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Threesome Tips: 6 Things You Should Know Before Having One

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By Sophie Saint Thomas

Yes, “unicorn” is a problematic term for a person who joins a couple for a threesome (they’re a person, not a sex toy or prop). But the title gets one thing right: Like unicorns, enthusiastic guest stars in couples’ sexual adventures are hard to find. (I refuse to accept that unicorns do not exist at all. They’re probably somewhere in Alaska or Iceland, and the narwhals just won’t tell us where.) The person who is eager to show up and fulfill both your and your partner’s sexual fantasies and then disappear without a trace is likely, well, a fantasy. Hot threesomes happen, but they take preparation and communication, and not everyone is ready to successfully venture into the mystical land of group sex. For all those in relationships considering having a threesome, here are six things to know before you dive in.

1. A threesome will not “fix” your relationship.

If your partnered sex life is suffering, you could have an adult conversation about how your needs aren’t being met. You could see a couples therapist. You could carve out a night for absolutely nothing except an oral-sex marathon. (Actually, maybe do that no matter how good your sex life is.) What you shouldn’t do is expect a new sexual experience to magically solve your problems. David Ortmann, a San-Francisco- and Manhattan-based psychotherapist and sex therapist, says couples who turn to threesomes often do so in an effort to put a Band-Aid on unresolved intimacy issues. “If you’re having a threesome because sex is boring, you need to address why the sex is boring before you bring in the third,” Ortmann says. When the third leaves, your intimacy issues will still be there.

2. Your pre-threesome communication with your partners should be exhaustive.

Before you and your partner have a threesome, you should have talked about it so much that you’re tired of talking about it. “The couple needs to be on solid ground sexually and communication-wise. They need to know what they want to happen and why,” Ortmann says.

Do you feel more comfortable sleeping with a mutual acquaintance or creating a couple’s Tinder account to find a third? If you’re an opposite-sex couple looking for a female-bodied third, can the male partner have all kinds of sex with them or, for example, only manual and oral? Does the third get to spend the night? Does the third want to spend the night? Have you discussed what you want out of the group sex, both sexually and emotionally? What’s your exit plan if someone gets uncomfortable and says the safe word? Do you have a safe word? (You should.) Are you tired of reading these questions? Conversations around sex and intimacy can feel tedious, but they’re the foundation of a positive experience.

Unless you, your partner, and your third are on the same page about everyone’s boundaries, expectations, and desires — and you understand things might not go to plan — you’re likely not ready for a threesome. Talk with your partner about what you don’t want to happen, what you’d like to happen, and what you’re expecting to get out of the threesome experience. Then, when you’ve identified a potential third, discuss all of the same with them, too. A threesome should be like a carefully planned trip to a foreign country you’ve never visited: Prepare with an itinerary, but also expect the unexpected.

3. Someone may feel left out at some point — and if you can’t bear the thought of it being you, you may not be ready for a threesome.

Ortmann puts it bluntly when he tells me, “Three people is actually the most problematic of all of the configurations.” Considering the emotional and physical needs of one person during sex (while also expressing your own) is hard enough. Adding an extra person compounds the complications, whereas in “moresomes,” or groups or partners larger than three, it’s often less likely an individual will feel left out at any given time.

Here’s a heads-up for those in \relationships: Be ready to awkwardly sit on the bed questioning what to do while your partner goes down on the third with a hunger you haven’t seen from them for months. Maybe you’ll end up realizing, “Oh! I get to touch some boobs,” but you might also find yourself wondering, “Wait, why is no one’s face in my delicious genitals?”

These moments happen, but one way to make it less likely anyone will feel extraneous is to meet a potential third in a non-sexual setting before inviting them into your bed. Once I convinced my ex-boyfriend to go on a date with me and another woman with the goal of facilitating a threesome. We matched with a woman on Tinder who accepted our invitation for drinks. My ex and this woman vibed, and while I liked her as a person, there was no chemistry between us. I felt like the third wheel on a date with my own partner — a great sign the dynamic in bed wouldn’t have been rewarding for me either.

4. Safer sex precautions are non-negotiable.

Safer sex devices, such as condoms and dental dams, are crucial in a threesome. Your souvenirs of the experience should be hot memories, not STIs or unintended pregnancy. And condoms aren’t just for penises: Any threesome that features sex toys should incorporate them too. Perhaps you and your partner are in a monogamous and fluid-bonded relationship, meaning you’ve decided to exchange bodily fluids and start having unprotected sex, but you’re bringing in a third who is likely sleeping with other people. It’s important to discuss everyone’s safer sex rules before any action takes place.

Your souvenirs of the experience should be hot memories, not STIs or unintended pregnancy

In terms of etiquette, when it comes to threesomes, I feel about condoms the way I feel about appetizers: If you’re hosting the party, you should be the one providing them. Talk as a group about what other items you’d like to have at the ready: Will lube enhance the experience? How about toys? And P.S.: Even if you’re not having penetrative sex, or even oral sex, keep in mind that STIs such as HPV and herpes can be spread by skin-to-skin contact.

5. You could catch feelings.

Once my traveling ex-boyfriend said it was cool if I dated other people while he was out of town with the sneaky hope I would find a third for when he got home. He and I broke up, and the woman I met on Tinder while he was away had hot sex on our own and eventually became best friends. (Hey, he said I could date and I took him at his word.) Going back to communication, it’s important to be crystal clear with your partner about what you’re looking for. If you are both in pursuit of hot sex via a threesome, great. But if one of you is secretly looking for an extra-relationship emotional connection and the other isn’t, things could get messy.

And even if you and your partner are both just looking for hot sex, it’s important to understand all three people in a threesome have emotions that can’t be completely predicted. The third could leave with a desire to see one or both of you again, or your partner could want more and end up hitting up the third on the DL — when you open a sexual door, emotions may creep in too. It might feel awkward to bring this possibility up with your partner in advance, but you’ll be that much more equipped to deal with the eventuality if you do.

6. A threesome will likely change your dynamic with your partner.

Now, this isn’t always a bad thing. If you’ve communicated well and put due diligence into finding a third you’re both comfortable with, you could have a satisfying threesome that inspires more wild sex between the two of you long after you’ve kissed your third goodbye. In my experience, locking eyes with your partner as they penetrate your new friend from behind while said friend goes down on you is about as sexy as Earthling existence gets.

Threesomes can be enticing and exciting, and you and your partner could both really like the experience: You may want to integrate it into your regular sex life or consider even dating a third person. Then again, the sex could suck, you could feel left out, or your partner could develop feelings for the guest star — it’s all possible. If you’re in a healthy relationship based on strong communication and shared desires, you should be able to weather these risks. And if not, you probably have a few things to work on before you’re ready to welcome a guest star to your bed.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why (Some) Women Love Strap-Ons

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Last week, I found myself at Cafe Gratitude in Los Angeles, eating a gluten-free scone and fuming about gender, as one does in 2016. On the receiving end of my rant was my friend “Lori,” a 23-year-old MFA student studying queer theory. I was saying something like, “Sure, it’s cool that we live in this post-everything world where gender is over and hetero-normativity is off-trend and all the rules of sexuality have been thrown out the window. Life is more free now. But we’re also being forced to ask ourselves some serious questions. Like, ‘Does shaving my armpits make me a bad feminist?’ And, more pressingly, ‘Is my strap-on a symbol of male supremacy?’ And if so, should I set it on fire as a performance art piece?”

Lori sipped her green juice and rolled her eyes. “I love wearing a strap-on,” she said, casually flipping her long curls behind her shoulders. “Even though my dildo is bright pink and it’s this laborious process to strap yourself in, something about it still feels real. It’s some Freudian bullshit, but it just feels so fun and powerful to have a penis.” This wasn’t the “feminist” answer I was expecting.

A few nights later, I met my friend “Claire,” a 31-year-old screenwriter, for drinks at the Sunset Tower. Claire is somewhat of a unicorn in that she’s a straight woman who gets off on wearing a dildo. “Think about it: Men are the ones with a prostate. Why isn’t every woman fucking her boyfriend with a strap-on?” Claire asked, as an elderly man played jazz piano in the background. “It’s crazy, you actually feel like you have a dick. I’ve been pegging this guy I met at a Dave Matthews concert.”

Claire admitted that this was not a bucket-list moment for her. “I knew what pegging was because of that Broad City episode where Abbi pegs her crush, but I was never like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t wait until the moment when I finally get to peg someone.’ ” Her tone turned almost motherly.“I think every woman should experience fucking a man at some point in her life, even just as a therapeutic tool. It’s very empowering. I never thought this would be part of my life story, but here I am. I’m fucking a man.”

After meeting through friends at said concert last fall, Claire and her pegging partner, “Jim,” bonded on a party-bus ride back to West Hollywood, talking about sex.They ended up back at Jim’s apartment, where he produced a double-sided glass dildo—one end for the pegging, the other end shaped like a hook, to be inserted inside a vagina. “It’s essentially a strapless strap-on,” Claire explained. “It’s the chicest kind. I could never go back from this.”

She liked it far more than she expected to. “It’s such a shift in the power dynamic. I kept thinking, I’m literally penetrating someone right now. Plus, it’s a vaginal workout because you have to grip the dildo with your vagina while you use it. It’s basically exercise, which I love. I’m very health-conscious,” she said, gulping her second martini. For the next two months, the two met up for sex regularly. “He would get a colonic every time before I came over,” she said enthusiastically. “He was really on point about his whole anal grooming and cleansing journey.”

Beyond the thrill of the power shift, what Claire didn’t expect was how intimate the sex would be. “The person has to be very trusting of you. You have to listen to their physical cues and gauge if they’re having pleasure or if you’re hurting them. You have a lot of control, and that became very sexy to me. Before Jim, I’d always thought of myself as submissive, but through that experience I accessed a totally different side of myself.”

She made it sound so bizarrely appealing. I wondered if I should resurrect my strap-on from the junk box under my bed, where it’s been in exile since my breakup with my now ex-girlfriend four months ago. When I met my ex, one of the first things I did was run to a sex store and buy a large purple dildo and leather harness. It was my first same-sex relationship, and I was like, “This is what lesbians do, right?” As it turned out, we used the strap-on only like four times in our three-year relationship—partly because it quickly dawned on me that I didn’t need to imitate heterosexual sex in order to validate my queer sex. In the years that followed, I found it insulting when people would ask me, “But don’t you miss dick?” As if the penis is the holy grail of pleasure. Similarly, my androgynous girlfriend resented the fact that just because she wore boys’ clothes, people assumed she wanted a penis. (One day, I remember, she put on the strap-on, looked down, and said, “Wait, I’m gay and dicks are weird. Why is this thing on me?”)

But my worst fear is being one of those cyber-feminists who’s offended by everything, so in order to challenge my aversion to strap-ons, I organized a queer, roundtable lunch with strap-on loving Lori and my particularly opinionated friend Mel, a 37-year-old queer actress.

“My hand is my sexual object,” said Mel, displaying the hand in question, with its immaculately manicured fingernails. “A lot of women get off wearing a strap-on, either psychologically or because of the way it rubs against their clit, but I don’t. I feel erotic pleasure through my fingers. It’s sexual reiki: If I can make you come with my hand, then can I extend that power five inches in front of my hand? Ten inches? Can I sit across the room from you and make you come? When you’re at that level, a fucking phallus seems like kindergarten for me.” The conversation became heated very quickly.

“So is penis envy actually a thing?” I asked. “I just don’t understand why, if you’re queer, you need to bring a fake dick into the bedroom.”

“I know lesbians who, when they go on a Tinder date, will pack their penis in their bag,” said Mel. “Like, that’s their dick. They’re not trans, but they want to be able to fuck their girl without using their hands. When I was younger I wanted that,” she recalled. “I didn’t want a dick all the time, but I wanted to be able to fuck a girl and choke her with both hands, basically.”

“I don’t care to over-intellectualize or over-politicize it,” said Lori. “If you like being fucked by a strap-on, it’s not a reflection on your sexuality. I get where you’re coming from, but if it feels good, then what’s the problem? My girlfriend and I aren’t secretly wanting to have sex with a man.”

This made sense to me. If the point of sex is to create intimacy and to give and receive pleasure, then why restrict yourself from something that feels good just because of the patriarchy or whatever? After all, being a lesbian isn’t about hating dicks, and using a strap-on isn’t about wanting to be a man.

Through my own queer experience, in fact, I’ve learned that it often isn’t true that the more “masculine” or butch woman would be the one to wear a strap-on in the relationship. Mel put it well: “Our default is to think that, in a power dynamic, masculine is top and feminine is bottom. But a butch woman will often want to be subjugated sexually because she has to armor herself in the world so much. She has to be tough, just like a man does. It’s like the Wall Street guy who sees a dominatrix on the weekend. That’s why they say, ‘Butch in the streets, femme in the sheets.’ ”

Speaking of femme tops, I told them about Claire and her pegging saga, which incited a literal round of applause. “I wish more guys would get into pegging,” Mel said. “I think if men knew more about what it was like to get fucked, they would be better at fucking. The only reason men don’t get pegged more often is because of gay shame and bottom shame. It’s really hard for straight men to bottom because they think it’s emasculating, when in reality it can be super hot.”

Beyond all the politics, one can’t deny that strap-ons have a lot of advantages. You never have to worry about a dildo being soft or too small or diseased, and it won’t accidentally get you pregnant. As Mel put it: “When you’re having sex with a real penis, sex becomes all about what feels good for the penis, and then the penis has to throw up all over your tits. But a strap-on is just for the woman’s pleasure. The dildo doesn’t need to be satisfied.”

“That’s true,” Lori agreed. “Dildos are not demanding at all.”

“It’s just a hands-free device,” added Mel. “Like a selfie stick.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How to talk to kids about sex

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“I do know how babies are made,” my then-8-year-old son recently told his 13-year-old sister. She ignored him. “Mom, he really doesn’t,” she said. “You better tell him before he goes to camp and hears it from older kids.” She was right. I had talked to him about love for years, but I must have glossed over the mechanical piece.

According to Deborah Roffman, a teacher and author of “Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ ‘Go-To’ Person About Sex,” I was late to the game. “If we’re not deliberately reaching out to kids by third grade, almost everything they learn after that is going to be remedial,” she says. “Sexual intercourse in the service of reproduction is thoroughly age-appropriate for 6-year-olds.”

Not long after I got my son up to speed, I taught middle school health and wellness for the first time. No amount of parenting readies you for a roomful of curious 13-year-olds. To prepare me, my principal showed me questions kids had asked in the past. “How many times can you ask a girl out before it becomes sexual harassment?” “Is it possible for a boy to put his privates in the wrong hole?” “What are all the different sex positions?”

Well, okay then. I could do this. As Roffman notes, these conversations are simply part of the nurturing process, and we miss the big picture when we focus on “the talk.” “That’s where I start with parents. It’s about how we can raise sexually healthy young people from birth,” she says.

Kids have five core needs when it comes to sexuality, Roffman explains. They need affirmation and unconditional love; information about healthy and unhealthy behaviors; clarity about values such as respect and integrity; appropriate boundaries and limits; and guidance about making responsible, safe choices. Within that framework, here are seven tips to help parents raise kids who know how to make well-considered decisions.

Fill in gaps and debunk myths

Karen Rayne, a sex educator in Texas and author of “GIRL: Love, Sex, Romance and Being You,” says that parents shouldn’t make assumptions about what their kids know. She recalls a student who avoided trampolines because she believed that every time a girl is jostled, an egg dies. Another girl sobbed in a bathroom at a water park when she got her period for the first time. “She was being raised by a single dad who never talked to her about it, and she thought she was dying,” she says.

Yuri Ohlrichs, an author and sex educator at Rutgers Netherlands, says that kids are picking up information from peers and the Internet and that parents need to debunk myths. One boy told him that if you clean your genitals with a medical disinfectant after sex, you can’t get a sexually transmitted disease. “Some of the misconceptions are disturbing, and as responsible adults we can take away the tension they create,” he says.

Admit discomfort and stay calm

For parents, acknowledging discomfort is a good first step. “You can begin the conversation with, ‘This is going to be awkward, but we’re going to talk about it anyway because it’s important,’ ” Rayne says. Even if parents are fine, it doesn’t mean their kids are. “Parents need to normalize the dialogue and provide a space where kids can ask anything,” she says. “If young people say something shocking, it’s okay to say, ‘That’s surprising to me.’ ” Still, she recommends parents stay calm and delay their gut reaction. “Process with a friend, partner or religious figure, and then respond in your best emotional state,” she says.

Talk about your family’s values

When Roffman talks to parents, she asks them to list at least five values they want their children to bring to all sexual situations they encounter in their lives. She then urges them to name those values to their kids as young as possible.

By taking this approach, parents can teach the importance of compassion, honesty and respect long before they broach them in a sexual context. “Parents can say, ‘You’re standing too close to me. You’re not respecting my boundaries,’ and talk to children about how no one is allowed to touch them without their permission,” Roffman says.

Last year, her eighth-graders wanted to teach fifth-
graders about consent. They showed an image of the prince kissing Sleeping Beauty along with nonsexual examples of consent. By the end of the presentation, the students understood why Sleeping Beauty was incapable of agreeing to the kiss.

Share personal stories with caution

Before sharing personal information, parents need to think deeply about why they’re sharing it, Roffman says. “There should be a point to the story. What do they hope their child will learn?” She notes that trying to steer a kid’s behavior is not a good motive. “The goal should be to help your child think through decisions they’re going to make,” she says.

Parents also can draw a line when kids ask intrusive questions. “The act of drawing boundaries is powerful, and parents can say, ‘That’s a personal question, and maybe I’ll answer it when you’re older,’ ” Rayne says.

Address stereotypes and gender differences

Ohlrichs encourages adults to take a positive approach to both male and female sexuality. “Not all boys or men are going out there to have sex as much as they can,” he says, noting that boys have insecurities but may struggle to express them. “We have to make sure that boys understand that you’re just as much a man if you’re not experienced sexually as if you are.”

He also urges parents to explain that although there are no hard-and-fast distinctions, males and females might approach sexual scenarios differently. “Boys don’t always understand that a girl might stop kissing because she’s focused on what’s going on around them,” he says. “Boys might be all green lights, but if a girl hears someone in the house or the boy says something that reminds her of a negative experience, it’s over.” Parents can explain that it’s not necessarily a rejection and that the couple needs to work together to make it comfortable. He also suggests that parents tell teens that if someone is giggling or nervous, “it might not be a positive situation for them.”

Ohlrichs urges parents to address stereotypes about female sexuality, noting that girls throughout the world internalize the idea that they need to protect their reputation. “They’re getting the message that they need to conceal excitement and avoid taking initiative, and it’s still one-sided,” he says.

Use media and other sources to start a conversation

“Everything in life can be connected to human sexuality,” Roffman says, and parents can find natural segues in a variety of topics, such as music and sports. Sexetc.org, a website that is run by teens and affiliated with Rutgers University, features polls that parents can use to start a dialogue. Scarleteen.com also has a parenting section and an adult-moderated dialogue board for teens.

Rayne has used the movie “Wonder Woman” and the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy” to talk about gender issues with her own children. She also talks to her kids about sexting and shares other Internet cautionary tales when they unfold publicly. Books about sex, gender and reproduction are readily available in her home.

Complete Article HERE!

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What to Do When You Want More—or Less—Sex Than Your Partner

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By Justin Lehmiller

Anyone who’s ever been in a long-term relationship knows that, when it comes to sex, we aren’t always on the same wavelength as our partners. Sometimes we’re in the mood, but our partner isn’t. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, it’s usually not a big deal—unless it starts happening over and over again. If your desire for sex gets completely out of sync with your partner and this lasts for months—maybe even years—you have developed what’s known as a sexual desire discrepancy.

Desire discrepancies are common. For example, a nationally representative British sex survey found that approximately one in four adults reported being in a relationship in which they didn’t see eye to eye with their partner regarding the amount of sex they’d like to be having.

There’s a popular stereotype that desire discrepancies are a gendered issue, such that men are always the ones who want more sex while women want less. However, this isn’t the case at all. In heterosexual relationships, it can be either the male or female partner who would prefer having more sex. Desire discrepancies can affect same-sex couples, too.

Discrepant sexual desires can happen in any relationship, but they usually don’t emerge until after a couple has been together for quite some time. Perhaps not surprisingly, when they occur, these discrepancies tend to be highly distressing and often cause serious damage to the relationship. Indeed, studies have found that they’re linked to more conflict, less satisfaction and greater odds of breaking up.

In light of how common desire discrepancies are and the harm they can potentially inflict, we’d all do well to better understand them so that we can be prepared to respond in productive and healthy ways should we ever wind up in that situation.

So where do desire discrepancies come from? It’s complicated . Numerous factors—biological and psychosocial—can affect sexual desire in one partner, but not necessarily the other. Everything from our medication use to our sleep habits to the amount of stress we’re under to the way we feel about our relationship has the potential to impact sexual desire. Given the broad range of factors that influence desire, identifying the underlying cause(s) is important when choosing the best course of treatment.

This means that, unfortunately, there are no quick and simple fixes, like pills that magically adjust the partners’ libidos to match one another. Drug companies have been hard at work trying to create pills like this, but they’ve found that sexual desire just isn’t easily changed this way. The good news is that there are a number of steps you and your partner can take that have the potential to help.

For insight into handling desire discrepancies, I spoke wih Dr. Lori Brotto, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who researches sexual desire. As a starting point, Brotto suggests that we step back and look at desire discrepancies as a couple’s issue—not a problem specific to the low-desire or high-desire partner. Blaming each another for wanting “too much” or “not enough” sex is counterproductive. This is a relationship issue that you both need to work on together rather than something one of you addresses alone.

Next, identify whether there are any health issues or stressors that might be impeding sexual desire, like chronic fatigue or adjusting to parenthood. According to Brotto, “Usually, addressing those other issues is necessary before addressing sexual difficulties.” In other words, there might be value in consulting a doctor and/or re-evaluating your work-life balance before anything else.

From here, it’s all about touch and communication. Part of the issue is that our partners don’t always know what we like sexually—and if your partner is doing things that you’re not really into, that can put a damper on desire. So you might need to step back and spend some time teaching each other what feels good and what doesn’t. Indeed, Brotto says that “couple touching exercises such as ‘sensate focus,’ which are designed to inform a partner where and how one likes to be touched, can be very effective.”

Touch isn’t just a valuable teaching technique but also a great lead-in to sex. For example, giving each other massages can help with relaxation and stress relief—and, in the process, it just might put both of you in the mood. This is probably why research has found that couples who give each other mini-massages and backrubs are more sexually satisfied than those who don’t.

Beyond this, we need to be mindful of how we deal with sexual frustration and try to approach sexual disagreements in productive ways. For example, if you feel like your sexual needs aren’t being met, being confrontational with your partner in the heat of the moment might make things worse in the long run. According to Brotto, such behavior “can further push [your] partner away sexually and widen the discrepant desire divide.” Therefore, consider ways of coping with bouts of sexual frustration, like masturbation, that aren’t going to escalate conflict.

Finally, as unsexy as it sounds, scheduling sex or having regular date nights can help, too. As Brotto notes, “by planning sex, it can help to promote healthy and sexy anticipation of it.” For example, one advantage of having sex on a schedule is that it allows time to prepare. For example, if you agree to shut off your phones for a few hours beforehand, this can help to clear your heads of distractions that might otherwise interfere with interest in—and enjoyment of—sex. Also, by planning sex, you can build up to it, such as by sexting your partner to let them know how attractive they are to you. “Foreplay need not be a few minutes, but can extend over several days,” says Brotto.

Though many couples facing sexual desire discrepancies feel hopeless, the truth of the matter is that there’s actually a lot you can to do manage these situations in healthy and mutually satisfying ways.

Complete Article HERE!

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Visualizing Sex as a Spectrum

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Infographic reveals the startling complexity of sex determination

Infographic by Pitch Interactive and Amanda Montañez

By Amanda Montañez

Sex and gender pervade nearly every aspect of our lives. Each time we use a public restroom, shop for clothes, or fill out a form, we are insistently reminded that we must be either male or female; men or women; boys or girls. Even things that ostensibly have nothing to do with sex or gender—what we eat, for example, or the books we read—are often sold to us as if they are necessarily feminine or masculine.

Some of these conventions currently face challenges, some more polarizing than others. On the milder end of things, enterprising online retailers promote gender-neutral clothing for babies, and city transport authorities mercifully abolish the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” from public announcements. And on the other side of the controversy scale, U.S. state legislators debate so-called “bathroom bills,” which would prohibit transgender individuals from using public restrooms corresponding to their gender identity. This dispute has prompted some venues to offer a gender-neutral restroom option, or simply to do away with gender distinctions altogether in their facilities.

Much of the public discourse in this arena centers on gender rather than sex, presumably because gender is understood to be somewhat subjective; it is a social construct that can be complex, fluid, multifaceted. Biological sex, on the other hand, appears to leave less room for debate. You either have two X chromosomes or an X and a Y; ovaries or testes; a vagina or a penis. Regardless of how an individual ends up identifying, they are assigned to one sex or the other at birth based on these binary sets of characteristics.

But of course, sex is not that simple either.

The September issue of Scientific American explores the fascinating and evolving science of sex and gender. One of the graphics I had the pleasure of working on breaks down the idea of biological sex as a non-binary attribute, focusing largely on what clinicians refer to as disorders of sex development (DSD), also known as intersex.

The project was originally conceived as a data-driven graphic exploring the spectra of sex and gender. I wondered, for instance, what data could tell us about the frequency of transgender and non-binary identities, what proportion of the population is intersex, and how that value might break down into rates of specific DSDs.

I hired the researcher Amanda Hobbs to look into these questions, and what she came back with, rather than answers, looked more like a series of new questions. The search for solid data on transgender and intersex populations proved challenging, and was confounded by a variety of factors. For example, surveys often lump transgender in with gay, lesbian, and bisexual identities. And DSDs, in addition to being variously defined by different entities, sometimes go undetected or emerge unexpectedly, either during sexual development or later in life.

The project abruptly transformed into an exercise in visualizing complexity. First, it seemed imperative to define a few terms. Sex, gender, and sexuality are all distinct from one another (although they are often related), and each exists on its own spectrum. Moreover, sex cannot be depicted as a simple, one-dimensional scale. In the world of DSDs, an individual may shift along the spectrum as development brings new biological factors into play. The density of science underlying this phenomenon compelled a shift towards intersex as the primary focus of the visualization.

Now that my task was clear, I set about assembling the content of the graphic and putting it down on paper. In part, this process clarified how much I could include, as the complete list of known DSDs and their various manifestations proved unwieldy for a single spread in a print magazine. I ended up with a visual outline of sorts depicting a diverse selection of conditions and their convoluted pathways of development over time. Although not an especially pretty sketch, it captured the sense of intricacy the topic demanded.

Visual outline

Next I consulted with Dr. Amy Winsiewski, a DSD specialist at the University of Oklahoma, who was kind enough to review the content of my sketch for accuracy. And finally, I called upon the visualization experts at Pitch Interactive to help bring the project to life.

[caption id="attachment_2328558" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Sketch

Once the aesthetic of the graphic had been established, I continued to refine both the text and design elements, guided by feedback from my colleagues who helped identify areas that were unclear or difficult to follow.

The finished print graphic

Detail of the finished print graphic

The resulting visualization is a source of pride for me, as I hope it is for everyone who contributed to its development. (You can see a larger version here in the September digital issue.) Design and visual communication feats aside, I believe the content itself is of critical importance from a social and policy perspective.

DSDs—which, broadly defined, may affect about one percent of the population—represent a robust, evidence-based argument to reject rigid assignations of sex and gender. Certain recent developments, such as the Swedish adoption of a gender-neutral singular pronoun, and the growing call to stop medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex babies, indicate a shift in the right direction. I am hopeful that raising public awareness of intersex, along with transgender and non-binary identities, will help align policies more closely with scientific reality, and by extension, social justice.

Complete Article HERE!

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