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Gender Glossary: Understanding ‘Intersex’ Beyond the Binary

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By Harish Iyer

[8] November is designated as the day where we show solidarity and ensure that we educate ourselves about the intersex community. 8 November is the birthday of Herculin Barbin a french intersex person, who was brought up as a girl, but in adulthood discovered that she has a vagina but also a small penis. She thought she was being punished and ended up committing suicide after writing a memoir, which is, a living document of what it meant to be intersex in the mid 1800s.

As a person from the LGBTIQ community, it is important that we address the I in LGBTIQ. To address that, we need to understand what intersex really means. This is because much of our discrimination is borne out of misinformation or lack of knowledge. In a world where we view everything in binaries, to let people know that there are sexes beyond male and female would need an open mind. But do we understand the binaries well either?

Did You Know: Bisexuals are capable of having romantic feelings with people regardless of gender.

Before we even get to intersex, it is important to understand the difference between sex, gender and sexuality. Let me try simplifying this with the least amount of jargon.

Speaking of sex, I remember the joke way back in school, where we used to giggle whenever we saw “sex” written in any form as we thought the response should be “2 times in a day”. But sex in every context is not the act of sexual intercourse. The most easy and explicit way that I could explain is that sex is between your legs, it is determined by the presence or absence of an organ like a penis or vagina. If you have a penis you get classified as male, if you have a vagina you get classified as female.

Gender is a social construct. It is in your mind and heart and is not determined by the presence or absence of a body organ. One could be a female and identify as female, or be a male and identify as a male. However, you could also be a male (with a penis) but identify as a female, or be a female (with a vagina) and identify as a male. What you identify as, is what we call – “gender identity”.  It is also known as “transgender”.

Segregation of gender would directly detriment a culture of empathy and mutual respect.

Also, when we say gender is a social construct, it could mean that it may take time for people to realise their gender expression. Because of the fact that the society puts people in specific gender roles, it becomes difficult for people to express that they actually are a man but from within they feel they are a woman or the vice versa. It could mean that they wish to identify as gender-queer or transgender.

Like, I am a male and till a few years back I thought my gender was male. But I am realising that my gender expression is more feminine, which could mean that I could identify as gender-queer in coming years.

The bottom-line is that my gender is what I tell you my gender is. My gender is not what you think my gender is.

One could go on and on about gender, sex and sexuality. Now that we have some basic knowledge about sex and gender. Let us understand intersex.

One could go on and on about gender, sex and sexuality. Now that we have some basic knowledge about sex and gender. Let us understand intersex.

Intersex persons are people who are born with a sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit into definitions of sex of male or female in terms of anatomy. A person may be born with a penis and with a depression that leads to a labia. Or a person could be born with a vagina and may have a small penis.

It is rude and incorrect to classify intersex persons as “in-betweens” or “abnormal” people. It is however not rude to state that intersex persons are different.

There is a huge confusion among most people about intersex persons and hijras. Hijras are a community of transgender persons who live together and have their own social and religious practices. They are mainly male persons who have a female gender expression. They may or may not have undergone a sexual re-assignment surgery to align their sex with the gender that they identify with. Hijras could be intersex people too. However, all intersex people are not Hijras.

There is a myth that hijras pick up children with ambiguous gender when they come to bless newborns. In a world where the girl child is drowned and killed at birth, it is not hard to imagine that a child with ambiguous gender is despised and also killed in some cases. Hijras are believed to offer to adopt such children. There is very little research on this. Much of these are myths propagated by folklore and incredibly stupid television serials who’re feeding on such myths and increasing the confusion between our understanding of intersex persons and hijras.

How do you identify if a person is intersex? You will not be able to tell. And you don’t need to identify them. They will tell you if they feel like telling you. It is polite to ask everyone what gender pronoun they would prefer and address them that way.

Didn’t I say, gender is something that people tell you? It is not just he/she or him/her, some could say that they prefer a collective pronoun “they or their” or “ze or hir” as gender neutral pronouns. So the pronouns in short are he/she/ze/ they or him/her/hir/their. Ask, don’t assume such things.

There are very few people in India who are intersex and openly identify as one.  One of my friends, Gopi Shankar is an intersex person who founded an organisation called Srushti Madurai. I used to always refer to Gopi as “he” as his gender expression, I assumed is Male and so did many journalists. Until recently when I discovered that he is intersex and prefers pronoun “ze”.

Ze contested elections in the Tamil Nadu Legistlative assembly in 2016 and has also won a lot of awards and accolades for hir work in the domain of gender and sexuality especially in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.

Complete Article HERE!

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Nienke Helder designs therapy tools for women recovering from sexual trauma

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Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Nienke Helder has created a set of sensory objects that can be used to rehabilitate women affected by sexual abuse.

Presented at this year’s Dutch Design Week, Sexual Healing is designed to help women who are suffering from trauma-induced sexual problems, such as pelvic muscle blockage.

According to the designer, current treatment available often focuses on a clinical perspective – putting too much emphasis on physical issues, rather than the psychological aspects of trauma.

From her own experience, Helder recognised the frustration this can cause, which prompted her to develop an alternative therapy which focuses more on the emotional aspects of sexual trauma.

“I was really frustrated with the way we treat these kinds of issues. In my opinion, the treatments that I got only made it worse,” she told Dezeen.

“It was totally taking me away from the sexual context; it became really clinical. It was so focused on this end goal of penetration that I totally lost all fun in my sexuality.”

The designer worked with medical experts and women in recovery to develop a set of five objects which invite users to discover their own sexual pleasure.

The objects encourage women to explore what feels good to them, which in turn, relieves fear and pain, and help them regain a sense of security about their bodies.

The first object is an ergonomically shaped mirror that lights up.

“Research shows that if you look at your own vulva, it increases your body positivity a lot. But if you have a trauma, it can really be confronting to look at your own body,” Helder said.

She made the mirror in such a way that it only shows exactly what you hold in front of it, allowing users to take their time and slowly start exploring their own bodies.

The second object is a brush made from horsehair, which is meant to help users become comfortable with being touched again. It also enables them to invite their partner to the healing process.

“If you have a trauma, it can be really difficult to talk about it. But by giving someone an object and making them part of the therapy, it opens a lot of doors for conversation,” Helder explains.

Two of the objects focus on biofeedback and are designed to help the user detect if they are feeling tense or stressed.

“Trauma creates certain reflexes in your body that comes from your subconscious mind,” the designer said. “To break that cycle, you need to rationally understand what is causing these processes in order to overcome them emotionally.”

One is a sensor that is meant to be placed on the abdomen. The device lights-up when the user’s breathing becomes tense, functioning as a signal to relax again.

A second is an object that measures the pressure in pelvic floor muscles. If the user tenses up, the device starts to vibrate, signalling the need to relax.

The final object is a kimono made of silk jersey, which emphasises the need to feel warm and relaxed in the bedroom.

“I made it because the bedroom is one of the coldest rooms in the house,” said the designer. “As I mentioned in my project video, it is important to keep your socks on when having sex because women could not have an orgasm when they have cold feet.”


 
Mental health is becoming an increasingly explored topic in design, particularly among graduates.

At last year’s Design Academy Eindhoven graduate show, designer Nicolette Bodewes presented a tactile toolkit designed to be used in psychotherapy sessions, while Yi-Fei Chen channelled her personal struggle with speaking her mind into a gun that fires her tears.

Helder’s Sexual Healing project was presented at this year’s Design Academy Eindhoven‘s graduate show as part of the annual Dutch Design Week event, which took place from 21 until 29 October 2017.

Complete Article HERE!

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With midlife comes sexual wisdom

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Research shows women’s sexuality adapts with aging

by Madison Brunner

While women experience changes with the menopausal transition that can negatively affect their sex lives, they often adapt behaviorally and psychologically to these changes, according to a qualitative study by University of Pittsburgh researchers.

The results of the study, which included individual and focus group interviews, will be published online in the journal Menopause on November 1.

Midlife, which is defined as 40 to 60 years old, can bring physical, psychological, social and partner-related changes. Menopause-related vaginal dryness or pain, aging joints and reduced flexibility may lead to negative changes in sexual function for some women. Additional contributing factors such as career, financial and family stress, and concerns about changing body image, may add to decreased frequency of sex, a low libido and orgasm difficulties. However, not all changes are negative. The positive psychological changes aging brings—such as decreased family concerns, increased self-knowledge and self-confidence, and enhanced communication skills in the bedroom—may lead to improvements in sexual satisfaction with aging.

During the course of the study, the researchers interviewed a total of 39 women who were 45 to 60 years old and had been sexually active with a partner at least once in the prior 12 months. Participants chose to take part in either an individual interview or focus group.

“While prior longitudinal studies have documented negative changes in sexual function as women move through midlife, few have highlighted the positive changes,” said Holly Thomas, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of medicine, Pitt School of Medicine. “We found most study participants were prompted to try new adaptive behaviors to overcome negative challenges to maintain their overall sexual satisfaction.”

Such adaptations included using lubricants, different sexual activities/positions and changing priorities, with greater focus on emotional satisfaction. Women also discussed changing their priorities around sex; as they aged, they de-emphasized physical sexual satisfaction and placed more importance on emotional .

“It is important for to recognize that each woman’s experience of during menopause is unique and nuanced, and they should tailor their care accordingly. Midlife can learn strategies, such as adapting sexual behavior and enhancing communication of sexual needs, to help ensure and maintain satisfying as they age,” explained Thomas.

Complete Article HERE!

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The Shaming of Sexuality: America’s Real Sex Scandal

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In early September, the Twitter account of Texas Senator and former Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz “liked” a post containing explicit pornographic video content. Once noticed by other Twitter users, the news shot around social media; many were both shocked and amused by the public slip-up by the typically straight-laced Senator. For his part, Cruz blamed the error on a staffer, denying that he was the one who had liked the post.

Whether you believe this explanation or not, the idea of Cruz publicly revealing a pornography habit and preference is simultaneously absurd and infuriating. Both of these reactions are a result of Cruz’s staunchly conservative views on sex and sexuality. In 2007 as Texas solicitor general, he defended a law banning the sale of sex toys in the state, arguing that no right existed “to stimulate one’s genitals for non-medical purposes unrelated to procreation or outside of an interpersonal relationship.” Though he did not personally fight to preserve Texas’ anti-sodomy laws in 2003’s Lawrence v. Texas, his negative attitudes towards LGBTQ+ causes are well-established: He called the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in favor of marriage equality “fundamentally illegitimate” and supported North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” referring to transgender women as “men” in the process. When pressed in an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash on the Texas sex toy law, Cruz backtracked on his previous position, calling the sex toy law “idiotic” and “a stupid law” before adding, “consenting adults should be able to do whatever they want in their bedrooms.” If Cruz truly feels that way, then his past attempts at legislation appear either opportunistic or self-contradicting.

Cruz is far from alone among politicians who have contributed to legislation and rhetoric against private consensual sexual practices. As stated above, it took until 2003 for the Supreme Court to strike down anti-sodomy laws, and, as of 2014, a dozen states still technically had those laws on their books. (In fact, several states have actually been stricter against sodomy than bestiality – including Texas, which has had an anti-sodomy law on the books since 1974 but only made bestiality a crime in 2017.) The sale of sex toys is currently punishable in Alabama by a fine of up to $10,000 and a full year in jail, and last year a US appeals court upheld a similar law in Georgia. Also last year, Utah Governor Gary Herbert declared pornography and pornography addiction a “public health crisis” via a signed resolution, continuing a long trend of political attempts to push back against pornography.

What is most interesting about these types of consensual sex-related laws and attitudes in the United States is that support for them seems to be in direct conflict with the amount of people who participate in said sex acts. Utah residents, for example, actually buy more internet porn per person than those of any other state according to a 2009 study (though it’s a solidly red and majority Mormon state). Only 29 percent of Americans consider watching porn “morally acceptable,” and only 39 percent would “oppose legal restrictions on pornography.” However, between 75 and 80 percent of Americans age 18 to 30 report watching porn at least once a month, and a 2015 Marie Clare study of people 18 and older found that 92 percent of respondents watch porn at least a few times a year, and 41 percent at least every week. Statistically, then, a good number of those who find porn “morally unacceptable” and wouldn’t necessarily fight against anti-porn laws watch porn themselves. In the same vein, there are a number of famous cases of politicians and activists with anti-LGBTQ+ standpoints later being revealed as LGBTQ+ themselves.

So why the hypocrisy? Why do a considerable number of Americans support legislation and rhetoric against sex acts they themselves enjoy? The answer lies squarely on the shoulders of the country’s odd relationship with sex and the public discussion of it. In the US, hyper-sexualization is not simply tolerated but rampant. Everything from M&M’s to sparkling water seems to ascribe to the idea that “sex sells,” their sexed-up ads running on television in plain sight. But once a certain fairly arbitrary line is crossed, the conversation is seen as “too explicit” and gets tucked away in the corner. This creates an environment where pornography, masturbation, sex toy use, and homosexuality are seen as shameful, leading to the statistical discrepancies laid out above. Indeed, in that same Marie Claire poll, 41 percent of respondents said they “don’t want anyone to know about” their porn watching and another 20 percent feel “embarrassed” and “ashamed afterward.”

The don’t-ask-don’t-tell culture around sex in the United States makes it is quite possible that support for sex-based legislation comes more from perceived societal pressure than from personal concern about the issues at hand. In other words, there are potentially more people who support restricting pornography or the sale of sex toys simply because they feel that others expect them to, even if they personally use pornography or sex toys, than there are people who don’t participate and find said actions immoral enough to be worthy of legislative restriction.

American public and social discourse about sex is an unruly, multi-faceted mess, and not one that can be untangled in a day. But if attitudes around sex were to thaw, and people were free to talk more openly about their habits, the stigma and taboos surrounding certain aspects of sexuality – many of which are overwhelmingly common and actually healthy – could be eliminated. This change could come from the top down, with politicians and medical professionals emphasizing the need for healthy sex discourse, or, more likely, from an effort by the populace (which may already be underway) to tear away the curtains. New sex education programs – which are far easier to talk about than actually implement – could put more emphasis on the healthy aspects of sex and sexuality. Celebrities could also speak out, using their platforms to acknowledge the realities of human sexuality. If all this were to happen, eventually laws could be pulled back, and politicians could potentially stop feeling pressure to espouse hypocritical views on sexuality. Maybe then Ted Cruz could truly act on his belief that “consenting adults should be able to do whatever they want in their bedrooms.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Does Smoking Pot Lead To More Sex?

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In every group the researchers studied, the more marijuana people smoked the more sex they reported having.

By Angus Chen

Tobacco companies put a lot of effort into giving cigarettes sex appeal, but the more sensual smoke might actually belong to marijuana.

Some users have said pot is a natural aphrodisiac, despite scientific literature turning up mixed results on the subject.

At the very least, a study published Friday in the Journal of Sexual Medicine suggests that people who smoke more weed are having more sex than those who smoke less or abstain. But whether it’s cause or effect isn’t clear.

The researchers pulled together data from roughly 50,000 people who participated in an annual Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey during various years between 2002 and 2015. “We reported how often they smoke — monthly, weekly or daily — and how many times they’ve had sex in the last month,” says Dr. Michael Eisenberg, a urologist at Stanford University Medical Center and the senior author on the study. “What we found was compared to never-users, those who reported daily use had about 20 percent more sex. So over the course of a year, they’re having sex maybe 20 more times.”

Women who consumed marijuana daily had sex 7.1 times a month, on average; for men, it was 6.9 times. Women who didn’t use marijuana at all had sex 6 times a month, on average, while men who didn’t use marijuana had sex an average of 5.6 times a month.

When the researchers considered other potentially confounding factors, such as alcohol or cocaine use, age, religion or having children, the association between more marijuana and more sex held, Eisenberg says. “It was pretty much every group we studied, this pattern persisted,” he says. The more marijuana people smoked, the more they seemed to be having sex.

Now, that association doesn’t necessarily mean the weed is responsible for the heightened sex drive, says Mitch Earleywine, a psychologist at the University at Albany who has studied cannabis and sex but wasn’t involved in this work. “In some surveys, we saw that people [who used cannabis] did have sex more, but it seemed to be mediated by this personality type that’s willing to try new things or look for thrills,” he says. In other words, it seems that people who like to smoke weed may have other character traits that lead them to be lustier.

Or maybe it really is the weed. “It’s possible it makes men or women more interested in sex,” Eisenberg says. In one study, researchers found they were able to induce sexual behavior by injecting a cannabinoid, the class of psychoactive compounds in marijuana, into rats. But people aren’t rats, of course.

Another study published in 2012 found that women became more aroused when watching erotic films when they had cannabinoids in their system. But that might just be because weed seems to heighten sensory experiences overall. “It gets people to appreciate the moment more anyway,” psychologist Earleywine says. “They like food more, find humor in things more easily, so it wouldn’t be stunning to think they would enjoy sex more.”

Whatever the connection, Eisenberg says his results leads him to think that pot, unlike tobacco which can depress libido and performance, isn’t going to take the steam out of one’s sex drive. “One question my patients always have is will smoking marijuana frequently negatively impact my sexual function?” Eisenberg says. “We don’t want people to smoke to improve sexual function, but it probably doesn’t hurt things.”

Not everyone agrees with that conclusion. “It’s a lot of stretch here,” says Dr. Rany Shamloul, a researcher at Ottawa Hospital in Canada who focuses on sexual health and function. He didn’t work on the latest study. In an odd Catch-22, Shamloul says that recent research suggests cannabis might actually make it harder for a man’s penis to become erect, even if weed might turn people on. “Recent studies have shown cannabinoid receptors in the penis itself, and experiments in the lab show an inhibitory response,” he says. “There was basically a mixed result. Cannabis might increase [sexual arousal] frequency in the brain, but also decrease erectile function in the penis.”

There is another issue that may throw cold water on cannabis’ potential as a love enabler. A frequent side effect of marijuana is a dry mouth, and University at Albany’s Earleywine points out that one’s mouth might not be the only thing turning arid. “Drying of the mucus membranes is a pretty consistent effect of the plant. Women should keep that in mind when considering cannabis as a sexual aid. I know that some products have THC or cannabinoids in a lubricant, but I haven’t seen any actual data on that,” he says.

Stanford’s Eisenberg says his study doesn’t prove the idea that marijuana is getting people into the sack, though he says that is a possibility. There’s really only one conclusion he can safely draw from the work: Cannabis users are doing it more.

Complete Article HERE!

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