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Assertive sexuality – yet again, we must fight the politicisation of sex

Everyone has the right to have sex as they choose and we must make sure we protect that right

A gay couple kisses during the Gay Pride Parade in Medellin, Colombia, in 2015.

By Emily Witt

Sexual equality – the right for consenting adults to love who they want, the way they want it – is a human right. In 2017 the right to have the kind of sex we want is still under threat.

Once again gay people, single women, the non-monogamous, the kinky, and many other people whose sexuality does not conform to the heterosexual, child-producing marital bedroom, will be forced to articulate their right to sexual freedom. For many adults, merely having sex, and being sexual, will become a political act. Welcome to the year of assertive sexuality.

In the 21st century the state wields control over sexuality through access to healthcare. In the United States, Donald Trump has appointed an orthopaedic surgeon, Tom Price, as his secretary of health and human services. Price has a record of opposition to LGBTQ and abortion rights and has voted in the past to deprive non-profit organisation Planned Parenthood of taxpayer support.

Even if Trump chooses not to revoke the Affordable Care Act, it’s likely the mandate that covers contraception will be repealed. A woman’s sexual freedom depends on her ability to access affordable contraception, treatment for infections and abortion services. Trump, who has a lifetime of boasting about his sexual promiscuity (both consensual and not), wants to impose a paradigm of risk on women, who will lose autonomy and safety and will face unnecessary and prohibitive expense and inconvenience in their pursuit of sexual happiness.

The United Kingdom also saw an attempt to thwart sexual freedom by denying access to healthcare in 2016. It was only after a successful lawsuit filed by the National Aids Trust and persistent lobbying by activists that the NHS announced in December that it would fund a three-year clinical trial that will make pre-exposure prophylaxis available through the NHS to 10,000 people at risk of contracting HIV. This was a shift from earlier in the year, when the NHS had made it clear that it would limit availability of PrEP to 500 men “most at high risk”.

Denying healthcare to certain populations in a misguided attempt to influence their sexual behaviour is a form of social control and exclusion that arbitrarily codes certain sexual acts as good or bad and certain lives as more dispensable than others. The point of such efforts – and other forms of sexual censorship, like the attempts of the Conservative government to block pornographic websites that show female ejaculation or that break the “four finger rule” – is to assert a hierarchy of sexual cultures in which heteronormativity occupies a place at the top and alternative sexual preferences are maligned as risky or obscene.

Tom Price, US secretary of health and human services, has a record of opposition to LGBTQ rights.

Attempts to re-establish a notion of “normal”, “conventional” and “responsible” sexuality come at a time in which consensus about what an adult life should look like is rapidly dissolving. In the United States and the United Kingdom, adults are getting married later or not at all. In the years of their lives in which they are dating and having shorter-term sexual relationships, technology has offered new ways of meeting people, of fantasising and of finding sexual community.

A shift in cultural morals has opened space for the articulation of a broad spectrum of sexual identities, orientations and gender identifications. If the first decade of the new century was about broadening access to institutions such as marriage, the second might be about taking pride in sex as an end in itself.

The culture finds itself at a crossroads: either attempt to restore a false consensus about what constitutes a legitimate sexuality, an ideal of monogamous fidelity that always contained hypocrisy, that not even the president-elect of the United States can claim to have upheld; or embrace a more honest view of the contemporary way some people relate to each other.

For the growing population of adults who have failed in one way or another to live up to an ideal of what a “good heterosexual” looks like, either because they have never married, or have divorced, or because they are not heterosexual at all, attempts by politicians to marginalise their sex lives would be comical if they didn’t come at such a high cost.

The only response that feels right, at this juncture in history, is to dispense with euphemism. Don’t call contraception “family planning”. Don’t limit the idea of sexual freedom to the right to marry (although even that right remains threatened.)

Don’t let the enjoyment of pornography be pathologised. Don’t meekly try to make your sexuality palatable to the people who are determined to deny its legitimacy.

In 2016 cautious appeals for responsibility lost out to ostentation and lies; 2017 is not a time to be demure.

Complete Article HERE!

Study ties pubic hair grooming to sexually transmitted infections

By Ronnie Cohen

Before scheduling a bikini wax, or shaving down there, consider the results of a new study.

Men and women who trimmed or removed their pubic hair were nearly twice as likely to report having had a sexually transmitted infection, or STI, compared with non-groomers, researchers found after adjusting for age and number of sexual partners.

The lesson, according to the study’s senior author, Dr. Benjamin Breyer: “I wouldn’t groom aggressively right before a sexual encounter with a partner I didn’t know well, and I would avoid having sex with an open cut or wound.”

Removing pubic hair might tear the skin, opening an entryway for bacteria or viruses, the authors write in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.

But in a phone interview, Breyer, a urology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, cautioned that pubic hair grooming also might mask other contributing factors to STIs. Groomers, for example, could be more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors – behaviors not considered in the study.

It is the first large-scale investigation into the relationship between grooming practices and STIs.

Researchers surveyed 7,470 randomly sampled adults who reported at least one lifetime sexual partner. Some 84 percent of the women and 66 percent of the men groomed their pubic hair.

The 17 percent of groomers who removed all their hair were more than four times as likely to report a history of STIs compared to those who let their hair grow naturally, the study found.

The 22 percent of groomers who trimmed their pubic hair at least weekly reported more than triple the rate of STIs compared to those who left it alone.

U.S. cases of the three most common sexually transmitted infections – chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis – reached an all-time high last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But Debby Herbenick, a sex researcher and professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health in Bloomington, isn’t ready to advise people to discard their razors on the basis of the study.

“What was really missing from the paper was the aspect of sex,” she said in a phone interview. “That’s important because you’re not getting an STI from shaving or trimming your pubic hair.”

The only question researchers asked about sex was how many partners participants had in their lifetimes.

“For me, the study isn’t enough to urge anyone to change anything about what they’re doing about the body,” said Herbenick, who was not involved with the research.

A previous study found that women who removed all their pubic hair were more likely to engage in casual sexual hookups as opposed to long-term relationships – possible evidence that something other than grooming itself caused the STIs, she said.

Along those lines, in the romantic comedy, “How to be Single,” Rebel Wilson playing Robin laments her friend’s LTRP, or “long-term relationship pubes.”

Regardless of whether and how people groom their pubic hair, Breyer stressed the importance of practicing safe sex, especially using a condom when engaging in casual sex.

Pornography and Hollywood, particularly a painful-to-watch 2000 episode of HBO’s hit “Sex in the City,” with Sarah Jessica Parker playing Carrie Bradshaw getting a Brazilian bikini wax, popularized women stripping their genitals bald, Herbenick said.

The trend appeared to slow during the recession and may be reversing. Earlier this year, Vogue magazine ran a story headlined, “The Full Bush Is the New Brazilian.”

But men and women still remove their pubic hair. Because they frequently do so in preparation for sex, Herbenick sees groomers as unlikely to heed Breyer’s advice about waiting to heal after grooming and before having sex.

“We know people are grooming in preparation for sex,” she said. “So I don’t think waiting is the answer.”

In another recent study in JAMA Dermatology, more than 80 percent of American women said they groomed their pubic hair, and 56 percent reported doing so to get ready for sex. Women groomed regardless of how often they had sex, the gender of their sex partner and their sexual activities.

Complete Article HERE!

4 Steps To Having Open And Honest Talks About Sex With Your Kids

If you don’t, let me tell you who will…

By Lori Beth Bisbey

Many parents find it difficult to talk about sex and intimacy with their children. No one ever taught them how, and it’s understandably uncomfortable. But like anything else, as a parent you need to figure out how and when to discuss sex and intimacy with your child before society does.

Today’s children are at greater risk of developing a warped view of sex and intimacy than ever before. They desperately need you to explain to them your view of what healthy sex and intimacy look like.

When I use the phrase ”warped view” I’m not referring to kinky sex practices or alternative sexuality. I’m far more concerned about the average views regarding sex and sexuality and how they are communicated.

Research shows that young people receive most of their modeling around sexual behavior from the media —  in particular, pornography.

Don’t misunderstand me. This is not an anti-pornography stance. My concerns here revolve around the fact young people are getting the majority of their information from such an impersonal source.

While attending the recent TED Women Conference, what I heard from speaker Peggy Orenstein chilled me to the bone.

 


 
Orenstein conducted research focused on girls and sex. She performed an in-depth interview with a group of 70 racially and ethnically diverse girls between the ages of 15 and 20 who identified as either college bound or already in college. Among the group, 10 percent placed themselves on the sexuality spectrum as being either lesbian or bisexual.

Research shows a high prevalence of sexual assault occurs on college campuses. Even in our modern culture we still have difficulty navigating discussions of consent without the inevitable spiral into talk of “false allegations.”

As the mother of a 14 ½-year-old son who has been raised in a complicated family, I strive to give him the tools necessary for negotiating the minefield of sexual and intimate relationships.  

  • He has a variety of people he can talk to about these decisions who I know will always have his back.
  • He knows that he needs to discover his own desires, likes, and dislikes.
  • He knows that his body belongs to him.
  • He knows about consent.
  • He knows to treat his partners with respect and not to be judgmental.
  • He also knows that talking about these things, though potentially embarrassing, is essential to having healthy and satisfying long-term sexual relationships.

As an intimacy coach and a psychologist, I remain concerned for those kids raised in homes in which their parents never even mention sex, the children whose parents are never physically affectionate in front of them, and those in homes in which too much adult sexual behavior is seen.

Paul Bryant, a professor of telecommunications at Indiana University Bloomington, highlights the trouble faced by children learning about sex through pornography in his “sexual script theory” regarding the sexual socialization of teens.

For today’s teen, pornography lays down internal scripts for a variety of sexual behaviors and scenarios.

If parents do not present an alternative view, the only model for how to behave in sexual relationships will come from media — not just pornography, but from music and music videos as well. Without the safeguard of knowing they have a non-judgmental parent to discuss with what they see and learn, they have no meaningful way to understand and consider the positives and negatives among the variety of sexual scripts they see in order to weigh their feeling about the perceived possibilities.

There is no easy fix to this discussion.

As adults, we need to examine the way we relate to sex and how we talk about it with each other. As we become more comfortable talking about sex with our own partners and peers, we will become more confident about discussing it as a parent as well.

To get you on your way, here are 4 steps you can take to begin addressing the problem and have conversations with your child about sex — starting right now.

1. Take a look at your own experiences of sex and sexuality.  

If you have experienced sexual trauma, this is the time to resolve any issues that remain charged or live for you. You may need help to do this or you may already get help through your social support network.

If you haven’t experienced sexual trauma, this is the time to look at any issues, stuck places, and/or negative thought patterns you have in relation to sex and sexual relationships. You can work through this on your own, with your partner, or with your social support network as well.

2. Learn about what is normal for your children at each stage of development.  

Try to do this without judgment. Have a look at what your children are being exposed to in your wider culture. Each of us has our own moral code, and moral codes are constructed whereas sexual development is built as part of a biological process.

You may believe that masturbation is a sin, but this is a moral belief. Biologically, ALL children discover that when they touch their genitals, it feels good. This is the way human beings are constructed. Healthy and comprehensive personal development depends on the combination of biological, psychological, spiritual, and moral development, as well as development that is culture specific.

3. Create a safe space to have intimate conversations with your children.

This may seem like a given, but many homes offer no safe space for a child to bring up issues around sex and sexuality. In many families, these topics are dealt with by simply handing children reading materials. There are some excellent books out there to help children with all manner of topics relating to sex and sexuality, but books are not a substitute for a home environment that fosters safe conversation.

Your children need a place where they can get questions answered. Start creating that safe space to talk about emotions first (if you haven’t already). Once your children are used to talking about more difficult topics and you are used to dealing with these without judgment, with acceptance, and in a way that fosters growth, then you can begin to have the talks about sex.

4. Find out what is age appropriate for your child and pitch your conversation to that level.  

Talking to a five-year-old who asks where babies come from is very different from answering a question about how you get pregnant from a 10-year-old. Keep the conversations short and sweet. Do use videos, audio recordings, and books as aids, and encourage your children to come back to you with questions.

Set up a consistent routine so your child knows there will always be a time and a place to bring up these topics. If you’re not comfortable having these sorts of conversations with your child OR your child is too embarrassed to talk to you, make sure you have an alternate trusted adult (or a few) the child knows they can feel free to approach. Children thrive when they have more than one viewpoint to consider about this amazing, yet complicated part of life.

Remember that this is a process that will continue to take shape throughout your child’s development.

If you do so, then your young adult will also come to you with questions and your adult child will be much more likely to create satisfying intimate relationships for himself or herself.

Children who have self-knowledge and an understanding of the joy and dangers of sex are at lower the risk of becoming victims of sexual assaults.

The more knowledge you possess, the more quickly you are apt to take a firm stance, and therefore the more likely you are to be seen by a perpetrator as a difficult target. Perpetrators go for the softest targets they can find, so the harder a target you make yourself, the more you lower your risks.

So go have that talk!

Complete Article HERE!

Where Latino teens learn about sex does matter

By Nancy Berglas

latina-lesbians

The U.S. teen pregnancy rate is at a historic low, with the number of teen births declining dramatically over the past decades.

But there are disparities among groups of teens. Latina teens have the highest teen birth rate of any racial or ethnic group. Latino teens are also more affected by STIs – particularly chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea – than their white peers. Sexually active Latino teens are also less likely to use condoms and other forms of contraception.

Sexual exploration during adolescence is normal and healthy. These disparities are a sign that many Latino teens have unmet needs when it comes to information about sexual health and relationships.

Prior research has found that teens’ source of sex information is related to their beliefs about sex and sexual behaviors. And today teens get information about sex from a variety of sources, including their parents, peers, school and digital media.

Understanding where teens learn about sex and how that influences them can help us find ways to encourage healthy sexual behaviors, such as using condoms and birth control.

But despite these disparities, and the fact that Latinos are also the largest ethnic or racial minority in the U.S. (constituting 17 percent of the population and 23 percent of all youth), there is very little research about where Latino teens are getting information about sex.

To find out more about which sources are most relevant to Latino teens, we surveyed nearly 1,200 Latino ninth graders at 10 different high schools in Los Angeles.

latino-gay-men

In the survey, teens had to select their “most important source of information about sex and relationships while growing up” from a list of 11 options. Rather than asking about the many sources of information they have encountered, we wanted to know which one they felt was most important in their lives.

Parents were the most commonly listed source, with 38 percent saying their parents were their most important source of information about sex and relationships. These findings are similar to surveys of teens from other racial and ethnic groups, who report that parents are the most important influence on their decisions about sex.

For some teens in our study, different sources – including other family members (17 percent), classes at school (13 percent) and friends (11 percent) – fill this important role.

Although other studies have found that teens often rely on media and the internet for sexual health information, teens in our study rarely mentioned them as their most important source. That doesn’t mean they aren’t accessing information about sex online or hearing about sex on TV, but that they do not necessarily see these as the most important source in their lives.

We also wanted to know if there was a connection between Latino teens’ most important source of sex information and their intentions to use condoms in the future.

Overall, most teens in our study planned to use condoms the next time they had sex, with 71 percent of teens saying that they “definitely will” and 22 percent saying that they “probably will.” But did their preferred source of information about sex matter in this decision?

We compared the influence of parents, other family members, friends, boyfriends or girlfriends, schools, health care providers and media on teens’ intentions to use condoms.

After controlling for other factors known to be linked to teens’ sexual behaviors, such as age, gender and sexual experience, we found that these Latino teens’ stated most important source of sex information was significantly related to their intentions to use condoms in the future. In other words, there is a connection between where teens get information about sex and their future sexual behaviors.

We then compared the influence of other sources of sex information to the influence of parents.

Teens who reported that their family members, classes at school, health care providers, boyfriends or girlfriends, or the media were their main source of information about sex reported similarly high intentions to use condoms to teens who listed their parents as most important.

However, the teens who turned to their friends for sex information were less likely to say they planned to use condoms than teens who turn to their parents. This is not too surprising. Teens who rely on friends as their primary source of sex information may be more vulnerable to peer pressure to avoid using condoms or may be getting misinformation about their effectiveness.

The primary source of sex information was particularly important for the boys’ intentions to use condoms in the future. The boys who rely on friends or media and internet as their main sources for sex information were significantly less likely to report planning to use condoms than the boys who turned to their parents.

Boys who do not have a trusted adult who they can rely on for sex information may be seeking out sources that could also spread negative messages about condoms, such as “locker room talk” with peers or pornography online.

These findings highlight the importance of providing comprehensive sources of sex information for Latino teens at home, in their schools and in the community.

young-latino-couple

Unfortunately, we don’t know how these results compare to other groups of teens. Not enough research has been done on how the various sources of sex information may influence teens’ sexual behavior, and there is a need for more studies on this topic.

Given that parents are a popular and important source of information for many teens, interventions that empower parents to talk to their kids about sexuality, relationships and sexual health and provide them with accurate information could help.

It may be beneficial to include other family members such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings in these interventions so they too can provide accurate information when teens turn to them.

Encouraging positive family conversations about sex and relationships will help young people make healthier decisions and grow into sexually healthy adults.

Complete Article HERE!

How do women really know if they are having an orgasm?

Dr Nicole Prause is challenging bias against sexual research to unravel apparent discrepancies between physical signs and what women said they experienced

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It’s not always clear if a woman is really having an orgasm, as Meg Ryan demonstrated in When Harry Met Sally.

It’s not always clear if a woman is really having an orgasm, as Meg Ryan demonstrated in When Harry Met Sally.

In the nascent field of orgasm research, much of the data relies on subjects self-reporting, and in men, there’s some pretty clear physiological feedback in the form of ejaculation.

But how do women know for sure if they are climaxing? What if the sensation they have associated with climax is actually one of the the early foothills of arousal? And how does a woman know when if she has had an orgasm?

Neuroscientist Dr Nicole Prause set out to answer these questions by studying orgasms in her private laboratory. Through better understanding of what happens in the body and the brain during arousal and orgasm, she hopes to develop devices that can increase sex drive without the need for drugs.

Understanding orgasm begins with a butt plug. Prause uses the pressure-sensitive anal gauge to detect the contractions typically associated with orgasm in both men and women. Combined with EEG, which measures brain activity, this allows for a more accurate picture of a woman’s arousal and orgasm.

Dr Nicole Prause has founded Liberos to study brain stimulation and desire.

Dr Nicole Prause has founded Liberos to study brain stimulation and desire.

When Prause began studying women in this way she noticed something surprising. “Many of the women who reported having an orgasm were not having any of the physical signs – the contractions – of an orgasm.”

It’s not clear why that is, but it is clear that we don’t know an awful lot about orgasms and sexuality. “We don’t think they are faking,” she said. “My sense is that some women don’t know what an orgasm is. There are lots of pleasure peaks that happen during intercourse. If you haven’t had contractions you may not know there’s something different.”

Prause, an ultramarathon runner and keen motorcyclist in her free time, started her career at the Kinsey Institute in Indiana, where she was awarded a doctorate in 2007. Studying the sexual effects of a menopause drug, she first became aware of the prejudice against the scientific study of sexuality in the US.

When her high-profile research examining porn “addiction” found the condition didn’t fit the same neurological patterns as nicotine, cocaine or gambling, it was an unpopular conclusion among people who believe they do have a porn addiction.

The evolution of design of the anal pressure gauge used in Nicole Prause’s lab to detect orgasmic contractions.

The evolution of design of the anal pressure gauge used in Nicole Prause’s lab to detect orgasmic contractions.

“People started posting stories online that I had falsified my data and I received all kinds of sexist attacks,” she said. Soon anonymous emails of complaint were turning up at the office of the president of UCLA, where she worked from 2012 to 2014, demanding that Prause be fired.

Does orgasm benefit mental health?

Prause pushed on with her research, but repeatedly came up against challenges when seeking approval for studies involving orgasms. “I tried to do a study of orgasms while at UCLA to pilot a depression intervention. UCLA rejected it after a seven-month review,” she said. The ethics board told her that to proceed, she would need to remove the orgasm component – rendering the study pointless.

Undeterred, Prause left to set up her sexual biotech company Liberos, in Hollywood, Los Angeles, in 2015. The company has been working on a number of studies, including one exploring the benefits and effectiveness of “orgasmic meditation”, working with specialist company OneTaste.

Part of the “slow sex” movement, the practice involves a woman having her clitoris stimulated by a partner – often a stranger – for 15 minutes. “This orgasm state is different,” claims OneTaste’s website. “It is goalless, intuitive, and dynamic. It flows all over the place with no set direction. It may include climax, or it may not. In Orgasm 2.0, we learn to listen to what our body wants instead of what we think we ‘should’ want.”

Prause wants to determine whether arousal has any wider benefits for mental health. “The folks that practice this claim it helps with stress and improves your ability to deal with emotional situations even though as a scientist it seems pretty explicitly sexual to me,” she said.

Prause is examining orgasmic meditators in the laboratory, measuring finger movements of the partner, as well as brainwave activity, galvanic skin response and vaginal contractions of the recipient. Before and after measuring bodily changes, researchers run through questions to determine physical and mental states. Prause wants to determine whether achieving a level of arousal requires effort or a release in control. She then wants to observe how Orgasmic Meditation affects performance in cognitive tasks, how it changes reactivity to emotional images and how it compares with regular meditation.

Brain stimulation is ‘theoretically possible’

Another research project is focused on brain stimulation, which Prause believes could provide an alternative to drugs such as Addyi, the “female Viagra”. The drug had to be taken every day, couldn’t be mixed with alcohol and its side-effects can include sudden drops in blood pressure, fainting and sleepiness. “Many women would rather have a glass of wine than take a drug that’s not very effective every day,” said Prause.

The field of brain stimulation is in its infancy, though preliminary studies have shown that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which uses direct electrical currents to stimulate specific parts of the brain, can help with depression, anxiety and chronic pain but can also cause burns on the skin. Transcranial magnetic stimulation, which uses a magnet to activate the brain, has been used to treat depression, psychosis and anxiety, but can also cause seizures, mania and hearing loss.

Prause is studying whether these technologies can treat sexual desire problems. In one study, men and women receive two types of magnetic stimulation to the reward center of their brains. After each session, participants are asked to complete tasks to see how their responsiveness to monetary and sexual rewards (porn) has changed.

With DCS, Prause wants to stimulate people’s brains using direct currents and then fire up tiny cellphone vibrators that have been glued to the participants’ genitals. This provides sexual stimulation in a way that eliminates the subjectivity of preferences people have for pornography.

“We already have a basic functioning model,” said Prause. “The barrier is getting a device that a human can reliably apply themselves without harming their own skin.”


 
There is plenty of skepticism around the science of brain stimulation, a technology which has already spawned several devices including the headset Thync, which promises users an energy boost, and Foc.us, which claims to help with endurance.

Neurologist Steven Novella from the Yale School of Medicine uses brain stimulation devices in clinical trials to treat migraines, but he says there’s not enough clinical evidence to support these emerging consumer devices. “There’s potential for physical harm if you don’t know what you’re doing,” he said. “From a theoretical point of view these things are possible, but in terms of clinical claims they are way ahead of the curve here. It’s simultaneously really exciting science but also premature pseudoscience.”

Biomedical engineer Marom Bikson, who uses tDCS to treat depression at the City College of New York, agrees. “There’s a lot of snake oil.”

Sexual problems can be emotional and societal

Prause, also a licensed psychologist, is keen to avoid overselling brain stimulation. “The risk is that it will seem like an easy, quick fix,” she said. For some, it will be, but for others it will be a way to test whether brain stimulation can work – which Prause sees as a more balanced approach than using medication. “To me, it is much better to help provide it for people likely to benefit from it than to try to create fake problems to sell it to everyone.”

Sexual problems can be triggered by societal pressures that no device can fix. “There’s discomfort and anxiety and awkwardness and shame and lack of knowledge,” said psychologist Leonore Tiefer, who specializes in sexuality. Brain stimulation is just one of many physical interventions companies are trying to develop to make money, she says. “There’s a million drugs under development. Not just oral drugs but patches and creams and nasal sprays, but it’s not a medical problem,” she said.

Thinking about low sex drive as a medical condition requires defining what’s normal and what’s unhealthy. “Sex does not lend itself to that kind of line drawing. There is just too much variability both culturally and in terms of age, personality and individual differences. What’s normal for me is not normal for you, your mother or your grandmother.”

And Prause says that no device is going to solve a “Bob problem” – when a woman in a heterosexual couple isn’t getting aroused because her partner’s technique isn’t any good. “No pills or brain stimulation are going to fix that,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!