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A new way to love: in praise of polyamory

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Polyamory isn’t monogamy and it isn’t swinging, it’s being open to having loving relationships with different people of different sexes at the same time, and in that way learning to love yourself, too

‘It’s like any normal relationship, except with more time management’: Elf Lyons.

By Elf Lyons

I have never enjoyed typical monogamy. It makes me think of dowries and possessive prairie voles who mate for life, and historically all monogamous relationship models have owned women in some way, with marriage there for financial purposes and the ownership of property.

For the last few years I’ve defined myself as a polyamorist. Friends before defined me as a “friendly philanderer”. I love to kiss people. Friends usually, or women who wear polo-necks. Polyamory is consensual non- monogamy. It’s a philosophy. Rather than the active pursuing of multiple partners in a lascivious way, it’s the embracing and understanding that it’s possible to fall in love, and have relationships, with more than one person at the same time.

Alongside developing CEO-worthy skills in multitasking, polyamory is the most empowering way of loving that I have encountered. It gives women more autonomy than other relationship models ever have. Although monogamous relationship models work for many, they’re not the only way to have relationships in society. In non-monogamous relationships, their success relies on everything being on the table from the start. I believe that it could be the huge relationship revolution that the feminist movement needs.

Many think it’s about sex – it’s not. It’s not swinging. It’s not Pokémon Go, you don’t have to catch them all. It’s about the freedom to be honest about the evolving ways you feel. It opens up the boundaries between friend and lover in a safe and transparent way.

‘As a teen I questioned what it was to be adulterous. I saw infidelities on a different level to other friends’: Elf Lyons.

As a teen I questioned what it was to be adulterous. I saw infidelities on a different level to other friends. When partners mentioned they found other people attractive, I never minded. It made sense. “Why wouldn’t you want to kiss Stephanie? She’s a legend!” Apparently that was not considered a normal way to react.

If I had known as a teenager it was possible to love more than one person, it would have saved so much anxiety, guilt and time spent writing awful poetry. I spent years beating myself up about it. It often caused me to end relationships rashly, giving excuses like “I’m not ready to be in a relationship,” or “I have commitment issues,” or “I’m not into Warhammer as much as you think.” I didn’t want to end the relationships, but admitting how I felt seemed a worse betrayal, so I would lie, breaking friendships in the process.

I discovered polyamory when I was 23. I met a parliament of poly performers at the Adelaide Festival who were hippyish, liberal and kind. These performers spoke about their partners, children, poly-families. There were ex-couples who were working together on shows while their other poly families toured elsewhere, married couples who had live-in partners, triumvirates where they all balanced an equal partnership. I was entranced by their openness. It seemed symbolic of our changing global world, and most peoples developing nomadic lifestyles where we travel for work and find love with others on the way.

So when I went to study at theatre school in Paris (fresh out of a relationship with a 45-year-old French father of three), I decided to embrace my inner Barbarella. And the reality? Non-monogamy is rather ordinary and occasionally dull. Stereotypes of weird Eyes Wide Shut sex parties and Sartre/de Beauvoir/Olga ménages à trois aside, it’s like any normal relationship, except with more time- management, more conversations about “feelings” and more awkward encounters with acquaintances at parties who try to use you as their “Sexual Awakening Friend Bicycle”, ie that shy girl from book club will get drunk and put her hand on your leg, before leaning in to kiss you, hiccuping: “I really loved Orange Is the New Black…”

‘Sexual awakenings do not mean the absence of consent’: Elf Lyons.

There are misconceptions – a date once grabbed me for a kiss unexpectedly despite the fact I had made it clear I was in no way interested (my words were exactly: “This is not going to work. We have entirely different opinions on the EU and you have just told me I am ‘very funny for a woman’.”) When I pushed him away he was shocked. He believed because I was “sexually awakened” he could do what he liked. Luckily my experiences have meant that I am more vocal and confident, and able to stand up for myself. Yes I am open about my relationships and desires, but that doesn’t mean anyone’s allowed to touch me without my permission. Sexual awakenings do not mean the absence of consent.

I must admit, when I first dipped my toes into polyamory I misunderstood, went overboard with Tinder. The experience was stressful and would involve me asking awkward questions like: “Do you think crabs think fish can fly?” while wandering around the National Gallery for the third time that month. (There is no denying that polyamory suits the self-employed schedule). I learned that when people don’t know what polyamory is, they misunderstand it as another term for “hook up”, which it’s not. So previous partners have usually been friends I trust.

People often ask: “How can you truly love someone if you want to be with someone else?” and “Don’t you get jealous?” I think these statements enforce unhealthy relationship ideals. I feel it’s dangerous to think that you’re the only person that can complete someone else’s life, and be their confidant, their friend, their support network and their sexual partner. It’s too much pressure! When you take a step back, drop your ego and realise you’re one unique component of someone’s life, it’s liberating and freeing. Jealousy ebbs away and you realise that, of course, they may find another person attractive, because we’re all different pieces of a puzzle. This has made me more comfortable about myself – I am not holding myself up to standards about traditional female beauty, because I can experience it in a hundred different ways.

Of course, there have been tears, heartbreaks, existential crises and moments when I felt left out. I’ve wondered if it was actually making me more free, or more insecure, with jealousy popping up at the most inconvenient times. I’ve dated people who have lied and I’ve had relationships that have ended because they didn’t trust or believe in polyamory.

But, despite the downs, non-monogamy has revolutionised the way I view love. First, it made me less ashamed of my sexuality. I fancied girls way before I fancied boys. But as a teenager at house parties I remember being made to think that female sexual relationships were purely to turn men on. We’d all seen that scene in Cruel Intentions. I remember girls kissing at parties and the guys cheering. It was performative. Except, I wanted to kiss girls because I liked girls.

When I started getting to know people in the poly community it was as liberating as taking off an underwired bra. I have had partners of both genders. I didn’t have to “choose”: the people I met understood that it was possible to give infinite, equal love to both sexes. My confidence soared. I wasn’t hiding. Men and women had equal place in my life. I no longer felt like a pendulum, swinging from one to another. This refreshing awakening did result in many awkward conversations with my mum and dad though, which would go something like this:

Elf: “Mum and Dad, I am queer.” [Mum puts the hummus down.]

Mum: “What does that mean?”

Elf: “It means I have relationships with men and women”. [Mum picks the hummus up.]

Mum: “Oh! Well, I’m queer. Your father’s queer, your grandmother’s queer, we’re all queer darling!”

Elf: “No you don’t understand. I mean I have sex with men and women.” [Mum drops the hummus.]

Mum: “Oh Elfy… No wonder you’re so tired.”

Although I love sex, because of past unpleasant experiences I’m also mildly afraid of it. So when I started experimenting with non-monogamy the idea of being intimate emotionally as well as physically with more than one person was a challenge. But, the choice gave me a power and ownership over my wants which I felt I had lost and been made to feel ashamed about. I’m not saying I jumped in the sack with everyone I met. God no. I’m too busy. But through being less judgemental on myself, I relaxed, opened up to the people I trusted and started loving myself again. It forces you to be really honest, to live life with an undefended heart.

It’s not been plain sailing. But to quote RuPaul: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell can you love anyone else” – this is integral to non-monogamy. You can’t use multiple relationships to fill the void and give you the gratification that you should be able to give yourself. More love doesn’t mean better love. If you are dating multiple people in order to enhance your self-worth, you end up feeling like out-of-date hummus, feeling jealous anytime anyone chooses to spend time with anyone else, resulting in you treating your partners badly and without respect.

We shouldn’t feel ashamed about being socially and sexually confident. Women have been made to feel embarrassed for their desires for too long. It’s about having the trust to speak our minds and behave the way we want to. The moment you start to crumble you need to stop and ask exactly what it is you want and if it makes you happy. Being loved and loving multiple people should make you feel stronger, not weaker.

In a time of censorship on women, increases in assault and constant critiques on how we should behave, polyamory and its manifesto of embracing our evolving feelings, sharing responsibility and communicating and working effectively with people from all around the world could help revolutionise the way we tackle privilege, inequality and control of women’s rights.

I have an authority and a voice that I didn’t feel I had before. My friendships are better, my health is better. Through being polyamorous and being a part of the community I have been made aware of issues, both personal and political, that need to be uncovered and addressed.

The world would be a better place if everybody was more open to polyamory. As well as that traditional idea, that it takes a village to raise a child, it would mean we’d all love more, and love better. Loving different people at the same time is like learning a different language. There are different rules every time and it’s always open for discussion. You start to realise that love is infinite. Every time you say “I love you” to someone it takes on a new meaning. It’s retranslated, and it’s wonderful.

Complete Article HERE!

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Who’s avoiding sex, and why

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By Shervin Assari

Sex has a strong influence on many aspects of well-being: it is one of our most basic physiological needs. Sex feeds our identity and is a core element of our social life.

But millions of people spend at least some of their adulthood not having sex. This sexual avoidance can result in emotional distress, shame and low self-esteem – both for the individual who avoids sex and for the partner who is rejected.

Yet while our society focuses a lot on having sex, we do not know as much about not having it.

As a researcher of human behavior who is fascinated by how sex and gender interact, I have found that sexual avoidance influences multiple aspects of our well-being. I also have found that people avoid sex for many different reasons, some of which can be easily addressed.

People who have more sex report higher self-esteem, life satisfaction and quality of life. In contrast, lower frequency of sex and avoiding sex are linked to psychological distress, anxiety, depression and relationship problems.

In his landmark work, Alfred Kinsey found that up to 19 percent of adults do not engage in sex. This varies by gender and marriage status, with nearly no married males going without sex for a long duration.

Other research also confirms that women more commonly avoid sex than men. In fact, up to 40 percent of women avoid sex some time in their lives. Pain during sex and low libido are big issues.

The gender differences start early. More teenage females than teenage males abstain from sex.

Women also are more likely to avoid sex because of childhood sexual abuse. Pregnant women fear miscarriage or harming the fetus – and can also refuse sex because of lack of interest and fatigue.

The most common reasons for men avoiding sex are erectile dysfunction, chronic medical conditions and lack of opportunity.

For both men and women, however, our research and the work of others have shown that medical problems are the main reasons for sex avoidance.

For example, heart disease patients often avoid sex because they are afraid of a heart attack. Other research has shown the same for individuals with cerebrovascular conditions, such as a stroke.

Chronic pain diminishes the pleasure of the sexual act and directly interferes by limiting positions. The depression and stress it causes can get in the way, as can certain medications for chronic pain.

Metabolic conditions such as diabetes and obesity reduce sexual activity. In fact, diabetes hastens sexual decline in men by as much as 15 years. Large body mass and poor body image ruin intimacy, which is core to the opportunity for having sex.

Personality disorders, addiction and substance abuse and poor sleep quality all play major roles in sexual interest and abilities.

Many medications, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, reduce libido and sexual activity, and, as a result, increase the risk of sexual avoidance.

Finally, low levels of testosterone for men and low levels of dopamine and serotonin in men and women can play a role.

For both genders, loneliness reduces the amount of time spent with other people and the opportunity for interactions with others and intimacy. Individuals who are lonely sometimes replace actual sexual relations with the use of pornography. This becomes important as pornography may negatively affect sexual performance over time.

Many older adults do not engage in sex because of shame and feelings of guilt or simply because they think they are “too old for sex.” However, it would be wrong to assume that older adults are not interested in engaging in sex.

Few people talk with their doctors about their sexual problems. Indeed, at least half of all medical visits do not address sexual issues.

Embarrassment, cultural and religious factors, and lack of time may hold some doctors back from asking about the sex lives of their patients. Some doctors feel that addressing sexual issues creates too much closeness to the patient. Others think talking about sexuality will take too much time.

Yet while some doctors may be afraid to ask about sex with patients, research has shown that patients appear to be willing to provide a response if asked. This means that their sexual problems are not being addressed unless the doctor brings it up.

Patients could benefit from a little help. To take just one example, patients with arthritis and low back pain need information and advice from their health care provider about recommended intercourse positions so as to avoid pain.

The “Don’t ask, don’t tell” culture should become “Do ask, do tell.”

Complete Article HERE!

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I’m not that sexually experienced. How can I be more confident in bed?

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Buck up, champ: Feeling a little anxious about your sexual history (or lack thereof) is totally normal. Here are 10 ways to improve your sexual performance without having to have sex first.

by Vanessa Marin

Everyone has anxiety about being great in bed, but when you don’t have much sexual experience that anxiety can feel sky high. For some guys, that concern about experience turns into a horrible cycle: You don’t feel confident about your sexual experience, so you end up not having sex, and your experience level remains the same.

Here’s the good news: Experience is a good teacher, but you can still learn how to be great in bed without it. Here’s how.

1. Put it in context

As a sex therapist, I can tell you that just about everyone has self-confidence issues when it comes to sex—even people with a lot of experience. The insecurities are different from person to person, but they’re insecurities nonetheless. And keep in mind that many of the women you’re intimate with may be inexperienced or insecure as well. You’re certainly not alone.

2. Do your research

You can school yourself on how to have great sex without having any experience whatsoever. I also recommend Guide To Getting It On: Unzipped by Paul Joannides or The Big Bang by Nerve for general sex education topics like STIs and pregnancy prevention, anatomy, communication, and consent. She Comes First by Ian Kerner is a fantastic guide to the art of pleasuring a woman, and I recommend it to almost every man in my sex therapy practice. Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski is a great book about female sexuality in general.

One caveat: Don’t get your sex education from porn! Porn is meant to be entertainment, not education. Porn sex has very little resemblance to real sex. It’s all about angles, lighting, and editing. Most of the moves you see in porn simply won’t go over well in the real world.

3. Take care of your body

One of the best things you can do to improve your confidence is to take great care of your body. Sex is a physical act. Not only do you need endurance, but you also have to feel comfortable and confident in your own skin. You already know what you should be doing—eat right, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. Exercise, in particular, can also have added sexual benefits, like increasing your sex drive and improving your erections and your orgasms.

Grooming is important too. Wear clothes that flatter your body and make you feel good. Get your hair cut and your beard trimmed. The better you feel about yourself and your body, the more confident you’ll feel in bed.

4. Masturbate

Yes, masturbation can improve your partnered sex life! Most men masturbate pretty thoughtlessly, zoning out to porn while they try to get the job done as quickly as possible. This actually serves to disconnect you from your body, and decreases your control over your erection and orgasm.

Instead, you can use masturbation to help increase your stamina. First, think of how long you’d like to last with a partner. That becomes your new masturbation session length. During that time, really pay attention to your body. Notice what it feels like when you start getting close to orgasm, and train yourself to back off when you’re on the edge.

You can also practice purposefully losing your erection, then getting it back again. This will help decrease anxiety about losing your erection with a partner.

5. Go slow

When you’re feeling anxious about sex, you’re more likely to rush. Lots of inexperienced men have the tendency to jump right to intercourse, but it’s so much more fun to take your time and go slow. Spend plenty of time on kissing, touching, and performing oral sex, and even slow down your physical movements. A slower pace will help dramatically decrease your anxiety levels.

Plus, keep in mind that most women feel more physical pleasure from oral sex and fingering than from intercourse, and a lot of women love being teased. She’ll appreciate your pace, too.

6. Focus on her pleasure

Being fantastic in bed means genuinely caring about your partner’s pleasure. It’s arguably the most important quality in a great lover. If you spend time specifically focusing on her body—taking your time with her, kissing her all over, fingering her, going down on her—you’re going to impress her way more than the guy who has a ton of experience but is selfish in bed. Plus, seeing the pleasure that you bring her will naturally help you feel more confident.

7. Treat her like an individual

I’m all about sharing sex tips and techniques, but the reality is that every woman likes different things. No one technique is going to work for every woman. This is great news for you because it shows that experience only goes so far. We’re all beginners when we have sex with someone brand new. Try to explore her body with openness and curiosity. Pay attention to how she responds to your touch. Does she moan? Does she start breathing more heavily? Does she arch her body toward you? Don’t be afraid to ask her what she wants or likes! One super-simple way to ask for feedback is to try two different things on her, and ask her, “Do you like it better when I do this or this?”

8. Keep it simple

So many men overly complicate sex, especially when they’re feeling anxious. Technique is important, but you don’t need to go crazy trying out a million different things on her. The key to female orgasm is actually consistency, not complicated tongue maneuvers or finger gymnastics. Switching things up usually throws her off and distracts her. Find something simple that seems to be working for her, and stick with it. Increase your pace and pressure gradually, but stick to the same basic technique.

9. Don’t think of it as a performance

One of the biggest mistakes that sexual newbies make is thinking of sex as a performance. They get overly fixated on the idea of maintaining a perfect erection, having the utmost control over their orgasms, and mastering their technique. But the truth is that no one likes feeling like they’re having sex with a robot. She doesn’t need you to perform for her like a circus animal. She wants to feel connected to you, and she wants to have fun. You can do that, even without any prior sexual experience.

10. Have a sense of humor

Sex is never perfect, no matter how much experience you have. Sex can be awkward, weird, and sometimes downright hilarious. You’re bound to try out a position that doesn’t work, bump foreheads, or get a cramp in your leg. Having a sense of humor is so important in those moments. If you can laugh it off, you’ll get back to the fun much faster.

Complete Article HERE!

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How the Nazis destroyed the first gay rights movement

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‘Damenkneipe,’ or ‘Ladies’ Saloon,’ painted by Rudolf Schlichter in 1923. In 1937, many of his paintings were destroyed by the Nazis as ‘degenerate art.’

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Very recently, Germany’s Cabinet approved a bill that will expunge the convictions of tens of thousands of German men for “homosexual acts” under that country’s anti-gay law known as “Paragraph 175.” That law dates back to 1871, when modern Germany’s first legal code was created.

It was repealed in 1994. But there was a serious movement to repeal the law in 1929 as part of a wider LGBTQ rights movement. That was just before the Nazis came to power, magnified the anti-gay law, then sought to annihilate gay and transgender Europeans.

The story of how close Germany – and much of Europe – came to liberating its LGBTQ people before violently reversing that trend under new authoritarian regimes is an object lesson showing that the history of LGBTQ rights is not a record of constant progress.

The first LGBTQ liberation movement

In the 1920s, Berlin had nearly 100 gay and lesbian bars or cafes. Vienna had about a dozen gay cafes, clubs and bookstores. In Paris, certain quarters were renowned for open displays of gay and trans nightlife. Even Florence, Italy, had its own gay district, as did many smaller European cities.

Films began depicting sympathetic gay characters. Protests were organized against offensive depictions of LGBTQ people in print or on stage. And media entrepreneurs realized there was a middle-class gay and trans readership to whom they could cater.

Partly driving this new era of tolerance were the doctors and scientists who started looking at homosexuality and “transvestism” (a word of that era that encompassed transgender people) as a natural characteristic with which some were born, and not a “derangement.” The story of Lili Elbe and the first modern sex change, made famous in the recent film “The Danish Girl,” reflected these trends.

For example, Berlin opened its Institute for Sexual Research in 1919, the place where the word “transsexual” was coined, and where people could receive counseling and other services. Its lead doctor, Magnus Hirschfeld, also consulted on the Lili Elbe sex change.

Connected to this institute was an organization called the “Scientific-Humanitarian Committee.” With the motto “justice through science,” this group of scientists and LGBTQ people promoted equal rights, arguing that LGBTQ people were not aberrations of nature.

Most European capitals hosted a branch of the group, which sponsored talks and sought the repeal of Germany’s “Paragraph 175.” Combining with other liberal groups and politicians, it succeeded in influencing a German parliamentary committee to recommend the repeal to the wider government in 1929.

The backlash

While these developments didn’t mean the end of centuries of intolerance, the 1920s and early ‘30s certainly looked like the beginning of the end. On the other hand, the greater “out-ness” of gay and trans people provoked their opponents.

A French reporter, bemoaning the sight of uncloseted LGBTQ people in public, complained, “the contagion … is corrupting every milieu.” The Berlin police grumbled that magazines aimed at gay men – which they called “obscene press materials” – were proliferating. In Vienna, lectures of the “Scientific Humanitarian Committee” might be packed with supporters, but one was attacked by young men hurling stink bombs. A Parisian town councilor in 1933 called it “a moral crisis” that gay people, known as “inverts” at that time, could be seen in public.

“Far be it from me to want to turn to fascism,” the councilor said, “but all the same, we have to agree that in some things those regimes have sometimes done good… One day Hitler and Mussolini woke up and said, ‘Honestly, the scandal has gone on long enough’ … And … the inverts … were chased out of Germany and Italy the very next day.”

The ascent of Fascism

It’s this willingness to make a blood sacrifice of minorities in exchange for “normalcy” or prosperity that has observers drawing uncomfortable comparisons between then and now.

In the 1930s, the Depression spread economic anxiety, while political fights in European parliaments tended to spill outside into actual street fights between Left and Right. Fascist parties offered Europeans a choice of stability at the price of democracy. Tolerance of minorities was destabilizing, they said. Expanding liberties gave “undesirable” people the liberty to undermine security and threaten traditional “moral” culture. Gay and trans people were an obvious target.

What happened next shows the whiplash speed with which the progress of a generation can be thrown into reverse.

The nightmare

One day in May 1933, pristine white-shirted students marched in front of Berlin’s Institute for Sexual Research – that safe haven for LGBTQ people – calling it “Un-German.” Later, a mob hauled out its library to be burned. Later still, its acting head was arrested.

When Nazi leader Adolph Hitler needed to justify arresting and murdering former political allies in 1934, he said they were gay. This fanned anti-gay zealotry by the Gestapo, which opened a special anti-gay branch. During the following year alone, the Gestapo arrested more than 8,500 gay men, quite possibly using a list of names and addresses seized at the Institute for Sexual Research. Not only was Paragraph 175 not erased, as a parliamentary committee had recommended just a few years before, it was amended to be more expansive and punitive.

As the Gestapo spread throughout Europe, it expanded the hunt. In Vienna, it hauled in every gay man on police lists and questioned them, trying to get them to name others. The fortunate ones went to jail. The less fortunate went to Buchenwald and Dachau. In conquered France, Alsace police worked with the Gestapo to arrest at least 200 men and send them to concentration camps. Italy, with a fascist regime obsessed with virility, sent at least 300 gay men to brutal camps during the war period, declaring them “dangerous for the integrity of the race.”

The total number of Europeans arrested for being LGBTQ under fascism is impossible to know because of the lack of reliable records. But a conservative estimate is that there were many tens of thousands to one hundred thousand arrests during the war period alone.

Under these nightmare conditions, far more LGBTQ people in Europe painstakingly hid their genuine sexuality to avoid suspicion, marrying members of the opposite sex, for example. Still, if they had been prominent members of the gay and trans community before the fascists came to power, as Berlin lesbian club owner Lotte Hahm was, it was too late to hide. She was sent to a concentration camp.

In those camps, gay men were marked with a pink triangle. In these places of horror, men with pink triangles were singled out for particular abuse. They were mechanically raped, castrated, favored for medical experiments and murdered for guards’ sadistic pleasure even when they were not sentenced for “liquidation.” One gay man attributed his survival to swapping his pink triangle for a red one – indicating he was merely a Communist. They were ostracized and tormented by their fellow inmates, too.

The looming danger of a backslide

This isn’t 1930s Europe. And making superficial comparisons between then and now can only yield superficial conclusions.

But with new forms of authoritarianism entrenched and seeking to expand in Europe and beyond, it’s worth thinking about the fate of Europe’s LGBTQ community in the 1930s and ‘40s – a timely note from history as Germany approves same-sex marriage and on this first anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges.

In 1929, Germany came close to erasing its anti-gay law, only to see it strengthened soon thereafter. Only now, after a gap of 88 years, are convictions under that law being annulled.

Complete Article HERE!

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College Students Want to Talk About Sex. They Just Don’t Know How.

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Fear of sexual assault on college campuses is twofold: Many students are afraid of being victims of assault, while others are terrified of being accused of it.

If that sounds ridiculous, consider this: Apps have popped up in recent years that allow students to sign virtual consent forms before engaging in intimate encounters. The contract on SaSie, one such app, prompts consenting parties to fill in their names and e-signatures, and add pictures of their photo IDs so as to provide “a legally binding modicum of evidence for students and adjudicators.”

Clear communication in sexual encounters is paramount and the stakes are high. Nonconsensual sex is rape. But it’s ridiculous to think that consensual sex should require a legal contract.

This is not the way for students to get clarity on healthy sex. If we are going to change a culture of normalized drunken hookups and damaging acts of sexual violence, we must get to the roots of the problem: communication and education.

Most colleges and universities require that freshmen and other new students attend orientation workshops to familiarize them with guidelines for consent, a term that is often narrowly defined to avoid confusion. Sex, our administrators and peer leaders tell us, requires verbal positive affirmation at each progressing stage of physical intimacy.

This is not a bad way to define consent, but it overlooks emotional intimacy and vulnerability entirely. When gymnasiums full of relatively inexperienced undergraduates hear an administrator explain “No means no” over a microphone, no matter how intently we pay attention or how much we agree with that statement, we are not receiving guidance on language that will help us communicate with future partners. Consent workshops can be as impersonal and utilitarian as an SAT prep book: fact-based, transactional, generalized and devoid of human emotion.

As a transfer student at Middlebury College, I sat through two such orientations and several mandatory forums about sex on campus. It was uncomfortable.

But I can see the connection between these awkward seminars and the rise of swipe-for-consent apps: Both are the outcome of a culture completely out of touch with healthy communication about sex, especially when it comes to educating young adults about it.

It’s not any school administration’s fault. There are no national guidelines for sex ed, and the curriculum for it varies greatly around the country, often from state to state. Fewer than half of the states require sexual education in public schools, and only 20 of them even require that it be medically, factually or technically accurate. Think about that.

To be clear, inaccurate sex ed isn’t to blame for all cases of sexual violence, which college-age women are three to four times more at risk of experiencing than all other women, according to a 2014 Department of Justice report.

Still, as young adults, we have no real guidance for modeling intimate behavior on anything other than the glamorized, highly choreographed sexual encounters we see on TV and in movies, music and pornography. Those media generally fail to include any language of consent at all. Nowhere are Americans exposed to the idea that talking to your partner before, during and after sex — regardless of whether you met five years or 15 minutes ago — makes sex better! Why is nobody teaching us that “great sex” happens when both partners are equally engaged in respecting and communicating their expectations?

To address this intimacy gap in our language, my peers and I started the Consent Project at Middlebury. We invite speakers to address topics like pleasure, anatomy and masculinity. On weekends we host a “Morning-After Breakfast,” where students talk about sex and relationships without judgment. Every breakfast begins with an icebreaker — a game of sex and anatomy trivia to loosen up language around taboos — and then students break into smaller groups to air out personal confusions.

The idea is to identify, through group communication and brainstorming, what defines good and healthy sex. Our goal is to develop a shared idea of consent that encompasses self-advocacy, respect and mutual fulfillment — and not to treat it like a checkbox.

In Consent Project meetings, students bring up topics that don’t necessarily come up in school-sponsored consent workshops. They talk about drinking to overcome inhibitions, only to wake up the next morning feeling unfulfilled, unsure and sometimes even regretful about their choices. Both women and men admit to feeling inadequate and a pressure to “perform.” Women more often voice frustration over not having their own sexual needs met or respected, while men express anxiety about sexual rejection. There are many elements that add to students’ confusion, but the role that drinking and recreation drug use play cannot be overstated.

It may seem like a small thing, but these conversations actually do seem to make students more comfortable. There is always a healthy amount of laughter despite the seriousness of the conversations. We get a lot of feedback from students who say they feel willing — or even excited — to start talking about sex more openly.

The miscommunication that can lead to sexual violence, on campus and off, is not unavoidable. Absent reform in the K-12 system, students can help create safe environments and learn from one another. Teachers, administrators and the media tell us only part of the story. Let’s learn to talk openly and respectfully about sex, pleasure and our boundaries, in all the ways we individually define them.

Complete Article HERE!

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