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An (extremely long) Tale Of Woe

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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

Price of Intimacy: The Time 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.”

By Andrew Gurza

learning to embrace my life in a wheelchair

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.

Complete Article HERE!

There’s No Such Thing as Everlasting Love (According to Science)

Just in time for Valentine’s day!

A new book argues that the emotion happens in “micro-moments of positivity resonance.”

love story

By Emily Esfahani Smith

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.'”

sad on valentine's day

Fredrickson’s unconventional ideas are important to think about at this time of year. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, many Americans are facing a grim reality: They are love-starved. Rates of loneliness are on the rise as social supports are disintegrating. In 1985, when the General Social Survey polled Americans on the number of confidants they have in their lives, the most common response was three. In 2004, when the survey was given again, the most common response was zero.

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.”

Vincent Valentine RIDEHARD

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.

001

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.

valentine

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.valentine's_pose

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!

The Pill That Prevents HIV Is As Safe As Daily Aspirin

Taking Truvada every day to prevent HIV isn’t any more dangerous than taking a daily aspirin to prevent heart attacks, a new study finds.

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Truvada

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!

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