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Toddler play may give clues to sexual orientation

A controversial study finds children who engage in more gender-stereotypical play are more likely to self-identify as heterosexual later in life.

By Michael Price

The objects and people children play with as early as toddlerhood may provide clues to their eventual sexual orientation, reveals the largest study of its kind. The investigation, which tracked more than 4500 kids over the first 15 years of their lives, seeks to answer one of the most controversial questions in the social sciences, but experts are mixed on the findings.

“Within its paradigm, it’s one of the better studies I’ve seen,” says Anne Fausto-Sterling, professor emerita of biology and gender studies at Brown University. The fact that it looks at development over time and relies on parents’ observations is a big improvement over previous studies that attempted to answer similar questions based on respondents’ own, often unreliable, memories, she says. “That being said … they’re still not answering questions of how these preferences for toys or different kinds of behaviors develop in the first place.”

The new study builds largely on research done in the 1970s by American sex and gender researcher Richard Green, who spent decades investigating sexuality. He was influential in the development of the term “gender identity disorder” to describe stress and confusion over one’s sex and gender, though the term—and Green’s work more broadly—has come under fire from many psychologists and social scientists today who say it’s wrong to label someone’s gender and sexuality “disordered.”

In the decades since, other studies have reported that whether a child plays along traditional gender lines can predict their later sexual orientation. But these have largely been criticized for their small sample sizes, for drawing from children who exhibit what the authors call “extreme” gender nonconformity, and for various other methodological shortcomings.

Seeking to improve on this earlier research, Melissa Hines, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, turned to data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The study includes thousands of British children born in the 1990s. Parents observed and reported various aspects of their children’s behavior, which Hines and her Cambridge colleague, Gu Li, analyzed for what they call male-typical or female-typical play.

An example of stereotypical male-typical play, as defined by the study, would include playing with toy trucks, “rough-and-tumble” wrestling, and playing with other boys. Female-typical play, on the other hand, would include dolls, playing house, and playing with other girls.

Hines and Li looked at parental reporting of children’s play at ages 2.5, 3.5, and 4.75 years old, and arranged them on a scale of one to 100, with lower scores meaning more female-typical play and higher scores more male-typical play. They then compared those results to the participants’ self-reported responses as teenagers to a series of internet-administered questions about their sexuality.

Beginning with the 3.5-year-old age group, the team found that children who engaged mostly in “gender-conforming” play (boys who played with trucks and girls who played with dolls, as an example) were likely to report being heterosexual at age 15, whereas the teenagers who reported being gay, lesbian, or not strictly heterosexual were more likely to engage in “gender-nonconforming” play. The same pattern held true when they expanded the teenagers’ choices to a five-point spectrum ranging from 100% heterosexual to 100% homosexual.

Teens who described themselves as lesbian scored on average about 10 points higher on the gender-play scale at age 4.75 (meaning more stereotypically male play) than their heterosexual peers, and teens who described themselves as gay men scored about 10 points lower on the scale than their peers, the researchers report in Developmental Psychology. Questions of transgender identity were not addressed in the study.

“I think it’s remarkable that childhood gender-typed behavior measured as early as age 3.5 years is associated with sexual orientation 12 years later,” wrote Li in an email. “The findings help us to understand variability in sexual orientation and could have implications for understanding the origins of this variability.”

The paper “is just a well-done study in terms of getting around some of the problems that have plagued the field,” says Simon LeVay, a retired neuroscientist whose 1991 paper in Science sparked interest in brain differences associated with sexual identity. “It shows that something is going on really early in life and points away from things like role modeling and adolescent experiences as reasons for becoming gay.”

Others dispute the paper’s methods and significance. Parents’ own beliefs and biases about gender almost certainly influence how they described their children’s gendered play, which could skew their reporting, says Patrick Ryan Grzanka, a psychologist who studies sexuality and multicultural issues at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. But more worrisome to him are the cultural assumptions underlying the study itself. The authors appear to regard gender nonconformity as the primary marker of gayness, which doesn’t align with current research suggesting that your individual preferences for either stereotypically male or female behaviors and traits has little to do with your sexual orientation, he says.

Grzanka is also dismayed that the paper fails to critique the history of similar research that investigated whether childhood behaviors lined up with eventual sexual orientation. It wasn’t long ago that such research was used to stigmatize and pathologize gender-nonconforming children, he says. “I think it’s important to ask why we’re so invested in this purported link [between gender conformity and sexuality] in the first place.”

Complete Article HERE!

Patriarchy 101

Consent can’t be implied, Michael Valpy writes. Why is that so hard for men to understand?

By Michael Valpy

I begin each university course I teach by stating that my course syllabus includes a website link to the campus sexual-assault centre and by explaining to my students what sexual consent means in Canadian law.

I find it necessary in an ordinary classroom of young Canadians to caution half the population against the other half, which I’ve thought about as I make my way through The Globe and Mail’s Unfounded series on thousands of sexual assault complaints blocked by disbelieving police officers from ever arriving in court.

What I do in the classroom may as well be labelled Patriarchy 101. Men sexually assault women because they can – because on average, they are larger and stronger – and because a lot of other men with power believe that women either fabricate the assaults or else act in a way that invites the assaults.

In nice Canada, this is still going on after half a century of sex education in public schools, in a country with progressive sexual-assault legislation and jurisprudence (barring the declarations of knees-together judge Robin Camp), in a country with the world’s greatest proportion of the population having formal postsecondary learning and being the ninth-ranked country (out of 155) on the United Nations gender inequality index.

Canadian researchers have written in the New England Journal of Medicine that between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of all postsecondary students are sexually assaulted in a four-year enrolment period with the highest incidence in their first two years when they’re teenagers. Combining the NEJM analysis with Statistics Canada postsecondary enrolment and gender data, that works out to about 160,000 victims annually, 92 per cent of them young women.

Yet, the public conversation usually gets no farther than tweaking administrative rules on reporting protocols, police investigations, prosecutions and the hammers that the courts should bring down on offenders – all important – while leaving the root cause untouched.

Men are always going to sexually assault women, goes the cant.

All of us guys have done it, exerted a bit of, you know, persuasion, resulting in what philosopher Simone Weil described three-quarters of a century ago as “a gendered violation of the soul.”

It is a social norm.

Pierre Bourdieu, the late French anthropologist renowned for his study of the dynamics of power in society, said that, for heterosexual males, “the sexual act is thus represented as an act of domination, an act of possession, a ‘taking’ of woman by man … [and] is the most difficult [behaviour] to uproot.” Men use words for sex that relate to sports victories, military action or strength: to score, to hit on, to nail, to make a conquest of, to “have,” to “get.”

Synonyms for seduce include beguile, betray, deceive, entice, entrap, lure, mislead – not one word in the bunch implying two people intimately enjoying each other with respect.

Most condom purchases are made by women, even though men wear them, and, increasingly, condom manufacturers are directly marketing to women, albeit using more feminine packaging.

In an episode of Downton Abbey, Lady Mary Crawley, having decided to go off on a sexual weekend with Lord Gillingham, asks her maid, Anna Bates, to buy condoms. “Why won’t he take care of it?” Anna asks. Replies Lady Mary: “I don’t think one should rely on a man in that department, do you?” Dr. Mariamne Whatley, a leading U.S. scholar on sexual education, says women have long been expected to take responsibility for men’s sexuality for which there is no defensible rationale beyond the fact that it’s women who get pregnant.

Adolescent girls, she says, are encouraged to “solve” the “problem” of teenage pregnancy. Whistles, sprays, flashlights and alarms are marketed to women. Women are expected to screen out potential rapists among dating partners and to learn some form of self-defense.

Why? Because men allegedly are overcharged on androgen hormones – testosterone – and can’t stop themselves from going “too far.” Which has no biological validity. “As a student in my sexuality class put it,” psychologist Noam Shpancer wrote in a 2014 article in Psychology Today, “‘If your parents walk in on you having sex with your girlfriend, you stop what you’re doing in a second, no matter what.’”

Since the Supreme Court of Canada’s R v Chase decision in 1987, judges have been able to consider a complainant’s subjective experience and look beyond contact with any specific part of the human body to consider whether the victim’s sexual integrity has been violated.

Belief in so-called implied consent has been thoroughly repudiated by Canadian courts – just because a woman does not repeat her initial “No” or push a guy away, it does not mean she is legally consenting. Obviously, there’s a limit to how deeply that has sunk in.

Yet there is a line of feminist scholarly thought that says when subordination of women is replaced by sustained anger from women, men become more receptive to change and the conventional categories of masculinity and femininity dissolve once, as political theorist Joan Cocks puts it, “the masculine self moves away from a rigid stance of sexual command.”

So angry, angry women: That’s what I hope my female students will be. No tolerance. No forgiveness.

Complete Article HERE!

It’s time to get to know your body

Understanding your body is essential to building healthy relationships with others and yourself

Understanding your body does not require a medical degree and is integral to your overall wellness.”

By Sky Jordan

Bodies do some pretty astonishing things. Everything from love to sex to reproduction is such a personal experience, and each experience means a different thing to each person. It is extraordinary when you consider all the experiences your body has allowed you to have and will allow you to have.

However, in order to understand these magnificent experiences, we need to gain a better understanding about our bodies as a whole. This will allow us to create and facilitate healthy sexual experiences and make healthy decisions about our bodies.

Sexual education does not stop at high school or middle school, it should continue in college. ASU provides STI testing to students, but not much is provided for students who do not have extensive sexual education. Of the programs provided at ASU, most are centered around sexual assault and not exactly sexual health.

Educating yourself about your body can include anything from reading about your anatomy to sexual exploration. It’s a personal learning experience, and it’s up to you to decide how you do it and with whom you share it.

Many people believe that their bodies are too complex and intricate that they are impossible to understand without a medical degree.

For example, it’s a common expectation for women to orgasm via penetration alone, when in fact this is only possible for 25 percent of women. Similarly, many people do not know that men have a G-spot. There countless other misconceptions about anatomy and sexuality that can curb positive sexual experiences.

It’s exceptionally important to learn about our bodies. We can’t expect to have good sex lives if we do not understand how our bodies function.

Knowing and understanding one’s body can be really overwhelming and difficult for some. A lot of people are very reserved when it comes to sex, which is completely okay.

However, it’s important to note that sex is a major facet of life. Becoming more comfortable with your sexuality by understanding and learning about your body can create positive sexual experiences and positive body image. If we learn about our bodies we can get rid of common misconceptions and construct healthier expectations.

“‘Normal’ has a wide range of possibilities,” Dr. David Glassman, an OB/GYN and member of the Phoenix OB/GYN Society, said. “Having knowledge of your body plays a role in feeling comfortable with yourself and (your) sexuality as well.”

Every person’s body is different. We can more easily celebrate this by learning about our bodies and understanding that our bodies do not have to look a certain way.

This will ultimately lead to more accepting and loving attitudes toward ourselves. Having a healthy body image will positively influence every aspect of your life — including sex.

If we know our bodies, we can learn what feels good. This will enable us to communicate more effectively with our partners. As a result, we can develop healthier sexual relationships in which each partner feels fulfilled.

“As time has gone on sexuality has opened up a lot and has become more acceptable. People are much more comfortable talking about it. The more you know and understand the safer (your experiences) will be,” Glassman said.

Educating ourselves on this subject will also teach us about sexual experiences we do not feel comfortable with. This will allow us to prepare for when these situations arise, so that we can make healthy decisions and be able to accurately give and receive consent.

Learning and exploring our bodies will allow us to foster healthier body images, healthier sex lives and healthier relationships.By understanding ourselves and how our bodies work we can begin to construct more fulfilling lives and experiences as a whole.

Complete Article HERE!

The Gender Myth

by

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!

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

By Leah Fessler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Complete Article HERE!