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How a Cervical Cancer Scare Made Me Take My Sexual Health More Seriously Than Ever

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My doctor’s advice on how to not get HPV again threw me for a loop.

By Rachel Bowyer

Before I had an abnormal Pap smear five years ago, I didn’t even really know what that meant. I’d been going to the gyno since I was a teenager, but I never once really thought about what a Pap smear was actually testing for. I just knew I’d have a “twinge” of discomfort, as my doc always says, and then it would be over. But when my doctor called me to tell me I needed to come back in for more testing, I was pretty concerned. (Here, find more on how to decipher your abnormal Pap smear results.)

She assured me that abnormal Paps are actually quite normal, especially for women in their 20s. Why? Well, the more sexual partners you have, the more likely you are to get human papillomavirus (HPV), which is what generally causes the abnormal results. I quickly found out that it was the cause of mine, too. Most of the time, HPV resolves on its own, but in some cases, it can escalate into cervical cancer. What I didn’t know at the time is that there are several steps between testing positive for HPV and actually having cervical cancer. After having a couple of colposcopies, procedures where a tiny bit of tissue is removed from your cervix for closer examination (yes, it’s as uncomfortable as it sounds), we discovered that I had what’s known as high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions. That’s just a technical way of saying that the HPV I had was more advanced and more likely to turn into cancer than other kinds. I was scared, and I got even more scared when I found out I had to have a procedure to remove the tissue on my cervix that was affected, and that it needed to be done ASAP—before it got worse. (According to new research, cervical cancer is deadlier than previously thought.)

Within two weeks of finding out about my abnormal Pap, I had something called a loop extrosurgical excision procedure, or LEEP for short. It involves using a very thin wire with an electrical current to cut away precancerous tissue from the cervix. Normally, this can be done with local anesthesia, but after an attempt that went awry (apparently, local anesthetic isn’t as effective for everyone as it’s supposed to be, and I found that out the hard way…), I had to make a second trip to the hospital to have it done. This time, I was sedated. After six weeks, I was declared healthy and ready to go, and told I needed to have a Pap smear every three months for the next year. Then, I’d go back to having them once yearly. Let’s just say I’m not a great patient, so after all was said and done I knew I never wanted to have to go through this process again. Since there are over 100 strains of HPV, I knew it was a real possibility that I could contract it again. Only a small number of the strains cause cancer, but at that point, I really didn’t want to take any chances.

When I asked my doctor how to prevent this situation from happening again, her advice really surprised me. “Become monogamous,” she said. “That’s my only option?” I thought. I was dealing with the perils of the New York City dating scene at the time, and at that point couldn’t even imagine meeting someone I’d want to go on more than five dates with, let alone finding my mate for life. I had always been under the impression that as long as I was *safe* about sex, opting not to settle down wouldn’t be detrimental to my health. I almost always used condoms and got tested for STIs regularly.

Turns out, even if you use a condom every single time you have sex, you can still get HPV because condoms don’t offer complete protection against it. Even when used correctly, you can still have skin-to-skin contact when using a condom, which is how HPV is passed from one person to another. Pretty crazy, right? I didn’t think there was anything wrong with not wanting to be monogamous (and still don’t), so it was hard to grasp the fact that my ideological stance on sex was directly opposed to what was best for my sexual health. Was my only option truly to settle down at 23 and decide to only have sex with one person for the rest of my life? I wasn’t ready for that.

But according to my doctor, the answer was essentially, yes. To me, this seemed extreme. She repeated to me that the fewer partners you have, the lower your risk of contracting HPV. Of course, she was right. Though you can still get HPV from a long-term partner that could take years to show up, once your body clears whatever strains they have, you won’t be able to get it from them again. As long as you and your partner are only having sex with each other, you’re good to go in terms of re-infection. At the time, I was pretty taken aback by the fact that the best thing I could do to protect my sexual health was basically to not have sex until I found “the one.” What if I never found that person? Should I just be celibate forever!? For the next couple of years every time I even thought about having sex with someone, I had to ask myself, “Is this really worth it?” Talk about a mood killer. (FYI, these STIs are much harder to get rid of than they used to be.)

Truthfully, it didn’t turn out to be such a bad thing. Whenever I decided to have sex with someone in the years after that, not only did I follow safe-sex practices to the letter, but I also knew that I had strong enough feelings about the other person for it to be worth the risk I was facing. Basically, that meant I was genuinely emotionally invested in every person I slept with. While some would say that’s how it should be all the time, I don’t really subscribe to that school of thought—in principle. In practice, however, I did save myself a ton of heartache. Since I had fewer partners who I got to know better, I dealt with less post-sex ghosting. Some people might not mind that, but even when I wasn’t super-invested in someone, the ghosting part almost always sucked.

Now, five years later, I happen to be in a long-term monogamous relationship. While I can’t say that it happened directly because of my experience or my doctor’s advice, it’s certainly a relief when what your heart wants and what’s best for your health happen to match up. And not having to constantly worry about HPV the way I once did? Love.

Complete Article HERE!

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How our culture of kink-shaming is making us much less sexually liberated than we think

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Why do people with fetish preferences feel stigmatised despite the success of Fifty Shades of Grey?

By Olivia Blair

We now live in a society which is more open and positive about sex than ever before, but one expert says we’re not as sexually free and liberated as our post-1960s society would have us believe.

In his new book, Modern Sexuality: The Truth about Sex and Relationships, Dr Michael Aaron suggests that there is still widespread stigma surrounding sexuality in the modern age. People who have unconventional sexual fantasies are forced into the shadows, and often do not reveal them even to their partners.

He adds that the dialogue around sex in society is often one layered with shame, regulation and restriction.

“I think that laws and attitudes towards sexuality are one of the clearest reflections of the level of freedom afforded in a society. That’s because sexuality is so core to our identities, that censoring it also inevitably has the effect of censoring individual expression,” Dr Aaron told The Independent.

The doctor, who lives in New York City, actually singles out UK laws as one of the most prominent examples of ways in which our sexuality is supposedly restricted. He hones in on the Digital Economy Bill which is currently going through the House of Lords.

The bill proposes to ban a large number of “non-conventional sexual acts” in pornography which is believed to include female ejaculation, sexual acts involving menstruation and urination, and spanking, whipping or canning which leave marks.

He says the inclusion of female ejaculation, menstruation and fisting on the ban-list is “nonsense” and says “it is no coincidence that these laws are introduced at a time when British politics is veering more hard right”.

Dr Aaron also points to laws which regulate, and in some cases criminalise, sex work as examples of infringes upon sexual freedoms.

“Perhaps nowhere else is the government regulation of sex more apparent than in the area of sex work,” he writes arguing that government crackdowns on any kind of sexual behaviour “prevent for the possibility for an honest and open discussion on what sex work means for its participants and how society can provide appropriate resources for those who do choose sex work”.

Laws surrounding pornography and sex work are extreme examples of where sexuality is marginalised in society. However, Dr Aaron says in his therapy sessions he encounters lots of patients who feel shamed over their sexual preferences even when it is no longer considered taboo in society.

“I still have a number of clients who have difficulty coming out and are conflicted about their orientation even though same-sex marriage was approved by the US Supreme Court almost two years ago and issues around homosexuality have been brought into public awareness. Similarly, I see a number of individuals ashamed of their fetishistic interests even though Fifty Shades of Grey just came out with a sequel and the trilogy has sold over 100 million copies.

“There is a big difference between externally accepting something and truly believing it and feeling internally congruent. As a result, even though society has made tremendous progress, I believe most individuals, even the most liberated by all appearances, still carry internal remnants of sexual shame and stigma.”

So how do we liberate ourselves and challenge both internal and external restrictions on our sexuality? Dr Aaron says education is key.

“Right now, a number of young adults and teenagers get all of their sex education from porn, which is like trying to learn about geopolitics by watching the latest Bond movie. In many ways, trying to protect individuals from sex only hurts them further.”

He argues education will also ensure those with less mainstream sexual desires experience less shame and stigma and feel part of the conversation.

“Transparency around sex leads to a more humanistic, supportive, and nurturing society, that is accepting of individuality and unique consensual behaviours, rather one that is authoritarian, patriarchal, and punitive. I think our challenge as a society is to evolve past basic group needs that may be anachronistic and no longer necessary.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How Straight Men Who Have Sex With Men Explain Their Encounters

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The subject of straight-identifying men who have sex with other men is a fascinating one, in that it shines a light on some extremely potent, personal concepts pertaining to identity and sexuality and one’s place in society. That’s why some sociologists and other researchers have been very eager to seek out such men and hear them explain how they fit same-sex sexual activity into their conception of heterosexuality.

The latest such research comes in the journal Sexualities, from Héctor Carrillo and Amanda Hoffman of Northwestern University. They conducted 100 interviews, with men who identified as straight but sought out casual sex with men online, hoping to better understand this population. A big chunk of the article consists of snippets from those interviews, which were primarily conducted online by three female researchers, and at the end Carillo and Hoffman sum up what they found:

They interpret that they are exclusively or primarily attracted to women, and many also conclude that they have no sexual attraction to men in spite of their desire to have sex with men. They define sexual attraction as a combination of physical and emotional attraction, and they assess that their interest in women includes both, while their interest in men is purely or mainly sexual, not romantic or emotional. Moreover, some perceive that they are not drawn toward male bodies in the same way as they are drawn to female bodies, and some observe that the only physical part of a man that interests them is his penis. Men in the latter group do not find men handsome or attractive, but they do find penises attractive, and they thus see penises as ‘living dildos’ or, in other words, disembodied objects of desire that provide a source of sexual pleasure. Finally, as a management strategy for judging that their sexual interest in women is greater and more intense than their interest in men, they sometimes limit their repertoires of same-sex sexual practices or interpret them as less important than their sexual practices with women. That way, they can tell themselves that their sexual interest in women is unbounded, while their sexual interest in men is not.

All this contributes to their sense that they qualify as being called straight or heterosexual, even when some also recognize that their sexualities do indeed differ from exclusive heterosexuality, which in turn leads them to adopt secondary descriptors of their sexual identities. As indicated by the variety of terms that they used, those descriptors often reinforce a perception that, as a sexual orientation category, heterosexuality is elastic instead of rigid — that some degree of samesex desire and behaviour need not automatically push an individual out of the heterosexual category. And while some men are willing to recognize that their sexual behaviours might qualify their being called bisexual — and they may privately identify with that label — they feel that there is no contradiction between holding a private awareness of being bisexual and a public persona as straight or heterosexual. Again, this conclusion is strengthened by a lack of social incentives to adopt bisexual identities.

It’s interesting to keep that interpretation in mind as you read the interview snippets. Take, for example, the men who sought to make it very clear that while they sometimes got with men, they really liked women:

I know what I like. I like pussy. I like women … the more the merrier … I would kiss a woman. ANYWHERE. I can barely hug a man … I do have a healthy sexual imagination and wonder about other things in the sexual realm I’ve never done … Sometimes I get naughty and explore … That’s how I see it. [Reggie, 28]

Women are hot … I can see a beautiful woman walk down the street and I instantly can become hard and get horny. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy walking by and got a boner. Also, I would not want to kiss or make out with them or love them. They would be more like a sexual experience. [Charlie, 32]

Some of the men did think that their behavior possibly qualified them as bisexual, but didn’t quite want to take the step of identifying as such:

I think everybody is a little bi. Isn’t that what this research is about? There’s the Kinsey scale … It’s not like Bush saying you’re either with us or with the terrorists. I think I’m probably bi but what I present to the world is a heterosexual man. Internally I’m bi, but that’s not something most people know. I’m not ashamed, but the majority of people are ignorant and close-minded. [Simon, 27]

I am not openly bisexual to society except in sexual situations … I don’t have relationships with men; I am in a relationship with my wife and only love her. [I’m bisexual] only with men behind closed doors. [Dustin, 28]

In addition to being perhaps the first instance in recorded history of someone comparing their sexual orientation to George W. Bush’s counterterrorism doctrine, Simon’s statement contains an important point: Carrillo and Hoffman note that many of their respondents simply “see no real personal or social advantages that would stem from publicly adopting an identity as bisexual or gay.” In many cases, it may not be in their interests to do so — hence the compartmentalization of their same-sex encounters.

Another reason for such compartmentalization is that it allows some men the opportunity to explore parts of their identities they feel they couldn’t safely in heterosexual settings:

For most of my sex life I’m in control of things. I’m not a boss at work anymore but I’ve been in situations where I’ve managed a hundred people at a time. I take care of my family. I take care of my kids. I’m a good father. I’m a good husband in providing material things for my wife … I’m in charge in a lot of places … There’s times when I don’t want to be in charge and I want someone to be in charge of me … that’s what brings me over [to] the bisexuals … it’s kind of submitting to another guy or being used by another guy. [Russell, 54]

“Interestingly,” write Carrillo and Hoffman, “being dominated by a man seemed to them less threatening than being dominated by a steady female partner, perhaps because it could be construed as a temporary fantasy, instead of meaning a permanent change in the gender balance.”

This same dynamic popped up the last study on this subject I covered — the idea that men “get” something about sex that women don’t, and that because there’s a fully mutual understanding that what’s going on is just sex, same-sex experiences can be set off safely away from the rest of one’s (heterosexual) identity. You can be a “good father,” which many men imply to mean being a strong, straight man, while still messing around with men on the side. From these men’s perspective, they can have it both ways — the privileges of identifying as straight and the pleasure and excitement of same-sex relationships on the side — without their identity being threatened.

Complete Article HERE!

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Have you ever had ‘unjust sex’?

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Unthinkable: Examples include ‘women being pressured – not quite to the point of outright coercion – to have sex, or to have sex without contraception’, says philosopher Ann Cahill

“We need to remember that sexual assault is not the only kind of sexual interaction that is ethically problematic,” says author Ann Cahill.

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Uncertainty surrounding the boundaries of ethical sexual activity is not confined to boozed-up young adults or American presidents. Among academics there is discussion about what distinguishes rape and sexual assault from another category of “ethically problematic” sex.

Examples of “unjust sex” include “women being pressured – not quite to the point of outright coercion, but pressured uncomfortably nonetheless – to have sex, or to have sex without contraception,” explains Ann Cahill, author of a number of books on gender issues including Rethinking Rape.

Cahill, professor of philosophy at Elon University in North Carolina who is visiting Dublin this week, says she has tried to “figure out in more detail” what distinguishes sexual assault from “unjust sex”, drawing on the work of New Zealand psychologist Nicola Gavey.

Her analysis has led her to challenge the traditional feminist concern with “objectification”: treating women’s bodies as objects. Instead, she uses “derivatisation” – treating women as “stunted persons, persons whose identity and behaviour is primarily or entirely limited by the desires of another person” – as a standard by which to measure actions.

Cahill says “we need to remember that sexual assault is not the only kind of sexual interaction that is ethically problematic. Too often our approach to sexual ethics is limited by relying solely on the presence of consent, a reliance that obscures other crucial elements in sexual interactions that are ethically relevant”.

How do you distinguish “unjust sex” from rape?

“Briefly, I argue that examples of unjust sex and incidents of sexual assault share an indifference to women’s sexual preferences, desires and wellbeing, and that’s what explains how unjust sex perpetuates and upholds rape culture. In both cases, the specific sexuality of the woman is not participating robustly in the creation of the sexual interaction.

“What distinguishes the two examples, I then argue, is the specific role that the woman’s sexual subjectivity plays. In the case of examples within the grey area of unjust sex, women’s agency plays an important role: if a man repeats a request for or invitation to sex multiple times, for example, that very repetition indicates that the woman’s consent is important.

“However, I also argue that the role that the woman’s agency plays is a problematically stunted one that limits the kind of influence she can have on the quality of the interaction that ensues, and does so to such an extent that it renders the interaction unethical.

“In the case of sexual assault, the woman’s agency is either overcome – by force, or coercion, or other methods – or undone entirely, by use of drugs or alcohol.”

Where does “objectification” come into this, and does sexual attraction always entail some element of it?

“Feminists have long used the notion of objectification as an ethical lens, and specifically, as an ethically pejorative term. And certainly I do think that many of the social and political phenomena that feminists have criticised by using the term ‘objectification’ – dominant forms of pornography, oppressive medical practices, common representations of women’s bodies – are worthy of ethical critique.

“However, I worry about what the term ‘objectification’ implies, and when I dug into the philosophical literature that sought to really unpack the term, my worries only intensified. If objectification means, roughly, to be treated as a thing – a material entity – and if it is virtually always ethically problematic, then it seems we are committed to a metaphysics that places our materiality in opposition to our humanity or moral worth.

“But what if our materiality, our embodiment, is not contrary to our humanity or moral worth, but an essential part of it? If we approach embodiment in this way, then to be treated like a thing is not necessarily degrading or dehumanising. In fact, having one’s body be the object of a sexualising gaze and/or touch could be deeply affirming.

“Getting back to your question: does sexual attraction require objectification? The short answer is yes: sexual attraction requires treating another body as a material entity. But that does not mean that sexual attraction is necessarily ethically problematic.”

You say women “are encouraged, and in some cases required, to take on identities that are reducible to male heterosexual desires”. How do women avoid being so “derivatised” while in a relationship?

“This is a tricky matter, because human beings are intersubjective.

“Equal and just relationships among individuals require the recognition that they have a substantial contribution to make to those relationships, and that no relationship should position one of the individuals involved in it as the raison d’être of the relationship itself.”

Is the power dynamic always working in one direction, however? Women are capable of objectifying men. Should that concern us too?

“As I state above, objectification is not necessarily ethically problematic. And so to the extent that women have the capacity to treat men’s bodies as material entities, yes, they can objectify them.

“However, in our current political and social situation, women’s objectification of men’s bodies is far less common than men’s objectification of women’s bodies; even more importantly, it rarely amounts to derivatisation and does not serve to undermine men’s political, social, and economic equality.

“When I say that it does not amount to derivatisation, I mean that heterosexual men are less likely to view their bodies solely or persistently through the lens of how they appear to heterosexual women, and they rarely see male bodies represented in dominant media as defined primarily or solely through how those bodies appear to heterosexual women.

“While it’s not impossible for women to derivatise men – one can imagine, for example, a woman evaluating a man as a sexual partner solely on the basis of whether he matches her sexual preferences – structurally, those examples of derivatisation don’t add up to the kind of persistent inequality that still tracks along gender lines.

“For example, as political candidates, men don’t suffer for failing to meet the aesthetic ideals of heterosexual women, while women do suffer for failing to meet the aesthetic ideals of heterosexual men. Of course, they also suffer for meeting those ideals too well, because feminine beauty, while allegedly admirable in women, is also associated with shallowness and lack of intellect.

“Although I haven’t written about this before, however, it seems to me that hegemonic masculinity does have a derivatising effect on heterosexual men, to the extent that it requires them to derivatise women. In this sense, the subjectivity of heterosexual men is stunted to the extent that it is required to engage in the kinds of behaviour that demonstrates disrespect of women as moral equals – behaviour that is necessary for other heterosexual male subjects to be confirmed or affirmed in their own forms of masculinity.

“To the extent that heterosexual men can find their standing within homosocial relations threatened or troubled if they refuse to derivatise women, or at least pretend to, then they are also subject to a failure to recognise their own ontological distinctness.”

Complete Article HEREvi!

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Swinging offers sexual freedom, but you have to play by the rules

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Don’t assume ‘the lifestyle’ does not come with a rulebook. Communication is important, and rules can make relationships better.

Fatima Mechtab, Marketing Supervisor and events coordinator at Oasis Aqualounge, poses at the Toronto adult playground.

Toronto’s Oasis Aqualounge, at Carleton and Church Sts., is a pretty open environment. The clothing-optional sex club hosts events each week for people to explore their sexual fantasies. But for such a sexually free venue, there are certainly a lot of rules.

No photos. Certain areas are off limits to men unless accompanied by a woman. No touching of any kind unless given permission. No means no, of course, but the club takes it a step further: only yes means yes. That means there are no sexy times until consent is verbalized, says Fatima Mechtab, the marketing and events co-ordinator at Oasis, which had approximately 16,000 members last year.

The clothing-optional space, where sex is allowed, is by its nature vulnerable, she says. The rules are to make sure everyone feels safe, comfortable and encourage people to talk. “A big problem with consent is people assume it’s something you don’t have to verbalize,” she says. In fact, when it comes to sex, there’s lots that people don’t talk about — but should.

Mechtab, a queer woman who has explored swinging and polyamorous relationships in the past, says these types of strict rules — don’t make assumptions, ask before touching — are common in “the lifestyle,” a term for consensually nonmonogamous couples. And, she says, rules make relationships better.

Couples and the locations they go to play have to create an environment in which all parties feel not only safe, but also heard. These boundaries take away the grey areas, forcing couples to say what they do or don’t want and what they need from sexual encounters. And there’s a lot non-swingers can learn from them about building a healthy (and satisfied) relationship.

A successful swinging relationship is based on constant communication, says Carol Hunt, founder of VenusCouples, a Montreal-based online forum for “sex-positive” exploration of the lifestyle. She and her husband have been swinging for a decade. Before any party or outing, they agree upon a set of boundaries (such as they’ll always be in the same room during sex) and expectations for the evening (be it sex with another person or a night observing others). Afterwards, they always break their experience down: what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what would they like to try in the future?

While it might seem exhausting to always talk about sex, Hunt says it means both parties feel their needs are being heard. If her husband wants to try something new, but she’s not interested, the decision isn’t shut down entirely. Instead, they discuss both points of view and try and find a happy middle ground in which they can explore. No always means no — but that’s only the start of the conversation.

That consensus building trickles out of the bedroom, says Edward Fernandes, a professor of sexuality specializing in swingers, at Barton University in North Carolina. “I’ve had people say, ‘We used to have trouble with our finances — we couldn’t talk about this,’ and once we went into swinging, that (inability to communicate) went away,’” says the Toronto expat. “Now, they’re able to talk about everything.” If you can talk about a taboo topic like sex freely, there’s nothing to stop you from vocalizing issues with the chores, he says.

One 2014 study from the University of Oklahoma, which compared monogamous and consensually nonmonogamous couples, found those in open relationships rated their happiness and health higher than their counterparts. Another study from 2000, found 90 per cent of couples said their marriage became happier after they started swinging.

“People will often avoid talking about things, because they don’t know how (their partner) is going to respond,” says Fernandes. “So we hide. Swinging tends to pull that curtain, and allows them to have direct communications with each other.”

Write your own sexy rule book

  • Hunt suggests couples looking to spice up their bedroom can start small: make it a point to go to a sex shop, for example, to discuss what both parties might enjoy or not. To avoid embarrassment, make it a rule that neither party can wander off on their own: you’re in it together and that can decrease the awkwardness.
  • Watching porn can be a great way to get both parties in the mood. But before hitting play, Hunt suggests setting expectations: you’ll only watch for an hour, and collectively pick one act to try and re-create.
  • If you’re trying something new and don’t enjoy it the first time, Hunt say don’t shut it down right away. Commit to revisiting the act at least once at a later date, and if you still don’t enjoy it, then it’s OK to take it off the table for the future.
  • Great relationships need work, she says. Set aside a couple hours each week just to be with each other. No television, no distractions (and if you want, no clothes).
  • Make a relationship rule to do one sexy thing a day — even if it’s just kissing each other deeply for a few minutes, Hunt says. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that, but it ensures a daily connection with your partner.

Complete Article HERE!

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