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Toddler play may give clues to sexual orientation

A controversial study finds children who engage in more gender-stereotypical play are more likely to self-identify as heterosexual later in life.

By Michael Price

The objects and people children play with as early as toddlerhood may provide clues to their eventual sexual orientation, reveals the largest study of its kind. The investigation, which tracked more than 4500 kids over the first 15 years of their lives, seeks to answer one of the most controversial questions in the social sciences, but experts are mixed on the findings.

“Within its paradigm, it’s one of the better studies I’ve seen,” says Anne Fausto-Sterling, professor emerita of biology and gender studies at Brown University. The fact that it looks at development over time and relies on parents’ observations is a big improvement over previous studies that attempted to answer similar questions based on respondents’ own, often unreliable, memories, she says. “That being said … they’re still not answering questions of how these preferences for toys or different kinds of behaviors develop in the first place.”

The new study builds largely on research done in the 1970s by American sex and gender researcher Richard Green, who spent decades investigating sexuality. He was influential in the development of the term “gender identity disorder” to describe stress and confusion over one’s sex and gender, though the term—and Green’s work more broadly—has come under fire from many psychologists and social scientists today who say it’s wrong to label someone’s gender and sexuality “disordered.”

In the decades since, other studies have reported that whether a child plays along traditional gender lines can predict their later sexual orientation. But these have largely been criticized for their small sample sizes, for drawing from children who exhibit what the authors call “extreme” gender nonconformity, and for various other methodological shortcomings.

Seeking to improve on this earlier research, Melissa Hines, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, turned to data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The study includes thousands of British children born in the 1990s. Parents observed and reported various aspects of their children’s behavior, which Hines and her Cambridge colleague, Gu Li, analyzed for what they call male-typical or female-typical play.

An example of stereotypical male-typical play, as defined by the study, would include playing with toy trucks, “rough-and-tumble” wrestling, and playing with other boys. Female-typical play, on the other hand, would include dolls, playing house, and playing with other girls.

Hines and Li looked at parental reporting of children’s play at ages 2.5, 3.5, and 4.75 years old, and arranged them on a scale of one to 100, with lower scores meaning more female-typical play and higher scores more male-typical play. They then compared those results to the participants’ self-reported responses as teenagers to a series of internet-administered questions about their sexuality.

Beginning with the 3.5-year-old age group, the team found that children who engaged mostly in “gender-conforming” play (boys who played with trucks and girls who played with dolls, as an example) were likely to report being heterosexual at age 15, whereas the teenagers who reported being gay, lesbian, or not strictly heterosexual were more likely to engage in “gender-nonconforming” play. The same pattern held true when they expanded the teenagers’ choices to a five-point spectrum ranging from 100% heterosexual to 100% homosexual.

Teens who described themselves as lesbian scored on average about 10 points higher on the gender-play scale at age 4.75 (meaning more stereotypically male play) than their heterosexual peers, and teens who described themselves as gay men scored about 10 points lower on the scale than their peers, the researchers report in Developmental Psychology. Questions of transgender identity were not addressed in the study.

“I think it’s remarkable that childhood gender-typed behavior measured as early as age 3.5 years is associated with sexual orientation 12 years later,” wrote Li in an email. “The findings help us to understand variability in sexual orientation and could have implications for understanding the origins of this variability.”

The paper “is just a well-done study in terms of getting around some of the problems that have plagued the field,” says Simon LeVay, a retired neuroscientist whose 1991 paper in Science sparked interest in brain differences associated with sexual identity. “It shows that something is going on really early in life and points away from things like role modeling and adolescent experiences as reasons for becoming gay.”

Others dispute the paper’s methods and significance. Parents’ own beliefs and biases about gender almost certainly influence how they described their children’s gendered play, which could skew their reporting, says Patrick Ryan Grzanka, a psychologist who studies sexuality and multicultural issues at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. But more worrisome to him are the cultural assumptions underlying the study itself. The authors appear to regard gender nonconformity as the primary marker of gayness, which doesn’t align with current research suggesting that your individual preferences for either stereotypically male or female behaviors and traits has little to do with your sexual orientation, he says.

Grzanka is also dismayed that the paper fails to critique the history of similar research that investigated whether childhood behaviors lined up with eventual sexual orientation. It wasn’t long ago that such research was used to stigmatize and pathologize gender-nonconforming children, he says. “I think it’s important to ask why we’re so invested in this purported link [between gender conformity and sexuality] in the first place.”

Complete Article HERE!

A Man’s Perspective of Male Sexuality Throughout Life

There’s such an unhealthy attitude towards men and sex in society.

by

Through my years growing up I’ve often felt repressed sexually. As I look back and I think about my youth that would be an adequate description of the feelings that were coming to the surface. I mean I had absolutely no idea what I was feeling, only that it was uncomfortable and I didn’t like it. Society had a certain expectancy for me as a man, to act in a certain way. As a young man, I was such a conformist because anything that differed from the general view of normality I was really scared of.

Normality was good for me. Because if I was normal then I could blend into the crowd, do as everyone else was doing and just get on with my life, unseen. Yet there’s always been something about me, that I can’t put my finger on, but it has always rejected normality. And that wasn’t good, because that would separate me from the group and have me in a spotlight. I didn’t like spotlights, because then you were open to scrutiny, and if I was scrutinised then perhaps my mask would slip away and people would see me for who I really was. No-one. A has been, someone with no interest to anyone.

There was always SUCH emphasis on sex. There still is. No-one tells you to just be yourself and have fun exploring one another. My friends, probably out of their own insecurity, would tell me all the ways in which they’ve had their previous partners screaming in pulsating Orgasms. I’d read in the newspapers, and the glossy magazines.

“50 ways to please your woman in bed”

Or

“Is your man not doing it right? Here’s why …”

And let’s not forget those films that I was introduced to by some older kids, where almost every scene ended in the woman having the time of her life, screaming and writhing and bucking in ecstasy. All this pressure, to get it right first time. I always felt really out there. It seemed such a responsibility on me as a man, to get it right, first time. And when the time finally did come, I think it was over and done within milliseconds, first times are never awesome, no matter who tells you that. Or at least it wasn’t for me.

And I look back now and see the unevenness. For instance, people would ask me the naughty things I did to her in bed, and she would get asked was I good in bed? Why doesn’t anyone ask me if my time beneath the sheets with her was enjoyable? A more experienced man will tell you that because some people think a man’s ejaculation is the end result for him, and it is, to an extent, but since then I’ve experienced extremely pleasurable sex, and know the difference between them both, yet, all through my life, less than a handful of friends have asked me that question, and it’s almost always been focused on the shenanigans.

There’s such an unhealthy attitude towards men and sex in society. I had a period of celibacy for about two years, not through choice, but it was the way it turned out. That’s not to say that I didn’t have a few opportunities in between, just that I wasn’t interested in making that bond. For me, sex is personal, and after that I develop feelings. I can’t do no-strings attached. But because I was declining offers I was being viewed as homosexual, and that I wasn’t interested in women. Because all men want sex, right?

What we often forget is that men aren’t cold and brainless sex robots, we have thoughts and feelings too, and regardless of what popular culture will tell you, we’re picky and choosy about who we take to bed with us. But I don’t blame you. I blame the small minority that spoil it for the rest of us men. That small minority you see on TV that literally sleep with hundreds/thousands of women, and those men that leave women husbandless for another partner.

It gives guys like me a bad name. Because we weren’t highly sought after in High School, we were the kids left in the fields plucking forget me nots asking ourselves whether she loved us or not whilst the popular kids ran around doing what we could only dream of. We had to learn to be nice to people to get by. We had to learn to obey the hierarchy to have our social needs met, there was no escaping this, and we learned the cruel harsh reality of bitter rejection from a young age. But in my opinion this was a good thing, and gave us better life skills than a lot of the ‘cool’ kids.

And when the women become bored of tirelessly being let down by someone that thinks the world revolves around them they seek us out, but our sexual habits are often categorised neatly with our predecessors, and that just isn’t the case. Men differ wildly in the sexuality department, as do our tastes. We’re very vain, but then what we describe as a ‘beauty’ can vary insanely too, just like women and their likes for men’s personalities.

For me, I just feel that it’s a small amount of men churning the old stereotype wheel. I think most men, or at least the ones I know of, genuinely want to please and respect their partners. And it would be really nice to just be judged as a person, on my actions, on the day. Not as a ‘man’ because when you categorise people that widely, then you are doing yourself the disservice of getting to know some really awesome people on both sides of the fence.

Be awesome to each other.

Complete Article HERE!

How a Cervical Cancer Scare Made Me Take My Sexual Health More Seriously Than Ever

My doctor’s advice on how to not get HPV again threw me for a loop.

By Rachel Bowyer

Before I had an abnormal Pap smear five years ago, I didn’t even really know what that meant. I’d been going to the gyno since I was a teenager, but I never once really thought about what a Pap smear was actually testing for. I just knew I’d have a “twinge” of discomfort, as my doc always says, and then it would be over. But when my doctor called me to tell me I needed to come back in for more testing, I was pretty concerned. (Here, find more on how to decipher your abnormal Pap smear results.)

She assured me that abnormal Paps are actually quite normal, especially for women in their 20s. Why? Well, the more sexual partners you have, the more likely you are to get human papillomavirus (HPV), which is what generally causes the abnormal results. I quickly found out that it was the cause of mine, too. Most of the time, HPV resolves on its own, but in some cases, it can escalate into cervical cancer. What I didn’t know at the time is that there are several steps between testing positive for HPV and actually having cervical cancer. After having a couple of colposcopies, procedures where a tiny bit of tissue is removed from your cervix for closer examination (yes, it’s as uncomfortable as it sounds), we discovered that I had what’s known as high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions. That’s just a technical way of saying that the HPV I had was more advanced and more likely to turn into cancer than other kinds. I was scared, and I got even more scared when I found out I had to have a procedure to remove the tissue on my cervix that was affected, and that it needed to be done ASAP—before it got worse. (According to new research, cervical cancer is deadlier than previously thought.)

Within two weeks of finding out about my abnormal Pap, I had something called a loop extrosurgical excision procedure, or LEEP for short. It involves using a very thin wire with an electrical current to cut away precancerous tissue from the cervix. Normally, this can be done with local anesthesia, but after an attempt that went awry (apparently, local anesthetic isn’t as effective for everyone as it’s supposed to be, and I found that out the hard way…), I had to make a second trip to the hospital to have it done. This time, I was sedated. After six weeks, I was declared healthy and ready to go, and told I needed to have a Pap smear every three months for the next year. Then, I’d go back to having them once yearly. Let’s just say I’m not a great patient, so after all was said and done I knew I never wanted to have to go through this process again. Since there are over 100 strains of HPV, I knew it was a real possibility that I could contract it again. Only a small number of the strains cause cancer, but at that point, I really didn’t want to take any chances.

When I asked my doctor how to prevent this situation from happening again, her advice really surprised me. “Become monogamous,” she said. “That’s my only option?” I thought. I was dealing with the perils of the New York City dating scene at the time, and at that point couldn’t even imagine meeting someone I’d want to go on more than five dates with, let alone finding my mate for life. I had always been under the impression that as long as I was *safe* about sex, opting not to settle down wouldn’t be detrimental to my health. I almost always used condoms and got tested for STIs regularly.

Turns out, even if you use a condom every single time you have sex, you can still get HPV because condoms don’t offer complete protection against it. Even when used correctly, you can still have skin-to-skin contact when using a condom, which is how HPV is passed from one person to another. Pretty crazy, right? I didn’t think there was anything wrong with not wanting to be monogamous (and still don’t), so it was hard to grasp the fact that my ideological stance on sex was directly opposed to what was best for my sexual health. Was my only option truly to settle down at 23 and decide to only have sex with one person for the rest of my life? I wasn’t ready for that.

But according to my doctor, the answer was essentially, yes. To me, this seemed extreme. She repeated to me that the fewer partners you have, the lower your risk of contracting HPV. Of course, she was right. Though you can still get HPV from a long-term partner that could take years to show up, once your body clears whatever strains they have, you won’t be able to get it from them again. As long as you and your partner are only having sex with each other, you’re good to go in terms of re-infection. At the time, I was pretty taken aback by the fact that the best thing I could do to protect my sexual health was basically to not have sex until I found “the one.” What if I never found that person? Should I just be celibate forever!? For the next couple of years every time I even thought about having sex with someone, I had to ask myself, “Is this really worth it?” Talk about a mood killer. (FYI, these STIs are much harder to get rid of than they used to be.)

Truthfully, it didn’t turn out to be such a bad thing. Whenever I decided to have sex with someone in the years after that, not only did I follow safe-sex practices to the letter, but I also knew that I had strong enough feelings about the other person for it to be worth the risk I was facing. Basically, that meant I was genuinely emotionally invested in every person I slept with. While some would say that’s how it should be all the time, I don’t really subscribe to that school of thought—in principle. In practice, however, I did save myself a ton of heartache. Since I had fewer partners who I got to know better, I dealt with less post-sex ghosting. Some people might not mind that, but even when I wasn’t super-invested in someone, the ghosting part almost always sucked.

Now, five years later, I happen to be in a long-term monogamous relationship. While I can’t say that it happened directly because of my experience or my doctor’s advice, it’s certainly a relief when what your heart wants and what’s best for your health happen to match up. And not having to constantly worry about HPV the way I once did? Love.

Complete Article HERE!

Time to make room for sex in our care homes

We need to open up to the significance of love and sexuality in later life

The persistence of romantic love in long-term relationships is, unsurprisingly, associated with higher levels of relationship satisfaction.

By

Although Valentine’s Day is often criticised as a cynical creation by florists and the greeting cards industry, it is a useful focal point for considering love and sexuality as elements of human wellbeing that often escape attention in healthcare.

This neglect is most marked in later life, when popular discourse on late life romance is dominated by simple notions of asexuality or by ribald jokes

There are many reasons why healthcare professionals need to learn more about human love and sexuality, not least of which is a fuller understanding of the nature and meaning of ageing.

exuality is a core element of human nature, encompassing a wide range of aspects over and above those related to genital functions, and the medical literature has rightly been criticised for taking too narrow a vision of sexuality.

We need to open up to the continuing significance of love and sexuality into later life

This narrow vision is paralleled by a steady trend in the neurosciences of “neuroreductionism”, an over-simplistic analysis of which parts of the brain light up in sophisticated scanners on viewing photos of a loved one.

We need to open up to the continuing significance of love and sexuality into later life, understanding that sexuality includes a broad range of attributes, including intimacy, appearance, desirability, physical contact and new possibilities.

Studies

Numerous studies affirm sexual engagement into the extremes of life, with emerging research on the continuing importance of romantic love into late life. There is also reassuring data on the persistence of romantic love in long-term relationships, unsurprisingly associated with higher levels of relationship satisfaction.

A growing literature sheds light on developing new relationships in later life, with a fascinating Australian study on online dating which subverts two clichés – that older people are asexual and computer illiterate.

The challenge in ageing is best reflected in the extent to which we enable and support intimacy and sexuality in nursing homes. Although for many this is their new home, the interaction of institutional life (medication rounds, meals), issues of staff training and lack of attention to design of spaces that foster intimacy can check the ability to foster relationships and express sexuality.

For example, is the resident’s room large enough for a sofa or domestic furnishings that reflects one’s style, personality and sense of the romantic? Are sitting spaces small and domestic rather than large day rooms? Do care routines allow for privacy and intimacy? Is there access to a selection of personal clothes, make-up and hairdressing?

Granted, there can also be complicated issues when residents with dementia enter new relationships and the need to ensure consent in a sensitive manner, but these should be manageable with due training and expertise in gerontological nursing and appropriate specialist advice.

Supports

A medical humanities approach can provide useful supports in education from many sources, ranging from literature ( Love in the Time of Cholera), film ( 45 Years or the remarkable and explicit Cloud 9 from 2009) or opera (Janácek’s Cunning Little Vixen, a musical reflection of the septuagenarian composer’s passion for the younger Kamila Stösslová).

We, as present and future older Irish people, also need to take a step back and consider if we are comfortable with a longer view on romance and sexuality.

The Abbey Theatre did us considerable service in 2015 with a wonderful version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in a nursing home. We were struck by a vivid sense of the inner vitality of these older people, suffused with desire, passion and romance.

This contemporary understanding of companionship and sexuality in later life was enhanced by casting Egeus as a son exercised about his mother’s romantic choices instead of a father at odds with his daughter.

We can also take heart from an early pioneer of ageing and sexuality, the late Alex Comfort. Best known for his ground-breaking The Joy of Sex, he was also a gerontologist of distinction, and wrote knowledgeably about the intersection of both subjects with characteristic humour.

He wrote that the things that stop you having sex with age are exactly the same as those that stop you riding a bicycle: bad health, thinking it looks silly or having no bicycle, with the difference being that they happen later for sex than for the bicycle.

His openness and encouragement for our future mirror Thomas Kinsella’s gritty poem on love in later life, Legendary Figures in Old Age, which ends with the line: ‘We cannot renew the Gift but we can drain it to the last drop.’

Complete Article HERE!

Why are some women never able to orgasm? A gynaecologist explains

Dr Sherry Ross says there has long been a gender bias in the way women’s sexual dysfunction has been treated compared to men’s

 

By Olivia Blair

Despite modern society being able to openly discuss female sexuality, there remains a number of existing taboos.

One of the most glaring is female orgasms. Women are rarely taught about the intricate details of their anatomy and often work these things out through their own experimenting.

What is the best way to get an orgasm? How often should I have one? Should I be able to have one during penetrative intercourse? Why have I never had one? – questions not uncommon to hear among small friendship groups of women over a bottle of wine.

Dr Sherry A Ross, an LA-based gynaecologist with 25 years experience aims to educate with a complete guide to the vagina in her new book She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period.

In the foreword of her book, Dr Sherry notes that “talking about the mighty V outside of doctor’s offices and bedrooms has remained a major taboo” and devoted an entire chapter to the female orgasm. The Independent asked the gynaecologist and obstetrician all the questions about female orgasms that are rarely spoken about.

Why might some women never orgasm?

Attitudes regarding sex, sexuality and gender vary greatly between different cultures and religions. Certain sexual practices, traditions and taboos are passed down through generations, leaving little to the cause of female pleasure or imagination.

For some women, finding and/or enjoying sexual intimacy and sex is difficult, if not impossible. Research suggests that 43% of women report some degree of difficulty and 12% attribute their sexual difficulties to personal distress. Unfortunately, sexual problems worsen with age, peaking in women 45 to 64.  For many of these women the problems of sexual dysfunction are treatable, which is why it is so important for women to share their feelings and concerns with a health care provider.

Unfortunately, there has been a history of “gender injustice” in the bedroom. Women have long been ignored when it comes to finding solutions to sexual dysfunction. In short, there are twenty-six approved medications for male erectile dysfunction and zero for women. Clearly, little attention has been paid to the sexual concerns of women, other than those concerns that involve procreation.

How many women might never orgasm?

During my 25 years in private practice, I’ve met a number of women in their 30s, 40s and 50s who have never even had an orgasm. In fact, 10 to 20% of all women have never experienced one.

Issues related to sex are not talked about enough even with a health care provider. Let’s just start by saying, 65 per cent of women are embarrassed to say the word vagina and 45 per cent of women never talk about their vagina with anyone, not even with their doctor.

Some patients say they have pain with sex, have problems with lubrication, don’t have a sex drive or don’t enjoy sex.  My first question is “Are you having problems in your relationship?”, “Do you like you partner?” , “Are you able to have an orgasm?”, “ Do you masturbate?” These open-ended questions tend to bring out sexual dysfunction including the inability to have an orgasm.

There is a great deal of embarrassment and shame when a woman admits she has never experienced an orgasm.

Is the inability to not orgasm normal?

The inability not to have had an orgasm can reflect women’s inability to know they own anatomy and may not be a disorder at all. In a survey of women aged 16-25, half could not find the vagina on a medical diagram. A test group of university- aged women didn’t fare much better with one third being unable to find the clitoris on a diagram. Clearly, if you can’t find it, how are you going to seek enjoyment from it?

Women must first understand what brings them pleasure and in their pursuit of happiness they have to understand where their clitoris is and how to stimulate it. Masturbation is a skill.  It has to be learned, just as walking, running, singing and brushing your teeth.

What is an orgasm disorder and how would you categorise one? 

The inability to have an orgasm falls under the category of Female Sexual Dysfunction of which there are five main problems: low libido or hypoactive sexual desire disorder, painful sex, sexual arousal disorder, an aversion to sex and the inability to orgasm.

Hypoactive sexual disorder, the most common female sexual dysfunction, is characterised by a complete absence of sexual desire. For the 16 million women who suffer from this, the factors involved may vary since sexual desire in women is much more complicated than it is for men. Unlike men, women’s sexual desire, excitement and energy tend to begin in that great organ above the shoulders, rather than the one below the waist. The daily stresses of work, money, children, relationships and diminished energy are common issues contributing to low libido in women. Other causes may be depression, anxiety, lack of privacy, medication side effects, medical conditions such as endometriosis or arthritis, menopausal symptoms or a history of physical or sexual abuse.

You are the person in charge of your vagina and clitoris. First and foremost, get to know your female parts intimately. Understanding your sexual response is a necessary health and wellness skill. Make mastery of that skill a priority.

Complete Article HERE!