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Visualizing Sex as a Spectrum

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Infographic reveals the startling complexity of sex determination

Infographic by Pitch Interactive and Amanda Montañez

By Amanda Montañez

Sex and gender pervade nearly every aspect of our lives. Each time we use a public restroom, shop for clothes, or fill out a form, we are insistently reminded that we must be either male or female; men or women; boys or girls. Even things that ostensibly have nothing to do with sex or gender—what we eat, for example, or the books we read—are often sold to us as if they are necessarily feminine or masculine.

Some of these conventions currently face challenges, some more polarizing than others. On the milder end of things, enterprising online retailers promote gender-neutral clothing for babies, and city transport authorities mercifully abolish the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” from public announcements. And on the other side of the controversy scale, U.S. state legislators debate so-called “bathroom bills,” which would prohibit transgender individuals from using public restrooms corresponding to their gender identity. This dispute has prompted some venues to offer a gender-neutral restroom option, or simply to do away with gender distinctions altogether in their facilities.

Much of the public discourse in this arena centers on gender rather than sex, presumably because gender is understood to be somewhat subjective; it is a social construct that can be complex, fluid, multifaceted. Biological sex, on the other hand, appears to leave less room for debate. You either have two X chromosomes or an X and a Y; ovaries or testes; a vagina or a penis. Regardless of how an individual ends up identifying, they are assigned to one sex or the other at birth based on these binary sets of characteristics.

But of course, sex is not that simple either.

The September issue of Scientific American explores the fascinating and evolving science of sex and gender. One of the graphics I had the pleasure of working on breaks down the idea of biological sex as a non-binary attribute, focusing largely on what clinicians refer to as disorders of sex development (DSD), also known as intersex.

The project was originally conceived as a data-driven graphic exploring the spectra of sex and gender. I wondered, for instance, what data could tell us about the frequency of transgender and non-binary identities, what proportion of the population is intersex, and how that value might break down into rates of specific DSDs.

I hired the researcher Amanda Hobbs to look into these questions, and what she came back with, rather than answers, looked more like a series of new questions. The search for solid data on transgender and intersex populations proved challenging, and was confounded by a variety of factors. For example, surveys often lump transgender in with gay, lesbian, and bisexual identities. And DSDs, in addition to being variously defined by different entities, sometimes go undetected or emerge unexpectedly, either during sexual development or later in life.

The project abruptly transformed into an exercise in visualizing complexity. First, it seemed imperative to define a few terms. Sex, gender, and sexuality are all distinct from one another (although they are often related), and each exists on its own spectrum. Moreover, sex cannot be depicted as a simple, one-dimensional scale. In the world of DSDs, an individual may shift along the spectrum as development brings new biological factors into play. The density of science underlying this phenomenon compelled a shift towards intersex as the primary focus of the visualization.

Now that my task was clear, I set about assembling the content of the graphic and putting it down on paper. In part, this process clarified how much I could include, as the complete list of known DSDs and their various manifestations proved unwieldy for a single spread in a print magazine. I ended up with a visual outline of sorts depicting a diverse selection of conditions and their convoluted pathways of development over time. Although not an especially pretty sketch, it captured the sense of intricacy the topic demanded.

Visual outline

Next I consulted with Dr. Amy Winsiewski, a DSD specialist at the University of Oklahoma, who was kind enough to review the content of my sketch for accuracy. And finally, I called upon the visualization experts at Pitch Interactive to help bring the project to life.

[caption id="attachment_2328558" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Sketch

Once the aesthetic of the graphic had been established, I continued to refine both the text and design elements, guided by feedback from my colleagues who helped identify areas that were unclear or difficult to follow.

The finished print graphic

Detail of the finished print graphic

The resulting visualization is a source of pride for me, as I hope it is for everyone who contributed to its development. (You can see a larger version here in the September digital issue.) Design and visual communication feats aside, I believe the content itself is of critical importance from a social and policy perspective.

DSDs—which, broadly defined, may affect about one percent of the population—represent a robust, evidence-based argument to reject rigid assignations of sex and gender. Certain recent developments, such as the Swedish adoption of a gender-neutral singular pronoun, and the growing call to stop medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex babies, indicate a shift in the right direction. I am hopeful that raising public awareness of intersex, along with transgender and non-binary identities, will help align policies more closely with scientific reality, and by extension, social justice.

Complete Article HERE!

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What does kink really mean?

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All your NSFW questions answered

If you want to get kinky, sex isn’t even necessary.

Looking to leave your vanilla sex life behind and break into the exciting world of kink? You’ve probably heard the term thrown around on the internet or mentioned mysteriously on popular TV shows. But what does kink mean? What does being kinky entail? How do you discover your kinks and find out what works for you and your partner?

We suggest putting aside your Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight kink fanfiction for a much more interesting and inclusive look into what it really means to be kinky—and how kink can change sex and intimacy.

What does kink mean?

There are a lot of different ways to define “kink” that range from extraordinarily broad to super specific. But put very simply, a kink is anything that falls under non-traditional sexual and intimate desires, practices, or fantasies. The word non-traditional will mean different things to different people based on cultural backgrounds, but in most contexts, the definition encompasses anything that falls outside or romantic, intercourse-based sex between two people. This can include things that range from light bondage like handcuffs, ropes, or tape, to practices like public humiliation, foot-worship, domination/submission, and group sex.

What’s the difference between having a kink and being kinky? 

Let’s say you like being choked and occasionally have group sex with your partner, but other than that, you mostly subscribe to the standard sexual and romantic practices your parents could barely bring themselves to educate you about. A few kinks or kinky habits don’t brand you as a kinkster if that’s not how you identify. Conversely, there’s absolutely no rule telling you that you can’t identify as kinky on the basis of one or two kinks. Identity is largely helpful in finding community and for you to define yourself—you get to make that choice over whether you identify as kinky or not.

I’m kinky. Does that automatically make me queer?

If you’re a cisgender, heterosexual kinky person, the short answer is no.

Earlier this year HuffPo’s “Queer Voices” made the argument that non-normative sex and fetishes fall under the umbrella of queer. There are several problems with the argument, one of them that the crux of it lies in the author reducing the lives of queer/non-binary/LGBTQ folks to fetishes. Calling all kink inherently queer also diminishes the experiences of folks who have been dehumanized, banned from using the correct bathroom, denied public services, or murdered because of they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, or nonbinary.

As a writer on Huck Magazine puts it:

Queerness is an all-encompassing thing—an act of political resistance through its very existence—not just a rejection of what’s considered “normal” through alternative sexual practices. To reduce the queer identity to that is an over-simplification and an insult. Queerness steps outside these norms, and defies the gender and sexual binary. Being queer is about identity, and that is more powerful and goes far beyond the sex we do (or don’t) have.

How do my partner(s) and I get kinky? 

Before all else, make sure to honor the two most important rules of kink: communication and consent.

If you’re thinking of trying something kinky in bed (or elsewhere, since beds are pretty traditional places to have sex, after all) have an open and honest conversation with anyone who will be involved and outline your desires—but not without asking them about theirs, too. A kinky desire alone doesn’t give you a free pass to enact it; as with all sex and romantic activity, there must be explicit consent to move forward and that consent is not written in stone. You or your partner can change your mind at any time about what’s comfortable and what’s not OK.

Now onto the fun stuff: One of the best ways to get started on your kink journey is research. The internet is a bottomless resource hub for all your kink questions, which includes kink education videos, kink communities, step-by-step guides, kink and feminism/racial identity blogs, equipment guides for beginners, resources for specific kinks, and lots more videos.

How do I learn about my own kink(s)?

Both kink beginners and veterans can use the “Yes, No, Maybe So” checklist as a tool to learn about their own kinks and, if they’re comfortable, share the list with a partner. Scarleteen recommends filling it out by hand or reading it through before discussing with a partner, but it all depends on your individual comfort level. As the authors point out, “Lists like this are not finish lines but starting points: for evaluating your own sexuality and/or for deeper conversations with someone else. This is so you can start thinking about things for yourself, or start having conversations with a partner.” There are many different versions of the “Yes, No, Maybe So” checklist, like this visual guide from Autostraddle, this polyamory checklist, and this kink rating system to also peruse through.

Many people also use this online BDSM quiz, which lets you answer questions on a spectrum rather than a simple “yes” or “no.” But the quiz doesn’t explicitly include space for queer, trans, or nonbinary folks—though you can mark “bicurious,” “bisexual,” “heteroflexible,” or “strictly lesbian/gay” in the “Sexual Orientation” section.

What’s the difference between BDSM and kink?

For many people, BDSM—an acronym for bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism—is a subcategory of kink. The desires and practices that fall under BDSM can be classified as non-traditional sexual, intimate, or romantic behaviors—pain, domination, submission, and being tied up can all be considered kinky things.

For others, there are important or notable differences between kink and BDSM. A post on Kink Weekly states: “As I see it—and this is simply my opinion—the difference [between kink and BDSM] is that BDSM has an implied power exchange; kink does not. It is really that simple. BDSM has a lot more structure—and thus it has greater ‘staying power.’”

Whether you see BDSM as a way to have kinky sex or believe that the two exist outside one another is largely up to you. Plus, if you ever hear a partner using the two together, you can always ask how or why they conflate or differentiate (though asking doesn’t always entitle you to an answer). Such a conversation can give you a better idea of their boundaries and desires.

Is forcing someone to do something they don’t want to kinky?

Any kinky activity done without consent is abuse, plain and simple.

Does kink always have to involve sex?

Definitely not. You can be kinky during foreplay, kinky over the phone, use kinky language, or simply create a kinky scenario. You don’t have to touch, or even orgasm, to get kinky.

Ready to get started and want more kink resources? Check out Whiplr, Kinkly, any book or movie other than Fifty Shades of Grey, and read these facts about kink.

Complete Article HERE!

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New Film Explores Wonder Woman’s Origins In BDSM And Feminist Kink

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Wonder Woman is one of DC Comic’s most iconic heroes. She’s more popular than ever after the record-smashing success of this year’s Wonder Woman movie. But not many people know about the character’s origins in BDSM and kink.

A new film by director Angela Robinson, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, hopes to change that.

The sex-positive origins of Wonder Woman

If you’ve ever picked up any of the early edition comics, their raunchiness might come as a surprise. There’s spanking, sadomasochism, bondage and double entendres galore.

The origins of these unorthodox comics can be traced to their creator, psychologist William Moulton Marston, who combined an interest in bondage and submission with feminist principles. In addition to his sex-positive ideals, he believed that women were superior to men and should rule the world.

The comics were created with the help of his wife, Elizabeth Holloway (who came up with the iconic quip, “Suffering Saffo”) and his former student Olive Bryne. The three were in a polyamorous relationship and had four children together.

Robinson’s new film aims to explore the dynamics between the Marstons and Olive Byrne, and shed light on the enormous influence the women in William Marston’s life had on his work. In exploring the sex-positive origins of the Wonder Woman comics, Robinson will touch on the topics of polyamory, bisexuality and feminism, as they were viewed in 1940s America.

The film has a stellar cast and team behind it. Angela Robinson, the film’s director, was behind one of the top queer cult classics of the noughties, D.E.B.S. She’s also been a writer on The L Word and True BloodTransparent creator, Jill Soloway, is producing the film, which will star Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, and Luke Evans.

Watch the trailer for Professor Marston and the Wonder Women below:

Complete Article HERE!

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How to Talk to Your Younger Sibling About Sex

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Since older siblings can sometimes be the best sex-ed teachers, here are four important topics to cover and a few links about how to get the conversation started.

Positive sexuality is at the forefront of conversations being had by student activists on college campuses. Dismantling the societal constructs of traditional masculinity and femininity and redefining campus sexual scripts are priorities aiming to decrease sexual assault rates and increase discussion about what perpetuates them.

As a result, college students are in a prime position to be instigators of conversations amongst younger groups, because they are at the core of the rapidly changing dialogue prompting social changes that support young adults in expressing their sexuality and promoting safe sexual climates for everyone.

Being a mentor to the younger kiddos in your life, and more specifically the youngsters in your family, can be a tricky yet invaluable role to fill. If you decide to open up a conversation about sex with younger siblings, some awesome topics to include are consent, gender identities and expressions, contraceptives, birth control and the construct of virginity. There are certainly other categories to include, and questions will likely arise about the many nuances of sex, but starting with broad ideas essential to healthy sexuality will set up the conversation to be productive and meaningful.

1. Consent

It’s never too early to start introducing principles of consent into children’s lives, nor is it ever too late. If your siblings are elementary school-aged, having a conversation with them about consent does not have to centered around sex, because consent is applicable to any and all interactions, whether sexual intentions are present or not.

Teaching young kids to ask for permission to hug someone or to sit close to someone plants the seed for healthy habits of asking for and offering consent to grow. If younger individuals become accustomed to asking for consent in small, everyday ways, they will be more aware and respectful of others’ boundaries. As they grow into adolescents and college students, the concepts of consent will be second nature and clearly understood when they do enter into sexual contexts where consent is required.

Regardless of the age of your siblings, consent is applicable to everyone and should be a frequent, continuing conversation. For siblings that are old enough to dive deeper, unpacking the mechanics of genuine and enthusiastic consent can include information about how things such as power dynamics, substances, coercion and intimidation can all influence the improper acquisition of consent. This is also a great time to emphasize that despite the common tactics used to unfairly obtain someone’s consent, the right to enthusiastically consent to sexual activity without the influence of outside factors is omnipresent, powerful and absolute.

Consent is a quintessential component of healthy sexual encounters! For more info on consent, and the “Yes Means Yes” campaign advocating for enthusiastic consent, check out https://www.yesmeansyes.com and have your siblings take a look, too for the scoop on all things consent and respect. As quoted in an article on everydayfeminism.com “conversations about consent—especially if those conversations are with children—are not always easy to have. They are, however, necessary if we’re trying to create a society in which consent is understood and respected by adults and children alike.”

2. Gender Identities

Another frequently skipped-over chapter in the sparse book of sex education in America is the section on gender identity. Thanks to celebrity stories in recent years such as Caitlin Jenner, Jazz Jennings and many other Hollywood young adults openly identifying as gender fluid, bisexual and indicating other identities along the gender-nonconforming spectrum, gender identity and gender rights have become popular topics. While many school sex education programs are a bit behind the times and have yet to add conversations about various gender identities into their curriculum, older siblings can try to fill some of the gaps.

The biggest point to emphasize to a younger sibling is the difference between sex and gender, and that gender is a social construct that is governed by expectations and norms that align with the gender binary system. To expand on that, include notes about how gender is made up of multiple components that fall along a spectrum; there are new models, like the gender unicorn, being developed to illustrate this idea; the colorful and simple designs are engaging for young learners and a great visual representation of the spectrums in general.

Most of all, encourage youngsters to explore and contemplate their own gender identity by questioning the norms they’re conditioned to live in accordance with, and support them unconditionally in their discoveries. Your unwavering love may serve as an example for when they find themselves being a support for a friend or peer one day.

3. Contraceptives

For siblings that are approaching the age of dating and having sex, a little brush up on contraceptive options is a helpful addition to sibling sex-education sessions. This goes for all gender identities, not just the ladies! Everyone should be aware of how to protect themselves and their partner of choice, so that everyone can feel safe and focus on other matters at hand. A quick browse through the “Birth Control” tab on teenshealth.org gives an extensive explanation of the various methods of birth control and contraceptives, the intended uses of each, the effectiveness rates and some FAQs.

While talking with a healthcare provider is the best idea for beginning a birth control plan, providing kiddos with information about their options allows them to reflect on what they’re comfortable with and choose an option that suits them if and when they need it.

4. Virginity

When younger siblings are thinking about becoming sexually active, a chat about the virginity construct can help them reflect on what sex means to them. There is heavy emphasis placed on the “losing of” one’s “virginity” and how the experience is meant to be transformative, pivotal and special. For some, the giving of virginity to another person signifies an act of deep trust, intimacy and comfort. For others, the concept of virginity is merely an ancient phrase sometimes used to label the beginning of their sexual adventures.

There is no right or wrong way to think about a first sexual experience, nor is there a universal definition of what composes the official loss of virginity, which some sex beginners don’t get the chance to contemplate before diving in. The concept of virginity loss is associated with impurity and places the person taking someone’s virginity in a position of power, while the person who “lost” it is seen as sacrificing something valuable.

Contemplating the idea that virginity is not a physical state or thing, but instead a construct that can be accepted or disregarded, allows young people to decide for themselves how they want to think of sex and define it in their own terms. First times are a lot of things, ranging from spontaneous, meaningful, messy, calculated or a combination of everything. Restructuring the way young adults think about their first sexual experiences gives them the power to conceptualize their sexual debuts as they choose to.

Beyond everything, the most important thing about having a conversation with siblings about sex is just to have it (the conversation). In the era of change kids are growing up in, the taboo topic of sex is not yet a conversation of full disclosure, even as it gains traction. Being an advocate for positive sexuality development by starting dialogue can help change this, one awkward chat at a time.

The following websites are excellent resources with information on the topics above and many more! They’ve got tips for curious teens and lots of advice for how to start a conversation.

Complete Article HERE!

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There’s power in pronouns

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By Kathi Wolfe

“I assessed the toys/and took my pick/a brand new bike,” poet Grace Cavalieri writes in her poem “Language Lesson.” “My new playmate ran crying/…Me wants the bike.”

“I felt the sweet pleasure of/superiority, the first ache/of it, age three,” Cavalieri continues. “There would be no contest/I/could play as long as I liked./I had him by the pronoun.”

I’ve been thinking lately of Cavalieri’s lovely poem of childhood joy and empowerment. Why is “Language Lesson” on my radar screen? Because, even in this age of Instagram and selfies, few things are more powerful than language. No matter how we identify by gender or sexually, we desire the pronouns and terms used to describe us to reflect our true identifies. Even as toddlers, we know: there’s power in pronouns.

As a writer, like most wordsmiths, I want to use language that most accurately and clearly reflects the people who I write about – especially the LGBTQ community. This is an interesting challenge. Language evolves every nano-sec, and there’s often disagreement within a community about what language should be used. Recently, the Associated Press addressed the evolving language around LGBTQ people and gender. On May 31, AP released its 2017 Stylebook. The new Stylebook contains changes on the language used around gender, LGBTQ people and “they,” as a “singular, gender-neutral pronoun.”

Things are changing. Yet for far too long, much of the mainstream media, and even some of the gay press, have used misleading and demeaning terms to identify transgender and gender nonconforming people. Some of this is due to confusion. As a cisgender lesbian scribe, it took me eons to get that gender and sexuality aren’t the same: to understand that, as You Tuber Brendan Jordan, who identifies as gender fluid told CBS News, “Sexuality is who you go to bed with, and gender identity is who you go to bed as.”

The new AP Stylebook explains the meaning of cisgender, transgender and intersex, and clearly states that sex and gender are different. “Not all people fall under one of two categories for sex or gender, according to leading medical organizations,” the Stylebook says, “so avoid references to both, either or opposite sexes or genders as a way to encompass all people.”

For a while, folks in our community have referred to themselves as not only LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender), but LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning/and/or queer). AP’s new Stylebook says that LGBT and LGBTQ are acceptable. It adds that LGBTQIA “and other variations” are permitted if used in quotes or as names as organizations. “I generally stands for intersex,” the entry says. A can stand for ally, asexual or both, it says.

Adapting to evolving language is frequently difficult. The new AP Stylebook entry on “they” as a singular pronoun brings this home. “I learned in third grade that ‘they’ refers to more than one, not a single, person,” a 69-year-old friend told me, “I love what I learned! But I guess it’ll have to change.”

Many of us know people who don’t want to be referred to as he or she – him or her. They want to be identified by a gender-neutral pronoun. The AP Stylebook is catching up with this reality. It says using “they” as a “gender neutral, singular pronoun” is acceptable if it’s essential. It doesn’t permit the use of “ze” or other gender neutral pronouns.

“The singular ‘they’ [has] been in consistent use since the 1300s and the language hasn’t fallen apart yet,” Kory Stamper, an associate editor at Merriam-Webster and author of the fascinating book “Word by Word,” emailed the Blade.

Language is so personal to us, Stamper said, “it’s the primary way that we communicate who we are and what is important to us.”

Kudos to the AP for helping us communicate who we are and what’s important to us.

Complete Article HERE!

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