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What does queer mean?

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The word “queer” remains controversial, but while some still do find the term derogatory, most LGBTQ+ people have proudly reclaimed the anti-gay slur and use it in a positive light.

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In the English language, queer dates back to the 16th century, and was possibly derived from the German word ‘quer’, which translates as ‘oblique’ or ‘perverse’.

Originally defined as “odd”, “strange” or “peculiar”, the term “queer” took on a more sordid meaning from the mid-20th century when it was used to pejoratively refer to those with same-sex desires, especially gay men.

But, with the rise of LGBTQ+ activism in the 1970s and 1980s, some gay rights campaigners positively reclaimed the word “queer” as an umbrella term for gender and sexual minorities.

Today, queer is widely used by millennials as an inclusive term to refer to anyone who is not straight and/or not cisgender.

But, for some people, particularly older generations, “queer” still carries negative connotations.

Just last month, Twitter banned some users who had described themselves as “queer,” facing a backlash from those who had reclaimed the term.

Definitions

According to Brian Lewis, whose book British Queer History was published in 2013, the word “queer” today has three primary uses.

He explains: “’Queer’ is used in three main ways: as an act of reclamation from homophobes; as an umbrella term for the micro divisions of the LGBT+ community; and as a marker of sexual fluidity in opposition to heterosexual and homosexual binaries and identities.”

For Lewis, the term “queer” is “one of the most useful—and controversial—categories of analysis in the study of sexuality.”

Similarly Alan Butler, a research fellow in history at the University of Plymouth, who is also secretary in the LGBTQ+ arm of the Oral History Society, recognises this contradiction.

“’Queer’ has had multiple meanings through time,” he says. “Currently it’s framed by many as an umbrella term for people who exist outside of heteronormative and cis gender norms. For many people though it’s been derogatory and still is.”

Meanwhile, Justin Bengry, who lectures in and convenes the Queer History MA at Goldsmiths, University of London, the first course of its kind in the UK, says: In academia we often use ‘queer’ as an umbrella term.

“As an inclusive term to include the widest range of gender and sexual diversity in the past and the present.”

He continues: Some activists too have positively reclaimed ‘queer’ as an inclusive term that welcomes people beyond the LGBT spectrum or whose identities fall outside those categories.

Some people don’t want to be identified by LGBT categories – they reject being cateogrised and being labelled.

Queer and same-sex desire

Early recorded examples of queer meaning same-sex desire include a letter written in 1894 by John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry.

Bengry talks about a letter he has read dating from the 1930s where the writer talks about being “queer” in reference to his desire for another man.

He explains: Even though he’s writing in terms that are similar to our understandings of ‘gay’ today, there are still important differences in the past. But he’s certainly writing about same-sex desires.”

The mid-20th century and negative meaning

From the mid-20th century onwards, however, the term “queer” started to take on a negative meaning and was used to pejoratively refer to LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly gay or bisexual men.

Bengry says that by the mid-20th century “queer” was being used in a way that was “derogatory and venomous and negative.”

Butler explains: “In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, the term was very prevalent and used to describe and often put down LGBT people.

“It tended to be associated most closely with gay men and was used as an insult. The continued through the 80s and 90s and even today some people use it as an insult or as a term of hatred.

Reclaiming the word “queer”

As Lewis writes in his book, British Queer History, from the 1980s the word “queer” began to be reclaimed by “radical grassroots activists in organisations like Queer Nation and ACT UP (in the US) and Outrage! (in Britain).”

These individuals, Lewis writes, “began to deploy it as a calculated and edgy act of reclamation.”

By reclaiming the word “queer”, says Bengry, LGBTQ+ rights activists redefined themselves – and hit back against those who had used the term to insult them.

He says: From the 80s and 90s, with the development of a more radical activism and queer theory, ‘queer’ really came to be redeployed in opposition to the venom of its use in the past.

“Queer people now said: ‘No, this is our word, and we’re taking it back … we’re reclaiming it for our own purposes and activism.’”

Using queer with caution today

But Bengry says the “strongest association” that “many people alive today” still have is of queer being used “threateningly, dangerously, as a weapon, aggressively.”

Consequently, he says, we must act with awareness when using the term “queer.”

He continues: “Many people were physically assaulted and emotionally harmed, and that was the word that accompanied those assaults.”

“That threat and violence is still incredibly resonant for them. It’s something that we all have to bear in mind when we use [queer] today – we can be re-traumatising people by using this word.”

As Bengry points out, the term “is useful and complex”. He adds: “Some people today actively claim it as an identity. It also recognises a much greater diversity of experience and identity than any other term.”

For Butler, “queer” is particularly a taboo word in Plymouth, where he teaches, because of a homophobic murder in 1995. After the crime, someone sprawled the homophobic graffiti “no queer’s here” at the scene of the murder.

Still, Butler is happy that, at least outside Plymouth, the word “queer” has been positively reclaimed.

“If something perceived as an insult is owned and celebrated by you then it loses its power in terms of hatred,” he says.

Complete Article HERE!

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Federal courts ask: What is the meaning of ‘sex’?

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Existing prohibitions against discrimination ‘because of sex,’ already provide a civil rights umbrella wide enough to cover discrimination based on sexual orientation and transgender identity, some judges are beginning to say.

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A number of federal courts have begun to ask a question that has become more and more subtle over the past few years: What is the meaning of ‘sex’?

It’s a question that has in many ways evolved out of the storms of cultural change that have surrounded the country’s shifting ideas about human sexuality and gender over the past few decades. Many of these culminated in the US Supreme Court’s landmark 5-to-4 decision in 2015, in which a bare majority declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right.

On the one hand, the high court’s epoch-changing decision that legalized same-sex marriage created the kind of situation that inevitably arises out of rapid cultural change. Today, neither the federal government nor some 28 states offer any explicit civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBTQ), either in the workplace or any other arena of daily life.

“It is constitutionally jarring to know that, in most states, a lesbian couple can get married on Saturday and be fired from their jobs on Monday, without legal redress,” notes the legal scholar William Eskridge, professor at Yale Law School in New Haven, Conn.

And many throughout the country, even those with liberal-leaning views, continue to be uneasy about the presence of transgender people in certain sensitive places, including school bathrooms and locker rooms.

On Friday, President Trump issued a policy memo that would disqualify most transgender people from serving in the military, after tweeting about his plans to issue such a ban last July. As Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reported to the president in February, the administration is concerned that the presence of transgender soldiers could “undermine readiness,” “disrupt unit cohesion,” and create unreasonable health care costs for the military, echoing arguments used in the past for other groups.

At least four federal courts have found this reasoning constitutionally jarring as well, potentially violating the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Yet beyond sweeping constitutional questions which regulate what the government can do to its citizens, the nation’s evolving definitions of sex, marriage, and gender have also been quietly transforming the nation’s civil rights laws, which regulate how citizens live their common lives together.

Title VII and Title IX

Indeed, a number of federal courts have recently begun to weigh in on a vigorous and relatively new legal idea, simmering for the past few years in federal civil rights cases but only now beginning to take a more defined legal shape.

There may be no need to press Congress and the majority of state legislatures to change their statutes and explicitly add LGBTQ people to their lists of protected classes. (Traditionally, these include race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.) Existing prohibitions against discrimination “because of sex,” already provide a civil rights umbrella wide enough to cover discrimination based on sexual orientation and transgender identity, some judges are beginning to say.

The Obama administration took this position in 2016, telling the nation’s public schools that transgender students should be able to use the bathroom of their choice, a directive that interpreted Title IX’s prohibitions against sex discrimination as covering transgender identity.

Last April, the US Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, which includes nine justices nominated by Republican presidents and five by President Ronald Reagan, also embraced this idea. In an 8-to-3 decision that spanned the panel’s ideological spectrum, the full court ruled that the Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination in the workplace also included any based on sexual orientation.

Last month, the Second Circuit in New York issued a similar ruling. “Sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination because sexual orientation is defined by one’s sex in relation to the sex of those to whom one is attracted,” wrote Chief Judge Robert Katzmann for the 10-3 majority. It would be impossible “for an employer to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without taking sex into account,” he continued.

Such an evolving legal definition of sex could again reshape the nation’s legal landscape. “Potentially a lot is at stake,” says Professor Eskridge. “Depending how broadly you go, this idea could affect dozens of state statutes and dozens of federal statutes, the chief of which are Title VII and Title IX,” sections in the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act that forbids discrimination both in the workplace and in public schools.

Original intent

On the surface, the debate over the meaning of “sex” in these cases divides legal thinkers into classic liberal and conservative approaches to the law. Those who focus on the “original intent” of laws and the precise words of the legal text have generally rejected the expansive lines of thinking about the definition of sex.

“I think the better answer, the cleaner answer is just, let Congress go ahead and change the laws,” says Mark Goldfeder, senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory Law School in Atlanta. And there’s virtue in hashing out such questions through a political process rather than letting a panel of judges make such society-shaping decisions.

Indeed, this was part of the reasoning behind a three-judge panel in the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, which came to the opposite conclusion. In a 2-to-1 decision, the majority said that discrimination “because of sex” and discrimination based on sexual orientation were two different things. The disagreement among appeals courts could invite a potential Supreme Court review, scholars say.

But the history of the legal concept of “sex discrimination” unfolded in a much more complex way, many observers note, and conservative jurisprudence, too, has played a key role in the evolving definitions of “sex” that almost immediately began to widen over time.

“There’s been this natural progression of the law,” says Susan Eisenberg, managing partner at the Miami office of Cozen O’Connor. As a trial attorney who has been defending companies from civil rights complaints for more than two decades, she’s has watched as the concept of “sex” in discrimination cases has evolved over time, changing the ways she defends her clients.

The evolution of civil rights law

In the first decade after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, she and others point out, the “original intent” of the prohibition against sex discrimination was clear. The nation’s elite law schools and medical schools were often reserved for male applicants only, single women could be denied leases and bank accounts, and the nation understood its merit-based workplace as the natural domain of men alone.

But by the 1970s, people began to claim that sexual harassment in the workplace also violated Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination, and the Supreme Court agreed, declaring “a hostile work environment” as a violation of Title VII.

By the end of the 1980s, the Supreme Court found that discrimination based on “gender stereotypes” was also a violation of civil rights laws – in this case a woman who was passed up for promotion because she did not act feminine enough.

“She argued: that’s discrimination against me on the basis of my sex,” says Steve Sanders, a professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law in Bloomington. “They’re not discriminating against me as a woman per se, but they’re discriminating against me because I failed to demonstrate certain stereotypes of what it means to be a woman, and the Supreme Court accepted that.”

And the nation’s high court broadened the definition even further in 1998, ruling unanimously that Title VII’s workplace protections covered sexual harassment between members of the same sex – a key decision, says Ms. Eisenberg, citing a passage that in many ways redefined her job.

“Statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia for the majority in the case Oncale v. Sundowner, explaining the expanding definition of sex in this area of civil rights law.

“The sexual orientation cases that we’re now seeing basically takes the logic of these cases one step further,” says Professor Sanders. “If you’re a man, the social stereotype and the social expectation is that you will want to have sex with a woman, that you will want to have a relationship and a marriage with a woman. But, no, you defy that gender stereotype about what it means to be a man, because you’re attracted to other men.”

“Well, if the idea that men should only be attracted to women and women should only be attracted to men is a form of gender stereotyping, ergo, the logic goes, it’s covered by Title VII,” he says.

The Trump administration, however, maintains that while the Justice Department “is committed to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of all individuals,” in these case it remains “committed to the fundamental principle that the courts cannot expand the law beyond what Congress has provided,” said Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley in February.

‘Lack of clarity can prove expensive’

Corporate attorneys say most businesses have already instituted their own antidiscrimination policies. “But though many have adopted these, only voluntarily, the unevenness, the irregularity of anti-discrimination laws, I think is very challenging for the business community to grapple with,” says Darren Rosenblum, professor at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in New York. “So I think there is an imperative to clarify the law on this point. That’s what they need first and foremost, because the lack of clarity can prove expensive, figuring out which norms to follow.”

Even so, Eisenberg points out that given the ways in which the high court has redefined the meaning of sex in past precedents, today simple claims of “gender stereotyping” already covers most claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“And if you’ve got people who are being discriminated against just because they’re not part of a protected characteristic, that’s just not good management,” Eisenberg says. “It’s not good for recruiting, it’s not good for maintaining employees, it’s not good all the way around.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Does Sex Feel So Good, Anyway?

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By Kassie Brabaw

There’s a reason that sex toy shops choose names like Pleasure Chest, Good Vibrations, and Sugar. All of these words invoke the tingling, heart-pumping, all-over ‘yum’ feelings many people associate with having sex.

There’s no question that great, consensual sex feels amazing. But why does it feel so good? What’s actually happening inside someone’s brain and body to create that euphoria?

According to sexologist Laura McGuire, PhD, there are three main physiological reasons someone feels sexual pleasure: the pudendal nerve, dopamine, and oxytocin.

The pudendal nerve is a large, sensitive nerve that allows someone’s genitals to send signals to their brain. In people who have vulvas, it has branches in the clitoris, the anus, and the perineum (the area between the anus and the vulva or the anus and the penis). In people who have penises, the pudendal nerve branches out to the anus, the perineum, and the penis. “It’s important for women to realize that the nerve doesn’t have much concentration inside the vaginal canal,” Dr. McGuire says. “Most of the pudendal nerve endings are focused on the clitoris.” That’s why it’s common for people who have vulvas to struggle reaching orgasm from penetrative sex alone, and why the clitoris is often considered the powerhouse of women’s sexual pleasure.

The pudendal nerve explains how signals get from someone’s genitals to their brain during sex, and then the brain releases dopamine and oxytocin, which causes a flood of happy, pleasurable feelings. “Oxytocin is often called ‘the love hormone,'” Dr. McGuire says. “It’s what makes us feel attached to people or things.” Oxytocin is released during sex and orgasm, but it’s also released when someone gives birth to help them feel attached to their baby, she says. “That’s the big one that makes you feel like your partner is special and you can’t get enough of them.”

Like oxytocin, dopamine helps your brain make connections. It connects emotional pleasure to physical pleasure during sex, Dr. McGuire says. “So, that’s the hormone that makes you think, that felt good, let’s do it again and again and again,” she says.

Oxytocin and dopamine are both in a class of hormones considered part of the brain’s reward system, says Lawrence Siegel, a clinical sexologist and certified sexuality educator. As someone’s body reaches orgasm, they flood their system because the brain is essentially trying to medicate them, Siegel says. “The brain seems to misunderstand sexual arousal as trauma,” he says. As someone gets aroused, their heart rate increases, their body temperature goes up, and their muscles tense, all of which happen when someone’s body is in trouble, too.

“As that continues to build and increase, it reaches a point when the brain looks down and says ‘Uh,oh you’re in trouble,'” Siegel says. “An orgasm is a massive release of feel-good chemicals that leaves you in a meditative state of consciousness.”

Yet, not everyone desires sex. So how do we explain asexuality? Science doesn’t have any solid answers, Dr. McGuire says, although it’s important to know that asexual people don’t choose to be asexual any more than gay people choose to be gay. While we don’t know what makes someone asexual, it’s pretty certain that there’s no physical difference between asexual people and everyone else, Siegel says.

“It’s not correct to say that people who identify as asexual don’t experience pleasure,” he says. “They just don’t have the desire to have sex.” Desire is ruled by different hormones, most notably testosterone. But even that might not fully explain why someone isn’t interested in having sex. “It feels like a different appraisal or reaction to the experience in their body,” Siegel says.

While everybody has a pudendal nerve and can experience the release of dopamine and oxytocin that happens with sex, not everyone will experience that release as pleasurable or experience the same level of pleasure. “People are very complicated,” Dr. McGuire says.

Complete Article HERE!

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Omnisexual, gynosexual, demisexual: What’s behind the surge in sexual identities?

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There’s been a proliferation of sexual identities.

by Olivia Goldhill

In 1976, the French philosopher Michel Foucault made the meticulously researched case that sexuality is a social construct used as a form of control. In the 40 years since, society has been busy constructing sexualities. Alongside the traditional orientations of heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual, a myriad other options now exist in the lexicon, including:

  • pansexual (gender-blind sexual attraction to all people)
  • omnisexual (similar to pansexual, but actively attracted to all genders, rather than gender-blind)
  • gynosexual (someone who’s sexually attracted to women—this doesn’t specify the subject’s own gender, as both “lesbian” and “heterosexual” do)
  • demisexual (sexually attracted to someone based on a strong emotional connection)
  • sapiosexual (sexually attracted to intelligence)
  • objectumsexual (sexual attraction to inanimate objects)
  • autosexual (someone who prefers masturbation to sexual activity with others)
  • androgynosexual (sexual attraction to both men and women with an androgynous appearance)
  • androsexual (sexual attraction towards men)
  • asexual (someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction)
  • graysexual (occasionally experiencing sexual attraction, but usually not)

Clearly, people felt that the few existing labels didn’t apply to them. There’s a clear “demand being made to have more available scripts than just heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual,” says Robin Dembroff, philosophy professor at Yale University who researches feminist theory and construction.

Labels might seem reductive, but they’re useful. Creating a label allows people to find those with similar sexual interests to them; it’s also a way of acknowledging that such interests exist. “In order to be recognized, to even exist, you need a name,” says Jeanne Proust, philosophy professor at City University of New York. “That’s a very powerful function of language: the performative function. It makes something exist, it creates a reality.”

The newly created identities, many of which originated in the past decade, reduce the focus on gender—for either the subject or object of desire—in establishing sexual attraction. “Demisexual,” for example, is entirely unrelated to gender, while other terms emphasize the gender of the object of attraction, but not the gender of the subject. “Saying that you’re gay or straight doesn’t mean that you’re attracted to everyone of a certain gender,” says Dembroff. The proliferation of sexual identities means that, rather than emphasizing gender as the primary factor of who someone finds attractive, people are able to identify other features that attract them, and, in part or in full, de-couple gender from sexual attraction.

Dembroff believes the recent proliferation of sexual identities reflects a contemporary rejection of the morally prescriptive attitudes towards sex that were founded on the Christian belief that sex should be linked to reproduction. “We live in a culture where, increasingly, sex is being seen as something that has less to do with kinship and reproduction, and more about individual expression and forming intimate bonds with more than one partner,” Dembroff says. “I think as there’s more of an individual focus it makes sense that we have these hyper-personalized categories.”

The same individuality that permeates western culture, leading people to focus on the self and value their own well-being over the group’s, is reflected in the desire to fracture group sexual identities into increasingly narrow categories that reflect personal preferences.

Some believe this could restrict individuals’ freedom in expressing fluid sexuality. Each newly codified sexual orientation demands that people adopt increasingly specific criteria to define their sexual orientation.

“Language fixes reality, it sets reality,” says Proust. “It paralyzes it, in a way. It puts it in a box, under a tag. The problem with that is it doesn’t move. It negates or denies any instability or fluidity.”

There’s also the danger that self-definition inadvertently defines other people. Just as the terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” demand that people clarify their sexual preference according to their and their partner’s gender, “sapiosexual” asks that we each of us define our stance towards intelligence. Likewise, the word “pansexual” requires people who once identified as “bisexual” clarify their sexual attraction towards those who don’t identify as male or female. And “omnisexual” suggests that people should address whether they’re attracted to all genders or oblivious to them.

In Foucault’s analysis, contemporary society turns sex into an academic, scientific discipline, and this mode of perceiving sex dominates both understanding and experience of it. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy summarizes this idea neatly:

Not only is there control exercised via others’ knowledge of individuals; there is also control via individuals’ knowledge of themselves. Individuals internalize the norms laid down by the sciences of sexuality and monitor themselves in an effort to conform to these norms.

The new terms for sexual orientations similarly infiltrate the political discourse on sexuality, and individuals then define themselves accordingly. Though there’s nothing that prevents someone from having a demisexual phase, for example, the labels suggest an inherent identity. William Wilkerson, a philosophy professor at the University of Alabama-Huntsville who focuses on gender studies, says this is the distinctive feature of sexual identities today. In the past, he points out, there were plenty of different sexual interests, but these were presented as desires rather than intrinsic identities. The notion of innate sexual identities “seems profoundly different to me,” he says. “The model of sexuality as an inborn thing has become so prevalent that people want to say ‘this is how I feel, so perhaps I will constitute myself in a particular way and understand this as an identity’,” he adds.

In the 1970s and 80s there was a proliferation of sexual groups and interests similar to what we’ve seen over the past five to 10 years, notes Wilkerson. The identities that originated in earlier decades—such as bears, leather daddies, and femme and butch women—are deeply influenced by lifestyle and appearance. It’s difficult to be a butch woman without looking butch, for example. Contemporary identities, such as gynosexual or pansexual, suggest nothing about appearance or lifestyle, but are entirely defined by intrinsic sexual desire.

Dissatisfaction with existing labels doesn’t necessarily have to lead to creating new ones. Wilkerson notes that the queer movement in earlier decades was focused on anti-identity and refusing to define yourself. “It’s interesting that now, it’s like, ‘We really want to define ourselves,’” says Wilkerson.

The trend reflects an impulse to cut the legs out from under religious invectives against non-heteronormative sexualities. If you’re “born this way,” it’s impossible for your sexuality to be sinful because it’s natural, made of biological desires rather than a conscious choice. More recently, this line of thinking has been criticized by those who argue all sexualities should be accepted regardless of any link to biology; that sexuality is socially constructed, and the reason no given sexuality is “sinful” is simply because any consenting sexual choice is perfectly moral.

Though it may sound ideal to be utterly undefined and beyond categories, Proust says it’s impossible. “We have to use categories. It’s sad, it’s tragic. But that’s how it is.” Constructs aren’t simply necessary for sexual identity or gender; they’re an essential feature of language, she adds. We cannot comprehend the world without this “tag-fixing process.”

The proliferation of specific sexual identities today may seem at odds with the anti-identity values of queer culture, but Dembroff suggests that both work towards the same ultimate goal of eroding the impact and importance of the old-fashioned binary sexual identities. “Social change always happens in non-ideal increments,” Dembroff notes. So while today we may have dozens of sexual identities, they may become so individualized and specific that they lose any significance for group identities, and the entire concept of a fixed sexual identity is eroded.

“We demand that sex speak the truth,” wrote Foucault in The History of Sexuality. “We demand that it tell us our truth, or rather, the deeply buried truth of that truth about ourselves which we think we possess in our immediate consciousness.” We still believe sex reveals an inner truth; now, however, we are more readily able to recognize that the process of discovering and identifying that truth is always ongoing.

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Actual things you can do to bridge the orgasm gap in your own bedroom

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By Rachel Thompson

Your sexual partner just jubilantly crossed the finish line, but you’re still running a race with no end in sight. It’s frustrating. And, for an alarming number of heterosexual women, it’s the infuriating reality of sex. Metaphors aside, we’re talking about the gender orgasm gap—the disparity between men and women’s sexual satisfaction, and a struggle that many of us know all too well.

64 percent of men have an orgasm during sex, but only 34 percent of women can say the same, according to the Durex Global Sex Survey which surveyed nearly 30K adults worldwide. Women who identify as heterosexual are the demographic that have the fewest orgasms, according to a study by Indiana University. That same research also revealed something that many women are already fully aware of: penetrative sex alone simply doesn’t cut it for most women. And, that women need oral sex and clitoral stimulation if they’re going to stand any chance of coming.

The reasons for the orgasm gap are multi-faceted, and some of them will take a long time to remedy. Sex education that fails to teach sexual pleasure has been cited as one reason for the gap. A study from University of Wisconsin-Madison found a third of university-age women can’t identify their clitoris in an anatomy test. Communication, or a lack thereof, is one of the biggest obstacles in bridging the orgasm gap, according to the Durex Global Sex Survey. Over a third of people feel they can’t tell their sexual partner what they like. And, others say the reason behind the gender orgasm gap is the cultural prioritisation of the male orgasm.

We might not be able to change these things overnight, but there are a few things we can do. Mashable asked gynaecologists, sex therapists, sex educators, and orgasm equality activists what heterosexual sex partners can do to bridge the orgasm gap in their own bedroom. Here are the pearls of wisdom they imparted that will hopefully bring us all a little closer to that oh-so-coveted finish line.

Don’t fake it

Heather Corinna—founder of Scarleteen, a sex and relationships education site for young people—warns against faking your orgasm, which can cause a miscommunication between you and your sexual partner. “Orgasm tells a partner whatever you did together can gets you off. So, they’re often going to try and repeat those things to get that result again,” says Corinna. “If you faked, you gave them wrong information, and then they think things get you off that might not, or even most definitely DO not.”

Masturbate together

Angela Skurtu— sex therapist and cohost of the About Sex podcast—says couples should masturbate together so they can see see “how each person touches themselves.” “Women masturbate very differently than men do and we can teach each other,” says Skurtu. “You can also make this a competition—whoever finishes first wins something.”

Build arousal slowly

“Slow down,” says Sophie Holloway, founder of Ladies Come First, a campaign promoting pleasure based sex education. “No touching the vagina until you are really really really turned on,” says Holloway. “Your labia should be plump and erect just like the penis when you are aroused.” She recommends staying in foreplay for as long as possible to build arousal slowly and to achieve what she calls a “lady boner.” When it comes to pressure, Holloway says partners should start out “touching the clitoris with the same pressure as you would your eyelid” before applying more pressure.

‘Stay in’

Claire Kim, program manager at sex education site OMGYES, says in hetero penetrative sex, “in and out friction” is what’s pleasurable for the man, but this action isn’t conductive to the level of clitoral stimulation women need. “What’s often much more pleasurable for the woman is his penis staying inside,” says Kim. “So that the clitoris stays in contact with the area above the penis, and the top of the penis stays in contact with the inside roots of the clitoral cluster, which go around the urethra and up the vaginal canal.”

Think about what gets you off alone

We know what makes us come when we’re going solo. The obstacle usually arises when we bring another person into the equation. Corinna recommends examining “what floats your boat solo” and then “bringing it to your crew.” “Whatever that is, bring as much of it into sex with partners as you can,” says Corinna. “Whether that’s bringing the fantasies in your head, showing them how to do what you like with your own hands meshed with theirs, or doing it yourself during sex (or both!), using porn you like together.” Gynaecologist and sex counsellor Dr. Terri Vanderlinde recommends that women practice “alone, comfortably” with fingers or vibrators to learn “her body and how it works.”

Treat this as a learning curve

PSA men: this is gonna take some time. Holloway says men need to know that “until they have the map to their partner’s pleasure” it’s going to be a “voyage of discovery.” “This takes time, and patience, and love, and respect, and placing their partners pleasure and orgasm as their primary goal is a big part of it,” she says.  Partners should listen and learn their partner’s pleasure signals, and be receptive when your partner tells you when something’s not working for them.

Get on top

When it comes to positions for penetrative sex, all experts interviewed by Mashable were in agreement: getting on top will help get you off. Dr. Vandelinde says being on top provides open access for clitoral stimulation, which most women need in order to orgasm. It also gives the woman “the freedom to have more control of the movements” so you can get into a rhythm that feels good, according to Holloway. Online sex therapist and host of Foreplay Radio podcast Laurie Watson says “woman on top at a 45 degree angle gives the penis the most contact with the G-spot, and is a good position that she can reach her clitoris.”

Experiment with positions

Getting on top isn’t the be all and end all, though. Vanderlinde says doggy style can be a good position for clitoral stimulation. “Anything that can give direct stimulation to the clitoris works,” says Vanderlinde. Watson recommends lying on your back, hooking your legs around your partner’s elbows with your pelvis rocked up. “To climax during intercourse I suggest a position where their partner or themselves can simultaneously touch their clitoris,” says Watson.

As Corinna points out, women have “incredibly diverse bodies, and even more diverse sexualities.”  They say orgasm can occur with “any kind of sexual activity” and each person over time will find what works for their own bodies. “There are going to be certain positions, angles or other specifics that work best for them. But what those are is so varied, that’s something we all have to find out by experimenting,” they say.

Talk about sex outside the bedroom

Corinna says it’s actually really hard to talk about what you like and don’t like during sex. “It’s just such a high-stakes situation, and people, especially women, are often so worried about how what they say will be perceived,” says Corinna, who suggests building communication about sex when you’re not having sex. “Start by doing more talking about sex when you’re not actually engaging in sex. That can help build trust and comfort and practice that makes doing it during easier,” says Corinna.

Tell your partner when something feels good

We know that faking your orgasm will give your partner the wrong message about what’s working for you. If you feel comfortable doing so, Corinna says you should “voice it when things do feel good” and “show them what you like when you can.” “Don’t be afraid to ask a partner to keep doing what they are doing when you’re into it, or to adjust when something isn’t doing it for you,” they say. “Be explicit and clear and open.”

Add toys to the equation

If you use a vibrator on your own, then it’s worth considering using it when you’re having sex with your partner. “If someone enjoy sex toys alone, why wouldn’t they bring them into sex together at least sometimes? The idea that toys are just for people alone is silly,” says Corinna.

If you want to add toys to the equation during penetrative sex, Vanderlinde recommends using a “cock ring with a vibrator” which will afford “hands free stimulation” as well as vibrators that can fit between your and your partner’s bodies. “Or simply wait ’til he finishes and then he can stimulate her to multiple orgasms,” says Vanderlinde.

Plan to give oral

Sex therapist Deborah Fox says that the “majority” of women won’t come from intercourse alone and that’s simply down to biology. The clitoris is full of nerve endings, while only the outer third of the vagina tends to have responsive nerves,” says Fox.

If the man comes during intercourse, his next move should be to find a way to make his partner come. Skurtu says if the man comes during intercourse, he should plan to perform oral sex afterwards. “If a person finishes first, the next person can perform oral on the first or use a vibrator and/or fingers,” she says.

Don’t fret

Try not to get stressed if you don’t come. Vanderlinde says there are sometimes other things at play that could be standing in the way of reaching orgasm. “There can be interfering medical diagnoses, medications, pain, low desire, hormones, partner issues, prior abuse, trust issues, stresses, worries, depression, that have a major effect on a woman’s ability to have an orgasm,” she says. In these situations, consider seeking advice from a medical professional or trained sex counsellor.

Go forth, explore. And most importantly, have fun.

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