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Five things that everyone should know about sex

The internet has changed sex and relationships forever. So if your education in the subject stopped at 16, here’s a refresher for the modern world

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What was your sex education like? Did you get any at all past the age of 16? Given that only a quarter to a third of young people have sex before they are 16, but most will have had sex at least once by the age of 19, it seems remiss not to provide high-quality sex education for the 16-25 age range (especially since that is the age group most at risk of contracting STIs such as chlamydia).

Unfortunately, sex education hasn’t moved on much from puberty, plumbing and prevention, and is often reported as being too little, too late and too biological. In the new internet world order where porn and internet hook-ups prevail, and the use of dating apps by perpetrators of sexual violence was reported last week to have increased sharply, it is time we provided sex and relationships education fit for the 21st century, to help us to enjoy our bodies safely.

So if you missed out on quality sex education, or could do with a top-up, here are five things relating to sex and relationships you might want to think about:

1. Sexuality – We live in a heteronormative world, where gender binary and heterosexual norms prevail. Fixed ideas about sexual identity and sexuality can be limiting. We all need to understand sex as something more than a penis in a vagina and recognise that sex with all sorts of different body parts (or objects) in all sorts of wonderful configurations can be had. That’s not to say you have to experience kinds of sex outside your own comfort levels and boundaries. Be aware of how media, cultural background, gender and power dynamics influence sexuality. Monogamous heterosexuality does not have to be your path.

2) Consent – what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it feels like. Enthusiastic consent should be a baseline expectation, not an aspiration. Without enthusiastic consent then sex is no fun (and quite feasibly rape). If consent is in any doubt at all, you need to stop and check in with your partner. You might even want to think about introducing safe words into your sexual interactions and ensuring you and your partner are confident using them.

‘Taking time to challenge and explore ideas around pleasure will help with your sex education.’

‘Taking time to challenge and explore ideas around pleasure will help with your sex education.’

3) Pleasure – sex can be one of the most awesomely fun things you do with your body. All sorts of things can affect your ability to give and receive pleasure, including your upbringing, self-confidence, physical and mental health, and communication skills. If sex isn’t pleasurable and fun for you, what needs to change? It is worth noting that male pleasure is generally prioritised over female pleasure. Consider, for example, when you would consider a penis-in-vagina sexual interaction to be finished – at male orgasm or female orgasm?

Taking time to challenge and explore ideas around pleasure as well as deepening your understanding of your own body (in other words, masturbation) will help with your sex education. Always remember, you don’t have to have sex if you don’t want to.

4) Health and wellbeing – Love your body and know what is normal for you. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. There are all sorts of pressures on us to make our bodies look a certain way, but take some time to appreciate the non-photoshopped, non-pornified variation in our bodies. Your shape and size (of penis, or breasts) do not matter – sex can be the best jigsaw puzzle, and genuine confidence in your body can help you figure out how to use it as an instrument for pleasure.

Knowing what is normal for you is also really important. There are women who continually get treated for thrush bacterial vaginosis and cystitis because they do not understand vaginal flora and the natural discharge variation in their monthly cycle. Nobody told them that having a wee shortly after sex is a good idea.

5) Safety – We are often taught to override our gut feelings. This sometimes stems from childhood, when adults have ignored our bodily autonomy. However it is vital we remember to tune into our gut instincts, especially given the rise in internet dating and internet dating-related crime. Being aware of your own personal safety and sexual boundaries when internet dating is essential.

Remember that no matter how you have been socialised, you do not need to be polite to someone who is making you feel uncomfortable. No is a complete sentence. If someone does not respect your right to bodily autonomy and violates your consent, it is never your fault; the blame lies entirely with them. Always trust your “spidey” sense – if it is tingling, it is trying to tell you something isn’t right, be that a relationship with unhealthy elements, or plans to meet up for a blind date. If a situation doesn’t feel right, think about what needs to change.

Complete Article HERE!

Sexual Healing for Cancer Survivors

By KATIE KOSKO

sexual-healing

Sexual health can be an uncomfortable or embarrassing topic to discuss for many people, and for patients with cancer, survivors and their partners, it can feel even more awkward. In fact, sex ranks among the top five unmet needs of survivors, and a new digital health startup, Will2Love, has been launched to help fill this void.

Sixty percent of cancer survivors — 9.3 million individuals in the United States alone — end up with long-term sexual problems, but fewer than 20 percent get professional help, according to Leslie R. Schover, PhD, Will2Love’s founder. Among the barriers she cites are overburdened oncology clinics, poor insurance coverage for services related to sexual health and an overall lack of expertise on the part of providers, many of whom don’t know how to talk to patients and survivors about these issues.

Sexual issues can affect every stage of the cancer journey. Schover, who hosted a recent webinar for health care practitioners on the topic, has been a pioneer in developing treatment for cancer-related problems with sexuality or fertility. After decades of research and clinical practice, she has witnessed firsthand how little training is available in the area of sexual health.

“Sex remains a low priority, with very little time devoted to managing sexual problems even in specialty residencies,” she adds.

The problem is twofold: how to encourage oncology teams to do a better job of assessing and managing sexual problems and how to help those impacted by cancer to discuss their sexual concerns.

Schover says that simple, open-ended questions such as: “This treatment will affect your sex life. Tell me a little about your sex life now,” can help to get the conversation started.

Sexual side effects after cancer treatment vary from person to person, and also from treatment to treatment. Common side effects for men and women include difficulty reaching climax, pain during sexual intercourse, lower sexual desire and feelings of being less attractive. Men specifically can experience erectile dysfunction and dry orgasm, while women may have vaginal dryness and/or tightness, as well as loss of erotic sensation such as on their breasts following breast cancer treatment.

Sexual dysfunction after cancer can often lead to depression and poor quality of life for survivors and their partners.

Cancer treatment can impact hormonal cycles, nerves directing blood flow to the genitals, and the pelvic circulatory system itself, explains Schover. In addition, side effects like prolonged nausea, fatigue, and chronic pain also can disrupt a patient’s sex life.

“Simply to give medical solutions rarely resolves the problems because a person or couple needs to make changes in the sexual relationship to accommodate changes in physical function,” Schover stresses. “That kind of treatment is usually best coming from a trained mental health professional, especially if the couple has issues with communication or conflict.”

Schover hopes that Will2Love will bring much-needed attention to the topic by providing easily accessible resources for patients, survivors, their partners and health care providers. (Box)

Currently visitors to the website can subscribe to its e-newsletter and receive a free introductory five-part email course covering topics related to what your doctor may not be telling you about sex, fertility and cancer. After the fifth lesson, users will receive a link to the Will2Love “Sex and the Survivor” video series. “Sexual health is a right,” Schover stresses, and oncology professionals, patients and survivors need to be assertive to get the conversation started.

Complete Article HERE!

Let’s Talk About Sex

Overcoming Barriers to Discussing Sexuality and Empowering Adolescent Girls

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It can be difficult to offer sexuality education to adolescents anywhere—but it’s especially difficult in deeply conservative communities around the world, where sexuality remains a taboo topic. At “Let’s Talk About Sex,” a day-long event organized by GreeneWorks, American Jewish World Service, CARE and International Women’s Health Coalition, participants got an opportunity to explore this challenge through a mix of discussion, movement and performance.

It was a unique way to kick off the 2016 Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) forum, which brought together feminists—1,800 of them, from more than 30 countries—to strategize and connect in Bahia, Brazil this September. Among the participants were representatives from AJWS grantee organizations working to advance gender equality in India.

“As researchers and practitioners, we often operate inside our heads,” said Meg Greene of GreeneWorks. She noted that many people working with international nonprofit organizations tend to resist meaningful discussions of sexuality out of sheer discomfort. “This is a very embodied challenge . . . what can we learn by embodying our experience of it?”

Margot Greenlee of BodyWise Dance began the day by leading the group through a series of warm-up exercises set to samba. Participants drummed on their knees and moved to the music. One woman remarked that the experience was “better than coffee,” and it was followed by a discussion of the reasons why everyone had come.

BodyWise Dance company performs a scene based on the group’s conversations.

BodyWise Dance company performs a scene based on the group’s conversations.

One participant said her work with adolescent girls, while deeply meaningful, was sometimes sad and frustrating—in part because the girls were reaching an age when sexuality was becoming part of their lives, and she often felt it impossible to discuss their questions without risking anger from the community. Another woman agreed; she explained that even when her organization tried to educate young people on sexuality, the curricula wound up focusing more on topics related to anatomy and hygiene, like menstruation. She and others wanted to explore new strategies for addressing sexuality more openly.

The rest of the day alternated between performances by the BodyWise company, participatory dance exercises and more cerebral reflections on participants’ respective work. Conversation started off with the social norms and experiences that shape people’s understanding of sexuality and gender roles—and how some people’s beliefs lead to serious barriers that keep girls and young women from exercising their rights.

For example: Alejandra Colom, who works with Population Council, talked about a rural community in Guatemala that’s ruled by drug traffickers. She said many people there view early and child marriage as something that happens simply because, in their view, “it’s the only way to stop bad things that happen to girls.” The community thinks of marriage as a way of increasing the security of girls in a place where sexual violence is commonplace.

Alejandra Colom, left, of the Population Council in Guatemala.

Alejandra Colom, left, of the Population Council in Guatemala.

To begin expanding the options and information available to local girls, Population Council hired a young woman who served as a mentor. She met with about 40 girls once a week and spoke to them about topics like sexuality and gender-based violence. Alejandra said the mentor wanted girls to understand their rights—to know that “it’s not normal that if you pass man on road and he fancies you, he thinks he has the right to rape you.”

Once the community heard what she was teaching, Alejandra said, some of the men started proclaiming the education she provided “dangerous.” The real message: women who stand up for their rights will face danger. Young men started harassing the mentor and interrupting her class. One day, a truck followed behind her motorbike, pulling closer and closer. Then the men inside opened fire.

The bullets missed the mentor. But her days with that community were through. She decided not to go to the police. Everyone knew the drug traffickers were ruling the area, not the government. Alejandra said the young woman told her: “The moment they know that I’m doing something about this, they’ll come back and kill every single member of my family.”

This was just one example of the many challenges the group shared. The conversation also unearthed the strategies participants use to continue their work in places that don’t exactly welcome it. Several people at the event spoke about how collectives—organized groups of girls who learn to advocate for their rights together—can be so important for negotiating with communities when tough situations arise. They reminded the group that there’s power in numbers.

On the other hand, participants pointed out, girls need the freedom to make the decisions that are best for their individual situations. In many places, that means choosing between a few very limited options. Archana Dwivedi of Nirantar—an AJWS grantee—spoke about her organization’s research in India, which found that many teenage boys and girls are actually choosing to get married. They often view early marriage as less oppressive than staying at home with their parents, who are incredibly strict.

In order to address the limitations that many girls and young women face, AJWS’s grantees in India are finding ways to increase girls’ mobility and opportunities. Some of them offer computer or English classes because they know this kind of program is accepted by parents; then, the organization discreetly offers sexuality and human rights education to participating girls.

In Archana’s experience, organizations can often withstand community objections to sexuality education by explaining the importance of their work to angry parents and community members, waiting until the tension breaks, and returning to their work in a few months. She noted that organizations who broach topics like sexuality and gender equality with women and girls should expect backlash from conservative communities and prepare accordingly.

“There is always a backlash when you’re working with adolescent girls,” Archana said. “Everyone wants to control them.”

Read more about the connection between early marriage and control of sexuality here.

Complete Article HERE!

Vaginismus: solutions to a painful sexual taboo

Many women use terms such as ‘failure’ or ‘freak’ to describe themselves

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Vaginismus is often a problem from the start of a woman’s sexual life but for some it is a secondary problem, developing even though there may have been previous positive sexual experiences

Vaginismus is often a problem from the start of a woman’s sexual life but for some it is a secondary problem, developing even though there may have been previous positive sexual experiences

Vaginismus is a very common but rarely discussed problem. Most women I see with this difficulty will not have discussed it with anyone else, not even female members of their own family or girlfriends. The silence that surrounds the issue and the sense of shame experienced sometimes serves to compound the difficulty itself. Many women with whom I have worked will use terms such as “failure” or “freak” to describe themselves, wishing they were “normal” just like every other woman.

Before seeking therapy, they will often have suffered this distress over a long period of time, not feeling able to embark on or enjoy sexual relationships. The thought that they may not be able to conceive through intercourse is frequently a huge anxiety for these women.

What is vaginismus?
Vaginismus occurs when the muscles around the entrance to the vagina involuntarily contract. It is an automatic, reflexive action; the woman is not intending or trying to tighten these muscles, in fact it is the very opposite of what she is hoping for. Often it is a problem right from the start of a woman’s sexual life but for some it is a secondary problem, developing even though there may have been previous positive sexual experiences. In most cases, the woman is unable to use tampons or have a smear test.

What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of vaginismus is difficulty achieving penetration during intercourse and the woman will experience varying degrees of pain or discomfort with attempts. Partners often describe it like “hitting a wall”. This is as a result of spasm within the very strong pelvic floor or pubococcygeus muscle group. Spasm or tightening may also occur in the lower back and thighs.

What are the causes?
Vaginismus is the result of the body and mind developing a conditioned response to the anticipation of pain. This is an unconscious action, akin to the reflexive action of blinking when something is about to hit our eye. This aspect of vaginismus is one of the most distressing for women as they really want their bodies to respond to arousal and yet find it impossible to manage penetrative sex. The more anxious they become, the less aroused they will feel and the entire problem becomes a vicious cycle.

Vaginismus can occur as a result of psychological or physical issues. Often it is a combination of both. Psychological issues centre around fear and anxiety; worries about sex, performance, negativity about sex from overly rigid family or school messages.

Inadequate sex education is often a feature in vaginismus, resulting in fears about the penis being able to fit or the risk of being hurt or torn. There can also be anxiety about the relationship, trust and commitment fears or a difficulty with being vulnerable or losing control.

Occasionally a woman may have experienced sexual assault, rape or sexual abuse and the trauma associated with these experiences may lead to huge fears around penetration. There are physical causes too – the discomfort caused by thrush, fissures, urinary tract infections, lichens sclerosis or eczema and the aftermath of a difficult vaginal delivery can all trigger the spasm in the PC muscles. Menopausal women can sometimes experience vaginismus as a result of hormonal-related vaginal dryness.

Treatment
Vaginismus is highly treatable. Because every woman is different, the duration of therapy will vary but, with commitment to the therapy process, improvement can be seen quite rapidly. Therapy is a combination of psychosexual education, slow and measured practice with finger insertion and/or vaginal trainers at home and pelvic floor exercises. Women with partners are encouraged to bring them along to sessions so that the therapist can work with them as a couple towards a successful attempt at intercourse.

Vaginismus can place huge stresses on a couple’s relationship as well as their sexual life; therapy can help the couple talk about and navigate these stresses. This is particularly important for a couple wishing to start a family.

What do I do if I think I have vaginismus?
Make an appointment with the GP. It will be helpful to have an examination to out rule any physical problem and have it treated if necessary. The GP is likely to refer you to a sex therapist, a psychotherapist who has specialised in sex and relationships through further training. They have specific expertise in working with this problem on a regular basis. You can also refer yourself to a sex therapist but, because of the very complex and sensitive nature of sex and sexuality, it is important to ensure that they are qualified and accredited. Sex therapists in Ireland may be found on www.cosrt.org.uk

GEMMA’S STORY
Robert was my first boyfriend. We waited six months to try sex, mostly because I was a virgin and very nervous. My mother had always warned me about not getting pregnant and I think I was too scared to try. When we did try, it didn’t work, it was disastrous. We tried again and again but he could not get in.

Every time we tried, I ended up in tears and over time I started to avoid sex. Robert was really patient but I know that it was very tough for him and I felt guilty. We thought it was a phase and it would improve with time. It didn’t stop us getting engaged because we knew we were right for each other.

Eventually I got the courage up to go to the doctor who diagnosed vaginismus – the relief of having a name to put on it was huge. She referred me to a sex therapist. I was embarrassed even talking about it, but quite honestly it was a relief to finally discuss it all. She explained everything about my problem and started me practising with vaginal trainers. I even got to start using tampons, something I never thought I would be able to do.

Robert also came to the sessions and that was a big help. We were given exercises to do at home together that helped me relax a lot. I made a lot of progress over a couple of months and, finally, last Christmas we got to try intercourse again. Success! Our sexual relationship is completely different now, no more worries and lots more fun.

I feel as if a huge worry has been lifted off my shoulders.

Complete Article HERE!

Long-term relationships may reduce women’s sex drive

men-in-long-term-relationships-dont-think-their-girlfriends-want-to-fuck-them

Female sexual function is an important component of a woman’s sexual health and overall well-being. New research examines the relation between female sexual functioning and changes in relationship status over time.

Female sexual functioning is influenced by many factors, from a woman’s mental well-being to age, time, and relationship quality.

Studies show that sexual dysfunction is common among women, with approximately 40 million American women reporting sexual disorders.

A large study of American adults between the ages 18-59 suggests that women are more likely to experience sexual dysfunction than men, with a 43 percent and 31 percent likelihood, respectively.

Treatment options for sexual dysfunction in women have been shown to vary in effectiveness, and the causes of female sexual dysfunction still seem to be poorly understood.

New research sheds light on the temporal stability of female sexual functioning by looking at the relationship between various female sexual functions and relationship status over a long period of time.

Studying the link between relationship status and female sexual desire

Previous studies that examined sexual functions in women did not look at temporal stability and possible interactions between different female sexual functions.

But researchers from the University of Turku and Åbo Akademi University – both in Finland – looked at the evolution of female sexual desire over a period of 7 years.

The new study was led by Ph.D. candidate in psychology Annika Gunst, from the University of Turku, and the results were published in the Psychological Medicine science journal.

Researchers examined 2,173 premenopausal Finnish women from two large-scale data collections, one in 2006 and the other 7 years later, in 2013.

Scientists used the Female Sexual Function Index – a short questionnaire that measures specific areas of sexual functioning in women, such as sexual arousal, orgasm, sexual satisfaction, and the presence of pain during intercourse.

Researchers took into consideration the possible effects of age and relationship duration.

The average age of the participants at the first data collection was 25.5 years. Given that the mean age was quite low and the average age of menopause is much later, at 51 years, the researchers did not think it necessary to account for the possible effects of hormonal changes.

Relationship status influences sexual desire over time

Of the functions examined, women’s ability to orgasm was the most stable over the 7-year period, while sexual satisfaction was the most variable.

The ability to have an orgasm improved across all groups during the study, with single women experiencing the greatest improvement.

Women with a new partner had a slightly lower improvement in orgasmic ability than single women, but a higher improvement than women who had been in the same relationship over the 7-year period.

The study found that women who had stayed in the same monogamous relationship over the entire 7-year observation period experienced the greatest decrease in sexual desire.

By contrast, women who had found a new partner over the study duration experienced lower decreases in sexual desire.

Women who were single at the end of the observation period reported stable sexual desire.

According to the researchers, relationship-specific factors or partner-specific factors that have no connection with the duration of the relationship do have an impact on women’s sexual functions. Consequently, healthcare professionals should account for partner-specific factors when they treat sexual dysfunction in women.

However, researchers also point out that sexual function needs to be further examined in a short-term study to have a better understanding of the diversity in sexual function variation.

Strengths and limitations of the study

Researchers point out the methodological strengths of the study, as well as its limitations.

Firstly, because the study was longitudinal, it reduced the so-called recall bias, meaning that participants reported their own experience with higher accuracy.

The study also benefited from a large study sample, validated measures, and structural equation modeling, which reduces errors in measurement.

However, the authors note that the long 7-year timeframe may not account for short-term fluctuations, and varying sexual functions may interact differently when studied over a long period of time.

The study did not examine sexual dysfunctions.

Finally, the authors mention that they did not have access to data about cohabitation, or about the duration of singlehood.

Complete Article HERE!