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We May Have Just Identified Genetic Evidence of Male Sexual Orientation

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But that still doesn’t mean there’s a ‘gay gene’.

By PETER DOCKRILL

Scientists are reporting what could amount to be the firmest evidence yet of genetic links to male sexual orientation, in the first published genome-wide association study (GWAS) examining the trait.

Researchers recruited more than 2,000 men of both homosexual and heterosexual orientation and analysed their DNA, identifying two genetic regions that appear to be linked to whether individuals are gay or straight.

“Because sexuality is an essential part of human life – for individuals and society – it is important to understand the development and expression of human sexual orientation,” says psychiatrist Alan Sanders from NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Illinois.

“The goal of this study was to search for genetic underpinnings of male sexual orientation, and thus ultimately increase our knowledge of biological mechanisms underlying sexual orientation.”

To do so, Sanders’ team studied 1,077 homosexual men and 1,231 heterosexual men of primarily European ancestry, who were respectively recruited from community festivals and a nationwide survey.

For the purposes of the study, the men’s sexual orientation was based on their self-reported sexual identity and sexual feelings. Each individual taking part provided a sample of their DNA in the form of blood or saliva samples, which were genotyped and analysed.

When the researchers sifted through the data, they isolated several genetic regions where variations called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) signalled single-letter changes in the DNA, with two of the most prominent congregations located near chromosomes 13 and 14.

“The genes nearest to these peaks have functions plausibly relevant to the development of sexual orientation,” the researchers explain in their paper.

On chromosome 13, the variants were located next to a gene called SLITRK6, which is expressed in the diencephalon – a part of the brain that’s previously been shown to differ in size depending on men’s sexual orientation.

While the mechanisms here aren’t fully understood, the researchers explain the SLITRK gene family is important for neurodevelopment and could be of relevance for a range of behavioural phenotypes, not just sexual orientation.

On chromosome 14, the strongest associations were centred around the thyroid stimulating hormone receptor (TSHR) gene, and it’s thought the cluster of SNP variants here could conceivably affect sexual orientation due to altered expression in the hippocampus – in addition to producing atypical thyroid function.

It’s not the first time scientists have examined our genetic code looking for hints as to predictors of sexual persuasion.

While there are numerous environmental factors to consider, previous research – that has not yet been replicated – linked a genetic marker in the X chromosome called Xq28 to male sexual orientation back in the 1990s.

This gave rise to the idea of the so-called ‘gay gene’, even though that’s technically a misnomer, since the Xq28 band actually contains several genes, and the science on the region remains unclear.

More recently, a controversial study presented in 2015 by UCLA researchers suggested an algorithm analysing epigenetic markers that affect gene expression could predict male sexual orientation with up to 70 percent accuracy, but the findings were never published.

Similarly controversial – but in a completely different field of science – researchers from Stanford University made headlines in September when they claimed an AI they had developed could correctly distinguish between gay and heterosexual men and women (81 percent of the time and 74 percent of the time respectively).

While those findings produced an uproar, the claims – if true – serve as another illustration that our biology may contain innumerable clues about things like our sexual orientation that science is only beginning to reveal.

In terms of the new results, there’s bound to be a lot of interest in the study, but the researchers are eager to emphasise their findings are largely speculative for now, since there’s still a lot we don’t know about what these genetic variations really mean.

There’s also the relatively small size and skewed European basis of the sample – not to mention the fact that it’s all men – which limit what it can tell us about genetic underpinnings to sexual orientation more broadly across race and sex lines.

Despite those shortcomings, there’s a lot for other researchers to consider here, and the team hopes this could lay the groundwork for future investigations that could more deeply penetrate the genetic factors that help influence our sexual identities.

“What we have accomplished is a first step for GWAS on the trait, and we hope that subsequent larger studies will further illuminate its genetic contributions,” says Sanders.

“Understanding the origins of sexual orientation enables us to learn a great deal about sexual motivation, sexual identity, gender identity, and sex differences, and this and subsequent work may take us further down that path of discovery.”

The findings are reported in Scientific Reports.

Complete Article HERE!

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Male sexuality isn’t brutal by default. It’s dangerous to suggest it is

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If we start to believe that sexual harassment and rape is a result of the way men are we cede something crucial: the belief that things can be better

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One of the many myths about feminists is that we believe all men are potential rapists – that men are inherently dangerous, their sexuality naturally predatory. It’s an absurd stereotype that runs counter to decades of feminist activism. After all, if you believe men’s natural instinct is to harass or rape, what you are really arguing is that harassment and rape are normal.

It’s true that the seemingly never-ending snowball of accusations against powerful men can feel as if there is an abuser around every corner. It’s also true that sexual harassment and assault are systemic and pervasive. But if we start to believe that this is just the way men are – that this kind of behavior is simply to be expected – we cede something crucial: the belief that things can be better.

That’s what makes Stephen Marche’s New York Times op-ed this past weekend so dangerous. Marche writes that male sexuality is “inherently brutal” and that properly reckoning with sexual assault includes admitting as such. “Pretending to be something else, some fiction you would prefer to be, cannot help,” he wrote.

Marche has a history of sexist writing, from pieces claiming that men won’t share equally in housework because “millions of women are deeply attracted to the gloomy vice of domestic labor,” to articles bemoaning “the whining of girls”. But the real issue – in addition to how offensive it is to suggest that men are naturally predatory – is how this line of thinking normalizes assault and encourages resignation over action. If we believe a particular behavior is innate, it’s easier to dismiss as immovable.

And despite the bum rap given to feminists, it’s actually conservatives who’ve long bolstered “boys will be boys” nonsense that insults men and puts women in danger.

Abstinence-only education, for example, teaches girls that they need to prevent physical affection from escalating because boys can’t help themselves. The right-led protest against women in combat, too, is based on the idea that having men and women in close quarters will lead to sexual assault. Donald Trump himself believes this, tweeting in 2013 about rape in the military: “What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?”

And there was no mistaking the Republican defense of Trump’s Access Hollywood tape as “locker room talk”. The explicit message was that men, by default, are horrid, brutal, sexists.

And it’s feminists who are the manhaters?

The truth is that while the vast majority of rapists and abusers are male, they are an extremely small percentage of the male population. So when feminists talk about rape culture, we’re not saying that our country is filled with rapists – but that we make it too easy for them to flourish.

When newspaper headlines call rapist Brock Turner a “swim star”, when victims are blamed for what they wore, or when Nancy Pelosi calls her colleague accused of sexual harassment an “icon”, we are providing refuge to those that abuse others.

All these things are preventable; we can shift how the culture responds to sexual abuse and the way we treat victims. Feminism is built on a foundation of optimism in this way – its work assumes that we can change.

Marche ends his piece in the Times by writing that the only thing that can save us from sexual harassment and assault – “if anything can” – is for men to accept their “monstrosity”. I don’t believe in monsters, but I do believe that we can do better than this. Better than thinking so little of men, better than resigning ourselves to a world where rape and harassment are considered inevitable rather than aberrant.

First, though, we need to believe that change is possible.

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Female sex tech pioneers are turning pleasure into empowerment

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

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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!

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Female Orgasms Are Not Puzzling Enigmas, Study Helpfully Concludes

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By Tom Hale

The female orgasm is apparently a subject of great mystery and bewilderment for many men and women alike. But after you break through the old myths, taboos, and prudishness, it’s not quite as complicated as the glossy gossip magazines and hearsay makes out.

A new study by sexual health experts at Indiana University looked into female orgasms and the sexual preferences of a “nationally representative” group of 1,055 women in the US from the ages of 18 to 94 to demystify the idea female orgasms are complicated and encourage people to communicate what works for them.

It turns out, the female orgasm is hardly a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. However, that’s not to say that women don’t have their own preferences. Just like music, food, art, and all the best things in life, we all like different things.

According to the study, just under 1 in 5 women said that sexual intercourse alone was sufficient for orgasm, over 36 percent reported clitoral stimulation was necessary for orgasm during intercourse, and an additional 36 percent suggested clitoral stimulation was not needed during sex but it made the orgasm all the better. A considerable number of the women, almost 1 in 10, said they did not climax during intercourse at all.

Basically, the long and short of it was that different women enjoy different things: some can orgasm during sex, some can orgasm from stimulating the clitoris during sex, some women do not have orgasms easily (or have gone through periods of life where it was difficult to climax).

The study even investigating different ways women liked to be touched. Once again, while there were certainly different preferences, it isn’t the enigma it’s occasionally made out to be. The huge majority of women enjoyed a light to medium pressure of touch, while nearly 16 percent said all pressures felt good and 10 percent liked firm pressure. Around two-thirds of women enjoyed touching in a up-and-down movement, 50 percent like circular movements, and 30 percent indicated a preference for a side-to-side motion.

The study authors explain that the real importance of the study is “underscoring the value of partner communication to sexual pleasure and satisfaction.” The only real requirement to have fun in the bedroom is the ability to communicate, embrace, and not shy away from finding out what works for you.

The researchers add that they hope their study helps to break down some of these boundaries, making it easier for women and men alike to comfortably communicate about sex, suggesting developing a “more specific vocabulary for discussing and labeling their preferences could empower them to better explore and convey to partners what feels good to them.”

Complete Article HERE!

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What it’s like to be a male sexual surrogate

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The Sessions looked at the work of sexual surrogates

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For most adults, sex is an activity that can bring joy, frustration, contentment or disappointment – the full range of human responses. But for a few people, the very thought of sexual contact with another human being causes such anxiety that they can never get close to the act.

For them, psychosexual therapy is usually a good choice. And in a few cases, this can involve a particular form of therapy: use of a sexual surrogate.

Sexual surrogates are trained and professional stand-in partners for men and women who have severe problems getting to an intimate/sexual relationship. Normally, the client will be undergoing counselling with a psychosexual therapist, and then, in parallel with that, will have ‘bodywork’ sessions with a surrogate partner.

Andy, 50, is a psychosexual therapist who also worked as a surrogate for a number of years. Clients tend to be aged from their mid-thirties to around fifty and most came to him through word of mouth. “Some people have never experienced sexual intimacy,” he explains. “I had one client who had never gone beyond kissing.” Others have experienced abuse and have negative connotations around sex or have physiological problems.

“I would usually do between six and ten monthly sessions of three hours each. The first sessions would be about getting comfortable being in a room with a man. So I will say, ‘So you’re in a room with a man, how does that feel for you?’ And perhaps it reminds them of being a teenager so we’ll talk about what that teenage part of them needs – to be more confident, say.”

Although the sessions would build towards penetrative sex, it would be a long way down the line. But some clients want to take things too quickly, he says. “If they want to rush into sexual intimacy or penetration then I’ll slow them down and ask them where that comes from. Most of them do need to slow down because they’re rushing into what they think is the goal of sex.”

After a few sessions, Andy would bring touch into the sessions. “I would ask them what sort of touch they would want to receive. And they might like to receive some sort of massage, fully clothed or partly unclothed. Sometimes we would sit opposite each other on the sofa and find out what happens in her system if one of us leans closer. Does she get excited? Does she want to run away? Does she want to reach out and have more contact?”

Once the client was comfortable with touching, nudity would be introduced. “I might do an undressing process where I would invite them to take off one piece of clothing and each time to name a limiting belief that stops them really enjoying and celebrating their body and allowing pleasure in it. ‘One thing that stops me is my belief that I’m unattractive and my bum’s too big.’ They would take off that piece of clothing and that belief. Then I would offer feedback about what I see, so, ‘Your breasts feel very sensual and feminine to me’.”

Sexual surrogacy has been operating in Britain for a few decades, introduced from America, where it was also the subject of the Oscar-nominated film The Sessions, based on the true story of partially paralysed polio survivor Mark O’Brien and Cheryl Cohen-Greene, the surrogate he worked with to overcome his problems.

While most surrogates are female working with male clients, there are a handful of male surrogates in Britain who work with female clients. Male surrogates tend to be mid-thirties and older.

For many men, being hired to act as an intimate partner for a woman they barely know would be a strange situation. So how did Andy feel during these sessions? “Sometimes it was quite challenging, sometimes engaging, sometimes arousing,” he recalls. “And client reactions were very varied too. Some would feel ashamed, sometimes emotional or physical discomfort. Or they would feel excitement and confidence. It was moment to moment – it’s like how you feel in a relationship, you feel many things.

“It’s an interesting line to walk. There are many clients that I have worked with who I really liked and I enjoyed the work with them both sexually and emotionally but I’m also aware that I’m not there to be in a relationship with them.”

He is glad he did the job but it did cause him difficulties, not least in relationships with his own partners, whom he always made aware of his work. “I supported many women through a very challenging and sometimes life-changing process,” he says. “But I found that ultimately it took too great a toll – energetically, physically and emotionally. I was putting myself in situations of intimacy with a client that I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen. And I found that draining. I would sometimes ask, ‘Why did I do that to myself?'”

Overall he believes they key to sexual surrogacy involves being realistic about what will come of it.

“I think surrogacy is to be entered into with as much self-awareness as the client can muster,” he says. “While it can point them in the right direction, it’s not the answer. Ultimately, they have to find confidence within themselves. It can be a step on that journey.”

Complete Article HERE!

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