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When You Are Old, Chinese, and Gay

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual retirees seek companionship and acceptance in old age, but some find it harder than others.

 

By Fan Yiying

Zhang Guowei, a 76-year-old bisexual veteran, is relishing his twilight years. “I couldn’t be happier with my life post-retirement,” says Zhang, who was a doctor in the army until 1994.

As a former military officer, Zhang’s monthly pension is 10,000 yuan ($1,440) — five times the average pension in Changde, the small city in central China’s Hunan province where he lives with his boyfriend. Zhang divorced his wife in 2003 and met the love of his life — Wu, who is 40 years younger — a year later on the internet. “I expect him to accompany me through the remainder of my life,” Zhang tells Sixth Tone after finishing his daily exercise routine.

Zhang says he is bisexual but prefers men. He gained support and understanding from his ex-wife and two daughters when he came out to them in 2003. When he passes on, his assets will be divided equally among his daughters and his boyfriend. “My kids have no problem sharing with Wu because they know he is the one taking care of me in my final years,” he says.

The May-December couple have been living together since 2005 in an apartment provided by the government for retired army cadres and their families. The 10-story building houses a dozen veterans in their 60s through 90s, some living alone and others with their spouses.

When Wu first moved in, Zhang told his neighbors that Wu was his gan erzi, or adopted son, whom he met online. (The Chinese concept of gan erzi allows for a sort of informal adoption of adults, with no legal or religious implications.) “I had this vague idea that they might be gay,” says 74-year-old Lu Shize, who lives downstairs. “But it’s none of my business to ask about his private life,” Lu adds.

Last year, following in other veterans’ footsteps, Zhang wrote a 218-page autobiography — including his experiences of recognizing his sexuality — and shared it with his fellow cadres. His neighbors were very understanding. “Everyone knows about us, and no one gossips or gives us a hard time,” Zhang says.

Lu, who had never before met any out gay or bisexual men, says he admires Zhang’s courage. “Being gay or not, it doesn’t change the way I see him,” Lu says. “We are in our 70s; what’s more important than being happy and healthy?”

China’s population is rapidly aging. The proportion of the population aged 60 or older was more than 16 percent at the end of 2015, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and that number is only set to increase. The nation’s changing demography brings with it challenges for managing welfare and health care, especially as fewer seniors are able to count on their families for support.

Two older men hold a symbolic wedding ceremony in Beijing, Jan. 30, 2013.

Decades of family-planning restrictions mean that even seniors who have children often must become self-reliant, as children born during the one-child policy can’t afford to support two parents and four grandparents. As a result, for many elders, being childless is no longer a major concern or an unusual occurrence.

Wen Xiaojun, 56, is single and childless. Immediately after he retired in November from working as a civil servant, he rented an apartment in Sanya, on the southern island of Hainan, where he is spending six months avoiding the cold of his hometown in the eastern province of Zhejiang. “I still feel young and restless,” Wen tells Sixth Tone. “Being childless makes it easy for me to travel after retirement.”

Like other older people, LGBT seniors want to have rich, fulfilling, and independent lives. They hope that retirement will give them the opportunity to focus on what they truly love.

Wen enjoys his slow-paced life in Sanya. He goes to exhibitions, takes walks along the beach, plays volleyball with locals, and sometimes meets up with men he contacts through Blued — a popular gay social app, on which he hopes to find a long-term boyfriend.

But dating isn’t easy for older gay men. “Younger generations can build a relationship quickly by kissing or having sex soon after they meet offline,” Wen explains. “But we want something more spiritual and stable.”

Similarly, 62-year-old Ah Shan, as he’s called within the gay community, says that finding a partner is his biggest problem these days. His finances are secure, as he owns his apartment in Guangzhou — capital of southern China’s Guangdong province — and receives a monthly pension of about 5,000 yuan, but he has been single for four years and is ready for that to change. In the meantime, he is renting out one of his bedrooms to gay friends so he has some company at home.

Ah Shan poses for a picture in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, 2013.

Most gays, lesbians, and bisexuals of Ah Shan’s generation knew little about their sexual orientation until internet access became available at the turn of the millennium. Even when Ah Shan was working in the U.S. in the late 1980s, he refused to consider himself gay because the only information he’d heard about gay topics in China was AIDS-related or implied that homosexuality was shameful or immoral. “I think I was brainwashed,” Ah Shan laughs.

Over the last two years, Ah Shan has been working on a gay oral history project, recording the stories of older gay men in Guangzhou. He has talked to more than 60 gay men aged from 60 to 90, who have experienced some of China’s most critical historic moments, from the Cultural Revolution to the nation’s opening-up era. “If we don’t record them now, part of the important history of LGBT in China will be gone,” he says.

Many of the men are married and choose not to come out to their families. “They go to this particular park to chat with other gay men in the daytime to release their emotions, but when the sun goes down, they have to return home to bear their family responsibilities,” Ah Shan says with a sigh.

Ah Shan’s own parents passed away before he was brave enough to tell them the truth. His mother died in 2000, a year before homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in China.

Compared with gay and bisexual men, older women find it even more difficult to disclose or discuss their sexual orientation. Since 2010, 45-year-old Yu Shi from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, has been working on an oral history project for older same-sex-attracted women across China, but she says the process of locating participants and persuading them to share their stories is tough.

“Chinese women are in a weak position in the family, which doesn’t allow them to speak out for themselves,” Yu says, adding that of the 30 or so lesbians who have taken part in the project over the last six years, only one has come out to her family. Many won’t divorce their husbands even if they have female partners. “Chinese people are very concerned with saving face, and they think it’s a loss of face to get a divorce if you’re already a grandparent,” she says.

Yu and her 40-year-old girlfriend have lived together for over a decade, but despite their enduring, loving relationship, they can’t enjoy the security of a formal union, as same-sex marriage is not yet legal in China. Some issues can be resolved by making a will, but others — like legal or medical power of attorney — remain a problem.

According to Yu, some LGBT seniors who are single and childless have considered building their own retirement estate where they can live together and take care of one another. Although they aren’t opposed to regular nursing homes, Yu says “they prefer to live in a place where they can open their hearts and share their experiences with others in the same circumstances.”

A lesbian couple kiss each other during an event in Shanghai, Dec. 22, 2013.

As more and more seniors live separately from their children, retirement facilities in China have struggled to meet growing demand. The government encourages investment in privately owned nursing homes, but so far none have been established exclusively for members of sexual minority groups.

Little public attention is given to the needs of older LGBT people, but to Wang Anke, a 50-year-old bisexual woman from Beijing, these individuals don’t do enough to stand up for themselves, either. “We are almost invisible,” she says.

Wang married her husband in 1990 and plans to spend the rest of her life with him. Though Wang considers herself happy and fortunate, she says that most older lesbian and bisexual women she knows are pessimistic about their senior years. “They’re lonely and lack emotional care,” Wang says, adding that many would rather live alone than move into a nursing home where they fear they can’t be themselves. “Loneliness will go to the grave with them.”

But while some LGBT seniors advocate dedicated nursing homes, Ah Shan opposes the idea of separate services. “In the long run, LGBT people shouldn’t lock ourselves in a so-called safe place,” he says. “What we really need is for the overall environment to allow us to live comfortably in the community.”

Complete Article HERE!

Sleeping with other people: how gay men are making open relationships work

A new study says non-monogamous couples can actually be closer, even as critics of open relationships argue humans are unable to separate love and sex

Non-monogamous relationships can lead to a happier, more fulfilling relationship, a study found.

Non-monogamous relationships can lead to a happier, more fulfilling relationship, a study found.

By Spencer Macnaughton

Hugh McIntyre, a 26-year-old music writer, and Toph Allen, a 28-year-old epidemiologist, are in love and have an “amazing” relationship of two and a half years. One of the keys to their success: sleeping with other people.

“We wouldn’t change a thing,” says Allen, who lives in New York City with McIntyre. “We get to fulfill our desire of having sex with other people. We avoid cheating and the resentment that comes in monogamous relationships when you can’t pursue sexual urges.” Their relationship is not unusual among gay men. In 2005, a study found that more than 40% of gay men had an agreement that sex outside the relationship was permissible, while less than 5% of heterosexual and lesbian couples reported the same.

McIntyre and Allen say the strength of their bond is built on clear and open communication. And while that assertion will be perplexing or even taboo to many monogamous couples, a new study into gay couples in open relationships suggests that this skepticism is unjustified. In fact, the study says, non-monogamous couples can actually be closer than their more faithful counterparts.

In June 2015, Christopher Stults, a researcher at The Center for Health, Identity, Behavior, and Prevention Studies at New York University, launched a qualitative study of 10 gay couples in open relationships. He conducted 45-minute, individual interviews with each of these men and their partners, who ranged in age from 19 to 43.

The study, funded by the Rural Center for Aids/STD Prevention at Indiana University, had multiple aims. “We wanted to see how these relationships form and evolve over time, and examine the perceived relationship quality, relationship satisfaction, and potential risk for HIV/STI infection,” says Stults, who finished coding the interviews this week at NYU and hopes to have the study published early next year.

So far, Stults says his finding is that non-monogamous relationships can lead to a happier, more fulfilling relationship. “My impression so far is that they don’t seem less satisfied, and it may even be that their communication is better than among monogamous couples because they’ve had to negotiate specific details,” Stults says.

And open relationships “don’t seem to put gay men at disproportionate risk for HIV and other STDs,” Stults says. “To my knowledge, no one contracted HIV and only one couple contracted an STD,” he says.

But despite Stults’s findings, there’s stigma associated with these kinds of relationships. In 2012, four studies from the University of Michigan found that participants’ perception of monogamous relationships were “overwhelmingly more favorable” than of open relationships.

“Gay men have always engaged more often in consensual non-monogamous relationships, and society has consistently stigmatized their decision to do so,” says Michael Bronski, a professor in the department of women, gender and sexuality at Harvard University.

McIntyre and Allen say they’ve experienced the stigma themselves but that an open relationship is the most honest way for them to be together. “We’ve run into gay and straight people who have assumed our relationship is ‘lesser than’ because we’re not monogamous. I think that’s offensive and ridiculous,” McIntyre says.

So what makes an open relationship work? Participants in Stults’ study emphasized that success is predicated on creating rules and sticking to them. For McIntyre and Allen, two rules are key: “Always tell the other person when you hook up with someone else, and always practice safe sex,” Allen says.

For David Sotomayor, a 46-year-old financial planner from New York, sticking to specific rules is fundamental to the success of his open marriage. “They’re built to protect the love of our relationship,” he says. “We can physically touch another man and have oral sex, but we can’t kiss, have anal sex, or go on dates with other guys,” he says. “We attach an emotional value to kissing – it’s special and unique.”

But sticking to the rules isn’t always easy. Sotomayor has broken them multiple times, which has caused conflict. “It creates a sense of doubt of whether someone is telling the truth,” he says.

Critics of non-monogamous relationships argue that humans are unable to separate love and sex. “Sex is an emotional experience,” says Brian Norton, a psychotherapist who specializes in gay couples and an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s department of counseling and clinical psychology. “There is emotion at play, and even in the most transactional experience someone can get attached,” Norton says.

Further, Norton believes that going outside the relationship for sex can lead to emotional insecurity. “I think it is a difficult pill to swallow that we cannot be all things to our partners,” he says. “A relationship is a constant balancing act between two conflicting human needs: autonomy and the need for closeness,” he says.

But Allen thinks it’s more complicated: “It’s true that love and sex are intertwined, but they aren’t the same thing. Love is about so much more than sex. [There’s] intimacy, friendship, mutual care and respect.”

That gay couples are leading the way in sexually progressive relationships shouldn’t be surprising, according to Bronski. “Because they’ve been excluded from traditional notions of sexual behavior, they’ve had to be trendsetters and forge their own relationship norms,” he says.

Norton believes the facility with which gay men engage in open relationships may be related to a fear of intimacy. “The experience of coming to terms with your homosexual identity can often be associated with emotional abandonment, shame and rejection,” he says.

“So our experience with love and intimacy at an early age is often broken and compromised, so when someone tries to get close to us as an adult, defenses get close,” he says. “It’s human nature to avoid revisiting feelings of abandonment, and open relationships may be a way of keeping a distance between another man.”

But Allen says that being open has strengthened his relationship with McIntyre and brought the couple closer together. “I feel a greater sense of connectedness with Hugh because I get to see him explore his sexuality with other people and I feel gratitude to him for giving me the same leeway,” he says.

Complete Article HERE!

Nick’s got a problem

I want to share an exchange I had with a fellow named Nick. He’s 30 years old and writes from Canberra.

Nick: “So here’s the situation and some facts. Newly out – i.e. just started hooking up with guys last year (I’m 30 years old) and in fact just started having sex last year.”

Dr Dick: Better late than never, huh Nick? 😉

Nick: “I have meet up with a few guys now but it has mostly been to have a bit of fun – often without sex. When I do have sex I get more enjoyment out of being topped rather than topping.”

DD: I would say that you are in the majority in this regard. There are more bottoms in the gay-dom than tops.

Nick: “When I do try to give anal, I go partially soft and actually cannot feel anything, even though the guy I’m topping can feel me and gets off.”

DD: Again, not a particularly uncommon complaint. If I had to guess you are like a lot of men who are new to gay sex. They often experience what we, in the business, call performance anxiety. I’ve written and spoken a great deal about this. You can find all these posting by going to the CATEGORIES section in the sidebar of my site. Scroll down till you find the heading: SEX THERAPY. Under that heading you will find numerous sub-categories. The one you are looking for is titles: Performance Anxiety.

Nick: “My cock is a fairly decent size (7.5 inches and fairly thick).”

DD: Mmmm, lovely! 😉

Nick: “The same is the case for when I am getting oral — I just cant feel it or enjoy it.”

DD: Again, this is pretty familiar territory for me. I see a lot of this in my practice. Generally speaking, guys get so into their head that they are unable to enjoy the pleasure sensations in the rest of their body.

Nick: “As a result I have never cum with a guy, even though I come close, especially when I am being topped.”

DD: Yep, this is pretty classic. Sounds more and more like performance anxiety.

Nick: “This is proving to be a problem. I have started getting serious with a guy and he is getting frustrated that I don’t cum.”

DD: I can pretty much assure you that things will only get worse if you don’t nip this in the bud, my friend. Have you ever thought about talking to a therapist about this? I really encourage you do so before this becomes a full-blown sexual dysfunction. You may have noticed this already, since you said you’ve visited my site. I offer therapy by phone and online through Skype for my clients who don’t live in Seattle. You can get all the details by clicking the Therapy Available tab in the header above.

Nick: “I get hard just seeing him and kissing him and being close to him, but when it comes time to have sex, I start getting a bit nervous, go soft and loose all the sexual arousal.”

DD: Your use of the word “nervous” is the clincher. You got it bad, sir, and that ain’t good.

Nick: “So I guess my question is — What’s up with not being able to feel anything when I’m on top? Is it just a question of position? Should I try other positions when I’m topping someone?”

DD: It’s not about positions, not at all. It’s about being disconnected from your dick in partnered sex.

Nick: “I have reassured my partner that I am attracted to him (he’s hot!) and that I am turned on but its starting to be an issue — what can I do to get over this?”

DD: In this instance, Nick, there is no substitute for talking to a professional. And there’s no shame in that. You just need to learn how to jettison the anxiety and relax into it your newfound identity as a sexually liberated gay man. There is a program of sensate focus and relaxation exercises that would certainly help you.

Nick: “That’s my rather long rant for tonight.”

DD: Thanks for writing Nick. I wish you well as you address this. Let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Good luck

A new study quantifies straight women’s “orgasm gap”—and explains how to overcome it

By Leah Fessler

Ever faked an orgasm? Or just had orgasm-less sex? If you’re a woman—especially if you’re straight—your answer is probably “Ugh.” Followed by “Yes.”

Not reaching orgasm during sex is, obviously, a real bummer. Not only does it make the sex itself unfulfilling, but can lead to envy, annoyance, and regret. Thoughts like “Stop grinning you idiot, your moves were not like Jagger!” and “I didn’t ask him to go down on me…does that mean I’m not actually a feminist?” come to mind. It’s exhausting.

Traditional western culture hasn’t focused on female pleasure—society tells women not to embrace their sexuality, or ask for what they want. As a result many men (and women) don’t know what women like. Meanwhile, orgasming from penetrative sex alone is, for many women, really hard.

Many studies have shown that men, in general, have more orgasms than women—a concept known as the orgasm gap. But a new study published Feb. 17 in Archives of Sexual Behavior went beyond gender, exploring the orgasm gap between people of different sexualities in the US. The results don’t dismantle the orgasm gap, but they do alter it.

Among the approximately 52,600 people surveyed, 26,000 identified as heterosexual men; 450 as gay men; 550 as bisexual men; 24,00 as heterosexual women; 350 as lesbian women; and 1,100 as bisexual women. Notably, the vast majority of participants were white—meaning the sample size does not exactly represent the US population.

The researchers asked participants how often they reached orgasm during sex in the past month. They also asked how often participants gave and received oral sex, how they communicated about sex (including asking for what they want, praising their partner, giving and receiving feedback), and what sexual activities they tried (including new sexual positions, anal stimulation, using a vibrator, wearing lingerie, etc).

Men orgasmed more than women, and straight men orgasmed more than anyone else: 95% of the time. Gay men orgasmed 89% of the time, and bisexual men orgasmed 89% of the time. But hold the eye-roll: While straight and bisexual women orgasmed only 65% and 66% of the time, respectively, lesbian women orgasmed a solid 86% of the time.

These data suggest, contrary to unfounded biological and evolutionary explanations for women’s lower orgasmic potential, women actually can orgasm just as much as men. So, how do we crush the orgasm gap once and for all?

According to the study, the women who orgasmed most frequently in this study had a lot in common. They:

  • more frequently received oral sex
  • had sex for a longer duration of time
  • asked their partners for what they wanted
  • praised their partners
  • called and/or emailed to tease their partners about doing something sexual
  • wore sexy lingerie
  • tried new sexual positions
  • incorporated anal stimulation
  • acted out fantasies
  • incorporated sexy talk
  • expressed love during sex

And regardless of sexuality, the women most likely to have orgasmed in their last sexual encounter reported that particular encounter went beyond vaginal sex, incorporating deep kissing, manual genital stimulation, and/or oral sex.

The study’s authors noted that “lesbian women are in a better position to understand how different behaviors feel for their partner (e.g., stimulating the clitoris) and how these sensations build toward orgasm,” and that these women may be more likely to hold social norms of “equity in orgasm occurrence, including a ‘turn-taking’ culture.”

That might be true. But the study is pretty clear on the fact that anyone in a relationship of any kind can increase their partner’s orgasm frequency—and that it depends on caring about your partner’s pleasure enough to ask about what they want, enact those desires, and be receptive to feedback. Such communicative techniques—whether implemented by straight, gay, bisexual, or lesbian people—are what stimulate orgasm.

 Complete Article HERE!

You have sex. Let’s talk about it

Our unwillingness to talk about sex risks us from realising the possibilities of critical discussions on larger societal problems.

By Brian Horton

“So why do you want to work with only the transgender community?”

It was the middle of a call with a corporate representative interested in talking about transgender issues in the workplace. Given that people across the LGBTQ spectrum are invisibilised in corporate spaces in India, I found it strange that this particular person was only interested in talking about transgender persons (mostly hijras and transwomen).

In response to my question, the representative explained that “we want to give them choices and options as well as to save them from their…historic professions”.

The palpable hesitation in the speaker’s voice as they said historic professions, instead of sex work or prostitution, said as much as the intentional censorship of any immediate reference to sex. Even the recent Transgender Bill passed by the Union Cabinet strategically skirts the issue of sexuality (and 377 of the Indian Penal Code) all together while promising to rescue hijras from begging and sex work.

At every turn, the sex in sexuality is in danger of being silenced by our own discomfort with talking of desire, flesh, and well… sex. This imposed censorship risks us realising the possibilities of critical discussions about everything from gender inequality to sexual consent to the resilience of casteism.

Throughout my fieldwork as an anthropologist studying LGBTQ social movements in India, I have encountered discomfort, and at times, disgust regarding the topic of sex, particularly sex between non-heterosexual and/or cisgender-identified persons.

Often this disgust or discomfort does not register as plain and outspoken revulsion. Rather, it becomes more banal dismissals of sex talk as something that is “not Indian”. Sometimes there are no words, just the cacophony of cliquing tongues and monosyllabic sounds of disgust, “chee”.

Throughout my fieldwork as an anthropologist studying LGBTQ social movements in India, I have encountered discomfort, and at times, disgust.

Throughout my fieldwork as an anthropologist studying LGBTQ social movements in India, I have encountered discomfort, and at times, disgust.

Much like the turn to describing reviled things, people, and ideologies as “anti-national”, such claims of national or cultural inauthenticity amplify compulsions to remain silent about everything from sexual dissidence to our own experiences of desire.

Once, during a “Hug a Queer” rally organised by an LGBTQ youth group at Marine Drive, I watched as members of the public chided the event organisers.

At one point an older man on the footpath with his family began shouting down the organisers claiming that this is not done, homosexuality is against the culture of the Mahabharata and the Shastras, and that this should be something reserved for the privacy of the bedroom.

Such a visceral reaction is not simply to hugs or even to alienated young people searching for affirmation. The invocation of tradition and culture aims to silence newness, moments where individuals attempt to challenge the status quo, here by talking openly about sex and desire.

And the shame around sex and sexuality talk is not just limited to uncles shouting down those challenging the heterosexual and normative limits of sex. Last week, The Telegraph reported that an expert panel working on recommendations for adolescent education was pressured by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to strike the words “sex” and “sexual” from their final document.

An anonymous member of the expert panel cited that the ministry’s justification was that the usage of the words sex and sexual might offend people.

It is ironic that an effort to empower young people with knowledge think that we have come to the point where the mention of sex – even in an effort to empower young people about their sexual health – is subject to being labeled as offensive.

But what could possibly be offensive about sex, let alone talking about it openly?

The booming 1.252 billion population of India suggests that someone must be having sex. However the ways in which it is policed, relegated to the private sphere, and sanitised out of the public domain suggests the disruptive and subversive potential of sex.

And when it does enter into the public consciousness, it is often so wrapped in metaphor and metonymy (and patriarchy) that the subversiveness of it is muddled by a parade of stylised images of lovers dancing in the rain, extinguished flames, and kissing flowers all set to a Lata Mangeshkar tune.

“Why must you people talk about it”, is a question LGBTQ persons in this country are often asked about speaking openly about sex and sexuality

My answer to this nettlesome question is simply, because heterosexuals talk about it so often. At the office water cooler, at weddings where aunties and uncles talk about who is next in the matrimonial firing squad, in films where heroines clad in wet saris dance to the tunes of male protagonists, our world is dripping in sex.

Even without uttering the words sex, erotic, the names of organs, or positions, heterosexual sex is not only privileged, it is the singular lens through which sex can be imagined.

So talking about sex for LGBTQ persons incites us to imagine an otherwise and other side to the limited frame of public discourses on sex and sexuality.

Complete Article HERE!