Tag Archives: Intimacy

Casual Sex: Everyone Is Doing It

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Part research project, part society devoted to titillation, the Casual Sex Project reminds us that hookups aren’t just for college students.

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Zhana Vrangalova had hit a problem. On a blustery day in early spring, sitting in a small coffee shop near the campus of New York University, where she is an adjunct professor of psychology, she was unable to load onto her laptop the Web site that we had met to discuss. This was not a technical malfunction on her end; rather, the site had been blocked. Vrangalova, who is thirty-four, with a dynamic face framed by thick-rimmed glasses, has spent the past decade researching human sexuality, and, in particular, the kinds of sexual encounters that occur outside the norms of committed relationships. The Web site she started in 2014, casualsexproject.com, began as a small endeavor fuelled by personal referrals, but has since grown to approximately five thousand visitors a day, most of whom arrive at the site through organic Internet searches or referrals through articles and social media. To date, there have been some twenty-two hundred submissions, about evenly split between genders, each detailing the kinds of habits that, when spelled out, can occasionally alert Internet security filters. The Web site was designed to open up the discussion of one-night stands and other less-than-traditional sexual behaviors. What makes us engage in casual sex? Do we enjoy it? Does it benefit us in any way—or, perhaps, might it harm us? And who, exactly, is “us,” anyway?

Up to eighty per cent of college students report engaging in sexual acts outside committed relationships—a figure that is usually cast as the result of increasingly lax social mores, a proliferation of alcohol-fuelled parties, and a potentially violent frat culture. Critics see the high rates of casual sex as an “epidemic” of sorts that is taking over society as a whole. Hookup culture, we hear, is demeaning women and wreaking havoc on our ability to establish stable, fulfilling relationships.

These alarms have sounded before. Writing in 1957, the author Nora Johnson raised an eyebrow at promiscuity on college campuses, noting that “sleeping around is a risky business, emotionally, physically, and morally.” Since then, the critiques of casual sexual behavior have only proliferated, even as society has ostensibly become more socially liberal. Last year, the anthropologist Peter Wood went so far as to call the rise of casual sex “an assault on human nature,” arguing in an article in the conservative Weekly Standard that even the most meaningless-seeming sex comes with a problematic power imbalance.

Others have embraced the commonness of casual sex as a sign of social progress. In a widely read Atlantic article from 2012, “Boys on the Side,” Hanna Rosin urged women to avoid serious suitors so that they could focus on their own needs and careers. And yet, despite her apparent belief in the value of casual sex as a tool of exploration and feminist thinking, Rosin, too, seemed to conclude that casual sex cannot be a meaningful end goal. “Ultimately, the desire for a deeper human connection always wins out, for both men and women,” she wrote.

The Casual Sex Project was born of Vrangalova’s frustration with this and other prevalent narratives about casual sex. “One thing that was bothering me is the lack of diversity in discussions of casual sex,” Vrangalova told me in the café. “It’s always portrayed as something college students do. And it’s almost always seen in a negative light, as something that harms women.”

It was not the first time Vrangalova had wanted to broaden a limited conversation. As an undergraduate, in Macedonia, where she studied the psychology of sexuality, she was drawn to challenge cultural taboos, writing a senior thesis on the development of lesbian and gay sexual attitudes. In the late aughts, Vrangalova started her research on casual sex in Cornell’s developmental-psychology program. One study followed a group of six hundred and sixty-six freshmen over the course of a year, to see how engaging in various casual sexual activities affected markers of mental health: namely, depression, anxiety, life satisfaction, and self-esteem. Another looked at more than eight hundred undergraduates to see whether individuals who engaged in casual sex felt more victimized by others, or were more socially isolated. (The results: yes to the first, no to the second.) The studies were intriguing enough that Vrangalova was offered an appointment at N.Y.U., where she remains, to further explore some of the issues surrounding the effects of nontraditional sexual behaviors on the individuals who engage in them.

Over time, Vrangalova came to realize that there was a gap in her knowledge, and, indeed, in the field as a whole. Casual sex has been much explored in psychological literature, but most of the data captured by her research team—and most of the other experimental research she had encountered—had been taken from college students. (This is a common problem in psychological research: students are a convenient population for researchers.) There has been the occasional nationally representative survey, but rigorous data on other subsets of the population is sparse. Even the largest national study of sexual attitudes in the United States, which surveyed a nationally representative sample of close to six thousand men and women between the ages of fourteen and ninety-four, neglected to ask respondents how many of the encounters they engaged in could be deemed “casual.”

From its beginnings, sex research has been limited by a social stigma. The field’s pioneer, Alfred Kinsey, spent decades interviewing people about their sexual behaviors. His books sold, but he was widely criticized for not having an objective perspective: like Freud before him, he believed that repressed sexuality was at the root of much of social behavior, and he often came to judgments that supported that view—even when his conclusions were based on less-than-representative surveys. He, too, used convenient sample groups, such as prisoners, as well as volunteers, who were necessarily comfortable talking about their sexual practices.

In the fifties, William Masters and Virginia Johnson went further, inquiring openly into sexual habits and even observing people in the midst of sexual acts. Their data, too, was questioned: Could the sort of person who volunteers to have sex in a lab tell us anything about the average American? More troubling still, Masters and Johnson sought to “cure” homosexuality, revealing a bias that could easily have colored their findings.

Indeed, one of the things you quickly notice when looking for data on casual sex is that, for numbers on anyone who is not a college student, you must, for the most part, look at studies conducted outside academia. When OkCupid surveyed its user base, it found that between 10.3 and 15.5 per cent of users were looking for casual sex rather than a committed relationship. In the 2014 British Sex Survey, conducted by the Guardian, approximately half of all respondents reported that they had engaged in a one-night stand (fifty-five per cent of men, and forty-three per cent of women), with homosexuals (sixty-six per cent) more likely to do so than heterosexuals (forty-eight per cent). A fifth of people said they’d slept with someone whose name they didn’t know.

With the Casual Sex Project, Vrangalova is trying to build a user base of stories that she hopes will, one day, provide the raw data for academic study. For now, she is listening: letting people come to the site, answer questions, leave replies. Ritch Savin-Williams, who taught Vrangalova at Cornell, told me that he was especially impressed by Vrangalova’s willingness “to challenge traditional concepts and research designs with objective approaches that allow individuals to give honest, thoughtful responses.”

The result is what is perhaps the largest-ever repository of information about casual-sex habits in the world—not that it has many competitors. The people who share stories range from teens to retirees (Vrangalova’s oldest participants are in their seventies), and include city dwellers and suburbanites, graduate-level-educated professionals (about a quarter of the sample) and people who never finished high school (another quarter). The majority of participants aren’t particularly religious, although a little under a third do identify as at least “somewhat” religious. Most are white, though there are also blacks, Latinos, and other racial and ethnic groups. Initially, contributions were about sixty-per-cent female, but now they’re seventy-per-cent male. (This is in line with norms; men are “supposed” to brag more about sexual exploits than women.) Anyone can submit a story, along with personal details that reflect his or her demographics, emotions, personality traits, social attitudes, and behavioral patterns, such as alcohol intake. The setup for data collection is standardized, with drop-down menus and rating scales.

Still, the site is far from clinical. The home page is a colorful mosaic of squares, color-coded according to the category of sexual experience (blue: “one-night stand”; purple: “group sex”; gray: the mysterious-sounding “first of many”; and so on). Pull quotes are highlighted for each category (“Ladies if you haven’t had a hot, young Latino stud you should go get one!”). Many responses seem to boast, provoke, or exaggerate for rhetorical purposes. Reading it, I felt less a part of a research project than a member of a society devoted to titillation.

Vrangalova is the first to admit that the Casual Sex Project is not what you would call an objective, scientific approach to data collection. There is no random assignment, no controls, no experimental conditions; the data is not representative of the general population. The participants are self-selecting, which inevitably colors the results: if you’re taking the time to write, you are more likely to write about positive experiences. You are also more likely to have the sort of personality that comes with wanting to share details of your flings with the public. There is another problem with the Casual Sex Project that is endemic in much social-science research: absent external behavioral validation, how do we know that respondents are reporting the truth, rather than what they want us to hear or think we want them to say?

And yet, for all these flaws, the Casual Sex Project provides a fascinating window into the sexual habits of a particular swath of the population. It may not be enough to draw new conclusions, but it can lend nuance to assumptions, expanding, for instance, ideas about who engages in casual sex or how it makes them feel. As I browsed through the entries after my meeting with Vrangalova, I came upon the words of a man who learned something new about his own sexuality during a casual encounter in his seventies: “before this I always said no one can get me of on a bj alone, I was taught better,” he writes. As a reflection of the age and demographic groups represented, the Casual Sex Project undermines the popular narrative that casual sex is the product of changing mores among the young alone. If that were the case, we would expect there to be a reluctance to engage in casual sex among the older generations, which grew up in the pre-“hookup culture” era. Such reluctance is not evident.

The reminder that people of all ages engage in casual sex might lead us to imagine three possible narratives. First, that perhaps what we see as the rise of a culture of hooking up isn’t actually new. When norms related to dating and free love shifted, in the sixties, they never fully shifted back. Seventy-year-olds are engaging in casual encounters because that attitude is part of their culture, too.

There’s another, nearly opposite explanation: casual sex isn’t the norm now, and wasn’t before. There are simply always individuals, in any generation, who seek sexual satisfaction in nontraditional confines.

And then there’s the third option, the one that is most consistent with the narrative that our culture of casual sex begins with college hookups: that people are casually hooking up for different reasons. Some young people have casual sex because they feel they can’t afford not to, or because they are surrounded by a culture that says they should want to. (Vrangalova’s preliminary analysis of the data on her site suggests that alcohol is much more likely to be involved in the casual-sex experiences of the young than the old.)  And the old—well, the old no longer care what society thinks. For some, this sense of ease might come in their thirties; for others, their forties or fifties; for others, never, or not entirely.

This last theory relates to another of Vrangalova’s findings—one that, she confesses, came as a surprise when she first encountered it. Not all of the casual-sex experiences recorded on the site were positive, even among what is surely a heavily biased sample. Women and younger participants are especially likely to report feelings of shame. (“I was on top of him at one point and he can’t have forced me to so I must have consented . . . I’m not sure,” an eighteen-year-old writes, reporting that the hookup was unsatisfying, and describing feeling “stressed, anxious, guilt and disgust” the day after.) There is an entire thread tagged “no orgasm,” which includes other occasionally disturbing and emotional tales. “My view has gotten a lot more balanced over time,” Vrangalova said. “I come from a very sex-positive perspective, surrounded by people who really benefitted from sexual exploration and experiences, for the most part. By studying it, I’ve learned to see both sides of the coin.

Part of the negativity, to be sure, does originate in legitimate causes: casual sex increases the risk of pregnancy, disease, and, more often than in a committed relationship, physical coercion. But many negative casual-sex experiences come instead from a sense of social convention. “We’ve seen that both genders felt they were discriminated against because of sex,” Vrangalova told me. Men often feel judged by other men if they don’t have casual sex, and social expectations can detract from the experiences they do have, while women feel judged for engaging in casual experiences, rendering those they pursue less pleasurable.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise: the very fact that Vrangalova and others are seeking explanations for casual-sex behaviors suggests that our society views it as worthy of note—something aberrant, rather than ordinary. No one writes about why people feel the need to drink water or go to the bathroom, why eating dinner with friends is “a thing” or study groups are “on the rise.”

It is that sense of shame, ultimately, that Vrangalova hopes her project may help to address. As one respondent to a survey Vrangalova sent to users put it, “This has helped me feel okay about myself for wanting casual sex, and not feel ashamed or that what I do is wrong.” The psychologist James Pennebaker has found over several decades of work that writing about emotional experiences can act as an effective form of therapy, in a way that talking about those experiences may not. (I’m less convinced that there are benefits for those who use the site as a way to boast about their own experiences.) “Often there’s no outlet for that unless you’re starting your own blog,” Vrangalova points out. “I wanted to offer a space for people to share.”

That may well end up the Casual Sex Project’s real contribution: not to tell us something we didn’t already know, or at least suspect, but to make such nonjudgmental, intimate conversations possible. The dirty little secret of casual sex today is not that we’re having it but that we’re not sharing our experiences of it in the best way.

Complete Article HERE!

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What To Do If You Get A Panic Attack During Sex

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By Sophie Saint Thomas

A few years ago, while an ex-partner was going down on me, I realized I was having trouble breathing. Then a sense of dread filled my head, and I felt like I was being stabbed in the chest. So I quickly asked him to stop — not because he was doing anything wrong, but because I was having a panic attack during sex.

One of the (few) good things about panic attacks is that they usually only last for about 15 minutes, says Gail Saltz, MD, psychiatrist and author of The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder And Genius. When I had my attack, I sat on the edge of the bed and did a series of breathing exercises. Gradually, I did begin to feel better.

But one of the most perplexing aspects of panic attacks is that they’re intensely fearful physical reactions that occur in the absence of any real danger or identifiable cause, as the Mayo Clinic explains. In my case, I was in a safe space with someone I trusted when my ex was going down on me. However, I had very real and terrifying feelings of detachment, the aforementioned shortness of breath, and chest pains.

Of course, I’m speaking about panic attacks during consensual sex. Fear that happens during an assault or dangerous sexual experience is completely different than having a panic attack during healthy sexual intimacy. (Reach out to RAINN if that’s the case.)

Although there are many causes for panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often to blame, says Barbara Greenberg, PhD, clinical psychologist and relationship expert. That was true for me: I’m a survivor of multiple sexual assaults and have been diagnosed with PTSD by a psychiatrist. As a result, sometimes during sex, I’ll have a flashback of an incident and experience a panic attack. Although the attacks subsided thanks to therapy and medication, it’s an ongoing process.

That said, panic attacks during sex can also happen to people who haven’t been sexually assaulted or diagnosed with PTSD. Dr. Greenberg says that generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder can also trigger panic attacks during intimacy, but anyone can have one during their life — with or without a diagnosed disorder. Sometimes these things just happen.

However, if your panic attacks are, like mine, recurring and have an identifiable root cause, it’s an especially healthy idea to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Saltz says. “If you are having multiple panic attacks or PTSD flashbacks you should 100% get treatment,” Dr. Saltz says. Treatment will begin with an evaluation of the cause of the panic attacks with a mental health professional. Then, that person will suggest therapy, medication, or both.

But is there anything you can do when you’re in the midst of a panic attack during sex? The first thing to do, if you can, is explain to your partner what’s happening — and step back from sex to take care of yourself. You can always try having sex again later when you’re feeling better. Deep breathing exercises, mindfulness practice, and reassuring self-talk can all be helpful in calming a panic attack, says Michael Aaron, PhD, a sex therapist and author of Modern Sexuality: The Truth about Sex and Relationships. Changing your physical position or getting up to walk around can also help comfort you.

At that point, Dr. Aaron says it’s okay to take any anti-anxiety medication you’ve been prescribed, such as benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin). Because you can become dependent on such medications over time, they’re meant to be used on an as-needed basis, Dr. Aaron says. But, depending on your individual needs, you may be taking them for a week or have a prescription at-the-ready for the rest of your life. While you’re taking these medications, though, you’re also (ideally) learning other self-soothing techniques in therapy that will come in handy when you stop taking the meds as frequently.

On top of managing what’s happening in your own mind and body, explaining it to your partner presents another challenge. In particular, when I had a panic attack, my partner had a hard time understanding that he did nothing wrong. But Dr. Saltz says that, in the moment, it’s enough to “tell your partner [your panic attack] will pass, take slow and deep breaths, and relax your muscles.” After the crisis has passed, you can get into a more detailed description of what you experienced — and how it wasn’t your partner’s fault.

If you’ve been a witness to someone else’s panic attack, know that they have likely experienced panic attacks before meeting you and probably will have them after you’ve parted ways, says Amanda Luterman, MA, OPQ, a psychotherapist who specializes in sexuality. “What you can do is be a soothing and stabilizing partner for that person, keep the focus on them, and reassure them that it’s going to pass,” she explains.

So, remember that panic attacks do go away. But if you continue to have them during sex as part of a larger mental health issue or due to unresolved trauma, you should seek treatment. Trust me, it can be a life- (and sex life-) saving experience.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Embracing Your Sexuality (Fetishes & All) Makes You A More Attractive Partner

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Growing into our sexual selves is a lifelong process, like growing up in general. But because we don’t have a lot of language for our sexual lives, we somehow erroneously expect that sex is something we are born knowing how to do. Like any other physical and emotional skill, our sexual capacity to both give and receive pleasure increases with education and practice.

We begin waking up to our emerging erotic consciousness in our early adolescence. This awakening process is mostly subconscious, as our maturing brain connects the powerful arousal mechanism to historic and unresolved painful events and relationships. Like our fingerprints, or the subtle distinctions in our sense of smell—what turns us on sexually is largely outside of our control and often contradicts the way we view ourselves outside of the bedroom.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder that the first and often the most persistent issue for most of us on our sexual journey is reconciling our interests with our sense of what is “normal.” Quite often, sexual discovery tests the boundaries of normalcy. Our sexual selves are the unique, wild streak in us that cannot be contained and whose full pleasure potential cannot be achieved if we try to rein it in.

“Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” —Sydney Harris

Instead of healthy dialogue and reliable information about what it means to become and embrace who we are sexually, our curiosity and confusion about emerging sexuality are often met with archaic teachings, generational discomfort from those we trust, misinformation from our peers, and a complex cultural obsession.

The majority of us never have the opportunity to adequately explore the questions that arise from our earliest adolescent erotic awakening. Maturing beyond our initial discomfort requires education, and real sexual education is hard to come by.

For many young people, low-grade anxiety prevents them from engaging in any real conversations, whether with a friend, doctor, or even their partners about their fears and the obstacles they face sexually. Often, even the more progressive will turn their sexual concerns into a joke, laughing at their discomfort and communicating either that sexual concerns are not to be taken seriously or at least not to be discussed seriously.

What we suppress becomes more powerful. Suppressing our sexual nature only exacerbates our preoccupation with it. Asking honest questions about our sexual selves and being able to get reliable information allows us to use sexual privacy in healthy ways. Studies show that the kids who are given the most sexual education are often the last ones to engage sexually. They don’t need to learn about it by doing it—their theoretical learning allows them to make healthy choices about when and with whom they want to do it.

People who have come to terms with this essential aspect of their being are happier and more satisfied in every other aspect of their life as well.

Likewise, adults who move beyond their adolescent sexual anxiety through education gain not only the courage to take ownership of their erotic preferences but also the skills to engage in sexual behavior that is consistently pleasurable. Sexually mature adults are not waiting for someone else to make them feel sexy or give them permission to explore the range of their sexual function.

Taking full responsibility for their own sexual needs allows them to also be truly responsive to the sexual needs of others, which makes them attractive partners that tend to stay partnered. Aspiring to sexual maturity evokes a host of other essential skills for life—sexually mature adults tend to also be emotionally intelligent and capable of dealing with life changes.

Our sexual selves are often perceived as a locked box of bizarre fantasies and out-of-control impulses toward carnal pleasure. While it’s true that a mature sex life employs these tools for pleasure, working at our sexual evolution is more like developing core strength. Because our erotic identity is so central to who we are, people who have come to terms with this essential aspect of their being are happier and more satisfied in every other aspect of their life as well.

Complete Article HERE!

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Dominant Submissive Relationships In The Bedroom – Part 2

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Look for Part 1 HERE!

Why BDSM Couples Like Having Rough Sex

4. BDSM: All About Communication

BDSM is still viewed as an unconventional sensual, erotic, and sexual behavior, yet couples who practice this tend to develop a better sense of self. These couples are more likely to communicate their likes and dislikes with their partner. In the previously mentioned 2013 study, Dutch researchers found BDSM lovers were more extraverted, more open to experience, more conscientious, less neurotic, less sensitive to rejection, more securely attached, and higher in subjective well-being. Specifically, all three BDSM subsets, including dominants, submissives, and switches, outscored controls on “subjective well-being”; the difference was significant for dominants.

So, what’s the connection between BDSM and healthy relationships?

It’s a combination of self-awareness and communication. BDSM helps couples recognize their sexual identity and desire. Communication is a standard in BDSM activities because couples must be able to negotiate boundaries and safe practices. According to O’Reilly, some couples feel their overall levels of communication improve with kink play.

“These benefits spill into other areas of the relationship (e.g. parenting, division of labour, emotional expression) and serve to deepen their existing bond,” she said.

Communication and consent are critical in BDSM, especially when it comes to pain play.

5. Pain Is Pleasure: Why It Feels So Good

Several couples will admit they get pleasure from experiencing pain, or inflicting (consensual) pain on others. Yet, some of us will yell in pain when we twist our ankle or break a bone, and even a papercut can produce misery. There’s actually a difference between good pain and bad pain.

“Interestingly, our brain processes social rejection in the same place where it processes physical pain. When we experience pain in a sexual act, we’re going to enjoy that pain differently, because we have a different interpretation to it than an accident where we don’t have control,” Wanis said.

When we experience bad pain, this indicates something is not right, and needs immediate attention. However, when we feel good pain during sadomasochism — giving or receiving pleasure from the infliction or reception of pain and humiliation — it is enjoyable. A 2014 study found sadomasochism alters blood flow in the brain, which can lead to an altered state of consciousness similar to a “runner’s high” or yoga. Brain changes were seen in the prefrontal and limbic/paralimbic pain regions when participants either received pain or gave pain.

Here, the pain led the central nervous system to release endorphins, which are proteins that act to block pain, and promote feelings of euphoria.

It seems pain and pleasure have always been intertwined.

There’s one other reason pain may sometimes feel good: The range of interests in BDSM could possibly possess an evolutionary advantage.

6. Evolutionary Advantage: Is BDSM A Reproductive Strategy?

BDSM involves role playing, with aspects like dominance and submission, which can be roughly translated into lower and/or higher-ranking partners. In mammals, high hierarchical status is linked with increased reproductive success, and Czech researchers believe BDSM-induced arousal could be a manifestation of a mating strategy.

In a 2009 study, published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers found sexual arousal through overemphasized hierarchy, like dominant-slave play, can represent a reproductive strategy. Role play allows someone who has a need to be dominant to feel dominant, and someone who is submissive to be able to reproduce. It joins two people who have varied, but complementary, sexual preferences to reap benefits from each other.

People who engage in BDSM also show adaptability and knowledge of various sexual behaviors. They’re able to relate in socially and sexually unconventional ways that can give them an evolutionary edge. In other words, BDSM can make someone become more open-minded, self-aware, and more expressive in communicating their needs and desires, which is advantageous in any relationship — not just those that are intimate.

7. BDSM: The ‘New’ Way To Have Sex

BDSM has been a thing for a very, very long time, so it’s hardly “new”, but Fifty Shades expanded the conversation around it. The movie inspired people to explore their own sexual preferences, and embrace their naughtiest desires. However, it’s important to note its representation of BDSM is problematic; it is indeed shades of grey.

Couples seem to be enticed by BDSM because it steers away from the conventional, and encourages the exploration of the unknown, or taboo. It’s against society’s norms, and solicits more intrigue.

“We want to break the taboo, and that becomes sexually exciting,” Wanis said.

If we’re willing to hand over our physical, mental, emotional, and psychological safety to our partner — that’s more than just kinky sex, that’s trust. Hopefully, that trust has been earned.

Complete Article HERE!

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Let’s talk about intimacy – and why it makes for better love and sex

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The key to a great relationship is more than physical – it’s about taking off the mask and really revealing yourself

Embracing intimacy – the best way to forge a real connection.

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Is there anything we still need to know about sex? Apparently, yes: and the missing ingredient is a gamechanger not just for individuals, but entire nations.

Sex has been centre-stage in western culture for decades, but what has been absent, according to Adam Wilder, creator of the world’s first Festival of Togetherness, is the magic element that makes it all meaningful.

“The holy grail,” he says, “is intimacy. Intimacy’s the real taboo in our society – it’s the thing we fear, because it’s about taking off the mask that so many of us hide behind. But it’s the key to being freer, happier and more alive and it could change not only our personal lives, but the political decisions we take as a society.”

Wilder hopes his festival, in central London on 20-21 May, will herald “the next revolution we need to embark on – a revolution that will transform everything we thought we knew about sex”.

Sex and intimacy, says Wilder, are closely connected. But in the decades since the sexual revolution of the 1960s the focus has been more and more on sex and less and less on intimacy. “Of course, you can have sex without intimacy, just as you can have intimacy without sex. But when you put the two together you have an experience that is in a different ballpark when it comes to fulfilment,” he says. “The problem is, people are afraid of intimacy, they’re afraid to articulate the desires that could lead to real intimacy – but if we don’t articulate those desires we will never experience the potential of a relationship.”

So scary is the word intimacy, says Wilder, that he has shied away from using it while planning his festival. “When I talk to people about it, I talk mostly about human connection, about enriching relationships and about togetherness, because these are words people seem more comfortable with.”

The festival focuses on learning the skills the organisers say are essential to allowing ourselves to practise intimacy. “But this isn’t hippy stuff: what I’m interested in is ordinary people who don’t like words like ‘consciousness’ and ‘tantra’,” says Wilder. “I want to make intimacy more visible in our culture, and that means drawing everyone in. Intimacy is something everyone can gain from, whether they are in a relationship or not.”

The movie Lost in Translation, starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray, has much to share about intimacy, says Wilder. The plot centres on a growing closeness between an ageing movie star and a young college graduate that far outweighs the connection she feels for her husband, a photographer who is away on an assignment.

The festival’s highlights include a “cuddle workshop” that, according to the programme, promises to “explore touch outside the sexual realm”, a session on “mindfulness for better sex” and a session on language and communication skills that help build intimacy into relationships. One of the most exciting workshops, Wilder hopes, is called the Soulmate Delusion.

“There is this idea in Disney films that so many of us buy into, that’s about connecting with one person who is right for you, and who will change your life. But the truth is, that’s a view that is a really damaging for relationships in the 21st century. As soon as things start to go wrong you think, uh-oh, he’s not my  soulmate.”

Wilder’s event seems to be tapping into a broader zeitgeist. Last week saw the launch of the Amorist, writer Rowan Pelling’s new magazine, which aims “to counter the modern tendency to see sex through a purely functional prism”.

… and they all lived happily ever after. Nice idea, but you have to work on it.

Pelling agrees with Wilder that intimacy, not sex, is fundamental. “Is sex better with intimacy? The answer is almost always yes. I’m really shocked by how many people say they’ve never been to bed with someone who looked them in the eye, particularly at the point of orgasm. Of course there’s something about people being in their box and having fantasies during sex, but if people are having a lifetime of sex without eye contact, it’s an indication of how common it is to be physically close to someone, yet remain disconnected.

“There’s something peculiarly British about it. What it means is you can have had many lovers, yet not ever had something as fundamental as intimate sex.”

Wilder says feelings of isolation and a lack of true human connection have fed into the seismic political shifts that produced Brexit and elected Donald Trump as US president. That is the view, too, of philosopher Shahidha Bari of the Institute of Art and Ideas, who is one of the people behind an event called Love in the Time of Tinder taking place this weekend in Hay-on-Wye.

Amid talks, debates and workshop about the meaning of love, whether it can be chemically engineered and how it can be used to change society, the weekend also encompasses the idea that these things matter in a global, and not just a personal, landscape.

“If we can get love right in our individual lives, we might start to get things better in the political arena,” says Bari. “We think of love these days as an app on our phones, but in fact it’s a model of ethical relationships.

“There’s something miraculous about love, which allows us to care for someone to whom we are not genetically related. Love isn’t some sentimental thing, it’s about recognising this miracle for what it is, and learning from it for the rest of our lives.”

Complete Article HERE!

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