“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.
Four women say he repeatedly slapped them and one said he insisted she call him “master” in non-consensual situations.
One former girlfriend, Michelle Manning Barish, said: “This was under no circumstances a sex game gone wrong… I did not consent to physical assault.” New York prosecutors are investigating the allegations.
This is not the first time a man accused of assault has claimed he was consensually engaging in rough sex (in Mr Schneiderman’s case, he was in a sexual relationship with three of his four accusers; a fourth woman said he hit her after she rebuffed him).
In recent days, Mr Schneiderman’s case has come under close scrutiny in the BDSM community, an overlapping acronym for bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism.
The BBC spoke with sex experts and prominent members of the community who said full and free consent was a vital element of the practice, in which partners consent to inflicting or enduring pain or physical abuse.
They said they were keen to explain what does, in fact, make a consensual BDSM relationship.
“Stuff like this, doesn’t give [BDSM] a good name,” said Allen TG, one of the directors of Torture Garden, the world’s largest fetish club. “Generally in a BDSM relationship, there are fairly strong guidelines – it’s all about consent.”
Many people who practise BDSM, which is an aspect of kinky sex, may not consider themselves to be in a BDSM relationship or an active member of the community because the exploration of boundaries in sexual imagination are deeply personal and subject to individual tastes.
Certified sex coach Sarah Martin explained: “A lot of people start with something as simple as a blindfold, and it can be erotic and connecting, it doesn’t have to involve equipment or paraphernalia.
“Consent should be freely given, and it should be reversible at any point,” said Ms Martin, who is also executive director of the World Association of Sex Coaches. “Many people think that if you consent, that you agree until it’s done, but that’s not at all how it’s done.”
Kink – a broad term that usually encompasses sexual acts considered outside the norm
BDSM – this acronym is described as a pre-agreed power exchange, sometimes not explicitly sexual
Dominant and submissive – the names for the roles individuals enact during BDSM practice
Play and scene – BDSM participants describe themselves as playing in a scene
Munch – a casual social meet-up for people involved in or interested in BDSM
Vanilla – refers to someone, or sex, that is not kinky
Safe words – words or a gesture pre-agreed with your partner to alert them to your physical and mental limits
Aftercare – argued to be just as important as the scene, this is personal to the individual but may involve blankets, cuddles, conversation and a cup of tea to ease both participants physically and emotionally back to normality
To exercise informed consent, the sub – the abbreviated form for submissive – needs to know what activities will take place and how.
“Different bodies respond to touch in different ways,” explained the sex coach. “You may agree to spanking, but then if your partner uses a paddle, then that’s not informed consent.”
“It is entirely unacceptable to ‘surprise’ someone with slaps, whips, blindfolds, or anything like that if you haven’t spoken to them about it before,” said anonymous sex blogger Girl on the Net.
Mr Allen added that there’s a misconception that the dominant partner – or dom as they are sometimes called – is the one with control.
“A good dom is giving pleasure to the submissive, and that’s what gives the dom pleasure. If it’s only going one way, then that’s when it’s not healthy,” the fetish club organiser said.
Clinical sexologist Dr Celina Criss agreed. “It can be said that the power in a scene lies with the submissive because nothing can happen without their agreement.”
Playing it safe
Communication and understanding are cornerstones to any healthy relationship, the experts say. Because there is intimacy in divulging personal fantasies, a level of trust is also developed when establishing a BDSM relationship.
“People who participate in the BDSM community pride themselves on their communication and negotiation skills,” said Dr Criss. “Ideally, negotiation happens before partners ever touch each other.”
Girl on the Net recommended listening carefully, reading the other person’s body language and tone, asking questions to check in and making sure they’re comfortable at every step of play.
The anonymous author also explained that in BDSM there are “pre-agreed safe words or gestures that mean – stop this immediately”.
A simple and common example of this is the traffic light system, using colour cards or the words themselves. Green means “that’s great, keep going”, explained Ms Martin. “Yellow is a check in, but not necessarily a stop, and red is no – it means stop, it means it’s done.”
So why isn’t “no”, as a word, enough?
“For some people, saying no but not being listened to may be part of the sexual fantasy,” explained the sex coach. “But you’ve negotiated this ahead of time so the dominant knows that’s part of your cathartic pleasure.”
Crossing the line
Overstepping a sexual boundary can and does happen, but sexologist Dr Criss said an adherence to communication, negotiation and repeated mutual consent keeps rough sex from becoming wilful abuse.
“People who are not involved in BDSM are likely to have many misconceptions based on what they’ve seen in movies,” she said, referring specifically to the popular erotic romance novel and film series Fifty Shades of Grey.
Ms Martin warned that such mainstream depictions of BDSM relationships are fantasy, and almost never show the level of negotiation and ongoing conversations that shape a successful BDSM experience. She says: “The quickest way for [abuse] to happen is if there isn’t communication.”
Girl on the Net likened it to a contact sport. “BDSM is to abuse what boxing is to being punched by surprise. The former is done with consent and an understanding of risks. The latter isn’t, and is assault.
“I also know that ‘BDSM made me do it’ has been an excuse used by powerful men in the past to try and dodge accountability for their actions. It’s not acceptable… BDSM is not an excuse for abuse.”
“It can be sexy, but also deeply caring,” explained sex coach Ms Martin. Kinky sex should never be used as a way to defend violent behaviour, she said.
“It makes me feel it makes an attempt to take advantage of general societal ignorance of BDSM,” she said.
[D]ecades ago, wandering a ramshackle German flea market, an old book caught my eye. Emblazoned in gold on its brick red cover was the beckoning title Sexualkatastrophen. In its inevitably German way, the title (in English, obviously, Sexual Catastrophes) said it all and that alone was worth the few dollars price. Little did I know I had purchased a 1926 first edition of a collection of sexual studies including several written by the father of modern LGBTQ liberation, Magnus Hirschfeld.
Like his other works on the subject, his contributions to Sexualkatastrophen present scientific biographies of individual trans (he invented the term “transvestite” in 1910 that would evolve into today’s transgender and its variants), gay and lesbian subjects. Reading it at the time, I was struck by Hirschfeld’s candid and natural embrace of sexuality that helped confirm my own sense of being of another identity that was as valid as any other. And, as it still does today, the book made clear how we are so predisposed to ignorance and denial that our whole social structure continues to suffer as a result.
May 14 marks the 150th anniversary of Hirschfeld’s birth in 1868. The significance of the occasion is recognized in his native Germany where 2018-2019 has been declared “Hirschfeld Anniversary Year.” In July, the German Federal Post Office will issue a postage stamp in his honor. Throughout the jubilee, arts events, seminars, exhibits, conferences and concerts will celebrate the “Einstein of Sex” or, as he was affectionately known within his gay Weimar circle, Tante Magnesia (“Aunt Magnesia”).
Hirschfeld’s work in the field of sex was groundbreaking and visionary. Basing his theory of sexuality and gender on the “born this way” principle, he argued the case for fluidity and that all sexual expressions and their characteristics were part of a spectrum from masculine to feminine. He believed that homosexuality was, in fact, a third sex and practiced universally. As early as the 1890s he advocated the legalization of abortion and the decriminalization of homosexuality. In 1919, he helped produce a film, Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others). It depicts the plight of a gay man subjected to blackmail (it still exists today only as a restored reconstruction). His work, he hoped, would help fight prejudice and provide justice through knowledge for those “hostages of morality,” the victims of an invented system that condemned their natural deviations from the norm as deviance.
But given the politics of the times, whether in conservative Imperial Germany or, later, under the Nazi
regime, particularly as a Jewish gay liberal, Hirschfeld was considered revolutionary in its most subversive sense. A year after his film’s release, it was banned. The Nazis burned his books and his Institute for Sexual Science was ransacked and razed. Hirshfeld managed to escape to Switzerland and, later France, where he died in 1935.
In Germany today, his legacy was the complete repeal in 1994 of the infamous Paragraph 175, the anti-gay law in the German penal code and the founding of the Magnus Hirschfeld Federal Foundation.
Hirschfeld Anniversary Year should be recognized here as well. It seems, after all, we are still, a century later, fighting for the same cause.
[I]n the English language, queer dates back to the 16th century, and was possibly derived from the German word ‘quer’, which translates as ‘oblique’ or ‘perverse’.
Originally defined as “odd”, “strange” or “peculiar”, the term “queer” took on a more sordid meaning from the mid-20th century when it was used to pejoratively refer to those with same-sex desires, especially gay men.
But, with the rise of LGBTQ+ activism in the 1970s and 1980s, some gay rights campaigners positively reclaimed the word “queer” as an umbrella term for gender and sexual minorities.
Today, queer is widely used by millennials as an inclusive term to refer to anyone who is not straight and/or not cisgender.
But, for some people, particularly older generations, “queer” still carries negative connotations.
Just last month, Twitter banned some users who had described themselves as “queer,” facing a backlash from those who had reclaimed the term.
According to Brian Lewis, whose book British Queer History was published in 2013, the word “queer” today has three primary uses.
He explains: “’Queer’ is used in three main ways: as an act of reclamation from homophobes; as an umbrella term for the micro divisions of the LGBT+ community; and as a marker of sexual fluidity in opposition to heterosexual and homosexual binaries and identities.”
For Lewis, the term “queer” is “one of the most useful—and controversial—categories of analysis in the study of sexuality.”
Similarly Alan Butler, a research fellow in history at the University of Plymouth, who is also secretary in the LGBTQ+ arm of the Oral History Society, recognises this contradiction.
“’Queer’ has had multiple meanings through time,” he says. “Currently it’s framed by many as an umbrella term for people who exist outside of heteronormative and cis gender norms. For many people though it’s been derogatory and still is.”
Meanwhile, Justin Bengry, who lectures in and convenes the Queer History MA at Goldsmiths, University of London, the first course of its kind in the UK, says: “In academia we often use ‘queer’ as an umbrella term.
“As an inclusive term to include the widest range of gender and sexual diversity in the past and the present.”
He continues: “Some activists too have positively reclaimed ‘queer’ as an inclusive term that welcomes people beyond the LGBT spectrum or whose identities fall outside those categories.
“Some people don’t want to be identified by LGBT categories – they reject being cateogrised and being labelled.“
Queer and same-sex desire
Early recorded examples of queer meaning same-sex desire include a letter written in 1894 by John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry.
Bengry talks about a letter he has read dating from the 1930s where the writer talks about being “queer” in reference to his desire for another man.
He explains: “Even though he’s writing in terms that are similar to our understandings of ‘gay’ today, there are still important differences in the past. But he’s certainly writing about same-sex desires.”
The mid-20th century and negative meaning
From the mid-20th century onwards, however, the term “queer” started to take on a negative meaning and was used to pejoratively refer to LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly gay or bisexual men.
Bengry says that by the mid-20th century “queer” was being used in a way that was “derogatory and venomous and negative.”
Butler explains: “In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, the term was very prevalent and used to describe and often put down LGBT people.
“It tended to be associated most closely with gay men and was used as an insult. The continued through the 80s and 90s and even today some people use it as an insult or as a term of hatred.“
Reclaiming the word “queer”
As Lewis writes in his book, British Queer History, from the 1980s the word “queer” began to be reclaimed by “radical grassroots activists in organisations like Queer Nation and ACT UP (in the US) and Outrage! (in Britain).”
These individuals, Lewis writes, “began to deploy it as a calculated and edgy act of reclamation.”
By reclaiming the word “queer”, says Bengry, LGBTQ+ rights activists redefined themselves – and hit back against those who had used the term to insult them.
He says: “From the 80s and 90s, with the development of a more radical activism and queer theory, ‘queer’ really came to be redeployed in opposition to the venom of its use in the past.
“Queer people now said: ‘No, this is our word, and we’re taking it back … we’re reclaiming it for our own purposes and activism.’”
Using queer with caution today
But Bengry says the “strongest association” that “many people alive today” still have is of queer being used “threateningly, dangerously, as a weapon, aggressively.”
Consequently, he says, we must act with awarenesswhen using the term “queer.”
He continues: “Many people were physically assaulted and emotionally harmed, and that was the word that accompanied those assaults.”
“That threat and violence is still incredibly resonant for them. It’s something that we all have to bear in mind when we use [queer] today – we can be re-traumatising people by using this word.”
As Bengry points out, the term “is useful and complex”. He adds: “Some people today actively claim it as an identity. It also recognises a much greater diversity of experience and identity than any other term.”
For Butler, “queer” is particularly a taboo word in Plymouth, where he teaches, because of a homophobic murder in 1995. After the crime, someone sprawled the homophobic graffiti “no queer’s here” at the scene of the murder.
Still, Butler is happy that, at least outside Plymouth, the word “queer” has been positively reclaimed.
“If something perceived as an insult is owned and celebrated by you then it loses its power in terms of hatred,” he says.
[M]any parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teens feel uneasy and uninformed when it comes to talking to them about sex and dating, a new study shows.
The study included 44 parents of LGBT teens between the ages of 13 and 17. The parents cited many challenges in trying to educate their teens about sex, including general discomfort in talking about it, and feeling unable to offer accurate advice about safe LGBT sex.
“Parents play an important role in helping their children learn how to have healthy sexual relationships, but they really struggle when discussing this with their LGBTQ teens,” study author Michael Newcomb said. He is associate director for scientific development at Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing.
The study was published recently in the journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy.
“We need resources to help all parents — regardless of their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity — overcome the awkwardness and discomfort that can result from conversations about sexual health,” Newcomb said in a university news release.
He noted that a healthy and supportive relationship with parents is a key predictor of positive health outcomes in teens of all sexual orientations.
“Many parents and their LGBTQ teens want to have supportive relationships with one another, so if we can design programs to strengthen these relationships, it could have a tremendous impact on LGBTQ teens’ health and wellbeing,” he said.
In a separate study, institute researchers examined how gay and bisexual boys between 14 and 17 felt about talking to their parents about sex.
“We found that many of the gay and bisexual male youth in our study wanted to be closer to their parents and to be able to talk about sex and dating,” study lead author Brian Feinstein said in the news release.
“However, most of them said that they rarely, if ever, talked to their parents about sex and dating, especially after coming out. And, even if they did talk about sex and dating with their parents, the conversations were brief and focused exclusively on HIV and condom use,” Feinstein said. He is a research assistant professor.
That study was published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.
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.
[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.
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.
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.”
[F]or years, Spencer Williams felt he was missing something in his love life.
The 26-year-old Vancouver university student and freelance writer has cerebral palsy. He says he meets lots of potential sex partners but had trouble finding what he was looking for.
“I always refer to my wheelchair as it comes to dating … as a gigantic cock block,” he says. “It doesn’t always get me to the places I want, especially when it comes to being intimate.”
“I thought, if something didn’t happen now, I was going to die a virgin.”
So he Googled “sexual services for people with disabilities.”
That’s how Williams found Joslyn Nerdahl, a clinical sexologist and intimacy coach.
“I answer a lot of anatomy questions. I answer a lot of questions about intercourse, about different ways that we might be able to help a client access their body,” says Nerdahl, who moved from traditional sex work to working as an intimacy coach with Vancouver-based Sensual Solutions.
“I believe [sex] can be very healing for people and so this was a really easy transition for me, to make helping people with physical disabilities feel more whole.”
Sensual Solutions is geared toward people with disabilities who want or need assistance when it comes to sex or sexuality. It can involve relationship coaching, sex education or more intimate services. They call the service “medically assisted sex.” It costs $225 for a one-hour session.
Nerdahl notes that some people with disabilities are touched often by care aids or loved ones who are assisting with everyday activities such as getting dressed or eating. But her clients tell her that despite that frequent physical contact, the lack of “erotic touch” or “intimate touch” can leave them feeling isolated, depressed or even “less human.”
‘Help a client access their body’
Nerdahl says each session with a client is different, depending on the person’s level of comfort and experience, as well as his or her particular desires and physical capabilities.
Williams says his sessions might start with breathing exercises or physio and move on to touching, kissing and other activities.
An intimacy coach may help a client put on a condom or get into a certain position.
A session might also involve “body mapping,” Nerdahl says, describing it as “a process of going through different areas of the body, in different forms of touching, to figure out what you like and what you don’t like.”
Sex and sexual pleasure remains a taboo topic when it comes to people with disabilities.
For Williams, accessing this service is about more than sexual pleasure. But it’s about that, too.
“[T]he sex is obviously why I’m seeking this out, but I’m also seeking services like this out because I feel the need to be close. I feel the need to connect. I feel the need to be touched, to be kissed.”
“Sometimes people … offer to sleep with me as a pity, and I often don’t appreciate that. I want things to be organic and natural,” says Williams.
He much prefers his sessions with Nerdahl, in which he is able to explore physical and emotional intimacy in a non-judgmental and supportive setting, even though it’s something he pays money for.
“I think it freaks people out when we talk about sex and disability because most of the time they haven’t thought about that person in a wheelchair getting laid,” Nerdahl says. “They just assume they don’t have a sex life because they’re in a chair, and that’s just not the case.”
Legal grey area
The stigma is further complicated because Canada’s prostitution laws have no provisions for services that blur the line between rehabilitation and sex work.
Currently, it’s legal to sell sex and sex-related services, but illegal to purchase them. (Sex workers can be charged for advertising services or soliciting services but only if in the vicinity of school grounds or daycare centres.)
Kyle Kirkup, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, calls the current laws a “one-size-fits-all approach” that criminalizes the sex trade regardless of context or intent.
The current law doesn’t include provisions for people with disabilities, or which deal specifically with services like Sensual Solutions whose intimacy coaches may come from clinical or rehabilitation backgrounds.
“A person with a disability who purchases sexual services would be treated exactly the same as any other person who purchased sex,” he says.
“So it’s a very kind of blunt instrument that doesn’t actually do a very good job of contextualizing the reasons why people might pay for sex.”
There are other countries, however, such as the Netherlands that view medically assisted sex in another way entirely; sex assistants’ services may be covered by benefits, just like physiotherapy or massage.