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What It’s Really Like To Be A Hands-On Sex Coach

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Celeste & Danielle

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Millions of Americans struggle with sex. We don’t like to talk about our coital troubles, though — so we read Men’s Health and Cosmo in private, hoping that one tip, one magic bullet, will allow us to become sex gods. Maybe sometimes these rapturous new moves work, but more often they lead to disappointment.

So what should you do when you want to be a better lover but don’t have a roadmap of how to get there? Who do you turn to when Hollywood has failed you and x-rated features have filled your head with unrealistic expectations of what sex ought to look like? Sometimes you see a sex therapist or an intimacy coach to talk about your problems. And other times… you need a little bit more. That’s where Celeste Hirschman and Danielle Harel (they’d prefer you just call them Celeste and Danielle) come in. They’re the founders of The Somatica Method, an interactive, experiential approach to sex coaching that helps clients break down emotional barriers connected to sex.

What makes The Somatica Method different than most other forms of sex therapy is that it exists in a place between counseling and sexual surrogacy. While communication is the bedrock of Celeste and Danielle’s practice — because good sex can’t happen without it — the duo also recognizes the importance of the physical realm during sessions, meaning that an appointment with them may include everything from a frank discussion about your sex life to a hands on lesson on how to bite your partner’s neck (they’ll practice with you) or throw them up against the wall (if that’s what you’re both into).

So who should get hands-on sex therapy? Can all of us achieve our dreams of leaving our partners gasping for more? We spoke to Celeste and Danielle about what being a sex coach is really like, what clients can get out of it, and how they handle even the toughest sexual problems.

Sex coaching isn’t just for the sexless.

Picture the type of person you think might seek out a sex coach. Is that person generally happy and healthy? Are they fulfilled in other areas of their lives? Are they already in a relationship? The cultural narrative (and every rom-com that revolves around professionals who helps clients lead better sex lives) suggests that only the strangest, neediest people will pay someone to coach them to be better lovers. That’s simply not true.

Committed couples come in regularly, Danielle tells us. They may seek out services because they have desires that they may not be able to talk about on their own. Or their levels of sexual desire may be vastly different and they want to find a happy medium. And men (both single and partnered) may come in because they’re realizing that being good at sex isn’t all about intercourse.

“Men come in because they want to figure out women,” Danielle says. “They can’t understand their wives or girlfriends or women they want to date and also to overcome physiological challenges including getting hard and controlling their orgasm. They want to be better lovers.”

Women set appointments for different reasons — often to work on pain during sex, to ask for help achieving orgasm, or to talk about low levels of sexual desire. Regardless of the reason, the first step in the Somatica Method is to make sure that no one feels stigmatized.

“There’s already so much shame in our culture about sex,” Celeste tells us. “Even now, when you’re seeing sex everywhere, we still have this underlying idea that sex is dirty or extraneous or unimportant, but the bottom line is we’re all sexual beings. We are wired that way from the beginning, but people have learned that sex is bad from many places. I do feel that we’re raising consciousness around sex and shame and we can see the people we work with get so more relaxed around their sexuality.”

You’re not showing up to have sex.

“When clients first come in we’ll sit and talk for a while to discover their issue,” Danielle tells us. “Then, depending on what the issue is, we’re going to do something experiential in that first session.”

If the word experiential sounds daunting, you may be relieved (or disappointed) to know that it’s much less scary than you think. No one’s going to demand that you undress. Instead, Danielle says, the practitioner may start with deep breathing exercises to get the client to feel more in their body and connect with themselves in a way that ignites erotic energy. Sometimes, the experiential portion of the session may include learning how to make eye contact (terrifying for many) or working on relaxing in sexual situations.

“It could be just talking about their fantasies or what turns them on,” Danielle says. “That’s an experience that so many people have never had in a safe nonjudgemental environment.”

That place of non-judgment is essential to the practice. Because most of us have grown up thinking of sex as something shameful (or only reserved for the very attractive and well-endowed). We forget that all of us are entitled to have good sex and not be ashamed to explore the things that turn us on, whether that be BDSM or 20 minutes in the missionary position.

“A lot of what we bring to the approach,” Celeste says, “is celebratory, fun, and exciting, and we stay away from shaming people’s desires. We are normalizing what they are experiencing in all different areas of sex and desire, which is very helpful as it gives them a different perspective about how they can embrace themselves and transform in the ways they want to.

Here’s how this works: Imagine you’re a dude coming in to work on the issue of premature ejaculation (common! Normal! Will happen at least once to most of us!). The first thing your sex coach will do is demystify the experience and explain that because masturbation is viewed as something shameful that needs to be hidden, many men condition themselves to orgasm as quickly as possible, not recognizing that this kind of pattern will affect their sex lives, and then, when they do involve themselves in romantic situations, they end up not feeling adequate.

“I had this young guy who really thought he was supposed to be able to stay hard and not ejaculate for like an hour,” Danielle laughs. “No, honey, that’s not going to happen like that. It’s not realistic. We do a reality check around that.”

And then the work really begins. Once Celeste and Danielle (they work with clients individually) pinpoint the problem, they’ll teach a client how to slow his or her body down, how to touch, and how to relax and enjoy sexual experiences.

“We see many couples,” Danielle says, “many times one partner says, ‘You have to teach them how to do that, you have to teach her to respond the way you respond.’”

But the sessions are sex-y.

While traditional sexological bodywork is a one-way street when it comes to touch (the practitioner does touch the client’s naked body, often with a glove on), Somatica is different in that the practitioner and the client touch each other. The clothes stay on, but instead of manual touch (just physical training), the client and the therapist work on both sexual and relationship techniques to prepare the client for the real thing.

“You’re learning everything from emotional connection and communication to erotic connection,” Celeste says. “A client could be learning about passion by practicing with us throwing each other up against the wall, or they could be learning about romance with tender, gentle touch. You’re learning different energies of erotic connection but also seduction and how to be more in your body in an erotic way. There’s a huge set of experiential tools we use to help people be fully realized sexually and emotionally in relationships.”

Wait up, throwing each other against walls?

“If you just think about it,” Danielle says, “we have this idea that we’re supposed to know those things and to do them. Spontaneously. How the heck are we going to get that information?”

Only the movies come to mind.

“You know there’s technique to everything.” Danielle continues. “You can really learn how to bring the right energy, you can learn how to say the right words, and touch in a way that’s going to make someone feel arousal and turn on. We see some of it in the movies, but we don’t get the full picture or the ‘How To’ – they cut out so many of the most important aspects of sexual connection.”

Media representations of sex tell us one of two stories: The first features people who, by some preternatural means, have become master lovers. We don’t know how, we don’t know why. We just know they’re good at what they do. They know how to kiss, to nibble on ears, and, yes, even throw each other up against walls in ways that are sexy and dominating without being creepy.

The second story is more awkward: We either see people go from ugly ducklings into sex monsters in a brief montage or we never see them get there at all. They live in a world where sex is awkward and strange but enjoyable with the right person. Celeste and Danielle, however, are trying to tell a third story — the one in which even the most insecure people learn to feel comfortable and confident within their own bodies.

“People think we’re going to do role-play, so it seems like it’s going to feel phony,” Celeste says, “but we show up really authentically. When I’m practicing with somebody I’m Celeste. I’m not practicing, ‘Let’s pretend that I’m so and so.’ It’s a very real, very beautiful connection that we share with our clients.”

That connection helps smooth over any nerves, even when you’re doing something that sounds silly or challenging.

“When you first throw somebody up against the wall, yeah there’s definitely going to be some awkwardness and some laughter,” Celeste continues, “but we practice. When somebody comes into my office, they’re not going to practice it one time. We’re going to do it eight times, ten times. By the end, it’s like, “Whoa, that was really hot, you are sensual and you’re turning me on and it’s super exciting. I think any learning curve can have some awkwardness and discomfort to it but the outcome is so profound and fun that I think people are willing to go through the awkwardness.”

And the coaches do get turned on…

With all this talk about being authentic, we wanted to know the answer to the age-old question when it comes to any kind of work in which sex is involved: Is the practitioner aroused?

Turns out, that’s not just a hazard of the job; it’s the goal.

“The best feedback that we can give clients is our turn on, and we’re not faking it,” Danielle says seriously. “We’re letting ourselves respond authentically and get aroused. We’re teaching them how to seduce us and turn us on because that’s the best learning that they’re going to get, an authentic and real response. They really appreciate it, because men especially, very rarely they get gentle and real feedback that points them in the right direction.”

“I had a client in my office the other day and I was teaching him how to bite the back of my neck,” Celeste adds. “We were taking turns and it was so arousing. I was like, ‘Yay, this is my job.’”

But there are clear limits. Bites on the neck? Appropriate. Erotic touch? Part of the process. Kissing? Celeste and Danielle don’t do that, because it’s important to set boundaries when you’re doing this work. “Besides,” Celeste says, “there are other ways to learn how to be a good kisser.” (Yes, this can sometimes involve practicing on hands.)

Even couples have to keep it PG: “They’re making out and touching each other,” Danielle says. “They can kiss each and they can put their hands underneath each others clothing, stuff that we can’t do with them in session. But they don’t get naked.”

Hey, just more excitement for when they get home.

Speaking of boundaries, they’re a cornerstone of a sex coach’s work.

Sure, part of Celeste and Danielle’s job is to teach clients how to turn them — and others — on in order to benefit the client, but another huge part of their work is making sure that clients understand that relationships have boundaries.

“We have a relationship with our clients and it can be a very strong and beautiful attachment,” Celeste says seriously, “but it still stays within the confines of our practice and the boundaries of the session. We’re not seeing our clients outside of session, not going to dinner or dates with them. You can have this beautiful authentic connection with someone and then support them, encourage them to really go out and find that in their lives as well.”

But that doesn’t mean that all clients are so receptive to these boundaries. Some may not be ready for the type of healing Celeste and Danielle offer, others may become jealous due to the nature of the coaching.

“I think in any coach or therapist’s history there are times when things come up that are particularly challenging within the relationship,” Celeste says. “We try to keep the boundaries and try to make sure everybody’s okay in those relationships, but sometimes things don’t go well. It’s almost impossible when you’re working at this level of intimacy for that not to happen sometimes. Danielle and I always try to repair, whenever repair is possible.”

In fact, Celeste and Danielle say that the hurt and jealousy that client experience — especially when the work gets intense — is another learning experience. As is the reconnection that the pair attempt with their clients after such a rupture. Not only can it lead to more strengthened relationships, but, as Danielle points out, it can help clients understand that being part of a couple isn’t perfect all the time. It’s not about never fighting, she says, it’s about being able to repair and reconnect after conflict arises.

At the end of the day, though (and they’re long days!), Celeste and Danielle can’t imagine doing anything else. “I think being in such deep and intimate connection with so many wonderful people, seeing them grow and transform and seeing their lives get better, is so fulfilling,” Celeste says.

“I like the realness of it,” Danielle adds. “I don’t need to try and pretend that I’m someone else. I can be real in the relationship. I really love that.”

Complete Article HERE!

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LGBTQ kids are missing out on sex education—and it’s up to schools to change that

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Last year, California officially mandated LGBTQ history lessons in public schools, vowing to teach “the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans” and their impact on both the state’s and the country’s history.

This was a victory for LGBTQ rights, because it’s a rarity; in most states—in all but nine to be exact—schools don’t even cover LGBTQ sexuality, let alone queer history.

When surveyed by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), only 12 percent of millennials said they received sexual education material that covered sex between gay partners—even though 20 percent of millennials consider themselves LGBTQ. American sex ed is “primarily or exclusively focused on heterosexual relationships between cisgender people,” according to a different study conducted by Planned Parenthood and the HRC.

This hetero-specific focus creates a multitude of problems for all young people sorting through their anxieties and questions about sex and sexuality. For one, straight students aren’t being forced to acknowledge other sexualities, which can foster bullying and promote a culture of intolerance. For another, a lack of school discussion means most LGBTQ students are being inadvertently told to stay in the closet. And with that messaging, there is the shame and hiding, and then there are the health risks.

Proper safe-sex education is important for all students, and LGBTQ people are no exception: 22 percent of all transgender women are HIV positive, and queer men face a higher risk of contact with HIV or a sexually transmitted disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While ignoring queer students may not be a new phenomenon, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be remedied. And perhaps school districts can start by listening to the stories of queer people who have gone through the country’s lackluster sexual education systems. Through them, activists can learn how to fix such a massive gap in sex education.

This is what the queer sex ed gap looks like

Larissa Glasser, a librarian and writer living in Massachusetts, grew up in the 1980s, an era whose approach to sex ed was based in fear and simple authoritarian phrases like “Don’t do it.” Glasser, whose transgender, obviously couldn’t rely on schools to teach her about queer life.

“I was in public school until fifth grade and we had no sex education whatsoever,” she told the Daily Dot. “This was during the Reagan presidency, so all we ever heard about sex was AIDS as a scare tactic to be abstinent.”

Very little accurate information existed about transgender women outside of schools. Glasser was only exposed to trans people through filmmakers like John Waters and Ralph Bakshi.

“Finally, during the 1990s, trans issues were addressed somewhat respectfully in about 10 percent of the films I saw,” Glasser said. “Then I discovered writers like Jean Genet, Angela Carter, and Hubert Selby Jr., who were willing to portray queer femme sexuality in a somewhat positive light.”

Glasser’s experiences mirror many other LGBTQ students’ struggles. Sophie Searcy grew up miles away in Kentucky during the ’90s and 2000s, attending Catholic school all the way through high school, and she too had virtually no experience with LGBTQ education. Queer and trans sexuality just wasn’t discussed.

“The Catholic system I belonged to had a program called ‘family life,’ which was a religious health and sex education program,” Searcy told the Daily Dot. “Very basic facts about anatomy and puberty were explained in gender-separated rooms. There was no mention of safer sex methods, navigating consent, or any LGBTQ issues whatsoever.”

Searcy knew early on that her church wasn’t LGBTQ-inclusive. But looking back on those early years, she realized that queer people were treated as if they simply didn’t exist at all.

“The class explained sex as exclusively between a man and a woman, as if only heterosexual orientations existed,” Searcy said. “Similar to how the class erased all non-hetero orientations, the class explained gender, sexual development, and sexual intercourse in a way that didn’t even acknowledge the possibility of trans people. Boys had penises, girls have vaginas, boys develop into men, girls develop into women, etc., etc., etc.”

In particularly conservative areas, sexual education isn’t just biased—what it is lacking can induce violence. LGBTQ activist and writer Sarah Bess grew up in southeast Missouri in the 1990s, and she was repeatedly harassed, bullied, and physically assaulted across school districts.

“I was this awkward, autistic, queer kid from the middle of nowhere, so I got picked on a lot,” Bess explained. “I dropped out in the seventh grade because I was getting beat up so much and my home life sucked and I really didn’t care about school.”

Bess’s classes didn’t provide a respite from the attacks. “Being gay wasn’t really mentioned as a possibility in my sex ed classes. The existence of trans people definitely wasn’t acknowledged. There was a lot of fear-mongering about pregnancy and STIs, and that’s mostly what I remember,” Bess explained. “I don’t remember anyone at school even mentioning trans people. Beyond transphobic Jerry Springer and Maury Povich episodes, I don’t think we were on anyone’s radar.”

In one case, her sex education teacher enabled a physical assault.

“My seventh-grade sex ed class was taught by a gym coach who watched two boys beat the shit out of me after school one day,” Bess said. “He just laughed, got in his car and drove off.”

When anti-LGBTQ sentiments take hold in a school, then queer students live in an ongoing state of fear. This not just impedes their education, it can be debilitating for their growth and self-esteem—and it can separate queer people from one another by forcing them to stay hidden. For someone like Bess, this was extremely alienating.

“I was in my late teens the first time I knowingly talked to another trans woman online,” Bess explained. “I was in my twenties before I knowingly met anyone like me in person.”

For others, sex education classes could have possibly saved their lives. A 2014 report published by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the UCLA Williams Institute reveals that suicide attempt rates are particularly high among transgender and gender non-conforming students who face harassment or bullying at school. Through sex education, though, students could have a better understanding of gender transitioning or normalizing queer sexuality. The more that classrooms validate LGBTQ experiences, the more likely students are to treat their fellow classmates with respect.

“Gender was always conflated with assigned sex and body parts,” Searcy said. “It wasn’t that trans people were portrayed as evil or misguided, but that the possibility of being trans was never even acknowledged.”

Then came the internet

So if LGBTQ students aren’t able to learn about their bodies from primary and secondary schools, where do they go for information about queer sexuality? Many turn to the internet.

But the internet is a luxury, one that not everyone is able to access—especially those in previous generations. In Bess’s case, this directly impacted her exposure to trans material.

“I didn’t have consistent internet access for most of my life, so I picked up bits and pieces where and when I could,” she said. “I watched a lot of porn with trans women in it and read a lot of gross forced fem erotica, none of which was very helpful for learning about sex.”

Even when internet access is available, its resources aren’t always helpful. Sometimes they can be damaging.

Shortly after Glasser graduated from library school, she stumbled across a gender transitioning guideline called tsroadmap, also known as “Transsexual & Transgender Road Map.” Glasser felt even worse about herself while using the website, in part because the guide relied on rigid stereotypes and generalizations for trans women. In one case, the site demanded that trans women undergo surgeries in order to properly transition, when many trans people prefer not to undergo permanent surgery.

“It was useful at the time,” she said, “but in hindsight, I think its normativity had a fairly toxic effect on my self-esteem when I was at my most vulnerable point.”

Searcy, on the other hand, saw internet access as a major source for learning more about non-hetero sexuality. Some of her biggest resources for her transitioning were writers who have gained significant prominence thanks to the internet’s impact on the trans community.

“Ultimately, a close friend came out as trans which led me to question my own gender and explore resources on my own,” Searcy said. “Julia Serano and Morgan M Page were particularly helpful, as were Imogen Binnie and Casey Plett.”

So while online resources aren’t exactly perfect, the internet has advanced far enough that it can connect trans and queer people with the online communities they need to learn more about themselves. On Reddit, there are subreddits like /r/asktransgender that let trans people learn about undergoing gender transitioning. Sites like Sites like Keshet and Queer Theology provide resources for religious queer and transgender people. Resources like TJOBBANK host employment listings for LGBTQ folks searching for inclusive workplaces. And services like Discord and Slack allow queer and trans users to create their own closed groups where LGBTQ members can hang out, talk about queer life, or get together and play video games. The internet has changed over time, and that means there are more ways for queer and trans people to meet each other than before.

But it’s unfair to relegate LGBTQ students to the internet for advice, often in secret. It can stall LGBTQ kids from coming out, make trans and queer sexuality feel like a taboo, or send the message that queer and trans life isn’t important enough to understand.

Schools are supposed to provide students with learning opportunities that help young kids grow into productive adults. That’s why third graders learn basic reading comprehension skills, and high schools teach American history (albeit often from a very straight, white, male perspective), and middle schoolers get a whole class dedicated to sex and their bodies—so they can go out into the world informed and prepared.

But if schools leave out LGBTQ sexuality and force queer students to learn on their own time, then those schools are failing at their jobs. Why must the burden be on LGBTQ youth to educate themselves?

The solutions that exist

Casey Plett, author of A Safe Girl to Love, lived in an upper-middle class suburb in Oregon during her high school years. At the time, she enrolled in an “internationally-focused hippie-ish sub-program” that seemed more like “actual sex ed taught by Planned Parenthood.” And yet like Glasser and Searcy, she says, “I cannot recall LGBTQ issues ever coming up. Negatively or positively.”

And as for trans issues? “Ha,” she told the Daily Dot. “No. Zero.”

This was in 2001. But she recognizes things have changed since then. LGBTQ equality has become more mainstream, trans rights have entered the news cycle, and queer sex ed has turned into a serious activist rallying point. Today, she thinks there’s solutions that school districts can take to bring LGBTQ education to kids, instead of forcing them to turn to the internet. That is, if they’re willing to put in the effort.

“There are plenty of gay sexual health resources out there,” Plett said. “I’d get a hold of them, pay them to come, and let them take the wheel. And be open and loving and willing to learn.”

Plett is right. Today, many local LGBTQ organizations host workshops for queer youth, providing the resources students need to learn more about their sexuality. Long Island’s Pride for Youth, for example, facilitates workshops on fighting transphobia and working with LGBTQ youth. Other community centers, such as New York City’s Apicha Community Health Center and the Los Angeles LGBT Center, provide training segments for educators, giving them the skills they need to teach LGBTQ-inclusive material in classrooms. And in recent years, Planned Parenthood has both criticized the lack of LGBTQ sex education in public schools, and begun taking a more LGBTQ-inclusive approach to sex education.

Gender therapists and counselors traditionally host workshops for teens as well, allowing them to explore LGBTQ topics in an affirming environment. And programs like the GSA Network even give students the training they need to host workshops and class sessions that can debunk damaging myths about the queer community.

For those who don’t live in “gay-friendly” metropolitan areas, there are also online resources available for classrooms. TED hosts a variety of TED Talks covering LGBTQ issues, from coming out to helping transgender teens. And many educators host lesson plans and teach-ins that are available for free online, allowing students to engage in queer sex education topics through a vetted workshop environment.

These programs and groups normalize LGBTQ sexuality. Workshops talk frankly and openly about what it means to have sex as a gay or transgender person and provide safe sex education to prevent STIs. They also give educators the training they need not just to respect queer students, but to include LGBTQ topics in future lesson plans. If school districts aren’t sure how to approach queer sexuality, here is where they can start.

“It would have been incredible for me to hear the simple facts that sex is complicated and messy but that there are a few universals that we should consider (consent, safer methods, exploration),” Searcy explained, “or that gender is independent of assigned sex and that it might be helpful to consider if my assigned sex did not fit.”

That’s something echoed by Bess, who knows all too well that many school districts are still avoiding LGBTQ topics in their entirety. She insists that the federal government should take a more active role in protecting LGBTQ youth, especially in areas where people are particularly bigoted toward queer students. Many school districts simply aren’t evolving anywhere near the rate of young people’s attitudes toward sexuality.

“It’s been awhile since I was in school, but it doesn’t seem like things are much better now in the places I grew up,” she explained. “Federal intervention is absolutely necessary to protect queer and trans students and educators, especially in rural school districts.”

Safety is where educators need to start if they want to facilitate an open, tolerant conversation about sex and sexuality. With transgender students under attack through outrageous “bathroom bills” across the U.S. and the Trump administration officially rescinding any federal guidelines for protecting trans youth, state and federal intervention is more important than ever.

For example, in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo officially outlawed all forms of discrimination against transgender people in 2015. Discriminatory fines for “willful, wanton or malicious” discrimination is up to $100,000. Massachusetts offers the Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students, a joint initiative that provides training for school administrators on queer topics and gives students the tools they need to become activists in their school settings.

Fostering change and giving schools a legal incentive to end discrimination is important. Seeing how 42 percent of all queer youth feel their community is not accepting of LGBTQ people, promoting tolerance and opening constructive discussion are the keys to getting there.

Schools teach basic sex education for a reason: Most adults will have sex, and the repercussions of sex are often far-reaching and far-ranging and can be life-changing. But if sex education doesn’t address the current population and the culture, then it’s time for administrators to recognize they’re doing youth a disservice. Making things right could actually save lives.

Complete Article HERE!

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The nitty-gritty of middle-age sex

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‘It’s good to experiment’

By Alana Kirk

If you are drinking your morning coffee while reading this, then perhaps this article should come with a warning. There are going to be phrases that we tend not to discuss much in public such as vaginal dryness, loss of libido and erectile dysfunction. However, they are a natural part of life, and if we want to continue to be active sexual people well into middle age and beyond, then we have to acknowledge and then address them, because turning the trials and tribulations of middle-age sex into the joy of sex is not difficult.

Sex is important to all of us, regardless of age. Not only is it excellent for getting the blood pumping and putting a youthful spring in your step, it has a number of other benefits too, such as reducing stress, strengthening your immune system, boosting self-esteem, and relieving depression.

The famous manual, The Joy of Sex, still has some salient advice for middle- aged and older people even though it was written nearly 50 years ago. It’s author Alex Comfort wrote: “The things that stop you enjoying sex in an old age are the same things that stop you from riding a bicycle – bad health, thinking it’s silly and no bicycle”.

Well, we can pump up a flat tyre, add some lubricating oil, and still be having sexual enjoyment with no partner. As recent research has shown, and despite an ageist societal view on the topic, our sexuality doesn’t die with middle and growing age. Our sexual needs and levels evolve and change over the years, and the particular issues that might arise from menopause, for example, do not mean we should give up on it. We just need to learn to adapt.

Emily Power Smith may be Ireland’s only clinical sexologist, and talks to large numbers of middle-aged women in her clinics and at talks around the country. “I’ve spoken and written more on this topic than any other related to sex, and the main driver for women coming to me with an issue is poor education. Generally women are very misinformed about what they should be expecting and are very quick to blame themselves.”

If we look at sexual activity as a life-long issue, there can be plenty of interruptions to the normal flow, including illness, childbirth and child rearing, loss of confidence, menopause, and hormonal fluctuations. Low libido, erectile dysfunction, and vaginal dryness are all just normal challenges that can affect our sexual lives, but importantly, ones that can be easily addressed.

“We do specific menopause consultations and counselling for women who start experiencing changes and want to know that they are a normal part of the ageing process,” says Dr Shirley McQuade, medical director of the Dublin Well Woman Centre. “Many women come in with a specific symptom thinking it’s all over, but in fact nearly all issues can be addressed. You just need to realise that your, and your partner’s body changes.”

So what are the main issues and what can be done about them?

Peri-menopausal symptoms

Menopause can effect every aspect of your being, and symptoms including hot flushes, not sleeping, and poor concentration levels, can affect how you feel about yourself.

“Hormonal changes can mean your libido and sex drive go, as well and the emotional havoc they can play,” explains Dr McQuaid. Mood swings, empty nest syndrome, trying teenagers, or work/life balance can weigh in to make us feel less than energetic about sex.

“It is really important to take the time for yourself when you are peri-menopausal, to take stock and adjust to the changes that are happening. I see lots of women who have reached senior career level or have lots of people depend on them and it can be difficult because they feel overwhelmed and aren’t giving enough time to themselves to deal with how they feel.”

The advice is to take pressure off yourself, and try and cull some of the responsibilities. Exercise, eat and sleep well and acknowledge that you can seek help if you need it. “I’ve seen women go to cardiologists because they think they have heart problems when they wake up sweating in the night, or go to rheumatologists with joint pain, when in fact they are just the symptoms of hormonal change.”

Hormone Replacement Therapy

HRT is a common treatment for women who are suffering from continued and difficult symptoms, and it only takes two or three weeks to find out if it will work for you. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NicE) in their 2015 recommendations, the benefits of HRT, available in tablet form, gels, and patches far outweigh any risks.

According to Dr McQuaid, it is a positive option to take. “About 15 years ago there were scares about risks relating to heart disease and cancer, but the studies were seriously flawed. For women who take it through their 50s, the benefits are significant.”

HRT is available for as long as your symptoms last, with the average duration being eight years. Despite scaremongering to the contrary, there are no withdrawal symptoms or problems when you stop taking the drug, as long as you leave it long enough for your natural menopause to conclude. HRT masks the symptoms, so if you stop before they have fully receded, they will return.

Not all women experience menopausal symptoms, and for women who do, they do eventually pass.

Vaginal dryness

It is completely normal for most women in menopause to experience dryness. The drop in your body’s oestrogen levels means the vaginal membranes become thinner and drier which can makes for uncomfortable dryness. As a result, thrush and Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) are also more common. Lubrication is widely available and will transform your sexual experience if dryness is a problem. Dr McQuaid also recommends treating the underlying issue rather than just the symptom. A prescription product, licensed in Ireland as Vagifem, provides low levels of oestrogen to the local area, and if taken over the longer term can alleviate all symptoms of dryness. Regular sexual activity or stimulation from masturbation also promotes vaginal health and blood flow.

Erectile dysfunction

For men who may identify their every maleness with work and sexual ability, a lowering of libido or erectile dysfunction can be catastrophic. However, accepting that this will happen occasionally, and seeing it a normal part of the ageing process and hormonal changes may encourage them to seek help. The advice is to go to your GP to get checked out to make sure erectile dysfunction is not related to vascular changes and bold pressure / diabetes, and then again there is a simple medication solution.

Painful intercourse

Again this can be a common change in sexual experience, usually due to vaginal dryness. However, other reasons could be a prolapse of the uterus or front wall of vagina which can cause discomfort, so the first port of call for any pain is to get examined by your GP or at the Well Women clinics. All issues can be addressed with medication or procedures.

Heavy periods

A common complaint for women entering peri-menopause is very heavy periods, which are caused by the womb being uncomfortable and bulky. Some women from the age of 40 develop fibroids which make the womb heavier and along with hormonal fluctuations, combine to make structural and hormonal changes that affect the flow of periods. Some women have low iron levels, because heavy periods are the main reason for low iron which makes you tired, so it’s important to keep a medical check on your body while going through the menopause.

Traditionally this was often treated by a hysterectomy, whereas today women can access the pill or coil. All countries where the coil has been introduced have seen a significant reduction in hysterectomy operations.

Change of mind

Addressing specific symptoms is only one way of evolving our sexual lives. Changing the way we have sex is another. “I meet women who have only ever used one position, and now that that proves painful they are at a loss,” explains Dr McQuaid. “It’s useful to experiment and change. It’s more interesting too!”

What we need to remember is that sex is not just about intercourse. There is a variety of sensual, loving, exciting activities that can bring joy and satisfaction. For women experiencing menopause especially, they might need and want more touching and foreplay than before, but after years of marriage, it can be more difficult to change. Asking for what you need is important. Tantric sex – slightly ridiculed in the press after Sting and Trudie Styler admitted to it – is encouraged by many counsellors as it focuses on the sensual intimacy rather than an orgasmic goal.

Whatever the issue with sex may be, Dr McQuaid advises you start with a medical to check to make sure everything is okay. Once that is done, it’s just about dealing with specific issues. “I’ve had a 78-year-old woman come to me recently having a little bit of trouble because her partner has been given Viagra. So she went on Vagifem and has no more problems,” says McQuaid. “I have lots of women come to us for help and they’re happy and healthy and they certainly don’t stop having a sex life. Nor should they.”

Psychologically however, it is also important to rise above the social conditioning that we lose our sexiness as we get older. “There is just no scientific evidence to back this up,” explains Power Smith. “Irish women are very quick to blame themselves and feel guilty for not being better, not feeling enough or good enough. In part we are brought up to feel this way with magazines and media, and then when middle age hits, physical things happen to compound that.” She has three golden rules for women in their middle age with regards to keeping their sex lives healthy and functioning: masturbation, lubrication and communication.

So while the number of potential causes of sexual changes and challenges during menopause and middle ageing can seem overwhelming, there are just as many strategies and treatments for overcoming them.

You can go back to drinking your coffee now.

Complete Article HERE!

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Study: Sexual Harassment, Misogyny Prevalent Among Young People

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Teenagers and young adults often experience misogyny and sexual harassment in their relationships, according to a new report from Harvard University. The report found many adults are highly concerned about “hookup culture,” causing them to neglect more prevalent concerns among young people.

Report Highlights Relationship Concerns Among Young People

The study is part of the Making Caring Common project, a project dedicated to nurturing responsible, justice-oriented young people. Dr. Richard Weissbourd, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, directs the program. He is also the study’s lead author.

Weissbourd and his colleagues drew upon more than 3,000 formal and unstructured interviews with teens and young people across the country. The interviews uncovered some trends:

  • Sexual assault among young people is high, but parents and educators often fail to discuss consent-related issues. Sixty-one percent of survey participants ages 18-25 said their parents had never discussed ensuring their partners wanted to have sex. More than half (56%) said their parents had failed to highlight the importance of not pressuring another person into sex, and 49% said their parents had not encouraged them to ensure they were comfortable before having sex.
  • Young people reported feeling unprepared for lasting romantic relationships, and many were anxious about developing them. Seventy percent said they wish their parents had provided them with more information about this topic.
  • Gendered discrimination and sexual harassment are highly prevalent among young people. Eighty-seven percent of women reported experiencing sexual harassment. Yet, many young people reported being untroubled by gendered harassment. Forty-eight percent agreed with or were neutral about the notion that “society has reached a point that there is no more double standard against women.” One in three men and 22% of women said they thought men should dominate romantic relationships.

Lack of Meaningful Discussion Between Adults and Teens

The survey found adults consistently fail to address the topics that most frequently and harmfully affect young people. For example, 76% of participants said their parents had never discussed with them how to avoid sexually harassing others. When parents did discuss topics such as sexual consent, respondents said those discussions wielded significant influence.

Both teen and adult respondents expressed excessive worry about “hookup culture.” Research suggests hookups are not as pervasive among young people as many adults believe. However, myths about hookup culture can pressure young people into sex before they feel ready. Teens and young adults may also feel shame and embarrassment.

The study’s authors urge parents, educators, and other adults to be ready to respectfully and frankly discuss the issues that most frequently affect young people. They highlight the need to educate teens about respectful relationships, move beyond clichés and platitudes, intervene when they witness degrading behavior, and openly discuss what it means to ethically handle romantic relationships.

Complete Article HERE!

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Sexuality education for parents of young people with Down Syndrome

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By Kim Cavill

When I first started teaching sexuality education, I focused on people with disabilities, the parents and carers of people with disabilities, and professionals who worked with people with disabilities. I truly loved my work. When I moved back to the United States, I attempted to bring that work with me, pitching various disability support organizations around Chicago to teach sexuality education. The best response I got was…let’s call it polite disinterest.

That is why my heart leapt when I heard about Katie Frank, who works at the Adult Down Syndrome Center in Park Ridge, and she was kind enough to spend an hour with me to talk about her work in sexuality education for parents of young adults with Down Syndrome.

Katie has a PhD in Disability Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where her dissertation was “Parents as the Primary Sexuality Educators for their Adolescents with Down Syndrome.” She has been the primary investigator on multiple research studies including individuals with DS and/or their families, and has had her work published in peer reviewed journals. I spoke to her about sexuality education for parents of young people with Down Syndrome.

I asked Katie where she usually starts with parents and carers of young people with Down Syndrome in regard to sexuality education. She said she likes to start with questions. Parents tentatively bring up the subject of sexuality education for many different reasons. Rather than make assumptions, Katie seeks out more information by asking questions like, “Why are you thinking about this right now?” Parents’ answers range from issues around public vs private behaviors, to discomfort with self-stimulation. Others do not how to respond when their child declares an intention to get married. Despite the wide variety of circumstances that lead families to Katie, research shows that most parents avoid these conversations because they’re scared, and understandably so. Katie reassures parents that sexuality education is not just about sex. In fact, many times, it is not about sex at all. Frequently it’s about dating, relationship skills, needs for companionship, or general life goals. She also tells parents that sexuality education is not just a one-time conversation, but rather a habitual use of teachable moments to both gauge and add to a young person’s understanding.

Katie says that parents, not educators, should be the primary teachers of sexuality education. For many young people with Down Syndrome, schools and supportive service agencies are ill-equipped to teach sexuality education in a way that is tailored to individual understanding and learning needs. If a young person with Down Syndrome is in an inclusive classroom, the material is not necessarily presented in a way that maximizes their understanding. If a young person is in a special education room, the teacher is highly unlikely to be even the least bit comfortable teaching sexuality education. Therefore, Katie believes that parents are best positioned to be the primary teachers of sexuality education for their children.

So, where should parents start? Katie directed me to many helpful resources, which you can find here. Some of those resources include books written by the incomparable Terri Couwenhoven. The Adult Down Syndrome Center also offers in-person services for qualifying families. These services include monthly social skills workshops on topics like friendship, dating, and social awareness. The center also offers health services and consultations.

Katie is currently running a research study at the center for family-based sexuality education training for parents of young adults with Down Syndrome. The training is free for parents of young adults (ages 20-30) with Down Syndrome. The study will investigate the effectiveness of a family-based sexuality curriculum for parents of young adults with Down Syndrome. So far, Katie is pleased with the results of the study, which measures improvement in self-efficacy and attitudes around sexuality and healthy relationships, as well as increases in parent-child communication on sexuality-related topics. Participants must be able to communicate in English and be available to meet three times over a four week time frame for three hours (9 AM – 12 PM). A follow-up survey must be completed one month after the final training. It is offered at the Adult Down Syndrome Center in Park Ridge, IL, and there are several date options available through the summer and early fall (of 2017). Please contact Katie, or call 847-318-2303, if you are interested in participating.

When I worked in sexuality education for people with disabilities, many asked me why my job existed at all, implying that people with disabilities have no need for this information. That is simply untrue. Sexuality education includes information about puberty, social expectations, relationship skills, what is/is not legally permitted, body autonomy, and risk-management. Those topics are relevant to all human beings, regardless of whether they are typically-developing or not. The mechanisms for delivering that information and the level of detail required are the only things that change. I was very grateful to meet Katie, who is doing the important work of making sure families have access to the information and services they require to live healthy, fulfilled lives on their own terms.

Though I wish I could summarize all of Katie’s insight from the fascinating hour we spent together, I can at least leave you with this:

“None of us knows all the answers to all the questions, which is why we all must learn to keep asking.” – Katie Frank

Complete Article HERE!

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