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What do men really think about sex? This is why we need better education

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We asked men how they learned about sex, and found that puerility and pornography have always trumped the facts. Mandatory sex education is most welcome

‘Alan, now aged 79, was evacuated to the countryside at the age of five – and spotted a bull mounting a cow. “It was a significant part of my sex education,” he said.’

It was announced this month that sex and relationship education is to become mandatory in schools for children aged four to 15. About time too. It’s never been easy for children who have wanted to learn credible information about sex.

We’ve recently been interviewing men for a project to find out what they really think, feel and do about sex, and found the early information they received was, in many cases, baffling. “Women don’t like it,” Bill was told as a teenager in the 1960s, “but you can do it all the same … [and] you only do it on Sundays when the children are out.”

Back in the 1940s, communicative adults were hard to come by, and children had to solve the mystery by themselves. Alan, aged 79, was evacuated from London to the countryside, aged five. There he spotted a large bull mounting a cow. “It was very significant,” he said. “I have never forgotten it.”

At primary school Bill, now 75, believed boys stood behind girls to do “it” (he was basing this on his observation of dogs). He was hugely embarrassed when told to stand behind a girl in a school folk-dance performance. “I thought that was very dirty.”

It was a rare grown-up who suggested that sex might be something pleasant, or something to look forward to; rather, a child’s sex education was more likely to elicit feelings of fear, danger and shame – and would often involve a lonely search for the facts. By the late 1950s, parental guidance was still fairly non-existent. At 14, Michael remembered finding a “dirty book” belonging to his father: “The Kama Sutra was an excellent source of information, but often mind-boggling too … the contortions! The big penises! And the pleasure shown on women’s faces. I couldn’t believe it could be like that!”

‘The Kama Sutra was an excellent source of information – but mind-boggling, too!’

While Michael was studying the Kama Sutra, the only sex still being taught in the classroom involved plants and rabbits, and was often expressed in Latin. Several more decades were to pass before human genitalia and procreation were bravely described in English. Not until the early 1990s did the national curriculum specify that sex education must be taught. But just the mechanics. Nothing about relationships. And making the subject even more shambolic was the decision that each school could have its own individual policy, and each teacher was stuck with their own capabilities, experiences, terrors and confusions in conveying this information.

The easy way out was to explain that sex happened “when people loved each other and wanted babies”. Pleasure, variety and consent were rarely mentioned. But some teachers bravely tried to further enlighten the children. In 1994, in his last year of junior school, Dean, who was then aged 10, went to a sex education lesson in which his teacher tried her very best to take an innovative, practical and robust approach.

“Miss Woods asked the class if they knew of any ‘barrier methods’. I didn’t really know what they were, but someone said ‘condoms’. Miss Woods said, ‘Yes, anything else?’ Then a boy called Dave said, ‘You can get them with feathers on the end, Miss.’ Miss Woods looked cross, and said, ‘No you can’t’ – but Dave went on and on, saying, ‘Yes you can, they’re called French ticklers, I read in my Mum’s book. It had pictures in,’ and then Miss butted in, and said ‘Nonsense’, so Dave had to shut up.”

Here was Miss Wood’s chance to grasp the nettle. But even then, in the late 20th century, she could not. Although bolder than many teachers, she was still not able to respond to any surprises that might crop up.

Even if teachers now manage to describe sex as pleasant, it sometimes seems to frighten and shock, rather than enthuse the children. Informed, six years ago, by a comparatively enlightened teacher, that people had sex “because it felt lovely”, eight-year-old George was horrified. “Miss made a terrible mistake,” he told his Grandma, with great authority and concern. “She said it felt nice! She’s got it really wrong!”

Age specificity hadn’t really been thought through. Slightly older, more intrepid boys, sensing that they still weren’t quite getting at the truth, or any satisfactory explanations – either from each other, or from adults – now gained access to a greater selection of more flamboyant, salacious, almost cartoonish information: porn.

“I think as boys we’d seen a few porno films here and there,” said Jason. “The first stuff I saw was on a video. I was 13, and the tape started doing the rounds – we thought that was the way you did it.”

As the years have passed, and porn has become more widely available online, younger and younger children have been seeing such imagery. In 2001, Jack, then aged 10, learned about sex from pornography. “Everyone was looking at it,” he said. “That’s how I found out I was gay. I didn’t want to look at the girls.”

Despite the overwhelming flood of pornography – and the continuing lack of guidance – there do appear to be a few glimmers of hope. The importance of relationships and feelings is now creeping into sex education at last, and it is a relief to find the idea of consent has surfaced. Many of the young men interviewed in the BBC3 documentary Sex on Trial were sympathetic when shown footage of a young woman whose consent had not been clearly given. In fact, they were more sympathetic than the young women. That’s reason to be hopeful, at least where young men are concerned.

Unfortunately, most sex education is still passed between children themselves, taught by the “naughty” peers who seem to have found out more than anyone else. Or are pretending that they have. Boasting has always been, and still seems to be for many boys, the beginning of proving that you are a proper man. Frequency, volume, conquest and size still matter to them. How are young men to understand women if they have never been taught to understand themselves, and the people teaching them have been taught even less?

Hopefully the new national curriculum mandatory sex education plans will bring about change for the better. It might help if lessons could be conducted in small groups, with the sexes separated. It would need to be age-appropriate, of course – with less emphasis on the mechanical details, and more on the importance of relationships, with appropriately trained teachers, prepared for anything the children might say, know or have experienced. They also need to be unshockable.

Complete Article HERE!

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Seven things you didn’t know about bisexual health

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by Helen Parshall

Bisexual Health Awareness Month is dedicated to raising awareness about the startling disparities that the bisexual community faces in terms of both physical and mental health. When compared against statistics for both heterosexual populations and their lesbian and gay peers, startling trends emerge in both social, economic, and health inequities.

Here are seven things you probably didn’t know about bisexual health:

  1. HRC’s 2014 report, Supporting and Caring for Our Bisexual Youth, found that when compared to their lesbian and gay peers, bisexual, queer and pansexual youth were more likely to experience being excluded and harassed, less likely to have caring adults to turn to if they felt sad and less likely to report feeling happy.
  2. The Movement Advancement Project’s 2016 report, Invisible Majority: The Disparities Facing Bisexual People and How To Remedy Them, found significantly lower rates of graduation and college attendance among bisexual students. Bisexual-identified people were approximately 47 percent less likely to enroll in college than respondents who identified as straight.
  3. Pew Research Center found in its 2013 Survey of LGBT Americans that while 77 percent of gay men and 71 percent of lesbians say that “most or all of the important people in their lives know of their sexual orientation” only 28 percent of bisexual people report being out.
  4. According to the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC), 45 percent of bisexual women have considered or attempted suicide, followed by bisexual men (35 percent), lesbians (30 percent), gay men (25 percent), and much lower rates for straight women and men.
  5. At the historic first White House Roundtable on Bisexual Issues in 2013, the Bisexual Resource Center shared that bisexual women are twice as likely to have an eating disorder than lesbians.
  6. In partnership with BRC, BiNetUSA and the Bisexual Organizing Project, HRC Foundation’s issue brief, Health Disparities Among Bisexual People, highlighted these disparities, which include higher rates of cancer, heart disease and obesity, and higher rates of HPV and other sexual health issues, likely stemming from a lack of access to preventative care and not being out to medical providers.
  7. The Williams Institute found that 39 percent of bisexual men and 33 percent of bisexual women reported not disclosing their sexual orientation to any medical provider, compared to only 13 percent of gay men and 10 percent of lesbians who chose not to disclose.

Complete Article HERE!

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Toddler play may give clues to sexual orientation

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A controversial study finds children who engage in more gender-stereotypical play are more likely to self-identify as heterosexual later in life.

By Michael Price

The objects and people children play with as early as toddlerhood may provide clues to their eventual sexual orientation, reveals the largest study of its kind. The investigation, which tracked more than 4500 kids over the first 15 years of their lives, seeks to answer one of the most controversial questions in the social sciences, but experts are mixed on the findings.

“Within its paradigm, it’s one of the better studies I’ve seen,” says Anne Fausto-Sterling, professor emerita of biology and gender studies at Brown University. The fact that it looks at development over time and relies on parents’ observations is a big improvement over previous studies that attempted to answer similar questions based on respondents’ own, often unreliable, memories, she says. “That being said … they’re still not answering questions of how these preferences for toys or different kinds of behaviors develop in the first place.”

The new study builds largely on research done in the 1970s by American sex and gender researcher Richard Green, who spent decades investigating sexuality. He was influential in the development of the term “gender identity disorder” to describe stress and confusion over one’s sex and gender, though the term—and Green’s work more broadly—has come under fire from many psychologists and social scientists today who say it’s wrong to label someone’s gender and sexuality “disordered.”

In the decades since, other studies have reported that whether a child plays along traditional gender lines can predict their later sexual orientation. But these have largely been criticized for their small sample sizes, for drawing from children who exhibit what the authors call “extreme” gender nonconformity, and for various other methodological shortcomings.

Seeking to improve on this earlier research, Melissa Hines, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, turned to data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The study includes thousands of British children born in the 1990s. Parents observed and reported various aspects of their children’s behavior, which Hines and her Cambridge colleague, Gu Li, analyzed for what they call male-typical or female-typical play.

An example of stereotypical male-typical play, as defined by the study, would include playing with toy trucks, “rough-and-tumble” wrestling, and playing with other boys. Female-typical play, on the other hand, would include dolls, playing house, and playing with other girls.

Hines and Li looked at parental reporting of children’s play at ages 2.5, 3.5, and 4.75 years old, and arranged them on a scale of one to 100, with lower scores meaning more female-typical play and higher scores more male-typical play. They then compared those results to the participants’ self-reported responses as teenagers to a series of internet-administered questions about their sexuality.

Beginning with the 3.5-year-old age group, the team found that children who engaged mostly in “gender-conforming” play (boys who played with trucks and girls who played with dolls, as an example) were likely to report being heterosexual at age 15, whereas the teenagers who reported being gay, lesbian, or not strictly heterosexual were more likely to engage in “gender-nonconforming” play. The same pattern held true when they expanded the teenagers’ choices to a five-point spectrum ranging from 100% heterosexual to 100% homosexual.

Teens who described themselves as lesbian scored on average about 10 points higher on the gender-play scale at age 4.75 (meaning more stereotypically male play) than their heterosexual peers, and teens who described themselves as gay men scored about 10 points lower on the scale than their peers, the researchers report in Developmental Psychology. Questions of transgender identity were not addressed in the study.

“I think it’s remarkable that childhood gender-typed behavior measured as early as age 3.5 years is associated with sexual orientation 12 years later,” wrote Li in an email. “The findings help us to understand variability in sexual orientation and could have implications for understanding the origins of this variability.”

The paper “is just a well-done study in terms of getting around some of the problems that have plagued the field,” says Simon LeVay, a retired neuroscientist whose 1991 paper in Science sparked interest in brain differences associated with sexual identity. “It shows that something is going on really early in life and points away from things like role modeling and adolescent experiences as reasons for becoming gay.”

Others dispute the paper’s methods and significance. Parents’ own beliefs and biases about gender almost certainly influence how they described their children’s gendered play, which could skew their reporting, says Patrick Ryan Grzanka, a psychologist who studies sexuality and multicultural issues at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. But more worrisome to him are the cultural assumptions underlying the study itself. The authors appear to regard gender nonconformity as the primary marker of gayness, which doesn’t align with current research suggesting that your individual preferences for either stereotypically male or female behaviors and traits has little to do with your sexual orientation, he says.

Grzanka is also dismayed that the paper fails to critique the history of similar research that investigated whether childhood behaviors lined up with eventual sexual orientation. It wasn’t long ago that such research was used to stigmatize and pathologize gender-nonconforming children, he says. “I think it’s important to ask why we’re so invested in this purported link [between gender conformity and sexuality] in the first place.”

Complete Article HERE!

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“Coming out” as a parent of a gay child

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By Alison Walsh

My elder son David was fifteen when he told us he was gay – not that he had actually intended to tell us quite then.

He said he was meeting someone but was evasive as to who this might be? I forced the issue never expecting to hear that this was some guy he had met on line through a gay website.

Alarm bells rung at the possible danger!

David must have guessed we might find the news of him being gay difficult as he kept repeating, “It’s OK Mum, there’s nothing wrong”.

My husband’s first thought was “I love my son. I don’t want to lose my relationship with him”.

As for me, I have an unfortunate knack of sometimes putting my big feet in things.

Whilst reeling from the shock, thankfully I avoided saying anything that my son would feel hurt or rejected by.

We both understood that what mattered most was for David to stay believing in himself and to know that our love and support was unconditional.

David appreciated the way we had accepted his sexuality and to stop us feeling anxious, he agreed to cancel the internet date.

David and Alison

Having “come out” to his friends and immediate family, David visibly looked happier by the day.

Now the ball was in our court. Was it our turn to “come out” as parents of a gay son? Would that be fair to David? Was it for him to decide who and when to tell others or not? At the young age of fifteen, we felt it was. That made it much harder because I wanted to feel accepted too.

Up to the point when David told us he was gay, I had no knowledge or experience of what being LGBT+ meant.

My head was full of fears which were further fuelled when I went on-line and came across far right materials discounting LGBT+ as wrong and blaming being gay on abuse or an unhealthy mother-son relationship.

Was I a bad Mum? I feared being judged. I was worried now how David would be treated. Would his school teachers who had praised him as a role model now think less of him?

Would he find himself rejected as unsuitable to be an RSY Summer Camp Leader?

Having brought my boys up to feel strongly Jewish, I now felt anxious that this might not sit comfortably with fully accepting and supporting David’s sexuality.

My Jewishness is all bound up in family and home, celebrating Friday night and all the family traditions. So for validation and support, I turned to my Jewish roots. As I said, I wasn’t ready to “come out” publicly and so like my son before he “came out”, I turned to the privacy of the internet for help. I tapped into Google “Jewish Mum of gay son” and up came “Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians” with a number you could phone in confidence.

Going for the first time to the group “Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians”, I was scared as to quite who I would find there.

The wonderful thing was how unbelievably just like the two of us the other parents all were. They could have come straight out of any Shul – parents anxious to do right by their children. We were no longer on our own.

Hearing from other parents and sharing our own story in a Jewish group in which we felt understood and accepted, helped us feel better. The first pernicious lie it immediately destroyed for me was the idea that being gay had anything to do with upbringing or by extension anything I had done or not done. It was a fact of life, period.

A Dad said that the last thing he would ever wish on his son would be to be imprisoned in an unhappy marriage hiding his sexuality. That hit home and made me rethink the dream I had been nurturing of one day seeing my son under the Chuppah with grandchildren to follow. My son had his own life to lead. I just wanted him to be happy and true to himself. And so in the group we parents chatted on into the night. We discussed why it was that so many of our LGBT+ children were going to Shul less? Did our LGBT+ children no longer feel they could count themselves as proper members of the club?

Perhaps like me before I became aware of LGBT+, our kids assumed by default that within Shul life their sexuality was taboo and that they would not be understood or accepted unless they hid their sexuality.

To be fair, if I joined any club, I would want to feel that there was someone there a bit like me and that I wasn’t just going to be tolerated, but actually wanted by the club.

My journey has been much easier than for some as being of my own making – struggling with my own prejudices. Thankfully the positive attitude of both our Shul and my son’s school explains why David has never felt ashamed of his sexuality and why both his friends and our Shul friends when told have had no issues.

In the twilight zone before feeling ready to come out to the world as a Jewish parent of a gay child, it helps to share feelings in the trust of absolute confidentiality with likeminded parent souls who understand. I am now Co-Ordinator for the parents’ group, “Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians” which helped me so much and which I would like to see there for other parents.

It is a really important group not just for the parents but also for LGBT+ children as “happy parents make happy kids”. Unfortunately the group is hardly known about so if you get a chance to tell others about the group, I would ask you to please do so.

Complete Article HERE!

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Inadequate sex education creating ‘health time bomb’

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‘Shockingly high’ numbers of STI diagnoses prompt councils to call for compulsory sex education in UK secondary schools

A school nurse giving sex education advice to year 10 students at a school in Devon.

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Inadequate sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools is creating “a ticking sexual health time bomb”, councils are warning, amid concern over high numbers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among young people.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents 370 councils in England and Wales, has joined the growing clamour urging the government to make sex education compulsory in all secondary schools. Currently it is mandatory in local authority-maintained schools, but not in academies and free schools which make up 65% of secondaries.

Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said it was a major health protection issue. “The lack of compulsory sex and relationship education in academies and free schools is storing up problems for later on in life, creating a ticking sexual health time bomb, as we are seeing in those who have recently left school.

“The shockingly high numbers of STI diagnoses in teenagers and young adults, particularly in the immediate post-school generation, is of huge concern to councils.

The LGA argues that it is a health protection issue, with 141,000 new STI diagnoses for 20- to 24-year-olds in England in 2015 and 78,000 for those aged 15-19. Sexual health is one of local government’s biggest areas of public health spending, with approximately £600m budgeted annually.

The LGA appeal came as the government was reported to be close to making an announcement regarding SRE and PSHE (personal, social, health and economic education), after the education secretary, Justine Greening, flagged up the issue as a priority for government.

Campaigners hope the announcement will be made during the next stage of the children and social work bill, which is passing through parliament. An amendment with cross-party support was tabled last week which, if carried, would would amount to the biggest overhaul in sex education in 17 years, but it is not yet clear what the government announcement will amount to, and crucially whether it will make SRE compulsory.

Seccombe said: “We believe that making sex and relationship education compulsory in all secondary schools, not just council-maintained ones, could make a real difference in reversing this trend, by preparing pupils for adulthood and enabling them to better take care of themselves and future partners.”

The LGA says while SRE should be made compulsory for secondary school children, with statutory guidance on key issues including sexual health, parents should still be given the option of taking their children from the lessons.

Tory MP Maria Miller was among those proposing the amendment to the bill last week. It followed an inquiry by the women and equalities committee, chaired by Miller, which heard that most children have seen online pornography by the time they leave primary school and two thirds will have been asked for a sexual digital image of themselves before they leave secondary school.

According to Miller, research has shown that just one in four children at secondary school receives any teaching on sex and relationship issues, and Ofsted has said that when it is taught the quality of teaching is often poor.

“Different interest groups cannot agree on a way forward that suits them and in the meantime we are letting down a generation of children who are not being taught how to keep themselves safe in an online, digital world,” said Miller.

“We are not teaching them that pornography isn’t representative of a typical relationship, that sexting images are illegal and could be distributed to child abuse websites and how to be aware of the signs of grooming for sexual exploitation.

“Overwhelmingly parents and children are fed up and want change. They want compulsory lessons in school to teach children and young people about consent and healthy relationships.”

Complete Article HERE!

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