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Lust, sex and the middle-aged woman

Women’s sexuality doesn’t die with age, but the level of their desire is diverse.

By Margaret Jennings

She seemed to have it all: a loving family, successful career and beautiful home.

Then Yvonne Carmichael jeopardised everything by having a torrid affair with a random stranger, ripping apart the cosy trajectory of her life.

Yvonne is the lead character in a BBC1 mini-series currently steaming up our TV screens, called Apple Tree Yard.

And while the storyline takes us from the joys of lust to the darkness of rape, it’s rare to see a 50-something female take centre stage in such scenes.

Midlife affairs are usually the reserve of testosterone-driven, crisis-ridden males — as if females have no such needs — or so the media world would have us believe.

Apple Tree Yard, a dramatised version of a novel by Amanda Coe, challenges pre-conceived ideas about middle-age sex.

It not only affirms that it’s OK for older women to be sexually expressive, it annihilates the myth that we become “invisible” and asexual just because we are ageing.

The four-part psychological thriller has prompted a lively debate on this issue and 50-year — old actress Emily Watson, who plays Yvonne, has commented: “Your sexuality doesn’t die with your age. You don’t have to apologise for it.”

The idea that our sexuality can be compartmentalised as non-existent, especially as we are living longer more vital lives, seems absurd.

While Yvonne’s torrid affair illustrates this explicitly, it also raises the issue of how our latent sexual urges are perfectly ripe to be reignited at this stage of life, depending on our circumstances and responses.

“Many women of 50 and beyond succumb to a flagging libido, more difficult arousal and maybe a stale, longtime relationship, by retreating from sex.

“Then they meet someone new and — bam — they feel the excitement that they thought they had left far behind,” says Joan Price, a US author and blogger on senior sexuality.

“They feel on fire. Their sex drive — which they thought was dormant — goes into overdrive. It can be quite an amazing and delicious experience. It can also be bewildering and guilt-filled, if a woman has an affair when she’s in a committed, monogamous relationship.”

Price, now 72, has first- hand experience of this herself: “I was 57 when I met the man who would become my husband and great love. I had been single for decades, with occasional relationships that didn’t go anywhere — and long dry spells.

“It was distressing, because I knew I was a vibrant, sexual being, but after menopause I seemed invisible to the men I met. Many women report that they feel the same. How glorious it is then, when we meet the right person and that person is as electrified as we are!”

The on-screen electricity between research scientist and grandmother-to-be Yvonne, and her handsome lover, Mark Costley (played by Ben Chaplin), is an endorsement of this passionate potential, but is there something missing in our relationship if we yearn to seek those sparks elsewhere?

Sex in relationships is not just about sex, but about the connect between a woman and her partner, says Lisa O’Hara, a couple counsellor with Dublin-based clinic Mind and Body Works.

“If lack of libido is an issue for a couple attending for counselling, it can be part of a wider discontent than just the sexual connection. There may be a loss of closeness in general and resentments by the woman towards the partner that have built up over years, which have gone unaddressed.

“If these are addressed in therapy and things improve, sex may be back once again.”

However, some of her midlife female clients do develop a stronger curiosity about their own desires and fantasies, once free of fear of pregnancy or of other lifestyle issues that had got in the way, says O’Hara.

“Some say ‘I’m out of here’. It totally depends on their unique circumstances and how they feel about themselves.”

The myth that we become less sexual as we age was recently explored in research among women aged 55 to 81, titled Sex, Desire and Pleasure: Considering the experiences of older Australian Women.

Research author Bianca Fileborn, a lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales, tells Feelgood: “One of the key findings from our research was that women are really diverse — there’s certainly not one way that older women are ‘doing’ sexuality and sexual desire in mid to later life.

Emily Watson’s as character Yvonne Carmichael in the BBC production of ‘Apple Tree Yard’.

“In fact quantitative research carried out in western countries pretty consistently shows that a significant number of older people remain sexually active — usually a majority — at least until they reach ‘deep’ old age, in their 80s and 90s. But even then, a large minority still have sex.

“Another key finding for us was that women’s desire for sex didn’t depend necessarily on how older they were, but what else was going on their lives that influenced them.”

Irish sexologist Emily Power Smith says she knows women of all ages who, although they’re living with chronic illness and pain, are “determined to find ways to feel sexual”.

“Women who enjoy sex will have sexual desire right to the end of their lives and will find creative ways to keep that spark. But I also work with a number of women in their 50s and above, who want to know what all the fuss is about, because they could quite easily never have sex again.

“Inevitably it transpires that they have never really enjoyed sex. As they begin to discover their ability to feel sexual pleasure and arousal, their drives tend to increase.”

ONCE we are leading healthy lives low libido seems more related to the kind of sex we are having, rather than our age, she says.

“I know many young fertile women who hate sex and many older women, post menopause, who love it. Increasingly, there is research to show that older women embarking on new relationships report no reduction whatsoever in their sexual desire.”

Whatever about the complex rich reality of older women’s everyday sex lives, the screening of Apple Tree Yard may nudge the film and media world towards a more rounded representation of the mature female in all her sensual glory.

And perhaps even encourage women to explore their own sexuality more.

There is a growing posse of sexy women in their 50s and older decades, gracing the fashion and beauty world, in recent times, apart from the fact that some of the original supermodels of the ’90s, such as Cindy Crawford, Elle Macpherson and Linda Evangelista are already past the half century mark.

This year’s Pirelli calendar also sees photographer Peter Lindbergh tap into the zeitgeist, describing the make-up free portraits of his subjects as a “cry against perfection and youth”.

Some of the high-achieving women he chose to feature were actresses Julianne Moore, 56, Charlotte Rampling, 70, and Helen Mirren, 71.

However, despite this celebration of our vitality as we age, we still may have some catching up to do as individuals, says Power Smith.

“Women do a lot of self-policing when it comes to behaviour, dress and dating over a certain age. I think we are so conditioned to believe our lives are over once we’re 50 — though this is changing slowly — we get very troubled at the thought of our peers wearing short skirts, or dating younger people. But the rules don’t serve us. They never did.

“Only now some of us have the financial freedom, confidence and ability to create new norms. So come on! Let’s break some rules!”

Apple Tree Yard, BBC One, Sunday February 5, 9pm

10 ways to feel sexy

Senior sexpert, author and blogger, Joan Price, gives us these 10 tips for hot sex after 50:

1. Slo-o- o-w- w down. It takes longer for us to warm up, and this intensifies as we get older. Make the warm-up phase of sex play last hours… or days.

2. Appreciate, decorate, and celebrate your body. Jewellery, lingerie, feathers, fringe, silk, velvet, massage oil, candlelight — whatever looks good and feels good. If you know you look sexy, you’ll feel sexy.

3. Learn what you like. Explore, experiment. If you’re partnered, communicate what you like.

4. Do sexy things on your own to get in the mood long before you get naked. Work out. Swim. Dance. Fantasise a sexy scene. Spend some time humming with a vibrator, reading erotica, or watching porn — or all of these.

5. Have sex during high energy times, when your arousal is strongest, whether solo or partnered.

6. If you’re partnered, kiss and kiss. Kiss sweetly, passionately, quickly, slowly, contentedly, hungrily, lightly. All kinds of kisses help you bond with your partner, warm up, and enjoy the moment.

7. Explore sex toys and other erotic helpers, alone and/or with a partner. Lucky for us that sex toys are easy to find, fun to try, and wow, do they work!

8. Use a silky lubricant. There are many different lubricants made specifically for sex that feel great and enhance (or bring back) the joy of friction. Make applying lubricant an erotic part of sex play.

9. Enjoy the afterglow. If you’re partnered, indulge in quality snuggle time.

Solo, don’t get back to your daily life right away — bask in your feelings of wellbeing.

10. Laugh a lot. Laughter is joyful, ageless — and sexy.

Complete Article HERE!

Contraception influences sexual desire in committed relationships

The role of human sex outside of reproduction remains something of an evolutionary mystery. But scientists believe that it is partly about tying the parties in the relationship together.

By Liv Ragnhild Sjursen

How often women in heterosexual couples desire sex depends on how committed the relationship is and what type of birth control the woman uses.

Sex is quite wonderful when the goal is to have children. But sex can also serve as a “glue” in a committed relationship.

Most animals have periods when they come into heat, and outside of these periods they don’t find sex interesting at all.

Humans, however, are constantly interested in sex. This interest can seem like a waste of energy, but an evolutionary perspective may explain why we function this way.

More sex with progesterone and commitment

A new study from NTNU and the University of New Mexico confirm that sex is important for pair–bonding between men and women in relationships.

The researchers also found a correlation between the type of oral contraceptive women use and how often couples have sex.

The findings were recently published in the scientific journal Evolution & Human Behavior.

“The function of sex in humans outside ovulation is an evolutionary mystery. But we believe that it has to do with binding the parties in the relationship together,” says Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, a professor of psychology at NTNU.

Kennair worked with Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, Nick Grebe and University of New Mexico Professor Steve Gangestad to ask hundreds of Norwegian heterosexual women about contraception, sex and relationships.

Their results show that of women in long-term relationships and who are using hormonal contraception, those who are more committed to their relationships have more sex with partners, as one might expect.

“But this association was especially true when the contraceptive that women used had potent levels of synthetic hormones that mimic the effects of the natural hormone progesterone, and lower levels of the hormone oestrogen,” Gangestad said.

“We’re talking about intercourse here, not other types of sex like oral sex, masturbation and such. This strengthens the idea that sex outside the ovulation phase has a function besides just pleasure,” says Grøntvedt.

Big differences between types of contraceptives

Hormonal contraceptives, like birth control pills, implantable rods and patches, contain two types of hormones:

Oestrogen, which naturally peaks just before ovulation when naturally cycling women can conceive offspring, and hormones that have the same effect as progesterone, which naturally peaks during the extended sexual phase, a time when offspring cannot be conceived.

The levels of each hormone type vary in different contraceptives. Hence, some contraceptives mimic hormones that are more characteristic of ovulation, whereas others mimic hormones when women can’t conceive.

The women who used contraception with more oestrogen were most sexually active when they were in a less committed relationship.

On the other hand, women who used contraception with more progesterone were the most sexually active when they were faithful and loyal to their partners.

“Before we did this study, we didn’t know how much difference there was between the two types of hormonal contraceptives,” says Grøntvedt.

A credible holistic picture

The researchers surveyed two groups of women. All the women were using hormonal contraception and were in committed, heterosexual relationships.

One group consisted of 112 women that researchers followed over a 12-week period. The women were asked how often and when in their cycle they had sex.

The second sample group consisted of 275 women in long–term relationships who used hormonal contraception.

This group was not followed over time, but the researchers asked them how many times they had had sex in the past week. This type of study – using data collected at a specific point in time – is called a cross-sectional study.

Both groups were asked to indicate the type of contraception they were using, and if a pill, which brand it was.

“Since we examined these two groups using different methods – a snapshot for the one group and a longitudinal study for the other – we can be confident that the results provide a reliable overall picture,” Grøntvedt said.

Natural or synthetic hormones had similar effects

The basis for the NTNU study was a 2013 American study, where 50 women and their partners answered a series of questions about their relationships, menstrual cycles and frequency of sex.

None of these women were using any kind of hormonal contraception, so only their natural hormones were involved.

The study showed that women initiated sex more in the extended sexual phase – when they were not ovulating and progesterone was the dominant hormone – if they were invested in the relationship.

NTNU researchers wanted to verify the American results in their study, but with participants who were using a hormonal contraceptive that simulates a natural cycle.

Their results were the same as in the US study, in which women were not using any hormonal birth control.

The researchers were thus able to show that how often women have sex is linked to how committed they feel towards their partner and the type of hormone they are governed by, whether natural or synthetic.

“A lot of social psychology studies that have led to cool discoveries through the ages have lost status, because it hasn’t been possible to copy them and verify the results.”

“We are extremely pleased to have been able to verify the results of the study by Grebe and his colleagues, and we are equally pleased that we have also made new discoveries,” Kennair says.

Complete Article HERE!

Should Shame Be Used to Treat Sexual Compulsions?

By

The concept of “sex addiction” has become deeply embedded in our culture — people toss the term around pretty easily, and it’s the subject of TV shows, documentaries, and a profitable cottage industry of treatment centers. The problem is, as Science of Us has noted before, the scientific evidence for sex addiction being similar to alcohol or drug addiction is very, very thin, and it may be the case that people who believe or are told they have sex addiction actually have other stuff going on.

And yet, it’s undoubtedly the case that many people show up at therapists’ offices worried about sexual behavior that feels compulsive. How do therapists who are skeptical of the idea of sex addiction deal with these patients? That’s the question at the center of an interesting article in SELF by Zahra Barnes.

Barnes does a good job laying out the strong majority view that “sex addiction” shouldn’t be viewed in the same way as other, more scientifically validated forms of addiction, and she also contrasts the way different sorts of therapists deal with sexually compulsive behavior. As she explains, therapists who hew to the majority view often take a “harm reduction” approach to patients who are complaining of compulsive behavior.

“It’s humanistic, meaning it privileges the subjective experience of a person and doesn’t try to apply some external model on what they’re describing, and it’s culturally libertarian, meaning as long as they’re not hurting anyone, you allow people to behave the way that they want and give them the space to do it,” said Michael Aaron, Ph.D., a sex therapist in New York City and author of Modern Sexuality.]

This method can work for people troubled by their sexual urges and those with compulsive sexual behavior. “Rather than trying to change something, we need to acknowledge it and embrace it,” Aaron says. He offers the example of someone who has fantasies of traumatizing children sexually or being sexually violent toward women: “The harm reduction approach asks, can you play out some of these themes with a consenting partner?” The aim is to satisfy these desires with a willing partner instead of suppressing them, which can just make them stronger, he explains.

Therapists who do believe in the addiction model work differently, and where this difference manifests itself most strongly is in their approach to shame. While Aaron and other harm-reduction researchers try to stay away from shaming their patients, which they say can worsen compulsive behaviors, believers in the sex-addiction model see things differently:

“Sex addicts need to feel some shame about what they’re doing, because they are shameless. When people are shameless, they rape and murder and steal and pillage and get into politics,” [says Alexandra Katehakis, clinical director of the Center for Healthy Sex.]. But this is different from shaming someone, she says. “Shaming in an unprincipled way is out of bounds [for a mental health professional],” she explains. That would include saying or even implying that someone is disgusting based on what they’re doing. Rather, she asks questions designed to make someone reflect on what their actions have wrought, like, “What do you think that feels like for your partner?” It’s helpful, not damaging, she explains, because, “It challenges them to see what they’re doing, and it brings them into the reality of their behavior.”

It seems like one of the key philosophical differences here is the question of the extent to which people can control their most primal sexual urges. The therapists who don’t believe in sex addiction appear to view people’s sexual preferences (for lack of a better term given they probably aren’t preferences) in a holistic context — if people are “acting out” sexually in a way that harms others, it could be because of other stuff going on in their lives. You address the behavior by addressing the root causes. The believers, on the other hand, focus more on the urges and finding ways to address the behavior and urges in and of themselves.

These approaches aren’t fully compatible, so it’s no surprise there’s tension between the majority of sex researchers who don’t believe in the addiction model and the minority who do.

Complete Article http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2017/01/should-shame-be-used-to-treat-sexual-compulsions.html!

3D-printed sex organs help blind students learn about sexual health

3D-printing technology is letting blind students experience comprehensive, accessible sex ed for the first time ever.

3D-printed sex organs help blind students learn about sexual health

By Katie Dupere

Advocates and researchers collaborated to create more than 18 3D figures that model sex organs during a various states of arousal. They range from a flaccid penis to a dilated vaginal opening, allowing students to “feel” their way though sexual health lessons.

While it may be a NSFW (let alone not-safe-for-school) endeavor, these models are game-changers for blind students who often need to learn about sexual health through verbal instruction alone.

Sex ed classes overall often rely on dull videos and static illustrations, and while that type of stale education is a disservice to all students, it presents a unique problem for blind students.

“That approach does a blind student no good whatsoever because they, of course, cannot see the pictures and videos.” Dr. Gaylen Kapperman, a professor at Northern Illinois University who was involved with the project, told Mashable via email.

Studies show that 61% of blind adults or those with low vision say their vision status had a negative impact on the way they were able to participate in sex education.

It’s a gap advocates and researchers at Benetech, a nonprofit organization specializing in tech for good, set out to solve by creating these models of various penises and vulvas.

“3D models are the only types of models that make any sense to blind people,” Kapperman said. “Many people believe that if you provide raised-lined 2D tactile pictures of sex organs that blind people will be able to generalize this information. [That approach] makes no sense whatsoever for blind persons.”

But these models don’t only break sex ed barriers for blind children. Researchers say the models could make the instruction more meaningful for sighted kids, too.

The project’s goal is to eventually provide open-source 3D printing files for teachers. This means school districts would only have to finance the materials and printers to make the models.

Many experts predict the technology will become a staple for schools anyway. Once a school district owns a printer, 3D printing is a low-cost way to create models for classroom instruction, making it ideal for schools on a budget.

A sizable 90% of blind students attend school with sighted children, relying on modified lessons to fully absorb material. But there are only about 61,700 blind students in the U.S. Buying commercial models of genitalia already on the market can cost up to $500 per model — something low-funded schools would likely be reluctant to do, especially when only a handful of blind students may ever pass through their district.

To develop prototypes, Benetech partnered with LightHouse for the Blind and Northern Illinois University, where the models were first tested on blind college students. The project was funded entirely by a private Benetech donor.

Now in the second phase of the pilot program this spring, the models will make their ways into the hands of middle school and high school students — the target demographic.

By the end of the 2017 school year, researchers hope to have feedback from students on the current prototypes. Then they’ll release files with detailed printing instructions for classroom use.

Benetech plans to offer pre-printed models to accommodate schools without 3D printers, for a fee much lower than commercial models.

“It is our hope that these models will be an effective teaching tool for teachers to communicate sex education in a way that works for students who are blind and visually impaired,” said Dr. Lisa Wadors Verne, program manager of education and partnerships at Benetech.

Complete Article HERE!

Happy in a low-sex marriage

By Nara Schoenberg

For many writers, it would have been an occasion to celebrate: Hazel McClay’s book group had chosen to read an anthology containing an essay that McClay herself had written.

But McClay’s essay was about being happy in a low-sex relationship, a sensitive topic in a culture where intense desire is widely celebrated. Hazel McClay is a pen name, so no one in her book group knew that she was the author; in fact, she hadn’t talked about her essay with anyone — not even her boyfriend, who had since become her husband. “This should be interesting,” she thought when she learned she would be hearing her book group’s unfiltered feedback, and so it was.

First, McClay sat through the comments of a woman who seemed to think the essay was a celebration of sexual relationships that start awkwardly but improve markedly over time. The woman explained — in some detail — that this had been her own experience with her husband.

An awkward silence followed, and when no one came to the speaker’s rescue, she turned back to the essay.

“This sounds like a wonderful relationship,” she said.

“Sounds like a boring relationship to me,” another woman said, and then she and her friend burst out laughing.

McClay, whose essays appear in the recent book “The Bitch Is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier” and the 2002 best-seller “The Bitch in the House,” is tackling one of the few remaining taboo topics in a time of marked sexual frankness. We have respectful news articles about the polyamorous, who openly engage in multiple romantic relationships, and we have blogs and Facebook pages for asexuals, who may have no interest in sex at all. A popular reality TV show, “Sister Wives,” tells the story of a man with multiple wives. But low-sex marriages that are neither unhappy nor dishonest? When was the last time you heard about one of those?

“It really is something under the radar,” said McClay, a writer and editor in her early 50s.

“There is a bit of shame attached to it because there’s kind of a pressure to be highly sexed and highly performing sexually in this culture. And so if you’re not, that’s considered to be a problem.”

A much-quoted 2016 study in the journal Social and Psychological Personality Science found that, on average, couples in romantic relationships who have sex once a week are happier than couples who have sex less frequently. (Having sex more than once a week wasn’t associated with additional happiness.)

But the study looked at averages; it didn’t rule out the possibility that some individuals are very happy in low-sex marriages.

About 40 percent of married couples in part of the study were having sex, but less than once a week, co-author ‪Amy Muise said in an email exchange.

Asked what percentage of that group reported being very happy, Muise said she hadn’t broken down the data in that manner.

In “The Bitch Is Back,” McClay writes that she and her husband, “Charlie,” laugh a lot, love each other deeply, and have a son who’s thriving.

“With Charlie,” she writes, “I felt, and still feel, like somebody in the world gets me; I feel, at the risk of sounding cliched, loved for exactly who I am. This is something that was missing in every relationship I had before him, including the ones that were filled with sexual passion. … Within weeks of meeting him, I loved him — his brain, his quirks, his humor, and the grounded way he made me feel. I still do.”

They don’t have sex often: at this point, once a month at most. When they do, she’s always glad, but for different reasons: Sometimes because the sex itself is really good, sometimes because she knows sex is important to her husband, even though he doesn’t press the issue or seem dissatisfied.

“I never crave sex,” she writes, “so if I never had it again, I don’t think I’d miss it. If I never had another brownie, now, that would bum me out.”

McClay does have her fleeting moments of self-doubt. At one point, she writes, she tried medication to increase her sex drive; it didn’t work. And there have been rare times when she’s missed feeling the kind of intense passion that makes “your bones seem to melt away underneath your skin.”

“I know that there are women out there who think that (a marriage like mine reflects) a very 19th-century Victorian attitude, and that that’s sort of horrifying to them. And I guess I understand why they would see things that way, and why they would think I had settled for something terrible, and that you should hold out for the whole package,” she said.

“But all I can say to that is, ‘Maybe you’ve never loved somebody the way that I love my husband.’ There are just too many good things here for me to throw it all away and go looking for something I might never find. And again, I can see people saying ‘That’s a very fearful attitude on your part,’ but I don’t think it’s fear. I don’t want to go. I want to be with him.”

Complete Article HERE!