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Women with HIV, after years of isolation, coming out of shadows

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Patti Radigan kisses daughter Angelica after a memorial in San Francisco’s Castro to remember those who died of AIDS.

By Erin Allday

Anita Schools wakes at dawn most days, though she usually lazes in bed, watching videos on her phone, until she has to get up to take the HIV meds that keep her alive. The morning solitude ends abruptly when her granddaughter bursts in and they curl up, bonding over graham crackers.

Schools, 59, lives in Emeryville near the foot of the Bay Bridge, walking distance from a Nordstrom Rack and other big chain stores she can’t afford. Off and on since April, her granddaughter has lived there too, sleeping on a blow-up mattress with Schools’ daughter and son-in-law and another grandchild.

Five is too many for the one-bedroom apartment. But they’re family. They kept her going during the worst times, and that she can help them now is a blessing.

Nearly 20 years ago, when Schools was diagnosed with HIV, it was her daughter Bonnie — then 12 and living in foster care — who gave her hope, saying, “Mama, you don’t have to worry. You’re not going to die, you’re going to be able to live a long, long time.”

“It was her that gave me the push and the courage to keep on,” Schools said.

She had contracted HIV from a man who’d been in jail, who beat her repeatedly until she fled. By then she’d already left another abusive relationship and lost all four of her daughters to child protective services. HIV was just one more burden.

At the time, the disease was a death sentence. That Schools is still here — helping her family, getting to know her grandchildren — is wonderful, she said. But for her, as with tens of thousands of others who have lived two decades or more with HIV, survival comes with its own hardships.

Gay men made up the bulk of the casualties of the early AIDS epidemic, and as the male survivors grow older, they’re dealing with profound complications, including physical and mental health problems. But the women have their own loads to bear.

Whereas gay men were at risk simply by being gay, women often were infected through intravenous drug use or sex work, or by male partners who lied about having unsafe sex with other men. The same issues that put them at risk for HIV made their very survival a challenge.

Today, many women like Schools who are long-term survivors cope with challenges caused or compounded by HIV: financial and housing insecurity, depression and anxiety, physical disability and emotional isolation.

“We’re talking about mostly women of color, living in poverty,” said Naina Khanna, executive director of Oakland’s Positive Women’s Network, a national advocacy group for women with HIV. “And there’s not really a social safety net for them. Gay men diagnosed with HIV already historically had a built-in community to lean on. Women tend to be more isolated around their diagnosis.”

There are far fewer women aging with HIV than men. In San Francisco, nearly 10,000 people age 50 or older are living with HIV; about 500 are women. Not all women survivors have histories of trauma and abuse, of course, and many have done well in spite of their diagnosis.

But studies have found that women with HIV are more than twice as likely as the average American woman to have suffered domestic violence. They have higher rates of mental illness and substance abuse.

What keeps them going now, decades after their diagnoses, varies widely. For some, connections with their families, especially their now-adult children, are critical. For others, HIV advocacy work keeps them motivated and hopeful.

Patti Radigan (righ) instructs daughter Angelica and Angelica’s boyfriend, Jayson Cabanas, on preparing green beans for Thanksgiving while Roman Tom Pierce, 8, watches.

Patti Radigan was living in a cardboard box on South Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco when she tested positive in 1992. By then, she’d lost her husband to a heart attack while a young mother, and not long after that she lost her daughter, too, when her drug use got out of control and her sister-in-law took in the child.

She turned to prostitution in the late 1980s to support a heroin addiction. She’d heard of HIV by then and knew it was deadly. She’d seen people on the streets in the Mission where she worked, wasting away and then disappearing altogether. But she still thought of it as something that affected gay men, not women, even those living on the margins.

Women then, and now, were much more likely than men to contract HIV from intravenous drug use rather than sex — though in Radigan’s case, it could have been either. IV drug use is the cause of transmission for nearly half of all women, according to San Francisco public health reports. It’s the cause for less than 20 percent for men.

Still, when Radigan finally got tested, it wasn’t because she was worried she might be positive, but because the clinic was offering subjects $20. She needed the cash for drugs.

She was scared enough after the diagnosis — and then she got pregnant. It was the early 1990s, and HIV experts at UCSF were just starting to believe they could finesse women through pregnancy and help them deliver healthy babies. Today, it’s widely understood that women with HIV can safely have children; San Francisco hasn’t seen a baby born with HIV since 2004.

But in the 1990s, getting pregnant was considered selfish — even if the baby survived, its mother most certainly wouldn’t live long enough to raise her. For women infected at the time, having children was something else they had to give up.

And so Radigan had an abortion. But she got pregnant again in 1995, and she was desperate to have this child. She was living by then with 10 gay men in a boarding house for recovering addicts. Bracing herself for an onslaught of criticism, she told her housemates. First they were quiet, then someone yelled, “Oh my God, we’re having a baby!”

“It was like having 10 big brothers,” Radigan said, smiling at the memory. Buoyed by their support, she kept the pregnancy and had a healthy girl.

Radigan is 59 now; her daughter, Angelica Tom, is 20. They both live in San Francisco after moving to the East Coast for a while. It was because of her daughter that Radigan stayed sober, that she consistently took her meds, and that she went back to school to tend to her future.

For a long time she told people she just wanted to live long enough to see her daughter graduate high school. Now her daughter is in art school and Radigan is healthy enough to hold a part-time job, to lead yoga classes on weekends, to go out with friends for a Friday night concert.

“Because of HIV, I thought I was never going to do a lot of things,” Radigan said. “The universe is aligning for me. And now I feel like I deserve it. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I deserved anything.”

Anita Schools, who says she is most troubled by finances, listens to an HIV-positive woman speak about her experiences and fears at an Oakland support group that Schools organized.

Anita Schools got tested for HIV because her ex-boyfriend kept telling her she should. That should have been a warning sign, she knows now.

She was first diagnosed in 1998 at a neighborhood clinic in Oakland, but it took two more tests at San Francisco General Hospital for her to accept she was positive. People told her that HIV wasn’t necessarily fatal, but she had trouble believing she was going to live. All she could think was, “Why me? What did I do?”

It was only after her daughter Bonnie reassured her that Schools started to think beyond the immediate anxiety and anger. She joined a support group for HIV-positive women, finding comfort in their stories and shared experiences. Ten years later, she was leading her own group.

She’s never had problems with drugs or alcohol, and she has a network of friends and family for emotional support, she said. Even the HIV hasn’t hit her too hard, physically, though the drugs to treat it have attacked her kidneys, leaving her ill and fatigued.

Like so many of the women she advises in her support group, Schools is most troubled by her finances. She gets by on Social Security and has bounced among Section 8 housing all over the Bay Area for most of her adult life.

Schools’ current apartment is supposed to be permanent, but she worries she could lose it if her daughter’s family stays with her too long. So earlier this month they moved out and are now sleeping in homeless shelters or, some nights, in their car. She hates letting them leave but doesn’t feel she has any other choice.

Reports show that women with HIV are far more likely to live in poverty than men. Khanna, with the Positive Women’s Network, said surveys of her members found that 85 percent make less than $25,000 a year, and roughly half take home less than $10,000.

Schools can’t always afford the bus or BART tickets she needs to get to doctor appointments and support group meetings, relying instead on rides from friends — or sometimes skipping events altogether. She gets her food primarily from food banks. Her wardrobe is dominated by T-shirts she gets from the HIV organizations with which she volunteers.

“With Social Security, $889 a month, that ain’t enough,” Schools said. “You got to pay your rent, and then PG&E, and then you got to pay your cell phone, buy clothes — it’s all hard.”

At a time when other women her age might be thinking about retirement or at least slowing down, advocacy work has taken over Schools’ life. She speaks out for women with HIV and their needs, demanding financial and health resources for them. In her support group and at AIDS conferences, she offers her story of survival as a sort of jagged road map for other women struggling to navigate the complex warren of services they’ll need to get by.

The work gives her confidence and purpose. She feels she can directly influence women’s lives in a way that seemed beyond her when she was young, unemployed and directionless.

“As long as I’m getting help and support,” Schools said, “I want to help other women — help them get somewhere.”

Billie Cooper is tall and striking, loud and brash. Her makeup is polished, her nails flawless. She is, she says with a booming laugh that makes heads turn, “the ultimate senior woman.”

For Cooper, 58, HIV was transformative. Like Radigan, she had to find her way out from under addiction and prostitution to get healthy, and stay healthy. Like Schools, she came to understand the importance of role-modeling and advocacy.

Cooper arrived in San Francisco in the summer of 1980 — almost a year to the day before the first reports of HIV surfaced in the United States. She was fresh out of the Navy and eager to explore her gender identity and sexuality in San Francisco’s burgeoning gay and transgender communities.

Growing up in Philadelphia, she’d known she was different from the boys around her, though it was decades before she found the language to express it and identified as a transgender woman. But seeing the “divas on Post Street, the ladies in the Tenderloin, the transsexual women prostituting on Eddy” — Cooper was awestruck.

She slipped quickly into prostitution and drug use. When she tested positive in 1985, she wasn’t surprised and barely wasted a thought worrying about what it meant for her future — or whether she’d have any future at all.

“I felt as though I still had to keep it moving,” Cooper said. “I didn’t slow down and cry or nothing.”

Transgender women have always been at heightened risk of HIV. Some studies have found that more than 1 in 5 transgender women is infected, and today about 340 HIV-positive trans women live in San Francisco.

What makes them more vulnerable is complicated. Trans women often have less access to health care and less stable housing than others, and they face higher rates of drug addiction and sexual violence, all of which are associated with risk of HIV infection.

Cooper was homeless off and on through the 1980s and ’90s, trapped in a world of drugs and sex work that felt glamorous at the time but in hindsight was crippling. “I was doing things out of loneliness,” she said, “and I was doing things to feel love. That’s why I prostituted, why I did drugs.”

She began to clean up around 2000, though it would take five or six years to fully quit using. She found a permanent place to live. She collected Social Security. She started working in support services for other transgender women battling HIV. In 2013, she founded TransLife, a support group at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

“I was coming out as the activist, the warrior, the determined woman I was always meant to be,” she said.

Cooper never developed any of the common, often fatal complications of HIV — including opportunistic infections like pneumonia — that killed millions in the 1980s and 1990s. But she does have neuropathy, an HIV-related nerve condition that causes a constant pins-and-needles sensation in her feet and legs and sometimes makes it hard to walk.

Far more traumatic for her was her cancer diagnosis in 2006. The cancer, which may have been related to HIV, was isolated to her left eye, but after traditional therapies failed, the eye was surgically removed on Thanksgiving Day in 2009.

The cancer and the loss of her eye was a devastating setback for a woman who had always focused on her appearance, on looking as gorgeous as the transgender women she so admired in the Tenderloin, on being loved and wanted for her beauty.

Rising from that loss has been difficult, she said. And she’s continued to suffer new health problems, including blood clots in one of her legs. Recently, she’s fallen several times, in frightening episodes that may be related to the clots, the HIV or something else entirely.

Since Thanksgiving she’s been in and out of the hospital, and though she tries to stay upbeat, it’s clearly trying her patience.

But if HIV and cancer and everything else have tested Cooper’s survival in ways she never anticipated, these trials also have strengthened her resolve. She’s becoming the person she always wanted to be.

“A week before they took my eye, I got my breasts,” she said coyly one recent afternoon, thrusting out her chest. Behind the sunglasses she wears almost constantly now, she was smiling and crying, all at once.

Aging with HIV has been strangely calming, in some ways, giving her a confidence that in her wild youth was elusive.

Now she exults in being a respected elder in the HIV and transgender communities. She loves it when people open doors for her or help her cross the street, offer to carry her bags or give up a seat on a bus.

Simply, she said, “I love being Ms. Billie Cooper.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How do women really know if they are having an orgasm?

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Dr Nicole Prause is challenging bias against sexual research to unravel apparent discrepancies between physical signs and what women said they experienced

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It’s not always clear if a woman is really having an orgasm, as Meg Ryan demonstrated in When Harry Met Sally.

It’s not always clear if a woman is really having an orgasm, as Meg Ryan demonstrated in When Harry Met Sally.

In the nascent field of orgasm research, much of the data relies on subjects self-reporting, and in men, there’s some pretty clear physiological feedback in the form of ejaculation.

But how do women know for sure if they are climaxing? What if the sensation they have associated with climax is actually one of the the early foothills of arousal? And how does a woman know when if she has had an orgasm?

Neuroscientist Dr Nicole Prause set out to answer these questions by studying orgasms in her private laboratory. Through better understanding of what happens in the body and the brain during arousal and orgasm, she hopes to develop devices that can increase sex drive without the need for drugs.

Understanding orgasm begins with a butt plug. Prause uses the pressure-sensitive anal gauge to detect the contractions typically associated with orgasm in both men and women. Combined with EEG, which measures brain activity, this allows for a more accurate picture of a woman’s arousal and orgasm.

Dr Nicole Prause has founded Liberos to study brain stimulation and desire.

Dr Nicole Prause has founded Liberos to study brain stimulation and desire.

When Prause began studying women in this way she noticed something surprising. “Many of the women who reported having an orgasm were not having any of the physical signs – the contractions – of an orgasm.”

It’s not clear why that is, but it is clear that we don’t know an awful lot about orgasms and sexuality. “We don’t think they are faking,” she said. “My sense is that some women don’t know what an orgasm is. There are lots of pleasure peaks that happen during intercourse. If you haven’t had contractions you may not know there’s something different.”

Prause, an ultramarathon runner and keen motorcyclist in her free time, started her career at the Kinsey Institute in Indiana, where she was awarded a doctorate in 2007. Studying the sexual effects of a menopause drug, she first became aware of the prejudice against the scientific study of sexuality in the US.

When her high-profile research examining porn “addiction” found the condition didn’t fit the same neurological patterns as nicotine, cocaine or gambling, it was an unpopular conclusion among people who believe they do have a porn addiction.

The evolution of design of the anal pressure gauge used in Nicole Prause’s lab to detect orgasmic contractions.

The evolution of design of the anal pressure gauge used in Nicole Prause’s lab to detect orgasmic contractions.

“People started posting stories online that I had falsified my data and I received all kinds of sexist attacks,” she said. Soon anonymous emails of complaint were turning up at the office of the president of UCLA, where she worked from 2012 to 2014, demanding that Prause be fired.

Does orgasm benefit mental health?

Prause pushed on with her research, but repeatedly came up against challenges when seeking approval for studies involving orgasms. “I tried to do a study of orgasms while at UCLA to pilot a depression intervention. UCLA rejected it after a seven-month review,” she said. The ethics board told her that to proceed, she would need to remove the orgasm component – rendering the study pointless.

Undeterred, Prause left to set up her sexual biotech company Liberos, in Hollywood, Los Angeles, in 2015. The company has been working on a number of studies, including one exploring the benefits and effectiveness of “orgasmic meditation”, working with specialist company OneTaste.

Part of the “slow sex” movement, the practice involves a woman having her clitoris stimulated by a partner – often a stranger – for 15 minutes. “This orgasm state is different,” claims OneTaste’s website. “It is goalless, intuitive, and dynamic. It flows all over the place with no set direction. It may include climax, or it may not. In Orgasm 2.0, we learn to listen to what our body wants instead of what we think we ‘should’ want.”

Prause wants to determine whether arousal has any wider benefits for mental health. “The folks that practice this claim it helps with stress and improves your ability to deal with emotional situations even though as a scientist it seems pretty explicitly sexual to me,” she said.

Prause is examining orgasmic meditators in the laboratory, measuring finger movements of the partner, as well as brainwave activity, galvanic skin response and vaginal contractions of the recipient. Before and after measuring bodily changes, researchers run through questions to determine physical and mental states. Prause wants to determine whether achieving a level of arousal requires effort or a release in control. She then wants to observe how Orgasmic Meditation affects performance in cognitive tasks, how it changes reactivity to emotional images and how it compares with regular meditation.

Brain stimulation is ‘theoretically possible’

Another research project is focused on brain stimulation, which Prause believes could provide an alternative to drugs such as Addyi, the “female Viagra”. The drug had to be taken every day, couldn’t be mixed with alcohol and its side-effects can include sudden drops in blood pressure, fainting and sleepiness. “Many women would rather have a glass of wine than take a drug that’s not very effective every day,” said Prause.

The field of brain stimulation is in its infancy, though preliminary studies have shown that transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), which uses direct electrical currents to stimulate specific parts of the brain, can help with depression, anxiety and chronic pain but can also cause burns on the skin. Transcranial magnetic stimulation, which uses a magnet to activate the brain, has been used to treat depression, psychosis and anxiety, but can also cause seizures, mania and hearing loss.

Prause is studying whether these technologies can treat sexual desire problems. In one study, men and women receive two types of magnetic stimulation to the reward center of their brains. After each session, participants are asked to complete tasks to see how their responsiveness to monetary and sexual rewards (porn) has changed.

With DCS, Prause wants to stimulate people’s brains using direct currents and then fire up tiny cellphone vibrators that have been glued to the participants’ genitals. This provides sexual stimulation in a way that eliminates the subjectivity of preferences people have for pornography.

“We already have a basic functioning model,” said Prause. “The barrier is getting a device that a human can reliably apply themselves without harming their own skin.”


 
There is plenty of skepticism around the science of brain stimulation, a technology which has already spawned several devices including the headset Thync, which promises users an energy boost, and Foc.us, which claims to help with endurance.

Neurologist Steven Novella from the Yale School of Medicine uses brain stimulation devices in clinical trials to treat migraines, but he says there’s not enough clinical evidence to support these emerging consumer devices. “There’s potential for physical harm if you don’t know what you’re doing,” he said. “From a theoretical point of view these things are possible, but in terms of clinical claims they are way ahead of the curve here. It’s simultaneously really exciting science but also premature pseudoscience.”

Biomedical engineer Marom Bikson, who uses tDCS to treat depression at the City College of New York, agrees. “There’s a lot of snake oil.”

Sexual problems can be emotional and societal

Prause, also a licensed psychologist, is keen to avoid overselling brain stimulation. “The risk is that it will seem like an easy, quick fix,” she said. For some, it will be, but for others it will be a way to test whether brain stimulation can work – which Prause sees as a more balanced approach than using medication. “To me, it is much better to help provide it for people likely to benefit from it than to try to create fake problems to sell it to everyone.”

Sexual problems can be triggered by societal pressures that no device can fix. “There’s discomfort and anxiety and awkwardness and shame and lack of knowledge,” said psychologist Leonore Tiefer, who specializes in sexuality. Brain stimulation is just one of many physical interventions companies are trying to develop to make money, she says. “There’s a million drugs under development. Not just oral drugs but patches and creams and nasal sprays, but it’s not a medical problem,” she said.

Thinking about low sex drive as a medical condition requires defining what’s normal and what’s unhealthy. “Sex does not lend itself to that kind of line drawing. There is just too much variability both culturally and in terms of age, personality and individual differences. What’s normal for me is not normal for you, your mother or your grandmother.”

And Prause says that no device is going to solve a “Bob problem” – when a woman in a heterosexual couple isn’t getting aroused because her partner’s technique isn’t any good. “No pills or brain stimulation are going to fix that,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

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Monogamy or Bust: Why Are Many Gay Men Opposed to Open Relationships?

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By Zachary Zane

looking-threesome_0

As assimilation into more mainstream culture increases, many gay men are shifting their attitudes on non-traditional relationships—becoming less accepting of them.

Full disclosure: I’m polyamorous. After being in a year-long, tumultuous monogamous relationship, I fell into polyamory by accident. After giving it a shot, I realized that I am better equipped to handle the struggles that come from polyamory than monogamy. Clearly, both setups come with a myriad of issues, but what makes me happiest, most comfortable, and most satisfied, is polyamory. Polyamory, ironically, also alleviated my jealousy issues and relationship-induced anxiety, simply because I trust my current partner unconditionally.

Like most people, I knew nothing about polyamory when I stumbled into it. I believed the false misconceptions that surround poly life. I thought people use polyamory as an excuse to screw around. I thought all polyamorous relationships are doomed to fail, with one person being left out. I also thought that poly people are insecure, given that they need validation and support from various partners. While I have encountered all of these things and people in the poly community, I can safely say, these hurtful stereotypes are false and don’t accurately capture the true spirit of polyamory.

I write about consensual non-monogamous relationships often. Without pushing any agenda, I try to help others by offering another option to monogamy. It’s worked for me, and I wish I had known poly was a viable option sooner.

But I also know I’m not special. I’m like many other queer men out there. My experience, struggle, and identity are undeniably mine, but once I stopped believing I was the center of the universe, I was able to realize that my journey mirrored many queer men before and after me, and I now think that other people could benefit from being in a monogam-ish, open, or polyamorous relationship.

Still, when I even hint at the idea of not being 100 percent monogamous, guys throw more than hissy fits; they have full temper tantrums. I’m not even saying go out and date a million people; I’m saying that if both you and he are exclusive bottoms, maybe it’s worth it to consider bringing in a third. “Consider”—that’s the world I’ll use. But that’s enough for guys to become furious, taking their comments to every social media platform. In these comments, I’m ruthlessly attacked, accused of knowing nothing about relationships, giving up on men too early, being sleazy, horny, and incapable of love, amid a bunch of other totally outlandish claims.

These comments never bother me because I know they’re wrong. They have, however, led me to repeatedly ask the same questions: Why does the mere mention of a non-monogamous relationship make these guys’ blood boil? I understand it’s not for them, but why do they get so angry that open relationships work for other men? Why do they feel that it’s important that everyone be like them, in a monogamous relationship, when it doesn’t affect them? Is it a matter of arrogance? Do they assume everyone is like them? Have these men been cheated on? Have these men been taken advantage of by men who use the “open” label, and instead of realizing that that guy was just an unethical person, they think that all guys in open relationships are unethical people? This shouldn’t be such a sore subject and source of unrelenting rage.

I’ve tried engaging with the monogamy-or-bust folks, going straight to the source, but I’ve never learned anything useful. They are so consumed by anger, that they can’t speak logically about why something that has nothing to do with them provokes such outrage. Honestly, they sound like the anti-marriage equality crowd. They say the same things repeatedly about how it ruins the sanctity of marriage (or in this case, relationships), but when you ask how it affects them personally, they don’t have an answer. But for whatever reason, this remains a source of animosity.

That said, here’s what I have noticed.

1. People in satisfying monogamous relationships don’t have reason to be angry.

When I speak to gay men who are in satisfying monogamous relationships, they’re never angered. Confused? Absolutely. Do they know that an open relationship would never work for them? Yes, very aware. Are they skeptical that it will work out? Sure. But angry? Never. The only people who are actively angered are men who are single or unhappily committed in a monogamous relationship. This had led me to believe a main reason for their anger is displacement. They’re unhappy with their relationship (or lack thereof) and are taking it out on men in happy, open relationships.

2. The angry folks have reason to be insecure and jealous.

These are people for whom a polyamorous relationship would never work, because they struggle to believe in their own self-worth. They fear they aren’t worthy of love. Because of this, these insecure men think that their partner will leave them in the dust if someone comes along who seems “better,” instead of acknowledging that a person can love two individuals. These guys are usually single.

Simon*, a gay man I interviewed, supports this notion; he thinks open-relationship shaming is a matter of projection. “…I find that there has been an increase in hypocritical slut-shaming that comes from the queer community. [We’re] always eager to feel morally superior. I think this happens because it’s easier for [some queer men] to project insecurities and/or personal issues onto someone who doesn’t seem to feel guilt or remorse for exploring their sexuality with other partners, than to be honest with themselves about their own desires and ‘deviant’ curiosities, polyamory among them.”

3. The angry gay men are homonormative AF.

In my experience, the gay men vehemently opposed to open/poly life tend to be the same men who think bisexuality is a stepping stone to gay and that being transgender is a mental illness; men who don’t see the value in the word “queer” and don’t believe gays should be supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Their perception of open/poly life isn’t an isolated issue. It’s rooted in a larger ideology that’s riddled with entitlement and privilege.

However, as one gay man I interviewed, Noah, said, “I also think that (white) gay men’s attitudes on polyamory are shaped very heavily by our successful assimilation into mainstream culture. Remember, one of the most widespread arguments against gay marriage was that it would lead us down a slippery slope towards legalization of polygamy and other ‘deviant’ (read: alternative) relationship structures. Accepting polyamory as a positive force in the gay community means pushing back against the core world views of those naysayers. But the gay community has mostly opted for assimilation, so it’s not surprising that as a poly person I’m frequently viewed with suspicion.”

Though Noah said he hasn’t faced direct discrimination, he mentioned that a growing number of gay men refuse to date him because they think, “I am inherently unable to give them the level of intimacy that they crave or the level of commitment that they desire.” When he says he’s polyamorous, “…I lose value in their eyes since there is no chance for me to be their One True Love.” He understands the need for boundaries and respects people for realizing polyamory or open relationships aren’t for them, but at the same time, this puts him in a very precarious position when it comes to dating.

Another man I interviewed, Rob, said he has hasn’t received much discrimination aside from a snarky comment here and there. “Let’s face it,” he said, “open relationships are as common among gay guys as bread and butter!”

While I think that is true, and open relationships are quite common in the queer male community, this relates back to what Noah was discussing. With assimilation into more mainstream culture and the acquirement of rights, including that to marry, many gay men are shifting their attitudes on non-traditional relationships—becoming less accepting of them.

With all of that said, I still can’t help but see the irony in a gay man critiquing how someone else loves. Love is love—isn’t that what we’ve been preaching this whole time? And if love does conquer all, which I believe all gay and queer men believe, then we, as a community, need to be supportive of other queer men. Instead of buying into this boring, oppressive, homonormative gay culture, or losing our sense of openness as we continue to assimilate into the heteronormative mainstream, I’d like to see gay men expand their notion of what gay is, what love is, and what a relationship is.

I’m also hoping that we can think outside ourselves. Just because a certain non-traditional relationship style wouldn’t be our first choice, doesn’t mean it can’t be the ideal relationship style for our gay brothers. We’re not only being arrogant and close-minded; we’re beginning to sound a lot like the Republicans who work so hard to take away our rights.

So if you’re one of those gay men who are vehemently opposed to every type of relationship but monogamy, I ask you to ask yourself: “Why?”

Complete Article HERE!

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What does YOUR sex fantasy say about you?

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From threesomes to dreaming of sleeping with someone else, your raunchy dreams unravelled

By Tracey Cox

Good news if you enjoy having erotic daydreams. Research done by an Israeli psychologist has just found having sexual fantasies about people other than your partner doesn’t significantly harm your relationship.

So let’s skip to the second most popular question people ask about their fantasies: what do they mean?

Why does an image of your next door neighbor naked suddenly pop up in your head when you have zero attraction in real life?

sexual fantasies

Why do we fantasise about things we have no desire to do in reality?

Analysing fantasies is a bit like dream analysis: it’s more about individual interpretation than general concepts. Dreaming of performing on stage is a positive dream for some; for others it would qualify as an anxiety dream.

So let your instincts guide you on what rings true and what doesn’t but here are some common female fantasy themes and what therapists conclude from them.

Being irresistible

It’s a universal need to want people to find you attractive.

But what if you were so attractive, people really couldn’t help themselves and were literally falling at your feet, begging you to let them kiss you, touch you, have sex with you?

Being adored rather handily removes responsibility for what follows: you’re being seduced by people who are desperate to possess you, how could you possibly resist? Because society frowns on women who instigate sexual encounters, our subconscious tries to find ways to make it ‘acceptable’ and this is one of them.

Sometimes, recurring fantasies of being irresistible mean there’s an unconscious fear that in reality the opposite is true.

In this case, it can reflect low self-esteem and fears of sexual inadequacy.

In most, it’s simply a healthy outlet for the recurring dream of going to bed as ourselves and waking up as a supermodel.

Bondage fantasiesbondage2225

No prizes for guessing this one is about power.

One person has it, the other doesn’t and we’re attracted to both for different reasons.

Stripped of it, we are completely at the mercy of someone else, absolving us of responsibility. This means we’re ‘forced’ to enjoy whatever the other person does to us.

If you’re a people-pleaser and usually the ‘giver’, this makes it impossible to reciprocate.

If we’re the ones in control, we’re given permission to be completely selfish.

Dominating men

This is particularly popular with women who are shy and undemanding in real life.

The desire to be the boss and be in control isn’t exclusive to men but being sexually aggressive is seen as male trait.

Lots of women are worried they won’t be seen as feminine if they act dominant during sex but our imagination (thank God) isn’t bound by the same rules which dictate society. We might choose to ‘behave’ during waking hours but in our dreams and our fantasies, our forceful, domineering sides are given freedom.

We don’t wait to be given ‘permission’ but take what we want, when we want it, without apology.

The goal isn’t to humiliate our lover, it’s to give us a total sense of control.

Forbidden people

Sometimes it’s a replay of what actually happened with a particularly desirable ex (we tend to marry for love not sex); if it’s someone new, the grass-is-greener philosophy is at play.

The more forbidden the person (our partner’s best friend, someone’s father, the boss), the more powerful the fantasy.

The ‘we want what we can’t have’ syndrome is especially potent in sex.

Him watching you have sex with another man

You’re insatiable – he alone can’t satisfy you

The person who craves sex more is seen as more sexually powerful, so this is a power fantasy as well.

It also hints at the urge to show off: we can only see so much when we’re having sex with someone because you’re necessarily physically close.

Watching from a distance, he gets to see how good you really look.

Romantic

No real surprises with this one: these fantasies are had by women who are more motivated by love than sex and tend to be sexually conservative.

Even if we can’t do it in reality, most of us can separate sex and love in our imaginations

Women who only have romantic fantasies tend not to be able to.

Seducing a virgin

Sign-Virginville-VillageOf
We always remember the first person we have sex with, so high achievers and those who enjoy being the centre of attention may enjoy this fantasy.

If someone’s never done something before, we not only get to teach them everything we know – putting us in a superior sexual position – they probably won’t criticise our technique

So it may mean you secretly feel sexually inadequate

Corrupting innocence is also a strong theme here: it’s forbidden, so highly appealing.

Sex in public or semi-public

This one’s about people admiring us – usually, onlookers are so impressed by our sexual skills, they’d cut off a limb to swap places with the person we’re having sex with.

It’s also illegal so can mean you’re quite rebellious.

Sex with a stranger

If you don’t know them and never will, you can let loose without fear of being judged. If they don’t know you, you can become someone else.

It’s sex stripped of all emotion, purely physical.

Often the stranger will be faceless.

Eye contact means intimacy, avoiding it is another way to ensure it satisfies the raw, primitive side of us we may mask in real life.

Sex with someone much younger or older

Having sex with someone much younger than us is an ego-boost: we’ve still ‘got it’ to be able to attract them.

Sex with someone older works on the same principle.

We see older people as wiser, richer, more intelligent, worldly and sophisticated.

Then there are Daddy issues.

Women who consistently fantasise about older men or date them in real life, can sometimes be working through issues with their own father.

We try to fix what’s happened in the past by recreating it, with a different ending, in the present.

Spanking fantasies

spank
Spanking is a common fantasy made even more so since Christian Grey came (ahem) into our lives.

But it also has biological undertones.

Aggression is common in the animal world: some female animals only ovulate if the male bites them and humans have also long linked pain and pleasure.

Wanting to be spanked can also originate from guilt: we need to be punished for liking something we shouldn’t (sex).

Stripping

This is all about ‘the looking glass effect’: seeing ourselves reflected in other people’s eyes. The more adoring they look at us, the more adorable we feel.

Strippers involve the audience in their own narcissism – they want to be looked at.

Most of the men who frequent strip clubs are voyeurs: all they want to do is look rather than touch.

Flaunting gives us a sense of power – and power is always sexy.

Exposing our naked body to cheers and applause in our fantasies also helps calm our fear of our body not being good enough in real life.

Threesomes, swinging, group sex

When women fantasise about group sex they tend to be the undisputed star of the session – and are nearly always on the receiving end.

For men, it’s more about being able to satisfy more than one woman.

These fantasies are a heady blend of exhibitionism, voyeurism, bi-curiosity (if there’s the same sex involved) and a human longing for excess (if one person feels good, more must feel better).

Watching others have sex vintage-voyeur

Countless surveys have shown women are as turned on by erotic images as men are so it makes sense that we’re also just as voyeuristic.

Watching people have sex in real life is even more fascinating than porn because it makes for more realistic comparisons.

We all love to think we’re great in bed and watching other people means we can see how we rate on the ‘best lover’ chart.

It also hints at sexual confidence: you could teach people a thing or two!

Women with women

It’s as common for women to have sexual fantasies about other women as it is rare for men to have fantasies about other men,’ says Nancy Friday, author of The Secret Garden, the infamous book about female fantasies.

Women are far less haunted by the social taboo of being gay, probably because society is far less homophobic about gay women than it is gay men

Most women who fantasise about other women, aren’t gay or bi-sexual: simply thinking about something does not mean you’re gay.

Be careful about sharing this one though: watching you with another woman happens to be one of the top male fantasies.

Especially if he’s been racking his brains about what special surprise he can organize for that upcoming birthday…

Complete Article HERE!

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Dating experts explain polyamory and open relationships

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open-relationships

To start, they are not the same thing as polygamy (that’s when you have more than one spouse). They are also not maintaining secret relationships while dating a person who believes he or she is your one and only (that’s just cheating).

Polyamorous open relationships, or consensual non-monogamy, are an umbrella category. Their expression can take a range of forms focusing on both physical and emotional intimacy with secondary or tertiary partners , though some relationships can veer toward strictly the physical and resemble 1970s-era swinging or group sex.

To better understand open relationships, we talked to several experts: Dan Savage, an author and gay-rights activist who writes a column about sex and relationships called Savage Love; Elisabeth Sheff, who over two decades has interviewed more than 130 people about non-monogamy and written three books on the topic; and Karley Sciortino, sex and relationships columnist for Vogue and Vice and creator of the blog “Slutever.”

We distilled their thoughts into seven key points.

1. Open relationships aren’t for everyone. Neither is monogamy
Among people who study or write about interpersonal relationships, there’s a concept known as sociosexuality, which describes how willing people are to engage in uncommitted sexual relationships. Sociosexuality is considered an orientation, such as being gay, straight, bisexual or somewhere in between.

If you’re on one end of the sociosexual scale, it might be hard to match with a potential partner on the other . “Growing up, you’re told to find people with the same interests and hobbies, but never told to find someone sexually compatible to you,” Ms. Sciortino said. She recommends figuring out early on whether the person you’re dating is a match on the scale.

Mr. Savage explained that people who would prefer an open relationship sometimes avoid asking for it as they drift into an emotional commitment because they’re afraid of rejection. But “if monogamy isn’t something you think you’ll be capable of for five or six decades, you should be anxious to get rejected,” he said. Saying quiet about your needs can lead to problems down the line and result in cheating.

That said, a lot of people aren’t on opposite ends of the scale. Mr. Savage, who is in a non-monogamous marriage, said that when he first brought up being open to his husband, he rejected the idea. But several years later, it was his husband who suggested they try it.

“If I had put that I’m interested in non-monogamy on my personal ad, and my husband had seen that personal ad, he wouldn’t have dated me,” Mr. Savage said.

2. Polyamory is not an exit strategy.
Open relationships aren’t the way to soften a blow or to transition out of a committed situation. “If they cheat first, and say, ‘Honey, I’ve found someone else; we’ve been together six months,’ it’s very hard to successfully navigate that,” Dr. Sheff said.

Doing something with other people before discussing it essentially betrays your partner’s trust. And trust and communication are crucial in any relationship, whether it’s monogamous or not.

3. Nor is it an option to just keep a relationship going.
“If it’s to avoid breaking up, I have never seen that work,” Dr. Sheff said. “I’ve seen it limp along for a few months. If it’s out of fear of losing the polyamorous person, that’s a disaster in the making. It’s like a lesbian trying to be happy in a relationship with a man.”

Pretending to be happy with a situation while suffering inside doesn’t work for anyone.

4. Rules and situations can change.
“Non-monogamy is a basket of possibilities,” Mr. Savage said. He said that sometimes a person’s first reaction to a suggestion of opening the relationship is anxiety. “They’re going to have this panic response and assume you’re going to have 7,000 partners in a year and they’re never going to see you,” he said. But non-monogamy can be expressed in a range of ways: Some couples only have sex with other people, others date them and fall for them, others are open about being open and yet others keep their openness “in the closet” socially.

“It seems boundless,” Ms. Sciortino said. “But actually, there are so many more rules in non-monogamous relationships than in monogamous ones. There’s only one rule in monogamous relationships.”

For her, pushing her boundaries and talking about them forced her to be honest with herself about what she prefers and to learn to communicate well and clearly. “I don’t think it’s possible to understand your comfort zone until you try,” she said.

5. Prioritizing a primary partner is key.
A term familiar to people who practice non-monogamy is “new relationship energy.” It’s that excited feeling when two compatible people are getting to know each other and want to spend every minute together.

The problem with new relationship energy is that it can make a primary partner feel forgotten. “Your long-term partner can feel hurt if you’re taking your relationship for granted,” Dr. Sheff said. “Wear your special lingerie, surprise them, bring them flowers.”

For some people, it’s not a big deal if their partner has sex with someone else, but they can feel slighted if they are being emotionally neglected.

“It’s emotional cheating that people want to protect themselves from,” Mr. Savage said. He brought up an example from when he was dating his now-husband, who bought a Christmas tree with a good friend. The situation made Mr. Savage jealous in a way that his boyfriend’s having sex with someone else wouldn’t have. “Going Christmas tree shopping is what you do with your boyfriend,” he said.

So his pro tip? “Demonstrate that they are your first priority.” It’s called a primary partner for a reason.

6. Those sharing a lover can get along too.
Dr. Sheff said that in her experience, the most successful non-monogamous relationships are the ones in which the lovers’ partners (the ones who aren’t sleeping with each other) get along. As an example, she brought up a married couple in which the woman developed a relationship with another man when she was pregnant with her second child.

“The boyfriend and husband would do all sorts of stuff together,” Dr. Sheff said. After eight years, the relationship between the woman and her boyfriend ended, but her husband maintained his friendship with the other man.

“They had lunch every other Saturday where the husband would bring the kids,” Dr. Sheff said. “It worked because the husband didn’t have a sexual relationship with the boyfriend.”

In this polyamorous situation, and others she has seen succeed, the partners who are not sexually involved are the glue that kept the group together.

7. Jealousy is present, but not unique.
“A woman once asked me, ‘Don’t you get jealous?,’ ” Mr. Savage said. “And I looked at her and said, ‘Don’t you?’ Monogamous commitments aren’t force fields that protect you from jealousy.”

Jealousy is a universal emotion that transcends sociosexuality states.

“I always say I want to do whatever I want, and I want my partner to be in a cage when I’m not around,” Ms. Sciortino said. And while that kind of setup is possible, it’s not exactly the one she’s looking for.

So what does she recommend? “Put yourself in their position,” she said. “If you can have sex with someone else and it doesn’t take away from your love and even enhances it, you have to allow them the same freedoms.”

Dr. Sheff suggested taking a close look at the underlying causes of the jealousy: Is it insecurity? Fear? Maybe it’s even justified? “Sometimes jealousy is a signal that you really are being slighted,” she said.

Tips for confronting jealousy in open relationships are the same as in most other relationships: writing down your thoughts, talking out your feelings with your partner, seeing a counselor.

And that, all three experts were quick to note, may be the most important point to understand: In many ways, open relationships aren’t all that different from monogamous ones. The best way to feel comfortable is up to individuals and their partner(s).

Complete Article HERE!

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