The broader queer community needs to get serious about fighting with, and for, intersex people.
By Simon Copland
In early March, more than 20 intersex advocates from Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand came together for a groundbreaking retreat in Darlington, Sydney. The gathering, a first of its kind, produced a declaration of the policy goals for intersex people in the two countries, one which queer people and allies alike must take listen to.
The Darlington Statement’ presents policy demands across a range of key areas, including health, sex classification, marriage, and anti-discrimination legislation.
At its core is a focus on the continued practice of normalisation surgeries facing intersex people. The statement contains an unambiguous demand for the “immediate prohibition as a criminal act of deferrable medical interventions, including surgical and hormonal interventions, that alter the sex characteristics of infants and children without personal consent.” This demand follows the ‘Carla case’ in Australia last year, in which the Family Court of Australia stated that parents could authorise the sterilisation of a 5-year-old child, despite medical evidence that did not support the decision.
The other key focus of the document is the continued practice of official gender and sex classification, which the document argues are “upheld by structural violence”. Contrary to a lot of current policies, the Darlington Statement argues that “attempts to classify intersex people as a third sex/gender do not respect our diversity or right to self-determination.” Instead, the Statement proposes a range of potentially radical measures, with a final goal of the elimination of sex and gender on birth certificates and other identification documents. While current classifications exist, the statement argues that sex/gender assignments must be regarded as ‘provisional’, with the ability of people to be able to change their classification “through a simple administrative procedure”.
Beyond these two big ticket items, the Darlington Statement also discusses a number of other key issues, including legislative protection from discrimination and harmful practices on grounds of sex characteristics, an end to genetic discriminations such as higher life insurance premiums for intersex people, the right for all people to marry and form a family regardless of sex characteristics, and for an official apology and reparations from state and federal governments for the treatment of people born with variations of sex characteristics.
The Darlington Statement presents the first comprehensive policy platform for intersex people in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand. In doing so, it is an essential document for a community whose continued discrimination and oppression is finally starting to receive some international recognition and action.
For the rest of us, however, the question is whether we will listen. While intersex people long ago entered the ‘LGBTIQ acronym’, discussions around intersex issues have remained largely non-existent, with young intersex children continuing to face intrusive and unnecessary medical interventions. Simultaneously, debates on sex and gender classifications have often ignored the voices of intersex people, particularly concerning the challenges behind legislation that provides for third sex classifications on birth certificates and other official documents.
This reality was noted in the Darlington Statement itself. The document said:
“Intersex is distinct from other issues. We call on allies to actively acknowledge our distinctiveness and the diversity within our community, to support our human rights claims and respect the intersex human rights movement, without tokenism, or instrumentalising, or co-opting intersex issues as a means for ends. ‘Nothing about us without us.’”
This is the challenge that we as a broader queer community must now finally face. The Darlington Statement is not just a policy platform, but also a call that if we are to include intersex people into broader queer politics, we must be serious about fighting with, and for, intersex people.
The Darlington Statement gives us a clear outline of what needs to be done. It is up to us a community to take it seriously.
Why is care for sexual health issues considered a luxury when it’s a necessary part of population health?
By Zachary Hafner
When Americans seek care for most common health conditions, there is rarely much question about coverage. Every day, consumers—including those on Medicaid and Medicare—seek care for sore joints, depression, and even acne without worrying about whether or not their insurance will cover their doctor visits and medications. For the most part, coverage for sexual health issues is less straightforward—but why? Is it because sexual health issues are not considered legitimate illnesses? Because the costs are significant? Or is it because raising the topic of sexual health can offend certain personal and organizational values? Whatever the reason, it is time for a change.
It’s hard to deny the human and economic burden of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) on this country. The CDC estimates that 110 million Americans are infected with an STI, resulting in direct medical costs of $16 billion annually. The most common and fastest growing STI in this country is human papillomavirus (HPV), and it is estimated that half of sexually active men and women will get HPV at some point in their lives. In 2006, a vaccine for HPV was introduced and now there are several. CDC guidelines recommend administering a multi-dose series, costing about $250–450, to all boys and girls at age 11 or 12. (Some states require the vaccine for school admission.) It was included in mandatory coverage under the ACA. Since the HPV vaccine was first recommended in 2006 there has been a 64% reduction in vaccine-type HPV infections among teen girls in the United States.
It seems clear that this kind of care for sexual health is necessary for public health and is also part of caring for the whole individual, a central tenet of population health. But what about sexual health care that doesn’t involve infectious disease? Is it still a population health issue if there’s no communicable disease involved?
Let’s take erectile dysfunction (ED) for example. It is nearly as common in men over 40 as HPV is in the general population—more than half of men over 40 experience some level of ED, and more than 23 million American men have been prescribed Viagra. With a significant portion of the population suffering from ED, is it important for payers and providers to consider ED treatment to be essential health care and to cover it accordingly? Medications like Viagra and Cialis are an expensive burden at upwards of $50 per pill. Medicare D does not cover any drugs for ED, but some private insurers do when the medications are deemed medically necessary by a doctor. A handful of states require them to do so, but they are typically listed as Tier 3 medications—nonessential and with the highest co-pays.
Almost 7 million American women have used infertility services. Coverage for infertility diagnosis and treatment is not mandated by the ACA, though 15 states require commercial payers to provide various levels of coverage. The cost of infertility treatments is highly variable depending on the methods used but in vitro fertilization treatments, as one measure, average upward of $12,000 per attempt.
Are treatments for ED and infertility elective or necessary? In an age of consumerism and heightened attention to the whole patient across a broader continuum of care, organizations that support the availability of a broad set of sexual health services to a diverse group of consumers will have a big competitive advantage, but they may face challenges balancing the costs. Health care has advanced in both technical and philosophical ways that allow people to manage their diseases, cure their problems, and overcome limitations. It has also shone light on the significant advantages to considering a diagnosis in the context of the whole individual—their social and emotional health as well as coexisting conditions. Studies have shown, for example, that infertility, ED, and STIs all have a significant relationship with depression and anxiety.
It’s time sexual health was folded in to the broader definition of wellness instead of marginalized as a separate issue. For too many Americans, it’s too big an issue not to address.
Virginity has always been a big deal. Countless cultures have been obsessed with the concept from their beginnings.
Yet, many people fail to consider the concept of virginity from different perspectives.
The way we view virginity as a culture is extremely detrimental to the health of our sexualities, especially when you consider that technically, it is not even real.
Virginity is conceptual, it is a social construction. When we have sex for the first time we do not actually lose anything. It does not change our identity, it is not life-altering and it does not affect our worth. It is simply a new experience.
While it is perfectly healthy to want to wait until you are in a committed relationship or married before you have sex, shaming others for not choosing the same path is hurtful.
This is exactly what our cultural view of virginity does. It praises those who remain “pure,” and shames those who choose to have sex before marriage.
“Just because something is a social construction doesn’t mean that is doesn’t carry a lot of emotional weight for people,” Dr. Breanne Fahs, Ph.D. in clinical psychology and women’s studies and associate professor at ASU, said. “However, purity is never a good thing. Whenever that word shows up we should get nervous.”
The idea of purity is used as a means to control and manipulate us into following social norms, especially gender norms. It reinforces the idea that women lack sexuality. Virginity is treated as a commodity that can be lost. So according to this concept, when a woman has sex, she loses her value.
“Who gets saddled with the discourse of purity? Women do,” Fahs said. “When women are trying to feel like they’re negotiating sexual purity, that is never good.”
However, the construction of this ideal does not just hurt women, it’s destructive to men’s sexualities as well. Men are widely shamed for remaining virgins, as it’s loss is a sign of their masculinity and manhood. It’s a “rite of passage,” an exclusive club one can only join by engaging in one of the most intimate human experiences.
“It (virginity) is a new thing that someone is doing, but we mark it as a loss,” Fahs said. “There’s hardly any other experience like it that we frame in that way. You can’t definitively say that virginity is useful or useless, but it definitely points to strong gender dynamics that we want to be careful about.”
Virginity is also exclusively heteronormative. It focuses solely on straight male/female penetrative sex. As a result, it invalidates any sex that does not fit this strict definition, and excludes LGBTQ relationships and sexualities.
The concept of virginity makes it hard to make our own decisions about sex. It attaches guilt and shame to sexuality, and makes it seem like a scary experience that transforms you into completely different person.
As a result people often feel overwhelmed and pressured when deciding if they are ready to have sex, and guilty after the fact.
By buying into the idea of purity, we effectively begin to dismantle the possibility of having a healthy sex life. Many people report feeling dirty after sex, even if they are married. They did everything society would perceive as right, but because they were taught that virginity is such a big deal, losing it is devastating.
If we begin to reframe the idea of virginity, our culture will be able to foster much healthier ideas about sexuality. Everyone should be free to make their own decisions about sex without being held to some gross and damaging social construct.
Penises can be problematic. They are powerful, untameable beasts, capable of wielding immense pleasure but also able to cause devastating emotional wounds. And that’s just anal sex
by Liam Murphy
As well as the obvious physical harm that can be inflicted – skinny jeans have cursed a generation to suffer cock-caught-in-fly related trauma – the magnificent meat mallet can also bring mental torment when, like an untrained puppy, it just won’t do as it’s told.
THE HARDER THE BETTER?
Some of the best things are hard: hard-boiled eggs, biscuits, those rhubarb and custard sweets, Tom Hardy and, of course, the penis. However, sometimes they can spring up at the most unexpected and inopportune times, and just won’t go away.
“I call my hard-on issue uncontrollable as such,” says 21-year-old Ian, “let’s say ‘eager’ or ‘keen’. It doesn’t take much and it’s ‘up periscope’ time. I’ve been this way as long as I’ve appreciated the male form. I went through a phase of wearing an over the shoulder bag in my late teens so I could cover the odd bus boner (the vibrations cause a right disturbance). Rather that than poke someone in the eye on the way past, I guess!”
However, impromptu erections can also lead to embarrassing retail situations, as Ian explains. “Recent men’s fashion means that I’ve become accustomed to skinny fit jeans, and for whatever reason, I went commando that day – I’m sure you know where I’m going with this – and I guess it must have been particularly sensitive or whatever. Anyway, I ended up with a lob-on in Tesco. My skinny jeans/tight t-shirt combo meant there was no hiding, so I did what any self-respecting bloke would do. I awkwardly leant over the shopping trolley for the next ten minutes. On the upside, I can also get hard on demand! It’s just a combination of a high sex drive and an involuntary physical reaction, I think.”
For Kieran, 25, his perilously perky penis is just part of his day. “I wouldn’t say it’s an issue – more just a fact of life. Some people sweat a lot, some people yawn a lot… I get boners a lot. Not getting them would be an issue, but getting too many, yeah that’s a ‘problem’ I’m OK with – at least I know it’s all working well. It does pop up at any time. When I was due to be giving a talk, someone gave me a wink and boom… up popped my friend downstairs to take his moment centre stage. I stood behind the lectern desperately thinking of Margaret Thatcher and trying to kill it so I could step out and begin my talk properly. The worst though, is when someone you don’t fancy or don’t want to have sex with tries it on and it just feels like he’s betraying you.”
And how does one manage the curse (or blessing, depending on your perspective) of a perpetual hard-on? “Like everyone else I learned the ‘tuck it behind your belt’ trick, or to hide it behind my belt. Granted, occasionally there have been times when I’ve had to miss my tube stop and stay sitting down while I waited for one to subside.”
Will, 38, didn’t notice the problem cropping up until he was in a relationship. “I was never aware of it until I met my boyfriend and it became apparent early on that I would get erect whenever I was around him. It has settled down a bit now but whenever we kissed in public I would get a twinge. And in bed it still sometimes feels like I have an erection all night. I would generally be embarrassed that I was getting these erections. I felt immature. This is what happens to a teenager, not an adult. I was going through a difficult break-up once – lots of tears – we were cuddling and I was hard. I realised then that my hard-ons were not always about sex – to me they were about love too.”
Erectile dysfunction can happen to a lot of people, in varying degrees and for many reasons, medical or otherwise.
“It happens to me every time I put on a condom,” admits Steven, 34. “I have no problem keeping it up before fucking – wanking and getting sucked off have never been a problem – but when I go to fuck someone and I slide the condom on, I lose the hardness. Not totally, but enough that I can’t properly put it in someone’s arse and enough that the sensation goes for me.”
Steven tried mixing up condom brands. “I’ve used thin, ultra-thin, ribbed, tingle… every version of a condom you could imagine and I still get the same flaccid result. I think it must be a psychological thing, because it’s not like I can’t get hard at all. It’s fine when I bareback with long term boyfriends, but with one nighters I tend to have to bottom now.”
Anxiety can often be a cause of not being able to maintain an erection, as 27-year-old James confirms: “Sex in general makes me anxious. I hate getting naked and I get so nervous when it comes to getting down to it in bed. I was dating a guy I really liked, so much that when he touched me I would physically shake, but when it came to sex I just couldn’t get hard. He thought I didn’t like him! And now I dread having sex. I love the dating side of it but I always know that heading to the bedroom is going to be inevitable.”
What can cause you to have trouble getting or staying hard?
Stress and anxiety.
Smoking, recreational drugs and alcohol.
Some prescribed drugs – like Prozac and Seroxat.
Diabetes, high cholesterol and highblood pressure.
Psychological reasons – the more you worry about your erection, the less likely you are to be able to get one.
What can I do to make myself hard?
If you think the reason is psychological – a distraction helps, so encourage your partner to focus on something other than your cock for a while – kissing or nipple play might help to get you back in action.
Cockrings can also be used to help maintain a hard-on – leather or rubber straps are safer to use.
Drugs like Viagra or Cialis – consult your doctor for these.
Matthew Hodson, CEO of GMFA told us: “Rolling a condom onto a rock-hard penis isn’t a problem but if it’s a bit soft and you start to get anxious then it’s easy to spiral with anxiety to the point where a condom is really tricky to use. The more you’re concerned that you won’t be hard enough to use a condom, the more likely it is to happen. If it’s just an occasional problem it’s probably best not to make a big thing of it and just do something else that turns you on while you wait for it to get hard again. If it’s becoming more of a problem, you might want to experiment with cock-rings or talk with your GP about it – there’s no need to be embarrassed, you won’t be the first person who will have approached them with the same problem. Most erection problems can be addressed so there’s no reason why a temporarily soft dick should be a long-term barrier to you enjoying sex safely.”
Everyone should be able to enjoy a penis (which is my campaign slogan if I ever run for Prime Minister), especially their own. Whether it’s too hard or too soft, it doesn’t mean you and your cock have to suffer alone. Confide in your partner/lover/friend/doctor and discuss what you can do to get you and your lifelong pleasure companion talking again.
Step 1: When your cock is hard, take the condom out of the wrapper carefully using your fingers. Using your teeth to tear the packet could damage the condom. Squeeze the air out of the teat on the tip of the condom (if there is one) and put it over the end of your cock. Don’t stretch it and then pull it over your cock as this will make it more likely to break.
Step 2: Roll it down the length of your cock – the further down it goes the less likely it is to slip off. Put some water-based or silicone-based lubricant over your condom-covered cock. Put plenty of lube around his arse too. Don’t put any lube on your cock before you put the condom on, as this can make it slip off.
Step 3: Check the condom occasionally while fucking to ensure it hasn’t come off or split. If you fuck for a long time you will need to keep adding more lube. When you pull out, hold on to the condom and your cock at the base, so that you don’t leave it behind. Pull out before your cock goes soft.
What lube should I use?
When you don’t use enough lube, or use the wrong kind, the likelihood of condom failure is increased, making transmission of HIV and other STIs possible. Water-based lubes (e.g. K-Y, Wet Stuff and ID Glide) and silicone-based lubes (Eros Bodyglide and Liquid Silk) work well with condoms. Oil-based lubricants like cooking oil, moisturisers, sun lotions, baby oil, butter, Crisco, Elbow Grease, etc. can also cause latex condoms to break.
They can however be used with non-latex condoms, like Durex Avanti, Mates Skyn or Pasante Unique. Don’t use spit as it dries up quickly and increases the chance of your condom tearing.
Porn images are everywhere but we need better ways to teach children about love, intimacy and yes, masturbation
At the start of this third millennium, sex seems to be all around us – within easy reach, on our screens, constantly talked about in the media. What used to be concealed, shameful and forbidden only a century ago is today regarded as evidence of progress in the freedom of thought. Artists use sex to push the limits of creativity: Paul McCarthy’s “butt plug” sculpture, for example, was installed at the Place Vendôme in Paris in 2014, even though it provoked outrage among residents.
The sexual metaphor is ever-present. Paradoxically, however, sex is rarely explained and almost never taught. Do you know how our sexual organs changed when we evolved from animal to human? When did the first couple show up? Where does our sense of modesty come from? Or eroticism? Or love, that most momentous of human concerns? What about our earliest customs? Which ancient civilisation championed equality between men and women? And why was masturbation frowned upon?
Sex is one of those realities that for a long time we neither wanted to see nor hear about. The sexual liberation of the 1970s – which was, in my opinion, the biggest social revolution in the history of humanity – signalled the transition from a traditional male-dominated society to one in which sex with all its nuances could finally be examined openly and understood. But as sex has dared to uncover itself, to live, to speak, we face the challenge of expressing what for so long has been kept under wraps. How are we to communicate what so recently caused so much shock and outrage?
In the west, the union of two individuals is in complete flux, with a drop in those getting married (in France 57% of births now happen outside marriage); same-sex marriage; and the option of “slices of life”, relationships with different partners in the course of a lifetime. But however free our customs may be, censorship persists when it comes to the communication of sex, the words, the particular way of defining sexuality and the idea of sensuality. Literature and fiction have always attempted to push the boundaries of this censorship: in the 18th century we had Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s Dangerous Liaisons; and in the 21st, EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey. But mostly our discussions fall somewhere between sincerity and provocation as we attempt to understand intimacy and the fullest expression of sexual pleasure.
No history book will delve too deeply into the sexual realm, yet it’s clear that history is a timeline of instructions and condemnations about sexuality. Each culture, each religion, each era has defined its own normality.
But without learning the history of love and intimacy, how can we understand the extraordinary evolution in customs that has led us from an existence ordered by family and society, and reinforced by religion, to the freedoms we know today? In his collection of aphorisms, Monogamy, the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips says that “most people would not live as a couple if they had never heard of it”. In this, he is reflecting the artificial nature of our customs and the need for a way to express our thoughts on sex, intimacy and being with other people.
We know today that human sexuality is not innate: it is learned and constructed through the images that society offers us. Even among our cousins, the primates, who live in a natural habitat, sexuality is learned through experience – young monkeys witness the courting and frolicking of the adults. The need for a model is evident: a young chimpanzee isolated from its peers is incapable of mating when it reaches adulthood.
Yet there is a fundamental difference: we invented modesty. Humans always make love away from the group. This is one of the great problems with sexuality: on the one hand it requires education; on the other, culture and religion collude to suppress sexual education.
The physician Thomas Beddoes was probably the first person to teach a course in sex education, complete with public demonstrations on the differences between men and women, in the early 19th century. But in the following two centuries, sex education failed to gain ground. Opposition was widespread and aggressive, on the part of the church as well as among teachers.
But other western countries such as France and the UK provide little more than a perfunctory discourse on contraception and safeguarding against STDs. In France, a 2001 law stipulates three classes of sex education a year in middle and secondary school. However, as teachers have no training in this very particular field, it is often organisations such as those devoted to family planning that ensure these classes go ahead. In most cases, they rarely take place at all, and when they do they are limited to the three Ps: “prevention, pill, protection”, in other words, information on fertility and STDs. In this educational void the internet and porn offer themselves as models.
This is quite evidently the worst possible model, and the reason why a more reliable source of knowledge is indispensable, from primary school through to the last year of secondary. The average age at which children are first exposed to pornography is 11. Such an artificial vision of sex has altered our most intimate behaviour and has become the frame of reference not just for our teenagers but for us all. It makes us ask ourselves: am I sexy enough, am I the best lover?
Nothing could be more damaging than these images devoid of explanation. We can’t stop young people from encountering porn, but a formal, educational approach would allow our society to explain its context and prevent misunderstandings that could otherwise compromise a fragile or still developing personality.
A genuine sex education should take the bio-psychological, emotional and social aspects of sexuality into account, should allow children to understand differences between the sexes, interpersonal relationships, the importance of developing critical thinking, an open mind and respect for the other. We must banish negative terms (sin, adultery, prostitution, Aids and STDs) in favour of positive schooling that allows children to understand desire, pleasure and excitement; the importance of sensitivity in love; the importance of masturbation, even. We must understand that everything can be taught, even the practicalities of how people live together, and we should start in primary school with discussions not only of genital differences but about the variations between boys and girls, the significance of love and of respect that may help with later relationships, notions of gender equality and domestic violence.
Only by speaking frankly, lightheartedly and wide-rangingly about sex, love and intimacy can we provide an education that enables adolescents, both boys and girls, to begin their lives with a better understanding of human relationships.