How Better Sex Education Supports LGBTQ Kids’ Mental Health

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By Kelly Gonsalves

We know sex education in America needs a lot of work. Not only do most states lack comprehensive, medically accurate, and pleasure-positive sex ed programs, but they also tend to leave out or outright antagonize LGBTQ kids.

And according to recent research, sex ed that excludes sexual and gender minorities can have a severely damaging effect on these young people’s mental health: A new study published in the American Journal of Sexuality Education found a lack of inclusivity in sex ed was associated with more anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies in LGBTQ people both in high school and later in life.

Current LGBTQ sex education policies.

When it comes to American sex ed, the sorry stats speak for themselves: Just 24 states require sex ed be taught in schools at all, 27 states require abstinence be stressed in any sex ed programs provided, and just 13 states require all school sex ed programs to be medically accurate.

But if that picture looks grim, it’s even worse for LGBTQ kids. According to GLSEN, a national organization that promotes inclusive education, seven states still have laws prohibiting the “promotion of homosexuality” in classrooms. Three states (Alabama, South Carolina, and Texas) require “only negative information” on sexual orientation be provided in sex ed programs. For example, here’s a snippet of Alabama’s law on the matter: “Classes must emphasize, in a factual manner and from a public health perspective, that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.”

There are nine states that require inclusive and LGBTQ-friendly sex education, thankfully. (You can find out more about each individual state’s education policy from the Guttmacher Institute.)

Why LGBTQ sex education is important.

Researchers surveyed 263 people between ages 18 and 26, all of whom identified as sexual minorities (meaning they identified sexually as something other than straight). About 21 percent of them were also trans or nonbinary. They were asked about their experiences in their school sex ed classes, their mental health during high school and after presently, their substance use, and their sexual behaviors.

As expected, the results showed most sexual minority students received “highly heteronormative and exclusive sex education.” The greater the level of exclusion in the program was, the greater their rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide risk were as well. “Many of these associations persisted among the sample even after graduating high school,” the researchers noted. “Although poor mental health outcomes generally lessened over time, those reporting greater levels of exclusion endorsed lingering mental health consequences.” And students who were trans or nonbinary in addition to identifying as a sexual minority reported even worse mental health outcomes compared to cisgender sexual minority students.

But the flip side was also true: LGBTQ people who perceived their sex ed program to have been more inclusive tended to have less anxiety, less depression, and fewer suicidal tendencies.

“More inclusive sex education may fulfill a protective role, providing normalization and visibility of sexual minority orientations in the curriculum,” the researchers write. “These results highlight the potential power of sex education policies and laws at the national, state, and local level on sexual minority youth.”

The study found LGBTQ kids were not more likely to practice safer sex just because a program was inclusive, suggesting comprehensive, medically accurate sex ed is still paramount to protecting young people of all stripes in addition to increasing inclusivity. But in general, research shows inclusive classrooms benefit sexual and gender minority students in many tangible ways, including making them feel safer, encounter less bullying in middle and high schools, be less likely to engage in risky sexual or substance-related behaviors, and have better academic outcomes.

Inclusive sex ed as a mental health issue.

Why would sex ed have such a powerful effect on mental health, in particular?

“The immediacy of sex education during the process of sexual identity formation may help to explain these associations,” the researchers explain. Indeed, the major milestones of sexual identity formation tend to happen during middle and high school, around the same time kids are learning about sex in general and experiencing school sexual education programs. Gay kids, for example, tend to have their first experience with being attracted to someone of the same gender around age 11; by age 18, they’ve usually told at least one non-family member about their sexual orientation.

A large body of research shows denying or invalidating a person’s sexual and gender identity can harm their physical and mental health. These effects might be especially devastating during these vulnerable and formative adolescent years: “Minority stress and internalized homophobia appear to be powerful negative influences on sexual minority youth, and exclusion in education and particularly sex education may contribute to these forces,” the researchers write. “As students develop a sense of social and sexual identity, they receive messaging from their education about the acceptability and normality of their experiences. The connection between perceived inclusivity of sex education and mental health outcomes is unsurprising given these dynamic and powerful influences.”

The effects of an inclusive program were associated with better mental health even after graduation and into their adult years. Considering LGBTQ youth are much more likely to struggle with mental health than their cis and straight peers, often due to the discrimination they experience, the fact that a school sex ed program can have such a lasting impact on their mental health matters a lot.

Clearly, providing quality sex education for kids is a matter of health and wellness, which is why it’s vital that we push our schools to institutionalize better sex ed programs. If you’re a parent, call up your kid’s school and ask about how they do sex ed. Go to school board meetings, rally other parents, and make your voice heard. Parental buy-in can dramatically influence what kinds of sex ed curricula school administrators feel comfortable using.

Sex education classrooms have the potential to become sites of empowerment, both for LGBTQ kids and for everyone, as long as we’re willing to invest in them.

Complete Article HERE!

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Netflix’s ‘Special’ Brings Disability and Gay Sex to the Forefront

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Ryan O’Connell, the show’s creator and star, discusses internalized ableism, the sex scene that was “his baby” and Grindr.

By Mathew Rodriguez

A simple matter of budget ended up making one of the most revolutionary queer stories on television. Ryan O’Connell, Will & Grace writer and author of the memoir I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves, was not attached to star in the show he’d write and create when he first pitched it. But O’Connell, who is gay and living with cerebral palsy, ended up being the cheapest option to star in the show and, thus, Special, which just dropped on Netflix, was born: a show created, written by, and starring a queer person living with a disability based on his own life story.

Disability representation is still pretty abysmal on television. According to GLAAD, though over 13% of Americans are living with a disability, only 2.1% of characters on primetime broadcast shows live with a disability — 18 characters in all. That’s actually the highest percentage GLAAD has recorded in its nine years of tracking, which hopefully points to an upward trend. But there’s still so far to go, and Special not only a pushes the meter in the right direction, it also addresses how queerness intersects..

It’s a point that people like deaf activist and model Nyle DiMarco has made again and again: there is not enough disabled representation when it comes to everything from children’s shows to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In October, DiMarco posted an ad from the CW on his Twitter that touted the network’s commitment to racial, sexual, gender, and ethnic diversity but, as DiMarco pointed out, made no mention of disability representation.

Special doesn’t only put queer people on screen, it centers their interior lives and deals with a host of thorny, complicated issues — all while eliciting big laughs. In the show,  O’Connell plays Ryan Kayes, a 20-something gay guy living with cerebral palsy who gets a job working at a millennial-centered site called EggWoke. (O’Connell himself used to write for Thought Catalog, so take from that what you will.)

In only eight, 15-minute episodes, a first for Netflix, the show tackles internalized ableism, queer disabled sexuality, sex work, gay monogamy, the exploitation of marginalized stories, Instagays, and more. Out caught up with O’Connell ahead of the show’s debut to discuss the disability spectrum, why pool party scenes feel so universal, and whether he feels pressure to represent the entire disabled community in one show.

Spoiler alert: Several plot points of Netflix’s Special are discussed in this interview

Very early in the series, you have a scene talking to your trainer about being on Grindr.  Did you feel like you waited a longer time to go on apps than other gay men?

I definitely looked at the apps. I have had a boyfriend for four years and I’m still on the apps, honey, hello, welcome to the future. But back in my single days, I remember I was on Grindr and I was on Scruff, but I would rarely meet up with someone because I just had anxiety. Are they going to notice I have a limp? Am I doing false advertising? It was a tricky thing to navigate. Because I felt like my disability wasn’t pronounced enough to make a difference. I felt like warning them about a limp was overkill, but I didn’t want anyone to feel like they had been duped. I was on the apps, but it would take a bottle of wine for me to invite someone over.

I really loved a conversation that your character has on the show about being disabled, but not being “very disabled,” like, let’s say, someone who operates with a wheelchair. Obviously, your show is a major step forward for disability representation on TV, but do you feel pressure for the show to represent a large swath of the disabled community?

It’s a lot of pressure because there has not been that much representation of disability, let alone form actual disabled people. I do know intellectually that it’s truly impossible for my show to speak for an entire population of people. It just can’t happen. So I feel like I have to write something that’s authentic to my experiences. And I feel like as you get more specificity, you get more universal. Hopefully Special opens the door for more disabled voices to tell their stories. I can’t speak for an entire population of people.

I don’t know if you’ve watched Shrill on Hulu yet, but just like Special, there’s a pool scene where the main character is confronted with their own body. What do you think it is about a pool setting that can be so emotionally fraught?

Well, I think the setting of the pool party is very relatable. I feel like everyone at some point in their lives has been invited to a pool party and has felt anxiety over taking off their clothes in front of a group of strangers, or even friends. I’ve spent a lot of my life feeling very self conscious about my body, not feeling good enough. All of the feelings Ryan [has] in the pool party episode are things that you relate to. I don’t know if i’ve ever been invited to a gay pool party, [but the idea is] so deeply triggering. I think I’d feel self conscious, especially one full of Instagays because they have these conventional, beautiful bodies and that’s definitely not mine. You can’t help but compare yourself. “Compare and despair,” that’s what they say. It’s hard. The relationship to the body is always evolving. It really depends on the day. Some days I’m like, :I love my body! I’m body positive!” And other days I’m like, “I’m literally a goblin.”

Watching your show coincided with me watching Shrill and then there was also an episode on Comedy Central’s The Other Two about Instagays. It seems like Instagays are having their cultural send-up moment.

Totally. There’s just a lot to mine there. Let’s be honest. It’s just a very very funny subculture of people. I don’t know any Instagays personally. I don’t know what they do for a living. God bless, but yeah, The Other Two is so brilliant. I love that show. It’s so smart and so funny.

Your character also deals with a season-long arc of internalized ableism and keeps his disability a secret. You lived that experience, then wrote about it in your memoir and now for your show. What is it like to live that experience but then translate it to the screen and have to access those feelings again?

I really enjoyed it actually. Because I think when I wrote the book, I was so unevolved in my  feelings about my disability and the fact that I had been closeted about it for the past six years. While it was cathartic to write about it in my book, I felt I had only scratched the surface and had only begun to understand what I had done to myself. Talking about it in the show was an amazing opportunity because I’ve learned so much about myself and when I was closeted and how it fucked me up on such a deep level.

I didn’t even know about internalized ableism when I wrote the book. And if I knew what it was, I wouldn’t even know that I suffered from it. I was beginning to unpack what being closeted about disability had done to me, I was just not there yet. So doing it in the show was just amazing because I feel like I have grown so much and I understand things much better than I did back then.

In the show, your character goes on a date with another disabled person and you kinda exit stage right. Did you ever find that ableism had stopped you from dating other disabled people?

Yeah, that actually happened to me in high school. There was this really cute deaf gay guy in my high school and he asked me out on Myspace or something. I remember being so grossed out like, “Who does he think he is that he can ask me out on a date and I’d say yes?” Meanwhile, I’m drooling on myself and limping away like “How dare you!?” Like, “I date able-bodied people only please!”

I thought I was justified in feeling that way. I had no idea how fucked up I was in feeling that way. I think it’s so fascinating and specific to the disabled community. But I think it’s specific outside of the disabled community in a larger way with gay men. Sometimes you have internalized homophobia and sometimes someone reminds you of the things you don’t like about yourself and it causes you to reject them.

There’s a conversation in Hollywood right now about people from marginalized communities being able to play themselves on screen. Was it always the plan for you that you would star in Special?

No, never. There was no discussion. When we first went out to the pitch, I was not attached to star. There was no one attached to star. We would talk about “Who do we get to play me?” and initially we went out with the pitch and we went to Stage 13, a digital branch within Warner Bros., but out of financial necessity, it was like, “We have no money, Ryan is very cheap, so welcome to Hollywood, honey!” So I was forced to play myself.

I was so scared of it. I never wanted to act, but now having done it, I’m so glad and I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. Looking back on it, I like performing. I was in high school plays and middle school, but I feel like I never gave myself to really want that. I was ashamed about it, like “I’m just a writer, I’m behind the scenes in Studio City in a writer’s room and that’s my journey.” Now, I feel like I do like to perform and I do like to act and that’s OK.

I really loved the plotline where your character has a positive experience with a sex worker. How important was it to show that kind of interaction, between a person living with a disability and someone who does sex work?

Well, that scene was really really important to me. That sex scene was my baby. I have been really frustrated about the lack of representation of gay sex in film and TV. I don’t understand why anal sex has not been normalized or depicted for what it is. You get Queer as Folk, really porny, or you don’t get anything at all. So I knew when I was starting the season that I wanted to have an honest sex scene and I also had an experience with a sex worker that has been so amazing and I wanted to create a scene that was also pro-sex work.

I also wanted to make sure that Ryan losing his virginity was a nice, tender scene and that I was not traumatized. I felt that that was very important. When something is so common in your life and you don’t see it every in TV or film, I get really frustrated. I’m like, “Why is this so groundbreaking? This is something that tons of people experience!”

And the scene also actually featured lube, which gay sex scenes never feature lube!

Yeah, I think that was actually the addition of my gay producer. I think that was my producer being like, “He should definitely have lube!” Lube is obviously a very essential part of gay sex. Can’t leave home without it!

So, I’ve worked in digital media for a while and I see a lot of the same culture at EggWoke [the fictional site where Ryan works in Special] that I’ve seen in a lot of digital media. They want you to harvest your deepest, darkest parts of yourself for clicks. What advice would you give writers who are living with a disability or marginalized in any way who might be pressured to tell their stories when they’re not ready?

My advice is don’t do it. I know that when I started writing for the internet, I was in such a hungry, desperate place, that I was like, “I’ll write about anything! I have no boundaries! I need a career.” And then over time, like six months, I realized that that was not a place to be, emotionally prostituting yourself for two dollars. You have to really create boundaries and realize what you’re comfortable with. If you’re not ready, you have to say you’re not ready to talk about this. Do something else: sell your sperm, do foot fetish work. That has more integrity than exploiting yourself.

You also try to show the awkwardness that can happen when a disabled person and a non-disabled person try to have sex. What advice would give you non-disabled people who want to talk to someone with a disability on apps?

I don’t know if I’ve ever been in that position. I’m trying to think. I didn’t really date. I need to say that a million times. I was single for many, many years and I think it was because of scenarios like you just said. I was so fearful of talking about my disability. So, what I will say is through my coming out of the disability closet — usually no one cares about the things you care about as much as you do. When it comes to getting laid, in my experience, once you’re there, no one gives a shit. It’s just like, “Let’s do it!” So be comfortable and confident and if for whatever reason the person is not receptive, if anyone has some sort on unsavory reaction to your disability then say, “Goodbye and good luck with your fucking projects!”

Complete Article HERE!

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Demystifying the internal condom

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A guide for anyone whose sex life demands options

By Elizabeth Entenman

Getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can be scary. But regular STD and STI testing is an important part of your sexual health. According to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2018, STD rates have continued to increase for four consecutive years. From 2013 to 2017, gonorrhea cases increased by 67% and syphilis cases nearly doubled.

April is STD Awareness Month, and now is a good time to get tested and learn more about your prevention options. When you think of prevention methods, regular latex condoms probably come to mind first. But you should also know about the internal condom (formerly the female condom). It’s an easy-to-use alternative that we think everyone should consider including in their sexual repertoire.

We spoke with Julia Bennett, director of learning strategy for education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, about internal condoms. Bennett explained what internal condoms are, how they help protect against STIs, and how they’re different from regular condoms. Here are answers to some common questions you might have.

What is an internal condom?

“Internal condoms (formerly known as ‘female condoms’) are an alternative to regular (external) condoms. They provide great protection from both pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. However, instead of going on a penis or sex toy, internal condoms go inside either the vagina (for vaginal sex) or anus (for anal sex). People of any gender can use them for vaginal or anal sex. To use an internal condom for anal sex, simply take the inside ring out.”

How do internal condoms work?

“Internal condoms are made of nitrile (a type of soft plastic). They create a barrier between people’s genitals during anal or vaginal sex. This barrier stops sperm and egg from meeting, which prevents pregnancy. It also helps prevent STIs from spreading. Internal condoms put up a barrier, so you don’t come in contact with each other’s semen (cum), pre-cum, or genital skin, all of which can spread STIs. But you do have to use them every time you have sex, from start to finish, for them to work.”

Can anyone use an internal condom?

“Last fall, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) renamed the internal condom, as it was previously known as the ‘female condom.’ The FDA moved the internal condom from a Class 3 medical device to a Class 2 medical device—the same as other condoms. This change will help make internal condoms easier to access in the future. The reclassification also underscores their versatility—anyone can use them, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.”

How effective are internal condoms?

“Internal condoms are really good at preventing both STIs and pregnancy. About 21 out of 100 people who use internal condoms for birth control get pregnant each year. If you use them from start to finish every time you have vaginal sex, they can work even better. Keep in mind that you can get even more pregnancy prevention powers by using internal condoms along with another birth control method (like the pill or IUD). That way you’ve got protection from STIs, and double protection from pregnancy.”

What are the benefits of using internal condoms?

“There are a lot of benefits to internal condoms:

They help prevent STIs. Condoms, including internal condoms, are the only method of birth control that also protects against STIs.

They may feel more comfortable. Some people find internal condoms more comfortable than other condoms since they don’t fit snugly around a penis. They may feel even more comfortable (and pleasurable) if you use water or silicone-based lube, too. [Editor’s note: Internal condoms are a great option for those whose penises are larger than standard- or large-size condoms.]

They’re latex-free. This makes them a great option for people allergic to latex.

• They can increase sexual pleasure. During vaginal sex, the internal condom’s inner ring may stimulate the tip of the penis, and the external ring can rub against the vulva and clitoris. That little something extra can feel great for both partners. You can also insert the internal condom before sex, so that you don’t have any interruptions.”

Are there any disadvantages to using them?

“You need to use an internal condom every time you have sex, which may be hard for some people to stick to. You also have to be sure to put them on correctly. They also may take some getting used to, if you/your partner are new to them. Practice inserting them, or even make it a part of foreplay by having your partner insert it.”

Where can you buy an internal condom?

“While the recent reclassification will hopefully lead to easier access in the future, right now internal condoms can sometimes be a little hard to find. Currently, the only brand available in the U.S. is the FC2 Internal Condom. It’s available online at the FC2 Internal Condom website, at many Planned Parenthood health centers, family planning and health clinics, and by prescription in drugstores. Some health centers may provide them for free. Otherwise, internal condoms cost about $2-3 each if your insurance doesn’t cover the cost. They’re usually sold in packs of 12.”

If you use an internal condom, should you still use a regular condom, too?

“There’s no need to double up on condoms, no matter what kind of condom it is. One is all you need. Each kind of condom is designed to be used on its own, and doubling up will not give you extra protection.”

What’s a big misconception around internal condoms that isn’t actually true?

“There are so many kinds of condoms to choose from to meet the needs of you and your partner. Trying different kinds can be a fun way to help you find what works best for the both of you. And contrary to popular myth, condoms don’t ruin the mood—people who use condoms rate their sexual experiences as just as pleasurable as people who don’t. Using any type of condom, including the internal condom, is a good way to lower stress and focus more on having a fun, pleasurable sex life. In fact, many people say they find sex more enjoyable when they use condoms because they aren’t worrying about STIs or unwanted pregnancy.”

What should you tell your partner if they don’t want to use a condom?

“If your partner doesn’t want to use a condom, ask why. That can help start an honest conversation about your health. Sometimes it’s about finding the right type of condom, using condoms along with lube, or explaining why you want to use them. Stress that your health (and your partner’s health) is your priority—and that sex without protection is not an option. Then decide who will get the condoms, and make a plan to use them every time, the whole time you’re having sex.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Talking about safe sex is the best foreplay

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College students need to prioritize safe sex and educate themselves on STIs

By Payton Saso

Most people learned about the basics of sex education growing up — or at least heard the slogan “wrap it before you tap it.” Yet it seems college students have forgotten this slogan and are not practicing safe sex.

Women, when having male partners, are often expected to be on a method of birth control, and while many women rely on birth control — some 60% — that is not the only concern for both partners when having sex.

For some sexual partners, the idea of safe sex may be directly correlated with being on the pill, and many forget pregnancy isn’t the only risk of unsafe sex. But sexually transmitted infections are a risk for all parties engaging in sexual activities, and college-aged people are at higher risk of contracting these types of diseases.

Since this age group is at the most risk, it is important for them to practice all forms of safe sex, which means consistently using condoms and other forms of contraceptives.

Many people choose not use condoms in long-term relationships because they know their partner’s sexual history and have been previously tested. But in college, sexual experiences are more than often outside of relationships and sexual history is not discussed. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about STIs found that, “Young women (ages 15-24) account for nearly half (45 percent) of reported cases and face the most severe consequences of an undiagnosed infection.”

A study from researchers Elizabeth M. Farrington, David C. Bell and Aron E. DiBacco looked into the reasons why people reject condoms and stated that, “Many reported objections to condom use seem to be related to anticipated reductions in pleasure and enjoyment, often through ‘ruining the moment’ or ‘inhibiting spur of the moment sex.’”

Taking a few seconds to put on a condom is not something that will ruin the experience, especially if it means protecting yourself from STIs, considering some infections are life-threatening.

Protection does not always mean using a condom, and even condoms must be used properly to prevent risk of tear. Planned Parenthood stated, “It’s also harder to use condoms correctly and remember other safer sex basics when you’re drunk or high.”

In same sex relationships, protection is just as important. Research found that, “Among women, a gay identity was associated with decreased risk while among men, a gay identity among behaviorally bisexual males was associated with increased STI risk.”

Condoms might be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about protection, but there are many other options for birth control that can help prevent contracting a STI, and it’s important to talk with your partner about which method or methods with which you’re both comfortable.

Dr. Candace Black, a lecturer at the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, just finished conducting research on the practices of safe sex and said that often the lack of condom usage comes from a lack of sexual education.

“I don’t have data on this so it is anecdotal, young women are really targeted for sex education when it does occur and so it attributes to ideas like (they are more exposed to ideas like) STIs, condom use and birth control. I think collectively we spend a lot of time teaching young girls about sex education and prevention, which I think is wonderful,” Black said. “I have not observed a parallel effort for young men. And so in my observation, again this is just kind of anecdotal, the young men don’t have the same kind of sex education as far as risk factors, as far as pregnancy as far as all of that. There is a gender disparity as far as access to sex education.”

According to the American Addiction Center, when someone’s inhibitions are lowered due to alcohol, many are “at risk for an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy or for contracting a sexually transmitted (STD) or infectious disease.”

“You have to look beyond the current circumstances of people and consider access to sexual education which is seriously lacking in a lot of places, and in particular Arizona. The sex education isn’t great,” Black said. “There are various nonprofits that try and fill that service gap and provide adolescents and kids with sex education, but there is still a significant need.”

Not properly educating young people on the risk factors surrounding unsafe sex leads to these problems in the future when students are given more freedom in college. This often results in students not prioritizing thorough sexual health, but it should be on the minds of all sexually active students.

In the long run, it’s easier — and safer — to have sex with a condom than to deal with all the repercussions that can come from not using one.

Complete Article HERE!

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Sexual satisfaction among older people about more than just health

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Communication and being in a happy relationship, along with health, are important for sexual satisfaction among older people, according to new research published in PLOS ONE.

Sexual expression is increasingly recognised as important throughout the life course, in maintaining relationships, promoting self-esteem and contributing to health and well-being. Although are being urged to be more proactive in helping achieve a satisfying sex life, there is a distinct lack of evidence to help guide practitioners.

Led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), the University of Glasgow and UCL, the study is one of the first to look at how health, lifestyle and relationship factors can affect sexual activity and satisfaction in later life, and examine how people respond and deal with the consequences.

The researchers carried out a mixed methods study combining from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) and in-depth interviews with older men and women. Out of nearly 3,500 people aged between 55-74, the survey found that one in four men and one in six women reported having a health problem that affected their sex life. Among this group, women were less likely than men to be sexually active in the previous six months (54 percent vs 62 percent) but just as likely to be satisfied with their sex life (42 percent vs 42 percent).

Follow up interviews with a sample of participants revealed that older people found it difficult to separate the effects of declining health from those of increasing age. Ill health impacted sexual activity in many ways but most crucially it influenced whether individuals had a partner with whom to have sex. Some older people were more accepting of not having a sex life than others.

For those in a relationship, was strongly associated with both the quality of communication with their partner and contentment with their relationship. The impact of health issues was not always negative; some men and women found themselves having to experiment with new ways of being sexually active and their sex lives improved as a result.

Natsal-3 is the largest scientific study of sexual health and lifestyles in Britain. Conducted by LSHTM, UCL and NatCen Social Research, the studies have been carried out every 10 years since 1990, and have involved interviews with more than 45,000 people to date.

Bob Erens, lead author and Associate Professor at LSHTM, said: “Looking at the impact of health on sexual activity and satisfaction as we age is important, however few studies have examined the between the two.

“Health can affect an individual’s sex life in various ways, from having or finding a partner, to physical and psychological limitations on sexual expression.

“We identified that not many people who reported experiencing problems or lack of satisfaction sought help. Although this could be an individual choice or because of a perceived lack of support, it is vital that individuals feel able to make enquiries with health care professionals. In particular, discussing problems can often lead to identification of underlying medical conditions.”

Although some individuals the research team spoke to were not affected by not being sexually active, it seemed to be important that health professionals make sensitive enquiries for patients who might want to access help, which can lead to significant improvements in their wellbeing and quality of life.

Kirstin Mitchell, co-author and Senior Research Fellow in Social Relationships and Health Improvement at the University of Glasgow, said: “We’re seeing numerous, interconnected factors influencing sexual activity in older people. Not being in good health can influence mood, mobility and whether a person has a partner, which in turn impact on . Medication taken for health conditions often compounds the problem.

“The study findings suggest that pharmacological approaches, like Viagra, do not always help to resolve sexual difficulties, which need to be seen in the wider context of ‘s lives.”

The authors acknowledge the limitations of the study, including that Natsal had an upper age limit of 74 years, and so the study is unable to describe the sexual health and wellbeing of people at older ages.

Natsal-3 is the largest and most comprehensive study of sexual attitudes and lifestyles in the world, and is a major source of data informing sexual and reproductive health policy in Britain.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to Talk to Your Partner About Getting Tested With Minimal Weirdness

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It’s possible! (And smart.)

By Kasandra Brabaw

You’re pressed against the wall of a new date’s apartment as they kiss your neck and reach to undo your pants. Every atom in your body is ready for more, but then your brain kicks in: Shit. We haven’t talked about STIs yet.

Or perhaps it happens when you’re on cloud nine after defining your new relationship. You’ve gone over whether or not you want kids, proper toilet paper orientation, basically everything except sexually transmitted infections. It’s the only nagging thought dampening your excitement.

As much as you’d like to tell your brain to shut up in these moments, discussing STIs with sexual partners is essential for taking care of your health, even if it does seem incredibly awkward.

Here’s why you need to have the talk.

Ideally, you’d talk about STIs before having sex with any new partners. But we live in the real world and we know that that’s not necessarily the norm. So why is that? You might tell yourself it’s fine to skip this talk. Who wants to talk about your last STI test or that time five years ago that an ex gave you chlamydia? Can’t you just assume that this person would mention it if there was something to bring up? Your last STI check was all clear. You have condoms. It’s all probably fine, right? Listen, we understand the urge to completely ignore this topic.

Ultimately, having this conversation is about sexual health, but there’s a cultural bias that feels like you’re in some way accusing someone if you bring up STIs,” Megan Fleming, Ph.D., a sex and relationship therapist in New York, tells SELF. “There’s still a lot of stigma.”

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that you are not accusing someone of being promiscuous or dishonest by asking them about their STI status. Anyone can get STIs and many come with absolutely zero symptoms. Assuming “Oh, he would tell me if he had an STI” assumes that they got tested recently, which may not be something you’ve discussed yet. Likewise, assuming “I’m sure she doesn’t have an STI” is most likely completely baseless—you cannot infer STI status from anything other than an actual test

So, yes, you need to have this talk—even if you’ve already had sex with this person. The rates of many sexually transmitted infections are on the rise for various reasons. And while medications can clear up STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea, others, like herpes and HIV, are incurable.

That doesn’t mean getting an STI has to devastate your life. Even STIs that aren’t curable are often manageable with the correct treatment, and people with these conditions can still lead full, happy, sex-filled lives. But trying to avoid STIs, especially those transmitted via bodily fluids, is generally easier than dealing with them after the fact. That’s why talking about STIs with your sexual partner (or partners) is so critical.

The way you bring up STIs depends largely on the status of your relationship. Of course, there’s no hard-and-fast rule for how you do this. All the advice in the world doesn’t guarantee that it won’t be a little awkward. But here are some tips that may help.

If it’s at the moment before sex with a new person:

can pause that up-against-the-wall moment to ask if your partner has been tested for STIs and what the results were. But at this point, you don’t really know them well enough to do much with that information.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask. The way they respond to this question can be a great litmus test. But unless you know for sure that your partner recently got tested and hasn’t had sex with anyone else since then, operate under the assumption that they might have an STI and that you should have the safest sex possible. That may mean using a condom, a dental dam, or both. (Remember that these barrier methods don’t protect against all STIs, since some, like herpes and HPV, can be transmitted via skin-to-skin contact.)

You can ask your partner if they have these barrier methods around or pull one out yourself. If they question you or protest, Fleming suggests saying something like, “Since we haven’t gotten tested together, we definitely need to use a [barrier method].”

This is also a great way to lay the groundwork if you think you’ll have sex with this person again. “The assumption is that you’re going to be tested eventually,” Fleming says.

If you’ve been seeing someone and want to get tested before having sex:

Tosin Goje, M.D., an ob/gyn at the Cleveland Clinic, says that she often sees women who want to be screened before having sex in a new relationship. “You should have a conversation with your partner and have them screened also,” Dr. Goje tells SELF.

Although bringing this up at all is great, it might be best to do it in a non-sexual context when both of you are thinking clearly. If you’re a little freaked out to mention it, admit that. You can say something like, “I’m nervous to talk to you about this, but it seems like we might have sex soon, and it’s important to me that we get tested for STIs first

As an alternative, you can get tested and kick things off by sharing your results. This can make it clear that you’re not judging or shaming your partner by bringing up STI testing. It’s just a normal part of having sex with a new person. Fleming suggests saying something like, “Since it seems like we’re going to have sex soon, I decided to go get tested. When did you last get tested?”

If you’ve had sex with them already:

Maybe you’ve been using condoms and/or dental dams up until this point, but now you want to stop. If you don’t know what to say, keep it simple: “If we’re going to stop using condoms/dental dams, we need to go get tested. Just to be safe

Perhaps you got caught up in the moment, had unprotected sex, and are wondering if it’s OK to just make that your M.O. with this person. In that case, try, “I know we haven’t been using protection, but if we’re going to keep doing that, we should get tested so that we can really enjoy it safely.”

Again, it might be easiest to have these kinds of conversations when you’re not right on the brink of sex. And if you’re going to be having unprotected sex with someone, you should talk about not having unprotected sex with other people, too.

What if they aren’t receptive?

We’d hope that everyone would be open to discussing sexual health with someone they’re about to have sex with. But since STI stigma is real, even someone who’s otherwise a total catch might be confused or offended. Hopefully they’ll come around quickly once you discuss why it’s important to you.

“If you ultimately explain that this is non-negotiable and they still say no, then you may want to question if this is the right partner for you,” Fleming says. “If they’re not thinking about…what you need to be comfortable, that’s a red flag.”

Katie M., 32, knows this all too well. Soon after she graduated from college, she started dating someone new. The first few times they saw each other, they made out, but eventually things got more heated, Katie tells SELF. When they were on the verge of having sex, she said, “I’m fine with sex, but we both need to get tested before that happens.” But her partner pushed back, saying that they should just trust each other.

If you find yourself in this situation, Fleming suggests saying something like, “I’ve never received this reaction before. Can you tell me why you’re so against getting tested?” You can also explain that trust has nothing to do with it if you haven’t been tested recently, and that you’re trying to look out for their health, too

For various reasons, Katie stopped seeing that partner soon after their STI discussion. Seven months later, she met the man who eventually became her husband. They were dating long-distance and hadn’t yet had sex when he made plans to stay with her over Thanksgiving. “I told him that if we were going to have sex while he was there, we both needed to get tested,” she says. He had an STI report from his doctor in his suitcase the day he got off the plane.

What if either one of you tests positive?

You may expect to have celebratory sex immediately after you both get your test results. But if one of you tests positive for an STI, you should ask your doctor what the diagnosis means for your sex life. You might need to abstain while completing a round of antibiotics, for instance. If you’ve already had sex with this person, it would be worth having a conversation about whether or not they should be tested and treated, too.

Opening up to your partner about having an STI can be unnerving, but it won’t necessarily be the disaster you might imagine. Carly S., a 26-year-old with genital herpes, has been there. Herpes never fully goes away, even if you take antiviral medications to help prevent outbreaks and lower the odds of spreading the virus.

When Carly started dating after breaking up with her long-term boyfriend, she knew she’d have to tell potential partners about having herpes. She worried that it would torpedo budding relationships, but the first guy she told simply responded “Okay,” and that was that.

“I know it’s not a big deal [to have an STI], but it was kind of like validation [that] not everyone is going to think I’m gross,” Carly tells SELF.

When Carly stopped seeing that partner and brought up her STI status to a different man, he also didn’t judge her. He said, “That sucks that that happened to you.” They’re still dating today.

Bottom line: An STI does not need to ruin your life, sexually or otherwise. “It’s not who you are; it’s just a thing you have,” Fleming says. “You need to take care of yourself and your partners, but it in no way defines you, who you are, or what you can offer as a partner.”

Also keep in mind that if you and a new partner get tested together, the prospect that one of you has an STI is already on the table. That might make it even more likely that you’ll receive the nonchalance Carly encountered. So might sharing enough medical context to explain why your specific STI isn’t the end of the world, like how long treatment will last or what medications you’ll be starting to lower the chances of spreading the infection.

Remember: You got this.

Anyone who treats you poorly for talking about STIs (or having one) probably isn’t worth it. Whether you are bringing up STI tests or the fact that you have an STI, there’s always a chance that someone might respond cruelly, ghost you, or do something else along those rude lines.

It’s their right to decide who they do and don’t want to have sex with. But if someone treats you poorly over taking responsibility for your sexual health, they’re likely not a great partner to have in the first place.

Complete Article HERE!

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Healthy Sex On A Regular Basis Means A Healthy Brain

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Healthy sex is something we should all aspire to achieve, regularly. It might make you laugh, but, it will seriously boost your brain health. Maybe you thought that your most important sex organ was the one between your legs. Realistically speaking, it’s your brain. Think about it, your brain controls every small or big thing you do. Therefore, it’s just as crucial to your sex life as the other parts.

Studies show that your brain releases chemicals, which control your libido, arousal, and sexual performance. And ultimately, it controls your body’s movements and responses too.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that a healthy brain means a happier sex life. However, most people don’t seem to value the relationship between sex and the brain. There is a very strong reciprocal process between the two. And having sex often helps keep your brain young, sharp, and happy.

Healthy Sex For Your Brain

I mean it’s a win-win. It is not like sex is a mission for you to do. Healthy sex is something that everybody should enjoy on a regular basis. Add not just because it’s fun, but because it’s really beneficial to your overall health too.

Build A Stronger Brain

There’s research that says regular sexual activity increases neurogenesis. This is the growth of new neurons in the brain which improves cognitive function in multiple areas. In addition, experts have found that sexual experience also promotes cell growth in the brain’s hippocampus, which is essential to memory.

Instant High

There is a great amount of pleasure that you experience when having sex. This is largely due to dopamine, which is a chemical messenger in the brain and is in charge of many functions. The hormone is involved in reward, motivation, memory, attention, and regulating body movements.

Therefore, when dopamine releases into the body, it creates feelings of pleasure and reward. That’s why you feel naturally driven to repeat the same activity.

A Natural Anti-Depressant

When having healthy sex, your brain produces natural chemicals and hormones that allow you to feel satisfied and relaxed. These include oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. All three of these happy hormones are released during an orgasm. Serotonin is the main hormone responsible for mood.

Other research has discovered that women who had sex without a condom had fewer depressive symptoms than women who used a condom. This research took a guess and presumed that unique compounds in semen, including estrogen and prostaglandin, have antidepressant properties. These are then absorbed into a woman’s body after sex.

Therefore, if you’re in a committed relationship, this could do wonders to your quality of life!

Less Forgetfulness

Struggling to remember normal things in your daily grind can be frustrating. It happens to the best of us though! It could be because of something else though. How’s your sex life going? Is it healthy?

Apparently, a healthy sex life improves your memory significantly.

Like I said, sex increases cell growth in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a brain region vital to long-term memory. Other experiments have found that engaging in regular sexual activities grows more neurons in the hippocampus. These studies were conducted on rodents, however, there is no evidence proving that the effects are the same in humans.

But I guess you can let a healthy sex life speak for itself…

No More Stress

Sex is the ideal way to release tension. It’s been proven to be a natural relaxant.

Science suggests sex can improve your mood and decrease anxiety by reducing stress signals in the brain and lowering blood pressure. These connections in the brain and the body all work in tandem. Sexual interaction and physical affection improve mood and reduce stress. Likewise, improving your mood and reducing stress increases the likelihood of future sex and physical affection in a relationship.

It’s a continuous cycle and if you get it right you will be happy and healthy forever.

Better Sleep

Who struggles to fall asleep at night? It happens to the best of us. Luckily a healthy sex life can help that! And at the same time, more sleep helps boost your sex drive. So it’s another win/win. The sleepy effect is due to the hormones mentioned earlier. Moreover, having an orgasm releases another hormone, prolactin, which makes you relaxed and sleepy.

The time between the sheets is also more likely to induce sleep in men than women because the prefrontal cortex of a man’s brain slows down after ejaculation. Studies say that when combined with the hormone surges, this can result in the well-known ‘rolling over and falling asleep’ behavior.

Hey, Smarty Pants!

Yup, sex makes you smarter.

Apparently, people who have frequent, regular sexual activity score higher in many different mental tests. Studies say they’re more fluent in speaking, their visual perception improves, and they can judge the space between objects better. Then in other studies, frequent sexual activity has been linked to better sustained cognitive abilities in older adults.

All the processes in your body are closely connected. And sex is a massive part of it! Everything that affects your brain affects your sex life, both positive and negative. Depression, anxiety, ADHD, PMS, substance abuse, and personality disorders all impact sex.

That’s why you should never pit your mental health at the bottom of your list of priorities. It must be number one. Mental health issues can make having healthy sexual relationships very difficult. Your emotions and sex life are both directly connected to your brain. Managing stress, finding life balance, and healthy lifestyle habits will improve your sex life. We can’t deny that a healthy brain and your sex life are closely connected. They both help each other. However, having a healthy sex life will lead you to a stronger brain.

And a strong brain means a strong and happy sex life!

Complete Article HERE!

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How to Reignite Your Sex Life After Going Through Cancer

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Your body will feel different. These tips can help.

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After cancer, bodies and relationships change. In fact, many men find their sex lives look and feel different from their pre-cancer days. Although you may feel embarrassed or nervous to open up to your partner about sexual changes, talking about post-cancer intimacy can help you re-envision your body and your relationship. These tips can help pave the way for establishing a new sex life after a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Start talking early

Although it seems like physical contact is one of the most important parts of intimacy, the truth is that communication is essential for establishing and igniting closeness. Remember, there’s no one way affection should look, and previous relationship expectations can be difficult to maintain during cancer recovery.

For men in particular, sexual function changes can manifest as shifts in desire, the impacted ability to get or maintain an erection, or even delayed or dry ejaculation. Instead of withdrawing and avoiding intimacy or affection, I advise my patients at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) to talk with their partner right when they’re diagnosed to start the dialogue about possible changes in your sex life. Before you go into surgery or start therapy, have a conversation about your sexual self-esteem and identity as a sexual person. You and your partner can check in with each other a few months later to see how you’re both feeling about your sexual self-identity and work on identifying a new vision of intimacy in your relationship.

And it’s not just your partner you should be talking to—communication is equally important between you and your doctor. Going through cancer can change your sex life, but that doesn’t mean your doctor has covered all the sexual function differences you may notice. If you notice sexual functioning changes, talking with your doctor can open up the possibilities of personalized treatment options. By speaking up and asking questions, you can better establish a healthy approach to reclaiming your sexual identity.

“Date” your partner again

Partnership is a key part of any relationship, and should be just as important after diagnosis. During cancer, relationships can transition from partner/partner to patient/caregiver, and returning to old “norms” can be challenging. A good way to approach this is to continue to date your partner throughout treatment. By dreaming together or going out to eat, you can help refocus your relationship around things that aren’t related to cancer. You can also try scheduling time for intimacy and affection, which can help rekindle intimacy found in partnership. Try to take your time and get to know each other again.

Redefine intimacy

After treatment, sexual desire can wane. A lot of things can impact desire including hormonal changes, pre-occupation/focus changes, decreased self-esteem/confidence, and mental health issues (e.g., anxiety or depression). Remember, intimacy might not happen spontaneously and might not involve sex at all. Try playing to other strengths and learning to perfect new types of intimacy—not every sexual interaction requires an erection or an orgasm. If your goal is satisfaction, it’s important to note that men can still reach orgasm without an erection and the penis itself can still experience sensation. There are many ways to feel pleasure, these just might not look the exact same as they did before diagnosis. Remember you’re in charge of defining what you want intimacy to be—it can even be as simple as connection.

The sexual side effects that you may experience from cancer can happen to anyone—cancer treatment just speeds up the process. Normalizing and understanding issues of intimacy after cancer is just one step you can take to acknowledge habits or preconceptions that may be harmful. Sex doesn’t have to be a certain way to be fun and exciting. With these guidelines, you can work on re-establishing intimacy and gaining newfound confidence post-cancer.

Complete Article HERE!

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6 Questions to Ask Before Sex

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By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Despite how we see it portrayed in the media, sex is a very personal act – with both emotional and physical consequences. So, it’s extremely important that you approach it with the serious thought that it deserves. This includes asking yourself and your partner some key questions.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself

Does having sex fit with my core values? At a very basic level, it helps to be clear about the extent of emotional intimacy and commitment you believe there should be in a relationship before having sex.

There is also the question of whether being physically intimate with a particular person fits with your morals or values. If either you or your potential sexual partner is in a committed relationship with someone else, pause before acting on your desires. There are also other situations worth thinking twice about, such as sleeping with your boss. So whatever your circumstance, consider the problems you might be creating by acting on your passions.

Is this person a wise choice for me? Even if you are incredibly attracted to someone or they look great on paper, you may know in your heart that they are not right for you. Or, you may have some nagging doubts. Maybe they treat you poorly, are insensitive to others (even while they idolize you), struggle with an anger or alcohol problem, or raise concerns in some other way. In all of these situations, you may want to, at least temporarily, override your libido. When you have sex with someone, you are bringing that person more into your life and heart – a choice you may live to regret. 

Is the timing right? Sex can increase emotional closeness, so if you’re not ready to get closer, you may want to hold off. For instance, if you have just gotten out of a long-term relationship, having sex too soon could interfere with developing what could have been a good match. Similarly, acting on sexual attraction before getting to know someone might feel good in the moment, but also create problems in developing a deeper connection.

3 Questions to Ask Your Partner

What are we to each other? You want to know whether you are on the same page so that you don’t set yourself up for heartache. To clarify your situation, you might directly ask about whether they are single or romantically involved with someone else; and whether they are looking for a fling or a committed relationship.

When were you last tested for STDs and HIV? This may be an uncomfortable question to ask, but you need to be sure that you’re safe from these potentially serious health risks before you move forward.

What will we use for birth control? Whatever you decide to use, make an informed choice to prevent a possible unwanted pregnancy or disease.

These questions are just a start. From there you might want to get to know each other better, deepening your emotional and sexual intimacy. But these basic questions are an essential starting point for any new sexual relationship.

Complete Article HERE!

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When Sex Workers Do the Labor of Therapists

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BY Carrie Weisman

Sky is a professional escort. She’s been working at Sheri’s Ranch, a legal brothel located in Pahrump, Nevada, for a little under a year. A few months back, a man came in asking for a group session with Sky, who prefers to be identified by her professional name, and one of her colleagues. He had come around a few times before. He made it a point to keep in touch through Twitter. This time, however, the session took a dark turn. He came in to tell them he was planning on killing himself.

“We see a lot of clients who have mental health issues,” she tells In These Times. Though, this experience was markedly more dramatic than her usual run in with clients who going through a depressive episode. She and her colleague were eventually able to talk the guy down. They sent him home with a list full of resources that specialize in matters of depression. They asked that he continue to check in with them through social media. 

Research suggests that upwards of 6 million men are affected by depression every year. Suicide remains the seventh leading cause of death among men in America. While it’s impossible to gauge exactly what percentage of that demographic frequents sex workers, the experiences of those in the field can offer some insight. During Sky’s last tour at the Ranch, she scheduled about seven appointments. Out of those bookings, only one involved sex. “We do a lot of companionship and intimacy parties,” she says. “The clients who sign up for those bookings are the ones struggling with loneliness.” 

And people with depression aren’t the only neurodivergent individuals sex workers encounter on the job. Those suffering from anxiety, a common accompaniment to depression, show up frequently. They also see a lot of people who fall on the autistic spectrum. In fact, Sky says she sees men who fall into the latter demographic relatively often. 

Sky first got her start in the industry working as a professional dominatrix. While she has since pivoted her position in the industry, she’s found ways to incorporate that expertise into life at the brothel. Sure, she offers standard escort services, but she also books sessions dedicated to BDSM, an acronym that can be broken down into three sub categories: Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission and Sadism/Masochism. Each dynamic refers to a specific form impact play that participants can find deeply pleasurable. That kind of tactile experience, she suspects, might offer a certain special appeal to men with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). And she might be right.

Among the many symptoms of those diagnosed with ASD is a resistance to physical contact. According to the CDC, early signs of the disorder may present in the form of an aversion to touch. At the same time, touch is an important sensation to experience. A lack thereof can lead to loneliness, depression and even a more secondary immune system. Researchers have determined that therapies designed to nurture regular sensory integration can help in this regard. 

Goddess Aviva, who also prefers to be referred to by her professional name, is a lifestyle and professional dominatrix based in New York City. Like Sky, she sees a good amount of clients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and also men dealing with depression and anxiety. She takes certain measures to screen clients. After all, violence against sex workers is an ongoing issue in the United States, and the wavering legality of the trade doesn’t exactly help combat the issue. In the wake of new federal legislation that has largely kicked sex workers offline, and with them, the ability to vet clients from afar, sex workers must be more vigilant than ever about whom they decide to take on. The clients who are neurodivergent or live with mental health conditions don’t seem to be the ones sex workers are worried about.

“You don’t have to be diagnosed with a mental illness to be a shitty person, and some of my clients who do deal with mental illness are wonderful, kind people with good intentions,” says Aviva. “I’ve never felt unsafe with a client that makes it all the way to a session. What matters most to me is that someone is respecting my boundaries, time and protocol.”

Sky, too, has encountered a number of undesirable clients throughout her career in the industry. But, similar to Aviva, these experiences don’t seem to be driven by those suffering from mental health or neurodivergent conditions. “My most uncomfortable moments in the industry have always come from men who would be told by a professional that they were completely sane,” she explains.

Fortunately, for Sky, it’s much easier to weed out problematic clients in places where prostitution is legal. According to her, the brothel has a security team monitoring the property. She also says there’s a sophisticated screening mechanism in place. Before booking a session, all clients have to provide ID and agree to an intimate screening to rule out immediate potential health risks. These aren’t typically privileges those operating independently have access to.

Throughout her career, Sky has encountered clients who have been pointed to the brothel by concerned friends, or family. She even knows of a few who have come by at the suggestion of a therapist. Though, not all mental health professionals would advise that kind of thing.

“Certainly, there are individuals that struggle with social anxiety, which prevents them from finding a real-life partner, and in those cases engaging with a sex worker can be both therapeutic and pleasurable,” says Dr. Michael Aaron, a sex therapist, writer and speaker based in New York City. “But the best option for a therapist that is looking to provide a patient with real-life experience is to seek out surrogates, who are trained and certified by the International Professional Surrogates Association.” The organization he’s referring too, also known as IPSA, operates around a triangular model of therapy involving a patient, a surrogate and a trained therapist. Together, the three work to improve the patient’s capacity for emotional physical intimacy through a series of structured, sexual experiences. The legal status of the practice is largely undefined in most of the United States. 

And maybe it’s not just in the interest of clients to see someone trained to provide the level emotional support they may be after. “It can be heavy,” says Sky. “I’ve had days where I have to take a minute for myself and get myself back together.”

Still, it seems as though few in the field shy away from providing the emotional labor that clients demand. “There’s this huge misconception that at the brothel we just have sex all day,” Sky explains. “But there are a lot of people who come in to work out some serious emotional issues. It’s really a good chunk of what we do.”

“I love my job,” she adds. “But there are certain parties that make us feel like we’re actually making a difference in the world – that we’re actually doing good things and not just providing a good time. And that can be super fulfilling.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Why — and how — parents should help teens develop a healthy understanding of sex

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By Ellen Friedrichs

Recently, I attended my 12-year-old daughter’s instrumental concert. The group sounded lovely, and you could tell how much work the kids had put into their performance. My daughter has been playing viola for five years. She has an ensemble class twice a week in school and takes weekly private lessons. She is also supposed to practice on her own.

When it comes to learning an instrument, or mastering driving, cooking, playing a sport, or becoming fluent in a foreign language, this type of training is the norm. We would never expect someone to instinctively excel at, let alone enjoy, these things without at least some routine instruction or study.

Yet when the topic is sex, something that is arguably more nuanced and complicated than many other life skills, we often assume that putting similar structures for instruction in place will be harmful to young people, or will encourage risky behavior. Or we’re just too uncomfortable to talk to them about it at length. But having worked as a health educator for the past 15 years, I have seen how harmful this misguided approach can be.

The United States’ high rates of adolescent pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections are well documented. But what isn’t discussed as often is that the actual experiences of teen sex can be really negative. Frequently, teens hook up in secret, without a committed partner, maybe under the influence of substances and often with the fear of getting in trouble. Many are pressured into things they would rather not do. Others are having experiences that aren’t consensual. And even when it’s consensual, a lot of the sex happening among teens doesn’t feel great, particularly for girls with male partners.

This bleak picture contributes to an understandably common view that teens are just too young to have sex in a healthy manner, and that the best choice is for them simply to abstain. Certainly that assumption is fair for many.

But this view ignores the fact that plenty of these negative experiences are not the byproduct of youth, but rather the result of the conditions under which many teens are having sex. In a culture where abstinence-only programs have taken the place of real sex education, and where many teens lack the resources to prevent pregnancies or STIs, let alone the ability to deal with these situations if they occur, it is common for teens to feel shame, fear and anxiety about sexuality. And many feel like they cannot turn to adults for help when they need it.

So what would it look like if we gave teens the tools to help them succeed? For one thing, we know that accurate information about sex and access to reproductive health care makes teens less likely to become sexually active in the first place. Then if they do have sex, these supports mean they are far more likely to use condoms and contraception, and are at significantly lower risk of having nonconsensual experiences.

It might feel counterintuitive, but parents who want to help teens grow into sexually healthy adults are going to need to step up to the plate. Here are six ways to do that,

Actively support comprehensive sex education in your community and oppose abstinence-only programs. Attend school board meetings where the issue is being discussed, and share your opinion with school officials. Many studies (including one published last month in the American Journal of Public Health) have found that abstinence education has not only failed to prevent teens from having sex, it has also put teens who receive it at greater risk for STIs, pregnancy and even sexual assault than those who get comprehensive sex education.

Make sure teens understand consent. They need to know that sex can’t be truly consensual if there is pressure involved, or if either person is inebriated. It should be clear that if they aren’t completely certain that someone wants to have sex, or if they are questioning how far someone wants to go sexually, they don’t have consent. Teens should also be aware that while many people assume that a lack of a verbal “no” constitutes consent, that is not the case. Teens should be encouraged to clearly state their desires and boundaries.

Support healthy teen relationships. Get to know your child’s boyfriend or girlfriend. If you have concerns about their relationship, share them. But if the relationship seems solid, make it comfortable for the couple to spend time in your home and allow them privacy. Doing this won’t cause teens to have sex if they otherwise wouldn’t, but we do know that if young people choose to become sexually active, doing so in the context of a loving relationship is far safer than a casual hookup. In fact, studies have determined that for older teens, being in a respectful sexual relationship with a caring partner can help them develop better social relationships in early adulthood, can increase self esteem and decrease delinquent behavior.

Teach them to communicate. Make sure teens understand that they should express their limits, likes and dislikes to a partner, and that the expectation should be that both people enjoy the experience. That means that in opposite gender encounters it isn’t only about a boy’s pleasure.

Create an environment in which your children can talk to you. Many parents fear that a conversation about sex will be uncomfortable or will make them seem overly permissive. But letting these fears prevent open dialogue tends to do more harm than good.

Help teens access reproductive health care. Putting barriers in the way of teens’ health care can be dangerous, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has advocated for all teens to have access to confidential reproductive health care, saying it greatly improves health outcomes for adolescents. If you live in one of the many places where teens cannot independently access health care, help them make appointments and ensure they have time alone with their doctors.

The idea of helping teens develop sexual skills may feel like parents are condoning something that they should actually condemn. But American teens face a lot of hurdles on the path to developing healthy sexuality, and when we look at the research, it becomes clear that the best thing we can do for our kids is to help them become sexually informed and proficient long before they become sexually active, and then to help them stay safe and informed once they do.

Complete Article HERE!

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How to Make Sex More Dangerous

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Refusing to provide children with medically accurate sex education isn’t ideological — it’s negligent.

By Andrea Barrica

I cried the first time I saw a naked man. As a young woman growing up in a conservative Catholic household, I couldn’t even look at my own genitals, and thought I would go to hell for masturbating. The abstinence-only education I received — at school, at home, in the church — left me with years of shame, isolation and fear.

I’ve watched the recent battles over allowing comprehensive sex ed in Colorado, Utah and Idaho, and I know how much is at stake for children. As a sex educator and entrepreneur, I’ve spoken with thousands of similarly miseducated young people, and I know the mental and physiological damage it can inflict.

Americans laugh at the embarrassment parents face in talking to kids about sex. But it’s not a joke. Fewer students now receive comprehensive sex ed in our country than at any time in the past 20 years. Since the late 1990s, conservative activists — often with the help of conservative presidents — have steadily chipped away at sex education by funding and mandating abstinence-only policies in schools.

Only about half of all school districts in the United States require any sex ed at all. Of those that do, most mandate or stress abstinence-only instruction. No birth control. No sexually transmitted infection prevention. No consent

In fact, 18 states require that educators tell students that sex is acceptable only within the context of marriage. Seven states prohibit teachers — under penalty of law — from acknowledging the existence of L.G.B.T.Q. people other than in the context of H.I.V. or to condemn homosexuality. Only 10 states even reference “sexual assault” or “consent” in their sex education curriculums.

And in districts where comprehensive sex education is provided, parents are largely allowed to opt out of such instruction for their children.

Conservatives often frame sex ed as government overreach, arguing that lessons in sexuality and relationships are best provided by parents. But most parents can’t or don’t provide such guidance. Refusing to provide children with medically accurate information about their own sexual development isn’t ideological; it’s negligent.

It’s not even effective. States that place a heavy emphasis on abstinence-only sex ed have seen much higher rates of teen pregnancy, even when studies control for factors like income and education levels.

During the Obama administration, funding for abstinence-only sex education was shifted toward more comprehensive sex education — and teen pregnancy dropped nationwide by 41 percent. The Trump administration, embracing an abstinence-only approach, has reversed course, cutting more than $200 million in funding for the program.

Despite the dreams of social conservatives, few teens actually practice abstinence. Nearly 60 percent of students have sex before they graduate from high school, according to some surveys. Many do so without any instruction from parents or schools on condoms, infections or consent.

Perhaps that’s why one in four American women will become pregnant by the time they turn 20.

Or why a quarter of all new cases of sexually transmitted infections occur in teenagers — and the number of S.T.I.s has been at all-time highs.

Or why only 41 percent of American women have described their first sexual experience as wanted.

When we refuse to teach students about sex, we don’t stop sex — we just make it more dangerous. And it’s not just because of S.T.I.s.

Kids who lack information and ownership over their bodies are more likely to be taken advantage of. When children are taught that all premarital sex is negative, it’s harder for them to fight, or report, abuse or coercion.

Abstinence education negates the possibility of consent. When I was a teen, I was taught that men would try to get sex from me, and that my job was to say no. That made me feel as if the coercion and violations that happened to me were my fault. All sexual acts are equally wrong, so if a boy went too far on a date with me, it was my fault for letting him touch me at all.

Keeping children in the dark allows predators to set the narrative. They count on the culture of silence and the sense of shame. When virginity is prized as the highest honor, those who are assaulted can feel even more worthless — and may avoid reporting abusive or predatory behavior out of shame and confusion.

For L.G.B.T.Q. children, things can be even more bleak. A lack of inclusive sex education contributes to feelings of isolation and shame, while enabling bullies. L.G.B.T.Q. kids have even fewer resources, and face more drastic consequences — from physical abuse to homelessness — when they attempt to report assaults.
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When we promote abstinence over medically accurate sexual health, it inflicts a lifetime of physical and psychological harm on young people.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In many countries, the right to accurate information about sexual health is deemed essential. Children raised in the Netherlands, for example, begin sex ed in kindergarten. American teens give birth at a rate that is five times higher than that of their Dutch counterparts. Most Dutch teens report their first sexual experience positively.

We joke about sex because it’s difficult for us to talk about. And in part because our parents weren’t able to talk with us about it, we’re unable to talk with our kids. We can break the cycle for the next generation of young people by fighting for accessible and comprehensive sex education.

Their safety is more important than our shame.

Complete Article HERE!

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What Our Skeletons Say About the Sex Binary

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Society increasingly accepts gender identity as existing along a spectrum. The study of people, and their remains, shows that sex should be viewed the same way.

Stanislawa Walasiewicz won the gold for Poland in the women’s 100-meter dash at the 1932 Olympic Games. Upon her death, an autopsy revealed that she had intersex traits.

By

She wasn’t especially tall. Her testosterone levels weren’t unusually high for a woman. She was externally entirely female. But in the mid-1980s, when her chromosome results came back as XY instead of the “normal” XX for a woman, the Spanish national team ousted hurdler María José Martínez-Patiño. She was ejected from the Olympic residence and deserted by her teammates, friends, and boyfriend. She lost her records and medals because of a genetic mutation that wasn’t proven to give her any competitive advantage.

People like Martínez-Patiño have been ill-served by rules that draw a hard line between the sexes. In the U.S., the Trump administration looks set to make things worse. According to a memo leaked to The New York Times in October, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is trying to set up a legal binary definition of sex, establishing each person “as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.” But our bodies are more complicated than that.

An increasing recognition of this complexity by researchers and the public has affirmed that gender sits on a spectrum: People are more and more willing to acknowledge the reality of nonbinary and transgender identities, and to support those who courageously fight for their rights in everything from all-gender bathrooms to anti-gender-discrimination laws. But underlying all of this is the perception that no matter the gender a person identifies as, they have an underlying sex they were born with. This represents a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of biological sex. Science keeps showing us that sex also doesn’t fit in a binary, whether it be determined by genitals, chromosomes, hormones, or bones (which are the subject of my research).

The perception of a hard-and-fast separation between the sexes started to disintegrate during the second wave of feminism in the 1970s and 1980s. In the decades that followed, we learned that about 1.7 percent of babies are born with intersex traits; that behavior, body shape, and size overlap significantly between the sexes, and both men and women have the same circulating hormones; and that there is nothing inherently female about the X chromosome. Biological realities are complicated. People living their lives as women can be found, even late in life, to be XXY or XY.

Skeletal studies, the field that I work in as a doctoral student in anthropology, and the history of this field show how our society’s assumptions about sex can lead to profound mistakes, and how acknowledging that things are not really as binary as they may seem can help to resolve those errors. Trump and his advisers should take note.

If you’ve ever watched the TV series Bones, you’ve heard Temperance “Bones” Brennan, the show’s protagonist and star forensic anthropologist, call out to her colleagues whether the skeleton she’s analyzing is male or female. That’s because sex distinctions are very helpful to know for missing persons and archaeological sites alike. But just how easy is it to make this determination?

In the early 1900s, the U.S.-based anthropologist Aleš Hrdlička helped to found the modern study of human bones. He served as the first curator of physical anthropology at the U.S. National Museum (now the Smithsonian Institution). The skeletons Hrdlička studied were categorized as either male or female, seemingly without exception. He was not the only one who thought sex fell into two distinct categories that did not overlap. Scientists Fred P. Thieme and William J. Schull of the University of Michigan wrote about sexing a skeleton in 1957: “Sex, unlike most phenotypic features in which man varies, is not continuously variable but is expressed in a clear bimodal distribution.” Identifying the sex of a skeleton relies most heavily on the pelvis (for example, females more often have a distinctive bony groove), but it also depends on the general assumption that larger or more marked traits are male, including larger skulls and sizable rough places where muscle attaches to bone. This idea of a distinct binary system for skeletal sex pervaded—and warped—the historical records for decades.

Two pelvises with drastically exaggerated differences—a man’s shown on the left and a woman’s on the right (identified in Lithuanian)—illustrate how sex was estimated skeletally in the early 1900s

In 1972, Kenneth Weiss, now a professor emeritus of anthropology and genetics at Pennsylvania State University, noticed that there were about 12 percent more male skeletons than females reported at archaeological sites. This seemed odd, since the proportion of men to women should have been about half and half. The reason for the bias, Weiss concluded, was an “irresistible temptation in many cases to call doubtful specimens male.” For example, a particularly tall, narrow-hipped woman might be mistakenly cataloged as a man. After Weiss published about this male bias, research practices began to change. In 1993, 21 years later, the aptly named Karen Bone, then a master’s student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, examined a more recent dataset and found that the bias had declined: The ratio of male to female skeletons had balanced out. In part that might be because of better, more accurate ways of sexing skeletons. But also, when I went back through the papers Bone cited, I noticed there were more individuals categorized as “indeterminate” after 1972 and basically none prior.

Allowing skeletons to remain unsexed, or “indeterminate,” reflects an acceptance of the variability and overlap between the sexes. It does not necessarily mean that the skeletons classified this way are, in fact, neither male nor female, but it does mean that there is no clear or easy way to tell the difference. As science and social change in the 1970s and 1980s revealed that sex is complicated, the category of “indeterminate sex” individuals in skeletal research became more common and improved scientific accuracy.

For generations, the false perception that there are two distinct biological sexes has had many negative indirect effects. It has muddied historical archaeological records, and it has caused humiliation for athletes around the globe who are closely scrutinized. In the mid-1940s, female Olympic athletes went through a degrading process of having their genitals inspected to receive “femininity certificates.” This was replaced by chromosome testing in the late 1960s and subsequently, hormone testing. But instead of rooting out imposters, these tests just illustrated the complexity of human sex.

It might be more convenient for the U.S. federal government to have a binary system for determining legal sex; many U.S. laws and customs are built on this assumption. But just because it’s a convenient system of classification doesn’t mean it’s right. Some countries, such as Canada, and some states in the U.S., including Oregon, now allow people to declare a nonbinary gender identity on their driver’s license or other identification documents. In a world where it is apparently debatable whether anti-discrimination laws apply to sex or gender, it is a step in the wrong direction to be writing either one into law as a strictly binary phenomenon.

The famous cases of strong, athletic, and audacious female athletes who have had their careers derailed by the Olympic “gender tests” exemplify how misguided it is to classify sex or gender as binary. These women are, like all of us, part of a sex spectrum, not a sex binary. The more we as a society recognize that, the less we will humiliate and unnecessarily scrutinize people—and the less discriminatory our world will be.

Complete Article HERE!

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Better Sex Starts in your Gut

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By Dr. Edison de Mello

“There’s a Connection Between Your Gut Health and Your Sex Life”

What are the most common causes of low libido?

Libido and sexual arousal is, for the most part, grounded on intimacy involving the interaction of several components, including physical trust, belief system emotional well-being, previous experiences, self-esteem, physical attraction, lifestyle and current relationship.

In addition, a wide range of illnesses, such as thyroid disease, arthritis, diabetes, neurological disorders, hormonal changes and physical changes, such as High blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, menopause in women, andropause in men and pain during intercourse can cause low sex drive and/or inability to reach an orgasm. Medications, prescribed or over the counter, can also kill one’s libido.

What’s one cause that’s really surprising?  Great Sex too starts in Your gut!

“All disease begins in the gut.”  Hippocrates

Although most us do not necessarily think of our intestines or bad gut bacteria when we think of possible causes of low libido, an imbalance of Gut bacteria (microbiome) is more often than not, a significant cause of decreased sexual arousal. This is in addition to the more commonly known GI related causes, such as bloating, gas, acid reflux, bad breath, diarrhea, etc. In fact, because the gut contains billions of bacteria, the gastrointestinal tract, also known as the gut system, plays a major physical factor that has many unexpected effects on our ability to respond and perform sexually. The truth is that “gut bacteria is to our digestion and metabolism what a beehive is to honey”: Good working hive = great honey; well balanced gut bacteria = optimized gastrointestinal function and better sex! Gut bacteria are also responsible for producing hormones, enzymes, and neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which are essential for sexual health.

And then there is lifestyle…. although a glass of wine can get both men and women in the “mood” for sex, too much alcohol can actually have the opposite effect and not only kill your libido, but make you sleep, which can be devastating to intimacy.

10 Reasons Why you may not have a healthy gut?

  1. Bad diet (sugar and processed food based diet)
  2. Digestive Health: Unbalanced gut bacteria and lack of good probiotics
  3. Overuse antibiotics and other medications
  4. Sedentary life style
  5. Disease, including autoimmune.
  6. Mental Health and Mood.
  7. Low/ unbalanced Hormone.
  8. Vaginal Health/prostate issues
  9. Weight proportionate to height issues
  10. Decreased physical, mental and emotional energy

5 initial Steps to Take to Have Better Sex

  1. Balance your gut health,
  2. Eat a healthy diet and moderate your alcohol intake
  3. Exercise more often
  4. Do you inventory of your relationship: Are you really happy or just pretending that you are?
  5. Work on your self-esteem and body image, if applicable.

5 Ways how your partner can help you get there:

  1. Love you unconditionally
  2. Help you feel that intimacy is more than just having sex
  3. Encourage you to make the changes outlined here –  free of judgment, and instead assuring you that yes, you can.
  4. Be the change that he/she expects of you
  5. Not make sex so serious… have fun with it.

Other 10 possible causes of low libido:

  1. Mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression
  2. Stress, such as financial stress or work stress
  3. Poor body image
  4. Low self-esteem
  5. History of physical or sexual abuse
  6. Previous negative sexual experiences
  7. Lack of connection with the partner
  8. Unresolved conflicts or fights
  9. Poor communication of sexual needs and preferences
  10. Infidelity or breach of trust

Complete Article HERE!

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