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What is tantric sex, and how can it help heal sexual trauma?

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By Brook Bolen

Conversations about sexual violence and trauma have long been overdue but are finally happening. Conversations about how survivors of sexual violence endure and overcome their trauma is of equal importance — and with symptoms ranging from emotional to physical to psychological, physiological, and sexual, there are a host of repercussions. Experts estimate that one in six women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape; similarly, while the precise number is not known, professionals estimate that one in four women will be sexually abused before the age of 18. For many of these women, some of whom have been victimized as adults and children, the struggle to maintain or achieve a fulfilling relationship with their sexuality can be chronic and long-lasting.

While traditional kinds of talk therapy, such as psychoanalysis and cognitive-behavioral therapy, are often helpful in overcoming trauma, they are not always sufficient — particularly where sex and sexuality are concerned. Somatic therapy, which is a type of body-centered therapy that combines psychotherapy with various physical techniques, recognizes that trauma can be as much a part of the body as of the mind. “Somatic” comes from the Greek word soma, which means “body.” According to somatic therapy, trauma symptoms are the result of an unstable autonomic nervous system (ANS). Our past traumas disrupt the ANS and can manifest themselves in a wide variety of physical symptoms. This type of holistic approach can be especially useful for survivors of sexual violence.

Staci Haines, somatic teacher, practitioner, and author of Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma, agrees. In a 2007 interview with SF Gate, she said, “Many people can understand intellectually what happened to them, but put them in a stressful situation like having sex, and their bodies continue to respond as they did during the abuse. … That’s why somatic therapy is so powerful for recovery. Survivors learn to thaw out the trauma that is stored in their body. They learn to relax and experience physical pleasure, sexual pleasure.”

Most Americans’ understanding of tantra is limited to Sting’s now-infamous boast about his seven-hour lovemaking prowess — but tantra is actually a type of somatic therapy. As such, tantra can be used to help people achieve the same types of goals as traditional talk therapy does, such as better relationships, deeper intimacy, and a more authentic life. Furthermore, while tantra frequently incorporates sexuality into its focus, it’s not solely about sex — though that seems to be how it is most commonly perceived in the West.

Devi Ward, founder of the Institute of Authentic Tantra Education, uses the following definition of tantra for her work: “Tantra traditionally comes from India; it’s an ancient science that uses different techniques and practices to integrate mind, body, and spirit. It’s a spiritual practice whose ultimate goal is to help people fully realize their entitlement to full pleasure. We also use physical techniques to cultivate balance. The best way I have of describing it is it’s a form of yoga that includes sexuality.”

Internationally acclaimed tantra teacher Carla Tara tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “There are about 3,000 different definitions of tantra. One of them is this: Tantra is an interweaving of male and female energies, not just one or the other. I start there. Having both energies means knowing how to give and receive equally. Its basis is equanimity. It’s the foundation for conscious loving and living.”

Using equanimity as a starting point for individual or couples therapy can be useful in every facet of life, but particularly for survivors of sexual violence. “Tantra is important to any kind of healing,” says Tara, “because it teaches you to be present through breathing. Deep, conscious breathing is nourishing for every cell of your body. And they were not nourished when you were abused; they were damaged. This kind of breathing teaches you to be present. These breathing techniques help stop you from returning to the past. This makes it so powerful, and that feeling is so important for people who have been abused. Most people go first to psychotherapy, but for people who have survived sexual violence, it takes touching, not just talk, to heal.”

Yoga’s mental and physical health benefits are well established, making the addition of sexuality an even more promising tool for people struggling to have a more fulfilling sex life. “We use somatic healing,” Ward, who teaches individual and couples classes on-site in British Columbia and internationally, tells Yahoo Lifestyle via Skype. “When we’re traumatized, the body can become tense and tight where we have been injured. We refer to this as body armoring, because the body is storing the trauma in its cells. That kind of tight defensiveness can be impenetrable. But here’s the beautiful thing: When the nervous system is relaxed, it releases trauma. And that is a healing practice. We know that trauma gets stored in the body. Through combining meditation, sexual pleasure, and breathing practice, the body can then learn to let go and release that trauma. And that can look like tears, laughter, orgasms. It depends on the trauma and the person.”

Single or partnered, tantra can be beneficial for anyone looking to have a happier, healthier sex life. “The most promising sexual relationship we have is the one we have with ourselves,” says Ward. “If we don’t have that, how can we expect to show up for our partners? We all deserve to have a celebratory, delightful relationship with our body, but if we have unresolved trauma, we bring all that to our relationship. A lot of relationships we are in tend to be dysfunctional because of our unresolved trauma and wounding.”

When it comes to using tantra to heal from sexual trauma, reading alone won’t cut it. Expert assistance, most often offered in person and online, is recommended. “There [is help for] certain muscle tensions, and things like that, that you can’t get from a book,” says Tara. “You need a person to guide you.” Ward echoes this idea: “Especially if you’re healing trauma, it’s best to have a coach. Humans learn best through modeling. Reading is great, but nothing can substitute what we learn from follow-the-leader.”

Healing from sexual violence is a daunting task, and everyone who struggles to do so has their own personal journey to healing. Each person’s recovery is unique, and tantra can help every survivor. “The body is designed to heal itself,” says Ward. “We just have to learn how to relax and let it happen.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Preserving Our Right to Sex in Long-Term Care

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Do you need to put your wishes in writing?

By Kevyn Burger

At age 74, Joan Price likes sex and doesn’t care who knows it.

“I plan to continue to celebrate the sexual pleasure my body can give me. Things may change and I will adapt to them, but I say, sex has no expiration date,” said Price, who calls herself an advocate for “ageless sexuality.”

While prevailing wisdom may suggest that the sex lives of 70-somethings are spoken of in the past tense, Price, a speaker, blogger and award-winning author (Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex, Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty) has her future sex life on the brain.

Sex in Long-Term Care: Unfriendly Policies

Price worries that if she would ever live in senior housing — from assisted living to skilled nursing to hospice — her desire for sexual expression could be thwarted.

“Residents in long-term care get no privacy, so how can they explore their sexuality with another resident or solo when they can’t lock the door?” she said. In fact, many facilities’ policies are “archaic, regressive and even ageist,” according to a 2015 article in Time magazine.

One notable example, Time wrote, was at Hebrew Home at Riverdale (in the Bronx), which drew up a Sexual Expression Policy. Among other things, it “recognizes and supports the older adult’s right to engage in sexual activity, so long as there is consent among those involved.”

Price urges individuals to be frank in stating their intentions.

“It occurred to me that we need to put it in writing, while we are capable to give instructions to our spouses and grown children, about what we want when it comes to exercising our sexual rights,” she said.

‘Advance Directive’ for Sexual Expression

Price created a sort of advance directive to make clear her sexual wishes. It begins with her desire to live in a facility with a sex-positive environment.

“I want my rights respected — the right to close my door and have privacy, the right to have a relationship with someone of my choice or the right to charge my sex toys in my room and use them without being disturbed,” she said.

A few facilities that house aging residents are cautiously beginning to address their lifelong needs and desires as a body of research is emerging on the sexual activity of older adults.

Previously, sex researchers typically stopped quizzing subjects at the age of 60, since prevailing wisdom suggested people were no longer sexually active beyond that age.

Sexually Active Well Beyond 60

But a 2012 study in the American Journal of Medicine found that half the women surveyed (median age 67) remained sexually active, with sexual satisfaction increasing with age. A national survey in the UK became the first to ask people in their 70s and 80s about their sexuality and confirmed that half the men and a third of the women enjoyed active sex lives into their eighth and ninth decades.

“Many service providers for older adults have had their heads in the sand. They refused to acknowledge the sexual needs of their residents. But now the Centers for Disease Control is reporting a high number of sexually transmitted infections in this population, so we know they are active,” said Jane Fleishman, a Massachusetts-based sex educator involved in ongoing research into sexuality in aging adults. “Facilities need to think about a sex policy or directive for their residents’ safety as well as their pleasure.”

Fleishman, 63, regularly consults with older adult service and housing providers. She has noticed that the intimate needs of their clients are starting to be recognized by a small minority of them.

“Sexual well-being lowers depression, social isolation and cardiovascular disease. As lifespans increase, so will people’s ability to have new adventures and relationships later in life,” she added. “Facilities should be constructed so there are private spaces where adults can be their authentic selves.”

What to Do About Dementia

Being open about older adult sex is not without its complications. With the cognitive impairment that often accompanies aging, questions can arise about whether an individual is capable of giving consent, even if he or she had previously stated an intention to remain sexually active.

It’s a dilemma that can create liability fears for administrators who run senior housing facilities and are charged with making sure their residents aren’t mistreated or exploited.

“Adult children may have the expectation that their parents are not sexually active, and administrators have seen that there will be hell to pay if the wrong two people start getting it on under their roof,” Fleishman said. “But deciding if someone can provide consent should come in a clinical assessment. It’s a question for a geriatrician, not a family member.”

Professor Gayle Appel Doll, a gerontologist and director of the Center on Aging at Kansas State University, noted that an advance directive can’t anticipate how individuals might change with age and the onset of cognitive impairment.

“When people have dementia, we see changes in their libido leading to less interest in sex. But we also see personality changes that go the other way,” such as the straitlaced older woman “who now wants to kiss men who look like her husband,” said Doll, author of Sexuality & Long-Term Care: Understanding and Supporting the Needs of Older Adults.

Building for Privacy

In her research, Doll surveyed developers who build senior housing to see if they considered resident sexuality in their planning. She found few retirement or nursing home developers accommodating the privacy needs of future residents who want opportunities for intimacy or conjugal visits.

But Doll thinks that’s changing, due to demands of the boomers and new federal policies.

“Facilities are under pressure to let their residents make their own decisions,” she said. “Mandates coming from Medicaid and Medicare require a personal care plan that lets residents say what they want for their lives and gives more weight to their preferences.”

Doll suggests that adults speak frankly about their sexual intentions to those whom they name to carry out their stated instructions.

“Creating the elements of an advance directive gives you the opportunity to talk to the people close to you and let them know what you want. I recommend having a conversation about your sexual desires in a general way with someone who might be your durable power of attorney,” she said.

But Doll admits that she doesn’t practice what she preaches.

“This means you have to have that awkward conversation with your kids, because that’s who’s going to be in control of you. And talking about the sex life you think you will want as you age is not easy,” she said. “I’m 63, and have I talked to my two grown sons about this? No.”

Persistent Silence on Sex

The lack of communication about older adult sex underscores society’s deep discomfort with acknowledging the intimate needs of the aging population.

“Even those who work in the field can’t get over what I call the ‘ick’ factor, their disgust with even the idea of wrinkly people having interest in sex,” said Price. “I’d like to see us talk out loud about lifelong sexuality without embarrassment, guilt or shame.”

Even if they don’t choose to formalize their sexual desires in a written document, Price urged people to ask questions about sexual policies as they evaluate older adult living situations.

“This is going to be your home, not a prison, so it’s incumbent on you to explore which facilities would respect your privacy and which ones would take it away,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

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A Very Sexy Beginner’s Guide to BDSM Words

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Me talk dirty one day.

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The vocabulary of BDSM can be intimidating to newcomers (newcummers, heh heh). What is your domme talking about when she tells you to to stop topping from the bottom and take off your Zentai suit for some CBT? What, while we’re at it, is a domme? So, let’s start with the basics: “BDSM” stands for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism, the core pillars of kinky fun. Beyond that, there’s a whole language to describe the consensual power exchange practices that take place under the BDSM umbrella. At press time there’s still no “kink” on Duolingo, so here’s a handy glossary of some of the most common BDSM terms, from A to Z.

A is for Aftercare
Aftercare is the practice of checking in with one another after a scene (or “play session,” a.k.a., the time in which the BDSM happens) to make sure all parties feel nice and chill about what just went down. The dominant partner may bring the submissive ice for any bruises, but it’s important to know that aftercare involves emotional care as well as physical. BDSM releases endorphins, which can lead to both dominants and submissives experiencing a “drop.” Aftercare can help prevent that. There’s often cuddling and always conversation; kinksters need love too.

B is for Bondage
Bondage is the act of tying one another up. In most cases the dominant partner is restraining the submissive using ropes, handcuffs, Velcro, specialty hooks, clasps, or simply a belt if you’re on a budget.

C is for CBT (Cock and Ball Torture)
In BDSM, CBT does not refer to cognitive behavioral therapy, it refers to “cock and ball torture,” which is exactly what it sounds like: The dominant will bind, whip, or use their high-ass heels to step on their submissive’s cock and balls to consensually torture them.

D is for D/S
D/S refers to dominance and submission, the crux of a BDSM relationship. While kinky people can be on a spectrum (see: “Switch”), typically you’re either dominant or submissive. If you take away one fact from this guide, it should be that even though the dominant partner in D/S relationship may be slapping, name-calling, and spitting on the submissive, BDSM and D/S relationships are all about erotic power exchange, not one person having power over another. The submissive gets to set their boundaries, and everything is pre-negotiated. The submissive likes getting slapped (see also: “Painslut”).

E is for Edgeplay
Edgeplay refers to the risky shit—the more taboo (or baddest bitch, depending on who you’re talking to) end of the spectrum of BDSM activities. Everyone’s definition of edgeplay is a little different, but blood or knife play is a good example. If there’s actually a chance of real physical harm, it’s likely edgeplay. Only get bloody with a partner who knows what they’re doing without a doubt and has been tested for STIs. You don’t have to get maimed to enjoy BDSM.

F is for Fisting
Fisting is when someone sticks their entire fist inside a vagina (or butthole). Yes, it feels good, and no, it won’t “ruin” anything but your desire for vanilla sex. Use lube.

G is for Golden Showers
A golden shower is when you lovingly shower your partner with your piss. It’s high time for the BDSM community reclaimed this word back from Donald Trump, who, may I remind you, allegedly paid sex workers to pee on a bed that Obama slept in out of spite. This is not the same thing as a golden shower. Kink is for smart people.

H is for Hard Limits
Hard limits are sexual acts that are off-limits. Everyone has their own, and you have to discuss these boundaries before any BDSM play. Use it in a sentence: “Please do not pee on me; golden showers are one of my hard limits.”

I is for Impact Play
Impact play refers to any impact on the body, such as spanking, caning, flogging, slapping, etc.

J is for Japanese Bondage
The most well-known type of Japanese bondage is Shibari, in which one partner ties up the other in beautiful and intricate patterns using rope. It’s a method of restraint, but also an art form.

K is for Knife Play
Knife play is, well, knife sex. It’s considered a form of edgeplay (our parents told us not to play with knives for a reason.) If you do play with knives, do it with someone who truly respects you and whom you trust. Often knife play doesn’t actually involve drawing blood, but is done more for the psychological thrill, such as gliding a knife along a partner’s body to induce an adrenaline rush. Call me a prude, but I wouldn’t advise it on a first Tinder date.

L is for Leather
The BDSM community enjoys leather as much as you’d expect. Leather shorts, leather paddles, and leather corsets are popular, although increasingly kinky retailers provide vegan options for their animal-loving geeks.

M is for Masochist
A masochist is someone who gets off on receiving sexual pain.

N is for Needle Play
Also a form of edgeplay (blood!), needle play means using needles on a partner. Hopefully those needles are sterile and surgical grade. Don’t do this with an idiot, please. Most professional dommes have clients who request or are into needle play. It can involve sticking a needle (temporarily) through an erogenous zone such as the nipple or… BACK AWAY NOW IF YOU’RE QUEASY… the shaft of the penis.

O is for Orgasm Denial
You know how sexual anticipation is hot AF? Orgasm denial is next-level sexual anticipation for those who love a throbbing clit or a boner that’s been hard forever just dying to get off—which is to say, almost everyone. The dominant partner will typically bring the submissive close or to the brink of orgasm, then stop. Repeat as necessary.

P is for Painslut
A painslut is a dope-ass submissive who knows what they want, and that’s pain, dammit.

Q is for Queening
Queening is when a woman, a.k.a. the queen you must worship, sits on your face. It’s just a glam name for face-sitting, often used in D/S play. Sometimes the queen will sit on her submissive’s face for like, hours.

R is for RACK
RACK stands for Risk Aware Consensual Kink, which are the BDSM community guidelines on how to make sure everyone is aware of the dangers they consent to. Another set of guidelines are the “SSC,” which stresses keeping activities “safe, sane, and consensual.” We kinksters want everyone to feel happy and fulfilled, and only experience pain that they desire—without actual harm.

S is for Switch
A switch is someone who enjoys both the dominant and submissive role. Get thee a girl who can do both.

T is for Topping From The Bottom
Topping from the bottom refers to when a bottom (sub) gets bratty and tries to control the scene even though negotiations state they should submit. For example, a submissive male may start yelping at his domme that she’s not making him smell her feet exactly like he wants. It can be pretty annoying. It can also be part of the scene itself, such as if the submissive is roleplaying as a little girl with her daddy (this is called “age play”).

U is for Urination
Urinating means peeing (duh) and aside from pissing on a submissive’s face or in their mouth you can do other cool and consensual things with urine, like fill up an enema and inject it up someone’s butt! I am not a medical doctor.

V is for Vanilla
Vanilla refers to someone (or sex) that is not kinky. It’s okay if you’re vanilla. You’re normal and can still find meaningful love and relationships no matter how much society judges you.

W is for Wartenberg Wheel
A Wartenberg Wheel is a nifty little metal pinwheel that you can run over your partner’s nipples or other erogenous zones. It looks scary, but in a fun way, like the Addams Family. It can be used as part of medical play (doctor fetish) or just for the hell of it. Fun fact: It’s a real-life medical device created by neurologist Robert Wartenberg to test nerve reactions, but kinksters figured out it was good for the sex, too.

Y is for Yes!
BDSM is all about enthusiastic consent. The dominant partner won’t step on their submissive’s head and then shove it into a toilet without a big ole’ “yes, please!”

Z is for Zentai
Zentai is a skintight Japanese body suit typically made of spandex and nylon. It can cover the entire body, including the face. Dance teams or athletes may wear Zentai, but some people get off on the sensation of having their entire body bound in tight fabric, and wear it for kinky reasons.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Sex Education for Disabled People Is So Important

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“Just because a person has a disability does not mean they don’t still have the same hormones and sexual desires as other individuals.”

 

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“Sex and disability, disability and sex; the two words may seem incompatible,” Michael A. Rembis wrote in his 2009 paper on the social model of disabled sexuality. Though roughly 15% of adults around the world (that’s nearly one billion people), and over 20 million adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 64 have a disability, when it comes to disability and sex, there’s a disconnect. People with disabilities often have rich and satisfying sex lives. So why are they frequently treated as though they are incapable of having sexual needs and desires, and are excluded from sexual health education curriculum?

According to Kehau Gunderson, the lead trainer and senior health educator at Health Connected, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing comprehensive sexual health education programs throughout the state of California, the sexual health and safety of students with disabilities is often not prioritized because educators are more focused on other aspects of the students’ well-being. “Educators are thinking more about these students’ physical needs. They don’t see them as being sexual people with sexual needs and desires. They don’t see them as wanting relationships,” Gunderson told me when I met her and the rest of the Health Connected team at their office in Redwood City, California.

When I asked why students with disabilities have historically been excluded from sexual education, Jennifer Rogers, who also works as a health education specialist at Health Connected, chimed in. “In general, the topic of sex is something that is challenging for a lot of people to talk about. I think that aspect compounded with someone with specialized learning needs can be even more challenging if you’re not a teacher who’s really comfortable delivering this kind of material,” she said.

But it was the third health education specialist I spoke with, DeAnna Quan, who really hit the nail on the head: “I think sometimes it also has to do with not having the materials and having trouble adapting the materials as well. While people often just don’t see disabled people as being sexual beings, they are. And this is a population who really needs this information.”

The complete lack of sexual education in many schools for students with disabilities is particularly alarming given the fact that individuals with disabilities are at a much higher risk of sexual assault and abuse. In fact, children with disabilities are up to four times more likely to face abuse and women with disabilities are nearly 40% more likely to face abuse in adulthood. Yet students in special education classes are often denied the option to participate in sex education at all. When these students are included in mainstream health courses, the curriculum is often inaccessible.

Disability activist Anne Finger wrote, “Sexuality is often the source of our deepest pain. It’s easier for us to talk about and formulate strategies for changing discrimination in employment, education, and housing than to talk about our exclusion from sexuality and reproduction.” But as Robert McRuer wrote in Disabling Sex: Notes for a Crip Theory of Sexuality, “What if disability were sexy? And what if disabled people were understood to be both subjects and objects of a multiplicity of erotic desires and practices, both within and outside the parameters of heteronormative sexuality?”

When it comes to disability and sexuality, a large part of the issue lies in the fact that disabled people are so infrequently included in the decisions made about their bodies, their education, and their care. So what do people with disabilities wish they had learned in sex ed? This is what students and adults with disabilities said about their experience in sexual health courses and what they wish they had learned.

People with disabilities are not automatically asexual.

“The idea of people with disabilities as asexual beings who have no need for love, sex, or romantic relationships is ridiculous. However, it is one that has a stronghold in most people’s minds,” wrote disability activist Nidhi Goyal in her article, “Why Should Disability Spell the End of Romance?” That may be because disabled people are often seen as being innocent and childlike, one disabled activist said.

“As a society, we don’t talk about sex enough from a pleasure-based perspective. So much is focused on fertility and reproduction — and that’s not always something abled people think disabled people should or can do. We’re infantilized, stripped of our sexuality, and presumed to be non-sexual beings. Plenty of us are asexual, but plenty of us are very sexual as well, like me. Like anyone of any ability, we hit every spot on the spectrum from straight to gay, cis to trans, sexual to asexual, romantic to aromantic, and more.” Kirsten Schultz, a 29-year-old disabled, genderqueer, and pansexual health activist, sexuality educator, and writer, said via email.

Kirsten, who due to numerous chronic illnesses has lived with disability since she was five years old, was not exposed to information regarding her sexual health and bodily autonomy. “I dealt with sexual abuse from another child right after I fell ill, and this continued for years. I bring this up because my mother didn’t share a lot of sex ed stuff with me at home because of illness. This infantilization is not uncommon in the disability world, especially for kids,” she said.

Growing up in Oregon, Kirsten said she was homeschooled until the age of 13 and didn’t begin seeing medical professionals regularly until she turned 21. “This means all sexual education I learned until 13 was on my own, and from 13 to 21, it was all stuff I either sought out or was taught in school.” Schultz explained. But even what she learned about sex in school was limited. “School-based education, even in the liberal state of Oregon, where I grew up, was focused on sharing the potential negatives of sex — STIs, pregnancy, etc. Almost none of it was pleasure-based and it wasn’t accessible. Up until I was in college, the few positions I tried were all things I had seen in porn…AKA they weren’t comfortable or effective for me,” she added.

Internet safety matters, too.

While many disabled people are infantilized, others are often oversexualized. K Wheeler, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Washington, was only 12 the first time their photos were stolen off of the Internet and posted on websites fetishizing amputees. K, who was born with congenital amputation and identifies as demisexual, panromantic, and disabled, thinks this is something students with disabilities need to know about. “There’s a whole side of the Internet where people will seek out people with disabilities, friend them on Facebook, steal their photos, and use them on websites,” she said.

These groups of people who fetishize amputees are known as “amputee devotees.” K had heard of this fetish thanks to prior education from her mother, but not everyone knows how to keep themselves safe on the Internet. “This is something that people with disabilities need to know, that a person without a disability might not think of, ” K said.

K also believes more general Internet privacy information should also be discussed in sex ed courses. “In the technological age that we’re in, I feel like Internet privacy should be talked about,” they said. This includes things like consent and sending naked photos with a significant other if you’re under 18. “That is technically a crime. It’s not just parents saying ‘don’t do it because we don’t want you to.’ One or both of you could get in trouble legally,” K added.

Understanding what kinds of sexual protection to use.

Isaac Thomas, a 21-year-old student at Valencia College in Orlando, lives with a visual impairment and went to a high school that he said didn’t even offer sexual education courses. “I did go to a school for students with disabilities and, unfortunately, during my entire time there, there was never any type of sexual education class,” he said.

And Isaac noted that sexual awareness plays a large role in protection. “They should understand that just because a person has a disability, does not mean they don’t still have the same hormones and sexual desires as other individuals. It’s even more important that they teach sex education to people that have disabilities so they’re not taken advantage of in any kind of sexual way. If anything, it should be taught even more among the disabled community. Ignoring this problem will not make it go away. If this problem is not addressed, it will increase,” Isaac said.

Before entering college, Isaac said he wishes he had received more information about condoms. “I wish I had learned what types of condoms are best for protection. I should’ve also learned the best type of contraceptive pills to have in case unplanned sexual activity happens with friends or coworkers.”

Body image matters.

Nicole Tencic, a 23-year-old senior at Molloy College in New York, who is disabled, fine-motor challenged, and hearing impaired, believes in the importance of exploring and promoting positive body image for all bodies. Nicole, who became disabled at the age of six after undergoing high-dose chemotherapy, struggled to accept herself and her disability. “I became disabled when I was old enough to distinguish that something was wrong. I was very self-conscience. Accepting my disability was hard for me and emotionally disturbing,” she shared. “I was always concerned about what other people thought of me, and I was always very shy and quiet.”

It was when she entered college that Nicole really came to accept her body, embrace her sexuality, and develop an interest in dating. “I had my first boyfriend at 21. The reason I waited so long to date is because I needed to accept myself and my differences before I cared for anyone else. I couldn’t allow myself to bring someone into my life if I was unaccepting of myself, and if I did, I would be selfish because I would be more concerned about myself,” Nicole said. She also recognized the fact that while sexuality and disability are separate topics that need to be addressed differently, they can impact each other. “Disability may influence sexuality in terms of what you like and dislike, and can and cannot do,” but overall, “one’s sexuality does not have to do with one’s disability,” she clarified.

It’s important to make sex ed inclusive to multi-marginalized populations.

Dominick Evans, a queer and transgender man living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, various chronic health disabilities, and OCD, believes in the importance of sexual education stretching beyond the cisgender, heteronormative perspective. He also understands the dangers associated with being a member of a marginalized group. “The more marginalized you are, the less safe you are when it comes to sex,” he said in an email.

Dominick, who works as a filmmaker, writer, and media and entertainment advocate for the Center for Disability Rights, has even developed policy ideas related to increased inclusion for students with disabilities — especially LGBTQ students with disabilities. “These students are at higher risk of sexual assault and rape, STIs like HIV, unplanned pregnancies, and manipulation in sexual situations,” Dominick said. “Since disabled LGBTQIA students do not have access to sexual education, sometimes at all, let alone education that makes sense for their bodies and sexual orientation, it makes sense the rates for disabled people when it comes to sexual assault and STIs are so much higher.”

According to Dominick, the fact that many disabled students are denied access to sexual health curriculum is at the root of the problem. “When it comes to disparities in the numbers of sexual assault, rape, STIs, etc. for all disabled students, not having access to sexual education is part of the problem. We know this is specifically linked to lack of sex ed, which is why sex ed must begin addressing these disparities.”

So what does Dominick have in mind in terms of educational policies to help improve this issue? “The curriculum would highlight teaching students how to protect themselves from sexual abuse, STI and pregnancy prevention campaigns geared specifically at all disabled and LGBTQIA youth, ensuring IEPs (individualized education programs) cover sex ed inclusion strategies, access to information about sexuality and gender identity, and additional education to address disparities that affect disabled LGBTQIA students who are people of color.”

Understanding power dynamics and consent.

It’s important to understand the power dynamic that often exists between people with disabilities and their caretakers. Many people with disabilities rely on their caretakers to perform basic tasks, like getting ready in the morning. Women with disabilities are 40% more likely to experience intimate partner violence compared to non-disabled women. This includes sexual, emotional, financial, and physical abuse, as well as neglect. For this reason, women with disabilities are less likely to report their abusers.

“Sometimes they’re more likely to think ‘this is the only relationship I can get,’ so they’re more likely to stay in these abusive relationships or have less access to even pursue courses of action to get out of the relationship. Especially if there is dependence on their partner in some way,” said K.

Dominick agreed. “Many of us often grow up believing we may not even be able to have sexual relationships. We often grow up believing our bodies are disgusting and there is something wrong with them,” he said. “So, when someone, especially someone with some type of power over us like a teacher or caregiver, shows us sexual attention and we believe we don’t deserve anything better or will never have the opportunity for sex again, it is easy to see why some disabled people are able to be manipulated or harmed in sexual situations.”

Dominick said this ideology led to his first sexual experience. “I probably should not have been having sex because I lost [my virginity] believing I had to take whatever opportunities I received,” he said, before going on to acknowledge the falsehood in these assumptions. “I’ve had many other relationships since then, and my last partner, I’ve been with for 15 years.”

But when it comes to disability, consent can be tricky. Some disabilities make communication a challenge. The lack of sexual education for many developmentally disabled students means they often don’t understand the concept of consent.

People with disabilities are more at risk for sexual exploitation and abuse.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, children with disabilities also face a much higher risk of abuse. In 2009, 11% of all child abuse victims had a behavioral, cognitive, or physical disability. In fact, when compared to non-disabled children, children with disabilities are twice as likely to be physically or sexually abused. Those living with developmental disabilities are anywhere from 4 to 10 times more likely to face abuse.

Deni Fraser, the assistant principal at the Lavelle School for the Blind, a school in New York City dedicated to teaching students with visual impairment and developmental disabilities, believes it’s important for all students to understand the importance of boundaries, both other people’s and their own. Many students at the school, who range in age from 2 to 21, also have co-morbid diagnoses, making the students’ needs varied.

“It’s important for our students to know that we want them to be safe at all times,” Fraser said. “Letting them know what’s appropriate touch, not only them touching others, but other people touching them; saying things to them; for people not taking advantage of them; knowing who is safe to talk to and who is safe to be in your personal space; if there’s anything going on with your body, who would be the appropriate person to talk to; not sharing private information — so what is privacy; and the importance of understanding safe strangers, like doctors, versus non-safe strangers.”

The portrayal of disabled bodies matters.

The media also plays a part in perpetuating the idea that individuals with disabilities do not have sex. Sexuality is often viewed as unnatural for individuals with disabilities, and many disabled students internalize that. “Even Tyrion Lannister, one of the most sexual disabled characters on television, usually has to pay for sex, and even he was horribly deceived the first time he had a sexual experience,” Dominick noted. “If the media is not even saying sex is normal or natural for disabled people, and sex education is not inclusive, then often disabled people are having to learn about and understand sex on their own,” he added.

Many students with disabilities also want to see their bodies reflected in sexual education materials. “Part of the curriculum at a lot of different schools includes showing some level of video,” K said. But including a person with a visible physical disability in these videos would go a long way in helping to shatter the stigma surrounding sex and disability, she said. According to K, this would help people understand that sex isn’t only for able-bodied people.

People with disabilities make up a large part of the population. They’re the one minority group any person can become a part of at any time. Therefore, incorporating disability-related information into sexual education curriculum not only benefits students who are already disabled, but it can help students who, at some point in their lives, will experience disability. Embracing an inclusive approach and keeping bias out of the classroom would help raise awareness, create empathy, and celebrate diversity. By listening to disabled voices, we can work toward a society that values inclusivity.

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Old people still like sex

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Sex educator Jane Fleishman says intimacy improves life regardless of age

Bodies change, but they don’t necessarily become less beautiful.

Jane Fleishman

Erectile dysfunction is a factor for many men, but it can be dealt with.

Aging doesn’t have to mean the end of intimacy.

Sex is part of living and you don’t have to be young to enjoy it, sex educator Jane Fleishman of Deerfield told a group gathered to hear her talk at the assisted living facility Christopher Heights in Northampton recently.

“I am on a mission to change the way continuing care communities treat end-of -life care,” she said following her talk in mid September. “I don’t want to wait around, I want to see change happen in my lifetime.”

To that end, Fleishman, 63, a fast-talking native New Yorker, has been traveling the country holding workshops to spread her message.

“There is no expiration date on sex,” she told the crowd of about four dozen people, mostly residents, at Christopher Heights. Sharing intimacy is an important contributor to good quality of life, she says. Older adults who are more sexually active have a lower instance of heart disease and dementia, she added. “We know that people’s well-being is affected.”

One study that seems to support that was done by a team of researchers from Coventry University in Britain who found that having an active sex life leads to less mental deterioration as people age.

In 2010 researchers surveyed men in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, and found that they continue to live sexually satisfied lives, according to a study in the medical journal the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Sex makes you feel alive – it makes you feel sensually connected to yourself,” said Monica Levine, a clinical social worker who runs a private practice in Northampton and is a certified sex therapist.

Edie Daly, 80, of Northampton, a petite woman with short white hair who was at the talk, says sex continues to be an important part of her life. In fact, she says, the best sex of her life started only after she met her wife at age 60.

“We have a deep abiding love,” she said, adding that she can’t imagine life without sex and other intimate touch. “Sex is another form of communication.”

Getting creative

But sex doesn’t always come easy —  and that’s OK — sometimes it takes a little creativity for older adults to reach satisfaction or to accommodate their changing bodies, Fleishman says.

Joint pain from arthritis, for instance, can make sex uncomfortable. Warm baths or changing positions might make intimacy more comfortable and ease any pain, according to the National Institute on Aging, a federal government organization in Baltimore which researches health in older people.

In cases of erectile dysfunction, massage is one approach that can help, says Fleishman. For vaginal dryness, there are lubricants.

Another woman who came to the talk, Mae Lococo, 93, who lives at Christopher Heights, says her husband was “quite vigorous” in bed up until he passed away two years ago. He was also an excellent ballroom dancer, she adds. She wouldn’t mind meeting another man now, she says, but notes there is a shortage of them at her age.

Consent always a factor

There can be a dark side to sex for those who are residents of nursing homes or other facilities, says Fleishman — the possibility of sexual abuse. She encourages younger people to talk to their parents to make sure they aren’t being victimized in some way. It is important, she says, that they feel free to approach a family member or other advocate for help. Just as younger people need to be aware of the boundaries of consent, older people need to understand them too, she says. Sometimes, as people age, they may experience some cognitive decline or dementia, which can make consenting to sex more difficult. That, she says, makes it particularly important for advocates to look out for them. “Consent is complicated when you get older.”

Aging adults also must continue to be aware of sexually transmitted infections, she says. “Sometimes people say, ‘I’m not going to get pregnant, so why does he need to wear a condom?’ While older adults face the same risks as other populations, sexually transmitted diseases often aren’t on the radar of their doctors, she says.

“They might be thinking the same way their patients’ offspring are: ‘Oh, that’s granddad, he can’t be having sex’ or ‘That’s grandma, she can’t be doing it, she can barely get down the stairs.’

“Well, even if she can’t get down the stairs she still might be able to have some fun upstairs,” Fleishman said.

Get over it

At age 55, Fleishman retired from her 30-year career as director of staff development at Connecticut Valley Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Middletown, Connecticut and went back to school to get a doctorate in human sexuality from Widener University in Pennsylvania.

In addition to holding sessions on sexuality, she is writing a book about LGBT elders. She wants people to get over feeling squeamish about sexuality among the older generation.

“When I talk to young people about what they think old people do in bed and they get all nervous,” she says. “They say, ‘Too many wrinkles’ or ‘eww.’ Well, if you are lucky enough you will get there and you will realize, it isn’t so bad.”

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