Forget couples counselling,

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it’s all about sex therapy now

More couples are going straight to sex therapy to support the relationship.

By Thomas Mitchell

A friend recently told me that he and his girlfriend had been seeing a sex therapist. Their sex life had been sliding, and they were struggling to connect, so they booked in for a few sessions. Fast forward to our conversation, and it had worked wonders for their relationship.

“It was the best thing we’ve ever done,” said Scott*, with the obvious glow of someone having top-shelf sex again. “But you should’ve seen my dad’s shocked face when I told him.”

For context, Scott is close to his dad and had wanted to share this development with him.
While he hadn’t predicted his dad’s disbelief, I was less surprised. Scott’s father was the kind of man who would say things like, “Come on now, that’s enough” if the conversation drifted towards sex at the dinner table.

But rather than focus on his old man’s failure to appreciate the value of sex therapy – that would be akin to being shocked by the sun rising each morning – I was delighted.

In the last six months, I’d heard many tales of people I knew employing sex coaches, attending seminars, working with sex therapists.

Adding Scott’s story to this pile, I was convinced I had (anecdotal) evidence of a pattern. As it turns out, I wasn’t too far off the mark.

“We certainly notice that people are more comfortable talking about their sex lives and that has been reflected in people using different sexual services,” says Fiona Barrett, a counsellor with Relationships Australia.

“I put it down to a cultural shift, Masters and Johnson did their groundbreaking sexual research in the late 1950s, but it takes a generation or two for people to get comfortable.”

“My parents wouldn’t have gone to a sex therapist,” adds Fiona.

“But today we’re finding middle-aged and young adults seeking out these services because sexuality is in the media, it’s talked about at dinner, people are open about their desires and needs.”

It’s a trend that Lisa Torney, a practising sex therapist with more than twenty years in the field, has witnessed.

“We’ve seen a cultural shift, people are aware that pleasure and intimacy are important aspects of their relationships,” says Lisa.

“And if that’s missing, they don’t want to just get help, they want to get specialised help.”

While some people still hear the words “sex therapy” and picture candles, blindfolds and soft music, the reality couldn’t be further from it.

“Sex therapy typically involves getting history on the couple or individual, to understand what their relationship with sex is like,” explains Lisa.

“We’re looking to decipher what factors are impacting on them – things like lack of confidence, having kids, age, illness, disability, previous negative experiences – and realising how that might affect their intimacy levels and how we can improve and work through that.”

As well as being a sex therapist, Lisa is the national chairperson of the Society of Australian Sexologists, a body that is growing as supply attempts to keep up with demand.

“Our membership keeps increasing, and we now offer two Masters degrees in Australia in sexology,” she says.

Meanwhile, sex education and intimacy coaching is also becoming popular, as couples and individuals look to prioritise pleasure. It differs from sex therapy in that there is less of a focus on counselling and more on coaching, to help people achieve the fulfilling sex lives they want.

Organisations catering to the carnally curious are popping up all around the country offering individual classes, group sessions or weekends away.

“More people than ever are looking for a better connection with their sensual self, they want to get back into their bodies because they have felt out of touch for far too long,” says Georgia Grace, a Sydney-based sex educator and coach.

At the mention of the ‘sensual self’, I can’t help but think of Scott’s disapproving dad frowning his way through a session.

But while he may not find anything useful in being coached, others do.

“Couples need education and training in how to relate, increase pleasure, ask for consent, practice boundaries and understand who they are as sexual individuals,” she says.

Now everyone knows there’s nothing sexier than statistics, so let’s heat things up with a little data.

The Australian Study of Health and Relationships is our most important study of sexual and reproductive health, only carried out once-in-a-decade, it delivers a snapshot of where we’re at sexually.

The most recent study, completed in 2016, found that while Australians are more experimental and open than ever, the frequency of sex in relationships has dropped. Perhaps that explains our desire to seek out help from therapists and coaches.

“We’re more at ease with sex, but there are also more intrusions now, even in the past two years since that study,” explains Georgia.

“People take their devices to bed, we’re living vicariously through our phones and it becomes hard for people, and couples, to switch off, so they can turn on.”

Both Lisa and Georgia admit that – “what’s a normal sex life?” – is one of the most common questions they hear from clients and both also agree, there is no such thing.

But in light of our increasing desire to explore, improve, understand and enjoy sex, it’s clear that
what’s not normal is the reaction of Scott’s father.

Eventually, I asked Scott what he said to his dad and his response was priceless – “come on now Dad, that’s enough.”

  • Scott’s name was changed to protect his privacy.

Complete Article HERE!

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The 5 Most Common Sexual Complaints That Couples Have

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By Jessa Zimmerman

As a sex therapist, I see an amazing breadth of presenting issues and concerns in my practice. Despite the fact that I talk about sex all day, there is an incredible diversity in the people I work with, the stories they share, the goals they want to achieve, and the ways in which sexual difficulties show up and affect them. However, there are themes that emerge in my work. While every couple is different and their path to my office unique, there are several common problems people encounter in their sexual relationships. Here are five of the ones that appear the most, as well as ideas about how you might approach the situation if this is where you find yourself:

“We disagree about how often to have sex.”

For most of the couples that come to therapy, sexual desire discrepancy has become an issue. When a couple is counting how often they have sex, treating their intimate life as a math problem, that’s my clue that they have been having the wrong conversation. The answer is not about finding an average or creating a quota; it’s about creating a sex life that can be truly engaging for both people.

In every relationship, there is one person who wants more sex and one who wants less. That isn’t a problem by itself, but it can become one when people don’t know how to manage that tension and don’t know how to handle their part well. The person who wants more sex tends to take their partner’s level of desire personally. They tend to feel rejected, undesirable, and unimportant. The person who wants sex less feels pressured. They can either feel like something is wrong with them (that they are missing a “natural” sex drive) or resentful that their partner can’t accept them for who they are.

What to do

The more desirous person needs to stop treating sex as an affirmation of their worth. They need to separate their own sense of worth from their partner’s level of desire. If sex has become something that needs to happen to make you feel better, it’s lost its appeal. It’s not sexy to have sex out of neediness rather than an authentic desire to connect with each other. It’s also important that the more desirous partner continue to advocate for what they want. So many higher desire partners start avoiding the topic or waiting for the other to volunteer sex. Keep talking about the importance of sex and your desire to share that experience with your partner. At the same time, handle a “no” graciously.

The less desirous partner should start by identifying obstacles that are in the way of the desire they may otherwise have. Identify and address each barrier you find. Resolve the relationship issues that keep you feeling distant. Manage the environment to help you relax and shift gears into sex, whether that’s cleaning up or putting a lock on your door. Speak up about what you need in sex itself, especially if you haven’t been getting it.

It’s important to understand that you may also have what I call “reactive desire.” This means your sexual desire doesn’t show up until after you’ve started. This means you need to create opportunity to get aroused and interested. Instead of saying no out of instinct, consider saying “maybe.” Start talking, kissing, touching…whatever you like. And if you end up turned on and interested in sex, great! If not, that’s OK too. Either way, the less desirous person should take an active role in creating a sex life that they can embrace.

“I do all the initiating.”

There are two basic reasons one person ends up doing all or most of the sexual initiation. First, the desire discrepancy I described above tends to result in the higher desire partner being the one to suggest sex. The lower desire person often ends up accepting or rejecting the other’s invitations. Second, the more desirous of you also tends to be someone who experiences what I call “proactive desire.” This is the spontaneous desire that most of us think of as libido. This person thinks about sex, experiences spontaneous arousal or interest, and wants to seek it out and make it happen. This makes it easy to initiate. If your partner has “reactive desire,” though, they may almost never think about sex. It legitimately doesn’t cross their mind. This makes it more challenging to initiate sex.

What to do

The two of you need to accept that no amount of sexual desire is “correct” and that reactive desire is normal. Nothing is broken. You have to find a way to work together and collaborate on your sex life. To achieve more balance in your sex life, the person who struggles to initiate may need to do it on purpose. If you have reactive desire, you aren’t going to initiate sex because it’s on your mind and you’re horny. You can do it from a more intentional place, thinking about the value of your sex life in general and the importance of taking a more active role in your relationship. It’s OK to start with an engine that’s cold; take your time, get going, and see if the engine turns over. If you end up turned on and interested, you may want sex—when you couldn’t have imagined that just a few minutes ago. If you don’t, that’s fine, too. At least you connected with your partner and took some responsibility to tend to your intimate relationship.

We each have sexual preferences and desires that interest us and turn us on. Early in a relationship, we tend to migrate toward the common ground, the things we both enjoy and that don’t make either of us uncomfortable. Later in a relationship, though, this can become a problem. One or both of you may want to explore some of the sexual behaviors or activities that were held back or neglected early on.

What to do

It’s worth trying to get out of your comfort zone and experimenting with some of the things that interest your partner. If you think about it, everything we’ve done sexually started off as uncomfortable. We have to develop comfort with things over time, whether it’s French kissing or oral sex. So experiencing some discomfort or anxiety can be OK, if you’re able to approach it as a willing partner and as an experiment. Of course, it’s OK to have some hard no’s (or to discover some), too. You do need to take care of yourself and not violate your own integrity or bottom line. You’ll want to find a balance of saying no when you need to and yes when you can.

There are other ways to incorporate some sexual desires, too, if you determine that you can’t do them with your partner. You may be able to talk about them and bring them into your experience in imagination. You may find a “lite” version that works for both of you. If nothing else, you can use that erotic material in solo sex, fueling your fantasies and arousal there.

“My partner masturbates and/or watches porn.”

It’s perfectly normal to masturbate, whether you’re single or in a relationship. Solo sex and partnered sex are really apples and oranges. Sex with a partner is a collaboration, a give and take between two people. Solo sex is an opportunity to have a simpler experience, a quick release, or an exploration of your own eroticism. As long as masturbation is in addition to your sex life, not instead of, it is not a problem.

It may challenge you to think that your partner finds sexual arousal in anything besides you. We don’t stop finding other people attractive just because we’re in a relationship. And we don’t stop finding sexual behaviors interesting just because our partner doesn’t enjoy them. We don’t own the thoughts in each other’s minds, and it is futile to try to police what our partner is thinking about.

What to do

As long as the sex life you share is fulfilling and enjoyable, let go of the worries about what your partner finds arousing. And if your sex life needs work, focus on that rather than controlling their sexual thoughts.

Now, actually talking about the viewing of pornography and how you each feel about it can be a difficult and loaded conversation. For some, pornography is just another erotic medium that provides stimulation and fodder for the imagination. For others, it can become a compulsive and problematic behavior. Some people can enjoy watching porn; others cannot accept it at all based on moral, social, or ethical complaints. It’s not that viewing porn is either “right” or “wrong.” It’s about having a conversation where you can truly be curious about each other’s perspective and then coming to an agreement and understanding that works for you both.

“We find ourselves avoiding sex.”

If you and your partner have struggled with sex, with any of the problems I’ve already described or any of the many others, it’s likely you’ve started to avoid sex. It’s natural to avoid things that make us feel bad. Once sex has become loaded, stressful, disappointing, or negative, of course you aren’t looking forward to the next encounter. In fact, sex may feel like a test or an ordeal—one that you expect to fail.

What to do

You can take a two-pronged approach to addressing sexual avoidance: Deal with the things that make sex seem negative, and address your sex life together rather than avoid it.

The first step in dealing with what makes sex negative is to challenge your expectations. If you have the idea that sex should be easy, that sex should go a certain way, or that you have to perform, then you set yourself up to be disappointed. But if you adopt a view that sex is just about experiencing pleasure and connection with your partner, that anything you share sexually is a win, and that there is no way to fail at sex, then you set yourself up for success. Second, you can take steps (many that I’ve outlined in this article) to improve the sex you’re sharing with your partner.

The more you can treat sex as a collaborative process and endeavor, the more enjoyable you’ll find your sex life. Communicate openly with your partner about what’s working and what isn’t. Keep talking about what matters to you in sex and what would make it more engaging for you. Resist any urge to hide and avoid rather than deal with your issues.

It’s normal and common to struggle in your sex life. A long-term, committed relationship takes work—in the bedroom and out. If you’ve encountered any of these issues in your relationship, take heart in the knowledge that they’re common—and totally workable.

Complete Article HERE!

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8 Signs a Sex Therapist Might Improve Your Life

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(and How to Find One)

People are trained to make your sex life better! What a world.

By Sophie Saint Thomas

You may have joked to friends that you don’t need therapy—you have them. But sometimes working through the hard stuff requires help from a neutral party who happens to be a licensed professional. If your hard stuff is about sex, a sex therapist may be your best option. Here are eight signs a sex therapist could be a great addition to your life, and after that, advice on actually finding one.

1. You’re experiencing pain or physical difficulty when you try to have sex.

It’s important to see a medical doctor first to rule out any physical conditions behind this, somatic (body-based) psychologist and certified sex therapist Holly Richmond, Ph.D., tells SELF. Unfortunately, a ton of things can cause horribly painful sex, like cervical inflammation from a sexually transmitted infection, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids. In that kind of situation, medical treatment may help ease difficulty having sex.

If you see a medical doctor and there is no physical issue at the core of your trouble with sex, that doesn’t make what you’re dealing with any less significant. Seeing a sex therapist to discuss any psychological components at play can be helpful, Richmond explains.

For instance, vaginismus, which causes painful vaginal muscle spasms during penetration, can stem from anxiety about having sex, according to the Cleveland Clinic. (That could include anxiety about it being painful even if any condition causing the pain has been treated.) It can also happen due to issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder from a sexual assault. Stress is one of many possible psychological causes behind erectile dysfunction, too.

Point is, the mental and physical are often so closely intertwined that painful sex is a very valid reason to see a sex therapist.

2. You’re processing sexual trauma.

It’s a misconception that trauma leaves all survivors incapable of being sexual beings. Enjoying sex after an assault is possible, and a sex therapist might help you get there.

Of course, recovering from a sexual assault is a different process for everyone. But for some people, a sex therapist is a better option than a more generalized mental health professional. “Oftentimes therapists will talk about the trauma, but there’s no resolution on how we move forward as our sexual selves,” says Richmond, who treats many survivors. “[Sex therapists] process the trauma and move forward to help you have sex with your partner. We can help you move from survivor to thriver.” That’s not to say a therapist who doesn’t specialize in sex can’t help you heal after an assault. But if you’d like to specifically focus on the sexual aspect, a sex therapist may be ideal.

3. You’re in a partnership with mismatched desires.

This can mean many things, like one person having a higher libido than the other or being interested in exploring a kink such BDSM, sex therapist Liz Powell, Ph.D., who often sees partners with mismatched desires, tells SELF.

While having a kink is generally becoming more accepted, disclosing one can still be scary. This is where a sex therapist can help. For instance, Richmond recalls a couple who came to her because the male partner was struggling with the female partner’s urge to explore her submissive side in a specific way. “She wanted to be called a slut, a whore, and her partner just could not do it. So, we had to figure out other ways for her to work within her fantasy,” Richmond says

If necessary, a sex therapist can also guide you through the realization that the partnership isn’t working due to incompatible desires. “So many people are just petrified of breakups [and] they choose to stay even when they’re not happy,” Powell says. Seeing a therapist together may help you figure out whether to salvage the relationship or bring it to a respectful end.

4. You want to explore opening up your relationship.

This is another scenario Powell, who specializes in LGBTQ+ communities along with kink and polyamory, sees quite often. A sex therapist can help a couple in this situation craft a relationship format that allows both of them to feel safe and fulfilled. That can mean everything from the freedom to have a one-night stand once a year while in another country to dating multiple partners.

Having an impartial, trained person involved can help ensure that no one is simply capitulating to something like an open relationship due to pressure (even the internal kind) and that both partners are respecting each other’s boundaries—even if that means splitting up.

5. You have questions about your gender identity.

The gender revolution is making progress. In one recent win, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law a provision that creates room for a third gender, X, on birth certificates.

But there are setbacks, too, as evidenced by the recent news that the Department of Health and Human Services wants to define gender as a fixed identity determined by a person’s genitals at birth. (It’s not.)

In light of the continued fight to have everyone’s gender identity respected, figuring out the right words or expression for your gender can be a daunting task. A sex therapist, particularly an LGBTQ+ friendly one, may be able to help you alone or with a partner, Powell says.

6. You’re exploring your sexual orientation.

As with gender, a sex therapist can help you navigate questions about your sexual orientation, reassure you that there’s nothing wrong with you, and aid you in your journey of self-discovery. This can be especially helpful if you’re in a monogamous relationship and experiencing sexual curiosity for people of genders other than your partner’s, Powell says.

A sex therapist could also be useful if you’re wondering whether or not you’re asexual or would like to talk about being asexual. “Some people think it’s a sex therapist’s job to make people have more sex and crazier sex, and [it’s] definitely not,” Richmond says. “You don’t have to have any sex. As long as you’re OK with it, I’m OK with it.”

7. You’re a current or former sex worker or dating someone who is.

Richmond says she frequently sees couples in which one person is or used to be a sex worker. A good sex therapist can help people uncover and eradicate any kind of internalized stigma around the profession. “In many people’s minds, because of our cultural lens, that’s something to be ashamed of,” Richmond says. “That’s not my view

Another important component may be helping the person not in the adult industry separate their partner from their sex work, Richmond says, explaining that people who are dating sex workers sometimes fetishize their partners accidentally. “Helping separate the person’s identity from [the adult industry] can be tricky because of the shame, but at the end of the day, you’re just dating another person,” she says.

8. You want to overcome sexual shame.

You may have noticed a theme here. From gender identity to surviving an assault to sex work and more, a sex therapist can help you deal with something that brings you shame even if that emotion is totally unwarranted. (As it is with everything on the above list.)

Both Powell and Richmond say that, deep down, most people who see them want to know if they’re “normal.” Shame has a funny way of making you feel like you’re not, and it’s the opposite of conducive to enjoying a healthy sex life. But it can also be almost impossible to escape. “Having grown up in a culture with so much shame, I think most of us could benefit from seeing a sex therapist,” Powell says. If anything is keeping you from having the love or sex life you always wanted, a sex therapist might be able to help you work through it.

Wishing you could teleport to a sex therapist’s office right now? Here’s the next best thing: advice on finding a great sex therapist you can afford.

Finding the right therapist can feel like dating. Despite their qualifications, therapists are humans, too. You might run into a therapist with their own sexual hang-ups or old-fashioned views, or just someone you don’t gel with. But when you find “the one,” there’s no feeling like it. Here are a few steps to try
1. If you have insurance, call and ask for help finding a local sex therapist. You can also look through their online directory. Since that may not allow you to filter specifically for sex therapists, you might still need to do some digging on the therapists’ backgrounds.

2. Richmond suggests looking into the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT). They have an online directory of local professionals. Not all of the professionals list their insurance policies, though, so you’ll need to visit their websites or get in touch with their offices to ask about that.

3. Online services such as ZocDoc and Psychology Today have filters that allow you to get more specific about what you want. For instance, on Psychology Today, you can drill the results down to sex therapists who specialize in gender identity, take your insurance, and participate in online therapy. (Even if it seems like you’ve landed upon your dream therapist, it’s always smart to call the office and verify that all the information you’ve found is up to date.)

4. Try asking your potential therapist’s office if they ever accept payment on a sliding scale and, if they do, which income brackets qualify. Unfortunately, not all therapists take insurance. Even if they do, your insurance may not cover your One True Sex Therapist. If your therapist accepts payment on a sliding scale, that can be a great way to lower your financial burden.

5. If price is still an issue, consider seeing a sex educator or a counselor instead of a therapist. Someone with a degree such as an M.S.W. (masters in social work) may have a lower rate than someone with a degree like a Ph.D., but should still be highly skilled.

6. Google “sex-positive therapist in [insert your city here].” You may find a network such as Manhattan Alternative, which lists sex-positive therapists in New York City who specialize in areas such as kink, ethical non-monogamy, and sexual assault survivorship.

7. If you’re looking for help specifically related to an LGBTQ+ issue, check out SELF’s guide on how to find an LGBTQ+ friendly doctor. Much of it extends to finding a sex therapist as well.

8. Ask about virtual sessions. If the best therapist you find isn’t in your city, remember that many are open to coaching you over the phone or virtually with a service like Skype or FaceTime, Richmond says. For all its potential ills, technology can be a beautiful thing.

Complete Article HERE!

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Building Strength And Resilience After A Sexual Assault: What Works

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Psychologists find that cognitive processing therapy — a type of counseling that helps people learn to challenge and modify their beliefs related to a trauma — can be useful in healing the mental health problems some experience after a sexual assault.

By

The wrenching testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, who is accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of a sexual assault years ago, raises questions about the long-term emotional and physical toll this kind of trauma takes on survivors and how our society responds to those who come forward long after the assault.

Emily R. Dworkin, a senior fellow at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, studies how the social interactions of trauma survivors can affect their recovery. She was also the lead author of a paper published in the journal Clinical Psychology Review in 2017 that looked through more than 100,000 studies conducted in the last 50 years and found nearly 200 relevant ones on the relationship between sexual assault and mental health to analyze.

What she found, Dworkin says, is strong evidence that sexual assault is associated with an increased risk for multiple forms of psychological harm “across most populations, assault types and methodological differences in studies.” Too many survivors still face stigma and internalize that blame, and that can make it harder to seek help. And while some types of therapy have been shown to be helpful, she says, more information on evidence-based treatments for survivors “is critically needed.”

Dworkin talked with NPR about her research findings and offered her perspective on where society and science need to go next to prevent assaults and help survivors heal. Our interview was edited for length and clarity.

You looked at a lot of studies about the mental health impact of sexual assault, but it’s not an area as well-studied as say, heart disease. So what do we know?

Sexual assault [any type of sexual activity or contact that happens without the consent of both people] began getting research attention in the ’70s as society as a whole was going through a feminist awakening, and it kind of developed at the same time as PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], which was then known as “combat trauma.” Many things can lead to depression or anxiety. People with PTSD relive the trauma in the form of intrusive memories, nightmares, or even flashbacks. They avoid things that remind them of the trauma.

The symptoms that people were showing when they were coming home from war were the same as victims of rape trauma — recurring memories and a wish to avoid triggering them.

These days, lots of people are doing research, but there’s still a lot left to understand. What we do know is that sexual assault is associated with a higher risk for a lot of different mental health problems, including PTSD [and depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicidality] … especially PTSD.

What do we know about how ethnicity and education affects the mental health of survivors of sexual assault?

We need to know more. Some of my past research on queer women shows that ongoing forms of stress can compound stress. And we know that people from marginalized groups are just at greater risk for sexual assault [and a number of other health problems]. So it’s likely that these groups experience more trauma — but I don’t think we can completely say for sure.

How does sexual assault compare with other forms of trauma, in terms of effects on mental health?

We never want to have the Olympics of trauma. But compared to other types of life-threatening trauma, survivors of sexual assault do seem to be more likely to get PTSD. In my preliminary look at the data from 39 studies on this topic, it seems like 36 percent of survivors meet criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD in their lifetime, versus 12 percent of people who don’t have a history of sexual assault.

My thinking is that sexual assault is a unique form of trauma. It is highly stigmatized, and when people go to seek help for it, unlike in a car accident — well, the police are not going to ask you if you’ve really been in a car accident.

Also, people don’t always do the most effective job of supporting sexual assault survivors. Sometimes they do things that can actually compound the trauma. In the ’70s it was known as “the second rape” when you tell the police, undergo a rape kit exam and explain it to family and friends. They don’t always know how to help.

What can survivors who are feeling overwhelmed, depressed and traumatized do to recover, and how can friends and family help?

It’s important for survivors to know that they can regain a sense of power over those triggers, and that the most natural response is to push away the triggers. Self-care isn’t about turning off those bad feelings, but feeling those feelings so that they can subside naturally.

It’s kind of a counterintuitive idea, and it’s not what we usually think to do for our loved ones. When somebody’s in pain, all you want to do is to take that pain away. It’s understandable to try to distract them, take them out for a drink, but it’s better to be a shoulder to cry on. You don’t need to cheer somebody up in the moment. Be there for them as a witness to their pain.

What about the professionals — the police, the lawyers, the therapists — that survivors need to talk to? How can they do a better job?

This all comes back to … dealing with the false beliefs we have around sexual assault — blaming the victim, challenging the victim’s choices. Changing these cultural norms is important.

One of the evidence-based treatments for PTSD is overcoming the trauma by sharing the story. That’s a very different thing than being forced to tell it in public.

I don’t want to imply that it’s the survivor’s fault they have PTSD. And they feel like they don’t want to relive it again, which is totally natural. But our bodies can’t sustain that intense emotional response for long — those feelings come down naturally.

In my clinical work, a woman came to me with her story of sexual assault. The first time she told it, she was crying. By the fourth time, she was almost yawning. Her story is not one that has power over her anymore. She has the control over whether she’s going to have her life altered.

Has the public’s perception of sexual assault changed since the Kavanaugh hearings?

I think about this stuff every day. I’ve been thinking it about every day since I was 18 and beginning my research. It takes me awhile to catch up and realize that everyone else is thinking about it now.

My hope is that we’re changing some of the cultural conversation around this.

It’s important to know that most of the disorders are very treatable conditions. I do feel like if survivors can get connected to evidence-based treatments, they can be helped — even years later.

What are the resources and treatments that work best for survivors who are experiencing PTSD or other mental health symptoms?

First-line options should be things that we know work well. What I recommend is prolonged exposure therapy [helping people gradually approach trauma-related memories and feelings] or cognitive processing therapy [a specific type of cognitive behavioral therapy that helps patients learn how to challenge and modify unhelpful beliefs related to the trauma]. Both have been around since the ’80s and were developed to treat survivors of rape. They have really strong evidence of reducing symptoms or eliminating the diagnosis [of a mental health disorder].

For resources, look for a good therapist who offers cognitive processing therapy. Also, you can check out the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies [for more information about the treatment].

As a society, what should we focus on to help survivors of assault?

Ending some of our stigmatizing beliefs about sexual assault and our mistrust for people that come forward is huge. It’s always up to survivors as to whether they disclose. The fact that we’re having these conversations in the public sphere gives me hope.

In schools, [to prevent unwanted sexual advances and sexual assault in the first place] we can teach respect for others and their autonomy. We’re not comfortable with the idea of hearing about these sorts of assaults. Our cultural norm is to avoid uncomfortable experiences. … But we need to keep talking.

Complete Article HERE!

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Rekindling the spark

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– how older couples can rediscover the intimacy of the early days

‘Poor communication is one of the main causes of discord’

A lifetime together can make some couples complacent, uncommunicative, or changed so much that they no longer recognise the person they first fell for. Here, in week three of our Be Your Best You series, Claire O’Mahony asks the experts how older couples can revitalise love and rediscover intimacy

By Dr Damien Lowery, Annie Lavin, Margaret Dunne

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus maintained that change is the only constant in life, and this is clearly evidenced in romantic partnerships: they are not static entities. If you’ve been part of a couple for a long time, neither of you may recognise the people you once were, and likewise your situation will have changed, all of which is played out in your relationship.

It’s also a truism that good relationships require work and that they take an effort to maintain. Long-standing couples can potentially face a variety of challenges: they may have grown apart or they might have communication issues. Even couples who are very much in love sometimes acknowledge that an element of complacency can be found in their relationship and that a certain frisson is lacking. For those in the 55+ demographic, other factors can emerge, affecting how partners relate to each other. For women, menopause can bring side effects such as loss of libido and weight gain resulting in negative body image. Men’s sexual function, meanwhile, can be affected by declining testosterone levels and sometimes ill health. Major life changes at this time can impact on relationships, whether that’s dealing with empty nest syndrome or adjusting to the dynamics of retirement. “There is a lot of change occurring and we aren’t accustomed to change,” says consultant psychologist Dr Damien Lowry, whose practice is in Rathgar, south Dublin. “We are highly adaptive individuals and capable of adaptation and adjustment but it doesn’t come easily and it really puts a strain on our capacity to cope. If there are any cracks in relationships, it’s likely that it will be exposed by these marked changes in our lives.”

However, there are strategies that can be employed that can help older couples revitalise their union and strengthen their relationship, and some of them are even fun:

Better communication is key

Many studies have indicated that poor communication is one of the main causes of discord in relationships. According to Dublin-based dating and relationship coach and psychology lecturer Annie Lavin, clients often have a particular need that they want to express but in trying to do so, end up criticising the other person instead. “Generally when it comes to the effectiveness of any conversation, it’s determined by the tone that we set,” says Lavin, who works to empower people to achieve relationship success by transforming their relationship with themselves. “There’s a huge difference between saying something like, ‘I’m sick of doing everything’, and explaining to your partner that you’re feeling whatever that might be.” She suggests coming to the conversation with a calm demeanour and starting with how you feel but not attributing blame. “Instead of saying, ‘You don’t care about me’, it’s better to say, ‘I’m really upset and I’m really hurting about this’. We have to describe the problem neutrally without criticising the person, so you have to be specific.” Dr Damien Lowry agrees that the use of ‘I-messages’ is an effective way of communicating your needs. “An I-message is saying, ‘I am struggling’ or it’s even linking to behaviour – ‘I feel upset or ignored when you arrive home and ask where your dinner is’. Ultimately, it’s a way of avoiding falling into the trap of criticism.”

Getting Sex back on track

Growing older does not necessarily mean a decline in sexual activity and intimacy. The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing 2017 found that the majority of adults aged over 50 in Ireland are sexually active, with 59pc reporting they had sex in the past 12 months. The study noted that those who are sexually active have a higher quality of life and tend to have more positive perceptions of ageing. Margaret Dunne is a specialist psychotherapist in psychosexual, fertility and relationship therapy, based in Glenageary, Co Dublin. She has found that couples often come to her because they hadn’t been making time for each other, as life might have been so busy with children, which led to an absence of sex. These couples almost need to know how to start again. “When people come to me and say they want to get their sex life and their relationship back on track, it can be very exciting but it can be daunting as well,” she says. The first thing she will ask clients to do is to get tested medically – erectile dysfunction, for example, can be a sign of a heart complaint, high blood pressure or diabetes – before progressing any further.

“The challenge is to change what they have been doing all the time, which may not be working anymore and as our body and mind develops, our sexuality develops too and sometimes people forget and think, ‘If I do A and B, I’ll get to C’ whereas in actual fact, sometimes things change and what worked once mightn’t anymore,” she says. The intimacy aspect is also crucial. Dunne explains that there are four stages of intimacy: operational, where two people live in the same house and divide out tasks; emotional intimacy, where they feel close; physical intimacy and sexual intimacy. It’s difficult for couples to move onto sexual intimacy if there is a disconnect between any of the other three areas. The psychotherapist gives couples a series of exercises called sensate focus where they will touch without having sexual intercourse. “It works very effectively because it almost brings them back to maybe years previously when they were going out together and it was a little bit of touching and being quite intimate but not maybe going the whole way, as it used to be known. It brings back that sense of excitement, and they explore each other’s bodies,” she says. “If you’ve someone who’s not really in the mood or worried that they’re not able to perform, this takes that pressure off, and there’s a huge amount of trust involved.” She also gives couples individual exercises where they explore their own bodies and realise what’s sensitive for them, something that can change over time.

What constitutes a healthy sex life at this stage in life? “Whatever the couple are happy with,” says Dunne. “It’s when one or the other isn’t happy with it and doesn’t enjoy it, that’s when it becomes problematic. I often encourage them at the same time to push themselves out of their comfort zone. They may have never discussed their sex life before and it’s a chance to almost reinvent themselves and to be able to enjoy sex. A lot of them mightn’t have been having sex before marriage, maybe there wasn’t a huge amount of experimenting. For some, they’re at the stage where it’s become very mundane, repetitive and functional. I know there’s a hesitation in talking about it, but it helps tremendously if they can instead of looking outside of themselves for how to earmark whether their sexual relationship is healthy or not.”

Accentuate the positives

We will often hone in on the ‘don’ts’ of relationships – don’t get defensive, don’t give the silent treatment, don’t go to bed angry. But it’s vital to focus on introducing positivity into relationships too. Relationship coach Annie Lavin points to the work of author Gary Chapman who categorises the expression of love into five love languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. “Some of us can rate highly in maybe one or two of those love languages, so if we understand how our partner likes to be appreciated, then we can meet them there, and that goes both ways obviously,” says Lavin. “Expressing appreciation is something we sometimes forget in partnerships and to be thankful for the littler things that your partner does for you. Affection can wane over time and that may need to be reintroduced and to realise that they still admire their partner and what is it about their partner that they now admire, which may have changed from the beginning.” The same goes for establishing caring behaviours such as showing encouragement. According to Lavin, the three universal needs of any relationship are belonging and companionship; affection, either verbal or physical, and support or validation. “The most caring thing you can do in a relationship is to discover your own patterns and really know your own relationship history, to know the things that can really set you off or trigger you. Having this knowledge will help shortcut any relationship issues that can show up so you can then begin to realise, ‘Is this my issue and is this something I’m bringing to this relationship?’ Once you’re then aware of any variations you might have under those three needs, you’ll be less likely to blame your partner when you feel they’re not giving you that extra thing you need.”

Re-establish your identity as a couple and not just parents

Once the children have left home, parents may struggle in their new configuration as a unit of two. Lavin says that the key here is to remind yourself what made your partner tick before children came along, and to become an expert in your partner again. Finding an activity that you both enjoy whether that’s golf, cinema nights or any other, is a good step towards strengthening your connection. It’s something that you can both revel in. “Make sure that you have the time to spend together that’s enjoyable as opposed to just the chores and the routines,” says Lavin. “The idea of dating could be long gone for couples who have been together for a long period of time, so set aside some time every week, even if it’s just to sit down together, have a dinner together. Make it a time where they bring a newness to the relationship by reflecting on their past, how they got together, and maybe just getting to know how the other person thinks. It’s about getting curious again about the other person as opposed to thinking they know everything about them already.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Performance issues in the bedroom are not just an older man’s problem

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[A] study has revealed that 36% of young men between the ages of 16 and 24 have experienced sexual performance problems in the last year.

The figures are higher for men between 25 and 34, with nearly 40% of those surveyed admitting to having issues in bedroom.

Sexual dysfunction is often linked to older men and Viagra use in the public consciousness, but it’s not just the over 50s who can have problems with sexual function.

The Sexual Function in Britain study shows that men of all ages are experiencing a range of sexual issues, including lack of interest in sex, lack of enjoyment in sex, feeling no arousal in sex, experiencing physical pain, difficulty getting or maintaining an erection and difficulty climaxing or climaxing too early.

Between 36% and 40% of men under 35 are experiencing one or more of these problems.

An honest conversation around these issues is long overdue.

The lead author of the study, Dr Kirstin Mitchell from the University of Glasgow, believes that sexual problems can have a long term impact on sexual wellbeing in the future, particularly for young people.

‘When it comes to young people’s sexuality, professional concern is usually focused on preventing sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy. However, we should be considering sexual health much more broadly.’

Due to the sensitive and potentially embarrassing nature of the issue, it’s likely that many young men are not confiding in their partners or friends about it or visiting their GP.

Lewis, 32, has suffered from several of the problems mentioned in the Sexual Function study. He tells Metro.co.uk: ‘It can become a real issue in the bedroom but being completely open with your partner is always the best solution’.

After Lewis discussed what was going on with his girlfriend, they talked about how they could take the pressure off him to perform. Just being able to communicate the problem made it feel ‘less of a big deal’ and in turn made sex easier.

Men are far less likely to visit the GP than their female counterparts, with men only visiting the doctor four times a year compared to women who go to the GP six times annually. This can be potentially devastating for physical and mental health, and it also means that there are likely to be many men suffering in silence from serious sexual dysfunction issues who don’t feel able to reach out for professional help.

Last year, the government announced plans to make sex and relationships education compulsory for all schools in England. If young people are taught about the importance of consent and healthy relationships early on, it’s much easier for them to communicate with their partners without embarrassment and have positive, respectful sexual interactions.

Aoife Drury, a sex and relationships therapist based in London, blames the rise in sexual dysfunction among young men on easy access to porn without high-quality sex ed to offer a more balanced perspective on relationships.

She tells us: ‘Young men who lack sex education may be comparing themselves to porn stars on a physical and performance level (size of penis and how long they seem to last).

‘This can cause anxiety and self-esteem issues and can make intercourse with their sexual partner difficult. Erectile dysfunction may be the result alongside low libido.

‘The younger the age of the male when they begin to regularly watch porn, the greater the chance of it becoming their preference over partnered sex and the likelihood of developing a sexual dysfunction increases.

‘These is still more research needed around sex education, the ease of access to porn, potential for viewing preferences to escalate to more extreme material and the consequences for the younger generation.’

However, not everyone sees a direct correlation between porn viewing and problems in the bedroom. Kris Taylor, a doctoral student at the University of Auckland, writes for VICE: ‘While searching in vain for research that supported the position that pornography causes erectile dysfunction, I found a variety of the most common causes of erectile dysfunction.

‘Pornography is not among them. These included depression, anxiety, nervousness, taking certain medications, smoking, alcohol and illicit drug use, as well as other health factors like diabetes and heart disease.’

According to a 2017 Los Angeles research study, sexual dysfunction may be driving porn use, not the other way around. Out of 335 men surveyed, 28% said they preferred masturbation to intercourse with a partner. The study’s author, Dr Nicole Prause, concluded that excessive pornography viewing was a side effect of a sexual issue already being present as men who were avoiding sex with their significant others due to a problem would watch it when masturbating alone.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with masturbating or watching videos of consenting adults having sex. The issue is choosing this because you’re unable to perform with a partner and feeling too ashamed to talk about it or seek help.

24-year-old Jack from London agrees. He told Metro.co.uk that he’d experienced sexual problems when he was with new partners.

He said: ‘After one month, you think you’re worthless and that she will leave you – this can cause a downward spiral and once you start thinking negatively, you’re even less likely to perform.

‘I talked with my partner about this (she was relieved it wasn’t something she’d done wrong) and opened up to my trusted friends. It felt like I really needed to do both of these to stop a shadow following me around.’

Jack spoke about growing up with male friends who wouldn’t talk about their feelings.

‘It was considered “gay” to do so. This whole culture needs to change.’

It’s absolutely essential that young people are given access to comprehensive sex and relationships education that emphasises the importance of communication and mutual respect. Partners who can effectively communicate with one another are more likely to have pleasurable and rewarding sexual experiences.

If you can’t ask for what you want in bed or speak up when there’s an issue, there’s a risk that sex will be dull, awkward, uncomfortable or worse.

Toxic masculinity also plays a role here, preventing men from opening up to friends or partners, or going to seek professional help. This can keep young men trapped in a cycle of sexual dysfunction and propagate the myth that sex issues are something that only old blokes need to worry about.

It can be a tricky subject to broach with your mates or your partner, but it doesn’t need to be. If you’re struggling in the bedroom, you’re certainly not on your own.

Ben Edwards, a relationship coach, is clear that the stigma around sexual dysfunction needs to change.

‘We need to accept that mental illness, anxiety and sexual difficulties are not weaknesses,’ he tells us. ‘They’re actually very common and should be dealt with. Admitting you need help is a great step and you’ll reap the rewards.

‘Men often feel they shouldn’t show their emotions, but it’s important to put egos aside and fix these issues for our own benefit.’

Basically, stress and shame are huge boner-killers. Ditch them in favour of openness, honesty and mutual pleasure.

Complete Article HERE!

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

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

by Stephanie Booth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The link between anxiety and sex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to alleviate sex anxiety

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

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

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

Talk to your doctor

First, rule out any physical problems.

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

Explore intimacy in different ways

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

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

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

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

Be mindful

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

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

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

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

Make sex a regular conversation

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

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

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

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

Don’t discount foreplay

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

Explore issues of shame

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

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

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

Seek professional help

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

Life after sexual anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

Complete Article HERE!

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6 Essential Resources for Victims of Sexual Assault

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This Sexual Assault Awareness month, share these resources who a friend who may benefit from them.

By Katie Mitchell

[I]n the past year, more people have felt empowered to speak openly about sexual assault. As most survivors know, sexual violence is an all too common of an issue and rape culture permeates our everyday lives. As we continue to consume stories about sexual harassment, rape and violence, it’s important to not forget that survivors deal with the aftermath of assault long after an article goes viral or an interview is aired. Often times, it takes survivors decades to heal properly, but healing is possible. Ahead, find six resources for sexual assault survivors.

National Sexual Assault Hotline

RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, has an online hotline for survivors, their friends, and their family. When you call 800.656.HOPE (4673), you’ll be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area. The trained staff member will give you confidential support and connect you with local resources, referrals, and provide basic information about medical concerns.

On Campus Resources

In recent years, there have been changes regarding how sexual assault on campus is handled. If you’re a student on a college campus, consider visiting the Center for Changing Our Campus Culture, which is an online resource that provides student-specific information regarding rights, instructions, and guidelines for when a sexual assault happens on campus, from how to file a complaint against a school, to how to help bystanders.

Anti-Violence Project

The Anti-Violence Project (AVP) is an organization specifically for LGBT and HIV-affected folks. AVP offers support groups, legal assistance, and even “arts expression groups” for victims of hate violence, sexual violence, and intimate partner violence. AVP’s direct action work is primarily in New York City.

The Network/La Red

The Network/La Red aims to end partner abuse in LGBT, BDSM, and polyamorous communities. Survivors can read through their manuals, which outline  how to identify partner abuse — especially how to distinguish consensual BDSM behavior from abuse. This organization even provides free, short-term housing for those in need residing in Boston.

Therapy

Therapy can help sexual assault survivors with their healing journey by acknowledging what happened and learning new coping skills. Most therapists have specialities, so when you’re choosing a therapist, consider asking them if they have experience working with sexual assault survivors. Therapy for Black Girls is great resource to find therapists in your area.

Healing Retreats

While most healing retreats aren’t specifically focused on sexual assault, it is so common that it’s likely to be what led several participants to the retreat. At healing retreats, you can relax, meditate, journal, do yoga, and much more in a non-judgemental environment with others who are focused on healing themselves as well.

This Sexual Assault Awareness month, share these resources who a friend who may benefit from them.

Complete Article HERE!

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8 Things Doctors Wish You Knew About Dyspareunia, AKA Painful Sex

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Yup, we mean the bad kind of pain.

[P]op culture’s depictions of sex typically focus on the romantic, the salacious, and (in some refreshing cases) the embarrassing.

But one thing that’s still rarely mentioned—both on screen and IRL—is pain during sex (also known as dyspareunia), or the shame, confusion, and stigma that often accompany it. (And we’re not talking about the good, consensual kind of pain during sex, FYI, we’re talking about sex that hurts when you don’t intend it to.)

While dyspareunia may be absent from many sexual-health discussions, it’s not rare, and it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Here, doctors walk us through what they wish more people knew about painful sex:

1. Unfortunately, pain during intercourse isn’t that rare. In fact, it’s really common.

Nearly 75 percent of women will experience pain during sex at some point in their lives, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG). Sometimes, this pain will be a one-time thing. Other times, it will be more persistent.

2. The thing is, sex isn’t supposed to hurt unless you want it to.

Some people accept painful sex as the norm, but it shouldn’t be. “The most crucial thing for women to know is that pain during or after intercourse is never really OK,” Antonio Pizarro, M.D., a Louisiana-based gynecologist specializing in pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, tells SELF. There are, of course, some circumstances in which someone might seek out some level of pain during sex. But there’s a difference between a sexual kink and undesired, severe, or persistent pain in the vulva, vagina, or pelvis.

3. Minor soreness during or after sex and intense, chronic pain are not the same thing.

There are tons of reasons you might be sore after sex, Natasha Chinn, M.D., a New Jersey-based gynecologist, tells SELF. They include inadequate lubrication, penetration with a particularly large object or body part, and sex that was especially rough or fast.

If these are minor issues you only encounter every now and then, Dr. Chinn says you can usually pinpoint the cause of the problem and address it on your own (use more lube, seek out smaller sex toys, or have slower, more gentle sex). (Of course, you can go straight to seeing a doctor if you prefer.)

But what if your problem isn’t an every-now-and-then thing? If these issues are happening every time you have sex, happening more frequently than they used to, or if they’re not going away after you try to address them on your own, your painful-sex cause might be more complicated.

4. Unfortunately, there are a ton of health conditions—like endometriosis, cervicitis, and vaginismus—that can lead to painful sex.

Some of these include:

  • Contact dermatitis: a fancy medical name for an allergic reaction on the skin—and yes, that includes the skin on your vulva. This can happen if, say, the delicate skin around your vagina doesn’t react well to a soap, body wash, or detergent you’re using. Contact dermatitis can leave your skin cracked and uncomfortable, and chances are that any kind of sex you’re having while you’re experiencing this reaction is going to be pretty painful.
  • Cervicitis: a condition where the cervix, or lower end of the uterus connecting to the vagina, becomes inflamed, typically due to a sexually transmitted infection. While it often presents without symptoms, Dr. Pizarro cautions that it sometimes causes pain during urination or intercourse.
  • Endometriosis: a condition associated with pelvic pain, painful periods, and pain during or after sex. While the exact cause of endometriosis is not well understood, it seems to be the result of endometrial tissue (or similar tissue that’s able to create its own estrogen) growing outside of the uterus, which can cause pain, scarring, and inflammation. This can lead to pain that’s sometimes worse around your period, when going to the bathroom, and even during sex.
  • Ovarian cysts: fluid-filled sacs found in or on the ovaries. Sometimes they don’t cause any symptoms, but other times they rupture, causing pain and bleeding, including during sex.
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): this condition is typically caused when bacteria from a sexually transmitted infection spreads to the reproductive organs. PID can cause pain in the abdomen or pelvis, pain during urination, pain during intercourse, and even infertility if left untreated.
  • Uterine fibroids: noncancerous growths in or on the uterus. Fibroids often don’t cause symptoms, but they can make themselves known via heavy menstrual bleeding and pelvic pressure or pain, during sex or otherwise.
  • Vaginismus: a condition that causes the muscles of the vagina to spasm and contract. This can lead to pain during sex—or even make any form of vaginal penetration impossible, whether it’s sexual or just inserting a tampon.
  • Vaginitis: an umbrella term for disorders that inflame the vaginal area. Examples include bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections, both of which occur when the balance of microorganisms in the vagina gets thrown off, causing some kind of bacterial or fungal overgrowth. Other forms of vaginitis are sexually transmitted infections such as trichomoniasis (an STI caused by a parasite), chlamydia, and gonorrhea. All three of these infections are characterized by changes in vaginal discharge, vaginal irritation, and, in some cases, pain during intercourse.
  • Vulvodynia: a condition charactized by chronic pain at the opening of the vagina. Common symptoms include burning, soreness, stinging, rawness, itching, and pain during sex, Dr. Chinn says, and it can be devastating. According to the Mayo Clinic, vulvodynia consists of pain that lasts for at least three months that has no other identifiable cause.

Dr. Chinn says that women going through menopause might also experience pain during sex as a result of vaginal dryness that happens due to low estrogen levels.

People who recently gave birth may also grapple with discomfort during sex, Dr. Chinn says. It takes time for the vagina to heal after pushing out a baby, and scar tissue could develop and make sex painful.

5. There are so many other things that can mess with your sexual response, making sex uncomfortable or legitimately painful.

Any negative emotions—like shame, stress, guilt, fear, whatever—can make it harder to relax during sex, turning arousal and vaginal lubrication into obstacles, according to ACOG.

Of course, the source of these negative emotions varies from individual to individual, Dr. Pizarro says. For some, it’s a matter of mental health. Feeling uncomfortable in your body or having relationship issues might also contribute.

In an unfair twist, taking care of yourself in some ways, like by using antidepressant medication, blood pressure drugs, allergy medications, or some birth control pills, can also cause trouble with lubrication that translates into painful sex.

6. You shouldn’t use painkillers or a numbing agent to try to get through painful sex.

This might seem like the best way to handle your pain, but Dr. Pizarro cautions against it. Your body has pain receptors for a reason, and by numbing them, you could end up subjecting your body to trauma (think: tiny tears or irritation) without realizing it—which can just leave you in more pain.

7. If you’re not ready to see a doctor yet, there are a few things you can try at home, first.

According to ACOG, a few DIY methods might mitigate your symptoms:

  • Use lube, especially if you feel like your problem is caused by vaginal dryness.
  • Apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel to your vulva to dull a burning sensation when needed.
  • Have an honest conversation with your partner about what’s hurting and how you’re feeling. Let them know what hurts, what feels good, and what you need from them right now—whether that’s a break from certain sex acts, more time to warm up before you have sex, or something else.
  • Try sex acts that don’t involve penetration, like mutual masturbation and oral sex, which may help you avoid some of the pain you typically experience.

It’s totally OK to experiment with these things, Dr. Pizarro says, especially if they help you associate sex with something positive. But these tactics cannot and should not replace professional care.

8. If you’re regularly experiencing painful sex, you should talk to a doctor.

It’s really up to you to decide when to see a doctor about painful sex. “It’s like a cold,” Dr. Pizarro says. “If you’ve got a little cough, you might be all right. But if you have a cough and fever that haven’t gone away after a few days, you might want to see a doctor.” When in doubt, mention your concerns to your care provider, especially if any of these sound familiar:

  • Sex has always been painful for you
  • Sex has always been painful but seems to be getting worse
  • Sex is usually pain-free but has recently started to hurt
  • You’re not sure whether or not what you’re experiencing is normal, but you’re curious to learn more about painful sex

When you see your doctor, they’ll likely ask questions about your medical history and conduct a pelvic exam and/or ultrasound. “It’s important for doctors to ask the right questions and for patients to voice concerns about things,” Dr. Pizarro says.

From there, your doctor should take a holistic approach to treatment to address the possible physical, emotional, and situational concerns. “You really have to look at the total person,” Dr. Chinn says. Treatment options for painful sex vary wildly since there are so many potential causes, but the point is that you have options. “Many people think that it’s acceptable to experience pain during intercourse,” Dr. Pizarro says. “Use your judgment, of course, but it probably isn’t acceptable. And it can probably be made better.”

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

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Medically assisted sex? How ‘intimacy coaches’ offer sexual therapy for people with disabilities

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‘For me, the 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 touched, to be kissed,’ says Spencer Williams.

[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.

‘Intimacy coach’ Joslyn Nerdahl says sex can be healing.

“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.”

Social stigma

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.

Kyle Kirkup is critical of Canada’s current prostitution laws that criminalize the sex trade regardless of context or intent.

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.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to Spice Up Your Relationship With Porn

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Believe it or not, porn can strengthen your relationship

 

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[L]et’s face it, many believe that pornography ruins relationships by setting unrealistic expectations in the bedroom. It’s a sound argument. But it would only be fair to make an opposing case that in some ways porn can improve your sex life.

“Pornography can spark curiosity and open conversation between partners. It’s so easy to get into a routine with your significant other, and it can be hard to break out of that. Watching or reading erotica allows couples to explore sexual activities that they may be curious about,” says Polly Rodriguez, CEO of Unbound.

A study published in the journal Sexual Medicine even shows that watching at least 40 minutes of porn twice a week can boost your sex drive and your overall desire to have sex. Not to mention, it’s really hot to watch people have sex, and sharing this with someone you love can enable a deeply sensual experience.

Convinced enough? Here are nine ways to incorporate porn into your sex life.

1. Have an open & honest conversation about it

Talk about your desires and interests and set boundaries of what is and isn’t OK, suggests Rodriguez. “From there, only good things can happen if you’re open and honest with each other about what you’re curious to try.”

2. Use porn as a source for inspiration

Be it BDSM or role-play, Rodriquez explains that having an example you can both watch and learn from together helps to frame what it is you’re curious to try.

3. Expand your sexual repertoire

Talk about the type of porn or fantasy you like to watch. Girl on girl, threesomes, just oral… have you always wanted to try a certain position or sex act? “This is the chance to open up and be honest about what you may have been afraid to voice to your partner,” says Antonia Hall, a psychologist and award-winning author of The Ultimate Guide to a Multi-Orgasmic Life.

4. Don’t be judgmental

Your partner might like something you don’t, notes Alicia Sinclair, Founder and CEO of b-Vibe and Le Wand. “It’s important to find the common ground and make the process sexy.”

5. Start soft

Begin with something you know turns you both on. “Try something in the amateur or couples section. It’s probably not a good idea to start with a hardcore sex scene (unless you’re both already into that of course),” says Sinclair.

6. Find a website both of you enjoy

Send each other clips you want to watch together later. “I’m a personal fan of Bellesa (run by Michelle Shnaidman) because it’s a bit more sensual than what you’d find on one of the bigger tube sites,” says Rodriguez.

7. Let it put you in the mood

Before your sweetie gets home. Put on your favorite video, rub one out and let yourself get totally aroused. As soon as they walk through the door, you’ll be in full get-it-on mode.

8. Aim for quality content

Sinclair suggests, Trenchcoatx. “This porn-for-women site is run by two women and has tons of quality content. Plus, you’re supporting women making porn, which is kind of a win-win in my book,” she adds.

9. Make you own porn

Get creative and make your own erotic video. It’s a fun way to experiment, act and enjoy watching it together later on. Just make sure to use a digital camera and not your cell phone so you don’t have to worry about it accidently getting uploaded and can delete it at any time.

Complete Article HERE!

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Dating someone with a fetish when you don’t have one

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As you may have seen from our A to Z of fetishes series, there is a huge spectrum of kinks out there.

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[W]here you might be into a fumble on the couch, your new partner might be fingering the ball-gag they’ve hidden under a cushion, wondering about the right time to approach the topic.

There’s a big gap between missionary with the lights off and latex at dawn, which means there’s a hell of a lot of wiggle room for both of you to try new things. But, if your sexual tastes are wildly differing, it can cause friction in your relationship.

If you’re worried you’re too vanilla while your partner is more of a rum and raisin type, however, there are plenty of ways to remedy this.

Be honest

Don’t rush in, pretending you know your way around bondage knots or puppy play if you’re not au fait. Have an honest chat about what turns you on and off. Sex is an important part of most relationships, and there’s no point in going through the motions if you’re not enjoying it.

Whether it’s something you want to try more of, or something you’re not comfortable with, forget trying to be cool and just say it. You don’t owe anyone anything, so don’t try and bend your needs and wants to fit somebody else’s. Makes things much easier for everyone involved.

Recognise unhealthy traits

People who practise things like BDSM are overwhelmingly disciplined and respectful. There are safe words involved, and a focus on communication and physical and emotional wellbeing. Don’t let someone who’s watched 50 Shades of Grey come into your life and start treating you unfairly.

If someone starts to exercise control over you that makes you uncomfortable or affects your daily life, that can qualify as abuse.

Don’t judge

It sounds obvious, but kink-shaming is a real thing and some of us don’t even realise we’re doing it. If someone likes roleplaying something, that doesn’t make it exclusively part of who we are.

Someone can be a loving, kind, and generous person and still love getting spanked and told they’re a worthless piece of sh*t. As long as they’re respecting your boundaries and being clear with you, that’s what matters.

Understand balance is key

If you’re with someone who refuses to compromise with you, and work out ways that you can both do what works for you, bail immediately. Regardless of specifically what it is they’re into, selfish lovers are uncool.

If you like Thai food and your partner likes roast dinners, you wouldn’t be okay with tucking into a Yorkshire pudding every day of the week. That kind of compromise will look different in every relationship, but it’s vital to have it.

Be open minded

You might find that you’re into something you never even knew about. Their kink might be something you never even thought about before, yet here you are getting a golden shower and it’s the horniest you’ve ever been!

Complete Article HERE!

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The Reason Most Couples Stop Enjoying Sex

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(And How To Heighten Your Capacity For Pleasure)

Everywhere I go, I hear stories about the challenges professional women are having sexually with their partners. It happens to women between 20 and 70, with kids and without. It’s described in one of a few ways:

  • “I used to like sex, but then we had kids, our careers picked up, and something changed.”
  • “When we do have sex, half the time I’m thinking about my to-do list. I feel relieved when it’s over, because then I can do what I really want to do—like finish my book.”
  • “We feel more like roommates or business partners than lovers.”
  • “I’m worried my libido is broken and there’s something wrong with me.”

The high stakes of intimacy in long-term relationships mixed with the inaccurate beliefs about female sexuality we face from all sides make for a volatile combination. But I’ve seen these issues get resolved. It’s absolutely possible. No matter where it’s coming from, sexual dissatisfaction can be remedied when both people commit to learning a new way to relate intimately. These are the keys to creating mutually fulfilling intimacy that lasts a lifetime.

I see that these patterns can change when couples commit to learning a new way of relating sexually that women enjoy. Here are the keys to successfully moving toward intimacy that’s mutually fulfilling:

1. Normalize your experience.

When intimacy is the issue, it can be very difficult to discuss openly. Often, we feel alone and don’t realize that sexual struggles in long-term relationships are not just normal, but they happen to the majority of couples at one time or another. Having discussed these issues with countless female clients who believe that they are to blame for their unhappiness, I realized that we just tend to place blame on ourselves. The truth is that there’s nothing wrong with you. Your libido is not broken. You’re not alone and this IS fixable.

2. Clearly articulate your need for change.

One of the biggest mistakes I see otherwise straightforward women make is downplaying their sexual distress to their partner. Many of us believe our male partners don’t care about our sexual fulfillment, or that enjoying sex isn’t worth the tension it would place on your relationship to bring up what isn’t working. Don’t let this stop you from getting what you need.

I have almost as many male clients as female ones, and they all want the same thing when it comes to sex: a partner who is turned on, happy, and enjoying themselves. Regardless of gender or relationship style, if sex only works for one partner in the relationship, then the sex isn’t working.

Have you clearly articulated to your partner that you aren’t sexually satisfied and that you need something to change? If not, your chances of fulfillment are slim. Blaming yourself doesn’t make anything better; taking responsibility for dealing with it as a team does. Get in the habit of talking with your partner regularly about what’s working for you and what isn’t.

3. Stop following a script.

We seem to all have been given the same misinformation about how sex should go: It starts with kissing and ends with intercourse. We’ve also been taught that happy couples have sex once per [day, week, month, insert stereotype here]. We’ve learned that sex is over when the man reaches orgasm. But I’m here to tell you that every single one of these statements is not only false but harmful.

The truth is that when couples drop expectations about sex and adopt a new approach—one that makes both parties’ genuine fulfillment a prerequisite rather than a bonus—women’s genuine fulfillment (which includes much more than having orgasms)—it supports deeper intimacy and can make a woman’s libido more active than it ever was before. Learn more about how to enter a new, infinitely satisfying paradigm here.

4. Recognize that orgasms are not sex’s raison d’être.

Orgasms are wonderful, but in truth, our fixation on them keeps our sex lives from becoming extraordinary. Let’s get real: If orgasms were all it took for radical fulfillment, far more of us would feel fulfilled. We wouldn’t even need relationships to make that happen. But we know it’s not the same. Self-pleasure is healthy, and may temporarily alleviate feelings of exhaustion or anxiety, but it doesn’t provide us with the connection or intimacy that partnered sex can.

5. Seriously, get rid of the script—before you even start the first act.

You’ll see a night-and-day difference in your sexual encounters if you let go of expectations before either of you starts getting hot and bothered. Nothing hinders women’s enjoyment of sex more than feeling pressured in bed. It’s almost impossible for us to enjoy ourselves if we’re worried about expectations about how or how much we are. Instead of feeling the pleasure, we get stuck wondering whether we’re doing it right or whether our partner is satisfied. Tossing expectation out the window is the most reliable way to start having fantastic sex immediately.

6. Touch each other for the sake of touching—with no apprehension or expectation about where it might lead.

Physical contact is essential for sexual fulfillment. But when sex isn’t working, we often avoid touching each other. I encourage couples to touch each other frequently and in a wide variety of ways—foot massages, hand-holding, and everything in between. But, by the same token, I encourage couples to stop tolerating touch they don’t like or want.

Tolerating touch leads to sexual shutdown—the person being touched isn’t enjoying themselves but won’t say it; the person doing the touching knows something is wrong but isn’t being told how to fix it. It creates distance rather than fostering intimacy. The solution is to have physical contact with zero expectations. When pressure and expectations are lifted, touch becomes an exploration of sensation and connection rather than a race to orgasm or “those same three moves.”

7. Don’t look at sex as a means to achieve any goal other than giving and receiving pleasure for pleasure’s sake.

Goals are great for business plans and exercise regimens, but they have the opposite effect on sex. Few of us have ever touched our partner without trying to achieve a goal. We use our touch to prove we’re a good lover, to make peace in the relationship, or to bring our partner to climax. How would we touch each other if we weren’t trying to achieve anything except to connect and explore each other’s bodies? Given an open-ended approach to sex that is full of touch and free of pressure, both desire for and enjoyment of sex will grow exponentially.

8. Learn what you like, and allow yourself to receive it.

Desire is vital to fulfillment. When we lose touch with that inner spark, our sex lives fall flat. Ask yourself the question, “What do I want?” 10 times a day. Seriously. And get very good at answering it. Desire is the first step. Only then can we receive it. It may sound simple, but I see women struggle sexually for years because they don’t know how to receive the help, love, and touch their partner wants to give. It takes as much work to receive as to give—sometimes more.

Practice receiving by focusing on the enjoyment of what you’re experiencing. Sink into the warm embrace of a hug. Delight in the smell of your favorite baked good. Relax as your partner touches you. Think less; feel more.

9. Practice, practice, practice.

Yes, even great sex requires practice. Create habits that can be easily incorporated into your daily routine. I encourage all couples I work with to develop a habit of sexual research—open-ended sessions where couples explore new ways to connect without pressure. Like any new habit, allowing yourself to feel more pleasure and connection takes practice.

10. If it seems helpful, get professional coaching.

If you don’t feel like you can do it alone, don’t. There’s nothing to be ashamed of except not using every tool at your disposal to create the relationship you want. Get the support of a coach whose philosophy inspires you.

11. Be patient with yourself and with your partner.

Sexual connection is deeply personal and one of the most vulnerable elements of our identities. Don’t be discouraged if you, your partner, or your sex life doesn’t change as quickly as you’d hoped. People transform in different ways, through different means, over different periods of time. In seeking long-lasting change, favor paradigm shifts over quick fixes. Stick with it and be patient with each other.

Complete Article HERE!

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5 common questions about vaginas answered

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A sexual health nurse reveals all

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[W]e don’t often bring up genitals in polite conversation but learning more about vaginas can empower women to make the right decisions about their general and sexual health – and know when to seek medical advice.

Helen Knox, a clinical nurse specialist in contraception and sexual health – and founder of Sexplained – shares the vaginal health questions she hears most frequently and the advice she gives women about how best to care for their most intimate area:

1. Is my vaginal normal?

“I often get asked if the smell or discharge a woman is experiencing is ‘normal’. Firstly, normal is what is normal to you. Your vagina will have its own smell, regular discharge and shape. If you notice a change from your norm such as a change in discharge, smell or discomfort, then there may be something up. But don’t be embarrassed about it and do nothing. You can ask your pharmacist to help you work out what might be going on and give you an over the counter treatment. But if you are in pain, are bleeding abnormally or have persistent symptoms then you must see your GP.”

2. What should my vagina smell like?

“Your vulva and your vagina should smell like you, if this smell changes then something might be up. Your healthy vagina is all about balance: it is home to millions of micro-organisms, and is normally good at keeping them in balance.”

“When this balance gets disrupted, you’ll start to notice things aren’t quite right and you could be developing bacterial vaginosis (BV) which is a very common condition that often causes a fishy smell. BV is in fact two times more common than thrush and like thrush it can be simply treated with an over the counter treatment. Lactic acid based products such as Balance Activ (available at Amazon.co.uk) help to rebalance the healthy bacterial conditions within the vagina, to gently and effectively treat the symptoms of BV by restoring normal pH and vaginal flora.”

3. What should my vagina look like?

“Just like the rest of our bodies, our vaginas are all unique. The only part you can see is the vulva, and these come in all shapes and sizes. If you are experiencing any soreness, itching or other changes there may be a problem that needs checking out. In general, adding anything to your vagina such as glitters or perfumes is going to upset your natural balance and encourage conditions like BV, so I really wouldn’t recommend it.”

“You can’t see your vagina, as it is inside you, and it runs from your vulva, up to your cervix, but as long as you’re not experiencing any unusual smells or discomfort, it’s very likely to be looking after itself – and doesn’t need to be messed about with.”

4. Is my discharge normal?

“The vagina is a relatively acidic environment which keeps itself healthy by producing a range of secretions, so women will experience natural changes in discharge throughout their monthly cycle.”

A period generally lasts for 4-5 days, followed by slight dryness and then an increase in discharge. This will normally be white at first and then change to a clear, stretchy consistency during peak fertility. After ovulation, it changes to a dryer, thicker white or creamy mucus, which sperm won’t be able to swim through. If you’re pregnant this doesn’t change. If you’re not, it’s back to the next period.”

“Even in a healthy vagina, there will be a variety of changes to your ‘normal’ discharge, and these can also vary depending on your age and other factors. A change in discharge to it becoming really thin and watery, or thick and cottage cheese like, or a fishy or unpleasant smell may be a sign that something is wrong and your natural balance has been upset – you can check your symptoms at via the online symptom checker or speak to your doctor, pharmacist or sexual health clinic if you are worried.”

5. How do I keep my vagina clean?

Your vagina cleans itself. It is a common misconception that having conditions like BV means you are not clean – in fact when women notice an unpleasant smell (especially after sex) they will often reach for the soap or perfumed shower gel – this can actually make things worse! There’s a delicate eco-system up there, working hard to keep a balance of bacteria so douching or washing with perfumed products can upset this balance and cause BV. As part of your daily cleaning routine, washing once a day with just water around the vulva, which is the skin around the opening, is fine.”

“By understanding your own normal and staying in tune with your body it will help you determine whether you have any issues. If you notice any changes, don’t sit with on-going symptoms wishing them way, discuss them with your Pharmacist who will happily help you, or make an appointment to discuss them with your GP. The chances are it will be something easily treated and managed.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Straight men who have sex with other men

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Can a straight man hook up with a guy and still be straight? Girls can.

By Nikki Goldstein

[I]F A man is sexual with another man, is he gay? You can kiss a girl and like it and be straight, but man on man sex is quickly put in the category of homosexuality.

It’s a subject that has always fascinated me because I have many gay friends who bed these so-called straight (and often married) men with excitement, enthusiasm and frequency.

I’d heard of the term “men who have sex with men” (msm), but was confused as to why these straight men/gay men hook-ups were occurring so commonly, and what it was all about.

Are these men secretly gay and in hiding?

As it turns out, not all of them are. After investigating the issue and speaking to some of the men involved, I was surprised to find out that as well as some of these men being in the closet, there is also a population of guys out there who are hooking up with other guys just for the pure ease at which a hook up can occur.

It is not necessarily about sexual attraction to a gender, but sexual pleasure.

Finding a gay man who has experience in this was not difficult at all. Max* informed me that finding straight men to hook up with is not that hard. “It’s pretty easy to find if you know where you are looking. Probably any toilet you go to is a beat,” he said.

He also informed me of a recent encounter he had with a straight man at a sex on premises club who he thought was gay.

Towards the end of the encounter, his phone rang displaying a photo of the man he was hooking up with and his wife on their wedding day. This was later reconfirmed by a text message which said, “You give head as good as my wife does.”

I also spoke to another man who has a glory hole (a sheet in his apartment that has a hole in it which sexual acts can be anonymously carried out through) and puts out ads to have encounters with straight men only.

These men will walk in and walk away without knowing who the person is on the other side but understand that it is another man.

While some men might be experimenting with their sexuality and desires, Max explains that the glory hole encounters between men where one might not identify as gay could be more to do with the ease at which men can get off.

“The majority of straight men who are going to a glory hole are going because they don’t want to see who is on the other side. It is about just getting off.

“Is it that easy to find another girl who is just willing to give a blow job and say nothing more? Guys know what other guys are like. Guys just want to (get off). It sounds harsh, but it’s true.”

As much as gay men are willing to boast about their encounters with straight men, finding a straight man who engages in these same sex experiences to talk openly was like the hunt for Bin Laden.

After a call out I received a message from a man name Paul who identified as straight but admitted, “he had an occasional urge to have a different sexual experience, one you can have with a guy”.

His overall advice: “Try to understand it and embrace it. I think there are so many more men out than the world realises, than woman realise, that enjoy a different type of stimulation.”

Paul continues, “I would think that society would be amused by the number of men that are out there that seek a slightly different adventure and it doesn’t necessarily mean in any way shape or form that they are gay or bi. They are just wanting to experiment and have a bit of fun just like we see girls out there on the dance floor.”

And by girls on the dance floor, Paul is referring to the hypersexual behaviour of women towards each other, sometimes even sexual encounters, that don’t require any labels. The idea that two women together is hot but two men together is gay.

Paul wants to experience different sexual encounters and not be restricted by a label. He describes it as “going to a theme park and saying I haven’t tired that ride before, this looks like fun.”

Which begs the question: If you are a straight man who has sex with men, why identify as straight? If you enjoy it, why not call yourself bi or fluid?

It seems there are many issues when it comes to homosexuality that many men are not comfortable with, and these might stem from lifestyle, masculinity to cultural or religion.

“If you are attracted to sex with men and you are straight, do we have to put a label on it?” agrees Max. “There isn’t a straight forward answer, it’s a complex issue about sexual identity, labels, mixed with cultural expectations.”

The issue with many labels is they come attached with set assumptions and even some negative associations about how someone who identities with that label must be and live their life.

It can also be very confusing when someone doesn’t stick to stereotypically what that label says. We all have a right to change our minds and go with the flow. Isn’t that what being true to ourselves is all about? Why should we correct someone’s label if they are comfortable with it?

As the number of sexual labels increases and the complexity of how we identify grows, maybe the answer is to understand how someone lives their life, not try change or correct them if we don’t agree.

Complete Article HERE!

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