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For Queer Women, What Counts as Losing Your Virginity?


I wanted, desperately, to know if the sex I was having “counted.”

After I hooked up with someone, I snuck out of bed and into the darkness of my balcony, alone. A nervous wreck, I texted my friend, practically hyperventilating because of something I’d never expected to worry about at all.

Hoping for an answer, I texted: Am I still a virgin if I had sex with a girl?

My friend asked what I thought, but I really didn’t know. The woman I’d slept with defined sex as penetration, so by her definition, we hadn’t had sex. She, as the older, long-time queer in the hookup, had the upper hand. I didn’t think it was up to me. After all, what did I know about the rules of girl-on-girl sex, let alone what counts as losing your virginity? Could it be sex if only half of the people involved thought it was?

To me, it felt like it had to be sex, because if not sex, what was it?

It was a panic I never expected to feel. I was super open-minded. I was super feminist. I should have been beyond thrilled and empowered by the fact that I’d had a positive sexual encounter. But instead of cuddling the girl I was sleeping with and basking in our post-sex glow, or even vocalizing my worry over whether or not we’d just had sex, I was panicking in solitude.

My identity has always been a blur—I’m biracial, bisexual, and queer—and it’s something that makes me feel murky, unsure of who I am. Virginity was just the newest thing to freak out about. I stood in the dark alone and tried to figure out, once again, how to define myself.

I wanted, desperately, to know if the sex I was having “counted.” And I’m not the only one.

While many people have a strained relationship with the concept of virginity (and whether or not it exists to begin with), for queer women, the role of virginity is especially complicated.

“Virginity is a socially constructed idea that is fairly exclusive to the heterosexual population,” Kristen Mark, Ph.D. an associate professor of health promotion at University of Kentucky and director of the sexual health promotion lab, told SELF. “There is very little language in determining how virginity is ‘lost’ in non-heterosexual populations. Given the relatively large population of non-heterosexual populations, the validity of virginity is poor.”

As a result, many of us are stressed out by the concept, and left wondering if there’s just something other queer women know that we aren’t quite in on.

For Sam Roberts*, the lack of clarity surrounding expectations of queer women made them hesitant to come out in the first place. “I didn’t come out as queer until I was 25,” they tell SELF. “I felt vulnerable because of the lack of understanding around queer sexuality. Certainly it has gotten better, but not having a model for what queer sex ([specifically] for [cisgender]-women) looks like via health class, media, or pop culture can make it hard to know how to navigate that space.”

Alaina Leary, 24, expressed similar frustrations the first time they had sex. “My first sex partner and I had a lot of conversations around sex and sexuality,” Leary tells SELF. “We were essentially figuring it out on our own. Health class, for me, never taught me much about LGBTQ sex.”

When you’ve been socialized to view penetration as the hallmark of sexual intercourse, it’s hard to know what counts as losing your virginity—or having sex, for that matter.

“For many queer women, what they consider sex is not considered sex from a heteronormative perspective,” Karen Blair, Ph.D., professor of psychology at St. Francis Xavier University and director of the KLB Research Lab, tells SELF. “So this can complicate the question of when one lost their virginity, if ever.”

“Even if one expands the definition of having lost one’s virginity to some form of vaginal penetration, many queer women may never actually ‘lose’ their virginity—to the extent that it is something that can be considered ‘lost’ in the first place.”

To be clear, relying on penetration as a defining aspect of sex only serves to exclude all those who aren’t interested in or physically capable of engaging in penetrative sexual acts—regardless of their sexual orientation. Ultimately, requiring sex to be any one thing is inherently difficult because of the limitless differences among bodies and genitals, and the simple fact that what feels pleasurable to one body can be boring at best, and traumatizing at worst, to another.

The lack of a clear moment when one became sexually active can make us feel like the sex we have doesn’t count.

We live in a culture that overwhelmingly values virginity, with “losing your v-card” still seen as a step into adulthood. It’s something that, as a former straight girl, I’d never even thought about, but, as a queer girl, I became obsessive over: When was I really, truly, having sex?

It was especially frustrating considering that my straight friends seemed instantly thrust into this status of adults in real, legitimate sexual relationships, while my relationships were being thought of as “foreplay” by the mainstream, rather than valid sex acts.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. “We had straight friends who were having sex and doing sexual things in very defined ways,” Leary says. “One of my friends was obsessed with the ‘bases’ and insisted that her oral sex with her boyfriend didn’t count as sex because it was ‘only third base.’”

So what does that mean for those of us who will only ever engage in “foreplay?”

Considering the larger structures and cultural expectations that make queer women feel invalid, virginity is just another way that we’re left feeling somehow less than our straight and cisgender counterparts.

“The primary impact of the concept of virginity on queer women is an—even if unconscious—feeling of inferiority or oppression,” Dr. Mark explains. “We as a society place so much emphasis on virginity loss, yet it is a concept that is only relevant to a portion of the population. Women in general, regardless of sexual orientation, know they are sexual objects before they are sexually active due to the existence of the concept of virginity.”

Consider the fact that most young women first learn about sex in the context of virginity, which often exists under the scope of “purity.” This, Dr. Mark says, can make women feel “defined by virginity status.”

As a result, when queer women do have sex, and it doesn’t “count” as their virginity being “taken,” they can be left confused about the encounter and unsure of how valid their sexual relationships are to begin with.

At the end of the day, it’s up to queer women to define what virginity—and sex—mean for ourselves.

“I would encourage queer women to define their sexual lives in ways that make sense for them,” Dr. Mark explains. “If they have created an idea around virginity that makes it important to them, I encourage them to think about alternate ways to define it that fits with their experience. But I also encourage the rejection of virginity for women who feel like it doesn’t fit for them.”

This lack of an expectation (beyond consent, of course) when it comes to how you have sex can actually be freeing, in a way, Dr. Blair says.

“One of the best things that queer women have going for them in their relationships is the freedom to write their own sexual scripts in a way that suits them and their partners best.”

Complete Article HERE!


Same-sex couples experience unique stressors


Study by SF State professor finds that institutionalized discrimination has lasting effects

Professor of Sociology Allen LeBlanc

By Lisa Owens Viani

Stressors faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals have been well studied, but San Francisco State University Professor of Sociology Allen LeBlanc and his colleagues are among the first to examine the stressors that operate at the same-sex couple level in two new studies conducted with support from the National Institutes of Health. “People in same-sex relationships are at risk for unique forms of social stress associated with the stigma they face as sexual minority individuals and as partners in a stigmatized relationship form,” said LeBlanc.

In the first study, recently published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, LeBlanc and colleagues conducted in-depth interviews with 120 same-sex couples from two study sites, Atlanta and San Francisco, and identified 17 unique pressures that affect LGB couples. Those range from a lack of acceptance by families to discrimination or fears of discrimination at work, public scrutiny, worries about where to live and travel in order to feel safe, and experiences and fears of being rejected and devalued. The researchers also found that same-sex couple stressors can emerge when stress is contagious or shared between partners and when stress “discrepancies” — such as one partner being more “out” than the other — occur.

“We wanted to look beyond the individual, to look at how stress is shared and how people are affected by virtue of the relationships they’re in, the people they fall in love with and the new ways couples experience stress if they’re in a stigmatized relationship form,” said LeBlanc. “One of those is feeling that society doesn’t value your relationship equally.”

“Changing laws is one thing, but changing hearts and minds is another.”

That perception is the focus of a second study just published in the Journal of Marriage and Family. LeBlanc found that feelings of being in a “second-class” relationship are associated with mental health issues — such as greater depression and problematic drinking — even after taking into account the beneficial impact of gaining legal recognition through marriage. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, but the effects of long-term institutionalized discrimination can linger, according to LeBlanc.

“Our work is a stark reminder that legal changes will not quickly or fully address the longstanding mental health disparities faced by sexual minority populations,” said LeBlanc. “Changing laws is one thing, but changing hearts and minds is another.”

Even though people in same-sex relationships experience many unique challenges, research also shows that having a good primary intimate partnership is important for a person’s well-being, which is true for both heterosexual and LGB couples. “The unique challenges confronting same-sex couples emanate from the stigma and marginalization they face from society at large, not from anything that is unique about their relationships in and of themselves,” said LeBlanc. LeBlanc’s study builds on an emerging body of research suggesting that legal recognition of same-sex relationships is associated with better mental health among LGB populations — as has long been suggested in studies of legal marriage among heterosexual populations. “This new research suggests that legal marriage is a public health issue,” said LeBlanc. “When people are denied access in an institutionalized, discriminatory way, it appears to affect their mental health.”

LeBlanc said transgender individuals were not included in the studies because of other stressors unique to them; he noted that another study focused specifically on trans- and gender-nonconforming individuals is underway. He hopes his research will help people better understand and support not just same-sex couples but also other stigmatized relationships, including interracial/ethnic relationships or partnerships with age differences or different religious backgrounds. “It’s not just about civil rights for LGB persons,” he explained. “It’s about science and how society can be more supportive of a diversity of relationships that include people from all walks of life.”

Complete Article HERE!


Doctors Are Failing Their Gay Patients


by Liz Posner

You’re supposed to be able to tell your doctor anything. But how are patients supposed to know what to tell their doctors if the doctors don’t ask the necessary questions in the first place? When it comes to sexual health screening, many doctors either missed the class in medical school that was supposed to teach them to ask patients about sexual health questions, or their lack of attention to sexual health is a conscious choice. Bespoke Surgical recently conducted a study of 1,000 Americans of various ages and sexual identities to hear what they’ve been asked by their doctor on the topic. The results suggest few doctors are asking questions about sexual health at all, and that LGBTQ patients, in particular, are being neglected.

The survey asked participants what kinds of questions their primary care physician focused on when they brought up sexual health during physical exams. The results varied based on the sexual orientation of the patient, as the graph below shows.

There are some outliers here that should be noted, but first, take a second to note how low these numbers are overall. Over half of heterosexual respondents said they were never asked about basic sexual health questions like HPV and STD exposure—a number that’s surprising, especially since 79 million Americans have HPV, a condition that can lead to cancer in both men and women. In general, it seems like doctors aren’t asking patients the right questions about sexual health.

But consider the shocking numbers revealed in the chart above. Of the physicians who saw homosexual patients last year, only 13 percent asked their patients if they had received the PrEP HIV prevention drug. Nearly half of all gay and lesbian respondents said their doctor had not asked them about HPV/Gardasil, anal pap smears, PreP/Truvada, or prior STD exposure. Only 40 percent of patients gay, straight and bi said they were asked if they used any kind of protection during sex.

When they do ask the right questions, the survey suggests doctors are asking them of the wrong people. In all but one of the above sexual health categories, bisexual patients were more likely to be asked about sexual health conditions. This could be because, as the Advocate explains, there’s a myth that bisexual people are more promiscuous than other people. The survey authors affirm this: “the ‘B’ in LGBTQ+ is often misrepresented in a variety of settings, including sexual promiscuity.”

Undoubtedly, doctors aren’t asking their patients a full range of questions because they aren’t able to spend enough time with them in the first place. People of all sexual orientations have experienced the rotating door model of doctor visits. Some primary care doctors say they treat 19 patients a day. With a full roster of 2,500 patients total, the Annals of Family Medicine says each doctor would have to “spend 21.7 hours per day to provide all recommended acute, chronic and preventive care” for that many patients. A 2016 study found that most doctor’s office visits only last 13-16 minutes. Professor Bruce Y. Lee at Johns Hopkins calls the average crammed doctor’s visit “archaic” in an article for Forbes, and says, “there is little time to actually listen or talk to patients and maybe not enough time to carefully examine them.”

The LGBTQ population seems to be catching on to the fact that primary care physicians may not know the right questions to ask their patients. That would explain why gay, lesbian and bisexual respondents were 20-30 percent more likely than straight respondents to rate having a doctor with the same sexual identity as them as “very important.” LGBTQ people are especially vulnerable to discrimination and may face barriers to health care that heterosexual people don’t. Some technology, like the entrepreneurs who launched an app to connect LGBTQ patients to gay-friendly doctors, is helping to make this easier. But it’s a quick fix to a much more systemic problem, considering so many primary care physicians don’t ask about sexual health problems at all.

Complete Article HERE!


People who practice polyamory say the lifestyle can be rewarding



Antoinette and Kevin Patterson thought they’d stop dating other people once their relationship got really serious. They didn’t.

Maybe, they said, after they got married.

When that didn’t happen, they assumed after they had kids. Not then, either. Today, Antoinette, 35, and Kevin, 38, still date other people. The parents of two continue to identify as polyamorous, meaning they maintain multiple relationships with the consent of everyone involved.

“I quickly and very early on realized that monogamy was just not my jam,” Antoinette said from her home near Philadelphia. “I struggled with it from Day 1. It was not something I was able to do.”

Polyamory, once portrayed as the sole realm of sexually open hippies, has a very real place in modern life, with participants from all walks of life navigating a complicated web of sex, relationships, marriages and friendships among those who are in love or lust with romantic partners often dating each other. Logistics are difficult (enter elaborate Google calendars), jealousy happens, and there’s a coming-out process for people in polyamorous relationships that can open them up to criticism and judgment.

But those who make it work say the benefits of living and dating openly outweigh the drawbacks.

Antoinette, a physical therapist, and Kevin, a writer, now say polyamory is a fundamental part of who they are. They both have upper-back tattoos depicting a heart and an infinity sign, a symbol and a constant reminder, Antoinette says, that they’re “doing this poly thing forever.”

Now, it’s about convincing others that rejecting monogamy doesn’t make them all that different.

“I’m not trying to freak the norms,” said Kevin, who wrote a book about polyamory and race. “Like, I have a Netflix queue. I drive my kids to school every day. I am the norm.”

In addition to her husband, Antoinette has a boyfriend. Kevin can’t say exactly how many people he’s seeing because it’s always evolving. Sometimes it’s five. Other times it’s a dozen. For three years, he has dated Kay, who is pansexual and open to all gender identities. She practices what’s called “solo poly,” meaning she isn’t in a primary relationship with anyone.

Facing a stigma

The words polyamory and nonmonogamy encompass a variety of relationships, including married couples in open relationships, people who practice solo poly, and people in “triads” or “quads,” which are multiple-person relationships where everyone is romantically involved with one another.

Terri Conley, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and an expert in sexuality, said the general interest in swinging and nonmonogamy that took shape in the early 1970s died down in the ’90s with the HIV health crisis.

Since then, the idea of “consensual nonmonogamy” has re-entered the public consciousness, and there’s a slowly growing acceptance of it. Meanwhile, the internet has allowed members of this niche community to coalesce, forming active presences on social media and fostering meetup groups in cities across the country.

“We live in a culture that very much values and prizes monogamy, and anyone who deviates from that is often stigmatized,” said Justin Lehmiller, an assistant professor of social psychology at Ball State University in Indiana. “My sense of it is that the stigma is lessening, but it’s still there.”

Some studies suggest that 5 percent of Americans are in consensual nonmonogamous relationships, but as many as 20 percent have been in one at some point in his or her life. And though the reasons why someone chooses polyamory vary — some say it’s a deep-seated part of their sexual orientation, others say it’s more of a relationship preference — the consensus among experts is that it’s not a fear of commitment.

On the contrary, said Conley, “These are people that really like commitment.”

“I’m not polyamorous because I’m avoiding commitment,” Kevin Patterson said. “I’m making commitments with multiple people.”

Jealousy and joy

Shallena Everitt has two spouses. When she tells people she has a husband, Cliff, and the two have a wife, Sonia, the first question is almost always: “How does that work?” She responds simply: “It works like any other relationship. It’s just more people.”

Shallena, 40, identifies as bisexual. She and Cliff have been married for 18 years and have two children. Four years ago, they met Sonia. The three fell in love and in April had a commitment ceremony — a de facto wedding for the polyamorous triad, although Sonia’s marriage to Shallena and Cliff is not legal. They now live in a blended house along with Sonia’s three kids, and the relationship among the three of them remains open.

“A lot of people say, ‘How can you love more than one person?’ ” said Shallena. “You love them for different reasons and they bring different things to you.”

While some polyamorous people admit that they deal with jealousy, others say they feel joy when their romantic partners are happy in other relationships.

Tiffany Adams, a 30-year-old nurse, identifies as polyamorous and pansexual. Today, she has three romantic partners: Phillip, Dan and Huey. She said feeling truly happy for her partners can help keep her jealousy in check.

“When my partner tells me they met somebody and they really like them or that their new partner told them they love them, it makes me feel really good,” she said. “I think having those things can counteract any jealous feelings.”

Paul Beauvais, a 44-year-old IT architect, said some people assume he has it great, especially when he mentions he went on dates with “both” of his girlfriends during the weekend. But while Beauvais says he loves being polyamorous, he makes sure to add that the practice includes all the “not so great” parts of a relationship, too.

“Polyamory is really based on the idea that we shouldn’t be running relationships in a resource model,” he said. “Love is not a scarcity.”

Complete Article HERE!


“The Alternative Is Awful”


Sexual Justice Pioneer Carol Queen on Why Sexual Justice Needs to Evolve


“As Wilhelm Reich believed, if a state can control peoples’ sexuality, it can control them — politically, culturally. This is a huge challenge for organizers, theorists, justice advocates,” Dr. Carol Queen, founder of the sexual justice movement (and my queer fairy godmother since I interned for her at the Center for Sex and Culture), tells me.

As a pivotal figure of the sexual justice — formerly sex positivity — world, Dr. Queen is no stranger to that challenge. “The deeper definition of sex positivity — way more than just enthusiasm about sex, which was never intended to be the definition of that phrase — is about social justice: access to information, resources, freedom from shame, a focus on consent, diversity and more,” she says.

Dr. Queen has decades of experience uniting social justice and sexuality through advocacy, education, and community development. She has written extensively on topics ranging from bisexuality to queer kink; co-developed sex education resources to combat the AIDS crisis; and mentored up-and-coming activists, artists and educators. One of her key accomplishments is founding the Center for Sex and Culture along with her partner Robert Morgan Lawrence in 1994 after they noticed the lack of spaces for sexuality workshops in the Bay Area. The center has become especially important for subcultures and marginalized communities in the world of sexuality and gender: queers, leather and kink communities, sex educators, sex workers, erotic artists and more. “[The Center] tries to make space for multiple needs: giving diverse people a space to gather, collecting cultural materials in the library and archive and making them available to researchers, etc., [and] presenting creative work about sex/gender, which is the way more people develop their understandings about sex more than any sex ed class,” says Dr. Queen. In other words: the centre gives people the chance to learn from and build connections with each other, pointing us towards the future.

“I want more conversations that help us connect and unite across identity barriers.”

“I want more conversations that help us connect and unite across identity barriers. This is an era when we must, must revive alliances. I came out in Eugene, Oregon, in the 1970s, and the importance of alliances was one of the first lessons I learned. It has never seemed so relevant to me as it does now,” says Dr. Queen.

Carol Queen

She would know. Key to her work in sexual justice is understanding the diversity of identities and “sexual possibilities” through education and advocacy, especially in “respect[ing] each person where they are and helping them appreciate their own point in the diversity mix.” “This is important because too many people have been taught there is only one way to be, and honestly don’t understand they may have their own unique sexuality,” she explains.

As a bisexual woman and longterm LGBTQ rights activist, Dr. Queen believes that sexual justice is especially important for queer women, and that queer women are in turn a key part of sexual justice movements. “Queer women have the gift given to all queers: we must wrestle with cultural notions of normativity to be able to live our lives, find our people, create our alternative relationship variants. Sure, we can marry now, but many queer women don’t want to and wish to connect in different ways. This intersection makes us really important stakeholders in sexual justice and sex positivity,” she says.

Bisexual women, for instance, were key to work changing sexual attitudes in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In a 2000 paper co-written with Lawrence for the Journal of Bisexuality, Dr. Queen documents the importance of bisexual people in the fight against AIDS via their contributions to the Sexual Health Attitude Restructuring Process (SHARP), a safer-sex-oriented program that exposed participants to accurate sexual health information and the possibility of diverse sexual experiences that Dr. Queen worked on directly for several years starting in 1987. SHARP’s active and hands-on education was part of the acclaimed “San Francisco model”: “community-based effort to educate, prevent infection, and provide services that does not primarily rely on governmental or medical direction and intervention” that inspired other work around HIV/AIDS across the United States and worldwide in the 1980s.

Dr. Queen has observed significant shifts in the discussions around sexual justice and sexual diversity since SHARP. “I don’t see the basic underlying activism or kinds of sex as fundamentally different, mostly, but discourse about sex is out of the box and so many issues have been more or less mainstreamed that it’s striking,” she says. “It means more and more people potentially are exposed to the idea that sex, relationship and gender possibilities are many and varied; communities exist; normative ideas can be oppressive and sex/gender/relationship are not ‘one size fits all’ constructs. This is mildly interesting for some people and a matter of life and death for others.”

“[Sexual justice] has to adapt. The alternative is awful.”

“I think many people in the world of sexual justice activism believed that the path forward would only grow more progressive,” she explains. “The reality is way more fraught, and more entwined with tons of other issues: electoral politics, civility and respect on the internet, reactionary responses to identity politics, educational policy, racial justice, feminist issues, so much. And [sexual justice] has to adapt. The alternative is awful,” she says.

To look forward, for Dr. Queen, the long arc of sexual justice requires more deeply examining the healthcare matrix for reproductive rights and gender confirmation; reexamining consent and its intersections with the criminal justice system; more comprehensive sex education that incorporates consent, pleasure, and media literacy especially around pornography; the removal of laws that penalize sex workers as well as certain consensual sexual behavior and relationships; and more respect and understanding around diversity and intersectionality. It also requires looking backward. “I’m sick of all discussions that revolve around the notion that people who came before didn’t know as much as people who are setting the terms of the discourse now. That is, to me, so disrespectful. And it’s my belief that the internet age has made understanding our history, ironically enough, more difficult,” she explains.

Looking backwards to look forwards, what’s her best advice for following in her footsteps? “To do something like I’ve done, one would have to be entrepreneurial, have help from other people who want the project/s to find their audience or community and who help broaden perspective, get as much education as you can manage, realize your own experience is significant but not the marker of everyone else’s, be an ally for other peoples’ genius and identities, and consider it a gift whenever you learn more about other peoples’ perspective and struggle,” she says. The work has never been more urgent.

Complete Article HERE!