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What do men really think about sex? This is why we need better education

We asked men how they learned about sex, and found that puerility and pornography have always trumped the facts. Mandatory sex education is most welcome

‘Alan, now aged 79, was evacuated to the countryside at the age of five – and spotted a bull mounting a cow. “It was a significant part of my sex education,” he said.’

It was announced this month that sex and relationship education is to become mandatory in schools for children aged four to 15. About time too. It’s never been easy for children who have wanted to learn credible information about sex.

We’ve recently been interviewing men for a project to find out what they really think, feel and do about sex, and found the early information they received was, in many cases, baffling. “Women don’t like it,” Bill was told as a teenager in the 1960s, “but you can do it all the same … [and] you only do it on Sundays when the children are out.”

Back in the 1940s, communicative adults were hard to come by, and children had to solve the mystery by themselves. Alan, aged 79, was evacuated from London to the countryside, aged five. There he spotted a large bull mounting a cow. “It was very significant,” he said. “I have never forgotten it.”

At primary school Bill, now 75, believed boys stood behind girls to do “it” (he was basing this on his observation of dogs). He was hugely embarrassed when told to stand behind a girl in a school folk-dance performance. “I thought that was very dirty.”

It was a rare grown-up who suggested that sex might be something pleasant, or something to look forward to; rather, a child’s sex education was more likely to elicit feelings of fear, danger and shame – and would often involve a lonely search for the facts. By the late 1950s, parental guidance was still fairly non-existent. At 14, Michael remembered finding a “dirty book” belonging to his father: “The Kama Sutra was an excellent source of information, but often mind-boggling too … the contortions! The big penises! And the pleasure shown on women’s faces. I couldn’t believe it could be like that!”

‘The Kama Sutra was an excellent source of information – but mind-boggling, too!’

While Michael was studying the Kama Sutra, the only sex still being taught in the classroom involved plants and rabbits, and was often expressed in Latin. Several more decades were to pass before human genitalia and procreation were bravely described in English. Not until the early 1990s did the national curriculum specify that sex education must be taught. But just the mechanics. Nothing about relationships. And making the subject even more shambolic was the decision that each school could have its own individual policy, and each teacher was stuck with their own capabilities, experiences, terrors and confusions in conveying this information.

The easy way out was to explain that sex happened “when people loved each other and wanted babies”. Pleasure, variety and consent were rarely mentioned. But some teachers bravely tried to further enlighten the children. In 1994, in his last year of junior school, Dean, who was then aged 10, went to a sex education lesson in which his teacher tried her very best to take an innovative, practical and robust approach.

“Miss Woods asked the class if they knew of any ‘barrier methods’. I didn’t really know what they were, but someone said ‘condoms’. Miss Woods said, ‘Yes, anything else?’ Then a boy called Dave said, ‘You can get them with feathers on the end, Miss.’ Miss Woods looked cross, and said, ‘No you can’t’ – but Dave went on and on, saying, ‘Yes you can, they’re called French ticklers, I read in my Mum’s book. It had pictures in,’ and then Miss butted in, and said ‘Nonsense’, so Dave had to shut up.”

Here was Miss Wood’s chance to grasp the nettle. But even then, in the late 20th century, she could not. Although bolder than many teachers, she was still not able to respond to any surprises that might crop up.

Even if teachers now manage to describe sex as pleasant, it sometimes seems to frighten and shock, rather than enthuse the children. Informed, six years ago, by a comparatively enlightened teacher, that people had sex “because it felt lovely”, eight-year-old George was horrified. “Miss made a terrible mistake,” he told his Grandma, with great authority and concern. “She said it felt nice! She’s got it really wrong!”

Age specificity hadn’t really been thought through. Slightly older, more intrepid boys, sensing that they still weren’t quite getting at the truth, or any satisfactory explanations – either from each other, or from adults – now gained access to a greater selection of more flamboyant, salacious, almost cartoonish information: porn.

“I think as boys we’d seen a few porno films here and there,” said Jason. “The first stuff I saw was on a video. I was 13, and the tape started doing the rounds – we thought that was the way you did it.”

As the years have passed, and porn has become more widely available online, younger and younger children have been seeing such imagery. In 2001, Jack, then aged 10, learned about sex from pornography. “Everyone was looking at it,” he said. “That’s how I found out I was gay. I didn’t want to look at the girls.”

Despite the overwhelming flood of pornography – and the continuing lack of guidance – there do appear to be a few glimmers of hope. The importance of relationships and feelings is now creeping into sex education at last, and it is a relief to find the idea of consent has surfaced. Many of the young men interviewed in the BBC3 documentary Sex on Trial were sympathetic when shown footage of a young woman whose consent had not been clearly given. In fact, they were more sympathetic than the young women. That’s reason to be hopeful, at least where young men are concerned.

Unfortunately, most sex education is still passed between children themselves, taught by the “naughty” peers who seem to have found out more than anyone else. Or are pretending that they have. Boasting has always been, and still seems to be for many boys, the beginning of proving that you are a proper man. Frequency, volume, conquest and size still matter to them. How are young men to understand women if they have never been taught to understand themselves, and the people teaching them have been taught even less?

Hopefully the new national curriculum mandatory sex education plans will bring about change for the better. It might help if lessons could be conducted in small groups, with the sexes separated. It would need to be age-appropriate, of course – with less emphasis on the mechanical details, and more on the importance of relationships, with appropriately trained teachers, prepared for anything the children might say, know or have experienced. They also need to be unshockable.

Complete Article HERE!

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!

When a Partner Dies, Grieving the Loss of Sex

By

After Alice Radosh’s husband of 40 years died in 2013, she received, in addition to the usual condolences, countless offers of help with matters like finances, her car and household repairs. But no one, not even close friends or grief counselors, dared to discuss a nagging need that plagues many older women and men who outlive their sexual partners.

Dr. Radosh, 75 and a neuropsychologist by training, calls it “sexual bereavement,” which she defines as grief associated with losing sexual intimacy with a long-term partner. The result, she and her co-author Linda Simkin wrote in a recently published report, is “disenfranchised grief, a grief that is not openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned and publicly shared.”

“It’s a grief that no one talks about,” Dr. Radosh, a resident of Lake Hill, N.Y., said in an interview. “But if you can’t get past it, it can have negative effects on your physical and emotional health, and you won’t be prepared for the next relationship,” should an opportunity for one come along.

Yes, dear readers of all ages and the children of aging parents, many people in their golden years still have sexual urges and desires for intimacy that go unfulfilled when a partner becomes seriously ill or dies.

“Studies have shown that people are still having and enjoying sex in their 60s, 70s and 80s,” Dr. Radosh said. “They consider their sexual relationship to be an extremely important part of their lives. But when one partner dies, it’s over.”

In a study of a representative national sample of 3,005 older American adults, Dr. Stacy Tessler Lindau and co-authors found that 73 percent of those ages 57 to 64, 53 percent of those 65 to 74 and 26 percent of those 75 to 85 were still sexually active.

Yet a report published by the United Kingdom’s Department of Health in 2013, the National Service Framework for Older People, “makes no mention of the problems related to sexual issues older people may face,” Dr. Radosh and Ms. Simkin wrote in the journal Reproductive Health Matters. “Researchers have even suggested that some health care professionals might share the prejudice that sex in older people is ‘disgusting’ or ‘simply funny’ and therefore avoid discussing sexuality with their older patients.”

Dr. Radosh and Ms. Simkin undertook “an exploratory survey of currently married women” that they hope will stimulate further study of sexual bereavement and, more important, reduce the reluctance of both lay people and health professionals to speak openly about this emotionally and physically challenging source of grief.

As one therapist who read their journal article wrote, “Two of my clients have been recently widowed and felt that they were very unusual in ‘missing sex at my age.’ I will use your article as a reference for these women.”

Another wrote: “It got me thinking of ALL the sexual bereavement there is, through being single, through divorce, through disinterest and through what I am experiencing, through prostatectomy. It is not talked about.”

Prior research has “documented that physicians/counselors are generally uncomfortable discussing sex with older women and men,” the researchers noted. “As a result, such discussions either never happen or happen awkwardly.” Even best-selling memoirs about the death of a spouse, like Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking,” fail to discuss the loss of sexual intimacy, Dr. Radosh said.

Rather than studying widows, she and Ms. Simkin chose to question a sampling of 104 currently partnered women age 55 and older, lest their research add to the distress of bereaved women by raising a “double taboo of death and sex.”

They cited a sarcastic posting from a woman who said she was not a good widow because “a good widow does not crave sex. She certainly doesn’t talk about it…. Apparently, I stink at being a good widow.”

The majority of survey participants said they were currently sexually active, with 86 percent stating that they “enjoyed sex,” the researchers reported. Nearly three in four of the women thought they would miss sex if their partner died, and many said they would want to talk about sex with friends after the death. However, “76 percent said they would want friends to initiate that discussion with them,” rather than bringing it up themselves.

Yet, the researchers found, “even women who said they were comfortable talking about sex reported that it would not occur to them to initiate a discussion about sex if a friend’s partner died.” The older the widowed person, the less likely a friend would be willing to raise the subject of sex. While half of respondents thought they would bring it up with a widowed friend age 40 to 49, only 26 percent would think to discuss it with someone 70 to 79 and only 14 percent if the friend was 80 or older.

But even among young widows, the topic is usually not addressed, said Carole Brody Fleet of Lake Forest, Calif., the author of “Happily Even After” who was widowed at age 40. In an interview she said, “No one brought up my sexuality.” Ms. Fleet, who conducts workshops for widowed people, is forthright in bringing up sex with attendees, some of whom may think they are “terrible people” for even considering it.

She cited “one prevailing emotion: Guilt. Widows don’t discuss the loss of sexual intimacy with friends or mental health professionals because they feel like they’re cheating. They think, ‘How can I feel that?’ But you’re not cheating or casting aspersions on your love for the partner who died.

“You can honor your past, treasure it, but you do not have to live in your past. It’s not an either-or situation. You can incorporate your previous life into the life you’re moving into. People have an endless capacity to love.”

However, Ms. Fleet, who remarried nine years after her husband died, cautioned against acting precipitously when grieving the loss of sexual intimacy. “When you’re missing physical connection with another person, you can make decisions that are not always in your best interest,” she said. “Sex can cloud one’s judgment. Maybe you’re just missing that. It helps to take sex out of the equation and reassess the relationship before becoming sexually intimate.”

Dr. Radosh urges the widowed to bring up grief over the loss of sexual intimacy with a therapist or in a bereavement group. She said, “Even if done awkwardly, make it part of the conversation. Let close friends know this is something you want to talk about. There is a need to normalize this topic.”

Complete Article HERE!

Time for a Sexual Revolution In Health Care Treatment

Why is care for sexual health issues considered a luxury when it’s a necessary part of population health?

By Zachary Hafner

When Americans seek care for most common health conditions, there is rarely much question about coverage. Every day, consumers—including those on Medicaid and Medicare—seek care for sore joints, depression, and even acne without worrying about whether or not their insurance will cover their doctor visits and medications. For the most part, coverage for sexual health issues is less straightforward—but why? Is it because sexual health issues are not considered legitimate illnesses? Because the costs are significant? Or is it because raising the topic of sexual health can offend certain personal and organizational values? Whatever the reason, it is time for a change.

It’s hard to deny the human and economic burden of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) on this country. The CDC estimates that 110 million Americans are infected with an STI, resulting in direct medical costs of $16 billion annually. The most common and fastest growing STI in this country is human papillomavirus (HPV), and it is estimated that half of sexually active men and women will get HPV at some point in their lives. In 2006, a vaccine for HPV was introduced and now there are several. CDC guidelines recommend administering a multi-dose series, costing about $250–450, to all boys and girls at age 11 or 12. (Some states require the vaccine for school admission.) It was included in mandatory coverage under the ACA. Since the HPV vaccine was first recommended in 2006 there has been a 64% reduction in vaccine-type HPV infections among teen girls in the United States.

It seems clear that this kind of care for sexual health is necessary for public health and is also part of caring for the whole individual, a central tenet of population health. But what about sexual health care that doesn’t involve infectious disease? Is it still a population health issue if there’s no communicable disease involved?

Let’s take erectile dysfunction (ED) for example. It is nearly as common in men over 40 as HPV is in the general population—more than half of men over 40 experience some level of ED, and more than 23 million American men have been prescribed Viagra. With a significant portion of the population suffering from ED, is it important for payers and providers to consider ED treatment to be essential health care and to cover it accordingly? Medications like Viagra and Cialis are an expensive burden at upwards of $50 per pill. Medicare D does not cover any drugs for ED, but some private insurers do when the medications are deemed medically necessary by a doctor. A handful of states require them to do so, but they are typically listed as Tier 3 medications—nonessential and with the highest co-pays.

Almost 7 million American women have used infertility services. Coverage for infertility diagnosis and treatment is not mandated by the ACA, though 15 states require commercial payers to provide various levels of coverage. The cost of infertility treatments is highly variable depending on the methods used but in vitro fertilization treatments, as one measure, average upward of $12,000 per attempt.

Are treatments for ED and infertility elective or necessary? In an age of consumerism and heightened attention to the whole patient across a broader continuum of care, organizations that support the availability of a broad set of sexual health services to a diverse group of consumers will have a big competitive advantage, but they may face challenges balancing the costs. Health care has advanced in both technical and philosophical ways that allow people to manage their diseases, cure their problems, and overcome limitations. It has also shone light on the significant advantages to considering a diagnosis in the context of the whole individual—their social and emotional health as well as coexisting conditions. Studies have shown, for example, that infertility, ED, and STIs all have a significant relationship with depression and anxiety.

It’s time sexual health was folded in to the broader definition of wellness instead of marginalized as a separate issue. For too many Americans, it’s too big an issue not to address.

Complete Article HERE!

Sex and parenthood for people with disabilities

By Kristin Linton

Do people with disabilities have sex? Should they marry and have children?

As part of a research project, Emily Hops, a graduate of CSU Channel Islands, and I interviewed eight college students with disabilities about their general experiences with intimacy and sexual health last spring.

Each student expressed his or her own internal struggle with whether or not they should bear children themselves.

One said, “Is it selfish to have a kid? Even if your kid doesn’t have a disability, are you putting that burden on that kid to one day take care of you because you have a disability?”

Some students shared stories about professionals, even teachers, who dissuaded them from developing intimate relationships with others.

Even though California passed the Healthy Youth Act of 2015, which mandates adapted sex education for students with disabilities, I wonder if we have fully embraced the sexual rights of people with disabilities — especially considering California’s dark past with something called the “eugenics movement.”

Eugenics is essentially selective breeding in order to increase the occurrence of desirable inherited characteristics. California was a leader in the eugenics movement, which resulted in the sexual sterilization of 20,000 people in the state between 1909 and 1979. Seventy percent of those sterilized without their consent had various disabilities, spanning from schizophrenia to a casual diagnosis of being “feeble-minded.”

With a total of 60,000 sterilizations across the U.S., California was responsible for a third of all the procedures. Castrations and tubal ligations were common procedures performed. Some even argue that the U.S. led the way for Nazi Germany’s mass use of sexual sterilizations during the Holocaust.

Along with sexual sterilization laws in the eugenics movement came laws prohibiting marriage between people with disabilities, with the assumption being that reproduction was the reason for marriage.

California passed an annulment law, which specifically stated physical or mental capacity and consent as reasons for deeming a marriage null and void.

While there were other reasons that a marriage could be annulled, physical and mental capacity as well as lack of consent were the only reasons that involved third parties, such as parents or physicians.

These third parties could argue that either the bride or groom was “physically incapable of entering into the marriage state” or “was of unsound mind” at the time of marriage, and the marriage could be annulled.

If third parties were aware of a couple with disabilities planning a marriage, those third parties could make an argument about the incapacity of the bride and/or groom before the marriage date and shut it down altogether. In the early 1900s, 28 percent of marriages were annulled on these grounds.

The law is still on the books. Although rarely enforced today, these reasons for annulment remain in the wording of California Family Code Section 2210.

Not only is marriage annulment due to disability still lawful, but our history of perceiving people with disabilities as “asexual” beings still lives on today.

My hope is that we can learn to appreciate all people with disabilities as sexual beings with full sexual citizenship in hopes that they themselves do not question their own rights as human beings.

Complete Article HERE!