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Omnisexual, gynosexual, demisexual: What’s behind the surge in sexual identities?

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There’s been a proliferation of sexual identities.

by Olivia Goldhill

In 1976, the French philosopher Michel Foucault made the meticulously researched case that sexuality is a social construct used as a form of control. In the 40 years since, society has been busy constructing sexualities. Alongside the traditional orientations of heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual, a myriad other options now exist in the lexicon, including:

  • pansexual (gender-blind sexual attraction to all people)
  • omnisexual (similar to pansexual, but actively attracted to all genders, rather than gender-blind)
  • gynosexual (someone who’s sexually attracted to women—this doesn’t specify the subject’s own gender, as both “lesbian” and “heterosexual” do)
  • demisexual (sexually attracted to someone based on a strong emotional connection)
  • sapiosexual (sexually attracted to intelligence)
  • objectumsexual (sexual attraction to inanimate objects)
  • autosexual (someone who prefers masturbation to sexual activity with others)
  • androgynosexual (sexual attraction to both men and women with an androgynous appearance)
  • androsexual (sexual attraction towards men)
  • asexual (someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction)
  • graysexual (occasionally experiencing sexual attraction, but usually not)

Clearly, people felt that the few existing labels didn’t apply to them. There’s a clear “demand being made to have more available scripts than just heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual,” says Robin Dembroff, philosophy professor at Yale University who researches feminist theory and construction.

Labels might seem reductive, but they’re useful. Creating a label allows people to find those with similar sexual interests to them; it’s also a way of acknowledging that such interests exist. “In order to be recognized, to even exist, you need a name,” says Jeanne Proust, philosophy professor at City University of New York. “That’s a very powerful function of language: the performative function. It makes something exist, it creates a reality.”

The newly created identities, many of which originated in the past decade, reduce the focus on gender—for either the subject or object of desire—in establishing sexual attraction. “Demisexual,” for example, is entirely unrelated to gender, while other terms emphasize the gender of the object of attraction, but not the gender of the subject. “Saying that you’re gay or straight doesn’t mean that you’re attracted to everyone of a certain gender,” says Dembroff. The proliferation of sexual identities means that, rather than emphasizing gender as the primary factor of who someone finds attractive, people are able to identify other features that attract them, and, in part or in full, de-couple gender from sexual attraction.

Dembroff believes the recent proliferation of sexual identities reflects a contemporary rejection of the morally prescriptive attitudes towards sex that were founded on the Christian belief that sex should be linked to reproduction. “We live in a culture where, increasingly, sex is being seen as something that has less to do with kinship and reproduction, and more about individual expression and forming intimate bonds with more than one partner,” Dembroff says. “I think as there’s more of an individual focus it makes sense that we have these hyper-personalized categories.”

The same individuality that permeates western culture, leading people to focus on the self and value their own well-being over the group’s, is reflected in the desire to fracture group sexual identities into increasingly narrow categories that reflect personal preferences.

Some believe this could restrict individuals’ freedom in expressing fluid sexuality. Each newly codified sexual orientation demands that people adopt increasingly specific criteria to define their sexual orientation.

“Language fixes reality, it sets reality,” says Proust. “It paralyzes it, in a way. It puts it in a box, under a tag. The problem with that is it doesn’t move. It negates or denies any instability or fluidity.”

There’s also the danger that self-definition inadvertently defines other people. Just as the terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” demand that people clarify their sexual preference according to their and their partner’s gender, “sapiosexual” asks that we each of us define our stance towards intelligence. Likewise, the word “pansexual” requires people who once identified as “bisexual” clarify their sexual attraction towards those who don’t identify as male or female. And “omnisexual” suggests that people should address whether they’re attracted to all genders or oblivious to them.

In Foucault’s analysis, contemporary society turns sex into an academic, scientific discipline, and this mode of perceiving sex dominates both understanding and experience of it. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy summarizes this idea neatly:

Not only is there control exercised via others’ knowledge of individuals; there is also control via individuals’ knowledge of themselves. Individuals internalize the norms laid down by the sciences of sexuality and monitor themselves in an effort to conform to these norms.

The new terms for sexual orientations similarly infiltrate the political discourse on sexuality, and individuals then define themselves accordingly. Though there’s nothing that prevents someone from having a demisexual phase, for example, the labels suggest an inherent identity. William Wilkerson, a philosophy professor at the University of Alabama-Huntsville who focuses on gender studies, says this is the distinctive feature of sexual identities today. In the past, he points out, there were plenty of different sexual interests, but these were presented as desires rather than intrinsic identities. The notion of innate sexual identities “seems profoundly different to me,” he says. “The model of sexuality as an inborn thing has become so prevalent that people want to say ‘this is how I feel, so perhaps I will constitute myself in a particular way and understand this as an identity’,” he adds.

In the 1970s and 80s there was a proliferation of sexual groups and interests similar to what we’ve seen over the past five to 10 years, notes Wilkerson. The identities that originated in earlier decades—such as bears, leather daddies, and femme and butch women—are deeply influenced by lifestyle and appearance. It’s difficult to be a butch woman without looking butch, for example. Contemporary identities, such as gynosexual or pansexual, suggest nothing about appearance or lifestyle, but are entirely defined by intrinsic sexual desire.

Dissatisfaction with existing labels doesn’t necessarily have to lead to creating new ones. Wilkerson notes that the queer movement in earlier decades was focused on anti-identity and refusing to define yourself. “It’s interesting that now, it’s like, ‘We really want to define ourselves,’” says Wilkerson.

The trend reflects an impulse to cut the legs out from under religious invectives against non-heteronormative sexualities. If you’re “born this way,” it’s impossible for your sexuality to be sinful because it’s natural, made of biological desires rather than a conscious choice. More recently, this line of thinking has been criticized by those who argue all sexualities should be accepted regardless of any link to biology; that sexuality is socially constructed, and the reason no given sexuality is “sinful” is simply because any consenting sexual choice is perfectly moral.

Though it may sound ideal to be utterly undefined and beyond categories, Proust says it’s impossible. “We have to use categories. It’s sad, it’s tragic. But that’s how it is.” Constructs aren’t simply necessary for sexual identity or gender; they’re an essential feature of language, she adds. We cannot comprehend the world without this “tag-fixing process.”

The proliferation of specific sexual identities today may seem at odds with the anti-identity values of queer culture, but Dembroff suggests that both work towards the same ultimate goal of eroding the impact and importance of the old-fashioned binary sexual identities. “Social change always happens in non-ideal increments,” Dembroff notes. So while today we may have dozens of sexual identities, they may become so individualized and specific that they lose any significance for group identities, and the entire concept of a fixed sexual identity is eroded.

“We demand that sex speak the truth,” wrote Foucault in The History of Sexuality. “We demand that it tell us our truth, or rather, the deeply buried truth of that truth about ourselves which we think we possess in our immediate consciousness.” We still believe sex reveals an inner truth; now, however, we are more readily able to recognize that the process of discovering and identifying that truth is always ongoing.

Complete Article HERE!

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5 Ways Self Care Can Help You Have Better Sex

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Show yourself some love before you get some love.

By Jessica Migala

No matter how excited you are to hit the sheets, sometimes it’s just hard to turn it on for sex. Your brain might be crazy distracted, for example, or it’s been a long day and you feel exhausted. Somehow, you’re just not in the right head space for that closeness and pleasure you crave.

That’s where self care comes in. You know self care; these are moves you do to treat your mind and body to some TLC, from sleeping in to doing a digital detox to signing up for mindful meditation. Whatever self-care moves you do, the goal is to unpack stress and feel more joy.

That means joy in the bedroom as well, says psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini, a sex and relationship expert in Houston. Whether you need to dial back anxious thoughts or prime yourself to feel more sensual, these five self-care moves to do before the action begins will make it happen.

Slip into a hot bath

Even if you only have 15 minutes, locking the bathroom door and soaking in a warm tub will get rid of stress and prime your body for pleasure. “Research has shown that how a woman feels about her body is the most important factor when it comes to her libido,” says Rapini. Taking time to do things that put you in a sexy state of mind can go a long way.

Add bath oil to revive your skin, close your eyes and imagine stress dissolving, and then dry off with a luxuriant fluffy towel. Rapini also recommends lightly massaging yourself while in the tub (or afterward as you put on lotion) to get comfortable with your naked body.

Arouse your senses

Maybe you pump yourself up during a workout with a motivating playlist, or you light a few candles in your living room to burn away anxiety after a long day. The same kind of sensual moves can get you ready for great sex too.

Before you’re planning to hit the bedroom, Rapini advises turning on whatever sexy music speaks to you (she suggests D’Angelo Radio on Pandora). As for scent, go with fragrances that have notes of amber, vanilla, or green tea, which can charge your sex drive. Spritz on a perfume or add a couple drops into a diffuser as you get ready for the evening.

Touch yourself

If masturbation isn’t already part of your self-care routine, this is a reason to add it in. When you’re alone and you feel comfortable, take matters into your own hands; if you prefer a vibrator, break it out. Solo sex (whether you reach orgasm or not) will increase lubrication and amp your desire.

“Some women just need that time to be alone to get heated,” says Rapini. Plus, consider this: Research from 2013 found that female masturbation was associated with feeling sexually empowered, in part because it helps women learn what turns them on.

Dress so you feel sexy 

Wearing revealing outfits isn’t just about visually turning on your partner; it can help turn you on too. “I encourage women to wear something that flaunts the part of their body they like the most,” says Rapini. That may be a camisole to show off your shoulders, for instance, or short short cutoff jeans that highlight your legs. You can wear nothing at all—or put on your most comfy sweats and a tee. “Do what feels good for you,” she says. Wearing clothes you think are sexy will get your mind to a sexy place.

Break out your yoga mat

If there’s anything yoga can’t do for you, we haven’t found it yet. Before you plan on getting busy, do a series of downward dogs. Not only is it a super way to stretch your hips, but being upside down gets blood flowing into your brain to clear your head and boost your energy. Says Rapini: “A bad day will crush your libido. This move brings you back into the mood.” And the body awareness and mindfulness that yoga promotes will give you an extra sensual boost too.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to build sexual confidence

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Having sex for the first time is nerve wracking but it isn’t the only time when the thought of sex can feel daunting. Many of us will go through periods of abstinence later in our lives and the thought of engaging in sexual activity again can spark feelings of insecurity.

There are a variety of reasons why someone might have experienced an extended amount of time without having sex (divorce, a breakup, the loss of a loved one, or difficulty meeting the right person) and often by the time we get round to having sex again it feels as if we are back to square one with our sexual confidence.

Here, we speak to Valeria Chuba, PhD, MS, ACS, a board certified clinical sexologist and a certified intimacy coach. She helps her clients overcome sexual shame and anxiety, achieve sexual confidence, and create pleasure-filled intimate relationships. She is the creator and host of the Get Sex-Smart podcast, which offers expert information and guidance to listeners around the world.

“Finding that special spark with a new partner can often take a long time,” she explains. “Regardless of the reasons why we may find ourselves without a lover, when the time comes to get back into the groove, most of us experience feelings of fear, anxiety and low self-confidence.”

So to help anyone who is feeling less than empowered about the idea of a new sexual encounter, we asked Valeria to give us some practical advice on how to feel less nervous and more confident when starting a new sexual relationship…

1. Learn from the past

Each new relationship offers a promising beginning, which means an opportunity to do things differently and better than before. “Now is the perfect time to look back at your past sexual experiences,” Valeria advises.

“What were some of the things that worked well (or didn’t work) in your intimate relationships? What partners were the most memorable, and why? What would you like to do differently this time around? For example, would you speak up more about your need for sensual foreplay, or share more of your sexual imagination with your partner? Getting clarity around your needs and boundaries will help you start a new sexual relationship in a more proactive way, which in turn will help you feel more safe and grounded.”

2. Know what gives you pleasure

“As a sexologist, I often tell my clients that masturbation is the foundation for partner sex,” says Valeria.

“The more you know about what turns you on and helps you experience pleasure and orgasm, the better you’ll be able to share these things with your partner, leading to a more positive intimate experience.”

Reacquainting yourself with your body in this way will help you to first accept and then to gain confidence when it comes to being with someone else. It’s easy to forget the positive things about our body when we are feeling insecure and focusing on the parts we don’t like as much.

“If you are new to self pleasure or just want to broaden your sexual repertoire, sex-positive books like Come As You Are or fun and instructional sex ed DVDs will both inform you and spark your sensuality. It’s important to note that you should always consider seeking professional help for specific sexual concerns, like trouble experiencing orgasm with a partner, early ejaculation, erectile difficulties, or performance anxiety. Working with a sex-positive, compassionate professional can be a huge boost to your sexual confidence.”

3. Communication is key

“I often tell my clients that they should begin a new relationship as they mean to go on; and good communication is a big part of any successful sexual relationship,” says Valeria.

“There are few things more attractive in a lover than the confidence to speak up about his or her needs and desires, and the ability to listen to his or her partner. Speaking up improves your chances of getting what you want from your sexual relationship; and being accepting of your partner will make him or her feel special and appreciated. Either way, you will come across as a generous and thoughtful lover, which is sure to boost your self-confidence.”

4. Focus on pleasure and not performance

Whenever we begin a new relationship, especially after a long time without partner sex, we tend to feel anxious about things like our attractiveness; our size, shape and weight; and how well we will ‘perform’ during sex.

“This mindset keeps us caught up in our heads and disconnected both from our bodies and pleasure, and from our lovers and the process of lovemaking. Whenever you feel yourself getting caught up in performance pressure, focus instead on your body sensations. Breathe deeply and if need be, slow down. Pay attention to how things feel as opposed to how perfect you appear to be. As a bonus, a lover who is focused on pleasure and sensuality comes off as a lot more empowered and confident than someone who is insecure about their ‘performance’.”

5. Have a sense of humour

Sex can be complicated and intimidating at the best of times, let alone when we’ve been celibate for an extended period. Because of this, we tend to forget that at its core, sex is about connection, pleasure and fun. And since partner sex happens between bodies, it can also be a messy, embarrassing and unintentionally hilarious experience. Using this as a point of connection with your lover, rather than something to be ashamed of, can help you lighten things up. Chances are your partner is also feeling nervous, so bonding lightheartedly over your shared anxiety and the absurdity of it all can be both relaxing and very, very sexy.

Complete Article HERE!

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Seven ways … to boost your libido

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Exhaustion, stress, drugs and poor technique can all cause your sex drive to stall. How can you get it back on track?

Low libido? Try reading something erotic

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Is it a problem?

A lack or loss of sex drive is only a problem if the person experiencing it believes it is. Medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease can undermine desire, as can prescription drugs or difficult life events. The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) reported in September that 34% of sexually active women and 15% of sexually active men in Britain had lost interest in sex for three months or more during the previous year.

It’s good to talk

Relationship problems are a leading cause of waning libido: Natsal concluded that finding it hard to talk about sex with a partner doubled the chances of a diminished sex drive among women and increased them by 50% in men. “A lot of couples don’t communicate and end up avoiding sex,” says Cynthia Graham, professor of sexual and reproductive health at the University of Southampton, and the study’s lead author. “Open communication increases the chances of your libido bouncing back.” For women, having a partner with a different level of sexual interest increased the chances of loss of sexual interest more than fourfold, and having one with sexual likes and dislikes they did not share did so by almost threefold.These issues increased the chances of loss of desire by just 17% and 16% respectively among men.

Sleep on it

Burning the candle at both ends is a passion killer. Testosterone’s role in male libido is overstated, but it is true that men with the lowest levels of the hormone report low sexual desire and one US study found that sleeping fewer than five hours a night reduced testosterone levels in young men by 10-15%. A lack of sleep also kills female libido: a 2015 study concluded women who had an extra hour’s sleep were 14% more likely to have sex the next day.

Fly solo

Research shows far fewer women masturbate than men. Some research suggests doing so can help boost self-awareness, social competence, body esteem and improve intimacy in long-term relationships. “One reason women lack interest in sex is that sex isn’t always very good with a partner,” says Prof Graham. “Masturbation can help women learn things they can then teach their partners about how to pleasure them.”

Fantasise

Recently, researchers have emphasised that, especially for women, desire can occur largely in response to arousal. If that’s news to you, you could do worse than read Come As You Are by the sex educator Emily Nagoski. Therapists often tell women they can increase flagging interest in sex by fantasising, reading erotica or watching pornography, and research suggests they are right.

Relax

The “fight or flight” system boosts levels of hormones that help us perform better in dangerous situations. It can also undermine nonessential function,s such as digestion, immunity and reproductive drive. Little wonder, then, that if you’re frequently stressed out, you’re rarely in the mood. Yoga, working out or meditation might help.

The drugs don’t (always) work

Research suggests that taking the contraceptive pill can reduce the frequency of sexual thoughts and sex in some women. Alternative methods might be worth considering. Flibanserin became the first drug to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for low sexual desire in women in 2015. Trials suggest it has minimal effects: an extra 0.5-1 satisfying sex sessions a month compared with placebo. Side effects include low blood pressure, fainting and nausea. Viagra, Cialis and Levitra do not increase libido, but help men get erections. This may increase desire by boosting confidence.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to close the female orgasm gap

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Studies show sexual pleasure, self-esteem and satisfaction profoundly impacts our wellbeing. That’s why increasing our ‘sexual IQ’ matters

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In this moment of brave truth telling and female empowerment, it’s time to address one topic that’s been missing far too long from our conversations around sex: female pleasure.

Study after study show that sexual pleasure, self-esteem and satisfaction have profound impacts on our physical and mental wellbeing. It is a natural and vital part of our health and happiness.

As a society, we accept this premise fairly easily when it comes to men and they learn it at a young age. When discovering how babies are made, male ejaculation (ie his pleasure) plays a featured role. Men feel entitled to pleasure and our culture supports that. There are endless nicknames for male anatomy and jokes about masturbation; and TV shows, movies, advertisements and porn all cater to their fantasies.

Women, on the other hand, appear mostly as the object in these fantasies rather than as subjects. In middle school sex ed classes, drawings of female anatomy often don’t even include the clitoris, as if women’s reproductive function is somehow separate from their pleasure. Female pleasure remains taboo and poorly understood. There is little scientific research on the topic and even doctors shy away from discussing it: according to a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, less than 30% of gynecologists routinely ask their patients about pleasure and sexual satisfaction.

This silence has real consequences. Almost 30% of college-age women can’t identify their clitoris on an anatomy test, according to a study from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Another survey by the UK gynecological cancer charity, Eve Appeal, finds that women are more familiar with men’s bodies than their own: while 60% could correctly label a diagram of the male body, just 35% of women correctly labeled female anatomy. (For the record, men scored even worse.)

Lack of sexual health knowledge is associated with lower rates of condom and contraceptive use. It also contributes to pleasure disparities in the bedroom. While gay and straight men climax about 85% of the time during sex, women having sex with women orgasm about 75% of the time and women having sex with men come last at just 63%, research from the Kinsey Institute shows. The reasons for this “orgasm gap” are surely multifaceted, but we can start to address it by talking more about the importance of women’s pleasure.

Let’s talk about what women’s sexual anatomy really looks like, so that we can normalize differences, reduce body shame and improve self-care. We should encourage self-exploration from an early age so that women (and men) learn what feels good to them and how that changes as we move through the different stages of our lives.

Knowing our own bodies can promote our own health and wellbeing, and empower our relationships. The Kinsey study showed that compared to women who orgasmed less frequently, women who experienced more pleasure were more likely to ask for what they want in bed, act out fantasies and praise their partner for something they did in bed, among other things. We can’t talk about what we like or don’t like with our partners if we don’t know ourselves.

In order to cultivate a culture of true gender equality, we need candid conversations and accurate, sex-positive information. Without this, pop culture, pornography and outdated cultural institutions fill in these gaps with unhealthy stereotypes and unrealistic expectations that center on male pleasure and leave women in a supporting role.

Through our willingness to speak openly about sex and to seek out empowering information, we can increase our “sexual IQ” and make more informed choices that will improve our sexual satisfaction, happiness and wellbeing throughout our lives.

As author Peggy Orenstein says “We’ve raised a generation of girls to have a voice, to expect egalitarian treatment in the homes, in the classroom, in the workplace. Now it’s time to demand that ‘intimate justice’ in their personal lives as well.”

Complete Article HERE!

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