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Envisioning A New Approach To Postpartum Sex

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Welcoming a baby into the world is an incredible experience, but it is certainly not a seamless one. Although your new bundle of joy may be small, metaphorically speaking, they occupy a lot of space, with your partner and intimacy being the first thing to be pushed to the side.

As part of running MysteryVibe, I speak to women and men from different countries, backgrounds, and cultures every day – and one of the most common themes of discussions or questions people ask me is around reclaiming intimacy and sexual pleasure after childbirth.

The 6-week check-up often marks the moment when new moms are physically cleared by their doctors to have sex again. But while you might be given the green light, many women are simply not ready emotionally for penetrative sex.

You have welcomed a new human into the world, and while your heart could burst from all the love you feel, likewise you might be worried sick about their well-being at every moment, ready to cry at the drop of a pin.

Between the physical recovery of birth, a flurry of activities and the emotional rollercoaster of hormones, the last thing on your mind during the postpartum is being physically available for yourself, much less your partner.

But that does not mean that you have to give up on intimacy altogether.

It is time to reframe the 6 week check-up, and move beyond its unrealistic presumption that makes new mothers feel pressured to jump back into the sack after a string of sexless months, and guilty or ashamed when they cannot bring themselves to do it right away.

Rather, we propose a new vision of postpartum sex as a gentle journey of intimacy that leads to a fulfilling, pleasurable relationship with your partner, where sex does not have to mean intercourse right away.

A journey that will not necessarily lead you back to your pre-baby sex life, but to a new normal that can even be more emotionally (and physically) satisfying than ever before!

The rules of the game – go at your own pace, take it slow, communicate your needs to your partner, sit back, relax and let yourself enjoy the pleasure.  Here we offer you a few tips to kickstart your journey.

1. TLC- tender loving care. Before you can be emotionally or physically available for your partner, you must carve out some time for some self-love. Perhaps let dad or grandparents have some alone time with the new arrival – take a bubble bath, go for a walk in nature or perhaps cuddle up in a cozy blanket listening to your favorite tunes.

If you are up to it, maybe try a solo session, using a clitoral stimulator or small vibrator with lots of lubricants. Because of your body’s changing-needs, highly-customizable toys like MysteryVibe’s Crescendo will be a great fit as you can change its shape along with creating unique patterns of vibrations (spanning from super gentle to more powerful).

Toys like this are super effective at satisfying both penetrative and non-penetrative play, and don’t rely on friction or thrusting, which can be painful for many women post-birth. This will be a great time to reconnect with your body, with orgasms acting as stress relievers as well.

Whatever it is, love yourself and do what makes you feel good!

2. Rediscover the power of cuddling and kissing. While it may feel like you are regressing back to ‘first base’, these simple forms of physical touch with your partner increase* oxytocin levels, also known as the ‘bonding’ hormone that can help reduce* stress and anxiety.

So, when your baby is sleeping, take some time to simply hold each other’s hands or wrap yourself up in one another’s arms as you watch some TV.  When you are feeling ready for second base, allow your lips to linger and move into loving, passionate kisses.

3. Venture outside the usual. For many women, their breasts and vagina feel less sexual during the postpartum period. Once a focal point in the bedroom, breasts are now inflated and sore, and the vulva and vagina may be recovering from the physical trauma of childbirth.

No need to fret. There are many other erogenous zones that can bring you pleasure.  With their hands and/or mouth, ask your partner to stimulate other areas of your body.

Try some of these: ears, neck, nape of neck, spine, back, behind the knees and feet. These areas are full of nerve endings and can reveal some unexpectedly pleasurable sensations.

4. Explore non-penetrative practices. There are many ways to experience mutual pleasure and intimacy with your partner outside of the traditional penetrative act. Try reinventing the 69.

If you are not ready for vaginal or clitoral action, ask your partner to massage your feet that stimulate blood flow up to your legs and abdomen, while you return the favor with your hands or mouth.

You and your partner could also try intercrural sex, where the penis is stimulated by being placed in between your thighs. Or, on the flip side, intergluteal sex where the penis can be stimulated by moving between the buttocks.

For the last two, we recommend lube.

5. Invest in some good quality lube. When you are ready for more advanced foreplay or penetrative sex, do not be shocked if you are not naturally lubricating downstairs. Dryness is another side-effect of declined estrogen and progesterone levels post-birth.

Lube will be your best friend when you are getting back to the norm with your partner, helping things run smoothly. Clitoral stimulators can also act as great tools in this department. Also, do not forget to relax.

Many women feel a mixture of fear and anxiety about returning back to penetrative sex after months of celibacy, leading to a tenseness that will undeniably make sex less pleasurable. If you can, have a glass of wine, take your time, let your partner give you a massage, and then get the lube out!

6. The gift that keeps on giving. So maybe you are just not in the mood? Because of wonky hormonal changes, it’s totally normal to experience plummeted levels of libido. It’s ok.

Nonetheless, women put pressure on themselves to perform in the bedroom out of guilt for not tending to their partner’s sexual needs. Consider buying masturbating toys for your partner, it will show them that you care without forcing yourself to do anything out of your comfort zone.

All in all, intimacy with your partner can help decrease* your stress, improve* your confidence and (contrary to belief) energize you! Making space to prioritize intimacy, without the pressure of going all in, can help nurture a deep connection with your partner that can translate to increased happiness and wellbeing.

Do not expect to go from 0 to 100 after your 6 week check-up. Remember, most women wait longer than 6 weeks, and many women will not get 100% back into the groove of things for months.

Allow this journey back to intimacy be an exciting opportunity to rediscover the relationship you have with your own body and to find new techniques that lie outside the norm with your partner.

The key is to take things slowly, to listen to yourself, communicate with your partner, and when the time comes, use lots and lots of lube.

Complete Article HERE!

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We need to talk about the social norms that fuel sexual assault

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The recent spate of sexual harassment accusations against prominent men in Westminster comes as no surprise to many of us. We expect them to know better – to have been better people – but we have also seen this kind of behaviour before … over and over again. It isn’t just powerful men – but it is almost always men.

It’s time to start looking at the deep-rooted causes of harassment. We need to try to understand why sexual harassment is carried out much more by men against women than vice versa. And this is going to involve an evaluation of our sexual norms. Once we’ve done this, we can start a conversation about the kind of sex we do want – and how to create a culture where that is more likely to happen.

Let’s consider three gendered social norms that might have a role in why men sexually harass women.

1) Men are entitled to sex

The view that men are constantly thinking about sex, and feel somehow entitled to it due to their superior status to women, is one that we are familiar with: from sexist chants at universities, to pick-up artists, to lyrics that eroticise sexual coercion (such as Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke) and films that revolve around the “winning over” of an uninterested woman. We also take it for granted that there is a large sex industry, which caters – for the most part – for men’s sexual desires.

2) Men call the shots

It is still a common expectation that men should ask women out on dates, decide where to go, and pay for them. Women, on the other hand, should play hard to get and be submissive. Consider the well-known “Rules” dating book, which has tips for women such as: “don’t tell him what to do” and “let him take the lead”.

Power imbalance.

Men are also expected to be dominant sexually – and this is implicit in the way that we talk about sex: men fuck/screw/bone women. The male dominance norm carries forward into marriage. It is still usual for the woman to wait for the man to ask her to marry him and to take his name when they marry, for example.

3) Women should be sexually pure

Women’s sexuality is controlled through slut shaming. Many men would still be uncomfortable being with a woman who had slept with many more people than he had – and many men still feel comfortable referring to women as “slags” or “sluts” for indulging in behaviour that would make a man a “stud” or a “lad”.

It is implicitly believed that women must help men to control their sexual desire and aggression. They can do this by dressing modestly, and not being too flirtatious with men. Peter Hitchens recently helpfully suggested in the Daily Mail that the niqab is what women will get from all this “squawking about sex pests”, since, as he put it: “No minister would put his hand on the knee of anyone dressed like this; indeed, he’d have trouble finding her knee, or anything else”.

So, let’s talk

These norms are obviously extreme, and are not held by everyone. They are also, I hope, being slowly eroded. But they do exist – and it is not too far-fetched to say that they have a role in creating a culture in which men, much more so than women, feel that they want to and are able to engage in sexual harassment. After all, if there is an implicit assumption that you are entitled to sex (and this view might be held particularly strongly by men who believe they are entitled in all aspects of life), that you call the shots in the sexual arena, and that if a woman is dressed “provocatively”, or acting “flirtatiously”, you just can’t help yourself, then you might feel that you do nothing wrong in harassing her.

The revelations from Westminster have opened up a debate surrounding men’s actions within that small bubble, a debate that needs to be had. But we should also use it as an opportunity to talk about gendered sexual norms, because sex is a part of sexual harassment.

We need to do more than just train men in sexual consent. Consent, after all, is a bare minimum requirement for good sex. What we need is a conversation about what makes good sex – and what kind of gender norms would improve gender relations more broadly. And I think they might end up being quite different to the norms we have now.

Complete Article HERE!

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Nienke Helder designs therapy tools for women recovering from sexual trauma

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Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Nienke Helder has created a set of sensory objects that can be used to rehabilitate women affected by sexual abuse.

Presented at this year’s Dutch Design Week, Sexual Healing is designed to help women who are suffering from trauma-induced sexual problems, such as pelvic muscle blockage.

According to the designer, current treatment available often focuses on a clinical perspective – putting too much emphasis on physical issues, rather than the psychological aspects of trauma.

From her own experience, Helder recognised the frustration this can cause, which prompted her to develop an alternative therapy which focuses more on the emotional aspects of sexual trauma.

“I was really frustrated with the way we treat these kinds of issues. In my opinion, the treatments that I got only made it worse,” she told Dezeen.

“It was totally taking me away from the sexual context; it became really clinical. It was so focused on this end goal of penetration that I totally lost all fun in my sexuality.”

The designer worked with medical experts and women in recovery to develop a set of five objects which invite users to discover their own sexual pleasure.

The objects encourage women to explore what feels good to them, which in turn, relieves fear and pain, and help them regain a sense of security about their bodies.

The first object is an ergonomically shaped mirror that lights up.

“Research shows that if you look at your own vulva, it increases your body positivity a lot. But if you have a trauma, it can really be confronting to look at your own body,” Helder said.

She made the mirror in such a way that it only shows exactly what you hold in front of it, allowing users to take their time and slowly start exploring their own bodies.

The second object is a brush made from horsehair, which is meant to help users become comfortable with being touched again. It also enables them to invite their partner to the healing process.

“If you have a trauma, it can be really difficult to talk about it. But by giving someone an object and making them part of the therapy, it opens a lot of doors for conversation,” Helder explains.

Two of the objects focus on biofeedback and are designed to help the user detect if they are feeling tense or stressed.

“Trauma creates certain reflexes in your body that comes from your subconscious mind,” the designer said. “To break that cycle, you need to rationally understand what is causing these processes in order to overcome them emotionally.”

One is a sensor that is meant to be placed on the abdomen. The device lights-up when the user’s breathing becomes tense, functioning as a signal to relax again.

A second is an object that measures the pressure in pelvic floor muscles. If the user tenses up, the device starts to vibrate, signalling the need to relax.

The final object is a kimono made of silk jersey, which emphasises the need to feel warm and relaxed in the bedroom.

“I made it because the bedroom is one of the coldest rooms in the house,” said the designer. “As I mentioned in my project video, it is important to keep your socks on when having sex because women could not have an orgasm when they have cold feet.”


 
Mental health is becoming an increasingly explored topic in design, particularly among graduates.

At last year’s Design Academy Eindhoven graduate show, designer Nicolette Bodewes presented a tactile toolkit designed to be used in psychotherapy sessions, while Yi-Fei Chen channelled her personal struggle with speaking her mind into a gun that fires her tears.

Helder’s Sexual Healing project was presented at this year’s Design Academy Eindhoven‘s graduate show as part of the annual Dutch Design Week event, which took place from 21 until 29 October 2017.

Complete Article HERE!

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The Shaming of Sexuality: America’s Real Sex Scandal

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In early September, the Twitter account of Texas Senator and former Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz “liked” a post containing explicit pornographic video content. Once noticed by other Twitter users, the news shot around social media; many were both shocked and amused by the public slip-up by the typically straight-laced Senator. For his part, Cruz blamed the error on a staffer, denying that he was the one who had liked the post.

Whether you believe this explanation or not, the idea of Cruz publicly revealing a pornography habit and preference is simultaneously absurd and infuriating. Both of these reactions are a result of Cruz’s staunchly conservative views on sex and sexuality. In 2007 as Texas solicitor general, he defended a law banning the sale of sex toys in the state, arguing that no right existed “to stimulate one’s genitals for non-medical purposes unrelated to procreation or outside of an interpersonal relationship.” Though he did not personally fight to preserve Texas’ anti-sodomy laws in 2003’s Lawrence v. Texas, his negative attitudes towards LGBTQ+ causes are well-established: He called the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in favor of marriage equality “fundamentally illegitimate” and supported North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” referring to transgender women as “men” in the process. When pressed in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash on the Texas sex toy law, Cruz backtracked on his previous position, calling the sex toy law “idiotic” and “a stupid law” before adding, “consenting adults should be able to do whatever they want in their bedrooms.” If Cruz truly feels that way, then his past attempts at legislation appear either opportunistic or self-contradicting.

Cruz is far from alone among politicians who have contributed to legislation and rhetoric against private consensual sexual practices. As stated above, it took until 2003 for the Supreme Court to strike down anti-sodomy laws, and, as of 2014, a dozen states still technically had those laws on their books. (In fact, several states have actually been stricter against sodomy than bestiality – including Texas, which has had an anti-sodomy law on the books since 1974 but only made bestiality a crime in 2017.) The sale of sex toys is currently punishable in Alabama by a fine of up to $10,000 and a full year in jail, and last year a US appeals court upheld a similar law in Georgia. Also last year, Utah Governor Gary Herbert declared pornography and pornography addiction a “public health crisis” via a signed resolution, continuing a long trend of political attempts to push back against pornography.

What is most interesting about these types of consensual sex-related laws and attitudes in the United States is that support for them seems to be in direct conflict with the amount of people who participate in said sex acts. Utah residents, for example, actually buy more internet porn per person than those of any other state according to a 2009 study (though it’s a solidly red and majority Mormon state). Only 29 percent of Americans consider watching porn “morally acceptable,” and only 39 percent would “oppose legal restrictions on pornography.” However, between 75 and 80 percent of Americans age 18 to 30 report watching porn at least once a month, and a 2015 Marie Clare study of people 18 and older found that 92 percent of respondents watch porn at least a few times a year, and 41 percent at least every week. Statistically, then, a good number of those who find porn “morally unacceptable” and wouldn’t necessarily fight against anti-porn laws watch porn themselves. In the same vein, there are a number of famous cases of politicians and activists with anti-LGBTQ+ standpoints later being revealed as LGBTQ+ themselves.

So why the hypocrisy? Why do a considerable number of Americans support legislation and rhetoric against sex acts they themselves enjoy? The answer lies squarely on the shoulders of the country’s odd relationship with sex and the public discussion of it. In the US, hyper-sexualization is not simply tolerated but rampant. Everything from M&M’s to sparkling water seems to ascribe to the idea that “sex sells,” their sexed-up ads running on television in plain sight. But once a certain fairly arbitrary line is crossed, the conversation is seen as “too explicit” and gets tucked away in the corner. This creates an environment where pornography, masturbation, sex toy use, and homosexuality are seen as shameful, leading to the statistical discrepancies laid out above. Indeed, in that same Marie Claire poll, 41 percent of respondents said they “don’t want anyone to know about” their porn watching and another 20 percent feel “embarrassed” and “ashamed afterward.”

The don’t-ask-don’t-tell culture around sex in the United States makes it is quite possible that support for sex-based legislation comes more from perceived societal pressure than from personal concern about the issues at hand. In other words, there are potentially more people who support restricting pornography or the sale of sex toys simply because they feel that others expect them to, even if they personally use pornography or sex toys, than there are people who don’t participate and find said actions immoral enough to be worthy of legislative restriction.

American public and social discourse about sex is an unruly, multi-faceted mess, and not one that can be untangled in a day. But if attitudes around sex were to thaw, and people were free to talk more openly about their habits, the stigma and taboos surrounding certain aspects of sexuality – many of which are overwhelmingly common and actually healthy – could be eliminated. This change could come from the top down, with politicians and medical professionals emphasizing the need for healthy sex discourse, or, more likely, from an effort by the populace (which may already be underway) to tear away the curtains. New sex education programs – which are far easier to talk about than actually implement – could put more emphasis on the healthy aspects of sex and sexuality. Celebrities could also speak out, using their platforms to acknowledge the realities of human sexuality. If all this were to happen, eventually laws could be pulled back, and politicians could potentially stop feeling pressure to espouse hypocritical views on sexuality. Maybe then Ted Cruz could truly act on his belief that “consenting adults should be able to do whatever they want in their bedrooms.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Why teaching kids about sex is key for preventing sexual violence

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Sex ed can be awkward. It can also be life-changing.

You may think of sex education like it appears in pop culture: A classroom of teens looking nervously at a banana and a condom.

Amid the giggling and awkward questions, maybe the students get some insight into how sex works or how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

While that’s valuable knowledge, comprehensive and LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed actually has the power to positively influence the way young people see themselves and their sexuality. It may also help prevent sexual violence when it teaches students how to value their own bodily autonomy, ask for consent, and identify unhealthy relationship behavior.

That possibility couldn’t be more important at a time when the public is searching for answers about how to stop sexual violence.

It’s a familiar cycle; one person’s predatory behavior becomes national news (think Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Donald Trump, and Bill Cosby), the outrage reaches a peak before fading from the headlines, and we end up back in similar territory months or years later.

 

Nicole Cushman, executive director of the comprehensive sex ed nonprofit organization Answer, says that teaching young people about sex and sexuality can fundamentally shift their views on critical issues like consent, abuse, and assault.

When parents and educators wait to have these conversations until children are young adults or off at college, Cushman says, “we are really doing too little, too late.”

Comprehensive sex ed, in contrast, focuses on addressing the physical, mental, emotional, and social dimensions of sexuality starting in kindergarten and lasting through the end of high school. There’s no single lesson plan, since educators and nonprofits can develop curricula that meet varying state standards, but the idea is to cover everything including anatomy, healthy relationships, pregnancy and birth, contraceptives, sexual orientation, and media literacy.

“Comprehensive sex ed builds a foundation for these conversations in age-appropriate ways,” Cushman says. “That [allows] us not to just equip young people with knowledge and definitions, but the ability to recognize sexual harassment and assault … and actually create culture change around this issue.”

Some parents balk at the idea of starting young, but researchers believe that teaching elementary school students basic anatomical vocabulary as well as the concept of consent may help prevent sexual abuse, or help kids report it when they experience it.

If a child, for example, doesn’t know what to call her vagina, she may not know how to describe molestation. And if a boy doesn’t understand that he can only touch others with their permission, and be touched by others upon giving his consent, he may mistake sexual abuse as normal.

It doesn’t take much to imagine how that early education could impart life-long lessons about the boundaries that separate respectful physical contact from abuse and assault.

 

Some adults, however, think children learn these lessons without their explicit help. While they do internalize signals and cues from the behavior they witness, that’s not always a good thing, says Debra Hauser, president of the nonprofit reproductive and sexual health organization Advocates for Youth.

If a child grew up in a household witnessing an emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive relationship, they may not feel they have a right to give or revoke their consent. They may also believe it’s their right to violate someone else. Moreover, young people rarely, if ever, get to watch as the adults around them navigate complicated conversations about things like birth control and sexual preferences.

That’s where comprehensive sex ed can be essential, Hauser explains.

“You want young people to learn knowledge, but you also want them to learn skills,” she says. “There’s a particular art to communicating about boundaries, contraceptive use, likes and dislikes. It’s not something you get to see that often because they’re private conversations.”

So while parents — and some students — grimace at the idea of role-playing such exchanges in the classroom, that technique is a cornerstone of comprehensive sex education. Staging practical interactions that are inclusive of LGBTQ students can help reduce the stigma that keeps people from expressing their desires, whether that’s to stop or start a sexual encounter, use protection, or confront abusive behavior.

But learning and practicing consent isn’t a silver bullet for prevention, Cushman says: “Plenty of young people could spout off the definition of consent, but until we really shift our ideas about gender, power, and sexuality, we’re not going to see lasting change.”

Research does suggest that a curriculum that draws attention to gender or power in relationships, fosters critical thinking about gender norms, helps students value themselves, and drives personal reflection is much more likely to be effective at preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

 

There’s also research that indicates that clinging to harmful gender norms is associated with being less likely to use contraceptives and condoms. And women and girls who feel they have less power in a sexual relationship may experience higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and HIV.

While researchers don’t yet know whether comprehensive sex ed can reduce sexual violence, Hauser believes it’s an important part of prevention.

“Comprehensive sex ed is absolutely essential if we’re ever going to be successful in combatting this culture,” she says.

But not all students have access to such a curriculum in their schools. While California, for example, requires schools to provide medically accurate and LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed, more than two dozen states don’t mandate sex ed at all. Some don’t even require medically accurate curricula.

The Trump administration is no fan of comprehensive sex ed, either. It recently axed federal funding for pregnancy prevention programs and appointed an abstinence-only advocate to an important position at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Research shows that abstinence-only education is ineffective. It can also perpetuate traditional gender roles, which often reinforce the idea that girls and women bear the responsibility of preventing sexual assault.

Cushman understands that parents who don’t want their children learning about comprehensive sex ed are just worried for their kids, but she says the knowledge they gain isn’t “dangerous.”

Even if some parents can’t shake the worry that it might be, the firestorm over Harvey Weinstein’s behavior and the outcry from his victims are proof that we need to better educate young people about sex, consent, and healthy relationships.

It’s simply unconscionable to teach girls and women, by design or accident, that sexual violence is their fault.

“We have an obligation to make sure [youth] have the knowledge and skills they need to make the decisions that are best for them,” Cushman says. “Sex ed really does have the power to shift our perceptions.” 

Complete Article HERE!

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