Researchers at Penn State are reporting that individuals who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual are at a higher risk for several different health problems. The experts found that sexual minorities were more prone to anxiety and depressive disorders, cardiovascular disease, and drug and alcohol abuse.
Study co-author Cara Rice explained that stress associated with discrimination and prejudice may contribute to these outcomes.
“It’s generally believed that sexual minorities experience increased levels of stress throughout their lives as a result of discrimination, microaggressions, stigma and prejudicial policies,” said Rice. “Those increased stress levels may then result in poor health in a variety of ways, like unhealthy eating or excessive alcohol use.”
Professor Stephanie Lanza said the findings shed light on health risks that have been understudied.
“Discussions about health disparities often focus on the differences between men and women, across racial and ethnic groups, or between people of different socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Professor Lanza. “However, sexual minority groups suffer substantially disproportionate health burdens across a range of outcomes including poor mental health and problematic substance use behaviors.”
It has been previously documented that sexual minorities have an increased risk of substance abuse or anxiety disorders, but Rice said that studies have not yet established whether these health risks remain constant across age.
“As we try to develop programs to prevent these disparities, it would be helpful to know which specific ages we should be targeting,” said Rice. “Are there ages where sexual minorities are more at risk for these health disparities, or are the disparities constant across adulthood?”
The investigation was focused on data from over 30,000 participants in the National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions-III, who were between the ages of 18 and 65. The survey collected information about alcohol, tobacco, and drug use, as well as any history of depression, anxiety, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), or cardiovascular disease.
To analyze the data, the researchers used a method developed at Penn State called time-varying effect modeling.
“Using the time-varying effect model, we revealed specific age periods at which sexual minority adults in the U.S. were more likely to experience various poor health outcomes, even after accounting for one’s sex, race or ethnicity, education level, income, and region of the country in which they reside,” explained Professor Lanza.
Overall, sexual minorities were found to be more likely to experience all of the health outcomes. For example, these individuals had about twice the risk of anxiety, depression, and STIs in the previous year compared to heterosexuals.
The experts also determined that risks for some health problems were higher at different ages. An increased risk for anxiety and depression was highest among sexual minorities in their early twenties, while an increased risk for poor cardiovascular health was higher in their forties and fifties.
“We also observed that odds of substance use disorders remained constant across age for sexual minorities, while in the general population they tend to be concentrated in certain age groups,” said Rice. “We saw that sexual minorities were more likely to have these substance use disorders even in their forties and fifties when we see in the general population that drug use and alcohol use start to taper off.”
Rice said the results of the study could potentially be used to develop programs to help prevent these health problems before they start.
“A necessary first step was to understand how health disparities affecting sexual minorities vary across age,” said Rice. “These findings shed light on periods of adulthood during which intervention programs may have the largest public health impact. Additionally, future studies that examine possible drivers of these age-varying disparities, such as daily experiences of discrimination, will inform the development of intervention content that holds promise to promote health equity for all people.”
When Netflix’s new show Sex Education dropped earlier this month, it became an instant hit among basically anyone who has sex or thinks about sex. The show follows an awkward teen, Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), who knows a lot about sex thanks to his sex therapist mom, Jean Milburn (Gillian Anderson). Otis teams up with school outcast, Maeve Wiley (Emma Mackey), once they realize that Otis’s sexual knowledge means they can both make some major cash from their peers via “therapy sessions.” In each episode, Otis addresses a new classmate’s sex and relationship issues, all while dealing with his own sexual inhibitions and his mom’s serious prying.
Those who love the show love how relatable it is in showing the awkward situations and weird sexual questions that teens are inevitably going through but aren’t usually talking about. And with Otis as acting as a sex therapist for his classmates, we get to see what it would be like if teenagers actually had a thoughtful, insightful outlet for talking about sex and relationships.
It also broke barriers in a lot of ways, like showing teens finally having honest, progressive conversations about sex and sexuality. And also showing a full vulva on TV. Of course, that doesn’t mean every bit of Sex Education is 100 percent accurate. This is still TV, after all, and TV shows tend to rely on clichéd tropes and unrealistic drama to make the show entertaining.
So we talked to six real-life sex therapists about their thoughts on the show. Here’s what they had to say.
Spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched the whole season!
1. The show’s portrayal of an actual licensed sex therapist—Jean (Otis’s mom)—is a little clichéd.
“Sex therapy is a bit unconventional as a job, but it’s still a job to us,” Kate Stewart, a licensed mental health counselor based in Seattle, tells SELF.
Although some sex therapists may constantly talk about sex and have lots of sex with lots of people, the majority don’t. “I rolled my eyes at the trope of the mom banging all these people because she’s a sex therapist,” sexologist Megan Stubbs, Ed.D. tells SELF. “Banging people all over the place is not a job requirement.”
Then there’s the issue of the job itself—Jean makes it look like being a sex therapist is a cakewalk. It’s not. “For the most part, sex therapists don’t just sit around in big houses barely doing anything and looking gorgeous all day,” Rosara Torrisi, Ph.D., a sex therapist based in Long Island, tells SELF. “We see clients, we write articles, we give talks, we lecture, we teach, and so on. Looks nice, though.”
2. But her dildo-filled office is pretty realistic.
3. Most sex therapists are generally better with personal and professional boundaries.
Not only does Dr. Milburn openly hold therapy sessions in her home—breaching her patient’s privacy, as well as her and Otis’s potential safety—she also pries into her son’s sexuality and disrespects his wishes on a few occasions. Sure, lots of moms do this and it gives us the kind of drama that makes TV interesting, but it’s not exactly how you’d expect a sex therapist to act.
“Many of the sex therapists I know have children, and they are all very respectful of their children’s space and ability to explore sexuality in their own way and on their own time,” Stewart says. “I think we would all talk to our children about our work if they were interested, but we wouldn’t get into such graphic detail about our clients being interested in pegging.”
On top of that, we discover that Jean and her ex-husband (also seemingly a sex therapist) had a toxic relationship complete with a lack of boundaries that probably led to Otis’s own sexual inhibitions (specifically, his inability to masturbate). Remember that scene when young Otis sees his dad having sex with a patient? “Completely against our ethics and care for a client,” Megan Fleming, Ph.D., a sex therapist in New York, tells SELF. Later, we see a scene in which Jean explains to young Otis that sex can be wonderful but can also destroy lives. “So it’s not that Otis is just inhibited,” says Fleming. “He was taught and conditioned by his own mother that sex is destructive
But then again, nobody is perfect, even therapists. And Jean’s behavior shines a light on that fact.
“Otis’s mother was one of my favorite characters,” sex therapist Megan Davis, M.Ed, tells SELF. “She shows the reality that even though we are therapists, we’re sometimes at fault for crossing boundaries with those closest to us (by writing a book about Otis’s sexual difficulties), being unclear in our communication, and reacting in stressful situations.” She adds, “I can admit, I am sometimes guilty of not taking my own advice or keeping my cool.”
4. But Sex Education does a great job depicting real sex and relationship problems—and solutions.
“My favorite scene was when Otis counseled the two lesbians in the pool,” Dr. Torrisi says. “At some point one of them remarks that the issue can’t be the relationship, that it’s just the sex. I hear this a lot. Yes, having a good relationship can help sex. And having good sex can help the relationship. But often as a sex therapist, I see people scapegoat the sex in order to hide their fears about the relationship.”
In fact, pretty much every therapy session Otis has with fellow students rings true. “Otis addressed issues such as low or no desire, pain during sex, lack of orgasm, erectile dysfunction, and sexual orientation issues,” Davis says. “We have a tendency to shame and silence discussions of sexuality and sexual issues, but Otis was able to help his peers to remove the shame and begin openly talking about their bodies, their sexuality, and their issues.”
The way people react to his advice is realistic as well. “There is an immense power in just being able to talk about sex out loud. In the scene in the bathroom with Adam, you can practically see the weight coming off of his shoulders when he acknowledges that he’s having issues with his erection and orgasm,” Marin says. “I see that same kind of relief with my clients, too.”
5. Ultimately the program shows that sex therapy—or at the very least better sex education—can be helpful for pretty much anyone.
“Otis debunked many myths about sex during his sessions with his peers. For example, the myth and expectation that men should last 30-45 minutes before orgasm, when in fact most men only last three to five minutes. And the myth that vaginas [or, more accurately, vulvas] are supposed to look a certain way, particularly the labia,” Davis says.
Despite the TV tendency to solve complex problems in 30 minutes or less, Otis uses very real sex therapy tactics to help his fellow students. “He provided education to his peers, homework (i.e. when he sent Aimee home and encouraged her to masturbate on her own in order to tell her partner what she likes or doesn’t like in bed), brought in both partners to work on communication strategies, worked with couples on conflict resolution skills, and encouraged experimentation individually or as a couple,” Davis explains.
Although the show portrayed sex therapy in both realistic and unrealistic ways, it’s strides ahead of similar teen shows about sex. In Sex Education, sexual issues like erectile dysfunction and sex injuries aren’t laughed off—they’re given serious thought and discussion.
“Sex may set the stage for deepening the emotional connection between strangers,” says lead author Gurit Birnbaum, a social psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel. “This holds true for both men and women. Sex motivates human beings to connect, regardless of gender.”
The study, which appears in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, was limited to heterosexual relationships. According to Birnbaum, some believe that men are more likely than women to initiate relationships when sexually aroused, but when one focuses on more subtle relationship-initiating strategies, such as providing help, this pattern does not hold true: in fact, both men and women try to connect with potential partners when sexually aroused.
In four interrelated studies, participants met a new acquaintance of the opposite sex in a face-to-face encounter. The researchers demonstrate that sexual desire triggers behaviors that can promote emotional bonding during these encounters.
“Although sexual urges and emotional attachments are distinct feelings, evolutionary and social processes likely have rendered humans particularly prone to becoming romantically attached to partners to whom they are sexually attracted,” says coauthor Harry Reis, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.
An attractive stranger
In the first study, the researchers looked at whether sexual desire for a new acquaintance would be associated with non-verbal cues signaling relationship interest. These so-called immediacy behaviors are displayed in the synchronization of movements, close physical proximity, and frequent eye contact with a study insider who worked with the scientists. The study participants, all of whom identified as single in addition to heterosexual, were recruited at a university in central Israel.
Study 1 included 36 women and 22 men who lip-synched to pre-recorded music with an attractive, opposite-sex study insider. Afterwards, participants rated their desire for the insider, whom they believed to be another participant. The scientists found that the greater the participant’s desire for the insider, the greater their immediacy behaviors towards, and synchronization with, the insider.
Study 2 replicated the finding with 38 women and 42 men who were asked to slow dance with an attractive, opposite-sex insider, whom they believed to be a study participant. Again, the researchers found a direct association between synchronization of body movement and desire for the insider.
Study 3 included 42 women and 42 men and established a causal connection between activating the sexual behavior system and behaviors that help initiate relationships. In order to activate the sexual system, the researchers used a subliminal priming technique in which they flashed an erotic, non-pornographic image for 30 milliseconds on a screen, which participants were not aware of seeing.
Next, participants interacted with a second study participant—essentially a potential partner—discussing interpersonal dilemmas while on camera. Afterwards judges rated the participants’ behaviors that conveyed responsiveness and caring. The scientists found the activation of the sexual system also resulted in behaviors that suggested caring about a potential partner’s well-being—an established signal for interest in a relationship.
Study 4 included 50 women and 50 men. Half the group watched an erotic, non-pornographic video scene from the movie The Boy Next Door. The other half watched a neutral video of rainforests in South America.
Next, study participants were assigned an attractive opposite-sex insider and told to complete a verbal reasoning task. The insider pretended to get stuck on the third question and asked the participant for help. The researchers found that those participants who had watched the erotic movie scene were quicker to help, invested more time, and were perceived as more helpful, than the neutral video control group.
Bonding for baby’s sake?
What then could explain the role of sex in fostering partnerships? Human sexual behavior evolved to ensure reproduction. As such, sex and producing offspring don’t depend on forming an attachment between partners. However, the prolonged helplessness of human children promoted the development of mechanisms that keep sexual partners bonded to each other so that they can jointly care for their offspring, says Birnbaum. “Throughout human history, parents’ bonding greatly increased the children’s survival chances,” she says.
Prior neuroimaging research has shown that similar brain regions (the caudate, insula, and putamen) are activated when a person experiences either sexual desire or romantic love. The researchers surmise that this pattern hints at a neurological pathway that causes sexual activation—the neural processes that underlie a sexual response—to affect emotional bonding.
They conclude that experiencing sexual desire between previously unacquainted strangers may help facilitate behaviors that cultivate personal closeness and bonding.
“Sexual desire may play a causally important role in the development of relationships,” says Birnbaum. “It’s the magnetism that holds partners together long enough for an attachment bond to form.”
Support for the research came from the Binational Science Foundation (BSF).
Sex is sex, right? There can’t be that much you can change about it.
But sex trends do indeed exist, whether in terms of the tech we’re using to get off, the type of relationships we have, or our views of sexual acts.
The good news is that as long as you’re having consensual fun, it really doesn’t matter if you stay ahead of the curve.
If you are keen on being at the cutting edge of sexual stuff, though, you’re in luck, as sex toy brand Lelo has just released their predictions for the top sex trends of 2019.
Just do everything on the list then pat yourself on the back for being the trendiest, sexiest person ever. Congrats.
Open relationships and polyamory
Of course, polyamory is not a new concept. But thanks to documentaries (oh hey, Louis Theroux), celebs and influencers sharing stories of how polyamory and open relationships can work, the idea of non-monogamy is becoming more widely accepted.
Think of how BDSM was pushed on to everyone’s radar by Fifty Shades Of Grey. The same sort of thing is happening with polyamory.
Not the ones you’re imagining, blow up ones with holes for mouths.
We’re talking fancy sex dolls made to feel and look incredibly lifelike, made with silicone and internal skeletons for a more human feel.
With the rise of household devices such as Alexa and Google Home, it’s no surprise we’ll start using artificial intelligence in the bedroom, too.
This can range from vibrators that collect your data and adjust to give you an orgasm every time to sex robots who respond to dirty talk and adjust their personalities to fit your desires.
Yes, the techphobes among us will be freaked out, but 2019 will be a cool year when it comes to seeing how far we can take sex tech.
Blame Ariana Grande.
Lelo reckons that in 2019 we’ll see more women remaining happily single later into their lives, with no desire to get into relationships.
Self-dating will be on the rise, as will treating yourself to all the toys you could ever want to provide satisfaction solo.
Will 2019 be the year we finally accept that men can enjoy sex toys too?
The sex toy market will launch a bunch of new male sex toys this year, including prostate massagers and masturbation sleeves, which will hopefully normalise something that’s, well, very normal: using tools to masturbate more effectively.
Vibration is great, but Lelo says 2019 will see the rise of newer, fresher ways to stimulate pleasure.
The brand’s Sona sex toy, released in 2018, uses sonic waves to stimulate the clitoris, to drive pleasure much deeper in the body.
You’ll also spot more toys that use pulsing or suction.
Tumblr recently announced that it would ban all adult content from its platform and said any user who was hurt by the decision could simply migrate to another site. But creators and readers alike don’t believe there’s another website that fosters the same kind of sex-positive spaces that Tumblr has. It’s as though Tumblr CEO Jeff D’Onofrio has failed to understand his own platform, how unique these communities are to Tumblr, and how unlikely it is for them to survive beyond the shutdown.
“Sex wasn’t this separate, shameful thing. Tumblr allowed it to exist right next to every other facet of our messy, millennial experience,” says Vex Ashley, who runs the blog Vextape that’s inspired by her work as a cam model and making DIY porn. “We shared it, discussed it, debated it, and curated it.” Porn, she says, was as appropriate on Tumblr as song lyrics.
Tumblr is home to a myriad of sex-positive and body-positive blogs, in additional to indie porn blogs and curated archives that provide something not found on Pornhub, YouPorn, or any of the other mainstream adult portals. It’s also been relatively unique among social media sites for allowing nudity and sexually explicit content to be posted. Most sites, like Facebook and Instagram, prohibit nudity and regularly remove posts that are flagged. With Tumblr gone from the equation, creators and readers fear their hubs of sex-positive and body-positive content will vanish.
“There is a lot of value in being able to share images of and information about sexuality. This change will erase years of content from countless Tumblr users,” says the anonymous author behind Bijouworld, which curates photos of vintage gay porn, old magazine covers, and newspaper clippings. They believe that other blogs focused on the history of erotica will also suffer. “This was a good spot for us all to exchange and combine our info and knowledge, so I hope we can find a new way to do that.”
Bijou Classics, the gay adult company behind the blog, also posts regularly to Pornhub and maintains an extensive web presence across multiple platforms that allow adult content. But Tumblr, the blogger says, filled a void when the company wanted to explore the archival and historical aspects of gay porn.
“I do think Tumblr is unique … [it] was one of the few platforms that is broadly open to the public where we could share explicit photos in any sort of organized fashion.” The anonymous person behind the blog says that since 2011, Bijou Classics has “used our Tumblr presence to post images from our archives, written blogs, trivia, and more.” The purpose is to “keep information circulating about the history and evolution of erotica and gay culture.”
Holden takes a media that’s often considered a nuisance to receive and approaches it satirically as an art form, going in depth about the shadows and positioning of each photo. She ends her reviews with: “thank you for submitting to critique my dick pic” and a grade ranging from A to F. The latest lyrical review of a dick in the shower, posted on November 30th, reads, “your photo is certainly not coy but it avoids being dick-centric, and apart from minor flares of distraction — a green towel in the bottom-left corner and a blue razor in the windowsill — the background is uncluttered and effective.”
Critique My Dick Pic has been described by its followers as “hilarious and useful,” says Holden. She says a trans woman recently told her that the trans-inclusive nature of the blog factored into helping her decide to come out and transition.
The blog has been around since 2013, but Holden says she’s not sure if she’ll move to another platform after Tumblr hides her content from public view on December 17th. Holden tells The Verge, “I mean, it will be the end of the blog as far as I can tell. I receive a portion of my income from CDMP, which will end, and the site has been pretty beloved for years now, so it’s a shame for its followers.”
The operator of another quirky, body-positive blog, called Things My Dick Does, says he plans to keep his Tumblr open after the ban, but only to share safe-for-work posts to keep in touch with his readers.
Started by an anonymous man in 2015, the blog’s creator draws mustaches and smiley faces on his dick, often placing props around it in amusing situations. He tells The Verge, “I know it’s a silly dick blog, but I’ve gotten to know some pretty amazing people through here. (My girlfriend included!)” He says that as he continued to post pics of his dick sipping coffee, dressed as Batman, or just smiling cheerily, he received positive feedback and even had a woman reach out to him because they lived in the same city. She later became his girlfriend. “People say they’ve overcome some serious rough spots in their lives because of the laughs I brought them.”
The man says he can migrate to other platforms, but his presence on YouTube and Instagram is distinctly different. It’s covered up and less NSFW, obscuring the very quality of his blog that disarmed audiences — a charming, dressed-up dick that more resembled a cartoon than graphic porn. “It’s definitely a loss to the adult content creators out there,” the man behind Things My Dick Does says. “Seems like it’s getting more and more difficult to express yourself.”
There just isn’t anywhere else to go. Other than Tumblr, there aren’t many mainstream, well-acknowledged platforms that allow unique adult communities to grow. Facebook and Instagram both prohibit sexual content and nudity; Twitter allows it, but it’s not exactly known for its positive, supportive communities.
Ashley, who runs the curated, often DIY porn blog, explains that Tumblr was a livelihood and a home for people who didn’t necessarily conform to mainstream porn sites’ ideas of what is sexy. “As our lives move increasingly online, spaces that are safe for sex are becoming smaller and smaller,” she says, in words that are now published on Medium. “If we continue to push our depictions of sexuality into the shadows, we allow them to continue to be defined and co-opted by the status quo — whatever is on the first page of a porn tube site.”
As of Dec. 17, Tumblr will no longer allow “adult content,” defined as that which shows “real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content — including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations — that depicts sex acts.”
Before this, the platform’s lenient policies contrasted significantly with those of Facebook and Instagram, which have stricter content moderation guidelines.
Katrin Tiidenberg, a researcher who has studied self-expression on Tumblr, conjectures that this change may have more to do with advertising sales than protecting users. Regardless of Tumblr’s motives, this update will seriously affect LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) youth who rely on Tumblr and its communities for self-discovery and support.
‘Safer’ online spaces
Since LGBTQ identities have often been stigmatized, the internet has been pivotal in helping those with diverse gender and sexual identities learn about themselves and find each other. Tumblr has provided a safe space for this through many of its key features (e.g. pseudonymous accounts, reblogging) and the communities it attracts.
Given this, it’s not surprising that a large Australian survey found LGBTQ youth use Tumblr much more frequently than the rest of the population. Many respondents indicated content on Tumblr broadened their understanding of sexuality and gender and facilitated self-acceptance.
Tumblr has served as an essential outlet for LGBTQ youth in relation to other popular platforms. Alexander Cho, a postdoctoral fellow at UC Irvine, has written about Tumblr’s “queer ecosystem” where “users circulate porn, flirt, provide support to deal with homophobia as well as advice on coming out…” Cho has found that queer youth of colour experience Facebook as a space of “default publicness” and prefer Tumblr for sharing intimate and personal content.
LGBTQ people have also found Tumblr to be powerful for self-representation. Through sophisticated hashtagging practices, transgender people share art, stories and engage in dialogue that challenges cisgender norms.
Researcher Tim Highfield and I have explored how sharing queer GIFs – short, looping media — not only allows LGBTQ youth to engage in Tumblr’s fan communities but also playfully displays queer culture en masse. This broad representation of LGBTQ identities may dissuade homophobic harassment, as some of the queer women I’ve interviewed perceive less discrimination on Tumblr.
What’s porn got to do with it?
Porn is a portion of the multiple forms of media resonating among LGBTQ users. This media allows them to knit together non-mainstream identities and survive in a world where heterosexuality is ubiquitously portrayed across social media and broadcast outlets.
Not all LGBTQ content contains genitals, “female-presenting nipples” or sex acts, but not all content with these elements constitutes what we would generally think of as pornography. Much of the sexualized content circulated among LGBTQ Tumblr users make available depictions of sexuality that are frequently rendered invisible or marginalized.
These can take the form of fan art, remixed film clips of sensual embraces and selfies. This media allows LGBTQ people to see themselves as sexual beings — something that is particularly important for young people developing a sense of sexual and gender identity.
Even if you disagree with teenagers accessing this type of content, Tumblr’s new policy bans it for everyone regardless of age. Formerly, users could voluntarily mark their blogs as “NSFW” (Not Safe for Work) if they posted occasional nudity and “adult” if posting substantial nudity. This provided a sort of checkpoint to hinder younger users in accessing this content.
Now even adults won’t be able to access “adult content.” This means that young people over 18, who may be facing formative life changes, like starting post-secondary education or moving away from home, won’t have access to media that may help them learn about their identity and feel supported while doing so.
Instagram asks users to report content and responds through automated mechanisms. Therefore, queer women’s content was subject to removal based on other users’ whims and the banning of certain hashtags like #lesbian. Tumblr’s new updates promise a similar mixture of user reporting and automated content detection tools.
In Canada, Chris Tenove, Heidi Tworek and Fenwick McKelvey have pointed out that content moderation is not standardized and lacks federal oversight. Platforms often apply content moderation categories, such as “adult content,” without transparency or accountability.
Tumblr’s CEO, Jeff D’Onofrio, said: “There are no shortage of sites on the internet that feature adult content. We will leave it to them and focus our efforts on creating the most welcoming environment possible for our community.”
It seems that with this new change, youth who want to encounter sexual content will need to relocate. While some young people may turn to pornography sites, many of these sites are not designed with diverse sexual and gender identities in mind.
Youth entering these sites may be more likely to encounter stigmatized, stereotypical and demeaning representations of women and transgender people. Even LGBTQ-friendly pornography sites don’t have the elaborate community networks unique to Tumblr.
Such communities help youth to make sense of sexual content in relation to who they are becoming as they grow up. Tumblr’s decision means LGBTQ youth will have one less outlet where they can learn about sexual identity and gain support from peers who are like them and sharing content for them.
“Bear Culture” — a supportive, global community of mostly large, mostly hairy gay men — has evolved and thrived through ideas of inclusion, diversity, self-acceptance and self-expression. Health advocate, diversity specialist and “Daddy Bear” Frank Strona explains what Bear Culture gets right as lessons for Goldilocks and the rest of mainstream society Frank Strona, health planner, shares his unique perspective on diversity and inclusion in explaining bear culture history and lifestyle This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.
Sunday, August 26, marked the 98th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which officially granted women the right to vote. And as we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, which August 26th is known as now, we think about those incredible women who fought for our right to vote and won. Often, we also think of women who fought (and are continuing to fight) for women’s equality in the workplace. But, there’s another kind of equality that we can thank brave women for: sexual equality.
Without the tireless work of some badass women in history, single women would still be expected to be celibate. We wouldn’t have access to the birth control that makes it safe for us to have sex without fear of pregnancy. And we’d probably still think women can only orgasm when someone sticks a penis inside of them (although, some people really do still think that). So, let’s raise a glass to the women who made it okay for us to have as much (or as little) sex as we want.
Ahead, we celebrate 7 of the women who pioneered conversations about sexuality and sexual health.
Emma Goldman (1869-1940)
In 1917 a U.S. Attorney General wrote, “Emma Goldman is a woman of great ability and of personal magnetism, and her persuasive powers make her an exceedingly dangerous woman.” Goldman gained a reputation for being “exceedingly dangerous” partly for spreading the idea that women should have access to birth control. She was also a hardcore anarchist who spoke with such firey passion that the man who assassinated President William McKinley in 1901 credited one of Goldman’s lectures as the inspiration. So, you know, that could also be part of it.
Perhaps because her lectures were so “inspirational,” Goldman was frequently harassed and arrested while speaking about radical reform. So, she worked with the first Free Speech League to insist that all Americans have a right to speech, no matter how radical or controversial.
Although she was active during the time of first-wave feminism, Goldman shunned the suffrage movement and instead called herself an anarchist. She held lectures on politically unpopular ideas like free love, atheism, capitalism, and homosexuality. After Margaret Sanger, who coined the term “birth control,” printed information about contraceptives in a pamphlet called Family Limitation, Goldman took it upon herself to make sure people had access to the information. She distributed the pamphlet and in 1915 went on a nationwide speaking tour to raise awareness about birth control options. In 1916, she was arrested outside of one of her lectures under the Comstock Law, which prohibited the dissemination of “obscene, lewd, or lascivious articles.” She spent two weeks in prison.
Goldman was deported back to her native Russia in 1919.
Sanger’s mother died at 50-years-old, partly due to complications from delivering 11 babies and having 7 miscarriages. Inspired by her mother’s pregnancy struggles, Sanger went to Europe to study contraceptive methods, even though educating people about birth control was illegal in the U.S. at the time.
When she came back to the U.S., Sanger was frequently arrested under the Comstock Law for distributing “obscene, lewd, or lascivious articles.” In 1912, she wrote What Every Girl Should Know, in which she argues that both mothers and teachers should clearly explain sexual anatomy in order to rid children of shame about sex. She wrote: “Every girl should first understand herself: she should know her anatomy, including sex anatomy.” (Preach.)
Two years later, Sanger wrote Family Limitations, an instructional pamphlet in which she coined the term “birth control.” And two years after that, Sanger, Byrne, and Mindell opened the country’s first birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn, which the police shut down only nine days later. Sanger spent 30 days in jail after the Brownsville clinic was raided (where she instructed the inmates about birth control).
In 1923, Sanger opened the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau to distribute birth control to women and to study the long-term effectiveness and side effects of contraceptives. She also incorporated the American Birth Control League, an organization that studied global impacts of population growth, disarmament, and famine. Eventually, the two groups merged to become what we now know as Planned Parenthood. Sanger continued to fight for contraceptive rights and sexual freedom along with other birth control activists, and in 1936 their efforts led to a court ruling that using and talking about birth control would no longer be considered obscene. Legally, birth control information could be distributed in New York, Connecticut, and Vermont. It took another 30 years for those rights to be extended to the rest of the country (but birth control was still only legal for married couples until the 1970s).
Helen Gurley Brown (1922-2012)
In 1962, when birth control was still illegal in most states for anyone who wasn’t married, Helen Gurley Brown wrote Sex And The Single Girl, a book that argued for single women’s right to have as much sex as they wanted. (The book later inspired a 1964 movie.) At the time, many publishers rejected the book for being too provocative, because it did such scandalous things as encouraging women to pursue men, and suggesting that women actually enjoyed sex (gasp!). When the book eventually was picked up, the publishers omitted a chapter dedicated to birth control. So unmarried women at the time could have sex, they just couldn’t know how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies.
Three years after her book published, Gurley Brown became Editor-In-Chief of Cosmopolitan. But the magazine many now associate with brazen sex advice wasn’t so risque back then. And although the staff at the time was not thrilled with her message, it was Gurley Brown’s influence that turned Cosmo into the go-to mag for learning how to please your man.
Virginia E. Johnson (1925-2013)
If you’ve watched Masters Of Sex, then you’re already familiar with Virginia Johnson’s story. Johnson was first the research assistant for and later wife to William H. Masters, a gynecologist and sex researcher. Together, the two studied sexual responses in hundreds of men and women and published groundbreaking studies that transformed how people understood sexuality.
Many of their participants credited Johnson’s warm and encouraging nature as the reason they felt comfortable enough to participate in Master’s studies (which often required them to masturbate or have sex while hooked up to machines that registered heart rate and other bodily functions). Although Johnson never finished her degree, she’s considered a sexologist for her help in Master’s work. Often, it was her who collected patients’ sexual histories and recorded data as they became sexually aroused.
Masters and Johnson made several important discoveries in their work, many of which broke negative assumptions about how women experience sex. In their 1966 book Human Sexual Response, they established that the clitoris is essential for women to have orgasms and that women can have multiple orgasms during a single sexual experience. After their book was featured on the cover of Time Magazine, it became a bestseller, making it common for people to say words like “clitoris,” “orgasm,” and “masturbation,” for the first time.
In 1964, Masters and Johnson founded the Reproductive Biology Research Foundation (later the Masters and Johnson Institute), where they treated sexual dysfunction until the institute closed in 1994.
Joani Blank (1937-2016)
Anytime you pass a sex toy shop with large glass windows that proudly displays dildos, vibrators, and butt plugs instead of hiding them under seedy lighting, you can thank Joani Blank. In 1977, she founded the first Good Vibrations store, a feminist-leaning sex toy shop and one of the first to be run by a woman.
Blank had noticed that all of the sex toy shops she’d encountered reeked of men. The windows were covered, as if you should be ashamed of the products inside, and often, there would be men watching porn at quarter-operated booths once you got inside. It was a hostile space for women. “Over and over, women would say they were afraid to go into one of those places,” Carol Queen, the staff sexologist at Good Vibrations, said in Blank’s obituary.
Prior to opening Good Vibrations, Blank was working at UCSF’s medical school with women who struggled to have orgasms. She encouraged them to try vibrators. And her experiences with these women also informed her plans for the sex toy shop. In addition to having a place that felt safe for women, she wanted to train her staff to be able to answer questions about sex and sexual health. She wanted her customers and her staff to be able to have frank conversations about sex. It was all in an effort to take some of the shame and stigma out of having sex, especially for women.
Loretta Ross (1953-present)
Anytime you’ve ever used the term “reproductive justice,” that was because of Loretta Ross. Ross coined the phrase in 1994 following the International Conference on Population and Development.
Ross is co-founder of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, which organizes women of color in the reproductive rights movement. Her work focuses on the intersectionality of social justice and on building a human rights movement that includes everyone. She was co-director of the 2004 March for Women’s Lives, the largest protest march at the time, which saw 1.15 million people gather to advocate for abortion rights, birth control access, and reproductive healthcare.
Ross also started the Women of Color Program for the National Organization for Women (NOW) in the 1980s, where she brought delegations of women of color to international conferences on women’s issues and human rights. In the 1970s, she became one of the first African American women to direct a rape crises center.
In a calm voice, Dr. Corina Dunlap gave me a short overview of the meaning of low libido. “One thing I really want women to know is that many factors can impact libido,” she said. “These interests and desires can be impacted by a number of internal as well as external factors, ranging from anxiety, relationship conflict and stress to vaginal infections, hormone imbalances, and common medications.”
I had called a sexual advice hotline created by reproductive health company Lola and, after weighing my options, selected a recording of Dunlap — a naturopathic doctor based in Portland, Oregon — who gave a short spiel and then requested that listeners leave a message after the beep for “a chance I’ll be calling you back.” It was a little thin on helpful information, but it did advise me to consult a professional with any questions.
On July 11, Lola (which started off selling tampons but expanded into a broader reproductive health products line in May) launched its month-long “Let’s Talk About It” campaign, including the new temporary call service (supported by dedicated phone booths set up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) aimed at encouraging open conversations about sexual health. The service, which ended the weekend of August 11, was described as a “one-of-a-kind national hotline that features Lena Dunham, Bethany C. Meyers, Shan Boodram and other thought-provoking women” on a variety of topics, from the right to orgasm and sex after surgery to opening up about your sexuality and period sex as great sex.
Women typically look to tampon companies to fulfill utilitarian purposes like comfort and absorbency, but Lola has also been thinking about what value it might add when it comes to overall sexual health and fulfillment. And Lola isn’t alone in its effort to provide consumers with life advice related to its core product line. A number of brands are starting to offer a new twist on the idea of retail therapy.
Stole My Heart, a lingerie shop in Toronto, recently hosted a “Ladies’ Night” on the topic of “dating in 2018,” where a panel of female experts (including relationship columnist Jen Kirsch and Bumble representative Katryna Klepacki) tackled sex and love in the contemporary age. Marks & Spencer, the UK-based department store, recently launched mental health drop-in sessions at several of its store cafes, noting that the brand aimed to provide a space “where people can talk openly with others who understand how they are feeling.” In June, Coach launched Life Coach, a new interactive NYC pop-up designed to encourage self-discovery through tarot card readings and sessions with the AstroTwins, identical twin sister astrologists. And the online sex toy vendor Unbound started a temporary promotion in April that offered free sessions with a sex coach.
Hotels are also adding a range of personal betterment options: The William Vale in Williamsburg has a course on “applied empathy” and the art of building better relationships, and the Hoxton in Amsterdam has launched the “Motherhood Project,” which covers everything from eating for improved energy to attaining balance in a hectic world.
Encouragingly, a lot — though not all — of these brands have partnered with experts with some degree of legitimacy, which means much of the advice being dispensed is through referral to a knowledgeable organization rather than a customer service rep expected to dispense answers about low libido in addition to facilitating returns. Collectively, they underscore a key point: the idea that their customers are ravenous for certain conversations, whether it’s about sexual or mental health, work-life balance, or building confidence.
Earlier this year, the womenswear brand Tuxe — perhaps best known for making polished bodysuits, including one famously worn by Meghan Markle — launched a Coaching + Clothing program, which offered a free life coaching session with every purchase. Tuxe is presently revamping its coaching offerings, but it’s working on a series of pre-recorded sessions with an all-female cast of performance coaches on topics including dealing with setbacks and building confidence, and setting achievable goals.
Tamar Daniel, the founder and CEO of Tuxe, refers to this program as “part of addressing the whole woman.” She says her business model has been heavily influenced by a 2011 Northwestern University study that suggested that how you dress affects not only how others perceive you but your actual behavior. “As a team, we got really excited about this whole idea and felt that it speaks to the core of what we had been trying to express,” she says. “I never liked the idea of just selling product. I want to put our money where our mouth is and delivering on more than just what you wear.”
Daniel says she launched the Tuxe coaching program in response to customer feedback. “We were getting a lot of emails from people telling us that they bought Tuxe to boost their confidence before an interview or a big presentation, or from mothers who bought them for their daughters on their first day of college or other big milestone events,” she says. The emotional connection between their clothing and the hopeful ambitions of their consumers created an opportunity to tighten the weave.
Daniel sent me a sample video being prepared for their late summer relaunch in which career coach Katie Fogarty talks about building a strong personal brand (Martha Stewart is cited as a role model) and offers practical tips for getting there. There’s nothing revolutionary about this advice, of course. But it’s the kind of thing you might watch to get fired up just before you head into an important pitch meeting while wearing your new Tuxe bodysuit. “It’s very TED talk-y but these positive messages can make a difference,” says Daniel. “It can get your blood pumping.”
Getting your blood pumping — especially when it creates a positive brand association — is a big part of the goal. Peter Noel Murray, a consumer psychologist based in New York City, says these programs tie into a very current self-care trend that says to the customer, “We care about you and we care about your mental health.”
“It’s a way for retailers to say, ‘We’re good people and we’re not just after your money,’” says Murray. “A brand is just a mental image of something; from a psychological perspective, this is just a way to enrich that mental association the customer has with whatever brand. We are naturally attracted to things that are positive and make us feel good.”
This feel good, self-empowerment-oriented Goop-ification of a spectrum of businesses speaks to a some very contemporary issues: rising concerns about mental health and accessible care, the pervasiveness of the self-care movement, our obsession with self-improvement, and the increasing lengths retail and hospitality brands will go to cultivate a “lifestyle” persona in order to create perceived intimacy and drive customer loyalty.
“Programming like this allows us to offer a space for our customers to talk about these intimate things that they care about,” says Amy Pearson, co-owner of Stole My Heart in Toronto. “You take out the impersonal business aspect and connect on a more personal level.”
Connecting on a more personal level can be tricky, depending on the angle. Mary Pryor, a digital marketer based in New York City, visited Life Coach in June and thought the pop-up served as an interesting introduction to the metaphysical or paranormal world. “Coach is in the business of leather handbags, not crystals, so I’m glad they brought in programming by people who know what they’re talking about,” she says. “It was the kind of thing that might leave some bread crumbs in your brain.” She also noted that there wasn’t a heavy push on product but rather overall brand awareness. “It would be hard to push self-reflection with a leather bowler bag. That would be a stretch.”
But the promise of authentic engagement and subsequent customer loyalty is a powerful incentive for brands to keep building platforms for engagement in the self-care space. Pryor’s sense as a consumer is that many of these associations are being driven by a particular sense of vulnerability — especially among women. “I think people are really looking for tools and answers to find their way,” she says.
Brands are seemingly happy to light a path. Polly Rodriguez, the co-founder and CEO of Unbound, says her company’s partnership with Maven (an online sexual health clinic) was based on a conversation vacuum. “The government and public education system should be addressing sexual health and wellness, but over and over, we’ve seen these institutions walk away from that role,” she says. “So there’s a place for us to provide that value for our customers. We want women, femme-identifying, and nonbinary people to be able to find these resources and tools that they need. And when you offer your customers genuine solutions and help, it builds customer loyalty in a way that’s authentic.”
Unbound is also planning to expand on this idea — though it’s looking to build online tools to connect women who need support. Rodriguez says she hopes the program will launch in the early fall. “We’re seeing a really organic community emerging on Instagram and at events,” she says. “There’s palpable demand for women to feel less alone.”
Jordana Kier, a co-founder of Lola, says that their recent initiative is also part of a broader effort to build community. “In this day and age, so much of our lives and interactions are online,” she says. “But people like that IRL interaction and they want to feel connected.” Lola was inspired, she says, by concerns related to continuing stigma surrounding sex. “We wanted to find a way to use advertising to drive a touchy conversation. We’re providing women an opportunity to ask questions and feel supported.”
There’s an interesting duality to these new offerings: On one hand, they’re clearly feeding a need from a group of consumers hungry for information about how to be a woman in today’s world; on the other, there’s an undeniably cynical rationale behind this kind of programming, drawing a customer or potential customer closer while engaging in a form of emotional manipulation — even when intentions extend beyond a company’s bottom line.
San Francisco psychotherapist Daphne de Marneffe says there’s a risk that in attempting to create positive associations, some brands might inadvertently present the idea of a quick fix to sometimes serious mental or sexual health problems. “Sitting with strangers in a closed cafe is not going to resolve your psychotic break or addiction issues,” she says.
Still, de Marneffe acknowledges that creating spaces to have these conversations is valuable. “Some of these programs acknowledge that people are feeling emotionally stressed out and that they can’t always talk about things with their spouses or friends. There’s a question of whether there’s a false promise in here, but it could serve as a gateway for people to get help.”
Psychologists and social theorists are well aware of the fact that popular culture has been perpetuating myths about human sexuality since, well, forever. But given that we are living in an era of increasing sexual liberation, at least in Western nations, and social media oversharing, this has gotten better in recent years – right? Maybe not.
According to a survey by polling firm Ipsos, both men and women in the UK and US are wildly out of touch with reality in regards to the intimate activities of the opposite sex. But (some) men are particularly clueless.
The research data – collected from online queries given to between 1,000 and 1,500 people, aged 16-64 or 18-64, in each country – reveals that the average guess among men for how often a typical young woman (18 to 29 years old) has sex is 23 times per month in the US and 22 times a month in the UK. However, the women of this age group who were polled reported having sex an average of five times per month – a more than four-fold difference in expectation vs reality.
“It’s interesting that this misperception is so profound. It really illustrates the extent to which men really don’t understand female sexuality,” Chris Jackson, a spokesperson for Ipsos, told BuzzFeed News. “Men just don’t seem to have a good understanding of the reality for women. I guess that’s not actually news.”
Guesses about young men’s sexual frequency were also far off the mark, but not as dramatically. The overall average estimate (from both men and women) was that 18 to 29-year-old males are doing it about 14 times per month, whereas the average self-reported number was four.
And demonstrating that women are not free from misunderstanding, the Ipsos survey showed that the average guess among females of all ages for the frequency of young women’s sexual encounters was 12 times a month.
Of course, because the survey assessed a broad group of people, likely with large differences in lifestyle, and didn’t account for differences in sexual activity between those in relationships or single, the “real” figures listed must be taken with a massive grain of salt. In addition, relying on people’s self-reported numbers leads to dubious accuracy, and it is important to note that this survey is not peer-reviewed research and focused only on heterosexual encounters.
Keeping these limitations in mind, it is still amusing to look at the outcomes of the next section of the study, which asked participants to guess how many sexual partners the average man and woman in their country have had by age 45 to 54. Men and women in the US, UK, and Australia (where another ~1,500 people were polled) were pretty good at guessing the average man’s number (between 17 and 19), as you can see in the chart below. But American men did an appalling job at guessing for women – estimating an average of 27 compared to the reported 12 – and both men and women in the UK and Australia were also far off.
When guessing why men’s numbers are so much higher than women’s considering that heterosexual sex involves one of each, the Ipsos pollsters report that such findings are common in sex polls.
“There are a number of suggested explanations for this – everything from men’s use of prostitutes to how the different genders interpret the question (for example, if women discount some sexual practices that men count),” they wrote.
But it seems most likely to be a mix of men’s rougher and readier adding up, combined with men’s conscious or unconscious bumping up of their figure, and women’s tendency to deflate theirs. It seems that the most reasonable conclusion is that men up their number a bit, women downplay theirs a bit more, and we actually reveal something close to the truth when guessing for ‘other people’”
Years ago, a friend raged into my apartment with bad news: the guy she had been hooking up with had given her an STI. She knew he was seeing other people, but he had just written her a lovey-dovey email from his business trip, asking about her upcoming schedule, and saying how much he missed her. She was gobsmacked about what to do. I mean… what do you do if you have an STI? Like a good friend, I made her a drink and then we made a plan. She wrote a nice email back to him saying she’d check her schedule, hoped he had a nice trip, and ended with “P.S. We have gonhorrea.” Boom.
Although we still laugh about that to this day, your sexual health is something to take very seriously. If you think you might have an STI, you probably feel anxious, scared and pretty physically uncomfortable. I connected with Dr. Gillian Dean, Senior Director of Medical Services at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, about this topic. She observes, “The reality is that there are 20 million new STI cases each year. Getting an STI or having a partner with an STI is extremely common — it’s the result of intimate contact with other people and not something to be embarrassed about. It doesn’t make you any less valuable or worthy of love, and your STI status doesn’t make you “clean” or “dirty.” So take a deep breath, you got this, and read on for steps to take to address what might be going down… down there.
Step One: Get Tested
It’s important to note what your specific symptoms are and when they first occured. While a girl’s gotta pay attention to everything going on below her belt, keep in mind that not every itch or sore spot is caused by an STI. Dr. Dean explains, “painful or frequent urination could be a symptom of an STI — or it could be caused by a urinary tract infection or vaginitis. Both yeast infections and pubic lice cause itching. Is that bump a wart or a pimple? It can be hard to tell sometimes.”
While noting and keeping track of your symptoms is important, most common STIs out there — chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV — often don’t have any symptoms, Dr. Dean says. That’s why there’s no accurate way to tell if you have an STI without being tested. STI testing is quick, easy and painless. All STIs are treatable, while many are curable — but you have to know your status before you can get treated. So go.
Step Two: For Real, Get Tested
Let’s say you feel fairly fine, just a little irritation down south, but you would rather wait it out and hope it goes away than trek to your gyno’s office and do the whole pelvic exam thing. Most of the time, STIs have no symptoms or may be so mild that they don’t bother you, but that doesn’t mean they’re not harmful.
Dr. Dean cautions, “Just because you don’t have physical symptoms doesn’t mean you can’t pass it [an STI] to a partner or that it can’t lead to more serious health problems in the future. If you’ve had vaginal, anal, or oral sex with a new sexual partner or multiple sexual partners, you should talk with a nurse or doctor about getting tested.”
Now, if you have physical symptoms such as sores or bumps on and around your genitals, burning or irritation when you pee or flu-like symptoms like fever, body ache, and swollen glands… then please put your phone in your bag and go right to the doctor. (You can finish reading this later!) You can also get rested — often for a reduced rate or even for free — at Planned Parenthood or a sexual health clinic.
Once you’ve been tested and you know exactly what you’re dealing with, the treatment your doctor prescribed to you will get to work. Going forward, be sure you take all precautions to protect your precious health, like using protection and getting tested regularly. Dr. Dean explains, “At a minimum, sexually active people should get tested once a year — but it also depends on your personal risk factors, such as if you use protection or if you have a new sexual partner since you last got tested.” She suggests talking with your doctor about what makes sense for your life.
Also, you should talk to your sexual partner or partners about this. If you’re unsure how to have this super fun talk with a sexual partner about STI testing and protection, or that you have an STI, Planned Parenthood created a set of videos to help you out. If you truly don’t want to have a face-to-face chat, you can always do it in an email postscript, like my dear friend once did. Your sexual health is part of your physical, emotional and mental health, so being able to communicate with your sexual partners is key.
The news that more than 300 Pennsylvania priests may have sexually abused more than 1,000 identifiable children during the last 70 years is shocking for the enormity of the accusation, but by now there have been enough of these tragic accusations against so many of our institutions that parents should be neither unaware of the risks to their children nor unwilling to confront those risks before their own child might be abused.
The grand jury indictments accuse the Catholic Church of covering up the abuse with criminal conspiracies of silence. Healthy institutions – and the family is the most basic institution of our society – need to break the silence about sexual health and safety, and there is never a better time than the present to do that.
Let’s start with a few basic ideas:
Children should have medically accurate, age-appropriate facts about sexual anatomy and physiology. Little kids should know all the external parts; as kids age they need to know the internal parts and all kids need to know that sexual arousal is an autonomic reflex. Too many predators entrap kids by convincing a child they were not a victim because they became aroused. Parents can neutralize the pedophile’s devastating, all too-common tool with medically accurate information.
Parents can open a conversation by reminding children that many people will put their own interests above that of someone else. Children may have already experienced that by being bullied or lied to or experiencing someone taking something of theirs. Abusing someone sexually is but one of the many ways people put their own feelings above those of another, and it’s one that can leave most damaging scars. Especially if faith plays a role in your family, you will want to address the difference between a person who espouses or teaches the words of your faith, and the meaning of those words. Widespread allegations of abuse can challenge the faith of both child and family, and this is a good chance to draw a defining line between the meaning of your religion and the actions of the accused priests and the people who protected them.
Focus on trust. Damage can cut the deepest when abuse is in the context of a trusted relationship. Pedophile priests are in our news now, but other trusted adults including physicians, educators, parental figures and coaches have been there, too. Parents can support their children to trust their own instincts when something doesn’t seem right, and to trust that their parents will listen to them and support them when they share those concerns. I’ve heard stories from peers growing up in the 1960s whose parents smacked them for speaking ill of a priest when the child tried to tell about sexual abuse. I hope those days are long gone—children deserve better, and parents can do better.
Too many parents still feel uncomfortable talking to their children about sexuality, yet research shows that parents consistently underestimate the importance children place on their thoughts. Parents may feel as if they don’t know to what say, but other professionals and I can provide resources to help you. Information from the American Academy of Pediatrics and my book The Sex-Wise Parent are but two of the places where you can find help. If you’re really uncomfortable, practice role playing with a friend, or ask your school or faith-based organization to schedule a parent workshop.
Our children deserve the very best from all the institutions designed to help bring them to healthy, productive adulthood. Parents can focus on their own children now, when headlines can be causing fear and confusion, but in the long term parents can focus on the policies, procedures and sexual climate of the institutions that serve their children.
Support for your children’s sexual health and safety must start at home and spread out into the community. Use this current spate of tragic stories to ensure there is no conspiracy of silence around sex in your home.
Believe it or not, there are so many things that can impact your sex drive .
Of course, sex drives vary not only from person to person but based on so many factors, from the medications you take to how you feel about your body and your mental health.
But if you’re looking for a little libido boost, there are plenty of surprising things you can do that will help you want to have more sex, from the foods you eat to your choice of exercise .
Here are 12 totally shocking things you had no idea can help boost your sex drive.
Horror movies — or anything else that scares you just enough.
Watching a scary flick is pretty divisive — most people either love to be scared or totally hate the feeling. But watching horror movies, with their jump scares and that telltale terrifying music, is a surefire way to get your adrenaline pumping, which can quickly boost libido , according to Inverse.
But if you’re not a horror fan, any sort of adrenaline-pumping activity can have the same effect, from hearing the sound of a sports car rev its engine to exciting date ideas like zip-lining, surfing, or going on thrill rides at your local amusement park will all work, because those feelings of fear and excitement mimic sexual arousal in the brain, according to The Telegraph .
Plus, watching a frightening flick or sitting next to your partner on a rollercoaster will no doubt invite you to cuddle up close, getting your heart racing in more ways than one.
“Exercise stimulates testosterone production, which is key to a strong libido ,” Holly Richmond, PhD, a somatic psychologist and AASECT certified sex therapist, told YourTango.
And it seems getting your fitness on with your partner will encourage you to do other things with your partner, too. Richmond told YourTango that “exercising with your partner is a great way to do something together that makes you feel strong, confident and, as a byproduct, sexy.”
As for what exercises are best, Richmond said, “Yoga has been shown to help combat fatigue and stress while decreasing symptoms of depression and anxiety, all of which can contribute to a low libido.” Plus, yoga is great for balance, strength, and flexibility — all things that can make you more confident in the bedroom.
But if you’re not a yogi, no sweat. Recent research claims that spin and cycle classes boost sex drive in women in particular, but just about any type of exercise helps produce those feel-good chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine, which will naturally cause you to desire more sex.
Equally strange, a 2007 study published by The Journal of Neuroscience showed that people who identify as women are aroused by the scent of a person who identifies as male’s sweat due to the spike in cortisol, the stress hormone when they catch a whiff. Sure, it might sound gross, but it’s all the more reason to grab those sneakers … and perhaps join each other for a post-workout shower.
Drink plenty of water and you’ll want to do it no time.
To know whether or not you’re consuming enough water, it’s important to take notice of the color of your pee.
“Your urine tells you a lot. If you are going to the restroom and your urine is very dark, or an apple juice color, that’s a sign that you need more water,” dietitian Andy Bellatti, MS, RD , previously told INSIDER .
If you need more water, that could be the culprit for your low sex drive.
Limiting alcohol intake can boost your sex drive.
Unfortunately, staying well-hydrated doesn’t include your cocktail of choice. In fact, though a 2009 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine showed that moderate amounts of red wine were linked to better sexual health, it seems you’ll want to cap it at a glass or two — tops.
Getting too tipsy can make sexual performance suffer, and drinking too much on the regular can cause your libido to decline.
A study in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry found that 72% of people who identify as men with alcohol dependence experienced sexual dysfunction and the amount of alcohol consumed appeared to be the most significant predictor of developing sexual dysfunction.
Further, according to Everyday Health , because alcohol is a depressant, using it heavily can actually decrease sexual desire.
Your daily cup of coffee or tea has aphrodisiac effects.
Though too much bubbly can cause your sex drive to dip, it seems that your favorite caffeinated beverages might have the opposite effect.
A 2015 study from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston found that males who drank two or three cups of coffee per day had reduced levels of erectile dysfunction because the slight caffeine boost helps maintain an erection.
If you prefer a cup of tea, opt for the green kind: According to Reader’s Digest, not only is it loaded in chemicals that increase energy and endurance, its calming properties will no doubt help you relax, which can get you in the mood to get busy. We’ll drink to that.
Researchers at Harvard University interviewed 501 couples trying to conceive and asked them to track their seafood consumption, dietary habits, and sexual activity. They followed the couples for a year, or until they got pregnant.
Fish might be the best dinner option when you’re looking to increase your libido.
What you wear can affect your sex drive.
You might not think that what you wear has anything to do with your sex drive, but the truth is that when you wear clothes that make you feel confident you’ll feel more inclined to have sex since confidence is half the battle for a lot of people.
After all, few of us feel super sexy in our ratty sweats, so picking out clothes that make you feel good in your body can only help matters.
If you really want to take things up a notch, wear red — the vibrant hue was found to make men and women appear more attractive to their partners, according to a 2008 study done by researchers at the University of Rochester.
“Red is a signal of status and power, and that turns women on,” said psychology professor Andrew J. Elliot, Ph.D., lead author of the study, who explained the phenomenon to Health magazine.
Who knew that wearing red unlocked the secret to a boost in sex appeal?
Try supplements and spices including maca, yohimbine, ginseng, and zinc to increase your sex drive.
From your spice rack (like saffron and nutmeg) to powders for your smoothie (including maca root and collagen) and supplements found in your drugstore (like yohimbine, zinc, and ginseng), there is no shortage of herbal options that might help in more ways than one.
Check with your doctor before adding anything into your regimen, even if it’s labeled as a natural supplement, to ensure its efficacy and safety.
Getting a raise at work can affect you in the bedroom.
Turns out that making more money can make you want to get it on more often, which makes perfect sense. After all, getting a raise would put anyone in a good mood, and a 2015 study conducted by the International Journal of Manpower claimed that the higher your wage, the more sexual activity you’re interested in.
Nothing kills libido faster than being stressed out, and financial worries are one of the most serious kinds of stress, so it makes sense why feeling more financially secure might lead to more action in the bedroom. Time to check in with your boss, perhaps?
The good news is, taking just a little bit of time each night to unwind — in a totally non-sexual way — can bring major benefits to your, ahem , bedroom routine. By taking a relaxing nightly bath or reading a book, you’re giving yourself some serious self-care, away from the pull of devices and the glare of a screen.
When you do something that relaxes you before bed, you’ll surely feel better once you do hit the sheets, which can only lead to an increased desire for sex. It’s a win all the way around.
Watching something erotic on television can set the mood.
We know we just told you that devices were a major mood killer, but there is one exception. A 2014 study showed that British couples who have a TV in their bedroom have twice as much sex than those who don’t, because the opportunity to watch something erotic together became easier, setting the mood for romance.
However, this can easily backfire, as the relationship counselor and author of the site Double Trust Dating Jonathan Bennett previously told INSIDER. He explained, “If you’re watching a romantic comedy or a show that inspires romance and passion, it could actually help.”
“But, if you’re simply watching a regular movie or show and paying close attention to the fictional characters, it can get in the way of intimately connecting with the person right beside you in bed.”
As with everything else, your mileage may vary, even when it comes to your nighttime TV preferences, so find the routine that works for you and your partner.
Get a good night’s sleep — on clean sheets.
Another major part of having a high libido is all about how much sleep you get, and it turns out that poor sleep affects your sex drive in more ways than one, according to Men’s Journal.
Sleep apnea in men is directly related to an increase in erectile dysfunction and studies show that women’s sex drives increase greatly after getting a consistently solid night’s sleep.
Regularly getting enough sleep is so critical for our overall health and well-being, and sex drive is a huge part of that, so you’ll want to be sure your boudoir — including the bed itself — are as inviting as possible.
HuffPost reported that both men and women said clean sheets were a major turn on in a 2013 study because few things feel as good as getting into a freshly made bed.
As relationship expert April Masini previously told INSIDER, “Imagine you and your partner walking into a beautiful, fresh and inviting bedroom — as opposed to one in which there is laundry on the floor, clutter on the surfaces and an unmade bed with old, unattractive sheets,” she added. “And which would make you feel more like cuddling and kissing in bed? Right.”
Grab that detergent on the regular and your libido will thank you.
A decade-long debate seemed settled in June when the World Health Organization officially added “compulsive sexual behavior disorder” to the newest edition of the International Classification of Diseases. Unfortunately, in the aftermath, many publications declared “sex addiction” was officially a mental health disorder. Technically, that’s wrong, but the blunder sheds light on the controversy surrounding the diagnosis. Even now, scientists are still trying to figure out the best way to think about people with very strong sexual urges.
It was a calculated choice by the WHO to replace the existing ICD-10 category of “excessive sexual drive” with “compulsive sexual behavior disorder” — not “sex addiction” or “hypersexuality.” It’s also very purposefully classified as an “impulse control disorder” instead of a disorder related to addiction. Impulse disorders, wrote members of the WHO ICD-11 Working Group in a 2014 paper, are defined by the repeated failure to resist a craving despite knowing the action can cause long-term harm.
The reason for this linguistic and categorical change is to make clear there’s no “right amount of sexuality” and to acknowledge that “it is important that the classification does not pathologize normal behavior.” Ultimately, the goal is to help identify repetitive behavior that can shut down a person’s life, though the language we use about it continues to be controversial. Despite the vagaries, Marc Potenza, Ph.D., M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, says the WHO’s move is a good thing.
“I believe that the inclusion of compulsive sexual behavior disorder within the ICD-11 is a positive step,” Potenza tells Inverse. “My experience as a clinician indicates that there are many people who experience difficulties controlling their sexual urges and then engage in sex compulsively and problematically. Having a defined set of diagnostic criteria should help significantly with respect to advancing prevention, treatment, research, education, and other efforts.”
Why Some Think It’s an “Addiction”
Potenza co-authored a 2016 paper questioning whether compulsive sexual behavior should be considered an addiction, concluding that significant gaps in the understanding of the disorder mean that it can’t technically be called an addiction yet. Today, however, the disorder continues to be described as “sex addiction” by universities, medical centers, and researchers. It’s unclear whether the word addiction here is colloquial or clinical.
The central elements of addictions, he explains, include continued engagement in a behavior despite adverse consequences, appetitive urges or cravings that often immediately precede engagement, compulsive or habitual engagement, and difficulties controlling the extent of engagement in the behavior.
“From this perspective,” Potenza says, “compulsive sexual behavior disorder demonstrates the core features of addictions.”
Why Some Think It’s Not an Addiction
But Nicole Prause, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and sexual psychophysiologist who founded the sexual biotechnology company Liberos LLC, argues that sex is not addictive and that “compulsive sexual behavior” shouldn’t have been included in the ICD-11. In 2017, Prause and her colleagues published a paper in The Lancet in response to Potenza’s study, arguing that while “sex has components of liking and wanting that share neural systems with many other motivated behaviors,” experimental studies don’t actually demonstrate that excessive sexual behavior can be classified as addiction.
“Scientists generally were glad to see ‘sex addiction’ was kept out of the ICD-11,” Prause tells Inverse. “Therapists created ‘sex addiction’ training 40 years ago and were pushing to get it in with no good evidence.”
Prause generally doesn’t believe “compulsive sexual behavior” needs a name at all. Creating a means for diagnosis, she says, can increase “shame on sexual behaviors,” and people conditioned to think that sex is bad are more likely to think they have a problem. She argues that the population most likely to be classified as sexually compulsive are gay men, noting that there are even “examples of ‘sex addiction’ therapists offering to help gay men stop being gay,” which is “reparative, anti-gay therapy all over again.”
“The diagnosis has never been tested,” Prause says. “We have no idea if these patients even exist. The committee invented a new diagnosis and added it without ever seeing if anyone would meet the criteria.”
She argues that the grounds for such a diagnosis haven’t been backed up by research on actual sex in a lab. So far, estimates of how many people who identify as having a compulsive sexual behavior disorder vary and are predominantly based on self-reports. Epidemiological estimates have the number at three to six percent of adults, writes the WHO ICD-11 Working Group in a paper released this year, but more recent studies have suggested that range is closer to one to three percent of adults. Researchers at the University of Cambridge, meanwhile, reported in 2014 that compulsive sexual behavior can affect as many as one in 25 adults.
Now that it’s in the ICD-11, researchers are waiting to see how that will affect the official rates of identification.
“Growing evidence suggests that compulsive sexual behavior disorder is an important clinical problem with potentially serious consequences if left untreated,” writes the ICD-11 Working Group. “We believe that including the disorder in the ICD-11 will improve the consistency with which health professionals approach the diagnosis, and treatment of persons with this condition, including consistency regarding when a disorder should be diagnosed.”
Potenza says that it can be hard for a specialist to diagnose a person with compulsive sexual behavior disorder because, like alcoholism or a gambling addiction, it probably doesn’t have visible signs. But Potenza says the disorder can seep into and negatively impact other parts of a person’s life.
[A] new study has shown that men are the first to lose interest in sex when it comes to long-term relationships.
According to the research, there are ‘clear assumptions in our culture that women have lower sexual desire than men’ – it’s long been thought that men have insatiable sexual appetites for the duration of their lives, while it’s been said that women peak sexually at 33 and then coast along a life of flagging libidos while being nagged for sex.
However, the study – published in the Journal of Sex Research – found that actually, male sexual desire can be just as complicated as women’s.
Researchers at the University of Kentucky analysed 64 studies on sexual desire conducted since the 1950s, discovering that men do lose interest in sex and that there are three main reasons – individual, interpersonal and societal.
‘We expect male desire to always be high and to be simple, like an on and off switch, while we expect women’s desire to be a complicated switchboard, but they are both complex,’ says Kristen P. Mark, associate professor of health promotion and director of the Sexual Health Promotion Lab at the University of Kentucky, and the lead researcher on the study.
The aforementioned assumptions are part of the problem – while women expect ebbs and flows in our libido, men may feel frustrated and confused when the same happens to them.
There’s a constant pressure from the assumption that they be the ones initiating sex in a heterosexual relationship.
Individual issues affecting sexual desire may include physical ones, including erectile dysfunction, poor mental health, and side effects of medication for illnesses such as depression and high blood pressure.
Previous studies have backed up past assumptions about the gender sex imbalance in older people.
This US study found that women aged 65-80 were more likely to be extremely or very satisfied with their sex lives, while men were more likely to be extremely or very interested in sex.
Half of men aged 65 to 80 said they were extremely or very interested in sex, versus just 12% of women in the same age range.
The takeaway from all of this is that it doesn’t really matter how much sex you’re having, or how interested you are in it, if it works between you and your partner, and you’re open and honest with each other.
If you’re worried about your libido or lack thereof, speak to your GP to alleviate any concerns.
What you think is worrying may well be perfectly normal, but if it’s stressing you out, it pays to seek help.