Tag Archives: Intimacy

What asexuality can teach us about sexual relationships and boundaries

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There is an expectation that everyone feels sexual attraction and sexual desire and that these feelings begin in adolescence. Assumptions about sex are everywhere – most of time we don’t even notice them. Music videos, films, reality shows, advertising, video games, newspapers and magazines all use sexual content which supports the idea that sexuality, attraction and desire are normal. There is, however, a group of people that are challenging this sexual assumption, who identify as asexual.

Asexuality was once thought of as a problem which left people unable to feel sexual attraction to others. Upon the discovery that some people had little or no interest in sexual behaviour, researchers in the 1940s called this group “asexuals”, and labelled them as “Group X”. There was no more discussion of “Group X”, and asexuals and asexuality were lost to history, while studies of sexuality grew and flourished.

Even today, asexuality still seems to be something of a mystery for many people – despite more people talking about it, and more people identifying as asexual. Asexuality is difficult for a lot of people to understand. And research shows that as a sexual identity, people have more negativity towards asexuals than any other sexual minority.

What is asexuality?

What exactly asexuality is, is very much still being decided – with a lot of debate going on as to whether it is a sexual orientation or a sexual identity. There have also been discussions about whether it is a medical condition or if it should be seen as a problem to be treated.

But it seems that for many, being asexual is less about a traditional understanding of sexual attraction and behaviour, and more about being able to discuss likes and dislikes, as well as expectations and preferences in the early stages of a relationship. In this way, it is a refreshing way of being honest and clear with potential partners – and avoiding any assumptions being made about sex. Maybe because of this approach, a growing number of self-identified asexuals see asexuality as less of a problem, and more of a way of life.

Discussions about sex and sexuality during the early stage of a relationship can make partners and potential partners more respectful towards a person’s choices and decisions. They also can reduce the potential of others making requests that may make someone uncomfortable, or which carry subtle elements of coercion.

Redefining boundaries

In this way, then, with its need for honesty and clarity, asexuality is an insightful way of looking at sexuality, and the ways in which non-asexuals – also known as allosexuals in the asexual community – interact with others on a close and intimate level.

According to one asexual, her friends’ reactions to her “coming out” were underwhelming – mainly because it is an orientation defined by “what is not happening”. But for self-identified asexuals, there is actually a lot happening. They are exploring and articulating what feels right in the context of intimacy. They are considering different aspects of relationships and partnerships. They are talking to others about their experiences. And they are looking for people they can share a similar experience with.

Asexuals are thinking carefully and critically about what it means to be close to someone, and in doing so, many of them have an understanding of non-sexual practices of intimacy. By doing all of this, they are developing a very unique skill set in a culture which is often considered to be over sexualised.

At a time when there is a growing recognition that many teenagers struggle to understand what a healthy romantic relationship actually looks like, asexuality gives us a new way of understanding relationships – both sexual and asexual, romantic and unromantic. And this could have a huge potential to help others understand closeness in relationships where there is an absence of sexual intimacy.

Complete Article HERE!

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Performance Anxiety Doesn’t Mean the End of Your Sex Life… Here’s Why

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Sometimes sex can be stressful, but these steps may help you get your groove back.

by Stephanie Booth

After her first sexual partner belittled her in the bedroom, Steph Auteri began second-guessing herself when it came to sex.

“I felt self-conscious and nervous about being a disappointment to the other person,” the 37-year-old says. “I found myself never feeling sexual, never wanting to be intimate, and never initiating anything.”

Even with different partners, Auteri “went through the motions” of sex, always hoping the act would be over quickly.

“I felt broken,” she admits. “And more than anything else, I felt guilty for being weird about sex. I felt that I wasn’t someone who was worth committing to. Then, I would feel resentful for the fact that I had to feel guilty and would want sex even less. It was a vicious circle.”

“Sex anxiety,” like Auteri experienced, isn’t an official medical diagnosis. It’s a colloquial term used to describe fear or apprehension related to sex. But it is real — and it affects more people than is commonly known.

“In my experience, [the incidence] is relatively high,” says Michael J. Salas, LPC-S, AASECT, a certified sex therapist and relationship expert in Dallas, Texas. “Many sexual dysfunctions are relatively common, and almost all of the sexual dysfunction cases that I’ve worked with have an element of anxiety associated with them.”

How sex anxiety manifests can occur in a wide variety of ways for different people. Women may have a significant drop in libido or interest, have trouble getting aroused or having an orgasm, or experience physical pain during sex. Men can struggle with their performance or their ability to ejaculate.

Some people get so nervous at the idea of having sex that they avoid having it altogether.

However, Ravi Shah, MD, a psychiatrist at ColumbiaDoctors and assistant professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, suggests one of the keys to overcoming sex anxiety is viewing it as a “symptom” instead of a condition.

“You’re getting anxious around sex, but what’s the real diagnosis?” Shah asks.

The link between anxiety and sex

If it seems like just about everyone you know is anxious about something these days — well, that’s because they are. Anxiety disorders are currently the most common mental health issue in the United States, affecting about 40 million adults.

When a person senses a threat (real or imagined), their body instinctively switches into “fight or flight” mode. Should I stay and fight the snake in front of me, or book it to safety?

The chemicals that get released into the body during this process don’t contribute to sexual desire. Rather, they put a damper on it, so a person’s attention can be focused on the immediate threat.

“In general, people who experience anxiety disorders in the rest of their lives are more likely to experience sexual dysfunction, too,” says Nicole Prause, PhD, a sexual psychophysiologist and licensed psychologist in Los Angeles.

Additionally, trauma — such as sexual abuse or sexual assault — can trigger apprehension about sex. So can chronic pain, a change in hormones (like right after giving birth or when going through menopause), and even a lack of quality sex education.

“Abstinence-only education tends to create a stigma and shame around sex that can continue into adolescence and adulthood,” says Salas. “Sex education that focuses only on pregnancy ignores the importance of sexual stimulation and pleasure. This can leave people looking to porn for their sex education… [which] can increase myths of sexual performance and increase anxiety.”

“Some people may have anxiety around sex because they have unrealistic expectations about what healthy sex is,” agrees Shah. “Across both men and women, that has to do with low self-esteem, what sex is like in porn and movies versus in real life, and how much sex they feel they ‘should’ be having.”

“People wrongly believe everyone else is having sex all the time and it’s great and no one else has problems except them,” he adds.

How to alleviate sex anxiety

There are plenty of benefits to maintaining a healthy sex life. Sex improves your bond with your partner, gives your self-esteem a boost, and can lower your blood pressure and strengthen your immune system.

The “feel good” hormones released during sex can even help combat feelings of stress and anxiety.

So how do you get past your current anxiety about sex to reap those benefits?

Talk to your doctor

First, rule out any physical problems.

“Many physiological problems can increase sexual dysfunction, which can then increase sex anxiety,” Salas says. These include chronic health issues like arthritis, cancer, and diabetes. Certain medications, such as antidepressants, can also do a number on your libido.

Explore intimacy in different ways

“Sensate focus” exercises, which involve touching your partner and being touched for your own pleasure, are meant to help you reconnect with both your sensual and sexual feelings.

“Initially, no genital touching is allowed,” explains Prause. “More touching is gradually added back in as exercises progress, which are often done with a therapist between home sessions. These are done to help identify sources and times of anxiety and work through what those might mean.”

Since anxiety “most often is about something failing around the moments of penetration,” says Prause, you could also choose to avoid that specific act until your confidence builds back. That way, you can learn how to enjoy other pleasurable sexual activities that still provide intimacy, but without the pressure.

Just make sure you talk with your partner if you decide this direction is best for you. As Prause cautions, “There’s no skirting good communication on this one.”

Be mindful

During sex, you may find yourself trying to read your partner’s mind or worrying that you’re not living up to their fantasies. “Mindfulness can help keep you in the present, while managing negative emotions as they arise,” says Salas.

To do that, he urges his clients to view the signals they get from their body as information, rather than judgments. “Listen to your body, rather than try to override it,” he says.

For instance, instead of worrying why you don’t yet have an erection — and panicking that you should — accept that you’re still enjoying what you’re currently doing, like kissing or being touched by your partner.

“Noticing without judgment and acceptance are key aspects of lowering sexual anxiety,” says Salas.

Make sex a regular conversation

“It’s a fantasy that your partner should know what you want,” says Shah. “They don’t know what you want for dinner without you telling them, and the same goes for sexual activity.”

Choose a private moment and suggest, “There’s something I want to talk to you about in regards to sex. Can we talk about that now?” This gentle heads-up will give your partner a moment to mentally prepare. Then approach the heart of the matter: “I love you and want us to have a good sex life. One thing that’s hard for me is [fill-in-the-blank].”

Don’t forget to invite your partner to chime in, too, by asking: “How do you think our sex life is?”

Talking openly about sex may feel awkward at first, but can be a great starting point for working through your anxiety, Shah says.

Don’t discount foreplay

“There are so many ways to get sexual pleasure,” says Shah. “Massages, baths, manual masturbation, just touching each other… Build up a repertoire of good, positive experiences.”

Explore issues of shame

Maybe you’re embarrassed about your appearance, the number of partners you’ve had, a sexually transmitted disease — or perhaps you were raised to believe that your sexuality is wrong.

“When it comes to sex, shame isn’t very far behind,” says Salas. “The problem with shame is that we don’t talk about it. Some of us won’t even own it.” Identify which aspect is causing you to feel ashamed, then consider opening up about it to your partner.

“When people survive sharing the information that they’re most ashamed about, the fears of sharing it lessen,” says Salas. “They realize that they can share this, and still be accepted and loved.”

Seek professional help

If your anxiety isn’t confined to the bedroom, or you’ve tried without success to improve your sex life, seek professional help. “You may need more robust treatment with a therapist or even medication,” says Shah.

Life after sexual anxiety

Steph Auteri didn’t find an instant cure for her sex anxiety. It stuck around for 15 years. Even when she met her current husband, their first sexual encounter was marked by Auteri’s tears and a confession that she had “weirdness” about sex.

An accidental career as a sex columnist helped her slowly start to realize that her anxiety wasn’t so unusual. “People would comment or email me thanking me for being so open and honest about a thing they were also experiencing,” says Auteri, who’s now written a memoir, “A Dirty Word,” about her experience. “They had always thought they were alone. But none of us are alone in this.”

When she and her husband decided to have a baby, Auteri was surprised to find that the more she had sex, the more she desired it. A regular yoga practice also helped her improve a sense of mindfulness, and she started asking her husband for more foreplay and nonsexual intimacy throughout the day.

“I also became more open to intimacy even when I wasn’t necessarily ‘in the mood.’ Although let’s be real,” Auteri adds, “sometimes I’m really not in the mood, and I still honor that.”

And honoring our own feelings is often the first (and biggest) step toward overcoming sex anxiety.

Complete Article HERE!

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What’s The Difference Between Polyamory & An Open Relationship?

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By Kasandra Brabaw

So much of what we understand about relationships and love comes not only from the people we know, but the television characters we feel like we know. So when consensual non-monogamy started to finally get some screen time in popular shows like Broad City, more and more people were suddenly having conversations about polyamory and open relationships.

Unfortunately, examples of polyamory on television aren’t always accurate. After Ilana’s “sex friend” Lincoln hooked up with someone else in season three, she literally celebrated by jumping onto the roof of his car and yelling, “That. Is. So. Hot!” That moment sparked essays about how Broad City got polyamory right. But did it?

Sure, Ilana and Lincoln had a successful open relationship — at least until Lincoln revealed that he wanted to be monogamous and was keeping that a secret from Ilana. But the show didn’t show a polyamorous relationship. Even though they both fall under the umbrella of consensual non-monogamy, polyamory and open relationships are two very different things.

For many people, being polyamorous is an important part of their identity, not just a word to describe having multiple sexual or romantic partners at the same time. “Being polyamorous feels hard-wired to their love-lives,” says sexuality educator Aida Manduley, MSW. Meanwhile, people in an open relationship don’t necessarily think of non-monogamy as part of their identity as much as a personal preference.

Everyone’s definitions of polyamory and open relationships is personal to them, of course, and the “open relationship” label is commonly used in two different ways, according to Terri Conley, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, who focuses on sexual behavior and socialization. In most cases, it’s used to encompass all forms of consensual non-monogamy — like polyamory, swinging, and the narrower definition of an open relationship. When being used to describe a particular relationship, “open” generally refers to the idea that there’s a primary partnership of two people who have given each other permission to have sex with people outside of their relationship.

The main difference, then, comes down to commitment. For people in an open relationship, connections made outside of the relationship are usually just about sex. They’re not looking for another person to love or build a second relationship with, and they likely wouldn’t introduce the people they have sex with to their primary partner. “Open relationships are more likely to have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ rule,” Dr. Conley says. That means not talking details about the sex they have outside of their primary partnership, other than to make sure everyone is in good sexual health.

Meanwhile, the word “polyamory” literally means “many loves” and that’s a good working definition. Instead of just looking for sex outside of their primary partnership, poly people are often looking for love. It’s not about having one night stands with your partner’s permission, it’s about creating deep emotional and romantic bonds with multiple people and forming a tight-knit community. It’s more of a culture in that way, says Kate Stewart, a counselor and dating coach who works with polyamorous couples. The poly community in Seattle, where she lives, is incredibly close. “Everyone knows each other, they hang out together, they party together,” she says. That closeness creates a different dynamic in their relationships than someone in an open relationship would have.

So, why are the nit-picky differences between these two words so important? Because words have power in creating and finding community. That’s also why it’s important to have accurate depictions of polyamory on television and in other forms of media, because so many of us begin to understand who we are through what we see. If there’s nowhere for polyamorous people to see a love that looks like theirs (or at least, the kind of love they want to have), then it’s unlikely that they’ll ever find the community they need.

Complete Article HERE!

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If You Get Super Anxious About Sleeping With Someone New, Read This

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Firsts tend to come with a lot of anxiety. While there’s some expectation when it comes to driving your first car or having your first kiss, there’s nothing like the pressure and the build up of sleeping with someone new. Nerves are normal. Whether it’s a casual fling or someone you could get serious with, the following reminders should help to calm your fears.

1. Tell all the insecurities you have about your body to go to hell. There’s nothing quite as panic-producing like knowing a guy is going to see you naked for the first time. Suddenly you recall every single moment in your life you felt pudgy or like your boobs were too small. Memories of that time that kid in third-grade said you had a boney butt come rushing back without warning, and you start to worry that this new guy won’t like what he sees. Well, he’s a guy, so he probably will. Plus, it’s not like you’ve been wearing a cloak this whole time, so I’m pretty sure he has a good idea of what your body looks like.

2. Think about the situation in the most logical way possible. Try to take emotion out of everything if you can. Understand that sex is just sex, and you can have a good time if you stop worrying so much about the future or what will happen when it’s over. Get over the fear of what he or people might think, and be a badass who just does what she wants.

3. Forget about what he’s getting out of it and on focus on what you are. Guys don’t have to be the only gender who enjoys a good booty call. Stop worrying about how he feels about the situation (and if you really don’t know, just ask), and start focusing on what you want out if it.

4. Remember you have a right to be selfish. Do not feel any obligation to cater to what he wants to do just because it’s the first time. Speak up and tell him what you want. Sex is supposed to be a mutually beneficial act, so make sure you’re getting some benefits, girl.

5. Pay attention to little hints that he just wants to sleep with you. While there are scumbags out there, the majority of men aren’t good at leading women on. Women are just really good at hearing what we want to hear, so get your head out of the clouds and open yourself up to the idea that he just might really want to sleep with you. If you still want to go through with it, then you’ll be in the right mindset.

6. Stop being paranoid that he won’t call after. I’m not saying he will because he could be giving you all the signs that he won’t, but you need to understand that you’ll be okay no matter what happens. You won’t be able to enjoy any part of sex if you’re worried about him running the moment it’s over. If you let loose and just have fun, you’re likely to be fine with either outcome because it doesn’t change the way you feel about yourself.

7. Remind yourself of what a badass you are. Sex has a funny way of making us super vulnerable, and when we have it with someone we want to get closer to, it makes us feel even more exposed. The whole “what if we have sex and he doesn’t want to see me anymore?” question will keep you up at night if you let it, but this whole idea that you need a guy to want to marry you after you do the deed is something that’s been ingrained in our female brains for centuries. The truth is, you don’t. When you stop expecting these grandiose things from people, you’ll start to enjoy the little stuff more. Know your standards, don’t be naive, and remember that no matter what, you’re still the boss.

8. Remind yourself that he probably doesn’t feel the need to have this inner pep talk. The sad, stupid part about all of this is that most guys don’t feel this crazy pressure to be liked after sex. Sure, they probably have some thoughts of not wanting to be bad at it, but unless they really like you, they’re just pumped they get to do it. Remembering that might help you realize that it doesn’t have to be a big deal.

9. Do something prior that makes you feel really sexy. Stop waiting for a guy to make you feel hot and do it yourself. Whether it’s getting dressed up or putting on a certain kind of perfume, figure out what it is that makes you feel like a sexy beast and go do it.

10. Have fun. Once you’ve made the mental decision that you want to have sex with this person, you need to tell yourself that the work is over. You’re not going to ponder or worry about it anymore. So get out of your head and have some fun.

Complete Article HERE!

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Older Americans Having Sex, Just Not Talking About It — to Docs

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By Megan Brooks

Most older Americans are interested in sex, but only about half of those with a romantic partner are sexually active and many don’t talk about sex with their partner or clinician, according to a University of Michigan poll released today.

“Sexual health among older adults doesn’t get much attention but is linked closely to quality of life, health and well-being,” Erica Solway, PhD, coassociate director of the poll, said in a news release.

“It’s important for older adults and the clinicians who care for them to talk about these issues and about how age-related changes in physical health, relationships, lifestyles and responsibilities such as caregiving, affect them,” said Solway.

The University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging asked a nationally representative sample of 1002 adults aged 65 to 80 years about their views on relationships and sex and their experiences related to sexual health.

Nearly three quarters (72%) of those surveyed have a current romantic partner (married, partnered, or in a relationship) and most (92%) have been in a stable relationship for 10 years or longer. Among those without a current romantic partner, 13% have been on a date with someone new in the past 2 years.

Taking the Sex Pulse of Older Americans

Overall, 76% of older adults said sex is an important part of a romantic relationship at any age, with men more likely than women to hold this view (84% vs 69%).

Two in five (40%) said they still have sex. Sexual activity declined with age, from 46% for those aged 65 to 70 years, to 39% for those aged 71 to 75, to 25% for those aged 76 to 80. Older men were more likely to report being sexually active than older women (51% vs 31%), as were those who said they were in good health (45% vs 22%).

About half of those with a romantic partner (54%) reported being sexually active compared with only 7% of those without a romantic partner; 92% of those who are sexually active say intimacy is an important part of a romantic relationship and 83% say it is important to their overall quality of life.

Overall, about two thirds of respondents (65%) said they were interested in sex; 30% were extremely or very interested and 35% were somewhat interested. Half of elderly men (50%) said they were extremely or very interested in sex compared with 12% of women. However, the percentage of adults very interested in sex declined with age, from 34% at age 65 to 70, to 28% at age 71 to 75, to 19% for those aged 76 to 80.

About three in four older adults (73%) said they were satisfied with their sex life, with women more likely to be satisfied than men. Those in better health were also more apt to be satisfied with their sex life.

Who’s Talking About Sex?

“This survey just confirms that the need for and interest in sexual intimacy doesn’t stop at a certain age,” Alison Bryant, PhD, senior vice president of research for AARP, a cosponsor of the poll, said in the news release.

Sixty-two percent of older adults polled said they would talk to their healthcare provider if they were having a problem with their sexual health, yet only 17% had actually done so in the past 2 years. Of those who had talked with their doctor about sexual health, 60% said they initiated the conversation themselves and 40% said their doctor started the conversation. Most of those who had talked with their provider about their sexual health said they were comfortable doing so (88%).

“Although most older adults say that they would talk with their doctor about sexual concerns, health care providers should routinely be asking all of their older patients about their sexual health and not assume that bringing up the issue will offend or embarrass them,” said Bryant.

The poll also found that 18% of men and 3% of women have recently taken medications or supplements to improve sexual function and most said it was helpful (77%).

This is a notable finding, the University of Michigan pollsters say. While some of these older adults may be taking prescription medications to aid sexual function, others may be taking over-the-counter supplements. Given potential side effects and drug interactions, they suggest providers ask patients about supplement use.

Results of the poll are available online.

Complete Article HERE!

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