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Disability and desire

Martha explores how to feel loved when you find it impossible to love yourself

'You can't conduct healthy relationships when you don't truly believe that anyone could ever be in love with you'

‘You can’t conduct healthy relationships when you don’t truly believe that anyone could ever be in love with you’

by Martha Saunders

“So, we’re autistic” said the man on the screen, flatly. I played the clip over and over again, searching for the joke. “So, we’re autistic.” “So, we’re autistic.” The meme was a clip from the show The Undateables, and it had surfaced on my news feed because someone I’d recently hooked up with had liked it. I typed out various increasingly explicit formulations on the response “Undateable? that’s not what you said the other night” before deleting them and throwing my phone across the room, furiously wiping tears from my eyes and a warm wave of familiar self-disgust churning through my stomach.

Confession: the main reason I don’t tell anyone about being autistic is that it isn’t very sexy. Disability in all its forms is utterly desexualised in our society – autism particularly so, in part due to it’s inaccurate representation as something which primarily affects young children. Autistic characters don’t have sexual relationships unless their clumsy attempts at doing so are a source of comedy for neurotypical viewers. We are “undateable.”

Young autistic women exist in a strange and dangerous contradiction. Young women are taught their primary value is their sexual attractiveness; disabled people are constantly publicly desexualised. As a result, I spent much of my teenage life obsessively chasing something which would always be, by definition, just a little out of my reach.

No matter how hard I worked to look pretty enough, sound smart enough, deliver flirty and funny enough comebacks, something about me still felt inherently undesirable. I cut my hair a different way every few months and saved my school lunch money for fake nails, a rainbow of lipsticks and boxes of hair dye in bright red, peroxide blonde, jet black, pastel pink and chocolate brown, hoping that one day I’d hit on some magic combination of chemicals that erased what felt like a ugly, rotten core.

Like many young women who’ve always felt something was a little out of place, I was drawn to fourth-wave feminism’s mantra of self-love and body positivity like a moth to a bulb. But while I saw women around me flourish in these spaces, they weren’t what I was looking for. In fact, as a slim, white, blue-eyed blonde, I am slightly incongruous in them; women who look like me are already constantly validated as being physically attractive. My sense of inadequacy hadn’t been coming from my body; conversely, I realised, I had been using making my physical self look as good as possible in order to to compensate for the insecurity I felt about my disability. When your insides feel uglier than your outside, the concept of inner beauty just makes you feel worse.

If it were that easy

If it were that easy

It’s not hard to predict how this deep-rooted sense of undesirability can manifest in unhealthy relationships. While the logical, stridently feminist, #StrongIndependentWoman side of me knows to take no shit from creepy men who feel entitled to my body, there is a part of me, larger and more influential than I’d like to admit, which feels someone like me should be pathetically grateful for sexual or romantic attention. Even when it comes to full relationships, it’s still very difficult for me to separate genuine attraction to a man from intense gratitude at his interest in me. Whether it’s likes on a selfie or a series of incredibly inadvisable involvements with boys I should theoretically despise, I am constantly looking for ways to compile quantifiable proof that I am desirable.

Women with invisible disabilities struggle with sex and relationships in many different ways; some of us become terrified of engaging in sex or dating at all; some of us attempt to fill our deep sense of inadequacy with as many flings and one night stands as possible. Some of us become prime targets for abusive relationships due to our predisposition to self-doubt and our fear that nobody else will accept us; some of us hold partners at arms length or self-sabotage as quickly as possible, fearing that if anyone gets close enough to find out what we’re really like they will be repulsed and hurt us more.

It sounds like a cheesy platitude, but you can’t conduct healthy relationships when you don’t truly believe that anyone could ever be in love with you, and you can’t believe that anyone could be in love with you until you’ve learned to love yourself. It’s hard to do this when you’ve only ever seen people like you degraded and mocked for their efforts to feel wanted. A lot of the people cracking jokes about your disorder will have no idea how many brilliant, captivating, engaging disabled people they’ve been attracted to. If that makes you “undateable” to them? Their loss.

Complete Article HERE!

Why more and more women are identifying as bisexual

By Megan Todd

This is the pro-LGBT rights image that saw an Italian woman suspended from Facebook after the social media site claimed it violated rules on 'nudity and pornography'

This is the pro-LGBT rights image that saw an Italian woman suspended from Facebook after the social media site claimed it violated rules on ‘nudity and pornography’

The Office of National Statistics has released its latest data on sexual identities in the UK, and some striking patterns jump out – especially when it comes to bisexuality.

The number of young people identifying as bisexual has apparently risen by 45% over the last three years. Women are more likely to identity as bisexual (0.8%) than lesbian (0.7%), whereas men are more likely to report as gay (1.6%) than bisexual (0.5%). That last finding chimes with other studies in the UK and the US – but why should this be?

Women’s sexuality has historically been policed, denied and demonised in very particular ways, and for a woman to be anything other than passively heterosexual has often been considered an outright perversion. Lesbians have historically been seen as a more dangerous breed, a direct challenge to patriarchal structures, perhaps explaining why women may be more likely to self-identify as bisexual. Some research into women’s sexuality has also suggested that women take a more fluid approach to their relationships than men.

But then there’s the more general matter of how much sexual labels still matter to people – and here, the ONS findings really start to get interesting.

Among young people aged between 16 and 24, 1.8% said they identified as bisexual – exceeding, for the first time, the 1.5% who identified as lesbian or gay. In total 3.3% of young people identified as LGB, a significantly higher proportion than the 1.7% of the general population who identified as such. (Just 0.6% of the over-65s did).

In a society that still tends to see the world in often false binaries – man/woman, gay/straight, white/black and so on – how can we explain such a difference?

A pessimistic view of why more young people are identifying as bisexual rather than as gay or lesbian might be that conservative, rigid and polarised understandings of what gender is still hold sway. This, in turn, might also have an impact on attitudes to sexuality, where an investment in a lesbian or gay identity may be more frowned upon than a bisexual one – which in many people’s minds still has a “friendly” relationship with heterosexuality.

And yet it’s clear that identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual carries less stigma for the younger age group than it does for their elders.

 

Older generations grew up in a time where any orientation besides heterosexuality was taboo, stigmatised and often criminalised. The lesbian and gay movements of the 1970s and 1980s, inspired by the US’s Civil Rights movement, were often staunchly radical; the concept of the political lesbian, for instance, was a very prominent and powerful one. At the same time, both heterosexual and lesbian and gay communities were also marked by misunderstandings and distrust of bisexuality (in a word, biphobia).

But in the UK at least, gay and lesbian identities have lost a good deal of the political charge they once carried. Once “peripheral”, these sexual categories are well on the way to being normalised and commercialised. Many in the community remember or identify with a more radical era of political lesbianism and gay activism, and many of them are dismayed that non-heterosexuals’ current political battles for equality and recognition are often focused on gaining entry to heterosexual institutions, especially marriage.

Bisexuals march at Pride in London.

Bisexuals march at Pride in London.

But that doesn’t mean people have become more rigid in the ways they think about themselves. So while many in society will be the victims of homophobic and biphobic hate crime, things have improved, at least in terms of state policies.

This, alongside the now extensive reservoir of queer thought on gender and sexual fluidity, and the increasing strength of trans movements, may explain why the younger generation are taking labels such as bisexual, lesbian and gay in greater numbers than their seniors. That celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevigne and Anna Paquin have come out as bisexual in recent years can’t have hurt either.

Beyond labels?

The ONS survey raises empirical questions which are connected to those of identity. It specifically asked questions about sexual identity, rather than exploring the more complicated links between identity, behaviours and desires.

The category “bisexual” is also very internally diverse. Many would argue that there are many different types of bisexuality and other sexual identities which the ONS survey does not explore.

This much is made clear by the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle (NATSAL), which has taken place every ten years since 1990 and is perhaps the most detailed picture we have of what people do (or don’t do) in bed. It suggests that the number of people who report same-sex experience is much higher than the number of people who identify as gay or bisexual.

Laud Humphreys’ infamous 1970 book Tearoom Trade, a highly controversial ethnographic study of anonymous sex between men in public toilets, showed us that plenty of people who seek out and engage in same-sex sexual contact do not necessarily identify as exclusively gay or even bisexual – in fact, only a small minority of his respondents did.

However far we’ve come, there’s still a social stigma attached to being lesbian/gay/bisexual. That means the statistics we have will be an underestimate, and future surveys will need a much more complicated range of questions to give us a more accurate picture. If we ask the right ones, we might discover we live in a moment where people are exploring their sexualities without feeling the need to label them.

But are we headed towards a point where the hetero/homo binary will collapse, and where gender will play less of a role in sexual preference? Given the continued privilege that comes with a heterosexual identity and the powerful political and emotional history of gay and lesbian identities and movements, I don’t think so.

Still, it seems more people may be growing up with the assumption that sexuality is more complicated than we have previously acknowledged – and that this not need not be a problem.

Complete Article HERE!

Are We Wrong About Male Sexuality?

Is male sexuality inherently predatory and threatening? Are Donald Trump’s comments and Brock Turner’s behavior typical?

Is male sexuality inherently predatory and threatening? Do all guys just want to grab women’s private parts, as Donald Trump suggested? Was Brock Turner’s jail sentence of six months and registering as a sex offender too harsh for “20 minutes of action”, as his father complained?

Many people believe rape is an inevitable by-product of male sexuality because the male sex drive is impossible to control. They may even believe that sexual desire causes guys to make bad decisions. They are dangerously incorrect and we all pay the price.

The reality is that most men are quite capable of controlling their sexual urges, which is why the vast 001majority of men are not rapists. In fact, most men are not particularly interested in having many partners. Researchers consistently find approximately 15% of men in their 20s have three or more partners per year, and only about 5% of all guys have three or more partners for three straight years. On college campuses, surrounded by thousands of other unmarried people their same age with a minimal level of adult supervision, only 25% of undergraduate men say they want two or more partners in the next thirty days. Yes, males have greater desire for and greater experience with promiscuity than women, but it’s a minority of guys who are driving the differences: three-fourths of male college students aren’t interested in having multiple short-term partners and more than four-fifths of guys in their 20s aren’t being promiscuous. So much for “hookup culture.” Most men don’t desire a promiscuous sex life. If you can get a man to talk about a sexual experience he regrets, you’ll probably hear a story about a drunken hookup.

Instead of recognizing and acting on the reality, we continue to minimize guys’ ability to control their sexual desires and instead give responsibility to others. Because we think guys can’t control themselves, we give girls and women responsibility for not dressing provocatively, not “leading him on,” and proving they gave a clear – and clearly understood – no. Guys seem to have little responsibility for knowing their own limits or being decent listeners. (Not good listeners; “no” is about as simple as it gets.) “Bathroom bills” in North Carolina make transgender individuals responsible for preventing the rape of women in restrooms; why not make it illegal to falsely claim a Trans identity?

Female victims clearly pay the price, as the letter from Brock Turner’s victim demonstrates. The experience and its associated trauma are awful. Not being listened to, as in the Bill Cosby case, just makes it worse.

Victims of male-on-male sexual assault suffer many of the same outcomes, with an additional dose of shame for not being able to defend themselves. Mental health problems may be compounded by the lack of public and professional knowledge regarding male sexual assault victims, leading to less effective treatment.

002Some institutions have also paid the price of male sexual predation. They assumed rape was inevitable and then tried to act like it never happened. The Catholic Church has paid tens of millions in settlements. Football programs from Penn State to Baylor to Sayreville, NJ have paid, with reputations tarnished and jobs lost. At this level, the cost is paid not just by the perpetrators and those who covered for them, but many others who genuinely didn’t know. Some of those innocents, continuing to trust the organizations and relying on their faulty knowledge of male sexuality, lash out at the victims.

Although the cost is much smaller at the individual level, all men suffer from the notion that “men are dogs,” because any misbehavior of his reinforces that notion. Further, he is incapable of refuting the global charge because the group “men” is more likely than the group “women” to be lewd or commit any type of sexual assault. Most women date men, and when they spend time and energy trying to figure out if he’s a dog or a good guy, they’re paying the price of our misunderstanding.

We can and must do better. We can learn the facts about men’s ability and willingness to control themselves, and give credit to the majority of men for being responsible adults. We can also put responsibility on the minority of men who disgrace the whole group, and teach them how to do better.

 

Expert Shares Tips for Talking Sexual Health With Cancer Survivors

by KATIE KOSKO

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Sexual health can be an uncomfortable or embarrassing topic to discuss for many people, and for patients with cancer and survivors it can feel even more awkward. Nevertheless, sex ranks among the top 5 unmet needs of survivors, and the good news is, proactive oncology practitioners can help fill that void.

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

And, oncologists and oncology nurses are well-positioned to open up that line of communication.

“At least take one sentence to bring up the topic of sexuality with a new patient to find out if it is a concern for that person,” Schover explained in a recent interview with Oncology Nursing News. “Then have someone ready to do the follow-up that is needed,” and have other patient resources, such as handouts and useful websites, on hand.

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

“Sex remains a low priority, with very little time devoted to managing sexual problems even in specialty residencies,” said Schover. “I submitted a grant four times before I retired, to provide an online interprofessional training program to encourage oncology teams to do a far better job of assessing and managing sexual problems. I could not get it funded.”

In her webinar, she offered tips for healthcare practitioners who want to learn more about how to address sexual health concerns with their patients, like using simple words that patients will understand and asking open-ended questions in order to engage patients and give them room to expand on their sex life.

Schover suggests posing a question such as: “This treatment will affect your sex life. Tell me a little about your sex life now.”

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

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

According to Schover, oncologists and oncology nurses should provide realistic expectations to patients when they are in the treatment decision-making process.

“Men with prostate cancer are told they are likely to have an 80% chance of having erections good enough for sex after cancer treatment,” Schover says. “But the truth is it’s more like 20 to 25% of men who will have erections like they had at baseline.”

To get more comfortable talking about sex with patients, Schover advises role-playing exercises with colleagues, friends, and family—acting as the healthcare professional and then the patient. When the process is finished, ask for feedback.

Brochures, books, websites and handouts are also good to have on hand for immediate guidance when patient questions do arise. But Schover is hoping for a bigger change rooted in multidisciplinary care and better patient–provider communication to find personalized treatments tailored to each individual’s concerns and needs.

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

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

Schover wants to make sure that those resources are easily accessible to patients and survivors. Thus, she has created the startup, Will2Love, which offers information on the latest research and treatment, hosts webinars, and provides access to personalized services.

“Sexual health is a right,” concluded Schover, and both oncology professionals and patients need to be assertive in getting the conversation started.

Complete Article HERE!

Am I Sexually Healthy? 6 Signs Of Good Bedroom Habits For Better Sex

By

Most of us don’t want to ask, but we’re curious how our sex life stacks up to our friends, colleagues, and neighbors. “How often do other couples have sex?” and, “How long do they last in bed?” or “Do they ‘change it up’ every time?” are all questions that make us wonder if we’re sexually normal. Good sexual health is contingent on understanding and embracing all aspects of our sexuality.

Sexual health is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction, or infirmity. Dr. Draion M. Burch, a sexual health advisor for Astroglide TCC, affirms it’s not limited to just being STD free. “It’s the emotional, physical, and social characteristics of sexual behavior,” he told Medical Daily.

It’s a mind-body connection that facilitates the possibility of having good sex. You have sex in a way that promotes health and healthy relationships. It’s about feeling good about ourselves as an individual, as well as understanding who we are sexually.

Dr. Nicole Prause, a sexual psychophysiologist and neuroscientist, reminds us we can be sexually healthy and choose not to engage sexually at all. “Sexual health does have to even necessarily include sex per se,” she told Medical Daily.

Below are 6 signs of good habits in the bedroom to rate how sexually healthy you are.

Love Your Body

A healthy sex life starts with loving our body. A 2009 study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found women between the ages 18 to 49 who scored high on a body image scale were the most sexually satisfied. Positive feelings associated with our weight, physical condition, sexual attractiveness, and thoughts about our body during sex help promote healthy sexual functioning.

April Masini, relationship expert and author, believes a poor body image, or poor health and an awareness of it, can lead to a complicated sex life.

“Your body is the instrument you use to have sex, so when your body is in good health and you feel good about it, you’re less likely to feel it’s an obstacle to having sex,” she told Medical Daily.

Good communication

A healthy sex life relies on the foundation of communication. It’s about communicating what we want and what our partners want in the bedroom. Good communication takes effort, and it doesn’t always go smoothly, but attempting to talk with one another about desires can make sex enticing.

“Without it, you don’t read each other’s cues and react to whether something feels good or doesn’t feel good,” said Masini.

Dirty Talk

A flirty or naughty text or whispering dirty sexual banter into each other’s ears can lead to greater sexual satisfaction for both partners. A 2011 study in the Journal of Integrated Social Sciences found specific sexual behaviors, such as kissing, oral sex, and engaging in sexual conversations, were more likely related to greater sexual satisfaction. This is also linked to the concept of good communication between both partners.

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Happy Relationship

Inevitably, a happy relationship usually translates to a happy sex life. A 2011 study in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior found for middle-aged and older couples in committed relationships of one to 51 years’ duration, relationship happiness and sexual satisfaction were mutually reinforcing. Romantic relationships are important for our happiness and well-being.

Changing It Up

Couples will report sex can become routine; novelty is a way that increases sexual arousal, and as a result, sexual pleasure. Changing it up doesn’t have to be drastic — simply wearing new lingerie or doing your hair differently can be a way to introduce something new in the boudoir.

“Some people seem to think novelty means anal sex in your front yard, but novelty can be very subtle, like extremely slow pacing and teasing,” said Prause.

Not Counting

Couples may do it a few times a week or once a month, but focusing on a number will not be productive to our sex life. “The nature and quality of the sex can vary tremendously, as does frequency, but the main outcome any therapist will focus on is your satisfaction,” according to Prause.

A 2015 study in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization found increased frequency does not lead to increased happiness. Researchers hypothesize it could be because it leads to a decline in anticipation, and therefore enjoyment. Sometimes less is more when it comes to sex.

Sexual health does not pertain to just sex; it’s about how you feel mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Complete Article HERE!