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How did evolution change our sexual organs? It’s time to learn the history of sex

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Porn images are everywhere but we need better ways to teach children about love, intimacy and yes, masturbation

evolution

At the start of this third millennium, sex seems to be all around us – within easy reach, on our screens, constantly talked about in the media. What used to be concealed, shameful and forbidden only a century ago is today regarded as evidence of progress in the freedom of thought. Artists use sex to push the limits of creativity: Paul McCarthy’s “butt plug” sculpture, for example, was installed at the Place Vendôme in Paris in 2014, even though it provoked outrage among residents.

The sexual metaphor is ever-present. Paradoxically, however, sex is rarely explained and almost never taught. Do you know how our sexual organs changed when we evolved from animal to human? When did the first couple show up? Where does our sense of modesty come from? Or eroticism? Or love, that most momentous of human concerns? What about our earliest customs? Which ancient civilisation championed equality between men and women? And why was masturbation frowned upon?

Sex is one of those realities that for a long time we neither wanted to see nor hear about. The sexual liberation of the 1970s – which was, in my opinion, the biggest social revolution in the history of humanity – signalled the transition from a traditional male-dominated society to one in which sex with all its nuances could finally be examined openly and understood. But as sex has dared to uncover itself, to live, to speak, we face the challenge of expressing what for so long has been kept under wraps. How are we to communicate what so recently caused so much shock and outrage?

In the west, the union of two individuals is in complete flux, with a drop in those getting married (in France 57% of births now happen outside marriage); same-sex marriage; and the option of “slices of life”, relationships with different partners in the course of a lifetime. But however free our customs may be, censorship persists when it comes to the communication of sex, the words, the particular way of defining sexuality and the idea of sensuality. Literature and fiction have always attempted to push the boundaries of this censorship: in the 18th century we had Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s Dangerous Liaisons; and in the 21st, EL James’s Fifty Shades of Grey. But mostly our discussions fall somewhere between sincerity and provocation as we attempt to understand intimacy and the fullest expression of sexual pleasure.

intimacy

No history book will delve too deeply into the sexual realm, yet it’s clear that history is a timeline of instructions and condemnations about sexuality. Each culture, each religion, each era has defined its own normality.

But without learning the history of love and intimacy, how can we understand the extraordinary evolution in customs that has led us from an existence ordered by family and society, and reinforced by religion, to the freedoms we know today? In his collection of aphorisms, Monogamy, the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips says that “most people would not live as a couple if they had never heard of it”. In this, he is reflecting the artificial nature of our customs and the need for a way to express our thoughts on sex, intimacy and being with other people.

We know today that human sexuality is not innate: it is learned and constructed through the images that society offers us. Even among our cousins, the primates, who live in a natural habitat, sexuality is learned through experience – young monkeys witness the courting and frolicking of the adults. The need for a model is evident: a young chimpanzee isolated from its peers is incapable of mating when it reaches adulthood.

Yet there is a fundamental difference: we invented modesty. Humans always make love away from the group. This is one of the great problems with sexuality: on the one hand it requires education; on the other, culture and religion collude to suppress sexual education.

The physician Thomas Beddoes was probably the first person to teach a course in sex education, complete with public demonstrations on the differences between men and women, in the early 19th century. But in the following two centuries, sex education failed to gain ground. Opposition was widespread and aggressive, on the part of the church as well as among teachers.

Sex education classes were subsequently written into law, but, in reality, rarely delivered. Sex education is today well established in Quebec and the Scandinavian countries, where primary school-age children are educated about gender differences and roles, as well as sexual orientation. In the Netherlands, where a complete programme of sex education is delivered from primary school, the rates of teenage pregnancies and abortions are among the lowest in the world.

But other western countries such as France and the UK provide little more than a perfunctory discourse on contraception and safeguarding against STDs. In France, a 2001 law stipulates three classes of sex education a year in middle and secondary school. However, as teachers have no training in this very particular field, it is often organisations such as those devoted to family planning that ensure these classes go ahead. In most cases, they rarely take place at all, and when they do they are limited to the three Ps: “prevention, pill, protection”, in other words, information on fertility and STDs. In this educational void the internet and porn offer themselves as models.

This is quite evidently the worst possible model, and the reason why a more reliable source of knowledge is indispensable, from primary school through to the last year of secondary. The average age at which children are first exposed to pornography is 11. Such an artificial vision of sex has altered our most intimate behaviour and has become the frame of reference not just for our teenagers but for us all. It makes us ask ourselves: am I sexy enough, am I the best lover?intimacy2

Nothing could be more damaging than these images devoid of explanation. We can’t stop young people from encountering porn, but a formal, educational approach would allow our society to explain its context and prevent misunderstandings that could otherwise compromise a fragile or still developing personality.

A genuine sex education should take the bio-psychological, emotional and social aspects of sexuality into account, should allow children to understand differences between the sexes, interpersonal relationships, the importance of developing critical thinking, an open mind and respect for the other. We must banish negative terms (sin, adultery, prostitution, Aids and STDs) in favour of positive schooling that allows children to understand desire, pleasure and excitement; the importance of sensitivity in love; the importance of masturbation, even. We must understand that everything can be taught, even the practicalities of how people live together, and we should start in primary school with discussions not only of genital differences but about the variations between boys and girls, the significance of love and of respect that may help with later relationships, notions of gender equality and domestic violence.

Only by speaking frankly, lightheartedly and wide-rangingly about sex, love and intimacy can we provide an education that enables adolescents, both boys and girls, to begin their lives with a better understanding of human relationships.

Complete Article HERE!

How sex education videos have changed over the last 50 years

By Amelia Butterly

sex education

Sex and relationship education (SRE) in schools isn’t good enough – at least, that’s what a lot of you often say.

From not being taught early enough, to lacking information about LGBT relationships and issues of consent – SRE gets a lot of criticism.

But, looking back at the archives, experts say there have been improvements when it comes to telling young people about relationships.

We’ve looked at posters and films once used to explain the birds and the bees.

And we asked sex and relationships teacher Caroline Stringer, a specialist from the charity Brook, to talk us through them.

1970s

This video – which was shown in schools – was also aired as part of a televised discussion about whether this kind of material was suitable for children to see.

Caroline says the way the penis is described as going “hard and straight” so that it can go into the woman’s vagina could be a problem.

“How confusing to young men having involuntary erections through puberty – they may have thought they need to go and find a vagina,” she explains.

Nowadays, says Caroline, good sex and relationship education will include topics such as consent and same-sex relationships.

Elsewhere in the videos, a man and woman are shown modelling nude in an art class.

“I thought it actually started off quite well, saying: ‘These people aren’t embarrassed’,” says Caroline.

“But for me, it was all about reproduction and a man and a woman. That’s the bit that is easy to talk about. It’s fact.”

In modern educational materials however, real people would not be shown posing nude, says Caroline.

“We would show diagrams, rather than the real thing.”

1980s

This film, which depicts a naked man on a beach, is the other one to feature full nudity.

It depends on the context, Caroline says, but seeing real-life naked bodies can serve a really useful educational function.

“If we’re showing people what STIs, for example, look like. How do they know what private parts look like without those STIs, if we only ever show them ones with?”

Like other films, it focuses on committed relationships.

“It’s all about making love. That’s what we would want to promote but that’s not always the case for people,” says Caroline.

Sex-Education

1990s

Caroline says in her classes she talks about all the different words which people use to describe sex and the body, including slang for the genitals.

“You can use those words,” she tells the students.

“But you need to know the proper words as well because if you’re going to talk to a doctor, you need to know what they’re saying back to you.”

Again, this video would not fit with “inclusive” modern sex education, Caroline explains.

“I did like that they talked about pleasure. It’s the first time in these videos they talked about it, for both a man and a woman.”

She adds: “It’s really important that it’s taught with a positive attitude. We don’t want scare messages.”

Nowadays

The sexual health charity Caroline works for, Brook, goes to in one in 10 UK schools to teach SRE.

“Brook believes SRE should start early in childhood so that children and young people learn to talk about feelings and relationships from a young age and are prepared for puberty before it happens,” they said in a statement.

“As children get older, we advocate SRE focusing on the positive qualities of relationships, such as trust, consent, body-positivity, commitment and pleasure.

“We also discuss the different forms relationships and sexuality can take.

“In addition to this, we also believe in ensuring that SRE is relevant and appropriate to the lives of young people so that it relates to other issues such as mental health, sexting, porn and staying safe online.”

Complete Article HERE!

Intersex people have called for action. It’s time to listen.

The broader queer community needs to get serious about fighting with, and for, intersex people.

By Simon Copland

In early March, more than 20 intersex advocates from Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand came together for a groundbreaking retreat in Darlington, Sydney. The gathering, a first of its kind, produced a declaration of the policy goals for intersex people in the two countries, one which queer people and allies alike must take listen to.

The Darlington Statement’ presents policy demands across a range of key areas, including health, sex classification, marriage, and anti-discrimination legislation.

At its core is a focus on the continued practice of normalisation surgeries facing intersex people. The statement contains an unambiguous demand for the “immediate prohibition as a criminal act of deferrable medical interventions, including surgical and hormonal interventions, that alter the sex characteristics of infants and children without personal consent.” This demand follows the ‘Carla case’ in Australia last year, in which the Family Court of Australia stated that parents could authorise the sterilisation of a 5-year-old child, despite medical evidence that did not support the decision.

The other key focus of the document is the continued practice of official gender and sex classification, which the document argues are “upheld by structural violence”. Contrary to a lot of current policies, the Darlington Statement argues that “attempts to classify intersex people as a third sex/gender do not respect our diversity or right to self-determination.” Instead, the Statement proposes a range of potentially radical measures, with a final goal of the elimination of sex and gender on birth certificates and other identification documents. While current classifications exist, the statement argues that sex/gender assignments must be regarded as ‘provisional’, with the ability of people to be able to change their classification “through a simple administrative procedure”.

Beyond these two big ticket items, the Darlington Statement also discusses a number of other key issues, including legislative protection from discrimination and harmful practices on grounds of sex characteristics, an end to genetic discriminations such as higher life insurance premiums for intersex people, the right for all people to marry and form a family regardless of sex characteristics, and for an official apology and reparations from state and federal governments for the treatment of people born with variations of sex characteristics.

The Darlington Statement presents the first comprehensive policy platform for intersex people in Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand. In doing so, it is an essential document for a community whose continued discrimination and oppression is finally starting to receive some international recognition and action.

For the rest of us, however, the question is whether we will listen. While intersex people long ago entered the ‘LGBTIQ acronym’, discussions around intersex issues have remained largely non-existent, with young intersex children continuing to face intrusive and unnecessary medical interventions. Simultaneously, debates on sex and gender classifications have often ignored the voices of intersex people, particularly concerning the challenges behind legislation that provides for third sex classifications on birth certificates and other official documents.

This reality was noted in the Darlington Statement itself. The document said:

“Intersex is distinct from other issues. We call on allies to actively acknowledge our distinctiveness and the diversity within our community, to support our human rights claims and respect the intersex human rights movement, without tokenism, or instrumentalising, or co-opting intersex issues as a means for ends. ‘Nothing about us without us.’”

This is the challenge that we as a broader queer community must now finally face. The Darlington Statement is not just a policy platform, but also a call that if we are to include intersex people into broader queer politics, we must be serious about fighting with, and for, intersex people.

The Darlington Statement gives us a clear outline of what needs to be done. It is up to us a community to take it seriously.

Complete Article HERE!

What do men really think about sex? This is why we need better education

We asked men how they learned about sex, and found that puerility and pornography have always trumped the facts. Mandatory sex education is most welcome

‘Alan, now aged 79, was evacuated to the countryside at the age of five – and spotted a bull mounting a cow. “It was a significant part of my sex education,” he said.’

It was announced this month that sex and relationship education is to become mandatory in schools for children aged four to 15. About time too. It’s never been easy for children who have wanted to learn credible information about sex.

We’ve recently been interviewing men for a project to find out what they really think, feel and do about sex, and found the early information they received was, in many cases, baffling. “Women don’t like it,” Bill was told as a teenager in the 1960s, “but you can do it all the same … [and] you only do it on Sundays when the children are out.”

Back in the 1940s, communicative adults were hard to come by, and children had to solve the mystery by themselves. Alan, aged 79, was evacuated from London to the countryside, aged five. There he spotted a large bull mounting a cow. “It was very significant,” he said. “I have never forgotten it.”

At primary school Bill, now 75, believed boys stood behind girls to do “it” (he was basing this on his observation of dogs). He was hugely embarrassed when told to stand behind a girl in a school folk-dance performance. “I thought that was very dirty.”

It was a rare grown-up who suggested that sex might be something pleasant, or something to look forward to; rather, a child’s sex education was more likely to elicit feelings of fear, danger and shame – and would often involve a lonely search for the facts. By the late 1950s, parental guidance was still fairly non-existent. At 14, Michael remembered finding a “dirty book” belonging to his father: “The Kama Sutra was an excellent source of information, but often mind-boggling too … the contortions! The big penises! And the pleasure shown on women’s faces. I couldn’t believe it could be like that!”

‘The Kama Sutra was an excellent source of information – but mind-boggling, too!’

While Michael was studying the Kama Sutra, the only sex still being taught in the classroom involved plants and rabbits, and was often expressed in Latin. Several more decades were to pass before human genitalia and procreation were bravely described in English. Not until the early 1990s did the national curriculum specify that sex education must be taught. But just the mechanics. Nothing about relationships. And making the subject even more shambolic was the decision that each school could have its own individual policy, and each teacher was stuck with their own capabilities, experiences, terrors and confusions in conveying this information.

The easy way out was to explain that sex happened “when people loved each other and wanted babies”. Pleasure, variety and consent were rarely mentioned. But some teachers bravely tried to further enlighten the children. In 1994, in his last year of junior school, Dean, who was then aged 10, went to a sex education lesson in which his teacher tried her very best to take an innovative, practical and robust approach.

“Miss Woods asked the class if they knew of any ‘barrier methods’. I didn’t really know what they were, but someone said ‘condoms’. Miss Woods said, ‘Yes, anything else?’ Then a boy called Dave said, ‘You can get them with feathers on the end, Miss.’ Miss Woods looked cross, and said, ‘No you can’t’ – but Dave went on and on, saying, ‘Yes you can, they’re called French ticklers, I read in my Mum’s book. It had pictures in,’ and then Miss butted in, and said ‘Nonsense’, so Dave had to shut up.”

Here was Miss Wood’s chance to grasp the nettle. But even then, in the late 20th century, she could not. Although bolder than many teachers, she was still not able to respond to any surprises that might crop up.

Even if teachers now manage to describe sex as pleasant, it sometimes seems to frighten and shock, rather than enthuse the children. Informed, six years ago, by a comparatively enlightened teacher, that people had sex “because it felt lovely”, eight-year-old George was horrified. “Miss made a terrible mistake,” he told his Grandma, with great authority and concern. “She said it felt nice! She’s got it really wrong!”

Age specificity hadn’t really been thought through. Slightly older, more intrepid boys, sensing that they still weren’t quite getting at the truth, or any satisfactory explanations – either from each other, or from adults – now gained access to a greater selection of more flamboyant, salacious, almost cartoonish information: porn.

“I think as boys we’d seen a few porno films here and there,” said Jason. “The first stuff I saw was on a video. I was 13, and the tape started doing the rounds – we thought that was the way you did it.”

As the years have passed, and porn has become more widely available online, younger and younger children have been seeing such imagery. In 2001, Jack, then aged 10, learned about sex from pornography. “Everyone was looking at it,” he said. “That’s how I found out I was gay. I didn’t want to look at the girls.”

Despite the overwhelming flood of pornography – and the continuing lack of guidance – there do appear to be a few glimmers of hope. The importance of relationships and feelings is now creeping into sex education at last, and it is a relief to find the idea of consent has surfaced. Many of the young men interviewed in the BBC3 documentary Sex on Trial were sympathetic when shown footage of a young woman whose consent had not been clearly given. In fact, they were more sympathetic than the young women. That’s reason to be hopeful, at least where young men are concerned.

Unfortunately, most sex education is still passed between children themselves, taught by the “naughty” peers who seem to have found out more than anyone else. Or are pretending that they have. Boasting has always been, and still seems to be for many boys, the beginning of proving that you are a proper man. Frequency, volume, conquest and size still matter to them. How are young men to understand women if they have never been taught to understand themselves, and the people teaching them have been taught even less?

Hopefully the new national curriculum mandatory sex education plans will bring about change for the better. It might help if lessons could be conducted in small groups, with the sexes separated. It would need to be age-appropriate, of course – with less emphasis on the mechanical details, and more on the importance of relationships, with appropriately trained teachers, prepared for anything the children might say, know or have experienced. They also need to be unshockable.

Complete Article HERE!

Time for a Sexual Revolution In Health Care Treatment

Why is care for sexual health issues considered a luxury when it’s a necessary part of population health?

By Zachary Hafner

When Americans seek care for most common health conditions, there is rarely much question about coverage. Every day, consumers—including those on Medicaid and Medicare—seek care for sore joints, depression, and even acne without worrying about whether or not their insurance will cover their doctor visits and medications. For the most part, coverage for sexual health issues is less straightforward—but why? Is it because sexual health issues are not considered legitimate illnesses? Because the costs are significant? Or is it because raising the topic of sexual health can offend certain personal and organizational values? Whatever the reason, it is time for a change.

It’s hard to deny the human and economic burden of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) on this country. The CDC estimates that 110 million Americans are infected with an STI, resulting in direct medical costs of $16 billion annually. The most common and fastest growing STI in this country is human papillomavirus (HPV), and it is estimated that half of sexually active men and women will get HPV at some point in their lives. In 2006, a vaccine for HPV was introduced and now there are several. CDC guidelines recommend administering a multi-dose series, costing about $250–450, to all boys and girls at age 11 or 12. (Some states require the vaccine for school admission.) It was included in mandatory coverage under the ACA. Since the HPV vaccine was first recommended in 2006 there has been a 64% reduction in vaccine-type HPV infections among teen girls in the United States.

It seems clear that this kind of care for sexual health is necessary for public health and is also part of caring for the whole individual, a central tenet of population health. But what about sexual health care that doesn’t involve infectious disease? Is it still a population health issue if there’s no communicable disease involved?

Let’s take erectile dysfunction (ED) for example. It is nearly as common in men over 40 as HPV is in the general population—more than half of men over 40 experience some level of ED, and more than 23 million American men have been prescribed Viagra. With a significant portion of the population suffering from ED, is it important for payers and providers to consider ED treatment to be essential health care and to cover it accordingly? Medications like Viagra and Cialis are an expensive burden at upwards of $50 per pill. Medicare D does not cover any drugs for ED, but some private insurers do when the medications are deemed medically necessary by a doctor. A handful of states require them to do so, but they are typically listed as Tier 3 medications—nonessential and with the highest co-pays.

Almost 7 million American women have used infertility services. Coverage for infertility diagnosis and treatment is not mandated by the ACA, though 15 states require commercial payers to provide various levels of coverage. The cost of infertility treatments is highly variable depending on the methods used but in vitro fertilization treatments, as one measure, average upward of $12,000 per attempt.

Are treatments for ED and infertility elective or necessary? In an age of consumerism and heightened attention to the whole patient across a broader continuum of care, organizations that support the availability of a broad set of sexual health services to a diverse group of consumers will have a big competitive advantage, but they may face challenges balancing the costs. Health care has advanced in both technical and philosophical ways that allow people to manage their diseases, cure their problems, and overcome limitations. It has also shone light on the significant advantages to considering a diagnosis in the context of the whole individual—their social and emotional health as well as coexisting conditions. Studies have shown, for example, that infertility, ED, and STIs all have a significant relationship with depression and anxiety.

It’s time sexual health was folded in to the broader definition of wellness instead of marginalized as a separate issue. For too many Americans, it’s too big an issue not to address.

Complete Article HERE!