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Why Does Sex Feel So Good, Anyway?

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By Kassie Brabaw

There’s a reason that sex toy shops choose names like Pleasure Chest, Good Vibrations, and Sugar. All of these words invoke the tingling, heart-pumping, all-over ‘yum’ feelings many people associate with having sex.

There’s no question that great, consensual sex feels amazing. But why does it feel so good? What’s actually happening inside someone’s brain and body to create that euphoria?

According to sexologist Laura McGuire, PhD, there are three main physiological reasons someone feels sexual pleasure: the pudendal nerve, dopamine, and oxytocin.

The pudendal nerve is a large, sensitive nerve that allows someone’s genitals to send signals to their brain. In people who have vulvas, it has branches in the clitoris, the anus, and the perineum (the area between the anus and the vulva or the anus and the penis). In people who have penises, the pudendal nerve branches out to the anus, the perineum, and the penis. “It’s important for women to realize that the nerve doesn’t have much concentration inside the vaginal canal,” Dr. McGuire says. “Most of the pudendal nerve endings are focused on the clitoris.” That’s why it’s common for people who have vulvas to struggle reaching orgasm from penetrative sex alone, and why the clitoris is often considered the powerhouse of women’s sexual pleasure.

The pudendal nerve explains how signals get from someone’s genitals to their brain during sex, and then the brain releases dopamine and oxytocin, which causes a flood of happy, pleasurable feelings. “Oxytocin is often called ‘the love hormone,'” Dr. McGuire says. “It’s what makes us feel attached to people or things.” Oxytocin is released during sex and orgasm, but it’s also released when someone gives birth to help them feel attached to their baby, she says. “That’s the big one that makes you feel like your partner is special and you can’t get enough of them.”

Like oxytocin, dopamine helps your brain make connections. It connects emotional pleasure to physical pleasure during sex, Dr. McGuire says. “So, that’s the hormone that makes you think, that felt good, let’s do it again and again and again,” she says.

Oxytocin and dopamine are both in a class of hormones considered part of the brain’s reward system, says Lawrence Siegel, a clinical sexologist and certified sexuality educator. As someone’s body reaches orgasm, they flood their system because the brain is essentially trying to medicate them, Siegel says. “The brain seems to misunderstand sexual arousal as trauma,” he says. As someone gets aroused, their heart rate increases, their body temperature goes up, and their muscles tense, all of which happen when someone’s body is in trouble, too.

“As that continues to build and increase, it reaches a point when the brain looks down and says ‘Uh,oh you’re in trouble,'” Siegel says. “An orgasm is a massive release of feel-good chemicals that leaves you in a meditative state of consciousness.”

Yet, not everyone desires sex. So how do we explain asexuality? Science doesn’t have any solid answers, Dr. McGuire says, although it’s important to know that asexual people don’t choose to be asexual any more than gay people choose to be gay. While we don’t know what makes someone asexual, it’s pretty certain that there’s no physical difference between asexual people and everyone else, Siegel says.

“It’s not correct to say that people who identify as asexual don’t experience pleasure,” he says. “They just don’t have the desire to have sex.” Desire is ruled by different hormones, most notably testosterone. But even that might not fully explain why someone isn’t interested in having sex. “It feels like a different appraisal or reaction to the experience in their body,” Siegel says.

While everybody has a pudendal nerve and can experience the release of dopamine and oxytocin that happens with sex, not everyone will experience that release as pleasurable or experience the same level of pleasure. “People are very complicated,” Dr. McGuire says.

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Women who have sex with women orgasm much, much more, new study shows

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Women who have sex with women are more likely to orgasm, according to a new study.

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Researchers at the University of Arkansas have discovered that though straight partners have sex more often, bisexual and lesbian women have more orgasms – by far.

The study, which had 2,300 respondents, found that women were 33 percent more likely to orgasm when they were having sex with another woman.

And they also told the study, titled “Are Women’s Orgasms Hindered by Phallocentric Imperatives?”, that they were more likely to experience multiple orgasms with women.

Those in same-sex relationships said they orgasmed, on average, 55 times per month.

This stood in stark contrast with women in straight relationships, who said they usually achieved just seven orgasms per month.

Dr Kristen Jozkowski said: “Sex that includes more varied sexual behaviour results in women experiencing more orgasms,” according to The Sun.

Sex between women “was excitingly diversified,” she explained.

These results follow a study last year which showed that gay men and lesbians are better at sex than straight people.

The four researchers, David A. Frederick, H. Kate St. John, Justin R. Garcia and Elisabeth A. Lloyd, measured the orgasms which people across the sexuality spectrum have.

They found – perhaps not shockingly – that heterosexual men were most likely to say they “usually always orgasmed when sexually intimate,” doing so 95 percent of the time.

In contrast, straight women orgasm in just 65 percent of cases.

The orgasm gap is well-documented, and its generally accepted in the academic community that women climax less often than men – but this, of course, is a heteronormative theory.

It doesn’t consider the fact that possibly, just possibly, non-heterosexual people are better at sex.

The four professors, two of whom work at Indiana University, discovered just this.

Gay men orgasm 89 percent of the time, they found, while lesbians are not far behind on 86 percent.

That study came on the heels of research which revealed that gay and lesbian couples are happier than people in straight relationships.

So if we assume straight couples both climax 65% of the time – and that orgasms are a decent barometer of how good sex is – these results are excellent for gay and lesbian partners.

They come out 24 and 21 percentage points ahead of their straight counterparts, which equates to a hell of a lot more joint fun.

The study also found that “women who orgasmed more frequently were more likely to: receive more oral sex and have [a] longer duration of last sex”.

They are also “more satisfied with their relationship, ask for what they want in bed, praise their partner for something they did in bed, call/email to tease about doing something sexual and wear sexy lingerie”.

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Omnisexual, gynosexual, demisexual: What’s behind the surge in sexual identities?

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There’s been a proliferation of sexual identities.

by Olivia Goldhill

In 1976, the French philosopher Michel Foucault made the meticulously researched case that sexuality is a social construct used as a form of control. In the 40 years since, society has been busy constructing sexualities. Alongside the traditional orientations of heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual, a myriad other options now exist in the lexicon, including:

  • pansexual (gender-blind sexual attraction to all people)
  • omnisexual (similar to pansexual, but actively attracted to all genders, rather than gender-blind)
  • gynosexual (someone who’s sexually attracted to women—this doesn’t specify the subject’s own gender, as both “lesbian” and “heterosexual” do)
  • demisexual (sexually attracted to someone based on a strong emotional connection)
  • sapiosexual (sexually attracted to intelligence)
  • objectumsexual (sexual attraction to inanimate objects)
  • autosexual (someone who prefers masturbation to sexual activity with others)
  • androgynosexual (sexual attraction to both men and women with an androgynous appearance)
  • androsexual (sexual attraction towards men)
  • asexual (someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction)
  • graysexual (occasionally experiencing sexual attraction, but usually not)

Clearly, people felt that the few existing labels didn’t apply to them. There’s a clear “demand being made to have more available scripts than just heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual,” says Robin Dembroff, philosophy professor at Yale University who researches feminist theory and construction.

Labels might seem reductive, but they’re useful. Creating a label allows people to find those with similar sexual interests to them; it’s also a way of acknowledging that such interests exist. “In order to be recognized, to even exist, you need a name,” says Jeanne Proust, philosophy professor at City University of New York. “That’s a very powerful function of language: the performative function. It makes something exist, it creates a reality.”

The newly created identities, many of which originated in the past decade, reduce the focus on gender—for either the subject or object of desire—in establishing sexual attraction. “Demisexual,” for example, is entirely unrelated to gender, while other terms emphasize the gender of the object of attraction, but not the gender of the subject. “Saying that you’re gay or straight doesn’t mean that you’re attracted to everyone of a certain gender,” says Dembroff. The proliferation of sexual identities means that, rather than emphasizing gender as the primary factor of who someone finds attractive, people are able to identify other features that attract them, and, in part or in full, de-couple gender from sexual attraction.

Dembroff believes the recent proliferation of sexual identities reflects a contemporary rejection of the morally prescriptive attitudes towards sex that were founded on the Christian belief that sex should be linked to reproduction. “We live in a culture where, increasingly, sex is being seen as something that has less to do with kinship and reproduction, and more about individual expression and forming intimate bonds with more than one partner,” Dembroff says. “I think as there’s more of an individual focus it makes sense that we have these hyper-personalized categories.”

The same individuality that permeates western culture, leading people to focus on the self and value their own well-being over the group’s, is reflected in the desire to fracture group sexual identities into increasingly narrow categories that reflect personal preferences.

Some believe this could restrict individuals’ freedom in expressing fluid sexuality. Each newly codified sexual orientation demands that people adopt increasingly specific criteria to define their sexual orientation.

“Language fixes reality, it sets reality,” says Proust. “It paralyzes it, in a way. It puts it in a box, under a tag. The problem with that is it doesn’t move. It negates or denies any instability or fluidity.”

There’s also the danger that self-definition inadvertently defines other people. Just as the terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” demand that people clarify their sexual preference according to their and their partner’s gender, “sapiosexual” asks that we each of us define our stance towards intelligence. Likewise, the word “pansexual” requires people who once identified as “bisexual” clarify their sexual attraction towards those who don’t identify as male or female. And “omnisexual” suggests that people should address whether they’re attracted to all genders or oblivious to them.

In Foucault’s analysis, contemporary society turns sex into an academic, scientific discipline, and this mode of perceiving sex dominates both understanding and experience of it. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy summarizes this idea neatly:

Not only is there control exercised via others’ knowledge of individuals; there is also control via individuals’ knowledge of themselves. Individuals internalize the norms laid down by the sciences of sexuality and monitor themselves in an effort to conform to these norms.

The new terms for sexual orientations similarly infiltrate the political discourse on sexuality, and individuals then define themselves accordingly. Though there’s nothing that prevents someone from having a demisexual phase, for example, the labels suggest an inherent identity. William Wilkerson, a philosophy professor at the University of Alabama-Huntsville who focuses on gender studies, says this is the distinctive feature of sexual identities today. In the past, he points out, there were plenty of different sexual interests, but these were presented as desires rather than intrinsic identities. The notion of innate sexual identities “seems profoundly different to me,” he says. “The model of sexuality as an inborn thing has become so prevalent that people want to say ‘this is how I feel, so perhaps I will constitute myself in a particular way and understand this as an identity’,” he adds.

In the 1970s and 80s there was a proliferation of sexual groups and interests similar to what we’ve seen over the past five to 10 years, notes Wilkerson. The identities that originated in earlier decades—such as bears, leather daddies, and femme and butch women—are deeply influenced by lifestyle and appearance. It’s difficult to be a butch woman without looking butch, for example. Contemporary identities, such as gynosexual or pansexual, suggest nothing about appearance or lifestyle, but are entirely defined by intrinsic sexual desire.

Dissatisfaction with existing labels doesn’t necessarily have to lead to creating new ones. Wilkerson notes that the queer movement in earlier decades was focused on anti-identity and refusing to define yourself. “It’s interesting that now, it’s like, ‘We really want to define ourselves,’” says Wilkerson.

The trend reflects an impulse to cut the legs out from under religious invectives against non-heteronormative sexualities. If you’re “born this way,” it’s impossible for your sexuality to be sinful because it’s natural, made of biological desires rather than a conscious choice. More recently, this line of thinking has been criticized by those who argue all sexualities should be accepted regardless of any link to biology; that sexuality is socially constructed, and the reason no given sexuality is “sinful” is simply because any consenting sexual choice is perfectly moral.

Though it may sound ideal to be utterly undefined and beyond categories, Proust says it’s impossible. “We have to use categories. It’s sad, it’s tragic. But that’s how it is.” Constructs aren’t simply necessary for sexual identity or gender; they’re an essential feature of language, she adds. We cannot comprehend the world without this “tag-fixing process.”

The proliferation of specific sexual identities today may seem at odds with the anti-identity values of queer culture, but Dembroff suggests that both work towards the same ultimate goal of eroding the impact and importance of the old-fashioned binary sexual identities. “Social change always happens in non-ideal increments,” Dembroff notes. So while today we may have dozens of sexual identities, they may become so individualized and specific that they lose any significance for group identities, and the entire concept of a fixed sexual identity is eroded.

“We demand that sex speak the truth,” wrote Foucault in The History of Sexuality. “We demand that it tell us our truth, or rather, the deeply buried truth of that truth about ourselves which we think we possess in our immediate consciousness.” We still believe sex reveals an inner truth; now, however, we are more readily able to recognize that the process of discovering and identifying that truth is always ongoing.

Complete Article HERE!

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When the Cause of a Sexless Relationship Is — Surprise! — the Man

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There are varying definitions of a sexless marriage or sexless relationship: no sex in the past year, no sex in the past six months or sex 10 or fewer times a year. According to one study, approximately 15 percent of married couples are sexless: Spouses haven’t had sex with each other in the past six months to one year.

I was once in a sexless relationship.

I have debated admitting this publicly, but my story feels different than the narrative advanced by our patriarchal society. Why? Because I was the one begging for sex from an uninterested male partner. Sex 10 times a year would have been 10 times more than what I was having.

This topic comes up a lot in my work. As a gynecologist, I’m frequently asked about the “right number” of times to have sex a month. The answer is that there isn’t one. If both people are truly happy, then it’s a healthy sex life.

I understand the confusion about frequency. Messaging around sex is everywhere: It’s used to sell almost everything, and news articles remind us that various hormones and neurotransmitters may spike in response to having sex.

Yet a single hormone surge does not a rewarding relationship make, and virtually no one has studied the hormonal impact, on a relationship, of grocery shopping, making dinner or doing the dishes. If a couple doesn’t have sex but they both feel satisfied, then there is no problem. The issue is when there’s a mismatch in desire.

Of course, libido ebbs and flows, and there will be times when one partner is temporarily uninterested. Back in 2003, I was home with two premature infants, both on oxygen and attached to monitors that constantly chirped with alarms. Had even Ryan Reynolds — circa “The Proposal,” not “Deadpool” — shown up, he would have needed to display expertise in changing diapers and managing the regulator on an oxygen tank to interest me.

Looking back on my relationship, the frequency of sex dropped off quickly. I told myself it would get better because there were other positives. I falsely assumed that men have higher libidos, so clearly this was temporary.

Pro tip: Nothing in a relationship ever gets better on its own. You might as well ask the ingredients in your pantry to bake themselves into a cake.

I was embarrassed when my attempts at rekindling the magic — things like sleeping naked or trying to schedule date night sex — fell flat.

I started to circuitously ask friends if they ever felt similarly rejected. The answer was “Not really.” One who was going through an especially acrimonious divorce told me that she and her future ex still occasionally had wild sex. People have needs, after all.

The fact that people who hated each other were having more sex than me did not make me feel better. Not at all.

Eventually I decided that sympathy sex once or twice a year was far worse than no sex. I worried that no intervention would be sustainable, and the time not addressing the issue had simply taken its toll. We were terribly mismatched sexually, and it wasn’t something that he was interested in addressing.

My experience led me to listen differently to women speaking about their sex lives with men, whether in my office or in my personal life. There are spaces between words that tell entire stories. When I ask someone about her sex life and there is a pause or a generic “O.K.,” I say, “You know, the libido issue is often with the man.”

I say this to friends, acquaintances and even people I barely know on airplanes (after they learn what my job is). The responses from women are so similar that I could script it. A pause, then relief that it’s not just them, followed quickly by the desire to hear more. Many tell me intimate details, so glad to have someone in whom they can confide.

Libido can be affected by a number of things, including depression, medication, stress, health, affairs, previous sexual trauma, pornography, pain with sex and relationship dissatisfaction (having sex while going through an ugly divorce is probably an outlier).

Erectile dysfunction is a factor for some men, especially over the age of 40. Other men may have low testosterone (although there is a lot of dispute in this area). There is also the possibility that one partner in a heterosexual relationship is gay.

New love is intoxicating, and I’m not being metaphorical. A functional MRI study suggests that new love activates the reward centers of the brain and, like opioids, increases pain tolerance. I wonder how much the drug that is new love affects libido? If some men and women are simply on a lower libido spectrum in everyday life, might they revert to that once this “love drug” subsides, leaving those with a higher libido frustrated?

I want women to know that if they are on the wanting end for sex, they are not alone. If you love the person you’re with, then the sooner you speak up, the better. You can try what I did — sleeping naked and scheduling sex — because the more you have sex, the more you may want to have it, if you’re doing it right and it feels good. However, if things are not changing in the way you want, you may need help from a couples counselor, a sex therapist, a clinical psychologist or a medical doctor, depending on the situation.

Waiting until months or even years have passed can weaponize the bedroom. It will add so much more complexity because resentment compounds like a high-interest credit card.

Sexuality and relationships are complex, and there are no easy answers. It’s not good or bad to have a high, a medium or a low libido. You like what you like, but if you don’t speak up about what you want, you can’t expect the other person to know.

Our society seems almost built on the erroneous idea that all men want sex all the time, so I imagine it would be hard for men to admit to a lower libido, even anonymously. I have lied about my weight on many forms. That doesn’t make me a broken person; it just proves that a cloak of invisibility doesn’t hide you from yourself. The most damaging lies are the ones we tell ourselves.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why hasn’t the gay community had a #MeToo moment?

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The conversation around consent for gay men has been stifled. We must recognise the culture of sexual assault that exists

‘Sex is something to be celebrated – whatever your gender, sexuality or preference.’

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Most gay men can remember the first time they set foot in a gay bar: the awkwardness as they walked up to the bouncer, ID (fake or otherwise) in hand, clasped tightly. Discovering others with a specific experience similar to your own, finding community, is a powerful feeling. But as the #MeToo movement rolls on, and the conversation turns to consent and dating dynamics between men and women, there’s an uncomfortable reality on the gay scene that also needs to be confronted.

According a survey by gay men’s health charity GMFA, some 62% of British gay men have been touched or groped in a bar without consent. In the US 40% of gay and 47% of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence other than rape, compared with 21% of heterosexual men.

There’s a culture of silence, and it’s not difficult to understand why. Recognising the sexual violence you have experienced isn’t always easy, especially when these are some of your earliest sexual encounters, or when memories are clouded by alcohol and drugs.

The conversation around consent for gay men has been stifled: most of us were never taught the language with which to explain or understand the experiences of our youth. Inclusive same-sex education in schools isn’t mandatory, being LGBTQ+ doesn’t often run in the family, and there are fewer role models to learn from. Instead, we navigate sex blindly. For many young gay men, the boundaries and the logistics of sexual contact are an unknown.

It wasn’t long ago that our relationships were looked down on by both society and the state, with our sex lives taboo and criminalised. To criticise now how some of our sexual practices have developed bears a risk: the bigots will say they were right all along, and our sexual relationships will be further stigmatised.

But fear is no excuse for avoiding difficult questions. When the types of intimacy we engage in deviate from “lights off, in bed, with a long-term monogamous partner every other Friday” – which, of course, can have its own problems – it’s not an act of betrayal to point out that there are more opportunities for things to go wrong.

Take, for instance the “dark room” – a space few people will speak of outside the confines of the gay scene’s sweaty, hedonistic heart. To the uninitiated, the concept is simple: it’s a room in a club, it’s dark and you have sex. When it comes to consent, though, the situation is more complex.

Much of gay dating revolves around hookups and clubs fuelled by alcohol and drugs. Gay and bisexual men are seven times more likely to use illegal drugs, according to a 2012 study, and twice as likely to binge drink than heterosexual men.

Is taking a step into such a dark room consent to all sexual contact? Can two (or more) people consent to sex when they’re both off their face? Is whispering “do what you want with me” a green light for whatever happens next? When others join in – do they need explicit permission – what if you don’t even notice? There aren’t necessarily right or wrong answers to all of these questions, but in the context of #MeToo these are conversations that need to be had.

It’s would be easy to write this off as universal; of course, heterosexuals also get wasted and look for sexual partners under the cover of night. Unlike our straight counterparts, however, it’s often only in bars and clubs that many gay men learn the rituals of love, sex and seduction – having to come out, rather than your sexual identity be seen as normal, means many of us do not innocently experiment and reflect during adolescence. We find our norms on the scene. For most of us, there were few other places to turn.

It’s not just gay men who have woken up next to someone they barely remember taking home, but when there are multiple sexual partners involved – in drug-filled rooms and dark, public spaces – the risks are multiplied. Having no recollection of who you had sex with, or where, means you may not have had the capacity to consent in the first place.

For younger gay men, the landscape is changing: the internet has revolutionised how we look for sex. Apps have provided a way to find partners away from nightlife, but these hookups aren’t always safe and forgiving environments either. Some men feel a sense of entitlement when you turn up at their door with a single, prearranged purpose. The number of crimes reported as a result of online hookups is rising. Casual sex is all well and good, but these interactions don’t teach teenagers about intimacy and relationships.

Reckless behaviour in adulthood can be linked to self-hatred, abuse and violence – it’s a coping mechanism in a world that continues to see us as victimised, isolated and abused.

Of course, it is possible to tackle these problems: the introduction of same-sex sex education in schools would be a start. Community support, once publicly funded and now decimated by local government cuts, would be another useful step. LGBTQ+ spaces away from drugs and alcohol are also sorely needed, as are effective mental and sexual health services.

At the same time, predatory gay men need to take responsibility for their actions. Drugs, darkness and the thrill of the moment are no excuse for exploiting vulnerable men. We need to recognise and highlight the culture of sexual assault and violence that exists in our community, as it does in others, and hold perpetrators to account. Assault is assault, and rape is rape. That isn’t the “freedom” our community fought for.

But neither do we need moralising from high horses, homophobic or otherwise. People of all genders and sexualities take drugs, and it can be done healthily. Putting your fingers in your ears and pretending it’s not happening serves no purpose to anyone. Ours is a community that has long been persecuted and made to feel ashamed. It’s important to talk about liberation, and to embrace sexuality in all its glorious forms. Sex is something to be celebrated – whatever your gender, sexuality or preference – as long as the all of those involved can and do consent.

Complete Article HERE!

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