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For Queer Women, What Counts as Losing Your Virginity?

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I wanted, desperately, to know if the sex I was having “counted.”

After I hooked up with someone, I snuck out of bed and into the darkness of my balcony, alone. A nervous wreck, I texted my friend, practically hyperventilating because of something I’d never expected to worry about at all.

Hoping for an answer, I texted: Am I still a virgin if I had sex with a girl?

My friend asked what I thought, but I really didn’t know. The woman I’d slept with defined sex as penetration, so by her definition, we hadn’t had sex. She, as the older, long-time queer in the hookup, had the upper hand. I didn’t think it was up to me. After all, what did I know about the rules of girl-on-girl sex, let alone what counts as losing your virginity? Could it be sex if only half of the people involved thought it was?

To me, it felt like it had to be sex, because if not sex, what was it?

It was a panic I never expected to feel. I was super open-minded. I was super feminist. I should have been beyond thrilled and empowered by the fact that I’d had a positive sexual encounter. But instead of cuddling the girl I was sleeping with and basking in our post-sex glow, or even vocalizing my worry over whether or not we’d just had sex, I was panicking in solitude.

My identity has always been a blur—I’m biracial, bisexual, and queer—and it’s something that makes me feel murky, unsure of who I am. Virginity was just the newest thing to freak out about. I stood in the dark alone and tried to figure out, once again, how to define myself.

I wanted, desperately, to know if the sex I was having “counted.” And I’m not the only one.

While many people have a strained relationship with the concept of virginity (and whether or not it exists to begin with), for queer women, the role of virginity is especially complicated.

“Virginity is a socially constructed idea that is fairly exclusive to the heterosexual population,” Kristen Mark, Ph.D. an associate professor of health promotion at University of Kentucky and director of the sexual health promotion lab, told SELF. “There is very little language in determining how virginity is ‘lost’ in non-heterosexual populations. Given the relatively large population of non-heterosexual populations, the validity of virginity is poor.”

As a result, many of us are stressed out by the concept, and left wondering if there’s just something other queer women know that we aren’t quite in on.

For Sam Roberts*, the lack of clarity surrounding expectations of queer women made them hesitant to come out in the first place. “I didn’t come out as queer until I was 25,” they tell SELF. “I felt vulnerable because of the lack of understanding around queer sexuality. Certainly it has gotten better, but not having a model for what queer sex ([specifically] for [cisgender]-women) looks like via health class, media, or pop culture can make it hard to know how to navigate that space.”

Alaina Leary, 24, expressed similar frustrations the first time they had sex. “My first sex partner and I had a lot of conversations around sex and sexuality,” Leary tells SELF. “We were essentially figuring it out on our own. Health class, for me, never taught me much about LGBTQ sex.”

When you’ve been socialized to view penetration as the hallmark of sexual intercourse, it’s hard to know what counts as losing your virginity—or having sex, for that matter.

“For many queer women, what they consider sex is not considered sex from a heteronormative perspective,” Karen Blair, Ph.D., professor of psychology at St. Francis Xavier University and director of the KLB Research Lab, tells SELF. “So this can complicate the question of when one lost their virginity, if ever.”

“Even if one expands the definition of having lost one’s virginity to some form of vaginal penetration, many queer women may never actually ‘lose’ their virginity—to the extent that it is something that can be considered ‘lost’ in the first place.”

To be clear, relying on penetration as a defining aspect of sex only serves to exclude all those who aren’t interested in or physically capable of engaging in penetrative sexual acts—regardless of their sexual orientation. Ultimately, requiring sex to be any one thing is inherently difficult because of the limitless differences among bodies and genitals, and the simple fact that what feels pleasurable to one body can be boring at best, and traumatizing at worst, to another.

The lack of a clear moment when one became sexually active can make us feel like the sex we have doesn’t count.

We live in a culture that overwhelmingly values virginity, with “losing your v-card” still seen as a step into adulthood. It’s something that, as a former straight girl, I’d never even thought about, but, as a queer girl, I became obsessive over: When was I really, truly, having sex?

It was especially frustrating considering that my straight friends seemed instantly thrust into this status of adults in real, legitimate sexual relationships, while my relationships were being thought of as “foreplay” by the mainstream, rather than valid sex acts.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. “We had straight friends who were having sex and doing sexual things in very defined ways,” Leary says. “One of my friends was obsessed with the ‘bases’ and insisted that her oral sex with her boyfriend didn’t count as sex because it was ‘only third base.’”

So what does that mean for those of us who will only ever engage in “foreplay?”

Considering the larger structures and cultural expectations that make queer women feel invalid, virginity is just another way that we’re left feeling somehow less than our straight and cisgender counterparts.

“The primary impact of the concept of virginity on queer women is an—even if unconscious—feeling of inferiority or oppression,” Dr. Mark explains. “We as a society place so much emphasis on virginity loss, yet it is a concept that is only relevant to a portion of the population. Women in general, regardless of sexual orientation, know they are sexual objects before they are sexually active due to the existence of the concept of virginity.”

Consider the fact that most young women first learn about sex in the context of virginity, which often exists under the scope of “purity.” This, Dr. Mark says, can make women feel “defined by virginity status.”

As a result, when queer women do have sex, and it doesn’t “count” as their virginity being “taken,” they can be left confused about the encounter and unsure of how valid their sexual relationships are to begin with.

At the end of the day, it’s up to queer women to define what virginity—and sex—mean for ourselves.

“I would encourage queer women to define their sexual lives in ways that make sense for them,” Dr. Mark explains. “If they have created an idea around virginity that makes it important to them, I encourage them to think about alternate ways to define it that fits with their experience. But I also encourage the rejection of virginity for women who feel like it doesn’t fit for them.”

This lack of an expectation (beyond consent, of course) when it comes to how you have sex can actually be freeing, in a way, Dr. Blair says.

“One of the best things that queer women have going for them in their relationships is the freedom to write their own sexual scripts in a way that suits them and their partners best.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Sex advice from a youngster is no use to older couples

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“When we first fell in love, we really didn’t know what the future would hold. We were in awe of love’s mysterious forces. But if our relationship has endured, it will have been thoroughly worked through and mirror our maturity in life. Love’s forces will have created a bond between us that radiates a quiet warmth. There is a welcoming space to share common interests and the joy of living. We perceive our own true individuality and treat our partners with respect and honour.”

If this is the picture of your relationship then you probably don’t have any issues with sexuality. It is woven securely into the tapestry of your relationship. For some couples, it’s a subtle thread. For others, it’s more colourful and vibrant.

However, if you’re wondering what has happened because sex isn’t thriving in your relationship, there is a lot of advice out there that won’t help you in the long run.

Forget about learning new sexual techniques. They won’t save your sex life. By now, you should know what works for you and what doesn’t. Forget about trying to retrieve the stamina you had in your 20s, 30s or your 40s. It’s better to appreciate the resiliency you’ve gained through experience.

Forget about taking pole dancing classes or buying expensive lingerie unless you truly think you will enjoy it. Forget about taking advice given to you by someone younger than you who think they know the real secret to a good sex life. If they haven’t experienced sex in an older body or in a long-term relationship, they probably don’t know what they’re talking about.

While trying something new may shake things up and make you look and feel differently in the short-term, sexuality is a living experience. It is a response from inside of you, not a reaction to an idea taken on from the outside. Rearranging things on the outside may help a little, but the real shift takes place by aligning your interior life with your outer experience.

You can begin by asking yourself some questions.

What’s it like being in your older body?

As we age, the exaltation of touch and sensation softens. That fiery, electric current that passes between young lovers gives way to a slow burning flame that is deeper and longer. We take our time. We notice that sensations become less localised, leading to a profoundly satisfying whole body experience.

In older bodies libido tends to decrease. For women it’s a common aftermath of menopause. For men, sex drive lowers more gradually and is definitely noticeable by around the age 62 when most men begin to experience difficulty in achieving or maintaining an erection. It takes more time to warm up. But the silver lining is that by spending time touching, kissing, and caressing, you can crawl into your partner’s skin, melting body and soul.

Intimacy or sex?

Intimacy is at the heart of a strong relationship. It is the experience of emotional closeness when two people are able to reveal their true feelings, thoughts, fears and desires. They are completely free in each other’s presence. When sex comes from a place of love and connection, it is the physical embodiment of intimacy.

Although sex and intimacy isn’t the same thing, they are inextricably linked. Intimacy builds sex and sex builds intimacy. Intimate sex can be deeply fulfilling whereas sex without intimacy can be very unrewarding.

What if sex is no longer a part of your relationship?

While sex is an integral part of many relationships, some couples don’t have sex anymore. This may have happened through circumstance such as when one person became ill or simply because sex slowly disappeared in importance over the years.

If sex is a very subtle thread in the tapestry of your relationship, it’s important not to abstain from all physical contact. Hugging, kissing, holding hands and cuddling heighten awareness and awaken the senses. It’s a way of getting to know each other as if for the first time.

Complete Article HERE!

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Women Get Bored of Having Sex In A Relationship After One Year, Study Finds

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‘Endorsing stereotypical gender norms related to sex may adversely affect women more than men’

By Olivia Petter

What turns you off?

For some, it might be arrogance or swearing, for others it could be tattoos and unconventional piercings.

For women, it’s time, apparently, as a new study has found that women lose interest in having sex with their partner after just 12 months of being together.

Published in the British Medical Journal Open, the survey collected data from 4,839 men and 6,669 women aged 16-74 and revealed that while both genders tire of sex with age, women claim to get bored of sex in relationships far quicker than men.

More turn-offs for women were having children under five and having given birth in the last year, the study found.

“This may be due to fatigue associated with a primary caring role, the fact that daily stress appears to affect sexual functioning in women more than men or possibly a shift in focus of attention attendant on bringing up small children,” explained the study’s authors.

Conducted by researchers at Southampton University, factors such as lack of emotional closeness, communication issues and poor health were cited as reasons for having a lower sex drive in both men and women.

Other factors included having STIs and past experiences of forced intercourse.

For women, the lack of interest in sex was most common between the ages of 55 and 64, whereas for men it was younger, at 35-44.

However, the researchers explained that there was no evidence to suggest that this had anything to do with menopause, despite occurring around those ages in women.

Whilst both men and women included in the study reported lacklustre libidos, the women were twice as likely to suffer from a low sex drive.

Overall, 34 per cent of the women surveyed reported a lacking interest in sex, compared to just 15 per cent of men.

They also found that two in five older women were unsatisfied with their sex lives which experts explain could be down to stress and facing the pressures of family life and work.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Men Wake up With Erections

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Have you ever wondered why men often wake up with an erection?

The morning penile erection, or as it is medically known, “nocturnal penile tumescence”, is not only an interesting physiological phenomenon, it can also tell us a lot about a patient’s sexual function.

Morning penile erections affect all males, even males in the womb and male children. It also has a female counterpart in the less frequently discussed nocturnal clitoral erection.

What causes erections?

Penile erections occur in response to complex effects of the nervous system and endocrine system (the glands that secrete hormones into our system) on the blood vessels of the penis.

When sexually aroused, a message starts in the brain, sending chemical messages to the nerves that supply the blood vessels of the penis, allowing blood to flow into the penis. The blood is trapped in the muscles of the penis, which makes the penis expand, resulting in an erection.

Several hormones are involved in influencing the brain’s response, such as testosterone (the main male hormone).

This same mechanism can occur without the involvement of the brain, in an uncontrolled reflex action that is in the spinal cord. This explains why people with spinal cord damage can still get erections and why you can get erections when not sexually aroused.

What about erections while we sleep?

Nocturnal penile erections occur during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep (the phase during which we dream). They occur when certain areas of the brain are activated. This includes areas in the brain responsible for stimulating the parasympathetic nerves (“rest and digest” nerves), suppressing the sympathetic nerves (“flight and fight” nerves) and dampening areas producing serotonin (the mood hormone).

Sleep is made up of several cycles of REM and non-REM (deep) sleep. During REM sleep, there is a shift in the dominant system that’s activated. We move from sympathetic (fight and flight) stimulation to parasympathetic (rest and digest) stimulation. This is not found during other parts of the sleep cycle.

This shift in balance drives the parasympathetic nerve response that results in the erection. This is spontaneous and does not require being awake. Some men may experience nocturnal penile tumescence during non-REM sleep as well, particularly older men. The reason for this is unclear.

The reason men wake up with an erection may be related to the fact we often wake up coming out of REM sleep.

Testosterone, which is at its highest level in the morning, has also been shown to enhance the frequency of nocturnal erections. Interestingly, testosterone has not been found to greatly impact visual erotic stimuli or fantasy-induced erections. These are predominantly driven by the “reward system” of the brain which secretes dopamine.

Men don’t wake up with erections because they’ve been having sexy dreams.

Since there are several sleep cycles per night, men can have as many as five erections per night and these can last up to 20 or 30 minutes. But this is very dependent on sleep quality and so they may not occur daily. The number and quality of erections declines gradually with age but they are often present well beyond “retirement age” – attesting to the sexual well-being of older men.

It’s also important to highlight the counterpart phenomenon in women, which is much less researched. Pulses of blood flow in the vagina during REM sleep. The clitoris engorges and vaginal sensitivity increases along with vaginal fluidity.

What’s its purpose?

It has been suggested “pitching a tent” may be a mechanism for alerting men of their full overnight bladder, as it often disappears after emptying the bladder in the morning.

It’s more likely the reason for the morning erection is that the unconscious sensation of the full bladder stimulates nerves that go to the spine and these respond directly by generating an erection (a spinal reflex). This may explain why the erection goes away after emptying one’s bladder.

Scientific studies are undecided as to whether morning erections contribute to penile health. Increased oxygen in the penis at night may be beneficial for the health of the muscle tissues that make up the penis.

What does it mean if you don’t get one?

Loss of nocturnal erection can be a useful marker of common diseases affecting erectile function. One example is in diabetics where the lack of morning erections may be associated with erectile dysfunction due to poor nerve or blood supply to the penis. In this case, there’s a poor response to the messages sent from the brain during sleep which generate nocturnal erections.

It is thought nocturnal erections can be used as a marker of an anatomical ability to get an erection (a sign that the essential body bits are working), as it was thought to be independent of psychological factors that affect erections while awake. Studies have suggested, however, that mental health disorders such as severe depression can affect nocturnal erections. Thus its absence is not necessarily a marker of disease or low testosterone levels.

The frequency of morning erections and erection quality has also been shown to increase slightly in men taking medications for erectile dysfunction such as Viagra.

So is all this morning action good news?

While some men will put their nocturnal erections to good use, many men are not aroused when they have them and tummy sleepers might find them a nuisance.

Since good heart health is associated with an ability to have erections, the presence of nocturnal erections is generally accepted to be good news. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important in avoiding and even reversing erectile dysfunction, so it’s important to remember to eat healthily, maintain a healthy weight, exercise and avoid smoking and alcohol.

Complete Article HERE!

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Married LGBT older adults are healthier, happier than singles, study finds

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Same-sex marriage has been the law of the land for nearly two years — and in some states for even longer — but researchers can already detect positive health outcomes among couples who have tied the knot, a University of Washington study finds.

For years, studies have linked marriage with happiness among heterosexual couples. But a study from the UW School of Social Work is among the first to explore the potential benefits of marriage among LGBT couples. It is part of a national, groundbreaking longitudinal study with a representative sample of LGBT older adults, known as “Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality/Gender Study,” which focuses on how historical, environmental, psychological, behavioral, social and biological factors are associated with health, aging and quality of life.

UW researchers found that LGBT study participants who were married reported better physical and mental health, more social support and greater financial resources than those who were single. The findings were published in a February special supplement of The Gerontologist.

“In the nearly 50 years since Stonewall, same-sex marriage went from being a pipe dream to a legal quagmire to reality — and it may be one of the most profound changes to social policy in recent history,” said lead author Jayn Goldsen, research study supervisor in the UW School of Social Work.

Some 2.7 million adults ages 50 and older identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender — a number that is expected to nearly double by 2060.

Among LGBT people, marriage increased noticeably after a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. A 2016 Gallup Poll found that 49 percent of cohabiting gay couples were married, up from 38 percent before the ruling.

For the UW study, more than 1,800 LGBT people, ages 50 and older, were surveyed in 2014 in locations where gay marriage was already legal (32 states and Washington, D.C.). About one-fourth were married, another fourth were in a committed relationship, and half were single. Married respondents had spent an average of 23 years together, while those in a committed, unmarried relationship had spent an average of 16 years. Among the study participants, more women were married than men, and of the respondents who were married, most identified as non-Hispanic white.

Researchers found that, in general, participants in a relationship, whether married or in a long-term partnership, showed better health outcomes than those who were single. But those who were married fared even better, both socially and financially, than couples in unmarried, long-term partnerships. Single LGBT adults were more likely to have a disability; to report lower physical, psychological, social and environmental quality of life; and to have experienced the death of a partner, especially among men. The legalization of gay marriage at the federal level opens up access to many benefits, such as tax exemptions and Social Security survivor benefits that married, straight couples have long enjoyed. But that does not mean every LGBT couple was immediately ready to take that step.

According to Goldsen, marriage, for many older LGBT people, can be something of a conundrum — even a non-starter. LGBT seniors came of age at a time when laws and social exclusion kept many in the closet. Today’s unmarried couples may have made their own legal arrangements and feel that they don’t need the extra step of marriage — or they don’t want to participate in a traditionally heterosexual institution.

Goldsen also pointed to trends in heterosexual marriage: Fewer people are getting married, and those who do, do so later.

“More older people are living together and thinking outside the box. This was already happening within the LGBT community — couples were living together, but civil marriage wasn’t part of the story,” she said.

The different attitudes among older LGBT people toward marriage is something service providers, whether doctors, attorneys or tax professionals, should be aware of, Goldsen said. Telling a couple they should get married now simply because they can misses the individual nature of the choice.

“Service providers need to understand the historical context of this population,” she said. “Marriage isn’t for everyone. It is up to each person, and there are legal, financial and potentially societal ramifications.” For example, among the women in the study, those who were married were more likely to report experiencing bias in the larger community.

At the same time, Goldsen said, single LGBT older adults do not benefit from the marriage ruling, and other safeguards, such as anti-discrimination laws in employment, housing and public accommodations, are still lacking at the federal level.

Over time, Goldsen and colleagues will continue to examine the influence of same-sex marriage policy on partnership status and health.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging. Other researchers were Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, Amanda Bryan, Hyun-Jun Kim and Sarah Jen in the UW School of Social Work; and Anna Muraco of Loyola Marymount University.

Complete Article HERE!

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