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How Homophobia Has Robbed Men Of Touch

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The pathological fear of even platonic contact has created a generation of men plagued by loneliness and anxiety.

I wrote an article in which I asked people to consider the following: American men, in an attempt to avoid any possible hint of committing unwanted sexual touch, are foregoing gentle platonic touch in their lives.

I call it touch isolation.

Homophobic social stigmas, the long-standing challenges of rampant sexual harassment and abuse, and a society steeped in a generations-old puritanical mistrust of physical pleasure have created an isolating trap in which American men can go for days (or weeks) without touching another human being.

The implications of touch isolation for men’s health and happiness are huge.

Gentle platonic touch is central to the early development of infants. It continues to play an important role throughout men and women’s lives in terms of our development, health and emotional well being, right into old age. When I talk about gentle platonic touch, I’m not talking about a pat on the back, or a handshake, but instead contact that is sustained and meant to provide connection and comfort: Leaning on someone for a few minutes, holding hands, rubbing their back or sitting close together not out of necessity but out of choice.

Yet, culturally, gentle platonic touch is the one thing we suppress culturally in men and it starts when they are very young boys.

While babies and toddlers are held, cuddled, and encouraged to practice gentle touch during their first years of their lives, that contact often drops off for boys when they cease to be toddlers. Boys are encouraged to “shake it off” and “be tough” when they are hurt.

Along with the introduction of this “get tough” narrative, boys find that their options for gentle platonic touch simply fade away. Mothers and fathers often back off from holding or cuddling their young boys. Boys who seek physical holding as comfort when hurt are stigmatized as “cry babies.”

By the time they are approaching puberty, many boys have learned to touch only in aggressive ways through rough housing or team sports. And if they do seek gentle touch in their lives, it is expected to take place in the exclusive and highly sexualized context of dating. This puts massive amounts of pressure on young girls; young girls who are unlikely to be able to shoulder such a burden. Because of the lack of alternative outlets for touch, the touch depravation faced by young boys who are unable to find a girlfriend is overwhelming. And what about boys who are gay? In a nutshell, we leave children in their early teens to undo a lifetime of touch aversion and physical isolation. The emotional impact of coming of age in our touch-averse, homophobic culture is terribly damaging. It’s no wonder our young people face a epidemic of sexual abuse, unwanted pregnancy, rape, drug and alcohol abuse.

In America, in particular, if a young man attempts gentle platonic contact with another young man, he faces a very real risk of homophobic backlash either by that person or by those who witness the contact. This is, in part, because we frame all contact by men as being intentionally sexual until proven otherwise. Couple this with the homophobia that runs rampant in our culture, and you get a recipe for increased touch isolation that damages the lives of the vast majority of men.

And if you think men have always been hands-off with each other, have a look at an amazing collection of historic photos compiled by Brett and Kate McKay in their article Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection. It’s a remarkable look at male camaraderie as expressed though physical touch in photos dating back to the earliest days of photography.

As the McKays note:

“At the turn of the 20th century… Thinking of men as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” became common. And this new category of identity was at the same time pathologized—decried by psychiatrists as a mental illness, by ministers as a perversion, and by politicians as something to be legislated against.

“As this new conception of homosexuality as a stigmatized and onerous identifier took root in American culture, men began to be much more careful to not send messages to other men, and to women, that they were gay. And this is the reason why, it is theorized, men have become less comfortable with showing affection towards each other over the last century.”

Spend some time looking at these remarkable images. You’ll get a visceral sense of what has been lost to men.

These days, put 10 people in the room when two men touch a moment too long, and someone will make a mean joke, express distaste, or even pick a fight. And its just as likely to be a woman as to be a man who enforces the homophobic/touch averse stigma. The enforcement of touch prohibition between men can be as subtle as a raised eyebrow or as punitive as a fist fight and you never know where it will come from or how quickly it will escalate.

And yet, we know that touch between men or women is proven to be a source of comfort, connection and self-esteem. But while women are allowed much more public contact, men are not. Because how we allow men to perform masculinity is actually very restrictive. (Charlie Glickman writes quite eloquently about this in an article for The Good Men Project. Read it. It’s a real eye opener.)

Male touch isolation is one of many powerful reasons why I support marriage equality. The sooner being gay is completely normalized, the sooner homophobic prohibitions against touch will be taken off straight men. As much as gay men have faced the brunt of homophobic violence, straight men have been banished to a desert of physical isolation by these same homophobic fanatics who police lesbians and gays in our society. The result has been a generation of American men who do not hug each other, do not hold hands and can not sit close together without the homophobic litmus test kicking in.’

The lack of touch in men’s lives results in a higher likelihood of depression, alcoholism, mental and physical illness. Put simply, touch isolation is making men’s lives less healthy and more lonely.

When visiting my 87-year-old father for a few days, I made a point to touch him more. To make contact. To express my affection, not just by flying a thousand miles for a visit, but to touch the man once I got there. It may seem simple, but choosing to do so is not always a simple thing. It can raise a lifetime of internal voices, many of which speak of loss and missed opportunities. But I hugged him. I put my arm around him as we shared a cigar and cocktails. I touched him whenever I walked past his chair.

Each evening, we would watch a movie. As part of that nightly ritual, I would sit in the floor, take off his shoes and socks and rub his bare feet for while. It is something I will remember when he is gone. Something I did right. Something that said to him, I love you. Spoken on the same deep touch levels by which he connected with me when I was a toddler sitting next to him, his strong arm around me as I watched the late show 50 years ago.

This touch thing is so crucial: I kiss and hug my son constantly. He sits with me—and on me. I make a point of connecting with him physically whenever I greet him. The physical connection I have with him has been transformative in my life teaching me about my value as a human being and a father.

We need to empower men to touch. We need to fix our sexually repressed (and sexually obsessed) American culture and put an end to distorted and hateful parts of our culture that allow homophobic people to police all men everywhere down to the very tips of our fingertips.

It’s too late in my life for the impact of these stigmas to be fully undone, but I have great hope for my son. When we collectively normalize gay life and relationships, my son, whatever his sexual orientation turns out to be, will be free to express platonic affection for others, be they men or women, in any way he sees fit. The rabid homophobes who have preached hate in America for far too long will finally be silenced, and men will be free to reach out and touch each other without fear of being labeled as somehow less of a man.

It’s a dream for a better America I can already see coming true.

Complete Article HERE!

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Seven ways … to boost your libido

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Exhaustion, stress, drugs and poor technique can all cause your sex drive to stall. How can you get it back on track?

Low libido? Try reading something erotic

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Is it a problem?

A lack or loss of sex drive is only a problem if the person experiencing it believes it is. Medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease can undermine desire, as can prescription drugs or difficult life events. The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) reported in September that 34% of sexually active women and 15% of sexually active men in Britain had lost interest in sex for three months or more during the previous year.

It’s good to talk

Relationship problems are a leading cause of waning libido: Natsal concluded that finding it hard to talk about sex with a partner doubled the chances of a diminished sex drive among women and increased them by 50% in men. “A lot of couples don’t communicate and end up avoiding sex,” says Cynthia Graham, professor of sexual and reproductive health at the University of Southampton, and the study’s lead author. “Open communication increases the chances of your libido bouncing back.” For women, having a partner with a different level of sexual interest increased the chances of loss of sexual interest more than fourfold, and having one with sexual likes and dislikes they did not share did so by almost threefold.These issues increased the chances of loss of desire by just 17% and 16% respectively among men.

Sleep on it

Burning the candle at both ends is a passion killer. Testosterone’s role in male libido is overstated, but it is true that men with the lowest levels of the hormone report low sexual desire and one US study found that sleeping fewer than five hours a night reduced testosterone levels in young men by 10-15%. A lack of sleep also kills female libido: a 2015 study concluded women who had an extra hour’s sleep were 14% more likely to have sex the next day.

Fly solo

Research shows far fewer women masturbate than men. Some research suggests doing so can help boost self-awareness, social competence, body esteem and improve intimacy in long-term relationships. “One reason women lack interest in sex is that sex isn’t always very good with a partner,” says Prof Graham. “Masturbation can help women learn things they can then teach their partners about how to pleasure them.”

Fantasise

Recently, researchers have emphasised that, especially for women, desire can occur largely in response to arousal. If that’s news to you, you could do worse than read Come As You Are by the sex educator Emily Nagoski. Therapists often tell women they can increase flagging interest in sex by fantasising, reading erotica or watching pornography, and research suggests they are right.

Relax

The “fight or flight” system boosts levels of hormones that help us perform better in dangerous situations. It can also undermine nonessential function,s such as digestion, immunity and reproductive drive. Little wonder, then, that if you’re frequently stressed out, you’re rarely in the mood. Yoga, working out or meditation might help.

The drugs don’t (always) work

Research suggests that taking the contraceptive pill can reduce the frequency of sexual thoughts and sex in some women. Alternative methods might be worth considering. Flibanserin became the first drug to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for low sexual desire in women in 2015. Trials suggest it has minimal effects: an extra 0.5-1 satisfying sex sessions a month compared with placebo. Side effects include low blood pressure, fainting and nausea. Viagra, Cialis and Levitra do not increase libido, but help men get erections. This may increase desire by boosting confidence.

Complete Article HERE!

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Finding power through play: How BDSM can fuel confidence

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By Emerald Bensadoun

Marianne LeBreton is suspended in mid-air, tied in an upside-down futumomo, legs bound together. The ropes cascade in intricate patterns, beginning at her ankles and working their way all the way around her wrists. The ropes arch her body backward. Her breathing steadies. Serenity washes through her. The slight discomfort of certain positions causes slow burns to spread across her body—but the pain is secondary to the relief. LeBreton becomes entrenched in a state of flow. Her mind is quiet. She’s enjoying the intensity, both emotionally and physically.

For LeBreton, bondage has become a meditative experience. When it comes to receiving pain, which she enjoys, it takes a certain focus and determination. LeBreton finds rope— especially Japanese rope bondage—to be particularly meditative. She equates BDSM to an empowering “sense of calm,” but it didn’t start out that way.

“What colour should it be?” thought LeBreton. She wanted her boyfriend to like it. As an 18-year-old student on a budget, it couldn’t be too expensive. For almost a week she scrolled through the internet until she finally came across what she was looking for. It was even in her price range. This was the one. Satisfied, she clicked “purchase.” LeBreton had just bought her first flogger—a whip with long tendrils coming out the end. “It felt like the beginning of something for me,” said LeBreton.

When asked about her first experience with BDSM, she grins from ear to ear, trying to visualize the details. “There wasn’t Fifty Shades of Grey but there was hentai,” she says. At the age of 13, LeBreton became fascinated with Bondage Fairies, an erotic manga about highly sexual, human-shaped female forest fairies with wings who work as hunters and police protecting the forest.

Now 30, LeBreton has an MA in sexology from Université du Québec à Montréal and owns KINK Toronto, an up-and-coming BDSM boutique in Toronto’s Annex. BDSM, she says, is about much more than pain—it’s about empowerment. LeBreton says we could use a little more playfulness in our lives. More sensuality. More discovery. “That’s usually what I hear from customers who are curious; they are excited and thrilled to be daring and to be doing this for themselves or their partners,” says LeBreton. “It’s definitely a journey of self-discovery and acceptance.” In her workshops, being naked and engaging in play publicly, she says, has helped with her confidence and body image.

In 2015, Christian Joyal, who has a PhD in psychology from the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, and his colleagues published a paper on fantasies; ranging from sex in a public places, to tying up a sexual partner, to watching same-gender sex and pornography. But there were also fantasies about being dominated sexually. These were present in 65 per cent of women and 53 per cent of men; dominating someone sexually, present in 47 per cent of women and 60 per cent of men; being tied up for sexual pleasure which appealed to 52 per cent of women and 46 per cent of men.

“From what we’ve seen, most people have a very strict image of what [BDSM] should look like, which is very restricting,” she says. BDSM, she notes, doesn’t have to involve leather. It doesn’t have to involve pain. Another mistake is attributing masculine or feminine traits to erotic behaviour. For many people, BDSM is a healthy way to express their sexuality and grain a sense of control in their lives and of their bodies.

In her workshops, being naked and engaging in play publicly, she says, has helped with her confidence and body image

When it comes to dominance and submission, negotiations, and boundaries, safety and consent are crucial. While the words “dominant” or “top” may conjure up images of complete control, those in the BDSM world know that the submissive, or “bottom” hold true power. “The bottom is the one who gets to decide what they would like, what they do not want, what their limits are,” says LeBreton, “It’s the top’s responsibility to follow that through. Of course some people have very specific kinks where it’s kind of like ‘I want you to take control.’ But that’s negotiated and within limits set by the bottom.”

Feeling in control can also be about letting go. Relinquishing that sense of control they exert in every other part of their lives can be therapeutic. For this reason, LeBreton says that men, especially those in positions of higher power, will often identify as submissives in the bedroom.

Alex Zalewski says he’s always been a little rough. But in a seven-year “vanilla” relationship, it was difficult to break routine. Months later, for the first time in Zalewski’s life, he felt horribly unsure of himself. He’d been flirting with a new girl for some time whose friends invited him to their apartment. But he was confused. “Spit in my mouth,” she demanded. “Slap me.” Zalewski was torn between arousal and inner turmoil. If there was one thing he’d ever been taught from a young age, it’s that good boys don’t hit women.

For Zalewski, empowerment is a quiet confidence, and feeling a level of control that builds pleasure from the knowledge that he is fulfilling his partners’ desires. Zalewski, who lives in Toronto’s downtown core, offers relationship and personal coaching for various clients in his spare time, but he doesn’t charge money for it. The women in his life kept asking him for advice on BDSM. He decided he would try his best. In 2016 he created Authentic Connections, to help people overcome their barriers in exchange for a relationship they’ve always wanted. His goal was to have someone open up to him enough about the types of barriers that were preventing his clients and their partners from having the sex life they wanted to have.

“What are your fantasies? What are your desires? What do you want out of your partner or partners?” He would ask them. Once he could get them to admit what they actually wanted, they would work out a plan. Develop themselves, develop their skills to be able to do the things that would help them achieve their goals. Zalewski says a lot of the time, this is the most difficult step for the people he’s met with. It’s hard for people to step outside their comfort zones sometimes, he says, because they’ve been conditioned into associating kink and BDSM with abuse and mental instability.

A person becomes curious in BDSM. They don’t tell their friends. Maybe they’re afraid of being ridiculed or judged. Maybe rejection. But maybe it’s none of those things. Maybe they just want to keep their personal life, personal.

In 2006, the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality published an article that compared BDSM practitioners to published norms on 10 psychological disorders. Compared to the normative samples, those who actively engage in BDSM had lower levels of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological sadism, psychological masochism, borderline pathology and paranoia.

But just because a person likes to be controlled in the bedroom doesn’t necessarily mean those needs translate into the real world and can have dangerous implications for parties involved.

Jen Chan was 16. Her boyfriend was 24. He was her dominant and she was his submissive. “That was generally the dynamic of how our relationship went,” she says. But chipping away at her self-esteem, her boyfriend would pressure her into doing things she wasn’t sure if she was comfortable with, and she would go along with them, afraid of appearing inexperienced and childish to her older boyfriend. While BDSM allows you to play out different scenarios from that of everyday life, she says her first experience with dominance and submission was just an extension of the life she already had.

It’s hard for people to step outside their comfort zones sometimes, he says, because they’ve been conditioned into associating kink and BDSM with abuse and mental instability.

After their relationship ended, Chan says it took her several years until she felt confident enough to engage in BDSM again. Coming out as queer, she says, has also made all the difference. Chan now identifies as a switch, which is someone who enjoys partaking in both dominant and submissive roles, or both topping and bottoming.

“There is something very staged, controlled and intentional about BDSM, at least that’s the way I interact with it,” says Chan, who adds that her empowerment with BDSM lies in feeling like she’s doing something adventurous in an environment of her choice. Feeling satisfied sexually, she says, has made her feel more confident in the real world.

Is what you’re doing safe? Is what you’re doing consensual? Zalewski says risk awareness, the amount of risk a person is comfortable taking in order to attain the pleasure plays a large role in BDSM. From flesh hook suspension to unprotected sex, it’s important to understand the personal level of risk you are comfortable with when it comes to the acts you want to perform.

Chan says that while engaging in BDSM gave her the opportunity to try new things and step into new roles, most importantly, it allowed her to reclaim control, sexually. As a person begins to immerse themselves in BDSM, Chan says, they start to learn more about what makes them comfortable, where their boundaries lie, all while pushing themselves to continually learn new things—and to her, that’s all empowerment really is.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to close the female orgasm gap

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Studies show sexual pleasure, self-esteem and satisfaction profoundly impacts our wellbeing. That’s why increasing our ‘sexual IQ’ matters

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In this moment of brave truth telling and female empowerment, it’s time to address one topic that’s been missing far too long from our conversations around sex: female pleasure.

Study after study show that sexual pleasure, self-esteem and satisfaction have profound impacts on our physical and mental wellbeing. It is a natural and vital part of our health and happiness.

As a society, we accept this premise fairly easily when it comes to men and they learn it at a young age. When discovering how babies are made, male ejaculation (ie his pleasure) plays a featured role. Men feel entitled to pleasure and our culture supports that. There are endless nicknames for male anatomy and jokes about masturbation; and TV shows, movies, advertisements and porn all cater to their fantasies.

Women, on the other hand, appear mostly as the object in these fantasies rather than as subjects. In middle school sex ed classes, drawings of female anatomy often don’t even include the clitoris, as if women’s reproductive function is somehow separate from their pleasure. Female pleasure remains taboo and poorly understood. There is little scientific research on the topic and even doctors shy away from discussing it: according to a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, less than 30% of gynecologists routinely ask their patients about pleasure and sexual satisfaction.

This silence has real consequences. Almost 30% of college-age women can’t identify their clitoris on an anatomy test, according to a study from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Another survey by the UK gynecological cancer charity, Eve Appeal, finds that women are more familiar with men’s bodies than their own: while 60% could correctly label a diagram of the male body, just 35% of women correctly labeled female anatomy. (For the record, men scored even worse.)

Lack of sexual health knowledge is associated with lower rates of condom and contraceptive use. It also contributes to pleasure disparities in the bedroom. While gay and straight men climax about 85% of the time during sex, women having sex with women orgasm about 75% of the time and women having sex with men come last at just 63%, research from the Kinsey Institute shows. The reasons for this “orgasm gap” are surely multifaceted, but we can start to address it by talking more about the importance of women’s pleasure.

Let’s talk about what women’s sexual anatomy really looks like, so that we can normalize differences, reduce body shame and improve self-care. We should encourage self-exploration from an early age so that women (and men) learn what feels good to them and how that changes as we move through the different stages of our lives.

Knowing our own bodies can promote our own health and wellbeing, and empower our relationships. The Kinsey study showed that compared to women who orgasmed less frequently, women who experienced more pleasure were more likely to ask for what they want in bed, act out fantasies and praise their partner for something they did in bed, among other things. We can’t talk about what we like or don’t like with our partners if we don’t know ourselves.

In order to cultivate a culture of true gender equality, we need candid conversations and accurate, sex-positive information. Without this, pop culture, pornography and outdated cultural institutions fill in these gaps with unhealthy stereotypes and unrealistic expectations that center on male pleasure and leave women in a supporting role.

Through our willingness to speak openly about sex and to seek out empowering information, we can increase our “sexual IQ” and make more informed choices that will improve our sexual satisfaction, happiness and wellbeing throughout our lives.

As author Peggy Orenstein says “We’ve raised a generation of girls to have a voice, to expect egalitarian treatment in the homes, in the classroom, in the workplace. Now it’s time to demand that ‘intimate justice’ in their personal lives as well.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Vaginismus: a major psychological reason women experience pain during sex

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If you have never heard of vaginismus, it’s time to get it on your radar.

Don’t suffer in silence

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Aly Dilks, sexual health expert and clinical director at The Women’s Health Clinic, says: ‘It is the term used to describe recurrent or persistent involuntary tightening of muscles around the vagina whenever penetration is attempted,’

According to Vaginismus Awareness, the condition affects at least two in every 1,000 women at some point in their lifetime.

Approximately 10% of adult women have experienced painful intercourse in the past six months.

‘It’s not fully understood why the condition happens [but] factors can include thinking the vagina is too small, negative sexual thoughts – thinking sex will be painful and cause damage – and previous sexual abuse,’ says Ms Dilks.

She also lists damage to the vagina – common during childbirth or an episiotomy, a painful first sexual experience, relationship problems, and fear of pregnancy as other potential triggers.

Pain is not limited to sex.

Some women find inserting tampons or fingers painful; others find any type of penetration intolerable.

Unlike other causes of vaginal pain, such as an infection, vaginismus is a psychological problem that cannot be cured with a straightforward prescription.

There’s effective treatment

Help is available beyond search engine suggestions

This is not to say it can’t be treated: Vaginismus Awareness reports a 95% chance of treating this psychological condition effectively, and many women receive referrals to a sex therapist as a first port of call.

Colin Richards is a relationship and sex mentor and the founder of Intimacy Matters.

He says: ‘As a practitioner who works with both the psychological and physiological, about 20% of female clients that come to me for treatment around sexual performance come with some level of vaginismus.

‘The psycho-sensual treatment I offer involves talking through the psychological influences, followed by sensual massage that is given in controlled, professional space.

‘It allows the new emotional tools to emerge in an authentic, non-judgemental way.’

Both Ms Dilks and Mr Richards also suggest vaginal trainers: four, smooth, plastic penis-shaped objects in different sizes.

They can be used in the privacy of your own home, at your own pace. Ms Dilks says: ‘Once you feel comfortable inserting the smallest one, you can move on to the second size, and so on.’

‘It doesn’t matter how long it takes – whether it’s days, weeks, or months.’

Vaginismus is just one of many types of sexual frustrations and fears women face but, says Mr Richards, it is probably the most challenging for the sufferer.

That challenge is perpetuated by a lack of awareness and the taboo that still surrounds female sexuality, even when women talk to one another.

Yet it can have major implications on a woman’s sex life, self-esteem, body image and her relationships.

Hope for sufferers

Women can be reluctant to talk about their sex life, even with other women

If you have pain during sex, during your period, or if there’s anything that concerns you about your sexual health, don’t suffer in silence; women have been doing that for too long, and vaginismus is something for which there is a proven treatment.

Mr Richards says: ‘In my experience, if one can get to the root psychological cause of the anxiety or fear, then the vaginismus can be removed completely.

‘I have seen improvement over a period of three to six appointments.

‘As the mind learns that sexual penetration is not painful or wrong, and is, in fact, pleasurable, the body soon responds and lets go of the need to tense up.

‘[The woman] remains calm, and feels familiar with the situation, and so confident that everything should be fine.’

Complete Article HERE!

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