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We Need Bodice-Ripper Sex Ed

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Where did you learn about sex?

In my personal pie chart, 10 percent of the credit goes to Mom and Dad, who taught me that sex was for marriage, or at the very least, for a committed, loving, monogamous relationship that would, God willing, occur once I was out of the house.

I’ll credit another 10 percent to sex ed, the junior-high health classes that taught me the names of the body parts and explained what went where in the straight-people intercourse it was assumed we’d all be having. Sex, I learned, was bad news, every act risking pregnancy or disease. Think Coach Carr’s speech in the 2004 movie “Mean Girls” — “Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant, and die.”

Which left 80 percent to be filled in by my friends and pop culture: what I heard on the school bus and at sleepover parties, what I saw in movies and heard on the radio, the glimpses I got of dirty magazines, kept behind brown paper wrappers on the high shelves.

But I was a reader, and most of what I knew came from books, starting with the copy of Judy Blume’s “Forever …” that made the rounds of the cafeteria in seventh grade to the dozens of Harlequin romances I devoured to the best sellers by Judith Krantz, Shirley Conran, Jean Auel, Susan Isaacs and Erica Jong that I snagged from my mom’s shelves.

I’ve been thinking about sex education in light of what must, by now, be the most-discussed bad date in history.

By now, you’ve most likely heard about the encounter between an anonymous 23-year-old photographer and the comedian and actor Aziz Ansari. They met at a party, which led to a dinner date, which led to a sexual encounter that she came to deeply regret, she told a reporter, believing Mr. Ansari ignored verbal and nonverbal cues that she wasn’t into what was happening. Now that she has gone public with her account, everyone seems to have an opinion about what she did, what he did and whether talking about gray-zone sex, where the man believes that everything that happened was consensual and the woman feels otherwise, spells the end of the #MeToo movement.

Reading about it all, I realize how lucky I am that so much of my sex ed came from Harlequins.

The literary establishment doesn’t have much love for women’s fiction, whether it’s romance or erotica or popular novels about love and marriage. Romance novels come in for an extra helping of scorn. Critics sneer that they’re all heaving bosoms and throbbing manhoods, unrealistic, poorly written and politically incorrect.

But those books, for all their soft-core covers and happily-ever-afters, were quietly and not-so-quietly subversive. They taught readers that sexual pleasure was something women could not just hope for but insist upon. They shaped my interactions with boys and men. They helped make me a feminist.

Because these books were written for and consumed by women, female pleasure was an essential part of every story. Villains were easy to spot: They were the ones who left a woman “burning and unsatisfied.” Shirley Conran’s “Lace” features a heroine telling her feckless husband that she’d used an egg timer to determine how long it took her to achieve orgasm on her own and that she’d be happy to teach him what to do.

At 14, I never looked at hard-boiled eggs the same way again.

The books not only covered blissful sex but also described a whole range of intimate moments, from the awkward to the funny to the very bad, including rape of both the stranger and intimate-partner variety. Beyond the dirty bits, the books I read described the moments before and after the main event, the stuff you don’t see in mainstream movies, where zippers don’t get stuck and teeth don’t bump when you’re kissing; the stuff you don’t see in porn, where almost no time elapses between the repair guy’s arrival and the start of activities that do not involve the clogged kitchen sink.

Objectification doesn’t exist just in porn, of course. “So many men cannot get their heads around the idea that women are not first and foremost sexual objects,” the novelist Jenny Crusie told me. “You don’t get that from porn; you get that from a persistent worldview modeled by the men around you that you’ve been taught to admire.”

I have no idea how much, if any, X-rated material Mr. Ansari or his date consumes. Statistically, we know that modern men and women have access to every kind of explicit material, literally in their pockets. And they’re watching: One recent study found that 79 percent of men and 76 percent of women between 18 and 30 look at pornographic websites at least once each month, while another showed that three out of 10 men in that age group were daily viewers.

Sex might be easy, but relationships are hard. And a 400-page novel can teach you more about them than any X-rated clip. Fiction has time to draw a deeper picture, covering the getting-to-know-you stuff, the starts and stops and circling back that take boy and girl from first date to first kiss to the moment where they’re both naked and hopefully into what’s going to happen next.

“Romance novels teach readers that all partners are equal participants in a sexual relationship,” said Bea Koch, the 28-year-old co-owner (with her 25-year-old sister, Leah) of the Ripped Bodice, a bookstore in Culver City, Calif., that exclusively sells romance titles. “They highlight conversations about consent, birth control and myriad other topics that people generally find difficult to talk about. In some instances, it can be a literal script for how to bring up difficult topics with a partner. They give a road map to people wanting to experiment with their sexuality, or even just get in touch with what they want and need in a sexual relationship.”

Porn, necessarily, cuts to the chase: a little less conversation, a little more action.

Talking’s not sexy, people complain.

But when you don’t know how to ask, when you can’t bring yourself to tell, when you don’t possess the language with which to talk about desire, that’s when you can end up with crossed wires, missed signals, mixed messages, a guy who goes to sleep thinking, “That was fun!” and a girl who goes home crying in an Uber.

If we want men and women equally empowered to form real connections, to talk, honestly and openly about who they are and what they want, there are worse places to start than curling up with a good book.

Complete Article HERE!

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‘Discovering my true sexual self’: why I embraced polyamory

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My husband and I were together for 12 years and had two children – but while he was happy with one person, I needed more

By Anita Cassidy

It was the hardest thing I’d ever had to say to my husband, Marc. Three years ago, I sat down and told him: “The idea of having sex just with you for the next 40 years – I can’t do it any more.” But I had come to realise that my life was built around something I didn’t believe in: monogamy.

We had been together for 12 years and had two children, now nine and seven. I love being a mother and I set the bar high from the start – cloth nappies and cooking from scratch. But I needed something more in my emotional and sexual life.

Marc’s reaction was remarkable; he agreed to support me and open our marriage to other partners, although it wasn’t really what he wanted. We started counselling to try to identify the best of what we had, to save it and protect it. Sex is a big part of a relationship, but it is only a part. We didn’t want it to scupper us.

If that sounds difficult, it was. I don’t think we could have done it if we hadn’t spent most of our marriage reading, talking and exploring together.

I quickly embraced the dating scene and discovered another side of my sexual self. I enrolled on lots of sites, where you are asked specific questions about yourself and your preferences. It was illuminating: do I like this? Yes. Do I like that? Well, let’s see. They were the kind of questions I’d never been asked before – and had never asked myself.

I became convinced that traditional relationships are like an air lock. You meet someone. It’s amazing and it’s rare, and then you lock it; you shut the windows and doors, and you try desperately to keep it all to yourselves. Then the air turns sour because there’s no oxygen. You might make a sexual mistake on the spur of the moment because you are craving some – any – contact. Why not live in a world where you can have room for that connection, that spark?

I think most people’s reaction was that Marc should have kicked me out. My immediate family have been supportive, although my mother is still ambivalent. We discuss everything openly, and she understands where I’m coming from, but worries that I’m going to end up on my own. If I do, though, it will be because I have chosen that.

People who choose to be polyamorous often do so after delving deep into themselves and their desires, so it runs close to the kink scene, which was also something I wanted to explore. There’s a temptation to think that, had Marc and I explored these things together, our marriage might have worked without opening it up. I’m not sure that it would have, though, given that he wasn’t into it. It can seem quite intimidating, but I was so ready for it. The first time I went to a fetish club, I felt like I was at home – that I’d found my people.

I now have a partner of two years, Andrea. We work as a couple, but we also have sex with friends. He’s the only partner I have introduced to my children. I love Andrea and I’m very lucky to have him, but I don’t want to live with him – we both value our solitude too much. He and I can flirt with other people and ask for their number, but I still feel jealous sometimes. He went away with another woman and, yes, it was difficult.

Anita, Marc and Andrea, too: ‘I’m not sure our marriage would have worked without opening it up.’

Meanwhile, Marc and I realised we were no longer compatible. I had changed too much. We still share the family home and parent our children together. We still get on. We have counselling together, we spend Christmas together – we are still reading and learning as we used to. We wanted to keep all the bits that worked.

We have had to learn so much about communicating better, and I think the children have benefited from that. We have explained that Dad needs one person to be with and Mum needs more people to make her happy. The talk is ongoing; we won’t wait to sit them down when they are teenagers, expecting them suddenly to get it. Understanding polyamory is complicated, but monogamy is fraught with ambiguity, too.

You can craft your own polyamory, but I’m not sure I would want more than two or three other partners. I’m hoping two people I met recently will become lovers, but there’s no rush. People assume that I’m constantly having sex, but it’s not as simple as that. I want an emotional and mental connection with someone, so it takes time to build up to that.

Monogamy, meanwhile, feels more like a competition where you need to bag someone before anyone else does. None of that applies in a poly setup, which is incredibly liberating. Think how strange it would be to have only one friend. You can’t get everything from one platonic relationship. Why would you try with one lover?

But it’s a challenge: you’re swimming against the cultural norm and it’s difficult emotionally, with or without the support of an existing partner. On top of that, the amount of work involved in maintaining multiple relationships, sexual and platonic, is huge.

Andrea and I look to the future, but there are no expectations. We are part of a broader community and we think developing that is more important. Put it this way: I don’t see myself sitting on a park bench at 80 with one other person. I’d like to be part of a group of people, a community. We seem to want a silver bullet for everything. One God. One partner. But life is plural.

Marc’s view

I’d realised for a few years that Anita wasn’t completely happy, so it wasn’t a total shock when she told me she wanted to explore non-monogamy. It was upsetting to hear that what we had wasn’t meeting her needs, but it was very important to me that she was happy. If that meant her exploring a different relationship style, then I would be there to support her.

I did a lot of reading around the subject of ethical non-monogamy. It makes a lot of sense intellectually, but it doesn’t resonate with me emotionally. It didn’t feel right. I was prepared for our marriage to continue, with me being monogamous and Anita having other partners, but that proved more difficult than we envisaged.

I completely support Anita. I’m glad she has been able to share with me what she’s discovering about the honesty and communication needed to make polyamory work. It’s also true of monogamous relationships, and I hope to take what I have learned from this experience into my future relationships.

What I have always wanted – and still do – is to be with one partner, long-term, with whom I can share all of life’s rich experiences, to enjoy the journey and the inevitable changes together.

Complete Article HERE!

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Same-sex couples experience unique stressors

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Study by SF State professor finds that institutionalized discrimination has lasting effects

Professor of Sociology Allen LeBlanc

By Lisa Owens Viani

Stressors faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals have been well studied, but San Francisco State University Professor of Sociology Allen LeBlanc and his colleagues are among the first to examine the stressors that operate at the same-sex couple level in two new studies conducted with support from the National Institutes of Health. “People in same-sex relationships are at risk for unique forms of social stress associated with the stigma they face as sexual minority individuals and as partners in a stigmatized relationship form,” said LeBlanc.

In the first study, recently published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, LeBlanc and colleagues conducted in-depth interviews with 120 same-sex couples from two study sites, Atlanta and San Francisco, and identified 17 unique pressures that affect LGB couples. Those range from a lack of acceptance by families to discrimination or fears of discrimination at work, public scrutiny, worries about where to live and travel in order to feel safe, and experiences and fears of being rejected and devalued. The researchers also found that same-sex couple stressors can emerge when stress is contagious or shared between partners and when stress “discrepancies” — such as one partner being more “out” than the other — occur.

“We wanted to look beyond the individual, to look at how stress is shared and how people are affected by virtue of the relationships they’re in, the people they fall in love with and the new ways couples experience stress if they’re in a stigmatized relationship form,” said LeBlanc. “One of those is feeling that society doesn’t value your relationship equally.”

“Changing laws is one thing, but changing hearts and minds is another.”

That perception is the focus of a second study just published in the Journal of Marriage and Family. LeBlanc found that feelings of being in a “second-class” relationship are associated with mental health issues — such as greater depression and problematic drinking — even after taking into account the beneficial impact of gaining legal recognition through marriage. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, but the effects of long-term institutionalized discrimination can linger, according to LeBlanc.

“Our work is a stark reminder that legal changes will not quickly or fully address the longstanding mental health disparities faced by sexual minority populations,” said LeBlanc. “Changing laws is one thing, but changing hearts and minds is another.”

Even though people in same-sex relationships experience many unique challenges, research also shows that having a good primary intimate partnership is important for a person’s well-being, which is true for both heterosexual and LGB couples. “The unique challenges confronting same-sex couples emanate from the stigma and marginalization they face from society at large, not from anything that is unique about their relationships in and of themselves,” said LeBlanc. LeBlanc’s study builds on an emerging body of research suggesting that legal recognition of same-sex relationships is associated with better mental health among LGB populations — as has long been suggested in studies of legal marriage among heterosexual populations. “This new research suggests that legal marriage is a public health issue,” said LeBlanc. “When people are denied access in an institutionalized, discriminatory way, it appears to affect their mental health.”

LeBlanc said transgender individuals were not included in the studies because of other stressors unique to them; he noted that another study focused specifically on trans- and gender-nonconforming individuals is underway. He hopes his research will help people better understand and support not just same-sex couples but also other stigmatized relationships, including interracial/ethnic relationships or partnerships with age differences or different religious backgrounds. “It’s not just about civil rights for LGB persons,” he explained. “It’s about science and how society can be more supportive of a diversity of relationships that include people from all walks of life.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How to enjoy sex even when your mental ill-health is working against you

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Anxiety and low self-esteem can seriously impact your sex life

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Ever had one of those days when your brain seems to be dead set on working against you?

You’re planning a nice bit of sexy time – whether with a partner or simply some solo fun – but your head’s just not in it.

However much you might want to get jiggy with it, your brain is skipping around elsewhere and you just can’t concentrate, let alone roll around in orgasmic delight.

So what causes your head to seemingly separate from your body at just the moment you want to be able to focus on fun times?

All too often it boils down to lack of confidence in yourself and what you’re doing.

If you have problems with self esteem, it can trickle into all areas of your life – and that includes the bedroom.

The saying ‘first you have to love yourself’ is bit of a cliche – but like most cliches, it’s actually true. Many things can sap your confidence, both mental and physical.

For my friend Amy, the problem is a lack of confidence caused by physical issues.

The problem has grown over the years, to the stage where it’s such a big issue that she’s unsure how to even start working through it.

‘I was born with cerebral palsy and I also have ME and fibromyalgia,’ Amy says.

‘I’ve gone from being moderately active and social to spending most of my time at home and sleeping a lot.

‘I was never particularly confident with guys because I have always been overweight.

‘I’ve had four sexual partners so far, three men and a woman. All were basically one night stands that were pretty unsatisfactory for me (and probably them too).

‘I’ve not had sex in years now and have never really dated anyone.

‘I’m pretty fed up of that to be honest but I feel quite isolated socially and wary of anyone who might take an interest because I feel so unattractive.’

You need to learn to love yourself

My personal suggestion in any situation like this always boils down to that same cliche – you have to learn to love yourself first.

Mirrors, masturbation and practice is the key.

Look at yourself so that you’re used to what your own body looks like and learn what really turns you on.

If you practice this alone then you’ll have all the more confidence when it comes to getting down to it with someone else in the room.

Amy’s story is just one of many I hear all the time from people whose sex lives have become unsatisfactory through no fault of their own.

I spoke to relationship and sexuality counsellor Jennifer Deacon and asked for her general advice on separating sex from anxiety.

‘When you’re anxious it’s often hard to feel turned on – or even have any desire at all.

‘That in turn can feed the anxiety more, particularly if you’re in a relationship where you might feel you’re letting your partner down, bringing up a whole heap more anxiety.

‘As with any anxiety the first thing is to try and find that tricky balance between reflecting on what’s going on with your thoughts and over-analysing.

‘What’s stopping you – is it the thought of being naked with someone else? The physical acrobatics that you might feel you ought to be performing?

‘Or is your sexual desire being suppressed because of meds that you’re taking?

‘Try to reflect on what’s going on, and then work through the ‘what ifs’ and ‘shoulds’ that often make up a huge part of anxious thoughts.

‘If you have a partner, try to communicate with them what you need – for example if you’re missing intimacy but are scared of initiating hugs or cuddles because you’re not sure you want full sex, then try to find a way to talk about this with them.

‘If your anxiety has roots in a trauma that you’ve experienced then communication becomes even more important – both communicating with yourself as to what you need and want, and communicating with your partner so that they can support you.

‘Lack of libido can be a common side effect from medication so if you notice that your sexual desire has waned since you started a new medication or changed your dose, consider discussing this with your GP or specialist.’

Many prescription drugs do indeed have side effects that affect the libido – and doctors aren’t always up front about explaining the risks.

Okay, so ‘losing interest in sex’ might be a long way down the list of worrying potential side effects, but given that antidepressants often cause this issue, I’m always amazed that it isn’t discussed more.

Sex is a healthy part of life and if you still want it but struggle to get any joy out of it, that’s going to affect your happiness levels.

After literally decades of living with chronic anxiety, I’ve been through endless different drugs in the hope of finding one that will help without ruining the rest of my life.

The problem is that drugs affect everyone differently – what works brilliantly for one person can potentially have drastically negative effects on another.

The first antidepressant I was given was Prozac.

Back then it was the big name in drug therapy and widely considered to be suitable for everyone.

And yes, it helped my depression – but it also completely removed my ability to orgasm.

I still wanted to – my sex drive itself wasn’t affected in any way – but I simply couldn’t ‘get there’.

I still regale people about ‘that time I gave myself RSI through too much w*nking’ – it’s a funny story now, but at the time it was utterly true and completely miserable.

I went back to the doctor and had my meds changed.

At the last count, I think I’ve tried about thirteen different anxiety meds and I still haven’t found one that I can cope with.

Ironically, if I was happy to lose my libido then several of them would have been perfect – but why should we be expected to go without one of the most enjoyable life experiences?

Personally, that makes me just as miserable as being anxious or depressed, so it invalidates the positives anyway.

Currently I’m med-free – and not very happy about it – but at least I still have my sex life.

For some people, finding the right medication without it affecting their libido will be easy.

But everyone has to find their own balance – some might prefer to take the meds and sacrifice their physical enjoyment.

But it’s okay to want both.

Complete Article HERE!

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What a leather convention can teach everyone about sex and consent

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I don’t think I’d ever realized just how “vanilla” I was, and how little I understood about all of the ways you can engage in fun, healthy, consensual, adventurous sex.

“Hotel is closed for private event” read the signs affixed to the front of the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill last weekend. A steady stream of people, mostly men, many in leather harnesses, some in collars and on leashes, and some simply in jeans and sweaters, walked in and out in an almost continuous stream.

Mid-Atlantic Leather (MAL), now in its 48th year, is a three-day long celebration of the leather community, a subculture that celebrates various sexual kinks, many centered around leather and toys. Bears, daddies, pups and others identifying with various subsets roam the Hyatt Regency, participating in conference-like demonstrations about suspension (BDSM where you’re bound and hung) and electro (BDSM involving electric shocks), buying handcrafted leather goods and sex toys, and, of course, partying. (Actual sex was not part of the convention but no doubt took place in private.) It’s a predominantly LGBTQ centric space, although look closely enough and you’re sure to find people on every part of the gender and sexuality spectrum.

My first MAL was in the winter of 2016. I’d just gone through a breakup and my friend had suggested that perhaps it would be good for me to explore life beyond my comfort zone. “Just get ready,” he’d said, “it may be more than your little vanilla heart can handle.” And he wasn’t entirely wrong. It wasn’t that I couldn’t handle it, but I don’t think I’d ever realized just how “vanilla” I was, and how little I understood about all of the ways you can engage in fun, healthy, consensual, adventurous sex.

That first year I met Adam, a dentist in town from Texas just for MAL. “You look like you could use a drink,” he said back in a hotel room he was sharing with a friend of mine.

“Do I look that out of place?” I asked. I’d put on a leather jacket to try to blend in.

“Not out of place,” he said, “just kind of shocked.”

And shocked I was. Not necessarily at anything that was going on at the hotel that night, but more so at the fact that for the better part of my life I’d allowed myself to believe that this kind of sexual openness was only available to a certain kind of person.

“Where I grew up, there wasn’t really anything like this,” said Anthony, a 30-year-old living in Arlington, Va., who grew up in Portsmouth. (The sources for this story preferred that only first names be used, for privacy reasons). “There was no kink culture, and I really wanted to explore it. Everyone here was super welcoming, and that’s why I keep coming back.”

This was a common sentiment. “It’s a different part of the gay family,” said Garret, 28, who lives in Washington. “We all have different interests … and if nobody else respects that, come to MAL because they do here.”

Respect, as it turns out, is a dominating theme throughout the course of the weekend. You might expect that when many attendees are walking around in only a jockstrap and a harness, but it is pleasantly surprising to see how strictly they adhere to that principle. In the era of #MeToo, when more and more queer folks are being vocal about the role consent plays in queer spaces, perhaps the leather and kink communities have something to teach the general public about active and enthusiastic consent.

Ask for permission before petting. Hold out your hand and let the pup come to you first. If the pup doesn’t, or turns or growls, let them be as they may not want to or have permission. This is rule No. 5 as listed on the board outside the 10th anniversary mosh at the MAL Puppy Park, a yearly tradition in which individuals who participate in pup play — a BDSM role-play wherein one participant acts as the “pup” and one as the handler — have an opportunity to interact with other pups. Other rules include: Nudity is not permitted in public spaces, genitals cannot be exposed and DO NOT pull on a pup’s tail or collar. It can cause injury and is disrespectful. Change some of the verbiage and perhaps these would be appropriate guidelines to post at the Academy Awards.

“It’s where I met my current roommate,” said Allyn, a 31-year-old originally from Wisconsin who now lives in Washington, of his first MAL experience. “It was exhilarating. I’d never seen anything like it. It make me feel brave and nervous at the same time.” He didn’t speak to his would-be roommate the first night they met, however. “I mean, I had a ball gag in at the time,” he recounted.

Zack, 23, from Baltimore, also used the world “exhilarating” when describing his first MAL experience. “I got chills coming down the escalator into the lobby of the hotel,” he said. “It’s the closest thing to Folsom I’ve ever been too,” a reference to the San Francisco street fair that’s the world’s largest leather celebration.

Everyone I spoke to talked about descending that escalator on the evening of the opening party. It is truly a complete sensory experience. The sight, sound and smell of wall-to-wall leather and latex on every kind of body, not just seen but celebrated and appreciated.

While I was talking to Garret about the weekend, someone he appeared to know approached him, whispered something in his ear and, after he nodded yes, lifted Garret’s arm and began to sniff his armpit. Garret continued to answer my questions without pause. “There may be something over here that’s not your thing, but then you’ll look over there and see something going on that you’re totally into,” he explained “Don’t be shy, don’t judge other people for something you don’t understand. And above all, come and have a good time. No one is here to be spectacled. It can be a learning and cultural experience.” The sniffer had moved on to his other armpit by the time he finished talking.

Although I have yet to be brave enough to buy and wear a harness to MAL myself, each year I attend I move closer toward that goal. At the very least, the event has highlighted for me the fact that there is an exciting world beyond the “vanilla” one I’d relegated myself to — and has given me a better understanding of the queer community as a whole. At one point, in the leather market, a man who had recently undergone top surgery was trying on a new harness next to a group of folks signing to one another, while feet away a $1,400 bejeweled pup hood was on sale. Only at MAL.

Complete Article HERE!

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