“Though I’d been learning to embrace my life in a wheelchair—a result of cerebral palsy—going without touch, or even access to my own body, was taking a toll.”
By Andrew Gurza
By Andrew Gurza
I’d never considered the price of intimacy until I hired a sex worker. Though I’d been learning to embrace my life in a wheelchair—a result of cerebral palsy—going without touch, or even access to my own body, was taking a toll. Even so, I didn’t come to my decision lightly. I was worried about shame, stigma, and fear, and concerned I’d pay for time and still not get what I needed. I spent weeks quieting the voices in my head telling me that using the services of a sex worker was not a good idea. Would this be the only way I could find intimacy? Would someone even want to do this with me, or would he only view it as a charitable opportunity to help a cripple? Despite all these questions, I sat in my apartment reflecting on my nearly year-long celibacy. It was time to take care of myself.
After scouring site after site with rows and rows of horny men holding their hard-ons, I found David. His smile was warm, inviting, and intriguingly devious all at once. He was older than me, in his mid-40s, and his photos showed off a powerful body, a strong charisma, and an undeniable charm. I’d often felt physically invisible within the mainstream LGBT community, but David possessed everything I longed for.
I sent David a cursory email, telling him that I was interested in using his services, but that I had never done this before, that I was nervous. I also casually explained as best I could that I lived with a disability and used a chair. He emailed back some hours later, letting me know that he had experience working with clients with disabilities. David wrote bluntly: “If I’m unsure of something, I’ll just ask.” It was a refreshing change from all the guys who tripped and tumbled over their discomfort.
We ironed out the logistics—a time, a location, a fee. Knowing that my sexuality would be broken down into a succinct session was daunting, and it took away from the fantasy and spontaneity I had dreamed of. But this, perhaps, was the cost of getting what I wanted, what I needed. David gently reminded me that I was paying for his time, and whatever happened happened. On our very last exchange, just a day before we’d meet, he called and asked me a simple question, though one I have never been asked before: “What do you want?”
Shyly and nervously I outlined my likes and dislikes as well as my abilities. I wanted kissing. I craved body contact. I couldn’t bottom for him because of my spasticity and tight muscles. I’d need help undressing and being put in bed. I paused, smiled. My needs were at the forefront.
On a rainy, blustery Saturday afternoon, my iPhone blinked with the message that David was in my lobby. I looked at myself in the mirror: a long-sleeve shirt, cozy winter sweats, a baseball cap. I headed downstairs in the elevator. When the door opened, I recognized him immediately. “Hey there! How are you?” he said, giving me a big hug as if we were long-lost friends. I kept watching him, in part because I still couldn’t believe this was happening, and because he looked really good in those tight blue jeans and that leather jacket.
A sexy man was in my house. We made small talk, waiting for someone to strike. He led himself into my bedroom and asked me about the transfer device I use to get into bed. I told him he would have to lift my legs while I held on to two gymnastic rings fastened to a hydraulic lift in my ceiling. I continued babbling, watching him get closer to me, taking off his coat, revealing a tank top and thick, muscled arms. He then straddled my chair, bent down, and kissed me. As I reached and pawed at him—my limbs flailing, not wanting to miss an inch—he stopped me. He looked into my eyes, past the rejection and pain caused by other lovers, and spoke with a firm honesty. “It’s OK.”
David drank in my disability and I dared not stop him. He lifted me out of my chair and held me in his arms. He grabbed me, cradled me, and kissed me. I curled up into him so he could feel the scars, curves, rods, and contractures that inform my disability. I felt sexy. He took off my shirt, and together we revealed my skin. As he moved down my body, and took off my pants and shoes, I worried what he would do when he saw my leg bag and my toes, which curled into each other. But David made this act of care exciting and real for me. When I was finally naked with him on the bed—my body going into spastic fits as a result of CP—I started to tense even more as I neared climax. In a piercing moment of release, I felt my two identities collide: queer and crippled came together in a surge of pure, uncomplicated pleasure.
The afterglow was setting in as David lay beside me. He held me tight and kissed my forehead. He told me that I was handsome, and as I looked at his arms wrapped around my spindly legs, I felt he meant it. Moments passed and he placed me in my chair, planting one last soft kiss on my lips before ending our session and saying goodbye. As I sat alone, my adrenaline became diluted by a calming bliss. I could not shame this experience because it marked a passage greater than a fleeting carnal exchange. It was the start of my own physical assertion. I would not settle for an affectionless existence, and I had to strive to honor what I wanted as a seated, but sexually alive, man. I finally had someone see me, and regardless of the cost, I finally showed myself to someone else.
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In her new book Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, the psychologist Barbara Fredrickson offers a radically new conception of love.
Fredrickson, a leading researcher of positive emotions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presents scientific evidence to argue that love is not what we think it is. It is not a long-lasting, continually present emotion that sustains a marriage; it is not the yearning and passion that characterizes young love; and it is not the blood-tie of kinship.
Rather, it is what she calls a “micro-moment of positivity resonance.” She means that love is a connection, characterized by a flood of positive emotions, which you share with another person—any other person—whom you happen to connect with in the course of your day. You can experience these micro-moments with your romantic partner, child, or close friend. But you can also fall in love, however momentarily, with less likely candidates, like a stranger on the street, a colleague at work, or an attendant at a grocery store. Louis Armstrong put it best in “It’s a Wonderful World” when he sang, “I see friends shaking hands, sayin ‘how do you do?’ / They’re really sayin’, ‘I love you.'”
According to the University of Chicago’s John Cacioppo, an expert on loneliness, and his co-author William Patrick, “at any given time, roughly 20 percent of individuals—that would be 60 million people in the U.S. alone—feel sufficiently isolated for it to be a major source of unhappiness in their lives.” For older Americans, that number is closer to 35 percent. At the same time, rates of depression have been on the rise. In his 2011 book Flourish, the psychologist Martin Seligman notes that according to some estimates, depression is 10 times more prevalent now than it was five decades ago. Depression affects about 10 percent of the American population, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
A global poll taken last Valentine’s Day showed that most married people—or those with a significant other—list their romantic partner as the greatest source of happiness in their lives. According to the same poll, nearly half of all single people are looking for a romantic partner, saying that finding a special person to love would contribute greatly to their happiness.
But to Fredrickson, these numbers reveal a “worldwide collapse of imagination,” as she writes in her book. “Thinking of love purely as romance or commitment that you share with one special person—as it appears most on earth do—surely limits the health and happiness you derive” from love.
“My conception of love,” she tells me, “gives hope to people who are single or divorced or widowed this Valentine’s Day to find smaller ways to experience love.”
You have to physically be with the person to experience the micro-moment. For example, if you and your significant other are not physically together—if you are reading this at work alone in your office—then you two are not in love. You may feel connected or bonded to your partner—you may long to be in his company—but your body is completely loveless.
To understand why, it’s important to see how love works biologically. Like all emotions, love has a biochemical and physiological component. But unlike some of the other positive emotions, like joy or happiness, love cannot be kindled individually—it only exists in the physical connection between two people. Specifically, there are three players in the biological love system—mirror neurons, oxytocin, and vagal tone. Each involves connection and each contributes to those micro-moment of positivity resonance that Fredrickson calls love.
When you experience love, your brain mirrors the person’s you are connecting with in a special way. Pioneering research by Princeton University’s Uri Hasson shows what happens inside the brains of two people who connect in conversation. Because brains are scanned inside of noisy fMRI machines, where carrying on a conversation is nearly impossible, Hasson’s team had his subjects mimic a natural conversation in an ingenious way. They recorded a young woman telling a lively, long, and circuitous story about her high school prom. Then, they played the recording for the participants in the study, who were listening to it as their brains were being scanned. Next, the researchers asked each participant to recreate the story so they, the researchers, could determine who was listening well and who was not. Good listeners, the logic goes, would probably be the ones who clicked in a natural conversation with the story-teller.
What they found was remarkable. In some cases, the brain patterns of the listener mirrored those of the storyteller after a short time gap. The listener needed time to process the story after all. In other cases, the brain activity was almost perfectly synchronized; there was no time lag at all between the speaker and the listener. But in some rare cases, if the listener was particularly tuned in to the story—if he was hanging on to every word of the story and really got it—his brain activity actually anticipated the story-teller’s in some cortical areas.
The mutual understanding and shared emotions, especially in that third category of listener, generated a micro-moment of love, which “is a single act, performed by two brains,” as Fredrickson writes in her book.
Oxytocin, the so-called love and cuddle hormone, facilitates these moments of shared intimacy and is part of the mammalian “calm-and-connect” system (as opposed to the more stressful “fight-or-flight” system that closes us off to others). The hormone, which is released in huge quantities during sex, and in lesser amounts during other moments of intimate connection, works by making people feel more trusting and open to connection. This is the hormone of attachment and bonding that spikes during micro-moments of love. Researchers have found, for instance, that when a parent acts affectionately with his or her infant—through micro-moments of love like making eye contact, smiling, hugging, and playing—oxytocin levels in both the parent and the child rise in sync.
The final player is the vagus nerve, which connects your brain to your heart and subtly but sophisticatedly allows you to meaningfully experience love. As Fredrickson explains in her book, “Your vagus nerve stimulates tiny facial muscles that better enable you to make eye contact and synchronize your facial expressions with another person. It even adjusts the miniscule muscles of your middle ear so you can better track her voice against any background noise.”
The vagus nerve’s potential for love can actually be measured by examining a person’s heart rate in association with his breathing rate, what’s called “vagal tone.” Having a high vagal tone is good: People who have a high “vagal tone” can regulate their biological processes like their glucose levels better; they have more control over their emotions, behavior, and attention; they are socially adept and can kindle more positive connections with others; and, most importantly, they are more loving. In research from her lab, Fredrickson found that people with high vagal tone report more experiences of love in their days than those with a lower vagal tone.
Historically, vagal tone was considered stable from person to person. You either had a high one or you didn’t; you either had a high potential for love or you didn’t. Fredrickson’s recent research has debunked that notion.
In a 2010 study from her lab, Fredrickson randomly assigned half of her participants to a “love” condition and half to a control condition. In the love condition, participants devoted about one hour of their weeks for several months to the ancient Buddhist practice of loving-kindness meditation. In loving-kindness meditation, you sit in silence for a period of time and cultivate feelings of tenderness, warmth, and compassion for another person by repeating a series of phrases to yourself wishing them love, peace, strength, and general well-being. Ultimately, the practice helps people step outside of themselves and become more aware of other people and their needs, desires, and struggles—something that can be difficult to do in our hyper individualistic culture.
Fredrickson measured the participants’ vagal tone before and after the intervention. The results were so powerful that she was invited to present them before the Dalai Lama himself in 2010. Fredrickson and her team found that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, people could significantly increase their vagal tone by self-generating love through loving-kindness meditation. Since vagal tone mediates social connections and bonds, people whose vagal tones increased were suddenly capable of experiencing more micro-moments of love in their days. Beyond that, their growing capacity to love more will translate into health benefits given that high vagal tone is associated with lowered risk of inflammation, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Fredrickson likes to call love a nutrient. If you are getting enough of the nutrient, then the health benefits of love can dramatically alter your biochemistry in ways that perpetuate more micro-moments of love in your life, and which ultimately contribute to your health, well-being, and longevity.
Fredrickson’s ideas about love are not exactly the stuff of romantic comedies. Describing love as a “micro-moment of positivity resonance” seems like a buzz-kill. But if love now seems less glamorous and mysterious then you thought it was, then good. Part of Fredrickson’s project is to lower cultural expectations about love—expectations that are so misguidedly high today that they have inflated love into something that it isn’t, and into something that no sane person could actually experience.
Jonathan Haidt, another psychologist, calls these unrealistic expectations “the love myth” in his 2006 book The Happiness Hypothesis:
True love is passionate love that never fades; if you are in true love, you should marry that person; if love ends, you should leave that person because it was not true love; and if you can find the right person, you will have true love forever. You might not believe this myth yourself, particularly if you are older than thirty; but many young people in Western nations are raised on it, and it acts as an ideal that they unconsciously carry with them even if they scoff at it… But if true love is defined as eternal passion, it is biologically impossible.
Love 2.0 is, by contrast, far humbler. Fredrickson tells me, “I love the idea that it lowers the bar of love. If you don’t have a Valentine, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have love. It puts love much more in our reach everyday regardless of our relationship status.”
Lonely people who are looking for love are making a mistake if they are sitting around and waiting for love in the form of the “love myth” to take hold of them. If they instead sought out love in little moments of connection that we all experience many times a day, perhaps their loneliness would begin to subside.
Complete Article HERE!
People who take Truvada, the once-a-day pill that prevents HIV, are no more at risk for dangerous side effects than those who take an aspirin a day to prevent heart attacks, according to a new study.
Researchers compared Truvada and aspirin by looking at the drugs’ risk profiles in large, published studies. Although the two drugs come with distinct side effects — Truvada most commonly causes dizziness, vomiting, and weight loss, whereas aspirin is most commonly associated with bleeding problems — the frequency of side effects is roughly equivalent.
But the drugs have very different reputations, among both doctors and the general public. Century-old aspirin, when taken as a preventative tool against heart attacks, is viewed as an everyday medication, no big deal. But Truvada, also known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP), is a new pill, intertwined with the loaded issues of HIV and sex habits, and mired in uncertainty.
“Everyone’s got aspirin in their medicine cabinet,” Jeffrey Klausner, professor of medicine and public health at the University of California, Los Angeles, and lead author of the study, told BuzzFeed News. “But as a physician I’ve seen people come into the hospital and die from aspirin overdoses — people can be allergic.”
The side effects of each drug are markedly different, Klausner noted, and affect different organs. But after crunching the numbers, he said, “it really looked like I could say Truvada compared favorably, in terms of its safety profile, to aspirin.”
An estimated 52% of American adults aged 45 to 75 are prescribed a daily aspirin to prevent cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases, including heart attacks and cancer.
Truvada, which was approved by the FDA in 2012, has been shown to have roughly 92% efficacy in preventing transmission of HIV. The CDC estimates that about 1.2 million Americans are at high enough risk for contracting HIV that they should be prescribed the drug. But only about 21,000 currently get it.
According to Klausner, who trains doctors around the country on how to treat and prevent HIV, much of this has to do with ambivalence about prescribing otherwise healthy individuals a daily pill.
“A lot of the concerns I hear from providers are about safety,” Klausner said. “There have been continued voices saying, ‘Wouldn’t it just be better if people used condoms, or reduced their number of partners?’ Those are important strategies, but they don’t work for everyone.”
The issue of doctor awareness about PrEP is one of the biggest barriers to its wider use.
The new study “is an interesting thought experiment,” Dawn Smith of the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, told BuzzFeed News. But, she added, “I’m not sure it addresses the safety concerns that some clinicians have.”
Smith noted a CDC study showing that in 2015, about one-third of primary care doctors and nurses had never heard of Truvada. Beyond the lack of awareness, she said, doctors don’t want to cause any side effects, no matter how minor, in otherwise healthy patients.
In his analysis, Klausner looked at the “NNH” — or “number needed to harm” — meaning the number of people who take the drug before one person experiences a harmful side effect. The NNH for Truvada in gay men or transgender women was 114 for nausea and 96 for unintentional weight loss. In women, side effects appeared more frequently, with 1 in 56 women experiencing nausea, 1 in 41 vomiting, and 1 in 36 mildly elevated liver enzymes.
Rarer adverse events for Truvada include kidney problems and a small decrease in bone mineral density, but Klausner notes that both of those effects have been shown to be reversible once the medication is discontinued.
In contrast, aspirin had an NNH of 15 for bleeding problems and 20 for easy bruising. Rarer problems included ulcers and other gastrointestinal problems.
Because it’s so much older, aspirin has been tested in many more people with many more years of follow-up, Klausner noted. Because Truvada is a relatively new drug, it will take awhile to accrue the data needed to make its long-term safety bulletproof.
In the meantime, however, Klausner hopes more doctors will educate themselves about the HIV prevention drug. And after that, he said, “we should work to make it the same price as aspirin.”
Complete Article HERE!
Location: Knoxville, TN
I was listening to one of your Q&A podcasts recently. In it you responded to several women who were in relationships with men they liked (or even loved) but who didn’t sexually satisfy them. Your advice was for the women to tell their men to essentially “shape up or ship out.” Even considering the reasoning you gave in the podcast, is this really the best advice? I’ve heard similar advice from other “sex positive” commentators, which makes it seem that “sex positive” is a synonym for “relationship negative.” It didn’t appear as if any of the women involved were looking for a way out of their relationship, just a way to improve the sexual aspect — and it’s not entirely clear how the approach you suggested would do that. If the men didn’t have performance anxiety, a blunt discussion would almost certainly provoke it. If I remember correctly, one of the women was about my age — early 50s. Surely you must know the ever-increasing difficulty women have finding a happy relationship as they get older, and that a woman must know how lucky she is just to be with a man she likes, even if the sex could be better. Besides, there are probably very few women these days who need to be told they can leave a relationship if they choose. If the women’s sexual complaint had seemed to be just the tip of an iceberg of unhappiness, I could see the efficacy of your advice — but that’s not how their queries came across.
Listen Bill, I stand by my advice. And yes, I think it was the best advice I could give these two women. And ya know why I say that? I say that because had it been a couple of men writing in about the same concern, I would have given them the very same advice. If you are unhappy in your relationship because the sex has dried up then that’s a pretty serious concern in my book.
Being sex positive is not being relationship negative. But, settling for the lowest common denominator in terms of sexual expression is. Here’s another thing I know for certain, by the time someone makes an appointment to see me or writes to me about their sexual complaint, I can be pretty certain that they’ve struggled with it on their own for a long time. This is particularly true for women.
I also want to take issue with your statement: “Surely you must know the ever increasing difficulty women have finding a happy relationship as they get older, and that a woman must know how lucky she is just to be with a man she likes, even if the sex could be better.” So you’re sayin’ older women can just kiss their sexual needs goodbye after they reach a certain age, because the relationship they have is as good as it gets? Is that what you’re sayin? Because, if it is, it’s hogwash! Women of any age don’t need a man to be happy or fulfilled and they certainly don’t need one who to tell them to suck it up and settle for what ya got.
Besides, if I remember my advice correctly, and I think I do, I suggested that my correspondent give her husband the right if first refusal. That means she offers her old man her sexual energy first. If he doesn’t rise to the occasion, so to speak, she’s free to take her sexual energy elsewhere. This strategy takes the pressure off the sexually uninterested partner, it can overcome the disparity in libido between the couple, as well as saving the relationship. No need to throw out the baby with the bathwater, right?
To my mind we do too much “settling for” as it is. Complacency is the real enemy. You got issues in your relationship; hash them out. If your partner won’t join you in that effort he/she is telling you that your needs don’t matter. And when that occurs, regardless of what else you may have in place, your relationship is in its death throws. And you can bank on that!
People are freaking out over weed lube. Rightly so, I guess, because it’s apparently magical. But while weed lube is lubricating, it isn’t lube, per se. As in, its main use is not to facilitate intercourse.
Lena Davidson, the marketing manager for botanicaSEATTLE—the company behind BOND Sensual Oil—told me that what most people would call weed lube is really more of a massage oil. Like other cannabis topicals and unlike a traditional lube, it takes 20 to 40 minutes to work and is a self-contained experience that can be enhanced by sex. Being oil-based, it is also not latex safe. People call it weed lube, she says, because we’re basically all teenage boys and we can’t talk about weed or sex without snickering.
As much fun as it is to giggle about getting one’s “pussy stoned” (as Vice did), weed lube is serious business. Sensual cannabis oil, as it is more accurately called, has all sorts of awesome ramifications for sexual equity. Davidson pointed out that while there are more than 26 products approved by the FDA to treat sexual dysfunction in men, there is only one approved for women, and it is the subject of much controversy. Sensual cannabis oil is a long way off from FDA approval, but judging from testimonials thus far, it seems to be doing consistently what that one drug does inconsistently: increasing female sexual pleasure. Women who have used BOND reported “ethereal, long-lasting, and out of this world” sexual experiences, and the ability to rapidly “peak… and then do it again quite quickly,” according to testimonials on BOND’s website. Multiple orgasms are apparently common.
How does it work? Davidson writes: “THC is absorbed through the mucous membranes that are in high concentrations in a woman’s vagina. Once applied and absorbed, THC acts locally on the cannabinoid receptors, much like an edible. Functionally, the THC dilates the capillaries and increases blood flow in the smallest blood vessels in our body—this enhanced microcirculation magnifies sensitivity and sensation.” (She also mentioned that this same capillary reaction is what causes stoney red eyes.) The experience is not like the head high one gets from smoking or eating weed, but rather a localized sensation of pleasure, users report.
It’s also important to note that, at least here in Washington, sensual cannabis oil is safe. Davidson cautioned that not all weed lube is created equal, but BOND and Ethos Extracts‘ Temptress are made in a WSDA-approved kitchen with food-grade organic coconut oil and ultra-pure cannabis extracts. Coconut oil, though unfriendly to latex, is ideal for internal use because of its natural pH-balancing and antimicrobial qualities.
While the potential to help women with issues such as vaginismus (vaginal pain) and low libido is great in its own right, perhaps the most exciting thing about sensual cannabis oil is that it is a decidedly non-heteronormative phenomenon. What I mean by that is it takes the focus off of the penis as the center of sexual pleasure, where it has been for far too long.
My good friend Kat, a big proponent of sensual cannabis oil and the source of much of my education on feminism, put it thusly: “It’s unfortunately common during heteronormative sex that women feel like their partner’s ejaculative experience is the focal point. I’m usually acutely aware of the other person’s level of satisfaction, which takes me away from my own body. With the weed lube, I’m like, ‘Fuck yeah, I’m getting it and it feels fucking amazing.’ I’m actually relaxed and stimulated enough to invest in my own delectation.”
And though much has been made of sensual cannabis oil not working for men, that’s not entirely true. It doesn’t work well for selfish straight men who are only interested in receiving blowjobs and having vaginal intercourse (because the penis does not absorb the cannabis oil in the same way that the vagina does). It does, however, work really well for men (and women) who are into anal play, as the absorption of THC through the back door is rapid. Used anally, sensual cannabis oil does not offer the same direct enhancement of physical sensation as it does to the vagina, but it does get you high as fuck, which enhances sex in its own right. Also, anyone willing to perform a little enthusiastic cunnilingus—as any self-respecting straight dude should be—will get a light edible-style buzz. Basically, anything that has not traditionally been part of the penis-obsessed, heteronormative sexual canon is made better with sensual cannabis oil. If that isn’t sweet sexual justice, I don’t know what is.
Speaking of sexual justice, sensual cannabis oil also works well for older women—another segment of the population whose sexual lives are often not valued in the heteronormative conversation. Women’s bodies produce less lubrication during and after menopause, and older women can also suffer from decreased libido and other sexual difficulties—problems that sensual cannabis oil can help with. Edward Lafferty, Ethos’s CEO, said that women older than 45 and gay men make up the bulk of his business for the Temptress oil. During product testing of BOND, “nearly every woman had a ‘Eureka!’ moment,” said Davidson. And “for women who had felt estranged from their innate sexuality by age or physical conditions, it instigated a wave of natural physiological desire.”
Davidson worries that those who might benefit most from sensual cannabis oil will not do so because of the continued cultural awkwardness around weed, sex, and weedy sex. She pointed out that women are statistically less likely to try cannabis products in general, let alone walk into a weed store and ask a scruffy dude about something as personal as their sexual health. What’s more, sensual cannabis oil is still perceived as a sex-shop novelty—something for young party people to rub on one another after the rave, not something that can help women have more sexually fulfilling lives.
But, as Lafferty put it, “The people who use it need it. It’s important. We can be squeamish, but it works.” So let’s get one thing straight: Weed lube isn’t lube, and it’s also not a novelty. According to many of those who’ve tried it, it’s a godsend.
Complete Article HERE!