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We need to show real photos of genitals as part of sex education

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Labiaplasty is on the rise. Boys and men continue to worry that their penis is too small. Every other week there seems to be a new treatment promising to make your penis longer and harder or your vagina tighter, smoother, and more sparkly.

These treatments prey on our insecurities – our deep, dark worry that there’s something wrong with our genitals. That they’re not ‘normal’.

It’s no wonder we think that, though, when we don’t get to see a range of all the different ways vaginas and penises can look.

If you’re interested in same-sex relationships or, well, sex, you’ll likely get to see a few more genitals that look a bit like yours.

But this only happens once you start getting to the point of stripping down – a point you’re unlikely to reach if you’re so filled with doubt and self-hatred for the appearance of your genitals that you can’t even imagine letting someone else see them.

And for those who exclusively get busy with people of the opposite sex, it’s easy to never see a real-life alternative of your own sex-specific genitals out in the world.

Instead, you see smoothed, Barbie-perfect versions of vaginas and whopping great penises that stay erect for hours in porn.

You see blurred out images online or dainty flowers, or bananas and crude doodles to illustrate their place.

When you never see genitals that look even a tiny bit like yours, you’re going to worry that you’re abnormal, that something’s wrong, that you need to change yourself.

That’s why we need to get in there early, and show students actual photos of actual vaginas and penises.

Not doodles.

Not just vague diagrams of the reproductive system.

Actual photos or – if that greatly offends you for reasons I don’t understand – a wide range of illustrations that shows all the parts of the genitals and all the different ways they can look.

Students should see where the clitoris is, because if they don’t they’ll struggle to give women pleasure or experience it themselves.

Students should understand what a circumcised penis looks like versus an uncircumcised one.

Students should see longer labia, different skin tones, penises that are short and fat, penises that are long and lean. A range of healthy genitals to expand the definition of ‘normal’ in young people’s minds.

‘Relationships and Sex Education is an opportunity to challenge the idea that any one type of body is ‘normal’,’ Lisa Hallgarten, coordinator of the Sex Education Forum, told metro.co.uk.

‘Learning about and celebrating body diversity may start with simply thinking about the different heights; body shapes; hair, eye and skin colour of people we can see around us; and learning about the difference between female and male body parts.

‘When it comes to genitals young people may think their own are unusual or unhealthy because they haven’t seen any images of different bodies, or because many sexual images they have accessed online depict a particular type of body (e.g. men with very large penises and women with hairless, surgically-altered vulvas).

‘Whether we use photographs, anatomical drawings or art works (such as Jamie McCartney’s Great Wall of Vagina) it is essential that any images we show properly represent the great diversity that exists in the shapes and sizes of people’s genitals.’

Hear hear.

Seeing these images before we start having sex or having the power to make changes to our bodies through surgery or other means is incredibly important.

How we view our bodies informs how we view ourselves. It affects our sexual relationships, our decisions, our mental state.

Knowing that our genitals are okay, that there’s nothing wrong, gross, or weird about them just because they don’t match the images we see in porn, will inform healthier sexual decisions, make us more confident, and prevent people from considering drastic measures to ‘fix’ themselves.

As someone who was so self-concious about my vagina that I blamed it for breakups and went to the doctor to beg them to change the appearance of my vulva, I know how powerful learning that your genitals are normal can be.

It’s not just about seeing genitals similar to your own, mind you.

Seeing real, intimate pictures of bits of all genders will make sex significantly less intimidating.

If you’re shown accurate images of all different genitals, you won’t be confused and horrified when you start having sex and are greeted by a penis or vagina that looks entirely unlike the ones you’ve seen in porn.

Adding real images to sex ed will make people more understanding of the range of normal for the opposite sex, too. So boys won’t take the piss out of women’s labia or the size of their vagina*, and girls won’t say cruel things about the size of someone’s penis.**

*No, you can not tell how much sex someone’s had by how tight or loose a vagina feels. No, you should not make up songs about women’s ‘flaps hanging low’.

**No, it’s not cool to tell people your ex has a small dick just because he p*ssed you off.

It’ll make our sex lives better, too. There’ll be a greater understanding of how penises and vaginas work, and lots more pleasure happening when everyone understands where the clitoris is, which bits of the penis are more sensitive, and what to expect when they start going down.

Oh, and knowing the range of normal will make it easier to know when something’s gone a bit wrong.

If we know all the different ways a healthy vagina or penis can look, we’ll be more able to quickly notice a change in appearance or a dodgy symptom – and because we’re not holding on to the heavy worry of ‘what if my entire downstairs area is completely abnormal and the doctor will recoil in horror’, we’ll feel more able to ask for help.

And, of course, openly presenting students with pictures of genitals is all part of chipping away at our general silence and squeamishness around our bits.

Penises and vaginas are not inherently gross, or dirty, or wrong. We should be able to talk about them, ask questions about them, and not feel disgusted or scared when it comes to being presented with their natural states (*cough* periods are not gross, neither is body hair, and ‘vagina’ is not a dirty word *cough*).

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Embracing Your Sexuality (Fetishes & All) Makes You A More Attractive Partner

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Growing into our sexual selves is a lifelong process, like growing up in general. But because we don’t have a lot of language for our sexual lives, we somehow erroneously expect that sex is something we are born knowing how to do. Like any other physical and emotional skill, our sexual capacity to both give and receive pleasure increases with education and practice.

We begin waking up to our emerging erotic consciousness in our early adolescence. This awakening process is mostly subconscious, as our maturing brain connects the powerful arousal mechanism to historic and unresolved painful events and relationships. Like our fingerprints, or the subtle distinctions in our sense of smell—what turns us on sexually is largely outside of our control and often contradicts the way we view ourselves outside of the bedroom.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder that the first and often the most persistent issue for most of us on our sexual journey is reconciling our interests with our sense of what is “normal.” Quite often, sexual discovery tests the boundaries of normalcy. Our sexual selves are the unique, wild streak in us that cannot be contained and whose full pleasure potential cannot be achieved if we try to rein it in.

“Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” —Sydney Harris

Instead of healthy dialogue and reliable information about what it means to become and embrace who we are sexually, our curiosity and confusion about emerging sexuality are often met with archaic teachings, generational discomfort from those we trust, misinformation from our peers, and a complex cultural obsession.

The majority of us never have the opportunity to adequately explore the questions that arise from our earliest adolescent erotic awakening. Maturing beyond our initial discomfort requires education, and real sexual education is hard to come by.

For many young people, low-grade anxiety prevents them from engaging in any real conversations, whether with a friend, doctor, or even their partners about their fears and the obstacles they face sexually. Often, even the more progressive will turn their sexual concerns into a joke, laughing at their discomfort and communicating either that sexual concerns are not to be taken seriously or at least not to be discussed seriously.

What we suppress becomes more powerful. Suppressing our sexual nature only exacerbates our preoccupation with it. Asking honest questions about our sexual selves and being able to get reliable information allows us to use sexual privacy in healthy ways. Studies show that the kids who are given the most sexual education are often the last ones to engage sexually. They don’t need to learn about it by doing it—their theoretical learning allows them to make healthy choices about when and with whom they want to do it.

People who have come to terms with this essential aspect of their being are happier and more satisfied in every other aspect of their life as well.

Likewise, adults who move beyond their adolescent sexual anxiety through education gain not only the courage to take ownership of their erotic preferences but also the skills to engage in sexual behavior that is consistently pleasurable. Sexually mature adults are not waiting for someone else to make them feel sexy or give them permission to explore the range of their sexual function.

Taking full responsibility for their own sexual needs allows them to also be truly responsive to the sexual needs of others, which makes them attractive partners that tend to stay partnered. Aspiring to sexual maturity evokes a host of other essential skills for life—sexually mature adults tend to also be emotionally intelligent and capable of dealing with life changes.

Our sexual selves are often perceived as a locked box of bizarre fantasies and out-of-control impulses toward carnal pleasure. While it’s true that a mature sex life employs these tools for pleasure, working at our sexual evolution is more like developing core strength. Because our erotic identity is so central to who we are, people who have come to terms with this essential aspect of their being are happier and more satisfied in every other aspect of their life as well.

Complete Article HERE!

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Jane Fonda’s frank sex toy talk opens the door for a generation

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By Heidi Stevens

Seventy-nine-year-old Jane Fonda is doing for vibrators what 44-year-old Jane Fonda did for aerobics videos: mainstreaming them.

And not a moment too soon.

The new season of her critically acclaimed Netflix series, “Grace and Frankie,” co-starring Lily Tomlin, sees the two women launch a business selling sex toys for women. If you happen to drive down Vine Street in Hollywood, you might see a giant billboard of Fonda and Tomlin holding ribbed, purple objects under the words “Good vibes” — in case there was any confusion about what they’re holding.

And if you watch “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” you may have happened upon Fonda unveiling a vibrator on daytime TV. (Take that, “The View”!)

“Use it or lose it, right?” Fonda says to DeGeneres, who seems uncharacteristically bewildered.

“Was this something you knew about before the character?” DeGeneres asks. “Before you researched it, was this something you knew about, I mean, were familiar with? Used?”

Fonda offers an emphatic “yes,” before explaining that she owns one vibrator that doubles as a necklace. “It looks like a beautiful piece of silver jewelry.”

Until it doesn’t.

“I applaud her,” said Lauren Streicher, medical director of Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause. “I’ve been trying to talk about this on daytime TV for years, and no one will have any part of it.”

Fifty-two percent of American women use a vibrator, Streicher said, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. And women over 60, in particular, need to know about their benefits.

“Sometimes nerve endings aren’t as sensitive as they used to be, so what did it for you before isn’t going to necessarily do it anymore,” said Streicher, who wrote “Sex Rx: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever” (Dey St.). “In addition, you have a lot of medical conditions — diabetes, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis — that can cause a desensitization of nerve endings, so there is a need for increased stimulation.”

Which may explain why the Carol Wright Gifts catalog — known mostly for its compression support knee-high socks, bunion bandages and denture liners — features a two-page spread of “personal massagers” with such names as Couple’s Raging Bull and The Amazing Butterfly Kiss.

There should be no shame in the vibrator game.

“It’s really just an acknowledgment that women are entitled to pleasure,” Streicher said. “It’s OK for men to have sex and pleasure and to desire that until the day they die, but when you look at women in their 70s talking about sexuality, that’s been something mainstream media has absolutely no interest in.”

Maybe Fonda will help change that.

“I hope so,” Streicher told me. “When I teach medical students, I tell them: Don’t ever say to a woman, ‘Do you have a vibrator?’ That is the wrong question. What you say is, ‘When you use your vibrator …'”

She continued: “When I ask a patient, as part of her history, ‘Are you able to have an orgasm?’ and she says no, I say, ‘How about when you use your vibrator?'”

It lessens the stigma and leads to a more honest discussion, Streicher said.

“We know, at best, maybe 25 percent of women are able to have an orgasm through intercourse alone,” she said. “If men weren’t able to have orgasms and there was a device that made it happen, there would be nothing taboo about it.”

And if Fonda has her way, there won’t be for much longer.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to Talk Openly With Your Kids About Sex

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By Michele Hutchison,Rina Mae Acosta

This spring, Rina’s four-year-old kindergartner Bram Julius will learn about colors, shapes, how to play nicely with other children, and take his first steps towards learning about sexuality at school. In these early sex ed lessons the class will discuss butterflies in your stomach, friendship, and whether or not you’re happy to hold hands with another child. Meanwhile, my nine-year-old daughter Ina will be having class conversations about the physical changes during puberty and romantic relationships.

Each spring, Dutch children between the ages of four and twelve receive a week-long national sex-education program at school. The aim of these lessons is to allow for open, honest discourse about love, relationships, feelings, personal boundaries, and sex. The Dutch approach is even more surprising when I think about the climate I grew up in. Sex-ed was something you were taught at school in an embarrassing biology lesson. You couldn’t talk about it openly. The Dutch national sex-ed school program might seem odd or controversial, especially since a recent CDC study shows that nearly 80% of American children and teenagers do not receive any formal sex and sexuality education before having sex. But given the bigger picture, we think the Dutch are onto something.

The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world while the Dutch have among the lowest—eight times lower than their American counterparts. Research also indicates that, on average, teens in the Netherlands do not have sex at an earlier age than those in the US. This is the case even though Dutch society and parents are more relaxed, even allowing romantic sleepovers in their own homes. If you treat teenagers as if they are mature and responsible enough to make decisions, they might actually live up to those expectations.

It seems that with American children being constantly exposed to sexual content in the media through music videos, prime-time TV, and the internet, American parents anxiously avoid talking to their children about sex in the hope of not exposing them any further. This, in a climate where sexting, sending sexually explicit texts, is becoming increasingly common, even as early as in middle school.

While Dutch schools are providing age-appropriate lessons on intimacy and sexuality, instilling in children a safe code of conduct and respect for others, Dutch parents keep nothing from children. Nothing is taboo. Questions are answered simply and honestly, at the child’s level of understanding and maturity, as they arise. It was one of the first pieces of parenting advice we received from other parents here. Recent questions from my son, Ben, who is just a couple of years shy of becoming a fully-fledged teen, include: “Is sex fun? How?” and “How does a sperm donor get the sperm out?” I have been answering my kids’ questions on anatomy and reproduction from almost as early as they could talk.

Of course, sex can be a tricky, embarrassing topic no matter what culture you’re a part of. But by talking more openly about sex, parents can ease into discussing topics that become more complicated as their children grow older. Topics like gay marriage, sexuality, gender issues, and consent. There’s an added bonus to all this communication: children who have a good relationship with their parents tend to wait longer before having sex.

Like most expats, we were shocked to hear that Dutch parents allow their teenage children to have friends of the opposite sex to stay the night. But here, most teenagers have their first sexual experience in the safety of the parental home—how many Americans can say the same? According to a UNICEF report, 75% of Dutch teenagers use a condom the first time they have sex, and data from the World Health Organization shows that Dutch teens are among the top users of the birth-control pill. So teenage sex is allowed, but preferably in a controlled environment, that is, under the teen’s parents’ own roof. A safe place to have sex encourages safe sex.

Dutch children are well equipped with knowledge about sex before they enter puberty. If they are, the Dutch have learned, they will take fewer risks later on and know how to protect themselves.

It’s no wonder that Dutch kids are considered to be the happiest kids in the world! The Dutch have a very different view of what a child actually is—including accepting the reality that their children will have sex at one point or another . If American parents are anxious to keep their children safe, perhaps it would be better if they, and teachers, were more open about sex after all.

Complete Article HERE!

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Let’s talk about intimacy – and why it makes for better love and sex

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The key to a great relationship is more than physical – it’s about taking off the mask and really revealing yourself

Embracing intimacy – the best way to forge a real connection.

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Is there anything we still need to know about sex? Apparently, yes: and the missing ingredient is a gamechanger not just for individuals, but entire nations.

Sex has been centre-stage in western culture for decades, but what has been absent, according to Adam Wilder, creator of the world’s first Festival of Togetherness, is the magic element that makes it all meaningful.

“The holy grail,” he says, “is intimacy. Intimacy’s the real taboo in our society – it’s the thing we fear, because it’s about taking off the mask that so many of us hide behind. But it’s the key to being freer, happier and more alive and it could change not only our personal lives, but the political decisions we take as a society.”

Wilder hopes his festival, in central London on 20-21 May, will herald “the next revolution we need to embark on – a revolution that will transform everything we thought we knew about sex”.

Sex and intimacy, says Wilder, are closely connected. But in the decades since the sexual revolution of the 1960s the focus has been more and more on sex and less and less on intimacy. “Of course, you can have sex without intimacy, just as you can have intimacy without sex. But when you put the two together you have an experience that is in a different ballpark when it comes to fulfilment,” he says. “The problem is, people are afraid of intimacy, they’re afraid to articulate the desires that could lead to real intimacy – but if we don’t articulate those desires we will never experience the potential of a relationship.”

So scary is the word intimacy, says Wilder, that he has shied away from using it while planning his festival. “When I talk to people about it, I talk mostly about human connection, about enriching relationships and about togetherness, because these are words people seem more comfortable with.”

The festival focuses on learning the skills the organisers say are essential to allowing ourselves to practise intimacy. “But this isn’t hippy stuff: what I’m interested in is ordinary people who don’t like words like ‘consciousness’ and ‘tantra’,” says Wilder. “I want to make intimacy more visible in our culture, and that means drawing everyone in. Intimacy is something everyone can gain from, whether they are in a relationship or not.”

The movie Lost in Translation, starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, has much to share about intimacy, says Wilder. The plot centres on a growing closeness between an ageing movie star and a young college graduate that far outweighs the connection she feels for her husband, a photographer who is away on an assignment.

The festival’s highlights include a “cuddle workshop” that, according to the programme, promises to “explore touch outside the sexual realm”, a session on “mindfulness for better sex” and a session on language and communication skills that help build intimacy into relationships. One of the most exciting workshops, Wilder hopes, is called the Soulmate Delusion.

“There is this idea in Disney films that so many of us buy into, that’s about connecting with one person who is right for you, and who will change your life. But the truth is, that’s a view that is a really damaging for relationships in the 21st century. As soon as things start to go wrong you think, uh-oh, he’s not my  soulmate.”

Wilder’s event seems to be tapping into a broader zeitgeist. Last week saw the launch of the Amorist, writer Rowan Pelling’s new magazine, which aims “to counter the modern tendency to see sex through a purely functional prism”.

… and they all lived happily ever after. Nice idea, but you have to work on it.

Pelling agrees with Wilder that intimacy, not sex, is fundamental. “Is sex better with intimacy? The answer is almost always yes. I’m really shocked by how many people say they’ve never been to bed with someone who looked them in the eye, particularly at the point of orgasm. Of course there’s something about people being in their box and having fantasies during sex, but if people are having a lifetime of sex without eye contact, it’s an indication of how common it is to be physically close to someone, yet remain disconnected.

“There’s something peculiarly British about it. What it means is you can have had many lovers, yet not ever had something as fundamental as intimate sex.”

Wilder says feelings of isolation and a lack of true human connection have fed into the seismic political shifts that produced Brexit and elected Donald Trump as US president. That is the view, too, of philosopher Shahidha Bari of the Institute of Art and Ideas, who is one of the people behind an event called Love in the Time of Tinder taking place this weekend in Hay-on-Wye.

Amid talks, debates and workshop about the meaning of love, whether it can be chemically engineered and how it can be used to change society, the weekend also encompasses the idea that these things matter in a global, and not just a personal, landscape.

“If we can get love right in our individual lives, we might start to get things better in the political arena,” says Bari. “We think of love these days as an app on our phones, but in fact it’s a model of ethical relationships.

“There’s something miraculous about love, which allows us to care for someone to whom we are not genetically related. Love isn’t some sentimental thing, it’s about recognising this miracle for what it is, and learning from it for the rest of our lives.”

Complete Article HERE!

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