What is sexuality? When we talk about sexuality, what do we really mean? Are we talking about how many times a person has sex, or with how many different partners? Are we talking about who a person wants to have sex with?
Sexuality is all of those things…and none of those things. It’s actually a relationship, which means that it’s complicated. Lucky for you, Sex Positive Parents, I’ve got a simple way to explain this complicated relationship:
First, we have a person’s identity. I’ll use myself as an example: I identify as a cisgender female. This means I was assigned the female sex at birth, I have consistently identified as female, I perceive myself as female, and I identify as female today. This is my identity.
Next, we have a person’s sexual orientation, which refers to the identity of the people that person is attracted to. Examples of sexual orientations include, heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or pansexuality, among others. I am heterosexual, meaning I am consistently attracted to men and those who are male-identifying.
Lastly, we have a person’s sexual behavior. Sexual behavior is not necessarily constrained by a person’s identity or sexual orientation, or societal perceptions thereof. The Kinsey scale, which is the result of groundbreaking research into human sexuality, speaks to the non-linear nature of sexuality. As an example, a person might identify as a cisgender male, see themselves as heterosexual, and sometimes have sex with other men. Perhaps a transgender woman is homosexually oriented, and sometimes have sex with men. Or, a cisgender, heterosexual woman regularly fantasizes about having sex with women.
Sexuality is the relationship between identity, orientation, and behavior. For some, those things stay pretty consistent through time, which means their sexuality is fairly static. For others, however, those pillars may shift or evolve, making their sexuality more dynamic.
Why am I telling you about this? Because it’s important to focus less on labels and more on specific behaviors when we talk to our kids about sex and relationships. Focusing on behaviors allows for human difference and it also prevents leaving inadvertent gaps in traditionally heteronormative sex ed conversations (which unplanned pregnancies and STI’s are all too happy to slip through).
In practical terms, focusing on behaviors looks like this:
“You should to wear a condom because the birth control pill doesn’t protect against STD’s” becomes:
“You should wear a condom during any kind of sexual activity, including oral, anal, and vaginal sex.”
“You need to be serious about saying no because guys only want one thing” becomes:
“Healthy relationships involve mutual respect where no one feels pressured and sex is always consensual.”
“You don’t have to learn about anything except for condoms because you’re gay” becomes:
“There are a lot of different STD prevention and contraception options on the market and it’s good to be aware of what they are, how they work, and where you can get them.”
If you want to be healthy in body, mind and soul, then do not lie about how little pleasure you receive in bed.
By JOACHIM OSUR
Up to 60 per cent of women have faked orgasm at one point or another. In fact, a quarter of married women fake orgasms all the time. That was my overarching message to Jane when she walked into the sexology clinic distressed. She had just been thrown out of her marital home for faking orgasm.
Trouble started when Jane revealed to her husband that she had faked it for two years of their marriage. “I meant well all these two years. I did not want to hurt him by revealing that I was not satisfied,” Jane explained, wiping her tears.
It was 8am and she was the first patient of the day. She had come in in her nightdress – her husband had pushed her out of the house and locked the door after they disagreed the night before. She spent the night on her verandah.
“He throws me out of the house because I tried to find a solution, but he never wants to talk about sex,” she lamented.
Faking orgasm is not unique to Jane. Studies have shown that it is the best and most friendly way to end a boring sexual act, performed by women who want to reassure their man that he has not laboured in vain.
We now know that it is not just lack of sexual skills that leads to faking orgasm. The faker could also be having her own problems, either with the sexual function or with the relationship and intimacy. Take it this way: you are responsible for your own pleasure and your lack of it cannot be fully blamed on the man.
Some women dread sex, because of fear of disease or pregnancy, and values that teach them to look at sex negatively. The impact is that the person switches off sex, and orgasm is impossible under such circumstances. “Well, I am not such a big fan of sex anyway. I find it dirty,” Jane interrupted.
Whatever the reason is, it is important to note that faking is totally against the natural purpose of sex. Sex does not just give physical pleasure; there is something divine and supernatural about it. Good sex leads to enhanced self-esteem. The person’s feeling of well-being goes up and there is emotional healing. This improves a person’s happiness and gives them a positive outlook on life.
People who have healthy sex feel loved and radiate love and compassion to others. They have a sense of acceptance, beauty, reverence, grace and a feeling of rejuvenation. They feel powered to face life; in fact, they get a better sense of spiritual connection with their God. Healthy sex is therefore not just good for the body but also for the spirit and the soul.
Faking orgasm denies the faker all this. In itself, it is a symptom that the sex or the relationship is no longer healthy and needs attention. Unhealthy sex destroys emotions and the wellbeing of the people involved, and influences the way the affected people view life and other people. Unhealthy sex is not good for life.
I enrolled Jane and her husband in counselling and coaching on intimacy and sex. John, the husband, grudgingly came to the clinic after my pleas. He believed that it was Jane, not him, with a problem. It however turned out that they both lacked sex skills. Further, they had never freely discussed their sexual feelings and so were sexually illiterate about each other.
It took months of skills training and sexual values clarification before the couple could have healthy sex. Fortunately, they were both dedicated to having the relationship work out.
“This is what we needed to have gone through before our wedding,” Jane said on their last day of counselling. “I feel we have wasted two years of our marriage.”
“Yes, but better late than never. We are finally up to the task!” John replied. The couple burst out in laughter as they waved goodbye and walked out of the consultation room holding hands.
Yet the sex-happiness association means nothing if we don’t know why it exists. New research published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin sheds some light on the matter: Sex itself isn’t what makes us happier, it’s about the snuggles we share before, during, and after.
“We demonstrated that an important reason why sex is associated with well-being is that it promotes the experience of affection with the partner,” says University of Toronto postdoctoral fellow Anik Debrot, the study’s co-author. “Thus, the quality of the bond with the partner is essential to understand the benefits of sex.”
The new research actually comprises four separate studies. In the first two, researchers evaluated the correlation between sex and well-being through cross-sectional surveys of people in romantic relationships. In the first, 335 people (138 men, 197 women) in the US (predominantly married and straight) reported how frequently they have sex and engage in “affectionate touching” (e.g. cuddling, kissing, caressing). They also rated their “life satisfaction” on a one to five scale. The second was similar, but asked 74 couples in San Francisco’s Bay Area to rate their tendency to feel positive emotions such as joy, contentment, pride, amusement, and awe.
Both confirmed that more sexual activity correlates with increased positivity and life satisfaction. However, the association between sex and general happiness was dependent on affectionate touching, meaning that when the researchers accounted for for affectionate touching in their predictive model, the association between sex frequency and life satisfaction was insignificant. These results held steady regardless of participants’ age, relationship duration, and relationship status.
The third and fourth studies took a “Dear diary” approach—participants recorded their emotional state and sexual and affectionate activity on digital devices throughout the day, for several days. The third assessed 106 Swiss couples over ten days, 88% of which were married, and all of which had a child under age eight. It checked in on them six months later. The fourth included 58 Swiss couples, the majority of which were university students.
These daily diary studies showed that on days when people have sex, they experienced more affection and positive emotions immediately after sex, and hours later. “We could also show that sex promotes positive emotions, but that positive emotions do not increase the odds of having sex,” Debrot explains, “This indicates that people seem to feel good because they have sex, but not that they have sex because they feel good.” This finding supports the conclusion that affection—which has been proven to promote psychological and physiological wellbeing outside the sexual realm—is key to coital pleasure.
More, as Debrot explains, previous studies have found that positive talks often occur after sex, that exchanging signs of affection after sex means sexual and relationship satisfaction increases, and that frequent assurance of commitment and love after sex is the best predictor of a good relationship.
Importantly, participants who felt more positive emotions (like joy and optimism) after having sex with their partner in the ten-day study also showed higher relationship satisfaction six months later. This long-term correlation, however, only held true when participants experienced positive emotions after sex, regardless of how frequently they were sexually active.
This type of research always required some external imposition, and it’s impossible to determine exactly what about sex makes us happier. But it makes one reality clear: Sex promotes affection, and affection makes us feel good in the immediate, short, and long-term. And while more frequent sex is proven to make us feel better, prescribing participants to have more frequent sex on its own doesn’t help.
So if you’re looking to increase personal or relationship happiness (and a $50k bonus isn’t quite on the table) your best bet may be simple: Be attentive to your partners’ sexual and emotional needs, allow enough space and time for intimacy, and express your attraction and love before, during, after sex.
When it comes to sex, we are quite the shallow bunch: Something as simple as the smell of your sweat, the dilation of your pupils or the proportion of your waistline can make all the difference.
Yet science also shows that personality traits matter at least some of the time, both in the long-term partners we choose and our shorter-term, umm, relationships.
So say you want to have more sex — hypothetically, of course. Should you offer flowers or act aloof?
The answer is complicated. Here’s just some of what science has figured out about the mating game and personality. The findings are as diverse — and as seemingly contradictory — as we humans.
Nice Men (and Women) Can Seal the Deal
Recent research published in the British Journal of Psychology showed that altruism may put you in the best position (ahem) to find a willing partner. The results of two trials conducted by Canadian researchers showed that men and women who scored higher on altruism also said they were more desirable to the opposite sex.
Men who scored higher on altruism also reported more sexual partners, and more casual hook-ups compared to female participants. If altruistic participants were in long-term relationships, those altruistic men and women said they had more sex over the last 30 days.
Researchers didn’t just take their word for it. Watch the video above for more.
Honesty Is Sexy
Let’s be real. Humans are drawn to other humans they find physically attractive. But there may be more going on than simple hotness, according to a study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
Researchers from China divided 120 study participants into into three groups. Before the experiment began, all of these participants, 60 men and 60 women, were asked to rate 60 random Google photographs of Chinese women. The faces were unfamiliar to the study participants, and all the women in the photos had neutral expressions.
Two weeks later, the study participants were asked to look at the photos again. But this time, one group of participants was given the same photos with descriptions of positive personality traits such as decent and honest. Another group was given the photos that now contained negative personality traits including evil and mean. A third group was given no information about personality.
The researchers found no difference among the groups during the first cycle of the experiment. But in the second cycle, those photos that contained positive descriptions of personality traits scored high on attractiveness. Those with negative descriptors scored lowest.
The researchers say “what is good is beautiful,” and this so-called “halo effect” shows that desirable personality traits are reflected in facial preference.
But We Like The Dark Side, Too
Men (and women) may say they like nice humans, but sometimes what we do tells a different story. When it comes to mating, both sexes seem to be drawn to (cue the theme from Jaws) “The Dark Triad.” That psych-speak for the personality traits of Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy.
We know it’s true: Mean girls and bad boys can be pretty popular, at least for a while. It seems the Dark Triad may boost short-term mating prospects for men, and, importantly, women too, despite being “fundamentally callous, exploitative traits that deviate from species-typical cooperation,” explains Dr. Gregory Louis Carter, a lecturer in Psychology at York St John University.
Narcissism, for example, is related to good physical and mental health and longer life while Machiavellianism is linked to social flexibility. Psychopathy results in impulsivity and sensation-seeking, which can be extremely seductive, he says.
So men and women who score high on the Dark Triad scale may appeal to because they are confident, persistent, have a higher-ranking status and look pretty darn good.
The ‘Big Five’ Traits That Mean More Action
If you want to learn about your personality traits, most psychologists suggest looking at the “Big Five.” That’s a group of descriptors that include openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Taken together those Big Five can influence our health as well as our sex lives.
In a study of newlyweds, researchers from Florida State University shed some light on how a couples’ personalities influenced how often newlyweds had sex. Although the study did not look at non-married individuals, there is a good chance the results would hold true, says co-author Dr. Andrea Meltzer, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Florida State University.
The study included data on 278 newlywed heterosexual couples, all of whom were married less than six months. They kept a two-week journal detailing their life and how often they had sex. The couples also took a Big Five test to figure out their individual personalities.
Here’s what they found. There was absolutely zero link between the man’s personality traits and how often the couple had sex. But higher levels of the traits of agreeableness and openness among wives led to more frequent sex.
“Openness refers to the willingness to explore new idea and experiences,” says Meltzer, adding these folks tend to like art and abstract ideas, often try new and different foods, and love novelty.
Agreeableness means you can get along well with others and maintain social harmony. These folks are often perceived as kind, generous, and trustworthy, she says.
No surprise that husbands and wives who scored low on neuroticism were more satisfied with their sex lives. But husbands who scored low in openness also were more satisfied with their sex lives. Maybe these guys just weren’t into novelty.
Make ‘Em Laugh
Humor always ranks near the top of seemingly any list of what men and women find attractive in each other.
Some research shows that humor gets us hot because it may reveal intelligence, a creative bent, and robust genes that equate to not only good health but also good parenting traits.
Although humor is almost universally appealing, there are sex differences. “Women want to be made to laugh more than men,” says Carter. “Men want to be able to induce laughter, though probably not in the bedroom.”
In a predictable bit of news, the results of a study released this past September show that students consider most sex-education programs to be out-of-touch, outdated, and lacking in the information that might actually prove useful to them. Among the deficiencies reported by teenagers were a focus on fear-based lesson plans, curricula that alienate LGBTQ+ students, instructors untrained in actually providing useful sex-ed, and a failure to acknowledge that some young people are — spoiler alert — sexually active.
When it comes down to it, though, these inadequacies do not stem from lack of trying on the part of certified sexuality educators. There are disparities in curricula, and in resources: Federal funding for sex-education flows to both abstinence-only and evidence-based approaches, and decisions about curricula are made on a state-by-state — and district-by-district — basis. There are still only 13 states that require sex-education to be “medically accurate.”
In fact, in the past year, 23 bills were introduced with the intention of restricting the quality of sex-ed. Such restrictions included moves to limit access to information about reproductive health options, and to exclude qualified sexuality educators from schools based upon their affiliation with abortion providers.
While the majority of these bills failed to advance, in many cases, educators continue to be hamstrung by red tape. And they worry that — in the wake of the most recent presidential election — their jobs will only become more difficult. What is an enterprising, conscientious sex-educator to do?
Recently, I attended the National sex-ed Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where I saw sexuality educator Francisco Ramirez present a keynote on “hacking” sexual health. During his talk, Ramirez spoke about how educators might possibly shake things up, in some cases taking sex-ed outside the classroom in order to reach those who need it most. Happily, many educators are already doing this, systematically toppling many of the barriers that have long stood in their way. Throughout the conference, I was reminded of the many forms such resourcefulness can take. Here are the six most important fixes currently happening in American sex-ed.
1. Where can students get the answers they crave without fear of embarrassment or other negative repercussions? These days: their phones.
Sex-educators often employ anonymous question boxes in their classrooms, but the new-media generation is taking this idea of anonymity to the place where it thrives best: social media. I recently wrote about a variety of new social-media applications, YouTube series, and other online resources that allow teens to seek out accurate sexuality information anonymously. Since then, it seems that not a day goes by where I don’t hear about a new sex-ed app.
What’s important to remember about any of these sex-ed hacks is that just because a program works in one place, that doesn’t mean it will work in every community.
One of the more recent ones to catch my eye is Capptivation’s Reach Out, an app that provides sexual assault survivor resources to college-age students. According to Capptivation, a similar app for high schoolers is on its way. And the Healthy Teen Network — a membership-based advocacy organization — is in the process of developing two phone apps, one for high school-aged teens, and one for people who are older. They were inspired to do so after receiving an RFP (a request for proposal — a document from an agency soliciting a proposal for a specific commodity or service) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alongside the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC has been looking to fund the development of a mobile app that would support teen pregnancy prevention.
This push for sex-ed apps is not without precedent. A 2016 study on mobile phone-based interventions for smoking cessation showed that mobile interventions can lead to positive behavioral changes. And additional research — including a 2016 paper published in BMC Public Health — has shown that sexual-health apps remove certain barriers youth often feel in seeking out sexual-health services: namely, embarrassment. HTN is in the midst of conducting its own randomized control trials in order to determine the efficacy of its apps.
2. How can students take a leadership role in their own sex-education? Through peer-led sex-ed.
A recent review of 15 peer-led sexual-health education programs shows that peer-to-peer sex-ed can be successful at improving teens’ knowledge and attitude about sexual health — which is good news, considering that many teens don’t think adults are doing the best job. And just as with social-media apps, new peer-to-peer training programs are popping up all around the country. Teen PEP, which operates in both New Jersey and North Carolina, is one such program that trains teens to provide sex-ed to their peers at school. Another example is the team out of Planned Parenthood of North, Central, and South New Jersey, which leads an annual Teen Conference that students travel to on a one-day field trip.
In Austin, Texas, the Peer 2 Peer Project trains teens to teach both on school grounds and at other locations within their communities, going so far as to pay them for their efforts. In Baltimore, Maryland, the Healthy Teen Network and its subsidiary, the Healthy Teen Leadership Alliance, also empower teens to influence the field of sexual health. These are just a handful of programs among many that are handing the reins over to teens. It can be difficult to keep track of all the peer-led programs popping up around the country, but Advocates for Youth — an advocacy organization with its focus on adolescent sexual health — has gathered the results of numerous studies on the impact of peer education. These studies show how peer education reduces risky sexual behaviors and empowers teens, who seem to find their peers to be more credible than adult educators.