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Contraception influences sexual desire in committed relationships

The role of human sex outside of reproduction remains something of an evolutionary mystery. But scientists believe that it is partly about tying the parties in the relationship together.

By Liv Ragnhild Sjursen

How often women in heterosexual couples desire sex depends on how committed the relationship is and what type of birth control the woman uses.

Sex is quite wonderful when the goal is to have children. But sex can also serve as a “glue” in a committed relationship.

Most animals have periods when they come into heat, and outside of these periods they don’t find sex interesting at all.

Humans, however, are constantly interested in sex. This interest can seem like a waste of energy, but an evolutionary perspective may explain why we function this way.

More sex with progesterone and commitment

A new study from NTNU and the University of New Mexico confirm that sex is important for pair–bonding between men and women in relationships.

The researchers also found a correlation between the type of oral contraceptive women use and how often couples have sex.

The findings were recently published in the scientific journal Evolution & Human Behavior.

“The function of sex in humans outside ovulation is an evolutionary mystery. But we believe that it has to do with binding the parties in the relationship together,” says Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, a professor of psychology at NTNU.

Kennair worked with Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, Nick Grebe and University of New Mexico Professor Steve Gangestad to ask hundreds of Norwegian heterosexual women about contraception, sex and relationships.

Their results show that of women in long-term relationships and who are using hormonal contraception, those who are more committed to their relationships have more sex with partners, as one might expect.

“But this association was especially true when the contraceptive that women used had potent levels of synthetic hormones that mimic the effects of the natural hormone progesterone, and lower levels of the hormone oestrogen,” Gangestad said.

“We’re talking about intercourse here, not other types of sex like oral sex, masturbation and such. This strengthens the idea that sex outside the ovulation phase has a function besides just pleasure,” says Grøntvedt.

Big differences between types of contraceptives

Hormonal contraceptives, like birth control pills, implantable rods and patches, contain two types of hormones:

Oestrogen, which naturally peaks just before ovulation when naturally cycling women can conceive offspring, and hormones that have the same effect as progesterone, which naturally peaks during the extended sexual phase, a time when offspring cannot be conceived.

The levels of each hormone type vary in different contraceptives. Hence, some contraceptives mimic hormones that are more characteristic of ovulation, whereas others mimic hormones when women can’t conceive.

The women who used contraception with more oestrogen were most sexually active when they were in a less committed relationship.

On the other hand, women who used contraception with more progesterone were the most sexually active when they were faithful and loyal to their partners.

“Before we did this study, we didn’t know how much difference there was between the two types of hormonal contraceptives,” says Grøntvedt.

A credible holistic picture

The researchers surveyed two groups of women. All the women were using hormonal contraception and were in committed, heterosexual relationships.

One group consisted of 112 women that researchers followed over a 12-week period. The women were asked how often and when in their cycle they had sex.

The second sample group consisted of 275 women in long–term relationships who used hormonal contraception.

This group was not followed over time, but the researchers asked them how many times they had had sex in the past week. This type of study – using data collected at a specific point in time – is called a cross-sectional study.

Both groups were asked to indicate the type of contraception they were using, and if a pill, which brand it was.

“Since we examined these two groups using different methods – a snapshot for the one group and a longitudinal study for the other – we can be confident that the results provide a reliable overall picture,” Grøntvedt said.

Natural or synthetic hormones had similar effects

The basis for the NTNU study was a 2013 American study, where 50 women and their partners answered a series of questions about their relationships, menstrual cycles and frequency of sex.

None of these women were using any kind of hormonal contraception, so only their natural hormones were involved.

The study showed that women initiated sex more in the extended sexual phase – when they were not ovulating and progesterone was the dominant hormone – if they were invested in the relationship.

NTNU researchers wanted to verify the American results in their study, but with participants who were using a hormonal contraceptive that simulates a natural cycle.

Their results were the same as in the US study, in which women were not using any hormonal birth control.

The researchers were thus able to show that how often women have sex is linked to how committed they feel towards their partner and the type of hormone they are governed by, whether natural or synthetic.

“A lot of social psychology studies that have led to cool discoveries through the ages have lost status, because it hasn’t been possible to copy them and verify the results.”

“We are extremely pleased to have been able to verify the results of the study by Grebe and his colleagues, and we are equally pleased that we have also made new discoveries,” Kennair says.

Complete Article HERE!

The right to say yes, no, maybe

Lessons from the BDSM community on why consent is not a one-time thing

By Jaya Sharma

She asked for it,” they say. Really? To be groped on the street by strangers when all one is trying to do is have a good time on New Year’s eve? Some years ago, at a sexuality workshop with teachers in Rajasthan that I was conducting while working with a feminist non-governmental organization, one of the men said, “Uski naa mein toh haan hai (When she says no, she actually means yes).” The men sat on one side, and women on the other (not by design), of the big hall at an ashram in Pushkar where the workshop was taking place. One of the women turned around and asked this man, “If a man makes a move on a woman, and if, instead of an initial no, she says yes, what happens? She is instantly labelled a slut.” The discussion concluded with what to me, in my 30 years in the women’s movement, seemed to be a pearl of wisdom: Women have the right to say no only when they have the right to say yes. It makes perfect sense, therefore, to discuss consent in the context of our ability to say yes, precisely at a time when the country around us is rife with conversations, online and offline, on gender-based sexual violence.

There is clearly an urgent need for a fundamental shift in our thinking about consent; about adding “yes” to the existing focus on “no”. We need to recognize that our ability to say “no” and our ability to say “yes” are inextricably linked. And, if I may move full steam ahead, there is also a need to recognize that there is a range of possibilities beyond “yes” and “no” in sexual encounters, which we may not talk about or bring into our struggle against sexual violence, but which exist nonetheless. And only a discussion on consent which acknowledges a woman’s freedom to say yes opens up the space for this.

I’m talking of the space for “maybe”, which allows us to explore, change our minds halfway through, surrender control completely—ways of “doing” consent that are in sync with the nature of our desires. I say “do consent” rather than “give” it, because consent is not a one-time-only thing to be given and never sought again. The most widespread and insidious assumption about consent is that it already exists—it is presumed. Another assumption is that negotiations around consent will kill the intense, spontaneous passion that we feel. If talked about at all, it is considered to be a thing that people are meant to do only before they have sex. “Are you okay with this?” In any case, what is “this”? I suspect it might be the ultimate peno-vaginal penetrative act (one act among thousands, but more often than not, considered a synonym for sex). None of this is necessarily any individual’s fault. In the midst of all these assumptions is the truth that societies, globally, don’t have a culture of talking, teaching, or learning about consent. Let’s move to a better scenario.

I am part of a community that has great expertise on consent—the Bondage Domination Sado-Masochism (BDSM) community. In BDSM, consent is sacrosanct. There are a range of mechanisms to ensure that consent is given and taken proactively and enthusiastically. Although not everyone uses the same mechanisms, these include “hard limits”, which are acts identified beforehand that can never be attempted. “Soft limits” refers to those acts which don’t fall within one’s comfort level, but which one is not entirely averse to trying or experiencing. Then there is of course the safe word, which is a predetermined, typically easy-to-recall word (many friends and I choose “red”) which would instantly and unconditionally end whatever is transpiring. The limits are negotiated beforehand. The process of negotiation can be hot.

Although I always ensure that I have a safe word, I have very rarely used it. Having a safe word gives me tremendous confidence to explore my desires and allow my boundaries to be pushed. The safe word also gives the other person the confidence to push my limits. I am not referring only to pain when I talk of pushing limits, but also to giving up control. In my experience, dominants often stop short of providing the extent of control that submissives desire, because they fear that they might push them too far. In this context, the safe word gives each person the confidence to continue going much further than they otherwise might have. I hope that others would like to try to use the safe word in their sex lives, however kinky it may or may not be.

Other than soft limits, hard limits and safe words, the other useful consent mechanism in my experience is the conversation that happens after the session, talking about how one felt about what happened. Such conversations have really helped me to connect in a deeper way with what turns me on or off, about my triggers and resistances. The honesty, directness and trust that has typified these conversations, even with virtual strangers whom I have played with (we call these BDSM sessions “play”), is precious.

The significance of these mechanisms goes well beyond BDSM. In the Kinky Collective, the group that seeks to raise awareness about BDSM and of which I am part, we share a lot about consent because we believe that everyone can learn and benefit from the ways in which consent is understood and practised in our community. It shows us ways of “doing” consent which are sexy, which help move us out of the embarrassment associated with negotiating consent, which don’t interrupt the flow of desire but, in fact, enable and enhance it. Most importantly, these ways of understanding and giving consent are in sync with the nature of human desire and with our need to explore, give up or take control, and importantly, our need to pursue pleasure, and not only protect ourselves from harm. BDSM shows us that making consent sacrosanct is not only the responsibility of the individual, but of the community. A lesson worth learning from the BDSM community is also that “slut”, whether used for a woman, man or transgender person, can be a word of praise and not a slur. It is not surprising perhaps that a community which enables this space for agency and desire, beyond the constraints of shame, to say “yes”, is also a community which has at its core consent.

Complete Article HERE!

Can kinky sex make you more creative?

Researchers claim BDSM can help people achieve ‘altered states of consciousness’

By Cheyenne Macdonald

Engaging in kinky sex may send you into an altered state of consciousness and even unlock your inner creativity, according to a new study. The research also suggests BDSM reduces psychological stress, improves moods, and increases sexual arousal.

Engaging in kinky sex may send you into an altered state of consciousness and even unlock your inner creativity, according to a new study.

Using a small sample of participants from the kink-focused social network Fetlife, researchers investigated the mind-altering effects of BDSM – bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism.

Not only were these activities found to produce two types of altered states, but research suggests BDSM also reduces psychological stress, improves moods, and increases sexual arousal.

While previous studies have attempted to investigate this phenomena, no other research has actually put it to the test, the researchers explain in a paper published to the journal Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice.

So, researchers from the Science of BDSM Research Team at Northern Illinois University recruited seven pairs of self-identified ‘switches’ – people who were willing to be randomly assigned to either a top or bottom role in a BDSM scene.

This way, the researchers explain, the differences observed in the study could be better attributed to the role rather than the individual.

Fourteen people participated in total, with 10 women and four men between the ages of 23 and 64.

For the experiments, the participants partook in seven scenes which involved everything from gentle touching and communication to striking, bondage, and fetish dress.

Each of the participants provided five saliva samples throughout the experiments, and were asked to complete three Stroop tests, involving words and colours: one prior to their assignment, one before the scene, and one after it had ended.

The test measured for an altered state of consciousness aligned with Dietrich’s transient hypofrontality, which relates to daydreaming, runner’s high, meditation, and even some drug highs.

Along with this, the participants were also given a measure of mental ‘flow’ following each scene, using the Flow State Scale ranging from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree.’

Flow is a nine-dimensional altered state conceptualized by Csikszentmihalyi, and is achieved during ‘optimal experiences,’ the researchers explain.

The dimensions of flow include ‘challenge-skill balance, action-awareness merging, clear goals, unambiguous feedback, concentration on task, sense of control, loss of self-consciousness, time transformation,’ and feelings of intrinsic reward.

The experiments revealed that the bottom role and the top role in BDSM are each associated with a distinct altered state of consciousness, both of which have previously been tied to creativity.

According to the researchers, ‘topping’ is linked to the state which aligned with Csikszentmihalyi’s flow, while ‘bottoming’ is associated with both Dietrich’s transient hypofrontality and some aspects of flow.

The team says these activities also reduced stress and negative affect in the participants, and increased sexual arousal.

While BDSM has long been a stigmatized practice, the authors say the finding support the idea that there are numerous factors driving these preferences that do not relate to mental disorder.

‘The results contribute to a growing body of evidence that individuals pursue BDSM for nonpathological reasons,’ the researchers conclude, ‘including the pleasant altered states of consciousness these activities are theorized to produce.’

Complete Article HERE!

Where Latino teens learn about sex does matter

By Nancy Berglas

latina-lesbians

The U.S. teen pregnancy rate is at a historic low, with the number of teen births declining dramatically over the past decades.

But there are disparities among groups of teens. Latina teens have the highest teen birth rate of any racial or ethnic group. Latino teens are also more affected by STIs – particularly chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea – than their white peers. Sexually active Latino teens are also less likely to use condoms and other forms of contraception.

Sexual exploration during adolescence is normal and healthy. These disparities are a sign that many Latino teens have unmet needs when it comes to information about sexual health and relationships.

Prior research has found that teens’ source of sex information is related to their beliefs about sex and sexual behaviors. And today teens get information about sex from a variety of sources, including their parents, peers, school and digital media.

Understanding where teens learn about sex and how that influences them can help us find ways to encourage healthy sexual behaviors, such as using condoms and birth control.

But despite these disparities, and the fact that Latinos are also the largest ethnic or racial minority in the U.S. (constituting 17 percent of the population and 23 percent of all youth), there is very little research about where Latino teens are getting information about sex.

To find out more about which sources are most relevant to Latino teens, we surveyed nearly 1,200 Latino ninth graders at 10 different high schools in Los Angeles.

latino-gay-men

In the survey, teens had to select their “most important source of information about sex and relationships while growing up” from a list of 11 options. Rather than asking about the many sources of information they have encountered, we wanted to know which one they felt was most important in their lives.

Parents were the most commonly listed source, with 38 percent saying their parents were their most important source of information about sex and relationships. These findings are similar to surveys of teens from other racial and ethnic groups, who report that parents are the most important influence on their decisions about sex.

For some teens in our study, different sources – including other family members (17 percent), classes at school (13 percent) and friends (11 percent) – fill this important role.

Although other studies have found that teens often rely on media and the internet for sexual health information, teens in our study rarely mentioned them as their most important source. That doesn’t mean they aren’t accessing information about sex online or hearing about sex on TV, but that they do not necessarily see these as the most important source in their lives.

We also wanted to know if there was a connection between Latino teens’ most important source of sex information and their intentions to use condoms in the future.

Overall, most teens in our study planned to use condoms the next time they had sex, with 71 percent of teens saying that they “definitely will” and 22 percent saying that they “probably will.” But did their preferred source of information about sex matter in this decision?

We compared the influence of parents, other family members, friends, boyfriends or girlfriends, schools, health care providers and media on teens’ intentions to use condoms.

After controlling for other factors known to be linked to teens’ sexual behaviors, such as age, gender and sexual experience, we found that these Latino teens’ stated most important source of sex information was significantly related to their intentions to use condoms in the future. In other words, there is a connection between where teens get information about sex and their future sexual behaviors.

We then compared the influence of other sources of sex information to the influence of parents.

Teens who reported that their family members, classes at school, health care providers, boyfriends or girlfriends, or the media were their main source of information about sex reported similarly high intentions to use condoms to teens who listed their parents as most important.

However, the teens who turned to their friends for sex information were less likely to say they planned to use condoms than teens who turn to their parents. This is not too surprising. Teens who rely on friends as their primary source of sex information may be more vulnerable to peer pressure to avoid using condoms or may be getting misinformation about their effectiveness.

The primary source of sex information was particularly important for the boys’ intentions to use condoms in the future. The boys who rely on friends or media and internet as their main sources for sex information were significantly less likely to report planning to use condoms than the boys who turned to their parents.

Boys who do not have a trusted adult who they can rely on for sex information may be seeking out sources that could also spread negative messages about condoms, such as “locker room talk” with peers or pornography online.

These findings highlight the importance of providing comprehensive sources of sex information for Latino teens at home, in their schools and in the community.

young-latino-couple

Unfortunately, we don’t know how these results compare to other groups of teens. Not enough research has been done on how the various sources of sex information may influence teens’ sexual behavior, and there is a need for more studies on this topic.

Given that parents are a popular and important source of information for many teens, interventions that empower parents to talk to their kids about sexuality, relationships and sexual health and provide them with accurate information could help.

It may be beneficial to include other family members such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings in these interventions so they too can provide accurate information when teens turn to them.

Encouraging positive family conversations about sex and relationships will help young people make healthier decisions and grow into sexually healthy adults.

Complete Article HERE!

Five things that everyone should know about sex

The internet has changed sex and relationships forever. So if your education in the subject stopped at 16, here’s a refresher for the modern world

sex-education

 

By

What was your sex education like? Did you get any at all past the age of 16? Given that only a quarter to a third of young people have sex before they are 16, but most will have had sex at least once by the age of 19, it seems remiss not to provide high-quality sex education for the 16-25 age range (especially since that is the age group most at risk of contracting STIs such as chlamydia).

Unfortunately, sex education hasn’t moved on much from puberty, plumbing and prevention, and is often reported as being too little, too late and too biological. In the new internet world order where porn and internet hook-ups prevail, and the use of dating apps by perpetrators of sexual violence was reported last week to have increased sharply, it is time we provided sex and relationships education fit for the 21st century, to help us to enjoy our bodies safely.

So if you missed out on quality sex education, or could do with a top-up, here are five things relating to sex and relationships you might want to think about:

1. Sexuality – We live in a heteronormative world, where gender binary and heterosexual norms prevail. Fixed ideas about sexual identity and sexuality can be limiting. We all need to understand sex as something more than a penis in a vagina and recognise that sex with all sorts of different body parts (or objects) in all sorts of wonderful configurations can be had. That’s not to say you have to experience kinds of sex outside your own comfort levels and boundaries. Be aware of how media, cultural background, gender and power dynamics influence sexuality. Monogamous heterosexuality does not have to be your path.

2) Consent – what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it feels like. Enthusiastic consent should be a baseline expectation, not an aspiration. Without enthusiastic consent then sex is no fun (and quite feasibly rape). If consent is in any doubt at all, you need to stop and check in with your partner. You might even want to think about introducing safe words into your sexual interactions and ensuring you and your partner are confident using them.

‘Taking time to challenge and explore ideas around pleasure will help with your sex education.’

‘Taking time to challenge and explore ideas around pleasure will help with your sex education.’

3) Pleasure – sex can be one of the most awesomely fun things you do with your body. All sorts of things can affect your ability to give and receive pleasure, including your upbringing, self-confidence, physical and mental health, and communication skills. If sex isn’t pleasurable and fun for you, what needs to change? It is worth noting that male pleasure is generally prioritised over female pleasure. Consider, for example, when you would consider a penis-in-vagina sexual interaction to be finished – at male orgasm or female orgasm?

Taking time to challenge and explore ideas around pleasure as well as deepening your understanding of your own body (in other words, masturbation) will help with your sex education. Always remember, you don’t have to have sex if you don’t want to.

4) Health and wellbeing – Love your body and know what is normal for you. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. There are all sorts of pressures on us to make our bodies look a certain way, but take some time to appreciate the non-photoshopped, non-pornified variation in our bodies. Your shape and size (of penis, or breasts) do not matter – sex can be the best jigsaw puzzle, and genuine confidence in your body can help you figure out how to use it as an instrument for pleasure.

Knowing what is normal for you is also really important. There are women who continually get treated for thrush bacterial vaginosis and cystitis because they do not understand vaginal flora and the natural discharge variation in their monthly cycle. Nobody told them that having a wee shortly after sex is a good idea.

5) Safety – We are often taught to override our gut feelings. This sometimes stems from childhood, when adults have ignored our bodily autonomy. However it is vital we remember to tune into our gut instincts, especially given the rise in internet dating and internet dating-related crime. Being aware of your own personal safety and sexual boundaries when internet dating is essential.

Remember that no matter how you have been socialised, you do not need to be polite to someone who is making you feel uncomfortable. No is a complete sentence. If someone does not respect your right to bodily autonomy and violates your consent, it is never your fault; the blame lies entirely with them. Always trust your “spidey” sense – if it is tingling, it is trying to tell you something isn’t right, be that a relationship with unhealthy elements, or plans to meet up for a blind date. If a situation doesn’t feel right, think about what needs to change.

Complete Article HERE!