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Let’s Talk About Sex

Overcoming Barriers to Discussing Sexuality and Empowering Adolescent Girls

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It can be difficult to offer sexuality education to adolescents anywhere—but it’s especially difficult in deeply conservative communities around the world, where sexuality remains a taboo topic. At “Let’s Talk About Sex,” a day-long event organized by GreeneWorks, American Jewish World Service, CARE and International Women’s Health Coalition, participants got an opportunity to explore this challenge through a mix of discussion, movement and performance.

It was a unique way to kick off the 2016 Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) forum, which brought together feminists—1,800 of them, from more than 30 countries—to strategize and connect in Bahia, Brazil this September. Among the participants were representatives from AJWS grantee organizations working to advance gender equality in India.

“As researchers and practitioners, we often operate inside our heads,” said Meg Greene of GreeneWorks. She noted that many people working with international nonprofit organizations tend to resist meaningful discussions of sexuality out of sheer discomfort. “This is a very embodied challenge . . . what can we learn by embodying our experience of it?”

Margot Greenlee of BodyWise Dance began the day by leading the group through a series of warm-up exercises set to samba. Participants drummed on their knees and moved to the music. One woman remarked that the experience was “better than coffee,” and it was followed by a discussion of the reasons why everyone had come.

BodyWise Dance company performs a scene based on the group’s conversations.

BodyWise Dance company performs a scene based on the group’s conversations.

One participant said her work with adolescent girls, while deeply meaningful, was sometimes sad and frustrating—in part because the girls were reaching an age when sexuality was becoming part of their lives, and she often felt it impossible to discuss their questions without risking anger from the community. Another woman agreed; she explained that even when her organization tried to educate young people on sexuality, the curricula wound up focusing more on topics related to anatomy and hygiene, like menstruation. She and others wanted to explore new strategies for addressing sexuality more openly.

The rest of the day alternated between performances by the BodyWise company, participatory dance exercises and more cerebral reflections on participants’ respective work. Conversation started off with the social norms and experiences that shape people’s understanding of sexuality and gender roles—and how some people’s beliefs lead to serious barriers that keep girls and young women from exercising their rights.

For example: Alejandra Colom, who works with Population Council, talked about a rural community in Guatemala that’s ruled by drug traffickers. She said many people there view early and child marriage as something that happens simply because, in their view, “it’s the only way to stop bad things that happen to girls.” The community thinks of marriage as a way of increasing the security of girls in a place where sexual violence is commonplace.

Alejandra Colom, left, of the Population Council in Guatemala.

Alejandra Colom, left, of the Population Council in Guatemala.

To begin expanding the options and information available to local girls, Population Council hired a young woman who served as a mentor. She met with about 40 girls once a week and spoke to them about topics like sexuality and gender-based violence. Alejandra said the mentor wanted girls to understand their rights—to know that “it’s not normal that if you pass man on road and he fancies you, he thinks he has the right to rape you.”

Once the community heard what she was teaching, Alejandra said, some of the men started proclaiming the education she provided “dangerous.” The real message: women who stand up for their rights will face danger. Young men started harassing the mentor and interrupting her class. One day, a truck followed behind her motorbike, pulling closer and closer. Then the men inside opened fire.

The bullets missed the mentor. But her days with that community were through. She decided not to go to the police. Everyone knew the drug traffickers were ruling the area, not the government. Alejandra said the young woman told her: “The moment they know that I’m doing something about this, they’ll come back and kill every single member of my family.”

This was just one example of the many challenges the group shared. The conversation also unearthed the strategies participants use to continue their work in places that don’t exactly welcome it. Several people at the event spoke about how collectives—organized groups of girls who learn to advocate for their rights together—can be so important for negotiating with communities when tough situations arise. They reminded the group that there’s power in numbers.

On the other hand, participants pointed out, girls need the freedom to make the decisions that are best for their individual situations. In many places, that means choosing between a few very limited options. Archana Dwivedi of Nirantar—an AJWS grantee—spoke about her organization’s research in India, which found that many teenage boys and girls are actually choosing to get married. They often view early marriage as less oppressive than staying at home with their parents, who are incredibly strict.

In order to address the limitations that many girls and young women face, AJWS’s grantees in India are finding ways to increase girls’ mobility and opportunities. Some of them offer computer or English classes because they know this kind of program is accepted by parents; then, the organization discreetly offers sexuality and human rights education to participating girls.

In Archana’s experience, organizations can often withstand community objections to sexuality education by explaining the importance of their work to angry parents and community members, waiting until the tension breaks, and returning to their work in a few months. She noted that organizations who broach topics like sexuality and gender equality with women and girls should expect backlash from conservative communities and prepare accordingly.

“There is always a backlash when you’re working with adolescent girls,” Archana said. “Everyone wants to control them.”

Read more about the connection between early marriage and control of sexuality here.

Complete Article HERE!

Monogamy or Bust: Why Are Many Gay Men Opposed to Open Relationships?

By Zachary Zane

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As assimilation into more mainstream culture increases, many gay men are shifting their attitudes on non-traditional relationships—becoming less accepting of them.

Full disclosure: I’m polyamorous. After being in a year-long, tumultuous monogamous relationship, I fell into polyamory by accident. After giving it a shot, I realized that I am better equipped to handle the struggles that come from polyamory than monogamy. Clearly, both setups come with a myriad of issues, but what makes me happiest, most comfortable, and most satisfied, is polyamory. Polyamory, ironically, also alleviated my jealousy issues and relationship-induced anxiety, simply because I trust my current partner unconditionally.

Like most people, I knew nothing about polyamory when I stumbled into it. I believed the false misconceptions that surround poly life. I thought people use polyamory as an excuse to screw around. I thought all polyamorous relationships are doomed to fail, with one person being left out. I also thought that poly people are insecure, given that they need validation and support from various partners. While I have encountered all of these things and people in the poly community, I can safely say, these hurtful stereotypes are false and don’t accurately capture the true spirit of polyamory.

I write about consensual non-monogamous relationships often. Without pushing any agenda, I try to help others by offering another option to monogamy. It’s worked for me, and I wish I had known poly was a viable option sooner.

But I also know I’m not special. I’m like many other queer men out there. My experience, struggle, and identity are undeniably mine, but once I stopped believing I was the center of the universe, I was able to realize that my journey mirrored many queer men before and after me, and I now think that other people could benefit from being in a monogam-ish, open, or polyamorous relationship.

Still, when I even hint at the idea of not being 100 percent monogamous, guys throw more than hissy fits; they have full temper tantrums. I’m not even saying go out and date a million people; I’m saying that if both you and he are exclusive bottoms, maybe it’s worth it to consider bringing in a third. “Consider”—that’s the world I’ll use. But that’s enough for guys to become furious, taking their comments to every social media platform. In these comments, I’m ruthlessly attacked, accused of knowing nothing about relationships, giving up on men too early, being sleazy, horny, and incapable of love, amid a bunch of other totally outlandish claims.

These comments never bother me because I know they’re wrong. They have, however, led me to repeatedly ask the same questions: Why does the mere mention of a non-monogamous relationship make these guys’ blood boil? I understand it’s not for them, but why do they get so angry that open relationships work for other men? Why do they feel that it’s important that everyone be like them, in a monogamous relationship, when it doesn’t affect them? Is it a matter of arrogance? Do they assume everyone is like them? Have these men been cheated on? Have these men been taken advantage of by men who use the “open” label, and instead of realizing that that guy was just an unethical person, they think that all guys in open relationships are unethical people? This shouldn’t be such a sore subject and source of unrelenting rage.

I’ve tried engaging with the monogamy-or-bust folks, going straight to the source, but I’ve never learned anything useful. They are so consumed by anger, that they can’t speak logically about why something that has nothing to do with them provokes such outrage. Honestly, they sound like the anti-marriage equality crowd. They say the same things repeatedly about how it ruins the sanctity of marriage (or in this case, relationships), but when you ask how it affects them personally, they don’t have an answer. But for whatever reason, this remains a source of animosity.

That said, here’s what I have noticed.

1. People in satisfying monogamous relationships don’t have reason to be angry.

When I speak to gay men who are in satisfying monogamous relationships, they’re never angered. Confused? Absolutely. Do they know that an open relationship would never work for them? Yes, very aware. Are they skeptical that it will work out? Sure. But angry? Never. The only people who are actively angered are men who are single or unhappily committed in a monogamous relationship. This had led me to believe a main reason for their anger is displacement. They’re unhappy with their relationship (or lack thereof) and are taking it out on men in happy, open relationships.

2. The angry folks have reason to be insecure and jealous.

These are people for whom a polyamorous relationship would never work, because they struggle to believe in their own self-worth. They fear they aren’t worthy of love. Because of this, these insecure men think that their partner will leave them in the dust if someone comes along who seems “better,” instead of acknowledging that a person can love two individuals. These guys are usually single.

Simon*, a gay man I interviewed, supports this notion; he thinks open-relationship shaming is a matter of projection. “…I find that there has been an increase in hypocritical slut-shaming that comes from the queer community. [We’re] always eager to feel morally superior. I think this happens because it’s easier for [some queer men] to project insecurities and/or personal issues onto someone who doesn’t seem to feel guilt or remorse for exploring their sexuality with other partners, than to be honest with themselves about their own desires and ‘deviant’ curiosities, polyamory among them.”

3. The angry gay men are homonormative AF.

In my experience, the gay men vehemently opposed to open/poly life tend to be the same men who think bisexuality is a stepping stone to gay and that being transgender is a mental illness; men who don’t see the value in the word “queer” and don’t believe gays should be supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Their perception of open/poly life isn’t an isolated issue. It’s rooted in a larger ideology that’s riddled with entitlement and privilege.

However, as one gay man I interviewed, Noah, said, “I also think that (white) gay men’s attitudes on polyamory are shaped very heavily by our successful assimilation into mainstream culture. Remember, one of the most widespread arguments against gay marriage was that it would lead us down a slippery slope towards legalization of polygamy and other ‘deviant’ (read: alternative) relationship structures. Accepting polyamory as a positive force in the gay community means pushing back against the core world views of those naysayers. But the gay community has mostly opted for assimilation, so it’s not surprising that as a poly person I’m frequently viewed with suspicion.”

Though Noah said he hasn’t faced direct discrimination, he mentioned that a growing number of gay men refuse to date him because they think, “I am inherently unable to give them the level of intimacy that they crave or the level of commitment that they desire.” When he says he’s polyamorous, “…I lose value in their eyes since there is no chance for me to be their One True Love.” He understands the need for boundaries and respects people for realizing polyamory or open relationships aren’t for them, but at the same time, this puts him in a very precarious position when it comes to dating.

Another man I interviewed, Rob, said he has hasn’t received much discrimination aside from a snarky comment here and there. “Let’s face it,” he said, “open relationships are as common among gay guys as bread and butter!”

While I think that is true, and open relationships are quite common in the queer male community, this relates back to what Noah was discussing. With assimilation into more mainstream culture and the acquirement of rights, including that to marry, many gay men are shifting their attitudes on non-traditional relationships—becoming less accepting of them.

With all of that said, I still can’t help but see the irony in a gay man critiquing how someone else loves. Love is love—isn’t that what we’ve been preaching this whole time? And if love does conquer all, which I believe all gay and queer men believe, then we, as a community, need to be supportive of other queer men. Instead of buying into this boring, oppressive, homonormative gay culture, or losing our sense of openness as we continue to assimilate into the heteronormative mainstream, I’d like to see gay men expand their notion of what gay is, what love is, and what a relationship is.

I’m also hoping that we can think outside ourselves. Just because a certain non-traditional relationship style wouldn’t be our first choice, doesn’t mean it can’t be the ideal relationship style for our gay brothers. We’re not only being arrogant and close-minded; we’re beginning to sound a lot like the Republicans who work so hard to take away our rights.

So if you’re one of those gay men who are vehemently opposed to every type of relationship but monogamy, I ask you to ask yourself: “Why?”

Complete Article HERE!

Negative Attitudes Slow Acceptance of Bisexuality

By Rick Nauert PhD

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Although positive attitudes toward gay men and lesbians have increased over recent decades, a new study shows attitudes toward bisexual men and women are relatively neutral, if not ambivalent.

Researchers at Indiana University Center for Sexual Health Promotion say their study is only the second to explore attitudes toward bisexual men and women in a nationally representative sample. Investigators define bisexuality as the capacity for physical, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to more than one sex or gender.

The study is also the first to query attitudes among a sample of gay, lesbian and other-identified individuals (pansexual, queer and other identity labels), in addition to those who identify as heterosexuals.

The study, led by Dr. Brian Dodge, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Health Science and associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, was recently published in PLOS ONE.

The nationally representative sample was taken from the Center for Sexual Health Promotion’s 2015 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior.

“While recent data demonstrates dramatic shifts in attitude (from negative to positive) toward homosexuality, gay/lesbian individuals, and same-sex marriage in the U.S., most of these surveys do not ask about attitudes toward bisexuality or bisexual individuals,” Dodge said.

“And many rely on convenience sampling strategies that are not representative of the general population of the U.S.”

The study looked at five negative connotations, found in previous studies, associated with bisexual men and women — including the idea that bisexuals are confused or in transition regarding their sexual orientation, that they are hypersexual and that they are vectors of sexually transmitted diseases.

The research showed that a majority of male and female respondents, more than one-third, were most likely to “neither agree nor disagree” with the attitudinal statements.

In regard to bisexual men and women having the capability to be faithful in a relationship, nearly 40 percent neither agreed nor disagreed.

Those who identified as “other” had the most positive attitudes toward bisexuality, followed by gay/lesbian respondents and then heterosexuals.

Age played a factor in the results, with participants under the age of 25 indicating more positive attitudes toward bisexual men and women. Income and education also played a role: Higher-income participants were more likely to report more positive attitudes toward bisexual men and women, in addition to participants with higher levels of education.

Overall, attitudes toward bisexual women were more positive than attitudes toward bisexual men.

“While our society has seen marked shifts in more positive attitudes toward homosexuality in recent decades, our data suggest that attitudes toward bisexual men and women have shifted only slightly from very negative to neutral,” Dodge said.

“That nearly one-third of participants reported moderately to extremely negative attitudes toward bisexual individuals is of great concern given the dramatic health disparities faced by bisexual men and women in our country, even relative to gay and lesbian individuals.”

Bisexual men and women face a disproportionate rate of physical, mental, and other health disparities in comparison to monosexuals — those who identify as exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual, Dodge said.

Although research has not determined the cause, Dodge said that negative attitudes and stigma associated with bisexuality could play a role.

Data from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior shows that approximately 2.6 percent of adult men and 3.6 percent of adult women in the U.S. identify as bisexual.

For females, that number is more than double the number of women who identify as lesbian, 0.9 percent. When it comes to adolescents, 1.5 percent of male adolescents (age 14 to 17) and 8.4 percent of female adolescents identify as bisexual.

Dodge said he hopes the results emphasize the need for efforts to decrease negative stereotypes and increase acceptance of bisexual individuals as a component of broader initiatives aimed at tolerance of sexual and gender minority individuals.

“After documenting the absence of positive attitudes toward bisexual men and women in the general U.S. population, we encourage future research, intervention, and practice opportunities focused on assessing, understanding, and eliminating biphobia — for example, among clinicians and other service providers — and determining how health disparities among bisexual men and women can be alleviated,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

Why Can’t I Orgasm During Sex? Chronic Pain And 5 Other Factors That Affect Ability To Climax

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Imagine this: You and your partner are getting hot and heavy in between the sheets. You’re feeling sexually aroused — but you’re unable to climax. In frustration you ask yourself: “Why can’t I orgasm during sex?”

The Kinsey Institute indicates 20 to 30 percent of women don’t have orgasms during intercourse, compared to only 5 percent of men who don’t climax every time they have sex. Men and women who are unable to sustain an erection or reach orgasm, respectively, are usually labeled as having some type of sexual dysfunction. However, the inability to orgasm could be triggered by several issues that range from physiological to psychological.

Below are six causes of why you have trouble orgasming during sex.

Tight Condoms

Condoms are often seen as an “evil” necessity that reduces sensitivity and sensations for men. The truth is condoms can inhibit male orgasm if they do not fit properly. A condom that is too tight can feel like the penis is in a chokehold, which can be distraction, and make it difficult to keep an erection. A 2015 study in journal Sexual Health found about 52 percent of men report losing an erection before, or while putting a condom on or after inserting into the vagina while wearing a condom.

Stress

High levels of stress impact your psychological and physiological health, which can interfere with the ability to orgasm. This makes it harder to concentrate on the sensation and relax during sex. Women with high salivary cortisol and stress levels have significantly less desire to masturbate or have sex with their partner.

Stress causes us to produce fewer sex hormones, like estrogen and testosterone, and more cortisol and stress hormones. When the body releases cortisol, a fight-or-flight response kicks in, and redirects the blood flow away from the sex organs, causing you to breathe shallowly.

couple-holding-hands

Depression

Depression affects your mood, and even the desire to have sex. A 2000 study in the American Family Physician found 70 percent of adults facing depression without treatment had problems with their sex drive. This is because sexual desire starts in the brain as sex organs rely on chemicals in the brain to jumpstart your libido, and change blood flow. Depression disrupts these brain chemicals, making sexual activity more difficult to initiate and enjoy.

Chronic Pain

More than 75 million people live  with persistent or debilitating pain, according to the national pain foundation, which can often lead to a low sex drive. Chronic pain sufferers find it difficult to feel pleasure during sex since the body hurts all the time. This is unfortunate since having an orgasm can alleviate some pains and aches.

Prescription Meds

Drugs tend to be among the most common causes of sexual problems. Prescription meds are responsible for as many as one of every four cases of sexual dysfunction. A 2002 study published in Family Practice found statins and fibrates (used in lowering LDL “bad” cholesterol) may cause erectile dysfunction, while later research has found both men and women taking statins showed increased difficulty achieving orgasm. The levels of sexual pleasure declined along with LDL cholesterol.

Negative Body Image

When you feel good about your body, you tend to feel better psychologically as well. The mind-body connection is imperative in sexual pleasure. For example, if you feel bad about your body, it;ll become more difficult to enjoy sex and have orgasms. A 2009 study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found women between the ages 18 to 49 who scored high on a body image scale were the most sexually satisfied. Positive feelings associated with weight, physical condition, sexual attractiveness, and thoughts about our body during sex help promote healthy sexual functioning.

Complete Article HERE!

Non-Monogamous Relationships on the Rise Among Young Americans

by Paul Ratner

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How open are you to your partner having sex with other people? The answer may depend on your age.

A new poll from YouGov.com indicates that young Americans are more likely to accept non-monogamous relationships than their elders. Nearly a fifth of people under 30 had some kind of sexual activity with someone else while their partner knew about it. This is not to say that the youngsters are rejecting monogamy outright, as 56% of them still think it’s the only way to go. That number rises to 74% for people between 45-64 and 78% in folks 65+.

Perhaps this is not very surprising as people under 30 are less likely to be married and are still looking for a partner. It’s even less surprising once you consider the rise of what has been described as “hookup culture”, courtesy of the proliferation of apps like Tinder, which streamline the process of finding a temporary sexual partner.

Notably, the median age for marriage in 1970 was 21 for women and 23 for men. By 2010, that’s risen to 27 and 29, respectively. Marrying later certainly increases the opportunity for premarital sexual encounters. On the larger scale, a bit over half of Americans are not married at all, so that creates quite a few singles.

The overall number of Americans who are not ok with their partner stepping out on them is at 68%. Still, some certainly do it. About 11% of Americans report having had sexual relations with someone else with their partner’s consent, and 19% have done so on the sly (basically, cheated).

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Again, younger Americans are more likely to cheat, with 17% of under-45s reporting such activity, while only 3% of over 65s admitted to having sex with someone without their partner’s knowledge. This last statistic can also be explained by generational mores. It’s likely the older folks aren’t as open about such behavior as the much more open younger generation, which grew up in the era of social media and reality TV.

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Other studies have found that, puzzlingly, even though millennials may have a more open attitude towards sex than their parents, the average number of sexual partners for Americans has actually decreased. The number of sexual partners for baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) was mostly the same, clocking in at 11.68, as the number of partners for those born in 1980s and 1990s. This number for millennials? 8.26.

If you are in a non-monogamous relationship, what rules should you follow to make it work for you? Certainly, each situation is different, but research has shown that key components of what’s being called “ethical non-monogamy” should be trust and communication.

Without honesty, such a relationship is just cheating, and openness can go a long way towards defining the boundaries of what is acceptable to you and your partner. Non-monogamous partners are less likely to experience jealousy if the situation is properly discussed. They know that what their partner finds in another relationship (especially if it’s merely sexual) may be the kind of fulfillment they are not willing or able to provide.

Complete Article HERE!