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The Gender Myth

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About five years ago, I was in a psychology class at a local university. I was the oldest student in the room then at 55. We had a guest speaker who was one of the most intelligent, courageous, articulate, enlightened individuals I have ever encountered. Her name was Sarah.

Sarah was my age and she was a transgender woman. I use the past tense because I have never seen nor spoken with her since though I have often shared some of the things she taught me.

Sarah taught me one fundamental truth that seems obvious in retrospect but seemed revolutionary to me at the time. She said there are three distinct aspects of human beings that often get conflated. These three aspects are sex (our physical biological plumbing), gender (the continuum ranging from the feminine to the masculine) and sexuality which is who we are sexually attracted to and which may vary from no sexual attraction (asexual) to same-sex attraction, opposite sex attraction and both sex attraction.

Every human being has a different construct of the combination of these three factors. It’s easy to look at your own body and see your sex. Unless of course you are like Sarah and your body doesn’t reflect the sex you identify with. Sarah did have the sex change surgery long before I met her and she was quite pleased with the results. This physical plumbing is important to most of us in that it contributes to our identities, that understanding of who we are and how we want to be perceived by the world.

The second factor Sarah spoke of is gender, that feminine / masculine thing, and that is where I am the most grateful for her wisdom. Sarah taught me that maleness and masculinity actually have little to do with each other. Nor is the feminine the domain of females. Rather both genders are equally available to both sexes except as constrained by the cultures in which they live.

If this is true, and I believe it is, then our culture is stealing part of our human birthright by suggesting that as men we are not allowed to play on the feminine end of the spectrum. We must be masculine in order to be accepted. The only place for the feminine in men is if a man is gay. This is just so obviously wrong, false, and unreasonably limiting, I can’t imagine we haven’t rebelled against it sooner. Thank God we straight men have our gay brothers to lead the way in breaking down these detestable barriers.

And then there is the denial of the masculine in women. No one needs testicles to manifest masculinity. We all know women that show up with powerful masculine energy and this has absolutely nothing to do with their sexuality. And too often they pay dearly for it by being called dykes, ball busters, or worse. Again we are conflating sex with gender. Vaginas and penises are not determinates for the masculine and feminine. The sooner we learn what Sarah understood so clearly, the sooner we can move on to a culture of appreciation for who a person is as an all inclusive being with a sex, an ever-shifting gender and a sexual orientation that is not dependent on anything other than what turns us on.

Thank you, Sarah.

Complete Article HERE!

Coming down from the high:

What I learned about mental health from BDSM

By Jen Chan

Not too long ago, I took my first step into the world of kink. I was a baby gay coming to terms with my borderline personality disorder (BDP) diagnosis, looking for any and every label that could help alleviate the lack of self-identity that comprises my BPD.

I knew I was queer. I knew I identified as femme. But I didn’t know if I was a dominant (top), a submissive (bottom), or a pillow princess; I didn’t even know if I was kinky.

So I tried to find out.

I began to notice a pattern. The sheer rush of euphoria and affection created a high I felt each time I “topped” my partner, and it would sharply drop the minute I got home. I was drained of energy and in a foul mood for days, often skipping work or class. I felt stuck on something because I wanted to feel that intensely blissful sex all over again, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it back.

If you’re familiar with the after-effects of taking MDMA—the crash, the lack of endorphins, the dip in mood for up to a week later—then you’ve got a pretty good idea of how a “drop” felt for me. Just add in an unhealthy serving of guilt and self-doubt, a pinch of worthlessness and a dash of contempt for both myself and my partner, and voila! Top drop: the less talked about counterpart to sub drop where the dominant feels a sense of hopelessness following BDSM—bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism—if after care is neglected.

In the BDSM community, it’s common to talk about the submissive (sub) experience: To communicate the expectations and needs of the submissive partner before engaging in consensual kinky play, to make sure the safety of the sub during intense physical and/or psychological activities is tantamount, to tend and care for the sub after the scene ends and they’re brought back down to earth.

Outside of this, the rush of sadness and anxiety that hits after sex is known as post-coital tristesse, or post-coital dysphoria (PCD). It is potentially linked to the fact that during sex, the amygdala—a part of the brain that processes fearful thoughts—decreases in activity. Researchers have theorized that the rebound of the amygdala after sex is what triggers fear and depression.

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that 46 per cent of the 230 female participants reported experiencing PCD at least once after sex.

Aftercare is crucial and varies for subs, depending on their needs. Some subs appreciate being held or cuddled gently after a scene. Others need to hydrate, need their own space away from their partner or a detailed analysis of everything that happened for future knowledge. But no matter what the specific aftercare is, the goal is still the same: for a top to accommodate a sub and guide them out of “subspace”—a state of mind experienced by a submissive in a BDSM scenario—as directly as they were guided in.

I asked one of my exes, who’s identified as a straight-edge sub for several years, what subspace is like. As someone who doesn’t drink or do drugs, I was curious about what it was like for them to reach that same ephemeral zone of pleasure.

“It gets me to forget pain or worries, it gets me to focus only on what I’m feeling right then,” they told me. “It’s better than drugs.”

My ex gave up all substances in favour of getting fucked by kink, instead. I’m a little impressed by how powerful the bottom high must be for them.

“The high for bottoms is from letting go of all control,” they added. If we’re following that logic, then the top high is all about taking control.

We ended the call on a mildly uncomfortable note, both trying not to remember the dynamics of control that ended our relationship.  Those dynamics were created, in part, by my BPD, and, as I would later discover, top drop.

In the days to follow, I avoided thinking about what being a top had felt like for me and scheduled a lunch date with another friend to hear his perspective.

“Being a dom gives you the freedom to act on repressed desires,” he told me over a plate of chili cheese fries. This is what his ex said to cajole him into being a top—the implied “whatever you want” dangled in front of a young gay man still figuring himself out.

He was new to kink, new to identifying and acting on his desires, and most of all, new to the expectations that were placed on him by his partner. He was expected to be a tough, macho top to his ex’s tender, needy bottom. His after-care, however, didn’t fit into that fantasy. If that had been different, maybe he wouldn’t have spiraled into a place where his mental health was deteriorating, along with his relationship.

The doubt and guilt that he would often feel for days after a kinky session mirrored my own. We both struggled with the idea that the things our partners wanted us to do to them—the things that we enjoyed doing to them—were fucked up. It was hard to reconcile the good people that we thought we were, the ones who follow societal expectations and have a moral compass and know right from wrong, with the people who are capable of hurting other people, and enjoying it.

For my friend, there was always a creeping fear at the back of his mind that the violence or cruelty he was letting loose during sex could rear up in his normal life, outside of a scene.

For me, there was a deep instinct to disengage, to distance myself emotionally from my partner, because I thought that if I didn’t care about them as much, then maybe I wouldn’t hate them for egging me on to do things I was scared of.

My friend has since recognized how unhealthy his relationship with his ex was. These days, he identifies as a switch (someone who alternates between dominant and submissive roles). The deep-seated sense of feeling silenced that was so prevalent in his first kinky relationship, is nowhere to be seen. He communicates his sexual needs and desires and any accompanying emotional fragility with his current partner. He’s happy.

I’m a little envious of him. My second-favourite hobby is rambling about all of the things I’m feeling, and it’s a close second to my favourite, which is crying. I credit my Cancer sun sign for my ability to embrace my insecurities, but there’s still something that makes me feel like I’m not equipped to deal with top drop.

There’s an interesting contrast between how a top is expected to behave—strong, tough, in control—and the realities of the human experience. When a top revels in the high of taking control, but starts to feel some of that control fading afterwards, how do they pinpoint the cause? How do they talk about that insecurity? How do they develop aftercare for themselves?

One of the hallowed tenets of BDSM and kink is the necessity of good communication; to be able to recognize a desire, then comfortably communicate that to a partner. Healthy, consensual, safe kink is predicated on this.

Complete Article HERE!

How Straight Men Who Have Sex With Men Explain Their Encounters

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The subject of straight-identifying men who have sex with other men is a fascinating one, in that it shines a light on some extremely potent, personal concepts pertaining to identity and sexuality and one’s place in society. That’s why some sociologists and other researchers have been very eager to seek out such men and hear them explain how they fit same-sex sexual activity into their conception of heterosexuality.

The latest such research comes in the journal Sexualities, from Héctor Carrillo and Amanda Hoffman of Northwestern University. They conducted 100 interviews, with men who identified as straight but sought out casual sex with men online, hoping to better understand this population. A big chunk of the article consists of snippets from those interviews, which were primarily conducted online by three female researchers, and at the end Carillo and Hoffman sum up what they found:

They interpret that they are exclusively or primarily attracted to women, and many also conclude that they have no sexual attraction to men in spite of their desire to have sex with men. They define sexual attraction as a combination of physical and emotional attraction, and they assess that their interest in women includes both, while their interest in men is purely or mainly sexual, not romantic or emotional. Moreover, some perceive that they are not drawn toward male bodies in the same way as they are drawn to female bodies, and some observe that the only physical part of a man that interests them is his penis. Men in the latter group do not find men handsome or attractive, but they do find penises attractive, and they thus see penises as ‘living dildos’ or, in other words, disembodied objects of desire that provide a source of sexual pleasure. Finally, as a management strategy for judging that their sexual interest in women is greater and more intense than their interest in men, they sometimes limit their repertoires of same-sex sexual practices or interpret them as less important than their sexual practices with women. That way, they can tell themselves that their sexual interest in women is unbounded, while their sexual interest in men is not.

All this contributes to their sense that they qualify as being called straight or heterosexual, even when some also recognize that their sexualities do indeed differ from exclusive heterosexuality, which in turn leads them to adopt secondary descriptors of their sexual identities. As indicated by the variety of terms that they used, those descriptors often reinforce a perception that, as a sexual orientation category, heterosexuality is elastic instead of rigid — that some degree of samesex desire and behaviour need not automatically push an individual out of the heterosexual category. And while some men are willing to recognize that their sexual behaviours might qualify their being called bisexual — and they may privately identify with that label — they feel that there is no contradiction between holding a private awareness of being bisexual and a public persona as straight or heterosexual. Again, this conclusion is strengthened by a lack of social incentives to adopt bisexual identities.

It’s interesting to keep that interpretation in mind as you read the interview snippets. Take, for example, the men who sought to make it very clear that while they sometimes got with men, they really liked women:

I know what I like. I like pussy. I like women … the more the merrier … I would kiss a woman. ANYWHERE. I can barely hug a man … I do have a healthy sexual imagination and wonder about other things in the sexual realm I’ve never done … Sometimes I get naughty and explore … That’s how I see it. [Reggie, 28]

Women are hot … I can see a beautiful woman walk down the street and I instantly can become hard and get horny. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy walking by and got a boner. Also, I would not want to kiss or make out with them or love them. They would be more like a sexual experience. [Charlie, 32]

Some of the men did think that their behavior possibly qualified them as bisexual, but didn’t quite want to take the step of identifying as such:

I think everybody is a little bi. Isn’t that what this research is about? There’s the Kinsey scale … It’s not like Bush saying you’re either with us or with the terrorists. I think I’m probably bi but what I present to the world is a heterosexual man. Internally I’m bi, but that’s not something most people know. I’m not ashamed, but the majority of people are ignorant and close-minded. [Simon, 27]

I am not openly bisexual to society except in sexual situations … I don’t have relationships with men; I am in a relationship with my wife and only love her. [I’m bisexual] only with men behind closed doors. [Dustin, 28]

In addition to being perhaps the first instance in recorded history of someone comparing their sexual orientation to George W. Bush’s counterterrorism doctrine, Simon’s statement contains an important point: Carrillo and Hoffman note that many of their respondents simply “see no real personal or social advantages that would stem from publicly adopting an identity as bisexual or gay.” In many cases, it may not be in their interests to do so — hence the compartmentalization of their same-sex encounters.

Another reason for such compartmentalization is that it allows some men the opportunity to explore parts of their identities they feel they couldn’t safely in heterosexual settings:

For most of my sex life I’m in control of things. I’m not a boss at work anymore but I’ve been in situations where I’ve managed a hundred people at a time. I take care of my family. I take care of my kids. I’m a good father. I’m a good husband in providing material things for my wife … I’m in charge in a lot of places … There’s times when I don’t want to be in charge and I want someone to be in charge of me … that’s what brings me over [to] the bisexuals … it’s kind of submitting to another guy or being used by another guy. [Russell, 54]

“Interestingly,” write Carrillo and Hoffman, “being dominated by a man seemed to them less threatening than being dominated by a steady female partner, perhaps because it could be construed as a temporary fantasy, instead of meaning a permanent change in the gender balance.”

This same dynamic popped up the last study on this subject I covered — the idea that men “get” something about sex that women don’t, and that because there’s a fully mutual understanding that what’s going on is just sex, same-sex experiences can be set off safely away from the rest of one’s (heterosexual) identity. You can be a “good father,” which many men imply to mean being a strong, straight man, while still messing around with men on the side. From these men’s perspective, they can have it both ways — the privileges of identifying as straight and the pleasure and excitement of same-sex relationships on the side — without their identity being threatened.

Complete Article HERE!

How your sex life can be improved with mindfulness

Being more present with each other can lead to better sex, therapists say

 

By Olivia Blair

People have turned to mindfulness to make them happier, less stressed and even more able to deal with their mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression – but could it improve your sex life too?

Being mindful essentially means being present and aware of both yourself and your surroundings. The brain is trained to deal with negative and anxious or depressive thoughts through breathing and meditation exercises all stemming in part from ancient Buddhist philosophy.

While therapists are increasingly using it as part of their individual counselling, sex and relationship therapists have also adopted the advice.

“In its broad terms, mindfulness means focusing on the present moment so with couples, because they are often so distracted, stressed and over-committed, it can lead to lots of couples’ mind being elsewhere. A classic complaint is that a partner is distracted,” Krystal Woodbridge, a psychosexual therapist and a trustee of the college of relationship and sexual therapists says. “Mindfulness can mean you are really present with your partner and actually experiencing them in the moment and really paying attention to them.”

This in turn can then lead to better sex – because when partners really feel like they are being listened to, focused on and paid attention to is when better trust is going to be built so they are more likely to be intimate with someone.

“Really being in the moment, noticing their partners body language, facial expressions, tone of voice and what is actually being said is hard to do but it is being present,” Woodbridge says. “… It builds rapport. It you don’t have rapport, you don’t have trust. If you don’t have trust you are not going to be intimate with that person as you are not going to allow yourself tp be vulnerable with them.”

When clients put mindfulness into practice with each other, even if it is a struggle because they are so used to being distracted, it often has a “massive impact on their relationship and sex lives”, Woodbridge says.

Additionally, if someone is struggling with an issue in their sex life such as a performance issue like impotence or the inability to orgasm, mindfulness can also help in this aspect.

“In a sexual scenario what can happen is ‘spectatoring’, which is when a person is not paying attention to arousal or enjoyment and are instead observing and over-analysing themselves fearing the worst. If it is an erectile problem they will be hoping it does not fail or will feel anxious about whether their partner is enjoying it,” Woodbridge explains. “Spectatoring is often quite self-fulfilling so the person might not be able to maintain their erection, will experience sexual pain or they will just feel completely unconfident so they get into a horrible cycle.”

Sex therapists will therefore instruct the client to be mindful and to notice how they are feeling, even if that feeling is anxiety. Once they are aware they feel anxious or nervous they can focus on bringing the mind back to the physical feelings, such as arousal, and divert their focus to this instead.

“Mindfulness gets the person to notice when they are ‘spectatoring’, notice that they are distracted and not focusing on their arousal and physical sensations. It is hard in that moment as the person is anxious but if you don’t the mind will wander and go elsewhere,” Ms Woodbridge explains.

Ammanda Major, a trained sex therapist and head of service quality and clinical practice at Relate told The Independent they regularly introduce mindfulness to their sex therapy sessions for couples.

“We use mindfulness in sex therapy to help people experience more pleasure by being able to relax and stay focused and present in the moment.  Mindfulness can also benefit our relationships as a whole by relieving stress, building intimacy and enhancing inner peace. This in turn allows us to have more positive interactions with our partners,” she said.

She says couples can try mindfulness exercises at home, such as the following:

Individually: 

“Set some time aside every day to focus on your breathing. It doesn’t have to be long to begin with – maybe start with just five minutes a day and work your way up to 20. 

A good way to start is on your own with no distractions.  Close your eyes, relax and start to become aware of how you’re breathing. Breathe in slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Repeat this and gradually become aware of sensations in your body. Recognise and welcome them and then allow those thoughts to drift away to be replaced with other feelings as they arise. Notice what you’re experiencing and feeling. The aim is to let go: rather than reject intrusive thoughts, just let them drift away.”

With a partner:

“Once you’ve practised the breathing exercise a few times on your own, why not with your partner?  Sit facing and look into each other’s eyes.  Breathe slowly in through your nose and exhale through your mouth as before but this time synchronise your breathing.  Do this for several minutes – it may feel a little strange at first but stick with it and it can have powerful results, increasing feelings of relaxation and intimacy.”

Complete Article HERE!

Time to make room for sex in our care homes

We need to open up to the significance of love and sexuality in later life

The persistence of romantic love in long-term relationships is, unsurprisingly, associated with higher levels of relationship satisfaction.

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Although Valentine’s Day is often criticised as a cynical creation by florists and the greeting cards industry, it is a useful focal point for considering love and sexuality as elements of human wellbeing that often escape attention in healthcare.

This neglect is most marked in later life, when popular discourse on late life romance is dominated by simple notions of asexuality or by ribald jokes

There are many reasons why healthcare professionals need to learn more about human love and sexuality, not least of which is a fuller understanding of the nature and meaning of ageing.

exuality is a core element of human nature, encompassing a wide range of aspects over and above those related to genital functions, and the medical literature has rightly been criticised for taking too narrow a vision of sexuality.

We need to open up to the continuing significance of love and sexuality into later life

This narrow vision is paralleled by a steady trend in the neurosciences of “neuroreductionism”, an over-simplistic analysis of which parts of the brain light up in sophisticated scanners on viewing photos of a loved one.

We need to open up to the continuing significance of love and sexuality into later life, understanding that sexuality includes a broad range of attributes, including intimacy, appearance, desirability, physical contact and new possibilities.

Studies

Numerous studies affirm sexual engagement into the extremes of life, with emerging research on the continuing importance of romantic love into late life. There is also reassuring data on the persistence of romantic love in long-term relationships, unsurprisingly associated with higher levels of relationship satisfaction.

A growing literature sheds light on developing new relationships in later life, with a fascinating Australian study on online dating which subverts two clichés – that older people are asexual and computer illiterate.

The challenge in ageing is best reflected in the extent to which we enable and support intimacy and sexuality in nursing homes. Although for many this is their new home, the interaction of institutional life (medication rounds, meals), issues of staff training and lack of attention to design of spaces that foster intimacy can check the ability to foster relationships and express sexuality.

For example, is the resident’s room large enough for a sofa or domestic furnishings that reflects one’s style, personality and sense of the romantic? Are sitting spaces small and domestic rather than large day rooms? Do care routines allow for privacy and intimacy? Is there access to a selection of personal clothes, make-up and hairdressing?

Granted, there can also be complicated issues when residents with dementia enter new relationships and the need to ensure consent in a sensitive manner, but these should be manageable with due training and expertise in gerontological nursing and appropriate specialist advice.

Supports

A medical humanities approach can provide useful supports in education from many sources, ranging from literature ( Love in the Time of Cholera), film ( 45 Years or the remarkable and explicit Cloud 9 from 2009) or opera (Janácek’s Cunning Little Vixen, a musical reflection of the septuagenarian composer’s passion for the younger Kamila Stösslová).

We, as present and future older Irish people, also need to take a step back and consider if we are comfortable with a longer view on romance and sexuality.

The Abbey Theatre did us considerable service in 2015 with a wonderful version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in a nursing home. We were struck by a vivid sense of the inner vitality of these older people, suffused with desire, passion and romance.

This contemporary understanding of companionship and sexuality in later life was enhanced by casting Egeus as a son exercised about his mother’s romantic choices instead of a father at odds with his daughter.

We can also take heart from an early pioneer of ageing and sexuality, the late Alex Comfort. Best known for his ground-breaking The Joy of Sex, he was also a gerontologist of distinction, and wrote knowledgeably about the intersection of both subjects with characteristic humour.

He wrote that the things that stop you having sex with age are exactly the same as those that stop you riding a bicycle: bad health, thinking it looks silly or having no bicycle, with the difference being that they happen later for sex than for the bicycle.

His openness and encouragement for our future mirror Thomas Kinsella’s gritty poem on love in later life, Legendary Figures in Old Age, which ends with the line: ‘We cannot renew the Gift but we can drain it to the last drop.’

Complete Article HERE!