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Caught in the modesty bind: Why women feel shy to consult doctors for their sexual well-being

By Aditi Mallick

“I was 17, when I first got sexually intimate with my boyfriend,” says Kriya (name changed), a 23-year-old IT professional from Hyderabad, while speaking to The News Minute.

“Later we were very scared, as it was the first time for both of us,” she recalls. She missed her periods that month. The 17-year old who had never once been to hospital alone, was scared and unsure of what to do next.

Trying to glean more information online just added to her worry over getting pregnant. Finally she discussed the issue with her boyfriend, and both of them decided to consult a gynaecologist.

“I was already very scared. After I told the receptionist my age, she kept staring at me. It made me so uncomfortable. While other patients were called by name, when it was my turn, she said ‘Aey, hello.…go!’ I felt so bad.

I expected at least the doctor to act sensitive. She first asked me what happened. When I told her, she started lecturing to me about our culture, and how young I am. It was a horrible experience. After the check-up, once I reached home, I burst out crying,” she shares.

From then on, Kriya has always felt too scared to discuss any sexual health problem with a gynaecologist. She is now 23, but in her view, nothing much has changed.

“Last month, I had rashes all over my vagina right up to my thigh. I just could not walk. It was painful. In the beginning, I used anti-allergic medication and antiseptic cream. But I was finally forced to go to a doctor. But even this time, I was ill-prepared for those weird looks.

The receptionist first asked for my name, then my husband’s name. For a moment, I panicked. After a pause I said, I am unmarried.”

Kriya feels that such unnecessary queries have nothing to do with a particular health problem and should not be asked: “We are adults and should not be judged for such things. After all, it is my decision. But society does not think so.”

Dr Kalpana Sringra, a Hyderabad-based sexologist agrees:“Doctors should not interfere in a patient’s personal life. But sadly, some do. A few are open-minded. They do not care whether the patient is married or not. We do at times have to ask about how frequently they have sex to ascertain the cause.”

Kalpana believes the rigid cultural restrictions and undue secrecy about anything related to sex are what makes patients uncomfortable sharing sexual health issues with their doctors.

Prapti (name changed), a 21-year old second year engineering student says: “Ï had  quite a few relationships, and faced initial problems like bleeding and pain during sex. I sometimes lose interest while having sex, due to this immense pain in the vagina.”

But she does not want to consult a doctor: “I prefer advice from friends. At least, they will not judge me.” She remembers the time she had to consult a doctor two years ago, when after having sex, the pain persisted for a whole day.

“The doctor did not even try to explain the reason. I kept asking her whether it was anything serious. But she deliberately chose to ignore me. Later I heard her murmur ‘this generation….uff’! When I shared this with my friends, I realised they too had been in similar situations.

According to Kalpana, only ten percent women come forward to consult a doctor for sexual well-being, of which the majority are planning to get married soon and want to get themselves checked for infection and related advice.

No woman ever goes to the doctor for this, unless it is absolutely avoidable. Not just unmarried women, but even married ones are ignorant in this regard. Young unmarried women are only more hesitant to ask or seek medical help, fearing society and parents, she says.

“Both married and unmarried women are not comfortable. They mostly come with their partners. To make them feel comfortable, we talk to the women alone. After a while, they open up about their problems.”

She also claims that 20% of women who suffer from vaginal infection like UTI and rashes after marriage too feel shy to discuss it with the doctor: “Men seem more comfortable discussing their sexual problems. 90% of our patients are men. But they tend to come alone.”

That was not the case with Jayesh (name changed), a 27-year old. He used to earlier hesitate to talk about his sexual health: “It was only a year back that I consulted a doctor for premature ejaculation, something that I suffered from the age of 23. I used to think if my friends get to know, they would make fun of me.”

The common issues that men in the age group of 18-80 are premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction. “Most men confess that they force their wives to use contraceptive pills, as they do not want to wear condoms,” Kalpana says.

Gaurav (name changed), a 29-yearold unmarried man insists that he has never forced his girlfriend to use contraceptive pills, but they do sometimes prefer pills over condoms.

Gaurav who is sexually active does not feel ashamed or uncomfortable consulting a doctor, but that is not the case with his girlfriend: “Four years back, she once started bleeding after we had sex. Honestly, I was clueless how to handle the situation and whom to contact. We did not go the doctor, fearing prejudice.

My girlfriend is not at all comfortable consulting a doctor. She usually avoids going to a gynaecologist, as they ask whether we are married or not. It makes her uncomfortable. It happened a few times with us in Hyderabad. That’s why sometimes she prefers to use emergency contraceptive pills rather than consult a doctor.”

“Sex jokes are allowed, but people are otherwise shy talking about sex. Parents do not talk freely on the topic. It is still a taboo for Indian society,” Gaurav remarks.

When Preeti (name changed) -who is now doing an event management course- was in her final BCom year, she led an active sex life:

“I went for a party and got drunk. That night my friend and I had sex. I did not then realise that we had forgotten to use a condom. After missing my periods, I freaked out. I was confused and went to see a doctor. They first asked if I was married. I lied.”

She also admits to feeling uncomfortable while buying I-pills, condoms or pregnancy test devices: “Once a medical shopkeeper asked whether it was for me, with those around giving me judgmental looks.”

Fearing societal disapproval, several unmarried women tend to take medications, after consulting the internet.

“They go to medical stores or send their partners to buy medicines without consulting a doctor. Emergency contraceptive pills have several side-effects like, dizziness, vomiting etc. Some even try to abort through pills, which is life-threatening and can affect their health in the long run,” warns Kalpana.

Complete Article HERE!

Staying Married Through a Gender Transition

“Sometimes I see myself as a lesbian, and sometimes I don’t.”

By Evan Urquhart

Six years ago, Cassie and I met and began dating as lesbians. At the time, I didn’t know I was transgender. Then about two years ago, just nine months after we were married, I told her I thought I might want to transition and live as a man. It’s hard to overstate how difficult this was for us at first, but we stuck with one another and managed to preserve our marriage. I spoke with Cassie about staying together, and about being a lesbian (or maybe not) in a relationship with a trans man.

Think back to when I first told you I thought I might want to transition. What was your initial reaction?

When you first told me, I was surprised by how angry I was. I mean, you weren’t my first experience with a trans person. I’ve had a number of friends come out, and it’s never been hard to adjust. Plus, I was in the queer dorm at UMass, and many of the kids I lived with were trans. I always figured I was well prepared for the possibility of a romantic partner coming out. I didn’t know what I’d do, exactly, but I didn’t think I’d be angry. But when you told me, I don’t know … We were trying to get me pregnant at the time, and all I could think was that you were fucking up my adorable little lesbian life.

I wasn’t!

I know. It just felt like you were. I know that’s unfair, but it’s true. I was also angry at myself, because I wasn’t actually that surprised by the news. There was no way I could convince myself that it was just a passing thought. I knew it wasn’t. We’d talked about your gender in the past, and I told you I thought you had some issues to work out. We had so many conversations about how you thought every woman would want to be a man if they could, and I would tell you, no, I wouldn’t want that, and you wouldn’t believe me. It was frustrating, but I forgave it, because I sensed you had some internal issues to work out. But I guess what I thought (or maybe hoped) was that one day you’d recognize a sort of queerness in yourself and stop arguing with me about my own gender, not that you would go full-on with testosterone, surgery, changing your name, everything. Now I tell people I have a husband.

It’s been really tough. How do you think we’ve managed to stay together?

A lot of things. I think I was scared at first because I didn’t think I’d end up breaking up with you. We’re so compatible in so many ways. Part of me was afraid that your personality would change so much I’d not want to be with you, but I didn’t really think that I would leave.

You felt trapped?

Marriage is a trap. That’s a weird question.

Argh. My nonjudgmental leading questions don’t work on you—you’re on to me. What eventually made it OK, when at first it didn’t feel OK?

We talked a lot, all the time, about everything. Even when it was hard, we hashed things out rather than ignoring them. And should I talk about the open relationship? We opened things up, as we’d done before, but I think it was especially important in this case.

The release valve. Not feeling like you’d never be with a woman again. Being able to explore other relationships with other people without ending everything we had to do it.

Something like that.

Do you still consider yourself a lesbian?

Oh, geez. We’re jumping to that question now?

It seemed relevant.

Sometimes I see myself as a lesbian, and sometimes I don’t. Part of me thinks it’s wrong to consider myself a lesbian because if I do, and I remain in a relationship with a trans guy, or even admit attraction, on a certain level, to any other trans guys, I’m effectively invalidating their gender. That said, coming out to myself was such an important thing for me. It made so much about myself make sense, not just who I was attracted to but my personality and how I interacted with the world. It made me so much happier. I don’t want to let that go.

I always said I didn’t have the power to unilaterally change your orientation.

Right, but your transition did make me think about my sexuality in a different way. A number of different people that I’ve been attracted to, whether I dated them or not, were people I thought at the time were cis women who came out later as trans men. If it was really just you, well, you could be the exception. You could be grandfathered in. But I feel like it might say something about me—about the sort of people I like—that you’re not the only one.

I’ve always butted heads a little with the lesbian community, anyway. But at the same time I feel like that’s part of what it means to be a lesbian, to butt heads with the lesbian community. I once got into a fight with a girl who said I wasn’t a real lesbian because of what I was wearing. I got kicked off a lesbian forum for saying I thought you could still be a lesbian if you had enjoyed sex with a penis, even once. God forbid.

This reminds me, we’ve been talking about trans men, but what about trans women? Are you attracted to trans women? Have you ever been with a trans woman? Do you think you can be with trans women and still be a “real lesbian”?

Yeah, I’ve been attracted to and been with trans women. I know it’s a point of contention for some people, but I think that’s silly. At least for me, if I’m hanging out, flirting, feeling attraction and chemistry with someone, then there’s a good chance I’m going to enjoy having sex with that person if I get the chance. I guess if you’re only attracted to genitals, that could be more limiting, depending on the specifics, but I feel like you’re probably having pretty boring sex. Maybe I’m wrong, and to each their own, but it’s not an issue for me. And I kind of suspect it would be less of an issue for other people than they think, but they just don’t want to think about it.

So, my being a trans man was more of a threat to your sexuality than your being attracted to a trans woman was.

Yeah. I’m really not worried at all about sometimes being attracted to trans women.

Talk about my physical changes, and how you feel about them.

Well, it’s better now that you’ve come out of the weird little hole you were in. You were spending all your time on Reddit or in the other room, alone, doing God knows what. You acted so weird at first, so totally in your head about things. You never wanted to have sex, and having a conversation with you was like pulling teeth. I was more annoyed with that than anything. The actual changes didn’t bother me as much as I’d feared. I guess they’ve been gradual enough it’s been easy to get used to. But then you’d do things like repeat the same phrase three times in a slightly deeper voice, and I just had no patience for it. I was finishing a master’s degree and dealing with infertility, and I didn’t have time for your issues.

And I’ve settled down now?

Definitely. We’re about back to normal, I’d say. I’ve settled, too. At this point I’m just kind of embarrassed by how I reacted early on. I think that once I just chilled out and accepted your transition as what was happening, and as a good thing for you, our relationship could just be what it was. No pressure. We started getting closer again, and you started relaxing. Plus, we had a friend at the time, a trans girl, who helped a lot.

Because she was very political.

She was very no-nonsense. She handed you a trans pride flag at the pride parade when you were still only partially out. I’ll never forget the look on your face when that happened. She also started using male pronouns for you and calling you Evan and told me to just get over it. And I did. Probably in part because I liked her, and I didn’t want her to think I was mean. But still, it helped.

So, how are things now for our relationship?

They’re really good. I mean, there are no guarantees. Changes are still happening, and I’m sure we’ll have some ups and downs in the future. I don’t want to jinx anything. But we’re connecting again, we’re having sex again, and sometimes when someone from your family forgets and uses your old name, I have a moment where I’m not even sure who they’re talking about. You’re just my Evan. It works.

And, how do you feel about your sexuality?

I think I still see myself as a lesbian in a lot of ways, and I don’t know if I’ll ever completely change that, but I’ve been referring to myself as queer more often, and I like that as a compromise. I feel like that word fits me pretty well, and maybe I’ll ease into using it completely in the future. But right now I’m not completely over thinking of myself as a lesbian, especially since I’m still generally more attracted to women.

Complete Article HERE!

Women with HIV, after years of isolation, coming out of shadows

Patti Radigan kisses daughter Angelica after a memorial in San Francisco’s Castro to remember those who died of AIDS.

By Erin Allday

Anita Schools wakes at dawn most days, though she usually lazes in bed, watching videos on her phone, until she has to get up to take the HIV meds that keep her alive. The morning solitude ends abruptly when her granddaughter bursts in and they curl up, bonding over graham crackers.

Schools, 59, lives in Emeryville near the foot of the Bay Bridge, walking distance from a Nordstrom Rack and other big chain stores she can’t afford. Off and on since April, her granddaughter has lived there too, sleeping on a blow-up mattress with Schools’ daughter and son-in-law and another grandchild.

Five is too many for the one-bedroom apartment. But they’re family. They kept her going during the worst times, and that she can help them now is a blessing.

Nearly 20 years ago, when Schools was diagnosed with HIV, it was her daughter Bonnie — then 12 and living in foster care — who gave her hope, saying, “Mama, you don’t have to worry. You’re not going to die, you’re going to be able to live a long, long time.”

“It was her that gave me the push and the courage to keep on,” Schools said.

She had contracted HIV from a man who’d been in jail, who beat her repeatedly until she fled. By then she’d already left another abusive relationship and lost all four of her daughters to child protective services. HIV was just one more burden.

At the time, the disease was a death sentence. That Schools is still here — helping her family, getting to know her grandchildren — is wonderful, she said. But for her, as with tens of thousands of others who have lived two decades or more with HIV, survival comes with its own hardships.

Gay men made up the bulk of the casualties of the early AIDS epidemic, and as the male survivors grow older, they’re dealing with profound complications, including physical and mental health problems. But the women have their own loads to bear.

Whereas gay men were at risk simply by being gay, women often were infected through intravenous drug use or sex work, or by male partners who lied about having unsafe sex with other men. The same issues that put them at risk for HIV made their very survival a challenge.

Today, many women like Schools who are long-term survivors cope with challenges caused or compounded by HIV: financial and housing insecurity, depression and anxiety, physical disability and emotional isolation.

“We’re talking about mostly women of color, living in poverty,” said Naina Khanna, executive director of Oakland’s Positive Women’s Network, a national advocacy group for women with HIV. “And there’s not really a social safety net for them. Gay men diagnosed with HIV already historically had a built-in community to lean on. Women tend to be more isolated around their diagnosis.”

There are far fewer women aging with HIV than men. In San Francisco, nearly 10,000 people age 50 or older are living with HIV; about 500 are women. Not all women survivors have histories of trauma and abuse, of course, and many have done well in spite of their diagnosis.

But studies have found that women with HIV are more than twice as likely as the average American woman to have suffered domestic violence. They have higher rates of mental illness and substance abuse.

What keeps them going now, decades after their diagnoses, varies widely. For some, connections with their families, especially their now-adult children, are critical. For others, HIV advocacy work keeps them motivated and hopeful.

Patti Radigan (righ) instructs daughter Angelica and Angelica’s boyfriend, Jayson Cabanas, on preparing green beans for Thanksgiving while Roman Tom Pierce, 8, watches.

Patti Radigan was living in a cardboard box on South Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco when she tested positive in 1992. By then, she’d lost her husband to a heart attack while a young mother, and not long after that she lost her daughter, too, when her drug use got out of control and her sister-in-law took in the child.

She turned to prostitution in the late 1980s to support a heroin addiction. She’d heard of HIV by then and knew it was deadly. She’d seen people on the streets in the Mission where she worked, wasting away and then disappearing altogether. But she still thought of it as something that affected gay men, not women, even those living on the margins.

Women then, and now, were much more likely than men to contract HIV from intravenous drug use rather than sex — though in Radigan’s case, it could have been either. IV drug use is the cause of transmission for nearly half of all women, according to San Francisco public health reports. It’s the cause for less than 20 percent for men.

Still, when Radigan finally got tested, it wasn’t because she was worried she might be positive, but because the clinic was offering subjects $20. She needed the cash for drugs.

She was scared enough after the diagnosis — and then she got pregnant. It was the early 1990s, and HIV experts at UCSF were just starting to believe they could finesse women through pregnancy and help them deliver healthy babies. Today, it’s widely understood that women with HIV can safely have children; San Francisco hasn’t seen a baby born with HIV since 2004.

But in the 1990s, getting pregnant was considered selfish — even if the baby survived, its mother most certainly wouldn’t live long enough to raise her. For women infected at the time, having children was something else they had to give up.

And so Radigan had an abortion. But she got pregnant again in 1995, and she was desperate to have this child. She was living by then with 10 gay men in a boarding house for recovering addicts. Bracing herself for an onslaught of criticism, she told her housemates. First they were quiet, then someone yelled, “Oh my God, we’re having a baby!”

“It was like having 10 big brothers,” Radigan said, smiling at the memory. Buoyed by their support, she kept the pregnancy and had a healthy girl.

Radigan is 59 now; her daughter, Angelica Tom, is 20. They both live in San Francisco after moving to the East Coast for a while. It was because of her daughter that Radigan stayed sober, that she consistently took her meds, and that she went back to school to tend to her future.

For a long time she told people she just wanted to live long enough to see her daughter graduate high school. Now her daughter is in art school and Radigan is healthy enough to hold a part-time job, to lead yoga classes on weekends, to go out with friends for a Friday night concert.

“Because of HIV, I thought I was never going to do a lot of things,” Radigan said. “The universe is aligning for me. And now I feel like I deserve it. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I deserved anything.”

Anita Schools, who says she is most troubled by finances, listens to an HIV-positive woman speak about her experiences and fears at an Oakland support group that Schools organized.

Anita Schools got tested for HIV because her ex-boyfriend kept telling her she should. That should have been a warning sign, she knows now.

She was first diagnosed in 1998 at a neighborhood clinic in Oakland, but it took two more tests at San Francisco General Hospital for her to accept she was positive. People told her that HIV wasn’t necessarily fatal, but she had trouble believing she was going to live. All she could think was, “Why me? What did I do?”

It was only after her daughter Bonnie reassured her that Schools started to think beyond the immediate anxiety and anger. She joined a support group for HIV-positive women, finding comfort in their stories and shared experiences. Ten years later, she was leading her own group.

She’s never had problems with drugs or alcohol, and she has a network of friends and family for emotional support, she said. Even the HIV hasn’t hit her too hard, physically, though the drugs to treat it have attacked her kidneys, leaving her ill and fatigued.

Like so many of the women she advises in her support group, Schools is most troubled by her finances. She gets by on Social Security and has bounced among Section 8 housing all over the Bay Area for most of her adult life.

Schools’ current apartment is supposed to be permanent, but she worries she could lose it if her daughter’s family stays with her too long. So earlier this month they moved out and are now sleeping in homeless shelters or, some nights, in their car. She hates letting them leave but doesn’t feel she has any other choice.

Reports show that women with HIV are far more likely to live in poverty than men. Khanna, with the Positive Women’s Network, said surveys of her members found that 85 percent make less than $25,000 a year, and roughly half take home less than $10,000.

Schools can’t always afford the bus or BART tickets she needs to get to doctor appointments and support group meetings, relying instead on rides from friends — or sometimes skipping events altogether. She gets her food primarily from food banks. Her wardrobe is dominated by T-shirts she gets from the HIV organizations with which she volunteers.

“With Social Security, $889 a month, that ain’t enough,” Schools said. “You got to pay your rent, and then PG&E, and then you got to pay your cell phone, buy clothes — it’s all hard.”

At a time when other women her age might be thinking about retirement or at least slowing down, advocacy work has taken over Schools’ life. She speaks out for women with HIV and their needs, demanding financial and health resources for them. In her support group and at AIDS conferences, she offers her story of survival as a sort of jagged road map for other women struggling to navigate the complex warren of services they’ll need to get by.

The work gives her confidence and purpose. She feels she can directly influence women’s lives in a way that seemed beyond her when she was young, unemployed and directionless.

“As long as I’m getting help and support,” Schools said, “I want to help other women — help them get somewhere.”

Billie Cooper is tall and striking, loud and brash. Her makeup is polished, her nails flawless. She is, she says with a booming laugh that makes heads turn, “the ultimate senior woman.”

For Cooper, 58, HIV was transformative. Like Radigan, she had to find her way out from under addiction and prostitution to get healthy, and stay healthy. Like Schools, she came to understand the importance of role-modeling and advocacy.

Cooper arrived in San Francisco in the summer of 1980 — almost a year to the day before the first reports of HIV surfaced in the United States. She was fresh out of the Navy and eager to explore her gender identity and sexuality in San Francisco’s burgeoning gay and transgender communities.

Growing up in Philadelphia, she’d known she was different from the boys around her, though it was decades before she found the language to express it and identified as a transgender woman. But seeing the “divas on Post Street, the ladies in the Tenderloin, the transsexual women prostituting on Eddy” — Cooper was awestruck.

She slipped quickly into prostitution and drug use. When she tested positive in 1985, she wasn’t surprised and barely wasted a thought worrying about what it meant for her future — or whether she’d have any future at all.

“I felt as though I still had to keep it moving,” Cooper said. “I didn’t slow down and cry or nothing.”

Transgender women have always been at heightened risk of HIV. Some studies have found that more than 1 in 5 transgender women is infected, and today about 340 HIV-positive trans women live in San Francisco.

What makes them more vulnerable is complicated. Trans women often have less access to health care and less stable housing than others, and they face higher rates of drug addiction and sexual violence, all of which are associated with risk of HIV infection.

Cooper was homeless off and on through the 1980s and ’90s, trapped in a world of drugs and sex work that felt glamorous at the time but in hindsight was crippling. “I was doing things out of loneliness,” she said, “and I was doing things to feel love. That’s why I prostituted, why I did drugs.”

She began to clean up around 2000, though it would take five or six years to fully quit using. She found a permanent place to live. She collected Social Security. She started working in support services for other transgender women battling HIV. In 2013, she founded TransLife, a support group at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

“I was coming out as the activist, the warrior, the determined woman I was always meant to be,” she said.

Cooper never developed any of the common, often fatal complications of HIV — including opportunistic infections like pneumonia — that killed millions in the 1980s and 1990s. But she does have neuropathy, an HIV-related nerve condition that causes a constant pins-and-needles sensation in her feet and legs and sometimes makes it hard to walk.

Far more traumatic for her was her cancer diagnosis in 2006. The cancer, which may have been related to HIV, was isolated to her left eye, but after traditional therapies failed, the eye was surgically removed on Thanksgiving Day in 2009.

The cancer and the loss of her eye was a devastating setback for a woman who had always focused on her appearance, on looking as gorgeous as the transgender women she so admired in the Tenderloin, on being loved and wanted for her beauty.

Rising from that loss has been difficult, she said. And she’s continued to suffer new health problems, including blood clots in one of her legs. Recently, she’s fallen several times, in frightening episodes that may be related to the clots, the HIV or something else entirely.

Since Thanksgiving she’s been in and out of the hospital, and though she tries to stay upbeat, it’s clearly trying her patience.

But if HIV and cancer and everything else have tested Cooper’s survival in ways she never anticipated, these trials also have strengthened her resolve. She’s becoming the person she always wanted to be.

“A week before they took my eye, I got my breasts,” she said coyly one recent afternoon, thrusting out her chest. Behind the sunglasses she wears almost constantly now, she was smiling and crying, all at once.

Aging with HIV has been strangely calming, in some ways, giving her a confidence that in her wild youth was elusive.

Now she exults in being a respected elder in the HIV and transgender communities. She loves it when people open doors for her or help her cross the street, offer to carry her bags or give up a seat on a bus.

Simply, she said, “I love being Ms. Billie Cooper.”

Complete Article HERE!

Why Straight Rural Men Have Gay ‘Bud-Sex’ With Each Other

 

By

A lot of men have sex with other men but don’t identify as gay or bisexual. A subset of these men who have sex with men, or MSM, live lives that are, in all respects other than their occasional homosexual encounters, quite straight and traditionally masculine — they have wives and families, they embrace various masculine norms, and so on. They are able to, in effect, compartmentalize an aspect of their sex lives in a way that prevents it from blurring into or complicating their more public identities. Sociologists are quite interested in this phenomenon because it can tell us a lot about how humans interpret thorny questions of identity and sexual desire and cultural expectations.

Last year, NYU Press published the fascinating book Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men by the University of California, Riverside, gender and sexuality professor Jane Ward. In it, Ward explored various subcultures in which what could be called “straight homosexual sex” abounds — not just in the ones you’d expect, like the military and fraternities, but also biker gangs and conservative suburban neighborhoods — to better understand how the participants in these encounters experienced and explained their attractions, identities, and rendezvous. But not all straight MSM have gotten the same level of research attention. One relatively neglected such group, argues the University of Oregon sociology doctoral student Tony Silva in a new paper in Gender & Society, is rural, white, straight men (well, neglected if you set aside Brokeback Mountain).

Silva sought to find out more about these men, so he recruited 19 from men-for-men casual-encounters boards on Craigslist and interviewed them, for about an hour and a half each, about their sexual habits, lives, and senses of identity. All were from rural areas of Missouri, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, or Idaho, places known for their “social conservatism and predominant white populations.” The sample skewed a bit on the older side, with 14 of the 19 men in their 50s or older, and most identified exclusively as exclusively or mostly straight, with a few responses along the lines of “Straight but bi, but more straight.”

Since this is a qualitative rather than a quantitative study, it’s important to recognize that the particular men recruited by Silva weren’t necessarily representative of, well, anything. These were just the guys who agreed to participate in an academic’s research project after they saw an ad for it on Craigslist. But the point of Silva’s project was less to draw any sweeping conclusions about either this subset of straight MSM, or the population as a whole, than to listen to their stories and compare them to the narratives uncovered by Ward and various other researchers.

Specifically, Silva was trying to understand better the interplay between “normative rural masculinity” — the set of mores and norms that defines what it means to be a rural man — and these men’s sexual encounters. In doing so, he introduces a really interesting and catchy concept, “bud-sex”:

Ward (2015) examines dudesex, a type of male–male sex that white, masculine, straight men in urban or military contexts frame as a way to bond and build masculinity with other, similar “bros.” Carrillo and Hoffman (2016) refer to their primarily urban participants as heteroflexible, given that they were exclusively or primarily attracted to women. While the participants in this study share overlap with those groups, they also frame their same-sex sex in subtly different ways: not as an opportunity to bond with urban “bros,” and only sometimes—but not always—as a novel sexual pursuit, given that they had sexual attractions all across the spectrum. Instead, as Silva (forthcoming) explores, the participants reinforced their straightness through unconventional interpretations of same-sex sex: as “helpin’ a buddy out,” relieving “urges,” acting on sexual desires for men without sexual attractions to them, relieving general sexual needs, and/or a way to act on sexual attractions. “Bud-sex” captures these interpretations, as well as how the participants had sex and with whom they partnered. The specific type of sex the participants had with other men—bud-sex—cemented their rural masculinity and heterosexuality, and distinguishes them from other MSM.

This idea of homosexual sex cementing heterosexuality and traditional, rural masculinity certainly feels counterintuitive, but it clicks a little once you read some of the specific findings from Silva’s interviews. The most important thing to keep in mind here is that rural masculinity is “[c]entral to the men’s self-understanding.” Quoting another researcher, Silva notes that it guides their “thoughts, tastes, and practices. It provides them with their fundamental sense of self; it structures how they understand the world around them; and it influences how they codify sameness and difference.” As with just about all straight MSM, there’s a tension at work: How can these men do what they’re doing without it threatening parts of their identity that feel vital to who they are?

In some of the subcultures Ward studied, straight MSM were able to reinterpret homosexual identity as actually strengthening their heterosexual identities. So it was with Silva’s subjects as well — they found ways to cast their homosexual liaisons as reaffirming their rural masculinity. One way they did so was by seeking out partners who were similar to them. “This is a key element of bud-sex,” writes Silva. “Partnering with other men similarly privileged on several intersecting axes—gender, race, and sexual identity—allowed the participants to normalize and authenticate their sexual experiences as normatively masculine.” In other words: If you, a straight guy from the country, once in a while have sex with other straight guys from the country, it doesn’t threaten your straight, rural identity as much as it would if instead you, for example, traveled to the nearest major metro area and tried to pick up dudes at a gay bar. You’re not the sort of man who would go to a gay bar — you’re not gay!

It’s difficult here not to slip into the old middle-school joke of “It’s not gay if …” — “It’s not gay” if your eyes are closed, or the lights are off, or you’re best friends — but that’s actually what the men in Silva’s study did, in a sense:

As Cain [one of the interview subjects] said, “I’m really not drawn to what I would consider really effeminate faggot type[s],” but he does “like the masculine looking guy who maybe is more bi.” Similarly, Matt (60) explained, “If they’re too flamboyant they just turn me off,” and Jack noted, “Femininity in a man is a turn off.” Ryan (60) explained, “I’m not comfortable around femme” and “masculinity is what attracts me,” while David shared that “Femme guys don’t do anything for me at all, in fact actually I don’t care for ’em.” Jon shared, “I don’t really like flamin’ queers.” Mike (50) similarly said, “I don’t want the effeminate ones, I want the manly guys … If I wanted someone that acts girlish, I got a wife at home.” Jeff (38) prefers masculinity because “I guess I perceive men who are feminine want to hang out … have companionship, and make it last two or three hours.”

In other words: It’s not gay if the guy you’re having sex with doesn’t seem gay at all. Or consider the preferences of Marcus, another one of Silva’s interview subjects:

A guy that I would consider more like me, that gets blowjobs from guys every once in a while, doesn’t do it every day. I know that there are a lot of guys out there that are like me … they’re manly guys, and doing manly stuff, and just happen to have oral sex with men every once in a while [chuckles]. So, that’s why I kinda prefer those types of guys … It [also] seems that … more masculine guys wouldn’t harass me, I guess, hound me all the time, send me 1000 emails, “Hey, you want to get together today … hey, what about now.” And there’s a thought in my head that a more feminine or gay guy would want me to come around more. […] Straight guys, I think I identify with them more because that’s kinda, like [how] I feel myself. And bi guys, the same way. We can talk about women, there [have] been times where we’ve watched hetero porn, before we got started or whatever, so I kinda prefer that. [And] because I’m not attracted, it’s very off-putting when somebody acts gay, and I feel like a lot of gay guys, just kinda put off that gay vibe, I’ll call it, I guess, and that’s very off-putting to me.

This, of course, is similar to the way many straight men talk about women — it’s nice to have them around and it’s (of course) great to have sex with them, but they’re so clingy. Overall, it’s just more fun to hang out around masculine guys who share your straight-guy preferences and vocabulary, and who are less emotionally demanding.

One way to interpret this is as defensiveness, of course — these men aren’t actually straight, but identify that way for a number of reasons, including “internalized heterosexism, participation in other-sex marriage and childrearing [which could be complicated if they came out as bi or gay], and enjoyment of straight privilege and culture,” writes Silva. After Jane Ward’s book came out last year, Rich Juzwiak laid out a critique in Gawker that I also saw in many of the responses to my Q&A with her: While Ward sidestepped the question of her subjects’ “actual” sexual orientations — “I am not concerned with whether the men I describe in this book are ‘really’ straight or gay,” she wrote — it should matter. As Juzwiak put it: “Given the cultural incentives that remain for a straight-seeming gay, given the long-road to self-acceptance that makes many feel incapable or fearful of honestly answering questions about identity—which would undoubtedly alter the often vague data that provide the basis for Ward’s arguments—it seems that one should care about the wide canyon between what men claim they are and what they actually are.” In other words, Ward sidestepped an important political and rights minefield by taking her subjects’ claims about their sexuality more or less at face value.

There are certainly some good reasons for sociologists and others to not examine individuals’ claims about their identities too critically. But still: Juzwiak’s critique is important, and it looms large in the background of one particular segment of Silva’s paper. Actually, it turned out, some of Silva’s subjects really weren’t all that opposed to a certain level of deeper engagement with their bud-sex buds, at least when it came to their “regulars,” or the men they hooked up with habitually:

While relationships with regulars were free of romance and deep emotional ties, they were not necessarily devoid of feeling; participants enjoyed regulars for multiple reasons: convenience, comfort, sexual compatibility, or even friendship. Pat described a typical meetup with his regular: “We talk for an hour or so, over coffee … then we’ll go get a blowjob and then, part our ways.” Similarly, Richard noted, “Sex is a very small part of our relationship. It’s more friends, we discuss politics … all sorts of shit.” Likewise, with several of his regulars Billy noted, “I go on road trips, drink beer, go down to the city [to] look at chicks, go out and eat, shoot pool, I got one friend I hike with. It normally leads to sex, but we go out and do activities other than we meet and suck.” While Kevin noted that his regular relationship “has no emotional connection at all,” it also has a friendship-like quality, as evidenced by occasional visits and sleepovers despite almost 100 miles of distance. Similarly, David noted, “If my wife’s gone for a weekend … I’ll go to his place and spend a night or two with him … we obviously do things other than sex, so yeah we go to dinner, go out and go shopping, stuff like that.” Jack explained that with his regular “we connected on Craigslist … [and] became good friends, in addition to havin’ sex … we just made a connection … But there was no love at all.” Thus, bud-sex is predicated on rejecting romantic attachment and deep emotional ties, but not all emotion.

Whatever else is going on here, clearly these men are getting some companionship out of these relationships. It isn’t just about sex if you make a point of getting coffee, and especially if you spend nights together, go shopping or out to dinner, and so on. But there are sturdy incentives in place for them to not take that step of identifying, or identifying fully, as gay or bi. Instead, they frame their bud-sex, even when it’s accompanied by other forms of intimacy, in a way that reinforces their rural, straight masculinity.

It’s important to note that this isn’t some rational decision where the men sit down, list the pros and cons, and say, “Well, I guess coming out just won’t maximize my happiness and well-being.” It’s more subtle than that, given the osmosis-like way we all absorb social norms and mores. In all likelihood, when Silva’s subjects say they’re straight, they mean it: That’s how they feel. But it’s hard not to get the sense that maybe some of them would be happier, or would have made different life decisions, if they had had access to a different, less constricted vocabulary to describe what they want — and who they are.

Complete Article HERE!

Extra weight can dent sexual confidence

 

by Maureen Matthews

Q: I’m a larger lad than I was a few years ago. Even though my boyfriend still says he finds me attractive and wants to sleep with me, I no longer have any interest. How can I learn to be confident in the bedroom?

A: Carrying extra weight can dent a person’s sexual self-confidence, regardless of their gender and sexual orientation, but the precise nature of the negative self-talk can vary from person to person.

Melbourne sex therapist Dr Christopher Fox (sexlifetherapy.com.au) says gay men are often confronted with cultural images of svelte, muscular, hairless young men. “This is not the only image in the gay community. ‘Bears’ [hairy, and often larger men] also feature. Yet, like the straight community, youth and beauty is still a focus.”

When we carry a mental template of what a “sexy” person looks like, even if we know, intellectually, that it is an unrealistic and unachievable ideal, we cannot help feeling we fall short by comparison, which causes us to feel ashamed of our bodies.

Carrying weight can impact on your self-esteem, Dr Fox says. “The self is an important aspect of us feeling sexy. The way we view our bodies also impacts on our feeling sexy. When our sense of self [esteem] and our body are both challenged, our levels of desire, and of feeling sexy, are also challenged.”

Once low self-esteem and negative self-talk have become entrenched, they can lead to a general feeling of ennui, and a shutting down of the senses. That sluggish, dulled mindset makes it difficult to truly enjoy all of life’s pleasure, but it particularly affects the libido. One of the first challenges you face is to find the motivation to make any changes, no matter how small. So make yourself move your body.

I am not talking about going to the gym, taking up yoga, or doing anything with a view to losing weight. Simply get your system turning over, like warming up the engine of your car. Research has shown that physical activity, even merely going for a walk, releases the feel-good hormones, endorphins. You will start to feel a little more positive, which will help you to take another step.

Fox warns that learning to accept our bodies and ourselves is not an easy process. “It is an achievable process though,” he says. “On an immediate level I think it is important for you to challenge your thinking about yourself. Your boyfriend says he finds you attractive and he wants to sleep with you. Consider how he looks at you. Maybe he sees something you don’t. This is important to consider.”

When we feel bad about ourselves we often react to compliments with “deflection”. We challenge every compliment, or counter a positive observation by drawing attention to a perceived flaw, “but what about my gut!”. This can feel like rejection to your partner, and, if you do it too often, he might either give up, or start to agree with you.

Practise accepting compliments and endearments graciously, with a simple “thank you”, even if that inner voice is screaming out objections. Let the positive words land, and allow yourself to enjoy them.

It can be difficult to make changes without support, and another good way to begin would be to seek professional assistance. Fox suggests finding someone who has experience in working with gay men, body image and sexuality.

“Through therapy we would explore how your changing body impacts on your sense of self and your body image,” he says. “We would explore how you could develop tools and strategies to challenge your own perceptions.”

Remember that although sex and arousal involve elements of fantasy, the true enjoyment comes from the lived experience in the moment. Car lovers might drool over images of unattainable Ferraris and Bugattis, but the pleasure of enjoying the car that belongs to them, that they can drive, and polish, and experience, is the real pleasure.

Complete Article HERE!