Taking back control…

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You don’t owe anyone sex or a relationship

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Movie after movie, scene after scene, we see men and boys refuse to give up on the girl. Had a big fight? Give her a big speech about how she’s the only one! She told you to leave her alone? Go to her house with a bunch of flowers! She broke up with you? Never take no for an answer!

Once you put some music behind it and get Richard Curtis in to direct, of course it all seems unassuming – romantic, even. But real human emotions are much more complex, and coupled with a fundamental misunderstanding of what people want out of relationships, it can all lead to some seriously unwanted advances, or worse.

The fact remains that a man’s behaviour towards women doesn’t have to be violent to be aggressive. If you’ve ever met a boy who thinks he’s the star in a rom-com, you’ll understand the fear and dread that comes with having to confront him when he shows up at your door with a heartfelt poem yet again, after you’ve said ‘no’ more times than you can count on your fingers.

“God, I’m just being nice,” he’ll say – the words that boil my blood. I’ll say it loud for the people in the back: if you do something nice for someone, they don’t owe you anything, and they certainly don’t owe you sex or a relationship.

But well-meaning young men who just won’t get the message aren’t the whole story.

There are real women – and let’s be frank, there are also men as well – out there who face real, physical violence for rejecting unwanted advances. Actress Jameela Jamil has opened up about her personal, harrowing experiences with this, but those of us who don’t have an adoring fanbase and a huge online platform go through it too.

Furthermore, in a society where women still get asked to hide our skin at school and work, for those of us who aren’t in the public eye it’s easy to just shrink away and accept that there’s nothing we can do but cover ourselves up and hope for the best.

But there’s so much we can do! We don’t just have to wait for the world to change around us. You can shout that boys and men need to learn “not to rape” but let’s be honest – most of them bloody well know that already, and the ones who don’t are the ones who never will. So protect each other, stand up for your fellow woman, believe that you deserve better than someone who doesn’t respect you. And most importantly, don’t let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn’t have been wearing.

So, to the woman who puts up with leery co-workers; to the teenage girl who doesn’t know she’s allowed to tell her boyfriend “no!”; to any and all of us who’ve had a #MeToo moment – know that you are in control of your destiny.

Regardless of what gender and sexuality you identify as, it is never too much to ask to not face violence for not being interested in someone romantically.

Learn to say no, and learn to protect yourself. Because with a US President who brags about “grabbing women by the pussy,” it doesn’t look like the world is going to change in the forseeable future. It’s time to take control.

Complete Article HERE!

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Men are mentors in program for adolescent boys about healthy relationships and sexuality

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Social media campaigns such as #MeToo have brought tremendous attention to the issue of sexual violence in North American society, igniting the call for violence prevention programs that challenge traditional gender norms and promote healthy relationships.

Given the gendered nature of sexual and dating violence, targeting boys with these programs early in adolescence may provide an opportunity to shift core beliefs about masculinity, sexuality and violence.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of programming for boys, particularly interventions focused on promoting healthy and positive constructs of masculinity. Of those that do exist, there is limited evidence on whether they are effective. My doctoral research addresses this gap on engaging boys in masculinity issues and promoting healthy masculinity by examining the benefits of having participated in WiseGuyz, a male-only sexual health and healthy relationship program in Calgary.

Meet the WiseGuyz

The WiseGuyz program, run by non-profit agency The Centre for Sexuality (formerly known as the Calgary Centre for Sexual Health), is a school-based healthy relationship and sexual health program that targets boys in Grade 9 (ages 13 – 15) in several schools in the Calgary area. WiseGuyz consists of four core modules — healthy relationships, sexual health, gender and media and human rights — facilitated over 15 weekly, 90-minute sessions. Issues of sexuality, gender and relationships are explored.

Early in my doctoral program, I became aware of the potential for comprehensive school-based sexual health education as a way of engaging young men in gender equality and gender-based violence prevention efforts. The challenge with this approach, however, is that traditional, school-based sexual health education programs fail to consider ways in which gender ideologies contribute to sexual and dating violence. Years of research on sexual health education in schools also pointed to the fact that engaging boys can be incredibly difficult. Given these factors, I was curious how the WiseGuyz program managed to engage young men, and whether the program was producing positive outcomes.

Men as mentors

Building and maintaining a safe space is critical to the program’s ability to engage young men in challenging conversations. Focus groups with the boys identify how the program structure allowed them to feel safe and explore topics regarding sexuality and masculinity without the fear of being judged. Creating a sense of safety is important, as it supports an environment whereby the boys can begin to openly discuss masculine stereotypes, pressures and expectations.

The program is facilitated by men in their mid-20s to early 30s, whom boys in the program see as mentors, role models and friends. Having these kinds of facilitators is important, as young men from numerous studies say typical sex education is delivered by staff with limited credibility. By deliberately choosing young, socially relevant male facilitators, the centre has been able to engage program participants in conversations about sexuality, masculinity and relationships.

Supporting boys to critically reflect about gender is an important part of the program. According to boys, once they began to examine masculine norms and stereotypes, they began to understand how they were influenced by them. Young men speak about gaining greater awareness of the ways in which language is used to police behaviour. For example, one shared that “you don’t realize the destruction that it does” to be called derogatory names that challenge or question your masculinity.

Empowering boys towards healthy adulthood

Survey data collected in the program shows boys agree less with traditional masculinity ideologies after the program as compared to when they started the program.

Boys spoke about the way the program supported them to think about masculinity differently. For example, although boys may enter the program aware of the differences between themselves and other group members sometimes with negative judgment, during the program they appear to increase their respect for these differences. This can lead to a greater acceptance of a wider range of qualities and behaviours from both themselves and others.

My preliminary research suggests that WiseGuyz is a promising program in reducing boys’ endorsement of traditional masculinity ideologies that contribute to dating and sexual violence.

Providing boys with skills to address, examine and challenge beliefs around traditional masculinity ideologies allows young men to resist and re-define the highly gendered expectations they face regarding their identities and behaviours.

By empowering boys with the confidence and skills to resist societal constructions of masculinity, WiseGuyz is supporting the young men they work with to attain emotionally healthy adulthood.

Complete Article HERE!

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Learn to say ‘no’ and ‘yes’ for better sex…

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and to improve your whole life

‘Boundaries and consent issues cause a huge amount of confusion and unhappiness in many people’s lives.’

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Conveying our deepest desires, likes and dislikes, to our most intimate partner is essential. Here’s how…

“Yes,” I say, surprisingly firmly, to the man I have never met before, whose name I do not even know, who is massaging my back and shoulders. “Yes. Yes, please.”

I am lying on a mat on the floor of a conference room in a London hotel and around me three people – complete strangers – are rubbing my back. “Zero,” I say suddenly, which is the code word for stop. It’s not because I want the massage to end – in truth, it feels rather soothing – but because we have been encouraged to try saying “no” as well as “yes”. That, after all, is the point of the exercise. According to the leader of this workshop, intimacy and relationships expert Jan Day, we find “no” extremely difficult to say, and our lives would be better if we could bring ourselves to say it more readily. Instantly, the people surrounding me draw back, and I revel in the afterglow of both having articulated the difficult message I wanted to convey, and having it acted upon.

Around 40 of us have signed up to Day’s workshop, more or less equal numbers of men and women, spanning a wide age range from 20-something to 50-something. The topics under discussion are boundaries and consent, issues, Day tells us, that cause a huge amount of confusion and unhappiness in many people’s lives. While the #MeToo movement has focused attention on these in a societal setting, she believes we are as all-at-sea as ever over how to convey our deepest desires, likes and dislikes, to our most intimate partner.

Day’s own life story, with two unhappy marriages behind her, and the therapeutic practice she did to overcome the fallout, led her to this work. A qualified coach who has been a relationships specialist for 20 years, she says the crux of the matter is that most of us are either unable or unwilling, or both, to say “no”, even when “no” is what we mean.

There are several reasons for this, the first being empathy. “You don’t want to feel the feelings your ‘no’ will provoke in the other person,” she explains. “And then at other times, you’re simply embarrassed. Or another reason is that, as a child, you learned to associate the word ‘no’, uttered by the adults around you, with ‘bad’. And what your subconscious tells you is that if you’re responsible for something ‘bad’ in your partner’s life, you’ll no longer be loved.”

All of this is entirely logical. But failing to say what we mean, particularly in our sex life, has repercussions. “If we can’t say what we want to say, we learn instead to numb our feelings, to zone out, both physically and emotionally.” Some people – and this describes as many men as women – simply shut themselves down sexually. “They blank it out, say they’re not interested any longer, feign headaches, push it away completely. Or they go with whatever is suggested, but they zone themselves out from it – go through the motions, but fail to connect it properly with who they are inside.”

The fallout is more than just the obvious, says Day. Of course on the one hand it means a failure to live out a fulfilling sex life, but just as damaging is the effect on an individual’s power to enjoy and shape the wider world. “Our sexual energy isn’t only about sex,” she says. “In fact it’s not even mostly about sex. Your sexual energy is your life energy: it’s the centre from which your interest in life, your joie de vivre, arises. It’s the kernel of your aliveness.” It can also, she acknowledges, be very scary to give yourself intimately to someone you love. Sharing your deepest self with the person you spend most time with leaves you vulnerable in all sorts of ways. No wonder, says Day, that there are people who feel more comfortable with the idea of keeping sex and love, carnal pleasure and heart, entirely separate. “You’d be surprised by how many people are with a partner they very much love, but don’t have sex with, while their sex life is part of an affair.” It’s a way of keeping things “safer”. But they miss out on all the ways a 360-degree relationship can enhance a life.

A starting-point in Day’s workshop is the idea that we need to be grounded in our sexuality, knowing what we like and don’t like, and being able to do what we need to do to achieve it. And that means, in the first instance, being properly connected not with another person, but with ourselves. As with the business of being able to say no, this goes back to our earliest learned behaviour – because the vast majority of us were taught as children to denigrate our sexual urges as shameful, or dirty, or disgusting. What her day-long workshop does is give participants the chance to begin to rethink how they incorporate their sexuality into themselves. “Usually sexuality is denied or played down in our lives, and so we don’t get a chance to work out how it influences us holistically, and how to work it alongside the other parts of our being,” says Day. Throughout the event, she stresses that no-one is at any point required to do anything they don’t want to do. Indeed, speaking up about what you don’t want is, if anything, more important than saying what you do, for reasons already described.

The exercises – one involves holding a partner’s hand and, with their permission, massaging it gently – are simple and straightforward, but some of the 40 or so faces around me are tear-stained when we sit back in a circle to listen to more input from Day. In tracing our fingers across another person’s hand, in caring about whether it feels good to them or not – and then vice versa, with our own hand being massaged – we are allowing ourselves to be vulnerable; and for some, that brings sensations of pain. One woman is sobbing after being touched. She says she hasn’t had a relationship for many years, hasn’t felt another person’s loving touch for so long. For Day, what we’re experiencing is about allowing feelings to arise and not being afraid of them. This isn’t about hiding pain but feeling it and working through it as the key to the better self awareness she hopes we will gain from the workshop.

The point to which Day keeps returning is the need to work out what we want ourselves – and then to learn to convey it to another person. Too much of what happens in intimate relationships, she believes, is guesswork. We haven’t worked out what we want, we’re too worried or embarrassed about conveying it clearly, so all we can do is attempt to mind-read our partner’s deepest desires. “And the trouble with that,” she says, “is that you can’t mind-read on all this stuff, so you make assumptions that are wrong.”

Day’s assistant at the workshop is her husband, Frieder. They have put all her wisdom into play in their own relationship, she tells me. “He really likes it that I say no as well as yes. The thing is that if you know someone is able to say no, you can completely trust them when they say yes. And that means your partner can in turn enjoy himself or herself more, and can be more playful during sex, because they’re not taking responsibility for how you’re feeling, now they know you’re going to be clear about it.”

Day’s workshops are held at a variety of venues, with some a day long, others across a weekend or even a week. Participants come alone or with a partner – on my course, there were three couples. Either way is fine, says Day. Where people attend solo and have a partner, she hopes the energy and ideas of the workshop can help recalibrate a couple’s sex life. Certainly the exercises aren’t remotely complicated.

The one we keep repeating throughout the day is about signalling when we don’t like something and when we do, and knowing the other person won’t be offended by our “no” or “zero”.

“It’s incredibly simple,” says Day. “Anyone can do it, in the privacy of their own space. You just need to talk about it beforehand and agree on what you’re going to signal and how you’ll do it. And it really can revolutionise not only your sex life, but your wider life as well.”

Complete Article HERE!

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What’s A Dom?

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This BDSM Term Is All About Perception

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Like being born with brown eyes or being right-handed, some traits are naturally dominant. When it comes to the sexy stuff, a dominant trait can mean more than what you learned in ninth grade biology. Whether you’re just starting to learn about BDSM or if the idea of being the boss in the bedroom seems pretty exciting, knowing what’s a Dom can be super important in uncovering all the sexy stuff you may be into. “A dominant is a person who likes to have the perceived power in a situation,” Amy Boyajian (they/them), co-founder and CEO of Wild Flower tells Elite Daily. “Usually, they’re the one controlling the experience, directing a partner and delivering sensations and stimulation. Some people might like engaging in these dynamics during BDSM play or sex only, while others like to incorporate them into their relationship and overall lifestyle.”

As BDSM takes on so many forms, it can be challenging to fully unpack what it really means to be a Dom. “Most dominants in media are portrayed as cruel and unreasonable, or troubled and insecure, Boyajian says.I don’t think there has been a healthy representation of what a loving, caring dominate can be! If you’re out to cause real harm to people, exploring dominance is not for you. Power play is about exploring safety within boundaries, in a mutually beneficial dynamic. It is never about simply doing whatever you please with someone.” Since so many misconceptions about Doms exist in the media, learning the real tea, can be super helpful in learning about BDSM, in all its forms.

According to Boyajian, there are a myriad of ways to navigate a Dom experience. However, whatever role or dynamic is unfolding, the most important aspect to keep in mind is consent. “People exploring Dom/sub dynamics and BDSM play have some of the most involved conversations about consent and include many safety measures to ensure everyone is happy and taken care of,” Boyajian says. “There is a huge misconception that dominant and submissive dynamics do not include consent — one person simply gives all power to the other. This couldn’t be further from the truth.” Prioritizing consent and healthy boundaries is super important in fully understanding Dom play and activities.

Although it can sometimes seem as if a Dom wants complete control over their partner(s), oftentimes, Dom sex or play is about perceived control in a roleplaying or dynamic. “People who explore dominance are rarely wanting to actually control another person completely. Rather, play that incorporates power dynamics is about roleplaying scenarios and subverting societal norms, like traditional gender roles,” Boyajian says. “Someone who enjoys being dominate is exploring their fantasies of control and what it would be like to have authority over someone.” From subverting gender norms to exploring control fantasies, being a Dom or incorporating dominance into your sex or romantic life can be a super empowering way to recreate societal power dynamics.

Apart from consent and control, there are several crucial behind-the-scenes conversation to have playing with dominance. “Both dominant and submissive roles require a solid amount of non-judgmental communication before, during, and after exploring,” Boyajian says. “Much like any sexual encounter, it’s vital that both dominant and submissive partners share any boundaries, limits, or hard no’s they may have.” These conversations can also be a great time to establish a safe word or action, a phrase or physical motion that signals stop, if a scene is making someone uncomfortable, or if for whatever reason a parter wants to take a break or fully stop. “Since consent is an ongoing thing, it crucial that everyone is able to indicate their consent or refusal at all times,” Boyajian says. If you and your partner(s) may have previously discussed trying something new, or may have all been on the same page at the beginning, it’s still important to check in consistently throughout the sex or scene, to make sure everyone is continually feeling comfortable and good.

If you’re thinking of experimenting with Dom/Sub activities, there may be some personal ideas to reflect on. “It’s important to assess, to the best of your abilities, if something maybe upsetting or triggering to you and be understanding in a situation where you and your partner may not feel comfortable,” Boyajian says. “Different people have different affinities for power play during sex and some may not find it as rewarding as others.” Experimenting in the bedroom and trying new things can be a super fun and totally hot way to learn about your own desires. Still, it’s important to keep yourself safe and protected in all you do, and getting clear on your boundaries is very important before jumping into Dom-play. “While your skills on expressing yourself will expand with experience, it’s important to enter into power play dynamics with a firm understanding of consent and set of communication abilities,” Boyajian says.

When it comes to exploring Dom/Sub dynamics, there may be restorative post-thing practices to factor in as well. “Aftercare is also a factor to consider. Since you may be exploring practices that are physically and/or emotionally draining, plan some activities that will provide some relief to these feelings,” Boyajian says. “That could be physical care like rubbing lotion into bruises or sore sports or emotional comfort like cuddling or talking through the experience afterward.” Aftercare can be necessary in winding down and processing after an intense BDSM scene to provide comfort and support to all parties involved.

There are many ways to dip your toes into BDSM if you or your partner(s) are dying to try to sexy Dom-play. “Start small with some commanding dirty talk or directing your partner to get yourself comfortable with being in an authoritative role,” Boyajian says. “A little spanking session can be great foreplay and things like gentle biting and hair pulling can be an exciting new inclusion.” From commanding dirty talk to a light spanking, there are plenty of ways to experiment with dominance that you can really make your own. If you want to try being a Dom, but don’t know where to start, Boyajian suggests some sexy pretend play. “Roleplaying is essentially the gateway into exploring power dynamics. Playing the role of a sexy dominant is the pathway to becoming an IRL sexy Dom!”

Although BDSM can look different for everyone, healthy Dom/Sub dynamics are always built on consent and communication. From enjoying the perceived control to wanting to subvert gender roles, Doms can take on many forms. And while Doms may be the ones calling the shots, Dom/sub sex ins’t all about them. So, if you’re thinking about experimenting with Dom play, remember it’s not about being bossy, it’s about being the boss.

Complete Article HERE!

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10 Things To Do If You’ve Been A Victim Of Sexual Assault

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It’s not too late to get help.

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Sexual assault is typically something you think will never happen to you—until it does and and you find yourself in desperate need of help and support.

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 1 out of every 6 women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, so it’s a scary (but common) reality—and one that can leave you feeling anxious, fearful, sad, angry, or a combination of those things.

“It’s a natural human state to be overwhelmed with this kind of traumatic event,” says Jessica Klein, a licensed clinical social worker and adjunct faculty member at the University of Southern California. “The thinking part of your brain really can’t process everything that’s happened.”

Thankfully, there’s help for sexual assault victims, whether your assault happened thirty minutes or three years ago. If you’ve been assaulted and need to know what your next steps are, here’s a timeline of all the various ways to get help—from the first minutes after your assault to the days, months, and years that follow.

1. Evaluate your surroundings and get medical treatment ASAP.

In the immediate aftermath of your assault, it’s time to think about your health and safety. Evaluate your surroundings and get yourself to a safe place if you aren’t already in one. Then consider calling 911 or going to a hospital, even if you aren’t visibly injured or are unsure whether you ultimately want to involve the police.

“After your safety is secured, medical treatment is often an immediate need,” says Kathryn Stamoulis, PhD, a licensed mental health counselor in New York City. “Even if you are reluctant to undergo a medical examination for the purposes of reporting your assault, trained staff can provide you with emergency contraception, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and referrals to a counselor.”

2. Try not to change your clothes or use the bathroom.

Something important to keep in mind: You can decline or discontinue your forensic examination (a.k.a. “rape kit”) at any point if you become uncomfortable, says Stamoulis.

According to RAINN, you don’t need to commit upfront to reporting the crime in order to have an exam performed, but it’s a good idea to get one, anyway: Should you choose to report your assault later on, you’ll have gone through the necessary steps to collect evidence.

RAINN also advises against doing anything that could damage that evidence in the time between your assault and your exam, like bathing, changing your clothes, or using the bathroom. (FYI, even if you’ve done these things, you can still get an exam.)

3. Don’t hesitate to reach out to someone you know and trust for immediate support.

It may be helpful for you to stay with a local friend or family member in the hours after the assault, says Stamoulis. Being around someone familiar can be extremely comforting and reassuring.

If you are a student, she says, many schools and colleges have counseling centers or victim advocates on campus to help support you through the aftermath.

4. Try to make yourself feel as safe as possible.

In the short-term, you will be dealing with the traumatic effects of your assault. This might include feeling anxious or depressed, having nightmares, having difficulty concentrating, or struggling in your relationships, says Stamoulis.

During this time, it’s important to prioritize your physical and emotional needs. That might look like taking time off from work, finding babysitters or extra childcare assistance if you have children, or even replacing the locks on your doors.

All of these needs are normal, and you should feel free to ask for whatever helps you. Try not to judge yourself—there’s no way to predict how your body and mind will respond to the trauma.

5. See a trained counselor who specializes in sexual assault.

Well-meaning friends and family members may not (or cannot) offer you the best advice for your particular situation, so Stamoulis strongly recommends seeking professional counseling.

A trained counselor, she says, will know the best practices for helping assault victims cope and can educate you on what to expect during your recovery. (If you’re having trouble locating a counselor in your area, RAINN’s crisis hotline can refer you to someone.)

“Sexual assault is different from a lot of other traumas because our society tends to blame the victim, [which] is another way of being traumatized,” Stamoulis explains. “A therapist who specializes in treating sexual assault survivors understands the unique needs of someone who experiences a trauma that is often shrouded in shame and secrecy.”

6. If you didn’t report your assault or receive a forensic exam, take those into consideration again.

If you didn’t receive a forensic exam immediately after your assault, there may still be time; in some states, Klein says, evidence can be collected and preserved up to 96 hours later. And even if you’re beyond the forensic window, reporting your assault is absolutely not a “now or never” proposition.

“Law enforcement is getting better at understanding why people don’t report immediately in the aftermath and not having forensic evidence is not a dealbreaker,” she says. “There are other corroborating factors they look into, and you never know who filed a report against that perpetrator before you—or who might file one after you, since many perpetrators are repeat offenders.”

7. Know the lifelong risks associated with sexual assault.

Being a victim of sexual assault puts you at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, and substance abuse problems, per Mental Health America.

So if you’re feeling really down, having trouble with your daily functioning, or relying on unhealthy habits to cope with overwhelming emotions, seek help from a qualified therapist ASAP.

8. Remind yourself that healing isn’t always linear.

The road to recovery in the wake of sexual assault is not always a straight line. Stamoulis notes that some people find themselves doing well emotionally for a long time, then suddenly struggling with intensely negative feelings again.

If this happens to you, she recommends being kind to yourself (making sure you are eating and sleeping well, monitoring your stress levels), as well as eliminating any identifiable triggers, like watching the news.

9. Know that you may need to confront your trauma again.

The healing process is a complicated one that unfolds over time, but you will likely need to address your trauma head-on at some point. That may be done through professional counseling or through reflective mediums like art or journaling. Stamoulis calls this process “post-traumatic growth” and says it’s a key component of long-term healing.

“When you’re working through the trauma, you’re not trying to get rid of the memories completely, but trying to gain a different relationship to the memories so you can think about them in different [less triggering] ways,” she says.

10. Realize that everyone’s healing process looks different.

In the long-term, it’s important to be aware of your unique needs during recovery and to choose activities that help you move forward in a healthy way.

“Some people find that they want to make meaning from the experience by volunteering with other victims or fighting for social justice, while others want to put it completely behind them,” says Stamoulis. “There is no right or wrong response.”

If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault, you can call 800-656-HOPE to receive confidential crisis support from a trained specialist with the National Sexual Assault Hotline. It’s free and available 24/7. You can also chat online with a support specialist.

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

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Why — and how — parents should help teens develop a healthy understanding of sex

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By Ellen Friedrichs

Recently, I attended my 12-year-old daughter’s instrumental concert. The group sounded lovely, and you could tell how much work the kids had put into their performance. My daughter has been playing viola for five years. She has an ensemble class twice a week in school and takes weekly private lessons. She is also supposed to practice on her own.

When it comes to learning an instrument, or mastering driving, cooking, playing a sport, or becoming fluent in a foreign language, this type of training is the norm. We would never expect someone to instinctively excel at, let alone enjoy, these things without at least some routine instruction or study.

Yet when the topic is sex, something that is arguably more nuanced and complicated than many other life skills, we often assume that putting similar structures for instruction in place will be harmful to young people, or will encourage risky behavior. Or we’re just too uncomfortable to talk to them about it at length. But having worked as a health educator for the past 15 years, I have seen how harmful this misguided approach can be.

The United States’ high rates of adolescent pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections are well documented. But what isn’t discussed as often is that the actual experiences of teen sex can be really negative. Frequently, teens hook up in secret, without a committed partner, maybe under the influence of substances and often with the fear of getting in trouble. Many are pressured into things they would rather not do. Others are having experiences that aren’t consensual. And even when it’s consensual, a lot of the sex happening among teens doesn’t feel great, particularly for girls with male partners.

This bleak picture contributes to an understandably common view that teens are just too young to have sex in a healthy manner, and that the best choice is for them simply to abstain. Certainly that assumption is fair for many.

But this view ignores the fact that plenty of these negative experiences are not the byproduct of youth, but rather the result of the conditions under which many teens are having sex. In a culture where abstinence-only programs have taken the place of real sex education, and where many teens lack the resources to prevent pregnancies or STIs, let alone the ability to deal with these situations if they occur, it is common for teens to feel shame, fear and anxiety about sexuality. And many feel like they cannot turn to adults for help when they need it.

So what would it look like if we gave teens the tools to help them succeed? For one thing, we know that accurate information about sex and access to reproductive health care makes teens less likely to become sexually active in the first place. Then if they do have sex, these supports mean they are far more likely to use condoms and contraception, and are at significantly lower risk of having nonconsensual experiences.

It might feel counterintuitive, but parents who want to help teens grow into sexually healthy adults are going to need to step up to the plate. Here are six ways to do that,

Actively support comprehensive sex education in your community and oppose abstinence-only programs. Attend school board meetings where the issue is being discussed, and share your opinion with school officials. Many studies (including one published last month in the American Journal of Public Health) have found that abstinence education has not only failed to prevent teens from having sex, it has also put teens who receive it at greater risk for STIs, pregnancy and even sexual assault than those who get comprehensive sex education.

Make sure teens understand consent. They need to know that sex can’t be truly consensual if there is pressure involved, or if either person is inebriated. It should be clear that if they aren’t completely certain that someone wants to have sex, or if they are questioning how far someone wants to go sexually, they don’t have consent. Teens should also be aware that while many people assume that a lack of a verbal “no” constitutes consent, that is not the case. Teens should be encouraged to clearly state their desires and boundaries.

Support healthy teen relationships. Get to know your child’s boyfriend or girlfriend. If you have concerns about their relationship, share them. But if the relationship seems solid, make it comfortable for the couple to spend time in your home and allow them privacy. Doing this won’t cause teens to have sex if they otherwise wouldn’t, but we do know that if young people choose to become sexually active, doing so in the context of a loving relationship is far safer than a casual hookup. In fact, studies have determined that for older teens, being in a respectful sexual relationship with a caring partner can help them develop better social relationships in early adulthood, can increase self esteem and decrease delinquent behavior.

Teach them to communicate. Make sure teens understand that they should express their limits, likes and dislikes to a partner, and that the expectation should be that both people enjoy the experience. That means that in opposite gender encounters it isn’t only about a boy’s pleasure.

Create an environment in which your children can talk to you. Many parents fear that a conversation about sex will be uncomfortable or will make them seem overly permissive. But letting these fears prevent open dialogue tends to do more harm than good.

Help teens access reproductive health care. Putting barriers in the way of teens’ health care can be dangerous, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has advocated for all teens to have access to confidential reproductive health care, saying it greatly improves health outcomes for adolescents. If you live in one of the many places where teens cannot independently access health care, help them make appointments and ensure they have time alone with their doctors.

The idea of helping teens develop sexual skills may feel like parents are condoning something that they should actually condemn. But American teens face a lot of hurdles on the path to developing healthy sexuality, and when we look at the research, it becomes clear that the best thing we can do for our kids is to help them become sexually informed and proficient long before they become sexually active, and then to help them stay safe and informed once they do.

Complete Article HERE!

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A lesson on consent

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The difference between writing and BDSM is… kind of a lot

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Despite living mere blocks from a sex shop, I’d never been inside. Until one sweltering evening this past summer, when my writer friend, Elle, invited me to a “Scene Building 101” class hosted by Pleasures & Treasures (2525 University Ave.).

It sounds like a writing class, we joked. Let’s go learn a thing or two! 

But, no, it was not a writing class. This was a BDSM class. “Scenes” and “play” are what we plebes lump into the cliché umbrella of roleplaying, but to the BDSM community this sort of thing is fundamental.

Scene Building 101, taught by Bikkja Amy, is considered a “soft skills” class. Hard skills, on the other hand, are things like spanking and mummification. (I’ll save you the private browser googling session: Mummification is wrapping your sub entirely in plastic wrap for an escape scene or for sensory deprivation.)

Elle, it turned out, had been to a Pleasures & Treasures class before (FYI it was a hard skills class). I learned this as we went around the room for introductions. Everyone was asked to identify themselves as a top, a bottom or a “switch,” and whether it was our first time at a class. It was hard for me to focus on everything I had just discovered about Elle, but I was up next.

“I’m Julia. I’m–” Oh god. I didn’t want to out myself as a nothing, nor did I want to pretend. I also didn’t want to out myself as a writer because it felt just as incriminating to either be a journalist or a wannabe BDSM novelist who was there to gather material.

For the love of God don’t say, “I’m a writer,” I thought.

“Just say you’re a switch,” Elle whispered.

“I’m a writer,” I said.

The class was primarily structured around where to find new ideas, and how to start and configure a “play date.” Seated in folding chairs in a circle, it was less instruction and more of a brag-adjacent discussion. I wrote in my notes, I think this class could really benefit from narrative and character elements!

I also wrote down some of the zingers: “I saw someone with a fishnet outfit and people cutting it off with a knife. And I was like, gonna try that!” one woman said. “I like to light people on fire and throw them in the pool,” someone else said.

As the class progressed, I was so busy marveling at the sheer variety of previously unfathomable BDSM kinks that I almost didn’t notice the bulletproof lesson on consent rippling quietly beneath the surface. 

Everyone here had braved a stuffy evening discussing pervy stuff with near-strangers to master the “ask,” and to learn how to lay groundwork. Scene building in the BDSM community is not about developing relatable characters with a full narrative arc ahead of them. It’s laying out expectations, boundaries and, most importantly, consent.

“If I didn’t mention it [beforehand], those things are off the table. It is the stupidest thing on the planet to say you have no limits,” the instructor explained.

A woman spoke up, in a weirdly chill voice: “So, I’m a masochist? And I don’t want to top from the bottom.” Her concern was that spelling out her boundaries ahead of time can sometimes feel like “topping,” but the instructor was steadfast. Set the boundaries and exchange consent, all the time, and every time, they told us. Find creative ways to do it, but definitely do it.

It wasn’t the place I expected to hear such a clear message on something so wholesomely universal. I think I found my kink.

Complete Article HERE!

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‘I couldn’t deal with it, it tore me apart’:

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Surviving child sexual abuse

As a boy, Tom Yarwood was assaulted by his musical mentor. Decades on, telling the story has not become any easier

In telling of the sexual assaults I endured as a child, I have always had the sensation of speaking into the void. I usually offer only the bare bones of the story, because I want my listener to fill in the emotional content, to tell me what I felt, what they might have felt in my position. I want them to explain to me how I could have suffered, when I felt pleasure, and how I was not to blame, though I didn’t resist. But their response is always underwhelming: they seem to understand so little about this kind of thing, less even than me. And it’s all so exquisitely embarrassing that I soon move on, apologise for myself, repeat the usual reassurances. It was nothing, really, it didn’t matter, I coped.

Each telling is a new humiliation, a new disappointment. And yet, like an idiot, I always go on to attempt another. Six months or a year later, usually when I’m drunk, at four in the morning, suddenly I can imagine it again – the moment someone will explain me to myself at last. Because on the one hand, I really do tend to think it was nothing, what happened. But on the other, it never leaves my head, the image of it, the stink of it, and he never leaves me, he is always there, the loathsome, pathetic man. And there’s this enduring longing to relieve myself of the weight of my silence, my slow-burning despair.

Still, something in this picture has shifted lately, since my father’s death three years ago, and my 40th birthday not long after. In childhood and youth, I knew, with the heroism of the young, that I would vanquish the effects of the abuse, by 20, then by 30, or by 35. The idea it might stay with me, in me, was as inconceivable as my own death. But now I’m closer by far to 60, the age at which my father had his first heart attack, than to 12, my age when the other man first laid hands on me. It has dawned on me that the assaults are with me for good. And so in talking about them again, I’m less inclined to defer to others. This time I will stand, for once, at the centre of myself.

As a small child, I was obsessed with classical music. My parents bought a piano from a junk shop in Ludlow, read us stories about the great composers. We didn’t have a television at home on our Shropshire housing estate, and so I spent a lot of time sitting in a little green velvet chair by the record player with my eyes closed, elaborating wild fantasies about my musical heroes as I listened to their symphonies. I started piano lessons at the age of four, but rarely practised, preferring to delight the neighbours (I felt sure) with endless improvisations, generally fortissimo and con fuoco.

In the summer of 1987, when I was 11, my mother took me and my siblings on holiday to Europe. My father was working abroad at the time, as he often did. In Bruges, we came across a grand exhibition of musical instruments, where I was thrilled to have the chance to try out a harpsichord. While I played, a man approached my mother and told her I was gifted. He said he was a conductor – a specialist in baroque music – and would love to foster my talent. Phone numbers were exchanged, and a couple of cassette tapes offered to my brother and sister and me – his own commercially produced recordings of Handel and Purcell. He was evidently a prominent figure in his field.

That autumn, my father took me to London to visit this dazzling new mentor. We spent the afternoon at the conductor’s house, playing the harpsichord and talking about music. I was self-conscious, and desperate to impress. He was charm itself, but I found something faintly peculiar about him. He had a manic, childlike energy, a tendency to clowning in which I detected no genuine mirth, and beneath it I sensed he was very tense. Still, we got on well enough, and my father trusted him sufficiently that I went back to see him for another day of music-making a few weeks later.

Before long, I was spending whole weekends on my own with the conductor, sleeping in his spare bedroom in London and attending rehearsals and recording sessions with him and his orchestra. There was little formal teaching, but I got to listen to some good live music, and doubtless soaked up some other valuable lessons – not least how to make tea, and set up a music stand – and occasionally we looked at scores or listened to recordings together. He would sometimes drive me all the way back to my parents’ house in Shropshire himself, and stay for supper.

My anxiety around him never abated. It wasn’t only the unnerving air of inauthenticity about his manner. He also seemed very driven, and he could be vituperative towards timewasters. Then there was the social gulf between us. My parents were bohemian members of the new middle class, but the conductor was an upper-middle-class product of the public school system. All was well in his world when people cleaved, outwardly, to the “sensible” values expressed by the authority figures of his childhood – headmasters, barristers, clergy. Those who made a fuss of their differences were “mad”. More unsettling still was his disdain for children of a certain kind – the vast majority, I suspected – the rude ones, the dirty ones, the ones who were not good.

He introduced me to alcohol, mixing gin and tonics for me, and cocktails sweet and heavy with cassis or curacao. I was drunk when he assaulted me for the first time. It was early on a Sunday afternoon, and he was in the kitchen, making a bland English bachelor’s lunch of pork chops, potatoes and frozen peas. He seemed to find something about the peas amusing. With wildly contrived laughter, he tossed them about the kitchen, pretending he was dropping them. I was embarrassed for him. He tipped several peas down my T-shirt, and chased me into the living room and around the sofa with the rest. I’m not six years old, I wanted to say. I grew out of this sort of thing quite a while ago.

He dropped a frozen pea down my trousers and wrestled me on to the sofa, undoing my trouser button. I ceased to struggle when he grabbed my penis. “Ah, the pea!” he said, as he tugged at it. After a while, he pulled down my pants, and complimented me on my first pubic hair, which I had noticed only days before. Nothing more was said as he went about his business. I did not move a finger. Afterwards, he cleaned me up, pulled up my trousers and did up my fly, telling me meanwhile that this was what boys did, and wasn’t something to worry about. We returned to the kitchen and the pork chops.

Not a single day has passed in the three decades since this incident without some effort on my part to cut through the tangle of dark thoughts and feelings it induced, and to understand the insidious effects it has had on my life. The physical sensations were pleasurable. But I did not want any kind of sexual contact with the conductor. I found him repugnant, and had he asked me whether I wanted him to continue at any point, I would have said no, and meant it. I had experimented sexually with friends in childhood; I had turned down sexual overtures from other friends. In this respect, I knew my own mind. And this is why it always seemed so strange to me that I said nothing, and didn’t resist.

I still remember the all-consuming shame I felt on being manhandled by a bigger creature, at relinquishing control of my body to another person, against my will. And I remember too how destroyed I felt at the exposure of my sexuality to an adult. The secret, underdeveloped heart of my psychosomatic being – still fraught with danger, still hedged around in thorns – had been torn out and thrown quivering before me, in full public view.

But it is only in recent years that I have gained the distance from these horrors – the sense of security in myself – to acknowledge their intensity. As a child, it was impossible for me to face my victimhood, impossible to own and name what had come to light.

I withdrew into a kind of mental panic room. This is nothing, I told myself. This doesn’t matter. This is him. This is not me. I will remain aloof. I will rise above. I marshalled all my contempt for the conductor and all my knowledge of sex. He thinks I find him attractive, but in fact I find him repulsive. I saw him, the adult in control of me, as a child – a “silly” child, as my mother would say, still fixated on other children’s penises like this. It was an extension of his general puerility, his weird clowning, his fake laughter. How pathetic, how contemptible, how sad. I had reversed our roles in my imagination – a fatal self-deception.

The panic room became a prison, a lunatic’s cell. This, I hazard, is the snare in which many victims of childhood sexual abuse find themselves – they are traumatised, but unable to face the fact. For almost three decades, I could not look back (or look down) at what the conductor did to me, but had to keep moving on, moving up, clinging to a reassuring sensation of balance like one of those weighted toys that always rights itself, no matter how hard you hit it.

Now that I can gaze more steadily at the ancient scene, I am struck by how very strange it appears. How strange it sounds, to have sex, to feel your body consumed by that fire, and actively to deny to yourself that you are involved in it at all. And how strange it looks – the child’s mute stillness, and the adult’s complete camouflage of his own desire, his voice never wavering from an even, nannying tone, as if he were teaching chess or changing a nappy.

The memories of the abuse still return many times a day, stirred up by chance impressions – scents like the soap the conductor used, or of his sweat, music that reminds me of his – even, of course, my own sexual thoughts and erotic sensations. And with these impressions come the associated emotions – the shame, the fear, the grief. But I always recoil instinctively from naming them, from facing the half-known horror that paralysed me during the assault. Lots of boys go through this, I might tell myself. He didn’t mean any harm. I’ll survive. Anything but the truth, the big taboo, the real words of power: I didn’t want it, I couldn’t deal with it, it tore me apart.

The loneliness was terrible. The abuse came between me and my parents, my siblings, my peers, sapped art of meaning, experience of joy. I felt a constant, immense pressure to speak, but something always seemed to intervene at the last minute, catching my words in my throat, forcing them back down, sickeningly, into my belly. I was, I can see now, the dream victim for a predatory paedophile. My father was often absent, and my mother’s attention was taken up by my adopted younger sister, who had severe behavioural problems. Since toddlerhood, my older brother and I always felt that we were holding the fort: the idea of turning myself into a problem child was anathema.

After the first attack, I buried my head in the sand, imagining that perhaps it had been a one-off, like a trip to Alton Towers. But on the next visit, I woke up late at night to find the conductor sitting on the edge of the bed with one hand under my duvet, stroking my thigh. He assaulted me again, and another sleepless night ensued.

I started working on my mother, trying to communicate my distrust of him. For a while, after several more assaults, it worked: she stopped phoning him, and each time he called, she found an excuse for me not to see him. Then, to my horror, he appeared on our doorstep in Shropshire – like a sexual Terminator, quite unfazed by what I thought of as the vast gulf between my family and the city. Although it makes me feel unhinged to think of it now, I had an overwhelming fear of what might come out if he were crossed, and so I insisted repeatedly to my parents that everything was fine.

When he had me strapped into the passenger seat of his Volvo, he drove a little way, pulled into a layby, took off the Schwarzenegger shades he wore when motoring, looked at me with wide eyes (his face, as usual, too close to mine), and told me that he knew he had upset me by what he had done, and that he promised, absolutely promised, that should I please him by resuming my visits, he would never, ever touch me again.

After that – and after he had been redeemed entirely in our family conversation – the assaults started again, becoming steadily stranger. He would pick me up and carry me up the stairs like an infant, apparently expecting me to find this humiliating horseplay as amusing as he pretended it to be. He would insist on bathing me. And as the assaults escalated, he took to putting a pillow over my head so I didn’t have to involve myself in what was going on – but I found this the greatest mortification thus far. It suggested he imagined I had thoughts and feelings about what he was doing, whereas I needed him to understand that I was not there.

It didn’t matter to me what he did, so long as he would let me be alone, inviolate, in my head. As an adult, I notice people often want to know the mechanics of the abuse you went through, and especially whether it was painful. Did he beat you, cut you, tie you up? If not, you sense, perhaps you’re making a bit of a fuss over nothing. The law also seems to operate like this, with its intricate scale of sexual transgressions, escalating in perceived severity, above and beyond the mere fact of exploiting a child for your own erotic gratification.

Pain and physical injury are traumas in their own right, but I suspect that the insult specific to sexual abuse in childhood is simply to have another person take ownership of your body against your will – to destroy your sense of sexual self-possession – after which everything can feel, indifferently, like rape.

Perhaps that is hard to imagine if you haven’t been through it yourself – if you haven’t felt forced, for the sake of your psychic survival, to dissociate yourself entirely from your erotic response, and then struggled to put these two aspects of your being – you and your capacity to feel – back together, to get them to work again as one.

I went to Eton on a music scholarship at 14, entering the school in the second year. The conductor had suggested it to my parents, after I was offered similar bursaries by Shrewsbury and Westminster. I came top of the music exams during my first term there, competing against boys who had spent years at choir schools and had enjoyed Eton’s excellent music tuition for a year longer than me. And that term I also told a wonderful new friend about the abuse, bursting into tears as I reassured him it was nothing. He told a senior music teacher. The teacher did nothing.

The conductor assaulted me more than 20 times over the course of three interminable years. The last attack came after a gap of several months, when I was 15 – old enough to acknowledge what he was doing. I objected repeatedly, and he overruled me, repeatedly, returning to my bedroom three times through the course of a single night, and finally getting what he wanted when both of us were haggard with sleeplessness, well after dawn.

At 16, I finally plucked up the courage to tell another adult at Eton the story in person. I gave them no room for doubt that I had hated my encounters with the conductor, but they explained to me that such incidents often cropped up in boys’ lives, and generally originated in the younger man’s admiration for the older. If there was no force used, they said, there was no reason to suspect harm.

Though I had long feared it, the revelation that the grown-up world as a whole couldn’t understand what I had been through came as a shock. My anger, my shame, and the ceaseless war between them – all this was my fault, it seemed, a fault in me. I was, in short, crazy. My immediate response was to give up music. It was a cry for help, a deliberate act of self-harm – killing off the great love of my life – but no one took much notice.

(It amazes me that I had kept going with music for so long; it is so tightly bound up with sex in our brains and bodies. My skin used to crawl every time the conductor called a favourite piece “erotic”, but somehow I had succeeded in imagining that there was music like his and music not like his, sex like his and sex not like his. Those lines became hopelessly blurred after I told my story to an adult at Eton. Touchingly naive adults such as my parents aside, the world was teeming with paedophiles and their sympathisers, and I was damned if I was going to open my body and soul to share the food of love with them again.)

I spent puberty and adolescence trying to construct in fantasy a relationship with my sexuality that was pristine, personal, free of the stain of rape. But when at last I went to Oxford and plucked up the courage to pick up another man for the first time, a friendly PhD student in his mid-30s, I was shocked to find that this mental construct had not taken root in my body. Something within me just wouldn’t move, wouldn’t melt, wouldn’t let go. Anger followed, shame, despair – all muted by stoicism. This is just me, I said to myself, this is my fate, I’ll get by. As a young adult, I developed an anxiety disorder to set beside the depression and insomnia that had plagued me since the first assault, and became prone to panic attacks.

The voices of denial – denial not that children have sex with adults, but of the fear and shame that shackle them, and of the violence of the act – always leave me feeling faintly deranged.

First came the voice in my head during the assaults. Then came his voice, explaining that the abuse was just a fact of life, an inevitable expression of my nature as a boy. And later, there were the voices of those from whom I sought help during my 20s – the mentors and teachers and parents and police and therapists and boyfriends – in whose responses I always found some admixture of bewilderment, embarrassment, incomprehension or indifference.

But only recently did I notice how closely these voices echo one another. It strikes me that our resistance to confronting the horror of child sexual abuse has common roots in human nature. The silence of victims and the general silence must also have reinforced one another over the millennia. I imagine those to whom I looked for help were simply as fearful as me – as fearful and more ignorant. I should have been bolder all along.

In 2007, when I was 31 years old, I heard from a friend that the conductor had been arrested and charged with sexually abusing four other boys in the 1980s. I am sceptical about the value of retributive justice, but I decided to join the prosecution. I needed to tell the world the truth.

The conductor was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison. I had no desire to see him punished, but I took this jail term as an indication of how seriously our society regarded his crimes. It seemed rather light. In his ruling, the judge apparently drew attention to the fact that the conductor had recently married and had a child, arguing that in doing so he had entered a new phase of life.

Searching the internet for commentary on the case not long afterwards, I found the loudest voices were those raised in my attacker’s defence. In classical music discussion forums, his admirers persuaded others that his “alleged” victims could well be liars, and had most likely suffered no harm anyway. And in the Observer, the poet James Fenton used his opportunity to comment publicly on the conductor’s conviction – the most prominent proven case of child sexual abuse in the history of classical music – not to consider the hurt he might have caused to the talented young musicians he assaulted, to their hopes of fulfilling themselves through music, nor to ask how the music industry as a whole had so long allowed the conductor to get away with it – but to argue passionately that his mistakes in life should not be allowed to damage his career. Fenton was relieved that the judge had allowed the conductor to keep associating with children: “To be debarred for life from working with the male treble voice would have been a harsh fate.”

In all this, I saw further evidence of our culture of denial. And I see it too in the way the music industry has welcomed the conductor back since his release from jail. Singers and instrumentalists with MBEs and honorary positions at the Royal Academy of Music go on appearing with him in the world’s most famous concert venues – the Wigmore Hall in London, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, the KKL in Lucerne, and so on – and fans go on funding his performances and recordings.

They have restored to him the power and status with which they had entrusted him before, in putting their talent, labour, property and good names at his disposal. And they have done so despite the fact he abused all this – abused them – to gain the confidence of families and attack their children, and even though he called his victims “liars” and “loonies” during the trial, and has not expressed remorse.

There’s nothing more we can ask of the conductor himself. He apologised to me when I was 13, and went on to assault me again: another apology would be meaningless. And he has served his time. I don’t want revenge. I don’t want to dwell on the past. And there are doubtless many other moderating thoughts to which I should also give voice – about the value of mercy, for instance, and about how blessed my life has been in other respects.

But it has fallen to me to say something simpler here. I did not ask to be one of the ones who had these words to speak. They were a burden given to me a long time ago. I might have felt less crazed by others’ silence, or by their denial, had I spoken them earlier – shouted them from the stage of a London concert hall 30 years ago, perhaps, into the darkness of the stalls.

They are the words for which I have reached so often, the words I needed to hear when I was a child. Make of them what you will.

Complete Article HERE!

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Age Doesn’t Determine Whether A Person Is Ready For Sex.

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Here’s What Does!

By Nichole Fratangelo

First-time sex has a lot of logistics attached to it—like where it happened, when it happened, and who it happened with. For most of us, it’s the “when” that holds a ton of weight. As a society, we tend to place so much importance on how old we were when we first shared that intimate moment with someone else. We rarely even consider if we were mentally, emotionally, and physically ready to do it. Now, new research shows your age really isn’t the only thing that matters when it comes to sexual readiness; there’s much more in-depth criteria that includes physical, emotional, and psychosocial well-being.

A study published in the journal BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health questioned 2,825 people between ages 17 and 24 about their first sexual experience, including the nature of their relationship with the person they had their first sex with, both of their ages, and how much sexual experience their partner had. The researchers also asked about their socioeconomic status, their education level, family structure, ethnicity, and how and when they’d been taught about sex.

What does it mean to be “ready” for sex?

Rather than focusing on age as a key factor, the researchers used four distinct points to gauge how ready each person was based on the World Health Organization’s standards for sexual health. WHO defines sexual health as “a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality,” which includes a “positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.”

Only those who met all four criteria were considered “sexually competent”—that is, ready to have sex—at the time they first did it.

“The concept of ‘sexual competence’ represents an alternative approach to timing of first sexual intercourse, considering the contextual attributes of the event, rather than simply age at occurrence,” the researchers wrote in the paper. “This departs from the traditional framing of all sexual activity among teenagers as problematic, and recognises that young age alone does not threaten sexual health, any more than older age safeguards it.”

Here are the four main criteria:

1. Contraceptive use

Are you using birth control of some sort? A person who isn’t willing and prepared to use contraception during sex is not mature enough to be having sex. That’s why researchers included it as such a major point, especially for those doing it for the first time. Of those surveyed, most people did use reliable contraception, but around one in 10 did not.

2. Autonomy

Are you having sex because you truly want to do it, or does it have to do with peer pressure or drunkenness? Sex should always be on your own accord and not because it’s something everyone else around you is doing.

3. Consent

Here’s a crucial one: Did both parties verbally and physically agree to have sex? If not, neither party was ready to do the deed—one person was forced into it and experienced sexual assault, and the other person assaulted someone, which is the furthest thing from sexual competence. The researchers excluded instances of forced sex from their study, but they noted that almost one in five women had reported not being in charge of the decision to have sex for the first time.

4. The “right” timing

Do you feel like this is the “right time”? Participants reported whether they personally felt like they’d picked the appropriate time in their lives to start having sex. Though the study didn’t specify, there are many personal reasons why it is or isn’t a good time to start having sex; they weren’t ready to have sex—you might be struggling with stress or insecurity and don’t want to complicate it by introducing intimacy in your life, or you might be very erotically charged and have a lot of free time, so why not? Other factors like finding a partner they feel attracted to and comfortable with could factor into this question.

More women than men felt their first sexual experience did not happen at the right time—40 percent versus 27 percent, respectively. This was the most commonly reported negative feature of first-time sex.

Complete Article HERE!

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There’s a better way to talk to your kids about sex

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By Jenny Anderson

It’s no secret that many parents struggle with talking to their kids about sex. But a new study from Britain suggests those awkward conversations may be key in helping kids navigate their first sexual experiences—and offers some useful guidance on how to do it.

The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles poll delves into sexual behavior in Britain. It asks some obvious questions, such as “What age did you first have sex?” Others dig deeper: “Did you feel peer pressure to have sex when you did it for the first time?” “Were you drunk?” “Did you want it as much as your partner wanted it?”

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine used the survey to do a more in-depth study on the circumstances surrounding young people’s first time and how they felt about it, interviewing 2,825 young people from the survey. (The broader national survey included 15,162 men and women, aged 17-24, between 2010-2012.) The study, recently published in BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health, was retrospective, meaning that young adults were asked to reflect on their first experience, which could have been years earlier.

In an effort to get beyond the simplistic question of “When did you first have sex” to the more important ones around whether young adults felt ready, the authors sought to assess respondents’ “sexual competence” based on questions the young adults answered in the survey. The components of sexual competence include:

  • Did you use contraception?
  • Did you feel in charge of your decision (or was the decision influenced by things such as peer pressure and/or drunkenness)?
  • Were you and your partner equally willing to do it?
  • Did it happen at the right time?

Competence feels like a loaded word, especially in the context of sex. But if you lose the word and look at the questions embedded in the definition, you have an interesting road map to what readiness may look like, including consent, protection, safety, and interest.

Not surprisingly, many people found their first times to be not-so-great. A whopping 40% of women and 26% of men did not think that their first sexual experience occurred at the ‘right time,’ while 17.4% of women reported that they and their partner were not equally willing to have sex the first time it happened. A similar share of women reported a non-autonomous reason—such as peer pressure or drunkenness—for their first sexual encounter. Nine out of ten young adults used contraception.

According to the researchers’ definition of competence, 52% of women and 42% of men were not sexually competent for their first time.

The relationship between age and sexual competence was not straightforward, but it was clearly directional: 78% of 13-14-year-old girls were not competent, compared to 36% of 18-24-year-old girls. (For boys, 65% were not competent at 13-14, compared to 40% at 18-24.)

First times are often fraught for a variety of reasons: peer or partner pressure, expectations, mechanics. But being older clearly has advantages. The study suggested that there was also a connection—for girls at least—between having conversations with parents or learning about sex and relationships in school and feeling ready.

“That young women who had discussed sexual matters with their parents, and those who reported school to be their main source from which they learnt about sexual matters, were more likely to have been sexually competent at first sex resonates with previous research,” the study said. The authors suggest that may be because parental input and conversations, and school-based relationships and sex education, “may provide the knowledge and skills required to negotiate a positive and safe sexual experience.”

That association was not observed with men. The authors suggest one interpretation is that communication is less important for men as they reflect on their first encounter.

Self-reported retrospective interviews necessarily may be influenced by flaws of memory and bias. But if self-reporting shows this much uncertainty and openness about not being ready, it seems safe to assume the numbers are even greater.

Clearly, parents need to do more to help kids figure out the right time to become sexually active. Forty-seven percent of 14-year-old girls and 58% of 14-year-old boys said they had never discussed sex with either parent. And as awareness of sexual health and well-being develops, conversations between parents and kids must go beyond advice like “Use protection. Don’t get a disease” to what healthy relationships look and feel like, what consent is, how to say no, and how porn pollutes our idea about what sex should be like.

A starting point for those conversations is a vernacular that makes sense. The definition of competence laid out by the BMJ researchers is compatible with that of the World Health Organization, which also goes beyond physical health (contraception and sexually transmitted diseases) to include mental well-being and social aspects, referring to a “positive and respectful approach to… sexual relationships” and “safe sexual experiences, free of coercion.”

Based on the BMJ study, the BBC suggests that parents talk to teens about sex using this checklist:

When is the right time?

If you think you might have sex, ask yourself:

  • Does it feel right?
  • Do I love my partner?
  • Does he/she love me just as much?
  • Have we talked about using condoms to prevent STIs and HIV, and was the talk OK?
  • Have we got contraception organised to protect against pregnancy?
  • Do I feel able to say “no” at any point if I change my mind, and will we both be OK with that?

Also consider:

  • Do I feel under pressure from anyone, such as my partner or friends?
  • Could I have any regrets afterwards?
  • Am I thinking about having sex just to impress my friends or keep up with them?
  • Am I thinking about having sex just to keep my partner?

Research suggests that our early experiences with sex can have a long-term influence on sexual health. So it makes sense for parents to do what they can—from an ongoing conversation to an anonymous checklist left on the table—to increase the odds that teens’ first encounters are good ones.

Complete Article HERE!

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How Alcohol Impacts Your Sex Life

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By GiGi Engle

The situation looks something like this: You’re out with on a date, the drinks are flowing and you’re feeling decidedly frisky. Somewhere between your third drink and that Cardi B song you love, you decide your date is definitely coming home with you.

Once you get there, you are both ready and willing to get in the groove. Unfortunately, your body is not as enthusiastic as your brain. You still want to have sex, but no matter how much you rub your clitoris, it is not down for the count. You’re on an endless plateau and no orgasms can be found.

Alcohol has loosened your inhibitions, but it has also taken the wind out of your sails. The situation is … not great.

So, why do we drink when we’re out partying, on dates, or with hanging with friends? What impact does alcohol have on sex, orgasm, and libido? Here is what we know.

Alcohol can act as social lubricant
While alcohol and sex don’t always mix well, it can act as a social lubricant, easing tension in social situations. When you’re trying to get some action, a couple of drinks can make the initial awkwardness less overwhelming, “The only possibilities for positive effects is for alcohol to create a feeling of less self-consciousness and to reduce inhibitions,” says Felice Gersh, M.D., OB/GYN, and founder/director of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine, CA.

This is why we often feel sexy and in the mood after we’ve had a couple glasses of wine, our nerves are settled and we feel freer. “For women, moderate alcohol intake may increase libido and reduce anxiety or inhibitions toward sex,” addes Dr. Anika Ackerman, MD, a New Jersey based urologist.

Boozy vaginas are dry vaginas
Have you ever heard of Whiskey Vagina? This charming term (popularized by yours truly) refers to when you’ve had too much to drink. You start fooling around, and suddenly realize your vagina is not in on this game. Your drunk brain might be saying, “YES! I WANT TO GET IT!” but your vagina is not having it.

“Alcoholic beverages do have a negative impact on the development of sexual health,” Gersh says. “[It] can impact vital female sexual functions, such as the creation of vaginal moisture, by impacting the autonomic nervous system.”

In short, alcohol might calm you down by affecting the nervous system, but it will also dry you out for the same reasons.

Alcohol can inhibit orgasm
Drinking is all fun and games until you can’t have an orgasm. Not only has alcohol been shown to decrease natural vaginal lubrication, it increase issues with erection in men and destroys orgasm. “Alcohol can increase impotence and reduce the ability to orgasm and their intensity,” Gersh tells us.

Again, this is due to the negative impact alcohol has on the nervous system, a vital component in orgasm. Gersh says that without a normally functioning nervous system, orgasm might be off the table entirely.

Not to mention, the drunker you get, the sloppier and less coordinated you become. “The more inebriated a person becomes the more impaired they become,” Gersh says. This is both not particularly cute and overall super dangerous, especially if you’re going home with someone for the first time.

Alcohol complicates consent

Another critically important factor in this situation is consent. When you’re drunk, you don’t have ability to consent to sexual activity, according to the law. What’s more, you may be too impaired to even remember what happened the night before at all. Perhaps you didn’t even want to have sex, but were too drunk to say no. These are dark implications, but ones that need to be addressed. Sex an alcohol are a dangerous combination. And consent is an ongoing conversation.

It’s about moderation
If you want to have a glass or two of wine, that’s perfectly OK. Having a drink won’t harm you. It’s when you start pounding shots or take a bottle of wine to the face that your sex life (and life in general) will suffer consequences. So keep tabs on your intake and don’t overdo it. If you have issues with controlling your alcohol intake or have had struggles with abuse, it’s best stay away from alcohol altogether

In the end, alcohol is a big part of our social system, but when it comes to sex, the negative effects seem to outweigh any positive aspects. If you’re trying to have a screaming orgasm tonight, it might be an idea to not go overboard on the booze.

Complete Article HERE!

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Americans Were Quizzed on Sexual Health:

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What The Results Say About the State of Sex Ed

by LeAnne Graves

There’s no question that offering consistent and accurate sexual health information in schools is important.

Providing students with these resources not only helps to prevent unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but it can also help to ensure the overall well-being of an individual.

Yet the state of sexual education and awareness in some areas of the United States ranges from medically inaccurate to virtually nonexistent.

At present, only 20 states require that sex and HIV education be “medically, factually, or technically accurate,” (while New Jersey is technically the 21st state, it’s been left out since medical accuracy isn’t specifically outlined in state statute. Rather it’s required by the NJDE’s Comprehensive Health and Physical Education).

Meanwhile, the definition for what’s “medically accurate” can vary by state.

While some states may require approval of the curriculum by the Department of Health, other states allow materials to be distributed that are based on information from published sources that are revered by the medical industry. This lack of a streamlined process can lead to the distribution of incorrect information.

Healthline and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), an organization dedicated to promoting sexual education, conducted a survey that looked at the state of sexual health in the United States.

Below are the results.

Access To Education

In our survey, which polled more than 1,000 Americans, only 12 percent of respondents 60 years and older received some form of sexual education in school.

Meanwhile, only 33 percent of people between 18 and 29 years old reported having any.

While some previous studies have found that abstinence-only education programs don’t protect against teen pregnancies and STIs, there are many areas in the United States where this is the only type of sexual education provided.

States like Mississippi require schools to present sexual education as abstinence-only as the way to combat unwanted pregnancies. Yet Mississippi has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancies, ranking third in 2016.

This is in contrast to New Hampshire, which has the lowest rate of teen pregnancies in the United States. The state teaches health and sex education as well as a curriculum dedicated to STIs starting in middle schools.

To date, 35 states and the District of Columbia also allow for parents to opt-out of having their children participate in sex ed.

Yet in a 2017 survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 40 percent of high school students had already engaged in sexual activity.

“When it comes to promoting sex education, the biggest obstacle is definitely our country’s cultural inclination to avoid conversations about sexuality entirely, or to only speak about sex and sexuality in ways that are negative or shaming,” explains Jennifer Driver, SIECUS’ State Policy Director.

“It’s hard to ensure someone’s sexual health and well-being when, far too often, we lack appropriate, affirmative, and non-shaming language to talk about sex in the first place,” she says.

STI prevention

In 2016, nearly a quarter of all new HIV cases in the United States were made up of young people ages 13 to 24, according to the CDC. People ages 15 to 24 also make up half of the 20 million new STIs reported in the United States each year.

Which is why it’s concerning that in our survey — where the age bracket 18 to 29 made up nearly 30 percent of our participants — when asked whether HIV could be spread through saliva, nearly 1 out of 2 people answered incorrectly.

Recently, the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published a study that states comprehensive sex education (CSE) programs not only increased the overall health and well-being of children and young people, but helped to prevent HIV and STIs as well.

Driver cites the Netherlands as a prime example of the payoffs from CSE programs. The country offers one of the world’s best sex education systems with corresponding health outcomes, particularly when it comes to STI and HIV prevention.

The country requires a comprehensive sexual education course starting in primary school. And the results of these programs speak for themselves.

The Netherlands has one of the lowest rates of HIV at 0.2 percent of adults ages 15 to 49.

Statistics also show that 85 percent of adolescents in the country reported using contraception during their first sexual encounter, while the rate of adolescent pregnancies was low, at 4.5 per 1,000 adolescents.

Though Driver acknowledges that the United States cannot simply “adopt every sex education-related action happening in the Netherlands,” she does acknowledge that it’s possible to look to countries who are taking a similar approach for ideas.

Contraception misconceptions

When it comes to contraception, and more specifically emergency contraception, our survey found that there are a number of misconceptions about how these preventive measures work.

A whopping 93 percent of our respondents were unable to correctly answer how many days after intercourse emergency contraception is valid. Most people said it was only effective up to two days after having sex.

In fact, “morning-after pills” such as Plan B may help stop unwanted pregnancies if taken up to 5 days after sex with a potential 89 percent reduction in risk.

Other misunderstandings about emergency contraceptives include 34 percent of those polled believing that taking the morning-after pill can cause infertility, and a quarter of respondents believing that it can cause an abortion.

In fact, 70 percent of those surveyed didn’t know that the pill temporarily stops ovulation, which prevents the releasing of an egg to be fertilized.

Whether this misconception about how oral contraception works is a gender issue isn’t clear-cut. What’s understood, however, is that there’s still work to be done.

Though Driver cites the Affordable Care Act as one example of the push for free and accessible birth control and contraception, she’s not convinced this is enough.

“The cultural backlash, as exemplified by several legal fights and an increase in public debates — which have, unfortunately conflated birth control with abortion — illustrates that our society remains uncomfortable with fully embracing female sexuality,” she explains.

93 percent of our respondents were unable to correctly answer how many days after intercourse emergency contraception is valid.

Knowledge by gender

When breaking it down by gender, who’s the most knowledgeable when it comes to sex?

Our survey showed that 65 percent of females answered all questions correctly, while the figure for male participants was 57 percent.

Though these stats aren’t inherently bad, the fact that 35 percent of men who participated in the survey believed that women couldn’t get pregnant while on their periods is an indication that there’s still a ways to go — particularly when it comes to understanding female sexuality.

“We need to do a lot of work to change pervasive myths, specifically surrounding female sexuality,” explains Driver.

“There is still a cultural allowance for men to be sexual beings, while women experience double standards regarding their sexuality. And this long-standing misconception has undoubtedly contributed to confusion surrounding women’s bodies and female sexual health,” she says.

Defining consent

From the #MeToo movement to the Christine Blasey Ford case, it’s clear that creating dialogue around and providing information about sexual consent has never been more imperative.

The findings from our survey indicate that this is also the case. Of the respondents ages 18 to 29, 14 percent still believed that a significant other has a right to sex.

This specific age bracket represented the largest group with the least understanding as to what constituted as consent.

What’s more, a quarter of all respondents answered the same question incorrectly, with some believing that consent is applicable if the person says yes despite drinking, or if the other person doesn’t say no at all.

These findings, as concerning as they might be, shouldn’t be surprising. To date, only six states require instruction to include information on consent, says Driver.

Yet the UNESCO study mentioned earlier cites CSE programs as an effective way “of equipping young people with knowledge and skills to make responsible choices for their lives.”

This includes improving their “analytical, communication, and other life skills for health and well-being in relation to… gender-based violence, consent, sexual abuse, and harmful practices.”

Of the respondents ages 18 to 29, 14 percent believed that a significant other has a right to sex.

What’s next?

Though the results of our survey indicate that more needs to be done in terms of providing CSE programs in school, there’s evidence that the United States is moving in the right direction.

A Planned Parenthood Federation of America poll conducted this year revealed that 98 percent of likely voters support sex education in high school, while 89 percent support it in middle school.

“We’re at a 30-year low for unintended pregnancy in this country and a historic low for pregnancy among teenagers,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood.

“Sex education and access to family planning services have been critical to helping teens stay safe and healthy — now is not the time to walk back that progress.”

Moreover, SIECUS is advocating for policies that would create the first-ever federal funding stream for comprehensive sexuality education in schools.

They’re also working to raise awareness about the need to increase and improve the access of marginalized young people to sexual and reproductive healthcare services.

“Comprehensive school-based sex education should provide fact and medically-based information that complements and augments the sex education children receive from their families, religious and community groups, and healthcare professionals,” explains Driver.

“We can increase sexual health knowledge for people of all ages by simply treating it like any other aspect of health. We should positively affirm that sexuality is a fundamental and normal part of being human,” she adds.

Complete Article HERE!

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Drugs and alcohol complicate sexual consent,

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but context can make things clearer

High time to talk about consent.

By and

Sexual consent is an important, complex and often awkward topic to talk about. And when people have been consuming alcohol or other drugs, it makes negotiating sexual consent even more complicated. Indeed, drawing the line between consensual sex and assault when a complainant is heavily intoxicated is a particularly difficult area of law.

What is clear though, is that context matters. The gender of the people having sex, their sexuality, the nature of their relationship and how they became intoxicated – whether willingly or unwillingly – all shape the judgements that we make about intoxicated consent.

The importance of context was brought to the forefront in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the so-called “feminist sex wars” divided Western academics who were interested in gender equality. The debates were dominated by arguments over pornography and sex work, but the issue of sexual consent – and what it means for women living in a patriarchal society – was always present.

Context and consent

Influential legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon drew attention to society being organised in such a way that men hold the power; women’s consent and sexuality is, to some extent, conditioned and controlled by these power structures. MacKinnon’s contemporary, Andrea Dworkin, took this argument further. She claimed that women’s subordination underpins male sexual desire.

So, to give and receive consent meaningfully, there needs to be an awareness of the power dynamics at play, and the impact they have on the relationships among people. This raises questions about just how meaningful women’s sexual consent can be under patriarchy. When women are not on an equal footing with men, are they really “free” to make choices about sex with those men?

Others have highlighted the role that sexuality plays in shaping mainstream views about sexual consent. For example, anthropologist Gayle Rubin has argued that historically, sexual consent has been a privilege afforded only to those who engage in socially accepted (or even socially encouraged) sexual behaviour – that is, heterosexual, monogamous, procreative sex. In the UK, as recently as 1997, the age of consent was higher for same sex sexual activity than it was for heterosexual sex. So, even if individuals were freely choosing such sexual activity, their consent was not legally recognised.

Assumptions around gender and sexuality also affect the way people think about intoxicated sexual consent today. For example, consider the public response to the so-called chemsex phenomenon: chemsex refers to the intentional use of drugs – often methamphetamine, GHB and mephedrone – to enhance and prolong sexual encounters between men who have sex with men.

Chemsex has largely been portrayed as a public health crisis, with an emphasis on the potential for the transmission of HIV. Yet little attention is paid to the sexual violence and exploitation men might well experience in chemsex settings. By contrast, when chemsex is discussed in relation to heterosexual people, the issue of sexual consent moves to the forefront.

A worldwide survey

It’s useful to reflect on how categories such as gender and sexuality – and indeed race, ability and social class – might affect the way intoxication and sexual consent are talked about and understood. But while these categories are important, they are not enough to explain why certain intoxicated sexual experiences are perceived by those involved as consensual, and others not.

Based on an earlier project, for which Aldridge spoke with a diverse group of people who had had sex on drugs, it seems that in order to understand the complexity of intoxicated consent, it’s necessary to probe further into the specific contextual elements of sex on drugs. That might include the settings in which this activity takes place (sex club, house party, music festival), the type of drug being consumed (MDMA, cannabis, alcohol) and the nature of relationship between those having sex (one-night stand, long-term relationship, group sex).

Intoxicated consent can be negotiated successfully, but understanding how these other contextual factors affect sexual relationships is vital to addressing situations where it’s not. At present, only a fraction of sexual assault incidents are reported and even fewer result in convictions.

In 2013, the Global Drug Survey began to explore people’s experiences of intoxicated sexual consent. Out of 22,000 people, 20% reported having had been taken advantage of while intoxicated, while 5% said that this had happened in the last year. What’s more, 14% reported that they had been given drugs or alcohol by someone who intended to take advantage of them.

This year, the Global Drugs Survey is delving deeper. Researchers will be collecting contextual information from people who have been taken advantage of while intoxicated, including where they were, who they were with, their relationship with the person or people who took advantage of them and the type of drug they were using.

Cultural norms and tolerance for such behaviours vary between countries. Because the 2019 survey is translated into 22 languages, researchers will be able to compare outcomes across regions. The aim of this survey is to give a voice to those unable to speak out. The findings will be used to shape interventions that minimise harm and maximise support for people who have experienced sexual assault, while ensuring that perpetrators are correctly identified, and held responsible.

Take part in the 2019 Global Drugs Survey by clicking here.

Complete Article HERE!

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Sex Ed before college can prevent student experiences of sexual assault

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Students who receive sexuality education, including refusal skills training, before college matriculation are at lower risk of experiencing sexual assault during college, according to new research published today in PLOS ONE. The latest publication from Columbia University’s Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation (SHIFT) project suggests that sexuality education during high school may have a lasting and protective effect for adolescents.

The research found that students who received about how to say no to sex (refusal skills training) before age 18 were less likely to experience penetrative in . Students who received refusal skills training also received other forms of sexual education, including instruction about methods of birth control and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. Students who received abstinence-only instruction did not show significantly reduced experiences of campus sexual assault.

“We need to start sexuality education earlier,” said John Santelli, MD, the article’s lead author, a pediatrician and professor of Population and Family Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. “It’s time for a life-course approach to sexual assault prevention, which means teaching young people—before they get to college—about healthy and unhealthy sexual relationships, how to say no to unwanted sex, and how to say yes to wanted sexual relationships.”

The findings draw on a confidential survey of 1671 students from Columbia University and Barnard College conducted in the spring of 2016 and on in-depth interviews with 151 undergraduate students conducted from September 2015 to January 2017.

The authors found that multiple social and personal factors experienced prior to college were associated with students’ experience of penetrative sexual assault (vaginal, oral, or anal) during college. These factors include unwanted sexual contact before college (for women); adverse child experiences such as physical abuse; ‘hooking up’ in high school; or initiation of sex and alcohol or drug use before age 18.

Ethnographic interviews highlighted the heterogeneity of students’ sex education experiences. Many described sexuality education that was awkward, incomplete, or provided little information about sexual consent or sexual assault.

The research also found that students who were born outside of the United States and students whose mothers had lived only part of their lives or never lived in the U.S. had fewer experiences of penetrative sexual assault in college. Religious participation in did not prevent sexual assault overall, but a higher frequency of religious participation showed a borderline statistically significant protective association.

“The protective impact of refusal skills-based , along with previous research showing that a substantial proportion of students have experienced before entering college, underlines the importance of complementing campus-based prevention efforts with earlier refusal skills training,” said Santelli.

Complete Article HERE!

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How Sexual Assault Can Impact Your Physical Health, Even Years Later

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The body’s natural reaction to dealing with the trauma of sexual assault can have negative effects on a person’s long-term physical health.

Sexual assault can affect a survivor’s health in a number of ways.

by Leah Campbell

When Amber Stanley was 23 years old, a friend’s boyfriend raped her.

They had all been at a party together. She had fallen asleep in one of the spare rooms. When she woke up, he was on top of her.

“There were children asleep in the house, so I was afraid to scream,” she told Healthline. “I didn’t want to scare them or for them to see what was happening if they woke up.”

She told her friend what had happened the next day, and then went to the police. But there, she was essentially revictimized when the police officer with whom she filed her report questioned her story and credibility.

“He flat out told me that if he could prove I was lying, he would press charges against me. My rapist was in the army, a ‘national hero,’ so my word wasn’t good enough and he was never prosecuted,” she said.

Stanley says she’s been in therapy on and off for the last 13 years, trying to deal with what happened to her that night. And she still struggles with anxiety today.

“I don’t like feeling like I’m not in control of things. And I don’t like being around groups of people who are drinking, or alone at night doing things like shopping. I’m highly suspicious of strangers, even more so now that I have three daughters,” she said.

For Stanley, one of the worst nights of her life has turned into a lifelong struggle. And she’s not alone.

The many effects of sexual assault on health

A recent study presented at The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) annual meeting in October revealed that a history of sexual harassment was associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and clinically poorer sleep quality.

For survivors of sexual assault, there was an increase in depressive symptoms, anxiety, and sleep issues consistent with clinical disorders as well.

In other words, experiencing sexual harassment or sexual assault contributed to negative long-term health outcomes for survivors.

Sexual assault survivor advocates also report that survivors may be more resistant to going to the dentist and doctor, as both can require a fair amount of trust and invasiveness. This can contribute to health complications as well.

Out of 300 study participants, 19 percent reported workplace sexual harassment, 22 percent reported a history of sexual assault, and 10 percent reported having experienced both.

In light of the recent #MeToo movement, those numbers are only surprising because of how low they are.

A national study on sexual harassment and assault released by the organization Stop Street Harassment in February 2018 reported that 81 percent of women would experience some form of sexual harassment or sexual assault in their lifetime.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center also reports that 1 in 5 women will be raped at some point in their lives, 1 in 3 women will experience some form of contact sexual violence, and nearly two-thirds of college students will experience sexual harassment.

This means there are a lot of women potentially susceptible to a host of long-term health complications.

What experts say

Lisa Fontes, PhD, is a researcher, activist, author, and psychotherapist. She told Healthline that sexual assault and sexual harassment are both considered trauma. During trauma, the body releases hormones that help a person cope with the emergency.

“The body releases cortisol to avoid pain and inflammation, and it raises our blood sugar to help us flee from danger. Unfortunately, these physical responses become long-lasting for many survivors of sexual assault and harassment, contributing to poor health,” she said.

She explains sexual harassment is considered a “chronic stressor,” because it’s typically sustained over time. Child abuse and intimate partner sexual abuse also often involve repeated assaults, leading the survivor into a constant state of hyperalertness.

“Even a one-time sexual assault can produce long-term consequences as the survivor copes with intrusive memories that make her feel as if she is enduring parts of the assault again and again,” Fontes added.

Healthline also spoke to Elaine Ducharme, PhD, a board-certified clinical psychologist. She talks about the repeated trauma that occurs even with singular assaults.

“You have the trauma at the time the event happens,” she explained. “Then if it’s reported, there is repeated trauma because you are talking about it and dealing with it again and again throughout the process of pursuing charges.”

But even for those who don’t report or press charges, the trauma can continue.

“For people who have children, we often see a flare-up of trauma when the child reaches the age they were at the time the assault occurred,” Ducharme explained. “And even for women who think they are fine, years down the line they may see a movie with a rape scene and suddenly feel like they want to throw up.”

A recent national survey estimates 81 percent of women will experience some form of sexual harassment or sexual assault in their lifetime.

For many women, the recent #MeToo movement has proven to be empowering and healing. But for some, it’s resulted in having to relive those memories and experience the trauma all over again.

For those women, Ducharme suggests taking a break from media and considering a return to therapy.

“They may need to learn ways to manage the anxiety that can be triggered by some of this, and using mindfulness can be helpful,” she said. “I’m a huge believer in working with my clients to help them settle themselves down and be mindful and in the moment, trying to learn to stay present.”

“I don’t blame the #MeToo movement for the fact that we are hearing more about sexual assault these days,” Fontes added. “I blame the assailants and the years of cover-ups.”

Getting help

When asked what advice she would have for women struggling with the mental and physical health implications of their past experiences with sexual harassment or sexual assault, Fontes said, “There is power and healing in numbers.”

If you’re currently struggling, Fontes suggests the following:

  • See if your local women’s crisis center has a discussion group you could join.
  • Seek psychotherapy.
  • Speak with trusted loved ones about how you’re feeling.

She says those who return to therapy may not need a lot of sessions — just a few to figure out how to cope with the new landscape.

“Sexual abuse is so common. There is no reason any woman has to feel like she is alone, or to suffer alone,” Fontes said.

Organizations like the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) can also provide resources and support. You can call RAINN’s 24/7 national sexual assault hotline at 800-656-4673 for anonymous, confidential help. You can also chat with them online.

Complete Article HERE!

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