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Is being single bad for your health?

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According to a new series of studies from The University College of London, it appears that being single maybe bad for your health – well, sort of.

The researchers did 14 studies on the effect of relationships on the development of dementia. They studied more than 800,000 people over the age of 65 and found that those who weren’t married were at a 42% higher risk of developing dementia. On the other hand, widows only saw a 20% increase in their chances of developing the disease.

It’s not so much the act of marriage itself that’s beneficial, but rather everything that goes along with it. As Dr. Laura Phipps, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, recently told The New York Post, “there is compelling research showing married people generally live longer and enjoy better health, with many different factors likely to be contributing to that link.” She adds, “spouses may help to encourage healthy habits, look out for their partner’s health and provide important social support.”

But before you reach for your phone and begin frantically swiping through Tinder, here are a few things to keep in mind.

First of all, these headlines are nothing new. In the eight years that I’ve been writing about sex and relationships, rarely a season goes by without a shocking headline about how single people are essentially doomed. While I don’t doubt the validity of this research – I watched as my grandfather’s Alzheimer’s steadily went downhill after my grandmother passed away – I also can’t help but think that these kinds of studies help contribute to an overarching sense of “single stigma.”

My first experience with single stigma happened when a coworker inquired about my relationship status and I admitted that I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to marry my boyfriend at the time – or even get married ever, period.

“But aren’t you afraid of growing old alone?” she replied, with a pitying look.

I was 27 and still getting carded on a frequent basis. It seemed almost ludicrous to consider.

Almost a decade later I get carded less frequently, but still routinely find myself confronting the same question. I equate the idea of “settling” with staying in a job that makes me miserable, just so I can collect the pension. At 36, the concept seems just as ridiculous as it did at 27.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. As of the last Canadian census, married people were found to be in the minority for the first time since 1871. Yet, singledom continues to receive a bad rap.

Eric Klinenberg is a New York University sociologist and author of the book Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone. As he tells The New York Times, “for decades social scientists have been worrying that our social connections are fraying, that we’ve become a society of lonely narcissists.” He says, “I’m not convinced.”

I’m with Klinenberg. Being alone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re lonely. In Going Solo, Klinenberg uses data and statistics to show how most solo dwellers are actually deeply engaged in social and civic life. In fact, compared with their married counterparts, they are more likely to eat out and exercise, go to art and music classes, attend public events and lectures, and volunteer.

While I have a lot of friends who are in relationships where both partners support and push each other to be the best version of themselves, this isn’t the case for everyone. In my experience, you know what’s also unhealthy? Staying in a relationship that is no longer working.

I could be biased though. By the end of my last long term relationship, my former partner and I had admittedly let ourselves go. We were drinking. We were smoking. We were eating things that weren’t feeding our health. Since parting ways romantically, we’ve both become healthier. I look forward to sharing the things I’ve learned from my health journey if/when I meet another serious partner.

This is all to say that the studies mentioned above, while interesting and useful, aren’t prescriptive and shouldn’t be used as a guide on how to live your life. Good health and relationships aren’t about statistics, they’re about choosing what works best for you.

Complete Article HERE!

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Consent and BDSM: What You Should Know

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Because there are no fifty shades of grey, just black and white.

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We can say “Consent is sexy” all we want and wear it on every crop top we own, but with a rising interest in kink and BDSM, and the ever-prevalent rape culture, understanding the intricacies of consent can become more complicated — and are more important than ever.

You know basically the entire plot of Fifty Shades? Like how Ana is an unknowing virgin who’s whisked into a life of BDSM with a handsome, extremely screwed up billionaire? Well, I’d argue that though Ana is presented a contract, she isn’t truly consenting to almost anything that happens to her in Fifty Shades.

Sure, she’s into the white wine kisses and the grey tie bondage part, but Christian Grey essentially coerced an inexperienced novice into a world of kink— she consented, but she didn’t even know what she was consenting to. That is problematic and it is wrong. Others will disagree with me. Critics of this stance say that Ana said ‘yes,’ therefore her consent was given.

How can a clear willingness or unwillingness to participate in a sexual act become so many shades of grey, when it should be black and white?

It is so essential to a teen’s educational understanding, this is the teen’s guide to understanding consent in BDSM.

The blurred lines are confusing AF

When it comes to mainstream representations of BDSM in the media, understanding where bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, and sadomasochism aligns with consent can be confusing. It’s not just hazy for teenagers, trust me. The lines appear blurry for pretty much anyone without a deep understanding of kink.

What you may not know is that consent is actually the foundation of BDSM play. Before you can “play,” you need to discuss the boundaries and comforts levels of each person involved in the scene.

“Consent is just as important in vanilla sex, but often, we get so used to the vanilla experience that we forget to ask for or enthusiastically express consent. In BDSM, however, you’re off the established script. Experimenting with bondage or other non-vanilla play is different from the kind of sex we’re used to seeing in the movies or on TV, which makes it essential that you and your partner communicate regularly and clearly to make sure that everything you’re doing is okay and enjoyable.” Sandra LaMorgese Ph.D., author, former dominatrix, tells Teen Vogue.

How can you be a sexual slave to someone, and also be fully willing? How can you want to be spanked, or whipped, or punished and be down for it at the same time? How does the person you’re having this kinky sex with know where the limits lie? How do you say yes or no?

Trying BDSM means having a trusting relationship

First and foremost, BDSM play should only be tried with someone you trust implicitly. Scenes should be discussed thoroughly beforehand, and between partners who know what they are doing — don’t go tying any crazy knots if you don’t know how to tie knots, or dripping regular candle wax that isn’t meant for bodies on someone’s skin.

If you want to use a crop on your partner, you must have a thorough understanding of the boundaries. You have to ask if your partner is fine with it. BDSM is absolutely NOT about causing someone harm or pain who doesn’t want pain inflicted upon them.

BDSM should never be done only to please another person. You should only engage in a sexual act if you feel comfortable doing it. There is nothing OK about coercing someone to try something they have zero interest in trying.

Both parties must give enthusiastic consent for a BDSM scene to work. Meaning, both parties have to be totally feeling this 100%. It does not mean one person feels lukewarm.

‘Yes’ does not mean ‘yes to all’

When it comes to consent, saying ‘yes’ to one thing in the bedroom does not mean you’ve said yes to all things in the bedroom. If you clearly discuss certain things as having “blanket consent,” it means you are fully comfortable with certain things happening without being asked, such as biting or tickling. You can always take away this kind of consent, as with all consent.

“Blanket consent is a different approach to consent—instead of asking if what you’re doing is okay every time you do something different sexually (regular consent), you tell your partner to stop if something they’re doing starts to cross a line.” Says LaMorgese.

When venturing into kink, both partners must stay within the previously discussed scene. For example, if you have agreed to let your partner tie you to the bed and use a feather tickler on your body, that is fine. But, if your partner then brings out a whip and hits you with it, without having asked if you were OK with that, it’s NOT OK.

For instance in Fifty Shades, Christian’s contract comes with some heavy baggage: “A ‘yes’ is only meaningful if it can be taken away at any time without consequences. ‘You must sign this BDSM contract or I will break up with you and fly away on my helicopter’ is not actually good consent.” Laura Schroeder, an Account Director at Fun Factory tells Teen Vogue.

Make sense? The ‘yes’ you give has to come with no strings attached. You are not subject to the will of the dom, unless you WANT to be. End of story.

BDSM covers a lot of territory

BDSM is not all about chains, whips, and ball gags, despite what you’ve seen in the movies. It is about the giving and receiving of control over anything else. Both the submissive and dominant consent to the submission and domination.

That’s actually what makes BDSM so erotic to many who enjoy it.

For subs, it is the release of control to someone who lets you escape from your worries; for the dom, having control in the bedroom can often substitute for a perceived lack of control in his or her everyday life.

Just because BDSM covers a lot of different behaviors, doesn’t mean you’re expected to try every single thing. You may be down to try some light spanking, but that doesn’t mean you want hot wax dripped on you; you might want to be in control during one sexual encounter, but want to give it up to your partner in another, “Like the word ‘sex,’ ‘BDSM’ covers a lot of different behaviors and activities, and trying one doesn’t meant that you have to try all of them.” Schroeder says.

It also doesn’t look any particular way

You and your partner are human beings. BDSM does not always look the same for every couple and that is completely fine.

For instance, Schroder tells us that a someone may like to have their lower lip bitten between kisses or perhaps one partner wants to use a sex toy and kneels in front of the other to present it for approval. These actions are about control rather than pain.

At the end of the day, remember that kink is just a game. It’s not something to be afraid of. If you’re with someone you trust, and understand the boundaries, it can be super fun and pleasurable.

Most importantly, remember that the fun starts and stops with your consent. If something is making you feel weird, gross, or just plain sucks, tell your partner to stop. Consent is the most valuable and sacred part of BDSM. It is about exploring boundaries and learning about yourself — it’s about growing, not losing something.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why queer history?

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By Jennifer Evans

Fifteen years ago, as a junior scholar, I was advised not to publish my first book on the persecution of gay men in Germany. And now, one of the major journals in the field has devoted an entire special issue to the theme of queering German history. We have come a long way in recognising the merits of the history of sexuality–and same-sex sexuality by extension–as integral to the study of family, community, citizenship, and human rights. LGBT History Month provides a moment of reflection about struggles past and present affecting the LGBT communities. But it also allows us a moment to think collectively, as a discipline, about the methods and practices of history-making that have opened space to new lines of inquiry, rendering new historical actors visible in the process. In asking the question “why queer history? ” not only do we think about how we got here and the merits of doing this kind of work, but we question, too, whether such recuperative approaches always lead to more expansive, inclusive history. In other words, to queer history is not just to add more people to the historical record, it is a methodological engagement with how knowledge over the past is generated in the first place.

The great social movements of the 20th century created conditions for new kinds of historical claims making as working and indigenous people, women, and people of colour demanded that their stories be told. Social history, and later the cultural turn, provided the tools for the job. Guided by a politics of inclusivity, this first wave of analyses by scholars like the extraordinary John Boswell searched out evidence of a historical gay and lesbian identity–even marriage–in the early modern and medieval period. Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality vol. 3 would fundamentally alter the playing field, as he questioned the veracity of such quests, arguing that it said far more about our contemporary need for redress than about history itself. Modern homosexual identity–he instructed historians –first emerged in the 19th century through the rise of modern medical and legal mechanisms of regulation and control. The discipline was turned on its head. Instead of detail-rich studies of friendship, “marriage”, and kinship a whole new subfield emerged focused around the penal code, policing, and deviance. In the process of unmasking the mechanisms of power that circumscribed the life of the homosexual, lost from view was the history of pleasure, of love, and even of lust. Although providing a much-needed critique of homophobic institutions, the result was a disproportionate concentration on the coercive modernity of the contemporary age.

And yet, despite these pitfalls, the Foucauldian turn introduced much-needed interdisciplinarity into historical analyses of same-sex practices. Of those who took up the challenge of a critical history of sexuality that sidestepped the pitfalls of finding a fully formed pre-modern identity were medievalists and early modernists keen on questions of periodization and temporality, basically how people in past societies held distinct ways of knowing and being what it meant to live outside the norm. If Foucault had fundamentally destabilised how we understood normalcy and deviance, these scholars wanted to take the discussion further still, to interrogate how the experience of time itself reflected the presumptions and experiences of the heteronormative life course.

By queering history, we move beyond what Laura Doan has called out as the field’s genealogical mooring towards a methodology that might even be used to study non-sexuality topics because of the emphasis on self-reflexivity and critique of overly simplistic, often binary, analyses. A queered history questions claims to a singular, linear march of time and universal experience and points out the unconscious ways in which progressive narrative arcs often seep into our analyses. To queer the past is to view it skeptically, to pull apart its constitutive pieces and analyse them from a variety of perspectives, taking nothing for granted.

This special issue on “Queering German History” picks up here. Keenly attuned to how power manifests as a subject of study in its own right as well as something we reproduce despite our best intentions to right past wrongs, a queer methodology emphasises overlap, contingency, competing forces, and complexity. It asks us to linger over our own assumptions and interrogate the role they play in the past we seek out and recreate in our own writing. To queer history, then, is to think about how even our best efforts of historical restitution might inadvertently circumscribe what is, in fact, discernible in the past despite attempts to make visible alternative ways of being in the world in the present.

Such concerns have profound implications for how we write our histories going forward. Whereas it was once difficult to countenance that LGBT lives might take their rightful place in the canon, the question we still have to account for is whose lives remain obscure while others acquire much-needed attention? While we celebrate how far we’ve come–and it is a huge victory, to be sure–let us not forget there still remains much work to be done.

Complete Article HERE!

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Talking With Both Daughters and Sons About Sex

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Parents play a key role in shaping sexual decision-making among adolescents — especially for girls.

A 2016 review of more than three decades of research found that teenagers who communicated with their parents about sex used safer sexual practices. Likewise, new research from Dutch investigators who studied nearly 3,000 teenagers found that young adolescents who reported feeling close with a parent were unlikely to have had sex when surveyed again two years later.

Notably, both research teams found that daughters benefited more than sons, and that the effective conversations and relationships were typically had with mothers.

According to Laura Widman, lead author of the review study and an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University, “parents tend to talk about sex more with daughters than with sons, and we can speculate that that’s what’s probably driving these findings. Boys may not get the messages as frequently or have the kind of in-depth conversations that parents are having with girls.”

Given the results of her research, Dr. Widman said that she “wouldn’t want parents to get the idea that they only need to talk to daughters. In fact, it may be the opposite. We need to find a way to help parents do a better job of communicating with both their sons and daughters so that all teens are making safer sexual decisions.”

That parents have more frequent conversations with their daughters about sex and sexual development may be prompted by biological realities. Menstruation, HPV vaccination (which remains more common in girls than boys), and the fact that birth control pills require a prescription might spur discussions that aren’t being had with sons.

Yet experts also agree that gender stereotypes play a powerful role in sidelining both fathers and sons when it comes to conversations about emotional and physical intimacy. Andrew Smiler, a psychologist who specializes in male sexual development, noted that women generally “have a better vocabulary for talking about feelings and relationships than boys and men do. Fathers may be a little more stoic, more reserved and more hands-off.” And, he added, “they may play to the stereotype of trusting boys to be independent and able to care for themselves.”

These same stereotypes can also tend to steer the conversation in one direction with daughters and another direction with sons. When parents do address sexual topics with their teenagers, they typically adopt a heterosexual frame with boys playing offense and girls playing defense.

“We usually view our girls as potential victims who need to be protected from pregnancy and rape,” says Sheryl Ziegler, a psychologist who provides mother-daughter seminars on puberty and sexual development, while boys are often cast as testosterone-fueled prowlers looking for nothing but sex. These assumptions often drive how parents approach the conversation. Dr. Mary Ott, an associate professor of pediatrics at Indiana University and the author of a research synopsis on sexual development in adolescent boys observed that, “when parents talk with boys, there’s an assumption that they’ll have sex and they are advised to use condoms. Whereas for girls, there’s more of a focus on abstinence and delaying sex.”

Parental concern about the negative consequences of adolescent sexual activity can reduce “the talk” to a laundry list of don’ts. Don’t get a sexually transmitted infection, don’t get pregnant or get a girl pregnant and don’t proceed without gaining consent. Critical as these topics are, Dr. Ziegler points out that they can “become the focus, so much more than having a quality conversation about why we are sexual beings, or talking about all of the ways we can express love.” And failing to acknowledge the pleasurable side of sex can, according to Dr. Smiler, hurt the credibility of adults. “When parents only acknowledge the scary side of the story,” he said, “teenagers can devalue everything else the parents have to say.”

So how might we do justice to conversations with both our daughters and sons about emotional and physical intimacy?

Over the years in my work as a clinician, I’ve come to a single tack that I take with adolescent girls and boys alike. First, I prompt teenagers to reflect on what they want out of the sexual side of their romantic life, whenever it begins. Why are they being physically intimate, what would they like to have happen, what would feel good?

Following that, I encourage each teenager to learn about what his or her partner wants. I urge them to secure not just consent, but enthusiastic agreement. Given that we also grant consent for root canals, gaining mere permission seems, to me, an awfully low bar for what should be the joys of physical sexuality. Dr. Smiler adds that any conversation about consent should avoid gender stereotypes and address the fact that boys experience sexual coercion and assault and “include the idea that boys can and do say no.”

Finally, if the parties are enthusiastically agreeing to sexual activity that comes with risks — pregnancy, infection, the potential for heartbreak, and so on — they need to work together to address those hazards.

Research suggests that this shouldn’t be a single sit-down. The more charged the topic, the better it is served, and digested, in small bites.

Further, returning to the topic over time allows parents to account for the rapidly shifting landscape of adolescent sexual activity. We should probably be having one conversation with a 12-year-old, an age when intercourse is rare, and a different one with a 17-year-old, half of whose peers have had sex.

Is it better for mom or dad to handle these discussions? Teenagers “want to have the conversation with someone they trust and respect and who will show respect back to the teen,” Dr. Smiler said. “Those issues are more important than the sex of the person having the conversation.”

How families talk with teenagers about their developing sexuality will reflect the parents’ values and experiences but, Dr. Ott notes, we’re all in the business of raising sexually healthy adults.

“We want our teenagers to develop meaningful relationships and we want them to experience intimacy,” she said, “so we need to move our conversations about sex away from sex as a risk factor category and toward sex as part of healthy development.” And we need to do so with our sons as well as our daughters.

Complete Article HERE!

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Girls Gone Wild: Why Straight Girls Engage In Same-Gender Sexual Experiences

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black-lesbian-couple

“Straight girls kissing” has become something of a curious and controversial cultural phenomenon over the last 15 years.

Madonna and Britney Spears famously locked lips in front of millions during the 2003 Video Music Awards, with Scarlett Johansson and Sandra Bullock following suit seven years later at the MTV Movie Awards. In 2008, Katy Perry went platinum singing that she “kissed a girl” and “liked it.” Meanwhile, we’ve seen portrayals of otherwise unlabeled women acting on same-gender desire in a number of popular primetime shows, from “Orphan Black” to “The Good Wife.”

In one sense, this reflects real life. Many young women who identify as straight have had sexual or romantic experiences with other women. Research on sexual fluidity, hooking up and straight girls kissing has mainly focused on women living on college campuses: privileged, affluent, white women.

But studies have found that same-gender sexual experiences between straight women are common across all socioeconomic backgrounds. This means existing studies have been ignoring a lot of women.

As recent surveys have shown, women outside of the privileged spaces of college campuses actually report higher rates of same-gender sex. This happens even though they’re more likely to start families at a younger age. They also have different types of same-gender sexual experiences and views of sexuality, all of which we know less about because they’re often underrepresented in most academic studies of the issue.

As a sociologist who studies gender and sexuality, I wanted to know: How do straight women who don’t match the privileged, affluent and white stereotype we see in the media make sense of their same-gender sexual experiences?

‘Straight girls kissing’ in social science

Some social scientists have followed the media’s fixation on straight girls kissing to further explore theories of female bisexuality.

In her 2008 book, psychologist Lisa Diamond developed the influential model of “sexual fluidity” to explain women’s context-dependent or changing sexual desire. Meanwhile, sociologist Laura Hamilton argued that making out at college parties served as an effective, albeit homophobic, “gender strategy” to simultaneously attract men and shirk lesbians. And historian Leila Rupp, with a group of sociologists, theorized that the college hookup scene operates as an “opportunity structure” for queer women to explore their attractions and affirm their identities.

All of these scholars are quick to recognize that these ideas – and the studies on which they are based – focus mostly on a certain type of person: privileged women living on the progressive campuses of selective universities. In part, it is easier to recruit study participants from classes and student groups, but it leaves us with a picture that reinforces stereotypes.

Around the same time I conducted my study, the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) found that women with the lowest levels of educational attainment reported the highest lifetime prevalence of same-gender sex. The New York Times correctly observed that these findings challenged “the popular stereotype of college as a hive of same-sex experimentation.” A 2016 update of the survey did not find a statistically significant pattern that varied by education level, but reiterated the high prevalence among women who didn’t go to college.

Just Below the Surface

In 2008, I started work as a research assistant on the Relationship Dynamics and Social Life (RDSL) study, which surveyed young women weekly for two-and-a-half years to learn about the prevalence, causes and consequences of unintended pregnancy. It was my job to handle participants’ questions, comments and complaints. Most of the inquiries from the participants were about how to complete the surveys or receive the incentive payment.

But a few came from women unsure about how to answer questions on sex and relationships. They wondered: Were they supposed to include their girlfriends?

Many demographic surveys focused on health or risk do not explicitly collect data on sexual orientation or same-gender relationships. But valuable information on these topics often exists just below the surface.

In 2010, I decided to write new RDSL survey questions about sexual identity, behavior and attraction. Nearly one-third of participants gave some type of nonheterosexual response (including women who said they “rejected” labels or that gender was not a determining factor in their attractions). In 2013, I recruited 35 of these women to interview. Because RDSL had a racially and socioeconomically diverse population-based sample, I was able to interview women that many sexualities scholars struggle to access.

What Happens After Motherhood?

Many women I interviewed had become mothers in their teens or early 20’s. All of these moms had hooked up with a woman, had a girlfriend in the past or said they were still attracted to women. Nonetheless, most identified as straight.

They explained that it was more important to be a “good mother” than anything else, and claiming a nonheterosexual identity just wasn’t a priority once kids were in the picture.

senior lesbiansFor example, Jayla (a black mom with a four-year degree from a state school) broke ties with her group of LGBTQ friends after her daughter was born. As she explained, “I think what our relationship didn’t survive was me becoming a mom… I kind of shifted away from them, because I know how I want to raise my daughter.”

Women who married men or settled down in their early 20’s also felt that their previous lesbian or bisexual identities were no longer relevant.

Noel, a white married mom with a General Educational Development certificate, dated girls in high school. Back then, being bisexual was a big part of her identity. Today, she doesn’t use that term. Noel said monogamy made identity labels irrelevant: “I’m with my husband, and I don’t intend on being with anybody else for my future.”

Sexual Friendships Emerge

Being a young mom can foreclose some possibilities to fully embrace an LGBTQ identity. But in other ways it created space to act on same-gender desire. I came to call these intimacies “sexual friendships.”

Chantelle, a black mom with a high school diploma, was struggling to co-parent with her ex-boyfriend. In the midst of her frustrating situation, she had found intimacy and satisfaction in a sexual friendship with a woman. As she put it, “relationships have a different degree and different standards. But with a friendship it’s kind of like everything is an open book.”

Amy, a white woman working on her associate’s degree, has had sex a few times with her best friend. They don’t talk about that, but they have daydreamed together about getting married, contrasting their feelings with their experiences dating men: “I feel like a man will never understand me. I don’t think they could. Or I don’t think that most men would care to. That’s just how I feel from the experiences I’ve had.”

Some of the women I interviewed told me they strategically chose hookups with women because they thought it would be safer – safer for their reputation and a safeguard against sexual assault.

Tara, a white woman attending a regional public university, explained: “I’m a very physical person and it’s not all emotional, but that doesn’t go over well with people, and you get ‘the player,’ ‘whore,’ whatever. But when you do it more with girls, there’s no negative side effects to it.”

Tara also said that men often misinterpret interest for more than it was: “Like if I want to make out with you, it doesn’t mean I want to have sex with you. But in a lot of guys in party scenes, that’s their mentality.” I asked her if this happened to anyone she knew, and she uncomfortably said yes – “Not that they ever called it rape or anything like that.”

Less Exciting, More Real

lesbian pronIntersectional studies like the one I conducted can upend the way we frame the world and categorize people. It’s not binary: Women don’t kiss each other only for either the attention of men or on their way to a proud bisexual or lesbian identity. There is a lot of rich meaning in the middle, not to mention structural constraints.

And what about that popular image equating “straight girls kissing” with “girls gone wild”? It’s more provocative cliché than reality. Many are at home with their kids – the father gone – looking for companionship and connection.

By using large-scale surveys as both a source of puzzles and a tool for recruiting a more diverse group of participants, the picture of “straight girls kissing” gets a little less exciting – but a lot more real.

Complete Article HERE!

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