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Pain and power

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When #MeToo suddenly flooded social media with testimonials about sexual harassment, assault and violence, I applauded those who spoke out. Yet, even as I was overwhelmed with a need to support and fiercely affirm those around me, I was confronted with a certain uneasiness that extended beyond my reservations about the mentality of mass movements, representation of such campaigns and even ignorance surrounding the sexual harassment–awareness movement’s inception ten years ago. The torrent of posts filled me with a nebulous discomfort.

I couldn’t identify why until I began reflecting on my own experiences, memories of harassment and assault that I’ve swept under the rug as quickly as they have steadily accumulated over the years. From piano to debate, political functions to conversations with acquaintances, encounters with strangers to those I trusted, these are instances that I do not spend time discussing. When I recall the moments that constitute my identity, they do not come to mind. Yet, reflected in the honest and raw stories of the people around me — mostly women, but also oft-ignored men and queer individuals — I was forced to face how the climate of sexual violence has shaped my daily decisions.

Ironically, I have studied women’s rights movements and sexuality. I read voraciously about rape culture and gender inequalities, and consume op-eds and studies and literature on gender-based and sexual violence. With an understanding of how sex, gender and sexuality play into oppressive power dynamics, I advocate for survivors and women in so many spaces, defend the experiences of others around me and celebrate their bravery and authenticity with the fullest conviction. However, the culture I’ve internalized means that writing “me too” makes me feel either that I have no control over harassment and assault, which is scary, or that I hold responsibility for the situations I’ve encountered, which is worse.

This was and is still difficult for me, because I define myself as a strong, assertive woman. In the face of unfairness I have clung to resilience; I want to believe that I have the self-determination to control my own narrative and have the upper hand. I don’t want to sound like I’m whining, or focusing on the little things, or acting hysterically. I don’t want to sound like I’m weak, and, like many around me, I have implicitly linked these experiences with victimhood cast as weakness.

When I finally did write about my experiences, it was a bid for both me and others to associate strength with speaking truth to disempowering experiences, to reconcile the “me” who seeks positions of influence with the “me” in “me too.” Amidst well-intentioned people who dismiss harassment and men who hesitate to criticize friends for predatory behavior, amidst women who quietly succumb to blaming themselves and those ashamed of their experiences, I wanted to affirm that you can be strong and thick-skinned, yet still say “me too.” I wanted my experiences to discredit how we characterize powerful women and what we expect strength to look like.

At the same time, however, I wrote with a certain anxiety about the way I depicted my experiences and how they would be consumed. I’m a believer that sharing our stories can elicit transformative empathy, but it was with a sinking feeling that I wondered whether I’d raise awareness or attract pity. I felt as if I’d submitted scenes into a long, continuous documentary of #MeToo experiences, where the various dimensions of survivors’ memories had been reduced to a performance of pain in an exhausting bid for change. I wondered about the actual impact of writing and speaking out; I questioned using my experiences as a place of implied advocacy.

The past week of reading, reflecting and writing about scenarios of sexual harassment and assault has been emotionally draining for both those who have withheld and those who have shared their stories. Although I wish otherwise, the only way for nonsurvivors to understand the lived experiences of others is through hearing about them. #MeToo has brought about a bittersweet mix of acknowledgement and pain, so I hope that we see this pain as power and truly shift the way we think about victims and aggressors. Don’t let this be a pointless show.

Complete Article HERE!

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It’s Surprisingly Hard to Ban Toxic Sex Toys

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But Here’s How to Protect Yourself

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These days, most of us will carefully check ingredients lists for gluten and trans fats, demand that our water bottles be made without BPA, and seek out paraben-free, body-safe cosmetics. But the average person can’t tell you what a toxic sex toy is—or even that they exist. Unfortunately, in the unregulated sex toy industry, plenty of sex toys are potentially rife with products that can hurt you (and not even in the fun, kinky way).

Perhaps the most well-known offender in terms of toy toxicity is a group of chemicals known as phthalates, a plasticizer that can be blended with other substances to make them softer and more flexible. A spotlight’s been shone on phthalates in recent years, as publications like Bustle and Bitch, and feminist-oriented sex shops like Good Vibes and Babeland have spoken out against them.

So why all the hullabaloo? It turns out that phthalates may have side effects when they come into contact with your body that could potentially be terrible for you—and aren’t disclosed by most sex toy manufacturers. According to Amanda Morgan, D.H.S., a faculty member at the School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who wrote her master’s thesis on harmful sex toy materials, phthalates are known endocrine disruptors that can cause health problems. “[Phthalates] mess with your hormones; they can cause birth defects, or other things related to liver or kidney functioning,” Morgan told me, referencing studies that have linked phthalates to irregular fetal development, early-onset puberty, and lower sperm counts, among other issues. “They can really mess you up because they pretend to be your hormones, and so your body’s hormonal cycle gets knocked out of whack from exposure to these things.”

When you hear horror stories about sex toys, though, it’s not necessarily phthalates that are to blame. One of the most common anecdotal complaints about toxic toys is that they cause skin irritation: “I first thought [it] was a yeast infection or BV, because of extreme itching and burning on my inner labia,” reports one reader who wrote in to sex toy review blog Dangerous Lilly. “My ass suddenly felt like it was on fire. A burning sensation spread throughout my butt,” recalled sex educator Tristan Taormino about a questionable dildo she used. One Playboy story described a dildo that caused a woman “such severe pain that she could barely speak.”

I asked Emily S. Barrett, Ph.D., a professor at the Rutgers University School of Public Health who has done extensive research on the prenatal effects of endocrine disruptors like phthalates, whether these reported burning sensations fit with her understanding of the chemicals. She told me she hasn’t seen evidence that phthalates irritate the skin in this way, and that they tend to “act on a much more subtle level most of the time.”

So what is causing these health problems? According to Amanda Morgan, phthalates aren’t the only sketchy ingredient still getting into our sex toys. As part of her thesis research, Morgan tested 32 sex toys to determine their chemical makeup. What she found was pretty scary: The toys she tested typically contained 30 to 35 percent chlorine. She said PVC, a material commonly used to make inexpensive sex toys, always contains chlorine (hence the chemical name “polyvinyl chloride”). Even scarier, in 2006, BadVibes.org—an organization that, full disclosure, is linked to pro-toy-safety sex shop The Smitten Kitten—ran lab tests on four popular sex toys. They found that two of them were made of PVC and contained “very high levels of phthalate plasticizer.”

“We use chlorine to kill bacteria in things,” Morgan said. “If you are being exposed to this high level of chlorine, especially in a sensitive membrane area [like the vagina or rectum], we could definitely chalk that up to causing irritation, burning, or messing up the environment by exposing it to something that is, as we know, a sterilization product.” So with the short-term burning effects of chlorine and the long-term endocrine effects of phthalates, PVC is, Morgan said, “definitely one of the worst sex toy materials we’ve seen.”

Now, you might be thinking, “OK, great to know! I’ll just buy only safe toys from now on!” Well, it’s not so simple. Since the sex toy industry is unregulated, it doesn’t fall under the current purview of the Food and Drug Administration. According to FDA press officer Angela Stark, that’s because the agency “does not regulate devices meant purely for sexual pleasure. It does, however, regulate genital devices that have a medical purpose such as vibrators intended for therapeutic use to treat sexual dysfunction or to supplement Kegel exercises.” Of course, the vast majority of sex toys don’t fall under this “health aid” umbrella.

The responsibility of regulating sex toys could potentially fall to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, but Morgan told me the understaffed CPSC is already in charge of regulating over 15,000 types of products—not to mention the products themselves. The complex issue of sex toy regulation would be a big ask on top of all that.

Add to all of this the fact that the current Congress likely wouldn’t rush to make a bold, sex-positive statement by mandating sex toy safety, and there are plenty of reasons your sex toy might not meet body-safe standards. “Our government doesn’t generally like to talk about people pleasuring themselves,” Morgan pointed out.

Beyond that, though, Morgan adds that regulating the sex toy industry might not even be the best solution to getting rid of toxic toys anyway. “If something is federally regulated, that means that the federal government—depending on where they are in their political leanings at that time—could potentially make it illegal to have these products, by saying they are ‘dangerous’ and then regulating them out of existence,” she reasoned. “You get certain types of people in power, and they may not believe in sexual health, wellness, [or] self-pleasuring. It might go against their core values, and therefore they [might] use their political agenda and the federal regulation system to regulate these products out of people’s hands.”

It’s a conclusion that Zach Biesanz, a legal assistant in the office of New York’s Attorney General, came to in his 2007 paper in the journal Law & Inequality: “Special regulation of the sex toy industry would be unreasonably burdensome from a regulatory standpoint,” he wrote. “Only banning these toxins outright will suffice to protect consumers from phthalates’ harmful and even lethal effects.”

In the meantime, how do you tell if a toy is safe? Sex toy experts like Morgan, Smitten Kitten founder Jennifer Pritchett, and seasoned sex toy reviewer Epiphora all recommend buying toys made of phthalate-free, body-safe materials like pure silicone, stainless steel, glass, and hard plastic. Still, it’s difficult to know what’s what in an industry that mislabels its products so frequently. “Sniff your sex toy,” said Morgan. “That’s the easiest thing you can do. If you smell these products and they don’t smell like anything, then it most likely is a stable chemical compound like silicone.” Phthalates and PVC, however, smell “like chemicals,” according to Morgan, “like a new shower curtain,” according to Epiphora, and “like a headache,” according to Pritchett. The sex toy smell test might sound a little weird, but it’s a pretty good first line of defense.<

Morgan also recommends buying toys made by “companies that take a lot of pride in making good-quality, body-safe toys,” citing Tantus and Jimmyjane as examples. Other companies that proudly declare their products body-safe include We-Vibe, Fun Factory, Vixen Creations, and Funkit Toys.

And when in doubt, find a reviewer you can trust. Sex toy review blogs abound on the internet —Epiphora, Dangerous Lilly, and Formidable Femme, to name just a few—and while you’d be wise to take claims about sex toys with a grain of salt in this unregulated industry, sometimes the preponderance of good or bad reviews about a particular company or toy can suggest conclusions about its safety (or lack thereof).

Most important, though, demand body-safe sex toys by buying only from companies you can trust. “Consumers vote with their pocketbook,” said Tantus founder Metis Black. “Support the businesses that make safe toys a priority, that use their resources to educate, that take a stand and advocate for consumers.” She added that while pure silicone toys are expensive now—especially in comparison to PVC toys, which can often be under $30 a pop versus $100+ for silicone—more consumer demand for body-safe toys will create a larger supply at lower prices, as bigger companies with more resources start making nontoxic toys in larger quantities. That’s just sex toy economics.

Bloggers, consumers, and ethical toymakers alike all dream of a future in which no sex toys will burn your junk, give you infections, or cause long-term bodily harm. It seems reasonable enough. And if we keep fighting for it, maybe one day it’ll be reality.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Sex Education for Disabled People Is So Important

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“Just because a person has a disability does not mean they don’t still have the same hormones and sexual desires as other individuals.”

 

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“Sex and disability, disability and sex; the two words may seem incompatible,” Michael A. Rembis wrote in his 2009 paper on the social model of disabled sexuality. Though roughly 15% of adults around the world (that’s nearly one billion people), and over 20 million adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 64 have a disability, when it comes to disability and sex, there’s a disconnect. People with disabilities often have rich and satisfying sex lives. So why are they frequently treated as though they are incapable of having sexual needs and desires, and are excluded from sexual health education curriculum?

According to Kehau Gunderson, the lead trainer and senior health educator at Health Connected, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing comprehensive sexual health education programs throughout the state of California, the sexual health and safety of students with disabilities is often not prioritized because educators are more focused on other aspects of the students’ well-being. “Educators are thinking more about these students’ physical needs. They don’t see them as being sexual people with sexual needs and desires. They don’t see them as wanting relationships,” Gunderson told me when I met her and the rest of the Health Connected team at their office in Redwood City, California.

When I asked why students with disabilities have historically been excluded from sexual education, Jennifer Rogers, who also works as a health education specialist at Health Connected, chimed in. “In general, the topic of sex is something that is challenging for a lot of people to talk about. I think that aspect compounded with someone with specialized learning needs can be even more challenging if you’re not a teacher who’s really comfortable delivering this kind of material,” she said.

But it was the third health education specialist I spoke with, DeAnna Quan, who really hit the nail on the head: “I think sometimes it also has to do with not having the materials and having trouble adapting the materials as well. While people often just don’t see disabled people as being sexual beings, they are. And this is a population who really needs this information.”

The complete lack of sexual education in many schools for students with disabilities is particularly alarming given the fact that individuals with disabilities are at a much higher risk of sexual assault and abuse. In fact, children with disabilities are up to four times more likely to face abuse and women with disabilities are nearly 40% more likely to face abuse in adulthood. Yet students in special education classes are often denied the option to participate in sex education at all. When these students are included in mainstream health courses, the curriculum is often inaccessible.

Disability activist Anne Finger wrote, “Sexuality is often the source of our deepest pain. It’s easier for us to talk about and formulate strategies for changing discrimination in employment, education, and housing than to talk about our exclusion from sexuality and reproduction.” But as Robert McRuer wrote in Disabling Sex: Notes for a Crip Theory of Sexuality, “What if disability were sexy? And what if disabled people were understood to be both subjects and objects of a multiplicity of erotic desires and practices, both within and outside the parameters of heteronormative sexuality?”

When it comes to disability and sexuality, a large part of the issue lies in the fact that disabled people are so infrequently included in the decisions made about their bodies, their education, and their care. So what do people with disabilities wish they had learned in sex ed? This is what students and adults with disabilities said about their experience in sexual health courses and what they wish they had learned.

People with disabilities are not automatically asexual.

“The idea of people with disabilities as asexual beings who have no need for love, sex, or romantic relationships is ridiculous. However, it is one that has a stronghold in most people’s minds,” wrote disability activist Nidhi Goyal in her article, “Why Should Disability Spell the End of Romance?” That may be because disabled people are often seen as being innocent and childlike, one disabled activist said.

“As a society, we don’t talk about sex enough from a pleasure-based perspective. So much is focused on fertility and reproduction — and that’s not always something abled people think disabled people should or can do. We’re infantilized, stripped of our sexuality, and presumed to be non-sexual beings. Plenty of us are asexual, but plenty of us are very sexual as well, like me. Like anyone of any ability, we hit every spot on the spectrum from straight to gay, cis to trans, sexual to asexual, romantic to aromantic, and more.” Kirsten Schultz, a 29-year-old disabled, genderqueer, and pansexual health activist, sexuality educator, and writer, said via email.

Kirsten, who due to numerous chronic illnesses has lived with disability since she was five years old, was not exposed to information regarding her sexual health and bodily autonomy. “I dealt with sexual abuse from another child right after I fell ill, and this continued for years. I bring this up because my mother didn’t share a lot of sex ed stuff with me at home because of illness. This infantilization is not uncommon in the disability world, especially for kids,” she said.

Growing up in Oregon, Kirsten said she was homeschooled until the age of 13 and didn’t begin seeing medical professionals regularly until she turned 21. “This means all sexual education I learned until 13 was on my own, and from 13 to 21, it was all stuff I either sought out or was taught in school.” Schultz explained. But even what she learned about sex in school was limited. “School-based education, even in the liberal state of Oregon, where I grew up, was focused on sharing the potential negatives of sex — STIs, pregnancy, etc. Almost none of it was pleasure-based and it wasn’t accessible. Up until I was in college, the few positions I tried were all things I had seen in porn…AKA they weren’t comfortable or effective for me,” she added.

Internet safety matters, too.

While many disabled people are infantilized, others are often oversexualized. K Wheeler, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Washington, was only 12 the first time their photos were stolen off of the Internet and posted on websites fetishizing amputees. K, who was born with congenital amputation and identifies as demisexual, panromantic, and disabled, thinks this is something students with disabilities need to know about. “There’s a whole side of the Internet where people will seek out people with disabilities, friend them on Facebook, steal their photos, and use them on websites,” she said.

These groups of people who fetishize amputees are known as “amputee devotees.” K had heard of this fetish thanks to prior education from her mother, but not everyone knows how to keep themselves safe on the Internet. “This is something that people with disabilities need to know, that a person without a disability might not think of, ” K said.

K also believes more general Internet privacy information should also be discussed in sex ed courses. “In the technological age that we’re in, I feel like Internet privacy should be talked about,” they said. This includes things like consent and sending naked photos with a significant other if you’re under 18. “That is technically a crime. It’s not just parents saying ‘don’t do it because we don’t want you to.’ One or both of you could get in trouble legally,” K added.

Understanding what kinds of sexual protection to use.

Isaac Thomas, a 21-year-old student at Valencia College in Orlando, lives with a visual impairment and went to a high school that he said didn’t even offer sexual education courses. “I did go to a school for students with disabilities and, unfortunately, during my entire time there, there was never any type of sexual education class,” he said.

And Isaac noted that sexual awareness plays a large role in protection. “They should understand that just because a person has a disability, does not mean they don’t still have the same hormones and sexual desires as other individuals. It’s even more important that they teach sex education to people that have disabilities so they’re not taken advantage of in any kind of sexual way. If anything, it should be taught even more among the disabled community. Ignoring this problem will not make it go away. If this problem is not addressed, it will increase,” Isaac said.

Before entering college, Isaac said he wishes he had received more information about condoms. “I wish I had learned what types of condoms are best for protection. I should’ve also learned the best type of contraceptive pills to have in case unplanned sexual activity happens with friends or coworkers.”

Body image matters.

Nicole Tencic, a 23-year-old senior at Molloy College in New York, who is disabled, fine-motor challenged, and hearing impaired, believes in the importance of exploring and promoting positive body image for all bodies. Nicole, who became disabled at the age of six after undergoing high-dose chemotherapy, struggled to accept herself and her disability. “I became disabled when I was old enough to distinguish that something was wrong. I was very self-conscience. Accepting my disability was hard for me and emotionally disturbing,” she shared. “I was always concerned about what other people thought of me, and I was always very shy and quiet.”

It was when she entered college that Nicole really came to accept her body, embrace her sexuality, and develop an interest in dating. “I had my first boyfriend at 21. The reason I waited so long to date is because I needed to accept myself and my differences before I cared for anyone else. I couldn’t allow myself to bring someone into my life if I was unaccepting of myself, and if I did, I would be selfish because I would be more concerned about myself,” Nicole said. She also recognized the fact that while sexuality and disability are separate topics that need to be addressed differently, they can impact each other. “Disability may influence sexuality in terms of what you like and dislike, and can and cannot do,” but overall, “one’s sexuality does not have to do with one’s disability,” she clarified.

It’s important to make sex ed inclusive to multi-marginalized populations.

Dominick Evans, a queer and transgender man living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, various chronic health disabilities, and OCD, believes in the importance of sexual education stretching beyond the cisgender, heteronormative perspective. He also understands the dangers associated with being a member of a marginalized group. “The more marginalized you are, the less safe you are when it comes to sex,” he said in an email.

Dominick, who works as a filmmaker, writer, and media and entertainment advocate for the Center for Disability Rights, has even developed policy ideas related to increased inclusion for students with disabilities — especially LGBTQ students with disabilities. “These students are at higher risk of sexual assault and rape, STIs like HIV, unplanned pregnancies, and manipulation in sexual situations,” Dominick said. “Since disabled LGBTQIA students do not have access to sexual education, sometimes at all, let alone education that makes sense for their bodies and sexual orientation, it makes sense the rates for disabled people when it comes to sexual assault and STIs are so much higher.”

According to Dominick, the fact that many disabled students are denied access to sexual health curriculum is at the root of the problem. “When it comes to disparities in the numbers of sexual assault, rape, STIs, etc. for all disabled students, not having access to sexual education is part of the problem. We know this is specifically linked to lack of sex ed, which is why sex ed must begin addressing these disparities.”

So what does Dominick have in mind in terms of educational policies to help improve this issue? “The curriculum would highlight teaching students how to protect themselves from sexual abuse, STI and pregnancy prevention campaigns geared specifically at all disabled and LGBTQIA youth, ensuring IEPs (individualized education programs) cover sex ed inclusion strategies, access to information about sexuality and gender identity, and additional education to address disparities that affect disabled LGBTQIA students who are people of color.”

Understanding power dynamics and consent.

It’s important to understand the power dynamic that often exists between people with disabilities and their caretakers. Many people with disabilities rely on their caretakers to perform basic tasks, like getting ready in the morning. Women with disabilities are 40% more likely to experience intimate partner violence compared to non-disabled women. This includes sexual, emotional, financial, and physical abuse, as well as neglect. For this reason, women with disabilities are less likely to report their abusers.

“Sometimes they’re more likely to think ‘this is the only relationship I can get,’ so they’re more likely to stay in these abusive relationships or have less access to even pursue courses of action to get out of the relationship. Especially if there is dependence on their partner in some way,” said K.

Dominick agreed. “Many of us often grow up believing we may not even be able to have sexual relationships. We often grow up believing our bodies are disgusting and there is something wrong with them,” he said. “So, when someone, especially someone with some type of power over us like a teacher or caregiver, shows us sexual attention and we believe we don’t deserve anything better or will never have the opportunity for sex again, it is easy to see why some disabled people are able to be manipulated or harmed in sexual situations.”

Dominick said this ideology led to his first sexual experience. “I probably should not have been having sex because I lost [my virginity] believing I had to take whatever opportunities I received,” he said, before going on to acknowledge the falsehood in these assumptions. “I’ve had many other relationships since then, and my last partner, I’ve been with for 15 years.”

But when it comes to disability, consent can be tricky. Some disabilities make communication a challenge. The lack of sexual education for many developmentally disabled students means they often don’t understand the concept of consent.

People with disabilities are more at risk for sexual exploitation and abuse.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, children with disabilities also face a much higher risk of abuse. In 2009, 11% of all child abuse victims had a behavioral, cognitive, or physical disability. In fact, when compared to non-disabled children, children with disabilities are twice as likely to be physically or sexually abused. Those living with developmental disabilities are anywhere from 4 to 10 times more likely to face abuse.

Deni Fraser, the assistant principal at the Lavelle School for the Blind, a school in New York City dedicated to teaching students with visual impairment and developmental disabilities, believes it’s important for all students to understand the importance of boundaries, both other people’s and their own. Many students at the school, who range in age from 2 to 21, also have co-morbid diagnoses, making the students’ needs varied.

“It’s important for our students to know that we want them to be safe at all times,” Fraser said. “Letting them know what’s appropriate touch, not only them touching others, but other people touching them; saying things to them; for people not taking advantage of them; knowing who is safe to talk to and who is safe to be in your personal space; if there’s anything going on with your body, who would be the appropriate person to talk to; not sharing private information — so what is privacy; and the importance of understanding safe strangers, like doctors, versus non-safe strangers.”

The portrayal of disabled bodies matters.

The media also plays a part in perpetuating the idea that individuals with disabilities do not have sex. Sexuality is often viewed as unnatural for individuals with disabilities, and many disabled students internalize that. “Even Tyrion Lannister, one of the most sexual disabled characters on television, usually has to pay for sex, and even he was horribly deceived the first time he had a sexual experience,” Dominick noted. “If the media is not even saying sex is normal or natural for disabled people, and sex education is not inclusive, then often disabled people are having to learn about and understand sex on their own,” he added.

Many students with disabilities also want to see their bodies reflected in sexual education materials. “Part of the curriculum at a lot of different schools includes showing some level of video,” K said. But including a person with a visible physical disability in these videos would go a long way in helping to shatter the stigma surrounding sex and disability, she said. According to K, this would help people understand that sex isn’t only for able-bodied people.

People with disabilities make up a large part of the population. They’re the one minority group any person can become a part of at any time. Therefore, incorporating disability-related information into sexual education curriculum not only benefits students who are already disabled, but it can help students who, at some point in their lives, will experience disability. Embracing an inclusive approach and keeping bias out of the classroom would help raise awareness, create empathy, and celebrate diversity. By listening to disabled voices, we can work toward a society that values inclusivity.

Complete Article HERE!

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Long-term sexual satisfaction: What’s the secret?

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Once the flutters of a new relationship are over, for many, the slog of everyday life sets in. But how do you keep the spark alive?

Sex is a key factor in most romantic relationships. In fact, earlier this year, Medical News Today reported that the “afterglow” that newlywed couples feel for up to 2 days after having sex is associated with greater marital satisfaction.

But last week, a new study showed that 34 percent of women and 15 percent of men who had lived with their partner for at least 1 year had lost interest in sex.

There are many factors that can affect sexual desire. Find out how much sex has the greatest effect on happiness, why some people lose interest, and what factors contribute to long-term sexual satisfaction.

How much sex is enough?

In a 2016 paper, Amy Muise, Ph.D. – a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto Mississauga in Canada – explains that there is plenty of evidence that “[…] the more sex people reported, the happier they felt.”

However, Dr. Muise also questions whether trying to have sex as “frequently as possible” is actually going to have the desired effect, particularly in light of the busy lives that many people lead.

Is the pressure of having frequent sex getting in the way of happiness?

Dr. Muise reports a clear relationship between the frequency of sex and happiness. What she found was that people who had sex once per week or more often were significantly happier than those who had sex less often.

But study participants who had sex on several occasions per week were not happier than those who had sex once each week.

The results were true for individuals who were in a romantic relationship, including women, older participants, and those in long-term relationships who tend to have less sex.

Interestingly, having sex had a greater effect on the participants’ happiness than income. So if sex makes us happy, why do so many people lose interest?

Who loses interest in sex?

There is plenty of evidence that being in a long-term relationship, being a woman, and increasing age are linked to a drop in sexual frequency.

Last year, MNT reported that women’s sexual desire decreased in long-term relationships. However, over the 7-year study period, the participants’ ability to reach orgasm improved – especially in those who had been in the same relationship the entire time.

So, for women, staying with a partner means better orgasms but less interest in sex, according to the research.

Last week, we reported on a new study published in BMJ Open that adds to the body of evidence showing that women’s interest in sex decreases in relationships.

Prof. Cynthia Graham, from the Centre for Sexual Health Research at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, found that more than 34 percent of women who had lived with their partner for at least 1 year lacked interest in sex, while only 15 percent of men did.

The biggest turn-offs

Prof. Graham identified a number of factors that were associated with the drop in sexual desire found in her study.

For women, these were having young children, having been pregnant in the past year, living with their partner, being in a longer relationship, not sharing the same level of sexual interest, and not sharing the same sexual preferences.

For both genders, health conditions (including depression), not feeling close to their partner during sex, being less happy with their relationship, and having sex less often than they were interested in all contributed to a drop in sexual interest.

Age was another factor. Men experienced the lowest levels of interest in sex between the ages of 35 and 44, while for women, this was between 55 and 64.

Julia Velten, Ph.D. – a postdoctoral fellow at the Mental Health Research and Treatment Center at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany – reported that when men felt that their partner expected them to always initiate sex, it had a negative effect on their sexual satisfaction.

Sexual desire discrepancy, which is the difference between the actual and desired frequency of sex, was a negative factor for both men and women.

Sexual function also played a role for the couples in Dr. Velten’s study. Men were affected by their partner’s lack of sexual function, such as lack of arousal, while women were more affected by the partner’s distress about their own sexual problem, such as erectile dysfunction.

How does masturbation fit into the picture?

On this topic, research findings do not agree. In a study involving couples living in Prague, Kateřina Klapilová, Ph.D. – from the Department of General Anthropology at Charles University in Prague – found that for women, masturbation negatively affected their sexual satisfaction.

But masturbation had no effect on men in these couples.

Meanwhile, Prof. Graham found that men who had recently masturbated were less interested in sex, while masturbation was not related to a change in women’s sex drive.

Prof. Graham told MNT that in her previous research, she had “found striking gender differences in factors associated with frequency of masturbation in men and women.”

She added that “when men were having less partnered sex, they tended to masturbate more often, whereas the reverse was true for women.”

With 51.7 percent of male and 17.8 percent of female participants reporting to have masturbated in the 7 days prior to study interviews, this is clearly a factor that is important in many relationships.

But just how masturbation contributes to or distracts from long-term sexual satisfaction remains to be seen.

With significant levels of both men and women reporting a drop in sexual interest and satisfaction, is there a secret to keeping the spark alive?

The secret to sexual satisfaction

Dr. Klapilová’s study found that for both men and women, penile-vaginal intercourse and the consistency of being able to reach vaginal orgasm were associated with sexual satisfaction.

She points to the “special role that vaginal orgasm (as distinct from other orgasm triggers) had in maintaining higher-quality intimate relationships.”

Anik Debrot, Ph.D. – alongside Dr. Muise and other colleagues from the University of Toronto Mississauga – recently studied the link between affection and sexual activity.

In her study paper, which was published this year in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, she explains that “when engaging in sex, people not only seek an intimate connection, but indeed experience more affection, both when having sex and in the next several hours.”

“Thus, sex within romantic relationships provides a meaningful way for people to experience a strong connection with their partner,” she adds.

To her, this indicates that sex is important in romantic relationships because of the emotional benefits that we feel. Dr. Debrot suggests, “[When sex may be impaired], affection could help maintain well-being despite decreased sex frequency.”

The effect of time

A study by Prof. Julia Heiman, from the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington, studied 1,000 couples in five countries (Brazil, Germany, Japan, Spain, and the United States).

Although the length of the couples’ relationships ranged from 1 to 51 years, half had been together for at least 25 years.

Prof. Heiman found that “[w]omen reported significantly more sexual satisfaction than men and men more relationship satisfaction.” In particular, “Men who valued their partner’s orgasm were more likely to report relationship happiness.”

Women’s sexual satisfaction increased from 40 percent at the start of the relationship to 86 percent once they had been with their partner for 40 years.

From these studies, penile-vaginal sex, affection, and the time spent in the relationship are key ingredients to a happy sex life. But there is one more factor that could be key: open communication.

Talking about sex

In Dr. Velten’s study, open communication about sexual wishes and frequencies had a positive effect on the quality of sex that the participants reported.

Likewise, participants in Prof. Graham’s study who found it easy to talk about sex with their partner were more interested in sex.

She told MNT that “[their] findings underline that open communication with a partner about sex is one of the most important things you can do to try to maintain sexual interest in a relationship.”

Sexual desires and preferences are, by nature, intrinsically personal and individual. Research in this field is complex, and while studies can show associations and trends, they will not be able to tease apart the reasons for an individual’s sexual satisfaction.

I don’t think that there is any ‘secret’ to long-term sexual satisfaction! Human sexuality is too diverse and ‘fluid’ for this to be the case – but […] open communication about sex with a partner should go some way to preventing sexual problems from developing.”

— Prof. Cynthia Graham

Talking about sex may be a good starting point. Finding a way to fit sex into the pressures of daily life may be challenging, but affection and time together might well help.

Complete Article HERE!

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Study Finds Stereotypes About Boys, Girls Begin at Early Age

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Girls look in a mirror as they put makeup on during a beauty and fashion fair inspired by the U.S. “Beautycon” event, a gathering of fashion bloggers and YouTube personalities, May 28, 2016, in Paris. Researchers found that in most of the world’s cultures, by the time girls are 10 years old, they have been taught that their key asset is their physical appearance.

By Carol Pearson

Whether children live in Baltimore, Beijing, Nairobi or New Delhi, by the time they are 15, boys are told to go outside and have adventures, while girls are told to stay indoors and do housework. Furthermore, most girls are told that if they are raped or have sex, they are the ones at fault.

A new study by adolescent-health specialists interviewed 450 poor children and their parents about gender expectations in a total of 15 high-, low- and middle-income countries. The children included in the study, the first of its kind, were between the ages of 10 and 14.

“When we started this work, there was no research at all, no understanding at all of young adolescents,” said Robert Blum, director of the Global Early Adolescent Study at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “There was an assumption that these were young children, and they aren’t cued into gender-based violence, gender messages, rape and things of that nature.

“What we see is that around the world, young people have keen awareness, and they’re very cued in to what’s going on.”

The key finding was that rigidly held and enforced gender expectations are linked to increased lifelong health risks — everything from HIV and depression to violence and suicide.

Messages internalized

“We found children at a very early age, from the most conservative to the most liberal societies, quickly internalize this myth that girls are vulnerable and boys are strong and independent,” Blum told VOA. “And this message is being constantly reinforced at almost every turn, by siblings, classmates, teachers, parents, guardians, relatives, clergy and coaches.”

The researchers found that in most cultures, by the time girls are 10 years old, they have been taught that their key asset is their physical appearance.

Lead researcher Kristin Mmari said no matter where they are, girls are concerned about their bodies, and others’ attitudes to them. “In New Delhi, the girls talked about their bodies as a big risk that needs to be covered up, while in Baltimore, girls told us their primary asset was their bodies and they need to look appealing, but not too appealing.”

Indian youth hold candles during a protest against sexual violence in New Delhi, Feb. 9, 2015.

Venkatraman Chandra-Mouli of the World Health Organization said violence against women is so pervasive that one in three women experience violence from their husbands or other sexual partners. “Social norms accept that a woman has to be beaten,” Chandra-Mouli said.

He and other researchers involved in the study of adolescents’ gender norms discussed their findings at the National Press Club in Washington.

Pressure on boys

The researchers found that boys do not emerge unscathed from gender expectations. They found that the pressure boys face to become physically strong and independent make them more likely to be victims of physical violence and homicide, and more likely to take up unhealthy habits like tobacco, drug and alcohol use.

The study was a collaboration between the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the World Health Organization. The Journal of Adolescent Health has published a supplement to its October issue incorporating a number of articles on the subject, along with commentaries by Blum, Chandra-Mouli and others.

Adolescents are torn between opposing expectations, the study showed, especially girls.

In Shanghai, for example, girls are told they should be economically independent, and that they should not rely on men for financial support. At the same time, girls are told their husbands will divorce them if they don’t do housework.

The goal was to understand the factors in early adolescence that predispose young people to subsequent sexual health risks and promote healthy sexuality.

The conclusion was that societies wishing to have healthier adolescents and young adults, free of gender stereotypes, must intervene, where necessary, before children reach age 10. Chandra-Mouli said WHO hopes to use the data from the study to shape programs to change misunderstandings about gender norms.

Blum said the researchers will measure changes in their subjects three times over five years to see how perceptions of gender affect individuals’ lives and how programs change the outcome.

Complete Article HERE!

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