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How to build sexual confidence

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Having sex for the first time is nerve wracking but it isn’t the only time when the thought of sex can feel daunting. Many of us will go through periods of abstinence later in our lives and the thought of engaging in sexual activity again can spark feelings of insecurity.

There are a variety of reasons why someone might have experienced an extended amount of time without having sex (divorce, a breakup, the loss of a loved one, or difficulty meeting the right person) and often by the time we get round to having sex again it feels as if we are back to square one with our sexual confidence.

Here, we speak to Valeria Chuba, PhD, MS, ACS, a board certified clinical sexologist and a certified intimacy coach. She helps her clients overcome sexual shame and anxiety, achieve sexual confidence, and create pleasure-filled intimate relationships. She is the creator and host of the Get Sex-Smart podcast, which offers expert information and guidance to listeners around the world.

“Finding that special spark with a new partner can often take a long time,” she explains. “Regardless of the reasons why we may find ourselves without a lover, when the time comes to get back into the groove, most of us experience feelings of fear, anxiety and low self-confidence.”

So to help anyone who is feeling less than empowered about the idea of a new sexual encounter, we asked Valeria to give us some practical advice on how to feel less nervous and more confident when starting a new sexual relationship…

1. Learn from the past

Each new relationship offers a promising beginning, which means an opportunity to do things differently and better than before. “Now is the perfect time to look back at your past sexual experiences,” Valeria advises.

“What were some of the things that worked well (or didn’t work) in your intimate relationships? What partners were the most memorable, and why? What would you like to do differently this time around? For example, would you speak up more about your need for sensual foreplay, or share more of your sexual imagination with your partner? Getting clarity around your needs and boundaries will help you start a new sexual relationship in a more proactive way, which in turn will help you feel more safe and grounded.”

2. Know what gives you pleasure

“As a sexologist, I often tell my clients that masturbation is the foundation for partner sex,” says Valeria.

“The more you know about what turns you on and helps you experience pleasure and orgasm, the better you’ll be able to share these things with your partner, leading to a more positive intimate experience.”

Reacquainting yourself with your body in this way will help you to first accept and then to gain confidence when it comes to being with someone else. It’s easy to forget the positive things about our body when we are feeling insecure and focusing on the parts we don’t like as much.

“If you are new to self pleasure or just want to broaden your sexual repertoire, sex-positive books like Come As You Are or fun and instructional sex ed DVDs will both inform you and spark your sensuality. It’s important to note that you should always consider seeking professional help for specific sexual concerns, like trouble experiencing orgasm with a partner, early ejaculation, erectile difficulties, or performance anxiety. Working with a sex-positive, compassionate professional can be a huge boost to your sexual confidence.”

3. Communication is key

“I often tell my clients that they should begin a new relationship as they mean to go on; and good communication is a big part of any successful sexual relationship,” says Valeria.

“There are few things more attractive in a lover than the confidence to speak up about his or her needs and desires, and the ability to listen to his or her partner. Speaking up improves your chances of getting what you want from your sexual relationship; and being accepting of your partner will make him or her feel special and appreciated. Either way, you will come across as a generous and thoughtful lover, which is sure to boost your self-confidence.”

4. Focus on pleasure and not performance

Whenever we begin a new relationship, especially after a long time without partner sex, we tend to feel anxious about things like our attractiveness; our size, shape and weight; and how well we will ‘perform’ during sex.

“This mindset keeps us caught up in our heads and disconnected both from our bodies and pleasure, and from our lovers and the process of lovemaking. Whenever you feel yourself getting caught up in performance pressure, focus instead on your body sensations. Breathe deeply and if need be, slow down. Pay attention to how things feel as opposed to how perfect you appear to be. As a bonus, a lover who is focused on pleasure and sensuality comes off as a lot more empowered and confident than someone who is insecure about their ‘performance’.”

5. Have a sense of humour

Sex can be complicated and intimidating at the best of times, let alone when we’ve been celibate for an extended period. Because of this, we tend to forget that at its core, sex is about connection, pleasure and fun. And since partner sex happens between bodies, it can also be a messy, embarrassing and unintentionally hilarious experience. Using this as a point of connection with your lover, rather than something to be ashamed of, can help you lighten things up. Chances are your partner is also feeling nervous, so bonding lightheartedly over your shared anxiety and the absurdity of it all can be both relaxing and very, very sexy.

Complete Article HERE!

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Sex education at the push of a button: the apps changing lives worldwide

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From dealing with harassment to frank advice about STIs, these female app developers are providing vital, candid knowledge

The Ask Without Shame app provides information about sex to young people and has 60,000 users across Africa.

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Accurate information about sex and healthy relationships leads to greater gender equality worldwide, a report by the UN’s world heritage body Unesco found. It also leads to better sexual health, as well as less sexually transmitted infections, HIV and unintended pregnancies.

Yet many young people still don’t get the accurate information they need. Technology is one way to bring it to them. The revised international technical guidance on sexuality education, released by Unesco in January, said new technology offers “rich opportunities” to reach young people – if it’s used intelligently.

These women, from around the world, are working hard to found apps and use new technology to educate communities on sexual health.

Ruth Nabembezi, 22, founder of Ask Without Shame

Ruth Nabembezi, founder of Ask Without Shame.

When Nabembezi was just 16 years old, her older sister Pamela, who was 23, became very thin, started losing her hair and developed a skin rash. She was HIV positive, but a lack of awareness of the virus and Aids meant she didn’t get medical treatment straight away. “She was taken to a witch doctor to be cleansed of demons,” Nabembezi says. When she eventually did get taken to hospital, it was too late and she died there.

Since then, Nabembezi has wanted to help people access accurate information about sexual health. “In Uganda, anything related to sexuality is a taboo,” she says. Last year the government even branded better sex education an “erosion of morals”. Young people have to find their own information from peers, Nabembezi says. As a result, many end up believing harmful myths, such as if you sleep with a virgin, you can’t catch HIV.

Nabembezi created Ask Without Shame after joining a Social Innovation Academy when she finished school, because she wanted to change things. The mobile app, free phone line and text message service provide information about sex to young people through their phones. Questions are answered by doctors, nurses and counsellors.

The app has more than 60,000 users, mostly from Uganda and other African countries. But Nabembezi wants more. “I’d like to see it in every country in the world,” she says.

Beverly Chogo, 23, founder of Sophie Bot

Chogo created Sophie Bot in 2016 after watching her friend go through a traumatic abortion in Kenya. “It led to a lot of bleeding and abdominal pain,” Chogo says. At the time, Chogo didn’t understand what was happening to her friend. “It was a lot of trauma that she wasn’t prepared for,” Chogo says. “From that moment on I wanted to do something.”

And so the Sophie Bot was born. Chogo created the artificial intelligence (AI) Sophie Bot along with a team of three others whom she met at university in Kenya. Unsafe abortion is a major public health crisis in the country and a leading cause of preventable death and illness among women and girls. Young people can ask the Sophie Bot questions about anything, from STIs to family planning and it gives automated responses. Chogo says some people have even asked how to make sex more kinky or pleasurable, although she points out that’s not what it was originally set up for. The bot then gives automated responses.

Sex is still taboo in many African communities and so technology has been “very instrumental,” Chogo says. “Almost everyone has a smartphone.” The Sophie Bot is on WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Telegram messenger. It’s had over 1,500 downloads so far, but “now we want to reach more people,” Chogo says. “The sky’s the limit.”

Heather Corinna, 47, founder of Scarleteen

US-born Corinna first set up the Scarleteen website, a platform which provides information about sex and relationships for young people, in 1998. Corinna – who identifies as non-binary and uses the “they” pronoun – had no idea it would become their second job. For the next year, Corinna taught a class of kindergarten children during the day – and then taught a “global online classroom” about sex during the evenings.

It all started when Corinna uploaded fiction about women’s sexuality online. Unexpectedly, they started to get letters from young women asking basic questions about sex. There wasn’t a resource for Corinna to direct them to, so they set up their own: Scarleteen. The website was one of the first of its kind and published questions, along with Corinna’s empathetic responses. “People wrote me long letters, so I wrote them back,” Corinna says.

It wasn’t easy and Corinna was stalked and harassed online, just for talking to young people about the topic of sexuality – but they didn’t give up. “I’m rebellious,” Corinna says. “When people give me grief I go in hard.” Twenty years later, Corinna now runs Scarleteen with a team of global volunteers.

Mia Davis, 25, founder of Tabu

Davis grew up in the American midwest and had an abstinence-based religious education that was “pretty limited” when it came to sexuality. As a result, she was ashamed of her body. “I was always learning from a boyfriend,” the Stanford University graduate says, “but now I realise they didn’t know what they were talking about either.”

So in 2016, the user-experience designer set-up Tabu. One thing that stands out is its colourful design. “A lot of sexual health content can either be too in your face, or is just images that you wouldn’t want anyone to see,” Davis says. “So instead we wanted it to be really fresh and to make it pop.”

Movements like #MeToo, where people have come forward about harassment, have highlighted the need for better sex and relationship education, Davies says. And advances in mobile technology mean that it’s more possible than ever to provide it. “There’s a lot of unlearning to do,” she says. “And it’s coming to a head now.”

Brianna Rader, 26, founder of Juicebox

Rader is about to launch a new version of Juicebox, an app that provides personalised coaching for sex and relationships through your phone. She has been passionate about sex education for years, even getting condemned by lawmakers in the state of Tennessee for running a series of sex education events called Sex Week at her university.

Attitudes towards sex education are changing. Even just a few years ago it was different, she says. But now people are more open to these conversations and are making the most of mobile and new technologies. “[Sex ed tech founders] are not just providing PDFs and booklets,” Rader says. “We are going much further than that.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Consensual sex is key to happiness and good health, science says

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It’s not just that sex is fun – it’s also good for your physical and mental health.

Some of my research is focused on how men and women differ in the links between sexuality, mental and physical health, and relationship quality. In this article, I write from my findings and that of others on how sex is important to our love, mental health, relations and survival. At the end, I suggest a solution for individuals who are avoiding sex for a common reason – chronic disease.

Good sex makes us happy

Good sex is an inseparable part of our well-being and happiness. Those of us who engage in more sex report better quality of life. Sexual intercourse is linked to high satisfaction across life domains. In one of my studies on 551 married patients with heart disease, individuals who had a higher frequency of sexual intercourse reported higher marital quality, marital consensus, marital coherence, marital affection expression and overall marital satisfaction. These results are replicated in multiple studies.

In a study by another team, partners who both experienced orgasm during sex were considerably happier. These findings are shown inside and outside of the United States.

Sex keeps us alive

Although early initiation of sex such as during adolescence is a risk factor for mortality, having a sound sexual life in adulthood is linked to low mortality. In a seven-year follow-up study of men 17 years old or older, erectile dysfunction and having no sexual activity at baseline predicted increased mortality over time. Similar findings were shown in younger men. This is probably because more physically healthy individuals are sexually active.

No sex and forced sex makes us depressed

There is a two-way road between bad sex and depression. Depression is also a reason for bad sex, particularly for women. And, men who are depressed are more likely to sexually abuse their partners.

And it’s important to note, in the wake of continuing news of sexual assault and abuse, that forced sex in intimate relations make people depressed, paranoid, jealous, and ruins relationships. Couples who experience unwanted sex have a higher risk for experiencing other types of abuse, as bad habits tend to cluster.

Sex different for men and women?

Men and women differ in the degree to which their sexual act is attached to their physical, emotional, and relational well-being. Various reasons play a role among both genders, but for women, sexual function is heavily influenced by mental health and relationship quality.

By contrast, for men sexual health reflects physical health. This is also intuitive as the most common sexual disorders are due to problems with desire and erection for women and men, respectively.

Reasons for avoiding sex

As I explained in another article in The Conversation, sexual avoidance for those who have a partner or are in a relationship happens for a long list of reasons, including pain, medications, depression and chronic disease. Common diseases such as heart disease interfere with sex by causing fear and anxiety of sexual intercourse.

Aging should not be considered as a sexless age. Studies have shown that older adults acquire skills and strategies that can buffer age-related declines in their sexual life, particularly when they are in a positive relationship. This is called seniors’ sexual wisdom.

Back on track

Because people avoid sex for a variety of reasons, there is no single answer for those who want to become sexually active again. For many men, physical health problems are barriers. If they suffer from erectile dysfunction, they can seek medical help for that.

If fear of sex in the presence of chronic disease is a problem, there can be medical help for that as well. For many women, common barriers are relational dissatisfaction and mental health. For both men and women, the first step is to talk about their sexual life with their physician, counselor or therapist.

At least half of all medical visits do not cover any discussion about sexual life of patients. Embarrassment and lack of time are among the most common barrier. So make sure you make time to talk to your doctor or health care provider.

Neither the doctor nor the patient should wait for the other person to start a dialogue about their sexual concerns. The “don’t tell, don’t ask” does not take us anywhere. The solution is “do tell, do ask.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How to close the female orgasm gap

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Studies show sexual pleasure, self-esteem and satisfaction profoundly impacts our wellbeing. That’s why increasing our ‘sexual IQ’ matters

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In this moment of brave truth telling and female empowerment, it’s time to address one topic that’s been missing far too long from our conversations around sex: female pleasure.

Study after study show that sexual pleasure, self-esteem and satisfaction have profound impacts on our physical and mental wellbeing. It is a natural and vital part of our health and happiness.

As a society, we accept this premise fairly easily when it comes to men and they learn it at a young age. When discovering how babies are made, male ejaculation (ie his pleasure) plays a featured role. Men feel entitled to pleasure and our culture supports that. There are endless nicknames for male anatomy and jokes about masturbation; and TV shows, movies, advertisements and porn all cater to their fantasies.

Women, on the other hand, appear mostly as the object in these fantasies rather than as subjects. In middle school sex ed classes, drawings of female anatomy often don’t even include the clitoris, as if women’s reproductive function is somehow separate from their pleasure. Female pleasure remains taboo and poorly understood. There is little scientific research on the topic and even doctors shy away from discussing it: according to a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, less than 30% of gynecologists routinely ask their patients about pleasure and sexual satisfaction.

This silence has real consequences. Almost 30% of college-age women can’t identify their clitoris on an anatomy test, according to a study from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Another survey by the UK gynecological cancer charity, Eve Appeal, finds that women are more familiar with men’s bodies than their own: while 60% could correctly label a diagram of the male body, just 35% of women correctly labeled female anatomy. (For the record, men scored even worse.)

Lack of sexual health knowledge is associated with lower rates of condom and contraceptive use. It also contributes to pleasure disparities in the bedroom. While gay and straight men climax about 85% of the time during sex, women having sex with women orgasm about 75% of the time and women having sex with men come last at just 63%, research from the Kinsey Institute shows. The reasons for this “orgasm gap” are surely multifaceted, but we can start to address it by talking more about the importance of women’s pleasure.

Let’s talk about what women’s sexual anatomy really looks like, so that we can normalize differences, reduce body shame and improve self-care. We should encourage self-exploration from an early age so that women (and men) learn what feels good to them and how that changes as we move through the different stages of our lives.

Knowing our own bodies can promote our own health and wellbeing, and empower our relationships. The Kinsey study showed that compared to women who orgasmed less frequently, women who experienced more pleasure were more likely to ask for what they want in bed, act out fantasies and praise their partner for something they did in bed, among other things. We can’t talk about what we like or don’t like with our partners if we don’t know ourselves.

In order to cultivate a culture of true gender equality, we need candid conversations and accurate, sex-positive information. Without this, pop culture, pornography and outdated cultural institutions fill in these gaps with unhealthy stereotypes and unrealistic expectations that center on male pleasure and leave women in a supporting role.

Through our willingness to speak openly about sex and to seek out empowering information, we can increase our “sexual IQ” and make more informed choices that will improve our sexual satisfaction, happiness and wellbeing throughout our lives.

As author Peggy Orenstein says “We’ve raised a generation of girls to have a voice, to expect egalitarian treatment in the homes, in the classroom, in the workplace. Now it’s time to demand that ‘intimate justice’ in their personal lives as well.”

Complete Article HERE!

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What’s the difference between sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape?

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Physician Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for the sexual assault of girls on the USA Gymnastics team.

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The terms “sexual abuse,” “sexual assault,” “sexual harassment” – and even “rape” – crop up daily in the news. We are likely to see these terms more as the #MeToo movement continues.

Many people want to understand these behaviors and work to prevent them. It helps if we are consistent and as precise as possible when we use these terms.

But what does each term mean?

We are three scholars who have specialized in the scientific study of sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment over several decades.

Let’s start by defining each of these terms. Then, we can look at how these behaviors sometimes overlap.

Sexual abuse

The term that has been in the news most recently with reference to sports doctor Larry Nassar’s trial is sexual abuse, a form of mistreating children. Sexual abuse is mainly used to describe behavior toward children, not adults.

All 50 states have laws that recognize that children are not capable of giving informed consent to any sex act. In the United States, the age at which consent can be given ranges from 16 to 18 years.

Sexual abuse can include many different things, from touching a victim in a sexual manner to forcing a victim to touch the perpetrator in a sexual way to making a victim look at sexual body parts or watch sexual activity. Sexual abuse of a child is a criminal act.

Rape

In 2012, the FBI issued a revised definition of rape as “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” The revised law is gender neutral, meaning that anyone can be a victim.

When carefully examined, the FBI definition does not look like most people’s idea of rape – typically perpetrated by a stranger through force. The FBI definition says nothing about the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator and it says nothing about force. It does, however, say something about consent, or rather, the lack of it. Think about consent as your ability to make a decision about what happens to your body.

A perpetrator can compel a victim into a penetrative sex act in multiple ways. A perpetrator can ignore verbal resistance – like saying “no,” “stop” or “I don’t want to” – or overpower physical resistance by holding a person down so they cannot move. A person can penetrate a victim who is incapable of giving consent because he or she is drunk, unconscious, asleep, or mentally or physically incapacitated; or can threaten or use physical force or a weapon against a person. Essentially, these methods either ignore or remove the person’s ability to make an autonomous decision about what happens to their body. State laws vary in how they define removing or ignoring consent.

Perpetrators can’t defend against charges of rape by claiming they were drunk themselves or by saying they are married to the victim.

In November 2017, participants combined the ‘Take Back the Workplace March’ and the ‘#MeToo Survivors March’ in Hollywood.

Sexual assault

Rape and sexual assault have been used interchangeably in coverage of events leading to the #MeToo movement, and this practice, though unintentional, is confusing. In contrast to the specific criminal act of rape, the term sexual assault can describe a range of criminal acts that are sexual in nature, from unwanted touching and kissing, to rubbing, groping or forcing the victim to touch the perpetrator in sexual ways. But sexual assault overlaps with rape because the term includes rape.

Social and behavioral scientists often use the term “sexual violence.” This term is far more broad than sexual assault. It include acts that are not codified in law as criminal but are harmful and traumatic. Sexual violence includes using false promises, insistent pressure, abusive comments or reputational threats to coerce sex acts. It can encompass noncontact acts like catcalls and whistles, which can make women feel objectified and victimized. It includes nonconsensual electronic sharing of explicit images, exposure of genitals and surreptitious viewing of others naked or during sex.

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a much broader term than sexual assault, encompassing three categories of impermissible behavior.

One is sexual coercion – legally termed “quid pro quo harassment” – referring to implicit or explicit attempts to make work conditions contingent upon sexual cooperation. The classic “sleep with me or you’re fired” scenario is a perfect example of sexual coercion. It is the most stereotypical form of sexual harassment, but also the rarest.

A second, and more common, form of sexual harassment is unwanted sexual attention: unwanted touching, hugging, stroking, kissing, relentless pressure for dates or sexual behavior. Note that romantic and sexual overtures come in many varieties at work, not all of them harassing. To constitute unlawful sexual harassment, the sexual advances must be unwelcome and unpleasant to the recipient. They must be “sufficiently severe or pervasive” to “create an abusive working environment,” according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Unwanted sexual attention can include sexual assault and even rape. If an employer were to forcibly kiss and grope a receptionist without her consent, this would be an example of both unwanted sexual attention and sexual assault – both a civil offense and a crime.

Most sexual harassment, however, entails no sexual advance. This third and most common manifestation is gender harassment: conduct that disparages people based on gender, but implies no sexual interest. Gender harassment can include crude sexual terms and images, for example, degrading comments about bodies or sexual activities, graffiti calling women “cunts” or men “pussies.” More often than not, though, it is purely sexist, such as contemptuous remarks about women being ill-suited for leadership or men having no place in childcare. Such actions constitute “sexual” harassment because they are sex-based, not because they involve sexuality.

Come-ons, put-downs: They’re both bad

In lay terms, sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention are come-ons, whereas gender harassment is a put-down. Still, they are all forms of sexual harassment and can all violate law, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Historically, social attitudes towards all these hostile actions have assumed a continuum of severity. Sexist graffiti and insults are offensive, but no big deal, right? Verbal sexual overtures cannot be as bad as physical ones. And, if there was no penetration, it can’t have been all that bad.

These assumptions do not hold up to scientific scrutiny, however. For example, researchers at the University of Melbourne analyzed data from 73,877 working women. They found that experiences of gender harassment, sexist discrimination and the like are more corrosive to work and well-being, compared to encounters with unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion.

We have tried to clarify terms that are now becoming household words. Of course, life is complicated. Abusive, assaulting or harassing behavior cannot always be neatly divided into one category or another – sometimes it belongs in more than one. Nevertheless, it is important to use terms in accurate ways to promote the public’s understanding.

Finally, we take heed that society is in a period like no other and one we thought we would never see. People are reflecting on, and talking about, and considering and reconsidering their experiences and their behavior. Definitions, criminal and otherwise, change with social standards. This time next year, we may be writing a new column.

Complete Article HERE!

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