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Why Sex Education for Disabled People Is So Important


“Just because a person has a disability does not mean they don’t still have the same hormones and sexual desires as other individuals.”



“Sex and disability, disability and sex; the two words may seem incompatible,” Michael A. Rembis wrote in his 2009 paper on the social model of disabled sexuality. Though roughly 15% of adults around the world (that’s nearly one billion people), and over 20 million adults in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 64 have a disability, when it comes to disability and sex, there’s a disconnect. People with disabilities often have rich and satisfying sex lives. So why are they frequently treated as though they are incapable of having sexual needs and desires, and are excluded from sexual health education curriculum?

According to Kehau Gunderson, the lead trainer and senior health educator at Health Connected, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing comprehensive sexual health education programs throughout the state of California, the sexual health and safety of students with disabilities is often not prioritized because educators are more focused on other aspects of the students’ well-being. “Educators are thinking more about these students’ physical needs. They don’t see them as being sexual people with sexual needs and desires. They don’t see them as wanting relationships,” Gunderson told me when I met her and the rest of the Health Connected team at their office in Redwood City, California.

When I asked why students with disabilities have historically been excluded from sexual education, Jennifer Rogers, who also works as a health education specialist at Health Connected, chimed in. “In general, the topic of sex is something that is challenging for a lot of people to talk about. I think that aspect compounded with someone with specialized learning needs can be even more challenging if you’re not a teacher who’s really comfortable delivering this kind of material,” she said.

But it was the third health education specialist I spoke with, DeAnna Quan, who really hit the nail on the head: “I think sometimes it also has to do with not having the materials and having trouble adapting the materials as well. While people often just don’t see disabled people as being sexual beings, they are. And this is a population who really needs this information.”

The complete lack of sexual education in many schools for students with disabilities is particularly alarming given the fact that individuals with disabilities are at a much higher risk of sexual assault and abuse. In fact, children with disabilities are up to four times more likely to face abuse and women with disabilities are nearly 40% more likely to face abuse in adulthood. Yet students in special education classes are often denied the option to participate in sex education at all. When these students are included in mainstream health courses, the curriculum is often inaccessible.

Disability activist Anne Finger wrote, “Sexuality is often the source of our deepest pain. It’s easier for us to talk about and formulate strategies for changing discrimination in employment, education, and housing than to talk about our exclusion from sexuality and reproduction.” But as Robert McRuer wrote in Disabling Sex: Notes for a Crip Theory of Sexuality, “What if disability were sexy? And what if disabled people were understood to be both subjects and objects of a multiplicity of erotic desires and practices, both within and outside the parameters of heteronormative sexuality?”

When it comes to disability and sexuality, a large part of the issue lies in the fact that disabled people are so infrequently included in the decisions made about their bodies, their education, and their care. So what do people with disabilities wish they had learned in sex ed? This is what students and adults with disabilities said about their experience in sexual health courses and what they wish they had learned.

People with disabilities are not automatically asexual.

“The idea of people with disabilities as asexual beings who have no need for love, sex, or romantic relationships is ridiculous. However, it is one that has a stronghold in most people’s minds,” wrote disability activist Nidhi Goyal in her article, “Why Should Disability Spell the End of Romance?” That may be because disabled people are often seen as being innocent and childlike, one disabled activist said.

“As a society, we don’t talk about sex enough from a pleasure-based perspective. So much is focused on fertility and reproduction — and that’s not always something abled people think disabled people should or can do. We’re infantilized, stripped of our sexuality, and presumed to be non-sexual beings. Plenty of us are asexual, but plenty of us are very sexual as well, like me. Like anyone of any ability, we hit every spot on the spectrum from straight to gay, cis to trans, sexual to asexual, romantic to aromantic, and more.” Kirsten Schultz, a 29-year-old disabled, genderqueer, and pansexual health activist, sexuality educator, and writer, said via email.

Kirsten, who due to numerous chronic illnesses has lived with disability since she was five years old, was not exposed to information regarding her sexual health and bodily autonomy. “I dealt with sexual abuse from another child right after I fell ill, and this continued for years. I bring this up because my mother didn’t share a lot of sex ed stuff with me at home because of illness. This infantilization is not uncommon in the disability world, especially for kids,” she said.

Growing up in Oregon, Kirsten said she was homeschooled until the age of 13 and didn’t begin seeing medical professionals regularly until she turned 21. “This means all sexual education I learned until 13 was on my own, and from 13 to 21, it was all stuff I either sought out or was taught in school.” Schultz explained. But even what she learned about sex in school was limited. “School-based education, even in the liberal state of Oregon, where I grew up, was focused on sharing the potential negatives of sex — STIs, pregnancy, etc. Almost none of it was pleasure-based and it wasn’t accessible. Up until I was in college, the few positions I tried were all things I had seen in porn…AKA they weren’t comfortable or effective for me,” she added.

Internet safety matters, too.

While many disabled people are infantilized, others are often oversexualized. K Wheeler, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Washington, was only 12 the first time their photos were stolen off of the Internet and posted on websites fetishizing amputees. K, who was born with congenital amputation and identifies as demisexual, panromantic, and disabled, thinks this is something students with disabilities need to know about. “There’s a whole side of the Internet where people will seek out people with disabilities, friend them on Facebook, steal their photos, and use them on websites,” she said.

These groups of people who fetishize amputees are known as “amputee devotees.” K had heard of this fetish thanks to prior education from her mother, but not everyone knows how to keep themselves safe on the Internet. “This is something that people with disabilities need to know, that a person without a disability might not think of, ” K said.

K also believes more general Internet privacy information should also be discussed in sex ed courses. “In the technological age that we’re in, I feel like Internet privacy should be talked about,” they said. This includes things like consent and sending naked photos with a significant other if you’re under 18. “That is technically a crime. It’s not just parents saying ‘don’t do it because we don’t want you to.’ One or both of you could get in trouble legally,” K added.

Understanding what kinds of sexual protection to use.

Isaac Thomas, a 21-year-old student at Valencia College in Orlando, lives with a visual impairment and went to a high school that he said didn’t even offer sexual education courses. “I did go to a school for students with disabilities and, unfortunately, during my entire time there, there was never any type of sexual education class,” he said.

And Isaac noted that sexual awareness plays a large role in protection. “They should understand that just because a person has a disability, does not mean they don’t still have the same hormones and sexual desires as other individuals. It’s even more important that they teach sex education to people that have disabilities so they’re not taken advantage of in any kind of sexual way. If anything, it should be taught even more among the disabled community. Ignoring this problem will not make it go away. If this problem is not addressed, it will increase,” Isaac said.

Before entering college, Isaac said he wishes he had received more information about condoms. “I wish I had learned what types of condoms are best for protection. I should’ve also learned the best type of contraceptive pills to have in case unplanned sexual activity happens with friends or coworkers.”

Body image matters.

Nicole Tencic, a 23-year-old senior at Molloy College in New York, who is disabled, fine-motor challenged, and hearing impaired, believes in the importance of exploring and promoting positive body image for all bodies. Nicole, who became disabled at the age of six after undergoing high-dose chemotherapy, struggled to accept herself and her disability. “I became disabled when I was old enough to distinguish that something was wrong. I was very self-conscience. Accepting my disability was hard for me and emotionally disturbing,” she shared. “I was always concerned about what other people thought of me, and I was always very shy and quiet.”

It was when she entered college that Nicole really came to accept her body, embrace her sexuality, and develop an interest in dating. “I had my first boyfriend at 21. The reason I waited so long to date is because I needed to accept myself and my differences before I cared for anyone else. I couldn’t allow myself to bring someone into my life if I was unaccepting of myself, and if I did, I would be selfish because I would be more concerned about myself,” Nicole said. She also recognized the fact that while sexuality and disability are separate topics that need to be addressed differently, they can impact each other. “Disability may influence sexuality in terms of what you like and dislike, and can and cannot do,” but overall, “one’s sexuality does not have to do with one’s disability,” she clarified.

It’s important to make sex ed inclusive to multi-marginalized populations.

Dominick Evans, a queer and transgender man living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, various chronic health disabilities, and OCD, believes in the importance of sexual education stretching beyond the cisgender, heteronormative perspective. He also understands the dangers associated with being a member of a marginalized group. “The more marginalized you are, the less safe you are when it comes to sex,” he said in an email.

Dominick, who works as a filmmaker, writer, and media and entertainment advocate for the Center for Disability Rights, has even developed policy ideas related to increased inclusion for students with disabilities — especially LGBTQ students with disabilities. “These students are at higher risk of sexual assault and rape, STIs like HIV, unplanned pregnancies, and manipulation in sexual situations,” Dominick said. “Since disabled LGBTQIA students do not have access to sexual education, sometimes at all, let alone education that makes sense for their bodies and sexual orientation, it makes sense the rates for disabled people when it comes to sexual assault and STIs are so much higher.”

According to Dominick, the fact that many disabled students are denied access to sexual health curriculum is at the root of the problem. “When it comes to disparities in the numbers of sexual assault, rape, STIs, etc. for all disabled students, not having access to sexual education is part of the problem. We know this is specifically linked to lack of sex ed, which is why sex ed must begin addressing these disparities.”

So what does Dominick have in mind in terms of educational policies to help improve this issue? “The curriculum would highlight teaching students how to protect themselves from sexual abuse, STI and pregnancy prevention campaigns geared specifically at all disabled and LGBTQIA youth, ensuring IEPs (individualized education programs) cover sex ed inclusion strategies, access to information about sexuality and gender identity, and additional education to address disparities that affect disabled LGBTQIA students who are people of color.”

Understanding power dynamics and consent.

It’s important to understand the power dynamic that often exists between people with disabilities and their caretakers. Many people with disabilities rely on their caretakers to perform basic tasks, like getting ready in the morning. Women with disabilities are 40% more likely to experience intimate partner violence compared to non-disabled women. This includes sexual, emotional, financial, and physical abuse, as well as neglect. For this reason, women with disabilities are less likely to report their abusers.

“Sometimes they’re more likely to think ‘this is the only relationship I can get,’ so they’re more likely to stay in these abusive relationships or have less access to even pursue courses of action to get out of the relationship. Especially if there is dependence on their partner in some way,” said K.

Dominick agreed. “Many of us often grow up believing we may not even be able to have sexual relationships. We often grow up believing our bodies are disgusting and there is something wrong with them,” he said. “So, when someone, especially someone with some type of power over us like a teacher or caregiver, shows us sexual attention and we believe we don’t deserve anything better or will never have the opportunity for sex again, it is easy to see why some disabled people are able to be manipulated or harmed in sexual situations.”

Dominick said this ideology led to his first sexual experience. “I probably should not have been having sex because I lost [my virginity] believing I had to take whatever opportunities I received,” he said, before going on to acknowledge the falsehood in these assumptions. “I’ve had many other relationships since then, and my last partner, I’ve been with for 15 years.”

But when it comes to disability, consent can be tricky. Some disabilities make communication a challenge. The lack of sexual education for many developmentally disabled students means they often don’t understand the concept of consent.

People with disabilities are more at risk for sexual exploitation and abuse.

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, children with disabilities also face a much higher risk of abuse. In 2009, 11% of all child abuse victims had a behavioral, cognitive, or physical disability. In fact, when compared to non-disabled children, children with disabilities are twice as likely to be physically or sexually abused. Those living with developmental disabilities are anywhere from 4 to 10 times more likely to face abuse.

Deni Fraser, the assistant principal at the Lavelle School for the Blind, a school in New York City dedicated to teaching students with visual impairment and developmental disabilities, believes it’s important for all students to understand the importance of boundaries, both other people’s and their own. Many students at the school, who range in age from 2 to 21, also have co-morbid diagnoses, making the students’ needs varied.

“It’s important for our students to know that we want them to be safe at all times,” Fraser said. “Letting them know what’s appropriate touch, not only them touching others, but other people touching them; saying things to them; for people not taking advantage of them; knowing who is safe to talk to and who is safe to be in your personal space; if there’s anything going on with your body, who would be the appropriate person to talk to; not sharing private information — so what is privacy; and the importance of understanding safe strangers, like doctors, versus non-safe strangers.”

The portrayal of disabled bodies matters.

The media also plays a part in perpetuating the idea that individuals with disabilities do not have sex. Sexuality is often viewed as unnatural for individuals with disabilities, and many disabled students internalize that. “Even Tyrion Lannister, one of the most sexual disabled characters on television, usually has to pay for sex, and even he was horribly deceived the first time he had a sexual experience,” Dominick noted. “If the media is not even saying sex is normal or natural for disabled people, and sex education is not inclusive, then often disabled people are having to learn about and understand sex on their own,” he added.

Many students with disabilities also want to see their bodies reflected in sexual education materials. “Part of the curriculum at a lot of different schools includes showing some level of video,” K said. But including a person with a visible physical disability in these videos would go a long way in helping to shatter the stigma surrounding sex and disability, she said. According to K, this would help people understand that sex isn’t only for able-bodied people.

People with disabilities make up a large part of the population. They’re the one minority group any person can become a part of at any time. Therefore, incorporating disability-related information into sexual education curriculum not only benefits students who are already disabled, but it can help students who, at some point in their lives, will experience disability. Embracing an inclusive approach and keeping bias out of the classroom would help raise awareness, create empathy, and celebrate diversity. By listening to disabled voices, we can work toward a society that values inclusivity.

Complete Article HERE!


The Science Behind Sexual Fetishes


BY: Anthony Bouchard

When it comes to sexual fetishes, many different processes take place inside the brain that triggers the attraction. Most people are obsessed with individual parts of the body, while non-living objects sexually arouse others.

It can be difficult to study sexual fetishes because people are naturally shy about discussing them, but by studying search queries crowd-sourced by online search engines, researchers can learn quite a lot about what people won’t share in person.

The search query data hinted that it wasn’t just body parts that triggered sexual desires in people, but even objects associated with said body parts seemed to fit the bill. Worthy of note, the infamous foot fetish was one of the most popular searches from the crowd-sourced data.

Studies also illustrate how a phenomenon known as sexual imprinting impacts a person’s sexual desires throughout life. In this process, a person “learns” what they would prefer in a desirable mate through their life experiences, so the way a person grew up can influence their sexual desires.

While sexual fetishes are often thought as taboo and were once considered mental illnesses, modern science argues that it’s healthy to have one if it doesn’t harm the person or their partner in the process.

Complete Article HERE!


Young entrepreneurs launch a handy online guide to all things sex


A team of millennial entrepreneurs have pulled together a ‘BuzzFeed of sex ed’. About time too.


Fumble describes itself as a ‘handy guide to sex’ (pun intended). It offers curious teens social content like blogs, videos, games, galleries and quizzes.

The team behind Fumble say it responds to the lack of engaging digital platforms for good quality sex and relationships content for young people. They work with Brook, a leading sexual health charity, to make sure all the content is top notch.

It sets out to answer all the questions on sex, relationships, identity and bodies that young people are asking the internet during puberty, and is aimed at anyone under 20 (boys and girls alike).

The Fumble gang say their lightbulb moment for the project came from being some of the first to grow up with the internet, and being very aware of the challenges that poses for young people.

They explain that nearly every teen as young as 14 has accessed online porn, according to the NSPCC, and many teenagers say they’re using this content (at least in part) because they’re not getting answers to questions about sex, relationship and intimacy elsewhere.

Young people definitely need a hand: a whopping half of teen girls don’t know what’s happening when they first start their period and teachers describe sexting as fast becoming an ‘epidemic’ on primary school playgrounds.

‘Young people turn to the internet with questions, and the internet responds with a whole load of unhealthy content,’ co-founder Emily Burt explains.

‘We want to redress the balance, and offer an alternative (and excellent) voice in the digital landscape.’

The site launched a few months ago and it’s pulling in thousands of pageviews.

The team is currently running a crowdfunder to get the project up and running properly, and keen supporters of the idea have donated over two grand already.

Fumble is running a social campaign alongside, asking people to share any horror stories from their sex and relationships education (SRE) in school, along with the hashtag #WhyIFumble.

Fancy a Fumble? Seems like a great idea.

Complete Article HERE!


This sex ed series tackles LGBTQ issues in an honest, groundbreaking way



While the fight for LGBTQ rights might make headline news, that doesn’t mean queer education is making it into schools. For most Americans, sex ed courses barely talk about the ins and outs of being gay, bisexual, queer, or transgender, making it hard for many students to learn about themselves, their bodies, and their sexual preferences.

To fix that problem, Advocates for Youth, Youth Tech Health, and Answer at Rutgers University have teamed up to launch AMAZE. Dedicated to making sex education “approachable, engaging, and informative for very young adolescents,” AMAZE talks about a variety of issues impacting teens. From forming healthy relationships, to understanding queer sexual orientations, to discussing cisgender, transgender, and non-binary gender identities, AMAZE breaks down topics into simple lessons that are perfect for middle and high school students.

Many videos also explore sex ed topics through a scientific lens, explaining everything from mood swings to male erections. Seeing how public school classrooms rarely talk about these issues, and some schools are still stuck in abstinence-only mindsets, AMAZE is serving as a true trailblazer for reforming American sex education.

Interested viewers can check out AMAZE’s videos on its official YouTube page. And through My AMAZE, educators can create their own playlist to share with students for lessons and discussions.

Complete Article HERE!


Senior citizens are having more sex and enjoying it more than younger people


Those age 70 and up are having more sex and enjoying it more than younger people. But they don’t kiss and tell.

A study published in March in the Archives of Sexual Behavior noted a decline in sexual frequency among Americans of all ages. The sole exception: people over 70.

By Kevyn Burger

Gray-haired customers sometimes sidle up to Smitten Kitten owner Jennifer Pritchett and say with a smile, “Bet you don’t get someone my age in here often.”

The owner of the south Minneapolis adult store smiles right back. “And then I say, ‘Well, you’re wrong. We see people your age every day,’ ” said Pritchett.

Conventional wisdom holds that couples in their golden years prefer to limit their affection to holding hands, a peck on the cheek, maybe a little nighttime cuddle. But a growing body of research reveals that America’s seniors are plenty active between the sheets.

A study published in March in the Archives of Sexual Behavior noted a decline in sexual frequency among Americans of all ages. The sole exception: people over 70.

In the most recent survey for the study, which has been conducted since 1972, millennials and Gen X’ers showed a drop in the number of times they have sex per year, compared with previous years. But the baby boomers and their parents are having sex more often than their cohorts reported in the past.

The study and others like it seem to indicate that the quality — not just the quantity — of sex improves with age. The National Commission on Aging reported that the majority of the over-70 set find sex to be more emotionally and physically satisfying than when they were middle-aged.

Those conclusions are in line with a 2015 British study that found half of men and almost a third of women above 70 reported having sex at least twice a month. It was the first British study on sexual health to include octogenarians. It documented that a sizable minority of those in their 80s still masturbate and have sex.

Many people are, especially younger people.

“We see a consistent disbelief that older people are sexually active,” said Jim Firman, president and CEO of the National Council on Aging.

But Firman is adamant that those antiquated, ageist attitudes shouldn’t put a damper on the love lives of older Americans.

“We can’t let expectations of younger people control what we do,” he said. “Physical contact is a universal need and should be normalized and encouraged as part of aging. We should break those taboos or exceptions that say otherwise.”

Different, but ‘still hot’

Pritchett is all about breaking taboos.

In addition to its selection of vibrators, lubricants and videos, Smitten Kitten maintains a lending library. The books that fly off the shelves the fastest are about sex in later life.

“That’s kind of telling about how hungry people are for this information,” Pritchett said. “Sex ed in school is based around reproduction. When you’re older, family planning is not part of your sexuality. What’s left is pleasure.”

The most popular of the books on the store’s shelf were written by Joan Price, who bills herself as an “advocate for ageless sexuality.” Her bestsellers include “The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50,” “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex” and “Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty.”

“My mission is to help people maintain or regain a satisfying sex life, with or without a partner” said Price, 73, who lives in California and regularly lectures, blogs and offers webinars on topics such as senior-friendly sex toys and satisfying sex without penetration.

Price said she got interested in creating content about sexuality for underserved seniors when, at 57, she met a man and “had the best sex of my life.” The longtime health and fitness writer couldn’t find any resources that reflected her experience, so she tackled the subject herself, becoming an erotic cheerleader for her cohorts.

“Sex has no expiration date, but things change — our bodies, our hormones, our relationships,” she said. “Expectations have to change. Responses are slower, we need more sensation, more stimulation to be aroused. We may have to redefine or reframe sex, but it can still be hot.”

Price, who’ll lead workshops at Smitten Kitten on June 4-5, preaches about the importance of communication between older partners.

Silenced by sex shaming

For Carol Watson, 67, flexibility is the key.

Still bawdy about her body, the Minneapolis woman is semiretired from her work at a nonprofit but retains a full-time interest in intimacy.

Starting when she went to college in 1967, she said, she’s “cut a wide swath.”

“That was the Summer of Love, the year birth control pills became readily available,” said the married mother of two adult children. “There was no AIDS, no Hep-C, nothing that couldn’t be solved with a shot of penicillin. We were the generation that could have sex without consequences — and we did. I’ve had many partners and no regrets.”

When her libido flagged a decade ago, Watson asked her doctor for an estrogen prescription for both a patch and cream.

“I’m happy sex is still part of my life. It keeps me young,” she said. “It’s stress relief, validation. It’s about joy.”

Describing herself as “on the far end of the bell curve,” Watson enjoys sex several times a week, within her marriage and with other partners, and said she has no plans to slow down.

“My mother died at 92 and Dad lived to be 96. I’m going to live to be 120 and I’m not willing to let sex fade into the distance.”

Watson’s frankness makes her a bit of an outlier.

While sex may be more common among older adults than younger ones, talking about senior sex still seems off limits. And that only perpetuates the myth that seniors have little interest in it.

“It’s still a sex-shaming society for older people and they internalize that,” said Pritchett. “It’s too bad because the shame keeps seniors in the dark. Old bodies are just as worthy of pleasure as young ones.”

Complete Article HERE!