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‘Discovering my true sexual self’: why I embraced polyamory

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My husband and I were together for 12 years and had two children – but while he was happy with one person, I needed more

By Anita Cassidy

It was the hardest thing I’d ever had to say to my husband, Marc. Three years ago, I sat down and told him: “The idea of having sex just with you for the next 40 years – I can’t do it any more.” But I had come to realise that my life was built around something I didn’t believe in: monogamy.

We had been together for 12 years and had two children, now nine and seven. I love being a mother and I set the bar high from the start – cloth nappies and cooking from scratch. But I needed something more in my emotional and sexual life.

Marc’s reaction was remarkable; he agreed to support me and open our marriage to other partners, although it wasn’t really what he wanted. We started counselling to try to identify the best of what we had, to save it and protect it. Sex is a big part of a relationship, but it is only a part. We didn’t want it to scupper us.

If that sounds difficult, it was. I don’t think we could have done it if we hadn’t spent most of our marriage reading, talking and exploring together.

I quickly embraced the dating scene and discovered another side of my sexual self. I enrolled on lots of sites, where you are asked specific questions about yourself and your preferences. It was illuminating: do I like this? Yes. Do I like that? Well, let’s see. They were the kind of questions I’d never been asked before – and had never asked myself.

I became convinced that traditional relationships are like an air lock. You meet someone. It’s amazing and it’s rare, and then you lock it; you shut the windows and doors, and you try desperately to keep it all to yourselves. Then the air turns sour because there’s no oxygen. You might make a sexual mistake on the spur of the moment because you are craving some – any – contact. Why not live in a world where you can have room for that connection, that spark?

I think most people’s reaction was that Marc should have kicked me out. My immediate family have been supportive, although my mother is still ambivalent. We discuss everything openly, and she understands where I’m coming from, but worries that I’m going to end up on my own. If I do, though, it will be because I have chosen that.

People who choose to be polyamorous often do so after delving deep into themselves and their desires, so it runs close to the kink scene, which was also something I wanted to explore. There’s a temptation to think that, had Marc and I explored these things together, our marriage might have worked without opening it up. I’m not sure that it would have, though, given that he wasn’t into it. It can seem quite intimidating, but I was so ready for it. The first time I went to a fetish club, I felt like I was at home – that I’d found my people.

I now have a partner of two years, Andrea. We work as a couple, but we also have sex with friends. He’s the only partner I have introduced to my children. I love Andrea and I’m very lucky to have him, but I don’t want to live with him – we both value our solitude too much. He and I can flirt with other people and ask for their number, but I still feel jealous sometimes. He went away with another woman and, yes, it was difficult.

Anita, Marc and Andrea, too: ‘I’m not sure our marriage would have worked without opening it up.’

Meanwhile, Marc and I realised we were no longer compatible. I had changed too much. We still share the family home and parent our children together. We still get on. We have counselling together, we spend Christmas together – we are still reading and learning as we used to. We wanted to keep all the bits that worked.

We have had to learn so much about communicating better, and I think the children have benefited from that. We have explained that Dad needs one person to be with and Mum needs more people to make her happy. The talk is ongoing; we won’t wait to sit them down when they are teenagers, expecting them suddenly to get it. Understanding polyamory is complicated, but monogamy is fraught with ambiguity, too.

You can craft your own polyamory, but I’m not sure I would want more than two or three other partners. I’m hoping two people I met recently will become lovers, but there’s no rush. People assume that I’m constantly having sex, but it’s not as simple as that. I want an emotional and mental connection with someone, so it takes time to build up to that.

Monogamy, meanwhile, feels more like a competition where you need to bag someone before anyone else does. None of that applies in a poly setup, which is incredibly liberating. Think how strange it would be to have only one friend. You can’t get everything from one platonic relationship. Why would you try with one lover?

But it’s a challenge: you’re swimming against the cultural norm and it’s difficult emotionally, with or without the support of an existing partner. On top of that, the amount of work involved in maintaining multiple relationships, sexual and platonic, is huge.

Andrea and I look to the future, but there are no expectations. We are part of a broader community and we think developing that is more important. Put it this way: I don’t see myself sitting on a park bench at 80 with one other person. I’d like to be part of a group of people, a community. We seem to want a silver bullet for everything. One God. One partner. But life is plural.

Marc’s view

I’d realised for a few years that Anita wasn’t completely happy, so it wasn’t a total shock when she told me she wanted to explore non-monogamy. It was upsetting to hear that what we had wasn’t meeting her needs, but it was very important to me that she was happy. If that meant her exploring a different relationship style, then I would be there to support her.

I did a lot of reading around the subject of ethical non-monogamy. It makes a lot of sense intellectually, but it doesn’t resonate with me emotionally. It didn’t feel right. I was prepared for our marriage to continue, with me being monogamous and Anita having other partners, but that proved more difficult than we envisaged.

I completely support Anita. I’m glad she has been able to share with me what she’s discovering about the honesty and communication needed to make polyamory work. It’s also true of monogamous relationships, and I hope to take what I have learned from this experience into my future relationships.

What I have always wanted – and still do – is to be with one partner, long-term, with whom I can share all of life’s rich experiences, to enjoy the journey and the inevitable changes together.

Complete Article HERE!

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Raising Sex-Positive Kids

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My daughter is 12 years old, and she has already been groped. It happened at a local water park last summer in the wave pool, the kind of swimming pool where mechanically generated waves simulate the swell of the ocean. As one wave lifted her up, she felt the hand of a teenage boy grabbing her bikinied butt. How strange, she thought. It must have been a mistake; maybe the wave had carried him into her. Yet the same thing happened to her 11-year-old friend who was swimming nearby. Then they heard two more girls remarking loudly that the boy had touched them, too. Apparently, this young man was groping every female buttock in the pool like he was testing for ripe fruit at the farmers’ market. Soon, the two lifeguards on duty were frantically blowing their whistles. The waves stopped and the red-handed boy, standing by the lifeguard station with his father, was told to leave the water park immediately.

While the news that my young daughter had been groped horrified me, I couldn’t have imagined a better outcome. She was with a friend and her friend’s mother, able to share and process the experience and even laughed about it a little. More important, the teenage offender was caught, confronted, and suffered the consequences. He was publically shamed for his stupid and intrusive acts, as he deserved to be. And yet, my girl had been groped. She had been initiated into the world of women everywhere who are plagued by men behaving badly. Or in the words of a recent “Saturday Night Live” skit, “Welcome to Hell.”

The recent spate of news stories about women (and some men) being sexually harassed in the entertainment industry and in politics may be painful to witness, but it’s also liberating. The #metoo movement has broken the code of silence and unleashed a formidable backlash against many men who have unfairly wielded their power. Women and men are talking; mothers and fathers are talking. And many of us are wondering: How did we get here, and how can we stem the tide of sexual misconduct for the generations to come? How can we do things a little more mindfully so that we can raise girls who are empowered and expressive, and boys who are enlightened and empathetic?

A True Yes and a True No

Alicia Muñoz, a psychotherapist and couples’ counselor based in Falls Church, Virginia, sees one solution in the growing trend toward raising sex-positive kids. “Sex positive” is a relatively new buzz-phrase that’s gaining traction in the therapy world and beyond. “It’s about helping your children grow up with a sense of sexuality as a natural, normal, healthy, pleasurable part of being alive, of being a human being,” says Muñoz. “That’s easier said than done, especially in a culture that is so weighted toward sex negativity and gender biases and power differentials that are unfair. It’s a tall order, but an important thing.”

One essential message of sex positivity is that any sexual activity, and any touching of body parts, should be consensual. “Taking the shame out of sexuality is part of what provides a foundation for the awareness of consent,” says Muñoz. “It’s being able to grow up in an environment where you’re not ashamed of your own sexuality, or of sexuality in general. That’s part of what empowers you to have a voice, and having a voice means you’re connected to your right to give a true yes or a true no in different situations, including sexual ones. And on the other side of it, you’re primed to respect another’s true yes or true no when you view sex as a positive, integral, normal part of being human.”

Raising kids to be sex positive is a lifestyle that begins at the onset of parenthood. Many parents worry about when to have “the talk” with their children, but, in a sense, we’re already talking about sex to our kids before they have language. “From the moment they’re born, babies and kids are receiving data related to sex and sexuality and gender—through their senses, touch, longings, hunger, their relationship to their body, and their parents’ or caregiver’s relationships to their bodies,” says Muñoz. Yet the time will come when children want to put sex into words they can understand. And the sex-positive way for parents is to start talking about sex as soon as a child starts asking about it. “When a child asks a question, even if that child is just two and a half or three, you answer it in simple, true language,” says Muñoz. “You call a vulva a vulva, a penis a penis. You don’t call it a wee-wee or a pee-pee or another nickname. You show that, even in the naming of body parts, there’s no need to hide it.”

While the goal is to remove any negativity and evasiveness from sexuality, it’s important not to take the message too far and give your child more than he or she is ready to handle. Talk about sex should be age-appropriate, keeping in mind what young brains need. “Little kids need short-sentence explanations rather than long lectures,” says Muñoz. “For a four-year-old who asks where babies come from, a short answer might be that babies are created by a man and a woman giving each other a special kind of hug.” Yet with sex positivity, the aim is to always expand the lens of sexuality and give a sense of inclusiveness beyond limited cultural norms or biases. So, parents might want to add that some babies are created by a man’s seed that’s put with the help of a doctor into a woman, and then that baby might be raised by two men, or it might be raised by two women. Then no matter which path the child takes later in terms of sexual preference or gender identity, the stage is set for a sense of normalcy and acceptance from the outset.

Following Your Child’s Lead

With so much buzz about sexual harassment and assault in the news and popular culture, parents may wonder how to talk about such heavy issues with their children—and how to protect them from the bullying and power imbalances that start as early as elementary school. “Most kids don’t pay attention to what happens in the news, so in terms of discussing something disturbing with your child, it’s best to wait until the child raises up the issue themselves,” says Stanley Goldstein, PhD, a child clinical psychologist based in Middletown and the author of several books including Troubled Children/Troubled Parents: The Way Out 2nd edition (Wyston Books, 2011). The idea is to follow the child’s lead; equally important is to speak with them rather than to them, even when you’re laying down guidelines designed to keep them safe—such as explaining to your teenage daughter why you don’t want her to walk alone at night.

“It’s crucially important not to say to a child or teenager, ‘Do this because I say so.’ If you do that, then you repress the capacity for abstract thinking. Instead, say, ‘Do it because…’ and express your concerns. Explain that the world is generally a safe place, but you have to be cautious. If you feel that they’re not ready to do certain things, tell them no and tell them why.” While many parents believe that the major influence for teenagers is their peer group, Goldstein posits that the major influence for healthy teenagers remains the parents. “They might say, ‘Joey does this, so why can’t I do it?’ They might give you a hard time, but they’ll appreciate it. There’s nothing worse for a child than feeling like their parent doesn’t care.”

In the same spirit, parents are modeling behaviors to their children all the time, without speaking. Empathy is not something that you can inculcate into a child, but they’ll develop the capacity for it through osmosis, says Goldstein. “If the child sees a healthy interaction between the parents, sees them supporting each other and talking about their feelings, they’ll grow up with these kinds of capacities. Empathy is something that really derives from the family experience.” Yet some things do need to be put into words, and in a world where sexual misconduct is rampant, therapists tend to agree about one thing to tell your kids unequivocally: “The hard and fast rule is that you don’t have the right to put your hands on someone else, period. And no one should put their hands on you. Period.”

The Power of Speaking Out

Parents are not the only influencers; cultural messaging is very powerful as well. Terrence Real, a psychotherapist who wrote I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression (Scribner, 1998) and other books, says that boys lose their hearts when they’re five or six, and girls lose their voices when they’re 11 or 12. “Five or six is when the socialization process starts to really impact boys as they get shamed for doing things they were allowed to do when they were younger,” says Muñoz. “They might be called weak or girly. So, when you have a boy, how do you keep him connected to his heart yet still have him belong in his circle of peers? How do you keep your girls raising their hands in class rather than becoming wallflowers? How do you keep them speaking up when the society says that if you speak up you’re a bitch, or you’re not as attractive?”

Expressiveness in girls is crucial to encourage for two main purposes: their ability to share difficult experiences, and their empowerment in speaking out and defending themselves. “Letting your child lead the conversation, or lead the play when they are younger, creates a space where your child trusts you to share things such as, ‘Oh, one of the boys grabs my behind at school’ or ‘I saw a video with naked people on the internet.'” Parents can practice not reacting in fear or letting their anxiety show, but opening a space to calmly help and guide them. In turn, some self-defense teachers have girls practice yelling on the top of their lungs and using their voice, so if they are assaulted or groped in the subway or on the street, they can call attention to the perpetrator and get help if help is needed.

To raise sex-positive kids requires some work from the parents, and not all of it is easy. If a parent has any sexual trauma or abuse in their own past, it’s essential for them to be willing to face and work through it, not only for their own sake but for their children’s sake. Otherwise, says Muñoz, “In your well-intentioned desire to protect your children, you’re going to be communicating a lot of sex-negative messages to them.” Another challenge for parents is resisting the impulse to impose their power as adults over their children in everyday interactions. “What they learn there is, ‘Oh, I have to obey somebody more powerful than me even if it doesn’t feel good,'” says Muñoz. “Not telling your child they have to obey isn’t the same thing as having the inmates run the asylum. Instead it’s telling them, ‘I’m with you. We work as a team.'”

Complete Article HERE!

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Male sexuality isn’t brutal by default. It’s dangerous to suggest it is

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If we start to believe that sexual harassment and rape is a result of the way men are we cede something crucial: the belief that things can be better

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One of the many myths about feminists is that we believe all men are potential rapists – that men are inherently dangerous, their sexuality naturally predatory. It’s an absurd stereotype that runs counter to decades of feminist activism. After all, if you believe men’s natural instinct is to harass or rape, what you are really arguing is that harassment and rape are normal.

It’s true that the seemingly never-ending snowball of accusations against powerful men can feel as if there is an abuser around every corner. It’s also true that sexual harassment and assault are systemic and pervasive. But if we start to believe that this is just the way men are – that this kind of behavior is simply to be expected – we cede something crucial: the belief that things can be better.

That’s what makes Stephen Marche’s New York Times op-ed this past weekend so dangerous. Marche writes that male sexuality is “inherently brutal” and that properly reckoning with sexual assault includes admitting as such. “Pretending to be something else, some fiction you would prefer to be, cannot help,” he wrote.

Marche has a history of sexist writing, from pieces claiming that men won’t share equally in housework because “millions of women are deeply attracted to the gloomy vice of domestic labor,” to articles bemoaning “the whining of girls”. But the real issue – in addition to how offensive it is to suggest that men are naturally predatory – is how this line of thinking normalizes assault and encourages resignation over action. If we believe a particular behavior is innate, it’s easier to dismiss as immovable.

And despite the bum rap given to feminists, it’s actually conservatives who’ve long bolstered “boys will be boys” nonsense that insults men and puts women in danger.

Abstinence-only education, for example, teaches girls that they need to prevent physical affection from escalating because boys can’t help themselves. The right-led protest against women in combat, too, is based on the idea that having men and women in close quarters will lead to sexual assault. Donald Trump himself believes this, tweeting in 2013 about rape in the military: “What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?”

And there was no mistaking the Republican defense of Trump’s Access Hollywood tape as “locker room talk”. The explicit message was that men, by default, are horrid, brutal, sexists.

And it’s feminists who are the manhaters?

The truth is that while the vast majority of rapists and abusers are male, they are an extremely small percentage of the male population. So when feminists talk about rape culture, we’re not saying that our country is filled with rapists – but that we make it too easy for them to flourish.

When newspaper headlines call rapist Brock Turner a “swim star”, when victims are blamed for what they wore, or when Nancy Pelosi calls her colleague accused of sexual harassment an “icon”, we are providing refuge to those that abuse others.

All these things are preventable; we can shift how the culture responds to sexual abuse and the way we treat victims. Feminism is built on a foundation of optimism in this way – its work assumes that we can change.

Marche ends his piece in the Times by writing that the only thing that can save us from sexual harassment and assault – “if anything can” – is for men to accept their “monstrosity”. I don’t believe in monsters, but I do believe that we can do better than this. Better than thinking so little of men, better than resigning ourselves to a world where rape and harassment are considered inevitable rather than aberrant.

First, though, we need to believe that change is possible.

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5 common questions about vaginas answered

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A sexual health nurse reveals all

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We don’t often bring up genitals in polite conversation but learning more about vaginas can empower women to make the right decisions about their general and sexual health – and know when to seek medical advice.

Helen Knox, a clinical nurse specialist in contraception and sexual health – and founder of Sexplained – shares the vaginal health questions she hears most frequently and the advice she gives women about how best to care for their most intimate area:

1. Is my vaginal normal?

“I often get asked if the smell or discharge a woman is experiencing is ‘normal’. Firstly, normal is what is normal to you. Your vagina will have its own smell, regular discharge and shape. If you notice a change from your norm such as a change in discharge, smell or discomfort, then there may be something up. But don’t be embarrassed about it and do nothing. You can ask your pharmacist to help you work out what might be going on and give you an over the counter treatment. But if you are in pain, are bleeding abnormally or have persistent symptoms then you must see your GP.”

2. What should my vagina smell like?

“Your vulva and your vagina should smell like you, if this smell changes then something might be up. Your healthy vagina is all about balance: it is home to millions of micro-organisms, and is normally good at keeping them in balance.”

“When this balance gets disrupted, you’ll start to notice things aren’t quite right and you could be developing bacterial vaginosis (BV) which is a very common condition that often causes a fishy smell. BV is in fact two times more common than thrush and like thrush it can be simply treated with an over the counter treatment. Lactic acid based products such as Balance Activ (available at Amazon.co.uk) help to rebalance the healthy bacterial conditions within the vagina, to gently and effectively treat the symptoms of BV by restoring normal pH and vaginal flora.”

3. What should my vagina look like?

“Just like the rest of our bodies, our vaginas are all unique. The only part you can see is the vulva, and these come in all shapes and sizes. If you are experiencing any soreness, itching or other changes there may be a problem that needs checking out. In general, adding anything to your vagina such as glitters or perfumes is going to upset your natural balance and encourage conditions like BV, so I really wouldn’t recommend it.”

“You can’t see your vagina, as it is inside you, and it runs from your vulva, up to your cervix, but as long as you’re not experiencing any unusual smells or discomfort, it’s very likely to be looking after itself – and doesn’t need to be messed about with.”

4. Is my discharge normal?

“The vagina is a relatively acidic environment which keeps itself healthy by producing a range of secretions, so women will experience natural changes in discharge throughout their monthly cycle.”

A period generally lasts for 4-5 days, followed by slight dryness and then an increase in discharge. This will normally be white at first and then change to a clear, stretchy consistency during peak fertility. After ovulation, it changes to a dryer, thicker white or creamy mucus, which sperm won’t be able to swim through. If you’re pregnant this doesn’t change. If you’re not, it’s back to the next period.”

“Even in a healthy vagina, there will be a variety of changes to your ‘normal’ discharge, and these can also vary depending on your age and other factors. A change in discharge to it becoming really thin and watery, or thick and cottage cheese like, or a fishy or unpleasant smell may be a sign that something is wrong and your natural balance has been upset – you can check your symptoms at via the online symptom checker or speak to your doctor, pharmacist or sexual health clinic if you are worried.”

5. How do I keep my vagina clean?

Your vagina cleans itself. It is a common misconception that having conditions like BV means you are not clean – in fact when women notice an unpleasant smell (especially after sex) they will often reach for the soap or perfumed shower gel – this can actually make things worse! There’s a delicate eco-system up there, working hard to keep a balance of bacteria so douching or washing with perfumed products can upset this balance and cause BV. As part of your daily cleaning routine, washing once a day with just water around the vulva, which is the skin around the opening, is fine.”

“By understanding your own normal and staying in tune with your body it will help you determine whether you have any issues. If you notice any changes, don’t sit with on-going symptoms wishing them way, discuss them with your Pharmacist who will happily help you, or make an appointment to discuss them with your GP. The chances are it will be something easily treated and managed.”

Complete Article HERE!

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What happens when you find the idea of sex daunting

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Some people find physical intimacy difficult – here’s what to do

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We’ve all been there, feeling shy, bashful or even self-conscious due to a sexual encounter. But for some men and women, the idea of sex can be so daunting they’ll avoid it altogether.

Tara*, a 42-year-old who married young and divorced in her 30s, found herself a ‘practical virgin’ on the dating scene after finding herself single. For years, she avoided dating out of fear that she would eventually have to have sex.

“I simply couldn’t imagine stripping naked in front of a total stranger. I’d be too embarrassed,” Tara says. “My body was okay the last time I was dating, but now I’m older and I’ve had two children.”

Lacking the confidence in bed

Tara isn’t alone in finding the thought of sex incredibly intimidating. Whether it’s due to a bad experience in the past, body confidence issues, sexual dysfunction or anticipation about future sexual encounters, this is a common issue that many of us face.

According to Krystal Woodbridge, a psychosexual therapist at the College of Sexual Relationship Therapists (COSRT), finding sex intimidating can be centred around body image issues, especially for women, and how they perceive their partner wants them to look.

“Many women also don’t have the confidence to initiate sex,” says Krystal. “It’s quite common, particularly for women who struggle in this area, that they haven’t actually explored their own body through things like masturbation or understood their own sexual fantasies, sexual desires or urges.”

Many men feel that they need to perform and this constant worry over their ability in bed can lead to performance anxiety. “Men often feel like they need to act in a certain way, maintain an erection and take charge of the situation – and for some men this can be really intimidating.”

Very often people who suffer with a sexual issue, such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, vaginismus or low sexual desire, will also have problems with sexual confidence.

“Often these issues can put people off getting into a new relationship because when it comes to initiating sex, which would be something they normally do, they hold back because they don’t want their partner to know that there’s some kind of sexual problem,” says Krystal.

6 ways to overcome your sexual fear

Feeling unconfident and daunted by sex can be overcome. We spoke to Tracey Cox, sex and relationships expert about what you can do to turn this around.

1. Only have sex when you’re ready

“Forget any preconceived notions you have about having to climb into bed on date three. Have sex when you feel ready – when you know, trust and feel comfortable enough to sleep with them. Also remember, unless you’re planning on dating an 18-year-old supermodel, your new lover’s body isn’t going to be perfect either. While you’re frantically sucking in your stomach or worrying about how big your bum is, he’s nervous about the light hitting that not-so-well-concealed bald spot or wondering if the arms you’re grabbing on to aren’t as muscular as your ex’s.”

2. Think back to when you were a teenager and take your cue from there

“Start off slowly with foreplay. When you both really like each other, and are both nervous, this is the sexual equivalent of getting into the freezing swimming pool slowly rather than diving in at the deep end. The thought of having full sex after a few foreplay sessions together will feel a lot less scary.”

3. Stick to the basics at first

“Another big concern for people who find sex intimidating is: what if I don’t know what to do? Aren’t people doing stuff in bed I don’t know about? Both sexes worry about this one – and unnecessarily.
The way we meet people to have sex with might have completely changed
but once you’re having it, it’s pretty much the same scenario. After all, there are only so many physical sex acts you can perform and most people stick to the basics first time around. Requests for ‘kinky stuff’, if it’s going to happen, tend to happen a few months in so you’re safe for now. If they do suggest something you’re not comfortable with, simply say ‘I don’t think I’m ready for that now. Can we stick to basics until we know each other better?’.”

4. Explore your body with some solo sex

“If you’re not already doing this, start having some solo sex sessions to get your body used to the feeling of orgasm – perhaps by experimenting with sex toys. There are some good beginners’ toys you can try here. The more you explore your body and know what feels good and what doesn’t, the more confident you’ll be in bed with someone else. Sex toys are a great way to discover how your body works and what it responds to, making you sexually happier and more confident.”

5. Get your attitude right

“Sex isn’t an exam. You’re not going to be graded pass or fail (and if it feels like you are, you’re with the wrong person). So, stop stressing and thinking: ‘this has got to be perfect’. Perfect sex happens to people in movies; normal people muddle through the first time.”

6. Don’t be scared to dim the lights

“Lighting is crucial – especially if you’re body conscious. Don’t be scared to say what you need. If you want it really dark for
the first time, say so. You can start turning up the dimmer switch when your confidence increases.”

Complete Article HERE!

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