I’ve come to a single tack that I take with adolescent girls and boys alike. First, I prompt teenagers to reflect on what they want out of the sexual side of their romantic life, whenever it begins. Why are they being physically intimate, what would they like to have happen, what would feel good?

Following that, I encourage each teenager to learn about what his or her partner wants. I urge them to secure not just consent, but enthusiastic agreement. Given that we also grant consent for root canals, gaining mere permission seems, to me, an awfully low bar for what should be the joys of physical sexuality. Dr. Smiler adds that any conversation about consent should avoid gender stereotypes and address the fact that boys experience sexual coercion and assault and “include the idea that boys can and do say no.”

Finally, if the parties are enthusiastically agreeing to sexual activity that comes with risks — pregnancy, infection, the potential for heartbreak, and so on — they need to work together to address those hazards.

Research suggests that this shouldn’t be a single sit-down. The more charged the topic, the better it is served, and digested, in small bites.

Further, returning to the topic over time allows parents to account for the rapidly shifting landscape of adolescent sexual activity. We should probably be having one conversation with a 12-year-old, an age when intercourse is rare, and a different one with a 17-year-old, half of whose peers have had sex.

Is it better for mom or dad to handle these discussions? Teenagers “want to have the conversation with someone they trust and respect and who will show respect back to the teen,” Dr. Smiler said. “Those issues are more important than the sex of the person having the conversation.”

How families talk with teenagers about their developing sexuality will reflect the parents’ values and experiences but, Dr. Ott notes, we’re all in the business of raising sexually healthy adults.

“We want our teenagers to develop meaningful relationships and we want them to experience intimacy,” she said, “so we need to move our conversations about sex away from sex as a risk factor category and toward sex as part of healthy development.” And we need to do so with our sons as well as our daughters.

Complete Article HERE!

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Fears of coming out dissolve with acceptance from peers

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By ALEX JOHNSON

When I first decided to come out, I was terrified.

At the time, I was 16 and just starting to move up the social ladder at my school. I was passing all my classes, looking for my first job, and had finally started to feel settled in after moving here a year earlier. I had come from the conservative state of Idaho to the equally conservative state of Utah, and both states were heavily dominated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormons.

Again, I was terrified.

My middle school in Idaho seemed to be a breeding ground for the conservative culture I was so afraid off. My peers drove tractors after school for their farms, went hunting on weekends for wild ducks, and voiced their support for the Second Amendment whenever the issue was discussed.

There were boys who attacked others with the words “faggot” and “homo,” and peers of mine who called everything from a school assignment to a lonely seventh-grader “gay.”

It was in these halls that my stereotypes about the LDS Church and the conservative culture formed. During my three years at this Idaho school, I only knew two LGBTQ classmates who had already come out; a boy in the grade ahead of me, and my best friend. They had somehow pushed passed all of these slurs and jokes to become two of the most well-liked people in the school, something my 14-year-old mind could barely understand.

When I had switched schools to the suburbs of Utah, I was amazed at how similar it felt to Idaho. There were fewer farms for sure, and the schools were structured differently, but the residents were strikingly similar. They were rippled reflections of one another, with the most prevalent similarity being the dominant population of LDS Church members.

By the time my freshman year started, I was barely acquainted with the LDS Church and its policies. I knew that something called family home evening took place on Mondays and a majority of the members were conservatives. I knew that plans should not be scheduled for Sundays, and that my favorite beverage of the time, coffee, was a no-go for the church. Other than that, it was just another religion to me.

Then I stumbled upon a documentary on Netflix centered on Proposition 8, the controversial piece of state legislation passed in California that prevented same-sex couples from being legally wed. I started watching the movie because I was a teen struggling with my identity, but quickly learned that the LDS Church, the same religion that had thousands of churches and even more members in the only places I’d ever lived, was a major supporter for the movement.

My hesitation toward coming out and being ostracized in my own community had become a real fear. Prop 8 had happened in 2008, and six years later a relatively unknown documentary had made a then 15-year-old boy in Utah absolutely terrified to come out.

For six months I put up a façade of normality in hopes of finding some sort of solution. I refused to discuss my romantic life, and on the rare occasion that I was approached about homosexual people, I quietly voiced my support before changing the subject.

Then suddenly, on Dec. 14, 2014, I decided that I was ready to come out officially. I had told a few friends in the month prior, with all of them offering me unwavering support when I was ready. I logged onto Facebook that night and posted a photo of myself with the words “NO H8” painted on my cheek. I logged off, went to sleep, and woke up the next morning with a handful of likes and a few comments from friends who congratulated me.

Dec. 14 was the Sunday leading up to the biggest week of the year at my school: our annual winter fundraising drive. I had a vision of me entering the school and being surrounded by people looking to confirm the rumor they heard. I would be the ultra-confident gay, and my peers would look from afar as I became the talk of the school.

Instead, I was met with nothing; no support, no criticisms, no questions.

Eventually, people asked about it and just as quickly brushed it aside as irrelevant. I was the same person, and as one friend explained it, nothing had changed except that I had become a more complete “me.” Even in the weeks following, I found nothing but acceptance and open arms from all of my friends.

But most surprisingly, it was my LDS friends who supported me during the times I needed it most. They let me openly talk about my relationships and feelings and defended my community when a snide comment arose. Most seemed to opt for the middle ground; since my sexuality didn’t concern them, they had nothing to oppose.

Although I wish some Mormons were vocal about their support for the LGBTQ community, I understand that time is required for change to happen. And there are, of course, Mormons who are either LGBTQ themselves or allies for the community that work toward making the religion a more accepting place.

Yet, there is still this stigma that a gay person can’t be in the LDS church. When I tell people I’m gay, it seems to be assumed that I am subsequently not LDS (I’m an atheist), and I still find myself assuming that all Mormons I meet are heterosexual.

But I feel grateful that I can wake up each day and not dread going to school, because I know that I am lucky to have a group of peers who support me. There are less fortunate teens who are still afraid to reveal their sexuality in fear of being outcast; it’s an issue that can’t be resolved until the LDS Church makes it a priority to fix its relations with the LGBTQ community.

Complete Article HERE!

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Demisexuality is an orientation—not a condition of ‘being picky’

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It’s not a matter of fixing their libido.

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The demisexual flag

You know that feeling. You’re at a friend’s party and you see a cute guy or girl. You begin to sweat just a little and smile, the kind that makes you bite your lip. The other person approaches, and you make small talk. As you discuss shared interests, the stranger casually looks you up and down, assessing. He doesn’t think you notice, but you notice. You’re thinking the same thing. After some time passes, he asks if you want to get out of here, and you do. You go back to his place. He doesn’t call the next day. You don’t text.

This scenario is familiar to many of us, a rite of passage on most college campuses. For Dill Werner, though, the concept of having a one-night stand is both alien and terrifying, like slipping through a wormhole into an alternate universe.

That’s because Werner, 30, identifies as demisexual. The term, which originated on the website of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network in 2008, denotes someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction right away. These feelings often take weeks, months, or even years to form, the result of building a special bond with another person. The Demisexuality Resource Center describes the label as someone who “may experience secondary sexual attraction after a close emotional connection has already formed.”

Werner, a young adult author who focuses on LGBTQ themes, describes the process of developing attraction as “unique” to each individual that identifies as demisexual.

“It’s almost describing your soulmate. You know when you meet that person and something changes within you,” Werner said.Your body is giving you permission and your mind is giving you permission to click with that person and say, ‘Now we can take it to a more physical level.’”

The word demisexual has gained greater visibility in recent years with buzzy articles in Wired and Elle shedding light on the complex romantic lives of members of an emerging identity. It’s also gained a great deal of traction on Tumblr, a microblogging website that has also popularized labels like “sapiosexual,” describing someone who is attracted to others’ intellect. On Twitter, people along the asexual spectrum regularly meet for “Ace Chats,” which provide support and space for the community.

For those unfamiliar with the term, think of it as between the poles of asexuality, where you feel limited or no attraction to others, and what we think of as normative sexuality, where such feelings are frequent. If demisexuals do feel sexual attraction to someone they don’t know—a sexy train passenger—these moments are fleeting. They pass long before you get to the bedroom, and it’s different for everyone. Some will never have that experience.

Because demisexuality is along the asexual spectrum, it’s frequently referred to as “gray sexuality.” You might also hear words like “asexual-ish” and “semisexual” used to describe the phenomenon.

 

Although experiences vary for people who identify as demisexual, they often describe themselves as feeling “different” from a very young age. While schoolmates develop crushes on the cute boy in first period and go out on dates, they don’t. Instead, many demisexuals feel as if there’s something wrong with them. Why can’t they experience what everyone else does?

“I wanted to have the sorts of casual relationships other people were having because, to me, that’s what was ‘normal,’” Werner said. “That’s what it felt like I should have been doing in my 20s and late teens. I wanted to be like everybody else, but my body and my mind wouldn’t let me. Even when I tried to—with people I was in relationships with—alarm bells went off. It wasn’t the right time and it wasn’t the right circumstances.”

Meryl Williams, a writer for the Establishment, said that what made being demisexual particularly difficult is that she wasn’t aware—until recently—that the label existed.

“I didn’t have a name for it,” the 30-year old said. “It was this long, bumbling explanation. And it’s an uncomfortable topic! It’s hard to talk about, especially with someone you don’t feel comfortable with yet. I never really know what’s going to happen when I bring it up, which is scary, because it’s such a vulnerable subject.”

Williams claimed that being demisexual often makes dating “frustrating” because there’s no guarantee that she’s going to develop sexual attraction to that other person at all. Many people, she said, haven’t been willing to wait around to find out.

“It takes a lot more time for me than it does for most people,” she said. “Most people, they can tell pretty early on if they’re sexually attracted to that person. They know. And if they’re not attracted to them, they’re probably not going to continue seeing that person. But with me, I’ll probably give relationships a lot more time than I necessarily need to because I’m not sure. I want to go down that road of dating someone for a while, but nine times out of 10, I’m not going to feel attracted to them.”

What makes discussing demisexuality with partners and even friends and loved ones difficult is the great many misconceptions many people have about the term. After she came out as demisexual in the Washington Post, one reader told Williams she should go to conversion therapy.

Werner said that the most common myths about gray sexuality fall into five different camps. There are the types of people who believe that demisexuals are just waiting until they meet the right person. Others believe it’s a choice, akin to a young Christian waiting until marriage to have sex. Many might claim that demisexuality isn’t an orientation but instead the result of a low sex drive. Some claim that demisexuals are just “really picky.” The last, and perhaps most pernicious group, is the people who claim it’s merely a made-up label.

Cara Liebowitz, a 24-year-old disability activist, understands the confusion but says that these criticisms can be delegitimizing and invalidating, as if others would rather erase her experience than listen.

“I’m confused about my label, so anyone who is confused about my label can join the club,” Liebowitz said. “It makes me feel frustrated because people often tell me that it’s not a real thing. And I say, ‘I’m a real person, so obviously what I feel is real.’ People are so quick to judge, especially on the internet. It would be nice to talk about our sexuality without shame.”

A 2004 study conducted in the U.K. found that 1.1 percent of the population identifies on the asexual spectrum. If those numbers were the same for the United States, it would represent over 3.5 million people. That’s about the size of Connecticut.

While critics might lump this group in with people who experience “hypoactive sexual desire disorder,” there’s a difference between gray sexuality and a lack of libido. People with a low sex drive often feel intense depression and anxiety over their limited feelings of arousal. Most demisexuals, however, don’t want to change. A 2014 survey from AVEN found that two-thirds of demisexuals were not interested in having intercourse. It’s low on their priority list.

Werner, who is currently in a long-term relationship, said that it can be difficult to find someone you bond with, who brings out those feelings of sexual attraction. For many demisexuals, it only happens once or twice in their lives. But when it does, those feelings of connection are powerful. It’s worth the wait.

“When you meet the person you bond with, the heavens open up,” Werner said. “You see colors for the first time. Everything finally makes sense.”

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