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How Homophobia Has Robbed Men Of Touch

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The pathological fear of even platonic contact has created a generation of men plagued by loneliness and anxiety.

I wrote an article in which I asked people to consider the following: American men, in an attempt to avoid any possible hint of committing unwanted sexual touch, are foregoing gentle platonic touch in their lives.

I call it touch isolation.

Homophobic social stigmas, the long-standing challenges of rampant sexual harassment and abuse, and a society steeped in a generations-old puritanical mistrust of physical pleasure have created an isolating trap in which American men can go for days (or weeks) without touching another human being.

The implications of touch isolation for men’s health and happiness are huge.

Gentle platonic touch is central to the early development of infants. It continues to play an important role throughout men and women’s lives in terms of our development, health and emotional well being, right into old age. When I talk about gentle platonic touch, I’m not talking about a pat on the back, or a handshake, but instead contact that is sustained and meant to provide connection and comfort: Leaning on someone for a few minutes, holding hands, rubbing their back or sitting close together not out of necessity but out of choice.

Yet, culturally, gentle platonic touch is the one thing we suppress culturally in men and it starts when they are very young boys.

While babies and toddlers are held, cuddled, and encouraged to practice gentle touch during their first years of their lives, that contact often drops off for boys when they cease to be toddlers. Boys are encouraged to “shake it off” and “be tough” when they are hurt.

Along with the introduction of this “get tough” narrative, boys find that their options for gentle platonic touch simply fade away. Mothers and fathers often back off from holding or cuddling their young boys. Boys who seek physical holding as comfort when hurt are stigmatized as “cry babies.”

By the time they are approaching puberty, many boys have learned to touch only in aggressive ways through rough housing or team sports. And if they do seek gentle touch in their lives, it is expected to take place in the exclusive and highly sexualized context of dating. This puts massive amounts of pressure on young girls; young girls who are unlikely to be able to shoulder such a burden. Because of the lack of alternative outlets for touch, the touch depravation faced by young boys who are unable to find a girlfriend is overwhelming. And what about boys who are gay? In a nutshell, we leave children in their early teens to undo a lifetime of touch aversion and physical isolation. The emotional impact of coming of age in our touch-averse, homophobic culture is terribly damaging. It’s no wonder our young people face a epidemic of sexual abuse, unwanted pregnancy, rape, drug and alcohol abuse.

In America, in particular, if a young man attempts gentle platonic contact with another young man, he faces a very real risk of homophobic backlash either by that person or by those who witness the contact. This is, in part, because we frame all contact by men as being intentionally sexual until proven otherwise. Couple this with the homophobia that runs rampant in our culture, and you get a recipe for increased touch isolation that damages the lives of the vast majority of men.

And if you think men have always been hands-off with each other, have a look at an amazing collection of historic photos compiled by Brett and Kate McKay in their article Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection. It’s a remarkable look at male camaraderie as expressed though physical touch in photos dating back to the earliest days of photography.

As the McKays note:

“At the turn of the 20th century… Thinking of men as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” became common. And this new category of identity was at the same time pathologized—decried by psychiatrists as a mental illness, by ministers as a perversion, and by politicians as something to be legislated against.

“As this new conception of homosexuality as a stigmatized and onerous identifier took root in American culture, men began to be much more careful to not send messages to other men, and to women, that they were gay. And this is the reason why, it is theorized, men have become less comfortable with showing affection towards each other over the last century.”

Spend some time looking at these remarkable images. You’ll get a visceral sense of what has been lost to men.

These days, put 10 people in the room when two men touch a moment too long, and someone will make a mean joke, express distaste, or even pick a fight. And its just as likely to be a woman as to be a man who enforces the homophobic/touch averse stigma. The enforcement of touch prohibition between men can be as subtle as a raised eyebrow or as punitive as a fist fight and you never know where it will come from or how quickly it will escalate.

And yet, we know that touch between men or women is proven to be a source of comfort, connection and self-esteem. But while women are allowed much more public contact, men are not. Because how we allow men to perform masculinity is actually very restrictive. (Charlie Glickman writes quite eloquently about this in an article for The Good Men Project. Read it. It’s a real eye opener.)

Male touch isolation is one of many powerful reasons why I support marriage equality. The sooner being gay is completely normalized, the sooner homophobic prohibitions against touch will be taken off straight men. As much as gay men have faced the brunt of homophobic violence, straight men have been banished to a desert of physical isolation by these same homophobic fanatics who police lesbians and gays in our society. The result has been a generation of American men who do not hug each other, do not hold hands and can not sit close together without the homophobic litmus test kicking in.’

The lack of touch in men’s lives results in a higher likelihood of depression, alcoholism, mental and physical illness. Put simply, touch isolation is making men’s lives less healthy and more lonely.

When visiting my 87-year-old father for a few days, I made a point to touch him more. To make contact. To express my affection, not just by flying a thousand miles for a visit, but to touch the man once I got there. It may seem simple, but choosing to do so is not always a simple thing. It can raise a lifetime of internal voices, many of which speak of loss and missed opportunities. But I hugged him. I put my arm around him as we shared a cigar and cocktails. I touched him whenever I walked past his chair.

Each evening, we would watch a movie. As part of that nightly ritual, I would sit in the floor, take off his shoes and socks and rub his bare feet for while. It is something I will remember when he is gone. Something I did right. Something that said to him, I love you. Spoken on the same deep touch levels by which he connected with me when I was a toddler sitting next to him, his strong arm around me as I watched the late show 50 years ago.

This touch thing is so crucial: I kiss and hug my son constantly. He sits with me—and on me. I make a point of connecting with him physically whenever I greet him. The physical connection I have with him has been transformative in my life teaching me about my value as a human being and a father.

We need to empower men to touch. We need to fix our sexually repressed (and sexually obsessed) American culture and put an end to distorted and hateful parts of our culture that allow homophobic people to police all men everywhere down to the very tips of our fingertips.

It’s too late in my life for the impact of these stigmas to be fully undone, but I have great hope for my son. When we collectively normalize gay life and relationships, my son, whatever his sexual orientation turns out to be, will be free to express platonic affection for others, be they men or women, in any way he sees fit. The rabid homophobes who have preached hate in America for far too long will finally be silenced, and men will be free to reach out and touch each other without fear of being labeled as somehow less of a man.

It’s a dream for a better America I can already see coming true.

Complete Article HERE!

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5 Ways Self Care Can Help You Have Better Sex

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Show yourself some love before you get some love.

By Jessica Migala

No matter how excited you are to hit the sheets, sometimes it’s just hard to turn it on for sex. Your brain might be crazy distracted, for example, or it’s been a long day and you feel exhausted. Somehow, you’re just not in the right head space for that closeness and pleasure you crave.

That’s where self care comes in. You know self care; these are moves you do to treat your mind and body to some TLC, from sleeping in to doing a digital detox to signing up for mindful meditation. Whatever self-care moves you do, the goal is to unpack stress and feel more joy.

That means joy in the bedroom as well, says psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini, a sex and relationship expert in Houston. Whether you need to dial back anxious thoughts or prime yourself to feel more sensual, these five self-care moves to do before the action begins will make it happen.

Slip into a hot bath

Even if you only have 15 minutes, locking the bathroom door and soaking in a warm tub will get rid of stress and prime your body for pleasure. “Research has shown that how a woman feels about her body is the most important factor when it comes to her libido,” says Rapini. Taking time to do things that put you in a sexy state of mind can go a long way.

Add bath oil to revive your skin, close your eyes and imagine stress dissolving, and then dry off with a luxuriant fluffy towel. Rapini also recommends lightly massaging yourself while in the tub (or afterward as you put on lotion) to get comfortable with your naked body.

Arouse your senses

Maybe you pump yourself up during a workout with a motivating playlist, or you light a few candles in your living room to burn away anxiety after a long day. The same kind of sensual moves can get you ready for great sex too.

Before you’re planning to hit the bedroom, Rapini advises turning on whatever sexy music speaks to you (she suggests D’Angelo Radio on Pandora). As for scent, go with fragrances that have notes of amber, vanilla, or green tea, which can charge your sex drive. Spritz on a perfume or add a couple drops into a diffuser as you get ready for the evening.

Touch yourself

If masturbation isn’t already part of your self-care routine, this is a reason to add it in. When you’re alone and you feel comfortable, take matters into your own hands; if you prefer a vibrator, break it out. Solo sex (whether you reach orgasm or not) will increase lubrication and amp your desire.

“Some women just need that time to be alone to get heated,” says Rapini. Plus, consider this: Research from 2013 found that female masturbation was associated with feeling sexually empowered, in part because it helps women learn what turns them on.

Dress so you feel sexy 

Wearing revealing outfits isn’t just about visually turning on your partner; it can help turn you on too. “I encourage women to wear something that flaunts the part of their body they like the most,” says Rapini. That may be a camisole to show off your shoulders, for instance, or short short cutoff jeans that highlight your legs. You can wear nothing at all—or put on your most comfy sweats and a tee. “Do what feels good for you,” she says. Wearing clothes you think are sexy will get your mind to a sexy place.

Break out your yoga mat

If there’s anything yoga can’t do for you, we haven’t found it yet. Before you plan on getting busy, do a series of downward dogs. Not only is it a super way to stretch your hips, but being upside down gets blood flowing into your brain to clear your head and boost your energy. Says Rapini: “A bad day will crush your libido. This move brings you back into the mood.” And the body awareness and mindfulness that yoga promotes will give you an extra sensual boost too.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to build sexual confidence

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Having sex for the first time is nerve wracking but it isn’t the only time when the thought of sex can feel daunting. Many of us will go through periods of abstinence later in our lives and the thought of engaging in sexual activity again can spark feelings of insecurity.

There are a variety of reasons why someone might have experienced an extended amount of time without having sex (divorce, a breakup, the loss of a loved one, or difficulty meeting the right person) and often by the time we get round to having sex again it feels as if we are back to square one with our sexual confidence.

Here, we speak to Valeria Chuba, PhD, MS, ACS, a board certified clinical sexologist and a certified intimacy coach. She helps her clients overcome sexual shame and anxiety, achieve sexual confidence, and create pleasure-filled intimate relationships. She is the creator and host of the Get Sex-Smart podcast, which offers expert information and guidance to listeners around the world.

“Finding that special spark with a new partner can often take a long time,” she explains. “Regardless of the reasons why we may find ourselves without a lover, when the time comes to get back into the groove, most of us experience feelings of fear, anxiety and low self-confidence.”

So to help anyone who is feeling less than empowered about the idea of a new sexual encounter, we asked Valeria to give us some practical advice on how to feel less nervous and more confident when starting a new sexual relationship…

1. Learn from the past

Each new relationship offers a promising beginning, which means an opportunity to do things differently and better than before. “Now is the perfect time to look back at your past sexual experiences,” Valeria advises.

“What were some of the things that worked well (or didn’t work) in your intimate relationships? What partners were the most memorable, and why? What would you like to do differently this time around? For example, would you speak up more about your need for sensual foreplay, or share more of your sexual imagination with your partner? Getting clarity around your needs and boundaries will help you start a new sexual relationship in a more proactive way, which in turn will help you feel more safe and grounded.”

2. Know what gives you pleasure

“As a sexologist, I often tell my clients that masturbation is the foundation for partner sex,” says Valeria.

“The more you know about what turns you on and helps you experience pleasure and orgasm, the better you’ll be able to share these things with your partner, leading to a more positive intimate experience.”

Reacquainting yourself with your body in this way will help you to first accept and then to gain confidence when it comes to being with someone else. It’s easy to forget the positive things about our body when we are feeling insecure and focusing on the parts we don’t like as much.

“If you are new to self pleasure or just want to broaden your sexual repertoire, sex-positive books like Come As You Are or fun and instructional sex ed DVDs will both inform you and spark your sensuality. It’s important to note that you should always consider seeking professional help for specific sexual concerns, like trouble experiencing orgasm with a partner, early ejaculation, erectile difficulties, or performance anxiety. Working with a sex-positive, compassionate professional can be a huge boost to your sexual confidence.”

3. Communication is key

“I often tell my clients that they should begin a new relationship as they mean to go on; and good communication is a big part of any successful sexual relationship,” says Valeria.

“There are few things more attractive in a lover than the confidence to speak up about his or her needs and desires, and the ability to listen to his or her partner. Speaking up improves your chances of getting what you want from your sexual relationship; and being accepting of your partner will make him or her feel special and appreciated. Either way, you will come across as a generous and thoughtful lover, which is sure to boost your self-confidence.”

4. Focus on pleasure and not performance

Whenever we begin a new relationship, especially after a long time without partner sex, we tend to feel anxious about things like our attractiveness; our size, shape and weight; and how well we will ‘perform’ during sex.

“This mindset keeps us caught up in our heads and disconnected both from our bodies and pleasure, and from our lovers and the process of lovemaking. Whenever you feel yourself getting caught up in performance pressure, focus instead on your body sensations. Breathe deeply and if need be, slow down. Pay attention to how things feel as opposed to how perfect you appear to be. As a bonus, a lover who is focused on pleasure and sensuality comes off as a lot more empowered and confident than someone who is insecure about their ‘performance’.”

5. Have a sense of humour

Sex can be complicated and intimidating at the best of times, let alone when we’ve been celibate for an extended period. Because of this, we tend to forget that at its core, sex is about connection, pleasure and fun. And since partner sex happens between bodies, it can also be a messy, embarrassing and unintentionally hilarious experience. Using this as a point of connection with your lover, rather than something to be ashamed of, can help you lighten things up. Chances are your partner is also feeling nervous, so bonding lightheartedly over your shared anxiety and the absurdity of it all can be both relaxing and very, very sexy.

Complete Article HERE!

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Finding power through play: How BDSM can fuel confidence

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By Emerald Bensadoun

Marianne LeBreton is suspended in mid-air, tied in an upside-down futumomo, legs bound together. The ropes cascade in intricate patterns, beginning at her ankles and working their way all the way around her wrists. The ropes arch her body backward. Her breathing steadies. Serenity washes through her. The slight discomfort of certain positions causes slow burns to spread across her body—but the pain is secondary to the relief. LeBreton becomes entrenched in a state of flow. Her mind is quiet. She’s enjoying the intensity, both emotionally and physically.

For LeBreton, bondage has become a meditative experience. When it comes to receiving pain, which she enjoys, it takes a certain focus and determination. LeBreton finds rope— especially Japanese rope bondage—to be particularly meditative. She equates BDSM to an empowering “sense of calm,” but it didn’t start out that way.

“What colour should it be?” thought LeBreton. She wanted her boyfriend to like it. As an 18-year-old student on a budget, it couldn’t be too expensive. For almost a week she scrolled through the internet until she finally came across what she was looking for. It was even in her price range. This was the one. Satisfied, she clicked “purchase.” LeBreton had just bought her first flogger—a whip with long tendrils coming out the end. “It felt like the beginning of something for me,” said LeBreton.

When asked about her first experience with BDSM, she grins from ear to ear, trying to visualize the details. “There wasn’t Fifty Shades of Grey but there was hentai,” she says. At the age of 13, LeBreton became fascinated with Bondage Fairies, an erotic manga about highly sexual, human-shaped female forest fairies with wings who work as hunters and police protecting the forest.

Now 30, LeBreton has an MA in sexology from Université du Québec à Montréal and owns KINK Toronto, an up-and-coming BDSM boutique in Toronto’s Annex. BDSM, she says, is about much more than pain—it’s about empowerment. LeBreton says we could use a little more playfulness in our lives. More sensuality. More discovery. “That’s usually what I hear from customers who are curious; they are excited and thrilled to be daring and to be doing this for themselves or their partners,” says LeBreton. “It’s definitely a journey of self-discovery and acceptance.” In her workshops, being naked and engaging in play publicly, she says, has helped with her confidence and body image.

In 2015, Christian Joyal, who has a PhD in psychology from the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, and his colleagues published a paper on fantasies; ranging from sex in a public places, to tying up a sexual partner, to watching same-gender sex and pornography. But there were also fantasies about being dominated sexually. These were present in 65 per cent of women and 53 per cent of men; dominating someone sexually, present in 47 per cent of women and 60 per cent of men; being tied up for sexual pleasure which appealed to 52 per cent of women and 46 per cent of men.

“From what we’ve seen, most people have a very strict image of what [BDSM] should look like, which is very restricting,” she says. BDSM, she notes, doesn’t have to involve leather. It doesn’t have to involve pain. Another mistake is attributing masculine or feminine traits to erotic behaviour. For many people, BDSM is a healthy way to express their sexuality and grain a sense of control in their lives and of their bodies.

In her workshops, being naked and engaging in play publicly, she says, has helped with her confidence and body image

When it comes to dominance and submission, negotiations, and boundaries, safety and consent are crucial. While the words “dominant” or “top” may conjure up images of complete control, those in the BDSM world know that the submissive, or “bottom” hold true power. “The bottom is the one who gets to decide what they would like, what they do not want, what their limits are,” says LeBreton, “It’s the top’s responsibility to follow that through. Of course some people have very specific kinks where it’s kind of like ‘I want you to take control.’ But that’s negotiated and within limits set by the bottom.”

Feeling in control can also be about letting go. Relinquishing that sense of control they exert in every other part of their lives can be therapeutic. For this reason, LeBreton says that men, especially those in positions of higher power, will often identify as submissives in the bedroom.

Alex Zalewski says he’s always been a little rough. But in a seven-year “vanilla” relationship, it was difficult to break routine. Months later, for the first time in Zalewski’s life, he felt horribly unsure of himself. He’d been flirting with a new girl for some time whose friends invited him to their apartment. But he was confused. “Spit in my mouth,” she demanded. “Slap me.” Zalewski was torn between arousal and inner turmoil. If there was one thing he’d ever been taught from a young age, it’s that good boys don’t hit women.

For Zalewski, empowerment is a quiet confidence, and feeling a level of control that builds pleasure from the knowledge that he is fulfilling his partners’ desires. Zalewski, who lives in Toronto’s downtown core, offers relationship and personal coaching for various clients in his spare time, but he doesn’t charge money for it. The women in his life kept asking him for advice on BDSM. He decided he would try his best. In 2016 he created Authentic Connections, to help people overcome their barriers in exchange for a relationship they’ve always wanted. His goal was to have someone open up to him enough about the types of barriers that were preventing his clients and their partners from having the sex life they wanted to have.

“What are your fantasies? What are your desires? What do you want out of your partner or partners?” He would ask them. Once he could get them to admit what they actually wanted, they would work out a plan. Develop themselves, develop their skills to be able to do the things that would help them achieve their goals. Zalewski says a lot of the time, this is the most difficult step for the people he’s met with. It’s hard for people to step outside their comfort zones sometimes, he says, because they’ve been conditioned into associating kink and BDSM with abuse and mental instability.

A person becomes curious in BDSM. They don’t tell their friends. Maybe they’re afraid of being ridiculed or judged. Maybe rejection. But maybe it’s none of those things. Maybe they just want to keep their personal life, personal.

In 2006, the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality published an article that compared BDSM practitioners to published norms on 10 psychological disorders. Compared to the normative samples, those who actively engage in BDSM had lower levels of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological sadism, psychological masochism, borderline pathology and paranoia.

But just because a person likes to be controlled in the bedroom doesn’t necessarily mean those needs translate into the real world and can have dangerous implications for parties involved.

Jen Chan was 16. Her boyfriend was 24. He was her dominant and she was his submissive. “That was generally the dynamic of how our relationship went,” she says. But chipping away at her self-esteem, her boyfriend would pressure her into doing things she wasn’t sure if she was comfortable with, and she would go along with them, afraid of appearing inexperienced and childish to her older boyfriend. While BDSM allows you to play out different scenarios from that of everyday life, she says her first experience with dominance and submission was just an extension of the life she already had.

It’s hard for people to step outside their comfort zones sometimes, he says, because they’ve been conditioned into associating kink and BDSM with abuse and mental instability.

After their relationship ended, Chan says it took her several years until she felt confident enough to engage in BDSM again. Coming out as queer, she says, has also made all the difference. Chan now identifies as a switch, which is someone who enjoys partaking in both dominant and submissive roles, or both topping and bottoming.

“There is something very staged, controlled and intentional about BDSM, at least that’s the way I interact with it,” says Chan, who adds that her empowerment with BDSM lies in feeling like she’s doing something adventurous in an environment of her choice. Feeling satisfied sexually, she says, has made her feel more confident in the real world.

Is what you’re doing safe? Is what you’re doing consensual? Zalewski says risk awareness, the amount of risk a person is comfortable taking in order to attain the pleasure plays a large role in BDSM. From flesh hook suspension to unprotected sex, it’s important to understand the personal level of risk you are comfortable with when it comes to the acts you want to perform.

Chan says that while engaging in BDSM gave her the opportunity to try new things and step into new roles, most importantly, it allowed her to reclaim control, sexually. As a person begins to immerse themselves in BDSM, Chan says, they start to learn more about what makes them comfortable, where their boundaries lie, all while pushing themselves to continually learn new things—and to her, that’s all empowerment really is.

Complete Article HERE!

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Consensual sex is key to happiness and good health, science says

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It’s not just that sex is fun – it’s also good for your physical and mental health.

Some of my research is focused on how men and women differ in the links between sexuality, mental and physical health, and relationship quality. In this article, I write from my findings and that of others on how sex is important to our love, mental health, relations and survival. At the end, I suggest a solution for individuals who are avoiding sex for a common reason – chronic disease.

Good sex makes us happy

Good sex is an inseparable part of our well-being and happiness. Those of us who engage in more sex report better quality of life. Sexual intercourse is linked to high satisfaction across life domains. In one of my studies on 551 married patients with heart disease, individuals who had a higher frequency of sexual intercourse reported higher marital quality, marital consensus, marital coherence, marital affection expression and overall marital satisfaction. These results are replicated in multiple studies.

In a study by another team, partners who both experienced orgasm during sex were considerably happier. These findings are shown inside and outside of the United States.

Sex keeps us alive

Although early initiation of sex such as during adolescence is a risk factor for mortality, having a sound sexual life in adulthood is linked to low mortality. In a seven-year follow-up study of men 17 years old or older, erectile dysfunction and having no sexual activity at baseline predicted increased mortality over time. Similar findings were shown in younger men. This is probably because more physically healthy individuals are sexually active.

No sex and forced sex makes us depressed

There is a two-way road between bad sex and depression. Depression is also a reason for bad sex, particularly for women. And, men who are depressed are more likely to sexually abuse their partners.

And it’s important to note, in the wake of continuing news of sexual assault and abuse, that forced sex in intimate relations make people depressed, paranoid, jealous, and ruins relationships. Couples who experience unwanted sex have a higher risk for experiencing other types of abuse, as bad habits tend to cluster.

Sex different for men and women?

Men and women differ in the degree to which their sexual act is attached to their physical, emotional, and relational well-being. Various reasons play a role among both genders, but for women, sexual function is heavily influenced by mental health and relationship quality.

By contrast, for men sexual health reflects physical health. This is also intuitive as the most common sexual disorders are due to problems with desire and erection for women and men, respectively.

Reasons for avoiding sex

As I explained in another article in The Conversation, sexual avoidance for those who have a partner or are in a relationship happens for a long list of reasons, including pain, medications, depression and chronic disease. Common diseases such as heart disease interfere with sex by causing fear and anxiety of sexual intercourse.

Aging should not be considered as a sexless age. Studies have shown that older adults acquire skills and strategies that can buffer age-related declines in their sexual life, particularly when they are in a positive relationship. This is called seniors’ sexual wisdom.

Back on track

Because people avoid sex for a variety of reasons, there is no single answer for those who want to become sexually active again. For many men, physical health problems are barriers. If they suffer from erectile dysfunction, they can seek medical help for that.

If fear of sex in the presence of chronic disease is a problem, there can be medical help for that as well. For many women, common barriers are relational dissatisfaction and mental health. For both men and women, the first step is to talk about their sexual life with their physician, counselor or therapist.

At least half of all medical visits do not cover any discussion about sexual life of patients. Embarrassment and lack of time are among the most common barrier. So make sure you make time to talk to your doctor or health care provider.

Neither the doctor nor the patient should wait for the other person to start a dialogue about their sexual concerns. The “don’t tell, don’t ask” does not take us anywhere. The solution is “do tell, do ask.”

Complete Article HERE!

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