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Adolescents with autism need access to better sex education

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Intimacy is part of being human. There are well-documented benefits to positive relationships, from emotional security to good mental health1. Those who want relationships and can’t develop them face low self-esteem, depression, loneliness and isolation from the wider society2.

For adolescents, learning how to navigate sex and sexuality can be a minefield. How do you figure out the nuances of sexuality without experience? How do you approach a potential partner? And once you do, how do you communicate with him or her?

This path is especially fraught for adolescents with autism. For example, people with autism tend to report higher levels of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation than their neurotypical peers3. And yet there is a gap between what these young people need and what schools provide. According to a 2012 study, adolescents with autism know less about sex than do their peers and have less access to sex education4.

My team of researchers and I are documenting the experiences of adolescents with autism in relation to sex, sexuality and their schools’ sex education requirements. Our research suggests schools should provide sex education tailored to the needs of young people with autism.

These classes should include both the standard fare — from human development to safe sex — and additional instruction on topics such as how teens can express themselves to their potential partners and how to decode innuendos and other language used to describe sex. This education is vital to ensure that these adolescents can approach relationships in a way that is safe, confident and healthy.

Role play:

One common misconception about individuals with autism is that they prefer to be alone. My research suggests this simply isn’t true.

In an ongoing study, for example, my team conducted interviews related to sex and relationships with 40 adults with autism. Only three expressed ambivalence about relationships, mostly due to worries about coping with the needs of another person. Nearly half of the respondents had not yet had a relationship but expressed a strong desire for one.

Despite the desire to form relationships, this group expressed limited knowledge about how they would meet someone or show their interest. They found the idea of going out to a pub or club frightening, and socializing with groups of people provoked high anxiety. Some of them expressed a disdain for small talk, and others admitted they had little idea of how to engage in general conversation. They also found the use of dating apps unappealing and said they thought there was an inherent danger in meeting strangers.

Sex education could help these individuals feel confident in approaching others using role-play. For example, they could use techniques created by the late Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theater director who created plays in which audiences could participate.

In the context of sex education, an actor would play the part of the individual with autism and re-create one of that person’s real-life experiences, such as trying to talk to someone new in a bar. The individual with autism would then give the actor new directions — such as “What if I offer to buy her a drink?” — allowing the person with autism to try out many approaches, and witness potential consequences, in a safe environment.

Advice network:

Although instructors may help with some aspects of communication, it’s profoundly difficult to teach someone how to read the intentions and desires of others. Most teenagers rely on peers to work through some of these social complexities.

Teens get feedback from their peers on how to interact, meet new people and gauge the appropriateness of a relationship. Teens with autism struggle with close relationships, but sex education classes could facilitate that learning.

Our research suggests that they desire this guidance. For example, one individual in our study commented that schools should provide students with the “skills on how to find the right sort of partner.” To accomplish this goal, a school could provide an advice network, including regular group meetings in which young people with autism share and reflect upon their experiences. Social networking could extend this support.

For most adolescents, peers also fill in gaps such as helping to define sexual slang. In our study, another participant commented that hearing “dirty talk” from other students made her feel left behind. She was also unsure how to decode the words she heard, and said her school should explain what people might say in a sexual context and what these terms mean. With this context, she could decide to get involved or not.

Moderated discussions in a peer network could help address such slang and provide a safe space for students to ask questions about unfamiliar words.

Different sexualities:

To be effective, sex education in schools must take into consideration that some individuals with autism do not conform to traditional sex roles. When we interviewed 40 young adults with autism as part of an ongoing study, we found that 20 percent identified as gay or bisexual — more than is reported in national surveys of the general population. Gender fluidity may also be more common in individuals with autism: In a study we conducted this year (but is not yet published), we found an unusually high incidence of autism and autism traits in individuals who identify as transsexual or non-binary.

Despite these high numbers, some people with autism find it hard to accept different sexualities. As one male participant explained: “I have a rigid way of seeing the world, and this prevented me from accepting my sexuality. I sort of denied it to myself because I have very concrete black-and-white thinking and it didn’t quite fit in.” This early inability to accept his sexuality and identify as a gay man led to severe depression and admittance to a psychiatric ward.

In some ways, people with autism may even fall outside the ever-expanding range of sexual identities we see today, such as gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual and asexual. For example, one of our participants explained that her wonderful relationship with another girl with autism often involved sitting together for up to 10 hours reading in silence, or spending hours discussing Greek history.

Autism represents a profoundly different way of seeing and being in the world, and individuals with autism often expend great mental and physical effort just trying to appear ‘normal.’ Sex education in school needs to move away from suggesting that people with autism should fit in, and instead explore alternatives to traditional types of romantic relationships.

Awareness gaps:

Our work also suggests that individuals with autism aren’t always aware that they are sexual beings. This lack of self-awareness manifests both in the sexual cues they give off and how they may be perceived by others.

For example, two participants in our study reported behavior that could be perceived as stalking, such as continually following strangers, although they didn’t indicate that they understood how this could seem threatening. One described it this way: “I literally just saw him on the street. And then pretty much just stalked him.”

Not having a sense of one’s own sexuality can be harmful in other ways. For example, individuals with autism are three times as likely to experience sexual exploitation as their peers5. In our study, participants spoke of times when they had been extremely vulnerable and open to abuse. One woman reported that others had gotten her drunk and encouraged her to have sex with girls even though she doesn’t identify as gay. In the interview, she did not appear to be aware that these incidents could be perceived as someone taking advantage of her.

Sex educators need to understand these gaps in awareness to build confidence in young people with autism and to protect them from harm and from unintentionally harming others. For example, young people with autism need to be aware of the law on issues such as stalking, which they themselves may not see as a problem. Their education needs to include lessons on the language of sex and draw distinctions between playful and threatening behavior. It also needs to address issues of abuse and signs that a relationship or encounter is abusive.

Research such as ours can offer insight into this area and provide the tools for effective sex education for people with autism. With the right support, adolescents with autism can feel more comfortable building relationships and exploring their sexuality. This support will help them develop healthy relationships and experience their benefits to well-being, self-esteem and happiness.

Complete Article HERE!

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Trans Writer E. Parker Phillips Finds Poetry in He/r Fluid Identity

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E. Parker Phillips conveys a message of nonviolence.

By Liz Tracy

At a Yale writing workshop in 2003, one of E. Parker Phillips’ college classmates said Phillips’ erotic poem reminded them of a Calvin Klein ad. Phillips, who identifies as genderqueer and uses “s/he” and “he/r” pronouns, doesn’t remember the poem itself, only one line from the work about a lesbian sexual awakening: “Love is where we stay in bed and go shopping for hats.” The classmate was trying to humiliate Phillips. But s/he treasures the memory.

“The connection between sex, power, and writing felt undeveloped at a place like Yale,” Phillips recalls. “It made me feel like things weren’t set up for me to have a voice.

“Well, now I fight for that voice.”

At the time, Phillips was studying for a degree in Chinese. These days, s/he’s one of the busiest people in Miami, juggling writing, teaching, performing, BDSM and fetish work, and activism. Phillips cannot be explained simply in a line from a poem or exemplified in a single memory. But though Phillips defies labels, he/r uniquely intersectional message and example has made he/r one of South Florida’s most prominent voices in the queer and literary realms.

Phillips was a queer kid raised by strict parents near the Adirondack Mountains in Glens Falls, New York, a largely white, Republican, rural town. There was a lot of pressure at home to go to a good school. Phillips found sanctuary and joy in playing sports. “I was an athlete before anything else in my life,” s/he remembers.

After graduating from college, s/he lived “on the fringes of literary cultures at Yale and in New York City.” The red state of Florida might not seem like the most welcoming place for a queer writer, but Florida International University’s creative writing program offered Phillips the chance to study with renowned poets Campbell McGrath and Denise Duhamel. There, s/he recalls, “I could learn to embrace how I write from my groin and my heart while also exploring ideas and politics. Miami, and FIU, helped me turn my position as an outsider, once a source of shame, into a place of empowerment.”

Phillips taught at FIU and Broward College while publishing poems in journals such as Voluble (a LARB channel), The Sensations Feelings Journal, Jai-Alai Magazine, and Hinchas de Poesia. Along the way, s/he developed a unique literary style to express he/r layered experiences. “I am happiest at the nexus of language, performance, and physicality,” Phillips notes. “Writing poems is a trans-like state where I am thinking about my body both physically and emotionally, processing my experience in language — consciousness tethered to a sensual world.”

From 2014-’16, the instructor found a less conventional avenue for expressing he/r identity by opening a 1,500-square-foot BDSM commercial dungeon. “Both [kink and poetry] feel like arts of consciousness,” s/he explains. “BDSM, kink, for me brings together making money and art; it is how I have made a living in the past four years.”

S/he now operates out of a private fetish studio in Hollywood, Florida — and not just to pay the bills. “I try to work outside academia so I can deepen my engagement with the world, which affects my voice in poetry. It is not always easy. I probably do too much,” Phillips admits.

In addition to hosting BDSM play parties and a meetup for kinky people titled Miami Munch, for the past six months, Phillips has cohosted the weekly Queer and Trans Yoga class at Agni Miami.

“Poems, BDSM, yoga — these are my lifelines. Sharing these practices with other people amplifies their meaning and helps me push the boundaries of the various forms,” Phillips explains. “When I try to live up to the expectations of what I perceive as the mainstream poetry world, I end up not writing.”

In joining all of these varied pursuits, s/he explains, “If I can focus on bearing witness to my feelings and my body, bearing witness to politics and injustice, I can engage poetry as a vehicle through which I traverse the known into the not-yet-known… Imagining a different, more equitable world is particularly important to me as a nonbinary, genderfluid person.”

Part of imagining that world is changing the words used to describe it. “Language is an ontological problem — a world of ‘he’ and ‘she,’ a binary world,” Phillips continues. “How can we take that apart and build something more livable?… What happens when I share my queer, feminist consciousness with a reader? A change in hearts and minds can happen there.”

The Queer and Trans Yoga class s/he cofounded is another converging of these realities for Phillips. In a hatha class, the teacher focuses on yin — “practicing being versus doing” — according to one instructor. Students hold poses for three to five minutes, and class leaders discuss topics such as self-acceptance, self-love, and coping with rejection. During the class, a reiki practitioner attends to individuals. The class also begins or ends with a poem by a queer or trans author, or a talk by a community member.

“The message we convey is one of nonviolence toward self and others. There is a lot of emphasis on the self and falling in love with the self,” Phillips says.

Those themes will carry into he/r course at this week’s TransArt, an annual event that advances equity for the Latinx and LGBT communities through education. Titled I Talk to My Body, Phillips’ workshop will “look at the topic of the self addressing the body, which we will explore within the context of a queer and trans lived experience,” s/he says. Using works by poets Lucille Clifton, Anna Swir, and Joy Ladin, Phillips hopes to teach students to “make sense of, or even celebrate, a discontinuity between self and body.”

Phillips recalls a recent moment at Queer and Trans Yoga when a practitioner spoke about being queer-bashed by a trusted yoga instructor. The reflection evoked a related yoga practice. Class members were told to lie on their backs with legs in the air, “so we could feel the disorientation the person experienced. It felt like falling backwards,” Phillips remembers. “I really wanted to get up and leave — it was challenging both emotionally and physically.”

But the meaning of the action made it bearable for Phillips. Inversion poses like that lift energy to the throat, s/he explains, renewing one’s voice.

“Learning how to work through discomfort is a hugely valuable lesson for me as a queer person, given the discomfort I face in the adult entertainment industry, in my family, and as a poet,” Phillips describes. “Doing yoga in community and turning the raw, painful stuff of lived experience into something inspiring and shared — that is another act of poem-making too.”

Complete Article HERE!

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The way we teach sex-ed is old and ineffective. Here’s how to fix it.

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By Stephanie Auteri

In a predictable bit of news, the results of a study released this past September show that students consider most sex-education programs to be out-of-touch, outdated, and lacking in the information that might actually prove useful to them. Among the deficiencies reported by teenagers were a focus on fear-based lesson plans, curricula that alienate LGBTQ+ students, instructors untrained in actually providing useful sex-ed, and a failure to acknowledge that some young people are  —  spoiler alert  —  sexually active.

When it comes down to it, though, these inadequacies do not stem from lack of trying on the part of certified sexuality educators. There are disparities in curricula, and in resources: Federal funding for sex-education flows to both abstinence-only and evidence-based approaches, and decisions about curricula are made on a state-by-state  —  and district-by-district  —  basis. There are still only 13 states that require sex-education to be “medically accurate.”

In fact, in the past year, 23 bills were introduced with the intention of restricting the quality of sex-ed. Such restrictions included moves to limit access to information about reproductive health options, and to exclude qualified sexuality educators from schools based upon their affiliation with abortion providers.

While the majority of these bills failed to advance, in many cases, educators continue to be hamstrung by red tape. And they worry that  —  in the wake of the most recent presidential election  —  their jobs will only become more difficult. What is an enterprising, conscientious sex-educator to do?

Recently, I attended the National sex-ed Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where I saw sexuality educator Francisco Ramirez present a keynote on “hacking” sexual health. During his talk, Ramirez spoke about how educators might possibly shake things up, in some cases taking sex-ed outside the classroom in order to reach those who need it most. Happily, many educators are already doing this, systematically toppling many of the barriers that have long stood in their way. Throughout the conference, I was reminded of the many forms such resourcefulness can take. Here are the six most important fixes currently happening in American sex-ed.

1. Where can students get the answers they crave without fear of embarrassment or other negative repercussions? These days: their phones.

Sex-educators often employ anonymous question boxes in their classrooms, but the new-media generation is taking this idea of anonymity to the place where it thrives best: social media. I recently wrote about a variety of new social-media applications, YouTube series, and other online resources that allow teens to seek out accurate sexuality information anonymously. Since then, it seems that not a day goes by where I don’t hear about a new sex-ed app.

What’s important to remember about any of these sex-ed hacks is that just because a program works in one place, that doesn’t mean it will work in every community.

One of the more recent ones to catch my eye is Capptivation’s Reach Out, an app that provides sexual assault survivor resources to college-age students. According to Capptivation, a similar app for high schoolers is on its way. And the Healthy Teen Network — a membership-based advocacy organization  —  is in the process of developing two phone apps, one for high school-aged teens, and one for people who are older. They were inspired to do so after receiving an RFP (a request for proposal — a document from an agency soliciting a proposal for a specific commodity or service) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alongside the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC has been looking to fund the development of a mobile app that would support teen pregnancy prevention.

This push for sex-ed apps is not without precedent. A 2016 study on mobile phone-based interventions for smoking cessation showed that mobile interventions can lead to positive behavioral changes. And additional research  —  including a 2016 paper published in BMC Public Health  —  has shown that sexual-health apps remove certain barriers youth often feel in seeking out sexual-health services: namely, embarrassment. HTN is in the midst of conducting its own randomized control trials in order to determine the efficacy of its apps.

2. How can students take a leadership role in their own sex-education? Through peer-led sex-ed.

A recent review of 15 peer-led sexual-health education programs shows that peer-to-peer sex-ed can be successful at improving teens’ knowledge and attitude about sexual health  —  which is good news, considering that many teens don’t think adults are doing the best job. And just as with social-media apps, new peer-to-peer training programs are popping up all around the country. Teen PEP, which operates in both New Jersey and North Carolina, is one such program that trains teens to provide sex-ed to their peers at school. Another example is the team out of Planned Parenthood of North, Central, and South New Jersey, which leads an annual Teen Conference that students travel to on a one-day field trip.

In Austin, Texas, the Peer 2 Peer Project trains teens to teach both on school grounds and at other locations within their communities, going so far as to pay them for their efforts. In Baltimore, Maryland, the Healthy Teen Network and its subsidiary, the Healthy Teen Leadership Alliance, also empower teens to influence the field of sexual health. These are just a handful of programs among many that are handing the reins over to teens. It can be difficult to keep track of all the peer-led programs popping up around the country, but Advocates for Youth  —  an advocacy organization with its focus on adolescent sexual health  —  has gathered the results of numerous studies on the impact of peer education. These studies show how peer education reduces risky sexual behaviors and empowers teens, who seem to find their peers to be more credible than adult educators.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to successfully navigate friends with benefits

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friends-with-benefits

The idea of having a friends with benefits relationship—two friends who have sex without a romantic relationship or commitment—can be very temping and convenient while in college. Due to the fact that students live away from their parents and in close proximity to many other people their age, friends with benefits relationships tend to be popular.

In theory, a limited relationship involves having sex with one person while also staying single and having the freedom to have sex with other people at the same time. Friends with benefits are more reliable than a hookup, but less reliable than a significant other. While this may sound like a good idea, these friendships oftentimes do not work.

Having friends with benefits comes with one small detail that everyone tends to forget about when first jumping into one of these relationships—you spend a chunk of time with someone that you find physically attractive. This aspect heightens the probability of developing feelings for this person.

While feelings are not always necessarily a bad thing, friendships involving sex can get messy if the other person does not reciprocate those feelings. Sex does not by any means always have to be serious; people generally use it to connect and as a result display feelings of love. Two people need to take this into consideration when deciding to become friends with benefits.

Just like any other relationship—whether romantic or platonic—communication is key for people participating in friends with benefits relationships. In order for these relationships to work, both parties must openly discuss their expectations for the relationship and set concrete ground rules before a bad situation occurs and feelings get hurt.

Some important things to discuss in a friends with benefits relationship include whether or not both parties will engage in sex with other people or just each other, whether they have any interest in hanging out in addition to having sex and whether they have feelings for one another at the moment.

By ensuring that each party understands the other’s desires and expectations, both people are completely aware of what they sign up for when it comes to their friends with benefits relationship. In addition, setting some ground rules helps make for a successful friends with benefits relationship.

Lastly, it is important to practice safe sex in any relationship, whether it be a one-night stand, a romantic relationship or a friend with benefits. Many times, a friends with benefits relationship is non-exclusive. Having sex with more than one person increases the likelihood of spreading sexually transmitted diseases, which makes protection and communication integral to maintaining your own personal health.

Though friends with benefits can come with many risks, STDs and unplanned pregnancies aren’t the type of risks you should take. Many friends with benefits relationships do not end well, so remaining cautious is how you can protect yourself.

It’s encouraged to ask what your partner expects out of the friends with benefits relationship. But, most importantly, don’t be afraid to tell them what you expect as well.

Complete Article HERE!

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Undressing for Success in the Bedroom

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by Michael J. Russer

Here is one simple thing you can do that will tremendously enhance your lovemaking and bond for each other…

Undressing for Success

What I’m about to share with you has led to countless hours of exquisite lovemaking and a deeper emotional bond and appreciation between my partner and me. It is so ridiculously simple that it is probably the reason many couples have never even considered it as an intimate ritual that could make such a huge difference. I say this because we only stumbled upon it after a particularly playful episode one evening together. Since then it has become such a powerful component of our relationship that we use it every single time we are together…

Frenetic Disrobing

I suspect that most couples have experienced the lust-laced frantic ripping of each other’s clothes off in a moment of unbridled passion. Yes, it is exciting, breath-taking (literally) and usually very short-lived –as is the coitus that typically follows. This is a phase that eventually succumbs to a more subdued process of self-disrobing before any of the exciting stuff happens.

Part of what drives this frenzied first stage of sexual entanglement is the novelty of exploring each other as new lovers. Where expectation and arousal combine into a highly combustible mixture of erotic adventure, discovery and explosive release. Which can be incredibly exciting while it lasts. However, because its very foundation is based upon the newness of the relationship, it will eventually fade.

My Partner and I have been together for about three and a half years and enjoy an 001extraordinary intimate life that only gets better over time. This is a significant fact because most couples will likely admit that their initial honeymoon period represented the most exciting phase of their physical relationship. One of the reasons that ours continues to achieve new heights of passion and pleasurable fulfillment is that we are constantly exploring what is possible. And, we are always listening to our sensual intuition in this regard.

One intimate ritual we discovered quite by accident and in a spirit of playfulness is the way we undress each other. We do this before we make love, before we take a shower together, before retiring to bed with no thought of sex and as we change clothes our before we go out on the town. In other words, any time it is required that we need to get naked for any reason whatsoever we follow this ritual. And the payoff has been and continues to be enormous for the health and mutual enjoyment of our overall relationship.

Slow, Sensual and Present

We make a point of always being fully present any time we do anything together. This means ridding our minds of distraction, agendas, goals, expectations and simply being there for each other in the moment, the Now. It is within this very sensually fertile environment that we conduct our mutual disrobing ritual.

We usually start out facing each other practically nose-to-nose as we gaze into each other’s eyes in acknowledgement of our mutual love and appreciation. Then we typically start lightly stroking each other’s fully clothed bodies as if our hands needed to first get a lay of the land so-to-speak on what should come off first.

Where we start really doesn’t matter. What does make a difference however is that we slowly and sensually undress each other while in this state of full presence. We find that when we remove a piece of the other’s clothing (which happens simultaneously) and do it very slowly, it builds an enormous amount of sensual energy between us. Just the feel of a blouse or shirt slowly lifting off and lightly rubbing our skin as our Partner does it with full intention while they look longingly at what is being slowly revealed can be almost overwhelmingly powerful. And, that’s a potential trap if you are not careful or being fully present. That’s because this heightened state of arousal can easily devolve into the more frantic shedding which will definitely break the spell.

Once the first of our garments are removed we typically take a while to lightly caress and kiss each other in the exposed areas. This is accompanied by soft, gentle kissing where our lips are barely touching yet megawatts of sensual energy is passing between them. Then we continue the process of slow, thoughtful mutual undressing and caressing / kissing until we are standing together fully nude.

A very, very sexy variation of this that we often apply is when we look in a large mirror observing each other doing this. In these instances, our caressing is often more overtly sexually explorative and designed to ignite our sensual imaginations. Despite the fact that we’ve done this many times, it still gets me extremely hot just thinking about it as I write this.

Granted, not every couple may want to see each other naked in the glaring light of a brightly lit room. If this is the case, then consider turning down the lights or even off. Use your imagination, hands and lips as the tools of exploration as you go through this mutual undressing ritual. In either case, lights on or off, you will find this to be a deeply connecting experience that keeps things fresh (since each time is unique) and juicy.

What if You Don’t Want to have Sex?

Of course, this practically begs the question as to why a couple would bother with this ritual if they have no intention of following it up with sex. And my answer to that is “Why not?”. Consider this for a moment: If you and your partner could do something every time you are together that resulted in re-kindling passion, desire, love and appreciation for each other, why wouldn’t you?

I think women in particular appreciate this kind of sensual gift that doesn’t always have to lead to sex. And guys, this is an important point. It is not uncommon for women to hesitate kissing a long-term partner for fear that he may get the idea she wants sex when in fact she just wants to express love and affection.

002So imagine the impact to your relationship (no matter how many years you’ve been together) if you were to include this ritual even for reasons that did not always end up in having sex (i.e. getting dressed up to go out on the town). By doing so you build an enormous bank account of trust and appreciation within your Partner. And, you are both likely to enjoy each other far more when you do have physical intimacy. Trust me, that buildup of sensual energy lasts a long time. Now granted, this can be difficult to practice if you are always in a hurry. If that is the case, just plan ahead to set aside the time to do it right.

So here’s my challenge to you and your Partner. Incorporate this ritual for the next seven days any time you are both together and your clothes have to come off for any reason whatsoever. And then let me know what that did for your relationship by emailing me directly at contact@MichaelRusserLive.com. I would love to hear from you!

Nothing ventured, nothing gained –and believe me, there is a whole world of intimate adventure to be gained awaiting you both.

Complete Article HERE!

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