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The story of Magnus Hirschfeld, the ‘Einstein of sex’

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Decades before Alfred Kinsey developed his scale for human sexuality, there was Magnus Hirschfeld — a doctor who dedicated his career to proving that homosexuality was natural.


A party at the Institute for Sexual Science is shown here. Magnus Hirschfeld (second from right) is the one with the moustache and glasses. His partner Karl Giese is holding his hand.

By Julia Franz

Hirschfeld’s reasoning was simple: In turn of the 20th century Germany, where he lived, a law called Paragraph 175 made so-called “unnatural fornication” between men punishable by prison time.

“Magnus was gay himself,” says Undiscovered podcast co-host Elah Feder. “He was both a scientist and an activist, and he was really hoping that his science would lead to greater acceptance of gay and lesbian people.”

Hirschfeld founded what’s considered to be the first gay rights organization and established the Institute for Sexual Science in Berlin. He also gained international renown for his radical research on the biology of sexual orientation. “He was, in the 1930s, touring the world lecturing about sexuality in China and India,” says co-host Annie Minoff. “The American press actually called him the ‘Einstein of sex.’”

But as Minoff and Feder explore in a recent episode of Undiscovered, Hirschfeld’s legacy didn’t turn out quite as he’d hoped.

“Magnus was using the science at his disposal, right?” Minoff says. “So now, we might talk about genetics or even epigenetics, but back in his day, scientists could see chromosomes under the microscope, but they still weren’t sure if they had anything to do with heredity.”

“So, Magnus was really all about documenting and recording things like physical traits or behavioral traits, trying to see what gays and lesbians might have in common or might be different than the rest of the population.”

Today, some of Hirschfeld’s research comes across as antiquated, even a bit zany. In one excerpt from his book, “The Homosexuality of Men and Women,” Hirschfeld debunks an apparently long-held stereotype that gay men can’t whistle.

“This does not agree with the results of our statistics,” he wrote, explaining that in a sample of 500 gay men, 77 percent could whistle, although “only a few could truly whistle well.”

“But he found that among lesbians, the whistling arts were very strong, which was nice to hear,” Feder adds.

Other aspects of Hirschfeld’s science have better weathered the tests of time. “So, for example, he was interested in whether homosexuality ran in families,” Feder says. “You know — was it a heritable trait?”

“Or, you might remember a few years ago, there were a bunch of studies looking at the correlation between finger length ratios and sexual orientation. They seemed to find a connection in women. And he did stuff like that. He was looking at hip-to-shoulder ratios — pretty pioneering sex research.”

In 1919, Hirschfeld opened his Institute for Sexual Science, a big villa in Berlin’s Tiergarten. “They had medical examination rooms, they had a library, they had a sex museum that was apparently a big tourist attraction,” Feder says.

And, as Yonsei University history professor Robert Beachy explains, the institute also offered sex education to Germans who were queasy about publicly seeking advice.

“They had a little box at the edge of the property, and people could anonymously insert slips of paper with questions about sex or any sort of sexual issue that they had,” he says. “And then people were invited in, and these different slips of paper would be read out loud and then responded to.”

“There were questions about things like, I don’t know, [about] premature ejaculation and how effective it was to use condoms for preventing pregnancy. You know, just lots of relatively mundane questions. But it was supposed to be a public service.”

But if Hirschfeld hoped that greater scientific understanding could change Germany’s discriminatory law, Feder says things didn’t quite turn out that way in his lifetime. (Paragraph 175 wasn’t struck down until 1994.)

“It’s a nice idea,” she says, “but as we end up seeing in Magnus’ story, you can do science, you can hope that it’s going to be used in one way, and it can work out very differently.”

“And his story ultimately is a pretty tragic one.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Should sex toys be prescribed by doctors?

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Talk about good vibrations

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They are far more likely to be found in your bedside drawer than your local surgery, but sex toys can bring more than just benefits in the bedroom; they could boost your health too.

So should GPs stop being shy and recommend pleasure products? Samantha Evans, former nurse and co-founder of ‘luxury sex toy and vibrator shop’ Jo Divine certainly believes so. Challenging stuffy attitudes could change people’s lives for the better.

“I have encountered several doctors including GPs and gynaecologists who will not recommend sex toys because of their own personal views and embarrassment about sex. However, once healthcare professionals learn about sex toys and sexual lubricants and see what products can really help, they often change their mind.”

Samantha says increasingly doctors are seeing vibrators as the way forward for helping people overcome intimate health issues.

In 2015, she was asked to put together a sexual product brochure for the NHS at the request of Kent-based gynaecologist Mr Alex Slack. The document contains suitable sex toys, lubricants and pelvic floor exercisers that can help with a range of gynaecological problems.

But sex toys can also be beneficial for many other illnesses too, Samantha reveals.

“Often people feel their body is being hijacked by their illness such as cancer and being able to enjoy sexual pleasure is something they can take back control of, beyond popping a pill. Using a sex toy is much more fun and has far fewer side effects than medication!”

Here are just some of the reasons it’s worth exploring your local sex shop (or browsing online) to benefit your health:

1. Great sex is good for you

One area sex toys can help with is simply making sex more enjoyable, helping couples discover what turns them on.

“Having great sex can promote health and wellbeing by improving your mood and physically making you feel good. Using a sex toy can spice up a flagging sex life and bring a bit of fun into your life. A sex toy will make you feel great as well as promoting your circulation and the release of the “feel good factors” during an orgasm.”

2. Sex toys can rejuvenate vaginas

Some of the most uncomfortable symptoms of the menopause are gynaecological. Declining levels of the hormone oestrogen can lead to vaginal tightness, dryness and atrophy. This can lead to painful sex and decreased sex drive.

But vibrators can alieve these symptoms (by improving the tone and elasticity of vaginal walls and improving sexual sensation) and also promote vaginal lubrication.

Sex toys can also be useful following gynaecological surgery or even after childbirth to keep the vaginal tissue flexible, preventing it from becoming too tight and also promoting to blood flow to the area to speed up healing, says Samantha.

3. Sex toys help men too

Men can benefit from toys too, says Samantha. She says men who use them are less likely to be burdened with erectile dysfunction, difficulty orgasming and low sex drive.

“They are also more likely to be aware of their sexual health, making them more likely to notice any abnormalities and seek medical advice,” she points out.

Male products can help men overcome erectile dysfunction, following prostate surgery or treatment, diabetes, heart disease, spinal cord injury and neurological conditions by promoting the blood flow into the erectile tissues and stimulating the nerves to help the man have an erection without them having to take Viagra.

4. Sex isn’t just about penetration

There’s a reason sexperts stress the importance of foreplay. Most women just cannot orgasm through penetration alone no matter how turned on they are. Stimulating the clitoris can be the key to satisfying climaxes and sex toys can make that easier. Vibrators can be really useful for vulval pain conditions such as vulvodynia where penetration can be tricky to achieve.

“By becoming aware of how her body feels through intimate massage and exploration using a vibrator and lubricant and relaxation techniques, a woman who has vulvodynia can become more relaxed and comfortable with her body and her symptoms may lessen. It also allows intimate sex play when penetration is not possible,” says Samantha.

5. Vibrators can be better than medical dilators for vaginismus

Vaginismus, a condition in which a woman’s vaginal muscles tense up involuntarily, when penetration is attempted is generally treated using medical dilators of increasing sizes to allow the patient to begin with the thinnest dilator and slowly progress to the next size. But not all women get on with these, reveals Samantha.

Women’s health physiotherapist Michelle Lyons, says she often tries to get her sexual health patients to use a vibrator instead of a standard dilator.

“They (hopefully) already associate the vibrator with pleasure, which can be a significant help with their recovery from vaginismus/dyspareunia. We know from the research that low frequency vibrations can be sedative for the pelvic floor muscles, whereas higher frequencies are more stimulating. After all, the goal of my sexual rehab clients is to return to sexual pleasure, not just to ‘tolerate’ the presence of something in their vagina!”

Samantha Evans’ sex toy starter pack

1. YES organic lubricant

“One of the best sexual lubricants around being pH balanced and free from glycerin, glycols and parabens, all of which are vaginal irritants and have no place in the vagina, often found in many commercial sexual lubricants and even some on prescription.”

2. A bullet style vibrator

“This a good first step into the world of sex toys as these are very small but powerful so offer vibratory stimulation for solo or couples play, especially if you are someone who struggles to orgasm through penetrative sex.”

3. A skin safe slim vibrator

“A slim vibrator can allow you to enjoy comfortable penetration as well as being used for clitoral stimulation too. Great for using during foreplay or when penetration is uncomfortable.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Sex education needs to pay more attention to masturbation

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Having a wank is bloody brilliant.

It’s the only form of sex that’s 100% safe from risks of STDs. It’s a vital part of learning what you like. It’s a way to enjoy sexual pleasure without the need for a partner or a random hookup buddy.

It’s safe, great, and healthy, basically.

So why is masturbation so rarely mentioned as part of sex education?

If your experience of sex education was anything like mine, masturbation wasn’t mentioned once.

The focus was likely on the reproductive side of things, teaching you about how eggs are fertilised and babies are made.

But your sex education classes also likely had lessons around STIs. You remember – the classes in which they told you to always, always use a condom and showed you a bunch of scary pictures of genital warts.

t’s strange that in these lessons, we were only presented with two options: use contraception or don’t have sex.

Why wasn’t masturbation offered as an alternative – a way to try out sex without any risks?

A lot of it boils down to the complete exclusion of sexual pleasure from sex ed.

The majority of our sex ed lessons like to pretend that sex is had purely for the purposes of reproduction, skimming over things like the female orgasm (because unlike male orgasm, it’s not essential for conception), the existence of the clitoris, and sexuality.

Ignoring pleasure and, as a result, masturbation (a sexual thing for only the purpose of pleasure) can be damaging.

It encourages the idea that sex isn’t about enjoyment, and that painful, unpleasant sex is perfectly okay. Because feeling sexual isn’t mentioned, there’s no suggestion of only having sex when you’re really into it.

Ignoring masturbation, and our desire to masturbate, allows all kinds of unhealthy stereotypes to be upheld.

Girls are allowed to think that wanting sex is weird, or gross, or makes them a slut. By refusing to mention masturbation, we uphold the idea that it’s something to be silent about, to be ashamed of.

Refusing to talk about it means there’s no opportunity for teachers to break down myths, like masturbating making you blind (it doesn’t), or masturbating being morally wrong (it isn’t).

A lack of masturbation mentions also means there’s no opportunity for educators to make sure people are masturbating safely – with the right tools, with clean hands, and with consideration for your delicate bits.

By the time they reach sex education classes, many young people are already masturbating.

But they likely aren’t talking about it, feel ashamed of doing it, or aren’t sure how to do it.

Those who are already having solo sex sessions could do with reassurance that what they’re doing isn’t shameful or unhealthy.

Those who aren’t need to be taught that masturbation is a near-essential part of having a satisfying, healthy sexual relationship – one in which you’re aware of what you like and can guide your partner to get you off.

Being unaware of what pleasure feels like, and your ability to give yourself pleasure, is dangerous. It allows young people to put up with painful, uncomfortable sex that they believe is to be expected, or to believe their pleasure isn’t necessary.

Young people need to be taught about masturbation because it’s the starting point of learning about sexuality and pleasure.

They need to be taught about masturbation so that they know it’s nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to make fun of, and that it doesn’t define them as ‘weird’ or ‘gross’.

They need to learn about masturbation so that they’re able to start exploring sex without needing to involve someone else – someone who may not have their best interests at heart.

If you want your kids to have safe sex, teach them about masturbation. If that feels awkward, that’s a shame, but it’s reasonable. That’s why we need schools to be mentioning masturbation at the same time as sex.

Complete Article HERE!

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The New Gay Sexual Revolution

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PrEP, TasP, and fearless sex remind us we can’t advance social justice without including sex in the equation.

By Jacob Anderson-Minshall

The sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s came to an abrupt and brutal end for many gay and bi men the moment AIDS was traced to sexual contact. In the early days of the epidemic, sex between men was equated with AIDS, not just in the mainstream media, but also in prevention efforts by other gay men. Since AIDS in those days was seen as a death sentence, for men who had sex with men, every sexual interaction carried the risk of death. Indeed, tens of thousands died of AIDS-related conditions.

“I was alive when homosexuality was [still] considered to be a psychological illness,” David Russell, pop star Sia’s manager, recently told Plus magazine. “The two generations ahead of mine, and a good portion of my generation, were completely decimated by AIDS. They’re gone.”

While some men with HIV outlasted all predictions and became long-term survivors, the widespread adoption of condoms is credited with dramatically reducing HIV transmissions among gay and bi men in subsequent years. Yet reliance on nothing but that layer of silicone — a barrier some complain prevents true intimacy and pleasure — couldn’t erase the gnawing dread gay men felt that every sexual encounter could be the one where HIV caught up to them.

There have been, of course, moments when nearly every gay or bi man has allowed their passions to override their fears and enjoyed the skin-on-skin contact that opposite-sex couples often take for granted. Thinking back on those unbridled and unprotected moments of passion filled many of these men with terror, regret, and guilt.

“Shame and gay sex have a very long history,” acknowledges Alex Garner, senior health and innovation strategist with the gay dating app Hornet. “And it takes much self-reflection — and often therapy — to feel proud and unashamed of our sex when everything around us tells us that it’s dirty, immoral, or illegitimate.”

Since the late 1990s and the advent of lifesaving antiretroviral drugs, some of the angst around sex between men faded — and with that came changes in behavior. Condom use, once reliably high among gay and bisexual men, has dropped off in the past two decades. According to a recent study published in the journal AIDS, over 40 percent of HIV-negative and 45 percent of HIV-positive gay and bi men admitted to having condomless sex in 2014. Researchers found the decrease in condom use wasn’t explained by serosorting (choosing only partners believed to have the same HIV status) or antiretroviral drug use. And despite what alarmists say, condom use had been declining long before the introduction of PrEP.

Garner, who has been HIV-positive for over two decades, says he’s almost relieved he acquired the virus at 23, because “My entire adult life I have never had to worry about getting HIV.”

The Rise of PrEP

Now there’s hope the younger generation may also experience worry-free sex lives — without the side effects of living with HIV.

The use of the antiretroviral drug Truvada as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP (it’s the only medication approved for HIV prevention), has been shown to reduce the chance of HIV transmission to near zero. Since the medication was first approved as PrEP in 2012, only two verified cases of transmission have been documented among those who adhere to the daily schedule (a third, according to HIV expert Howard Grossman, could not be confirmed). New, longer-lasting PrEP injectables should reach market in the next few years. Studies suggest that on-demand PrEP (such as taking it before and after sexual activity) may also be effective.

“This is a revolution!” Gary Cohan, MD, who prescribes PrEP, told us in 2016. “This should be above the fold in The New York Times and on the cover of Time magazine. A pill to prevent HIV?”

Undetectable Equals Untransmittable

Those who are already HIV-positive also have a sure-fire option for preventing the transmission of HIV that doesn’t rely on condoms. It’s called treatment as prevention, or TasP. Those who are poz, take antiretroviral medication, and get their viral load down to an undetectable level, can’t transmit HIV to sexual partners. Last year, The New England Journal of Medicine published the final results of HPTN 052, a study that proved antiretroviral medication alone is enough to prevent HIV transmission among serodiscordant couples. In a Facebook Live interview for AIDS.gov, Dr. Carl Dieffenbach, director of the Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted, “The chance of transmitting [HIV] if you are virally durably suppressed is zero.

Since Dieffenbach’s statement, a number of HIV organizations and medical groups have joined the “Undetectable Equals Untransmittable” bandwagon, including GMHC, APLA Health, and the Latino Commission on AIDS.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of condoms in addition to PrEP or TasP, primarily because neither biomedical approach prevents other sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea or syphilis. Still, PrEP and TasP make it safer to have condomless sex — and that could jump-start the new sexual revolution. “When the threat of HIV is removed from sex there is a profound sense of liberation,” Garner says. “Sex can just be about sex.”

One hurdle is PrEP stigma, furthered by the myth of “Truvada whores,” and AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Michael Weinstein’s deliberate efforts to portray the HIV prevention pill as “a party drug.”

“Fear and shame have been ingrained in gay sex for decades,” Garner admits. “And it will take time and a great deal of work to extricate those elements.” But he remains optimistic that “together negative and poz men can shift the culture away from fear and toward liberation.”

He argues that what’s at stake is far more than just a better orgasm.

“Our sexuality is at the core of our humanity,” Garner says. “Our sexuality is as integral to us as our appetite. We can’t advance social justice without including sex. As queer people and as people of color, our bodies have been criminalized, our sexuality has been pathologized, and structures continue to dehumanize us. It’s a radical act of resistance when, as gay men, we choose to find pleasure and intimacy in our sex. Our sex has been, and will continue to be, intensely political. It can change our culture and our politics if we embrace it and run to it instead of away from it.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Casual Sex: Everyone Is Doing It

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Part research project, part society devoted to titillation, the Casual Sex Project reminds us that hookups aren’t just for college students.

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Zhana Vrangalova had hit a problem. On a blustery day in early spring, sitting in a small coffee shop near the campus of New York University, where she is an adjunct professor of psychology, she was unable to load onto her laptop the Web site that we had met to discuss. This was not a technical malfunction on her end; rather, the site had been blocked. Vrangalova, who is thirty-four, with a dynamic face framed by thick-rimmed glasses, has spent the past decade researching human sexuality, and, in particular, the kinds of sexual encounters that occur outside the norms of committed relationships. The Web site she started in 2014, casualsexproject.com, began as a small endeavor fuelled by personal referrals, but has since grown to approximately five thousand visitors a day, most of whom arrive at the site through organic Internet searches or referrals through articles and social media. To date, there have been some twenty-two hundred submissions, about evenly split between genders, each detailing the kinds of habits that, when spelled out, can occasionally alert Internet security filters. The Web site was designed to open up the discussion of one-night stands and other less-than-traditional sexual behaviors. What makes us engage in casual sex? Do we enjoy it? Does it benefit us in any way—or, perhaps, might it harm us? And who, exactly, is “us,” anyway?

Up to eighty per cent of college students report engaging in sexual acts outside committed relationships—a figure that is usually cast as the result of increasingly lax social mores, a proliferation of alcohol-fuelled parties, and a potentially violent frat culture. Critics see the high rates of casual sex as an “epidemic” of sorts that is taking over society as a whole. Hookup culture, we hear, is demeaning women and wreaking havoc on our ability to establish stable, fulfilling relationships.

These alarms have sounded before. Writing in 1957, the author Nora Johnson raised an eyebrow at promiscuity on college campuses, noting that “sleeping around is a risky business, emotionally, physically, and morally.” Since then, the critiques of casual sexual behavior have only proliferated, even as society has ostensibly become more socially liberal. Last year, the anthropologist Peter Wood went so far as to call the rise of casual sex “an assault on human nature,” arguing in an article in the conservative Weekly Standard that even the most meaningless-seeming sex comes with a problematic power imbalance.

Others have embraced the commonness of casual sex as a sign of social progress. In a widely read Atlantic article from 2012, “Boys on the Side,” Hanna Rosin urged women to avoid serious suitors so that they could focus on their own needs and careers. And yet, despite her apparent belief in the value of casual sex as a tool of exploration and feminist thinking, Rosin, too, seemed to conclude that casual sex cannot be a meaningful end goal. “Ultimately, the desire for a deeper human connection always wins out, for both men and women,” she wrote.

The Casual Sex Project was born of Vrangalova’s frustration with this and other prevalent narratives about casual sex. “One thing that was bothering me is the lack of diversity in discussions of casual sex,” Vrangalova told me in the café. “It’s always portrayed as something college students do. And it’s almost always seen in a negative light, as something that harms women.”

It was not the first time Vrangalova had wanted to broaden a limited conversation. As an undergraduate, in Macedonia, where she studied the psychology of sexuality, she was drawn to challenge cultural taboos, writing a senior thesis on the development of lesbian and gay sexual attitudes. In the late aughts, Vrangalova started her research on casual sex in Cornell’s developmental-psychology program. One study followed a group of six hundred and sixty-six freshmen over the course of a year, to see how engaging in various casual sexual activities affected markers of mental health: namely, depression, anxiety, life satisfaction, and self-esteem. Another looked at more than eight hundred undergraduates to see whether individuals who engaged in casual sex felt more victimized by others, or were more socially isolated. (The results: yes to the first, no to the second.) The studies were intriguing enough that Vrangalova was offered an appointment at N.Y.U., where she remains, to further explore some of the issues surrounding the effects of nontraditional sexual behaviors on the individuals who engage in them.

Over time, Vrangalova came to realize that there was a gap in her knowledge, and, indeed, in the field as a whole. Casual sex has been much explored in psychological literature, but most of the data captured by her research team—and most of the other experimental research she had encountered—had been taken from college students. (This is a common problem in psychological research: students are a convenient population for researchers.) There has been the occasional nationally representative survey, but rigorous data on other subsets of the population is sparse. Even the largest national study of sexual attitudes in the United States, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of close to six thousand men and women between the ages of fourteen and ninety-four, neglected to ask respondents how many of the encounters they engaged in could be deemed “casual.”

From its beginnings, sex research has been limited by a social stigma. The field’s pioneer, Alfred Kinsey, spent decades interviewing people about their sexual behaviors. His books sold, but he was widely criticized for not having an objective perspective: like Freud before him, he believed that repressed sexuality was at the root of much of social behavior, and he often came to judgments that supported that view—even when his conclusions were based on less-than-representative surveys. He, too, used convenient sample groups, such as prisoners, as well as volunteers, who were necessarily comfortable talking about their sexual practices.

In the fifties, William Masters and Virginia Johnson went further, inquiring openly into sexual habits and even observing people in the midst of sexual acts. Their data, too, was questioned: Could the sort of person who volunteers to have sex in a lab tell us anything about the average American? More troubling still, Masters and Johnson sought to “cure” homosexuality, revealing a bias that could easily have colored their findings.

Indeed, one of the things you quickly notice when looking for data on casual sex is that, for numbers on anyone who is not a college student, you must, for the most part, look at studies conducted outside academia. When OkCupid surveyed its user base, it found that between 10.3 and 15.5 per cent of users were looking for casual sex rather than a committed relationship. In the 2014 British Sex Survey, conducted by the Guardian, approximately half of all respondents reported that they had engaged in a one-night stand (fifty-five per cent of men, and forty-three per cent of women), with homosexuals (sixty-six per cent) more likely to do so than heterosexuals (forty-eight per cent). A fifth of people said they’d slept with someone whose name they didn’t know.

With the Casual Sex Project, Vrangalova is trying to build a user base of stories that she hopes will, one day, provide the raw data for academic study. For now, she is listening: letting people come to the site, answer questions, leave replies. Ritch Savin-Williams, who taught Vrangalova at Cornell, told me that he was especially impressed by Vrangalova’s willingness “to challenge traditional concepts and research designs with objective approaches that allow individuals to give honest, thoughtful responses.”

The result is what is perhaps the largest-ever repository of information about casual-sex habits in the world—not that it has many competitors. The people who share stories range from teens to retirees (Vrangalova’s oldest participants are in their seventies), and include city dwellers and suburbanites, graduate-level-educated professionals (about a quarter of the sample) and people who never finished high school (another quarter). The majority of participants aren’t particularly religious, although a little under a third do identify as at least “somewhat” religious. Most are white, though there are also blacks, Latinos, and other racial and ethnic groups. Initially, contributions were about sixty-per-cent female, but now they’re seventy-per-cent male. (This is in line with norms; men are “supposed” to brag more about sexual exploits than women.) Anyone can submit a story, along with personal details that reflect his or her demographics, emotions, personality traits, social attitudes, and behavioral patterns, such as alcohol intake. The setup for data collection is standardized, with drop-down menus and rating scales.

Still, the site is far from clinical. The home page is a colorful mosaic of squares, color-coded according to the category of sexual experience (blue: “one-night stand”; purple: “group sex”; gray: the mysterious-sounding “first of many”; and so on). Pull quotes are highlighted for each category (“Ladies if you haven’t had a hot, young Latino stud you should go get one!”). Many responses seem to boast, provoke, or exaggerate for rhetorical purposes. Reading it, I felt less a part of a research project than a member of a society devoted to titillation.

Vrangalova is the first to admit that the Casual Sex Project is not what you would call an objective, scientific approach to data collection. There is no random assignment, no controls, no experimental conditions; the data is not representative of the general population. The participants are self-selecting, which inevitably colors the results: if you’re taking the time to write, you are more likely to write about positive experiences. You are also more likely to have the sort of personality that comes with wanting to share details of your flings with the public. There is another problem with the Casual Sex Project that is endemic in much social-science research: absent external behavioral validation, how do we know that respondents are reporting the truth, rather than what they want us to hear or think we want them to say?

And yet, for all these flaws, the Casual Sex Project provides a fascinating window into the sexual habits of a particular swath of the population. It may not be enough to draw new conclusions, but it can lend nuance to assumptions, expanding, for instance, ideas about who engages in casual sex or how it makes them feel. As I browsed through the entries after my meeting with Vrangalova, I came upon the words of a man who learned something new about his own sexuality during a casual encounter in his seventies: “before this I always said no one can get me of on a bj alone, I was taught better,” he writes. As a reflection of the age and demographic groups represented, the Casual Sex Project undermines the popular narrative that casual sex is the product of changing mores among the young alone. If that were the case, we would expect there to be a reluctance to engage in casual sex among the older generations, which grew up in the pre-“hookup culture” era. Such reluctance is not evident.

The reminder that people of all ages engage in casual sex might lead us to imagine three possible narratives. First, that perhaps what we see as the rise of a culture of hooking up isn’t actually new. When norms related to dating and free love shifted, in the sixties, they never fully shifted back. Seventy-year-olds are engaging in casual encounters because that attitude is part of their culture, too.

There’s another, nearly opposite explanation: casual sex isn’t the norm now, and wasn’t before. There are simply always individuals, in any generation, who seek sexual satisfaction in nontraditional confines.

And then there’s the third option, the one that is most consistent with the narrative that our culture of casual sex begins with college hookups: that people are casually hooking up for different reasons. Some young people have casual sex because they feel they can’t afford not to, or because they are surrounded by a culture that says they should want to. (Vrangalova’s preliminary analysis of the data on her site suggests that alcohol is much more likely to be involved in the casual-sex experiences of the young than the old.)  And the old—well, the old no longer care what society thinks. For some, this sense of ease might come in their thirties; for others, their forties or fifties; for others, never, or not entirely.

This last theory relates to another of Vrangalova’s findings—one that, she confesses, came as a surprise when she first encountered it. Not all of the casual-sex experiences recorded on the site were positive, even among what is surely a heavily biased sample. Women and younger participants are especially likely to report feelings of shame. (“I was on top of him at one point and he can’t have forced me to so I must have consented . . . I’m not sure,” an eighteen-year-old writes, reporting that the hookup was unsatisfying, and describing feeling “stressed, anxious, guilt and disgust” the day after.) There is an entire thread tagged “no orgasm,” which includes other occasionally disturbing and emotional tales. “My view has gotten a lot more balanced over time,” Vrangalova said. “I come from a very sex-positive perspective, surrounded by people who really benefitted from sexual exploration and experiences, for the most part. By studying it, I’ve learned to see both sides of the coin.

Part of the negativity, to be sure, does originate in legitimate causes: casual sex increases the risk of pregnancy, disease, and, more often than in a committed relationship, physical coercion. But many negative casual-sex experiences come instead from a sense of social convention. “We’ve seen that both genders felt they were discriminated against because of sex,” Vrangalova told me. Men often feel judged by other men if they don’t have casual sex, and social expectations can detract from the experiences they do have, while women feel judged for engaging in casual experiences, rendering those they pursue less pleasurable.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise: the very fact that Vrangalova and others are seeking explanations for casual-sex behaviors suggests that our society views it as worthy of note—something aberrant, rather than ordinary. No one writes about why people feel the need to drink water or go to the bathroom, why eating dinner with friends is “a thing” or study groups are “on the rise.”

It is that sense of shame, ultimately, that Vrangalova hopes her project may help to address. As one respondent to a survey Vrangalova sent to users put it, “This has helped me feel okay about myself for wanting casual sex, and not feel ashamed or that what I do is wrong.” The psychologist James Pennebaker has found over several decades of work that writing about emotional experiences can act as an effective form of therapy, in a way that talking about those experiences may not. (I’m less convinced that there are benefits for those who use the site as a way to boast about their own experiences.) “Often there’s no outlet for that unless you’re starting your own blog,” Vrangalova points out. “I wanted to offer a space for people to share.”

That may well end up the Casual Sex Project’s real contribution: not to tell us something we didn’t already know, or at least suspect, but to make such nonjudgmental, intimate conversations possible. The dirty little secret of casual sex today is not that we’re having it but that we’re not sharing our experiences of it in the best way.

Complete Article HERE!

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