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Our shame over sexual health makes us avoid the doctor. These apps might help.

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We’re taught to feel shame around our sexuality from a young age, as our bodies develop and start to function in ways we’re unfamiliar with, as we begin to realize our body’s potential for pleasure. Later on, women especially are taught to feel ashamed if we want “too much” sex, or if we want it “too early,” or if we’re intimate with “too many” people. Conversely, women and men are shamed if we don’t want nearly as much sex as our partner, or if we’re inexperienced in bed. We worry that we won’t orgasm, or that we’ll do so too soon. We’re afraid the things we want to do in bed will elicit disgust.

This shame can also keep people from getting the health care they need. For example, a 2016 study of college students found that, while women feel more embarrassed about buying condoms than men do, the whiff of mortification exists for both genders. Another 2016 study found many women hide their use of health-care services from family and friends so as to prevent speculation about their sexual activity and the possibility that they have a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

While doctors should be considered crucial, impartial resources for those struggling with their sexual health, many find the questions asked of them during checkups to be intrusive. Not only that but, in some cases, doctors themselves are uncomfortable talking about sexual health. They may carry conservative sexual beliefs, or have been raised with certain cultural biases around sexuality. It doesn’t help that gaps in medical school curriculums often leave general practitioners inadequately prepared for issues of sexual health.

So how do people who feel ashamed of their sexuality take care of their sexual health? In many cases, they don’t. In a study on women struggling with urinary incontinence, for example, many women avoided seeking out treatment — maintaining a grin-and-bear-it attitude — until the problem became “unbearable and distressing to their daily lives.”

Which may be why smartphone apps, at-home testing kits and other online resources have seen such growth in recent years. Now that we rely on our smartphones for just about everything — from choosing stock options to tracking daily steps to building a daily meditation practice — it makes sense people would turn to their phones, laptops and tablets to take care of their sexual health, too. Websites such as HealthTap, LiveHealth Online and JustDoc, for example, allow you to video chat with medical specialists from your computer. Companies such as L and Nurk allow you to order contraceptives from your cellphone, without ever going to the doctor for a prescription. And there are a slew of at-home STI testing kits from companies like Biem, MyLAB Box and uBiome that let you swab yourself at home, mail in your samples and receive the results on your phone.

Bryan Stacy, chief executive of Biem, says he created the company because of his own experience with avoiding the doctor. About five years ago, he was experiencing pain in his genital region. “I did what a lot of guys do, and did nothing,” he says, explaining that, while women visit their gynecologist regularly, men generally don’t see a doctor for their sexual health until something has gone wrong. “I tried to rationalize away the pain, but it didn’t go away.” Stacy says he didn’t want to talk to a doctor for fear of what he would learn, and didn’t know who he would go to anyway. He didn’t have a primary care physician or a urologist at the time. But after three months of pain, a friend of his — who happened to be a urologist — convinced him to see someone. He was diagnosed with chlamydia and testicular cancer. After that, he learned he wasn’t the only one who’d avoided the doctor only to end up with an upsetting diagnosis. “What I found is that I wasn’t strange,” Stacy says. “Everyone has this sense of sexual-health anxiety that can be avoided, but it’s that first step that’s so hard. People are willing to talk about their sexual health, but only if they feel like it’s a safe environment.”

So Stacy set out to create that environment. With Biem, users can video chat with a doctor online to describe what they’re experiencing, at which point the doctor can recommend tests. The user can then go to a lab for local testing, or Biem will send someone to their house. The patient will eventually receive their results right on their phone. Many of the above-mentioned resources work similarly.

Research shows there’s excitement for tools like these. One study built around a similar service that was still in development showed people 16 to 24 years old would get tested more often if the service was made available to them. They were intrigued by the ability to conceal STI testing from friends and family, and to avoid “embarrassing face-to-face consultations.”

But something can get lost when people avoid going in to the doctor’s office. Kristie Overstreet, a clinical sexologist and psychotherapist, worries these tools — no matter their good intentions — will end up being disempowering in the long run, especially for women. “Many women assume they will be viewed by their doctor as sexually promiscuous or ‘easy,’ so they avoid going in for an appointment,” she says. “They fear they will be seen as dirty or less than if they have an STI or symptoms of one. There is an endless cycle of negative self-talk, such as ‘What will they think about me?’ or ‘Will they think that I’m a slut because of this?’ If people can be tested in the privacy of their own home without having to see a doctor, they can keep their symptoms and diagnosis a secret,” Overstreet says, which only increases the shame.

As for the efficacy of these tools, Mark Payson, a physician and co-founder of CCRM Northern Virginia, emphasizes the importance of education and resources for those who do test positive. These screening tests can have limits, he says, noting that there can be false negatives or false positives, necessitating follow-up care. “This type of testing, if integrated into an existing physician relationship, would be a great resource,” Payson says. “But for patients with more complex medical histories, the interactions of other conditions and medications may not be taken into account.”

Michael Nochomovitz, a New York Presbyterian physician, shows a similar level of restrained excitement. “The doctor-patient interaction has taken a beating,” Nochomovitz says. “Physicians don’t have an opportunity to really engage with patients and look them in the eye and talk to them like you’d want to be spoken to. The idea is that tech should make that easier, but in many cases, it makes it more difficult and more impersonal.” Still, he sees the advantages in allowing patients to attend to their health care on their own terms, rather than having to visit a doctor’s office.

Those who have created these tools insist they’re not trying to replace that doctor-patient relationship, but are trying to build upon and strengthen it. “We want people to be partnering with their doctor,” says Sarah Gupta, the medical liaison for uBiome, which owns SmartJane, a service that allows women to monitor their vaginal health with at-home tests. “But the thing is, these topics are often so embarrassing or uncomfortable for people to bring up. Going in and having an exam can put people in a vulnerable position. [SmartJane] has the potential to help women feel they’re on a more equal footing when talking to their doctor about their sexual health.”

“If you come in with a positive test result,” says Jessica Richman, co-founder and chief executive of uBiome, “it’s not about sexual behavior anymore. It’s a matter of medical treatment. It’s a really good way for women to shift the conversation.”

This can be the case for men and women. While many will use these options as a means to replace those office visits entirely, their potential lies in the ability to improve the health care people receive.

Complete Article HERE!

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5 Sex Positions That Work for Almost Every Couple (Lesbian, Straight, and Everything in Between)

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I’m a firm believer in the sexuality spectrum—that is, the idea that sexuality and gender roles aren’t necessarily binary (gay/straight; female/male) but rather, deeply fluid. Who we’re attracted to doesn’t have to fall into a clearly labeled, defined category like “lesbian” or even “bisexual”—it can be messy, gray, and constantly changing, and that’s perfectly fine.

In my many years of editing articles for women’s magazines and websites, I’ve produced plenty of gender- and sex-positive content—from how one incredible trans woman found her own personal style and why kinky sex makes people healthier to super-adventurous sex positions to try. And while we’ve always focused on being as inclusive as possible, it’s more challenging than you’d expect to find sex positions that work for couples of all gender combinations, sexual orientations, and lifestyles.

That’s why I’m especially excited about this particular sex position guide, which features options geared specifically toward lesbian couples. It’s not just because this particular demographic is underserved in this area (which, from my research and experience, it is), but also because if two women can do these moves, pretty much any other combination of people can pull them off, too. And the more people who get pleasure out of these positions, the better I’ve done my job, as far as I’m concerned.

So go forth, sex-positive, sexually fluid warriors, and enjoy these kinky moves and tips.

Wrapped Spoon

This cozy pose is one of the best for feeling intimate with your lover while also being efficient about getting the “little spoon” off. Big spoons can reach around and give the front partner plenty of digital attention, or use a strap-on until it’s time to turn around and face each other.

*Gay, lesbian, and hetero-friendly

North Face

Feel like taking control and getting your partner’s full attention? Then straddle his or her face and let them focus completely on pleasuring you (without putting your full weight on them, please!).

Then switch places and return the favor.

*Gay, lesbian, and hetero-friendly

Kneeling Scissors

You don’t have to be super-flexible to get the feel-good benefits of this position. Even if your leg doesn’t reach a 90-degree angle, both partners will feel the spine-tinglingly good effects of this high-friction position. Lady-on-lady couples: Once you’re warmed up, the strap-on is your friend here.

*Gay, lesbian, and hetero-friendly

Cradled Clam

We’ll be the first to admit that this position’s name is decidedly unsexy—but who cares? Once you’re in position, giving or receiving all kinds of pleasure, the name won’t mean a thing.

*Gay, lesbian, and hetero-friendly

Wrapped Spoon

This cozy pose is one of the best for feeling intimate with your lover while also being efficient about getting the “little spoon” off. Big spoons can reach around and give the front partner plenty of digital attention, or use a strap-on until it’s time to turn around and face each other.

*Gay, lesbian, and hetero-friendly

Complete Article HERE!

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Female sex tech pioneers are turning pleasure into empowerment

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Women are founding startups to design sex toys and wearables that appeal to female sensuality and increase representation in the tech industry

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The percentage of female leaders working in technology is notoriously low and the sex tech industry fares no better. But there has been a surge in the number of sex tech businesses founded by women in recent years – so much so that 2017 has been hailed the year of the ‘vagina-nomics’ by the intelligence agency JWT. But how is the rise of female sex tech disrupting the industry and empowering women?

For years sex toys have largely been designed around the idea that they can only be effective for women if they’re penis-shaped.

“It’s a misconception that largely stems from the fact we’ve mostly had men designing sex toys and, well, God forbid women would find anything other than penises pleasurable,” says Alexandra Fine, clinical psychologist and co-founder of sex tech company Dame Products.

“In this same vein, there are design flaws – like on-off buttons facing the wrong direction or small quirks that give away the fact that women haven’t been designing these toys.”

Because gaudy sex toys aren’t for everyone, they’re now being joined by delicate, intuitive products that wouldn’t look out of place in an Apple store. These are lifestyle products that are customisable and personalised, rather than simply bigger and faster because technological advances allow it.

“Women are driving a huge increase in demand for sex toys which are ergonomically designed and beautiful,” says Stephanie Alys, co-founder of Mystery Vibe, the company behind Crescendo, the world’s first completely bendable smart vibrator.

Wisp, a sex tech start-up run by Wan Tseng, is designing wearables that recognise, for women, sexuality is not black and white.

“Our products don’t resemble things that go in holes, it just feels a bit too male,” says Tseng. Instead Wisp’s products are designed to be worn like jewellery and tap into the arousing sensations of touch, breath and smell.

“For lots of women, a good sexual experience is not just about orgasming, but everything up until orgasm. We want to empower women and help them relax and get into the mood.” It’s a concept that some men have struggled to grasp, according to Tseng. The first collection will release arousing scents, while another product in development simulates the warm sensation of breath blown gently into the ears.

Last year Alys co-founded a collective for women in the UK sex tech industry, to complement the New York-based Women of Sextech group. “The women in the industry are really up for collaborating and supporting one another.” She adds they are driven to “close the orgasm gap” – referring to the fact that men tend to climax more than women – and “help create a more sex-positive and equal society”.

The wealth of data that can be collected from smart sex tech should mean the offering will continue to improve. Mystery Vibe plans to incorporate sensors into its products that learn what stimulation methods work best, unveiling more data about the often elusive female orgasm.

Having a woman behind the creation of sex products means the stock is more relatable to other women – something that Fine believes has been missing. The company was the first to successfully fund the Fin sex toy on Kickstarter, bringing sex toys closer to being treated like any other consumer product.

Women-led companies are recognising that, just as not all women are turned on by toys that are flesh-coloured and phallic, not all women see simultaneous orgasming with their partner to be the holy grail of sexual fulfilment.

Fine, of Dame Products, adds: “I think our culture sometimes promotes orgasms over factors like intimacy and overall pleasure. Most people aren’t trying to attain the rare simultaneous climax – they want to share pleasure with their partner in a more general, less goal-oriented sense.”

Women are also harnessing sex tech to create products with women’s sexual fitness in mind. Tania Boler is co-founder of Elvie, which has created the Elvie Trainer – a mint-coloured, pebble sized kegel trainer that connects to a smartphone app to track and improve a woman’s pelvic floor muscles.

She argues the more traditional offering of kegel trainers have not been designed from the perspective of the user; they’re hard, clinical, cumbersome. Boler, who has a PhD in women’s health, was dismayed to discover there are only a few recognised scientific studies about the anatomy of the human vagina, despite half the population of the planet being in possession of one.

“Pelvic floor is the most important but most neglected muscle group in a woman’s body – a stronger pelvic floor means higher levels of arousal, more lubrication and stronger orgasms for women – and yet the product has been accused by some in the past of being anti-feminist because it means men enjoying tighter sex,” says Boler.

“This is about breaking taboos and realising pleasure and sensuality can be enjoyed for both sides.”

Stories about sex robots which allow men to act out rape fantasies have sparked outrage from women’s rights activists. It is not just heartening but essential that women are part of the sex tech movement if it is to be maximally beneficial, responsible and healthily balanced, says sex educator Alix Fox. “That’s not to say that left to their own (vibrating, thrusting) devices, all the sex tech men create would be damaging – not at all,” she adds.

“But in this era of technological boom, when the digitised and the mechanised is infiltrating almost everything from our boardrooms to our bedrooms, we must include women – lots of women, diverse women – in every conversation and at every stage.”

Complete Article HERE!

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We Need To Talk About LGBTQ Students & Sex Ed

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By Kimberly Truong

It’s no secret that the state of sex education in America can be dire — so much so that when Refinery29 polled more than 500 of our staffers and readers about their sex ed, we found that nearly a third described their respective experiences as “terrible.”

But if sex ed already fails to be comprehensive in general, often neglecting subjects like consent and pleasure, imagine how unhelpful it can be for students who identify as LGBTQ.

In fact, according to a 2016 report from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), LGBTQ students are even less likely than their peers to find sex ed useful. In a survey of 1,367 students, almost half (46.5%) of LGBTQ students who received sex ed said they didn’t find it useful, while less than a third (29.9%) of their non-LGBTQ peers reported the same.

These results aren’t exactly surprising. For starters, a 2015 study from the Public Religion Research Institute found that a mere 12% of millennials reported that their sex education classes even discussed same-sex relationships in the first place. And, sadly, most of the dialogue around LGBTQ sex ed is about how terrible it can be. A cursory Google search for “LGBTQ sex ed” will bring up front-page results like “The Quest For Inclusive Sex Ed” and “LGBTQ Youth Need Inclusive Sex Education.” Not to mention, what we learn about virginity and safer sex often neglects to cover what those topics might entail for people who aren’t heterosexual. In fact, sex ed can fail to acknowledge that even what’s considered sex in the first place can differ depending on the person.

Discussing sexual orientation and LGBTQ issues in a positive way, however, is crucial to inclusive and useful sex ed that sets up students for safer, consensual sex lives (which is a pretty bare minimum goal). Noreen Giga, senior research associate for GLSEN, tells Refinery29 that even when LGBTQ issues are included in sex ed or other health discussions, they can be covered in a stigmatizing way, like “only talking about the LGBTQ community when talking about harmful behaviors” — for example, only discussing HIV/AIDS when it comes to transgender people and gay men.

“That’s just talking about the community in a negative way and not providing any positive information or representation around LGBTQ youth, especially when it pertains to healthy sexual behavior,” Giga says. “HIV can be an issue in the LGBTQ community, but that doesn’t mean that’s what health education should focus on — it needs to focus on preparing young people to engage in safer sex practices.”

It’s no wonder, then, that GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey found that less than 6% of LGBTQ middle and high school students in the U.S. learned about LGBTQ issues in a positive way during health classes. So where does that leave the remaining 94% of LGBTQ students? In an educational environment that either covers these issues in a negative way or completely ignores them. And that’s unacceptable.

“There are so many barriers when it comes to sex education overall that when you move down the line to thinking about comprehensiveness and inclusivity, it’s a huge challenge,” Giga says.

While it’s clear that educators have to make sure that sex education really prepares everyone — not just straight people — the rest of society needs to do our part and examine our own biases to help make that possible. Positive, comprehensive LGBTQ sex ed isn’t a straightforward issue that can be solved with any one solution. But in a world where parents can be outraged over children learning about different sexualities in school, and health teachers can be suspended for teaching students about gender identity, perhaps we can start by helping people better understand orientations and identities that are different from their own.

We may have a ways to go before sex education really addresses the issues it needs to in order to help us all lead healthier, more enjoyable lives, but we do have to start somewhere — even if that means having conversations that make us uncomfortable. (Need help? Our Gender Nation glossary is a great place to start.)

“We need to let go of this fear that you need to know all these answers [about sexual education], or this idea that young people need to feel shame when asking these questions [about sexual health],” Giga says. “Sexual health education is crucial, not only to students’ current well-being, but also the rest of their lives. It plays a part in having healthy relationships, learning to negotiate better health care, communicating with doctors, and even in how we think about gender roles.”

Bottom line: Everyone deserves education that helps them make healthy choices about their bodies and their relationships, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity happens to be

Complete Article HERE!

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With midlife comes sexual wisdom

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Research shows women’s sexuality adapts with aging

by Madison Brunner

While women experience changes with the menopausal transition that can negatively affect their sex lives, they often adapt behaviorally and psychologically to these changes, according to a qualitative study by University of Pittsburgh researchers.

The results of the study, which included individual and focus group interviews, will be published online in the journal Menopause on November 1.

Midlife, which is defined as 40 to 60 years old, can bring physical, psychological, social and partner-related changes. Menopause-related vaginal dryness or pain, aging joints and reduced flexibility may lead to negative changes in sexual function for some women. Additional contributing factors such as career, financial and family stress, and concerns about changing body image, may add to decreased frequency of sex, a low libido and orgasm difficulties. However, not all changes are negative. The positive psychological changes aging brings—such as decreased family concerns, increased self-knowledge and self-confidence, and enhanced communication skills in the bedroom—may lead to improvements in sexual satisfaction with aging.

During the course of the study, the researchers interviewed a total of 39 women who were 45 to 60 years old and had been sexually active with a partner at least once in the prior 12 months. Participants chose to take part in either an individual interview or focus group.

“While prior longitudinal studies have documented negative changes in sexual function as women move through midlife, few have highlighted the positive changes,” said Holly Thomas, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of medicine, Pitt School of Medicine. “We found most study participants were prompted to try new adaptive behaviors to overcome negative challenges to maintain their overall sexual satisfaction.”

Such adaptations included using lubricants, different sexual activities/positions and changing priorities, with greater focus on emotional satisfaction. Women also discussed changing their priorities around sex; as they aged, they de-emphasized physical sexual satisfaction and placed more importance on emotional .

“It is important for to recognize that each woman’s experience of during menopause is unique and nuanced, and they should tailor their care accordingly. Midlife can learn strategies, such as adapting sexual behavior and enhancing communication of sexual needs, to help ensure and maintain satisfying as they age,” explained Thomas.

Complete Article HERE!

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