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All forms of sexual harassment can cause psychological harm

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“Being exposed to non-physical sexual harassment can negatively affect symptoms of anxiety, depression, negative body image and low self-esteem,” say Associate Professor Mons Bendixen and Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology.

This applies to derogatory sexual remarks about appearance, behaviour and sexual orientation, unwanted sexual attention, being subject to rumouring, and being shown sexually oriented images, and the like.

The researchers posed questions about sexual experienced in the previous year and received responses from almost 3,000 high school students in two separate studies. The responses paint a clear picture.

Worst for girls. This is not exclusively something boys do against girls. It’s just as common for boys to harass boys in these ways.

Girls and boys are equally exposed to unpleasant or offensive non-physical sexual harassment. About 62 per cent of both sexes report that they have experienced this in the past year.

“Teens who are harassed the most also struggle more in general. But girls generally struggle considerably more than boys, no matter the degree to which they’re being harassed in this way,” Kennair notes.

“Girls are also more negatively affected by sexual harassment than boys are,” adds Bendixen.

Being a girl is unquestionably the most important risk factor when teens report that they struggle with anxiety, depression, or .

However, non-physical sexual harassment is the second most important factor, and is more strongly associated with adolescents’ psychological well-being than being subjected to sexual coercion in the past year or sexual assault prior to that.

Level of severity

Bendixen and Kennair believe it’s critical to distinguish between different forms of harassment.

They divided the types of harassment into two main groups: non-physical harassment and physically coercive sexual behaviour, such as unwanted kissing, groping, intimate touch, and intercourse. Physical sexual coercion is often characterized as sexual abuse in the literature.

Studies usually lump these two forms of unwanted behaviour together into the same measure. This means that a derogatory comment is included in the same category as rape.

“As far as we know, this is the first study that has distinguished between these two forms and specifically looked at the effects of non-physical sexual harassment,” says Bendixen.

Comments that for some individuals may seem innocent enough can cause significant problems for others.

Many factors accounted for

Not everyone interprets slang or slurs the same way. If someone calls you a “whore” or “gay,” you may not find it offensive. For this reason, the researchers let the adolescents decide whether they perceived a given action as offensive or not, and had them only report what they did find offensive.

The article presents data from two studies. The first study from 2007 included 1384 . The second study included 1485 students and was conducted in 2013-2014. Both studies were carried out in Sør-Trøndelag county and are comparable with regard to demographic conditions.

The results of the first study were reproduced in the second. The findings from the two studies matched each other closely.

The researchers also took into account a number of other potentially influential factors, such as having parents who had separated or were unemployed, educational programme (vocational or general studies), sexual minority status, , and whether they had experienced physical coercion in the past year or any sexual assaults previous to that.

“We’ve found that sexual minorities generally reported more psychological distress,” says Bendixen. The same applied to with parents who are unemployed. On the other hand, students with immigrant status did not report more psychological issues. Bendixen also notes that sexual minorities did not seem to be more negatively affected by sexual harassment than their heterosexual peers.

However, the researchers did find a clear negative effect of non-physical sexual harassment, over and beyond that of the risk factors above.

Uncertain as to what is an effective intervention

So what can be done to reduce behaviours that may cause such serious problems for so many?

Kennair concedes that he doesn’t know what can help.

“This has been studied for years and in numerous countries, but no studies have yet revealed any lasting effects of measures aimed at combating sexual harassment,” Bendixen says. “We know that attitude campaigns can change people’s attitudes to harassment, but it doesn’t result in any reduction in harassment behaviour.”

Bendixen and Kennair want to look into this in an upcoming study. Their goal is to develop practices that reduce all forms of and thereby improve young people’s psychological well-being.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why having the sex talk early and often with your kids is good for them

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By and

Parents may be uncomfortable initiating “the sex talk,” but whether they want to or not, parents teach their kids about sex and sexuality. Kids learn early what a sexual relationship looks like.

Broaching the topic of sex can be awkward. Parents may not know how to approach the topic in an age-appropriate way, they may be uncomfortable with their own sexuality or they may fear “planting information” in childrens’ minds.

Parental influence is essential to sexual understanding, yet parents’ approaches, attitudes and beliefs in teaching their children are still tentative. The way a parent touches a child, the language a parent uses to talk about sexuality, the way parents express their own sexuality and the way parents handle children’s questions all influence a child’s sexual development.

We are researchers of intimate relationship education. We recently learned through surveying college students that very few learned about sex from their parents, but those who did reported a more positive learning experience than from any other source, such as peers, the media and religious education.

The facts of modern life

Children are exposed to advertising when they’re as young as six months old – even babies recognize business logos. Researcher and media activist Jean Kilbourne, internationally recognized for her work on the image of women in advertising, has said that “Nowhere is sex more trivialized than in pornography, media and advertising.” Distorted images leave youth with unrealistic expectations about normal relationships.

Long before the social media age, a 2000 study found that teenagers see 143 incidents of sexual behavior on network television at prime time each week; few represented safe and healthy sexual relationships. The media tend to glamorize, degrade and exploit sexuality and intimate relationships. Media also model promiscuity and objectification of women and characterize aggressive behaviors as normal in intimate relationships. Violence and abuse are the chilling but logical result of female objectification.

While there is no consensus as to a critical level of communication, we do know that some accurate, reliable information about sex reduces risky behaviors. If parents are uncomfortable dealing with sexual issues, those messages are passed to their children. Parents who can talk with their children about sex can positively influence their children’s sexual behaviors.

Can’t someone else do this for me?

Sex education in schools may provide children with information about sex, but parents’ opinions are sometimes at odds with what teachers present; some advocate for abstinence-only education, while others might prefer comprehensive sex education. The National Education Association developed the National Sexual Health Standards for sex education in schools, including age-appropriate suggestions for curricula.

Children often receive contradictory information between their secular and religious educations, leaving them to question what to believe about sex and sometimes confusing them more. Open and honest communication about sex in families can help kids make sense of the mixed messages.

Parents remain the primary influences on sexual development in childhood, with siblings and sex education as close followers. During late childhood, a more powerful force – peer relationships – takes over parental influences that are vague or too late in delivery.

Even if parents don’t feel competent in their delivery of sexual information, children receive and incorporate parental guidance with greater confidence than that from any other source.

Engaging in difficult conversations establishes trust and primes children to approach parents with future life challenges. Information about sex is best received from parents regardless of the possibly inadequate delivery. Parents are strong rivals of other information sources. Teaching about sex early and often contributes to a healthy sexual self-esteem. Parents may instill a realistic understanding of healthy intimate relationships.

Getting started

So how do you do it? There is no perfect way to start the conversation, but we suggest a few ways here that may inspire parents to initiate conversations about sex, and through trial and error, develop creative ways of continuing the conversations, early and often.

  1. Several age-appropriate books are available that teach about reproduction in all life forms – “It’s Not the Stork,” “How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex” and “Amazing You!: Getting Smart About Your Body Parts”.
  2. Watch TV with children. Movies can provide opportunities to ask questions and spark conversation with kids about healthy relationships and sexuality in the context of relatable characters.
  3. Demonstrate openness and honesty about values and encourage curiosity.
  4. Allow conversation to emerge around sexuality at home – other people having children, animals reproducing or anatomically correct names for body parts.
  5. Access sex education materials such as the National Sexual Health Standards.

The goal is to support children in developing healthy intimate relationships. Seek support in dealing with concerns about sex and sexuality. Break the cycle of silence that is commonplace in many homes around sex and sexuality. Parents are in a position to advocate for sexual health by communicating about sex with their children, early and often.

Complete Article HERE!

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Adolescents with autism need access to better sex education

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Intimacy is part of being human. There are well-documented benefits to positive relationships, from emotional security to good mental health1. Those who want relationships and can’t develop them face low self-esteem, depression, loneliness and isolation from the wider society2.

For adolescents, learning how to navigate sex and sexuality can be a minefield. How do you figure out the nuances of sexuality without experience? How do you approach a potential partner? And once you do, how do you communicate with him or her?

This path is especially fraught for adolescents with autism. For example, people with autism tend to report higher levels of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation than their neurotypical peers3. And yet there is a gap between what these young people need and what schools provide. According to a 2012 study, adolescents with autism know less about sex than do their peers and have less access to sex education4.

My team of researchers and I are documenting the experiences of adolescents with autism in relation to sex, sexuality and their schools’ sex education requirements. Our research suggests schools should provide sex education tailored to the needs of young people with autism.

These classes should include both the standard fare — from human development to safe sex — and additional instruction on topics such as how teens can express themselves to their potential partners and how to decode innuendos and other language used to describe sex. This education is vital to ensure that these adolescents can approach relationships in a way that is safe, confident and healthy.

Role play:

One common misconception about individuals with autism is that they prefer to be alone. My research suggests this simply isn’t true.

In an ongoing study, for example, my team conducted interviews related to sex and relationships with 40 adults with autism. Only three expressed ambivalence about relationships, mostly due to worries about coping with the needs of another person. Nearly half of the respondents had not yet had a relationship but expressed a strong desire for one.

Despite the desire to form relationships, this group expressed limited knowledge about how they would meet someone or show their interest. They found the idea of going out to a pub or club frightening, and socializing with groups of people provoked high anxiety. Some of them expressed a disdain for small talk, and others admitted they had little idea of how to engage in general conversation. They also found the use of dating apps unappealing and said they thought there was an inherent danger in meeting strangers.

Sex education could help these individuals feel confident in approaching others using role-play. For example, they could use techniques created by the late Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theater director who created plays in which audiences could participate.

In the context of sex education, an actor would play the part of the individual with autism and re-create one of that person’s real-life experiences, such as trying to talk to someone new in a bar. The individual with autism would then give the actor new directions — such as “What if I offer to buy her a drink?” — allowing the person with autism to try out many approaches, and witness potential consequences, in a safe environment.

Advice network:

Although instructors may help with some aspects of communication, it’s profoundly difficult to teach someone how to read the intentions and desires of others. Most teenagers rely on peers to work through some of these social complexities.

Teens get feedback from their peers on how to interact, meet new people and gauge the appropriateness of a relationship. Teens with autism struggle with close relationships, but sex education classes could facilitate that learning.

Our research suggests that they desire this guidance. For example, one individual in our study commented that schools should provide students with the “skills on how to find the right sort of partner.” To accomplish this goal, a school could provide an advice network, including regular group meetings in which young people with autism share and reflect upon their experiences. Social networking could extend this support.

For most adolescents, peers also fill in gaps such as helping to define sexual slang. In our study, another participant commented that hearing “dirty talk” from other students made her feel left behind. She was also unsure how to decode the words she heard, and said her school should explain what people might say in a sexual context and what these terms mean. With this context, she could decide to get involved or not.

Moderated discussions in a peer network could help address such slang and provide a safe space for students to ask questions about unfamiliar words.

Different sexualities:

To be effective, sex education in schools must take into consideration that some individuals with autism do not conform to traditional sex roles. When we interviewed 40 young adults with autism as part of an ongoing study, we found that 20 percent identified as gay or bisexual — more than is reported in national surveys of the general population. Gender fluidity may also be more common in individuals with autism: In a study we conducted this year (but is not yet published), we found an unusually high incidence of autism and autism traits in individuals who identify as transsexual or non-binary.

Despite these high numbers, some people with autism find it hard to accept different sexualities. As one male participant explained: “I have a rigid way of seeing the world, and this prevented me from accepting my sexuality. I sort of denied it to myself because I have very concrete black-and-white thinking and it didn’t quite fit in.” This early inability to accept his sexuality and identify as a gay man led to severe depression and admittance to a psychiatric ward.

In some ways, people with autism may even fall outside the ever-expanding range of sexual identities we see today, such as gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual and asexual. For example, one of our participants explained that her wonderful relationship with another girl with autism often involved sitting together for up to 10 hours reading in silence, or spending hours discussing Greek history.

Autism represents a profoundly different way of seeing and being in the world, and individuals with autism often expend great mental and physical effort just trying to appear ‘normal.’ Sex education in school needs to move away from suggesting that people with autism should fit in, and instead explore alternatives to traditional types of romantic relationships.

Awareness gaps:

Our work also suggests that individuals with autism aren’t always aware that they are sexual beings. This lack of self-awareness manifests both in the sexual cues they give off and how they may be perceived by others.

For example, two participants in our study reported behavior that could be perceived as stalking, such as continually following strangers, although they didn’t indicate that they understood how this could seem threatening. One described it this way: “I literally just saw him on the street. And then pretty much just stalked him.”

Not having a sense of one’s own sexuality can be harmful in other ways. For example, individuals with autism are three times as likely to experience sexual exploitation as their peers5. In our study, participants spoke of times when they had been extremely vulnerable and open to abuse. One woman reported that others had gotten her drunk and encouraged her to have sex with girls even though she doesn’t identify as gay. In the interview, she did not appear to be aware that these incidents could be perceived as someone taking advantage of her.

Sex educators need to understand these gaps in awareness to build confidence in young people with autism and to protect them from harm and from unintentionally harming others. For example, young people with autism need to be aware of the law on issues such as stalking, which they themselves may not see as a problem. Their education needs to include lessons on the language of sex and draw distinctions between playful and threatening behavior. It also needs to address issues of abuse and signs that a relationship or encounter is abusive.

Research such as ours can offer insight into this area and provide the tools for effective sex education for people with autism. With the right support, adolescents with autism can feel more comfortable building relationships and exploring their sexuality. This support will help them develop healthy relationships and experience their benefits to well-being, self-esteem and happiness.

Complete Article HERE!

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Fun sex is healthy sex

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Why isn’t that on the curriculum?

by Lucia O’sullivan

Damn—we forgot to teach our kids how to have fun sex.

Most news covers the sex lives of young people in terms of hookups, raunch culture, booty calls and friends with benefits. You might think that young people have it all figured out, equating sex with full-on, self-indulgent party time.

Despite my decades as a researcher studying their intimate lives, I too assumed that the first years of consensual partnered sex were pleasurable for most, but got progressively worse over time. How else to explain the high rates of reported by adults? I was wrong.

Our research at the University of New Brunswick shows that young people (16 to 21 years) have rates of sexual problems comparable to those of adults. This is not just a matter of learning to control ejaculation timing or how best to have an orgasm. Their sex lives often start out poorly and show no improvement over time. Practice, experience and experimentation only help so much.

This project came to be after a former colleague at my university’s health centre told me that many complained of pain from vulvar fissures (essentially tearing) from intercourse. The standard of care is to offer lubricant, but she began to ask: Were you aroused? Was this sex you wanted? They would look at her blankly. They had been having sex without interest, arousal or desire. This type of tearing increases a young woman’s risk of STIs, but also alerted my colleague to a more deep-seated issue: Was sex wanted, fun and pleasurable?

What emerged from our first study was verified in our larger study: Low desire and satisfaction were the most common problems among followed by erectile problems. Trouble reaching orgasm, low satisfaction and pain were most common among young women.

Was this a select group? No. Overall, 79 per cent of young men and 84 per cent of young women (16-21 years old) reported one or more persistent and distressing problems in sexual functioning over a two-year period.

Parents focus on disaster

Despite what you might think from their over-exposed social media bodies, today’s youth start sex later and have fewer partners than their parents’ (and often their grandparents’) generation did. A recent U.S. national survey found that young people have sex less often than previous generations.

Did years of calamity programming in the form of “good touch/bad touch,” “no means no,” and “your condom or mine” take a toll? Perhaps that was intended as so much of our programming is designed to convince young people of the blame, pain and shame that awaits them in their sexual lives. If we really believe that young people are not supposed to be having sex (that it should just be reserved for adults in their reproductive years and no others, thank you), it might as well be unpleasant, dissatisfying or painful when young people have sex, right?

Young people are over-stressed, over-pampered and over-diagnosed. They are also under-resourced for dealing with challenges in their sexual lives. This is how a bad sex life evolves.

Parents make efforts to talk to their children about sex and believe they get their messages across. Yet, their children typically report that parents fail to communicate about topics important to them, such as jealousy, heartbreak, horniness and lack of horniness. Parents’ messages are usually unidirectional lectures that emphasize avoiding, delaying and preventing. Young people dismiss these talks, especially in light of media portrayals of sex as transformative and rapturous.

Sex in Canada’s schools

Canada’s schools deliver fairly progressive sex education across the provinces. But they do not resemble the comprehensive approaches offered in countries such as The Netherlands and Switzerland. Those countries have teen pregnancy rates as low as 0.29 per cent of girls aged 15 to 19. Canada’s rate is 1.41 per cent, far higher than many European countries (such as Italy, Greece, France and Germany) but consistently lower than the United States. Thankfully.

These rates are a general metric of youth sexual health and key differences in the socialization and education of young people. They reflect the extent to which we are willing to provide a range of sexual information and skills to young people. More progressive countries reinforce messages that sex can be a positive part of our intimate lives, our sense of self, our adventures and connection. Young people in those countries have healthier and happier sexual lives. They know how to enjoy sex while preventing infections and unwanted pregnancy.

Many countries, including Canada, are swayed by a vocal minority who strongly believe that teaching young people about the positive components of sexuality will prompt unhealthy outcomes, despite all evidence to the contrary. When parents and educators fail you, and peers lack credibility, where else are you to turn?

Porn – lessons in freak

Enter porn. Young people turn to porn to find out how things work, but what they learn is not especially helpful. Porn provides lessons in exaggerated performance, dominance and self-indulgence. The relationships are superficial and detached. Producers rely heavily on shock value and “freak” to maximize viewer arousal, distorting our understanding of what is typical or common among our peers.

Of course young people turn to porn to find out how sex happens. It’s free, easily accessible and, for the most part, private. One young man in our interviews said, “I learned a lot about what goes where, all the varieties from porn, but it’s pretty intimidating. And, I mean, they don’t look like they’re loving it, really loving it.”

Our research makes painfully clear how few messages young people have learned about how to have fun, pleasurable, satisfying sex. They may seem self-indulgent to you, but then nobody took on the task of saying, “Sex should be fun, enjoyable and a way to connect. Let’s talk about how it all works.”

Fun sex as safe sex

Did anyone teach you these lessons? A friend and esteemed fellow researcher told me that he learned how sex worked by viewing his dad’s porn magazines. The only problem was that in his first sexual encounter he did not realize that there was movement involved.

Without a platform of positive communication with our youth about sexuality, and specifically about how sex unfolds and can brighten life and improve health and well-being, there is no room for them to address new challenges in the sexual realm. The World Health Organization’s alarming report of the rise of antibiotic resistant gonorrhea, for instance, will sound like another dire warning from an endless stream. Nobody is consistently motivated by threats.

We must talk to young people about how to have fun sex. This will help to offset the chances that struggling with problems in their sexual lives now will develop sexual dysfunctions and relationship strain that distress so many adults. These lessons will arm them with the information and skills required to keep them safe and to seek effective solutions when problems emerge. Best of all, they will be healthier and happier now and as adults as a result.

Complete Article HERE!

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Who’s avoiding sex, and why

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By Shervin Assari

Sex has a strong influence on many aspects of well-being: it is one of our most basic physiological needs. Sex feeds our identity and is a core element of our social life.

But millions of people spend at least some of their adulthood not having sex. This sexual avoidance can result in emotional distress, shame and low self-esteem – both for the individual who avoids sex and for the partner who is rejected.

Yet while our society focuses a lot on having sex, we do not know as much about not having it.

As a researcher of human behavior who is fascinated by how sex and gender interact, I have found that sexual avoidance influences multiple aspects of our well-being. I also have found that people avoid sex for many different reasons, some of which can be easily addressed.

People who have more sex report higher self-esteem, life satisfaction and quality of life. In contrast, lower frequency of sex and avoiding sex are linked to psychological distress, anxiety, depression and relationship problems.

In his landmark work, Alfred Kinsey found that up to 19 percent of adults do not engage in sex. This varies by gender and marriage status, with nearly no married males going without sex for a long duration.

Other research also confirms that women more commonly avoid sex than men. In fact, up to 40 percent of women avoid sex some time in their lives. Pain during sex and low libido are big issues.

The gender differences start early. More teenage females than teenage males abstain from sex.

Women also are more likely to avoid sex because of childhood sexual abuse. Pregnant women fear miscarriage or harming the fetus – and can also refuse sex because of lack of interest and fatigue.

The most common reasons for men avoiding sex are erectile dysfunction, chronic medical conditions and lack of opportunity.

For both men and women, however, our research and the work of others have shown that medical problems are the main reasons for sex avoidance.

For example, heart disease patients often avoid sex because they are afraid of a heart attack. Other research has shown the same for individuals with cerebrovascular conditions, such as a stroke.

Chronic pain diminishes the pleasure of the sexual act and directly interferes by limiting positions. The depression and stress it causes can get in the way, as can certain medications for chronic pain.

Metabolic conditions such as diabetes and obesity reduce sexual activity. In fact, diabetes hastens sexual decline in men by as much as 15 years. Large body mass and poor body image ruin intimacy, which is core to the opportunity for having sex.

Personality disorders, addiction and substance abuse and poor sleep quality all play major roles in sexual interest and abilities.

Many medications, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, reduce libido and sexual activity, and, as a result, increase the risk of sexual avoidance.

Finally, low levels of testosterone for men and low levels of dopamine and serotonin in men and women can play a role.

For both genders, loneliness reduces the amount of time spent with other people and the opportunity for interactions with others and intimacy. Individuals who are lonely sometimes replace actual sexual relations with the use of pornography. This becomes important as pornography may negatively affect sexual performance over time.

Many older adults do not engage in sex because of shame and feelings of guilt or simply because they think they are “too old for sex.” However, it would be wrong to assume that older adults are not interested in engaging in sex.

Few people talk with their doctors about their sexual problems. Indeed, at least half of all medical visits do not address sexual issues.

Embarrassment, cultural and religious factors, and lack of time may hold some doctors back from asking about the sex lives of their patients. Some doctors feel that addressing sexual issues creates too much closeness to the patient. Others think talking about sexuality will take too much time.

Yet while some doctors may be afraid to ask about sex with patients, research has shown that patients appear to be willing to provide a response if asked. This means that their sexual problems are not being addressed unless the doctor brings it up.

Patients could benefit from a little help. To take just one example, patients with arthritis and low back pain need information and advice from their health care provider about recommended intercourse positions so as to avoid pain.

The “Don’t ask, don’t tell” culture should become “Do ask, do tell.”

Complete Article HERE!

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