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Staying Out Of The Closet In Old Age

By Anna Gorman

Partners Edwin Fisher, 86, and Patrick Mizelle, 64, moved to Rose Villa in Portland, Oregon, from from Georgia about three years ago. Fisher and Mizelle worried residents of senior living communities in Georgia wouldn’t accept their gay lifestyle.

Partners Edwin Fisher, 86, and Patrick Mizelle, 64, moved to Rose Villa in Portland, Oregon, from from Georgia about three years ago. Fisher and Mizelle worried residents of senior living communities in Georgia wouldn’t accept their gay lifestyle.

Patrick Mizelle and Edwin Fisher, who have been together for 37 years, were planning to grow old in their home state of Georgia.

But visits to senior living communities left them worried that after decades of living openly, marching in pride parades and raising money for gay causes, they wouldn’t feel as free in their later years. Fisher said the places all seemed very “churchy,” and the couple worried about evangelical people leaving Bibles on their doorstep or not accepting their lifestyle.

“I thought, ‘Have I come this far only to have to go back in the closet and pretend we are brothers?” said Mizelle. “We have always been out and we didn’t want to be stuck in a place where we couldn’t be.”

So three years ago, they moved across the country to Rose Villa, a hillside senior living complex just outside of Portland that actively reaches out to gay, lesbian and transgender seniors.

As openly gay and lesbian people age, they will increasingly rely on caregivers and move into assisted living communities and nursing homes. And while many rely on friends and partners, more are likely to be single and without adult children, according to researchpublished by the National Institutes of Health.

Rose Villa Senior Living, located just outside of Portland, Oregon, has made a point of welcoming LGBT elders. The community, which offers independent and assisted living, also has a nursing home on site.

Rose Villa Senior Living, located just outside of Portland, Oregon, has made a point of welcoming LGBT elders. The community, which offers independent and assisted living, also has a nursing home on site.

But long-term care facilities frequently lack trained staff and policies to discourage discrimination, advocates and doctors said. That can lead to painful decisions for seniors about whether to hide their sexual orientation or face possible harassment by fellow elderly residents or caregivers with traditional views on sexuality and marriage.

“It is a very serious challenge for many LGBT older people,” said Michael Adams, chief executive officer of SAGE, or Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders. “[They] really fought to create a world where people could be out and proud. … Now our LGBT pioneers are sharing residences with those who harbor the most bias against them.”

There are an estimated 1.5 million gay, lesbian and bisexual people over 65 living in the U.S. currently, and that number is expected to double by 2030, according to the organization, which runs a national resource center on LGBT aging.

Andrea Drury, 69, and Kate Birdsall, 73, got married in 2014 and moved to Rose Villa last year. Birdsall said she wanted to grow old together in an accepting environment. “We are just one of the couples who are here,” she said. “It just so happens we are both women.”

Andrea Drury, 69, and Kate Birdsall, 73, got married in 2014 and moved to Rose Villa last year. Birdsall said she wanted to grow old together in an accepting environment. “We are just one of the couples who are here,” she said. “It just so happens we are both women.”

Nationwide, advocacy groups are pushing to improve conditions and expand options for gay and lesbian seniors. Facilities for LGBT seniors have opened in Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and elsewhere.

SAGE staff are also training providers at nursing homes and elsewhere to provide a more supportive environment for elderly gays and lesbians. That may mean asking different questions at intake, such as whether they have a partner rather than if they are married (even though they can get married, not all older couples have).  Or it could be a matter of educating other residents and offering activities specific to the LGBT community like gay-friendly movies or lectures.

Mizelle, 64, and Fisher, 86, said they found the support they hoped for at Rose Villa, where they live in a ground-floor cottage near the community garden and spend their time socializing with other residents, both gay and straight. They both exercise in the on-site gym and pool. Fisher bakes for a farmer’s market and Mizelle is participating in art classes. Fisher, who recently had a few small strokes, said they liked Rose Villa for another reason too: It provides in-home caregivers and has a nursing facility on site.

But many aging gays and lesbians — the generation that protested for gay rights at Stonewall, in state capitols and on the steps of the Supreme Court — may not be living in such welcoming environments. Only 20 percent of LGBT seniors in long-term care facilities said they were comfortable being open about their sexual orientation, according to a recent report by Justice in Aging, a national nonprofit legal advocacy organization.

Ed Dehag, 70, at the Triangle Square Apartments in Los Angeles, California, in August 2016. The retired floral designer moved into the building when his partner passed away and he couldn’t afford the rent on his old apartment by himself.

Ed Dehag, 70, at the Triangle Square Apartments in Los Angeles, California, in August 2016. The retired floral designer moved into the building when his partner passed away and he couldn’t afford the rent on his old apartment by himself.

This summer, Lambda Legal, a gay advocacy group, filed a lawsuit against the Glen Saint Andrew Living Community, a senior residential facility in Niles, Illinois, for failing to protect a disabled lesbian woman from harassment, discrimination and violence. The resident, 68-year-old Marsha Wetzel, moved into the complex in 2014 after her partner of 30 years had died of cancer. Soon after, residents called her names and even physically assaulted her, according to the lawsuit.

“I don’t feel safe in my own home,” Wetzel said in a phone interview. “I am scared constantly. … What I am doing is about getting justice. I don’t want other LGBT seniors to go through what I’ve gone through.”

Karen Loewy, Wetzel’s attorney at Lambda Legal, said senior living facilities are “totally ill-prepared” for this population of openly gay elders. She said she hopes the case will not only stop the discrimination against Wetzel but will start a national conversation.

“LGBT seniors have the right to age with dignity and free from discrimination, and we want senior living facilities to know … that they have an obligation to protect it,” Loewy said.

A photo of Dehag’s partner sits on the dresser in his bedroom. Dehag moved into one of the apartments shortly after his partner passed away.

A photo of Dehag’s partner sits on the dresser in his bedroom. Dehag moved into one of the apartments shortly after his partner passed away.

Spencer Maus, spokesman for Glen Saint Andrew, declined to comment specifically on the lawsuit but said in an email that the community “does not tolerate discrimination of any kind or under any circumstances.”

Many elderly gay and lesbian people have difficulty finding housing at all, according to a 2010 report by several advocacy organizations in partnership with the federal American Society on Aging. Another report in 2014 by the Equal Rights Center, a national nonprofit civil rights organization, revealed that the application process was more difficult and housing more expensive for gay and lesbian seniors.

Recognizing the need for more affordable housing, the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing organization opened Triangle Square Apartments in 2007. In the building, the first of its kind, residents can get health and social services through the Los Angeles LGBT Center. The wait for apartments with the biggest subsidies is about five years.

Residents display rainbow flags outside their doors throughout the building. On a recent morning, fliers about falls, mental health, movie nights and meningitis vaccines were posted on a bulletin board near the elevator.

Lee Marquardt, 74, at the Triangle Square Apartments in Los Angeles, California, in August 2016. Marquardt moved into the apartment building two years ago. She said she didn’t want to spend her elder years hiding her true self as she had as a younger woman.

Lee Marquardt, 74, at the Triangle Square Apartments in Los Angeles, California, in August 2016. Marquardt moved into the apartment building two years ago. She said she didn’t want to spend her elder years hiding her true self as she had as a younger woman.

Ed Dehay, 80, moved into one of the apartments when they first opened. His partner had recently passed away and he couldn’t afford the rent on his old apartment by himself. “This was a godsend for me,” said Dehay, a retired floral designer who has covered every wall of his apartment with framed art.

His neighbor, 74-year-old Lee Marquardt, said she came out after raising three children, and didn’t want to spend her elder years hiding her true self as she had as a younger woman. Marquardt, a former truck driver who has high blood pressure and kidney disease, said she found a new family as soon as she moved into the apartment building two years ago.

“I was dishonest all the time before,” she said. “Now I am who I am and I don’t have to be quiet about it.”

Tanya Witt, resident services coordinator for the Los Angeles LGBT Center, said some of the Triangle Square residents are reluctant to have in-home caregivers — even in their current housing — because they worry they won’t be gay-friendly. Others say they won’t ever go into a nursing home, even if they have serious health needs.

Marquardt holds an old photograph of herself of when she was married. Marquardt, a former truck driver who has high blood pressure and kidney disease, came out after raising three children.

Marquardt holds an old photograph of herself of when she was married. Marquardt, a former truck driver who has high blood pressure and kidney disease, came out after raising three children.

In addition to facing common health problems as they age, gay and lesbian seniors also may be dealing with additional stressors, isolation or depression, said Alexia Torke, an associate professor of medicine at Indiana University.

“LGBT older adults have specific needs in their health care,” she said. And caregivers “need to be aware.”

Lesbian, gay and bisexual elders are at higher risk of mental health problems and disabilities and have higher rates of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. They are also more likely to delay health care, according to a report by The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law. In addition, older gay men are disproportionately affected by some chronic diseases, including hypertension, according to research out of UCLA.

Torke said LGBT seniors are not strangers to nursing homes. The difference now is that there is a growing recognition of the need to make the homes safe and welcoming for them, she said.

The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing organization opened Triangle Square Apartments in 2007. In the first of its kind building, residents can get health and social services through the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing organization opened Triangle Square Apartments in 2007. In the first of its kind building, residents can get health and social services through the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

At Rose Villa, CEO Vassar Byrd said she began working nearly a decade ago to make the community more open to gays after a lesbian couple told her that another facility had suggested they would be more welcome if they posed as sisters. Today, several gay, lesbian and transgender people — individually and in couples — are living there, Byrd said. Her staff has undergone training to help them better care for that population, and Byrd said she has spoken to other senior care providers around the nation about the issue.

Bill Cunitz and Lee Nolet, who began dating in 1976, didn’t come out as a couple until they moved to Rose Villa last year. Cunitz is an ordained minister and former head of a senior living community in Southern California. He said he didn’t want to be known as the “gay CEO.”

Nolet, a retired nurse and county health official, said it’s been “absolutely amazing” to find a place where they can be open— and where they know they will have accepting people who can take care of them if they get sick.

“After 40 years of being in the shadows … we introduce each other as partner,” Nolet said. “Everyone here knows we’re together.”

 Complete Article HERE!

Screw Science: The Futuristic Sex Tech Aiming to Penetrate Your Bedroom

From fully customizable vibrators to bioelectronic headsets, smart sex toys are on the way up. But does personal pleasure necessarily make for better health?

sex-tech

Pleasure is personal, mostly because it has to be, and not least because female scientists continue to face grinding discrimination regardless of their area of research. And when it comes to sexual health, breakthroughs are few and far between: in spite of increasing documentation of associated health risks, birth control hasn’t really been reformulated since the 60s, and last year’s much-anticipated release of Addyi, a pill meant to fix female sexual dysfunction, only worked for ten percent of the women who tried it.

It’s clear that sexual emancipation has not yet been freed from the bedroom. In spite of its roots in scientific misogyny—the vibrator was developed in the 19th century to cure women of hysteria, after all—a swathe of new devices have people looking hopefully to sex tech (or sextech, as it is also known) as the answer to systemic gaps in sexual health. History, it seems, is coming full circle; where the 1960s saw the vibrator de-medicalized and uncoupled from science, today’s consumer market is beginning to see pleasure and health unified in the pursuit of wellness. Yet what we call “sex tech” is tied more to the lucrative sex toy industry—worth $15 billion this year—than it is to scientific institutions, with much of its promise linked to idea that personal pleasure makes for better health.

These days, more people than ever understand that a woman’s ability to understand what turns her on and why is a crucial step in developing a healthy perspective on her sexual life. So it makes sense that we’re seeking out masturbatory experiences that are more tailored than your average stand-in phallus. It’s the driving force behind the popularity of devices like Crescendo, the first-ever fully customizable vibrator, which raised £1.6 million in funding to date and shipped out over 1,000 pre-orders after a successful crowdfunding round.

Designed to cater to the inherent complexities of female arousal, the vibrator can be finely customized, equipped with six motors and the ability to be bent into any favorable shape. An accompanying app allows users to control each motor individually; it remembers favorite behaviors, provides pre-set vibration patterns, and responds to mood-setting music.

“We were inspired by the concept of tech designed for the human, rather than the human having to adapt their behaviour to tech,” says Stephanie Alys, the co-founder of Crescendo creators Mysteryvibe. “Human beings aren’t just unique in terms of our size and how we’re put together genetically, but also in terms of what we like. What turns us on can be different from what turns another person on.”

smart-sex-technology

Mysteryvibe’s flagship product is the Crescendo, a customizable sex toy.

But in spite of the life-improving promises of consumer sex tech, the reality is that official, peer-reviewed studies remain crucial to reforming policy and education. Founded by Dr. Nicole Prause, Liberos Center is one of the few sex-centric research institutions in the United States. Much of its work investigates the relationship between psychology, physiology, and sex, with an emphasis on the hard data that is often lacking in sex tech.

Liberos presses on in a particularly antagonistic climate; the American government is famously skittish about sexual content. Sexual material is banned from government-funded computers, says Prause, making it difficult for researchers to, say, screen porn to test subjects as part of a study on arousal. She adds that congressional bodies actively seek to pull funding from research that addresses the topic head-on—four recent studies that had already been awarded funding were re-opened for assessment because of their sexual content.

“People report having certain types of experiences all the time,” says Prause. “But they’re often poor observers of their own behaviour, and don’t see anyone’s behaviour but their own. They don’t really have that external perspective, which is why I think it’s important to take both a psychological and laboratory approach. For example, in science, people haven’t been verifying that orgasm actually occurs. So we’ve been developing an objective way of measuring that, and of measuring the effects of clitoral stimulation—on how to best capture the contractions that occur through the orgasm.”

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Liberos is also investigating the effect of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and direct current stimulation (tDCS) on sexual responsiveness. Both are non-invasive treatments, meaning anyone seeking a cure for low libido may not require anything more than the use of a headset. TMS holds potential for long-term changes to a person’s sex drive; the technique, which uses a magnetic field generator to produce small electrical currents in the brain, has already been used to treat neuropathic pain and otherwise stubborn cases of major depressive disorder. DCS, on the other hand, uses a headset to deliver a low-intensity electrical charge, stimulating the brain areas where activity spikes at the sight, or touch, of a turn-on.

If using the brain’s electrical signals to control the rest of the body sounds like a dystopian fantasy, the reality is that these medical treatments aren’t far off. Bioelectronic firms are now backed by the likes of Glaxosmithkline and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and similar applications have already been established for hypertension and sleep apnea, while chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, and arthritis are targeted for future development.

According to Dr. Karen E. Adams, clinical professor of OBGYN at Oregon Health and Science University, anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of women experience varying degrees of sexual dysfunction. Medication that targets neurotransmitters, like the SSRIs used to treat depression and anxiety, can fluctuate in efficacy depending on the unique makeup of the person using it.

Combined with the trickiness of locking down the nebulousness of desire (and lack thereof), it’s no wonder that Addyi, a failed antidepressant pursued because of its unexpected effect on serotonin levels in female mice, was a flop. Non-sex-specific studies have shown that electrical stimulation can be more adaptive to the brain’s constantly-shifting landscape than medication that interacts with its chemistry. For the 90 percent of women who found Addyi to be a sore disappointment, bioelectronic treatments could soon offer an alternative solution to low sexual responsivity.

“By giving women information about their bodies that they can decide what to do with, we’re enabling more female empowerment,” says Prause. “And by allowing women to decide which aspects of sex they want to be more responsive to, we’re giving people more control, and not with charlatan claims. We actually have good scientific reasons that we think are going to work, that are going to make a difference.”

Yet the field’s burgeoning successes are only as good as the social environment they take hold in. Sociopolitical hurdles notwithstanding, money remains a significant roadblock for developers, as the controversial nature of sex research has many investors shying away from backing new projects in spite of consumer interest. Whether they’re seeking government funding or VC investments, sex start-ups and labs alike are often forced to turn to crowdfunding to raise money for development.

“It’s pretty unsurprising that heavily female-oriented tech products do so well on crowdfunding sites; these are solutions to problems faced by half of the population, that are overlooked by a male-dominated industry where male entrepreneurs are 86 percent more likely to be VC funded than women,” says Katy Young, behavioral analyst at research firm Canvas8. “But the audience is clearly there—Livia, a device which targets nerves in order to stop period pains, raised over $1 million on Indiegogo.”

Outdated sex ed programs, which emphasize procreation and normalize straight male sexuality without addressing female sexual development, are ground zero for unhealthy social perspectives on sex. Acknowledging that change can’t just come from devices alone, New York’s Unbound, a luxury sex toy subscription service, is teaming up with “campus sexpert” app Tabù to bring both sex education and affordable masturbation tools to colleges across the country.

“There’s a national discussion right now surrounding consent, which is 100 percent needed and super important,” says Polly Rodriguez, CEO and co-founder of Unbound. “But for women to be able to engage in sex and address consent as equals, they need to learn about female pleasure—they should understand their own bodies so that when they are engaging in sexual activities with someone else, they know what feels good to them, they know how to communicate that, and they don’t feel uncomfortable about it.”

It’s tempting to buy into the idea of tech as freeing: that the increased presence of smart devices in our lives will help us form healthier habits and a better understanding of our ourselves, or that the availability of medically-approved tech will be a panacea in the intricately fraught landscape of female sexual dysfunction—which is as socially determined as it is biological, and as cultural as it is psychological.

But sex tech is still far from being paradigm-shifting. Its success will be dependent not only on consumer dollars but on government policies and public attitudes; at a level of engagement this intimate, tech is only any good if people feel free to use it.

Complete Article HERE!

Sexual Health for Singles: Helpful Hints for Having the Sexual History Conversation

By Charles Burton

black-couple-smiling

Unless two people are absolute virgins when they meet, they should sit still for a few minutes and have “the conversation” prior to hopping into bed together. It’s not a pleasant thing to think about, but facts are facts, and STDs are commoner than you might think. If you’re going to engage in adult behavior, it’s imperative that you act with at least a modicum of maturity. Part of that maturity involves open communication with any and all sexual playmates you encounter.

What are STD and STI

According to Mayo Clinic, Sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and sexually transmitted infections (STI) are the same thing with different acronyms. Both terms refer to infections and diseases that are spread by way of sexual contact. Not all STDs are transmitted via sexual activity, however. A number of so-called sexually transmitted infections can be spread via blood transfusion, shared needles and the birth process.

Among the commonest STD are gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and hepatitis. These are not the only diseases that can be transmitted by sexual contact, however. HIV is a dangerous disease that does not have a cure as yet. HPV and genital herpes are other STD infections for which there is currently no effective, long-lasting cure.

How to start the STD conversation

Relationship experts at Psychology Today recommend finding (or making) the time to talk when neither partner is busy or distracted. When there’s a football game on TV, it may not be the right time or place to broach the topic of sexual history. Keep the mood positive, and never express alarm or disgust at the number of previous sexual partners either of you has had. Accept the information offered by your potential sexual partner with grace, dignity and humor.

US News notes that the pre-sex talk doesn’t necessarily have to happen in person. In fact, it may be easier to start the conversation while chatting in a private message or texting on the phone. Starting the conversation and honestly communicating is far more important than the set and setting of “the talk.” Because the STD conversation is so imperative to good health for both partners, anonymous sexual encounters are not recommended.

Things to mention during The Talk

If you’re intimate enough to consider sexual relations with another person, you should feel comfortable enough to broach the subject of sexual history with them. Conversely, if you are too shy to mention condoms, request testing or to reveal a prior STD infection, you may wish to totally reconsider whether to begin a sexual relationship at all. Sex is, after all, a sophisticated form of human communication that works best when both partners are able to be completely open, candid and honest with one another.

Sexual history doesn’t need to divulge every detail, but it is crucial that you advise your partner of any hepatitis, gonorrhea, genital warts or other STD you have ever been exposed to.

How to prevent sexually transmitted infection

The most effective way to eliminate the risk of STD infection is to eschew sexual contact altogether. But, as you probably know, complete abstinence is not a realistic solution. Knowing one’s own body, recognizing symptoms and seeking medical help at the first sign of STD are far more effective methods of reducing sexually related infections.

Symptoms of STD may include sores on the genitals or around the mouth. Painful urination and penile discharge are also symptoms of STD, says Mayo Clinic. Foul-smelling vaginal leakage, abdominal aches, unusual bleeding between periods, and painful intercourse are other signs of sexually transmitted infection.

If you think that you or your partner may be infected with any sort of STD or STI, please make an appointment with a doctor or visit an STD testing center without delay. The sooner you are diagnosed, the sooner you can receive treatments to alleviate symptoms and treat the infection. The worst thing you can do, as far as your own health is concerned, is to feel too embarrassed to visit a clinic to be tested and treated for possible infection.

Lovemaking, sexual intimacy, or hooking up as “friends with benefits” can be a beautiful thing, but sex is fraught with danger, too. Do your best to reveal your truth with humor and grace, and you may be well on the way to forming a blissful interpersonal relationship that can last a lifetime. If not, you’ll at least reduce your risk of becoming infected while enjoying a hot weekend with a special someone.

Complete Article HERE!

Kinky Sex For Stress Relief

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

By

your kinks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete Article HERE!

Cancer patients and survivors can have trouble with intimacy

cancer-patients-and-survivors-can-have-trouble-with-intimacy

People who survive cancer treatment — a growing group now topping 5 million — often have trouble with intimacy afterward, both from the actual treatment and physical recovery and from the psychological damage of feeling so vulnerable.

People who survive cancer treatment — a growing group now topping 5 million — often have trouble with intimacy afterward, both from the actual treatment and physical recovery and from the psychological damage of feeling so vulnerable.(Photo: Getty Images/Comstock Images)

In the mirror, Kelly Shanahan looks normal, even to herself.

kelly-shanahan

Kelly Shanahan of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., has been battling breast cancer for eight years. She’s a big believer in doctors and their patients discussing sexual health.

But she does not feel like herself.

The breasts she had reconstructed eight years ago look real, the nipples convincing. But her breasts have no sensation. The only time she feels them at all is during the frigid winters of her South Lake Tahoe, Calif., home, when they get so cold, she has to put on an extra layer of clothing.

“For a lot of women, breast sensation is a huge part of sexual pleasure and foreplay. That is totally gone,” says Shanahan, 55, who has lived with advanced breast cancer for three years. “It can be a big blow to self-image, even though you may look normal.”
Kelly Shanahan of South Lake Tahoe, Calif., has been battling breast cancer for eight years. She’s a big believer in doctors and their patients discussing sexual health. (Photo: Kelly Shanahan)

Shanahan is part of a growing group of patients, advocates and doctors raising concerns about sexual health during and after cancer treatment.

“None of us would be here if it weren’t for sex. I don’t understand why we have such a difficult time talking about it,” she says.

Though virtually all cancer diagnoses and treatments affect how patients feel and what they think about their bodies, sex remains an uncomfortable medical topic.

Shanahan, an obstetrician herself, says that until her current doctor, none of the specialists who treated her cancer discussed her sex life.

“My former oncologist would rather fall through the floor than talk about sex,” she says.

Major cancer centers now include centers addressing sexuality, but most community hospitals still do not. The topic rarely is discussed unless the patient is particularly bold or the doctor has made a special commitment.

There’s no question that cancer can dampen people’s sex lives.

Hormone deprivation, a common therapy for breast and prostate cancer, can destroy libido, interfere with erections, and make sex extremely painful. Weight gain or loss can affect how sexy people feel. Fatigue is unending during treatment. Body image can be transformed by surgeries and the idea that your own cells are trying to kill you. The constant specter of death is a sexual downer, as are the decidedly unsexy aspects of cancer care, like carrying around a colostomy bag. Then, there are the healthy partners, feeling guilty and terrified of causing pain.

And once people start to associate sex with pain, that can add apprehension and muscle tightness, which makes intercourse harder to achieve, says Andrea Milbourne, a gynecologist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

There’s almost never a medical reason cancer patients or survivors shouldn’t be having sex, says Karen Syrjala, a clinical psychologist and co-director of the survivorship program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Even if there is reason to avoid intercourse, physical closeness and intimacy are possible, she says, noting that the sooner people address sexual issues the less serious those issues will be.

“Bodies need to be used and touched,” she says said. “Tissues need to be kept active.” Syrjala recommends hugging, romantic dinners, simple touching, “maybe just holding each other naked at night.”

There are ways to improve sexual problems, starting with doctors talking to their patients about sex. Milbourne and others say it’s their responsibility, not the patients’, to bring up the topic.

Hormone deprivation, a common therapy for breast and prostate cancer, can destroy libido, interfere with erections, and make sex extremely painful. Lubricants can help smooth the way.

Hormone deprivation, a common therapy for breast and prostate cancer, can destroy libido, interfere with erections, and make sex extremely painful. Lubricants can help smooth the way.

Communication between partners also is essential. “A lot of times, it’s unclear, at least in the mind of the other partner who doesn’t have a cancer, what has happened. ‘Why does this hurt? Why don’t you want to do anything?’ ” Milbourne says.

For women who have pain during sex, Milbourne says one study found benefit to using lidocaine gel to numb vaginal tissue.

Jeanne Carter, head of the female sexual medicine and women’s health program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, recommends women do three minutes of Kegel exercises daily to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles and improve vaginal tone, and to help reconnect to their bodies.

For women sent abruptly into menopause, moisturizing creams can help soften tissue that has become brittle and taut. Carter says she’s conducted research showing that women with breast or endometrial cancers who use moisturizers three to five times a week in the vagina and on the vulva have fewer symptoms and less pain than those who don’t. Lubricants can help smooth the way, too.

“We’ve got to make sure we get the tissue quality and pain under control or that will just undermine the whole process,” Carter says.

Sex toys also take on a different meaning after cancer treatment. Specialized stores often can offer useful advice and the ability to examine a product before buying. Rings and other equipment, in addition to medications such as Viagra, can help men regain erections.

Doctors and well-meaning friends also need to stop telling cancer patients that they should simply be glad to be alive, Shanahan says. Of course she is, but eight years after her initial diagnosis and three years after her disease advanced, Shanahan wants to make good use of the time she has left.

And that, she says, includes having a warm, intimate relationship with her husband of 21 years.

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