ANDRO/GYNE

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By Cayla Rubin

ANDRO/GYNE is an intimate photo essay that without words and through an alluring, artistic lens, gives voice to a large group of strong individuals that deserve a platform in mainstream discourse. The mysterious black and white, nude photo series juxtaposes a man and a woman who has undergone a mastectomy without reconstruction. This passion project is shining a light onto the taboos surrounding reconstructive surgery through illustrating the power that resides in vulnerability.

Recently, certain silicone breast implants were recalled due to the fact they are known to cause lymphoma. This prismatic photo story explores the fluidity that resides in femininity. The power the results from choosing health, and being confident in that decision, versus feeling the need to transform oneself because of underlying mainstream beauty pressures is effortlessly portrayed.

You are very quick (and correct) to point out that gender and sexuality do not originate in the breasts. Why do you think that society places such a huge importance on breasts?

Breasts instantly communicate to the male gaze the fundamental desirability of the female: her ability to produce children and provide sexual gratification. The degree to which the semiotics of breasts is defined in our culture by the male gaze became glaringly apparent to me when I lost mine due to cancer.

The sexual and nurturing power of the breast is not part of that definition, especially in the US.  Rather, that power, which is the feminine power in the equation, is controversial. Bra-burning, rappers flashing or grabbing their breasts, the rows over public breast-feeding and the bizarre practice of strippers covering their nipples with tassels all attest to this.

Culturally we like breasts to be large and prominent but devoid of active female sexuality, i.e. nipples. It is total objectification. Showing cleavage is sexy. Showing nipples is slutty.

Oftentimes, doctors who prefer breast reconstruction following mastectomies push the narrative of “restoring femininity.” What are better hallmarks of femininity that we should place more value on?

Ultimately femininity is part of sexual identity and drive, regardless of your assigned gender or physical appearance. When women are objectified it serves to negate their sexual agency. So the cultural ideal of a woman, as defined by a male objectifying gaze, is a woman who is a recipient and mirror of male desire but has none of her own.

The hallmark of a feminine woman, to me, is her sexuality, and until we come to terms with that, culturally, nothing will likely change.

What offended me in the discussions with doctors around reconstructive surgery was that it was solely focused on how others experience me sexually and completely left out how I conceive of and experience my sexuality. Having lumps of numb silicone installed in my chest will not do anything for my sexuality. If anything it will detract, because it would destroy the recovered sensitivity of my chest.

The subtext in much of this discussion was that I would not be able to have sex, if I did not have breasts. No doubt many men would pass on a woman with no breasts, but they might also pass for any number of other reasons. In the end, those who pass me up are not relevant to the vitality of my sexuality.

Why is it important to picture both a man and a woman in this photo series, rather than placing the sole focus on the woman?

For a couple of reasons. We wanted to contrast femininity and masculinity to offset my femininity in a way that is readily understandable, posed next to a classically beautiful male. The nude couple is a classic genre, and we wanted to have the series work within that genre and at the same time push the boundaries of the genre. We wanted the scars to be fully visible and yet not be the main focus. We wanted the focus to be on me interacting fully as a woman, in spite of the scars, and age for that matter.

But it also had to do, more generally, with the narratives around cancer survivorship. Especially with breast cancer, it tends to be all about the lone “cancer warrior” overcoming tragedy. I don’t see it that way. I am not a survivor. I am alive in every sense of the word and, to me, being alive is all about my relationships and connections with others. Foivos happens to be a talented actor and performer, so he had the chops to do this, but he is also a good friend. I wanted that human connection and dialogue in the photographs, because that is how I know that I am alive.

What do you believe should be considered the root of female sexuality?

As with any person’s sexuality, the root has to be how you yourself experience and live your sexuality, not how others try to define it. LGBTQ people know this very well, but living a lifetime as a cis woman, I had never fully realized how much social norms interfered with my sexuality. Losing the breasts was enlightening in many ways, because it forced me to engage with my femininity and sexuality in a whole new way, liberated, in a sense, from the objectification that had been part of my life from the time I grew breasts. Rather than detract from my sexuality, the surgery led me to reclaim it as my own.

What is one thing you wish more people knew about breast amputation?

Just one thing? I would have to say that reconstructive surgery is more complicated than most people think. The amputation itself is a relatively simple and easy surgery for most people. The pain and complications start with reconstructive surgery, which, by the way, is typically a minimum of two surgeries and often more than that. Many women are very pleased with their results, but many women are not. The reconstruction will allow you to remain within the normative boundaries for a cis woman, but finding your center as a woman will take work with or without reconstructed breasts.

Complete Article HERE!

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What to Know About Sexsomnia

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A Rare Sleep Disorder Where You Have Sex in Your Sleep

By Morgan Mandriota

The facts about this weird sleep condition, from a 26-year-old woman who has it.

It happens at least three times a week: I wake up to find myself masturbating, breathing heavily, and on the brink of an orgasm. I always finish myself off (sorry, TMI) and then fall right back asleep afterward.

Sounds great, right? Not really. These frequent episodes are the main symptom of sexsomnia—a rare sleep disorder that causes people to have sex or masturbate in their sleep. Though I haven’t been clinically diagnosed with sexsomnia, I’ve been experiencing episodes like this for as long as I can remember. In the last few years, though, they’ve happened more regularly.

Along with the physical irritation caused by rubbing my clitoris beneath my sweatpants so often, sexsomnia has brought me emotional frustration, too. That’s because I have no control over this behavior, or even awareness of what I’m doing until it’s just about over. Though I’ve never tried to have sleep sex with a partner, I’m still cringing at the memory of sleeping over a friend’s house five years ago and finding out that I woke the entire family with my loud moaning.

Sexsomnia falls under the umbrella category of parasomnias, which are any disruptive, abnormal, and habitual activities that occur between and during stages of deep sleep. Other parasomnias include sleepwalking, night terrors, and sleep eating—except you’re getting way freakier than just spooning ice cream into your mouth in your slippers at two in the morning.

What causes sexsomnia, and who gets it? Can my fellow sexsomniacs and I be cured? I spoke with psychiatrists and sleep specialists to get to the bottom of this rare yet real disorder.

Sexsomnia symptoms and triggers

Sexsomnia is a lot more than the occasional sexy dream or hazy morning bumping and grinding. People who have the disorder will experience regular instances of moaning, pelvic thrusting, and masturbating or initiating sexual intercourse with the person lying beside them, all while they’re snoozing away.

Men are more likely to have sexsomnia than women, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Sleep. Another study, published in Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine in 2016, found that male sexsomniacs are more likely to try to have sexual intercourse with a partner, while women with sexsomnia tend to masturbate, as I do.

The 2016 study confirms that these behaviors are amnesic, meaning they happen in a confused, partially awake state and likely won’t be remembered once the person has fully woken up. (Unlike my experience, where I wake up aware of what’s going on.) It also suggests that sexsomnia may occur along with other parasomnias.

What triggers sexsomnia? Basically anything that disrupts a normal, healthy sleep pattern—such as drinking alcohol or consuming caffeine too close to bedtime. Maintaining an irregular sleep schedule or not getting enough sleep can led to sexsomnia as well, Alex Dimitriu, MD, who is double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine and the founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine in New Jersey, tells Health. Less commonly, sleep apnea, seizures, or a condition called REM behavior disorder can also contribute, he explains.

Depression, anxiety, and a lack of sexual activity may also affect how frequent sexsomnia episodes occur. In my case, I’m an anxious person in general, but I’ve certainly noticed that I wake up touching myself more often when I’m in the middle of a sexual dry spell.

Gail Saltz, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital, Weill-Cornell Medical College, tells me that sleep disorders like sexsomnia are made worse by certain medications, including many psychiatric medications. Being highly stressed can be a factor as well, says Dr. Saltz, who adds that it tends to run in families.

How sexsomnia has affected me

As troubling as sexsomnia can be, I’m lucky because my symptoms seem to bother me more than they bother anyone else.

None of my partners have ever brought it up to me, which is a good sign—unless they were too uncomfortable to mention that something happened. To see if that was the case, I recently asked an ex if he noticed that I did anything “weird” in my sleep, adding, “like… sexually” to help jog his memory. “No, but I do remember you waking up really horny,” he replied. That’s not sexsomnia, though, since I was awake and in the mood.

Last summer, I went on a 16-day road trip with my best friend. We shared a bed that whole time, and I caught myself having an episode one night but immediately stopped as soon as I could snap out of it, thankfully. This November, I’m taking a vacation to Aruba with my family, and needless to say, I’m definitely fearful of what might happen, since we’ll be sharing close quarters.

As you could imagine, sexsomnia is more problematic when you’re in a long-term relationship and share a bed with that person every night. In my case, I haven’t been in enough serious relationships where the disorder might affect someone other than myself, which is when I’d finally seek treatment. Dr. Saltz recommends seeking help “if sexsomnia becomes a real problem, such as your partner is disturbed by it, you are doing things that you or your partner do not want, or there is any danger.”

Are sexsomniacs cursed for life?

Speaking of treatment, there’s no magic cure for sexsomnia, unfortunately. But there are steps you can take to make it happen less frequently or even halt it completely.

People who sleep alongside sexsomniacs can often stop the episodes by either pushing their partner away or not responding to them. As for sexsomniacs themselves, they can aim to get better quality sleep, reduce their stress levels, decrease nighttime drug and alcohol consumption, and have more (conscious) sex.

Prescription meds are also an option. “Paroxetine is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor that can increase deep sleep, reduce nighttime erections, and reduce the frequency of nighttime awakenings, so it may be helpful for sexsomnia,” Martin Reed, a certified clinical sleep health educator and founder of the online sleep help site Insomnia Coach, tells me. “Clonazepam is another drug typically used to treat parasomnias.”

Dr. Dimitriu says that treatment should begin with optimizing and eliminating the triggers. If the behavior continues, then a discussion with your doctor and a consultation with a sleep specialist would be the next step.

Dr. Saltz warns, however, that people shouldn’t read into sexsomnia and give it too much meaning. “These behaviors are more about primitive human behavior due to random brain stimulation than something personally about you,” she says. After all, sex is one of our strongest biological drives as mammals. Deciding whether to treat sexsomnia seems to boil down to if these instincts are problematic for those who have it and the people they sleep next to at night.

Since I’m not sharing a bed with anyone right now, I’m keeping these tips in mind for the future. For now, I’m going to start masturbating before I fall asleep—so I’m getting the sexual release that will hopefully put my sexsomnia to bed once and for all.

Complete Article HERE!

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Does cannabis affect men’s sexual health?

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There’s a lot of information floating around the interwebs on how weed affects your erection. What’s the truth?

Cannabis may not impact sexual health as previously thought.

By Alana Armstrong

Have you ever wondered, somewhere in the back of your mind (minimized to a tiny voice so as to not freak yourself out) whether the weed you smoke affects your erection?

Yeah, we all have. At least those who are equipped to get erections.

And it’s no wonder. The internet is full of anecdotal descriptions of marijuana-triggered erections, something Urban Dictionary contributors call “stoner boner.” To quote the entry, this is “an erection obtained for no reason other than the fact that the obtainee was too damn high.” (Let’s face it. That’s way better than whisky dick.)

And there is maybe even more content out there about how marijuana impedes the boner. So, what’s real?

As far as we can tell, you can rest easy, brother. The facts about weed use and erections are uncertain at best, with one investigation suggesting that frequent cannabis use caused the men in their study to reach orgasm too quickly, too slowly, or not at all.

And then there’s this other study, which suggests that cannabis could be used to treat erectile difficulties in men with high cholesterol.

In short? The jury is still out. If you’re concerned about how marijuana affects your bedroom presence, try out some different strains and consumption methods. It’s certainly more fun that way,  and you can see how each one affects your desire and ability to perform. Bring on the boner!

Complete Article HERE!

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What are the benefits of having an orgasm?

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By Almara Abgarian

We’re celebrating the power of the orgasm today.

Whether experiencing one by yourself or with a partner, reaching climax has some significant benefits (besides giving you a deliciously tingly feeling).

By getting a release of endorphins on a regular basis, you could improve your physical and mental health, as well as form a closer bond with yourself or your partner.

Bear in mind that not everyone can or wants to orgasm, and that’s perfectly OK, but here are some reasons why the big O is so great.

You will sleep better

Ever notice how you feel drowsy after you climax?

It’s not just because of the exercise you’ve just given your body (or hand), but at the point of orgasm your body releases various chemicals including oxytocin and serotonin (the happy hormones), as well as norepinephrine, vasopressin and prolactin.

These chemicals work together to make you feel relaxed, which in turn could help you drift off at night and have a deeper sleep.

‘…during climax, the body releases prolactin, along with many other chemicals,’ Dr Diana Gall, from the online doctor service Doctor 4 U, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘Prolactin has been proven to be involved with making you feel relaxed and tired, which should help you drift off to sleep more easily.

‘In addition to this, oestrogen levels in women are increased during and just after orgasm. This hormone helps to enhance the REM cycle, meaning that a deeper sleep is more likely.’

You will feel less stressed

Having an orgasm can do wonders for the mind.

You have oxytocin to thank for this one, too. When the chemical is released in the hypothalamus part of the brain, it send signals that makes you feel calmer, warmer and generally just a bit happier.

‘Oxytocin is the same hormone that’s associated with mother and baby bonding, whilst dopamine is partly responsible for regulating emotional responses, as well as contributing to feelings of pleasure,’ said Dr Gall.

‘This cocktail of hormones can help people to feel more relaxed and in a state of mental wellness.’

If you have difficulty reaching orgasm or don’t fancy it, there’s always the option of going for a run before bed, as some studies find this can reduce feelings of anxiety and stress, which will improve your sleeping patterns.

It could help with pain management

Certain studies have found that reaching climax can lessen pain symptoms.

A study from the University of Munster in Germany in 2013 revealed that having an orgasm during sex helped with migraines and cluster or tension headaches.

Out of the participants, 60% of those who suffer from migraines and one third of those who suffer from cluster headaches said getting themselves off during sex improved their pain levels.

While the study didn’t cover masturbation, researchers drew conclusions that it’s likely the effect would be the same in this scenario.

However, some migraine sufferers (33%) said having sex/orgasms made their symptoms worse, so it won’t work for everyone.

Your heart will thank you

‘Orgasms aren’t just good fun for you and your partner, they can actually be good for your health, good news for anyone who’s having them regularly!,’ Shamir Patel, pharmacist & founder of Chemist 4 U, tells Metro.co.uk.

‘For example, when you have sex your heart rate typically gets higher, and its average beats per minute can increase even further when you orgasm.

‘Raising your heart rate is good for your heart, and when you orgasm it can reach rates that are similar to when you’re doing light exercise, like a brisk walk.’

Having orgasms on your own could improve your sex life

Having alone time is very healthy, regardless if you have an orgasm or not.

By exploring what you like and how you like it, you’ll be able to communicate this to your lover.

Plus, it’s really fun.

Your skin will glow

This one is more likely if you’re having sex, rather than masturbating.

‘Medically, your blood flow is increased during sex and orgasm, meaning that there’s more oxygen pumping around your body,’ said Dr Gall.

‘This increased blood flow is also responsible for the flushed skin many people experience during and after sex.

‘As well as this, the increased oxygen flow can stimulate the production of collagen – a protein that’s known to be great for the skin. As orgasms can also promote better sleep and decreased stress levels, these may also help to improve your skin.’

It could improve your relationships

Having an orgasm with someone else can make people feel very vulnerable.

Showing this level of trust during sex or through mutual masturbation with your partner can bring you closer together. There’s also the satisfaction in making a partner orgasm or watching as they do, knowing they’re revealing that private part of themselves.

But that’s not the only relationship to focus on.

Getting up close and personal with yourself can also make you feel more confident, and in tune with your body and mind.

Go forth and orgasm.

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A sexual wellness app for women could be a game changer

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Recent research has revealed that far from letting their sex lives wane over 50s are continuing to carve out some dedicated time between the sheets each week.

But making the leap from an active sex life, to one that actually satisfies, can be easier said than done; and this is where a new sexual wellness app for women comes in.

Launched on the Apple Store and Google Play late last month, Emjoy, founded by Andrea Oliver Garcia and Daniel Tamas in 2018, is an app offering up more than 80 audio sessions covering topics including how to boost libido, developing self-knowledge, increasing pleasure and improving sexual communication.

Experts in the fields of psychology, sex therapy, education and mindfulness also impart their wisdom on all aspects of sex.

Revealing the inspiration behind the app, Andrea said, “I have always considered myself a feminist and as I grew up, I realised that many girlfriends of mine lived their sexuality with shame and knew very little about themselves – some even doubting if they had or hadn’t experienced an orgasm.

“Then I came across several studies such as the pleasure gap and sexual wellbeing reports showing that cisgendered heterosexual women consistently experience less pleasure than their male counterparts. Shockingly, data from several studies show that over 40 per cent of women struggle to attain an orgasm and that 30 per cent of women worldwide experience libido issues.”

Continuing she added, “As I was researching and talking to sex therapists and industry experts, I noticed the internet was crowded with inconsistent and untrustworthy information.

“That’s when I decided to stop backing amazing entrepreneurs to become one myself in order to help women enhance their sexual wellbeing with Emjoy.”

With an average 4-star rating on Google Play and an average 5-star rating on the Apple Store, here’s what those who’ve already downloaded it had to say:

‘Finally an app addressing this subject the proper way. Already addicted to all the great quality content (keep it up!).’

‘I’m delighted there is an app that breaks all taboos about women’s sexuality. It was time for something like this to exist! Thank you :)’

‘Can’t wait to…get home from work and continue “my journey”.’

‘I’ve used this app for a couple of months and its really made a difference! The quality of the content is great. It’s made me feel much more comfortable in my relationship, communicating what I want to my partner and helping me get out of my mind.

‘It’s also done in such a classy/easy way – I never feel akward [sic] or embarrassed when I listen to these sessions, it’s very natural and easy to relate to. Honestly, it’s about time someone created this type of product!!’

Would you try it out?

Complete Article HERE!

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More cardio is linked to better orgasms in women and less erectile dysfunction in men

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The researchers found that men who logged more time exercising each week had lower chances of erectile dysfunction.

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If your go-to workout involves running, swimming, or biking, your sex life may be benefiting.

A new study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that people who spent more time doing those cardio workouts had fewer physical sex problems, like erectile dysfunction for men or inability to feel aroused for women, than people who swam, biked, or ran less frequently.

To test this, researchers had 3,906 men and 2,264 women who biked, swam, or ran for exercise complete a survey. The participants came from various countries, including the United States, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, and were all older than 18 years old. The average age for both men and women was over 40 years old.

In the survey, researchers asked questions about how often participants worked out each week, the distance and speed at which they exercised, and whether they had partaken in one of the three exercises methods or a combination of them.

The researchers also asked men if they’d ever experienced erectile dysfunction and how often, and asked women to rate their orgasm satisfaction, plus how easy or difficult it was for them to get sexually aroused.

Men who burned over 8,000 calories each week had lower risks of erectile dysfunction

The researchers found that men who logged more time exercising each week had lower chances of erectile dysfunction.

In fact, men who worked out enough to burn more than 8,260 each week had a 22% less chance of erectile dysfunction compared to men who burn fewer calories. The researchers said this caloric loss is equal to about 10 hours of cycling at 26 kilometers per hour over a week’s time.

Women who logged more cardio time said they had better orgasms

The women researchers surveyed also reported more sexual satisfaction if they logged more cardio time.

Women who worked out more often over a week’s time said they were more satisfied with their orgasms than women who worked out less. The women who worked out more also reported being able to get aroused more easily.

For women, arousal happens when the genitals feel tingly and begin to swell and the vagina releases lubrication. Arousal can also include feelings of excitement, according to the American Sexual Health Association.

The researchers noted that for both men and women, it didn’t matter whether they biked, ran, or swam — all of the activities helped to boost participants’ sex drives if done often.

“Thus, in addition to encouraging sedentary populations to begin exercising as previous studies suggest, it also might prove useful to encourage active patients to exercise more rigorously to improve their sexual functioning,” the study authors wrote.

There were some caveats to the study, like the fact that participants’ answers were self-reported and they could’ve lied or inaccurately recorded how often they experienced erectile dysfunction or sexual dissatisfaction. The researchers also noted that they only looked at physically active people, so their results don’t apply to people who live largely sedentary lifestyles.

The study still adds to existing evidence suggesting that regular cardiovascular exercise has benefits that go beyond appearances, like improved heart health, a better mood, and now, fewer sexual health issues and better orgasms.

Complete Article HERE!

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Do You Need Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy?

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by Vanessa Marin

You’ve probably never heard of pelvic floor physical therapy before, and that’s a shame: It’s an extremely helpful treatment option for a variety of difficult medical conditions. Your pelvic floor drapes across your pelvic area like a hammock, and supports the pelvic organs (the uterus, bladder, and rectum). It also assists with urinary and anal continence, and serves a role in core strength and orgasm. People of all genders have a pelvic floor.

To help me learn more about pelvic floor physical therapy, I spoke with Heather Jeffcoat, a physical therapist and the owner of Femina Physical Therapy in Los Angeles, and author of Sex Without Pain: A Self Treatment Guide to the Sex Life You Deserve. Here’s what you need to know about pelvic therapy and how it can help you.

How pelvic floor physical therapy works

A lot of things can weaken the pelvic floor, including pregnancy, childbirth, and aging, resulting in pelvic pain as well as bladder, bowel, and sexual dysfunctions.

The first step of pelvic floor physical therapy is gathering the client’s history, ascertaining their goals, and providing education about how the pelvic floor works. This is followed by a manual examination. From there, physical therapists use a combination of manual therapy, pelvic floor exercises, biofeedback, and/or vaginal dilators. Patients are seen for regular appointments, and are given exercises to complete at home.

 
You can find therapists by searching American Physical Therapy Association and the International Pelvic Pain Society. Many PTs, including Dr. Jeffcoat, also offer telemedicine appointments if you’d prefer to get started that way or you can’t find a PT in your area.

What pelvic floor physical therapy can treat

Pelvic floor PT can be effective at treating a wide array of conditions, including:

  • Painful sex
  • Pain with tampon insertion or OB/GYN examinations
  • Vulvar pain
  • Vulvar itching
  • Urinary urgency and frequency
  • Recurrent UTIs
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Bowel incontinence
  • Pelvic and/or lower abdominal pain

Dr. Jeffcoat says, “I like to tell physicians that if they have been searching for a cause of someone’s pain between their ribs and their hips/pelvis and they have been medically cleared, they should be referred to a skilled PFPT.”

Pelvic floor PT can also be used to prepare transgender patients for gender confirmation surgery, and to facilitate healing post-surgery.

Pelvic floor physical therapy and sexual pain

Recently, researchers at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University found that 30% of women experienced pain during their last sexual encounter. Even though sexual pain is widespread, it often takes a very long time for a woman to get diagnosed with a sexual pain condition. I have heard horror stories from clients who were told by their doctors that their pain was “all in their head” or that they needed to “just have a glass of wine.” I’ve heard of doctors recommending a shot of alcohol or an anti-anxiety medication right before sex. Dr. Jeffcoat has heard the same stories, and says most traditional physicians are ill-equipped to deal with sexual pain even though the reality is that there’s almost always a physical cause.

If you try to talk to your doctor about your sexual pain and get met with an infuriating response like “just relax,” finding a pelvic floor physical therapist in your area could be a much better bet. A good PT will work with you to uncover the root of your pain and discomfort, and develop a targeted game plan for relief. I’ve worked with a lot of clients with sexual pain, and they’ve all sung the praises of pelvic floor PT.

Keeping your pelvic floor in shape

Even if you’ve never heard of pelvic floor physical therapy before, you’ve probably heard about the field’s most popular exercise: kegels. There has been an explosion of articles about kegels (also known as PC exercises) in the last few years, and there are also a ton kegel trainers on the market purporting to help you get your kegel muscles into tip-top shape. Kegel exercises can have great benefits, including stronger orgasms and greater urinary control. But Dr. Jeffcoat advises a bit of caution. She shared that about half of all women are doing kegels incorrectly, and around 25% are doing them in a way that could make their other symptoms worse. She’s not a fan of vaginal weights or trainers because, she says, they can worsen incorrect form.

Dr. Jeffcoat says that if you’re currently experiencing sexual pain, urinary urgency or frequency, bladder pain, urge incontinence, constipation, rectal pain or any pelvic pain, avoid kegels and check in with a PT first.

If you don’t have bowel or bladder symptoms, Dr. Jeffcoat recommends doing a mix of longer holds and shorter pulses. To find your PC muscles, cut off your flow of urine before your bladder is empty. The muscles that you have to use to do so are the ones you want to target. For the longer holds, gently squeeze your PC muscles for 3-5 seconds, then gradually release. For the shorter pulses, squeeze your PC muscles, then immediately release. If you want to ensure you’re doing kegels correctly, or want a customized game plan, definitely check in with a PT.

If you feel embarrassed about what’s involved in pelvic floor PT

Yes, your PT will be directly manipulating your muscles through the walls of your vagina or anus. But Dr. Jeffcoat assured me that a good pelvic floor physical therapist is passionate about their work, and about helping their clients feel comfortable. Pelvic floor issues are very common, and PTs want to help remove the stigma around getting help. Dr. Jeffcoat’s standard initial visit is 90 minutes, a good chunk of which is spent talking and helping you feel more comfortable. You also have the option to postpone the physical examination until a later session.

It may also help to think about the positive effects of pelvic floor physical therapy. I asked Dr. Jeffcoat about some of her favorite patient success stories, and she told me about seeing patients consummate their marriages for the first time ever. One case was after 19 years of marriage. She also wrote, “I’ve had so many women that are able to get pregnant without fertility treatments because they can have pain-free sex. I’ve seen women gain a new sense of empowerment by reaching a goal they truly never thought would never happen.” There can also be something incredibly validating about knowing that the pain isn’t “in your head.” The bottom line: pelvic floor physical therapy can be life-changing.

Complete Article HERE!

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The Worst Thing About Sex For Nearly A Third of Women

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by Kelly Gonsalves

If I asked you what the worst thing about having sex is, what would you say?

For nearly one out of three women, it’s body shame.

Sex toy company Lovehoney asked over 3,000 people this question. Men’s top concern about sex was when it was over too quickly. But for women, the most commonly reported worst thing about sex was feeling self-conscious—some 30% of women said this.

Why women feel so self-conscious during sex—and how it affects their pleasure.

“Our culture puts a lot of pressure on women to be attractive yet not too sexual—open and receptive to sexual experience but not too knowledgeable or demanding,” certified sex coach Myisha Battle, M.S., explains to mbg. “There is also societal pressure for women’s bodies to conform to an often unattainable standard of beauty. All of this (and sometimes more) contributes to why women feel self-conscious during sex.”

Past research has found body image to be a big roadblock to women’s sexual well-being: Studies have shown feeling bad about your body makes you less likely to advocate for your needs in bed, stand firm in your boundaries, and ask for safer sexual practices. On the other hand, feeling confident in your body—particularly your genitalia—has been linked with being less stressed over “performance” during sex and actually having an easier time getting turned on, lubricated, and having orgasms.

“It’s really challenging to believe in your sense of pleasure when you are constantly questioning whether or not you are living up to standards that the world imposes upon you,” Battle says. “When we don’t feel the best in our bodies, our sex lives can suffer. In my practice I see people who have difficulty with arousal and orgasm as a result of self-monitoring and overthinking. It’s actually very common. When our minds are racing with these thoughts, it can inhibit our ability to tap into physical sensations and dampen our experience of pleasure.”

How to get out of your head during sex.

1. The “M” word.

Yes, it’s about mindfulness—you can’t get away from it!

Mindfulness is deeply tied to sexual pleasure. No matter your gender, if you regularly find yourself feeling self-conscious and anxious about the way your body looks during sex, Battle recommends taking up a meditation or mindfulness practice to be able to monitor your thoughts and learn to release the negative ones.

“Notice when you’re having a self-critical thought. Keep a journal if it’s helpful. You may be surprised at how many times this happens,” she explains. “You can then try replacing each negative thought with a positive one. It takes time and sometimes a lot of effort to come up with something positive, but over time it can be really helpful for cultivating a positive self-image.”

(If you need some ideas for positive thoughts to repeat to yourself about your body, I love feminist life coach and women’s rights lawyer Kara Loewentheil, J.D.’s recommendations.)

2. Rally the troops.

Self-confidence stems from within, but that doesn’t mean the people in your life who love you can’t help you in that journey. Research shows people who talk about sex with their friends tend to have more sexual self-confidence and are more willing to ask for what they want in bed. And if you’re in a relationship, that partner of yours should be worshipping your body—and making it obvious. Another study found people who feel like their partner really appreciates their body are more sexually satisfied, have more desire and orgasms, and are more satisfied with their relationship overall.

3. Develop a body love ritual.

“I also recommend taking some time out of each day to practice body acceptance and self-love. Take a moment to thank your legs for getting you to work, your belly for digesting your food, your arms for helping you carry your groceries, and so on,” Battle says. “We only get one body in this world, and regardless of ability, age, size, or race, every body has the capacity for pleasure and is deserving of it.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Can’t Climax?

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This Might Be Why

By Samantha Vincenty

Ever needed to sneeze—nose tickling, whole body clenched, staring up at a light in hopes that a big “ACHOO!” will free you—only for the sneeze to somehow stall out, leaving you shaking clenched fists as you accept that the release just ain’t happening? Not being able to have an orgasm after a big build-up often feels like that…times a million.

Inability to orgasm is frustrating for someone trying to achieve sexual release through sex or masturbation. Chronic problems reaching climax can also sap the joy from a couple’s sex life when disappointment spoils what’s meant to be a playful encounter: Eventually, you’re worrying about whether “it” will happen before your clothes even hit the floor. Or worse, sex becomes a fraught activity and you avoid it altogether.

If you’ve experienced trouble reaching orgasm, you’re far from alone, and it happens to both women and men. Here are some expert tips on getting there if you can’t orgasm, but would very much like to.

Anorgasmia is the persistent inability to achieve orgasm.

Not a failure to achieve orgasm, mind you—in fact, let’s ban the word “failure” in this arena from here on out (we’ll touch on why later). The word “inability” is a tricky one too, says Anna Kaye, a counselor and certified sex therapist who works with adults struggling with relationship and sexuality issues.

“The fact that one doesn’t have an orgasm sometimes, most of the time, or even ever, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are UNABLE to have one,” Kaye explains. “It means that in that circumstance, with that partner, with that moment’s mindset, one doesn’t.”

In other words, even if you’ve been affected by anorgasmia for most of your life, you’ve got plenty of reasons to hope that can change.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are four types of anorgasmia: Lifelong anorgasmia (have never had an orgasm), acquired anorgasmia (you’ve had orgasms before, but now they elude you), situational anorgasmia (you can only come a certain way, such as through masturbation), generalized anorgasmia (you can’t climax, period). Understanding which type describes your situation can light the path to treatment.

Visit a doctor to rule out medical issues.

“Certain medical conditions, like diabetes or multiple sclerosis, can interfere with orgasm,” says Joshua Gonzalez, an L.A.-based doctor trained in sexual medicine. Gonzalez and Kaye both note that certain medications, particularly SSRI-class antidepressants, can wallop your sex drive as well.

Those are far from the only biological factors that may be at play, which is why voicing your concerns to a qualified doctor can help. “Additional reasons include hormonal issues, pelvic trauma or surgery, spinal cord injury, and cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Gonzalez says.

If the difficulty only occurs with a certain sex partner, that may be a red flag.

If you’ve previously been able to climax but can’t make it happen with someone you’re definitely attracted to, your instincts may be telling you something.

“Women may have trouble achieving an orgasm if they are trying to make it happen with a person whom their gut doesn’t feel good about,” Kaye says. “In other words, the relationship isn’t right, or the person isn’t right for them.”

Kaye points out that communication problems can be at play, so before you kick them out of bed for good, voice your concerns.

Past negative associations with sex are worth exploring with a therapist.

Dark thoughts about your sexual self may not be at the forefront of your mind in bed, but it’s possible they’re roiling under the surface. “Sociocultural beliefs about sex, underlying anxiety and depression, and prior emotional, physical, or sexual abuse can also negatively affect orgasm,” Gonzalez says.

If you haven’t, consider unpacking your experience with a trusted mental health professional. “Past unprocessed sexual trauma can lead to the body holding back, feeling unsafe, and therefore not allowing the person to surrender to an orgasm,” Kaye adds.

Pressure is an orgasm-killer.

You might try shelving the expectations for an orgasm altogether, so worry doesn’t snuff out your libido and chase hopes of climax further away.

“Don’t work hard or get frustrated trying to make an orgasm happen, because in that situation it won’t,” says Kaye. “Instead, focus on intimate caressing, stroking, and playfulness with your partner. An orgasm may just be a wonderful side effect of the intimacy that blows your socks off (if they were still on).”

Heterosexual women, and their partners, can try getting to know the clitoris better.

According to Indiana University’s National Survey of Sex and Behavior, “About 85% of men report that their partner had an orgasm at the most recent sexual event; this compares to the 64% of women who report having had an orgasm at their most recent sexual event.” Those numbers suggest men think their getting their female partner off more than they actually are.

Therapist Ian Kerner, author of She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman, jokes that this is because men tend to be “ill-cliterate,” and clitoral stimulation is a major (for some, even necessary) part of achieving orgasm for women.

“The clitoris is the powerhouse of the female orgasm and responds to persistent stimulation of the vulva, rather than penetration of the vagina,” says Kerner, who calls the external part of the clitoris “the visible tip of the orgasm iceberg.” A significant number of women need clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm—as opposed to penetration—so penis-in-vagina intercourse may not take you over the edge.

Unsure where your clitoris is? Check out Planned Parenthood’s handy female sexual anatomy explainer. And speaking of getting hand-y…

Masturbation is the best way to learn what you need.

We can extol the many benefits of self love (and we have); it’s truly the best trial-and-error practice around when it comes to coming.

“It’s important for women to be able to masturbate and give themselves an orgasm, so they can create the ‘neural wiring’ for orgasms to happen,” says Kerner. If you find that your hand doesn’t get the job done, you can pick up one of these excellent vibrators for beginners</a

For men, though, Kerner cautions that masturbation can occasionally hinder a man’s ability to orgasm with a partner “due to a combination of pressure and friction that’s difficult to replicate during sex.” He recommends either taking a break, or trying your non-dominant hand instead.

You may not be getting enough foreplay.

If an orgasm is a flame, foreplay is the gasoline. Foreplay is a catchall term for any pre-sex play that heightens excitement: Deep kissing, footsie, nipple stimulation, a striptease, dirty talk—the list is honestly endless, so long as it turns you on.

Foreplay makes partners more present in the moment, can foster a sense of safety through doting attention, and, as Kerner points out, turns up the heat: “A lack of adequate foreplay or percolation of arousal is also often at the root of a woman’s lack of orgasm during partnered sex.”

Is stress chasing your orgasms away?

“In my clinical experience men are able to get interested in sex even when external stressors are high with chores, deadlines, and fatigue,” Kerner says. “Conversely, many women complain that during sex it’s very hard for them to get out of their heads and into a state of arousal.”

Learning how to relax and let go is easier said than done, but Kerner suggests couples work together to reduce external stressors outside the bedroom, and then create a soothing environment that sets the stage for intimacy. Light candles, bust out your softest sheets and try exchanging massages with your partner.

Dream up a hot fantasy (especially during solo sessions).

Getting lost in a sexual fantasy is another way to put life’s stress and distraction out of mind and achieve the big O. Kerner advises clients not to feel guilty or less present when they’re imagining a hot scenario—”it’s really okay to fantasize during sex”—and suggests strengthening that fantasizing-muscle while masturbating.

Take your sweet time.

Play, experimentation, and patience are essential in discovering (or rediscovering) how you orgasm, so there’s no need to cut solo or partnered sex short because they’ve finished and you don’t think it’s going to happen for you.

Try staying in the moment for five, ten, fifteen minutes more to see what happens, and go heavy on the affection. And remember that intensity varies by person, so if you don’t experience the kind of leg-shaking, eye-rolling Os you see in movies, that’s not a failure on your part (there’s that word again

As Kaye says, “The success and satisfaction of lovemaking doesn’t come from how fast one reaches an orgasm, but how much one enjoys it.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Can masturbation impact your workout?

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Research has shown that masturbation does not affect testosterone levels.

Masturbation is a healthy and safe sexual activity that has links to numerous health benefits, such as pain relief and stress reduction. Opinions on how masturbation affects exercise vary, but there is not enough evidence to support one view over the other.

Some members of the health and fitness community are in a debate about the potential risks and benefits of masturbation before a workout.

Some people believe that masturbation can influence levels of testosterone, which plays a crucial role in promoting overall physical fitness. They also think that masturbation and other sexual activities can lead to improvements in mood and lower stress, which can indirectly improve physical performance.

However, other people think that masturbation adversely influences physical performance due to excess energy expenditure. Continue reading to learn about the possible benefits and side effects associated with masturbating before a workout.

How masturbation and abstinence affect testosterone

The debate about whether masturbation is beneficial before exercise seems to focus on how masturbation influences testosterone.

Testosterone is the primary male reproductive hormone, but females also produce it. It plays a crucial role in promoting physical fitness among both males and females. According to one animal study, it plays a vital role in muscle protein synthesis.

Another review that included studies on humans suggests that testosterone also plays a role in bone formation.

With that said, the question remains whether masturbation significantly affects testosterone levels.

What do the studies say?

Testosterone levels naturally increase during sexual arousal and decrease after orgasm, but it appears that masturbation does not significantly impact a person’s level of testosterone.

The findings of a 2001 study showed that orgasm due to masturbation did not affect plasma testosterone levels. However, the authors observed higher concentrations of testosterone in men who abstained from sexual activity for 3 weeks. This was a small study with only 10 participants.

In another early study from 2003, researchers observed that testosterone levels fluctuated minimally during the first 5 days of sexual abstinence, peaked at 7 days, and then remained constant. The findings of this study suggest that short periods of abstinence may result in temporary fluctuations in testosterone levels.

Benefits of masturbation

Although masturbation has little to no effect on testosterone levels, it may still benefit a person’s workout performance.

However, there is not enough scientific research to support a direct link between masturbation and better physical performance.

Current scientific research does suggest, however, that sexual activity may enhance people’s overall health.

A recent study on adults who had experienced a heart attack suggests that those who frequently engaged in sexual activity had better long term survival rates.

Hormones, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and oxytocin, increase during and following sexual climax. These hormones positively affect mood and could influence the mental aspect of exercise by improving a person’s frame of mind and motivation during a workout.

Side effects of masturbation

Masturbation is a safe sexual activity that has few, if any, long term side effects.

One 2016 review looking at sexual activity and competitive sports concludes that there is not any evidence to suggest that masturbation has a direct adverse effect on overall physical fitness or sports performance in males or females. Anecdotal evidence also indicates that having sexual intercourse about 10 hours before taking part in a sports competition may have a positive effect on performance.

Masturbating too frequently can lead to temporary side effects, including:

  • overly sensitive or tender skin near the genitals
  • swelling or edema of the penis
  • decreased sensitivity
  • fatigue

Males and females

It appears that masturbation induces similar effects in both males and females. Engaging in sexual activity increases testosterone levels, reduces stress, and relieves pain.

Male and female bodies respond differently to testosterone. Males naturally have higher levels of testosterone than females, which leads to the development of some typical male characteristics, such as body and facial hair.

These characteristics do not usually occur in females producing normal levels of the hormone. Testosterone also plays an essential role in sperm production and egg development.

Currently, scientific research has not revealed a direct relationship between masturbation and exercise performance in males or females.

However, the findings of one recent study suggest that regular sexual activity may improve levels of life satisfaction and enjoyment among older adults.

Summary

Masturbation has little to no direct effect on people’s workout performance. Although testosterone levels fluctuate immediately after orgasm, the change is temporary and unlikely to affect a person’s physical fitness.

Masturbation may stimulate the release of endorphins and other feel-good hormones. These hormonal changes can help reduce stress and improve mood.

People should structure their routines accordingly. If masturbating makes someone extremely tired, they may want to avoid it before a workout. Masturbating has few, if any, side effects.

Complete Article HERE!

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Is there such a thing as ‘normal’ libido for women?

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Drug companies say they can “fix” low sex drive in women.

By Caroline Zielinski

Ever wished you could reciprocate your partner’s hopeful gaze in the evening instead of losing your desire under layers of anxiety and to-do lists? Or to enthusiastically agree with your friends when they talk about how great it is to have sex six times a week?

Perhaps you just need to find that “switch” that will turn your desire on – big pharma has been trying for years to medicalise women’s sex drive, and to “solve” low libido.

One US company has just released a self-administered injection that promises to stimulate desire 45 minutes after use.

In late June, the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) approved Vyleesi (known scientifically as bremelanotide), the second drug of its kind targeting hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), a medical condition characterised by ongoing low sexual desire.

Vyleesi will soon be available on the market, and women will now have two drugs to choose from, the other being flibanserin (sold under the name Addyi), which comes in pill form.

Many experts are sceptical of medication being marketed as treatment for HSDD and the constructs underpinning research into the condition.

Yet many experts are highly sceptical of medication being marketed as treatment for HSDD, and also of the scientific constructs underpinning the research into the condition.

What is female hypo-active sexual desire disorder?

Hypo-active sexual desire disorder (or HSDD) was listed in the DSM-4, and relates to persistently deficient (or absent) sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity, which causes marked distress and relationship problems.

“The problem is, it is very hard to describe what this medical condition actually is, because its construction is too entangled with the marketing of the drugs to treat it,” says Bond University academic Dr Ray Moynihan, a former investigate journalist, now researcher.

His 2003 paper, and book, The making of a disease: female sexual dysfunction,  evaluates the methods used by pharmaceutical companies in the US to pathologise sexuality in women, focussing on the marketing campaign of Sprout Pharmaceuticals’ drug flibanserin, an antidepressant eventually approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for women experiencing sexual difficulties.

“This campaign, called Even the Score, was happening in real time as I was working as an investigative journalist and author.

“I got to see and document the way in which the very science underpinning this construct called FSD – or a disorder of low desire – was being constructed with money from the companies which would directly benefit from those constructs.”

The campaign was heavily criticised, mainly for co-opting  language of rights, choice and sex equality to pressure the FDA to approve a controversial female “Viagra” drug.

During his research, Dr Moynihan says he found “blatant connections between the researchers who were constructing the science, and the companies who would benefit from this science”.

“The basic structures of the science surrounding this condition were being funded by industry,” he says.

What does the science say?

The biological causes of the condition have been widely researched. A quick search comes up with more than 13,000 results for HSDD, and a whooping 700,000 for what the condition used to be called (female sexual dysfunction).

Some of these studies show that women with the condition experience changes in brain activity that are independent of lifestyle factors, and other research has found that oestrogen-only therapies can increase sexual desire in postmenopausal women.

Others look into the effectiveness of a testosterone patch increasing sexual activity and desire in surgically menopausal women. Most say there is little substantive research in the field, and even less conclusive evidence.

“Oh, there are … studies galore, but mostly they are done by the industry or industry supporters – that’s one problem,” says Leonore Tiefer, US author, researcher and educator who has written widely about the medicalisation of men’s and women’s sexuality.

“There is no such thing as ‘normal’ sexual function in women,” says Jayne Lucke, Professor at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University.

“Sexual function and desire changes across the lifespan, and is influenced by factors such as different partners, life experiences, having children, going through menopause.”

Using the word ‘normal’ is very powerful, because it puts pressure on women about our idea of what is a ‘normal’ woman’.
Professor Jayne Lucke

Professor Lucke has studied women’s health and public health policy for years, and believes our need to understand female sexuality and its triggers has created a rush to medicalise a condition which may not even exist.

“Using the word ‘normal’ is very powerful, because it puts pressure on women about our idea of what is a ‘normal’ woman’,” she says.

The studies submitted by AMAG (Vyleesi) and flibanserin (Sprout Pharmaceuticals) for approval from FSD have been criticised for their connection to industry, as well as the small differences between the drugs effects and those of the placebo.

For example, Vyleesi was found to increase desire marginally (scoring 1.2 on a range out of 6) in only a quarter of women, compared to 17 per cent of those taking a placebo. A review of flibanserin studies, including five published and three unpublished randomised clinical trials involving 5,914 women concluded the overall quality of the evidence for both efficacy and safety outcomes was very low.

Side effects were also an issue with both medications.

Flibanserin never sold well, partly due to problems with its manufacturer and partly due to its use terms: that women would have to take it daily and avoid alcohol to experience a marginal increase in their sexual experiences.

“I’m just unsure of the mechanism of action with these drugs – they seem to be using the model of male sexual desire as a baseline,” Professor Lucke says.

“In the heterosexual male model of sexuality, the man has the erection, then there is penetration, hopefully an orgasm for both: that’s the model this is targeting”.

That said, it doesn’t mean that women don’t suffer from authentic sexual difficulties – the preferred term by many physicians, including the head of Sexual Medicine and Therapy Clinic at Monash Health and a sex counsellor at The Royal Women’s Hospital, Dr Anita Elias.

“I don’t use terms like ‘dysfunction’, or worry about the DSM’s classification system,” she says.

“Clinically, I wouldn’t waste too much time reading the DSM: we’re dealing with a person, not a classification.”

She says she prefers to talk about “sexual difficulties” rather than sexual “dysfunction” because often a sexual problem or difficulty is not a dysfunction, but just a symptom of what is going on in a woman’s life (involving her physical and emotional health, relationship or circumstances, or in her beliefs or expectations around sex).

She prefers ‘sexual difficulties’ rather than ‘dysfunction’ because often … (it) is a symptom of what is going on in a woman’s life.

“It’s the reason you don’t feel like having sex that needs to be addressed rather than just taking medication,” she says.

Dr Elias believes silence and shame that surrounds the topic of female sexuality is impacting how these conditions are being dealt with at a medical and societal level.

“Sexual pain and issues just don’t get talked about: if you had back pain, you’d be telling everyone –but anything to do with sex and women is still taboo”.

Dr Amy Moten, a GP based in South Australia who specialises in sexual health, says sexual difficulties are not covered well enough during medical training.

“While training will include a component of women’s sexual health, this tends to refer to gynaecological conditions (such as STIs) rather than sexual function and wellbeing.”

She says many GPs won’t think to ask a woman about sexual issues unless it’s part of a cervical screen or conversation about contraception, and that many women are reluctant to have such an intimate conversation unless they trust their GP.

“We need to think more about how to have these conversations in the future, as we’re living at a time of general increased anxiety, a lot of which can relate to sexual health.”

As for medication? It may be available in the US, but the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has confirmed no drug under that name has been approved for registration in Australia – yet.

Complete Article HERE!

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Recent study suggests sex could slow Parkinson’s disease

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That’s one factor identified in a large-scale study of early stage Parkinson’s patients

by

There’s still no known cure for Parkinson’s disease, but a recent study gives some hope that it can be at least slowed down. 

The treatment? Sexual activity.

The study, published by the European Journal of Neurology and conducted by a British and Italian research team over 24 months, examined the relationship between an active sexual life and the progression of early-stage PD.

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects dopamine-producing neurons in the brain, causing a range of debilitating physical symptoms over time including tremors, loss of balance and motor skills, and rigidity.

Causes remain a mystery, and PD is expected to affect 1 million Americans by the year 2020, making the results of this study a welcome bit of positive news.

The study involved a subgroup of patients involved in the PRIAMO study, a large Italian multicenter observational study designed to assess the prevalence and evolution of non-motor skills (NMS) in patients affected by PD.  

The average age of the participants was 57,  and all were considered to be in the “early stages” of PD progression.  They were tested for baseline motor skills, underwent a mental-health screening, and completed an extensive health interview during which they were asked a range of questions related to overall health.

Patients were also asked if they had sex and/or sexual dysfunction during the past year. Male respondents were twice as likely to be sexually active as the women in the study, but nearly half of the male respondents also complained of problems with erectile dysfunction. 

According to researchers, sexual activity did drop off for many subjects during the following two years of the study, but they concluded that men who engaged in sexual activity displayed less severe motor disability and a better overall quality of life than those who did not.

Women, however, did not share in those results.

No clear reason is certain, although the study skewed heavily male (238 men versus 117 women) and PD symptoms can be different for men and women. Women also may not have felt as comfortable answering questions about their sexual activity and habits.

In addition, certain medications PD patients take to activate dopamine receptors in the brain can increase movement. These may account for the increased quality of life described in the study.

Still, doctors and patients alike should be encouraged by the findings, and hopefully this is a step in the right direction of Parkinson’s knowledge and treatment.

Complete Article HERE!

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Reconnecting With My Sexuality as Someone With Depression

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By Alice Laura

One of the things I find when reading about recovering from depression, is that there’s not always much focus on sexuality. There’s a lot about learning to love ourselves, being kind to our body, setting boundaries and how to live day-to-day, but not how to be comfortable in our sexual-self. I can imagine it’s often overlooked because for many, it is not the easiest topic to talk about. Antidepressants frequently lower a person’s libido as a common side effect, which means sex is often the last thing on our mind. For me, however, sexuality is an important part of my identity and something that I want to explore again.

I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression over 15 years ago. During that time, I have had periods of improvement, time with severe physical health issues affecting my mobility and a time within an emotionally abusive and manipulative relationship. I have had times where I have used sex as a coping mechanism, a distraction and a punishment. I am polyamorous; currently living with my partner and his fiancée, bisexual and into BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism).

Two years ago, I was at my worst ever mentally. A combination of my severe depression and “people pleasing” behavior had led me into an online relationship with an old “friend” that — under the guise of BDSM and my submissive nature — became emotionally abusive. I had pushed my closest friends and family away feeling like I deserved to be treated badly. I convinced myself that the extreme pornography I was looking at was something I was interested in, not because it turned me on but because I thought I was less than human and should be treated that badly myself. I told myself that I didn’t matter, not really. I became suicidal. I did things that I regret and will for the rest of my life, but I am trying to move forward…trying to heal. Part of that is trying to reconnect with my sexuality.

After everything that has happened I’m finding it hard to let myself be sexual. It makes me vulnerable. I am in an incredibly loving and caring relationship with someone who is patient and amazing. He has been there through everything, has forgiven my poor judgement and lying, based on the fact it came from a dark place. We have a brilliant relationship with each other, until it comes to intimacy. I find that I can’t let go of my fear, my memories, my demons. I know that time will help, as it always does, but this goes right into the core of my being. My sexuality is important to me, but I am scared of falling into the same patterns of behavior. I’m scared that I have conditioned myself to be a “people pleaser” so much that I don’t know where my boundaries are anymore. It’s particularly hard when being submissive is part of who I was. Now, I have no idea if that’s really who I am.

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with my body, frequently having issues with low self-confidence. I was bullied in school for a combination of my weight, my studious nature and how easily I showed my emotions. However, I had a long term boyfriend from the age of 16 and he made me feel good about myself. We explored sex together. Through our open relationship, I explored my sexuality and came out of my shell. I learned to love myself, even with my flaws. I developed as a person and found a new confidence in myself and for awhile, I was happy, more outgoing and wasn’t scared to make the changes I needed to in my life to stay happy. Unfortunately. I went too far. I became addicted to sex and to the attention I could get from putting myself out there. I ran a NSFW (not safe for work) Tumblr that had thousands of followers and I would chat with guys who messaged me. It felt innocent enough, because they were on the other side of the internet. The problem was that I would push myself further and further because it got more likes, more interactions. Around the same time, my physical health failed me and I spiraled into that dark depression. What started as sexual confidence turned into a way to punish myself for being an awful human being. It got too real when I let in that old “friend,” regressing into that naive 18-year-old that he knew before, with added self-deprecation

Now that I have come out of the other side of that relationship, I am desperate to find a happy medium. One where I am comfortable with myself and can let myself go and enjoy sex, but I don’t push it too far into a dependency on the attention I can get from sharing my sexuality with the world. I’ve closed most of my social media accounts and am trying to be careful with what pornography I look at online. My partner is being incredibly patient with me, though it is hard for both of us because we have a history and we are having to start from scratch again. But this time, I lack the confidence and the knowledge of what I want. It’s easy to slip back into old habits for a moment, but then I start to overthink and question my motivations. Either that, or I have flashbacks or dissociations due to the trauma of the emotional abuse.

I’m lucky to have come out of this with the chance to overhaul my life. I’m slowly starting to explore the various incidents that led me to making some really poor life choices. My physical health has greatly improved and my mental health is getting better gradually. I have amazing support and the time to work on myself. Somedays, I think back to how sexually free I used to be and I’m filled with loss, wondering if I can ever get to a place where I am that comfortable with myself again. I want to be sure that I am doing everything for the right reasons, without obsessing about what I am doing. I am balancing analyzing my motives with actually letting myself feel and enjoy sensations. It’s hard work. Sex is meant to be fun, not something that leads to massive anxiety. With a combination of therapy, time and patience, I will get there and form a healthy relationship with myself and my sexuality again.

Complete Article HERE!

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5 Ridiculously Common Worries Sex Therapists Hear All the Time

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For anyone asking, “Am I normal?”

By Anna Borges

Fun sex things to talk about: enthusiastic consent, pleasure, sex toys, kink, orgasms, positions, intimacy. Less fun sex things to talk about: insecurity, inadequacy, unwelcome pain, dysfunction, internalized stigma, embarrassment. Understandable. No one wants to sit around chatting about their deepest sexual anxieties. But when you rarely see people having these less sexy conversations, it’s easy to assume you’re the only one who might have a complicated relationship with sex. You’re not.

“The sex education standard in North America is fear-based, shame-inducing messages that erase pleasure and consent,” sex therapist Shadeen Francis, L.M.F.T., tells SELF. “Because of this, there is a lot of room for folks to worry. Most of the insecurities I encounter as a sex therapist boil down to one overarching question: ‘Am I normal

To help answer that question, SELF asked a few sex therapists what topics come up again and again in their work. Turns out, no matter what you’re going through, more people than you might think can probably relate.

1. You feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.

Listen, good sex takes practice. It’s not like sex ed often covers much outside the mechanics: This goes here, that does that, this makes a baby. For the most part, people are left to their own devices to figure out what sex is actually like. A lot of the time, that info comes from less-than-satisfactory places, like unrealistic porn that perpetuates way too many myths to count. So if you’re not super confident in your abilities and sometimes feel like you have no idea what you’re doing, you’re not the only one.

This is especially true for people whose genders and sexualities aren’t represented in typical heteronormative sex ed. “Intersex people, gender non-conforming people, and trans people rarely have been centered in sexual conversations and often are trying to navigate discovering what pleases them and communicating that with partners outside of gender tropes,” says Francis.

People also worry that they’re straight up bad in bed all the time, Lexx Brown-James, L.M.F.T., certified sex educator and the founder of The Institute for Sexuality and Intimacy in St. Louis, tells SELF. “The most common question I get is, ‘How do I know if I’m good at sex?’” This, Brown-James emphasizes, isn’t the right question to be asking. Not only is everyone’s definition of “good sex” different, but it’s not going to come down to something as simple as your personal skill set. It’s about consensually exploring and communicating about what feels good, emotionally and physically, with your partner or partners.

2. You’re embarrassed about masturbation.

Depending on a few different factors, you might have a lot of internalized shame and self-consciousness around masturbation. Maybe you grew up in an environment that told you it was dirty or wrong, maybe no one talked to you about it at all, or maybe you’ve always felt a little nervous about the idea of pleasuring yourself. According to Francis, a lot of people have masturbation-related hangups.

If that sounds familiar, it’s important to remember how common masturbation is and that there’s no “right” way to do it. Not only do people of all ages, abilities, races, genders, religions, sizes, and relationship statuses masturbate, but there are tons of different ways to go about it, too. “People masturbate using their hands, their body weight, their toys, and various household or ‘DIY’ implements,” says Francis. Same goes for how people turn themselves on—people masturbate to fantasies, memories, visual and audio porn, literature, and a lot more. Some masturbate alone, while others also do it in front of or with their sexual partner or partners. Sex therapists have heard it all.

Basically, if your way of masturbating feels good to you and does not create harm for yourself or others, then it is a wonderfully healthy part of your sexuality and you should embrace it, says Francis. (Just make sure you’re being safe. So…don’t use any of these things to get yourself off.)

3. You worry that you’re not progressive enough.

You’ve probably noticed that lifestyles like kink and polyamory are bleeding into the mainstream. It’s not unusual to stumble across phrases like “ethically non-monogamous” and “in an open relationship” while swiping through a dating app.

According to sex therapist Ava Pommerenk, Ph.D., this increased visibility is having an unfortunate side effect: Some people who aren’t into the idea of polyamory or kink have started to feel like they’re…well, boring or even close-minded. Which is not true! But plenty of people equate alternative sexual practices with progressiveness when it’s really about personal preference. If you’ve been thinking your vanilla nature makes you old-school, just keep in mind that it’s totally OK if any kind of sexual act or practice isn’t your thing

While we’re on the topic, it’s worth noting that both non-monogamy and kink can be wonderful but require a lot of trust and communication. Some people who aren’t educated on the ethics involved are taking advantage of these practices as buzzwords to excuse shitty behavior.

“I get a lot of people, particularly women in relationships with men, whose [partners are] making them feel guilty for not opening up their relationship,” Pommerenk tells SELF. At best, that kind of behavior means there’s been some serious misunderstanding and miscommunication, but at worst, it can suggest an unhealthy or even emotionally abusive dynamic, says Pommerenk. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s worth unpacking, possibly with the help of someone like a sex therapist. You can also reach out to resources like the National Dating Abuse Helpline by calling 866-331-9474 or texting “loveis” to 22522 and the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 800-799-SAFE (7233) or through email or live chat on the hotline’s contact page.

4. You feel pressured to have sex a certain way or amount.

“One aspect of this that I see a lot—and this is true for all genders—is pressure to perform,” sex therapist Jillien Kahn, L.M.F.T., tells SELF. “[That] can include things like the pressure to have sex at a certain point in dating, feeling expected to magically know how to please a partner without communication, and/or fear of sexual challenges and dysfunctions.”

Kahn likes to remind her clients that sex isn’t a performance. “The best sex happens when we forget the pressure and are able to connect with our bodies and partners,” she says. “If you’re primarily concerned with your own performance or making your partner orgasm, you’re missing out on so much of the good stuff

Pommerenk also says it’s not uncommon for her clients to worry about the consequences of not being sexually available to their partners. For example, they feel like they’re bad partners if they’re not in the mood sometimes or that their partners will leave them if they don’t have sex often enough. A lot of this is cultural messaging we have to unlearn. It’s not difficult to internalize pressure to be the “perfect” sexual partner. After all, people in movies and porn are often ready and available for sex at all times. But much like worrying that you’re not open-minded enough, if this is how your partner is making you feel or something that they’re actually threatening you about, that’s not just a sexual hangup of yours—it’s a sign of potential emotional abuse.

5. You’re freaked out about a “weird” kink, fetish, or fantasy.

“Many of my clients seem to have a fantasy or enjoy a type of porn they feel ashamed of,” says Kahn. Some of these clients even feel ashamed to mention their fantasies or preferred porn in therapy, she adds. “The thing is, the vast majority of your fantasies have been around far longer than you have. The porn you look at was developed because a lot of people want to watch it. Even in the rare exception of unique fetishes or fantasies, there is nothing to be ashamed of,” says Kahn.

It can help to remember that just because you have a fantasy or like a certain type of porn doesn’t necessarily mean you want to do any of it IRL. According to Kahn, that’s an important distinction to make, because people often feel guilty or panicked about some of the thoughts that turn them on. For example, rape fantasies aren’t unheard of—in fact, like many fantasies, they’re probably more common than you’d expect, says Kahn—and they don’t mean that a person has a real desire to experience rape.

“I try to make sure my clients know that the fantasy doesn’t necessarily mean anything about them, so it is not necessary to try and analyze it,” says Kahn. “Whatever you’re fantasizing about, I can confidently tell you that you’re far from the only person excited by that idea.”

What if you do want to carry out a fantasy you’re worried is weird? Again, as long as you’re not actively harming yourself or anyone else, chances are pretty good that whatever you’re into sexually is completely OK—and that you can find someone else who’s into it, too.

If you’re still feeling embarrassed about any of your sexual practices, desires, or feelings, Kahn has these parting words: “Sexual anxiety and insecurity [are] such a universal experience. There’s constant comparison to this continually changing image of sexual perfection. [People should] discuss sex more openly for many reasons, and if we did, we would see how incredibly common sexual insecurity is.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Why You Should Still Be Having Solo Sex While You’re In A Relationship

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By Gigi Engle

Masturbation is good for you.

Studies have shown masturbation (and the subsequent orgasms that follow) can help relieve symptoms of depression, improve sleep quality, and even make you more likely to engage in partnered sex (and find that sex more satisfying).

Contrary to the sex shame-y cultural beliefs we have around sexuality, masturbating when you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy sex with your partner. In fact, studies have shown that people think about their partner most often when engaging in masturbation.

That’s right. Engaging in solo play is healthy (and normal!) even when you’re in a partnered relationship. And new data confirms this theory: According to a new study from the Journal of Sexual Medicine, solo sex is very good for you, no matter your relationship status.

Pretty much everyone is masturbating.

Since there is little research into masturbation, especially when it comes to women, the study sought to provide a basis for more research into female solo-sexual behaviors to be done in the future. It provides a baseline other researchers can build upon. Researchers surveyed 425 women, 61% of whom were in committed relationships, about their masturbatory and sexual habits.

What the results show is that almost everyone masturbates: 95% of participants had masturbated at some point during their lives. Further still, the 26% of study participants reported masturbating on a regular basis, at least once per week, while 27% reported masturbating two to three times per week.

A whopping 91% of women said they masturbated while in relationships. About 9% of participants reported they actually prefer masturbation to partnered sex, and 21% even preferred it to receiving oral.

Masturbation: We’re all doing it.

The top reasons women masturbate are pretty illuminating.

“The reasons cited for engaging in masturbation were manifold, ranging from sexual desire to relaxation and stress reduction,” write the study’s authors. The main reasons women masturbate were pretty widespread. While the top reason to masturbate was fulfilling sexual desire (76% listed this as masturbation motivation), 23% cited stress relief, and a notable 44% used it for relaxation.

The jury is in: The reasons for masturbating are nearly limitless.

Of the 5.5% of women who reported never masturbating in relationships, they cited, “I hardly ever feel sexual desire” and “Sex is a partner-only thing” as their reasons.

In other words, it’s women who have low desire and those who don’t understand the benefits of masturbation (and the pleasure it brings) who don’t do it. Now, if you want to engage only in partner play because it’s your preferred way of receiving pleasure, that’s totally OK. It only becomes a problem when you’re refraining from masturbation because of underlying shame you have around enjoying your sexuality for yourself.

Masturbation is not replacing sexual partners.

According to the study’s authors, “For many women, masturbation does not represent ‘a partner substitute’ to seek sexual pleasure but rather is a stress coping and relaxation strategy.” Solo play is its own self-care activity, not a replacement for partnered experiences.

Masturbation and orgasm release a wave of feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin. Oxytocin has been shown to help with sleep, calm the nervous system, and relieve pain. Sometimes you don’t want to go through the bells and whistles of partnered sex and would rather have some time to yourself with a nice, self-induced orgasm.

This is perfectly normal and healthy. Orgasms are nature’s Xanax.

Complete Article HERE!

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