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Condemned, celebrated, shunned: masturbation has long been an uncomfortable fact of life. Why?

by Barry Reay

A handy history

The anonymous author of the pamphlet Onania (1716) was very worried about masturbation. The ‘shameful vice’, the ‘solitary act of pleasure’, was something too terrible to even be described. The writer agreed with those ‘who are of the opinion, that… it never ought to be spoken of, or hinted at, because the bare mentioning of it may be dangerous to some’. There was, however, little reticence in cataloguing ‘the frightful consequences of self-pollution’. Gonorrhoea, fits, epilepsy, consumption, impotence, headaches, weakness of intellect, backache, pimples, blisters, glandular swelling, trembling, dizziness, heart palpitations, urinary discharge, ‘wandering pains’, and incontinence – were all attributed to the scourge of onanism.

The fear was not confined to men. The full title of the pamphlet was Onania: Or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, and all its Frightful Consequences (in Both Sexes). Its author was aware that the sin of Onan referred to the spilling of male seed (and divine retribution for the act) but reiterated that he treated ‘of this crime in relation to women as well as men’. ‘[W]hilst the offence is Self-Pollution in both, I could not think of any other word which would so well put the reader in mind both of the sin and its punishment’. Women who indulged could expect disease of the womb, hysteria, infertility and deflowering (the loss of ‘that valuable badge of their chastity and innocence’).

Another bestselling pamphlet was published later in the century: L’onanisme (1760) by Samuel Auguste Tissot. He was critical of Onania, ‘a real chaos … all the author’s reflections are nothing but theological and moral puerilities’, but nevertheless listed ‘the ills of which the English patients complain’. Tissot was likewise fixated on ‘the physical disorders produced by masturbation’, and provided his own case study, a watchmaker who had self-pleasured himself into ‘insensibility’ on a daily basis, sometimes three times a day; ‘I found a being that less resembled a living creature than a corpse, lying upon straw, meagre, pale, and filthy, casting forth an infectious stench; almost incapable of motion.’ The fear these pamphlets promoted soon spread.

The strange thing is that masturbation was never before the object of such horror. In ancient times, masturbation was either not much mentioned or treated as something a little vulgar, not in good taste, a bad joke. In the Middle Ages and for much of the early modern period too, masturbation, while sinful and unnatural, was not invested with such significance. What changed?

Religion and medicine combined powerfully to create a new and hostile discourse. The idea that the soul was present in semen led to thinking that it was very important to retain the vital fluid. Its spilling became, then, both immoral and dangerous (medicine believed in female semen at the time). ‘Sin, vice, and self-destruction’ were the ‘trinity of ideas’ that would dominate from the 18th into the 19th century, as the historians Jean Stengers and Anne Van Neck put it in Masturbation: The Great Terror (2001).

There were exceptions. Sometimes masturbation was opposed for more ‘enlightened’ reasons. In the 1830s and 1840s, for instance, female moral campaign societies in the United States condemned masturbation, not out of hostility to sex, but as a means to self-control. What would now be termed ‘greater sexual agency’ – the historian April Haynes refers to ‘sexual virtue’ and ‘virtuous restraint’ – was central to their message.

Yet it is difficult to escape the intensity of the fear. J H Kellogg’s Plain Facts for Old and Young (1877) contained both exaggerated horror stories and grand claims: ‘neither the plague, nor war, nor smallpox, nor similar diseases, have produced results so disastrous to humanity as the pernicious habit of Onanism; it is the destroying element of civilised societies’. Kellogg suggested remedies for the scourge, such as exercise, strict bathing and sleeping regimes, compresses, douching, enemas and electrical treatment. Diet was vital: this rabid anti-masturbator was co-inventor of the breakfast cereal that still bears his name. ‘Few of today’s eaters of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes know that he invented them, almost literally, as anti-masturbation food,’ as the psychologist John Money once pointed out.

The traces are still with us in other ways. Male circumcision, for instance, originated in part with the 19th-century obsession with the role of the foreskin in encouraging masturbatory practices. Consciously or not, many US males are faced with this bodily reminder every time they masturbate. And the general disquiet unleashed in the 18th century similarly lingers on today. We seem to have a confusing and conflicting relationship with masturbation. On one hand it is accepted, even celebrated – on the other, there remains an unmistakable element of taboo.

When the sociologist Anthony Giddens in The Transformation of Intimacy (1992) attempted to identify what made modern sex modern, one of the characteristics he identified was the acceptance of masturbation. It was, as he said, masturbation’s ‘coming out’. Now it was ‘widely recommended as a major source of sexual pleasure, and actively encouraged as a mode of improving sexual responsiveness on the part of both sexes’. It had indeed come to signify female sexual freedom with Betty Dodson’s Liberating Masturbation (1974) (renamed and republished as Sex for One in 1996), which has sold more than a million copies, and her Bodysex Workshops in Manhattan with their ‘all-women masturbation circles’. The Boston Women’s Health Collective’s classic feminist text Our Bodies, Ourselves (1973) included a section called ‘Learning to Masturbate’.

Alfred Kinsey and his team are mainly remembered for the sex surveys that publicised the pervasiveness of same-sex desires and experiences in the US, but they also recognised the prevalence of masturbation. It was, for both men and women, one of the nation’s principal sexual outlets. In the US National Survey (2009–10), 94 per cent of men aged 25-29 and 85 per cent of women in the same age group said that they had masturbated alone in the course of their lifetime. (All surveys indicate lower reported rates for women.) In the just-published results of the 2012 US National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, 92 per cent of straight men and a full 100 per cent of gay men recorded lifetime masturbation.

There has certainly been little silence about the activity. Several generations of German university students were questioned by a Hamburg research team about their masturbatory habits to chart changing attitudes and practices from 1966 to 1996; their results were published in 2003. Did they reach orgasm? Were they sexually satisfied? Was it fun? In another study, US women were contacted on Craigslist and asked about their masturbatory experiences, including clitoral stimulation and vaginal penetration. An older, somewhat self-referential study from 1977 of sexual arousal to films of masturbation asked psychology students at the University of Connecticut to report their ‘genital sensations’ while watching those films. Erection? Ejaculation? Breast sensations? Vaginal lubrication? Orgasm? And doctors have written up studies of the failed experiments of unfortunate patients: ‘Masturbation Injury Resulting from Intraurethral Introduction of Spaghetti’ (1986); ‘Penile Incarceration Secondary to Masturbation with A Steel Pipe’ (2013), with illustrations.

‘We are a profoundly self-pleasuring society at both a metaphorical and material level’

Self-stimulation has been employed in sexual research, though not always to great import. Kinsey and his team wanted to measure how far, if at all, semen was projected during ejaculation: Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, Kinsey’s biographer, refers to queues of men in Greenwich Village waiting to be filmed at $3 an ejaculation. William Masters and Virginia Johnson recorded and measured the physiological response during sexual arousal, using new technology, including a miniature camera inside a plastic phallus. Their book Human Sexual Response (1966) was based on data from more than 10,000 orgasms from nearly 700 volunteers: laboratory research involving sexual intercourse, stimulation, and masturbation by hand and with that transparent phallus. Learned journals have produced findings such as ‘Orgasm in Women in the Laboratory – Quantitative Studies on Duration, Intensity, Latency, and Vaginal Blood Flow’ (1985).

In therapy, too, masturbation has found its place ‘as a means of achieving sexual health’, as an article by Eli Coleman, the director of the programme in human sexuality at the University of Minnesota Medical School, once put it. A published study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in 1977 outlined therapist-supervised female masturbation (with dildo, vibrator and ‘organic vegetables’) as a way of encouraging vaginal orgasm. Then there is The Big Book of Masturbation (2003) and the hundreds of (pun intended) self-help books, Masturbation for Weight Loss, a Womans Guide only among the latest (and more opportunistic).

Self-pleasure has featured in literature, most famously in Philip Roth’s novel Portnoys Complaint (1969). But it is there in more recent writing too, including Chuck Palahniuk’s disturbing short story ‘Guts’ (2004). Autoeroticism (and its traces) have been showcased in artistic expression: in Jordan MacKenzie’s sperm and charcoal canvases (2007), for example, or in Marina Abramović’s reprise of Vito Acconci’s Seedbed at the Guggenheim in 2005, or her video art Balkan Erotic Epic of the same year.

On film and television, masturbation is similarly pervasive: Lauren Rosewarne’s Masturbation in Pop Culture (2014) was able to draw on more than 600 such scenes. My favourites are in the film Spanking the Monkey (1994), in which the main character is trying to masturbate in the bathroom, while the family dog, seemingly alert to such behaviour, pants and whines at the door; and in the Seinfeld episode ‘The Contest’ (1992), in which the ‘m’ word is never uttered, and where George’s mother tells her adult son that he is ‘treating his body like it was an amusement park’.

There is much evidence, then, for what the film scholar Greg Tuck in 2009 called the ‘mainstreaming of masturbation’: ‘We are a profoundly self-pleasuring society at both a metaphorical and material level.’ There are politically-conscious masturbation websites. There is the online ‘Masturbation Hall of Fame’ (sponsored by the sex-toys franchise Good Vibrations). There are masturbationathons, and jack-off-clubs, and masturbation parties.

It would be a mistake, however, to present a rigid contrast between past condemnation and present acceptance. There are continuities. Autoeroticism might be mainstreamed but that does not mean it is totally accepted. In Sexual Investigations (1996), the philosopher Alan Soble observed that people brag about casual sex and infidelities but remain silent about solitary sex. Anne-Francis Watson and Alan McKee’s 2013 study of 14- to 16-year-old Australians found that not only the participants but also their families and teachers were more comfortable talking about almost any other sexual matter than about self-pleasuring. It ‘remains an activity that is viewed as shameful and problematic’, warns the entry on masturbation in the Encyclopedia of Adolescence (2011). In a study of the sexuality of students in a western US university, where they were asked about sexual orientation, anal and vaginal sex, condom use, and masturbation, it was the last topic that occasioned reservation: 28 per cent of the participants ‘declined to answer the masturbation questions’. Masturbation remains, to some extent, taboo.

When the subject is mentioned, it is often as an object of laughter or ridicule. Rosewarne, the dogged viewer of the 600 masturbation scenes in film and TV, concluded that male masturbation was almost invariably portrayed negatively (female masturbation was mostly erotic). Watson and McKee’s study revealed that their young Australians knew that masturbation was normal yet still made ‘negative or ambivalent statements’ about it.

Belief in the evils of masturbation has resurfaced in the figure of the sex addict and in the obsession with the impact of internet pornography. Throughout their relatively short histories, sexual addiction and hypersexual disorder have included masturbation as one of the primary symptoms of their purported maladies. What, in a sex-positive environment, would be considered normal sexual behaviour has been pathologised in another. Of the 152 patients in treatment for hypersexual disorder in clinics in California, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah, a 2012 study showed that most characterised their sexual disorder in terms of pornography consumption (81 per cent) and masturbation (78 per cent). The New Catholic Encyclopedia’s supplement on masturbation (2012-13), too, slips into a lengthy disquisition on sex addiction and the evils of internet pornography: ‘The availability of internet pornography has markedly increased the practice of masturbation to the degree that it can be appropriately referred to as an epidemic.’

Critics think that therapeutic masturbation might reinforce sexual selfishness rather than sexual empathy and sharing

The masturbator is often seen as the pornography-consumer and sex addict enslaved by masturbation. The sociologist Steve Garlick has suggested that negative attitudes to masturbation have been reconstituted to ‘surreptitiously infect ideas about pornography’. Pornography has become masturbation’s metonym. Significantly, when the New Zealand politician Shane Jones was exposed for using his taxpayer-funded credit card to view pornographic movies, the unnamed shame was that his self-pleasuring activities were proclaimed on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers – thus the jokes about ‘the matter in hand’ and not shaking hands with him at early morning meetings. It would have been less humiliating, one assumes, if he had used the public purse to finance the services of sex workers.

Nor is there consensus on the benefits of masturbation. Despite its continued use in therapy, some therapists question its usefulness and propriety. ‘It is a mystery to me how conversational psychotherapy has made the sudden transition to massage parlour technology involving vibrators, mirrors, surrogates, and now even carrots and cucumbers!’ one psychologist protested in the late 1970s. He was concerned about issues of client-patient power and a blinkered pursuit of the sexual climax ‘ignoring … the more profound psychological implications of the procedure’. In terms of effectiveness, critics think that therapeutic masturbation might reinforce individual pleasure and sexual selfishness rather than creating sexual empathy and sharing. As one observed in the pages of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy in 1995: ‘Ironically, the argument against masturbation in American society was originally religiously founded, but may re-emerge as a humanist argument.’ Oversimplified, but in essence right: people remain disturbed by the solitariness of solitary sex.

Why has what the Japanese charmingly call ‘self-play’ become such a forcing ground for sexual attitudes? Perhaps there is something about masturbation’s uncontrollability that continues to make people anxious. It is perversely non-procreative, incestuous, adulterous, homosexual, ‘often pederastic’ and, in imagination at least, sex with ‘every man, woman, or beast to whom I take a fancy’, to quote Soble. For the ever-astute historian Thomas Laqueur, author of Solitary Sex (2003), masturbation is ‘that part of human sexual life where potentially unlimited pleasure meets social restraint’.

Why did masturbation become such a problem? For Laqueur, it began with developments in 18th-century Europe, with the cultural rise of the imagination in the arts, the seemingly unbounded future of commerce, the role of print culture, the rise of private, silent reading, especially novels, and the democratic ingredients of this transformation. Masturbation’s condemned tendencies – solitariness, excessive desire, limitless imagination, and equal-opportunity pleasure – were an outer limit or testing of these valued attributes, ‘a kind of Satan to the glories of bourgeois civilisation’.

In more pleasure-conscious modern times, the balance has tipped towards personal gratification. The acceptance of personal autonomy, sexual liberation and sexual consumerism, together with a widespread focus on addiction, and the ubiquity of the internet, now seem to demand their own demon. Fears of unrestrained fantasy and endless indulging of the self remain. Onania’s 18th-century complaints about the lack of restraint of solitary sex are not, in the end, all that far away from today’s fear of boundless, ungovernable, unquenchable pleasure in the self.

Complete Article HERE!

The evolutionary puzzle of homosexuality

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In the last two decades, dozens of scientific papers have been published on the biological origins of homosexuality – another announcement was made last week. It’s becoming scientific orthodoxy. But how does it fit with Darwin’s theory of evolution?

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s hit song Same Love, which has become an unofficial anthem of the pro-gay marriage campaign in the US, reflects how many gay people feel about their sexuality.

It mocks those who “think it’s a decision, and you can be cured with some treatment and religion – man-made rewiring of a predisposition”. A minority of gay people disagree, maintaining that sexuality is a social construct, and they have made a conscious, proud choice to take same-sex partners.

But scientific opinion is with Macklemore. Since the early 1990s, researchers have shown that homosexuality is more common in brothers and relatives on the same maternal line, and a genetic factor is taken to be the cause. Also relevant – although in no way proof – is research identifying physical differences in the brains of adult straight and gay people, and a dizzying array of homosexual behaviour in animals.

But since gay and lesbian people have fewer children than straight people, a problem arises.001

“This is a paradox from an evolutionary perspective,” says Paul Vasey from the University of Lethbridge in Canada. “How can a trait like male homosexuality, which has a genetic component, persist over evolutionary time if the individuals that carry the genes associated with that trait are not reproducing?”

Scientists don’t know the answer to this Darwinian puzzle, but there are several theories. It’s possible that different mechanisms may be at work in different people. Most of the theories relate to research on male homosexuality. The evolution of lesbianism is relatively understudied – it may work in a similar way or be completely different.


The genes that code for homosexuality do other things too

The allele – or group of genes – that sometimes codes for homosexual orientation may at other times have a strong reproductive benefit. This would compensate for gay people’s lack of reproduction and ensure the continuation of the trait, as non-gay carriers of the gene pass it down.

There are two or more ways this might happen. One possibility is that the allele confers a psychological trait that makes straight men more attractive to women, or straight women more attractive to men. “We know that women tend to like more feminine behavioural features and facial features in their men, and that might be associated with things like good parenting skills or greater empathy,” says Qazi Rahman, co-author of Born Gay; The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation. Therefore, the theory goes, a low “dose” of these alleles enhances the carrier’s chances of reproductive success. Every now and then a family member receives a larger dose that affects his or her sexual orientation, but the allele still has an overall reproductive advantage.

Another way a “gay allele” might be able to compensate for a reproductive deficit is by having the converse effect in the opposite sex. For example, an allele which makes the bearer attracted to men has an obvious reproductive advantage to women. If it appears in a man’s genetic code it will code for same-sex attraction, but so long as this happens rarely the allele still has a net evolutionary benefit.

There is some evidence for this second theory. Andrea Camperio-Ciani, at the University of Padova in Italy, found that maternal female relatives of gay men have more children than maternal female relatives of straight men. The implication is that there is an unknown mechanism in the X chromosome of men’s genetic code which helps women in the family have more babies, but can lead to homosexuality in men. These results haven’t been replicated in some ethnic groups – but that doesn’t mean they are wrong with regards to the Italian population in Camperio-Ciani’s study.


Gay people were ‘helpers in the nest’

The fa'afafine of Samoa dislike being called "gay" or "homosexual"

The fa’afafine of Samoa dislike being called “gay” or “homosexual”

Some researchers believe that to understand the evolution of gay people, we need to look at how they fit into the wider culture.

Paul Vasey’s research in Samoa has focused on a theory called kin selection or the “helper in the nest” hypothesis. The idea is that gay people compensate for their lack of children by promoting the reproductive fitness of brothers or sisters, contributing money or performing other uncle-like activities such as babysitting or tutoring. Some of the gay person’s genetic code is shared with nieces and nephews and so, the theory goes, the genes which code for sexual orientation still get passed down.

Sceptics have pointed out that since on average people share just 25% of their genetic code with these relatives, they would need to compensate for every child they don’t have themselves with two nieces or nephews that wouldn’t otherwise have existed. Vasey hasn’t yet measured just how much having a homosexual orientation boosts siblings’ reproduction rate, but he has established that in Samoa “gay” men spend more time on uncle-like activities than “straight” men.

“No-one was more surprised than me,” says Vasey about his findings. His lab had previously shown that gay men in Japan were no more attentive or generous towards their nieces and nephews than straight, childless men and women. The same result has been found in the UK, US and Canada.

Vasey believes that his Samoan result was different because the men he studied there were different. He studied the fa’afafine, who identify as a third gender, dressing as women and having sex with men who regard themselves as “straight”. They are a transgender group who do not like to be called “gay” or “homosexual”.

Vasey speculates that part of the reason the fa’afafine are more attentive to their nephews and nieces is their acceptance in Samoan culture compared to gay men in the West and Japan (“You can’t help your kin if they’ve rejected you”). But he also believes that there is something about the fa’afafine way of life that means they are more likely to be nurturing towards nieces and nephews, and speculates that he would find similar results in other “third gender” groups around the world.

If this is true, then the helper in the nest theory may partly explain how a genetic trait for same-sex attraction hasn’t been selected away. That hypothesis has led Vasey to speculate that the gay men who identify as men and have masculine traits – that is to say, most gay men in the West – are descended from men who had a cross-gendered sexuality.


Gay people do have children

gay-parents_opt

In the US, around 37% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people have a child, about 60% of which are biological. According to the Williams Institute, gay couples that have children have an average of two.

These figures may not be high enough to sustain genetic traits specific to this group, but the evolutionary 002biologist Jeremy Yoder points out in a blog post that for much of modern history gay people haven’t been living openly gay lives. Compelled by society to enter marriages and have children, their reproduction rates may have been higher than they are now.

How many gay people have children also depends on how you define being “gay”. Many of the “straight” men who have sex with fa’afafine in Samoa go on to get married and have children.

“The category of same-sex sexuality becomes very diffuse when you take a multicultural perspective,” says Joan Roughgarden, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Hawaii. “If you go to India, you’ll find that if someone says they are ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ then that immediately identifies them as Western. But that doesn’t mean there’s no homosexuality there.”

Similarly in the West, there is evidence that many people go through a phase of homosexual activity. In the 1940s, US sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found that while just 4% of white men were exclusively gay after adolescence, 10% had a three-year period of gay activity and 37% had gay sex at some point in their lives.

A national survey of sexual attitudes in the UK last year came up with lower figures. Some 16% of women said they had had a sexual experience with another woman (8% had genital contact), and 7% of men said they had had a sexual experience with a man (with 5% having genital contact).

But most scientists researching gay evolution are interested in an ongoing, internal pattern of desire rather than whether people identify as gay or straight or how often people have gay sex. “Sexual identity and sexual behaviours are not good measures of sexual orientation,” says Paul Vasey. “Sexual feelings are.”


It’s not all in the DNA

Qazi Rahman says that alleles coding for same sex attraction only explain some of the variety in human sexuality. Other, naturally varying biological factors come into play, with about one in seven gay men, he says, owing their sexuality to the “big brother effect”.

This has nothing to do with George Orwell, but describes the observation that boys with older brothers are significantly more likely to become gay – with every older brother the chance of homosexuality increases by about a third. No-one knows why this is, but one theory is that with each male pregnancy, a woman’s body forms an immune reaction to proteins that have a role in the development of the male brain. Since this only comes into play after several siblings have been born – most of whom are heterosexual and go on to have children – this pre-natal quirk hasn’t been selected away by evolution.

Exposure to unusual levels of hormone before birth can also affect sexuality. For example, female foetuses exposed to higher levels of testosterone before birth show higher rates of lesbianism later on. Studies show that “butch” lesbian women and men have a smaller difference in length between their index and ring fingers – a marker of pre-natal exposure to testosterone. In “femme” lesbians the difference has been found to be less marked.

Brothers of a different kind – identical twins – also pose a tricky question. Research has found that if an identical twin is gay, there is about a 20% chance that the sibling will have the same sexual orientation. While that’s a greater likelihood than random, it’s lower than you might expect for two people with the same genetic code.

William Rice, from the University of California Santa Barbara, says that it may be possible to explain this 003by looking not at our genetic code but at the way it is processed. Rice and his colleagues refer to the emerging field of epigenetics, which studies the “epimarks” that decide which parts of our DNA get switched on or off. Epimarks get passed on to children, but only sometimes. Rice believes that female foetuses employ an epimark that makes them less sensitive to testosterone. Usually it’s not inherited, but occasionally it is, leading to same-sex preference in boys.

Dr William Byne, editor-in-chief of the journal LGBT Health, believes sexuality may well be inborn, but thinks it could be more complicated than some scientists believe. He notes that the heritability of homosexuality is similar to that for divorce, but “social science researchers have not… searched for ‘divorce genes’. Instead they have focused on heritable personality and temperamental traits that might influence the likelihood of divorce.”

For Qazi Rahman, it’s the media that oversimplifies genetic theories of sexuality, with their reports of the discovery of “the gay gene”. He believes that sexuality involves tens or perhaps hundreds of alleles that will probably take decades to uncover. And even if heterosexual sex is more advantageous in evolutionary terms than gay sex, it’s not only gay people whose sexuality is determined by their genes, he says, but straight people too.

Complete Article HERE!

Worried About Weight? How to Have Spectacular Sex Anyway

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Spectacular sex – at any size – is really all about putting mind over body mass.

Fat man holding a measurement tape against white background

I was in my 20s the first time I heard the term BBW and learned that it stood for Big Beautiful Women. I had access to magazines, TV, books, movies and a host of other media, all without ever hearing of someone who thought fat bodies (like mine) could be sexy. I’m like a lot of fat people. (And yeah, I’m using the word fat even though some people still cringe when they hear it. Nothing about it is inherently insulting, negative, or worthy of scorn. I promise, getting used to hearing it will take the sting out.)

Anyway, like a lot of fat people, I was raised on a steady diet of disdain for my body, predicated on the idea that I could never be happily partnered with anyone if I “stayed fat.” Many people of size are resigned to the idea that they should settle for boring, intermittent, unsatisfying sex, or worse -that they should forgo sexy times altogether until they lose weight. Given the stats on successful weight loss, roughly 95 percent of those people will be waiting a very long time. I’m sure geriatric sex is awesome, but why wait decades to have the awesome giggity you could be having right now? Let’s take a look at what keeps some Big Beautiful Women (and yes, Big Handsome Men too) from the big, big love they could be enjoying now.

Problem: Logistics

Trying new sex positions can be daunting for anyone. But when you or your partner look nothing like the Kama Sutra pictures, sex becomes a mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a condom. Can you believe there’s no such thing as a fat Kama Sutra? Existing books on sexual positions all focus on a specific body type that excludes not just fat people, but anyone below 5 feet or above 6 feet tall.
Solution: In the 1980s Dr. Ruth Westheimer encouraged the use of pillows for propping and leverage, making sex positions easier to achieve. Since then, people have been talking about sex more openly and more honestly, leading to a flood of products designed to help people of all sizes have great sex. The Liberator ramp is my personal fave. It’s a bit of an investment but honestly, how much is too much to spend if the result is even more incredible sex? (Get more tips on sex positions in 9 Sex Moves to Rock a Woman’s World.)

Problem: Dressing the Part

Finding sexy bras, garters, teddies and other lingerie in plus-sizes has always been a hassle. Even if you find a reasonably priced store that carries large sizes, they almost never have large models. A size 22 shouldn’t have to guess what something will look like from seeing it on a size six model.
Solution: Fat-shion! More (mostly online) stores than ever carry plus-size lingerie of all types from modest to bold. Fat people demanded bustiers, thigh-high fishnets, silk boxer shorts, teddies and naughty nighties of all kinds. Torrid and Hips & Curves are good places to begin. (You can also check out plus-size lingerie at our affiliate, Adam & Eve.)

There are also crafting websites where talented seamstresses line up to create custom clothing for all sizes. Adventurous DIY types can add sparkle to boring bras with fabric paints, or even a bedazzler. Finally, you can network with other fatshionistas online to ask questions, get opinions and advice, and see pics of heavy people looking super cute in fancy duds. You might even see me over there!

Problem: “It Doesn’t Look Right”

The concept of confirmation bias means that our brains tend to favor information of imagery if it conforms to something we already believe. Most of us have been taught that, for example, full breasts above a small waist is very sexy. Anything that deviates from this, like fat, must not be sexy, right? Wrong! Sexy is always in the eye of the beholder. Luckily, the solution here is an easy one, since we always have the option to broaden our idea of what sexy looks like.
Solution: In the real world, preferences are as varied and changeable as the people who have them. Find some of the many wonderful images out there of people of all sizes playing sports, dancing, eating cupcakes, and getting the most out of life, and put them someplace you’ll see them often. Whether it’s on your refrigerator, your desktop wallpaper, or stuck on a bulletin board, surround yourself with images of people who look like you (or are you) doing wonderful things. Get used to looking at them until you remember that beauty can be found in a multitude of sizes -especially yours.

Problem: Negative Body Image

I’m certainly not suggesting that fat people are the only ones with body image issues, but fat people are often told how unacceptable they are by parents, siblings, teachers, doctors, classmates, friends, enemies and even total strangers. Whether it’s done in the course of bullying or out of feigned concern, being told that your body is unhealthy, ugly, or wrong can make anyone feel decidedly unsexy. Because we don’t tend to take good care of things we hate, bad body image can become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Solution No.1: Pampering. Stress and negative body image go hand-in-hand. We tend to be less patient and accepting with ourselves when we’re under stress. The first step in feeling better about yourself is to relax. Whether this means deep cleansing breaths, a few minutes of Mozart, or a nice foot massage, less stress leads to better body image. (Sex is also a great stress reliever. Read more in Skip the Gym, Get In Bed: 7 Health Benefits of Sex.)

Solution No.2: Realism. Everybody knows someone who hates to be photographed because they never like how the pictures turn out. But being fat isn’t like having a zit on your nose. You can’t hide it. What’s more, everyone with working eyes can already see what you look like. So who exactly are you hiding from? Whoever they are, they can already see you. And they’re wondering why you’re trying to disguise curvy hips under a giant T-shirt, or hide a double chin behind a carefully placed thumb-and forefinger.

Problem: Nudity

Aside from all the puritanical attitudes people have about nudity in general, fatties have an even bigger problem. They’ve been told that no one wants to see them naked. If you grew up believing that everyone thinks fat is ugly, taking your clothes off in front of another person is not so much sexy as it is heart-stoppingly terrifying.
Solution: Befriend your body. If you don’t already do this, spend some alone time walking around your home naked. Do the things you’d normally do. Make some tea, read, fold laundry or just take a nap. Take a few minutes to really look at yourself in a full-length mirror and marvel at just how amazing your body is. Being naked with yourself will help you be more comfortable being naked with a friend. Befriending your body also means being honest about what it looks like. Fat women in particular are more likely to engage in fat-denying gymnastics during sex. They keep their arms tight at their sides or twist their backs like a pretzel doing yoga, all in the hope that they’ll look a little slimmer, their stomachs a little flatter. Your partner can see you, and he totally wants to have sex with you. Accepting that upfront makes it easier to relax and have fun.

Problem: Shyness

There are different types of shyness. The shyness I refer to here has to do with not speaking up about your needs, fears, likes and dislikes, or generally being too nervous to discuss things openly with your partner. This type of shyness doesn’t just lead to bad sex; it can be crippling to the whole relationship. While shyness can seem daunting, it can also be overcome.
Solution: Talk it out. Many of us have been taught that it’s romantic for our partner to magically understand our needs without being told. Unless you’re dating a wizard, that’s probably not possible. You don’t have to wait until you’re in the throes of passion to discuss sex. In fact, many couples find it less awkward to talk specifics at non-sexy times, while doing the dishes or relaxing in front of the TV, for example. The timing is less important than the openness. If your fear of crushing your partner (not a realistic worry, say the experts) makes you not want to avoid being on top, say so. If you burst into uncontrollable giggles at the sight of a glow-in-the-dark condom, say that too. Levity is great for diffusing awkwardness. (Get some tips on how to communicate better in Talk Dirty to Me: The Why and How of Hot Aural Sex.)

Focusing on fat can leave fatties feeling so ugly that we develop our own confirmation bias. But come one. Plenty of other things that come in all shapes, sizes and colors are called beautiful every day. Is a sunflower less beautiful than a peony because it’s so much bigger? Of course not. Why should it be any different with human beings? It shouldn’t, especially when you consider that the most powerful sex organ in humans is the brain. That means that spectacular sex – at any size – is really all about putting mind over body mass. (For more great info, check out “Big, Big Love: A Sex and Relationship Guide for People of Size.”)

Complete Article HERE!

The Role and Value of the Friend with Benefits for Gay Men

By Ken Howard, LCSW

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Recently, some clients in my psychotherapy practice, which for 22 years has focused on the mental health and well-being of adult gay men, have been discussing the role and value of a “fuck buddy” in their lives.  While all sexual topics (even in our “modern” age) seem to come fraught with controversy these days (and we’ll see what y’all have to say about this one), the topic of the “fuck buddy” (sometimes, but not always, used interchangeably with “friend with benefits”), is especially controversial, with one camp saying it’s a great idea and others being appalled at the concept.

Always one to listen and learn from the thoughts, philosophies, and feelings of my clients, I heard some interesting things from one particular client recently, who gave me permission to share his arguments publicly (though the details are changed for confidentiality reasons).

“Cody” is a Southern Boy in his early 30’s who has been in a relationship for 6 years and lives in North Carolina (we work via Skype, and it’s really a life-coaching relationship, since I’m only licensed in California to practice psychotherapy).  His partner, “Matt”, also early 30’s, got accepted and now attends a very prestigious law school program in New England, the chance of a lifetime.  Cody co-runs a small business which is rapidly growing into a larger one, and moving with Matt to his new city would have been a very difficult proposition; he did not want to leave a very good job, especially not temporarily when Matt could end up in a law firm anywhere in the country.  Cody and Matt plan to get married immediately after Matt’s law school graduation, and they’ve already planned much of what they want in their wedding.

Cody can afford to visit Matt at regular intervals throughout the year, and they communicate (even “sexy talk”) via Skype almost nightly.  But their relationship still feels the sting of “long distance”, leaving both guys frequently horny and lonely.

To solve this, they agreed to have an open relationship, and some of the terms and ground rules of handling that were worked out in joint sessions with me on Skype (as I always recommend gay couples do; it’s too complex and full of pitfalls to handle it all without support).  I’ve coached both Matt and Cody separately as well, as each has had a need for support for very specific occupational and personal goals.  One of what I call the “external resources” that this situation needed, as both guys agreed, is that each wanted a “fuck buddy” who would stand in for their partner at certain times (mostly sexual, but for some social companionship locally, too).  Matt is still looking for his, but he’s meeting new guys at school and in his college city, especially via Grindr, Scruff, and Meetup.com groups.  The first guy he met didn’t work out well for Cody, but he found a second one that he likes.

Cody is a smart guy and spoke clearly about how his fuck buddy, “Chris”, has been ideal.  They get along and have fun, including sex, but Chris has recently gotten out of a 3-year relationship and is not looking for anything serious – the perfect candidate for Cody.vintage311.jpg

What Cody related about Chris includes some in the following list, and others I’ve added based on other conversations with clients and personal friends.  Here are some of the special advantages about the role and value of a fuck buddy:

  1.  It is not an avoidance of relationships – Contrary to some critics, having a fuck buddy is not the indulgence of some intimacy-avoidant, emotionally-stunted, horn-dog selfish clod.  It is a different type of sexual and emotional relationship, perhaps based more on fondness than on love, or perhaps a “love” that is more fraternal.
  2.  It can be the combination of sexuality and camaraderie without the components of long-term romance and domesticity – For some people, such as those with long-distance partners, having a fuck buddy means having some in-person companionship for local outings and recreation, and even sexual expression, but without the commitment and domestic component of a partner/spouse relationship.  It’s “relationship lite”.
  3.  Can be a coping strategy for long-distance relationships – Long-distance relationships can be a result of work projects (even overseas), which I see in my practice in Los Angeles for people away on TV or film set locations, or the result of school/training programs, health care treatment, caring for a distant relative’s health or settling their estate, or military deployment.  Open negotiation of the ground rules during the absence is better than unilaterally violating a monogamy agreement without discussion, or abstaining and resenting the physical/emotional harm that can come with deprivation.
  4.  Can be a bridge between class or cultural issues that really might get in the way of a primary relationship – For some fuck buddies, there can be issues of class or culture that might make having a long-term relationship untenable or very difficult (think Sybil and Tom on “Downton Abbey”).
  5.  Is a collaborative way to get needs met that have inherent limitations; is an exchange of favors – So many human interactions involve a negotiated exchange of favors based on mutual needs, and each fuck buddy relationship has unique parameters that make it work.
  6.  Is not for everyone, but it CAN BE for some people; it’s ok to embrace it as much as it is to reject it soundly – Sexual self-empowerment means saying yes when you want to say yes, and no when you want to say no.  If you want to say yes to a fuck buddy relationship with another consenting adult, as an autonomous adult with control and dominion over your own body, you get to make that choice (although if you have a primary partner, this must be a very frank discussion in order to avoid a ton of hurt, resentment, misunderstanding, abandonment, and even rage). love music
  7.  Supports a global benevolent idea of brotherhood – As a child of the 60’s, I grew up with “make love, not war”.  The Dalai Lama recently said something about if every child grew up meditating for 20 minutes a day, war could be eliminated in a generation.  With so many – countless – examples of how men kill each other in gang violence, war, violent crime, and so on, in such adversarial relationships, having a fuck buddy can be an example of benevolence, non-violence, and camaraderie in the Brotherhood of Man.  This is all part of the solution, not the problem.
  8.  It’s practice later on for a “real” commitment, in incremental gain/baby steps – I still maintain that I prepared for my long-term relationship with my husband (who is wonderful, by the way; I never miss a chance to say that) by previously living alone with my cat for a number of years after college first.  After years of living with roommates or alone, having a pet really was dress rehearsal for attending to, caring for, and sharing with a human adult partner (now spouse) in a domestic setting.  Having a fuck buddy might not be a “deep” commitment in romance and domesticity, but it can be a way of exploring relating to another person that is somewhere between being single and being partnered.  For some people, these incremental steps help build their confidence to tolerate a commitment and equip them for a long-term relationship with mutual responsibility.
  9.  Self-empowering sexually, trying different things without feeling “embarrassed” with a partner; exploring one’s own body and likes/dislikes of sensation – While communicating with a primary partner is essential to a good sex life, having a fuck buddy can be an opportunity to explore your sexual interests and fantasies in a lower-stakes situation.  Some people who are shy about telling their partner their sexual fantasies, especially the kinkier ones, might be more uninhibited with a lower-stakes fuck buddy.  It really “shouldn’t” work that way, but it does, and we have to deal in reality.  By being free to explore in a certain “sexual laboratory” situation, you can identify your likes and dislikes and not have to switch to “who’s-cooking-dinner” mode right after.
  10.  Can bridge differences in sexual orientations – While I don’t really respect closeted men as much as those brave gay men who have the courage to come out regardless of the circumstances (living in the Bible Belt, for example), having a fuck buddy can be a way for a man who is “straight” publicly or bisexual to get the “other half” of his sexual and even social needs met.  This is particularly controversial, but all gay men have some idea about this.  Many men can be ambivalent or conflicted about how they identify sexually.  Some might feel a pressure to conform to heterosexual norms, others might quite selfishly want to ride the coat-tails of heterosexual privilege and have their, uh, “cake”, too (albeit at the risk of exploiting or using the gay buddy, but this is better if it’s an honest discussion of what the deal is).  The fuck buddy relationship can also help a conflicted guy move closer down the spectrum to living as an “out” gay man, but in a gentle and gradual process that feels right for him. Bert&Ernie
  11.  Can help other specific situations – The fuck buddy relationship can be a resource for a gay man in early recovery from crystal meth, who is used to the “party-and-play” (PNP) scene, to practice having sober sex with a no-judgment, experimental, low-stakes, fail-safe atmosphere.  I have worked with many guys in my practice who need this kind of opportunity, because learning to have sober sex again is really a skill in recovery that you (usually) can’t get in a CMA meeting!  The fuck buddy relationship can also help someone with a disability or injury to be sexual again in their own way, even if they don’t have a primary relationship yet.  This can a certain “rehabilitation” that a licensed Physical Therapist certainly can’t provide.  This can be for guys who have been injured in a vehicle, sports, or industrial accident, or as a combat veteran who uses prosthetics.
  12.  Can allow for specific sexual interests (BDSM, fetishes) to be fulfilled  — There are times when everything else in a relationship is great – the emotional, the sexual, and the domestic – but certain sexual interests go unfulfilled.  Having a fuck buddy who provides a certain “outsourced” activity, such as BDSM or other kink play, can be a way for that partner to be fulfilled without burdening his partner to do something he really doesn’t like.  I’ve seen that in my practice several times, and it can be a “win-win” solution to the dilemma; everybody’s happy.
  13.  Can be a way to manage sexual incompatibilities – The fuck buddy relationship can also “outsource” situations where the couple gets along fine in most ways, but perhaps a strict top is partnered to a versatile bottom.  For the versatile bottom to be able to top once in a while might require a fuck buddy who is happy to oblige.  This can also be the case when a partner is fulfilled in every way in the relationship except perhaps wanting to fulfill his “size queen” interests.  Outsourcing this to a well-endowed fuck buddy occasionally can fulfil the desire and then get back to regular domestic/sexual life.  This prevents frustrations from building and can resolve tension or even unspoken resentments in a relationship.
  14.  Last, Cody says that having experiences with outside buddies, rather than undermining his relationship with Matt, actually strengthens it because he “sees what’s out there” and learns to appreciate the relief when he’s finally back to see Matt because “everyone else is just not Matt”.  When they are together again after an absence, it’s all the sweeter to revisit the familiarity and intimacy they have built for years, and they never take each other for granted.

There are disadvantages, too, of cavorting with fuck buddies which have been discussed elsewhere.  Sexual conservatives (which can include plenty of therapists, even gay ones) would deplore the very concept of the fuck buddy as “deviating” too far from socially-expected relationship norms, particularly heterocentric ones.  But like most controversial topics, listening to both sides of a debate can entice you to clarify your feelings on the subject.  You have a right to your own feelings, even if they differ from your peers.  Only you have dominion over your own body and what is, and is not, done with it/to it.  Sexual self-empowerment means taking all these questions about sex and relationships, and deciding what works – and what doesn’t – specifically for you, based on your values and your own rather hard-wired preferences and proclivities.

Complete Article HERE!

Pride 2016

Happy Gay Pride Month!

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It’s time, once again, to post my annual pride posting.

In my lifetime I’ve witnessed a most remarkable change in societal attitudes toward those of us on the sexual fringe. One only needs to go back 50 years in time. I was 15 years old then and I knew I was queer. When I looked out on the world around me this is what I saw. Homosexuality was deemed a mental disorder by the nation’s psychiatric authorities, and gay sex was a crime in every state but Illinois. Federal workers could be fired merely for being gay.

Today, gays serve openly in the military, work as TV news anchors and federal judges, win elections as big-city mayors and members of Congress. Popular TV shows have gay protagonists.

And now the gay-rights movement may be on the cusp of momentous legal breakthroughs. Later this month, a Supreme Court ruling could lead to legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the whole country.

The transition over five decades has been far from smooth — replete with bitter protests, anti-gay violence, backlashes that inflicted many political setbacks, and AIDS. Unlike the civil rights movement and the women’s liberation movement, the campaign for gay rights unfolded without household-name leaders.

And yet, I sense that soon, if it hasn’t begun already, we will experience a backlash in the dominant culture. I don’t relish the idea, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. And when it comes, as I think it will, it won’t smart nearly as much if we know our history. And we should also remember the immortal words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.”

In honor of gay pride month, a little sex history lesson — The Stonewall Riots

The confrontations between demonstrators and police at The Stonewall Inn, a mafia owned bar in Greenwich Village NYC over the weekend of June 27-29, 1969 are usually cited as the beginning of the modern Lesbian/Gay liberation Movement. What might have been just another routine police raid onstonewall.jpg a bar patronized by homosexuals became the pivotal event that sparked the entire modern gay rights movement.

The Stonewall riots are now the stuff of myth. Many of the most commonly held beliefs are probably untrue. But here’s what we know for sure.

  • In 1969, it was illegal to operate any business catering to homosexuals in New York City — as it still is today in many places in the world. The standard procedure was for New York City’s finest to raid these establishments on a regular basis. They’d arrest a few of the most obvious ‘types’ harass the others and shake down the owners for money, then they’d let the bar open as usual by the next day.
  • Myth has it that the majority of the patrons at the Stonewall Inn were black and Hispanic drag queens. Actually, most of the patrons were probably young, college-age white guys lookin for a thrill and an evening out of the closet, along with the usual cadre of drag queens and hustlers. It was reasonably safe to socialize at the Stonewall Inn for them, because when it was raided the drag queens and bull-dykes were far more likely to be arrested then they were.
  • After midnight June 27-28, 1969, the New York Tactical Police Force called a raid on The Stonewall Inn at 55 Christopher Street in NYC. Many of the patrons who escaped the raid stood around to witness the police herding the “usual suspects” into the waiting paddywagons. There had recently been several scuffles where similar groups of people resisted arrest in both Los Angeles and New York.
  • Stonewall was unique because it was the first time gay people, as a group, realized that what threatened drag queens and bull-dykes threatened them all.
  • Many of the onlookers who took on the police that night weren’t even homosexual. Greenwich Village was home to many left-leaning young people who had cut their political teeth in the civil rights, anti-war and women’s lib movements.
  • As people tied to stop the arrests, the mêlée erupted. The police barricaded themselves inside the bar. The crowd outside attempted to burn it down. Eventually, police reinforcements arrived to disperse the crowd. But this just shattered the protesters into smaller groups that continued to mill around the streets of the village.
  • A larger crowd assembled outside the Stonewall the following night. This time young gay men and women came to protest the raids that were commonplace in the city. They held hands, kissed and formed a mock chorus line singing; “We are the Stonewall Girls/We wear our hair in curls/We have no underwear/We show our pubic hair.” Don’t ‘cha just love it?
  • Police successfully dispersed this group without incident. But the print media picked up the story. Articles appeared in the NY Post, Daily News and The Village Voice. Theses helped galvanize the community to rally and fight back.
  • Within a few days, representatives of the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis (two of the country’s first homophile rights groups) organized the city’s first ever “Gay Power” rally in Washington Square. Some give hundred protesters showed up; many of them gay and lesbians.

stonewall02.jpgThe riots led to calls for homosexual liberation. Fliers appeared with the message: “Do you think homosexuals are revolting? You bet your sweet ass we are!” And the rest, boys and girls, is as they say is history.

During the first year after Stonewall, a whole new generation of organizations emerged, many identifying themselves for the first time as “Gay.” This not only denoted sexual orientation, but a radical way to self-identify with a growing sense of open political activism. Older, more staid homophile groups soon began to make way for the more militant groups like the Gay Liberation Front.

The vast majority of these new activists were under thirty; dr dick’s generation, don’t cha know. We were new to political organizing and didn’t know that this was as ground-breaking as it was. Many groups formed on colleges campuses and in big cities around the world.

By the following summer, 1970, groups in at least eight American cities staged simultaneous events commemorating the Stonewall riots on the last Sunday in June. The events varied from a highly political march of three to five thousand in New York to a parade with floats for 1200 in Los Angeles. Seven thousand showed up in San Francisco.