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Writing Graphic Sex Scenes Can Be a Feminist Act

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‘We don’t put enough value on female pleasure in our culture’

By Stef Penney

Why is there explicit sex in my new book? Because I’m a feminist.

Under A Pole Star, my third book, is a novel about late 19th century arctic explorers that features, alongside ice, ambition and rivalry, more than one sexual relationship. And there’s a lot of detail. My central characters fall in love, and yes, they have a lot of sex. I was nervous about how the passages would be received. One Amazon reviewer has already complained about “copious quantities of copulation.” The specter of the Literary Review’s Bad Sex Award, given annually to authors of “poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction,” hovers over us all, tittering. Some judge writing explicitly about sex to be less than literary — or worse, discrediting of female characters. But why should achieving romantic and sexual satisfaction — one of the most difficult challenges we face as humans — be redacted or blurred?

There’s a problem with leaving “it” up to the reader’s imagination: Every reader will fill your tasteful ellipsis with something different — possibly with unachievable fantasy, with prejudices, with bad experience, with pornography. I wasn’t going to do that to my characters. I felt I owed it to readers to treat the characters’ intimacy with the same precision and seriousness I would any other intense human experience.

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I’ve read too much bad sex in otherwise good books: bizarre, metaphorical sex; coy, breathless sex; baffling, what-just-happened-there sex; most of all, phallocentric, male-experience-dominated sex. Too often, in sex scenes between a man and a woman, the woman’s sensations are barely mentioned, as if her experience is incomprehensible or irrelevant. It’s important to ask why this is — and the fact that a lot of those writers are male is not a satisfactory answer. We don’t put enough value on female pleasure in our culture. The way we write about sex only exacerbates that problem.

In my quest for knowledge and precedent, I sought out scientific research, erotic poetry and literature. I trawled the Internet as much as I could bear. I wanted to dissect the composition of sex scenes — and waded through many, many passages that didn’t come close to answering essential questions: Did she climax? Has this man heard of a clitoris? What were they using for contraception? Some uncovered even more questions about our culture’s perception of female sexuality: Did men in D.H. Lawrence’s time really accuse women of “withholding” their orgasms, as happens to Lady Chatterley? Because that’s absurd.

There’s so much ignorance, confusion and frustration out there. Delving into sex forums online, I was shocked by the prevalence of questions from women like, “How do I know if I’m having an orgasm?” The fact that so much confusion prevails is no surprise: studies have found that more men orgasm more frequently than women and 40% of women have sexual dysfunction, which can make it difficult to achieve climax. One study found that 80% of women fake orgasms.

The more I read, the more I realized how important it would be for me to write my scenes in steamy, awkward, mutual and real graphic detail. I wanted to write about a sexual relationship in a way that convinced me and reflected what I know to be true about female sexuality — that it’s complicated, beautiful and worth equal attention. So I included accounts of great sex, horrible sex, indifferent sex, sex that just doesn’t work despite both partners’ best intentions — and I showed how and why they were different.

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I wanted to create a story that honored the sexual biographies of both partners from both points of view, that showed how they reach the point where they come together and why their relationship is the way it is. And while we’re on the subject of coming together, simultaneous orgasm was one myth I encountered over and over again in my research that was never going to get an outing here.

When my friends began to read my book and wanted to talk about it, I learned things I’d never known about them, and I became more forthright in turn. We tumbled through a flood of questions. Why had we never talked about our sexual pleasure in explicit detail before? Why did we not achieve good, orgasmic sex until our mid-twenties, or later? Why were we too ignorant, too embarrassed to ask? Why did we expect so little in bed?

One reason, we all agreed, was that we’d had to learn about good sex through trial and error, because that behavior wasn’t modeled for us in a healthy, explicit way.

We need to be able to talk, teach, learn, write and read about sex, honestly and seriously, without — or in spite of — derision and censure. Unless we share specifics, we’ll never understand one another’s experiences. You can’t support women’s empowerment without frank and open discussion of their sexuality.

Complete Article HERE!

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GQ Suggests ‘Having Sex with Men Doesn’t Make You Gay’

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In 2017, it’s weird to think that straight men are still asking the question, “Does having sex with a man make me gay?” Our friends at GQ recently investigated a bit deeper into the subject.

GQ interviewed a few guys who identify as straight who’ve all had same-sex sex with other men (gay or straight). Even after having sex with men, they still lean towards the straight side of the spectrum and identify as heterosexual.

So, what makes someone gay? According to GQ, it depends on how you define the “label.” In this day and age, everything has a label — too many if you ask me. Regardless of social labeling, it’s important to recognize how people associate that label within their self-identities — “if we remove the label of ‘gay’ from sex acts we traditionally assume are only the domain of gay men, does this mean you can take part in them and still be straight?”

James, a 28-year-old man who participated in the study, said he used to get regular blowjobs from a gay pal when he was a teenager. As a 17-year old, blowjobs weren’t exactly hidden around every corner, but for a coming of age teen with raging hormones, it seemed like the perfect deal for both him and his straight counterpart.

Another participant named Mark, also 28, said that his colleague’s boyfriend once went down on him in a club bathroom. Another time, he got a blowjob from a stranger in front of his girlfriend at a sex party. Even now, he says he knows he’s straight.

GQ asserts that at the end of the day, having sex with a man isn’t a sign of queerness — just as imagining pushing your evil boss under a truck means you’re a homicidal maniac. When people find themselves in sexually charged situations, primal instinct takes over, and shit happens.

Is sex just sex? If you ask me, the answer is yes.

There’s a difference between sexuality and orientation. Sexuality exists within us all; sometimes, we have sex with people we don’t necessarily find physically attractive; at times we do it to pass the time, and other times we have it because we crave sex. This is normal human sexuality — gay, straight, male, female; we can get off on all of it any given time.

Having sex with a man doesn’t mean you’re gay, but don’t forget the sacrifices your gay brothers make so you can have that freedom to choose.

However, orientation is the sexual compass we use to navigate the sensual universe; it’s who we are in our hearts. It’s how our spirits identify itself in life, and that affects whom we love, how we love and how we live. It’s larger than just sex.

“Gay sex acts aren’t something to be ashamed of,” GQ suggests. “If you’re man enough to do it and still call yourself straight, be man enough to talk about it. Don’t let it be a dirty little secret; own your sexuality — whatever that may by — with pride.”

Men are sexual people. Why have we created this stupid notion that getting off diminishes our manhood? Trust me; it’s an ideology crafted by religion, cultural norms and, most importantly, habit.

Let’s break the habit.

Complete Article HERE!

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8 Things Bisexual People Are Tired of Hearing

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It’s NOT a phase.

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It has been almost two years since I came out as bisexual, and I have never been happier. My bi identity is incredibly important to me and I can honestly say that I would not change my sexual orientation even if I did have the choice. As much as I love being bi, there are still rough days. Like all identities within the LGBTQ+ community, being bi comes with plenty of annoying misconceptions that I’d rather ignore, but still we have to talk about these misconceptions in order to spread awareness that they are not only inaccurate, but also hurtful. Here are 8 misconceptions that bisexuals are tired of hearing.

Being bisexual means that you are half gay and half straight.

I get that this probably seems very logical to a person who is not attracted to people of multiple gender identities, but this is just not correct. You can be half Polish and half Irish. You can be a half sibling. You cannot be half of one sexual orientation and half of another. That’s not how this works. Bisexuality is not a combination of two sexualities; someone who is bi is whole in their identity. Saying otherwise invalidates their sexuality. As Berly R., who is a college senior, tells Teen Vogue, “it’s frustrating that there always has to be a line to that heterosexuality. I am bisexual, meaning that I am 100% bisexual.”

You have straight sex when you’re with someone of the opposite gender and you have gay sex with someone of the same gender.

Um, no. Incorrect. This statement is insinuating that a bi person’s sexuality changes based on who they’re sleeping with. It doesn’t. While sexuality is fluid and could potentially change over time, it doesn’t suddenly change based on the gender of the person you are having sex with. I am bi when I sleep with a girl, a boy, someone who is agender, someone who is gender nonconforming, etc. This statement is also insinuating that there are two genders, which is incorrect. But I will address this in the next statement.

Bisexuality is not an inclusive sexual identity.

When people hear the prefix “bi,” they automatically assume it means that the person is only attracted to men and women. While that may have been the original definition of the sexual orientation, times have changed and people understand that there are more than two genders. Today, many people define bisexuality as being attracted to people of similar gender identities to theirs and gender identities that are different than theirs. There are many gender identities out there and a bi person can choose to date someone who identifies with any of them. “Those who say it’s not inclusive are stuck on an outdated definition”, college sophomore Catie P. tells Teen Vogue. If you want a quality definition of bisexuality, check out Robyn Ochs’ definition of the term. She is an amazing bi activist who knows what she is talking about.

People who are bisexual only identify that way because they are greedy.

I have never understood this misconception. I mean, yes, I’m sure there are plenty of greedy bisexuals out there. But, I am positive that there are also plenty of straight people who are greedy, too. The two are unrelated. The label we each choose to use to describe our attractions to people does not inherently dictate that we want to engage in more sex. Our label just describes the people we are attracted to; that’s it. But if bisexual people want to engage in more sex, that’s our choice too.

In itself, the term “greedy” is problematic. People can choose how much sex they have, and whether it’s more or less than other people doesn’t say anything about them. Having sex with people doesn’t make someone of any orientation “greedy.”

Bisexuals are more likely to cheat.

ANYONE can cheat on their significant other(s); straight people can, gay people can, pansexual people can. You get the picture. My attraction to people of multiple gender identities does not make me more likely to cheat. With that logic, then people who do not identify as bisexual would never cheat, because the decision to cheat on your partner(s) would boil down to being bi. Obviously that is not true because I know multiple people who are not bisexual and have cheated on their significant other. College sophomore Kate S. tells Teen Vogue that she especially hates this stereotype because “you get [hate] from both sides… Lesbians are worried you’ll cheat because you miss guys, and guys are thinking that they need to be twice as overprotective and controlling because both guys and girls could ‘steal’ you away.” You cheat because you make the choice to do so, end of story.

All bisexuals are into polyamorous relationships.

Nope, not even close. While there are many bisexuals who are involved or would be willing to be involved in a polyamorous relationship, there are also many bisexuals who do not wish to be in a polyamorous relationship. I am one of them. The type of relationship setting someone is looking for is not dictated by who they are attracted to.

You are only bisexual if you have dated all of the different gender identities you are attracted to.

No, no, no, and no. Just no. Is a person any less gay if they have never dated someone of the same gender? Is a person any less straight if they haven’t dated anyone at all? This statement is born out of ignorance, plain and simple. A person knows who they are attracted to, regardless of who they choose to date in the end. For example, I have been attracted to multiple nonbinary people over the years. It just so happens that I never had the opportunity to date any of them. I still knew I was attracted to them, I just didn’t act on that attraction.

Bisexuality is just a phase.

This misconception is often the most hurtful in comparison to the rest of the ones listed here. Telling someone that their sexual orientation is a phase is invalidating. I have no doubt that there are people who used “bisexual” as their label for a period of time in their life, before moving on to a different label. Still, that’s no less legitimate. For over a decade, I thought I was straight. It was the label I used until I found a different label that better explained the attractions I felt toward other people. As we grow and learn more about sexuality and gender, we are better able to identify exactly how we feel, and that’s OK.

Complete Article HERE!

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Old people still like sex

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Sex educator Jane Fleishman says intimacy improves life regardless of age

Bodies change, but they don’t necessarily become less beautiful.

Jane Fleishman

Erectile dysfunction is a factor for many men, but it can be dealt with.

Aging doesn’t have to mean the end of intimacy.

Sex is part of living and you don’t have to be young to enjoy it, sex educator Jane Fleishman of Deerfield told a group gathered to hear her talk at the assisted living facility Christopher Heights in Northampton recently.

“I am on a mission to change the way continuing care communities treat end-of -life care,” she said following her talk in mid September. “I don’t want to wait around, I want to see change happen in my lifetime.”

To that end, Fleishman, 63, a fast-talking native New Yorker, has been traveling the country holding workshops to spread her message.

“There is no expiration date on sex,” she told the crowd of about four dozen people, mostly residents, at Christopher Heights. Sharing intimacy is an important contributor to good quality of life, she says. Older adults who are more sexually active have a lower instance of heart disease and dementia, she added. “We know that people’s well-being is affected.”

One study that seems to support that was done by a team of researchers from Coventry University in Britain who found that having an active sex life leads to less mental deterioration as people age.

In 2010 researchers surveyed men in their 70s, 80s, and 90s, and found that they continue to live sexually satisfied lives, according to a study in the medical journal the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Sex makes you feel alive – it makes you feel sensually connected to yourself,” said Monica Levine, a clinical social worker who runs a private practice in Northampton and is a certified sex therapist.

Edie Daly, 80, of Northampton, a petite woman with short white hair who was at the talk, says sex continues to be an important part of her life. In fact, she says, the best sex of her life started only after she met her wife at age 60.

“We have a deep abiding love,” she said, adding that she can’t imagine life without sex and other intimate touch. “Sex is another form of communication.”

Getting creative

But sex doesn’t always come easy —  and that’s OK — sometimes it takes a little creativity for older adults to reach satisfaction or to accommodate their changing bodies, Fleishman says.

Joint pain from arthritis, for instance, can make sex uncomfortable. Warm baths or changing positions might make intimacy more comfortable and ease any pain, according to the National Institute on Aging, a federal government organization in Baltimore which researches health in older people.

In cases of erectile dysfunction, massage is one approach that can help, says Fleishman. For vaginal dryness, there are lubricants.

Another woman who came to the talk, Mae Lococo, 93, who lives at Christopher Heights, says her husband was “quite vigorous” in bed up until he passed away two years ago. He was also an excellent ballroom dancer, she adds. She wouldn’t mind meeting another man now, she says, but notes there is a shortage of them at her age.

Consent always a factor

There can be a dark side to sex for those who are residents of nursing homes or other facilities, says Fleishman — the possibility of sexual abuse. She encourages younger people to talk to their parents to make sure they aren’t being victimized in some way. It is important, she says, that they feel free to approach a family member or other advocate for help. Just as younger people need to be aware of the boundaries of consent, older people need to understand them too, she says. Sometimes, as people age, they may experience some cognitive decline or dementia, which can make consenting to sex more difficult. That, she says, makes it particularly important for advocates to look out for them. “Consent is complicated when you get older.”

Aging adults also must continue to be aware of sexually transmitted infections, she says. “Sometimes people say, ‘I’m not going to get pregnant, so why does he need to wear a condom?’ While older adults face the same risks as other populations, sexually transmitted diseases often aren’t on the radar of their doctors, she says.

“They might be thinking the same way their patients’ offspring are: ‘Oh, that’s granddad, he can’t be having sex’ or ‘That’s grandma, she can’t be doing it, she can barely get down the stairs.’

“Well, even if she can’t get down the stairs she still might be able to have some fun upstairs,” Fleishman said.

Get over it

At age 55, Fleishman retired from her 30-year career as director of staff development at Connecticut Valley Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Middletown, Connecticut and went back to school to get a doctorate in human sexuality from Widener University in Pennsylvania.

In addition to holding sessions on sexuality, she is writing a book about LGBT elders. She wants people to get over feeling squeamish about sexuality among the older generation.

“When I talk to young people about what they think old people do in bed and they get all nervous,” she says. “They say, ‘Too many wrinkles’ or ‘eww.’ Well, if you are lucky enough you will get there and you will realize, it isn’t so bad.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Long-term sexual satisfaction: What’s the secret?

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Once the flutters of a new relationship are over, for many, the slog of everyday life sets in. But how do you keep the spark alive?

Sex is a key factor in most romantic relationships. In fact, earlier this year, Medical News Today reported that the “afterglow” that newlywed couples feel for up to 2 days after having sex is associated with greater marital satisfaction.

But last week, a new study showed that 34 percent of women and 15 percent of men who had lived with their partner for at least 1 year had lost interest in sex.

There are many factors that can affect sexual desire. Find out how much sex has the greatest effect on happiness, why some people lose interest, and what factors contribute to long-term sexual satisfaction.

How much sex is enough?

In a 2016 paper, Amy Muise, Ph.D. – a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto Mississauga in Canada – explains that there is plenty of evidence that “[…] the more sex people reported, the happier they felt.”

However, Dr. Muise also questions whether trying to have sex as “frequently as possible” is actually going to have the desired effect, particularly in light of the busy lives that many people lead.

Is the pressure of having frequent sex getting in the way of happiness?

Dr. Muise reports a clear relationship between the frequency of sex and happiness. What she found was that people who had sex once per week or more often were significantly happier than those who had sex less often.

But study participants who had sex on several occasions per week were not happier than those who had sex once each week.

The results were true for individuals who were in a romantic relationship, including women, older participants, and those in long-term relationships who tend to have less sex.

Interestingly, having sex had a greater effect on the participants’ happiness than income. So if sex makes us happy, why do so many people lose interest?

Who loses interest in sex?

There is plenty of evidence that being in a long-term relationship, being a woman, and increasing age are linked to a drop in sexual frequency.

Last year, MNT reported that women’s sexual desire decreased in long-term relationships. However, over the 7-year study period, the participants’ ability to reach orgasm improved – especially in those who had been in the same relationship the entire time.

So, for women, staying with a partner means better orgasms but less interest in sex, according to the research.

Last week, we reported on a new study published in BMJ Open that adds to the body of evidence showing that women’s interest in sex decreases in relationships.

Prof. Cynthia Graham, from the Centre for Sexual Health Research at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, found that more than 34 percent of women who had lived with their partner for at least 1 year lacked interest in sex, while only 15 percent of men did.

The biggest turn-offs

Prof. Graham identified a number of factors that were associated with the drop in sexual desire found in her study.

For women, these were having young children, having been pregnant in the past year, living with their partner, being in a longer relationship, not sharing the same level of sexual interest, and not sharing the same sexual preferences.

For both genders, health conditions (including depression), not feeling close to their partner during sex, being less happy with their relationship, and having sex less often than they were interested in all contributed to a drop in sexual interest.

Age was another factor. Men experienced the lowest levels of interest in sex between the ages of 35 and 44, while for women, this was between 55 and 64.

Julia Velten, Ph.D. – a postdoctoral fellow at the Mental Health Research and Treatment Center at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany – reported that when men felt that their partner expected them to always initiate sex, it had a negative effect on their sexual satisfaction.

Sexual desire discrepancy, which is the difference between the actual and desired frequency of sex, was a negative factor for both men and women.

Sexual function also played a role for the couples in Dr. Velten’s study. Men were affected by their partner’s lack of sexual function, such as lack of arousal, while women were more affected by the partner’s distress about their own sexual problem, such as erectile dysfunction.

How does masturbation fit into the picture?

On this topic, research findings do not agree. In a study involving couples living in Prague, Kateřina Klapilová, Ph.D. – from the Department of General Anthropology at Charles University in Prague – found that for women, masturbation negatively affected their sexual satisfaction.

But masturbation had no effect on men in these couples.

Meanwhile, Prof. Graham found that men who had recently masturbated were less interested in sex, while masturbation was not related to a change in women’s sex drive.

Prof. Graham told MNT that in her previous research, she had “found striking gender differences in factors associated with frequency of masturbation in men and women.”

She added that “when men were having less partnered sex, they tended to masturbate more often, whereas the reverse was true for women.”

With 51.7 percent of male and 17.8 percent of female participants reporting to have masturbated in the 7 days prior to study interviews, this is clearly a factor that is important in many relationships.

But just how masturbation contributes to or distracts from long-term sexual satisfaction remains to be seen.

With significant levels of both men and women reporting a drop in sexual interest and satisfaction, is there a secret to keeping the spark alive?

The secret to sexual satisfaction

Dr. Klapilová’s study found that for both men and women, penile-vaginal intercourse and the consistency of being able to reach vaginal orgasm were associated with sexual satisfaction.

She points to the “special role that vaginal orgasm (as distinct from other orgasm triggers) had in maintaining higher-quality intimate relationships.”

Anik Debrot, Ph.D. – alongside Dr. Muise and other colleagues from the University of Toronto Mississauga – recently studied the link between affection and sexual activity.

In her study paper, which was published this year in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, she explains that “when engaging in sex, people not only seek an intimate connection, but indeed experience more affection, both when having sex and in the next several hours.”

“Thus, sex within romantic relationships provides a meaningful way for people to experience a strong connection with their partner,” she adds.

To her, this indicates that sex is important in romantic relationships because of the emotional benefits that we feel. Dr. Debrot suggests, “[When sex may be impaired], affection could help maintain well-being despite decreased sex frequency.”

The effect of time

A study by Prof. Julia Heiman, from the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington, studied 1,000 couples in five countries (Brazil, Germany, Japan, Spain, and the United States).

Although the length of the couples’ relationships ranged from 1 to 51 years, half had been together for at least 25 years.

Prof. Heiman found that “[w]omen reported significantly more sexual satisfaction than men and men more relationship satisfaction.” In particular, “Men who valued their partner’s orgasm were more likely to report relationship happiness.”

Women’s sexual satisfaction increased from 40 percent at the start of the relationship to 86 percent once they had been with their partner for 40 years.

From these studies, penile-vaginal sex, affection, and the time spent in the relationship are key ingredients to a happy sex life. But there is one more factor that could be key: open communication.

Talking about sex

In Dr. Velten’s study, open communication about sexual wishes and frequencies had a positive effect on the quality of sex that the participants reported.

Likewise, participants in Prof. Graham’s study who found it easy to talk about sex with their partner were more interested in sex.

She told MNT that “[their] findings underline that open communication with a partner about sex is one of the most important things you can do to try to maintain sexual interest in a relationship.”

Sexual desires and preferences are, by nature, intrinsically personal and individual. Research in this field is complex, and while studies can show associations and trends, they will not be able to tease apart the reasons for an individual’s sexual satisfaction.

I don’t think that there is any ‘secret’ to long-term sexual satisfaction! Human sexuality is too diverse and ‘fluid’ for this to be the case – but […] open communication about sex with a partner should go some way to preventing sexual problems from developing.”

— Prof. Cynthia Graham

Talking about sex may be a good starting point. Finding a way to fit sex into the pressures of daily life may be challenging, but affection and time together might well help.

Complete Article HERE!

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