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Sex education is not relevant to pupils’ lives, says report

International study finds schools’ teaching about sexuality out of touch, moralistic and unwilling to accept some students are already in relationships


A sex education lesson at Chelmsford grammar school.

A sex education lesson at Chelmsford grammar school.

Sex education in schools worldwide is so “out of touch” with pupils’ experiences that they find it irrelevant and switch off, research of young people in 10 countries including the UK shows.

Many students find lessons about sex and relationships negative, moralistic and too scientific to help them deal with the feelings and situations they are encountering, according to an analysis of young people’s views published in the journal BMJ Open.

The study, led by Dr Pandora Pound of the school of social and community medicine at Bristol University, found a surprising consistency in young people’s views on sex education regardless of whether they were in Britain, the US, Iran, Japan, Australia or elsewhere.

“It is clear from our findings that SRE [sex and relationship education] provision in schools frequently fails to meet the needs of young people,” Pound said. “Schools seem to have difficulty accepting [that] some people are sexually active, which leads to SRE that is out of touch with many young people’s lives.”

Pound and her colleagues reached their conclusions after examining 55 previously published studies that set out young people’s views of sex education between 1990 and 2015. It also included pupils and ex-pupils in the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, Brazil and Sweden.

SRE lessons too often left female pupils at risk of harassment if they participated and male students anxious to hide their ignorance about sex, they found. Some young men were disruptive in class in order to disguise their inexperience.

Many pupils believed that schools saw sex as a problem to be managed, that there was too much focus on heterosexual relationships and that females were often portrayed as passive and males as predatory, the researchers found.

Many pupils also found it uncomfortable and unhelpful that teachers they had for other subjects also taught them SRE. “They expressed dislike of their own teachers delivering SRE due to blurred boundaries, lack of anonymity, embarrassment and poor training,” according to the study.

A 2013 report into sex education by Ofsted, the schools inspectorate for England, found that just 19% of 18-year-olds believe that SRE should be taught by a teacher from their own schools.

For their part, teachers themselves often admit to “discomfort” at teaching SRE. Ofsted’s review also found that one in three English schools delivered poor quality SRE.

Schools could tackle these problems by instead holding some single sex SRE lessons and using sex educators from outside to deliver lessons, the authors suggest.

They also suggest that schools should be much more “sex-positive” – open, frank and positive about sex in a way that challenges negative attitudes in society to sex.

“It is disappointing that the pattern of inadequate sex and relationships education is repeated from country to country, with young people in England and elsewhere saying that SRE starts too little and too late and is often too biological with little attention to relationships, and lessons fail to reflect the reality of young people’s lives,” said Lucy Emmerson, co-ordinator of the UK’s Sex Education Forum.

“Teachers have repeatedly said that they need subject-specific training so that they can teach good quality sex and relationships education, but in England there has been a failing on the part of government to require that SRE must be taught in every school, so there are huge gaps in provision with some schools not teaching the subject at all,” she added.

The study, which was funded by the NHS’s National Institute for Health Research, also found that SRE often does not give pupils practical information such as what to do if they become pregnant and the pros and cons of different methods of contraception. In addition it found that sex education is often delivered too late for some pupils.

Without an overhaul of SRE, “young people will continue to disengage from SRE and opportunities for safeguarding and improving their sexual health will be reduced”, the paper warns.

“The international evidence is clear, comprehensive SRE taught early by trained educators results in improvements for young people’s sexual health and reductions in sexual violence,” added Emmerson. “But too many countries are failing to respond and take action and provide children and young people with the education they need and deserve.”

Complete Article HERE!

We’re Not Quite ‘Born This Way’



Back in 2014, a bigoted African leader put J. Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern, in a strange position. Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, had been issuing a series of anti-gay tirades, and — partially fueled by anti-gay religious figures from the U.S. — was considering toughening Uganda’s anti-gay laws. The rhetoric was getting out of control: “The commercialisation of homosexuality is unacceptable,” said Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s ethics minister. “If they were doing it in their own rooms we wouldn’t mind, but when they go for children, that’s not fair. They are beasts of the forest.” Eventually, Museveni said he would table the idea of new legislation until he better understood the science of homosexuality, and agreed to lay off Uganda’s LGBT population if someone could prove to him homosexuality was innate.

That’s where Bailey comes in: He’s a leading sex researcher who has published at length on the question of where sexual orientation comes from. LGBT advocates began reaching out to him to explain the science of homosexuality and, presumably, denounce Museveni for his hateful rhetoric. But “I had issues with rushing out a scientific statement that homosexuality is innate,” he said in an email, because he’s not sure that’s quite accurate. While he did write articles, such as an editorial in New Scientist, explaining why he thought Museveni’s position didn’t make sense, he stopped short of calling homosexuality innate. He also realized that in light of some recent advances in the science of sexual orientation, it was time to publish an article summing up the current state of the field — gathering together all that was broadly agreed-upon about the nature and potential origins of sexual orientation. (In the meantime, Museveni did end up signing the anti-gay legislation, justifying his decision by reasoning that homosexuality “was learned and could be unlearned.”)

To help write his paper, Bailey assembled an impressive multidisciplinary team: It consisted of the psychologists Paul Vasey and Lisa Diamond, the neuroscientist S. Marc Breedlove, the geneticist Eric Vilain, and Marc Epprecht, a historian with a focus on gender and sexuality in Africa.

Their article, which was recently published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, is something of an all-you-can-eat buffet for anyone interested in the current state of scientific research into sexuality. While it’s loosely organized around the “moral” concerns raised by Museveni, it covers a wide range of subjects. It’s worth a full read, but three main points leaped out at me:

1. There’s a connection between gender expression and sexual orientation that seems to show up just about everywhere. It’s important to note that just about everything in Bailey and his colleagues’ paper has to do with average differences between members of different groups. Nothing in the paper (or this article) should be taken as implying that “all straight people X” or “all straight people Y.” The average man is significantly bigger than the average woman, but plenty of women are bigger than plenty of men; the same logic holds here.

That caveat aside, there seems to be a consistent, robust way in which sexual orientation and gender roles play off of each other and that starts early in childhood for many people. Bailey and his colleagues point out that “Childhood gender nonconformity … is a strong correlate of adult sexual orientation that has been consistently and repeatedly replicated.” For boys, this means that if a child enjoys cross-dressing, playing with dolls, growing their hair long, preferring girls as playmates, and so on, then — true to stereotype — there’s a significantly increased chance that he will grow up to be gay (in cases where all this is accompanied by gender dysphoria, or discomfort with their natal sex, there’s a chance he could also end up identifying as transgender).

Broadly speaking, these sorts of differences between (pre-)gay and (pre-)straight people persist into adulthood. Among adults, “Research indicates that heterosexual men have greater interest in occupations and hobbies focusing on things and less interest in those focusing on people, compared with heterosexual women.” For gay men and women, the pattern flips: Gay men are more into people-things than their straight brothers and dad, while gay women are more into object-things than their straight sisters and moms. This blending of stereotypically gendered behavior seems to extend to “gestures and walking,” “speech,” “physical presentation,” and “even facial appearance.”

Fascinatingly, “the link between gender nonconformity and nonheterosexual orientation has been found in a wide variety of cultures,” the authors write, and seems to manifest itself in similar ways just about everywhere. To take one example, the researchers quote from a book chapter called “Os Entendidos: Gay life in São Paulo in the late 1970s”:

In the Guatemalan Indian town of Chimaltenango, two men lived together as lovers, wearing typical Indian clothing in an outwardly traditional Indian adobe house. The house, however, was decorated in a manner strikingly different from the other Indians. It was meticulously and elaborately decorated, a characteristic frequently found in homosexual subcultures … The occupation of the lovers was that of stringing pine needles in decorative strands, traditionally used in Guatemala for holidays and other festive occasions, and supplying flowers for weddings. In essence these two men were florists, involved in the arts of embellishment, which in larger societies are universally linked with homosexual subcultures.

Because of this striking consistency in the (again, average) differences between how straight and gay people present themselves around the world, the researchers suspect that whatever’s going on here can’t be explained solely by suggesting gay people are simply fulfilling — or being socially coerced into — culturally expected roles:

Before leaving the topic of gender nonconformity, we address a commonly raised question: Might the gender-atypicality of adult homosexual men and women simply reflect a culturally influenced self-fulfilling prophecy? In other words, given that society expects homosexual individuals to be gender atypical, and given that LGB communities often support and facetiously celebrate such gender atypicality, perhaps some homosexual people adopt gender-atypical characteristics to conform to their own stereotypes. Because of the evidence we have reviewed — indicating that gender nonconformity often begins before a prehomosexual child even has a sexual orientation or is aware of cultural stereotypes, and that the link between gender nonconformity and nonheterosexual orientation has been found in a wide variety of cultures — we think it is highly unlikely that gender nonconformity in LGB populations represents a self-fulfilling prophecy due to cultural beliefs. It is possible, however, that cultural stereotypes sometimes amplify gender nonconformity among LGB people. Many LGB individuals report that they have always been fairly gender-typical in dress, appearance, and interests. It is possible that as these individuals come to identify as LGB and participate in the LGB community, they adopt aspects of gender-atypicality.

So if they’re right, what does explain these average differences? No one’s quite sure. But it seems like for the average human, sexuality and gender presentation are intertwined in important ways.

2. The best evidence for a nature-over-nurture explanation of sexuality comes from an accidental quasi-experiment involving surgically removed penises. Bailey and his colleagues ran through a bunch of the different ways researchers have tried to puzzle out what makes some people gay, others straight, and others bisexual: brain and hormone and genetics studies, among other areas of research. All these fields have added interesting nuggets, but it’s clear from the study that the researchers are most excited by a coincidental small pile of research they call “the near-perfect quasi-experiment.”The participants in this quasi-experiment might not share the researchers’ enthusiasm. All of them were natal males who were either “born with malformed penises or lost their penises in surgical accidents.” Between 1960 and 2000, Bailey and his colleagues write, “many doctors in the United States believed that such males would be happier being socially and surgically reassigned female,” and that’s what happened to these kids: They were raised as girls, wearing “girl” clothes, doing “girl” things, and so on. (Alice Dreger does a wonderful job explaining this practice and how it came to change, in part due to activism she herself helped to spearhead, in her book Galileo’s Middle Finger.)

Bailey and his colleagues examined the seven such cases that have been written up in the literature. Of the seven, they found, six of the unfortunate subjects came to eventually identify as heterosexual males at the time they were followed up with; the seventh still identified as female and said she was “predominately” into women.

If socialization were a significant part of the sexuality equation, the odds that not one of these natal males would grow up to be attracted primarily to men are just about nil, statistically speaking. “These results comprise the most valuable currently available data concerning the broad nature-versus-nurture questions for sexual orientation,” write the researchers. “They show how difficult it is to derail the development of male sexual orientation by psychosocial means. If one cannot reliably make a male human become attracted to other males by cutting off his penis in infancy and rearing him as a girl, then what other psychosocial intervention could plausibly have that effect?”

So does that clinch it? Sexuality is, in fact, innate? Not quite …

3. “Born this way” is probably wrong, but it doesn’t matter. Think back to the reason Bailey decided to co-author this paper: Uganda’s homophobic president was asking for “proof” that homosexuality is inborn. Bailey and his colleagues don’t think it would be accurate to claim to be able to deliver him that proof. At the moment, they write, when you look at the (somewhat limited) twin research that has been conducted — studies on twins being the best large-scale way to tease out nature-nurture questions — it looks like about a third of the variation in sexual orientation in human beings comes from genes; 43 percent comes from environmental influences a given set of twins don’t share (random factors that cause their brains and bodies to develop differently, such as different experiences); and 25 percent from environmental influences they do share (their general upbringing, developing in the same uterine environment, and so on).

Putting things a bit more straightforwardly: Identical twins share the same genes and the same womb, and yet when one is gay, the other is usually straight. That means things likely aren’t set at birth. Those environmental factors — mostly nonsocial ones, the researchers think — do matter.

So it’s complicated, and there’s also a sex divide: Bailey’s current view is that male sexual orientation is probably more or less set by birth, but for females, who in general exhibit a bit more fluidity with regard to sexual orientation, postnatal factors could be important. For humanity as a whole, “born this way” is probably a bit too pithy a summary of what’s going on, at least in light of the current evidence — which could change as we come to better understand the brain, genetics, and hormones. (Note: I updated this paragraph post-publication to mention the sex difference, which is important and comes up throughout Bailey and his colleagues’ paper.)

But as the authors hint, people often misinterpret this as meaning sexual orientation is a choice, or is something one person (presumably a creepy older adult) can teach another one (presumably an innocent, otherwise-straight child). That’s not the case. It’s important, they argue, to keep in mind a simple distinction: The sentence “I choose to have sex with partners of my own sex” makes sense, while the sentence “I choose to desire to have sex with partners of my own sex” doesn’t. No one chooses what they desire. The authors make this point nicely with a quote in which Einstein sums up one of Schopenhauer’s views: “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” The opposite of inborn isn’t chosen.

It’s perhaps no surprise that in the last part of their paper, Bailey and his colleagues come out strongly against the harsh anti-gay laws Museveni passed. There’s scant evidence, contra Museveni’s claims, that homosexual people “recruit” otherwise-straight children into their subculture, or that sexuality is otherwise socially learned. Museveni’s resistance to evidence might be a useful lesson: People seeking to demonize and stigmatize other people’s identities and behaviors probably aren’t particularly interested in the science underlying those identities and behaviors, anyway. They tend to be far more animated by political opportunism or fear or disgust than a desire to truly understand the full, fascinating range of the human experience.

For the rest of us, born this way might be useful shorthand, but it doesn’t capture the full picture — and we can handle the nuance.

Complete Article HERE!

The World Health Organization Proposes Dropping Transgender Identity From Its List of Mental Disorders

Transgender identity would instead be categorized under the sexual health umbrella, which could significantly impact acceptance of transgender individuals in health care and social spaces.


The World Health Organization is currently considering reclassifying transgender identity in its International Classification of Diseases. Though the WHO previously labeled transgender identity as a mental disorder, a recent Lancet Psychiatry study has led the organization to reevaluate that decision. Now, the WHO is discussing re-categorizing the term under its sexual health umbrella—which could have major implications for how transgender people are viewed in both health care and society.

This new conversation is the result of a study that shed light on the complex relationship between transgender identity and mental illness. The study, which drew on a sample of 250 transgender individuals, found that while many transgender people experience mental distress, most of that distress is linked to experiences associated with being transgender—like family, social, or work or scholastic dysfunction. It’s not that being transgender is a mental illness in and of itself, it’s that identifying as transgender can lead to rejection, violence and other things that cause mental distress. These findings clearly challenge the WHO’s decision to label transgender identity as a mental disorder, which is why the organization is currently rethinking its original designation—and why it’s doing so right now.

If this story sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Until the late 1980s, homosexuality was classified as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). While that’s not the same thing as the WHO’s ICD, the two serve a similar purpose: being the go-to resource for defining health conditions and tracking global health trends. The DSM renamed homosexuality as “sexual orientation disturbance” in 1973, and changed its name to “ego-dystonic homosexuality” before removing it from the list of mental disorders altogether in 1987. “I’ve never heard a gay person lament the loss of the diagnosis of homosexuality,” Diane Ehrensaft, a developmental and clinical psychologist specializing in gender, tells SELF. “[And I don’t] think we will find many transgender people—if any—[who] lament the disappearance of a mental health diagnosis—as long as we continue to ensure the provision of all medical services.” Ehrensaft explains that classifying transgender identity as a mental disorder “declares a mental illness where there is none,” which can leave transgender individuals facing increased stigma in an already rejecting world.

Though there’s no official count of how many Americans identify as transgender, LGBT demographer Gary Gates has estimated that the number falls around 700,000. (It’s worth noting that this data is based on two studies—one from 2007 and one from 2009—so it’s not necessarily representative of the actual transgender population in the U.S.) Regardless of the exact figure, the WHO’s decision has the potential to impact a significant number of Americans—and Americans who are disproportionately at risk for things like poverty, suicide, and various forms of discrimination, at that. “It is extremely damaging to label someone’s identity as a mental disorder,” Jamison Green, transgender rights activist, tells SELF. Stigmas associated with transgender identity and mental health can impact someone’s ability to get hired, receive a promotion, and to feel confident enough with the surrounding world. “There’s a huge, huge problem,” he says.

While the WHO hasn’t made any official decisions yet, reclassification could potentially have beneficial outcomes for members of the LGBT community. “What we have to look at is social ramifications of the experience of transgender people,” Green says. And one of the things the WHO’s decision would do, he says, is clear up some of the cross-cultural confusion surrounding gender and sexual orientation. “It’s a very complex subject, and there’s very little known about it from a clear technical perspective,” Green says. Still, moving away from classifying transgender as a mental disorder is a positive step, he says, because transgender identity is linked to a person’s physical nature (gender confirmation surgery, potential roots in endocrinology, etc.) in many ways.

That said, the decision to potentially re-categorize transgender identity under the sexual health umbrella is a little complicated—and could potentially be a step in the wrong direction. “I think it kind of misses the mark,” Green says. He mentioned that sexual health issues include things like the inability to orgasm and, in some cases, pregnancy—not gender identity. “There is nothing sexual about gender when it comes to health,” Ehrensaft reiterates. “It’s all about who you know yourself to be—as male, female, or other—and how you want to present your gender to the world. Anything having to do with sex organs and sexual functioning is a different issue.” Still, it’s a step nonetheless. “That’s sort of the mentality that we’re having to deal with—that’s there’s something wrong with a person if their gender doesn’t match the sex of their body,” Green says. “So where do we [classify] that so people can be properly treated in a humane fashion, rather than in a damaging one? There’s a struggle.”

So far, the proposed reclassification has been approved by every committee that’s discussed it—leaving it under review for the latest edition of the WHO’s ICD. Geoffrey Reed, a professor who worked on the Lancet Psychiatry study, told the New York Times that the re-categorization wasn’t receiving opposition from the WHO and suggested we might see the change as soon as May 2018, when the newly revised version of the ICD is approved.

“Trans people, like anybody else, have identities that need to be respected,” Green says. “And all of the people who are affected by these sex and gender misunderstandings—and our lack of scientific knowledge—do not deserve to be vilified or stigmatized or punished in any way. That’s what we’re trying to move toward in the awkward world of policy making.”

Complete Article HERE!

Large number of young people experience sex problems, study finds


More to be done to help with ‘sexual function’ as well as advice on STIs and pregnancy, say authors of survey

Many young people reported finding intercourse difficult and the inability to climax, the study found

Many young people reported finding intercourse difficult and the inability to climax, the study found

Large numbers of young people experience sexual problems such as pain or anxiety during sex, the inability to climax and finding intercourse difficult, a study has found.

A third (33.8%) of sexually active teenagers and young men aged 16-21 and 44.4% of sexually active young women the same age experienced at least one problem, which lasted for at least three months, with their ability to enjoy sex in the past year, according to the research.

Experts say the results, from the latest National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) study of sexual health in Britain, show that young people need help with their “sexual function” as much as advice on avoiding sexually transmitted infection or unintended pregnancy. They experience problems almost as much as older people, it emerged.

For women, the most common problem was difficulty in reaching climax, which 21.3% of female participants said they experienced. The next most common problems were: lacking enjoyment in sex (9.8%), feeling physical pain as a result of sex (9%), an uncomfortably dry vagina (8.5%), feeling anxious during sex (8%) and no excitement or arousal (8%).

Among men, the biggest difficulty was reaching a climax too quickly, which 13.2% had experienced. Smaller numbers reported difficulty in reaching a climax (8.3%), difficulty getting or keeping an erection (7.8%), lacking enjoyment in sex (5.4%) and feeling anxious (4.8%).

The Natsal surveys, the funders of which include the Medical Research Council and the Department of Health, are seen as the most in-depth portraits of sexual behaviour in Britain. This latest edition has been carried out by academics from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), University College London and NatCen Social Research. Natsal-3 is based on 1,875 sexually active and 517 sexually inactive men and women aged between 16 and 21.

“Our findings show that distressing sexual problems are not only experienced by older people in Britain”, said Dr Kirstin Mitchell, the lead author of the study. “They are in fact relatively common in early adulthood as well.

“If we want to improve sexual wellbeing in the UK population, we need to reach people as they start their sex lives, otherwise a lack of knowledge, anxiety or shame might progress into lifelong sexual difficulties that can be damaging to sexual enjoyment and relationships,” she added.

Among the sexually active, 9.1% of young men and 13.4% of young women said that they had felt distressed about a sexual problem that had troubled them for at least three months.

Natsal-3 found some significant differences between men and women in the sexual problems they encountered. Far more women (9.8%) than men (5.4%) lacked enjoyment in sex, felt anxious during sex (8% compared with 4.8% of men) and experienced no excitement or arousal during sex (8% compared with 3.2% of men).

The same stark gender divide was also apparent in those who professed no interest in having sex. One in five (22%) of women said they lacked interest, while far fewer men – 10.5% – said the same.

Young people are very unlikely to seek professional help for their problem. Although 36.3% of women and 26% of men said they had sought help, this was usually from family, friends, the media or the internet. Just 4% of young men and 8% of young women had turned to an expert such as a GP, psychiatrist or sexual health professional about their sex life.

Prof Kaye Wellings of LSHTM, a co-author, said: “UK sex education is often silent on issues of sexual satisfaction, but these are clearly important to young people and should be addressed. Sex education could do much more to debunk myths about sex, discuss pleasure and promote gender equality in relationships.”

Complete Article HERE!

Sexual assault is any sexual contact without consent

Name: Lola
Gender: Female
Age: 37
Location: Tennessee
I have been married for 13 years. We have had a pretty healthy, fulfilling sex life. My husband does not like to admit to his insecurities but i think he has some insecurity about his penis size and lately, his problem with not lasting very long. He has developed an obsession with stretching my vagina and pulling my labia. He knows I don’t like it. The other night, he introduces a dildo he has secretly purchased. I have enjoyed dildos, even larger ones, in the past, but this one was ridiculously too big. It was over 12″ long and the circumference was as big as a baseball bat. I told him that it was hurting and that it was impossible. He forced it in me. I was crying in pain and he tells me later that he hasn’t been that aroused in years. I am hurt. It hurt me physically, I bled a little, but it hurts more emotionally. What do you think is wrong with him? He has never hit me or been abusive with me, in the past.

sexual assault

Jeez darlin’, that’s fucked up…big time.

Here’s the thing about men who have sexual insecurities. They can and often do project their perceived inadequacies outside of themselves and then act out. And almost always this projection and acting out is aggressive and abusive.

I suppose you know that what we’re talkin’ about here, Lola is sexual assault, right? I mean let’s not mince words. Your husband assaulted you. It was premeditated and worst of all he took pleasure in it. This is extremely disturbing, because, despite his non-aggressive past, he has just upped the ante exponentially. You know what they say about domesticated animals that inexplicably develop an aggressive steak. Once they get a taste for blood there’s no trusting them ever again.

I think your old man has severe anger issues. Issues that if left untreated will…not maybe, but absolutely will…escalate into more aggressive and abusive behavior. Your guy needs help. He needs to know that he stands on a precipice. That he is making a cognitive and affective connection between violence and pleasure and this is very dangerous for all involved, especially you, Lola.


You don’t mention that he had any remorse about this assault. This too is disturbing. Because you can’t precisely pinpoint the cause of his acting out, you’ll never really know when you’re safe and when you’re not. I encourage you not to treat this lightly. Confront him about this. Make it clear to him that he has violated the bond of trust between the two of you. He may try and shift the blame for this incident to you. But remember, you’re not at fault. Insist that he seek professional help immediately. Anything short of him doing that will nullify your relationship.

No waffling on this, Lola! You do not want him to get the message that this incident can be winked at or overlooked. Your wellbeing hangs in the balance.

All unwanted, forced, manipulated, or coerced sexual contact or activity is sexual assault. Sexual assault is not about sex, eroticism or desire; it is about power, control and abuse.

Good Luck