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How Homophobia Has Robbed Men Of Touch

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The pathological fear of even platonic contact has created a generation of men plagued by loneliness and anxiety.

I wrote an article in which I asked people to consider the following: American men, in an attempt to avoid any possible hint of committing unwanted sexual touch, are foregoing gentle platonic touch in their lives.

I call it touch isolation.

Homophobic social stigmas, the long-standing challenges of rampant sexual harassment and abuse, and a society steeped in a generations-old puritanical mistrust of physical pleasure have created an isolating trap in which American men can go for days (or weeks) without touching another human being.

The implications of touch isolation for men’s health and happiness are huge.

Gentle platonic touch is central to the early development of infants. It continues to play an important role throughout men and women’s lives in terms of our development, health and emotional well being, right into old age. When I talk about gentle platonic touch, I’m not talking about a pat on the back, or a handshake, but instead contact that is sustained and meant to provide connection and comfort: Leaning on someone for a few minutes, holding hands, rubbing their back or sitting close together not out of necessity but out of choice.

Yet, culturally, gentle platonic touch is the one thing we suppress culturally in men and it starts when they are very young boys.

While babies and toddlers are held, cuddled, and encouraged to practice gentle touch during their first years of their lives, that contact often drops off for boys when they cease to be toddlers. Boys are encouraged to “shake it off” and “be tough” when they are hurt.

Along with the introduction of this “get tough” narrative, boys find that their options for gentle platonic touch simply fade away. Mothers and fathers often back off from holding or cuddling their young boys. Boys who seek physical holding as comfort when hurt are stigmatized as “cry babies.”

By the time they are approaching puberty, many boys have learned to touch only in aggressive ways through rough housing or team sports. And if they do seek gentle touch in their lives, it is expected to take place in the exclusive and highly sexualized context of dating. This puts massive amounts of pressure on young girls; young girls who are unlikely to be able to shoulder such a burden. Because of the lack of alternative outlets for touch, the touch depravation faced by young boys who are unable to find a girlfriend is overwhelming. And what about boys who are gay? In a nutshell, we leave children in their early teens to undo a lifetime of touch aversion and physical isolation. The emotional impact of coming of age in our touch-averse, homophobic culture is terribly damaging. It’s no wonder our young people face a epidemic of sexual abuse, unwanted pregnancy, rape, drug and alcohol abuse.

In America, in particular, if a young man attempts gentle platonic contact with another young man, he faces a very real risk of homophobic backlash either by that person or by those who witness the contact. This is, in part, because we frame all contact by men as being intentionally sexual until proven otherwise. Couple this with the homophobia that runs rampant in our culture, and you get a recipe for increased touch isolation that damages the lives of the vast majority of men.

And if you think men have always been hands-off with each other, have a look at an amazing collection of historic photos compiled by Brett and Kate McKay in their article Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection. It’s a remarkable look at male camaraderie as expressed though physical touch in photos dating back to the earliest days of photography.

As the McKays note:

“At the turn of the 20th century… Thinking of men as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” became common. And this new category of identity was at the same time pathologized—decried by psychiatrists as a mental illness, by ministers as a perversion, and by politicians as something to be legislated against.

“As this new conception of homosexuality as a stigmatized and onerous identifier took root in American culture, men began to be much more careful to not send messages to other men, and to women, that they were gay. And this is the reason why, it is theorized, men have become less comfortable with showing affection towards each other over the last century.”

Spend some time looking at these remarkable images. You’ll get a visceral sense of what has been lost to men.

These days, put 10 people in the room when two men touch a moment too long, and someone will make a mean joke, express distaste, or even pick a fight. And its just as likely to be a woman as to be a man who enforces the homophobic/touch averse stigma. The enforcement of touch prohibition between men can be as subtle as a raised eyebrow or as punitive as a fist fight and you never know where it will come from or how quickly it will escalate.

And yet, we know that touch between men or women is proven to be a source of comfort, connection and self-esteem. But while women are allowed much more public contact, men are not. Because how we allow men to perform masculinity is actually very restrictive. (Charlie Glickman writes quite eloquently about this in an article for The Good Men Project. Read it. It’s a real eye opener.)

Male touch isolation is one of many powerful reasons why I support marriage equality. The sooner being gay is completely normalized, the sooner homophobic prohibitions against touch will be taken off straight men. As much as gay men have faced the brunt of homophobic violence, straight men have been banished to a desert of physical isolation by these same homophobic fanatics who police lesbians and gays in our society. The result has been a generation of American men who do not hug each other, do not hold hands and can not sit close together without the homophobic litmus test kicking in.’

The lack of touch in men’s lives results in a higher likelihood of depression, alcoholism, mental and physical illness. Put simply, touch isolation is making men’s lives less healthy and more lonely.

When visiting my 87-year-old father for a few days, I made a point to touch him more. To make contact. To express my affection, not just by flying a thousand miles for a visit, but to touch the man once I got there. It may seem simple, but choosing to do so is not always a simple thing. It can raise a lifetime of internal voices, many of which speak of loss and missed opportunities. But I hugged him. I put my arm around him as we shared a cigar and cocktails. I touched him whenever I walked past his chair.

Each evening, we would watch a movie. As part of that nightly ritual, I would sit in the floor, take off his shoes and socks and rub his bare feet for while. It is something I will remember when he is gone. Something I did right. Something that said to him, I love you. Spoken on the same deep touch levels by which he connected with me when I was a toddler sitting next to him, his strong arm around me as I watched the late show 50 years ago.

This touch thing is so crucial: I kiss and hug my son constantly. He sits with me—and on me. I make a point of connecting with him physically whenever I greet him. The physical connection I have with him has been transformative in my life teaching me about my value as a human being and a father.

We need to empower men to touch. We need to fix our sexually repressed (and sexually obsessed) American culture and put an end to distorted and hateful parts of our culture that allow homophobic people to police all men everywhere down to the very tips of our fingertips.

It’s too late in my life for the impact of these stigmas to be fully undone, but I have great hope for my son. When we collectively normalize gay life and relationships, my son, whatever his sexual orientation turns out to be, will be free to express platonic affection for others, be they men or women, in any way he sees fit. The rabid homophobes who have preached hate in America for far too long will finally be silenced, and men will be free to reach out and touch each other without fear of being labeled as somehow less of a man.

It’s a dream for a better America I can already see coming true.

Complete Article HERE!

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Welcome To The Wacky World Of Fetish Porn

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By Sarah Raphael

In 2017, Pornhub boasted an average of 81 million active users a day, culminating in 28.5 billion visits over the course of the year. For comparison, Twitter had 100 million active users per day, and the BBC had a global average of 372 million people per week. As responsible citizens, we like to keep abreast of current affairs, and it appears we like porn just as much.

According to Pornhub’s survey, the most searched terms on the site last year were, in order: lesbian, hentai (anime/ manga porn), milf, stepmum, stepsister, and mum. Lesbian is perhaps unremarkable, since it appeals to several genders and orientations, but hentai at number two is a surprise, and it only gets weirder from there. Hentai loosely translates from Japanese as ‘a perverse sexual desire’ – but when manga and mummy porn are among the top six search terms of 81 million watchers a day, is it time we reconsider what constitutes ‘abnormal sexual desire’?

In his masterpiece podcast The Butterfly Effect, journalist Jon Ronson interviews the founders of Anatomik Media, a company based in LA which produces made-to-order fetish videos for private clients. The videos, produced by the company’s founders, husband and wife duo Dan and Rhiannon, cost anywhere between a few hundred and several thousand dollars, and the clients will often send a script or a specific set of instructions for how the fetish fantasy should play out. Some of the videos they talk about on the podcast include burning a man’s very expensive stamp collection, and pouring condiments like ketchup on a woman in a paddling pool. “We take everyone’s fetish very seriously, we don’t laugh at them,” Rhiannon tells Jon. In the same episode, Jon interviews fetish actress/ producer Christina Carter, who stars as Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman vs. The Gremlin, a custom video series for a private client in which Wonder Woman is controlled by a gremlin who hits her over the head to keep her in the room. Jon emails the client to ask where this scenario came from and eventually he replies, saying that his mother left when he was five and he remembers watching her leave; the inference is that he is the gremlin in the scenario, trying to make his mother (Wonder Woman) stay

“I don’t consider any of the fetishes people come to see me to explore as being ‘unusual’,” Miss Bliss, a 31-year-old pansexual, feminist dominatrix with 10 years’ experience in the sex work industry, tells me over email. “I try and break down barriers, not reinforce them. I teach my clients that it takes courage to embrace one’s desires and strength to experiment and understand and indulge in them, regardless of what their particular fetish is. There are no unusual fetishes, just unusual societal standards.” The services Miss Bliss offers include ‘corporal punishment’ (spanking, slapping, whipping, etc), ‘foot/high heel worship’, ‘wax play’, ‘puppy play’ (being treated like a dog), ‘adult baby care’ (being treated like a baby) and ‘consensual blackmail’, which, as she explains, is an act “involving one person or people giving written or verbal permission to release sensitive and potentially damaging information, and/or agreed-upon falsehoods/embellishments if previously agreed-upon actions/terms are not met.” On her website, the explanation is a little easier to comprehend: “Beg and plead with me not to release any intimate images, videos and messages to your partner, family, co-workers or on social media.” Miss Bliss says she sees the game of consensual blackmail as “just another way of stripping someone of ego, control and power, which allows the person to be vulnerable and in a constant state of heightened excitement.”

Humiliation is a common theme in Miss Bliss’ services, and an inherent part of BDSM. “When conducted consensually, safely and appropriately, it can be incredibly liberating,” she explains. “People enjoy humiliation as a way to break down the boundaries we put up in our day-to-day lives and stay ‘safe’ behind. It opens a door to vulnerability, repressed emotions and allows feelings like control, responsibility and ego to take a back seat in a safe environment.” Miss Bliss describes an “outpouring of emotion” from some clients after a session and includes aftercare as part of the package – “to build the submissive back up so they feel supported, nurtured and protected.”

When I ask why Miss Bliss thinks people end up in her dungeon or domestic space, she answers: “For so many reasons. A lot to do with their upbringing, their relationship with others and themselves, the power struggle they feel in their careers… Everyone wants to feel heard, to be seen and to feel understood. Coming to see a professional who bears no judgement, has only the best intentions and understands boundaries and respect is one of the most healthy ways to work through psychosexual subjects. It is certainly a form of therapy.”

When you put it like that, it’s hard to remember why stigma exists at all around fetish. And yet, if you found out your colleague watched hot wax porn every night, you might raise an eyebrow, or if someone in your circle revealed that they were a client of Miss Bliss and enjoyed puppy play on a Saturday, you might fall off your chair – because these things aren’t talked about and they come as a shock.

“There’s generally two reasons that fetishes are talked about in the public domain,” explains Professor Mark Griffiths, a chartered psychologist and professor of behavioural addiction at Nottingham Trent University, over the phone, “either because somebody has been criminally arrested because the fetish constitutes some kind of criminal activity or it’s people who are written about because they’re seeking treatment for their fetish. But I would argue with the vast majority of fetishes – what we call non-normative sexual behaviours – there’s absolutely no problematic element for anyone engaging in them.”

Professor Griffiths has written extensively about fetish on his blog, and says he almost always concludes his posts with the fact that we just don’t know enough about fetishes or how many people have them because the studies that have been conducted are so small. “We recently interviewed eight dacryphiles – people who are sexually aroused by crying,” he says, “and found that there were three completely different types of dacryphile even in the sample of eight people. Half were ‘sadistic’ dacryphiles where their pleasure came from making other people cry, three people were ‘compassionate’ dacryphiles who were sexually aroused by men crying, and one person’s particular fetish was when people are about to cry and their lower lip starts to wobble – that was the sexually arousing part – so we called that a ‘curled lip’ dacryphile. These eight people were from one forum – the crying forum – but there could be many other types of dacryphile.”

Having researched and written about all sorts of fetishes, from bushy eyebrow fetishes to injection fetishes, shoe fetishes and fruit fetishes, Professor Griffiths reaffirms that “the vast majority of people with fetishes don’t have psychological problems or mental disorders, it’s just something they like. We have to accept, in terms of how we develop sexually, that there are going to be lots of different things that get people aroused, and some things are seen as normal, and others are seen as strange and bizarre. For example, if you’ve got a fetish for soiled underclothes – which is called mysophilia – that’s more embarrassing to talk about than if you’ve got a fetish just for knickers. One is seen as bizarre, one isn’t.”

Professor Griffiths’ first port of call in his research on fetish is online forums – like the crying forum – where people connect with others who have the same or a similar fetish. Natasha (not her real name) uses online forums to explore her fetish, which is hair, specifically haircuts, known as trichophilia. “I masturbate while watching videos of women having their hair cut,” she explains on email. “It freaks me out that I like it, I used to be really scared of having my hair cut when I was a child, and somehow as I got older, it became a sexual thing.” Natasha goes on websites such as Extreme Haircuts and Haircuts Revisited and watches videos of and reads stories about women having their hair cut. “I feel like a freak,” she tells me, “but there’s a whole world of haircut porn on the internet, so I’m not the only one.” Natasha says that discovering porn catered to her fetish was liberating, but she still deletes her search history so that her boyfriend doesn’t find out.

“We are led to believe that there are few options in which we can express our sexuality healthily, when nothing could be further from the truth,” says Miss Bliss. “This, in conjunction with the various religious messages which restrict our sexual expression, leaves people feeling so isolated, which is what I am here to change.” Miss Bliss is on a mission to open up sexuality and empower people to explore their kinks in a safe, consensual setting.

Whether we know about it or not, the world of fetish and its many online and offline facets has a place in our society. It might be something we frown at, but there’s no denying that people have a need and are using these services – Pornhub search terms are the tip of the iceberg. As Professor Griffiths concludes: “It might be non-normative, but that doesn’t mean it’s abnormal.” Who knows what dreams may come when you approach the dungeon.

Complete Article HERE!

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Finding power through play: How BDSM can fuel confidence

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By Emerald Bensadoun

Marianne LeBreton is suspended in mid-air, tied in an upside-down futumomo, legs bound together. The ropes cascade in intricate patterns, beginning at her ankles and working their way all the way around her wrists. The ropes arch her body backward. Her breathing steadies. Serenity washes through her. The slight discomfort of certain positions causes slow burns to spread across her body—but the pain is secondary to the relief. LeBreton becomes entrenched in a state of flow. Her mind is quiet. She’s enjoying the intensity, both emotionally and physically.

For LeBreton, bondage has become a meditative experience. When it comes to receiving pain, which she enjoys, it takes a certain focus and determination. LeBreton finds rope— especially Japanese rope bondage—to be particularly meditative. She equates BDSM to an empowering “sense of calm,” but it didn’t start out that way.

“What colour should it be?” thought LeBreton. She wanted her boyfriend to like it. As an 18-year-old student on a budget, it couldn’t be too expensive. For almost a week she scrolled through the internet until she finally came across what she was looking for. It was even in her price range. This was the one. Satisfied, she clicked “purchase.” LeBreton had just bought her first flogger—a whip with long tendrils coming out the end. “It felt like the beginning of something for me,” said LeBreton.

When asked about her first experience with BDSM, she grins from ear to ear, trying to visualize the details. “There wasn’t Fifty Shades of Grey but there was hentai,” she says. At the age of 13, LeBreton became fascinated with Bondage Fairies, an erotic manga about highly sexual, human-shaped female forest fairies with wings who work as hunters and police protecting the forest.

Now 30, LeBreton has an MA in sexology from Université du Québec à Montréal and owns KINK Toronto, an up-and-coming BDSM boutique in Toronto’s Annex. BDSM, she says, is about much more than pain—it’s about empowerment. LeBreton says we could use a little more playfulness in our lives. More sensuality. More discovery. “That’s usually what I hear from customers who are curious; they are excited and thrilled to be daring and to be doing this for themselves or their partners,” says LeBreton. “It’s definitely a journey of self-discovery and acceptance.” In her workshops, being naked and engaging in play publicly, she says, has helped with her confidence and body image.

In 2015, Christian Joyal, who has a PhD in psychology from the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, and his colleagues published a paper on fantasies; ranging from sex in a public places, to tying up a sexual partner, to watching same-gender sex and pornography. But there were also fantasies about being dominated sexually. These were present in 65 per cent of women and 53 per cent of men; dominating someone sexually, present in 47 per cent of women and 60 per cent of men; being tied up for sexual pleasure which appealed to 52 per cent of women and 46 per cent of men.

“From what we’ve seen, most people have a very strict image of what [BDSM] should look like, which is very restricting,” she says. BDSM, she notes, doesn’t have to involve leather. It doesn’t have to involve pain. Another mistake is attributing masculine or feminine traits to erotic behaviour. For many people, BDSM is a healthy way to express their sexuality and grain a sense of control in their lives and of their bodies.

In her workshops, being naked and engaging in play publicly, she says, has helped with her confidence and body image

When it comes to dominance and submission, negotiations, and boundaries, safety and consent are crucial. While the words “dominant” or “top” may conjure up images of complete control, those in the BDSM world know that the submissive, or “bottom” hold true power. “The bottom is the one who gets to decide what they would like, what they do not want, what their limits are,” says LeBreton, “It’s the top’s responsibility to follow that through. Of course some people have very specific kinks where it’s kind of like ‘I want you to take control.’ But that’s negotiated and within limits set by the bottom.”

Feeling in control can also be about letting go. Relinquishing that sense of control they exert in every other part of their lives can be therapeutic. For this reason, LeBreton says that men, especially those in positions of higher power, will often identify as submissives in the bedroom.

Alex Zalewski says he’s always been a little rough. But in a seven-year “vanilla” relationship, it was difficult to break routine. Months later, for the first time in Zalewski’s life, he felt horribly unsure of himself. He’d been flirting with a new girl for some time whose friends invited him to their apartment. But he was confused. “Spit in my mouth,” she demanded. “Slap me.” Zalewski was torn between arousal and inner turmoil. If there was one thing he’d ever been taught from a young age, it’s that good boys don’t hit women.

For Zalewski, empowerment is a quiet confidence, and feeling a level of control that builds pleasure from the knowledge that he is fulfilling his partners’ desires. Zalewski, who lives in Toronto’s downtown core, offers relationship and personal coaching for various clients in his spare time, but he doesn’t charge money for it. The women in his life kept asking him for advice on BDSM. He decided he would try his best. In 2016 he created Authentic Connections, to help people overcome their barriers in exchange for a relationship they’ve always wanted. His goal was to have someone open up to him enough about the types of barriers that were preventing his clients and their partners from having the sex life they wanted to have.

“What are your fantasies? What are your desires? What do you want out of your partner or partners?” He would ask them. Once he could get them to admit what they actually wanted, they would work out a plan. Develop themselves, develop their skills to be able to do the things that would help them achieve their goals. Zalewski says a lot of the time, this is the most difficult step for the people he’s met with. It’s hard for people to step outside their comfort zones sometimes, he says, because they’ve been conditioned into associating kink and BDSM with abuse and mental instability.

A person becomes curious in BDSM. They don’t tell their friends. Maybe they’re afraid of being ridiculed or judged. Maybe rejection. But maybe it’s none of those things. Maybe they just want to keep their personal life, personal.

In 2006, the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality published an article that compared BDSM practitioners to published norms on 10 psychological disorders. Compared to the normative samples, those who actively engage in BDSM had lower levels of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychological sadism, psychological masochism, borderline pathology and paranoia.

But just because a person likes to be controlled in the bedroom doesn’t necessarily mean those needs translate into the real world and can have dangerous implications for parties involved.

Jen Chan was 16. Her boyfriend was 24. He was her dominant and she was his submissive. “That was generally the dynamic of how our relationship went,” she says. But chipping away at her self-esteem, her boyfriend would pressure her into doing things she wasn’t sure if she was comfortable with, and she would go along with them, afraid of appearing inexperienced and childish to her older boyfriend. While BDSM allows you to play out different scenarios from that of everyday life, she says her first experience with dominance and submission was just an extension of the life she already had.

It’s hard for people to step outside their comfort zones sometimes, he says, because they’ve been conditioned into associating kink and BDSM with abuse and mental instability.

After their relationship ended, Chan says it took her several years until she felt confident enough to engage in BDSM again. Coming out as queer, she says, has also made all the difference. Chan now identifies as a switch, which is someone who enjoys partaking in both dominant and submissive roles, or both topping and bottoming.

“There is something very staged, controlled and intentional about BDSM, at least that’s the way I interact with it,” says Chan, who adds that her empowerment with BDSM lies in feeling like she’s doing something adventurous in an environment of her choice. Feeling satisfied sexually, she says, has made her feel more confident in the real world.

Is what you’re doing safe? Is what you’re doing consensual? Zalewski says risk awareness, the amount of risk a person is comfortable taking in order to attain the pleasure plays a large role in BDSM. From flesh hook suspension to unprotected sex, it’s important to understand the personal level of risk you are comfortable with when it comes to the acts you want to perform.

Chan says that while engaging in BDSM gave her the opportunity to try new things and step into new roles, most importantly, it allowed her to reclaim control, sexually. As a person begins to immerse themselves in BDSM, Chan says, they start to learn more about what makes them comfortable, where their boundaries lie, all while pushing themselves to continually learn new things—and to her, that’s all empowerment really is.

Complete Article HERE!

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A new study quantifies straight women’s “orgasm gap”—and explains how to overcome it

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by Leah Fessler

Ever faked an orgasm? Or just had orgasm-less sex? If you’re a woman—especially if you’re straight—your answer is probably “Ugh.” Followed by “Yes.”

Not reaching orgasm during sex is, obviously, a real bummer. Not only does it make the sex itself unfulfilling, but can lead to envy, annoyance, and regret. Thoughts like “Stop grinning you idiot, your moves were not like Jagger!” and “I didn’t ask him to go down on me…does that mean I’m not actually a feminist?” come to mind. It’s exhausting.

Traditional western culture hasn’t focused on female pleasure—society tells women not to embrace their sexuality, or ask for what they want. As a result many men (and women) don’t know what women like. Meanwhile, orgasming from penetrative sex alone is, for many women, really hard.

Many studies have shown that men, in general, have more orgasms than women—a concept known as the orgasm gap. But a new study published Feb. 17 in Archives of Sexual Behavior went beyond gender, exploring the orgasm gap between people of different sexualities in the US. The results don’t dismantle the orgasm gap, but they do alter it.

Among the approximately 52,600 people surveyed, 26,000 identified as heterosexual men; 450 as gay men; 550 as bisexual men; 24,00 as heterosexual women; 350 as lesbian women; and 1,100 as bisexual women. Notably, the vast majority of participants were white—meaning the sample size does not exactly represent the US population.

The researchers asked participants how often they reached orgasm during sex in the past month. They also asked how often participants gave and received oral sex, how they communicated about sex (including asking for what they want, praising their partner, giving and receiving feedback), and what sexual activities they tried (including new sexual positions, anal stimulation, using a vibrator, wearing lingerie, etc).

Men orgasmed more than women, and straight men orgasmed more than anyone else: 95% of the time. Gay men orgasmed 89% of the time, and bisexual men orgasmed 89% of the time. But hold the eye-roll: While straight and bisexual women orgasmed only 65% and 66% of the time, respectively, lesbian women orgasmed a solid 86% of the time.

These data suggest, contrary to unfounded biological and evolutionary explanations for women’s lower orgasmic potential, women actually can orgasm just as much as men. So, how do we crush the orgasm gap once and for all?

According to the study, the women who orgasmed most frequently in this study had a lot in common. They:

  • more frequently received oral sex
  • had sex for a longer duration of time
  • asked their partners for what they wanted
  • praised their partners
  • called and/or emailed to tease their partners about doing something sexual
  • wore sexy lingerie
  • tried new sexual positions
  • incorporated anal stimulation
  • acted out fantasies
  • incorporated sexy talk
  • expressed love during sex

And regardless of sexuality, the women most likely to have orgasmed in their last sexual encounter reported that particular encounter went beyond vaginal sex, incorporating deep kissing, manual genital stimulation, and/or oral sex.

The study’s authors noted that “lesbian women are in a better position to understand how different behaviors feel for their partner (e.g., stimulating the clitoris) and how these sensations build toward orgasm,” and that these women may be more likely to hold social norms of “equity in orgasm occurrence, including a ‘turn-taking’ culture.”

That might be true. But the study is pretty clear on the fact that anyone in a relationship of any kind can increase their partner’s orgasm frequency—and that it depends on caring about your partner’s pleasure enough to ask about what they want, enact those desires, and be receptive to feedback. Such communicative techniques—whether implemented by straight, gay, bisexual, or lesbian people—are what stimulate orgasm.

Complete Article HERE!

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For Queer Women, What Counts as Losing Your Virginity?

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I wanted, desperately, to know if the sex I was having “counted.”

After I hooked up with someone, I snuck out of bed and into the darkness of my balcony, alone. A nervous wreck, I texted my friend, practically hyperventilating because of something I’d never expected to worry about at all.

Hoping for an answer, I texted: Am I still a virgin if I had sex with a girl?

My friend asked what I thought, but I really didn’t know. The woman I’d slept with defined sex as penetration, so by her definition, we hadn’t had sex. She, as the older, long-time queer in the hookup, had the upper hand. I didn’t think it was up to me. After all, what did I know about the rules of girl-on-girl sex, let alone what counts as losing your virginity? Could it be sex if only half of the people involved thought it was?

To me, it felt like it had to be sex, because if not sex, what was it?

It was a panic I never expected to feel. I was super open-minded. I was super feminist. I should have been beyond thrilled and empowered by the fact that I’d had a positive sexual encounter. But instead of cuddling the girl I was sleeping with and basking in our post-sex glow, or even vocalizing my worry over whether or not we’d just had sex, I was panicking in solitude.

My identity has always been a blur—I’m biracial, bisexual, and queer—and it’s something that makes me feel murky, unsure of who I am. Virginity was just the newest thing to freak out about. I stood in the dark alone and tried to figure out, once again, how to define myself.

I wanted, desperately, to know if the sex I was having “counted.” And I’m not the only one.

While many people have a strained relationship with the concept of virginity (and whether or not it exists to begin with), for queer women, the role of virginity is especially complicated.

“Virginity is a socially constructed idea that is fairly exclusive to the heterosexual population,” Kristen Mark, Ph.D. an associate professor of health promotion at University of Kentucky and director of the sexual health promotion lab, told SELF. “There is very little language in determining how virginity is ‘lost’ in non-heterosexual populations. Given the relatively large population of non-heterosexual populations, the validity of virginity is poor.”

As a result, many of us are stressed out by the concept, and left wondering if there’s just something other queer women know that we aren’t quite in on.

For Sam Roberts*, the lack of clarity surrounding expectations of queer women made them hesitant to come out in the first place. “I didn’t come out as queer until I was 25,” they tell SELF. “I felt vulnerable because of the lack of understanding around queer sexuality. Certainly it has gotten better, but not having a model for what queer sex ([specifically] for [cisgender]-women) looks like via health class, media, or pop culture can make it hard to know how to navigate that space.”

Alaina Leary, 24, expressed similar frustrations the first time they had sex. “My first sex partner and I had a lot of conversations around sex and sexuality,” Leary tells SELF. “We were essentially figuring it out on our own. Health class, for me, never taught me much about LGBTQ sex.”

When you’ve been socialized to view penetration as the hallmark of sexual intercourse, it’s hard to know what counts as losing your virginity—or having sex, for that matter.

“For many queer women, what they consider sex is not considered sex from a heteronormative perspective,” Karen Blair, Ph.D., professor of psychology at St. Francis Xavier University and director of the KLB Research Lab, tells SELF. “So this can complicate the question of when one lost their virginity, if ever.”

“Even if one expands the definition of having lost one’s virginity to some form of vaginal penetration, many queer women may never actually ‘lose’ their virginity—to the extent that it is something that can be considered ‘lost’ in the first place.”

To be clear, relying on penetration as a defining aspect of sex only serves to exclude all those who aren’t interested in or physically capable of engaging in penetrative sexual acts—regardless of their sexual orientation. Ultimately, requiring sex to be any one thing is inherently difficult because of the limitless differences among bodies and genitals, and the simple fact that what feels pleasurable to one body can be boring at best, and traumatizing at worst, to another.

The lack of a clear moment when one became sexually active can make us feel like the sex we have doesn’t count.

We live in a culture that overwhelmingly values virginity, with “losing your v-card” still seen as a step into adulthood. It’s something that, as a former straight girl, I’d never even thought about, but, as a queer girl, I became obsessive over: When was I really, truly, having sex?

It was especially frustrating considering that my straight friends seemed instantly thrust into this status of adults in real, legitimate sexual relationships, while my relationships were being thought of as “foreplay” by the mainstream, rather than valid sex acts.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. “We had straight friends who were having sex and doing sexual things in very defined ways,” Leary says. “One of my friends was obsessed with the ‘bases’ and insisted that her oral sex with her boyfriend didn’t count as sex because it was ‘only third base.’”

So what does that mean for those of us who will only ever engage in “foreplay?”

Considering the larger structures and cultural expectations that make queer women feel invalid, virginity is just another way that we’re left feeling somehow less than our straight and cisgender counterparts.

“The primary impact of the concept of virginity on queer women is an—even if unconscious—feeling of inferiority or oppression,” Dr. Mark explains. “We as a society place so much emphasis on virginity loss, yet it is a concept that is only relevant to a portion of the population. Women in general, regardless of sexual orientation, know they are sexual objects before they are sexually active due to the existence of the concept of virginity.”

Consider the fact that most young women first learn about sex in the context of virginity, which often exists under the scope of “purity.” This, Dr. Mark says, can make women feel “defined by virginity status.”

As a result, when queer women do have sex, and it doesn’t “count” as their virginity being “taken,” they can be left confused about the encounter and unsure of how valid their sexual relationships are to begin with.

At the end of the day, it’s up to queer women to define what virginity—and sex—mean for ourselves.

“I would encourage queer women to define their sexual lives in ways that make sense for them,” Dr. Mark explains. “If they have created an idea around virginity that makes it important to them, I encourage them to think about alternate ways to define it that fits with their experience. But I also encourage the rejection of virginity for women who feel like it doesn’t fit for them.”

This lack of an expectation (beyond consent, of course) when it comes to how you have sex can actually be freeing, in a way, Dr. Blair says.

“One of the best things that queer women have going for them in their relationships is the freedom to write their own sexual scripts in a way that suits them and their partners best.”

Complete Article HERE!

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