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What is tantric sex, and how can it help heal sexual trauma?


By Brook Bolen

Conversations about sexual violence and trauma have long been overdue but are finally happening. Conversations about how survivors of sexual violence endure and overcome their trauma is of equal importance — and with symptoms ranging from emotional to physical to psychological, physiological, and sexual, there are a host of repercussions. Experts estimate that one in six women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape; similarly, while the precise number is not known, professionals estimate that one in four women will be sexually abused before the age of 18. For many of these women, some of whom have been victimized as adults and children, the struggle to maintain or achieve a fulfilling relationship with their sexuality can be chronic and long-lasting.

While traditional kinds of talk therapy, such as psychoanalysis and cognitive-behavioral therapy, are often helpful in overcoming trauma, they are not always sufficient — particularly where sex and sexuality are concerned. Somatic therapy, which is a type of body-centered therapy that combines psychotherapy with various physical techniques, recognizes that trauma can be as much a part of the body as of the mind. “Somatic” comes from the Greek word soma, which means “body.” According to somatic therapy, trauma symptoms are the result of an unstable autonomic nervous system (ANS). Our past traumas disrupt the ANS and can manifest themselves in a wide variety of physical symptoms. This type of holistic approach can be especially useful for survivors of sexual violence.

Staci Haines, somatic teacher, practitioner, and author of Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma, agrees. In a 2007 interview with SF Gate, she said, “Many people can understand intellectually what happened to them, but put them in a stressful situation like having sex, and their bodies continue to respond as they did during the abuse. … That’s why somatic therapy is so powerful for recovery. Survivors learn to thaw out the trauma that is stored in their body. They learn to relax and experience physical pleasure, sexual pleasure.”

Most Americans’ understanding of tantra is limited to Sting’s now-infamous boast about his seven-hour lovemaking prowess — but tantra is actually a type of somatic therapy. As such, tantra can be used to help people achieve the same types of goals as traditional talk therapy does, such as better relationships, deeper intimacy, and a more authentic life. Furthermore, while tantra frequently incorporates sexuality into its focus, it’s not solely about sex — though that seems to be how it is most commonly perceived in the West.

Devi Ward, founder of the Institute of Authentic Tantra Education, uses the following definition of tantra for her work: “Tantra traditionally comes from India; it’s an ancient science that uses different techniques and practices to integrate mind, body, and spirit. It’s a spiritual practice whose ultimate goal is to help people fully realize their entitlement to full pleasure. We also use physical techniques to cultivate balance. The best way I have of describing it is it’s a form of yoga that includes sexuality.”

Internationally acclaimed tantra teacher Carla Tara tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “There are about 3,000 different definitions of tantra. One of them is this: Tantra is an interweaving of male and female energies, not just one or the other. I start there. Having both energies means knowing how to give and receive equally. Its basis is equanimity. It’s the foundation for conscious loving and living.”

Using equanimity as a starting point for individual or couples therapy can be useful in every facet of life, but particularly for survivors of sexual violence. “Tantra is important to any kind of healing,” says Tara, “because it teaches you to be present through breathing. Deep, conscious breathing is nourishing for every cell of your body. And they were not nourished when you were abused; they were damaged. This kind of breathing teaches you to be present. These breathing techniques help stop you from returning to the past. This makes it so powerful, and that feeling is so important for people who have been abused. Most people go first to psychotherapy, but for people who have survived sexual violence, it takes touching, not just talk, to heal.”

Yoga’s mental and physical health benefits are well established, making the addition of sexuality an even more promising tool for people struggling to have a more fulfilling sex life. “We use somatic healing,” Ward, who teaches individual and couples classes on-site in British Columbia and internationally, tells Yahoo Lifestyle via Skype. “When we’re traumatized, the body can become tense and tight where we have been injured. We refer to this as body armoring, because the body is storing the trauma in its cells. That kind of tight defensiveness can be impenetrable. But here’s the beautiful thing: When the nervous system is relaxed, it releases trauma. And that is a healing practice. We know that trauma gets stored in the body. Through combining meditation, sexual pleasure, and breathing practice, the body can then learn to let go and release that trauma. And that can look like tears, laughter, orgasms. It depends on the trauma and the person.”

Single or partnered, tantra can be beneficial for anyone looking to have a happier, healthier sex life. “The most promising sexual relationship we have is the one we have with ourselves,” says Ward. “If we don’t have that, how can we expect to show up for our partners? We all deserve to have a celebratory, delightful relationship with our body, but if we have unresolved trauma, we bring all that to our relationship. A lot of relationships we are in tend to be dysfunctional because of our unresolved trauma and wounding.”

When it comes to using tantra to heal from sexual trauma, reading alone won’t cut it. Expert assistance, most often offered in person and online, is recommended. “There [is help for] certain muscle tensions, and things like that, that you can’t get from a book,” says Tara. “You need a person to guide you.” Ward echoes this idea: “Especially if you’re healing trauma, it’s best to have a coach. Humans learn best through modeling. Reading is great, but nothing can substitute what we learn from follow-the-leader.”

Healing from sexual violence is a daunting task, and everyone who struggles to do so has their own personal journey to healing. Each person’s recovery is unique, and tantra can help every survivor. “The body is designed to heal itself,” says Ward. “We just have to learn how to relax and let it happen.”

Complete Article HERE!


Why society should talk about forced sex in intimate relationships, too



In the wake of the deluge of news about sexual harassment and alleged assaults by several high-profile and powerful men, it is important to look at the causes and consequences of forced sex in the workplace – but also in intimate relationships.

Although forced sex by a boss and by an intimate partner considerably differ, they have these two things in common: They both disempower women and make women sick.

Sex is a double-edged sword. It enhances our well-being and boosts our relationships if it is consented. It becomes detrimental, however, if it is forced.

My research on sexuality focuses on causes and consequences of forced sex in intimate relationships. My studies have been on individual and environmental risk factors that increase risk of sexual abuse by male partners. I have studied the co-occurence between sexual and nonsexual violence in intimate relations. Finally, I have also studied the consequences of sexual abuse on mental health and relationship quality among women.

The recent news events provide an opportunity to address forced partner sex, a long-overlooked but insidious practice.

All too common

Let’s look at the numbers.

According to one report, one in four women experiences sexual violence by an intimate partner. According to another report, up to 50 percent of all sexual coercions are done by intimate partners. Around one-third of adolescent girls also report that their first sexual experience was forced.

About 15 percent of women also experience sexual harassment at their workplace.

Worldwide, 30 to 35 percent of women in a relationship experience some form of violence by their intimate partner. In the United States alone, more than 12 million adults, mostly women, experience intimate partner violence each year.

A sickening effect at home

In addition to the moral and human right violations of individual women, intimate partner violence imposes huge costs to society. According to a CDC report, the costs of intimate partner violence, including rape, physical assault and stalking, in the United States exceed US$5.8 billion each year.

Sexual abuse has a number of health effects, including higher risk of suicide. Individuals who experience sexual assault are also at higher risk of several chronic diseases such as asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, chronic pain conditions and heart disease.

Individuals who are forced into sex by a partner show depression and high psychological distress. In fact, sexual abuse increases risk for almost all forms of psychopathologies.

Forced sex reduces women’s ability to enjoy sex in the future. Although some victims exhibit an increase in sexual activity, in most cases, forced sex is a risk factor for sexual avoidance.

Shame is a key aspect of the emotional suffering of those who experience sexual abuse. Shame is a core element of anxiety, depression and suicide, and is a barrier against help-seeking. As a result, victims typically continue to suffer in isolation. This is more so in societies where the rape victims are also blamed for their victimization.

My own research has shown a link between forced sex and relationship distress among married couples. By being forced to have sex, the women lose a sense of control of their bodies. Forced sex shakes women’s trust and attachment security.

Some believe that sexual violence is probably most depressing when it is committed by a spouse, partner or relative. When a woman is victimized by a stranger, she has to live with a frightening memory. When she is being forced into sex by a spouse or a partner, she lives with the “rapist” all the time.

A sickening effect at work

Sexual abuse can become chronic when it happens at the workplace. Given the imbalance in the power, fighting an assault in the workplace may be an uphill battle for women. Many powerful forces, such as human resources directors and lawyers, can serve to protect the company or to discredit and blame the victim.

Sexual harassment has a major effect on women’s careers. Some women leave their jobs to escape their harassing environment. Some people stay and fight. In both scenarios, sexual harassment causes career disruption for women.

Much of workplace harassment is a result of unbalanced power, and some scholars have called sexual harassment “gendered expression of power.”

This inappropriate expression of power imperils young, minority and poor women in the workplace in particular. Studies have shown that power differences can increase sexual abuse of young, minority and low socioeconomic individuals.

So who does force women into sex?

My research shows that sexual abuse does not occur in a vacuum. It tends to co-occur with relational dysfunctions as well as other types of violence. Women should consider psychological or verbal abuse by a partner, co-worker or boss to be a warning sign for future risk of sexual assault.

They should also know that men who show other types of violence, including verbal, psychological and physical violence, are more likely to commit sexual violence. Men who are very controlling verbally, economically and emotionally are also more likely to be sexual perpetrators.

And, it is important to know that alcohol and drug use contribute to sexual violence. Many men who force people into sex are intoxicated. Also, impulsive traits increase the risk. Men who express more anger and aggression are also at a higher risk of committing sexual violence.

Power plays a corrupting role

Social psychology research reminds us that power corrupts people, independent of their level of morality. So, when humans are given unconditional power, authority and dominance (over others), they are very likely to abuse it. Philip Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment showed that it is not evil people who do evil behaviors. Evil action is often about unconditional power and authority that people gain, rather than their immorality.

This may explain why the list of high-profile people who have been accused of sexually harassing women is mostly composed of powerful white men. This is not, I would argue, because white men are immoral, but because white men have the highest authority, dominance, social power and job control over their co-workers.

While the U.S. is undergoing a surge in awareness around workplace sexual harassment and abuse, people should also be mindful that the same dynamics are playing out among intimate relationships.

Complete Article HERE!


Female sex tech pioneers are turning pleasure into empowerment


Women are founding startups to design sex toys and wearables that appeal to female sensuality and increase representation in the tech industry


The percentage of female leaders working in technology is notoriously low and the sex tech industry fares no better. But there has been a surge in the number of sex tech businesses founded by women in recent years – so much so that 2017 has been hailed the year of the ‘vagina-nomics’ by the intelligence agency JWT. But how is the rise of female sex tech disrupting the industry and empowering women?

For years sex toys have largely been designed around the idea that they can only be effective for women if they’re penis-shaped.

“It’s a misconception that largely stems from the fact we’ve mostly had men designing sex toys and, well, God forbid women would find anything other than penises pleasurable,” says Alexandra Fine, clinical psychologist and co-founder of sex tech company Dame Products.

“In this same vein, there are design flaws – like on-off buttons facing the wrong direction or small quirks that give away the fact that women haven’t been designing these toys.”

Because gaudy sex toys aren’t for everyone, they’re now being joined by delicate, intuitive products that wouldn’t look out of place in an Apple store. These are lifestyle products that are customisable and personalised, rather than simply bigger and faster because technological advances allow it.

“Women are driving a huge increase in demand for sex toys which are ergonomically designed and beautiful,” says Stephanie Alys, co-founder of Mystery Vibe, the company behind Crescendo, the world’s first completely bendable smart vibrator.

Wisp, a sex tech start-up run by Wan Tseng, is designing wearables that recognise, for women, sexuality is not black and white.

“Our products don’t resemble things that go in holes, it just feels a bit too male,” says Tseng. Instead Wisp’s products are designed to be worn like jewellery and tap into the arousing sensations of touch, breath and smell.

“For lots of women, a good sexual experience is not just about orgasming, but everything up until orgasm. We want to empower women and help them relax and get into the mood.” It’s a concept that some men have struggled to grasp, according to Tseng. The first collection will release arousing scents, while another product in development simulates the warm sensation of breath blown gently into the ears.

Last year Alys co-founded a collective for women in the UK sex tech industry, to complement the New York-based Women of Sextech group. “The women in the industry are really up for collaborating and supporting one another.” She adds they are driven to “close the orgasm gap” – referring to the fact that men tend to climax more than women – and “help create a more sex-positive and equal society”.

The wealth of data that can be collected from smart sex tech should mean the offering will continue to improve. Mystery Vibe plans to incorporate sensors into its products that learn what stimulation methods work best, unveiling more data about the often elusive female orgasm.

Having a woman behind the creation of sex products means the stock is more relatable to other women – something that Fine believes has been missing. The company was the first to successfully fund the Fin sex toy on Kickstarter, bringing sex toys closer to being treated like any other consumer product.

Women-led companies are recognising that, just as not all women are turned on by toys that are flesh-coloured and phallic, not all women see simultaneous orgasming with their partner to be the holy grail of sexual fulfilment.

Fine, of Dame Products, adds: “I think our culture sometimes promotes orgasms over factors like intimacy and overall pleasure. Most people aren’t trying to attain the rare simultaneous climax – they want to share pleasure with their partner in a more general, less goal-oriented sense.”

Women are also harnessing sex tech to create products with women’s sexual fitness in mind. Tania Boler is co-founder of Elvie, which has created the Elvie Trainer – a mint-coloured, pebble sized kegel trainer that connects to a smartphone app to track and improve a woman’s pelvic floor muscles.

She argues the more traditional offering of kegel trainers have not been designed from the perspective of the user; they’re hard, clinical, cumbersome. Boler, who has a PhD in women’s health, was dismayed to discover there are only a few recognised scientific studies about the anatomy of the human vagina, despite half the population of the planet being in possession of one.

“Pelvic floor is the most important but most neglected muscle group in a woman’s body – a stronger pelvic floor means higher levels of arousal, more lubrication and stronger orgasms for women – and yet the product has been accused by some in the past of being anti-feminist because it means men enjoying tighter sex,” says Boler.

“This is about breaking taboos and realising pleasure and sensuality can be enjoyed for both sides.”

Stories about sex robots which allow men to act out rape fantasies have sparked outrage from women’s rights activists. It is not just heartening but essential that women are part of the sex tech movement if it is to be maximally beneficial, responsible and healthily balanced, says sex educator Alix Fox. “That’s not to say that left to their own (vibrating, thrusting) devices, all the sex tech men create would be damaging – not at all,” she adds.

“But in this era of technological boom, when the digitised and the mechanised is infiltrating almost everything from our boardrooms to our bedrooms, we must include women – lots of women, diverse women – in every conversation and at every stage.”

Complete Article HERE!


We need to talk about the social norms that fuel sexual assault



The recent spate of sexual harassment accusations against prominent men in Westminster comes as no surprise to many of us. We expect them to know better – to have been better people – but we have also seen this kind of behaviour before … over and over again. It isn’t just powerful men – but it is almost always men.

It’s time to start looking at the deep-rooted causes of harassment. We need to try to understand why sexual harassment is carried out much more by men against women than vice versa. And this is going to involve an evaluation of our sexual norms. Once we’ve done this, we can start a conversation about the kind of sex we do want – and how to create a culture where that is more likely to happen.

Let’s consider three gendered social norms that might have a role in why men sexually harass women.

1) Men are entitled to sex

The view that men are constantly thinking about sex, and feel somehow entitled to it due to their superior status to women, is one that we are familiar with: from sexist chants at universities, to pick-up artists, to lyrics that eroticise sexual coercion (such as Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke) and films that revolve around the “winning over” of an uninterested woman. We also take it for granted that there is a large sex industry, which caters – for the most part – for men’s sexual desires.

2) Men call the shots

It is still a common expectation that men should ask women out on dates, decide where to go, and pay for them. Women, on the other hand, should play hard to get and be submissive. Consider the well-known “Rules” dating book, which has tips for women such as: “don’t tell him what to do” and “let him take the lead”.

Power imbalance.

Men are also expected to be dominant sexually – and this is implicit in the way that we talk about sex: men fuck/screw/bone women. The male dominance norm carries forward into marriage. It is still usual for the woman to wait for the man to ask her to marry him and to take his name when they marry, for example.

3) Women should be sexually pure

Women’s sexuality is controlled through slut shaming. Many men would still be uncomfortable being with a woman who had slept with many more people than he had – and many men still feel comfortable referring to women as “slags” or “sluts” for indulging in behaviour that would make a man a “stud” or a “lad”.

It is implicitly believed that women must help men to control their sexual desire and aggression. They can do this by dressing modestly, and not being too flirtatious with men. Peter Hitchens recently helpfully suggested in the Daily Mail that the niqab is what women will get from all this “squawking about sex pests”, since, as he put it: “No minister would put his hand on the knee of anyone dressed like this; indeed, he’d have trouble finding her knee, or anything else”.

So, let’s talk

These norms are obviously extreme, and are not held by everyone. They are also, I hope, being slowly eroded. But they do exist – and it is not too far-fetched to say that they have a role in creating a culture in which men, much more so than women, feel that they want to and are able to engage in sexual harassment. After all, if there is an implicit assumption that you are entitled to sex (and this view might be held particularly strongly by men who believe they are entitled in all aspects of life), that you call the shots in the sexual arena, and that if a woman is dressed “provocatively”, or acting “flirtatiously”, you just can’t help yourself, then you might feel that you do nothing wrong in harassing her.

The revelations from Westminster have opened up a debate surrounding men’s actions within that small bubble, a debate that needs to be had. But we should also use it as an opportunity to talk about gendered sexual norms, because sex is a part of sexual harassment.

We need to do more than just train men in sexual consent. Consent, after all, is a bare minimum requirement for good sex. What we need is a conversation about what makes good sex – and what kind of gender norms would improve gender relations more broadly. And I think they might end up being quite different to the norms we have now.

Complete Article HERE!


Gender Glossary: Understanding ‘Intersex’ Beyond the Binary


By Harish Iyer

[8] November is designated as the day where we show solidarity and ensure that we educate ourselves about the intersex community. 8 November is the birthday of Herculin Barbin a french intersex person, who was brought up as a girl, but in adulthood discovered that she has a vagina but also a small penis. She thought she was being punished and ended up committing suicide after writing a memoir, which is, a living document of what it meant to be intersex in the mid 1800s.

As a person from the LGBTIQ community, it is important that we address the I in LGBTIQ. To address that, we need to understand what intersex really means. This is because much of our discrimination is borne out of misinformation or lack of knowledge. In a world where we view everything in binaries, to let people know that there are sexes beyond male and female would need an open mind. But do we understand the binaries well either?

Did You Know: Bisexuals are capable of having romantic feelings with people regardless of gender.

Before we even get to intersex, it is important to understand the difference between sex, gender and sexuality. Let me try simplifying this with the least amount of jargon.

Speaking of sex, I remember the joke way back in school, where we used to giggle whenever we saw “sex” written in any form as we thought the response should be “2 times in a day”. But sex in every context is not the act of sexual intercourse. The most easy and explicit way that I could explain is that sex is between your legs, it is determined by the presence or absence of an organ like a penis or vagina. If you have a penis you get classified as male, if you have a vagina you get classified as female.

Gender is a social construct. It is in your mind and heart and is not determined by the presence or absence of a body organ. One could be a female and identify as female, or be a male and identify as a male. However, you could also be a male (with a penis) but identify as a female, or be a female (with a vagina) and identify as a male. What you identify as, is what we call – “gender identity”.  It is also known as “transgender”.

Segregation of gender would directly detriment a culture of empathy and mutual respect.

Also, when we say gender is a social construct, it could mean that it may take time for people to realise their gender expression. Because of the fact that the society puts people in specific gender roles, it becomes difficult for people to express that they actually are a man but from within they feel they are a woman or the vice versa. It could mean that they wish to identify as gender-queer or transgender.

Like, I am a male and till a few years back I thought my gender was male. But I am realising that my gender expression is more feminine, which could mean that I could identify as gender-queer in coming years.

The bottom-line is that my gender is what I tell you my gender is. My gender is not what you think my gender is.

One could go on and on about gender, sex and sexuality. Now that we have some basic knowledge about sex and gender. Let us understand intersex.

One could go on and on about gender, sex and sexuality. Now that we have some basic knowledge about sex and gender. Let us understand intersex.

Intersex persons are people who are born with a sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit into definitions of sex of male or female in terms of anatomy. A person may be born with a penis and with a depression that leads to a labia. Or a person could be born with a vagina and may have a small penis.

It is rude and incorrect to classify intersex persons as “in-betweens” or “abnormal” people. It is however not rude to state that intersex persons are different.

There is a huge confusion among most people about intersex persons and hijras. Hijras are a community of transgender persons who live together and have their own social and religious practices. They are mainly male persons who have a female gender expression. They may or may not have undergone a sexual re-assignment surgery to align their sex with the gender that they identify with. Hijras could be intersex people too. However, all intersex people are not Hijras.

There is a myth that hijras pick up children with ambiguous gender when they come to bless newborns. In a world where the girl child is drowned and killed at birth, it is not hard to imagine that a child with ambiguous gender is despised and also killed in some cases. Hijras are believed to offer to adopt such children. There is very little research on this. Much of these are myths propagated by folklore and incredibly stupid television serials who’re feeding on such myths and increasing the confusion between our understanding of intersex persons and hijras.

How do you identify if a person is intersex? You will not be able to tell. And you don’t need to identify them. They will tell you if they feel like telling you. It is polite to ask everyone what gender pronoun they would prefer and address them that way.

Didn’t I say, gender is something that people tell you? It is not just he/she or him/her, some could say that they prefer a collective pronoun “they or their” or “ze or hir” as gender neutral pronouns. So the pronouns in short are he/she/ze/ they or him/her/hir/their. Ask, don’t assume such things.

There are very few people in India who are intersex and openly identify as one.  One of my friends, Gopi Shankar is an intersex person who founded an organisation called Srushti Madurai. I used to always refer to Gopi as “he” as his gender expression, I assumed is Male and so did many journalists. Until recently when I discovered that he is intersex and prefers pronoun “ze”.

Ze contested elections in the Tamil Nadu Legistlative assembly in 2016 and has also won a lot of awards and accolades for hir work in the domain of gender and sexuality especially in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.

Complete Article HERE!