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Adolescents with autism need access to better sex education

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Intimacy is part of being human. There are well-documented benefits to positive relationships, from emotional security to good mental health1. Those who want relationships and can’t develop them face low self-esteem, depression, loneliness and isolation from the wider society2.

For adolescents, learning how to navigate sex and sexuality can be a minefield. How do you figure out the nuances of sexuality without experience? How do you approach a potential partner? And once you do, how do you communicate with him or her?

This path is especially fraught for adolescents with autism. For example, people with autism tend to report higher levels of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation than their neurotypical peers3. And yet there is a gap between what these young people need and what schools provide. According to a 2012 study, adolescents with autism know less about sex than do their peers and have less access to sex education4.

My team of researchers and I are documenting the experiences of adolescents with autism in relation to sex, sexuality and their schools’ sex education requirements. Our research suggests schools should provide sex education tailored to the needs of young people with autism.

These classes should include both the standard fare — from human development to safe sex — and additional instruction on topics such as how teens can express themselves to their potential partners and how to decode innuendos and other language used to describe sex. This education is vital to ensure that these adolescents can approach relationships in a way that is safe, confident and healthy.

Role play:

One common misconception about individuals with autism is that they prefer to be alone. My research suggests this simply isn’t true.

In an ongoing study, for example, my team conducted interviews related to sex and relationships with 40 adults with autism. Only three expressed ambivalence about relationships, mostly due to worries about coping with the needs of another person. Nearly half of the respondents had not yet had a relationship but expressed a strong desire for one.

Despite the desire to form relationships, this group expressed limited knowledge about how they would meet someone or show their interest. They found the idea of going out to a pub or club frightening, and socializing with groups of people provoked high anxiety. Some of them expressed a disdain for small talk, and others admitted they had little idea of how to engage in general conversation. They also found the use of dating apps unappealing and said they thought there was an inherent danger in meeting strangers.

Sex education could help these individuals feel confident in approaching others using role-play. For example, they could use techniques created by the late Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theater director who created plays in which audiences could participate.

In the context of sex education, an actor would play the part of the individual with autism and re-create one of that person’s real-life experiences, such as trying to talk to someone new in a bar. The individual with autism would then give the actor new directions — such as “What if I offer to buy her a drink?” — allowing the person with autism to try out many approaches, and witness potential consequences, in a safe environment.

Advice network:

Although instructors may help with some aspects of communication, it’s profoundly difficult to teach someone how to read the intentions and desires of others. Most teenagers rely on peers to work through some of these social complexities.

Teens get feedback from their peers on how to interact, meet new people and gauge the appropriateness of a relationship. Teens with autism struggle with close relationships, but sex education classes could facilitate that learning.

Our research suggests that they desire this guidance. For example, one individual in our study commented that schools should provide students with the “skills on how to find the right sort of partner.” To accomplish this goal, a school could provide an advice network, including regular group meetings in which young people with autism share and reflect upon their experiences. Social networking could extend this support.

For most adolescents, peers also fill in gaps such as helping to define sexual slang. In our study, another participant commented that hearing “dirty talk” from other students made her feel left behind. She was also unsure how to decode the words she heard, and said her school should explain what people might say in a sexual context and what these terms mean. With this context, she could decide to get involved or not.

Moderated discussions in a peer network could help address such slang and provide a safe space for students to ask questions about unfamiliar words.

Different sexualities:

To be effective, sex education in schools must take into consideration that some individuals with autism do not conform to traditional sex roles. When we interviewed 40 young adults with autism as part of an ongoing study, we found that 20 percent identified as gay or bisexual — more than is reported in national surveys of the general population. Gender fluidity may also be more common in individuals with autism: In a study we conducted this year (but is not yet published), we found an unusually high incidence of autism and autism traits in individuals who identify as transsexual or non-binary.

Despite these high numbers, some people with autism find it hard to accept different sexualities. As one male participant explained: “I have a rigid way of seeing the world, and this prevented me from accepting my sexuality. I sort of denied it to myself because I have very concrete black-and-white thinking and it didn’t quite fit in.” This early inability to accept his sexuality and identify as a gay man led to severe depression and admittance to a psychiatric ward.

In some ways, people with autism may even fall outside the ever-expanding range of sexual identities we see today, such as gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual and asexual. For example, one of our participants explained that her wonderful relationship with another girl with autism often involved sitting together for up to 10 hours reading in silence, or spending hours discussing Greek history.

Autism represents a profoundly different way of seeing and being in the world, and individuals with autism often expend great mental and physical effort just trying to appear ‘normal.’ Sex education in school needs to move away from suggesting that people with autism should fit in, and instead explore alternatives to traditional types of romantic relationships.

Awareness gaps:

Our work also suggests that individuals with autism aren’t always aware that they are sexual beings. This lack of self-awareness manifests both in the sexual cues they give off and how they may be perceived by others.

For example, two participants in our study reported behavior that could be perceived as stalking, such as continually following strangers, although they didn’t indicate that they understood how this could seem threatening. One described it this way: “I literally just saw him on the street. And then pretty much just stalked him.”

Not having a sense of one’s own sexuality can be harmful in other ways. For example, individuals with autism are three times as likely to experience sexual exploitation as their peers5. In our study, participants spoke of times when they had been extremely vulnerable and open to abuse. One woman reported that others had gotten her drunk and encouraged her to have sex with girls even though she doesn’t identify as gay. In the interview, she did not appear to be aware that these incidents could be perceived as someone taking advantage of her.

Sex educators need to understand these gaps in awareness to build confidence in young people with autism and to protect them from harm and from unintentionally harming others. For example, young people with autism need to be aware of the law on issues such as stalking, which they themselves may not see as a problem. Their education needs to include lessons on the language of sex and draw distinctions between playful and threatening behavior. It also needs to address issues of abuse and signs that a relationship or encounter is abusive.

Research such as ours can offer insight into this area and provide the tools for effective sex education for people with autism. With the right support, adolescents with autism can feel more comfortable building relationships and exploring their sexuality. This support will help them develop healthy relationships and experience their benefits to well-being, self-esteem and happiness.

Complete Article HERE!

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Yes, I use a wheelchair and I still have sex

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Comedienne Romina Puma dispels some of the most common misconceptions around disabilities

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Disability and sex are two words that, for some reason in our society, do not go together. Most people assume that if you’re disabled, sex is not part of your life. Many find it hard to believe that disabled people date, have relationships or even like to have one-night stands

I’m a comedian who has muscular dystrophy. I’m nearly 40 and, while dating can be difficult for everyone, if you’re disabled, it makes it even harder – trust me. I haven’t been disabled all my life though. Ten years ago I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a progressive muscle wasting condition.

I am not your personal Wikipedia/Google, I have feelings.

My sex life before my diagnosis was good. I always seemed to have boyfriends on the go or be having fun with men. I’m not the most beautiful girl, but I know how to seduce a guy, which helps when you are not exactly a Victoria Secret type.

Before I became a full-time wheelchair user, I used to go out on crutches and it was still possible for me to hide the condition and get lucky. But all of a sudden, about three years ago, my condition got worse and I couldn’t walk anymore. Everything changed. Since I have been using a wheelchair, my dating experiences have become a lot less frequent.

Guys ask me all manner of questions – some I don’t mind, but others can take it a step too far. They all want to know…

“Can you have sex?”

This is a common misconception. Most people only think about sex in terms of penetration. How wrong they are. There are so many other ways to reach that goal by exploring each other’s bodies – the pleasure can be so much more. However, the answer is yes, I can and do have sex!

“Can you feel anything?”
Yes, I can! I understand that most people believe the equation: wheelchair user = paralysed = cannot feel anything. But this assumption is wrong, for at least two reasons. One is, if you see someone in a wheelchair, it does not necessarily mean that person is paralysed. Second, there are many bases to explore when having sex. It’s not only about penetration! And toys can also help.

Then we have the strange requests…

“Will you bring your wheelchair?”
No, I just use it for fun and because I’m lazy! Some time ago, I used a profile picture of me sitting sideways on my wheelchair for an online dating website. Aside from not having much luck, one guy asked me if the wheelchair was a prop. After that, I deleted my account. No point staying on that site anymore.

“How long do your batteries last?”
Longer than most men in the bedroom!

“If we have sex, will I get your disease / impairment?”<
Well, Muscular Dystrophy is genetic so no you can’t catch it.

It’s time to #EndTheAwkward

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about disability out there. I think it’s always best to ask a person about their impairment, as long as you aren’t being offensive. Most disabled people prefer to talk about it rather than let things be awkward. But it can be very hurtful when your dream guy asks you all those questions and then they disappear. I am not your personal Wikipedia/Google, I have feelings.

I am part of Scope’s #EndtheAwkward campaign which raises awareness about how awkward the nation is when it comes to disability. Most recently I contributed to the charity’s A to Z of sex and disability . Research by the charity revealed that the majority (67%) of Brits feel awkward around disabled people, and as a result they panic, or worse, they avoid contact altogether. They also discovered that only 5% of people who aren’t disabled have ever asked out, or been on a date with, a disabled person. I really do hope campaigns like this will encourage people to see the person and not their impairment, and will help everyone feel less awkward around disabled people.

67% of Brits feel awkward around disabled people

It’s frustrating that most people cannot see passed my wheelchair. I have not changed. I am exactly the same person I was before I started using it. I just get tired way more than I did 10 years ago. In my stand-up shows as a comedienne, I try and change people’s perceptions on sex and disability as much as I can. I’m still waiting for someone in the audience to help me try all the positions in the Kama Sutra but can you believe it – I haven’t had any takers yet!

So I’ve now come up with a plan B – masturbation and sex toys. If guys don’t want me anymore what can I do? I still need to have sex. For me having sex is the best thing ever. It makes me feel better and more confident. Two years ago, I bought my first toy; a very basic rabbit. After that, I tried several other toys, until I finally found the right one for me. Believe me, so far I can easily survive without men. Better to be alone than with someone who does not appreciate me for who I am!

Complete Article HERE!

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8 health benefits of great sex

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“If doctors could prescribe sex, they would“, says sexpert Tracey Cox

Do you feel as if you’re too busy to ‘get busy’? It’s a common response. It’s easy to let life get in the way of your sex life, but as it’s National Sexual Health Day, here are a few health reasons to make time for sex from Lovehoney sexpert Tracey Cox.

1. Regular sex could make you look younger

Sex boosts the levels of a person’s anti-ageing hormone DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) – a key factor in keeping us young. After orgasm, levels of DHEA in the blood rise to five times the normal level. A study found that couples in their sixties still having regular sex looked between five and seven years younger than those no longer having sex.

2. You could live longer

Regular sex (at least twice a week) has been linked to an increase of 3-8 years in a person’s lifespan. A study found that the risk of dying in any one year was 50 per cent lower in men who had sex twice or more a week – even when other factors such as age, social class and smoking status were controlled for.

3. Sex might improve the quality of men’s sperm

The quality of sperm improves when men have regular sex, according to research. Tests show that sperm quality lowers through abstinence, particularly after 10 days. In a study conducted in 2009 of men with fertility problems, daily ejaculation for a week cut the amount of DNA damage seen in sperm samples.

4. Sex boosts your immune system

Having sex once or twice a week raises the level of immunoglobulins (IgA) in the body, increasing protection against colds and flu. Couples who have regular sex have 30% higher levels of IgA than abstainers.

5. It counts as a work out

Sex can keep you fit. Quickies of 20 minutes weekly mean 7,500 calories annually, that’s as much as you consume jogging 120km. A sex session can burn about 200 calories. This is like running 15 minutes on a treadmill.

6 Sex might soothe your period cramps

Many women say they feel less menstrual pain if they have intercourse before their cycle. Muscle contraction that occurs during sexual arousal releases tension in the muscles of the uterus, which are responsible for menstrual pain.

7. It’s good for your heart

Studies have shown that regular sex can help prevent a heart attack. Studies in Belfast showed that sex three times a week could halve the risk of a heart attack or stroke. A separate study found that women who had at least two orgasms a week were 30% less likely to have heart disease than women who did not regularly have sex.

While having sex, the heart rate goes from 70 beats per minute to 150, a good training for the heart. Having sex three times a week decreases the risk of heart attack by almost half, according to scientists at the New England Research Institute in Massachusetts.

8. It might help a stuffy nose

Sex has been found to reduce the amount of histamine in the body – the chemical that gives you a stuffy nose, or itchy throat. It could in theory provide relief from hay fever symptoms. But obviously don’t ditch your inhaler or any other medication you’ve been prescribed.

Complete Article HERE!

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The Science Behind Sexual Fetishes

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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!

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Affection And Romance Most Popular Forms Of Sexual Behavior, Says New US Study

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Have you ever thought about what your partner might enjoy most behind closed doors? Well, a study from researchers at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington and the Center for Sexual Health Promotion have shared that it is, in fact, different forms of romantic and affectionate behavior.

Finding new ways to create a romantic spark is something a lot of couples struggle with. However, hugging or simply kissing to set the mood has proven to be the answer for many.

“Contrary to some stereotypes, the most appealing behaviors, even for men, are romantic and affectionate behaviors,” lead author and professor Debby Herbenick said in a statement. “These included kissing more often during sex, cuddling, saying sweet/romantic things during sex, making the room feel romantic in preparation for sex, and so on.”

There are a number of studies that have touched on sexual behavior in the past, but they have either had an age cap or limited forms of sexual behavior explored. The recent study, published in PLOS One, goes into detail about a survey called Sexual Exploration in America Study, in which 2,021 people (975 men and 1,046 women) were recruited to complete it anonymously. The survey included questions on whether participants have engaged in over 30 sexual behaviors and the level of appeal of nearly 50 sexual acts.

Around 80 percent admitted to lifetime masturbation, vaginal sex, and oral sex. Lifetime anal sex was also reported by 43 percent of men (insertive) and 37 percent of women (receptive).

“These data highlight opportunities for couples to talk more openly with one another about their sexual desires and interests,” said Herbenick. “Together they may find new ways of being romantic or sexual with one another, enhancing both their sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness.”

The information gathered showed that many of the volunteers who took part in the survey had engaged in a wide variety of sexual behaviors. The study also shared the type of relationships they were in within the last year, which included being in a monogamous/open relationship or they hadn’t discussed the setup of intimacy.

Other sexual behaviors were wearing lingerie and underwear (75 percent women, 26 percent men) and sending/receiving nude images (54 percent women, 65 percent men). The team mention that while many of the survey participants described a lot of sexual behaviors as appealing, much fewer of them had engaged in the acts in the past month or year.

“These data highlight opportunities for couples to talk more openly with one another about their sexual desires and interests,” said Herbenick. “Together they may find new ways of being romantic or sexual with one another, enhancing both their sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness.”

Although this is just one sexual behavior study, the research within it has several implications for understanding adult sexual behaviors. Many sex educators as well as citizens will have an even better understanding of sexual behaviors amongst adults in the US.

Complete Article HERE!

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