Oliver Morton-Evans has sought the services of sex workers over the years, because dating can be especially tough for anyone with a disability.
Despite having tried “every dating app out there”, Oliver, 39, has never been in a long-term relationship.
The Sydneysider, now a successful tech entrepreneur, said despite looking for a partner ever since finishing high school, he has had no luck.
In the modern dating world, in which apps such as Tinder rely on appearance and snap judgements, Mr Morton-Evans said most people could not see past his wheelchair.
“It’s been really hard because I’m kind of always in a quandary of, ‘do I disclose my disability straight up or do I not?’,” he said.
“I kind of don’t want to, because although it’s a part of me it’s not all of who I am.
“The moment they see a wheelchair, people tend to create a story in their head of what that might mean.”
But he said visiting sex workers was not just about the physical pleasure.
“I have no shame or anything like that, but that’s just not what I most deeply desire,” he said.
“There’s so much more to sex than just the physical activity.”
Mr Morton-Evans said seeing sex workers provided him with the intimacy he craved in his everyday life, and motivated him to keep looking for a partner.
“I think for an able-bodied person they forget about how much, particularly touch for example … humans need touch to feel connected with others,” he said.
“So when I would see a sex worker, it tends to make me feel a lot more able to then go out and find the kind of relationship I want.”
People with disabilities seek intimacy from sex workers
Although often viewed as taboo, many people with disabilities seek the services of sex workers as an outlet for their sexual and intimate desires.
Brisbane escort Lisa said she regularly saw clients with disabilities and was proud to provide a service for people struggling to find intimacy in their everyday lives.
“I see this job as just an extension of the caring person that I am,” she said.
“Not everyone wants to have sex. They just want a bit of affection, or to chat to someone, all that sort of thing.
“It’s just me giving to the person what they need, and I feel that I’m doing a worthwhile job by helping other people.”
She said access to sexual services, especially for marginalised people, was vital for their health and wellbeing.
“It’s a genuine health issue,” she said.
“Like a baby needs affection, needs cuddles, needs touch, needs food, needs all these things [so too] an adult does.
“It doesn’t matter what age you are … it’s so basic of a human need.”
Noriel works as an escort and is the Cairns representative for Respect Inc, the Queensland sex worker support group.
She said she believed access to sex workers for people with disabilities should be covered under the NDIS.
“Whether you are a wage-earner or you’re on any type of benefit from the government, you have a right to spend your money however you want,” she said.
“And if you would like to spend your money hiring the services of a sex worker, I think you should be able to do that.”
Social attitudes have harmful impacts
Counsellor and registered NDIS provider Casey Payne said it was a common misconception that people with disabilities were non-sexual.
“Just because you live with something that’s different to everybody else doesn’t mean that your life can’t still be the same in every aspect, especially in sexual health.
“Everybody deserves the right to have a pleasurable, sexual, healthy life.”
Deakin University Associate Professor in disability and inclusion Dr Patsie Frawley said research had found people with disabilities were disproportionately affected by breast and cervical cancer — but also by sexually transmitted infection (STI).
“If you’re not seen as sexual and as a sexual person, the range of sexual health screenings, sexual health prevention and response services won’t be offered to you,” she said.
“It’s been identified in research that men with an intellectual disability have eight times greater rates of STIs than their non-disabled peers.”
Sex worker with a disability challenges perceptions
Raivynn DarqueAngel has met the stereotypes of both sex workers and people with disabilities head on.
Raivyn, who has cerebral palsy and uses an electric wheelchair, has worked in Melbourne’s sex industry for more than 20 years, mostly as a dominant escort.
“I chose to be a dominant to … change perceptions,” she said.”
The submissive people that I see make me feel strong and in charge and I like that. I’ve taken it back home and I’m much more confident saying what I need with my support workers.
“It’s given me the confidence to trust that I’m worth my needs.”
Despite his disappointing dating experiences, Mr Morton-Evans insisted he had not given up on finding love.
He had one thing to say to potential partners: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Occasional jealousy is natural and can even be motivating. But if you find yourself getting upset when seeing Instagram photos of clothes, jobs, or cars that you envy, you might need to work through this issue. Or maybe your jealousy is making you paranoid and causing problems with you and your significant other. Curbing these emotions can be difficult, but it’s often necessary to move forward and feel secure and confident. Work through your jealousy by addressing it, finding a new focus, and improving yourself. You got this!
Method 1 Handling Jealousy in the Short Term
1 Take a few deep breaths when you start feeling jealous. Perhaps you see your boyfriend talking to another girl or find out your friend got the exact truck you want. Instead of freaking out, calm yourself instead. Take a deep breath in through your nose for five seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Do this until you feel calm.
If you want to address the issue, do so only when you’ve calmed down. For instance, if you see your boyfriend talking to a girl, calm down first, then approach him and say ‘hello’ to both of them. She may just be a friend or classmate.
2 Stay off social media. Social media floods you with images of people sharing fragments of their lives that might spark your jealousy. But, what you may not know is the girl who constantly posts pics of the flowers her boyfriend gets her may be unhappy in her relationship. People tend to only post things that show them in a positive light, so stay off social media while you’re overcoming your jealousy.
If you can’t stay off of social media, unfollow or unfriend the people you’re jealous of.
3 Avoid criticizing or using sarcasm. When you’re feeling jealous, you might resort to name-calling or trying to diminish the accomplishments of others. However, this only shows your insecurity and makes others feel bad. Instead of being negative, keep your comments to yourself or compliment them.
For instance, if your girlfriend comes home telling you about her new coworker, don’t say something like, “Oh, so since he’s so smart, you wanna go out with him now?” Allow your significant other to tell you things without fear of rudeness.
4 Confess your feelings if the person is close to you. If you’re very jealous of a sibling, best friend, or significant other, and have been for years, tell them. Getting it off your chest can help you move on from this negative feeling and clear the air.
For instance, you might say, “Sis, I know that I’ve been a bit rude to you for a while. But when you got into Stanford and I didn’t, it hurt me. I’ve been so jealous of you because I feel like you’re living my dream. I know it’s not your fault, and I wish I didn’t feel this way.”
5 Focus on what you have in common with the person you’re jealous of. Unravel your jealousy by looking at the similarities you and the person you envy share. The more you two are alike, the less you have to feel jealous over!
For example, maybe you’re jealous of your neighbor because they have a nice car. But remember that the two of you live in the same neighborhood and probably have similar houses. Maybe you went to the same school, too, and have friends in common.
Method 2 Refocusing Your Attention
1 Identify the source of your jealousy. Understanding why you are jealous can help you overcome it. Is it because of low self-esteem and insecurity? Do you have a past history with infidelity? Or are you placing unreasonable standards on your relationship? Once you have identified the source, reflect on ways that you can improve upon or fix the issue.
Writing in a journal every day can help you discover where your jealousy might be coming from.
Professional therapy can help with this process. A therapist may be able to help you find the source of your jealousy while working through the issue.
2 Praise those who are doing well. Hating on someone’s accomplishments won’t put you closer to your own goals. When you see others doing the things you want to do, give them kudos. This shows respect and humility.
For instance, if your friend has an awesome career, say, “Molly, your job seems so cool. It seems like you’re always getting awards and promotions, too. You’re really killing it! Got any tips?”
Perhaps your boyfriend has been doing a great job lately of being more affectionate; tell him you appreciate his effort.
3 Reflect on your own strengths. Instead of harping on what others are doing, focus on yourself! Take a moment to either list or think about at least three things that you are good at. These can range from organizing or cooking to being a good listener or hard worker.
Do one thing related to your strengths list today to build your confidence, like cook an awesome meal.
4 Compile a list of what you’re grateful for. Every day that you wake up is truly a blessing. Remember that and think about one thing that you’re thankful for each day. This will help reduce your feelings of jealousy because you’ll become more appreciative of what you do have.
Maybe you have an awesome mom who supports and loves you. Or perhaps you got into a really good school and you’re starting soon. Be thankful for these blessings!
5 Meditate daily. Meditation can clear your mind and help you focus on what’s important. Your thoughts of jealousy might cloud your headspace daily, but get some relief by sitting quietly in an uninterrupted space in the mornings for at least ten minutes. During this time, focus only on your breathing and how your body feels.
If you’re unfamiliar with meditation, you can also download an app like Simple Habit or Calm.
6 Call the shots. You might have a rich friend who’s always asking you to go to expensive restaurants or on extravagant trips. This might make you feel jealous of their money. Instead of letting that control you, take the reins! Pick the restaurants you go to and choose not to go on vacations if you can’t afford it. Plan something locally, instead.
You can say, “Hey Josh, I enjoy eating at five-star restaurants with you, but to be honest, it’s a little out of my price range. If you still wanna get dinner once a week, that’s cool, but you’ll have to let me pick the place most of the time. I hope you understand.”
7 Have fun daily to distract you from your jealousy. You won’t be able to think about your jealousy as much if you’re out having fun! Schedule something to look forward to every day, like watching your favorite show, getting ice cream, or going shopping. Life is short, so make the most of it every day!
Method 3 Improving Your Own Life
1 Set short- and long-term goals. Use your jealousy to motivate you to become the best version of yourself. Based on the things you want in life, create action steps to help you achieve it. Set goals that you can achieve within the next five days and things to focus on for the next five years.
For instance, maybe you want to get a high paying job. As a short-term goal, try to get A’s in all your classes for the semester. A long-term goal could be finding a mentor or getting an internship in your field.
2 Plan a fun getaway. Maybe you’re jealous because it seems like everyone else is having all the fun. Create some fun for you! Plan a fun weekend away for you and your bae, go to a theme park, or go hang out on the beach. Do whatever makes you happy!
3 Take care of your health. You’ll be a lot less worried about others if you’re focused on your own health. Build your confidence up by exercising at least three times a week. Eat a healthy meal by having veggies, fruits and lean meat. Be sure to get at least eight hours of sleep per night.
Drink a lot of water, too!
4 Surround yourself with positive people. Maybe your jealousy comes from hanging around friends who try to make you jealous on purpose. That’s definitely not cool. Instead of being around that negativity, spend more time with your kind-hearted, honest, and down-to-earth friends!
A positive person will be supportive, honest, kind and helpful. A negative person will insult, criticize, and drain you.
5 Consider seeing a counselor to work through your jealousy. If your jealousy is making it hard for you to enjoy life anymore, it might be time to seek outside help. There are many therapists who are trained to help their clients work through feelings of envy or inadequacy. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with getting help! It’s much worse to suffer in silence.
Search online for therapists or counselors in your area. You can also get a referral from your doctor’s office or insurance provider.
Mae and I thought we were well informed when it comes to vaginas (between us, we have 58 years’ experience of them), but the more we researched the subject for our new video series, Vagina Dispatches, the more we discovered that, like most people, we don’t know our asses from our elbows – let alone our vulvas from our vaginas.
Does it matter that we don’t know what a perineum is, never mind where to find one? It turns out it does. Even though there are lots of parts of our bodies we don’t know well (neither of us can explain the full process from sandwich to stool), there is something particularly damaging about vagina ignorance.
Despite the fact that we spend more time peeing or menstruating out of them than anything else, sex remains the primary association when people think of female genitalia. And that emphasis distracts from the stuff that really matters: health. Women (or, to be more specific, anyone with a vagina) can struggle to understand how much menstrual blood is too much, what healthy labia look like, or what to expect during childbirth. Those blind spots make it hard to understand when or whether we need treatment. So, in a spirit of generosity, we wanted to share some of the things we learned.
1 That thing you’re calling a vagina? It probably isn’t a vagina
You’re likely thinking of a woman’s external genitalia. But that’s actually the vulva; the vagina is on the inside.
A survey released earlier this month by the Eve Appeal, a gynaecological cancer charity, found that two-thirds of women were unable to identify the vulva. More shocking is that women know men’s bodies better than they do their own: 60% of women could correctly label a diagram of male anatomy, but only 35% could do the same for female anatomy.
These days, there are endless articles claiming every woman should have body confidence. Body knowledge, on the other hand, seems like a nice bonus. That emphasis is misplaced: if women don’t know what their vulva is, how can they check it for changes in colour – a potential symptom of gynaecological cancer?
2 No one really knows what a female orgasm is
The male orgasm isn’t exactly ambiguous. But there’s no standard way to measure a female orgasm, which means that research has begun to question whether some women are experiencing them at all.
Dr Nicole Prause is a neuroscientist who founded Liberos, a research firm that studies sexual desire and function. In men, as well as ejaculation, there are regular, measurable muscle contractions. In a 1980 study in the journal Archives Of Sexual Behaviour, 11 male participants all behaved in a similar way during orgasm: the muscles in their anus contracted in spasms that were 0.6 seconds apart and continued for 10-15 contractions. But in the women Prause has studied, while some had these same contractions, others reported an orgasm without any being measured. (How do they measure these? Using a butt plug that monitors sound waves.) We said we were interested in measuring our own orgasms, so Prause is sending us some. Stay tuned.
3 Orgasms can make you need a wee
From a biological perspective, there has long been curiosity about what function the female orgasm serves (from our own personal perspectives, the case is closed). According to Prause, one reason might be that women who orgasm are more likely to urinate after sex. And urinating after sex is a great idea because it helps prevent bacteria from getting into the urethra, reducing the chances of a urinary tract infection. Win, win.
4 You can build a vagina from a penis and scrotum
At first glance, vulvas and penises look pretty different, but they are actually quite similar. That’s because we all started out as foetuses with the same genitalia; our sex organs don’t start to differentiate until the end of the first trimester (around about nine to 12 weeks). That skin fold line between the testicles? It’s because the male scrotum is the homologue of the female labia majora. Learning that was a real “aha” moment.
We met Callie, an American trans woman who was waiting for bottom surgery, a procedure where a vulva and vagina are created from the penis and scrotum. Aside from price (the surgery costs around $20,000 and isn’t always covered by health insurance), we were interested in knowing what concerned Callie when she booked her procedure. We’d mostly been discussing aesthetics, so Callie’s response caught us off guard: functionality. She is considering whether she wants a vagina that would self-lubricate (this can be possible using tissue from the anus) and whether it would be painful to pee (the surgery is complex and recovery can take weeks). In other words, really important health issues that most women take for granted. Prettiness? Not so much.
There’s very little scientific research into the effectiveness of cannabis in treating menstrual cramps, partly because that research would be illegal in many countries. But some entrepreneurial companies that are part of a growing US cannabis market are investigating. Once you’ve confirmed that you’re over 21 and a resident of either Colorado or California, the website foriapleasure.com offers a four-pack of “weed tampons”, priced at $44 (£33). It’s not actually a tampon; it’s a pessary containing cannabis oil.
Actor Whoopi Goldberg has teamed up with businesswoman Maya Elisabeth (who used to sell award-winning edible cannabis) to market products they claim are designed to provide relief from period pain. Their company, Whoopi & Maya, produces a bath soak, an edible spread (which “may be enjoyed plain with a spoon, on fruit or toast”), a rub and a tincture.
6 The clitoris looks like a spaceship
If you’ve been looking at medical diagrams lately (just us?), the clitoris is often depicted as a little button. A more realistic image would be something similar to the Starship Enterprise. Underneath the labia, there are two long structures that fall on either side of the clitoris (the protruding bit). If you’re interested in female sexual arousal, you should know about those – they’re called the clitoral crura. They can become engorged with blood when a woman is aroused, which causes the vulva to expand outwards, creating a tighter vaginal opening (bonus fact: women have nearly as much erectile tissue as men).
On the subject of sex tips: stop searching for the G-spot. Not only because it’s weird to use terms for women’s bodies that are named after men (the Gräfenberg spot, after the German gynaecologist Ernst Gräfenberg, who also developed the IUD). It probably doesn’t exist, at least not in the push-button way it’s often imagined.
An article published in Nature Reviews Urology in 2014, titled Beyond The G-spot, found that women can experience sensitivity in lots of different places, including but not always the area where the G-spot was thought to be (the upper side of the vaginal wall). In other words, it’s complicated.
7 Your vagina might benefit from a personal trainer
Sex doesn’t always feel good – especially if you have vaginismus (a painful condition that results in involuntary vaginal muscle spasm) or vulvodynia (chronic pain around the opening of the vagina).
One possible treatment is pelvic physical therapy, which can involve external and internal massages of the pelvic floor area, and the use of dilators (they look like oversized plastic crayons) and lubricants. The treatment is frequently misunderstood, says Jessica Powley, a pelvic physical therapist. For one thing, it’s not just women, or postpartum women, who get this therapy; men can get it, too, to treat pelvic floor pain. You can also buy vaginal weights and create your own home gym to tighten your pelvic floor muscles.
8 Things change with age, but it’s not all bad
Ageing, and menopause in particular, causes a woman’s oestrogen levels to decline. According to the North American Menopause Society, the vagina can become shorter and narrower in menopausal women who aren’t sexually stimulated. Then, when those women do have sex, it can be painful. Their advice? Menopausal women should have vaginal sex on a regular basis. So if you’re an older woman who enjoys sex, you should continue to have it regularly (hooray), and if you don’t enjoy sex, don’t bother (hooray, too).
What’s more, in 1998, the US National Council on the Aging found that 70% of sexually active women over the age of 60 said they were as satisfied, or even more satisfied, with their sex lives as they were in their 40s (74% of men in the same age group said the same). So, if you’re under 60, the best sex of your life may well be to come.
9 Breastfeeding can make you horny
We spoke to Christen, a performance artist and writer, who wrote about maternal sexuality in a one-woman show called BabyLove. She told us that she got aroused when breastfeeding; one time, she tried to use a vibrator while feeding, but got interrupted by a delivery man. She claimed lots of other women felt the same way. Of course we wanted to investigate.
Many forums for mothers confirm Christen is not alone. In a 1999 study in The Journal Of Perinatal Education, the author, Dr Viola Polomeno, explained that sexual arousal during breastfeeding “is a normal phenomenon”, although women often feel guilty when it happens to them. Arousal can happen because there are some parallels between breastfeeding and having an orgasm: both situations involve contractions of the uterus, nipple erection and skin-to-skin contact, and both can involve strong, uninhibited emotions. Neither of us has ever breastfed, but if and when the time comes, boy is this information handy.
10 You can make art with menstrual blood
From Judy Chicago’s 1972 installation Menstruation Bathroom to Ingrid Berthon-Moine’s 2009 work Red Is The Colour (photographs of 12 women wearing their menstrual blood as lipstick), lots of artists have explored the use of menstrual blood.
We met Jennifer Lewis, who was one day removing her menstrual cup and wondered why the blood on her fingertips disgusted her. With the help of her partner Rob, she began taking photographs of her menstrual blood in water. We watched Jennifer and Rob using refrigerated bottles of the stuff to make Beauty In Blood. The images look beautiful, but if we’re honest, the smell wasn’t so pretty. We went there to challenge our attitudes because, like so many, we think of periods as a gross inconvenience. We both use a hormonal IUD that stops us menstruating, which has always just seemed like a bonus.
Jennifer challenged these attitudes, not just because her art is beautiful, but also because she made us reconsider the health consequences of stopping our periods. Like us, Jennifer also used a contraceptive that stopped her period – until she found out it had caused her early-onset osteoporosis.
When Jennifer told us this, we looked at each other wide-eyed. Even though we had been researching this subject for months, there was still so much we didn’t know. The point is, we, like so many others, had put convenience ahead of being informed about our health. And that’s our final tip: get smart, get a mirror out and find out what’s up down there.
Is it okay to put a boy and a girl in the bathtub together? What should you do if a classmate from your kid’s preschool comes over for a play date and you find the two of them “playing doctor” from the waist down? And what if your child asks to examine your private parts and that makes you feel weird?
There are lots of books and resources for talking to kids about their bodies and sexuality and reproduction. But they’re usually geared towards parents whose children are about to hit puberty—and that’s way too late. Sexual health educator Deborah Roffman tells me that kids have “a normal, natural curiosity” about these topics starting at age four, and if adults aren’t there to guide them, they’ll eventually turn to peers, older kids and the media to get their information. (You can’t just wait for school to clear things up either—in one Reddit thread, people shared the very inaccurate information they were taught in sex ed class, like how condoms increase the risk of pregnancy, a girl can’t get pregnant while on top, and that the clitoris is a myth.)
The Talk shouldn’t just be one sweaty sit-down conversation—instead, it needs to be an ongoing discussion that starts earlier than you probably think. That’s why Roffman, the author of Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ Go-To Person about Sex, has helped develop a series of animated videos for parents of kids ages 4-9. They’re produced the sex ed project AMAZE, which has brought us videos for tweens and teens on topics such as consent, gender identity and sexual assault.
Called the AMAZE Parent Playlist, the series helps parents navigate real, sometimes confusing scenarios with their little ones. Say, you’re in the car listening to NPR and your young kid suddenly asks, “Mommy, what’s rape?” (You can say something like “Rape is something that’s against the law,” the video suggests, which is a totally truthful answer.) Or maybe you’re walking through the toy store and there are aisles “for girls” and “for boys.” (Take the opportunity to help kids notice and think about gender labels.) This video—“Is Playing Doctor OK?”—explains what’s normal and healthy when it comes to kids’ curiosity about bodies and private areas.
Roffman says a lot of parents have an irrational fearful that “too much information too soon” might somehow be harmful for young kids, but the opposite is actually true. Better educated kids are more likely to make better decisions about everything, she says—including sexuality.
When Adam Zeldis was 16, Howard Stern changed his mind about his penis forever. On his show, Stern was talking about how circumcision changes sexual sensations for men, and Zeldis’s curiosity was piqued. He had been circumcised as a baby, and he hadn’t ever thought about whether it had reduced sexual sensation for him before. In fact, up to that point, he had no idea that there were even men who weren’t circumcised.
So Zeldis decided to do some research. And when he learned what a circumcision procedure actually entailed — the surgical removal of the foreskin of the tip of the penis — he was outraged.
“I felt a loss for a sex life that I could never have,” Zeldis told MensHealth.com. “Basically, if you’re circumcised you can never experience sex the way nature intended it.”
Today, Zeldis is a senior strategy advisor for Intact America, an activist organization designed to educate people against circumcision, which it views as a medically unnecessary and cruel practice. Intact America isn’t the only organization that harbors this view: in fact, there is an entire movement — “Intactivism” — devoted to propagating the idea that male circumcision is a cruel and barbaric practice.
But what are the cold, hard facts about circumcision? Are there actually health benefits, or is it a cruel, outdated practice that permanently reduces male sexual sensation? We asked doctors and sexuality experts to weigh in.
Does circumcision have health benefits?
For decades, circumcision has been something of a given in the United States. It was considered a standard procedure for baby boys, regardless of their cultural or religious background, with doctors citing its health and hygiene benefits. For this reason, approximately 75% of men in the United States are circumcised, according to the World Health Organization.
The potential health benefits aside, “parents who choose circumcision often do so based on religious beliefs, common myths about hygiene, or cultural or social reasons, such as the wish to have their child resemble his father,” says sex therapist Kimberly Jackson, LCSW
“The cited health benefits included [a decreased risk of] STIs, especially HIV and HPV; penile cancer; paraphimosis (when foreskin gets trapped behind the glans, which can cut off blood supply to the tip of the penis), and balanitis, or infection of the glans,” says sexual health counselor Aleece Fosnight, MSPAS, PA-C, CSC, CSE.
Are the benefits of circumcision legit?
To a degree, the consensus in the medical community is still that circumcision does slightly reduce the risks of certain UTIs and STIs. In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement saying that notwithstanding the potential rare complications of circumcision, including bleeding, infection, and (shudder) penile necrosis, “the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks.”
But over the years, emerging research has thrown some of the stated benefits of circumcision into question. For instance, while some studies of African men indicated that circumcision could reduce the risk of HIV transmission by as much as 60%, “the research design was inherently flawed — [they] only examined the health behaviors of heterosexual men, and the results cannot be generalized across cultures,” says Jackson
That’s why more and more parents are choosing to forego the procedure. Circumcision is on something of a decline, with the number of newborns who are circumcised dropping from 84% in the 1960s to about 77% in 2010. Some doctors are also refusing to perform the procedure.
“I have not performed a circumcision since 1994,” says Steven Dorfman, MD, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. “It is a cruel, unnecessary and…substandard practice which belongs in the history books, not in the hospital or the clinic.”
As to the question of whether circumcision is more hygienic than being uncut, it is true that guys who are uncut do have to contend with smegma, an odorless (and harmless) cheese-like substance underneath the foreskin. But washing underneath the foreskin daily and rinsing the head of the penis can easily remedy that issue.
Does being circumcised reduce sexual sensation?
For many guys, this is the million-dollar question: does circumcision reduce penile sensitivity?
“It is also thought that the extra skin adds more friction and stimulation to the clitoris during penetration (both get extra pleasure!), and causes increased sensation to the glans as well,” says Fosnight.
That said, “studies show that there is no significant change in sensation in adult men who undergo circumcision,” says Dr. Alex Shteynshlyuger, director of urology at New York Urology Specialists. A 2016 study confirmed this, finding that men who were circumcised experienced the same level of sexual pleasure as men who were not.
Do people prefer uncircumcised penises?
Although the research on the health and sexual benefits of circumcision is mixed, some parents still would prefer to circumcise their kids for aesthetic reasons — i.e., because they don’t want their sons to feel weird next to the other kids in the locker room. And some guys still do think that their sexual partners prefer circumcised penises to uncircumcised ones.
But when it comes down to it, that’s probably not the case. While there are few surveys indicating what people’s preferences are, a lot of people really don’t care if their sexual partners are circumcised or not — especially as more and more parents choose not to circumcise their kids.
“I don’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter to me. Plus, I’m not everyone’s idea of ‘perfect’ down there, either.” says Maria*, 38. Karina*, 26, agrees: “I don’t care one way or the other so long as it’s clean and disease-free. Cut, uncut, whatever, it’s the guy that matters. Not how his penis looks.”
[A] few months ago over Sunday brunch, my 18-year-old daughter and I fell into a discussion about sex and dating. Between the omelets and crepes, she described how she felt about her new boyfriend, and I gave advice on enjoying their young love while retaining her independence and sense of self.
From the time she was in middle school, I have spoken to my daughter about how to stay safe on dates — never let anyone else get your drink, no means no, you do not have to do anything you do not want to do, always practice safe sex — and other rules I wanted her to live by. Every discussion we have had and every piece of advice I have given originated from our shared identity as cisgender, straight females.
Not long after that brunch, I read about a recent set of online focus groups conducted by Northwestern University that examined heterosexual parents’ attitudes toward talking about sex with their lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer teens. Some of the remarks from those parents made me realize how easy I have had it, in a way, talking with my teenage daughter. Few parents feel comfortable broaching the subject of sex with their children, but parents of LGBTQ teens have the added challenge of not always feeling equipped to talk about an experience they themselves have not had.
“I have no idea what sex is really like for men, especially for gay men,” one mother commented.
Another parent reported sending her bisexual daughter to a lesbian friend to talk to her about “gay sex.”
“I felt challenged that I’m straight, my daughter is dating a gal, and I didn’t know anything about that,” the mom wrote. “All my sex talks were about how not to get pregnant and how babies are conceived.”
Aside from sexual education in schools (which is not universal) teens learn about sex from their parents and peers, so if no one in their life knows what it is like to have the sex that corresponds to their orientation, they are left to fend for themselves. Michael Newcomb, lead author of the focus-group study and an assistant professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, says it is difficult for heterosexual parents of an LGBTQ teen to give advice about how to stay safe when having sex. In fact, parents who participated in the Northwestern focus groups reported sexual safety was the most challenging subject for them when giving advice to their LGBTQ teens.
“The mechanics of sex are different for LGBTQ people in some ways, so those young people could be unprepared the first time they have sex and could get into unsafe situations,” Newcomb says. “Most often with safety, we think about prevention of things like HIV and STDs, but safety encompasses much more than that. It’s about not feeling coerced into having sex, it’s about feeling comfortable while you’re having sex, not being in pain; all of those kinds of things that would be very difficult to prepare for if no one in your life knew what it was like for you to have sex.”
About a quarter of the 44 parents in the focus groups expressed concerns about predators, with one parent of a 16-year-old, questioning, gender-nonconforming teen writing. “They are in a very vulnerable place, and sometimes I feel they are desperate for a true friendship/relationship. If they were to let someone in, I would really want to get to know the person and understand their intentions.”
Newcomb says because there are fewer LGBTQ people than there are heterosexuals, it can be difficult to find partners in more traditional settings, such as schools. So they may be more likely to meet partners online.
“Navigating who you can or cannot trust online can be very challenging, particularly when most people on those sites are adults,” Newcomb says. “If LGBTQ youth are highly motivated to meet partners online because they feel isolated, they may overlook some indicators that potential partners may not be trustworthy.”
I spoke with one mother who, with her husband, has two sons, one who is straight and the other who is gay. Long before her son came out to her when he was 14, she suspected he was gay.
“It was a matter of him getting comfortable talking to me about it,” says the mom, who asked to remain anonymous to protect her family’s privacy.
In the five years since, she has talked openly with him about sex and relationships and says she is lucky she has a lot of gay friends whom she often turned to for advice.
While acknowledging she needed some assistance with the more mechanical aspects of gay sex, she says she spoke to both her sons in the same way when it came to how good relationships work.
“It has nothing to do with being gay, but about keeping the lines of communication open and letting your kids understand that they are being listened to,” she says.
Newcomb, who is also a clinical psychologist, advises parents — whatever their teen’s sexual orientation — to initiate conversations about sex and dating, regardless of how uncomfortable they or their teenagers feel.
“The more frequently parents initiate conversations about sex and dating, the more likely it is that their child will come to them when they have a question or when they could potentially be in trouble,” Newcomb says.
He added it is important for parents to tell their LGBTQ teen their experience as a heterosexual person might be different and to acknowledge what they do not know. Newcomb suggests parents and their LGBTQ teen do research together online because parents may be better prepared to evaluate the credibility of the information. It also gives parents the opportunity to teach Internet literacy.
“Parents may need to help their teens figure out who they can and cannot trust online, as well as put in place strategies for staying safe when meeting people in person who they met online initially (for example, meet in public places or have a parent meet the other person first),” Newcomb says in an email.
He also recommends reaching out to organizations such as PFLAG, a national nonprofit that provides information and resources to LGBTQ people and their families.
“It’s a great support system for parents — particularly with a child who is first coming out — to be around other parents who are much more experienced. It can help in providing role models for how to effectively parent LGBTQ teens,” Newcomb says.
[L]et’s talk about how to talk about sex. When you think of ‘the talk’ what do you think of? Most people probably think of an awkward conversation about sex with a parent, teacher, or other adult, and it probably left much to be desired, quite literally. A new initiative from the National Coalition for Sexual Health (NCHS) and Altarum, called the Five Action Steps, aims to flip the unhealthy and often silent culture around sexual pleasure on its head. The action steps focus on normalizing conversations around sex, and provide the real-life skills and information that people need to have healthy conversations about physical intimacy and sex.
Telling someone what you do and don’t like or want isn’t a mood killer, but a lack of comprehensive sex education has made young people feel like they’re in the dark about how to have a healthy, consensual romantic or sexual relationship. According to a recent study from Harvard, 70% of the 18 to 25-year-olds who responded wished they received more information from their parents about some emotional aspect of a romantic relationship, and 65% wished they received more emotional guidance from sex education classes in school. As the study notes, “sex education also tends not to engage young people in any depth about what mature love is or about how one develops a mature, healthy relationship.”
Being able to talk honestly and openly with partners about your sexual desires, boundaries, and safe sex and sexual health care are all elements of a healthy relationship. Good sex should is just as much about communication as the physical act. Sex educator Shan Boodram talked to Teen Vogue and gave three key tips on how to talk about your stimulation of choice, your partners likes and dislikes, and more.
Know your body’s recipe for pleasure
“You need specific instructions on how it can work. It might be different depending on the heat, the flour, the temperature. Results can vary,” she told Teen Vogue. “You could cook something and throw some salt and cheese on there and it might be okay, but what would happen if you had a recipe and knew exactly what ingredients you needed to mix together and how to bake them just right to give you pleasure?” Finding out what kind of stimulation your partner enjoys, what positions they like, and how you both feel most comfortable practicing safe sex can be pleasurable in and of itself. However, according to Shan, “If you’re not talking about it with your partner, you’re doing a drastic disservice to the act and the potential it could have.”
Start the conversation by talking about your own likes and dislikes
Having too much pride and not knowing how to advocate for yourself are two barriers that might make talking about sex feel terrifying or awkward, Shan explained. Starting the conversation by talking about your own likes and dislikes, fantasies, and ideas can make it easier. “It can be, ‘What’s the hottest thing someone’s ever done for you before?’ Start asking the questions you want to ask. And hopefully that person will pick up on it and start doing the same things for you,” Shan told Teen Vogue, adding, “You want to ensure this conversation feels like good sex. You’ve gotta approach it with curiosity. Good sex is when you’re a tourist and not a tour guide. And you also want to be a tourist in this conversation. You’re curious and in this new space and you should be excited because you don’t have all the answers.”
The Five Action Steps suggests that talking to your partner about sex is a part of learning to treat your partner well and expecting them to treat you well. Shan explains that learning how to advocate for yourself can begin with talking about smaller desires with your partner, like what you want to watch on Netflix or what you want to eat for dinner. Starting small can help you talk about things that feel more complicated, according to Shan.
Part of talking to your partner about sex is also establishing boundaries. The most important thing to remember is that you deserve to be in a relationship where the amount of sex you’re having and the ways you’re being intimate align with what both you and your partner want and need. Sex, like any part of a relationship, is something that requires work, but talking about it can be as simple as telling someone when they do something you really like.
“You can say ‘I don’t like what you’re doing,” or wait for a moment when they do something you like and say, ‘More of that,’” Shan says. Positive reinforcement can make your partner feel confident about their abilities. Learning together is an option, too. Shan suggests that mutual masturbation is a great way to “show each other how you like to be touched.”
Ultimately, the Five Action Steps provide a framework for how to begin that conversation, and build a fulfilling relationship or partnership. And while sex and physical intimacy don’t necessarily have to be present in a relationship to make it healthy, talking to your partner is the only way to know how high of a priority sex is, and what your partner does or doesn’t like. That means it’s also an opportunity to help your partner understand exactly what you find most pleasurable.
[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.
[A]s our understanding of gender and sexuality is evolving, so are the words we use to describe them. There are many more sexual identities and expressions than previously acknowledged, so it’s about time we named more of them.
“The binary options of gender—man or woman—and sexuality—heterosexual or gay—are way too limiting to capture the complexity of human life,” says sex educator Kenna Cook. “There are so many variations in our personalities, beliefs, and DNA that limiting human sexuality to a tiny box of two choices makes it impossible for people to exist authentically.”
Learning the correct terminology for different expressions of gender and sexuality is essential not only to participate in conversations on this topic in an educated way, but also to support the people in your own life who might identify with them. “Language gives us ownership of our identities and autonomy over our personal choices,” says Cook. “Having words to communicate our identities gives us a way to find others similar to us. Words can help us feel seen.”
So, in the interest of educating ourselves and others, here’s a guide to a few human sexuality terms that you might not know, but definitely should.
Cisgender: Identifying with the same sex you were assigned at birth. A cisgender woman, for example, may have been born with female anatomy, like a vulva, and assigned female at birth.
Transgender: Identifying with a gender that differs from the sex you were assigned at birth. For example, trans women are people who may have male anatomy and been assigned male at birth and identify as women.
Queer: Anything other than straight and cisgender, or, more generally, breaking the mold of what society teaches us are the default options for gender and sexuality.
Sexually fluid: Feeling attracted to different genders at different times in one’s lifetime, or open to sexual relationships with a gender that one is not normally attracted to. For example, a heterosexual women who occasionally is attracted to women might identify as sexually fluid.
Pansexual: Attracted to all variations of gender identities. Because there are more than two genders, pansexual people may not find the word “bisexual” adequate to describe their sexual identities.
Asexual: Not experiencing sexual attraction to other people. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t have sexual urges or romantic attraction to others. In fact, many aseuxal people masturbate and have romantic relationships. Some people also feel some sexual attraction to others but view themselves as on the asexual spectrum.
Pangender: Feeling an affiliation with multiple gender identities. A pangender person, for example, might feel they embody male, female, and other genders simultaneously.
Agender: Not identifying with any gender. Agender people might disagree with the whole concept of gender or simply feel that it does not apply to them.
Non-binary: Not exclusively identifying as male or female. Non-binary people may also identify as agender, pangender, or trans. They can also identify as male or female in addition to being non-binary. Some non-binary people use the pronouns “they/them”.
Genderqueer: Expressing gender outside of cisgender. This could include someone who is trans, non-binary, pangender, agender, or simply “genderqueer,” without any other gender label.
Gender-nonconforming: This term is sometimes used simply to denote a lack of adherence to typical gender roles or stereotypes. Other times, it indicates a refusal to identify with a gender. Some non-binary and trans people also identify as gender-nonconforming.
Polyamory (a.k.a. ethical non-monogamy): Consensually having romantic relationships with more than one person, whether with one primary partner and other secondary partners or with several partners given equal importance.
Open relationship: A relationship in which one or more people are permitted to have other sexual or romantic relationships. This type of relationship agreement can exist in both monogamous and non-monogamous relationships.
Solo polyamory: Someone who considers their primary relationship to be with themselves. Sometimes this means having multiple partners but not a “primary” relationship with anyone.
BDSM: an acronym for Bondage, Dominance, Submission/Sadism, and Masochism.
Kink: a term that is representative of alternative sexual interests like BDSM, sexual fetishes, and other forms of sexual expression that depart from what’s considered “vanilla” sexual expression.
Keep in mind that all these definitions are personal, so you won’t be able to say which term applies to another person unless you ask. For this reason, it’s important not to make assumptions about who someone dates, who they have sex with, or how they identify based on how they look or act.
In the cartoon, two animated condoms try to go down a pair of side-by-side slides. The first zips down easily, a look of satisfaction on its face, while the second gets stuck and appears disappointed. “Some condoms have lubricant to make them more comfortable during sex, while others do not,” explains a female narrator in a voiceover.
In the next scene, the stuck condom appears to have learned this. It applies its own water-based lubricant and cheers as it continues the ride. “Non-lubricated condoms can be used with water-based lubricants, such as commercial lubricant you can buy in the drug store near the condoms,” adds the narrator. Cue the flashing red Xs that cross out an oil can and Vaseline container, along with a verbal warning that Vaseline or other oil-based lubricants should always be avoided because they break down the condom.
The same balance of humorous imagery and important information happens throughout the three-minute episode, which covers the entire act of sex, from safely opening and putting on a condom, to consummating the act and cleaning up afterward. But that video, entitled “How To Use The Contraception Effectively,” is one of over 50 that are now freely available online at AMAZE, a YouTube-based sexual education program that has more than 5 million views.
It took a team of health nonprofits to make this happen. Advocates for Youth, Answer, and Youth Tech Health combined forces to launch the venture in October 2016. Their efforts are supported by the WestWind Foundation, which works globally to improve future generations’ quality of life through environmental protection and better access to reproductive health services. In April 2018, AMAZE released a Spanish-language version to reach more kids in Latin American countries.
WestWind conceived of AMAZE as a supplemental resource for kids with questions that go beyond those being addressed in their classroom sexual education programs. After all, when kids go online to learn about sex, they often find porn, which doesn’t model healthy sexual behaviors. But as the current administration has continued to express support for an abstinence-only class curriculum–the political code word is “sexual risk avoidance”–and pushed to remove contraception from family planning service grants, WestWind has tried to cover nearly every corner of traditional sexual education and emerging topics that school programs may be too polite to discuss openly, like pornography and masturbation.
Episodes like “Porn: Fact or Fiction” and “Masturbation: Totally Normal” rank among the top five episodes on the site, all of which range from about a minute and a half to three minutes. But there are other heavily visited topics, too, including the top signs of puberty for both boys and girls, and an animation called “Expressing Myself. My Way” that’s about gender identity and acceptance. These all have garnered from 250,000 to more than 1 million views.
“[This] was started because there was a lack of information for 10- to 14-year-olds, especially for today’s 10- to 14-year-olds,” says Kristen Mahoney, a consultant with the organization’s reproductive health and rights program. “The important thing is we’re trying to meet youth where they’re at and provide accurate information at a time that’s got to be really confusing to them. We want to be one of those resources that if they go online will be one of the first they find to help them through that difficult time.”
The core online curriculum covers standard national sex ed topics, but is also informed through viewers’ responses and feedback through associated Twitter and Instagram accounts. To determine the approach of each show, those nonprofit groups conducted surveys and focus groups with the target audience, kids between the ages of 10 and 14.
While the development team settled on short animated videos that incorporate some humor, they’ve worked hard to make sure that lightheartedness doesn’t obscure the broader lessons, which are often shared visually and verbally. To demonstrate the right way to put on a condom, for instance, the episode shows an actual cartoon penis instead of confusing things with some symbolically phallic object. “The humor level has to be very clear that you know it’s fun jokes, but this is actual factual information and not misleading information,” adds Mahoney.
Advocates For Youth already supplies a sexual education curriculum called Right, Respect and Responsibility to more than 50 school districts around the country, reaching about 2.3 million kids, and has added AMAZE content in supplemental lessons with that program. Planned Parenthood has also included the channel as a supplement in another sex education program that exists outside of schools.
In June, the group will release a 10-video series called AMAZE Academy that’s aimed at teaching parents who watch these videos alongside their kids how to ask questions that encourage openness and more learning. That will be followed by another series aimed at younger kids (in the 5 to 10 range) who are interested in things like where babies come from or the names of different body parts.
In May 2017, the YouTube Social Impact Lab awarded AMAZE a grant to work with Kivvit, a strategic advisory, on how to expand its online search optimization, presence, and reach. YouTube appears interested in what it takes to provide accurate educational information online, and is working closely with AMAZE to ensure its content isn’t inadvertently flagged or censored.
By becoming an online-first resource independent of school systems, AMAZE also has the ability to react quickly to what’s happening in the news. With the rise of the #MeToo movement, the channel decided to green-light an episode about sexual assault. Kids have proven curious about that buzzword too, and are learning how to find a health answer. “What is Sexual Assault” is currently one of the site’s most popular videos.
A new survey indicates that many teens aren’t getting the information or advice they need about important health issues.
by George Citroner
[A] nationwide survey of almost 200 gay teens found that young males who have sex with other males aren’t receiving proper advice about critical health issues that affect them.
The survey included responses from 198 gay adolescent males. It was conducted by a questionnaire linked from a website popular with that group.
According to some study participants, their primary reason for participating was to help members of their community.
Healthcare providers are a critical source of information about HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention.
Before this study, little was known about health communication and services between gay adolescent males and their healthcare providers.
“This is the first study to ask kids about their attitudes on getting sexual healthcare. Pediatricians and general practitioners are the gateway of youth experiences with healthcare, but [these patients] only go once a year, so this is an ideal time to ask [about their sexual activity],” Celia Fisher, PhD, professor of psychology and the chair in ethics at Fordham University in New York who also directs Fordham’s Center for Ethics Education, said in a press release.
Barriers to revealing sexual orientation
Survey responses showed that more than half the teens who participated had decided against revealing their sexual orientation to healthcare providers.
“One of the barriers to discussing the sexual health needs and concerns of adolescent patients was fear that the healthcare provider would disclose confidential information to their guardians. It’s important to also note that whether or not a sexual minority youth is out to his parents doesn’t mean the parents are accepting of their sexual identity,” Fisher told Healthline.
However, Fisher warned in the press release that a doctor may be obligated to say something in certain instances.
“The gray area is if the child is having sex with an adult that might be considered sexual abuse, and that needs to be reported. Even if the relationship is legal and consensual, some youth lack assertiveness skills to demand a condom from an older or aggressive peer partner,” she said.
Initiating a discussion
The findings suggest teens who reported having their healthcare provider initiate a discussion about sexual orientation were much more likely to receive HIV and STI preventive services and testing.
“To ensure that youth get the services they need, I would suggest that doctors make it clear to their adolescent patients that they’re committed to protecting the patient’s confidentiality, but also provide youths with the opportunity to agree to engage their parents in discussion of treatment for HIV and STIs if they believe it is in their best interests,” Fisher said.
Some parents are unsure about asking directly about their child’s sexual orientation.
However, Steven Petrow, author of “Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners,” wrote in the Washington Post: “As for ‘the talk,’ you’re right to wait for your son to come to you. He may not be sure about his identity or isn’t ready to talk with you about it. A direct question can result in defensiveness, a forced coming out or an outright lie.”
What can be done?
Fisher believes that it’s important for medical schools to begin incorporating sexual health training early in the medical school curriculum.
“The small amount of research that has been conducted with physicians indicate many believe they lack the training to speak to young adults about these issues and provide sexual minority youth with information relevant to their sexual health needs,” she said.
How the question is phrased can make a big difference.
“Doctors should not use terms like ‘gay,’ or ‘LGBT,’ because for many young people the terminology is in flux. Youth no longer identify with these traditional behaviors. The question should [instead] be, ‘Who are you attracted to sexually?’” Fisher said.
[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.
[I]t’s hard enough for parents to have “the talk” about sexual health with their kids, but parents of LGBTQ children feel especially uncomfortable and unequipped when they try to educate them about sex and dating, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.
The study examined parents’ attitudes toward talking about sexual health with their lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer teens (LGBTQ).
“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,” said lead author , an assistant professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
In contrast to heterosexual youth, very little research has previously been conducted on the relationships between LGBTQ youth and their parents, and how parenting can affect children’s sexual behaviors.
Parents in the study reported that they face many challenges when trying to educate their LGBTQ children about sex. These challenges include general discomfort with talking about sex with their children, as well as feeling unequipped to provide accurate advice about what constitutes safe LGBTQ sexual practices.
“My challenge around talking about sex is that I have no idea what sex is really like for men, especially for gay men,” commented one mother in an online focus group.
Another parent sent her bisexual daughter to a lesbian friend to talk to her about “gay sex.”
“I felt challenged that I’m straight, my daughter is dating a gal, and I didn’t know anything about that,” the mom said. “All my sex talks were about how not to get pregnant and how babies aare conceived.”
One parent reported feeling isolated in handling sex talks with her gay child. “I don’t have an opportunity to talk to other parents whose kids are LGBTQ,” she said.
“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,” said Newcomb, associate director for scientific development at the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health at Feinberg.
The Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health conducted the survey examining attitudes toward talking about sexual health from the perspective of parents of LGBTQ teens.
The study was published March 26 in the journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy. There were 44 participants in the study who were parents of LGBTQ adolescents ages 13-17.
“Having a healthy and supportive relationship with parents is one of the strongest predictors of positive health outcomes in teens, and this is true of both heterosexual and LGBTQ teens,” Newcomb said. “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 well being.”
The Institute also recently published a separate study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior focused on talking about sex from the perspective of LGBTQ adolescents.
“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,” said lead author Brian Feinstein, a research assistant professor at the institute. “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.”
Participants in the youth study were ages 14-17 and identified as gay or bisexual males.
Brian Mustanski, director of Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and professor of medical social sciences at Feinberg, noted, “Research on family relationships is a high priority for us because it is an extremely understudied area, and parents are asking us for advice. We need new research to give these parents the right answers.”
[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.
[Y]our sexual partner just jubilantly crossed the finish line, but you’re still running a race with no end in sight. It’s frustrating. And, for an alarming number of heterosexual women, it’s the infuriating reality of sex. Metaphors aside, we’re talking about the gender orgasm gap—the disparity between men and women’s sexual satisfaction, and a struggle that many of us know all too well.
64 percent of men have an orgasm during sex, but only 34 percent of women can say the same, according to the Durex Global Sex Survey which surveyed nearly 30K adults worldwide. Women who identify as heterosexual are the demographic that have the fewest orgasms, according to a study by Indiana University. That same research also revealed something that many women are already fully aware of: penetrative sex alone simply doesn’t cut it for most women. And, that women need oral sex and clitoral stimulation if they’re going to stand any chance of coming.
The reasons for the orgasm gap are multi-faceted, and some of them will take a long time to remedy. Sex education that fails to teach sexual pleasure has been cited as one reason for the gap. A study from University of Wisconsin-Madison found a third of university-age women can’t identify their clitoris in an anatomy test. Communication, or a lack thereof, is one of the biggest obstacles in bridging the orgasm gap, according to the Durex Global Sex Survey. Over a third of people feel they can’t tell their sexual partner what they like. And, others say the reason behind the gender orgasm gap is the cultural prioritisation of the male orgasm.
We might not be able to change these things overnight, but there are a few things we can do. Mashable asked gynaecologists, sex therapists, sex educators, and orgasm equality activists what heterosexual sex partners can do to bridge the orgasm gap in their own bedroom. Here are the pearls of wisdom they imparted that will hopefully bring us all a little closer to that oh-so-coveted finish line.
Don’t fake it
Heather Corinna—founder of Scarleteen, a sex and relationships education site for young people—warns against faking your orgasm, which can cause a miscommunication between you and your sexual partner. “Orgasm tells a partner whatever you did together can gets you off. So, they’re often going to try and repeat those things to get that result again,” says Corinna. “If you faked, you gave them wrong information, and then they think things get you off that might not, or even most definitely DO not.”
Angela Skurtu— sex therapist and cohost of the About Sex podcast—says couples should masturbate together so they can see see “how each person touches themselves.” “Women masturbate very differently than men do and we can teach each other,” says Skurtu. “You can also make this a competition—whoever finishes first wins something.”
Build arousal slowly
“Slow down,” says Sophie Holloway, founder of Ladies Come First, a campaign promoting pleasure based sex education. “No touching the vagina until you are really really really turned on,” says Holloway. “Your labia should be plump and erect just like the penis when you are aroused.” She recommends staying in foreplay for as long as possible to build arousal slowly and to achieve what she calls a “lady boner.” When it comes to pressure, Holloway says partners should start out “touching the clitoris with the same pressure as you would your eyelid” before applying more pressure.
Claire Kim, program manager at sex education site OMGYES, says in hetero penetrative sex, “in and out friction” is what’s pleasurable for the man, but this action isn’t conductive to the level of clitoral stimulation women need. “What’s often much more pleasurable for the woman is his penis staying inside,” says Kim. “So that the clitoris stays in contact with the area above the penis, and the top of the penis stays in contact with the inside roots of the clitoral cluster, which go around the urethra and up the vaginal canal.”
Think about what gets you off alone
We know what makes us come when we’re going solo. The obstacle usually arises when we bring another person into the equation. Corinna recommends examining “what floats your boat solo” and then “bringing it to your crew.” “Whatever that is, bring as much of it into sex with partners as you can,” says Corinna. “Whether that’s bringing the fantasies in your head, showing them how to do what you like with your own hands meshed with theirs, or doing it yourself during sex (or both!), using porn you like together.” Gynaecologist and sex counsellor Dr. Terri Vanderlinde recommends that women practice “alone, comfortably” with fingers or vibrators to learn “her body and how it works.”
Treat this as a learning curve
PSA men: this is gonna take some time. Holloway says men need to know that “until they have the map to their partner’s pleasure” it’s going to be a “voyage of discovery.” “This takes time, and patience, and love, and respect, and placing their partners pleasure and orgasm as their primary goal is a big part of it,” she says. Partners should listen and learn their partner’s pleasure signals, and be receptive when your partner tells you when something’s not working for them.
Get on top
When it comes to positions for penetrative sex, all experts interviewed by Mashable were in agreement: getting on top will help get you off. Dr. Vandelinde says being on top provides open access for clitoral stimulation, which most women need in order to orgasm. It also gives the woman “the freedom to have more control of the movements” so you can get into a rhythm that feels good, according to Holloway. Online sex therapist and host of Foreplay Radio podcast Laurie Watson says “woman on top at a 45 degree angle gives the penis the most contact with the G-spot, and is a good position that she can reach her clitoris.”
Experiment with positions
Getting on top isn’t the be all and end all, though. Vanderlinde says doggy style can be a good position for clitoral stimulation. “Anything that can give direct stimulation to the clitoris works,” says Vanderlinde. Watson recommends lying on your back, hooking your legs around your partner’s elbows with your pelvis rocked up. “To climax during intercourse I suggest a position where their partner or themselves can simultaneously touch their clitoris,” says Watson.
As Corinna points out, women have “incredibly diverse bodies, and even more diverse sexualities.” They say orgasm can occur with “any kind of sexual activity” and each person over time will find what works for their own bodies. “There are going to be certain positions, angles or other specifics that work best for them. But what those are is so varied, that’s something we all have to find out by experimenting,” they say.
Talk about sex outside the bedroom
Corinna says it’s actually really hard to talk about what you like and don’t like during sex. “It’s just such a high-stakes situation, and people, especially women, are often so worried about how what they say will be perceived,” says Corinna, who suggests building communication about sex when you’re not having sex. “Start by doing more talking about sex when you’re not actually engaging in sex. That can help build trust and comfort and practice that makes doing it during easier,” says Corinna.
Tell your partner when something feels good
We know that faking your orgasm will give your partner the wrong message about what’s working for you. If you feel comfortable doing so, Corinna says you should “voice it when things do feel good” and “show them what you like when you can.” “Don’t be afraid to ask a partner to keep doing what they are doing when you’re into it, or to adjust when something isn’t doing it for you,” they say. “Be explicit and clear and open.”
Add toys to the equation
If you use a vibrator on your own, then it’s worth considering using it when you’re having sex with your partner. “If someone enjoy sex toys alone, why wouldn’t they bring them into sex together at least sometimes? The idea that toys are just for people alone is silly,” says Corinna.
If you want to add toys to the equation during penetrative sex, Vanderlinde recommends using a “cock ring with a vibrator” which will afford “hands free stimulation” as well as vibrators that can fit between your and your partner’s bodies. “Or simply wait ’til he finishes and then he can stimulate her to multiple orgasms,” says Vanderlinde.
Plan to give oral
Sex therapist Deborah Fox says that the “majority” of women won’t come from intercourse alone and that’s simply down to biology. The clitoris is full of nerve endings, while only the outer third of the vagina tends to have responsive nerves,” says Fox.
If the man comes during intercourse, his next move should be to find a way to make his partner come. Skurtu says if the man comes during intercourse, he should plan to perform oral sex afterwards. “If a person finishes first, the next person can perform oral on the first or use a vibrator and/or fingers,” she says.
Try not to get stressed if you don’t come. Vanderlinde says there are sometimes other things at play that could be standing in the way of reaching orgasm. “There can be interfering medical diagnoses, medications, pain, low desire, hormones, partner issues, prior abuse, trust issues, stresses, worries, depression, that have a major effect on a woman’s ability to have an orgasm,” she says. In these situations, consider seeking advice from a medical professional or trained sex counsellor.
Go forth, explore. And most importantly, have fun.