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It’s time to rethink the social construction of “virginity”

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The false concept of purity can be detrimental for healthy sex lives and self-image

“Virginity is a fictional concept constructed by society.”

By Sky Jordan

Virginity has always been a big deal. Countless cultures have been obsessed with the concept from their beginnings.

Yet, many people fail to consider the concept of virginity from different perspectives.

The way we view virginity as a culture is extremely detrimental to the health of our sexualities, especially when you consider that technically, it is not even real.

Virginity is conceptual, it is a social construction. When we have sex for the first time we do not actually lose anything. It does not change our identity, it is not life-altering and it does not affect our worth. It is simply a new experience.

While it is perfectly healthy to want to wait until you are in a committed relationship or married before you have sex, shaming others for not choosing the same path is hurtful.

This is exactly what our cultural view of virginity does. It praises those who remain “pure,” and shames those who choose to have sex before marriage.

“Just because something is a social construction doesn’t mean that is doesn’t carry a lot of emotional weight for people,” Dr. Breanne Fahs, Ph.D. in clinical psychology and women’s studies and associate professor at ASU, said. “However, purity is never a good thing. Whenever that word shows up we should get nervous.”

The idea of purity is used as a means to control and manipulate us into following social norms, especially gender norms. It reinforces the idea that women lack sexuality. Virginity is treated as a commodity that can be lost. So according to this concept, when a woman has sex, she loses her value.

“Who gets saddled with the discourse of purity? Women do,” Fahs said. “When women are trying to feel like they’re negotiating sexual purity, that is never good.”

However, the construction of this ideal does not just hurt women, it’s destructive to men’s sexualities as well. Men are widely shamed for remaining virgins, as it’s loss is a sign of their masculinity and manhood. It’s a “rite of passage,” an exclusive club one can only join by engaging in one of the most intimate human experiences.

“It (virginity) is a new thing that someone is doing, but we mark it as a loss,” Fahs said. “There’s hardly any other experience like it that we frame in that way. You can’t definitively say that virginity is useful or useless, but it definitely points to strong gender dynamics that we want to be careful about.”

Virginity is also exclusively heteronormative. It focuses solely on straight male/female penetrative sex. As a result, it invalidates any sex that does not fit this strict definition, and excludes LGBTQ relationships and sexualities.

The concept of virginity makes it hard to make our own decisions about sex. It attaches guilt and shame to sexuality, and makes it seem like a scary experience that transforms you into completely different person.

As a result people often feel overwhelmed and pressured when deciding if they are ready to have sex, and guilty after the fact.

By buying into the idea of purity, we effectively begin to dismantle the possibility of having a healthy sex life. Many people report feeling dirty after sex, even if they are married. They did everything society would perceive as right, but because they were taught that virginity is such a big deal, losing it is devastating.

If we begin to reframe the idea of virginity, our culture will be able to foster much healthier ideas about sexuality. Everyone should be free to make their own decisions about sex without being held to some gross and damaging social construct.

Complete Article HERE!

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I lost my virginity yesterday

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Name: Mariana
Gender: Female
Age: 18
Location: Washington
I lost my virginity yesterday and I did not bleed. Why is this?

You lost your virginity yesterday? Where, at the mall?

I don’t mean to be facetious, but that phrase always grates on me. Mostly because it sounds like you were careless and misplaced something really important. Like, I lost my keys. I lost my phone. And it was all your fault!

Why do people (gals) say things like, “I lost my virginity?” Ya almost never hear guys say that.

What you do hear is shit like, “I took her virginity.” But wait; you took it? I thought she lost it? Can someone actually take something that has been lost? Maybe the more accurate phrase is I found the virginity she lost. But that would suggest that the guy didn’t take an active role in “winning” the virginity game. And that simply won’t do. Because the men folk, as we all know, gotta be the hunters, if ya know what I mean.

The language of sex is often so fucked. No wonder people, young folk as well as oldsters, are so confused and conflicted about sex.

Hey, sorry for the digression, Mariana.hymen-types

So, my dear, are congratulations in order? I mean, was your first time enjoyable? Are you happy you’re no longer a virgin? It’s so amazing to me that you didn’t mention anything about your first intercourse other than that fact that you didn’t bleed. I guess, for some young women, that all that really matters.

As you may know, a hymen is a mucous membrane that is part of the vulva, the external part of your genitals. It’s located outside the vagina, which is the internal part of your genitals. Not all women have a noticeable hymen. You may or may not have had one to begin with. However most women do. Simply put, having a hymen and/or having it rupture during one’s first fuck is not a reliable indicator of virginity.

Many girls and teens tear or otherwise dilate their hymen while participating in sports like cycling, horseback riding and gymnastics. A young woman can tear her hymen inserting a tampon, or while masturbating. And it’s possible that the girl may not even know she’s done this. Often there is little or no blood or pain when it happens. The tissues of the vulva are generally very thin and delicate prior to puberty.

i lost my virginity

Like I said, the presence or absence of a hymen and/or bleeding in no way indicates whether or not you are a virgin.

Some hymens are elastic enough to permit a cock to enter without tearing, or they tear only partially, and there is NO bleeding at all. As I hope you know, when you are adequately aroused, you lubricate and your vagina becomes more flexible. It will stretch without discomfort for most women. It’s even possible for a woman to have sex for years without ‘tearing’ her hymen. And, like I said, some women never have much of a hymen to begin with.

Is that helpful? I hope so.

Good luck

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The Virginity Myth

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Name: Tia
Gender: Female
Age: 19
I have a problem. I’m still a virgin, but my bf thinks I’m not. It’s really my fault he thinks this, cuz I told him I was all experienced and everything. We’ve been going together for about 8 months already and I really want my first time to be with him, but how am I going to act all experienced when I don’t know what I’m doing.
HELP ME PLEASE!!!

That sure enough is a pickle you got yourself into darlin’. You’ve got some ‘splanin’ to do Lucy!

Funny, because I’m more likely to hear from young women who are not virgins, who want to know how they can fool a new partner into thinking, they are. I guess we can chalk up all this deception and confusion to the powerful associations every culture imposes on virginity…female virginity, that is.

virginityLike most things sexual there is a huge double standard between the cultural and personal importance of virginity between the sexes. The cultural expectations about virginity are also tied to age as well as gender. For example, our society expects its 16-year-old girls to be virgins. To be otherwise, at that tender age, would be a scandal in most communities. But a 35year old woman who is still a virgin is considered an old maid — or worse, a dyke — in our society.

Of course, things are more fluid when it comes to boys and men. On the one hand, a 16year old boy, who is not a virgin, may raise some eyebrows in most communities. But many others in those same communities would praise him for being a stud. On the other hand, a 35year old man who is still a virgin is not only the butt of jokes — or worse, a queer — but he’s also more of a disgrace to his gender than an old maid is to hers. Funny how that works, huh?

I hasten to add that there is a lot to argue with in terms of these arbitrary cultural norms, and I encourage ya’ll to argue away. God knows I do! And you don’t have to buy into them either. God knows I don’t! But till things change these norms are the norms, like it or lump it.

I’d love to know why you felt the need to deceive your BF in the first place? Do the people you hang with, prize sexual experience over sexual innocence for a woman of 19? And what are the expectations of your group regarding a 19year old guy? I’ll bet the expectation is that he not be a virgin. Right?

Well you can see why a lot of people, not just you Tia, find this whole thing just too damned complicated. And rather than adding to the confusion or the deception, I encourage you to come clean with the BF about your cherry.Sign-Virginville-VillageOf

Here’s why I think this is the best policy. First, if the BF is sexually experienced, it will be very difficult for you to hide the fact that you’re not. Besides, like you said in your message to me. “I really want my first time to be with him.” Tell him that, sweetheart! No man is gonna turn that down…ever. Simply put, that is the most sexually charged and treasured sentence in any language.

Begin the big talk with your man like this. “Baby, I got something real special to tell you. You know how I’ve been sayin that I’ve been with other guys and shit? Well that was just my way of keeping all the other guys from pestering me for my junk. Baby, the truth is that I haven’t had sex before now. And the best part of this is I’ve decided that I really want my first time to be with you. My cherry belongs to you, baby”

Like I said, Tia, no man is gonna turn that down. The BF will be so flattered you won’t have to pretend to be something you’re not. Clearing the air like this will also allow you to relax when the magic moment finally happens. And relaxation is the key to enjoying yourself. And you should enjoy yourself.

Good luck

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For Some With Intellectual Disabilities, Ending Abuse Starts With Sex Ed

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Katy Park, who runs arts and wellness programs for Momentum — a community service program for people with intellectual disabilities — starts a class on healthy sexuality by asking her students to define what they want in a relationship.

by Joseph Shapiro

In the sex education class for adults with intellectual disabilities, the material is not watered down. The dozen women and men in a large room full of windows and light in Casco, Maine, take on complex issues, such as how to break up or how you know you’re in an abusive relationship. And the most difficult of those issues is sexual assault.

Katy Park, the teacher, begins the class with a phrase they’ve memorized: “My body is my own,” Park starts as the rest join in, “and I get to decide what is right for me.”

People with intellectual disabilities are sexually assaulted at a rate more than seven times that for people without disabilities. NPR asked the U.S. Department of Justice to use data it had collected, but had not published, to calculate that rate.

At a moment when Americans are talking about sexual assault and sexual harassment, a yearlong NPR investigation finds that people with intellectual disabilities are one of the most at-risk groups in America.

“This is really an epidemic and we’re not talking about it,” says Park, a social worker who runs arts and wellness programs for Momentum, an agency based in Maine that provides activities in the community and support services for adults with intellectual disabilities. Those high rates of abuse — which have been an open secret among people with intellectual disabilities, their families and people who work with them — are why Park started this class about healthy relationships and healthy sexuality.

Because one of the best ways to stop sexual assault is to give people with intellectual disabilities the ability to identify abuse and to know how to develop the healthy relationships they want.

“Let’s talk about the positive parts of being in a relationship,” Park says, holding a marker while standing at a whiteboard, at the start of the class. “Why do we want to be in a relationship?”

“For love,” says one man. “And sexual reaction.”

“Romance,” adds a woman.

“How about support?” asks Lynne, a woman who speaks with a hushed voice and sits near the front of the class.

“Having support, right?” Park says, writing the word on the board. “We all want support.”

A participant helps Park hang the agenda on the wall at the start of class.

From working with the men and women here, Park realized they want to have relationships, love and romance. They see their parents, siblings and their friends in relationships. They see people in relationships when they watch TV or go to the movies. They want the same things as anyone else.

But it’s harder for them. When they were in school, most of the adults in this room say, they didn’t get the sex ed classes other kids got. Now, just going on a date is difficult. They probably don’t drive or have cars. They rely on public transportation. They don’t have a lot of money. They live at home with their parents or in a group home, where there’s not a lot of privacy.

And then there’s the one thing that really complicates romance for people with intellectual disabilities: those high rates of sexual abuse.

“Oftentimes, it actually is among the only sexual experience they’ve had,” says Park. “When you don’t have other healthy sexual experiences, how do you sort through that? And then the shame, and the layers upon layers upon layers.”

This class, she says, is about “breaking the chain, being empowered to say, ‘No. This stops with me.’ “

“I Think People Take Advantage”

The women and men come to Momentum during the week for different programs. They go kayaking and biking; they go to the library and do volunteer work at the local food bank. There’s a range of disability here. You can look at some of the men and women — maybe someone with Down syndrome — and see they have a disability. Others, even after you talk to them, you might not figure out they have an intellectual disability.

Like one small woman with short, choppy dark hair, streaked red.

She’s 22 now, but when she was 18, her boyfriend was several years older. She says he was controlling. He didn’t let her have a cellphone or go see her friends.

“He was strangling me and stuff like that,” says the woman. (NPR is not using her name.) “And he was, the R-word — I hate to say it, but rape.” She says he raped her eight times, hit her and kicked her. “So I don’t know how I’m alive today, actually. He choked me where I blacked out.”

She thinks she was an easy target for him, because of her mild intellectual disability. “I think people take advantage,” she says. “They like to take advantage of disabilities. I have disabilities, not as bad as theirs. But I think they like to take advantage, which is wrong. I hate that.”

A student takes notes in Park’s Relate class.

She says the class helped her better understand what she wanted, and had a right to, in a relationship. She’s got a kind and respectful boyfriend now.

Her friend Lynne listens and says she would like to find a boyfriend. But in her past, she has experienced repeated sexual abuse.

She talks about a time when she was 14 and “this older guy that knew us” forced her to have sex. She says she told people but no one believed her. The next year, when she was 15, she was sexually assaulted — this time by a boy at her school. “I was trying to scream,” she says, “but I couldn’t because he had his hand over my mouth, telling me not to say anything to anybody.”

Lynne, who is 38, says those rapes and others left her unable to develop relationships. “I couldn’t trust anyone,” she says. Lynne (NPR has agreed to identify her by her middle name) says this class has helped her realize she wants a real, romantic relationship and has taught her how to better find one.

“There’s A Lot Of Loneliness”

Katherine McLaughlin, a New Hampshire sex educator, developed the curriculum used by Momentum. She wrote it so that it uses concrete examples to describe things, to match the learning style of people with intellectual disabilities. It shows pictures and uses photographs.

McLaughlin says the main desire of adults with intellectual disabilities is to learn “how to meet people and start relationships. There’s a lot of loneliness.”

That loneliness leaves them vulnerable to getting into abusive relationships, she says, or to rape.

Sometimes, especially when they’re young, they can’t name what happened to them as a sexual assault. Because they didn’t get the education to identify it. “We don’t think of them as sexual beings. We don’t think of them as having sexual needs or desires,” McLaughlin says. “Often they’re thought of as children, even when they’re 50 years old.”

Sheryl White-Scott, a New York City internist who specializes in treating people with intellectual disabilities, estimates that at least half of her female patients are survivors of sexual assault. “In my clinical experience, it’s probably close to 50 percent, but it could be as high as 75 percent,” she says. “There’s a severe lacking in sexual education. Some people just don’t understand what is acceptable and what’s not.”

Most of the women and men at the class in Maine say they didn’t get sex ed classes, like other kids, when they were in school. Or if they did, it was the simplistic warnings, like the kind given to young children. “It’s easy to fall back on ‘good touch-bad touch’ sex ed,” says Michael Gill, the author of “Already Doing It: Intellectual Disability and Sexual Agency.” “That’s a lot of what they get.” And the usual warning about “stranger danger” can be unhelpful, because it’s not strangers but people they know and trust who are most likely to assault them.

Most rapes are committed by someone a victim knows. For women without disabilities, the person who assaults them is a stranger 24 percent of the time. NPR’s data from unpublished Justice Department numbers show the difference is stark for people with disabilities: The abuser is a stranger less than 14 percent of the time.

“Parents get this; professionals don’t,” says Nancy Nowell, a sexuality educator with a specialty in teaching people with developmental disabilities, an umbrella term that includes intellectual disability but also autism.

Park asks her students to weigh in on agreements with a thumbs up or a thumbs down during class.

Parents have significant reason to worry: Figuring out what’s a healthy relationship is difficult for any young person, and it can be even trickier if a person has an intellectual disability. People with intellectual disabilities are vulnerable to problems from rape to unwanted pregnancy. Some people with intellectual disabilities marry. A small number have children — and rely on family or others to support them as parents.

Still, says McLaughlin, parents often are reluctant to talk to their children with intellectual disabilities about sex. “Parents often feel, if I talk about it they will go and be sexual,” she says, and they fear that could make them targets for sexual assault.

But educators such as McLaughlin, Gill and Nowell argue the reverse: that comprehensive sexuality education is the best way to prevent sexual assault. “If people know what sexual assault is,” says Gill, an assistant professor of disability studies at Syracuse University, “they become empowered in what is sexuality and what they want in sexuality.”

Respect

Gill argues that a long history of prejudice and fear gets in the way. He notes early 20th century laws that required the sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities. That came out of the eugenics movement, which put faith in IQ tests as proof of the genetic superiority of white, upper-class Americans.

People with intellectual disabilities were seen as a danger to that order. “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote in a 1927 opinion that ruled the state of Virginia could forcibly sterilize a young woman deemed “feebleminded.”

Carrie Buck was the daughter of a woman who lived at a state institution for people with intellectual disabilities. And when Buck became pregnant — the result of a rape — she was committed to a state institution where she gave birth and was declared mentally incompetent to raise the child. Buck was then forcibly sterilized to prevent her from getting pregnant again. There was evidence that neither Buck, nor her daughter, Vivian, was, in fact, intellectually disabled. In the first half of the 20th century, impoverished women who had children outside marriage were often ruled by courts to be “feebleminded.”

There was another myth in popular culture that people with intellectual disabilities were violent and could not control their sexual urges. Think about that staple of high school literature classes, John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” The intellectually disabled Lennie can’t control himself when the ranch hand’s wife lets him stroke her hair. He becomes excited, holding her too tight, and accidentally strangles her.

The class in Maine aims to help these adults know what’s a healthy relationship and how to communicate how they feel about someone.

The main way this class differs from a traditional sex ed class is that — to help people with intellectual disabilities learn — the material is broken down and spread out over 10 sessions. Each class lasts for 2 1/2 hours. But the adults in the class are completely attentive for the entire session.

They do take a couple of very short breaks to get up and move around, including one break to dance. Everyone gets up when Park turns on the tape recorder and plays — just right for this group asking to be treated like adults — Aretha Franklin singing “Respect.” There is joyous dancing and shouts. And when the song is over, they go back to their seats and get back to work.

Complete Article HERE!

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Our shame over sexual health makes us avoid the doctor. These apps might help.

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We’re taught to feel shame around our sexuality from a young age, as our bodies develop and start to function in ways we’re unfamiliar with, as we begin to realize our body’s potential for pleasure. Later on, women especially are taught to feel ashamed if we want “too much” sex, or if we want it “too early,” or if we’re intimate with “too many” people. Conversely, women and men are shamed if we don’t want nearly as much sex as our partner, or if we’re inexperienced in bed. We worry that we won’t orgasm, or that we’ll do so too soon. We’re afraid the things we want to do in bed will elicit disgust.

This shame can also keep people from getting the health care they need. For example, a 2016 study of college students found that, while women feel more embarrassed about buying condoms than men do, the whiff of mortification exists for both genders. Another 2016 study found many women hide their use of health-care services from family and friends so as to prevent speculation about their sexual activity and the possibility that they have a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

While doctors should be considered crucial, impartial resources for those struggling with their sexual health, many find the questions asked of them during checkups to be intrusive. Not only that but, in some cases, doctors themselves are uncomfortable talking about sexual health. They may carry conservative sexual beliefs, or have been raised with certain cultural biases around sexuality. It doesn’t help that gaps in medical school curriculums often leave general practitioners inadequately prepared for issues of sexual health.

So how do people who feel ashamed of their sexuality take care of their sexual health? In many cases, they don’t. In a study on women struggling with urinary incontinence, for example, many women avoided seeking out treatment — maintaining a grin-and-bear-it attitude — until the problem became “unbearable and distressing to their daily lives.”

Which may be why smartphone apps, at-home testing kits and other online resources have seen such growth in recent years. Now that we rely on our smartphones for just about everything — from choosing stock options to tracking daily steps to building a daily meditation practice — it makes sense people would turn to their phones, laptops and tablets to take care of their sexual health, too. Websites such as HealthTap, LiveHealth Online and JustDoc, for example, allow you to video chat with medical specialists from your computer. Companies such as L and Nurk allow you to order contraceptives from your cellphone, without ever going to the doctor for a prescription. And there are a slew of at-home STI testing kits from companies like Biem, MyLAB Box and uBiome that let you swab yourself at home, mail in your samples and receive the results on your phone.

Bryan Stacy, chief executive of Biem, says he created the company because of his own experience with avoiding the doctor. About five years ago, he was experiencing pain in his genital region. “I did what a lot of guys do, and did nothing,” he says, explaining that, while women visit their gynecologist regularly, men generally don’t see a doctor for their sexual health until something has gone wrong. “I tried to rationalize away the pain, but it didn’t go away.” Stacy says he didn’t want to talk to a doctor for fear of what he would learn, and didn’t know who he would go to anyway. He didn’t have a primary care physician or a urologist at the time. But after three months of pain, a friend of his — who happened to be a urologist — convinced him to see someone. He was diagnosed with chlamydia and testicular cancer. After that, he learned he wasn’t the only one who’d avoided the doctor only to end up with an upsetting diagnosis. “What I found is that I wasn’t strange,” Stacy says. “Everyone has this sense of sexual-health anxiety that can be avoided, but it’s that first step that’s so hard. People are willing to talk about their sexual health, but only if they feel like it’s a safe environment.”

So Stacy set out to create that environment. With Biem, users can video chat with a doctor online to describe what they’re experiencing, at which point the doctor can recommend tests. The user can then go to a lab for local testing, or Biem will send someone to their house. The patient will eventually receive their results right on their phone. Many of the above-mentioned resources work similarly.

Research shows there’s excitement for tools like these. One study built around a similar service that was still in development showed people 16 to 24 years old would get tested more often if the service was made available to them. They were intrigued by the ability to conceal STI testing from friends and family, and to avoid “embarrassing face-to-face consultations.”

But something can get lost when people avoid going in to the doctor’s office. Kristie Overstreet, a clinical sexologist and psychotherapist, worries these tools — no matter their good intentions — will end up being disempowering in the long run, especially for women. “Many women assume they will be viewed by their doctor as sexually promiscuous or ‘easy,’ so they avoid going in for an appointment,” she says. “They fear they will be seen as dirty or less than if they have an STI or symptoms of one. There is an endless cycle of negative self-talk, such as ‘What will they think about me?’ or ‘Will they think that I’m a slut because of this?’ If people can be tested in the privacy of their own home without having to see a doctor, they can keep their symptoms and diagnosis a secret,” Overstreet says, which only increases the shame.

As for the efficacy of these tools, Mark Payson, a physician and co-founder of CCRM Northern Virginia, emphasizes the importance of education and resources for those who do test positive. These screening tests can have limits, he says, noting that there can be false negatives or false positives, necessitating follow-up care. “This type of testing, if integrated into an existing physician relationship, would be a great resource,” Payson says. “But for patients with more complex medical histories, the interactions of other conditions and medications may not be taken into account.”

Michael Nochomovitz, a New York Presbyterian physician, shows a similar level of restrained excitement. “The doctor-patient interaction has taken a beating,” Nochomovitz says. “Physicians don’t have an opportunity to really engage with patients and look them in the eye and talk to them like you’d want to be spoken to. The idea is that tech should make that easier, but in many cases, it makes it more difficult and more impersonal.” Still, he sees the advantages in allowing patients to attend to their health care on their own terms, rather than having to visit a doctor’s office.

Those who have created these tools insist they’re not trying to replace that doctor-patient relationship, but are trying to build upon and strengthen it. “We want people to be partnering with their doctor,” says Sarah Gupta, the medical liaison for uBiome, which owns SmartJane, a service that allows women to monitor their vaginal health with at-home tests. “But the thing is, these topics are often so embarrassing or uncomfortable for people to bring up. Going in and having an exam can put people in a vulnerable position. [SmartJane] has the potential to help women feel they’re on a more equal footing when talking to their doctor about their sexual health.”

“If you come in with a positive test result,” says Jessica Richman, co-founder and chief executive of uBiome, “it’s not about sexual behavior anymore. It’s a matter of medical treatment. It’s a really good way for women to shift the conversation.”

This can be the case for men and women. While many will use these options as a means to replace those office visits entirely, their potential lies in the ability to improve the health care people receive.

Complete Article HERE!

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