Tag Archives: Gender

What’s the Best Way to Talk to a Teen About Sexual Identity?

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A new survey indicates that many teens aren’t getting the information or advice they need about important health issues.

by George Citroner

A nationwide survey of almost 200 gay teens found that young males who have sex with other males aren’t receiving proper advice about critical health issues that affect them.

The survey included responses from 198 gay adolescent males. It was conducted by a questionnaire linked from a website popular with that group.

According to some study participants, their primary reason for participating was to help members of their community.

Healthcare providers are a critical source of information about HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention.

Before this study, little was known about health communication and services between gay adolescent males and their healthcare providers.

“This is the first study to ask kids about their attitudes on getting sexual healthcare. Pediatricians and general practitioners are the gateway of youth experiences with healthcare, but [these patients] only go once a year, so this is an ideal time to ask [about their sexual activity],” Celia Fisher, PhD, professor of psychology and the chair in ethics at Fordham University in New York who also directs Fordham’s Center for Ethics Education, said in a press release.

Barriers to revealing sexual orientation

Survey responses showed that more than half the teens who participated had decided against revealing their sexual orientation to healthcare providers.

“One of the barriers to discussing the sexual health needs and concerns of adolescent patients was fear that the healthcare provider would disclose confidential information to their guardians. It’s important to also note that whether or not a sexual minority youth is out to his parents doesn’t mean the parents are accepting of their sexual identity,” Fisher told Healthline.

However, Fisher warned in the press release that a doctor may be obligated to say something in certain instances.

“The gray area is if the child is having sex with an adult that might be considered sexual abuse, and that needs to be reported. Even if the relationship is legal and consensual, some youth lack assertiveness skills to demand a condom from an older or aggressive peer partner,” she said.

Initiating a discussion

The findings suggest teens who reported having their healthcare provider initiate a discussion about sexual orientation were much more likely to receive HIV and STI preventive services and testing.

“To ensure that youth get the services they need, I would suggest that doctors make it clear to their adolescent patients that they’re committed to protecting the patient’s confidentiality, but also provide youths with the opportunity to agree to engage their parents in discussion of treatment for HIV and STIs if they believe it is in their best interests,” Fisher said.

Some parents are unsure about asking directly about their child’s sexual orientation.

However, Steven Petrow, author of “Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners,” wrote in the Washington Post: “As for ‘the talk,’ you’re right to wait for your son to come to you. He may not be sure about his identity or isn’t ready to talk with you about it. A direct question can result in defensiveness, a forced coming out or an outright lie.”

What can be done?

Fisher believes that it’s important for medical schools to begin incorporating sexual health training early in the medical school curriculum.

“The small amount of research that has been conducted with physicians indicate many believe they lack the training to speak to young adults about these issues and provide sexual minority youth with information relevant to their sexual health needs,” she said.

How the question is phrased can make a big difference.

“Doctors should not use terms like ‘gay,’ or ‘LGBT,’ because for many young people the terminology is in flux. Youth no longer identify with these traditional behaviors. The question should [instead] be, ‘Who are you attracted to sexually?’” Fisher said.

Complete Article HERE!

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How Homophobia Has Robbed Men Of Touch

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The pathological fear of even platonic contact has created a generation of men plagued by loneliness and anxiety.

I wrote an article in which I asked people to consider the following: American men, in an attempt to avoid any possible hint of committing unwanted sexual touch, are foregoing gentle platonic touch in their lives.

I call it touch isolation.

Homophobic social stigmas, the long-standing challenges of rampant sexual harassment and abuse, and a society steeped in a generations-old puritanical mistrust of physical pleasure have created an isolating trap in which American men can go for days (or weeks) without touching another human being.

The implications of touch isolation for men’s health and happiness are huge.

Gentle platonic touch is central to the early development of infants. It continues to play an important role throughout men and women’s lives in terms of our development, health and emotional well being, right into old age. When I talk about gentle platonic touch, I’m not talking about a pat on the back, or a handshake, but instead contact that is sustained and meant to provide connection and comfort: Leaning on someone for a few minutes, holding hands, rubbing their back or sitting close together not out of necessity but out of choice.

Yet, culturally, gentle platonic touch is the one thing we suppress culturally in men and it starts when they are very young boys.

While babies and toddlers are held, cuddled, and encouraged to practice gentle touch during their first years of their lives, that contact often drops off for boys when they cease to be toddlers. Boys are encouraged to “shake it off” and “be tough” when they are hurt.

Along with the introduction of this “get tough” narrative, boys find that their options for gentle platonic touch simply fade away. Mothers and fathers often back off from holding or cuddling their young boys. Boys who seek physical holding as comfort when hurt are stigmatized as “cry babies.”

By the time they are approaching puberty, many boys have learned to touch only in aggressive ways through rough housing or team sports. And if they do seek gentle touch in their lives, it is expected to take place in the exclusive and highly sexualized context of dating. This puts massive amounts of pressure on young girls; young girls who are unlikely to be able to shoulder such a burden. Because of the lack of alternative outlets for touch, the touch depravation faced by young boys who are unable to find a girlfriend is overwhelming. And what about boys who are gay? In a nutshell, we leave children in their early teens to undo a lifetime of touch aversion and physical isolation. The emotional impact of coming of age in our touch-averse, homophobic culture is terribly damaging. It’s no wonder our young people face a epidemic of sexual abuse, unwanted pregnancy, rape, drug and alcohol abuse.

In America, in particular, if a young man attempts gentle platonic contact with another young man, he faces a very real risk of homophobic backlash either by that person or by those who witness the contact. This is, in part, because we frame all contact by men as being intentionally sexual until proven otherwise. Couple this with the homophobia that runs rampant in our culture, and you get a recipe for increased touch isolation that damages the lives of the vast majority of men.

And if you think men have always been hands-off with each other, have a look at an amazing collection of historic photos compiled by Brett and Kate McKay in their article Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection. It’s a remarkable look at male camaraderie as expressed though physical touch in photos dating back to the earliest days of photography.

As the McKays note:

“At the turn of the 20th century… Thinking of men as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” became common. And this new category of identity was at the same time pathologized—decried by psychiatrists as a mental illness, by ministers as a perversion, and by politicians as something to be legislated against.

“As this new conception of homosexuality as a stigmatized and onerous identifier took root in American culture, men began to be much more careful to not send messages to other men, and to women, that they were gay. And this is the reason why, it is theorized, men have become less comfortable with showing affection towards each other over the last century.”

Spend some time looking at these remarkable images. You’ll get a visceral sense of what has been lost to men.

These days, put 10 people in the room when two men touch a moment too long, and someone will make a mean joke, express distaste, or even pick a fight. And its just as likely to be a woman as to be a man who enforces the homophobic/touch averse stigma. The enforcement of touch prohibition between men can be as subtle as a raised eyebrow or as punitive as a fist fight and you never know where it will come from or how quickly it will escalate.

And yet, we know that touch between men or women is proven to be a source of comfort, connection and self-esteem. But while women are allowed much more public contact, men are not. Because how we allow men to perform masculinity is actually very restrictive. (Charlie Glickman writes quite eloquently about this in an article for The Good Men Project. Read it. It’s a real eye opener.)

Male touch isolation is one of many powerful reasons why I support marriage equality. The sooner being gay is completely normalized, the sooner homophobic prohibitions against touch will be taken off straight men. As much as gay men have faced the brunt of homophobic violence, straight men have been banished to a desert of physical isolation by these same homophobic fanatics who police lesbians and gays in our society. The result has been a generation of American men who do not hug each other, do not hold hands and can not sit close together without the homophobic litmus test kicking in.’

The lack of touch in men’s lives results in a higher likelihood of depression, alcoholism, mental and physical illness. Put simply, touch isolation is making men’s lives less healthy and more lonely.

When visiting my 87-year-old father for a few days, I made a point to touch him more. To make contact. To express my affection, not just by flying a thousand miles for a visit, but to touch the man once I got there. It may seem simple, but choosing to do so is not always a simple thing. It can raise a lifetime of internal voices, many of which speak of loss and missed opportunities. But I hugged him. I put my arm around him as we shared a cigar and cocktails. I touched him whenever I walked past his chair.

Each evening, we would watch a movie. As part of that nightly ritual, I would sit in the floor, take off his shoes and socks and rub his bare feet for while. It is something I will remember when he is gone. Something I did right. Something that said to him, I love you. Spoken on the same deep touch levels by which he connected with me when I was a toddler sitting next to him, his strong arm around me as I watched the late show 50 years ago.

This touch thing is so crucial: I kiss and hug my son constantly. He sits with me—and on me. I make a point of connecting with him physically whenever I greet him. The physical connection I have with him has been transformative in my life teaching me about my value as a human being and a father.

We need to empower men to touch. We need to fix our sexually repressed (and sexually obsessed) American culture and put an end to distorted and hateful parts of our culture that allow homophobic people to police all men everywhere down to the very tips of our fingertips.

It’s too late in my life for the impact of these stigmas to be fully undone, but I have great hope for my son. When we collectively normalize gay life and relationships, my son, whatever his sexual orientation turns out to be, will be free to express platonic affection for others, be they men or women, in any way he sees fit. The rabid homophobes who have preached hate in America for far too long will finally be silenced, and men will be free to reach out and touch each other without fear of being labeled as somehow less of a man.

It’s a dream for a better America I can already see coming true.

Complete Article HERE!

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Federal courts ask: What is the meaning of ‘sex’?

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Existing prohibitions against discrimination ‘because of sex,’ already provide a civil rights umbrella wide enough to cover discrimination based on sexual orientation and transgender identity, some judges are beginning to say.

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A number of federal courts have begun to ask a question that has become more and more subtle over the past few years: What is the meaning of ‘sex’?

It’s a question that has in many ways evolved out of the storms of cultural change that have surrounded the country’s shifting ideas about human sexuality and gender over the past few decades. Many of these culminated in the US Supreme Court’s landmark 5-to-4 decision in 2015, in which a bare majority declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right.

On the one hand, the high court’s epoch-changing decision that legalized same-sex marriage created the kind of situation that inevitably arises out of rapid cultural change. Today, neither the federal government nor some 28 states offer any explicit civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBTQ), either in the workplace or any other arena of daily life.

“It is constitutionally jarring to know that, in most states, a lesbian couple can get married on Saturday and be fired from their jobs on Monday, without legal redress,” notes the legal scholar William Eskridge, professor at Yale Law School in New Haven, Conn.

And many throughout the country, even those with liberal-leaning views, continue to be uneasy about the presence of transgender people in certain sensitive places, including school bathrooms and locker rooms.

On Friday, President Trump issued a policy memo that would disqualify most transgender people from serving in the military, after tweeting about his plans to issue such a ban last July. As Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reported to the president in February, the administration is concerned that the presence of transgender soldiers could “undermine readiness,” “disrupt unit cohesion,” and create unreasonable health care costs for the military, echoing arguments used in the past for other groups.

At least four federal courts have found this reasoning constitutionally jarring as well, potentially violating the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Yet beyond sweeping constitutional questions which regulate what the government can do to its citizens, the nation’s evolving definitions of sex, marriage, and gender have also been quietly transforming the nation’s civil rights laws, which regulate how citizens live their common lives together.

Title VII and Title IX

Indeed, a number of federal courts have recently begun to weigh in on a vigorous and relatively new legal idea, simmering for the past few years in federal civil rights cases but only now beginning to take a more defined legal shape.

There may be no need to press Congress and the majority of state legislatures to change their statutes and explicitly add LGBTQ people to their lists of protected classes. (Traditionally, these include race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.) Existing prohibitions against discrimination “because of sex,” already provide a civil rights umbrella wide enough to cover discrimination based on sexual orientation and transgender identity, some judges are beginning to say.

The Obama administration took this position in 2016, telling the nation’s public schools that transgender students should be able to use the bathroom of their choice, a directive that interpreted Title IX’s prohibitions against sex discrimination as covering transgender identity.

Last April, the US Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, which includes nine justices nominated by Republican presidents and five by President Ronald Reagan, also embraced this idea. In an 8-to-3 decision that spanned the panel’s ideological spectrum, the full court ruled that the Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination in the workplace also included any based on sexual orientation.

Last month, the Second Circuit in New York issued a similar ruling. “Sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination because sexual orientation is defined by one’s sex in relation to the sex of those to whom one is attracted,” wrote Chief Judge Robert Katzmann for the 10-3 majority. It would be impossible “for an employer to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without taking sex into account,” he continued.

Such an evolving legal definition of sex could again reshape the nation’s legal landscape. “Potentially a lot is at stake,” says Professor Eskridge. “Depending how broadly you go, this idea could affect dozens of state statutes and dozens of federal statutes, the chief of which are Title VII and Title IX,” sections in the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act that forbids discrimination both in the workplace and in public schools.

Original intent

On the surface, the debate over the meaning of “sex” in these cases divides legal thinkers into classic liberal and conservative approaches to the law. Those who focus on the “original intent” of laws and the precise words of the legal text have generally rejected the expansive lines of thinking about the definition of sex.

“I think the better answer, the cleaner answer is just, let Congress go ahead and change the laws,” says Mark Goldfeder, senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory Law School in Atlanta. And there’s virtue in hashing out such questions through a political process rather than letting a panel of judges make such society-shaping decisions.

Indeed, this was part of the reasoning behind a three-judge panel in the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, which came to the opposite conclusion. In a 2-to-1 decision, the majority said that discrimination “because of sex” and discrimination based on sexual orientation were two different things. The disagreement among appeals courts could invite a potential Supreme Court review, scholars say.

But the history of the legal concept of “sex discrimination” unfolded in a much more complex way, many observers note, and conservative jurisprudence, too, has played a key role in the evolving definitions of “sex” that almost immediately began to widen over time.

“There’s been this natural progression of the law,” says Susan Eisenberg, managing partner at the Miami office of Cozen O’Connor. As a trial attorney who has been defending companies from civil rights complaints for more than two decades, she’s has watched as the concept of “sex” in discrimination cases has evolved over time, changing the ways she defends her clients.

The evolution of civil rights law

In the first decade after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, she and others point out, the “original intent” of the prohibition against sex discrimination was clear. The nation’s elite law schools and medical schools were often reserved for male applicants only, single women could be denied leases and bank accounts, and the nation understood its merit-based workplace as the natural domain of men alone.

But by the 1970s, people began to claim that sexual harassment in the workplace also violated Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination, and the Supreme Court agreed, declaring “a hostile work environment” as a violation of Title VII.

By the end of the 1980s, the Supreme Court found that discrimination based on “gender stereotypes” was also a violation of civil rights laws – in this case a woman who was passed up for promotion because she did not act feminine enough.

“She argued: that’s discrimination against me on the basis of my sex,” says Steve Sanders, a professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law in Bloomington. “They’re not discriminating against me as a woman per se, but they’re discriminating against me because I failed to demonstrate certain stereotypes of what it means to be a woman, and the Supreme Court accepted that.”

And the nation’s high court broadened the definition even further in 1998, ruling unanimously that Title VII’s workplace protections covered sexual harassment between members of the same sex – a key decision, says Ms. Eisenberg, citing a passage that in many ways redefined her job.

“Statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia for the majority in the case Oncale v. Sundowner, explaining the expanding definition of sex in this area of civil rights law.

“The sexual orientation cases that we’re now seeing basically takes the logic of these cases one step further,” says Professor Sanders. “If you’re a man, the social stereotype and the social expectation is that you will want to have sex with a woman, that you will want to have a relationship and a marriage with a woman. But, no, you defy that gender stereotype about what it means to be a man, because you’re attracted to other men.”

“Well, if the idea that men should only be attracted to women and women should only be attracted to men is a form of gender stereotyping, ergo, the logic goes, it’s covered by Title VII,” he says.

The Trump administration, however, maintains that while the Justice Department “is committed to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of all individuals,” in these case it remains “committed to the fundamental principle that the courts cannot expand the law beyond what Congress has provided,” said Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley in February.

‘Lack of clarity can prove expensive’

Corporate attorneys say most businesses have already instituted their own antidiscrimination policies. “But though many have adopted these, only voluntarily, the unevenness, the irregularity of anti-discrimination laws, I think is very challenging for the business community to grapple with,” says Darren Rosenblum, professor at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in New York. “So I think there is an imperative to clarify the law on this point. That’s what they need first and foremost, because the lack of clarity can prove expensive, figuring out which norms to follow.”

Even so, Eisenberg points out that given the ways in which the high court has redefined the meaning of sex in past precedents, today simple claims of “gender stereotyping” already covers most claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“And if you’ve got people who are being discriminated against just because they’re not part of a protected characteristic, that’s just not good management,” Eisenberg says. “It’s not good for recruiting, it’s not good for maintaining employees, it’s not good all the way around.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Omnisexual, gynosexual, demisexual: What’s behind the surge in sexual identities?

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There’s been a proliferation of sexual identities.

by Olivia Goldhill

In 1976, the French philosopher Michel Foucault made the meticulously researched case that sexuality is a social construct used as a form of control. In the 40 years since, society has been busy constructing sexualities. Alongside the traditional orientations of heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual, a myriad other options now exist in the lexicon, including:

  • pansexual (gender-blind sexual attraction to all people)
  • omnisexual (similar to pansexual, but actively attracted to all genders, rather than gender-blind)
  • gynosexual (someone who’s sexually attracted to women—this doesn’t specify the subject’s own gender, as both “lesbian” and “heterosexual” do)
  • demisexual (sexually attracted to someone based on a strong emotional connection)
  • sapiosexual (sexually attracted to intelligence)
  • objectumsexual (sexual attraction to inanimate objects)
  • autosexual (someone who prefers masturbation to sexual activity with others)
  • androgynosexual (sexual attraction to both men and women with an androgynous appearance)
  • androsexual (sexual attraction towards men)
  • asexual (someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction)
  • graysexual (occasionally experiencing sexual attraction, but usually not)

Clearly, people felt that the few existing labels didn’t apply to them. There’s a clear “demand being made to have more available scripts than just heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual,” says Robin Dembroff, philosophy professor at Yale University who researches feminist theory and construction.

Labels might seem reductive, but they’re useful. Creating a label allows people to find those with similar sexual interests to them; it’s also a way of acknowledging that such interests exist. “In order to be recognized, to even exist, you need a name,” says Jeanne Proust, philosophy professor at City University of New York. “That’s a very powerful function of language: the performative function. It makes something exist, it creates a reality.”

The newly created identities, many of which originated in the past decade, reduce the focus on gender—for either the subject or object of desire—in establishing sexual attraction. “Demisexual,” for example, is entirely unrelated to gender, while other terms emphasize the gender of the object of attraction, but not the gender of the subject. “Saying that you’re gay or straight doesn’t mean that you’re attracted to everyone of a certain gender,” says Dembroff. The proliferation of sexual identities means that, rather than emphasizing gender as the primary factor of who someone finds attractive, people are able to identify other features that attract them, and, in part or in full, de-couple gender from sexual attraction.

Dembroff believes the recent proliferation of sexual identities reflects a contemporary rejection of the morally prescriptive attitudes towards sex that were founded on the Christian belief that sex should be linked to reproduction. “We live in a culture where, increasingly, sex is being seen as something that has less to do with kinship and reproduction, and more about individual expression and forming intimate bonds with more than one partner,” Dembroff says. “I think as there’s more of an individual focus it makes sense that we have these hyper-personalized categories.”

The same individuality that permeates western culture, leading people to focus on the self and value their own well-being over the group’s, is reflected in the desire to fracture group sexual identities into increasingly narrow categories that reflect personal preferences.

Some believe this could restrict individuals’ freedom in expressing fluid sexuality. Each newly codified sexual orientation demands that people adopt increasingly specific criteria to define their sexual orientation.

“Language fixes reality, it sets reality,” says Proust. “It paralyzes it, in a way. It puts it in a box, under a tag. The problem with that is it doesn’t move. It negates or denies any instability or fluidity.”

There’s also the danger that self-definition inadvertently defines other people. Just as the terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” demand that people clarify their sexual preference according to their and their partner’s gender, “sapiosexual” asks that we each of us define our stance towards intelligence. Likewise, the word “pansexual” requires people who once identified as “bisexual” clarify their sexual attraction towards those who don’t identify as male or female. And “omnisexual” suggests that people should address whether they’re attracted to all genders or oblivious to them.

In Foucault’s analysis, contemporary society turns sex into an academic, scientific discipline, and this mode of perceiving sex dominates both understanding and experience of it. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy summarizes this idea neatly:

Not only is there control exercised via others’ knowledge of individuals; there is also control via individuals’ knowledge of themselves. Individuals internalize the norms laid down by the sciences of sexuality and monitor themselves in an effort to conform to these norms.

The new terms for sexual orientations similarly infiltrate the political discourse on sexuality, and individuals then define themselves accordingly. Though there’s nothing that prevents someone from having a demisexual phase, for example, the labels suggest an inherent identity. William Wilkerson, a philosophy professor at the University of Alabama-Huntsville who focuses on gender studies, says this is the distinctive feature of sexual identities today. In the past, he points out, there were plenty of different sexual interests, but these were presented as desires rather than intrinsic identities. The notion of innate sexual identities “seems profoundly different to me,” he says. “The model of sexuality as an inborn thing has become so prevalent that people want to say ‘this is how I feel, so perhaps I will constitute myself in a particular way and understand this as an identity’,” he adds.

In the 1970s and 80s there was a proliferation of sexual groups and interests similar to what we’ve seen over the past five to 10 years, notes Wilkerson. The identities that originated in earlier decades—such as bears, leather daddies, and femme and butch women—are deeply influenced by lifestyle and appearance. It’s difficult to be a butch woman without looking butch, for example. Contemporary identities, such as gynosexual or pansexual, suggest nothing about appearance or lifestyle, but are entirely defined by intrinsic sexual desire.

Dissatisfaction with existing labels doesn’t necessarily have to lead to creating new ones. Wilkerson notes that the queer movement in earlier decades was focused on anti-identity and refusing to define yourself. “It’s interesting that now, it’s like, ‘We really want to define ourselves,’” says Wilkerson.

The trend reflects an impulse to cut the legs out from under religious invectives against non-heteronormative sexualities. If you’re “born this way,” it’s impossible for your sexuality to be sinful because it’s natural, made of biological desires rather than a conscious choice. More recently, this line of thinking has been criticized by those who argue all sexualities should be accepted regardless of any link to biology; that sexuality is socially constructed, and the reason no given sexuality is “sinful” is simply because any consenting sexual choice is perfectly moral.

Though it may sound ideal to be utterly undefined and beyond categories, Proust says it’s impossible. “We have to use categories. It’s sad, it’s tragic. But that’s how it is.” Constructs aren’t simply necessary for sexual identity or gender; they’re an essential feature of language, she adds. We cannot comprehend the world without this “tag-fixing process.”

The proliferation of specific sexual identities today may seem at odds with the anti-identity values of queer culture, but Dembroff suggests that both work towards the same ultimate goal of eroding the impact and importance of the old-fashioned binary sexual identities. “Social change always happens in non-ideal increments,” Dembroff notes. So while today we may have dozens of sexual identities, they may become so individualized and specific that they lose any significance for group identities, and the entire concept of a fixed sexual identity is eroded.

“We demand that sex speak the truth,” wrote Foucault in The History of Sexuality. “We demand that it tell us our truth, or rather, the deeply buried truth of that truth about ourselves which we think we possess in our immediate consciousness.” We still believe sex reveals an inner truth; now, however, we are more readily able to recognize that the process of discovering and identifying that truth is always ongoing.

Complete Article HERE!

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For Queer Women, What Counts as Losing Your Virginity?

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I wanted, desperately, to know if the sex I was having “counted.”

After I hooked up with someone, I snuck out of bed and into the darkness of my balcony, alone. A nervous wreck, I texted my friend, practically hyperventilating because of something I’d never expected to worry about at all.

Hoping for an answer, I texted: Am I still a virgin if I had sex with a girl?

My friend asked what I thought, but I really didn’t know. The woman I’d slept with defined sex as penetration, so by her definition, we hadn’t had sex. She, as the older, long-time queer in the hookup, had the upper hand. I didn’t think it was up to me. After all, what did I know about the rules of girl-on-girl sex, let alone what counts as losing your virginity? Could it be sex if only half of the people involved thought it was?

To me, it felt like it had to be sex, because if not sex, what was it?

It was a panic I never expected to feel. I was super open-minded. I was super feminist. I should have been beyond thrilled and empowered by the fact that I’d had a positive sexual encounter. But instead of cuddling the girl I was sleeping with and basking in our post-sex glow, or even vocalizing my worry over whether or not we’d just had sex, I was panicking in solitude.

My identity has always been a blur—I’m biracial, bisexual, and queer—and it’s something that makes me feel murky, unsure of who I am. Virginity was just the newest thing to freak out about. I stood in the dark alone and tried to figure out, once again, how to define myself.

I wanted, desperately, to know if the sex I was having “counted.” And I’m not the only one.

While many people have a strained relationship with the concept of virginity (and whether or not it exists to begin with), for queer women, the role of virginity is especially complicated.

“Virginity is a socially constructed idea that is fairly exclusive to the heterosexual population,” Kristen Mark, Ph.D. an associate professor of health promotion at University of Kentucky and director of the sexual health promotion lab, told SELF. “There is very little language in determining how virginity is ‘lost’ in non-heterosexual populations. Given the relatively large population of non-heterosexual populations, the validity of virginity is poor.”

As a result, many of us are stressed out by the concept, and left wondering if there’s just something other queer women know that we aren’t quite in on.

For Sam Roberts*, the lack of clarity surrounding expectations of queer women made them hesitant to come out in the first place. “I didn’t come out as queer until I was 25,” they tell SELF. “I felt vulnerable because of the lack of understanding around queer sexuality. Certainly it has gotten better, but not having a model for what queer sex ([specifically] for [cisgender]-women) looks like via health class, media, or pop culture can make it hard to know how to navigate that space.”

Alaina Leary, 24, expressed similar frustrations the first time they had sex. “My first sex partner and I had a lot of conversations around sex and sexuality,” Leary tells SELF. “We were essentially figuring it out on our own. Health class, for me, never taught me much about LGBTQ sex.”

When you’ve been socialized to view penetration as the hallmark of sexual intercourse, it’s hard to know what counts as losing your virginity—or having sex, for that matter.

“For many queer women, what they consider sex is not considered sex from a heteronormative perspective,” Karen Blair, Ph.D., professor of psychology at St. Francis Xavier University and director of the KLB Research Lab, tells SELF. “So this can complicate the question of when one lost their virginity, if ever.”

“Even if one expands the definition of having lost one’s virginity to some form of vaginal penetration, many queer women may never actually ‘lose’ their virginity—to the extent that it is something that can be considered ‘lost’ in the first place.”

To be clear, relying on penetration as a defining aspect of sex only serves to exclude all those who aren’t interested in or physically capable of engaging in penetrative sexual acts—regardless of their sexual orientation. Ultimately, requiring sex to be any one thing is inherently difficult because of the limitless differences among bodies and genitals, and the simple fact that what feels pleasurable to one body can be boring at best, and traumatizing at worst, to another.

The lack of a clear moment when one became sexually active can make us feel like the sex we have doesn’t count.

We live in a culture that overwhelmingly values virginity, with “losing your v-card” still seen as a step into adulthood. It’s something that, as a former straight girl, I’d never even thought about, but, as a queer girl, I became obsessive over: When was I really, truly, having sex?

It was especially frustrating considering that my straight friends seemed instantly thrust into this status of adults in real, legitimate sexual relationships, while my relationships were being thought of as “foreplay” by the mainstream, rather than valid sex acts.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. “We had straight friends who were having sex and doing sexual things in very defined ways,” Leary says. “One of my friends was obsessed with the ‘bases’ and insisted that her oral sex with her boyfriend didn’t count as sex because it was ‘only third base.’”

So what does that mean for those of us who will only ever engage in “foreplay?”

Considering the larger structures and cultural expectations that make queer women feel invalid, virginity is just another way that we’re left feeling somehow less than our straight and cisgender counterparts.

“The primary impact of the concept of virginity on queer women is an—even if unconscious—feeling of inferiority or oppression,” Dr. Mark explains. “We as a society place so much emphasis on virginity loss, yet it is a concept that is only relevant to a portion of the population. Women in general, regardless of sexual orientation, know they are sexual objects before they are sexually active due to the existence of the concept of virginity.”

Consider the fact that most young women first learn about sex in the context of virginity, which often exists under the scope of “purity.” This, Dr. Mark says, can make women feel “defined by virginity status.”

As a result, when queer women do have sex, and it doesn’t “count” as their virginity being “taken,” they can be left confused about the encounter and unsure of how valid their sexual relationships are to begin with.

At the end of the day, it’s up to queer women to define what virginity—and sex—mean for ourselves.

“I would encourage queer women to define their sexual lives in ways that make sense for them,” Dr. Mark explains. “If they have created an idea around virginity that makes it important to them, I encourage them to think about alternate ways to define it that fits with their experience. But I also encourage the rejection of virginity for women who feel like it doesn’t fit for them.”

This lack of an expectation (beyond consent, of course) when it comes to how you have sex can actually be freeing, in a way, Dr. Blair says.

“One of the best things that queer women have going for them in their relationships is the freedom to write their own sexual scripts in a way that suits them and their partners best.”

Complete Article HERE!

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