Location: Olongapo City, Philippines
I want to know if I am a gay or not. I don’t know if I’m a straight man because every time I see a nude pictures or videos of a guy my penis is erecting. It makes me feel horny too when I saw a pictures or videos of girls but most of the time I enjoyed looking naked men. I am always comparing myself to what I am watching, like the size and the look of my penis, the abs and muscles, etc. Does that mean I am a gay? And if I am a gay what should I do to remove it. I don’t want to become a gay for a lifetime. I want to have a family and how will my dream girl love me if I am a gay? So please help me.
Whoa, pup! You got it bad and that ain’t good. And I’m not referring to your latent homosexuality.
Yeah, I’m gonna go way out on a limb and guess that you are indeed gay, or at least bi. But I think you know this already, right? The thing that concerns me is your terror about being gay. And what are you doing asking a big fat flamer, like me, how you might rid yourself of something that is authentically you?
I think you already know that there is no getting rid of “it”. You can deny it, you can disown your own feelings, you can persecute yourself for what you find lacking in yourself, you can even pray and whimper and cry and call out to your god. But you are who you are. And I believe that who you and what you feel is god-given. So maybe you don’t want to piss off the god that made you by suggesting that your god makes defectives, right? Get it? Got it? GOOD!
Here’s what I know for sure; it will be much easier to heal yourself of your self-inflicted and internalized homophobia that it is to try and alter a totally natural aspect of your personhood. And listen, no one “becomes” gay. You either are or aren’t. And if you are, there’s no reason that you and your male partner can’t raise a family. Loads of us gay folks are doing a fine job in the parenting department, thank you very much.
Lose the self-pity, get the sex-positive help you need to learn how to embrace yourself and your eroticism and grow up to be a happy, healthy and integrated person so that you can be an effective role model for all the frightened and ashamed young men that will come after you.
Fredrickson, a leading researcher of positive emotions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, presents scientific evidence to argue that love is not what we think it is. It is not a long-lasting, continually present emotion that sustains a marriage; it is not the yearning and passion that characterizes young love; and it is not the blood-tie of kinship.
Rather, it is what she calls a “micro-moment of positivity resonance.” She means that love is a connection, characterized by a flood of positive emotions, which you share with another person—any other person—whom you happen to connect with in the course of your day. You can experience these micro-moments with your romantic partner, child, or close friend. But you can also fall in love, however momentarily, with less likely candidates, like a stranger on the street, a colleague at work, or an attendant at a grocery store. Louis Armstrong put it best in “It’s a Wonderful World” when he sang, “I see friends shaking hands, sayin ‘how do you do?’ / They’re really sayin’, ‘I love you.'”
Fredrickson’s unconventional ideas are important to think about at this time of year. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, many Americans are facing a grim reality: They are love-starved. Rates of loneliness are on the rise as social supports are disintegrating. In 1985, when the General Social Survey polled Americans on the number of confidants they have in their lives, the most common response was three. In 2004, when the survey was given again, the most common response was zero.
According to the University of Chicago’s John Cacioppo, an expert on loneliness, and his co-author William Patrick, “at any given time, roughly 20 percent of individuals—that would be 60 million people in the U.S. alone—feel sufficiently isolated for it to be a major source of unhappiness in their lives.” For older Americans, that number is closer to 35 percent. At the same time, rates of depression have been on the rise. In his 2011 book Flourish, the psychologist Martin Seligman notes that according to some estimates, depression is 10 times more prevalent now than it was five decades ago. Depression affects about 10 percent of the American population, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
A global poll taken last Valentine’s Day showed that most married people—or those with a significant other—list their romantic partner as the greatest source of happiness in their lives. According to the same poll, nearly half of all single people are looking for a romantic partner, saying that finding a special person to love would contribute greatly to their happiness.
But to Fredrickson, these numbers reveal a “worldwide collapse of imagination,” as she writes in her book. “Thinking of love purely as romance or commitment that you share with one special person—as it appears most on earth do—surely limits the health and happiness you derive” from love.
“My conception of love,” she tells me, “gives hope to people who are single or divorced or widowed this Valentine’s Day to find smaller ways to experience love.”
You have to physically be with the person to experience the micro-moment. For example, if you and your significant other are not physically together—if you are reading this at work alone in your office—then you two are not in love. You may feel connected or bonded to your partner—you may long to be in his company—but your body is completely loveless.
To understand why, it’s important to see how love works biologically. Like all emotions, love has a biochemical and physiological component. But unlike some of the other positive emotions, like joy or happiness, love cannot be kindled individually—it only exists in the physical connection between two people. Specifically, there are three players in the biological love system—mirror neurons, oxytocin, and vagal tone. Each involves connection and each contributes to those micro-moment of positivity resonance that Fredrickson calls love.
When you experience love, your brain mirrors the person’s you are connecting with in a special way. Pioneering research by Princeton University’s Uri Hasson shows what happens inside the brains of two people who connect in conversation. Because brains are scanned inside of noisy fMRI machines, where carrying on a conversation is nearly impossible, Hasson’s team had his subjects mimic a natural conversation in an ingenious way. They recorded a young woman telling a lively, long, and circuitous story about her high school prom. Then, they played the recording for the participants in the study, who were listening to it as their brains were being scanned. Next, the researchers asked each participant to recreate the story so they, the researchers, could determine who was listening well and who was not. Good listeners, the logic goes, would probably be the ones who clicked in a natural conversation with the story-teller.
What they found was remarkable. In some cases, the brain patterns of the listener mirrored those of the storyteller after a short time gap. The listener needed time to process the story after all. In other cases, the brain activity was almost perfectly synchronized; there was no time lag at all between the speaker and the listener. But in some rare cases, if the listener was particularly tuned in to the story—if he was hanging on to every word of the story and really got it—his brain activity actually anticipated the story-teller’s in some cortical areas.
The mutual understanding and shared emotions, especially in that third category of listener, generated a micro-moment of love, which “is a single act, performed by two brains,” as Fredrickson writes in her book.
Oxytocin, the so-called love and cuddle hormone, facilitates these moments of shared intimacy and is part of the mammalian “calm-and-connect” system (as opposed to the more stressful “fight-or-flight” system that closes us off to others). The hormone, which is released in huge quantities during sex, and in lesser amounts during other moments of intimate connection, works by making people feel more trusting and open to connection. This is the hormone of attachment and bonding that spikes during micro-moments of love. Researchers have found, for instance, that when a parent acts affectionately with his or her infant—through micro-moments of love like making eye contact, smiling, hugging, and playing—oxytocin levels in both the parent and the child rise in sync.
The final player is the vagus nerve, which connects your brain to your heart and subtly but sophisticatedly allows you to meaningfully experience love. As Fredrickson explains in her book, “Your vagus nerve stimulates tiny facial muscles that better enable you to make eye contact and synchronize your facial expressions with another person. It even adjusts the miniscule muscles of your middle ear so you can better track her voice against any background noise.”
The vagus nerve’s potential for love can actually be measured by examining a person’s heart rate in association with his breathing rate, what’s called “vagal tone.” Having a high vagal tone is good: People who have a high “vagal tone” can regulate their biological processes like their glucose levels better; they have more control over their emotions, behavior, and attention; they are socially adept and can kindle more positive connections with others; and, most importantly, they are more loving. In research from her lab, Fredrickson found that people with high vagal tone report more experiences of love in their days than those with a lower vagal tone.
Historically, vagal tone was considered stable from person to person. You either had a high one or you didn’t; you either had a high potential for love or you didn’t. Fredrickson’s recent research has debunked that notion.
In a 2010 study from her lab, Fredrickson randomly assigned half of her participants to a “love” condition and half to a control condition. In the love condition, participants devoted about one hour of their weeks for several months to the ancient Buddhist practice of loving-kindness meditation. In loving-kindness meditation, you sit in silence for a period of time and cultivate feelings of tenderness, warmth, and compassion for another person by repeating a series of phrases to yourself wishing them love, peace, strength, and general well-being. Ultimately, the practice helps people step outside of themselves and become more aware of other people and their needs, desires, and struggles—something that can be difficult to do in our hyper individualistic culture.
Fredrickson measured the participants’ vagal tone before and after the intervention. The results were so powerful that she was invited to present them before the Dalai Lama himself in 2010. Fredrickson and her team found that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, people could significantly increase their vagal tone by self-generating love through loving-kindness meditation. Since vagal tone mediates social connections and bonds, people whose vagal tones increased were suddenly capable of experiencing more micro-moments of love in their days. Beyond that, their growing capacity to love more will translate into health benefits given that high vagal tone is associated with lowered risk of inflammation, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Fredrickson likes to call love a nutrient. If you are getting enough of the nutrient, then the health benefits of love can dramatically alter your biochemistry in ways that perpetuate more micro-moments of love in your life, and which ultimately contribute to your health, well-being, and longevity.
Fredrickson’s ideas about love are not exactly the stuff of romantic comedies. Describing love as a “micro-moment of positivity resonance” seems like a buzz-kill. But if love now seems less glamorous and mysterious then you thought it was, then good. Part of Fredrickson’s project is to lower cultural expectations about love—expectations that are so misguidedly high today that they have inflated love into something that it isn’t, and into something that no sane person could actually experience.
Jonathan Haidt, another psychologist, calls these unrealistic expectations “the love myth” in his 2006 book The Happiness Hypothesis:
True love is passionate love that never fades; if you are in true love, you should marry that person; if love ends, you should leave that person because it was not true love; and if you can find the right person, you will have true love forever. You might not believe this myth yourself, particularly if you are older than thirty; but many young people in Western nations are raised on it, and it acts as an ideal that they unconsciously carry with them even if they scoff at it… But if true love is defined as eternal passion, it is biologically impossible.
Love 2.0 is, by contrast, far humbler. Fredrickson tells me, “I love the idea that it lowers the bar of love. If you don’t have a Valentine, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have love. It puts love much more in our reach everyday regardless of our relationship status.”
Lonely people who are looking for love are making a mistake if they are sitting around and waiting for love in the form of the “love myth” to take hold of them. If they instead sought out love in little moments of connection that we all experience many times a day, perhaps their loneliness would begin to subside.
Asking your partner to tie you to the bedpost, telling them to slap you hard in the throes of lovemaking, dressing like a woman if you are a man, admitting a fetish for feet: Just a few years ago, any of these acts could be used against you in family court.
This was the case until 2010, when the American Psychiatric Association announced that it would be changing the diagnostic codes for BDSM, fetishism, and transvestic fetishism (a variant of cross-dressing) in the next edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published in 2013. The new definitions marked a distinction between behavior—for example, playing rough—and actual pathology. Consenting adults were no longer deemed mentally ill for choosing sexual behavior outside the mainstream.
The change was the result of a massive effort from the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), an advocacy group founded in 1997 “to advance the rights of and advocate for consenting adults in the BDSM-Leather-Fetish, Swing, and Polyamory Communities.” At the time, these types of sexual behavior, by virtue of their inclusion in the DSM, were considered markers of mental illness—and, as a result, were heavily stigmatized, often with legal repercussions. In family court, an interest in BDSM was used as justification to remove people’s children from their custody.
“We were seeing the DSM used as a weapon,” says Race Bannon, an NCSF Board Member and the creator of Kink-Aware Professionals, a roster of safe and non-judgmental healthcare professionals for the BDSM and kink community. (The list is now maintained by the NCSF.) “Fifty Shades [of Grey] had not come along,” says Bannon, an early activist in the campaign to change the DSM. “[Kink] was still this dark and secret thing people did.”
Since its first edition was published in 1952, the DSM has often posed a problem for anyone whose sexual preferences fell outside the mainstream. Homosexuality, for example, was considered a mental illness—a “sociopathic personality disturbance”—until the APA changed the language in 1973. More broadly, the DSM section on paraphilias (a blanket term for any kind of unusual sexual interest), then termed “sexual deviations,” attempted to codify all sexual preferences considered harmful to the self or others—a line that, as one can imagine, is tricky in the BDSM community.
The effort to de-classify kink as a psychiatric disorder began in 1980s Los Angeles with Bannon and his then-partner, Guy Baldwin, a therapist who worked mostly with the gay and alternative sexualities communities. Bannon, a self-described “community organizer, activist, writer, and advocate” moved to Los Angeles in 1980 and soon became close with Baldwin through their mutual involvement as open participants in and advocates for the kink community. “I’m fairly confident that I was the first licensed mental-health practitioner anywhere who was out about being a practicing sadomasochist,” Baldwin says.
The pair was spurred to action after the 1987 edition of the DSM-III-R, which introduced the concept of paraphilias, changed the classifications for BDSM and kink from “sexual deviation” to actual disorders defined by two diagnostic criteria. To be considered a mental illness, the first qualification was: ‘‘Over a period of at least six months, recurrent, intense sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies involving the act (real, not simulated) of being humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer.’’ The second: ‘‘The person has acted on these urges, or is markedly distressed by them.’’
“1987 was a bad shift,” Wright recalls. “Anyone who was [voluntarily] humiliated, beaten, bound, or any other alternate sexual expression was considered mentally ill.”
With the new language, Baldwin says, he quickly realized that laws regarding alternative sexual behavior would continue to be problematic “as long as the psychiatric community defines these behaviors as pathological.”
“I knew there were therapists around the world diagnosing practicing consensual sadomasochists with mental illness,” he says.
At the time that the new DSM was published, Baldwin and Bannon were planning to attend the 1987 march on Washington, D.C., in support of gay rights; after the new criteria came out, they decided to host a panel discussion for mental-health professionals in the State Department auditorium, where they announced the launch of what would come to be known as “The DSM Revision Project.”
“We asked how many people in the room were mental-health professionals,” Baldwin says, and “two-thirds of the people in the room raised their hands. And we said, ‘The way this needs to happen is, licensed mental-health practitioners need to write the DSM committee that reviews the language of the DSM concerned with paraphilias.’”
Around 40 or 50 people left the session with the information needed to write the letters. “We did not know exactly what would result,” Bannon recalls. “We did not think we would see dramatic changes suddenly.”
They didn’t—but the changes they did see were positive. The next edition of the DSM, published in 1994, added that to be considered part of a mental illness, “fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors” must “cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”
“This was a definite improvement from the DSM-III-R,” says Wright, who later took over leadership of the DSM Revision Project from Bannon and Baldwin.
“These criteria gave [health professionals] wiggle room to say, ‘They have issues, but it is not about their kink. For the vast majority, it is just the way they have sex,’” Bannon explains. “Rather than saying, ‘Because you are into this method of sexuality, you are sick,’ [they could say], ‘Pathologically, if this impacts your life negatively, then you have a problem.’”
But the new language in the 1994 DSM also allowed for wiggle room of a different kind: The threshold of “significant distress” was often loosely interpreted, with the social stigma of kink, rather than kink itself, causing the negative impact on people’s lives. Workplace discrimination and violence were on the rise, according to a 2008 NCSF survey, and people were still being declared unfit parents as a result of their sexual preferences: Eighty of the 100 people who turned to the NCSF for legal assistance in custody battles from 1997-2010 lost their cases.
A few years after the 1994 DSM was published, Wright decided it was time to fight for another revision. When she founded the organization in 1997, the NCSF’s goal was a change to the APA’s diagnostic codes that separated the behavior (e.g., “he likes to restrict his breathing during sex”) from the diagnosis (e.g., “his desire to restrict his breath means that he must be mentally ill”). The next DSM, the group argued, should split the paraphilias from the paraphilic disorders, so that simply enjoying consensual BDSM would not be considered indicative of an illness.
Their efforts were largely ignored by the APA until early 2009, when Wright attended a panel discussion at New York City’s Philosophy Center on why people practice BDSM. Among the panelists was psychiatrist Richard Krueger, whose expertise included the diagnosis and treatment of paraphilias and sexual disorders.
During the meeting, Wright says, “I brought up the point that the DSM manual caused harm to BDSM people because it perpetuated the stigma that we were mentally ill. [Krueger] heard me and said that was not what they intended with the DSM.” Krueger, it turned out, was on the APA’s paraphilias committee, and following the meeting opened up an email dialogue between Wright and the other committee members, in which Wright provided documentation about the violence and discrimination kinky people experienced. “I credited that to the DSM,” she says. “Courts used it. Therapists used it. And it was being misinterpreted.”
Over the next year, “I sent him information, he gave it to the group, they asked questions, and I responded. It was very productive,” Wright recalls. “We [the NCSF] felt we were heard, we were listened to—and they took [our arguments] into account when they changed the wording” of the DSM in 2010.
Another major factor in the NCSF’s favor was a paper, co-written by sexual-medicine physician Charles Moser and sexologist Peggy J. Kleinplatz and published in 2006 in the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, titled “DSM IV-TR and the Paraphilias: An Argument for Removal.” According to Wright, the paper, which “summed up opinions of mental-health professionals who thought you shouldn’t include sexual activity in the DSM,” played a significant role in the paraphilia committee’s eventual shift in language.
In February 2010 the proposed change was made public—clarifying, Wright says, that “the mental illness [depends on] how it is expressed, not the behavior itself.” The new guidelines drew a clear difference, in other words, between people expressing a healthy range of human sexuality (for example, a couple that likes to experiment, consensually, with whips, chains, and dungeons) and sadists who wish others genuine harm (for example, tying and whipping someone in a basement without their consent).
The DSM-5 was released in May 2013, its contents marking a victory for the NCSF, Bannon, and Baldwin. The final language states: “A paraphilia is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for having a paraphilic disorder, and a paraphilia by itself does not necessarily justify or require clinical intervention.”
“Now we are seeing a sharp drop in people having their children removed from their custody,” Wright explains. Since the change, according to the NCSF, less than 10 percent of people who sought the organization’s help in custody cases have had their children removed, and the number of discrimination cases has dropped from more than 600 in 2002 to 500 in 2010 to around 200 over the last year.
“The APA basically came out and said, ‘These people are mentally healthy,’” Wright says. “‘It’s had a direct impact on society.”
Is there such a thing as an asexual? The reason I ask is that I think I am one. I’m happy and well adjusted, but sex does nothing for me. I can’t orgasm. My genitals are icky. My marriage seems fine. I love my husband; we share the same values. And even if there’s nothing in it for me, I’m apparently pretty good at fellatio. We don’t do intercourse. Is this normal for some people? Are some people simply not wired to be sexual? I have no problems with love. I’m passionate about my husband and my friends, but it’s more of a cerebral thing.
Yeah, Marti, I do believe there is such a thing as an asexual. But I don’t think you’re one. Ya know why I say that? It’s because an asexual has an indifference toward sex. You, dear lady, exhibit disgust toward sex and things sexual…including your very own pussy. And that tells me you have an aversion to sex, which is completely different from what an asexual feels about sex.
I’d also have to challenge you on your statement that you are happy and well adjusted. I just don’t buy it, darlin’! And here’s a tip, if you have to go out of your way to tell someone you are happy and well adjusted, you’re probably neither.
In my estimation, a young married, albeit preorgasmic, woman who denies her hubby the old in and out, but begrudgingly blows him when absolutely necessary is NOT happy or well adjusted. SORRY! I don’t fault you for this, mind you. It’s just that since you have never known the joys of sex, you can hardly dismiss them as unimportant.
If we had access to your long-suffering husband I think he would tell a different tale than you, Miss Marti. I’ll betcha he’s withering on the vine for lack of nookie — the odd semi-obligatory blowjob he gets doled out to him on occasion not withstanding.
Listen darling, you got issues…big fuckin’ issues that need to be addressed ASAP. Don’t go trying to cover your shit with a happy face like asexuality. You’ll give all those real sexual ascetics a bad name if ya do.
Begin by resolving your anorgasmia, or as other call it preorgasmia. Because that, my dear, is the root of your sexual aversion. Work with a qualified sex-positive therapist. Learn to masturbate in a way that will bring you sexual satisfaction. Once you and your trusty vibrator slams yourself your first screamin’ meme of an orgasm, I believe you will change your tune about the rest of sex and your much maligned pussy too. I’ve written on this topic a lot. Use the search function in the sidebar, search for “preorgasmic,” and you’ll find it all. My posting: Hey, Where’s My Big “O”?, is one fine example.
We can only hope that your deprived spousal unit will stick around during this remedial period. But you’re gonna have to level with him. Tell him you’ve finally accepted the fact that you have a problem that you need to get to the bottom of it, so to speak. With his help and support and that of your therapist, you’ll find your way to real happiness and being an authentically well-adjusted person, not just someone who says she is.
Anything short of this kind of honesty will continue to rob your husband of the full-fledged sex life he ought to be enjoying with you his wife. If ya don’t you can be sure ‘ole hubby will find his satisfaction in a more welcoming pussy than yours…if he hasn’t already.
Is everyone you know unhappy or neurotic? Perhaps it’s time to find a new crowd—a group of open-minded individuals who are happier and better adjusted than most.
That is to say, people whose sexual preferences lean toward bondage and sadomasochism.
According to new research from the Netherlands, the psychological profile of people who participate in these types of erotic games “is characterized by a set of balanced, autonomous, and beneficial personality characteristics.” Compared to those who engage in more mainstream sexual behavior, such aficionados report “a higher level of subjective well-being.”
“We conclude that (these activities) may be thought of as a recreational leisure, rather than the expression of psychopathological processes,” psychologist Andreas Wismeijer of Nyenrode Business University writes in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
“Overall, a picture emerges of the psychological characteristics of the average BDSM practitioner that, compared with non-BDSM practitioners, is quite favorable.”
Wismeijer notes that, in spite of evidence to the contrary, both public opinion and the psychological establishment tend to equate BDSM activities (bondage-discipline, dominance-submission, or sadism-masochism) with some form of psychological damage. “BDSM is to some degree still pathologized in the upcoming fifth edition of the DSM,” he notes.
Along with statistician Marcel van Assen, he conducted a study at Tilburg University to determine whether there is truth behind this belief.<
Wismeijer created a detailed survey designed to reveal respondents’ personality traits and attachment style: how secure they feel when bonding with others and how they deal with their insecurities. In addition, the respondents rated their subjective level of well-being over the previous two weeks.
The participants were 902 people who “responded to a call posted on the largest BDSM Web forum in the Netherlands,” and another 434 contacted through a popular Dutch women’s magazine. The control group was 70 percent female; the group of people interested in BDSM was roughly half men and half women. (Those in the latter group were also asked if they preferred playing a dominant or submissive role, or regularly switched.)
The results will certainly produce intense feelings, although whether they are painful or pleasurable largely depends on the person.
“Our findings suggests that BDSM participants as a group are, compared with non-BDSM participants, less neurotic, more extroverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, yet less agreeable,” the researchers write. They add that females in the BDSM group had “more confidence in their relationships” and “a lower need for approval” than those in the mainstream sample.
“Finally, the subjective well-being of BDSM participants was higher than that of the control group. Together, these findings suggest that BDSM practitioners are characterized by greater psychological and interpersonal strength and autonomy.”
Why might this be? Wismeijer notes that “BDSM play requires the explicit consent of the players regarding the type of actions to be performed, their duration and intensity, and therefore involves careful scrutiny and communication of one’s own sexual desires and needs.”
In other words, it requires thought, awareness, and communication—all of which lead to happier relationships, both in and outside of the bedroom.
Like sadomasochistic sex itself, these results shouldn’t be taken too far; the differences between the groups were, for the most part, not huge. And there were some differences among members of the BDSM community: “Scores were generally more favorable for those with a dominant than a submissive role.”
Nevertheless, “Overall, a picture emerges of the psychological characteristics of the average BDSM practitioner that, compared with non-BDSM practitioners, is quite favorable,” Wismeijer concludes.
This may be hard for some to accept. But think of it this way: Old prejudices are not something you want to be handcuffed to.