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Gay couples more likely to have a happy sex life in long-term relationships compared to straight couples

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Same-sex couples are more likely to work on their sex lives

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Same-sex couples are more likely to have a happy sex life in long-term relationships compared to straight couples.

And not only are gay people more likely to work on and try new things in their sex life, they are also less likely to believe they are ‘destined’ to be with a perfect partner.

According to new research by the University of Toronto, both same-sex and opposite-sex couples were happier when they were willing to work on their sex life and did not believe in a ‘perfect mate’.

Jessica Maxwell, a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts & Science, used research involving 1,900 participants of both gay and straight couples.

‘Gay and lesbians have higher levels of sexual growth beliefs than heterosexuals, and have lower levels of sexual destiny beliefs than heterosexuals,’ she told Gay Star News.

‘This is encouraging because those with higher sexual growth beliefs had the best outcomes in our studies!’

The better outcome meant higher relationship and sexual satisfaction.

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‘We know that disagreements in the sexual domain are somewhat inevitable over time,’ Maxwell added. ‘Your sex life is like a garden, and it needs to be watered and nurtured to maintain it.’

Maxwell scored gay and lesbian couples on average of 6.02 versus straight couples of 5.68 on the question of whether couples believed in working on sex in a relationship.

And on whether people believed in ‘sexual destiny’, opposite-sex couples were far more likely with a score of 3.17 compared to 2.69.

‘The fact that same-sex couples are higher in sexual growth beliefs does suggest they have a healthier view of sexual relationships which should in turn foster greater relationship and sexual satisfaction over time,’ Maxwell added to GSN.

The way Maxwell worded the question on sexual orientation, it did not allow her to easily differentiate if there was a difference between gay male couples and lesbian couples.

However, while she did see women were more likely to believe in soulmates and romantic destinies, the researcher found they are more likely than men to believe sex takes work in a long-term relationship.

Maxwell hoped to show that problems in the bedroom are normal, and it does not automatically mean the relationship is in trouble.

The study, How Implicit Theories of Sexuality Shape Sexual and Relationship Well-Being, was published in the November issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The research builds on the work of other researchers (Bohns, Scholer and Rehman, 2015) who examined the belief sexual attraction can be malleable.

Complete Article HERE!

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Having sex with a man doesn’t make you gay

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But if you’re man enough to do it and still call yourself straight, be man enough to talk about it

by The Guyliner

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Labels are important. They help us. They can protect us. Labels tell you that there are baked beans in the tin you’re holding; labels warn us not to wash our merino sweater above 30 degrees. We trust labels, because without them, we’d get it wrong. But sometimes, labels don’t work – they are derogatory or incorrect or unwelcome. One part of society where labels are changing is within sexuality and gender. As the landscape expands from straight/gay and man/woman to include bisexuality, queerness and trans people, among others, many are finding themselves moving away from the specific, restrictive pigeonholing a label can bring and merely tagging themselves “Me”.

But what happens when you’re happy with the label society has assigned you, but quite fancy trying out something someone like you doesn’t normally do, or what if you start to travel down one path, only to find you prefer another, and want to change course and stay on it for ever? Do you have to re-label yourself? Does it mean you’re not who you thought you were? Is it time to mute whichever episode of Stranger Things you’re watching, stand up, tell the room you dreamt another man’s erection touched you and have an identity crisis? In short: if you’re straight but have sex with another guy, does it make you gay?

beautiful buttIt rather depends on what you think being gay means. For most people, ask what “gay” means to them and, if we’re talking about guys, they’ll say a man who has sex with other men. And this, of course, is a huge part of being gay. But the reduction of gayness to be nothing more than just sex can not only be counter-productive – as in, uptight straight guys are missing out on something quite spectacular – and, frankly, homophobic, but it’s also plain wrong.

You know when you see a kid acting or talking a certain way and you think, “they’re gay” or “they’ll be gay when they’re older” – how do you explain that? They don’t even know what sex is yet, straight or gay. The feelings “gay” children have and the character traits they display can’t be boiled down to some potential gay sex they may or may not be having 10 or 15 years down the line – that’s gayness right there, already in play. Whether you believe in nature or nurture or any other theory, there’s more to being gay than just shagging another guy.

So if we remove the label of “gay” from sex acts we traditionally assume are only the domain of gay men, does this mean you can take part in them and still be straight? Where do we draw the line? Getting a blow job from a guy, for example, is something a lot more straight men have experienced than the stony faces down at the Dog and Gun might have you believe. Is it less gay if there’s no mutual contact of genitals? Because it’s passive? A service, almost?

James, 28, says he regularly got blowjobs from a gay pal in his teens, but he doesn’t consider himself gay. “Me and my mate would fool around but mainly he would do it to me,” he explains. “I wasn’t as interested in his cock as he was in mine, but I think we both got something out of it.” If there’s one thing hormone-frazzled 17-year-old boys aren’t getting anywhere near enough of as they want, it’s oral sex. “I didn’t have a girlfriend yet and my mate was just discovering his sexuality and wanted to try. I always made it clear we weren’t in a relationship and that nobody should know. But I didn’t feel guilty and I think he was cool with it.”shut your cock washer

You could argue that there was an element of exploitation to James’s relationship with his mate. The friend was finding his feet with his sexuality and James was the willing guinea pig – as long as nobody found out – but if you’re encouraging a gay man to perform fellatio on you, aren’t you gay? “I’ve never been with a man since and I’m happily married now. I doubt I’d do it again as that would mean being unfaithful, but I consider myself straight. It’s fine to experiment; it’s a big part of finding out who you are.”

And what about when contact with another man happens as part of your relationship? Mark, a 28-year-old investment banker had already had one skirmish with a gay guy when his colleague’s boyfriend came on to him in a club bathroom and went down on him – real life really is stranger than soap opera – but his second time was a different matter altogether. His girlfriend was there.

downlow6“I was in the couples room at Torture Garden [a fetish club in London] and a stranger gave me a blowjob,” Mark explains. “I was there with my girlfriend at the time and we’d both got pretty wild.”

So why stop at a blowjob and not take it further? When in Rome, and all that. “I just didn’t really feel the desire to f*** him. I suppose it’s possible I might go further one day but I think it’s very unlikely. I almost never think men are attractive.”

But if you’re involving a third person in your hitherto straight sex life, does this mean either you or your partner is bisexual? For Mark, it’s not a concern. “Why do I continue to identify as straight? I suppose it’s because I couldn’t imagine myself having a relationship with a man. In the same way I have gay friends who’ve f***ed women, but would never identify as bi, or worry they’re straight.

“I think that ‘being gay’ or ‘being straight’ is about much more than some sexual contact.”

So a BJ is a BJ, but what about when things go further? Is the threshold for gayness actual penetration? Surely, if you’re having anal sex with a man, you’re gay, no? That’s what the guys in the locker room would say, right?

Thinking about having sex with a man isn’t a sign you’re gay yourself, no more than idly imaging pushing your evil boss under a truck means you’re a latent homicidal maniac. Sometimes, though, even if you’ve never imagined it, when the opportunity presents itself, a primal instinct takes over, as videographer Zak, 25, discovered.

“I’d never really thought about being bi or gay, he explains. “I’d only ever been with girls and had never really been sexually attracted to any guys.

“When I was 20 a load of our sixth form year got together for a party. George was a guy from my year I’d known fairly well but never been close to. We were both fairly drunk and I remember just feeling happy to see him for the first time in ages and for some reason, knowing he was gay, I kissed him rather than hugging him. We chatted for a bit and then we both carried on with the night – not really thinking much about it.”

So far, so straight – no need to adjust any labels so far. Everyone is as they should be.

Zak continues: “Later on, we were both alone on the landing and he kissed me again. This time, for some reason, I didn’t really stop him and before long we were fully making out – we snuck into one of the bedrooms and one thing led to another.”

But was this a harrowing experience? Was there much soul-searching or did Zak just have a blast?

“I did enjoy myself. I suppose I’m quite a sexually liberal person and didn’t really think of it as being ‘gay’, it was just was fun and at the time I was enjoying it.”MSM

The ability to distance oneself from any gayness of a sex act perhaps comes from how it plays out. Who shags who, who touches what – that kind of thing. Like James getting a BJ from his pal, Zak’s mate was also providing a service of sorts, but Zak was an active participant. “We had sex, both oral and anal,” says Zak. “I ‘topped’ [the other guy played a passive role and ‘received’], I don’t think I’d have been comfortable with it the other way around.”

It’s not uncommon for straight men who have sex with another man to experience “gay panic” and feel guilty about what they’ve done and what it means. This can, on occasion, lead to persecution of, or violence against the other guy, whether he’s gay or also straight. But Zak remains unfazed about the experience.

“I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed,” he says. “I still identify as straight and don’t think I’d initiate something with a bloke, but put in the same situation I could see myself doing it again.”

Some guys might worry that they were gay – and if you’re wondering why anyone would “worry” about such a thing, do take a moment to research how gay men and women are treated across the world – but Zak takes a more relaxed approach.

“One of my uni friends described himself as ‘hetero-flexible’ and I reckon that’s probably where I am at too,” says Zak. “I don’t think repeating it would make me ‘gay’. I’m not attracted to them but I can appreciate men who are attractive. In the same way I’ve slept with women in the past who I don’t think I was really attracted to, sometimes sex is just sex and it’s fun.”

And Zak’s right, sex is just sex. It’s common for gay people, when they first come out, to say their sexuality doesn’t define them, that there’s more to them than simply being gay. It’s all part of the process of recognizing your sexual orientation and assert yourself as an individual, not part of some flock or movement. It’s the vestigial feelings of shame that coming out is supposed to eradicate, hanging on for dear life. “I’m not like the others,” they think. Most of us get over it eventually and reconcile with the fact we’re gay, but this refusal to define can, in some cases, be a positive thing – a defiance of society’s boring old norms. As long as it’s used constructively and positively, and not homophobically of course.

You as an individual get to decide how you label your sexuality, if at all. As long as nobody’s feelings are getting screwed over, you’re free to have sex with men or women at will and still call yourself straight.

But it’s worth acknowledging that you’re merely a tourist and all the privilege this gives you. You get all the pluses of gay sex – and they are pluses, admit it, you love it – but, as long it’s kept on the downlow, none of the prejudice and pressures the LGBT community faces apply to you. You get to dip in, and out, with little or none of the comeback.

Labels inform and warn and categorize, but they also help us come to terms with who we are. A label can be something to cling to, to identify with, to make us feel safe, to tell the world what we’re about.

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Avoiding them altogether is brave, choosing one and then flouting the conventions of it could be braver still, but living with a label 24/7 and taking all the consequences it throws at you is perhaps the bravest path of all. And those repercussions can be noxious: LGBT people are discriminated against, mocked, beaten and murdered, all for doing things you get to do without question. Just for being.

Having sex with a man doesn’t mean you’re gay, definitely not. You get to be who you want to be. But don’t forget the sacrifices your gay brothers make on a daily basis so you can have that freedom to choose. You get to go back to your privileged status in the world – we can only be us.

“Gay” sex acts aren’t something to be ashamed of; if you’re man enough to do it and still call yourself straight, be man enough to talk about it. Don’t let it be a dirty little secret; own your sexuality – whatever it may be – with pride.

Complete Article HERE!

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Penis politics: Sex, size and stereotypes in the gay community

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When it comes to penis size, gay men face a host of preconceptions about masculinity and race

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Recent studies have shown that actual penis size is smaller than men are claiming. According to the Journal of Sexual Medicine, the average male penis measures 5.6 inches when erect; the Journal of Urology puts it at a slightly smaller 5.08 inches. This is considerably smaller than previous numbers from Alfred Kinsey, Durex and the Definitive Penis study, which averaged 6.25 inches in their estimates. The difference between the two estimates: surveys like Durex’s rely on self-reporting, and men are likely to overestimate. As Tom Hickman wrote in “God’s Doodle”: “What is incontrovertible is that where men and their penises are concerned there are lies, damned lies, and self measurements.”

Just ask any gay man looking for a hook-up on Grindr. “If a guy tells you his size and you meet up, you realize he must have a different ruler,” said Noah Michelson, editor of The Huffington Post’s Gay Voices section. Michelson believes that the reason men are likely to overreport their penis size is because of the “cultural currency” the gay community places on having a large penis. “I think there’s something to do with internalized homophobia or insecurities about being a man,” Michelson said. “You want to have a big dick and you want to be with a big dick. You want to be with a ‘man.’”

Michelson argued it’s not just about having a large penis; it’s what that penis signifies. “Having a big dick means that you’re ‘masculine’ and you wield a lot of power, because we assign so much power to the phallus itself,” he told me. “You’re a dominator and a conqueror.” Michelson said that this idea is largely informed by pornography, a strong force in shaping desire in the gay community; but for those who don’t fit into that “porn culture,” it leads to a feeling of being left out. “It’s totally a lottery,” Michelson explained. “And you either win it or you don’t.”

According to Jaime Woo, author of the book “Meet Grindr,” which explores how men interact on mobile hookup applications, that game can have very negative consequences for queer men who find themselves on the losing side. That’s why the size issue can seem even more fraught in the gay community than among heterosexuals. “In gay male culture, your sexual worth is very tied to your worth in the community overall,” Woo said. “We don’t have a lot of structure in place for men who aren’t sexually valuable, and they disappear into the background. Gay men have enough issues already, and this is just another way for them to feel bad about themselves, if they’re not packing eight inches under their pants.”

Woo told me that looking for sex on Grindr “makes the expectations much more heightened.” “Grindr has really distorted peoples’ understanding of what average or normal is, and the fact that people can ask if six or seven inches are too small — it’s jaw dropping,” Woo said. “You can be very picky because there is something better around the corner, someone bigger or hotter and someone more your type. It creates a very narrow band of desire.”

Huffington Post writer Zach Stafford argued that in order to hook up, we’re commodifying ourselves for sexual consumption. “On Grindr, you’re literally putting someone in a box,” Stafford explained. “The app’s layout is an actual shelf, like you would see in a grocery store.” In order to participate on the site, Stafford said that you have to learn how to market yourself by those confines. “It’s like being a book on Amazon,” Stafford told me. “You give yourself a little cover and write your summary. You make yourself a product, and when you’re selling yourself, you always go bigger.”

Stafford said our fascination with penis size is inherently tied to capitalism. “Studies have shown that people with larger penises make more money,” Stafford explained. “It’s power in our pants.” Stafford also explained that the correlation between sex and power leads to a skewed power dynamic between tops and bottoms. Research shows that bottoms have smaller penises on average, and are more likely to have penis anxiety and low self-esteem.  In an essay for the Huffington Post, Stafford called it “Top Privilege.” Stafford wrote, “In this line of thought, bottoms are seen ‘less than,’ ‘feminine’ or ‘the woman’ because they are the taker of the phallus.”

But it’s not just an issue of money and gender. Race also plays a large part in how gay men read each others’ bodies, especially for black and Asian men, stereotyped at the ends of the size spectrum. Stafford, who is multiracial, said that men will often approach him in bars to ask about his penis, expecting him to conform to the stereotype. “It creates an enormous amount of pressure for black men,” Stafford stated. “Black men are only seen as a tool — a tool of building and a tool of fucking. They’re reduced to a big penis.” In his case, Stafford said men often fall into two camps: “Either white people look at me as a black man with a big dick, or they see me and fetishize me — they want to dominate me.”

Jay Borchert has had the exact opposite experience. A doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, Borchert (who is white) has frequently dated men of color, causing his romantic experiences to be reduced to a fetish. “People make remarks that I must be in it for the dick,” Borchert told me. “Why can’t I be looking for ass? Why can’t I be looking for mouth? Why can’t I be looking for a person?” People sometimes assume that Borchert adopts the “bottom” role in his sexual relationships, which isn’t the case. Borchert sighed, “It was really frustrating because there’s more to dating and relationships than penis.”

Due to his ethnicity, Thought Catalog writer John Tao has also found himself being put in a box in the bedroom. “Because I’m Asian, I’m automatically categorized as being a bottom,” Tao said. “There’s a perception that I wouldn’t want to top.” Because of this, Tao said that’s the role he’s most often performed in sexual relationships. “All of these people think I’m a bottom, so I’ll just be a bottom,” Mr. Tao explained, “You have to be careful because we internalize these stereotypes about ourselves. Your gay Asian friend might identify as a total bottom, but that could be years of societal expectations.”

Justin Huang, who blogs about his experiences being gay and Chinese at I Am Yellow Peril, agreed that the baggage around penis size can be particularly harmful for Asian-American men. In school, Huang’s friends would often tease him about what they assumed was the size of his penis, which was difficult when coming to terms with his sexual identity. “For a long time, I thought I had a small penis,” Huang explained. “It’s amazing what your brain can train you to see. I didn’t have a lot of respect for my penis. Gay men are emasculated already, so when you’re gay and Asian, you feel doubly emasculated.”

Huang told me that when you’re Asian, you’re expected to perform the stereotype, meaning that guys are very curious to see what’s inside your pants. “I’ve been in straight bars using the bathroom where a guy will lean over and look at my dick, just to see if what they say is true,” Huang said. But Jaime Woo argued that the same isn’t true for white men, whose penis size isn’t policed in the same way. “White men are considered the sexual default, so you’re allowed to have some variability,” Woo said. “White men get to be anything and everything, and there’s no presumption there. So for white men, a big dick is a bonus.”

Huang also argued that these stereotypes are a symptom of our lack of sex education and lack of knowledge about our bodies. “We’re told to hide our penises,” Huang said. “It’s a form of sexual oppression we don’t talk about. You see boobs everywhere. You don’t see penises anywhere, not even HBO. It’s something that’s scandalous and cloaked.” Because of the shame surrounding invisibility, men often place too much emphasis on something so small. “When I think about the guys I’ve been with, I don’t remember the penises,” Huang said. “I remember the boy. A penis doesn’t smile. A penis doesn’t look into your eyes. A penis can’t wrap its arms around you.”

Instead of holding out for an unrealistic fantasy, Justin Huang believes gay men should start embracing each other for exactly who they are. “Gay men need to stop expecting each other to be porn stars,” Huang said. “If you dump a guy just because of his penis size, you are an asshole. So if you love your man, tell him that you like his penis. After all, when you’re dating a guy, you’re dating two people: You’re dating him and you’re dating his penis. We need to start valuing and appreciating both of them.”
 
Complete Article HERE!

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Adolescents with autism need access to better sex education

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Intimacy is part of being human. There are well-documented benefits to positive relationships, from emotional security to good mental health1. Those who want relationships and can’t develop them face low self-esteem, depression, loneliness and isolation from the wider society2.

For adolescents, learning how to navigate sex and sexuality can be a minefield. How do you figure out the nuances of sexuality without experience? How do you approach a potential partner? And once you do, how do you communicate with him or her?

This path is especially fraught for adolescents with autism. For example, people with autism tend to report higher levels of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation than their neurotypical peers3. And yet there is a gap between what these young people need and what schools provide. According to a 2012 study, adolescents with autism know less about sex than do their peers and have less access to sex education4.

My team of researchers and I are documenting the experiences of adolescents with autism in relation to sex, sexuality and their schools’ sex education requirements. Our research suggests schools should provide sex education tailored to the needs of young people with autism.

These classes should include both the standard fare — from human development to safe sex — and additional instruction on topics such as how teens can express themselves to their potential partners and how to decode innuendos and other language used to describe sex. This education is vital to ensure that these adolescents can approach relationships in a way that is safe, confident and healthy.

Role play:

One common misconception about individuals with autism is that they prefer to be alone. My research suggests this simply isn’t true.

In an ongoing study, for example, my team conducted interviews related to sex and relationships with 40 adults with autism. Only three expressed ambivalence about relationships, mostly due to worries about coping with the needs of another person. Nearly half of the respondents had not yet had a relationship but expressed a strong desire for one.

Despite the desire to form relationships, this group expressed limited knowledge about how they would meet someone or show their interest. They found the idea of going out to a pub or club frightening, and socializing with groups of people provoked high anxiety. Some of them expressed a disdain for small talk, and others admitted they had little idea of how to engage in general conversation. They also found the use of dating apps unappealing and said they thought there was an inherent danger in meeting strangers.

Sex education could help these individuals feel confident in approaching others using role-play. For example, they could use techniques created by the late Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theater director who created plays in which audiences could participate.

In the context of sex education, an actor would play the part of the individual with autism and re-create one of that person’s real-life experiences, such as trying to talk to someone new in a bar. The individual with autism would then give the actor new directions — such as “What if I offer to buy her a drink?” — allowing the person with autism to try out many approaches, and witness potential consequences, in a safe environment.

Advice network:

Although instructors may help with some aspects of communication, it’s profoundly difficult to teach someone how to read the intentions and desires of others. Most teenagers rely on peers to work through some of these social complexities.

Teens get feedback from their peers on how to interact, meet new people and gauge the appropriateness of a relationship. Teens with autism struggle with close relationships, but sex education classes could facilitate that learning.

Our research suggests that they desire this guidance. For example, one individual in our study commented that schools should provide students with the “skills on how to find the right sort of partner.” To accomplish this goal, a school could provide an advice network, including regular group meetings in which young people with autism share and reflect upon their experiences. Social networking could extend this support.

For most adolescents, peers also fill in gaps such as helping to define sexual slang. In our study, another participant commented that hearing “dirty talk” from other students made her feel left behind. She was also unsure how to decode the words she heard, and said her school should explain what people might say in a sexual context and what these terms mean. With this context, she could decide to get involved or not.

Moderated discussions in a peer network could help address such slang and provide a safe space for students to ask questions about unfamiliar words.

Different sexualities:

To be effective, sex education in schools must take into consideration that some individuals with autism do not conform to traditional sex roles. When we interviewed 40 young adults with autism as part of an ongoing study, we found that 20 percent identified as gay or bisexual — more than is reported in national surveys of the general population. Gender fluidity may also be more common in individuals with autism: In a study we conducted this year (but is not yet published), we found an unusually high incidence of autism and autism traits in individuals who identify as transsexual or non-binary.

Despite these high numbers, some people with autism find it hard to accept different sexualities. As one male participant explained: “I have a rigid way of seeing the world, and this prevented me from accepting my sexuality. I sort of denied it to myself because I have very concrete black-and-white thinking and it didn’t quite fit in.” This early inability to accept his sexuality and identify as a gay man led to severe depression and admittance to a psychiatric ward.

In some ways, people with autism may even fall outside the ever-expanding range of sexual identities we see today, such as gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual and asexual. For example, one of our participants explained that her wonderful relationship with another girl with autism often involved sitting together for up to 10 hours reading in silence, or spending hours discussing Greek history.

Autism represents a profoundly different way of seeing and being in the world, and individuals with autism often expend great mental and physical effort just trying to appear ‘normal.’ Sex education in school needs to move away from suggesting that people with autism should fit in, and instead explore alternatives to traditional types of romantic relationships.

Awareness gaps:

Our work also suggests that individuals with autism aren’t always aware that they are sexual beings. This lack of self-awareness manifests both in the sexual cues they give off and how they may be perceived by others.

For example, two participants in our study reported behavior that could be perceived as stalking, such as continually following strangers, although they didn’t indicate that they understood how this could seem threatening. One described it this way: “I literally just saw him on the street. And then pretty much just stalked him.”

Not having a sense of one’s own sexuality can be harmful in other ways. For example, individuals with autism are three times as likely to experience sexual exploitation as their peers5. In our study, participants spoke of times when they had been extremely vulnerable and open to abuse. One woman reported that others had gotten her drunk and encouraged her to have sex with girls even though she doesn’t identify as gay. In the interview, she did not appear to be aware that these incidents could be perceived as someone taking advantage of her.

Sex educators need to understand these gaps in awareness to build confidence in young people with autism and to protect them from harm and from unintentionally harming others. For example, young people with autism need to be aware of the law on issues such as stalking, which they themselves may not see as a problem. Their education needs to include lessons on the language of sex and draw distinctions between playful and threatening behavior. It also needs to address issues of abuse and signs that a relationship or encounter is abusive.

Research such as ours can offer insight into this area and provide the tools for effective sex education for people with autism. With the right support, adolescents with autism can feel more comfortable building relationships and exploring their sexuality. This support will help them develop healthy relationships and experience their benefits to well-being, self-esteem and happiness.

Complete Article HERE!

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Visualizing Sex as a Spectrum

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Infographic reveals the startling complexity of sex determination

Infographic by Pitch Interactive and Amanda Montañez

By Amanda Montañez

Sex and gender pervade nearly every aspect of our lives. Each time we use a public restroom, shop for clothes, or fill out a form, we are insistently reminded that we must be either male or female; men or women; boys or girls. Even things that ostensibly have nothing to do with sex or gender—what we eat, for example, or the books we read—are often sold to us as if they are necessarily feminine or masculine.

Some of these conventions currently face challenges, some more polarizing than others. On the milder end of things, enterprising online retailers promote gender-neutral clothing for babies, and city transport authorities mercifully abolish the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” from public announcements. And on the other side of the controversy scale, U.S. state legislators debate so-called “bathroom bills,” which would prohibit transgender individuals from using public restrooms corresponding to their gender identity. This dispute has prompted some venues to offer a gender-neutral restroom option, or simply to do away with gender distinctions altogether in their facilities.

Much of the public discourse in this arena centers on gender rather than sex, presumably because gender is understood to be somewhat subjective; it is a social construct that can be complex, fluid, multifaceted. Biological sex, on the other hand, appears to leave less room for debate. You either have two X chromosomes or an X and a Y; ovaries or testes; a vagina or a penis. Regardless of how an individual ends up identifying, they are assigned to one sex or the other at birth based on these binary sets of characteristics.

But of course, sex is not that simple either.

The September issue of Scientific American explores the fascinating and evolving science of sex and gender. One of the graphics I had the pleasure of working on breaks down the idea of biological sex as a non-binary attribute, focusing largely on what clinicians refer to as disorders of sex development (DSD), also known as intersex.

The project was originally conceived as a data-driven graphic exploring the spectra of sex and gender. I wondered, for instance, what data could tell us about the frequency of transgender and non-binary identities, what proportion of the population is intersex, and how that value might break down into rates of specific DSDs.

I hired the researcher Amanda Hobbs to look into these questions, and what she came back with, rather than answers, looked more like a series of new questions. The search for solid data on transgender and intersex populations proved challenging, and was confounded by a variety of factors. For example, surveys often lump transgender in with gay, lesbian, and bisexual identities. And DSDs, in addition to being variously defined by different entities, sometimes go undetected or emerge unexpectedly, either during sexual development or later in life.

The project abruptly transformed into an exercise in visualizing complexity. First, it seemed imperative to define a few terms. Sex, gender, and sexuality are all distinct from one another (although they are often related), and each exists on its own spectrum. Moreover, sex cannot be depicted as a simple, one-dimensional scale. In the world of DSDs, an individual may shift along the spectrum as development brings new biological factors into play. The density of science underlying this phenomenon compelled a shift towards intersex as the primary focus of the visualization.

Now that my task was clear, I set about assembling the content of the graphic and putting it down on paper. In part, this process clarified how much I could include, as the complete list of known DSDs and their various manifestations proved unwieldy for a single spread in a print magazine. I ended up with a visual outline of sorts depicting a diverse selection of conditions and their convoluted pathways of development over time. Although not an especially pretty sketch, it captured the sense of intricacy the topic demanded.

Visual outline

Next I consulted with Dr. Amy Winsiewski, a DSD specialist at the University of Oklahoma, who was kind enough to review the content of my sketch for accuracy. And finally, I called upon the visualization experts at Pitch Interactive to help bring the project to life.

[caption id="attachment_2328558" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Sketch

Once the aesthetic of the graphic had been established, I continued to refine both the text and design elements, guided by feedback from my colleagues who helped identify areas that were unclear or difficult to follow.

The finished print graphic

Detail of the finished print graphic

The resulting visualization is a source of pride for me, as I hope it is for everyone who contributed to its development. (You can see a larger version here in the September digital issue.) Design and visual communication feats aside, I believe the content itself is of critical importance from a social and policy perspective.

DSDs—which, broadly defined, may affect about one percent of the population—represent a robust, evidence-based argument to reject rigid assignations of sex and gender. Certain recent developments, such as the Swedish adoption of a gender-neutral singular pronoun, and the growing call to stop medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex babies, indicate a shift in the right direction. I am hopeful that raising public awareness of intersex, along with transgender and non-binary identities, will help align policies more closely with scientific reality, and by extension, social justice.

Complete Article HERE!

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