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Men and Affection: Three Practices to Raise Boys Unafraid to Love

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Your boys are watching and learning from your examples.

boys

By Dwayne D Hayes

When I was twenty-one I spent two months living in London with a group of young people from around the world as part of a summer mission project. It was a great opportunity to meet people from various countries and to learn more about the world. I was part of a small team that included men and women from Germany, Finland, South Africa, Jordan, Brazil, and several others countries.

One afternoon Kamal, a young Jordanian, and I went to meet some others in Hyde Park. Along the way, he grabbed my hand as we walked side-by-side. I quickly removed my hand from his grasp and Kamal kindly explained that it was common for Arab men to hold hands as a sign of friendship and affection. But it was a sign of friendship and affection that I was not comfortable with, not mature enough for and, though he repeated this several times over the summer, I always let go of his hand as quickly as possible.

As a boy, I loved to hold my younger brother’s hand. He was my best friend and, though he was 001only eighteen months younger, feeling his soft little hand in mine made me feel good, and protective. That tenderness quickly moved into aggression and we would wrestle, punch, and kick each other. Yes, often in fun. But seldom have we, after our early years, expressed our affection for each other in a physical way (with the exception of a bro-hug).

Now, over twenty years after Kamal reached for my hand, my son is in kindergarten and I love to watch him interact with his male friends. They hug each other, can often be found with hands on each other’s face or in hair, rest their heads on each other when they talk and, yes, even hold hands.

Logan clearly loves his male buddies.

When and why do we stop expressing affection for our male friends? As adults, this extends beyond the physical. I can do “bro hugs” easily but find it difficult to speak if I try to tell a male friend how much I appreciate him.

002For boys as they age there is the pressure to avoid being a “sissy”. Girls, we’re told (and shown) are emotional, weak, and cry. If you’re like a girl you must be gay. And sadly, of course, for many people that is still unacceptable.

It is this pressure that quenches some of the natural physical affection that boys express for each other when they are young and we learn to express our affection violently, through punches, teasing, and other forms of verbal abuse.

It saddens me to think it will happen to my son.

So, what can we do to help our sons express affection for their male friends? The following three practices can help our sons learn to be unafraid about showing affection.

1. Watch our words.

Don’t speak in demeaning terms about girls, crying, homosexuals, or the expression of emotion. Don’t react negatively when our sons share their affection in a physical way.

2.  Demonstrate appropriate physical touch with your male friends.

Hug your best buds, shake hands and stand with your arm around your friends. And tell them how important they are to you. Avoid confusing affection with violence or verbal attacks. There are various ways to express affection. Make a practice of demonstrating them in front of your son.

3. Express physical affection for your father and/or male siblings.

I kiss my father on the cheek when I see him. I do this not only to show my love for him but also because I want my son to always kiss me and not be afraid to show affection for me.

◊♦◊

Did you see the film Eat Pray Love, starring Julia Roberts? I don’t remember much about the film, but what I do remember is Felipe, the character played by Javier Bardem, a Brazilian divorcé, whose college-age son visits. Felipe kisses his adult son on the lips and openly weeps when his son departs the country.

Rarely do you see an American father express this type of affection for his son. I was a new father when I saw the movie and thought: that is exactly how I will be when my son is older.

Every night, before I go to bed, I silently enter my son’s room (he is approaching six now) and kiss him and whisper that I love him.

I know, soon enough, he will likely ask me to end this nightly show of affection.

But he’s a deep sleeper. Don’t tell him and I just might get away with it until he goes away to college.

Complete Article HERE!

An (extremely long) Tale Of Woe

First Name: Sam
Age: 22
Gender: Male
Location: North Carolina, USA
Wow, where do I even begin….

I am a 22-year-old gay male and believe that I may have SOME form of erectile dysfunction. I emphasize “some” because it is possible for me to get hard, firm erections, but I’m ALWAYS by myself when I do.

I have been able to give myself orgasms since I was in preschool. I did not masturbate the “traditional” way that men do (or ejaculate) until I was in 6th grade. Before that, I would lay down with my hands cupped around my crotch area and would “hump” into them until I felt an orgasm sensation and would then stop. In 6th grade I began to look at gay internet porn, and, seeing how most of those men masturbated, began to emulate the process. I even practiced “edging” often, beginning in 6th grade, as I had read on the internet at that time that it built up sexual stamina and led to powerful orgasms.PERFORMANCE_ANXIETY_pic_02_3

I would say that since I’ve been able to have orgasms (beginning in preschool), I would have one usually at least once a day. There were days here and there where I wouldn’t, but I guess an average would be 6 out of 7 days per week, with an average of twice per day. Of course, it’s hard to average them out since I’ve been having them for so long.

I did not start having sexual intercourse until my freshman year of college when I was 18, with my roommate at that time. Even that first time, I had problems maintaining my erection. I also had to use my hand and masturbate in order to have the orgasm, which took much longer than when I’m by myself. My roommate and I engaged in sexual intercourse regularly for the latter 2 and a half months of my freshman year, and every time, I had to have an orgasm by masturbating. Oral sex would not work, his hand would not work, and we did not engage in anal sex.

From ages 19-20, I had very little intercourse, but regularly masturbated (almost always to porn), and had no problems maintaining an erection and achieving orgasms. I hooked up with older men occasionally during this time, and again, could not have an orgasm unless I masturbated. It was also slightly more difficult to get an erection than by myself watching porn, and always took me longer to achieve orgasm than by myself. I had my first experience with anal sex (as a “top”) during this time as well, and could not ever reach orgasm, same with oral sex and hand-jobs.

When I was 20 I met and began dating my first boyfriend. We were together for 10 months, and while I enjoyed my time with him, our sex life was poor. We did not engage in anal sex except once, because we both considered ourselves tops. The one time we engaged in anal sex I tried to be the bottom, but did not enjoy it at all and had to stop. We did engage in oral sex, but I could never achieve orgasm that way. Again, I had to masturbate in order to have an orgasm. Not only that, but I began to have significant trouble sometimes to get an erection. Also, it took a lot longer for me to reach orgasm when I masturbated with him. By myself with porn, I could reach orgasm as quickly as 5-7 minutes. With him, it often took me at least 20 minutes, and it was usually 25-35 minutes.

loving legsAfter we broke up, I began to hookup a little more frequently then I had in the past, but it was not that often. Whenever I did, again, I always had to masturbate to achieve orgasm, and it took me a long time to do so. AND, during some of these hookups, I simply could not even achieve orgasm myself, as I started to have difficulty maintaining or even getting an erection. I highly doubt it was because of my sexual partners, because I would not hookup with someone I was not sexually attracted to. Also, I usually could have erections during foreplay, but when it came to the “big finish” my erection would start to wane or just become completely soft, and nothing I did or thought about changed that. Once, I achieved orgasm from barebacking (which I have not done since and luckily did not contract HIV or an STD), and there was also only one time where I hooked up with a guy and achieved orgasm from him giving me oral sex, although I believe this was because I refrained from masturbating for the past few days beforehand.

I am 22 now, and am starting to worry that I will not be able to ever have any good sex with someone else other than myself. In almost all of my most recent hookups, I have had to use a cockring to get an erection, and even then sometimes it doesn’t even help. Also, in almost all of my most recent hookups, it either takes me around 30 minutes to masturbate to orgasm, or I simply can’t have an orgasm because of lack of an erection. However, if I am by myself watching porn, I do not have any trouble getting and maintaining “rock-hard” erections and reaching orgasm.

I have become particularly concerned about this problem now, because I have begun to date someone and engage in sex with him for the past few weeks. When we first had sex I topped him anally and had a good erection. But we still masturbated together to completion. Ever since the first time though, I have had a LOT of difficulty just getting an erection period. Cockrings do not help, and oral sex and foreplay don’t really help either. Sometimes when we make out for a while I’ll start to get kind of hard, but then when I try to get ready to penetrate him or simply masturbate with him, I’ll go soft again. I’ve been able to reach orgasms sometimes when I masturbate with him, but my penis is usually semi-soft when I reach orgasm, and again, it takes more effort and certainly more time to do so then when I’m alone watching porn. He is incredibly good FleshJacklooking, good at sex, and very passionate, so I know it is not him. Luckily, he does not mind when I cannot perform, he says he likes me for me and that everything is fine, and he thinks that I shouldn’t worry about it. But at this point, I really can’t help but worry about it…

The last time this problem happened I had willingly decided to not have an orgasm for three days beforehand, hoping that it would help the issue. But unfortunately, it did not help or change anything. I’ve decided to completely stop viewing or watching any pornography whatsoever, and have also decided that when I masturbate I will avoid as much contact with my hand and, instead, use my FleshJack (the gay version of FleshLight) with the “Squeeze” texture (their most “realistic” anal texture). I have not had sex with him since I decided this (which is the day I’ve written this question, May 27, 2015).

I apologize for this EXTREMELY long inquiry, but I didn’t want to leave out any details of my sexual history in case they were important. I’m wondering if masturbating regularly since preschool has anything to do with my poor performance. And I’ve considered that I’m “overthinking everything” when I engage in sex and maybe that’s preventing me from getting erections with other men, but I’m such a sexual person that I can’t think of anything but dirty, sexual thoughts when I’m with another man, yet it just doesn’t seem to work. I do start to focus on not being able to get an erection if I’m not getting one for 5-10 minutes, but during that time beforehand, I’m not thinking about anything other than the pleasure, so I don’t see what I’m doing wrong. The problem is beginning to be REALLY embarrassing and I’m concerned that if I’m already having these problems at only 22 years of age, I’ll likely have the worst of erectile dysfunction problems in the future.

I suppose my main questions are:
1) What could be causing this to happen?
2) Is my proposed method of completely avoiding porn and masturbation via my hand an appropriate solution?
3) Do you have any specific suggestions or general advice that can help me with this problem and/or my sex life?

Again, I apologize if this is way too long; I’ve just never been so concerned about it before. I’m 22, I should be able to get rock hard erections easily, but I feel like a 70 year old man who just “can’t get it up.” ANY advice you can give me will be sincerely appreciated.

Whew, Sam, that was like the War And Peace of sex advice questions.

It’s perfectly clear that you are worried about your sexual response. But I’m gonna guess that your worry is actually making things worse. Before I respond to your three questions, I want to say; get thee to a therapist! You need to sit down with a sex-positive therapist and work through this stuff with him/her. This is super important, don’t just blow it off. If you need a referral, see the Directory of the American College of Sexologists to find someone in your neck of the woods. I also offer remote therapy via Skype or phone. See my Therapy Available page.

whewNow to your questions in the order you asked them…
1) What could be causing this to happen?
Everything you tell me points to performance anxiety. I’ve written and spoken a great deal about this issue over the years. Use the CATEGORIES pull down menu in the sidebar to your right. Scroll down till you find the main category, Sex Therapy. Under it you will find the sub category, Performance Anxiety.  You’ll find tons of information.

2) Is my proposed method of completely avoiding porn and masturbation via my hand an appropriate solution?
It might be, but not for the reason you suspect. Again, you need to discuss this with a therapist. It’s important and more involved than I have time and space to lay it out for you.

3) Do you have any specific suggestions or general advice that can help me with this problem and/or my sex life?
Yeah, chill the fuck out! Honesty, that’s the best thing you can do right now. Then, with the help of a therapist, work through your problems, put in place a program to rebuild your partnered psychosexual response one step at a time. You’ll probably begin with sensate focus training, stress reduction, and relaxation exercises.

YOUNG and OLD

Hey sex fans,

More Q&A today with the bonus links to my HOW TO VIDEO LIBRARY (see the VOD tab at the top of the page?) that will further educate or enrich the person who is asking the question.

Think of it as at HOMEWORK or further study on the topic at hand.  I hope all of you will benefit from this terrific instructional and enriching resource.  (Click on the images below for viewing information.)

Name: Ramish
Gender:  Male
Age: 19
Location: UK
I’m nervous about having sex?  I have been masturbating since I was 11, but I can’t work up the courage to try it with anyone else.  I don’t even know if I’m gay or straight.  How do I get over being so nervous?

Holy cow, that is nervous.  I suggest that you begin by taking stock of yourself — physically, emotionally and sexually.  I’m gonna ask you some questions and you can take all the time you need to ponder your answers.  Here’s a tip, write these down; and if you have difficulty answering any of them ask a buddy for his or her input.

What’s your best physical asset?  Do you think of yourself as attractive in a sexual sort of a122116_xlfway?  If not, what could you do to spruce things up a little?  Listen, the more comfortable you are in your own skin, the more confident you’ll be in connecting with other for sex and relationships.  If you know yourself well enough to know your best assets, you’ll be able to put your best stuff forward, right?

What do you find sexually attractive about others — both women and men?  Chances are that if you haven’t already discovered if you are straight or gay, you might be bi.

When you masturbate, what goes through your head?  What are your sexual fantasies?  Do you fantasize about sexual situations with others?  Anything in particular?  Anyone in particular?

When you say you are nervous about sex; does that have to do with possible rejection?  Or is it more to do with performance — ya know, not knowing what to do once the situation arises, so to speak?  Is there anyone you feel safe enough with, a pal perhaps, you could talk this through with?  If you feel emotionally safe, or safe from potential shame and humiliation with this person, it might be easier to open up him or her.  Just remember, everyone’s been were you are at one point in his or her life.

Are you comfortable with being nude, at least by yourself?  Lots of people aren’t.  Are you able to admire yourself in the mirror without comparing yourself to the unrealistic expectations about the human body that comes to us from the popular culture? If you are not comfortable with being naked, think about the reasons why you’re not.  Again, if it’s body image issues, maybe you need to get in better shape, or just let go of your idealized notions about physical attractiveness.

a93626_xlfDo you know about contraception and sexually transmitted infections? If you don’t, you’re not ready to have sex with anyone else.  Do your homework.  Know what you need to ask a prospective partner in terms of contraception and STIs before an encounter.

OK, so you’re familiar with pleasuring yourself.  That’s a good start.  Would you know how to pleasure a partner?  If you’re not sure, I suggest that you do some research.  There are all kinds of instructional videos out there.  In fact, you’ll find just about everything you are looking for at DR DICK’S HOW TO VIDEO LIBRARY.

One thing to remember, the best sex is a mutually satisfying experience. You and your potential partners are different people, with different desires, interests, personality and fantasies. Despite everything you might learn from an instructional video, there is no substitute for asking your partner what he/she likes. You’ll need to be able to respond in kind too.  Being able to communicate your needs and desires is absolutely essential for a happy, fun-filled fuck.

Are you a good kisser?  Do you know how to touch someone else without it being an invitation to sex?  Do you know how to be affectionate, to be close and playful with someone simply for joy of it?  I always suggest to my young clients that they learn how to give a good back rub or foot massage.  Nonseductive touching is as important as knowing how to touch someone sexually.  It’s also how some of the best sex play begins.

Are you making yourself available for a sexual connection?  Nowadays the opportunities for connecting with others for companionship and/or sex abound.  You don’t have to be aggressive in your pursuit, but it ain’t gonna fall in your lap either.

What would it take for you to feel comfortable initiating sex?  This is, of course, the follow-up step to putting yourself out there.  I realize this can be a bit intimidating, but you’re gonna have to push through this, pup. Think about why initiating sex or accepting an invitation to be sexual is difficult for you.

Are you able to be a good friend?  The best sex is more than bumping parts.  It’s a full human-to-human connection.  If you know how to be a good friend, you’re more than half way there to being a good lover.  There are all kinds of sexual expression — romantic to the passionate even spiritual. Sex can be a cuddly and romantic, or it can be hot monkey love.a122404_xlf It can be tender as well as intense.  You ought to have the ability direct the flow, or at least go with it.

Do you have an adventuresome side to you?  Do you like a challenge?  Are you comfortable experimenting with one thing or another?  If you are, you will find these are all valuable assets in making sex happen for you.  There are still a whole lot of sex-negative messages out there in our society.  You’ll need to be strong enough to stand against these repressive currents and pursue your heart’s desire.

In the end, a good sex life takes effort.  It takes knowledge, practice and relationship skills.  A degree of personal openness and a sense of fun and adventure are also very helpful. Learning more about yourself and what makes you tick, will give you an advantage when the time is ready for you to partner up for sex.

Name: Walter
Gender:  Male
Age: 67
Location: Padre Island
I’m a recent widower, I haven’t dated in over 40 years.  I’m still very interested in sex, but things don’t work like they used to down there.  I had a comfortable life with my wife and performance was never an issue. Now that I’m on my own now, I’m afraid I will disappoint, if you know what I mean.

Yeah, I think I do know what you mean.  Getting back into the swing of things after so many years on the shelf a daunting task.  If you layer on sexual performance issues…well the task becomes even harder, no pun intended.

a74931_xlfI know I don’t have to tell you this, but our bodies change as we age.  Our sexual response cycle changes too.  You are familiar with the four stages of the sexual response cycle, right?  In case you are not, they are — arousal, plateau, orgasm and resolution.  Despite the changes that aging brings, there’s no good reason why you shouldn’t be able to enjoy a happy, healthy sex life.  Of course, having a healthy mind-set about sex will also help.

A rich and full sex life, possibly even like the one you shared with your recently departed wife, will involve some patience and understanding and possibly some reprogramming of old ways of looking at sex.  For example, performance issues are only a problem if you are expecting something of your body that it cannot deliver.  And if you date within your age group, you’ll find that all your peers will be just as familiar as you with dwindling physical capacities.

So ok, it’s gonna take considerably longer to get a hardon at your age — that’s a given.  This just means you need to take your time, increase and focus the stimulation and while your cock is taking its sweet time to point skyward, enjoy all the sensual pleasures coming your way in the meantime.  That last part is really difficult for us aging men folk.  Sometimes we concentrate so fiercely on gettin our dick hard that we miss all the great pleasuring stuff that is happening all around us.

Once you get your boner goin, I suggest that you add a little stiffy insurance.  Wear a cockring. If you don’t know what that is, check out my Sex Toy Review Site. Use the search function; type in “cockring” and presto!  You’ll find all kinds of information on these helpful little buggers.

I know a number of older men, particularly those with high blood pressure, who are unable to take erection-enhancing meds like Viagra, who are turning to penis pumps to get their wood started.  Not sure what a penis pump is or does.  Well, time to do more online research at my Sex Toy Review Site.  Again, use the search function; type in “penis pump” and presto!  Loads of information about these helpful tools will appear.

I’m hoping that when you say that you and your wife “had a comfortable life” together, where performance was never an issue that you’re telling me that your sex life wasn’t all about getting it up and getting it off.  Sexual pleasure can come through all kinds of sex play — touching, talking, and being physically close, oral sex as well as full on fucking.  I’d be willing to guess that your future partners will appreciate you being a fully sensual lover, not just a sexual performer.

Remember the proverbial cum shot is not the same thing as an orgasm. Lots of seasoned older men are able to be orgasmic without a full erection or an ejaculation.  You may even find that you are capable of several very satisfying mini orgasms instead of the one BIG-O of years past.  I encourage you not to fall into the trap of equating sexual functioning with manliness; that’s a dead end.

a113017_xlfThis challenging new phase in your life, daunting as it might be, can also be an exciting adventure of self-discovery.  You basically have permission to re-imagine and redefine what type of sexual expression suits you best at this stage in your life.  One good way of testing the waters, so to speak is to start with self-pleasuring.  This is the perfect opportunity to experiment with sexual performance enhancing toys like a cockring, vibrator or a penis pump.  If you haven’t done so already, why not discover the pleasures of your ass.  Happily, you don’t need an erection to enjoy some good old-fashioned butt play; your prostate will do all the work.

You may discover you have new or yet unexplored interests in other sexual expressions like role-playing, kink, or maybe even same-sex partners.  Just because your earlier life may have been pretty straight and vanilla, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.  The more you know about your body and what turns you on, the more information you’ll be able to share with your partners.

Unabashedly sharing your newfound sexual experiences and interests with others will be the basis for your future partnered sexual expression. Know that other women and men of your age group are also rediscovering and reawakening their sexuality.  What a great joy it would be to explore the territory together.

I invite you to rekindle your natural curiosity about the wide range of human sexual expression. Take it slow. Learn to communicate effectively: share what makes you feel good with your partners and be sure to ask them what turns them on.  Don’t take yourself too seriously, and keep it playful.  And most of all, keep an open mind about all of this, will ya?

Good luck ya’ll

DDSTR

A handy history

Condemned, celebrated, shunned: masturbation has long been an uncomfortable fact of life. Why?

by Barry Reay

A handy history

The anonymous author of the pamphlet Onania (1716) was very worried about masturbation. The ‘shameful vice’, the ‘solitary act of pleasure’, was something too terrible to even be described. The writer agreed with those ‘who are of the opinion, that… it never ought to be spoken of, or hinted at, because the bare mentioning of it may be dangerous to some’. There was, however, little reticence in cataloguing ‘the frightful consequences of self-pollution’. Gonorrhoea, fits, epilepsy, consumption, impotence, headaches, weakness of intellect, backache, pimples, blisters, glandular swelling, trembling, dizziness, heart palpitations, urinary discharge, ‘wandering pains’, and incontinence – were all attributed to the scourge of onanism.

The fear was not confined to men. The full title of the pamphlet was Onania: Or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, and all its Frightful Consequences (in Both Sexes). Its author was aware that the sin of Onan referred to the spilling of male seed (and divine retribution for the act) but reiterated that he treated ‘of this crime in relation to women as well as men’. ‘[W]hilst the offence is Self-Pollution in both, I could not think of any other word which would so well put the reader in mind both of the sin and its punishment’. Women who indulged could expect disease of the womb, hysteria, infertility and deflowering (the loss of ‘that valuable badge of their chastity and innocence’).

Another bestselling pamphlet was published later in the century: L’onanisme (1760) by Samuel Auguste Tissot. He was critical of Onania, ‘a real chaos … all the author’s reflections are nothing but theological and moral puerilities’, but nevertheless listed ‘the ills of which the English patients complain’. Tissot was likewise fixated on ‘the physical disorders produced by masturbation’, and provided his own case study, a watchmaker who had self-pleasured himself into ‘insensibility’ on a daily basis, sometimes three times a day; ‘I found a being that less resembled a living creature than a corpse, lying upon straw, meagre, pale, and filthy, casting forth an infectious stench; almost incapable of motion.’ The fear these pamphlets promoted soon spread.

The strange thing is that masturbation was never before the object of such horror. In ancient times, masturbation was either not much mentioned or treated as something a little vulgar, not in good taste, a bad joke. In the Middle Ages and for much of the early modern period too, masturbation, while sinful and unnatural, was not invested with such significance. What changed?

Religion and medicine combined powerfully to create a new and hostile discourse. The idea that the soul was present in semen led to thinking that it was very important to retain the vital fluid. Its spilling became, then, both immoral and dangerous (medicine believed in female semen at the time). ‘Sin, vice, and self-destruction’ were the ‘trinity of ideas’ that would dominate from the 18th into the 19th century, as the historians Jean Stengers and Anne Van Neck put it in Masturbation: The Great Terror (2001).

There were exceptions. Sometimes masturbation was opposed for more ‘enlightened’ reasons. In the 1830s and 1840s, for instance, female moral campaign societies in the United States condemned masturbation, not out of hostility to sex, but as a means to self-control. What would now be termed ‘greater sexual agency’ – the historian April Haynes refers to ‘sexual virtue’ and ‘virtuous restraint’ – was central to their message.

Yet it is difficult to escape the intensity of the fear. J H Kellogg’s Plain Facts for Old and Young (1877) contained both exaggerated horror stories and grand claims: ‘neither the plague, nor war, nor smallpox, nor similar diseases, have produced results so disastrous to humanity as the pernicious habit of Onanism; it is the destroying element of civilised societies’. Kellogg suggested remedies for the scourge, such as exercise, strict bathing and sleeping regimes, compresses, douching, enemas and electrical treatment. Diet was vital: this rabid anti-masturbator was co-inventor of the breakfast cereal that still bears his name. ‘Few of today’s eaters of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes know that he invented them, almost literally, as anti-masturbation food,’ as the psychologist John Money once pointed out.

The traces are still with us in other ways. Male circumcision, for instance, originated in part with the 19th-century obsession with the role of the foreskin in encouraging masturbatory practices. Consciously or not, many US males are faced with this bodily reminder every time they masturbate. And the general disquiet unleashed in the 18th century similarly lingers on today. We seem to have a confusing and conflicting relationship with masturbation. On one hand it is accepted, even celebrated – on the other, there remains an unmistakable element of taboo.

When the sociologist Anthony Giddens in The Transformation of Intimacy (1992) attempted to identify what made modern sex modern, one of the characteristics he identified was the acceptance of masturbation. It was, as he said, masturbation’s ‘coming out’. Now it was ‘widely recommended as a major source of sexual pleasure, and actively encouraged as a mode of improving sexual responsiveness on the part of both sexes’. It had indeed come to signify female sexual freedom with Betty Dodson’s Liberating Masturbation (1974) (renamed and republished as Sex for One in 1996), which has sold more than a million copies, and her Bodysex Workshops in Manhattan with their ‘all-women masturbation circles’. The Boston Women’s Health Collective’s classic feminist text Our Bodies, Ourselves (1973) included a section called ‘Learning to Masturbate’.

Alfred Kinsey and his team are mainly remembered for the sex surveys that publicised the pervasiveness of same-sex desires and experiences in the US, but they also recognised the prevalence of masturbation. It was, for both men and women, one of the nation’s principal sexual outlets. In the US National Survey (2009–10), 94 per cent of men aged 25-29 and 85 per cent of women in the same age group said that they had masturbated alone in the course of their lifetime. (All surveys indicate lower reported rates for women.) In the just-published results of the 2012 US National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, 92 per cent of straight men and a full 100 per cent of gay men recorded lifetime masturbation.

There has certainly been little silence about the activity. Several generations of German university students were questioned by a Hamburg research team about their masturbatory habits to chart changing attitudes and practices from 1966 to 1996; their results were published in 2003. Did they reach orgasm? Were they sexually satisfied? Was it fun? In another study, US women were contacted on Craigslist and asked about their masturbatory experiences, including clitoral stimulation and vaginal penetration. An older, somewhat self-referential study from 1977 of sexual arousal to films of masturbation asked psychology students at the University of Connecticut to report their ‘genital sensations’ while watching those films. Erection? Ejaculation? Breast sensations? Vaginal lubrication? Orgasm? And doctors have written up studies of the failed experiments of unfortunate patients: ‘Masturbation Injury Resulting from Intraurethral Introduction of Spaghetti’ (1986); ‘Penile Incarceration Secondary to Masturbation with A Steel Pipe’ (2013), with illustrations.

‘We are a profoundly self-pleasuring society at both a metaphorical and material level’

Self-stimulation has been employed in sexual research, though not always to great import. Kinsey and his team wanted to measure how far, if at all, semen was projected during ejaculation: Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, Kinsey’s biographer, refers to queues of men in Greenwich Village waiting to be filmed at $3 an ejaculation. William Masters and Virginia Johnson recorded and measured the physiological response during sexual arousal, using new technology, including a miniature camera inside a plastic phallus. Their book Human Sexual Response (1966) was based on data from more than 10,000 orgasms from nearly 700 volunteers: laboratory research involving sexual intercourse, stimulation, and masturbation by hand and with that transparent phallus. Learned journals have produced findings such as ‘Orgasm in Women in the Laboratory – Quantitative Studies on Duration, Intensity, Latency, and Vaginal Blood Flow’ (1985).

In therapy, too, masturbation has found its place ‘as a means of achieving sexual health’, as an article by Eli Coleman, the director of the programme in human sexuality at the University of Minnesota Medical School, once put it. A published study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in 1977 outlined therapist-supervised female masturbation (with dildo, vibrator and ‘organic vegetables’) as a way of encouraging vaginal orgasm. Then there is The Big Book of Masturbation (2003) and the hundreds of (pun intended) self-help books, Masturbation for Weight Loss, a Womans Guide only among the latest (and more opportunistic).

Self-pleasure has featured in literature, most famously in Philip Roth’s novel Portnoys Complaint (1969). But it is there in more recent writing too, including Chuck Palahniuk’s disturbing short story ‘Guts’ (2004). Autoeroticism (and its traces) have been showcased in artistic expression: in Jordan MacKenzie’s sperm and charcoal canvases (2007), for example, or in Marina Abramović’s reprise of Vito Acconci’s Seedbed at the Guggenheim in 2005, or her video art Balkan Erotic Epic of the same year.

On film and television, masturbation is similarly pervasive: Lauren Rosewarne’s Masturbation in Pop Culture (2014) was able to draw on more than 600 such scenes. My favourites are in the film Spanking the Monkey (1994), in which the main character is trying to masturbate in the bathroom, while the family dog, seemingly alert to such behaviour, pants and whines at the door; and in the Seinfeld episode ‘The Contest’ (1992), in which the ‘m’ word is never uttered, and where George’s mother tells her adult son that he is ‘treating his body like it was an amusement park’.

There is much evidence, then, for what the film scholar Greg Tuck in 2009 called the ‘mainstreaming of masturbation’: ‘We are a profoundly self-pleasuring society at both a metaphorical and material level.’ There are politically-conscious masturbation websites. There is the online ‘Masturbation Hall of Fame’ (sponsored by the sex-toys franchise Good Vibrations). There are masturbationathons, and jack-off-clubs, and masturbation parties.

It would be a mistake, however, to present a rigid contrast between past condemnation and present acceptance. There are continuities. Autoeroticism might be mainstreamed but that does not mean it is totally accepted. In Sexual Investigations (1996), the philosopher Alan Soble observed that people brag about casual sex and infidelities but remain silent about solitary sex. Anne-Francis Watson and Alan McKee’s 2013 study of 14- to 16-year-old Australians found that not only the participants but also their families and teachers were more comfortable talking about almost any other sexual matter than about self-pleasuring. It ‘remains an activity that is viewed as shameful and problematic’, warns the entry on masturbation in the Encyclopedia of Adolescence (2011). In a study of the sexuality of students in a western US university, where they were asked about sexual orientation, anal and vaginal sex, condom use, and masturbation, it was the last topic that occasioned reservation: 28 per cent of the participants ‘declined to answer the masturbation questions’. Masturbation remains, to some extent, taboo.

When the subject is mentioned, it is often as an object of laughter or ridicule. Rosewarne, the dogged viewer of the 600 masturbation scenes in film and TV, concluded that male masturbation was almost invariably portrayed negatively (female masturbation was mostly erotic). Watson and McKee’s study revealed that their young Australians knew that masturbation was normal yet still made ‘negative or ambivalent statements’ about it.

Belief in the evils of masturbation has resurfaced in the figure of the sex addict and in the obsession with the impact of internet pornography. Throughout their relatively short histories, sexual addiction and hypersexual disorder have included masturbation as one of the primary symptoms of their purported maladies. What, in a sex-positive environment, would be considered normal sexual behaviour has been pathologised in another. Of the 152 patients in treatment for hypersexual disorder in clinics in California, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah, a 2012 study showed that most characterised their sexual disorder in terms of pornography consumption (81 per cent) and masturbation (78 per cent). The New Catholic Encyclopedia’s supplement on masturbation (2012-13), too, slips into a lengthy disquisition on sex addiction and the evils of internet pornography: ‘The availability of internet pornography has markedly increased the practice of masturbation to the degree that it can be appropriately referred to as an epidemic.’

Critics think that therapeutic masturbation might reinforce sexual selfishness rather than sexual empathy and sharing

The masturbator is often seen as the pornography-consumer and sex addict enslaved by masturbation. The sociologist Steve Garlick has suggested that negative attitudes to masturbation have been reconstituted to ‘surreptitiously infect ideas about pornography’. Pornography has become masturbation’s metonym. Significantly, when the New Zealand politician Shane Jones was exposed for using his taxpayer-funded credit card to view pornographic movies, the unnamed shame was that his self-pleasuring activities were proclaimed on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers – thus the jokes about ‘the matter in hand’ and not shaking hands with him at early morning meetings. It would have been less humiliating, one assumes, if he had used the public purse to finance the services of sex workers.

Nor is there consensus on the benefits of masturbation. Despite its continued use in therapy, some therapists question its usefulness and propriety. ‘It is a mystery to me how conversational psychotherapy has made the sudden transition to massage parlour technology involving vibrators, mirrors, surrogates, and now even carrots and cucumbers!’ one psychologist protested in the late 1970s. He was concerned about issues of client-patient power and a blinkered pursuit of the sexual climax ‘ignoring … the more profound psychological implications of the procedure’. In terms of effectiveness, critics think that therapeutic masturbation might reinforce individual pleasure and sexual selfishness rather than creating sexual empathy and sharing. As one observed in the pages of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy in 1995: ‘Ironically, the argument against masturbation in American society was originally religiously founded, but may re-emerge as a humanist argument.’ Oversimplified, but in essence right: people remain disturbed by the solitariness of solitary sex.

Why has what the Japanese charmingly call ‘self-play’ become such a forcing ground for sexual attitudes? Perhaps there is something about masturbation’s uncontrollability that continues to make people anxious. It is perversely non-procreative, incestuous, adulterous, homosexual, ‘often pederastic’ and, in imagination at least, sex with ‘every man, woman, or beast to whom I take a fancy’, to quote Soble. For the ever-astute historian Thomas Laqueur, author of Solitary Sex (2003), masturbation is ‘that part of human sexual life where potentially unlimited pleasure meets social restraint’.

Why did masturbation become such a problem? For Laqueur, it began with developments in 18th-century Europe, with the cultural rise of the imagination in the arts, the seemingly unbounded future of commerce, the role of print culture, the rise of private, silent reading, especially novels, and the democratic ingredients of this transformation. Masturbation’s condemned tendencies – solitariness, excessive desire, limitless imagination, and equal-opportunity pleasure – were an outer limit or testing of these valued attributes, ‘a kind of Satan to the glories of bourgeois civilisation’.

In more pleasure-conscious modern times, the balance has tipped towards personal gratification. The acceptance of personal autonomy, sexual liberation and sexual consumerism, together with a widespread focus on addiction, and the ubiquity of the internet, now seem to demand their own demon. Fears of unrestrained fantasy and endless indulging of the self remain. Onania’s 18th-century complaints about the lack of restraint of solitary sex are not, in the end, all that far away from today’s fear of boundless, ungovernable, unquenchable pleasure in the self.

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The evolutionary puzzle of homosexuality

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In the last two decades, dozens of scientific papers have been published on the biological origins of homosexuality – another announcement was made last week. It’s becoming scientific orthodoxy. But how does it fit with Darwin’s theory of evolution?

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s hit song Same Love, which has become an unofficial anthem of the pro-gay marriage campaign in the US, reflects how many gay people feel about their sexuality.

It mocks those who “think it’s a decision, and you can be cured with some treatment and religion – man-made rewiring of a predisposition”. A minority of gay people disagree, maintaining that sexuality is a social construct, and they have made a conscious, proud choice to take same-sex partners.

But scientific opinion is with Macklemore. Since the early 1990s, researchers have shown that homosexuality is more common in brothers and relatives on the same maternal line, and a genetic factor is taken to be the cause. Also relevant – although in no way proof – is research identifying physical differences in the brains of adult straight and gay people, and a dizzying array of homosexual behaviour in animals.

But since gay and lesbian people have fewer children than straight people, a problem arises.001

“This is a paradox from an evolutionary perspective,” says Paul Vasey from the University of Lethbridge in Canada. “How can a trait like male homosexuality, which has a genetic component, persist over evolutionary time if the individuals that carry the genes associated with that trait are not reproducing?”

Scientists don’t know the answer to this Darwinian puzzle, but there are several theories. It’s possible that different mechanisms may be at work in different people. Most of the theories relate to research on male homosexuality. The evolution of lesbianism is relatively understudied – it may work in a similar way or be completely different.


The genes that code for homosexuality do other things too

The allele – or group of genes – that sometimes codes for homosexual orientation may at other times have a strong reproductive benefit. This would compensate for gay people’s lack of reproduction and ensure the continuation of the trait, as non-gay carriers of the gene pass it down.

There are two or more ways this might happen. One possibility is that the allele confers a psychological trait that makes straight men more attractive to women, or straight women more attractive to men. “We know that women tend to like more feminine behavioural features and facial features in their men, and that might be associated with things like good parenting skills or greater empathy,” says Qazi Rahman, co-author of Born Gay; The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation. Therefore, the theory goes, a low “dose” of these alleles enhances the carrier’s chances of reproductive success. Every now and then a family member receives a larger dose that affects his or her sexual orientation, but the allele still has an overall reproductive advantage.

Another way a “gay allele” might be able to compensate for a reproductive deficit is by having the converse effect in the opposite sex. For example, an allele which makes the bearer attracted to men has an obvious reproductive advantage to women. If it appears in a man’s genetic code it will code for same-sex attraction, but so long as this happens rarely the allele still has a net evolutionary benefit.

There is some evidence for this second theory. Andrea Camperio-Ciani, at the University of Padova in Italy, found that maternal female relatives of gay men have more children than maternal female relatives of straight men. The implication is that there is an unknown mechanism in the X chromosome of men’s genetic code which helps women in the family have more babies, but can lead to homosexuality in men. These results haven’t been replicated in some ethnic groups – but that doesn’t mean they are wrong with regards to the Italian population in Camperio-Ciani’s study.


Gay people were ‘helpers in the nest’

The fa'afafine of Samoa dislike being called "gay" or "homosexual"

The fa’afafine of Samoa dislike being called “gay” or “homosexual”

Some researchers believe that to understand the evolution of gay people, we need to look at how they fit into the wider culture.

Paul Vasey’s research in Samoa has focused on a theory called kin selection or the “helper in the nest” hypothesis. The idea is that gay people compensate for their lack of children by promoting the reproductive fitness of brothers or sisters, contributing money or performing other uncle-like activities such as babysitting or tutoring. Some of the gay person’s genetic code is shared with nieces and nephews and so, the theory goes, the genes which code for sexual orientation still get passed down.

Sceptics have pointed out that since on average people share just 25% of their genetic code with these relatives, they would need to compensate for every child they don’t have themselves with two nieces or nephews that wouldn’t otherwise have existed. Vasey hasn’t yet measured just how much having a homosexual orientation boosts siblings’ reproduction rate, but he has established that in Samoa “gay” men spend more time on uncle-like activities than “straight” men.

“No-one was more surprised than me,” says Vasey about his findings. His lab had previously shown that gay men in Japan were no more attentive or generous towards their nieces and nephews than straight, childless men and women. The same result has been found in the UK, US and Canada.

Vasey believes that his Samoan result was different because the men he studied there were different. He studied the fa’afafine, who identify as a third gender, dressing as women and having sex with men who regard themselves as “straight”. They are a transgender group who do not like to be called “gay” or “homosexual”.

Vasey speculates that part of the reason the fa’afafine are more attentive to their nephews and nieces is their acceptance in Samoan culture compared to gay men in the West and Japan (“You can’t help your kin if they’ve rejected you”). But he also believes that there is something about the fa’afafine way of life that means they are more likely to be nurturing towards nieces and nephews, and speculates that he would find similar results in other “third gender” groups around the world.

If this is true, then the helper in the nest theory may partly explain how a genetic trait for same-sex attraction hasn’t been selected away. That hypothesis has led Vasey to speculate that the gay men who identify as men and have masculine traits – that is to say, most gay men in the West – are descended from men who had a cross-gendered sexuality.


Gay people do have children

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In the US, around 37% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people have a child, about 60% of which are biological. According to the Williams Institute, gay couples that have children have an average of two.

These figures may not be high enough to sustain genetic traits specific to this group, but the evolutionary 002biologist Jeremy Yoder points out in a blog post that for much of modern history gay people haven’t been living openly gay lives. Compelled by society to enter marriages and have children, their reproduction rates may have been higher than they are now.

How many gay people have children also depends on how you define being “gay”. Many of the “straight” men who have sex with fa’afafine in Samoa go on to get married and have children.

“The category of same-sex sexuality becomes very diffuse when you take a multicultural perspective,” says Joan Roughgarden, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Hawaii. “If you go to India, you’ll find that if someone says they are ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ then that immediately identifies them as Western. But that doesn’t mean there’s no homosexuality there.”

Similarly in the West, there is evidence that many people go through a phase of homosexual activity. In the 1940s, US sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found that while just 4% of white men were exclusively gay after adolescence, 10% had a three-year period of gay activity and 37% had gay sex at some point in their lives.

A national survey of sexual attitudes in the UK last year came up with lower figures. Some 16% of women said they had had a sexual experience with another woman (8% had genital contact), and 7% of men said they had had a sexual experience with a man (with 5% having genital contact).

But most scientists researching gay evolution are interested in an ongoing, internal pattern of desire rather than whether people identify as gay or straight or how often people have gay sex. “Sexual identity and sexual behaviours are not good measures of sexual orientation,” says Paul Vasey. “Sexual feelings are.”


It’s not all in the DNA

Qazi Rahman says that alleles coding for same sex attraction only explain some of the variety in human sexuality. Other, naturally varying biological factors come into play, with about one in seven gay men, he says, owing their sexuality to the “big brother effect”.

This has nothing to do with George Orwell, but describes the observation that boys with older brothers are significantly more likely to become gay – with every older brother the chance of homosexuality increases by about a third. No-one knows why this is, but one theory is that with each male pregnancy, a woman’s body forms an immune reaction to proteins that have a role in the development of the male brain. Since this only comes into play after several siblings have been born – most of whom are heterosexual and go on to have children – this pre-natal quirk hasn’t been selected away by evolution.

Exposure to unusual levels of hormone before birth can also affect sexuality. For example, female foetuses exposed to higher levels of testosterone before birth show higher rates of lesbianism later on. Studies show that “butch” lesbian women and men have a smaller difference in length between their index and ring fingers – a marker of pre-natal exposure to testosterone. In “femme” lesbians the difference has been found to be less marked.

Brothers of a different kind – identical twins – also pose a tricky question. Research has found that if an identical twin is gay, there is about a 20% chance that the sibling will have the same sexual orientation. While that’s a greater likelihood than random, it’s lower than you might expect for two people with the same genetic code.

William Rice, from the University of California Santa Barbara, says that it may be possible to explain this 003by looking not at our genetic code but at the way it is processed. Rice and his colleagues refer to the emerging field of epigenetics, which studies the “epimarks” that decide which parts of our DNA get switched on or off. Epimarks get passed on to children, but only sometimes. Rice believes that female foetuses employ an epimark that makes them less sensitive to testosterone. Usually it’s not inherited, but occasionally it is, leading to same-sex preference in boys.

Dr William Byne, editor-in-chief of the journal LGBT Health, believes sexuality may well be inborn, but thinks it could be more complicated than some scientists believe. He notes that the heritability of homosexuality is similar to that for divorce, but “social science researchers have not… searched for ‘divorce genes’. Instead they have focused on heritable personality and temperamental traits that might influence the likelihood of divorce.”

For Qazi Rahman, it’s the media that oversimplifies genetic theories of sexuality, with their reports of the discovery of “the gay gene”. He believes that sexuality involves tens or perhaps hundreds of alleles that will probably take decades to uncover. And even if heterosexual sex is more advantageous in evolutionary terms than gay sex, it’s not only gay people whose sexuality is determined by their genes, he says, but straight people too.

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