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How a Cervical Cancer Scare Made Me Take My Sexual Health More Seriously Than Ever

My doctor’s advice on how to not get HPV again threw me for a loop.

By Rachel Bowyer

Before I had an abnormal Pap smear five years ago, I didn’t even really know what that meant. I’d been going to the gyno since I was a teenager, but I never once really thought about what a Pap smear was actually testing for. I just knew I’d have a “twinge” of discomfort, as my doc always says, and then it would be over. But when my doctor called me to tell me I needed to come back in for more testing, I was pretty concerned. (Here, find more on how to decipher your abnormal Pap smear results.)

She assured me that abnormal Paps are actually quite normal, especially for women in their 20s. Why? Well, the more sexual partners you have, the more likely you are to get human papillomavirus (HPV), which is what generally causes the abnormal results. I quickly found out that it was the cause of mine, too. Most of the time, HPV resolves on its own, but in some cases, it can escalate into cervical cancer. What I didn’t know at the time is that there are several steps between testing positive for HPV and actually having cervical cancer. After having a couple of colposcopies, procedures where a tiny bit of tissue is removed from your cervix for closer examination (yes, it’s as uncomfortable as it sounds), we discovered that I had what’s known as high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions. That’s just a technical way of saying that the HPV I had was more advanced and more likely to turn into cancer than other kinds. I was scared, and I got even more scared when I found out I had to have a procedure to remove the tissue on my cervix that was affected, and that it needed to be done ASAP—before it got worse. (According to new research, cervical cancer is deadlier than previously thought.)

Within two weeks of finding out about my abnormal Pap, I had something called a loop extrosurgical excision procedure, or LEEP for short. It involves using a very thin wire with an electrical current to cut away precancerous tissue from the cervix. Normally, this can be done with local anesthesia, but after an attempt that went awry (apparently, local anesthetic isn’t as effective for everyone as it’s supposed to be, and I found that out the hard way…), I had to make a second trip to the hospital to have it done. This time, I was sedated. After six weeks, I was declared healthy and ready to go, and told I needed to have a Pap smear every three months for the next year. Then, I’d go back to having them once yearly. Let’s just say I’m not a great patient, so after all was said and done I knew I never wanted to have to go through this process again. Since there are over 100 strains of HPV, I knew it was a real possibility that I could contract it again. Only a small number of the strains cause cancer, but at that point, I really didn’t want to take any chances.

When I asked my doctor how to prevent this situation from happening again, her advice really surprised me. “Become monogamous,” she said. “That’s my only option?” I thought. I was dealing with the perils of the New York City dating scene at the time, and at that point couldn’t even imagine meeting someone I’d want to go on more than five dates with, let alone finding my mate for life. I had always been under the impression that as long as I was *safe* about sex, opting not to settle down wouldn’t be detrimental to my health. I almost always used condoms and got tested for STIs regularly.

Turns out, even if you use a condom every single time you have sex, you can still get HPV because condoms don’t offer complete protection against it. Even when used correctly, you can still have skin-to-skin contact when using a condom, which is how HPV is passed from one person to another. Pretty crazy, right? I didn’t think there was anything wrong with not wanting to be monogamous (and still don’t), so it was hard to grasp the fact that my ideological stance on sex was directly opposed to what was best for my sexual health. Was my only option truly to settle down at 23 and decide to only have sex with one person for the rest of my life? I wasn’t ready for that.

But according to my doctor, the answer was essentially, yes. To me, this seemed extreme. She repeated to me that the fewer partners you have, the lower your risk of contracting HPV. Of course, she was right. Though you can still get HPV from a long-term partner that could take years to show up, once your body clears whatever strains they have, you won’t be able to get it from them again. As long as you and your partner are only having sex with each other, you’re good to go in terms of re-infection. At the time, I was pretty taken aback by the fact that the best thing I could do to protect my sexual health was basically to not have sex until I found “the one.” What if I never found that person? Should I just be celibate forever!? For the next couple of years every time I even thought about having sex with someone, I had to ask myself, “Is this really worth it?” Talk about a mood killer. (FYI, these STIs are much harder to get rid of than they used to be.)

Truthfully, it didn’t turn out to be such a bad thing. Whenever I decided to have sex with someone in the years after that, not only did I follow safe-sex practices to the letter, but I also knew that I had strong enough feelings about the other person for it to be worth the risk I was facing. Basically, that meant I was genuinely emotionally invested in every person I slept with. While some would say that’s how it should be all the time, I don’t really subscribe to that school of thought—in principle. In practice, however, I did save myself a ton of heartache. Since I had fewer partners who I got to know better, I dealt with less post-sex ghosting. Some people might not mind that, but even when I wasn’t super-invested in someone, the ghosting part almost always sucked.

Now, five years later, I happen to be in a long-term monogamous relationship. While I can’t say that it happened directly because of my experience or my doctor’s advice, it’s certainly a relief when what your heart wants and what’s best for your health happen to match up. And not having to constantly worry about HPV the way I once did? Love.

Complete Article HERE!

How Straight Men Who Have Sex With Men Explain Their Encounters

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The subject of straight-identifying men who have sex with other men is a fascinating one, in that it shines a light on some extremely potent, personal concepts pertaining to identity and sexuality and one’s place in society. That’s why some sociologists and other researchers have been very eager to seek out such men and hear them explain how they fit same-sex sexual activity into their conception of heterosexuality.

The latest such research comes in the journal Sexualities, from Héctor Carrillo and Amanda Hoffman of Northwestern University. They conducted 100 interviews, with men who identified as straight but sought out casual sex with men online, hoping to better understand this population. A big chunk of the article consists of snippets from those interviews, which were primarily conducted online by three female researchers, and at the end Carillo and Hoffman sum up what they found:

They interpret that they are exclusively or primarily attracted to women, and many also conclude that they have no sexual attraction to men in spite of their desire to have sex with men. They define sexual attraction as a combination of physical and emotional attraction, and they assess that their interest in women includes both, while their interest in men is purely or mainly sexual, not romantic or emotional. Moreover, some perceive that they are not drawn toward male bodies in the same way as they are drawn to female bodies, and some observe that the only physical part of a man that interests them is his penis. Men in the latter group do not find men handsome or attractive, but they do find penises attractive, and they thus see penises as ‘living dildos’ or, in other words, disembodied objects of desire that provide a source of sexual pleasure. Finally, as a management strategy for judging that their sexual interest in women is greater and more intense than their interest in men, they sometimes limit their repertoires of same-sex sexual practices or interpret them as less important than their sexual practices with women. That way, they can tell themselves that their sexual interest in women is unbounded, while their sexual interest in men is not.

All this contributes to their sense that they qualify as being called straight or heterosexual, even when some also recognize that their sexualities do indeed differ from exclusive heterosexuality, which in turn leads them to adopt secondary descriptors of their sexual identities. As indicated by the variety of terms that they used, those descriptors often reinforce a perception that, as a sexual orientation category, heterosexuality is elastic instead of rigid — that some degree of samesex desire and behaviour need not automatically push an individual out of the heterosexual category. And while some men are willing to recognize that their sexual behaviours might qualify their being called bisexual — and they may privately identify with that label — they feel that there is no contradiction between holding a private awareness of being bisexual and a public persona as straight or heterosexual. Again, this conclusion is strengthened by a lack of social incentives to adopt bisexual identities.

It’s interesting to keep that interpretation in mind as you read the interview snippets. Take, for example, the men who sought to make it very clear that while they sometimes got with men, they really liked women:

I know what I like. I like pussy. I like women … the more the merrier … I would kiss a woman. ANYWHERE. I can barely hug a man … I do have a healthy sexual imagination and wonder about other things in the sexual realm I’ve never done … Sometimes I get naughty and explore … That’s how I see it. [Reggie, 28]

Women are hot … I can see a beautiful woman walk down the street and I instantly can become hard and get horny. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy walking by and got a boner. Also, I would not want to kiss or make out with them or love them. They would be more like a sexual experience. [Charlie, 32]

Some of the men did think that their behavior possibly qualified them as bisexual, but didn’t quite want to take the step of identifying as such:

I think everybody is a little bi. Isn’t that what this research is about? There’s the Kinsey scale … It’s not like Bush saying you’re either with us or with the terrorists. I think I’m probably bi but what I present to the world is a heterosexual man. Internally I’m bi, but that’s not something most people know. I’m not ashamed, but the majority of people are ignorant and close-minded. [Simon, 27]

I am not openly bisexual to society except in sexual situations … I don’t have relationships with men; I am in a relationship with my wife and only love her. [I’m bisexual] only with men behind closed doors. [Dustin, 28]

In addition to being perhaps the first instance in recorded history of someone comparing their sexual orientation to George W. Bush’s counterterrorism doctrine, Simon’s statement contains an important point: Carrillo and Hoffman note that many of their respondents simply “see no real personal or social advantages that would stem from publicly adopting an identity as bisexual or gay.” In many cases, it may not be in their interests to do so — hence the compartmentalization of their same-sex encounters.

Another reason for such compartmentalization is that it allows some men the opportunity to explore parts of their identities they feel they couldn’t safely in heterosexual settings:

For most of my sex life I’m in control of things. I’m not a boss at work anymore but I’ve been in situations where I’ve managed a hundred people at a time. I take care of my family. I take care of my kids. I’m a good father. I’m a good husband in providing material things for my wife … I’m in charge in a lot of places … There’s times when I don’t want to be in charge and I want someone to be in charge of me … that’s what brings me over [to] the bisexuals … it’s kind of submitting to another guy or being used by another guy. [Russell, 54]

“Interestingly,” write Carrillo and Hoffman, “being dominated by a man seemed to them less threatening than being dominated by a steady female partner, perhaps because it could be construed as a temporary fantasy, instead of meaning a permanent change in the gender balance.”

This same dynamic popped up the last study on this subject I covered — the idea that men “get” something about sex that women don’t, and that because there’s a fully mutual understanding that what’s going on is just sex, same-sex experiences can be set off safely away from the rest of one’s (heterosexual) identity. You can be a “good father,” which many men imply to mean being a strong, straight man, while still messing around with men on the side. From these men’s perspective, they can have it both ways — the privileges of identifying as straight and the pleasure and excitement of same-sex relationships on the side — without their identity being threatened.

Complete Article HERE!

Swinging offers sexual freedom, but you have to play by the rules

Don’t assume ‘the lifestyle’ does not come with a rulebook. Communication is important, and rules can make relationships better.

Fatima Mechtab, Marketing Supervisor and events coordinator at Oasis Aqualounge, poses at the Toronto adult playground.

Toronto’s Oasis Aqualounge, at Carleton and Church Sts., is a pretty open environment. The clothing-optional sex club hosts events each week for people to explore their sexual fantasies. But for such a sexually free venue, there are certainly a lot of rules.

No photos. Certain areas are off limits to men unless accompanied by a woman. No touching of any kind unless given permission. No means no, of course, but the club takes it a step further: only yes means yes. That means there are no sexy times until consent is verbalized, says Fatima Mechtab, the marketing and events co-ordinator at Oasis, which had approximately 16,000 members last year.

The clothing-optional space, where sex is allowed, is by its nature vulnerable, she says. The rules are to make sure everyone feels safe, comfortable and encourage people to talk. “A big problem with consent is people assume it’s something you don’t have to verbalize,” she says. In fact, when it comes to sex, there’s lots that people don’t talk about — but should.

Mechtab, a queer woman who has explored swinging and polyamorous relationships in the past, says these types of strict rules — don’t make assumptions, ask before touching — are common in “the lifestyle,” a term for consensually nonmonogamous couples. And, she says, rules make relationships better.

Couples and the locations they go to play have to create an environment in which all parties feel not only safe, but also heard. These boundaries take away the grey areas, forcing couples to say what they do or don’t want and what they need from sexual encounters. And there’s a lot non-swingers can learn from them about building a healthy (and satisfied) relationship.

A successful swinging relationship is based on constant communication, says Carol Hunt, founder of VenusCouples, a Montreal-based online forum for “sex-positive” exploration of the lifestyle. She and her husband have been swinging for a decade. Before any party or outing, they agree upon a set of boundaries (such as they’ll always be in the same room during sex) and expectations for the evening (be it sex with another person or a night observing others). Afterwards, they always break their experience down: what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what would they like to try in the future?

While it might seem exhausting to always talk about sex, Hunt says it means both parties feel their needs are being heard. If her husband wants to try something new, but she’s not interested, the decision isn’t shut down entirely. Instead, they discuss both points of view and try and find a happy middle ground in which they can explore. No always means no — but that’s only the start of the conversation.

That consensus building trickles out of the bedroom, says Edward Fernandes, a professor of sexuality specializing in swingers, at Barton University in North Carolina. “I’ve had people say, ‘We used to have trouble with our finances — we couldn’t talk about this,’ and once we went into swinging, that (inability to communicate) went away,’” says the Toronto expat. “Now, they’re able to talk about everything.” If you can talk about a taboo topic like sex freely, there’s nothing to stop you from vocalizing issues with the chores, he says.

One 2014 study from the University of Oklahoma, which compared monogamous and consensually nonmonogamous couples, found those in open relationships rated their happiness and health higher than their counterparts. Another study from 2000, found 90 per cent of couples said their marriage became happier after they started swinging.

“People will often avoid talking about things, because they don’t know how (their partner) is going to respond,” says Fernandes. “So we hide. Swinging tends to pull that curtain, and allows them to have direct communications with each other.”

Write your own sexy rule book

  • Hunt suggests couples looking to spice up their bedroom can start small: make it a point to go to a sex shop, for example, to discuss what both parties might enjoy or not. To avoid embarrassment, make it a rule that neither party can wander off on their own: you’re in it together and that can decrease the awkwardness.
  • Watching porn can be a great way to get both parties in the mood. But before hitting play, Hunt suggests setting expectations: you’ll only watch for an hour, and collectively pick one act to try and re-create.
  • If you’re trying something new and don’t enjoy it the first time, Hunt say don’t shut it down right away. Commit to revisiting the act at least once at a later date, and if you still don’t enjoy it, then it’s OK to take it off the table for the future.
  • Great relationships need work, she says. Set aside a couple hours each week just to be with each other. No television, no distractions (and if you want, no clothes).
  • Make a relationship rule to do one sexy thing a day — even if it’s just kissing each other deeply for a few minutes, Hunt says. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that, but it ensures a daily connection with your partner.

Complete Article HERE!

Worried your partner might have a bisexual history? Why?

Myths about LGBTQ sexual health need debunking – and healthcare professionals are part of the problem

‘You don’t have to openly identify as bisexual to get the bad side of bisexuality.’

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“Use a condom, the pill, or get an IUD – avoid pregnancy” was the drill from sexual health practitioners who came to speak at my comprehensive school in Kent. There wasn’t much detail or thought beyond, “Some of these boys are going to get some of these girls pregnant before they hit 16 – let’s try to get that down to a lower number than we had last year.”

Thankfully, when it comes to the subject of sexual identity, there’s now more guidance than ever trickling down into the societal subconscious in the west – hopefully in schools, but certainly during publicity rounds for films starring Kelly Rowland and Cat Deeley. While talking about Love By the 10th Date to the New York Post last week, Rowland espoused the importance of knowledge when embarking on a sexual relationship with another: “I can’t tell someone how to feel about dating someone who is bisexual or had a past gay experience, but it’s proper to ask [if they have] in today’s times.”

It is “proper” to ask? Maybe it’s unfortunate phrasing, or maybe not being able to hear the tone of voice in which the opinion was offered gives it negative impact, but the sentence rings faintly of suspicion and mild disapproval: “Please submit your history of sex with people of the same gender, and it will then be decided whether or not you are too risky to be intimate with.” That’s how it comes across to this particular someone who is “bisexual or [has] had a past gay experience”, anyway.

Bisexuality just continues to have a bad rep, even though it’s on the rise (according to CNN) … or then again, maybe it’s not on the rise (according to the Verge). Statistics on the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and which groups of people are spreading them, are easily found (and quickly wielded by those mistrustful of anything beyond heteronormativity), but they can obscure a simple and universal truth that applies to all groups, whether those groups are on the rise or not. And that is: whatever genitalia you and your partner(s) have, you should protect yourselves (condom/dental dam/wash your hands and accoutrement between uses, thank you). Ignoring that fact in favour of “it’s the bisexuals, mostly” is the source of so much harm.

You don’t have to openly identify as bisexual to get the bad side of bisexuality, because it goes beyond the myths of promiscuity, greed and dishonesty still held by some – biphobia also has an impact on physical health. Here in the UK, if you’re a man who’s had sex with another man in the last 12 months, you can’t donate blood (though that stance is currently being reviewed). Women who have sex with women are less likely to get a smear test, because many of us don’t realise we need to – we’re forgotten by the healthcare system, or our needs are misunderstood.

“Gay and bisexual women are at lower risk for HPV,” we confidently tell each other, “we don’t need a smear test.” A lot of us have heard that from our doctors, as well. It was only after seeing a leaflet about the issue from lgbthealth.org.uk during this month’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Week that I realised this was just ignorance.

In 2008, Stonewall released findings that one in 50 lesbian and bisexual women had been refused a smear test, even when they requested one. The 2015 survey on training gaps in healthcare, Unhealthy Attitudes, found that three in four patient-facing staff had not received any training on the health needs of LGBTQ people. Many women get variations of the “use a condom, the pill, or get an IUD – avoid pregnancy” mantra from our doctors to this day, if we don’t declare our gayness or bisexuality as we walk through the surgery door. Sometimes even a declaration is ignored by an uncomfortable practitioner. Straightness is still automatically assumed, unless you’re lucky enough to have a doctor who doesn’t see heterosexuality as the default for everyone they treat.

According to that 2015 Stonewall study, a third of healthcare professionals felt that the NHS and social care services should be doing more to meet the needs of LGBTQ patients, which is encouraging. Knowledge is wanted – needed – to undo the harmful myths that block help and prevent education. And that is what is “proper” (to quote the star of Freddy vs Jason and Love By the 10th Date) – fighting ignorance and biphobia, rather than continuing to be suspicious of sexual histories that might have featured people of the same gender. Whatever and whoever is in our sexual pasts, we must protect each other, and stay informed. That’s healthy.

Complete Article HERE!

3D-printed sex organs help blind students learn about sexual health

3D-printing technology is letting blind students experience comprehensive, accessible sex ed for the first time ever.

3D-printed sex organs help blind students learn about sexual health

By Katie Dupere

Advocates and researchers collaborated to create more than 18 3D figures that model sex organs during a various states of arousal. They range from a flaccid penis to a dilated vaginal opening, allowing students to “feel” their way though sexual health lessons.

While it may be a NSFW (let alone not-safe-for-school) endeavor, these models are game-changers for blind students who often need to learn about sexual health through verbal instruction alone.

Sex ed classes overall often rely on dull videos and static illustrations, and while that type of stale education is a disservice to all students, it presents a unique problem for blind students.

“That approach does a blind student no good whatsoever because they, of course, cannot see the pictures and videos.” Dr. Gaylen Kapperman, a professor at Northern Illinois University who was involved with the project, told Mashable via email.

Studies show that 61% of blind adults or those with low vision say their vision status had a negative impact on the way they were able to participate in sex education.

It’s a gap advocates and researchers at Benetech, a nonprofit organization specializing in tech for good, set out to solve by creating these models of various penises and vulvas.

“3D models are the only types of models that make any sense to blind people,” Kapperman said. “Many people believe that if you provide raised-lined 2D tactile pictures of sex organs that blind people will be able to generalize this information. [That approach] makes no sense whatsoever for blind persons.”

But these models don’t only break sex ed barriers for blind children. Researchers say the models could make the instruction more meaningful for sighted kids, too.

The project’s goal is to eventually provide open-source 3D printing files for teachers. This means school districts would only have to finance the materials and printers to make the models.

Many experts predict the technology will become a staple for schools anyway. Once a school district owns a printer, 3D printing is a low-cost way to create models for classroom instruction, making it ideal for schools on a budget.

A sizable 90% of blind students attend school with sighted children, relying on modified lessons to fully absorb material. But there are only about 61,700 blind students in the U.S. Buying commercial models of genitalia already on the market can cost up to $500 per model — something low-funded schools would likely be reluctant to do, especially when only a handful of blind students may ever pass through their district.

To develop prototypes, Benetech partnered with LightHouse for the Blind and Northern Illinois University, where the models were first tested on blind college students. The project was funded entirely by a private Benetech donor.

Now in the second phase of the pilot program this spring, the models will make their ways into the hands of middle school and high school students — the target demographic.

By the end of the 2017 school year, researchers hope to have feedback from students on the current prototypes. Then they’ll release files with detailed printing instructions for classroom use.

Benetech plans to offer pre-printed models to accommodate schools without 3D printers, for a fee much lower than commercial models.

“It is our hope that these models will be an effective teaching tool for teachers to communicate sex education in a way that works for students who are blind and visually impaired,” said Dr. Lisa Wadors Verne, program manager of education and partnerships at Benetech.

Complete Article HERE!