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Disability and desire

Martha explores how to feel loved when you find it impossible to love yourself

'You can't conduct healthy relationships when you don't truly believe that anyone could ever be in love with you'

‘You can’t conduct healthy relationships when you don’t truly believe that anyone could ever be in love with you’

by Martha Saunders

“So, we’re autistic” said the man on the screen, flatly. I played the clip over and over again, searching for the joke. “So, we’re autistic.” “So, we’re autistic.” The meme was a clip from the show The Undateables, and it had surfaced on my news feed because someone I’d recently hooked up with had liked it. I typed out various increasingly explicit formulations on the response “Undateable? that’s not what you said the other night” before deleting them and throwing my phone across the room, furiously wiping tears from my eyes and a warm wave of familiar self-disgust churning through my stomach.

Confession: the main reason I don’t tell anyone about being autistic is that it isn’t very sexy. Disability in all its forms is utterly desexualised in our society – autism particularly so, in part due to it’s inaccurate representation as something which primarily affects young children. Autistic characters don’t have sexual relationships unless their clumsy attempts at doing so are a source of comedy for neurotypical viewers. We are “undateable.”

Young autistic women exist in a strange and dangerous contradiction. Young women are taught their primary value is their sexual attractiveness; disabled people are constantly publicly desexualised. As a result, I spent much of my teenage life obsessively chasing something which would always be, by definition, just a little out of my reach.

No matter how hard I worked to look pretty enough, sound smart enough, deliver flirty and funny enough comebacks, something about me still felt inherently undesirable. I cut my hair a different way every few months and saved my school lunch money for fake nails, a rainbow of lipsticks and boxes of hair dye in bright red, peroxide blonde, jet black, pastel pink and chocolate brown, hoping that one day I’d hit on some magic combination of chemicals that erased what felt like a ugly, rotten core.

Like many young women who’ve always felt something was a little out of place, I was drawn to fourth-wave feminism’s mantra of self-love and body positivity like a moth to a bulb. But while I saw women around me flourish in these spaces, they weren’t what I was looking for. In fact, as a slim, white, blue-eyed blonde, I am slightly incongruous in them; women who look like me are already constantly validated as being physically attractive. My sense of inadequacy hadn’t been coming from my body; conversely, I realised, I had been using making my physical self look as good as possible in order to to compensate for the insecurity I felt about my disability. When your insides feel uglier than your outside, the concept of inner beauty just makes you feel worse.

If it were that easy

If it were that easy

It’s not hard to predict how this deep-rooted sense of undesirability can manifest in unhealthy relationships. While the logical, stridently feminist, #StrongIndependentWoman side of me knows to take no shit from creepy men who feel entitled to my body, there is a part of me, larger and more influential than I’d like to admit, which feels someone like me should be pathetically grateful for sexual or romantic attention. Even when it comes to full relationships, it’s still very difficult for me to separate genuine attraction to a man from intense gratitude at his interest in me. Whether it’s likes on a selfie or a series of incredibly inadvisable involvements with boys I should theoretically despise, I am constantly looking for ways to compile quantifiable proof that I am desirable.

Women with invisible disabilities struggle with sex and relationships in many different ways; some of us become terrified of engaging in sex or dating at all; some of us attempt to fill our deep sense of inadequacy with as many flings and one night stands as possible. Some of us become prime targets for abusive relationships due to our predisposition to self-doubt and our fear that nobody else will accept us; some of us hold partners at arms length or self-sabotage as quickly as possible, fearing that if anyone gets close enough to find out what we’re really like they will be repulsed and hurt us more.

It sounds like a cheesy platitude, but you can’t conduct healthy relationships when you don’t truly believe that anyone could ever be in love with you, and you can’t believe that anyone could be in love with you until you’ve learned to love yourself. It’s hard to do this when you’ve only ever seen people like you degraded and mocked for their efforts to feel wanted. A lot of the people cracking jokes about your disorder will have no idea how many brilliant, captivating, engaging disabled people they’ve been attracted to. If that makes you “undateable” to them? Their loss.

Complete Article HERE!

Screw Science: The Futuristic Sex Tech Aiming to Penetrate Your Bedroom

From fully customizable vibrators to bioelectronic headsets, smart sex toys are on the way up. But does personal pleasure necessarily make for better health?

sex-tech

Pleasure is personal, mostly because it has to be, and not least because female scientists continue to face grinding discrimination regardless of their area of research. And when it comes to sexual health, breakthroughs are few and far between: in spite of increasing documentation of associated health risks, birth control hasn’t really been reformulated since the 60s, and last year’s much-anticipated release of Addyi, a pill meant to fix female sexual dysfunction, only worked for ten percent of the women who tried it.

It’s clear that sexual emancipation has not yet been freed from the bedroom. In spite of its roots in scientific misogyny—the vibrator was developed in the 19th century to cure women of hysteria, after all—a swathe of new devices have people looking hopefully to sex tech (or sextech, as it is also known) as the answer to systemic gaps in sexual health. History, it seems, is coming full circle; where the 1960s saw the vibrator de-medicalized and uncoupled from science, today’s consumer market is beginning to see pleasure and health unified in the pursuit of wellness. Yet what we call “sex tech” is tied more to the lucrative sex toy industry—worth $15 billion this year—than it is to scientific institutions, with much of its promise linked to idea that personal pleasure makes for better health.

These days, more people than ever understand that a woman’s ability to understand what turns her on and why is a crucial step in developing a healthy perspective on her sexual life. So it makes sense that we’re seeking out masturbatory experiences that are more tailored than your average stand-in phallus. It’s the driving force behind the popularity of devices like Crescendo, the first-ever fully customizable vibrator, which raised £1.6 million in funding to date and shipped out over 1,000 pre-orders after a successful crowdfunding round.

Designed to cater to the inherent complexities of female arousal, the vibrator can be finely customized, equipped with six motors and the ability to be bent into any favorable shape. An accompanying app allows users to control each motor individually; it remembers favorite behaviors, provides pre-set vibration patterns, and responds to mood-setting music.

“We were inspired by the concept of tech designed for the human, rather than the human having to adapt their behaviour to tech,” says Stephanie Alys, the co-founder of Crescendo creators Mysteryvibe. “Human beings aren’t just unique in terms of our size and how we’re put together genetically, but also in terms of what we like. What turns us on can be different from what turns another person on.”

smart-sex-technology

Mysteryvibe’s flagship product is the Crescendo, a customizable sex toy.

But in spite of the life-improving promises of consumer sex tech, the reality is that official, peer-reviewed studies remain crucial to reforming policy and education. Founded by Dr. Nicole Prause, Liberos Center is one of the few sex-centric research institutions in the United States. Much of its work investigates the relationship between psychology, physiology, and sex, with an emphasis on the hard data that is often lacking in sex tech.

Liberos presses on in a particularly antagonistic climate; the American government is famously skittish about sexual content. Sexual material is banned from government-funded computers, says Prause, making it difficult for researchers to, say, screen porn to test subjects as part of a study on arousal. She adds that congressional bodies actively seek to pull funding from research that addresses the topic head-on—four recent studies that had already been awarded funding were re-opened for assessment because of their sexual content.

“People report having certain types of experiences all the time,” says Prause. “But they’re often poor observers of their own behaviour, and don’t see anyone’s behaviour but their own. They don’t really have that external perspective, which is why I think it’s important to take both a psychological and laboratory approach. For example, in science, people haven’t been verifying that orgasm actually occurs. So we’ve been developing an objective way of measuring that, and of measuring the effects of clitoral stimulation—on how to best capture the contractions that occur through the orgasm.”

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Liberos is also investigating the effect of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and direct current stimulation (tDCS) on sexual responsiveness. Both are non-invasive treatments, meaning anyone seeking a cure for low libido may not require anything more than the use of a headset. TMS holds potential for long-term changes to a person’s sex drive; the technique, which uses a magnetic field generator to produce small electrical currents in the brain, has already been used to treat neuropathic pain and otherwise stubborn cases of major depressive disorder. DCS, on the other hand, uses a headset to deliver a low-intensity electrical charge, stimulating the brain areas where activity spikes at the sight, or touch, of a turn-on.

If using the brain’s electrical signals to control the rest of the body sounds like a dystopian fantasy, the reality is that these medical treatments aren’t far off. Bioelectronic firms are now backed by the likes of Glaxosmithkline and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and similar applications have already been established for hypertension and sleep apnea, while chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, and arthritis are targeted for future development.

According to Dr. Karen E. Adams, clinical professor of OBGYN at Oregon Health and Science University, anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of women experience varying degrees of sexual dysfunction. Medication that targets neurotransmitters, like the SSRIs used to treat depression and anxiety, can fluctuate in efficacy depending on the unique makeup of the person using it.

Combined with the trickiness of locking down the nebulousness of desire (and lack thereof), it’s no wonder that Addyi, a failed antidepressant pursued because of its unexpected effect on serotonin levels in female mice, was a flop. Non-sex-specific studies have shown that electrical stimulation can be more adaptive to the brain’s constantly-shifting landscape than medication that interacts with its chemistry. For the 90 percent of women who found Addyi to be a sore disappointment, bioelectronic treatments could soon offer an alternative solution to low sexual responsivity.

“By giving women information about their bodies that they can decide what to do with, we’re enabling more female empowerment,” says Prause. “And by allowing women to decide which aspects of sex they want to be more responsive to, we’re giving people more control, and not with charlatan claims. We actually have good scientific reasons that we think are going to work, that are going to make a difference.”

Yet the field’s burgeoning successes are only as good as the social environment they take hold in. Sociopolitical hurdles notwithstanding, money remains a significant roadblock for developers, as the controversial nature of sex research has many investors shying away from backing new projects in spite of consumer interest. Whether they’re seeking government funding or VC investments, sex start-ups and labs alike are often forced to turn to crowdfunding to raise money for development.

“It’s pretty unsurprising that heavily female-oriented tech products do so well on crowdfunding sites; these are solutions to problems faced by half of the population, that are overlooked by a male-dominated industry where male entrepreneurs are 86 percent more likely to be VC funded than women,” says Katy Young, behavioral analyst at research firm Canvas8. “But the audience is clearly there—Livia, a device which targets nerves in order to stop period pains, raised over $1 million on Indiegogo.”

Outdated sex ed programs, which emphasize procreation and normalize straight male sexuality without addressing female sexual development, are ground zero for unhealthy social perspectives on sex. Acknowledging that change can’t just come from devices alone, New York’s Unbound, a luxury sex toy subscription service, is teaming up with “campus sexpert” app Tabù to bring both sex education and affordable masturbation tools to colleges across the country.

“There’s a national discussion right now surrounding consent, which is 100 percent needed and super important,” says Polly Rodriguez, CEO and co-founder of Unbound. “But for women to be able to engage in sex and address consent as equals, they need to learn about female pleasure—they should understand their own bodies so that when they are engaging in sexual activities with someone else, they know what feels good to them, they know how to communicate that, and they don’t feel uncomfortable about it.”

It’s tempting to buy into the idea of tech as freeing: that the increased presence of smart devices in our lives will help us form healthier habits and a better understanding of our ourselves, or that the availability of medically-approved tech will be a panacea in the intricately fraught landscape of female sexual dysfunction—which is as socially determined as it is biological, and as cultural as it is psychological.

But sex tech is still far from being paradigm-shifting. Its success will be dependent not only on consumer dollars but on government policies and public attitudes; at a level of engagement this intimate, tech is only any good if people feel free to use it.

Complete Article HERE!

Why more and more women are identifying as bisexual

By Megan Todd

This is the pro-LGBT rights image that saw an Italian woman suspended from Facebook after the social media site claimed it violated rules on 'nudity and pornography'

This is the pro-LGBT rights image that saw an Italian woman suspended from Facebook after the social media site claimed it violated rules on ‘nudity and pornography’

The Office of National Statistics has released its latest data on sexual identities in the UK, and some striking patterns jump out – especially when it comes to bisexuality.

The number of young people identifying as bisexual has apparently risen by 45% over the last three years. Women are more likely to identity as bisexual (0.8%) than lesbian (0.7%), whereas men are more likely to report as gay (1.6%) than bisexual (0.5%). That last finding chimes with other studies in the UK and the US – but why should this be?

Women’s sexuality has historically been policed, denied and demonised in very particular ways, and for a woman to be anything other than passively heterosexual has often been considered an outright perversion. Lesbians have historically been seen as a more dangerous breed, a direct challenge to patriarchal structures, perhaps explaining why women may be more likely to self-identify as bisexual. Some research into women’s sexuality has also suggested that women take a more fluid approach to their relationships than men.

But then there’s the more general matter of how much sexual labels still matter to people – and here, the ONS findings really start to get interesting.

Among young people aged between 16 and 24, 1.8% said they identified as bisexual – exceeding, for the first time, the 1.5% who identified as lesbian or gay. In total 3.3% of young people identified as LGB, a significantly higher proportion than the 1.7% of the general population who identified as such. (Just 0.6% of the over-65s did).

In a society that still tends to see the world in often false binaries – man/woman, gay/straight, white/black and so on – how can we explain such a difference?

A pessimistic view of why more young people are identifying as bisexual rather than as gay or lesbian might be that conservative, rigid and polarised understandings of what gender is still hold sway. This, in turn, might also have an impact on attitudes to sexuality, where an investment in a lesbian or gay identity may be more frowned upon than a bisexual one – which in many people’s minds still has a “friendly” relationship with heterosexuality.

And yet it’s clear that identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual carries less stigma for the younger age group than it does for their elders.

 

Older generations grew up in a time where any orientation besides heterosexuality was taboo, stigmatised and often criminalised. The lesbian and gay movements of the 1970s and 1980s, inspired by the US’s Civil Rights movement, were often staunchly radical; the concept of the political lesbian, for instance, was a very prominent and powerful one. At the same time, both heterosexual and lesbian and gay communities were also marked by misunderstandings and distrust of bisexuality (in a word, biphobia).

But in the UK at least, gay and lesbian identities have lost a good deal of the political charge they once carried. Once “peripheral”, these sexual categories are well on the way to being normalised and commercialised. Many in the community remember or identify with a more radical era of political lesbianism and gay activism, and many of them are dismayed that non-heterosexuals’ current political battles for equality and recognition are often focused on gaining entry to heterosexual institutions, especially marriage.

Bisexuals march at Pride in London.

Bisexuals march at Pride in London.

But that doesn’t mean people have become more rigid in the ways they think about themselves. So while many in society will be the victims of homophobic and biphobic hate crime, things have improved, at least in terms of state policies.

This, alongside the now extensive reservoir of queer thought on gender and sexual fluidity, and the increasing strength of trans movements, may explain why the younger generation are taking labels such as bisexual, lesbian and gay in greater numbers than their seniors. That celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevigne and Anna Paquin have come out as bisexual in recent years can’t have hurt either.

Beyond labels?

The ONS survey raises empirical questions which are connected to those of identity. It specifically asked questions about sexual identity, rather than exploring the more complicated links between identity, behaviours and desires.

The category “bisexual” is also very internally diverse. Many would argue that there are many different types of bisexuality and other sexual identities which the ONS survey does not explore.

This much is made clear by the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle (NATSAL), which has taken place every ten years since 1990 and is perhaps the most detailed picture we have of what people do (or don’t do) in bed. It suggests that the number of people who report same-sex experience is much higher than the number of people who identify as gay or bisexual.

Laud Humphreys’ infamous 1970 book Tearoom Trade, a highly controversial ethnographic study of anonymous sex between men in public toilets, showed us that plenty of people who seek out and engage in same-sex sexual contact do not necessarily identify as exclusively gay or even bisexual – in fact, only a small minority of his respondents did.

However far we’ve come, there’s still a social stigma attached to being lesbian/gay/bisexual. That means the statistics we have will be an underestimate, and future surveys will need a much more complicated range of questions to give us a more accurate picture. If we ask the right ones, we might discover we live in a moment where people are exploring their sexualities without feeling the need to label them.

But are we headed towards a point where the hetero/homo binary will collapse, and where gender will play less of a role in sexual preference? Given the continued privilege that comes with a heterosexual identity and the powerful political and emotional history of gay and lesbian identities and movements, I don’t think so.

Still, it seems more people may be growing up with the assumption that sexuality is more complicated than we have previously acknowledged – and that this not need not be a problem.

Complete Article HERE!

Coming Out for my Transgender Daughter

By

safe-zone

There it sat and it had sat for a very long time. We felt exhausted, vulnerable, and full of anxiety. Writing and sending a “coming out” letter to all of our family, friends, colleagues, congregants, and neighbors that our child was transitioning to match their internal gender was one of the scariest things we had done. We were fearful of the responses or lack of responses our letter would generate, so we sent it out very late on a Sunday night. We could go to bed unscathed from the public for one last night before we had to deal with this honesty head on. It was 14 long months after our child came out to us as transgender.

At a time in our lives when our complete focus should have been on our child and family dynamics, we ended up being consumed by worry. How would this affect our lives? The lives of my new daughter and the life of our son? Our friendships, religious life, teacher/student relationships, and my husband’s practice? The worry created a lot of noise and distraction in our heads from the moment we woke until we went to sleep. Our focus was on society and its intolerance towards difference. Looking back, this was a very hard burden to carry. Why is it that when our child needed us most that we had to worry about our society? It was wrong that we ever worried about you.

Fortunately, what we learned after sending our “coming out” letter was that we were stronger than we ever thought and we could face you. We could face you and tell you we are so much happier and healthier than we have ever been. We could face you and say we have done everything right by letting our child transition. We can face you and tell you that our family bond is unbreakable. We can face you because it felt so right to empower other LGBTQ people to live their truths and thrive. More importantly, my daughter can face you because she has us as a family to support her in every way.

We found a way to replace worry with Tikkun Olam. In Judaism, one of the definitions for Tikkun Olam is human responsibility for fixing what is wrong with the world.  The things that I see wrong with the world are: LGBTQ youth doing poorly in school because they are distracted by the anxiety they experience of holding on to their secret or the harassment they experience being “out,” children (young and old) too afraid to come out, parents that are not accepting, strangers questioning parents’ abilities to parent, hate propagated in the name of religion, incorrect assumptions of what it means to be LGBTQ, the thought that being LGBTQ will hold you back and make you less than, homelessness, and hate crimes. We can little by little fix what is broken by speaking out against intolerance, attending school board meetings where anti-LGBTQ agendas are being introduced, signing a petition, writing government officials, volunteering with the LGBTQ community, and building up those LGBTQ individuals around us. My daughter has been advocating for the transgender community for a couple of years now through media and speaking engagements, by sitting on various committees, being involved with her GSA, and training school staff. She found her voice because we nurtured her power to use it to fix what is broken. I believe she has accomplished all of this because we had faith in her ability to live an extraordinary life.

I meet with parents who have children that identify as members of the LGBTQ community. So many parents simply feel lost, stuck,  or unsure of their feelings. There is nothing better than seeing these families move forward and support their children. They move from feeling powerless to powerful. I am also fortunate to meet people who share their stories and ask me advice on how to come out to their parents. It is such an intimate moment and I always get goosebumps, but most of all I am thankful that people feel they can look to me for help. Of course, I am only a parent with experience and compassion to share with others. Each one of us has this ability inside of ourselves, it is a matter of choice to share compassion. I give what I can of myself to fix what is broken.

To  those of you living in silence, sitting with your secret, struggling with your anxiety, waiting for the right time to come out, I hope you can find the people around you who will support and love you. I certainly know that in some families, unfortunately, it will not be safe for you to disclose where you fall on the LGBTQ spectrum. Your safety and well-being should always be considered most important. My heart aches for you because I know the silence is stifling your growth. Always remember that people can change and end up supporting you later. My plea and biggest suggestion is to find a support group. Most support groups’ mission statements will include a statement of anonymity for their attendees. Support groups can be a safe place to share stories and experiences, learn, watch others grow, and bond with the LGBTQ community. The first time we went as a family to support group, it felt like the biggest weight had been lifted from us. The group helped grow our confidence and pride for our new family. I want you to get involved with your school’s GSA or college LGBTQ community. If your school does not have a GSA then start one! Find a role model within the LGBTQ community that you can confide in. Not everyone has it in them to publicly advocate, but if you do then use your voice to empower yourself and your community.

When children, young and old, come out as part of the LGBTQ community, parents worry that this is a bad reflection on themselves. The reality is that the only reflection you should worry about is your own. Are you looking at a parent in the mirror that you can be proud of? Are you looking at a parent that won’t have to look back and ask, why didn’t I do better for my child? Are you the parent whose child’s high school counselor cried to me about her student, who can’t come out to their parents because they are too afraid? This counselor, who I just met, knows the most intimate detail of this child’s life and their parents don’t because they have created something in their home that makes it not safe for their child to live an authentic life. Do you want to contribute to what is broken, or do you want to build a world where LGBTQ individuals can reach their maximum potential and thrive? It is our responsibility to make the world a better place for our LGBTQ loved ones by starting at home. There is a saying, “Don’t be your child’s first bully.” Think about that for a minute. I am happy to say we were our child’s first ally. As a parent, I will never walk in my daughter’s shoes, but I will proudly walk next to her and always be thankful that my child had enough trust in us to come out as transgender. I wish all of the newly “out” people of the LGBTQ community happiness, courage, strength, love, peace, and power as you live your authentic lives.

Complete Article HERE!

Tips for Coming Out As Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming or Gender Fluid

By Sarah McBride

sarah_mcbride_dnc

Almost five years ago, I came out as transgender to my family, friends, and, eventually, my broader community.  I was blessed with a warm and welcoming response from those who loved me.  Since announcing my news and living openly, I’ve met countless transgender people and heard a range of coming out experiences.

In honor of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, here are some helpful tips that I’ve picked up along the way for anyone coming out as transgender, gender non-conforming or gender fluid.

There is no wrong way to be you.
When I came out, I worried that some people wouldn’t believe me unless I conformed to their preconceived notions of a “trans narrative.” But the most important thing to remember is that there is no one way to be trans. Do and say what feels right for you. You are the best expert on who you are and what you need.

Prepare yourself.
Part of preparing yourself is doing as much research as you can and thinking about answers to questions you anticipate coming up.  Mostly, though, prepare yourself for diverse responses. Even the most supportive reactions may not be as positive or enthusiastic as you hope. Unfortunately, some reactions may be as negative as you might fear and it is important to seek out community and support for those challenging times.

Research doctors.
While not everyone who is trans will transition medically, if you do, take some time to research medical professionals in your area. Some of you may live in areas with limited options, but it is important to explore your options. Oftentimes we must be our own advocates in health care settings. For more information on health care and providers, you can visit the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association or check out HRC’s transgender resources.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to other trans people.
While not every out transgender person is able to provide mentorship and guidance, do not be afraid to seek out other transgender people for help. Often we are afraid to ask for others’ time, but I’ve found that there is a strong “pay it forward” belief in the community. Gaining insights and advice from a handful of trans people who had walked that path before me provided invaluable help as I began to chart my own course.

Know the policies and laws in your area.
When you are preparing to come out, research the policies in your workplace or school, including their nondiscrimination policy and insurance plan. It is also helpful to know the laws in your city or state. Many places have passed gender identity protections, which may provide recourse should you face mistreatment or discrimination along the way.

Each of us live out our lives with various privileges, challenges, and unique circumstances.  Every journey is different. But as you take the steps to have the world see and respect you as the person you are, know that you are worthy, you are valued, and there are people – many of whom you may never know – who are fighting to make this world a little better, safer, and more welcoming for all of us. None of us are alone.

For more information and resources on National Coming Out Day, visit HRC’s Coming Out Center and follow the hashtag #ComingOut.

Complete Article HERE!