Top 10 Things To Do Before You Have Sex

message to teensIf you’re considering having sex for the very first time or for anytime thereafter (and by “sex” we mean any sexual activity in which you can transmit an STI), there are things you and your partner should know and do, especially if there is risk of unwanted pregnancy.

In this article, Dr. Karen Rayne breaks down the important things you should evaluate before becoming sexually active, such as asking yourself: “Do I really want this?” “What am I looking for in having sex with someone else?”

So take note and see where you stand in terms of readiness.

This post was originally published on Un|hushed

BY DR. KAREN RAYNE | KarenRayne.com

(Just to be clear, these are things to do before you have sex: oral sex, sexual intercourse, or anything else that could get you pregnant or an STD.)

1. Have an orgasm.

Yes, before you start having sex, you should give yourself an orgasm. It’s important to know what feels good to you before you can show another person what feels good to you.

2. Know the other person’s sexual history.

And I don’t mean just vaginal intercourse for this one!

3. Know the other person’s STD status, as well as your own.

The only way to know this for sure is to be tested! And if you’re both virgins, well, you’re not going to be for long. You might as well get that scary first STD testing out of the way so you’ll know what to expect next time around.

4. Talk about exactly what STD protection and birth control you will be using.

These two issues go hand-in-hand (for heterosexual couples), and it is the domain of both parties to be intimately involved.

5. If you are part of a heterosexual couple, talk about what happens if the woman gets pregnant.

Here are a few options to talk about, in alphabetical order: abortion, adoption, raising the kid alone, raising the kid together. With the understanding that reality is different than the theoretical, make sure you’re both on the same theoretical page.

6. Have your best friend’s blessing.

We can rarely see someone we’re in love with clearly. It is often our best friends who can see our lovers and our potential lovers for who they really are. Listen to what your best friend has to say, and take it to heart. If it’s not what you wanted to hear, give it some time. Wait a month. A good relationship will be able to withstand another month before having sex. Then ask a different friend, and see what they have to say.

7. Meet your partner’s parents.

At the very least, make sure you know why you haven’t met your them. The best sex comes out of knowing someone well, and knowing someone’s family is an important part of knowing them. (Even if they’re really, really different from their family.)

8. Be comfortable being naked in front of each other.

You don’t actually have to strip down in broad daylight to make sure you’ve reached this milestone, but it sure helps!

9. Have condoms on hand.

Make sure they fit right, that they’re within the expiration date, and that they haven’t been exposed to extreme conditions (like the inside of a really hot car). Condoms should be part of any respectful sexual relationship. There need be no assumption of hook ups outside of the relationship, just an assumption of good sexual habits being made and kept.

10. Make sure that your partner has done all of these things too.

Part of a happy, healthy sexual encounter is taking care of everyone’s emotional needs and physical health. Both people need to pay attention to themselves and to their partner. That way each person has two people looking out for them. It’s just the best way to do things.

rayne2sm DR. KAREN RAYNE With a doctoral degree is in Educational Psychology, Karen provides advice and support to parents on how to educate their children and teenagers about sex and sexuality. Karen’s knowledge about adolescent development and education provides her with a solid background for guiding parents through these tricky conversations. And, as a college professor, helping young adults grapple with sexuality, she is known to change student’s lives. On twitter @KarenRayne

When Your Own Kid Might Be Gay

Photo credit: Judy van der  Velden

Photo credit: Judy van der Velden

How do you know if your child is gay? It’s hard to be certain because adolescence is often a time of experimenting sexually, often with both sexes. Studies tell us that it is not uncommon for adolescent boys to explore their sexuality with the same sex.

If you suspect your child may be gay, do you, as a parent, know how to approach the topic with him/her? Do you have the right to ask your child? According to Wesley Davidson, guest writer on Dr. Karen Rayne’s site, your kid will tell you she is gay when she is ready. You may be dying to have your suspicions confirmed, but that can backfire.

In this guest post, Wesley Davidson tackles to DOs and DONTs of discussing sexual identity with your child, particularly if you suspect he/she is gay. Below is a useful list of conversational ice-breakers to try.

Here are some key parenting tips:

  • Do not ask point blank: “Are you gay?” Respect personal boundaries. And don’t force a confession. He or she will tell you when the time is right.
  • Reflect on your own judgments about gender and sexuality. What stereotypes do you subscribe to?
  • Ask you child open-ended question such as his/her opinion of same-sex marriage and offer you positive opinions that demonstrate you accept and respect diversity.
  • Do discuss safer sex, STIs, and contraceptive methods with your child.
  • Be supportive. Studies show that positive reactions by parents of gay teens result in happier and healthier youth.

This article was originally published on Unhushed.

BY DR. KAREN RAYNE | KarenRayne.com

I am delighted to have a guest blog post from Wesley Davidson today.

Wesley is an award-winning writer. She has written articles on health and childcare for such publications as Good Housekeeping, Adoptive Families, and American Baby. She is on a panel of experts for the on-line publication, KIDZEDGE.com. Wesley has been on Internet radio, cable TV, and lectured to business groups.

She is currently collaborating with Dr. Tobkes, a New York City psychiatrist, on an advice book for straight parents of gay and lesbian children. She writes the blog Straight Parent, Gay Kid in which she offers support to parents on raising gay and lesbian children, and also writes about LGBTQ issues on gay agenda.com.

Sexual Orientation Doesn’t Necessarily Show Up Right Away

Not every parent is as cognizant as John Schwartz, a national reporter for The New York Times and author of his memoir about raising a gay child, Oddly Normal (Gotham Books). In Schwartz’s family, by the time his youngest son Joe came out at age 13, Schwartz and his wife had “progressed from inkling to conviction.” Their toddler Joe wore a feather boa around the house and pleaded for pink light-up sneakers with rhinestones.

Schwartz’s hunch, as it turned out, was right. While some kids may self-identify as gay or lesbian as young as three, others may not know they are gay until their adult years. Time tells.

How Can You Tell If Your Child Is LGBTQ?

It’s hard for parents to know. You can’t necessarily tell by looking at your children if they are gay. Heck, the kids may not even know themselves.

Many teens may wonder if they are gay or bisexual. It’s normal for them to have sexual feelings for both the same and opposite gender partners. They experiment with the same, or opposite gender relationships as they try to discover and develop their identities. Sometimes, their experiences are the signs of their sexual orientation, sometimes they aren’t. Or, it may just be a simple process of questioning.

Gay Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

If parents perceive that all male children must be sports-oriented, “rough-and-tumble” by nature, then they will be aghast at seeing their son playing house or with his sister’s Barbies. Does this necessarily indicate that this child is gay or is this behavior a reflection of society’s perception of how a male should not act or a parent’s read of behavior that’s not boyish or expected ?

Similarly, if a daughter refuses to wear dresses and plays football on a mostly-male football team, is she considered a feminist-in-the-making, a “tomboy” or a future lesbian? It depends on who is judging her according to their standards of how a girl should act.

Don’t Out Your Child

Even if you suspect your child is gay, you don’t want to force your suspicion down his/her throat to try and get a confession. You may be dying to know, but it’s up to your child to educate you when he/she is ready. Your kid may not want to disappoint you with the big news. He/she may be in denial. Or, he/she may simply not know. After all, it’s his/her story.

Offer Acceptance, Not Judgment

Carolyn Wagner, Former National Vice-President of Parents of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) said a good place to start is with a statement that offers acceptance instead of judgment. Accepting dialogue lets Mom and Dad be approachable and open to discussion about sexual identity.

Some Sample Ice-Breakers

Ask open-ended questions with a light touch. It’s non-threatening to talk about others, rather than about yourself. For example:

  • What do YOU think of same-sex marriage?
  • Should celebrities be outed or feel they have to come out to their fans? Why should it matter?
  • Do shows like Modern Family depict a gay family as normal as the straight ones?
  • Why is the teen suicide rate higher for youth who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer) than for straight youth?
  • Why are businesses like Starbuck’s and Oreo stepping forward to be allies with LGBTQ causes while others like Chick-Fil-A are thriving while espousing anti-gay philosophy?
  • Why do some churches accept gays and others tout condemnation based on their interpretation of the Bible? Isn’t religion about universal love and acceptance of all human beings?
  • What does your school do for its diverse population?
  • Are most of your friends having sex (define sex as it is interpreted differently by persons, often according to their beliefs and upbringing).

Sometimes teens who are considering coming out start by testing their parents’ perception of being LGBTQ by gauging their reactions to gay characters on television or religious leaders and remarks on same-sex relationship.

Your Kids Need to See You As An Ally

By bringing up these open-ended talks that can be discussed many times, you’re making your home a safe haven where any subject can be broached. In this environment, your adolescent is more apt to open up about his/her sexuality.

By now, you’ve probably had the talk about “the birds and the bees.” Hopefully, it’s an ongoing discussion that includes STI prevention.

Just as important as discussions about disease is imparting your values about love and sexuality to your child. By teaching them that civil rights are for all people, you are teaching an inclusive attitude and tolerance for all individuals. These attitudes open the gateway for acceptance and security for your child.

Stability and Permanence

Parental support is so important for a gay child. In fact, studies show that positive reactions by parents of gay adolescent result in happier and healthier youth. In fact, The Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University has ongoing studies that show that gay teens whose parents accept their sexual orientation are less likely to do drugs, be depressed, or attempt suicide than gay teens with parents who react badly to their news about being gay. These conversations can save your child’s life.

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rayne2sm DR. KAREN RAYNE With a doctoral degree is in Educational Psychology, Karen provides advice and support to parents on how to educate their children and teenagers about sex and sexuality. Karen’s knowledge about adolescent development and education provides her with a solid background for guiding parents through these tricky conversations. And, as a college professor, helping young adults grapple with sexuality, she is known to change student’s lives. On twitter @KarenRayne

18 Signs of a Sexually Healthy Adult

Photo credit: Mario Klingemann

Photo credit: Mario Klingemann

What does healthy sexuality look like?

As we’ve talked about before, sexuality is a complex mix of things in varying proportions for different people- things that are physical, emotional, interpersonal, cultural and more. Thus it’s difficult to pin down in one all-encompassing definition. That is why The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) developed a list of behaviors that encapsulate what healthy sexuality can look like.

There is one word you will see a lot on this list. Affirmation, which means the declaration that something is true. In other words, to express and experience sexuality in healthy ways is to positively uphold and support yourself for who you are.

This is not an exhausive list (there are many things one could add). If you find that there are some things missing here, it does not mean something is “wrong” with you. It simply demonstrates how sexuality is extremely diverse. This list is one model (of many) to help explain how healthy sexuality is cultivated.

This article was originally published on KarenRayne.com

BY DR. KAREN RAYNE | KarenRayne.com

4th of July Parade

And here is a picture of a young adult – tell me your opinion – is this adult exhibiting Life Behaviors of a Sexually Healthy Adult? Why or why not?

Children and adolescents gather information from watching the adults around them. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (http://www.siecus.org/) has compiled a list of Life Behaviors of a Sexually Healthy Adult. Reading this list, I think an adult (or child, or adolescent) who is exhibiting these behaviors is healthy in more ways than ‘just’ sexually. What do you think?

A sexually healthy adult will:

1) Appreciate one’s own body.

2) Seek further information about reproduction as needed.

3) Affirm that human development includes sexual development, which may or may not include reproductive or sexual experience.

4) Interact with all genders in respectful and appropriate ways.

5) Affirm one’s own sexual orientation and respect the sexual orientations of others.

6) Affirm one’s own gender identities and respect the gender identities of others.

7) Express love and intimacy in appropriate ways.

8) Develop and maintain meaningful relationships.

9) Make informed choices about family options and relationships.

10) Exhibit skills that enhance personal relationships.

11) Identify and live according to one’s own values.

12) Take responsibility for one’s own behavior.

13) Practice effective decision-making.

14) Develop critical-thinking skills.

15) Communicate effectively with family, peers, and romantic partners.

16) Enjoy and express one’s sexuality throughout life.

17) Express one’s sexuality in ways that are congruent with one’s values.

18) Enjoy sexual feelings without necessarily acting on them.

Source: http://www.siecus.org/pubs/guidelines/guidelines.pdf

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rayne2sm DR. KAREN RAYNE With a doctoral degree is in Educational Psychology, Karen provides advice and support to parents on how to educate their children and teenagers about sex and sexuality. Karen’s knowledge about adolescent development and education provides her with a solid background for guiding parents through these tricky conversations. And, as a college professor, helping young adults grapple with sexuality, she is known to change student’s lives. On twitter @KarenRayne

Fifty Shades of Grey: Has It Changed the Way Women Think About Sex?

Photo credit: Todd Mecklem

Photo credit: Todd Mecklem

No matter how you feel about ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ one must admit it has opened up our national conversation about sexuality,” says sex educator Elle Chase.

In response to the recent movie release and blockbuster hit, Elle Chase reflects on the fame of this story and why the book trilogy resonates with so many women. In many ways, she argues, it has actually changed the way women think about sex and sexuality. Elle brings up three very interesting and original points that many critics have overlooked.

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ has changed the way we think about sex in at least three ways:

  • The book was released during the economic recession. Such hardships have forced many people to reflect on their basic needs, but also find escape from the stressors of work and joblessness. Our carnal desires are something we do have control over, and it has no monetary cost!
  • Due to massive public acceptance of the trilogy, women are finding it easier to openly talk about traditionally taboo subjects like female sexual pleasure and fantasy.
  • It is not a standard love story. It isn’t even about BDSM. It is about a woman’s self discovery. Our sexual experimentations (or lack of experience) play an important role in the process of self discovery for each one of us.

This post was originally published on smutforsmarties.com

BY ELLE CHASE | ElleChase.com

Image from smutforsmarties.com

Image from smutforsmarties.com

By now, you’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t at least heard of the E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, let alone not read the trilogy. Fifty Shades is Twilight for the “Soccer Mom”, and just as poorly written, yet women can’t get enough of it … in fact, no one can. Sex clubs, sex shops and even New York’s Museum of Sex are having Fifty Shades themed events. Even cottage industries of vanilla-friendly BDSM seminars and ladies nights have popped up faster than you can say “Yes, Sir, may I have another?” Dateline, Primetime, Nightline – all the news shows have covered it since it’s blockbuster release in 2011, including the dependably milque-toast morning shows. Back in 2011, even Psychology Today and People Magazine, two publications that couldn’t be more different, had written articles about the Fifty Shades phenomenon. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about Fifty Shades, and not only did the E.L. James blockbuster birth a movie franchise, but it continues to inspire merchandise, news articles, events and sex toys. In fact, even one of the bastions of conservative family ideals, Target, is selling Fifty Shades of Grey sex toys. But why did a poorly written romance novel, originally self-published as a fan-fiction e-book, capture the imagination and sex drive of American women? Erotica isn’t new, and neither is BDSM.

Why is this particular book resonating with so many women? I have a few ideas:

#1 IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID

Timing. My feeling has always been that under times of socio-economic stress or crisis that people tend to move inward and reflect on what they really have in life, what they can call their own. Taking personal inventory and whittling ones needs down to just the basics illuminates within us what we really care about, what we have control over and how it adds to our life. In a time of economic unreliability, we are forced to define what it is that really makes us happen, what we really need and how to pare down all the extraneous trappings of a life distracted by panaceas of success. Without the sparkly diversion of “things” we want or need, discovering that there is nothing more “our own” than our bodies and our sexuality, can be a realization that changes how we look at sex forever. Sex: if we’re not doing it, we’re thinking about doing it because let’s face it … it’s fun, it’s free and it feels good.

To paraphrase John Mayer, our bodies “are a wonderland” … a wonderland of sensation, feelings and hormones that can give us great pleasure. What could feel more exciting and enticing than a semi-subversive roll-in-the-hay with your neighbor? Or, letting go of your Type-A personality and allowing someone else call the shots … in bed? Maybe the scintillating thought of sharing a surruptitous touch with a stranger on a train, has put a little spring in your step or devilish grin on your face? Our sexual desires are inherent, and for some, might not have been exploited to their fullest potential. Feeling free to indulge in our carnal desires, is the gateway to exploring our sexual selves or at least choosing whether we indulge or not. In a recession, there are very few things we feel we have control of, and even fewer that has the emotional and physical potential to bring us a respite from the stressors and the financial constraints of seeking out a living.

In 2011, Fifty Shades of Grey arrived at such a time of economic upheaval. It’s no accident that it garnered it’s initial success by word of mouth as a free online publication. Mostly hetero/cis women sought out distraction from the hamster wheel of daily life and, in the face of joblessness, foreclosures, war and waning affordable healthcare, and made this book a must-read. Easy and inexpensive escapism into a world of passion, lust and romance … as J. Lo says “Love don’t cost a thing,” and that is precisely the appeal of a Rabelaisian fantasy like Fifty Shades of Grey.

#2 WE’RE MAD AS HELL AND WE’RE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!

For far too long in western culture, women’s sexuality has been at the very least marginalized and at the most extreme, vilified. In modern society, women are not portrayed as wanting sex. In fact, if you grew up during any part of the women’s movement, you might’ve been led to believe that ‘sexual freedom’ for a woman only meant she had the right to say “no.” However, as a woman and a feminist, I have benefited from the freedom of choice to say “yes,” to my control over my sexuality, “yes” to how I choose to express it and “yes” to sexual pleasure. It seems that Fifty Shades was just the gateway for some women- women who may have felt stultified sexually, to give themselves permission to explore an enjoyable sex life.

Nature dictates that we are all sexual and sensual beings. It’s beginning to dawn on the modern woman that sexual pleasure isn’t just acceptable for men, but just as acceptable for women. Because of the popularity and the subsequent main stream media frenzy of Fifty Shades of Grey, women are feeling more empowered to talk about what sexual pleasure means to them, regardless of whether they are, or are not into “BDSM.” This is a huge step in the evolution of female sexual acceptance where shame had shrouded it for centuries. Through the public acceptance of Fifty Shades of Grey, women have started to give themselves permission to accept and seek out sexual pleasure. These same women began to feel as free to explore their sexual urges as men had been doing for since time immemorial.

It stands to reason, that women who have found sexual liberation in the E.L. James’ books, might possibly be more open to teaching their daughters that sex and the pleasure we derive from it is healthy, and that their right to express it verbally or physically is nothing to be ashamed of. Without trying to, Fifty Shades of Grey has taken away a bit of the taboo for a certain segment of the female population. Women who normally didn’t discuss “such things” are now sharing the titillation and thrill they get from reading modern erotica. Because this book has been so popular, the discussions have started and have even freed a great many women from the bad kind of ties that bind.

#3 THIS IS NOT ABOUT BDSM

Quotation-Tristan-Taormino-freedom-sexuality-human-feminism-Meetville-Quotes-21462-300x205Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t a book about BDSM. It’s not even a love story. At its core, this book is an allegory of one woman’s unexpected journey of self-discovery. The heroine, smart yet un-experienced, yields to her feelings, and follows Mr. Grey on a titillating sexual adventure. She’s not an idiot, she recognizes how extreme and foreign her situation with Mr. Grey is, and struggles with it. Yet, measured, she feeds her desires and discovers, in the process what she does, and does not like about this specific kind of sex.

Experimenting with our turn-ons and turn offs is an essential part of discovering what kind of sex we like best and, therefore, having a satisfying sex life. After all, how do we know what we like, if we don’t even know what we don’t like? We try out what makes us curious in other parts of our lives; like trying new foods or choosing an exercise we enjoy (or at least don’t hate). Why should it be any different with sex? E.L. James has given us a sort a heroine’s journey of sexual self-discovery and we see ourselves in that journey. It’s empowering.

Even if we don’t identify with the characters in the book – we want to, it’s the pull of sexual pleasure. For some of us, we’ve masked the seduction of sexual adventure and enjoyment, putting it on the back-burner in order to (perhaps) build a career, take care of a family member or build our own families. Because of this, the tug of this pilgrimage can come late in life, if we allow it to at all.

Regardless of when we feel compelled to go on a sexual discovery journey, we all must. We all deserve to experience passion, discover what leads us to it, and recognize there are many different roads to take and ways to travel there. Fifty Shades of Grey illuminates just one of those paths and ignites in the reader a contemplation of one’s own passage through the hallowed halls of our sexuality.

Unsure what size

elle Sex educator, writer and coach, Elle Chase is best known for her award-winning and highly trafficked sites, LadyCheeky.com (NSFW) and SmutForSmarties.com, which have both garnered multiple awards, including LA Weekly’s Best Sex Blog 2013. Elle’s focus is on positive body image, reigniting sexual expression and better sex after 40. She speaks nationally at universities, conferences, and teaches workshops about all things “sex.” Currently, she is hard at work on a book based on her popular workshop “Big, Beautiful Sex”. Find Elle on facebook.com/TheElleChase and follow her @TheElleChase or @smutforsmarties.

Am I Normal? Are My Sexual Interests Boring?

team sex ed

Team Sex Ed! Kate & Louise

If I really love the missionary position am I too boring? Is it weird that I don’t like oral sex? For how long should sex last? Sex educators, Kate McCombs and Louise Bourchier receive these types of questions daily. The irony is that while we feel alone in our worry of being “abnormal”, it is very normal to question our sexual adequacy.

As part of their sex ed video series, Kate and Louise cover the importance of being honest with yourself about what you enjoy and doing what’s sexually authentic for you.

Here are their main points:

  • Our media culture promotes the idea that everyone should be a risque sex guru. Don’t buy into the hype!
  • It’s important to embrace what’s authentic for you sexually.
  • “Daggy” should be the new “sexy”. Watch the video to learn what “daggy” means.

BY KATE MCCOMBS & LOUISE BOURCHIER | Team Sex Ed! Kate & Louise

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kate_mccombsKATE MCCOMBS is a NYC-based sex educator, writer, and maker of puns. Ultimately, all of Kate’s work is about helping people feel more comfortable talking about sex. She believes that meaningful conversations + accurate information can help us create a healthier and more pleasure-filled world. Kate writes articles and teaches workshops about sexual health, pleasure, and communication.
Follow Kate on Twitter @katecom

louise bourchier 150 150LOUISE BOURCHIER, MPH is a sex educator who knows health and pleasure. She teaches workshops to adult audiences throughout Australia and New Zealand, where her mission is to facilitate access to information that allows people to experience healthy and pleasurable sex lives. She works closely with D.VICE: the toy shop for grownups and is a proud emissary of Sex Geekdom Melbourne. Follow her on Twitter @louiselabouche

Response to Awful Wheelchair ‘Joke’: An Open Letter to Ken Jennings

wheel chairKen Jennings may have won a lot of fans from his record-breaking fame on “Jeopardy”, but his tweet posted in September has lost him a lot of followers and respect. And for good reason. One of the most powerful responses to Jennings’ wheelchair “joke” is this open letter written by sex education advocate, Robin Mandell. She argues that to deny the sexuality of people living with disability is yet another way to deny their humanity. Her letter is packed full of resources that help debunk pervasive myths and guide people to learn more about sex and disability from the very people who experience disability. Everyone should read through her recommendations to help raise awareness.

Here are some power punches:

  • Know about The Microaggression Project and how you can end the perpetuation of “othering”.
  • People living with disability lead fulfilling, healthy sex lives. Sex with someone who has a disability can be the best sex you could be having.
  • A wheelchair actually doesn’t tell you anything about a person’s physical capabilities.
  • There is a wealth of sexy, positive representations of people living with disabilities. Check out the resources below.

This post was originally published at Robin’s Toy Nest. Read the full letter here.

BY ROBIN MANDELL | ReadySexyAble.com

Dear Ken,

So, on Monday you tweeted:

Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair.

What’s most sad about this is that Twitter tells me (as of the last time I looked) it was “favorited” three-hundred eighty-seven times.

What I really want to know is: Why? Why would you write such a thing.

Are you feeling sexually insecure?

Did you think you were being clever? (Hint: You weren’t. If you need supporting research to back that up, here you go).

Are you skittish around wheelchairs? Sometimes people lash out when they’re feeling insecure. Many people in our culture have almost a “primal fear of becoming disabled”, so, don’t be ashamed if you’re afraid; lots of people are.

Yes, what you did was lashing out. No, you didn’t target anyone specifically. You didn’t physically attack anyone, or call them names, or undertake persistent verbal harassment.

What you did was much more on the level of a microaggression. Only, it’s on the Internet. The Internet has this habit of making things grow, taking away the micro and increasing the aggression. Plus, when you’re on a popular TV show for six months, have written lots of books, and are generally being a public figure, people kind of tend to believe the things you say. You wouldn’t want to steer them wrong, would you? (Yes, I might just be wagging my finger at you.)

People with disabilities–these are real people you’re talking about. I know: I am one of them. I’m visibly disabled, though not a wheelchair user. People with disabilities are frequently seen as childlike, incapable, often even subhuman. Denying our sexuality is just one more way to deny our humanity, and that’s exactly what you’ve done. You’re talking about people in wheelchairs, but I’m left wondering: Where does it stop? Do hot blind people make you sad? How about hot people using crutches or a walker? What about hot people who have more than one disability? How does it work if a person’s disability is invisible? If they’re hot, and you only find out about the disability later, is that sad too?

I spend a lot of time talking and educating about people with disabilities and our sexualities.

So, I’m here to tell you: Your statement about people in wheelchairs is just factually incorrect. So yes, you, the fact-maven, are steering people wrong.

Business Insider called your tweet insensitive. I think it goes way beyond that. When talking about negative comments about disability and disabled people, words like sensitivity, compassion, and caring get thrown around a lot. I’d like to see more people talking about respect and knowledge.

It’s not primarily sensitivity you lack here—frankly, I don’t care all that much about your moral compass–(though your decency does leave something to be desired) but plain old-fashioned know-how. Sorry if that’s painful to read, but that’s just how it is. Okay, I’ll stop telling you you’re wrong—at least for a few paragraphs.

Or, maybe the problem here is that you can’t imagine how someone who uses a wheelchair could possibly have sex? So little imagination, Ken!

There’s really not a limit on what sex is, or how to do sex, for anyone.

And, there’s no limit on what sex and sexuality can be for people with disabilities [watch this film documentary, The Last Taboo (2013)]. Please pay particular attention to the first three myths, and the facts that go along with them.

Also, a person’s being in a wheelchair actually doesn’t tell you much about their physical abilities. It doesn’t tell you how they can move their bodies, which parts of their bodies they can feel, and it certainly doesn’t tell you what they like to do in bed. Some people who use wheelchairs are able to walk short distances, or are able to use their legs if they’re not standing up. It’s not always the case that people either walk or not-walk. And seriously, is being able to walk necessary for sex?

I’m not sure if you knew this, Ken, but people with a whole range of disabilities date and some choose to get married.

And know, these generally are not sexless relationships, as people often assume they must be. At least, couples in which one or both partners are disabled are no more or less likely to have sex, or have sexual issues, than couples in which both partners are nondisabled.

Just because you find wheelchairs to be impairments to people’s sexiness, doesn’t mean that other people do. I’ve heard that this sexy calendar of people with disabilities is “hot as hell.”(I’m blind, so can’t confirm that personally).

Plus, some people find other people’s wheels hot!

Sex with someone who has a disability can even be the best sex you could be having.

Or, maybe you’d like to try something a little more daring? Leroy Moore has reclaimed drooling, something seen as infantile and gross, something Leroy personally was encouraged to hide and feel ashamed about, as something sexy and intimate….

To read the full letter visit Robin’s Toy Nest.

Update: To date, Jennings has not deleted or apologized for his tweet. 

ROBIN MANDELL is a healthy sexuality and disability rights advocate based in the Washington D.C. area. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies from Queen’s University in Canada and a Professional Writing Certificate from Washington State University. Over the years, Robin has amassed extensive experience working with people at vulnerable times of their lives, both as a crisis hotline worker and a sexuality and relationships education advocate with Scarleteen. She’s discovered that disability issues receive significantly less attention in academia and social justice movements than they’re due. She has developed a passion for starting dialogues on sex, disability and accessibility, and has come to the realization that, as much as she just wants to be like everybody else, she can use her visible reality as a blind woman to start these dialogues.Robin blogs on disabilities, sexualities, and the connections between them at ReadySexyAble.com and has published articles on various sexuality and sexual health topics at Scarleteen and Fearless press.

5 Ways to Stay Sex Positive when Dealing with Depression

Photo credit: Martjin de Valk

Photo credit: Martjin de Valk

Sex may be the last thing on your mind when you’re depressed. But sex educator and coach, JoEllen Notte explains that being “sex positive” does not simply mean having lots of orgasms. In this article, she defines sex positivity as acknowledging and remembering part of your identity as sexual. This is important because regardless of gender, age, or state of health, a shameless, healthy sex life is the right of every person.

Yet as one is battling with the physical and emotional states of depression, it’s an enormous challenge to care for oneself and take pleasure in one’s sexuality. Here JoEllen offers five tips for doing all you can to make yourself feel good and stay sex positive when dealing with depression because ultimately this is what it is all about: taking good care of yourself.

After reading her piece, consider participating in JoEllen’s online survey about the impact of depression on sexuality.

Key points to remember are:

  • Sexuality can be a positive force in your life in which you grow and develop your passions. It is about respecting you for you.
  • When you aren’t feeling sexual, explore the sensual. Sexual and sensual are not necessarily the same thing.  Sensuality is about navigating your sense around what feels good. It can be as simple as taking a scented bath.
  • Be reflective about what motivates you to make certain choices in your sex life.
  • Sex positivity is not about the quantity of sex you are having. It’s about being aware of what you need that is right for you.
  • Advocate for yourself and talk to your doctor if you feel your depression and/or medication is affecting you sex life.

This article was originally published at theRedheadBedhead

BY JOELLEN NOTTE | theRedheadBedhead.com

I’ve been having a hard time writing these last couple of weeks. New insurance led to a switch in which particular generic form of my antidepressant I received and lo and behold, the different one isn’t quite getting the job done. I’ve been a bit weepy (ok, more than a bit, pretty much anything involving dads gets me choked up… just happened while I was typing that), a bit brain-foggy, having a hard time focusing or getting stuff done (sorry if I owe you an email!), taking occasional sobbing breaks and getting hit with intermittent waves of free-floating guilt and paranoia. It sounds really bad but it’s kind of like when you live on a street with a lot of potholes, people who never drive down it think it’s the worst thing ever but you’ve learned to navigate, right? Anyway, while my doctor and insurance company duke it out (that’s right, they are currently arguing over why it’s worthwhile to treat me with the correct medication) I’m taking my vitamins, exercising and trying to focus outward (speaking of, congrats to the giveaway winners!). To that end I have come up with this handy little list.

Sometimes depression can suck the sexy right out of you which can be even more depressing. Let’s talk about some ways to fight that, shall we?

1. Remember, sex positivity isn’t about having all the orgasms.

I suspect some of you read the title of this and thought “Seriously? I’m depressed and you want me to worry about sex? Why don’t I just cure cancer while I’m at it?!” But remember, staying sex positive doesn’t mean going and having all the sex with all the screaming orgasms. Take that pressure away first off. In this case, I’m not even asking you to stay sex positive in the broader whole-world, big picture sense. I’m talking about you for you. I’m just asking that you remember your identity as a sexual being. Some depressed people don’t want to have sex. Sometimes medications render depressed people incapable of orgasm (we’ll come back to that in a minute) this does not mean sex is something that exists separately from you and only for others. Sometimes one of the hardest parts of depression is the chasm that seems to exist between you and the rest of the “not depressed” world (as you perceive it) don’t add to that by saying “sex positivity? eff that noise! I’m depressed!” just work with me here. 🙂

Continue reading at The Readhead Bedhead

condom ad condoms too loose

 

 

JoEllen-NotteJOELLEN NOTTE is helping to share the gospel of better living through better sex ed (amen!) – serving as both the Education Coordinator & Lead Sex Educator for the Portland Academy of Sex Education and a co-Emissary of Sex Geekdom Portland. Working as an adult retail consultant, she is working to help promote better sex through better adult retail. JoEllen first began fighting sexual mediocrity on her site theRedheadBedhead.com. Follow JoEllen on twitter: @bedheadtweeting

National Coming Out Day: Tell Me Who You Really Are

Credit: Tojosan

Photo credit: Tojosan

Dr. Karen Rayne writes, “We all have something we can come out about, and we will be the better for it.” National Coming Out Day is an opportunity for observance that begun 26 years ago on the anniversary of National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It’s a day to celebrate coming out and raise awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) and ally communities. However you identify, National Coming Out Day offers guides to help you meet the challenges and opportunities of living “out-of-the-closet”.

In celebration, Dr. Rayne facilitates a self-reflective exercise in which students share anonymously with the class what it is about themselves that they hide from others. Read the list of student responses below.

This is an exercise that all people should practice, especially during this day of awareness raising.

This article was originally published at unhushed.net 

BY DR. KAREN RAYNE | KarenRayne.com

National Coming Out Day stands as a reminder to the LGBTQ communities every October 11 th that it is important to come out. For people who discriminate against or do not accept people who identify as LGBTQ, learning that someone they love falls into this community is often the first step towards openness.

In my college class last year I wanted to do something to honor National Coming Out Day that would make this experience of coming out very personal to my students. I wanted them to have at least a little sense of what it means to come out as LGBTQ. I started by asking them why people come out and they came up with a great list of reasons. The students were clearly in favor of coming out – they thought it had all sorts of benefits for the individual, their community, and society at large. Then I asked the students why, given all of these good things, people still don’t come out. Again, they indicated a deep understanding of the issues, the shame, the fear of rejection, the judgment.

I pointed out to my students that most of us, probably every one of us, either has something to come out about currently or has had something to come out about in the past. Something that we feel ashamed of, that we fear rejection about. Most people hide aspects of themselves in certain times and places. The students grasped the connection quickly and were nodding in agreement. I asked them to pull out a piece of paper and write down the thing that they have not come out about and you could hear a pin drop. Eyes were narrowed, a few students started pulling out paper and pen, many did not.

One student voiced the majority concern: “Where are these pieces of paper going?”

I answered: “To me. There were many reasons you listed for why coming out is beneficial. I’m asking you to start that process for yourself here and now. Do not write your name on your paper – this is an entirely anonymous process.”

Almost everyone settled down to write. One young man kept staring at his paper and said, “I’m having a hard time even writing this down anonymously.” Then he took a deep breath and started writing. Coming out is an indication of true bravery.

Some people filled a page, others wrote one terse sentence. I collected the papers, mixed them up, and started reading. Here is what they said (I have shortened the three very long ones):

• I lost my virginity in high school and have not told my mama till this day.

• I was raped and that was how I lost my virginity.

• I don’t identify as a part of the gender dichotomy.

• I was “technically” date raped when I was 17.

• I’ve had bisexual curiosity before and experimented before, when I was 13.

• I get excited about having sex with guys with girlfriends.

• I feel like I am unlovable. I feel like no man will ever want to truly be my person I can rely on.

• I’m a virgin.

• I have HPV and have spread it to 4 different guys.

• I’m a heroin addict. Haven’t used (anything) in two years.

• I’ve had an STI before…

• Though I didn’t do this, I’m ashamed that I was once accused of sexually assaulting a girl who was my ex-girlfriend.

• I was abused by a family member as a child.

• In high school I hung out with a lot of guys. One of them was trying to sexually harass me. I was really scared.

• A lot of people think I’m tougher than I really am. In actuality I’m pretty sensitive.

• When I was in 6th grade, I engaged in mutual sexual activities with someone of the same gender. I’m reluctant to admit this to people out of fear of judgment.

• I told an intricate lie to a significant other in order to keep a relationship going.

• At one time I didn’t want my mother to know that I had been promiscuous.

• I had a miscarriage before.

• When I was eight years old, my sister’s husband molested me in my bedroom. I never told my parents.

I often ask students to write or contribute anonymously to class because it allows everyone to offer their perspective. As we look over anonymous offerings there are usually a few people who claim theirs. No one claimed any of these.

Coming out can be extraordinarily difficult. I wish that there were a greater understanding that we all have something that makes us hide, that society or culture tells us we should be ashamed of. The benefits of coming out are substantial, for ourselves, our society, and our culture.

When I asked if anyone had a reaction they would like to share in response to hearing what their peers have not come out about yet, one student said, “I just didn’t know. I didn’t know that all of these people who have had all those experiences were here in class with me. It makes you think and realize that you don’t know people or why they do the things they do and maybe you shouldn’t judge them.” The other students nodded.

Then I took a deep breath did something that was very scary for me. I said, “Turn around is fair play. So now I am coming out to you. I am gay.”

During the rest of the semester students referred back to this activity many times. In the final course evaluations, about a third of the class said that this activity was the most impactful of anything they had ever done in a college classroom. Coming out is powerful and political and personal.

We all have something we can come out about, and we will be the better for it. What do you have to come out about?

rayne2sm DR. KAREN RAYNE  With a doctoral degree is in Educational Psychology, Karen provides advice and support to parents on how to educate their children and teenagers about sex and sexuality. Karen’s knowledge about adolescent development and education provides her with a solid background for guiding parents through these tricky conversations. And, as a college professor, helping young adults grapple with sexuality, she is known to change student’s lives. On twitter @KarenRayne

Sexuality: WTF Is It, Anyway?

Photo credit: Cobalt123

“The Circles of Sexuality are an altering flux of different parts working together.” Photo credit: Cobalt123

Sexuality is made up of various working parts, all of which are fundamental to being human. It involves a vast array of experiences including family and peer relationships, dating, physical development, emotional development, sensuality, gender, body image, media, and so much more. That is why it is such a difficult term to define. What one person deems important to their sexuality will be different from another person.

So how can we understand sexuality in a way that is inclusive to people’s diversity?

One way to think about it is what some sex educators call the Circles of Sexuality. Heather Corinna explains in detail how this model works.

Here are key points she covers in the article below:

  • There is no one-fits-all model. Definitions are not fixed and change dramatically over time as we learn more about about people’s sexuality. If this model doesn’t resonate with you, this does not reflect something wrong with you; rather there is a problem with the model.
  • Think about the Circles of Sexuality as an altering flux of parts. Each of the five circles can change from the size and position in which they overlap. For example, one person’s sexuality might be more influenced by their experience with reproduction, while another person will see their sexual orientation as more important. And it’s not just between people that this varies, but also across one’s individual life.
  •  Sexuality is made up of any or all of the following: physical, chemical, emotional, relationships, identity-based, intellectual, and sociocultural. Read below for a comprehensive explanation of each.
  • For more information about sex and sexuality, check out Heather Corinna’s book, All About S.E.X.: The Scarleteen Book.

This article is originally publish at Scarleteen

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

WTF-sexuality-v2The term “sexuality” can be used a lot like the word “sex.” They’re both terms we say and hear a lot, but which often aren’t clearly defined, or even defined at all. We can take for granted that everyone, including ourselves, knows what terms like this mean, a heck of an assumption to make with something that covers a lot of really important things and can feel as murky as Lake Erie.

So, what is sexuality all about? You might say it’s about our bodies or our hormones, about our feelings and our relationships, or about touching and being touched. You might think it’s about doing or engaging in one kind of sex or any kind of sex, or about wanting, seeking out or experiencing certain kinds of pleasure. You might say it’s about parts of our identity, like our gender identity or sexual orientation. You might say it’s about reproduction: about making babies (or not). You might say it’s about our desires to be close to — or far away from — other people in ways we define or experience as sexual, or about feeling horny, lusty, tingly, mingly, hungry, itchy, twitchy or whatever words you use to express a strong feeling of “I can haz sex NOW, plz.”

If any one of those things were your answers, you’re right. If all or most of those things were your answers, you’re even more right (and may not even need to read this article at all: go get outside for a change, wouldya?). Sexuality is BIG. Mount Everest big: that’s why trying to scale it without a guide or two doesn’t go so well for most people. It’s a lot bigger than it can look and certainly a lot bigger than it’s often presented by most places and in most ways we see it presented. It’s complex as all get-out, both because it’s so big, and also because it’s about everyone, and as a whole people, we’re all incredibly different so something that’s about all of us is always going to be seriously complicated, not simplistic.

As with anything this big, there are a lot of ways we can talk about what sexuality is and can be. There’s no one exactly-right model when it comes to defining sexuality: we’re going to talk about it a couple of ways here, based on where we’re currently at with definitions in comprehensive sex education and sexology, but if neither of them feels right to you, that probably means these models just don’t fit you well, rather than meaning you’re wrong. Models or definitions of sexuality can and often do change over time, especially as we learn more and more about everyone’s sexualities. Even in just the last 50 years, the way we talk about sexuality and the models we create for it have changed a lot: in the next 50 years, it may change, too.

Sexuality, as we know so far, is a mix of many different things in varying proportions: things that are physical, chemical, emotional, interpersonal, identity-based, intellectual, social and cultural, and that mix is different for, and unique to, everyone. Sexuality also isn’t something that is technically “adult,” or something that pops out of the blue when anyone reaches puberty or a certain age: no one isn’t sexual one day, then the next day, suddenly is because they’ve reached a certain age, had sex with a partner or sprouted hair in places they didn’t have it last month. Even though the sexualities of people tend to vary when it comes to age and development — infant sexuality, for instance, is a very different thing than adolescent or young adult sexuality, which can be a very different thing from the sexualities of people in their 60s or 70s — it’s been with all of us in some way from the day we were born, and maybe even before, believe it or not.

Sexuality: Key Ingredients for a Very Adaptable Recipe

What can sexuality be made of? Any or all of the following:

The physical: The development, health and function of what are considered our internal and external sexual organs and reproductive systems and our unique experiences with that development, health and function, our brain and nervous system (the biggest drivers of sexual arousal and function), and the whole of our bodies. The experience of our senses — of hearing, tasting, touching, feeling and seeing — are also part of our sexuality, even though they are part of our whole lives and life experience, not just our sexualities. The experience of our sexual responses and something often called “skin hunger,” the human desire to be touched. Advocates for Youth points out that teens and young adults often experience less touch from family members than they did as children, and so people often don’t recognize how big a part just wanting to be touched can play when it comes to young people and their developing sexuality.

Another part of the physical aspect of sexuality is information about our sexual anatomy, and our experiences with and of reproduction and our reproductive systems, of our reproductive and sexual health are also part of the physical part of sexuality, as well as playing a role in other parts of our sexual whole, including the chemical, social and cultural.

The chemical: AKA, hormones. Hormones take the blame all too often for hasty or poor sexual choices: choices there seem no other way of accounting for, as in “Those dirty hormones made me do it!” Hormones are not anything close to all of what our sexuality is — nor are they things that can make people do sexual things against their will or are a sound scapegoat for poor sexual decision-making — but they can certainly play a part. “Sex” hormones include testosterone, a big chemical libido driver for everyone, and estrogen, but there are also others which take part in sexuality that you experience even without sexual activity, like progesterone, adrenaline, serotonin, vasopressin, oxytocin (which is a real thing, but has been the source of many a myth), dopamine and endorphins. When people talk about sexual chemistry, some of what they mean is how we do or don’t neurochemically respond when it comes to sex and sexual feelings, something — unlike our sexual behavior — we don’t have any control over and often may not even have much awareness of.

The emotional & intellectual: Our feelings, values and ideas about sexual development and sexual changes through life, body image, gender identity and sexual orientation issues, sexual desires and fantasies, sexual activity with oneself and/or with partners, sexual relationships and sexual self-image, the ways those may drive us sexually, and the way we feel about sexuality and sex as a whole, not just our own. How we may or do feel sexually attracted to others and how they may or do feel attracted to us is another piece of the emotional and intellectual, and our sexual fantasies are part of this, too, as are our sexual ideals: what we feel sex and sexuality are supposed to be or should be, either for ourselves or for everyone. Our gender identity and our sexual orientation are also big pieces of the emotional and intellectual aspects of our sexuality, as well as part of the social and interpersonal, cultural and physical parts of sexuality.

Feelings are a part of our sexuality in every and any sexual interaction or desire. Sometimes we’ll hear people say they’ve had or want to have sex “without feelings,” but the only way we could do that, really, is to cut our heads off. While we may not have, be open to or experience the same kinds of feelings in every sexual interaction, when we’re alive and conscious at all, emotional feelings are always some part of the picture. We can’t magically turn them off during any part of life, including with sex and sexuality.

The social and interpersonal: Your sexuality in the context of your relationships — sexual partners or potential partners, but also friends and family — and the influences those relationships have had and have now on your feelings about your sexuality, your sexual wants and needs from others, and your sexual choices with others and your ability to make them. This includes experiences with taking the emotional risks we do whenever we expose or express ourselves sexually with someone else: what has happened to us, for instance, in sharing sexual feelings or interest, or in being out about some part of our sexual selves. How others have expressed themselves sexually to us, including when we weren’t expressing ourselves sexually with them, also plays a part here.

This piece is about what, if any, sexual relationships with others a person wants, seeks out or experiences, but also about all kinds of other relationships that tend to play a part in our sexuality, like the relationships we had and have with family members and friends. How all the people we are in any kind of relationship with treat or react to our sexuality is also a piece of this and the cultural aspects below.

The cultural: None of us can live in the world without being influenced by it. How the rest of the world — including our peers, local and larger communities, your government, the media — views sexuality, and all the parts of our sexuality, like our gender, our bodies, or the kinds of sexual relationships or experiences we have or want, is a part of our sexuality, as are our feelings, attitudes, and conformity or resistance to those views. How the world or some in it view our sexuality when it isn’t even ours at all, but only their idea of it is also part of cultural influence on our sexuality.

In other words, this part is about what messages about sexuality we get overtly and covertly, what we feel or experience our culture allows and disallows, idealizes (says is good or right) or punishes (says is bad or wrong), what our culture tells us to feel comfortable with and tells us to be afraid of, the effect and influence it has on us, consciously and unconsciously, and where and how we and our own sexuality, sexual identity and ethics, body image, gender identity, orientation and relationships fits or doesn’t within cultural attitudes towards, approaches to and presentations of sexuality. To give you one easy example, a lot of the words, the very language, and the approaches you’re reading here are, themselves, cultural: someone from a very different culture or cultures than my own may write or conceptualize all of this very differently.

You might have noticed a lot of overlaps with things in each of those groups above, and for good reason. That’s because we can’t really compartmentalize those things much: we can’t really put them each in tiny little boxes where everything always stays neatly in each box. One model for defining and explaining sexuality that’s really helpful, and illustrates that overlapping well, is the Circles of Sexuality model, designed by Dr. Dennis M. Dailey. There are a lot of versions and explanations of this model, but the one I like best is from the Interagency Gender Working Group , which is what our version of the circles here is adapted from.

What’s Inside the Circles of Sexuality
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Sensuality: “Sense” is the key part of this word: we’re talking about your physical senses and your awareness and experience of them. Sensuality also involves our awareness and experience of our bodies as a whole, including our body image, and our experiences, if any, of physically exploring the bodies of others, and not just with certain kinds of sex, like intercourse, recognized as capital-S Sex. Sensuality is about pleasure: seeking, exploring and experiencing pleasure, both as something we may receive or have, and as something we may give others or share with others.

Intimacy: Intimacy is a word sometimes people use as a euphemism for sex, like by saying someone was “intimate” with someone else to mean they had some kind of sex with them. Intimacy is certainly a part of the whole of sexuality and often part of people’s experience of sex and sexuality through life, but when we say intimacy here, we’re talking about the ability and desire for emotional closeness with other people, and as a part of sexuality, not as the whole of it. That can include sharing, caring, emotional risk-taking, and vulnerability. Emotional intimacy may not always occur with every sexual experience, and when it does, it doesn’t always look or feel the same way for everyone, or with every experience — including for two people sharing a sexual experience together at the same time — nor happen to the same degree for every person or with every sexual experience. When and if we seek out sex with other people, we are usually seeking out intimacy, even if it’s not the same kind of intimacy every time, or the same kind of intimacy someone else may be seeking. We’re usually all looking to share something in which we’re close to someone else in some way.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: This is about a person’s feeling, sense or understanding of who they are when it comes to their gender — their feeling of being a man, a woman, neither, both, or a different way of experiencing gender altogether and the ways they express those feelings — and when it comes to what gender of people, if any, they feel sexual desire about: who, based on (or not) gender, they feel sexually attracted to, whether or not they seek out or have the opportunity to be in sexual relationship with or not. Sexual orientation — our sense of being queer or straight, homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual or asexual, and so forth — and gender identity are obviously involved with each other, because they both have to do with gender, but one doesn’t automatically determine the other, and how linked they are for each person can vary, as can how big a part they play in a person’s sexuality.

Our biases, stereotypes or fears can play roles here, too, just like they can in all the other circles. In other words, ways that we think about other people or ourselves when it comes to gender or orientation — just like ways we may think of others when it comes to ability or disability, race or ethnicity — can also play a part in our sexuality. If that’s tricky to get a grasp on for you, a good example of that is the idea some men have that that only gay men want to engage in receptive anal sex: many men of all orientations may have the desire to explore that or know they have enjoyed that, but those with that bias can find the bias plays a part in their sexuality around that activity, either making it something they desire but don’t do because of homophobia and that makes them feel bad about their sexuality, or something they may find even more exciting, or taboo, because of that fear or bias. Ravishment fantasies can be another example of that, as can people using pornography that turns them on, but where doing what they’re watching is something they’d feel disgusted by in real life. Sometimes things people feel most afraid of, or repulsed by, can be things that turn them on a lot.

Sexual and Reproductive Health: One’s capacity or ability (or lack thereof) to reproduce, feelings about and experiences with reproduction, and the behaviors and attitudes that play a part in sexual health and enjoyment. This includes the information we have about sexual anatomy, sexual activities, reproduction, contraception, STI prevention, and self-care, among others and the messages that information has given us about all of those things. This circle is also about our experiences of sexual wellness or illness, and how they influence our sexuality and sexual desires or experiences. Healthy sexual relationships are also a part of sexual and reproductive health.

Sexual behaviors and practices: This is one of the easier pieces to grok: it’s about what we or others actively do sexually to enact or express our sexuality; about who is doing what when it comes to their own body parts and/or those of a sexual partner or partners, sex toys or other objects. This part of sexuality won’t always be a “do” or “have done” for everyone: some people may want or desire certain behaviours or practices, but not engage in them, or not yet engage in them, for any number of reasons, whether that’s about lack of opportunity or ability, fear or something else. Even if someone doesn’t or hasn’t yet actively done something sexual, the behaviours and practices they are interested in or want often play a big part in their sexuality. This also isn’t just about sex with partners: masturbation is part of this, too. What we do not want to do sexually can also be part of our sexuality and how we experience it, too.

Power and Agency: Power is the ability or capacity to do something, and can also be about strength or force, or the ability or capacity to exercise control over oneself or others. Agency is a sociological or philosophical term that addresses a person’s capacity to act: what a person has the right, ability or power to do. How much power or agency each of us has in general and in specific situations varies a whole lot, in really big ways — like based on what power and agency we may or may not have in the world based on how rich or poor we are, what color we are, what our gender is, how our bodies do or don’t work — and then in smaller, more situational ways, like in one given relationship.

Power and agency play a huge part in all aspects of sexuality, in the healthy stuff and the unhealthy stuff, which is why this version of the circles puts it right in the center. We can experience power and agency, and have them influence our sexuality from a “sense of self-worth and understanding of one’s [sexual] preferences and values, which enables a person to realize sexual well-being and health.” We may or may not have, or may have or feel varying amounts of power or agency to influence, negotiate, decide, consent or decline when it comes to sexual experiences. We or others may also use power or agency to manipulate, control or harm others in our sexual experiences, too.

Not everyone’s sexuality or the way they express it is healthy, and what’s emotionally healthy or isn’t tends to have a whole lot to do with power and agency. If we feel and use whatever power and agency we have when it comes to sex to care for ourselves and others, to seek out mutual pleasure and well-being, and it comes from an emotional place where we give ourselves and others high value and worth, then chances are good we’re using or enacting our power and agency sexually in healthy ways.

On the other hand, people can also sexually use — or more to the point, abuse — power and agency to do others harm. For sure, sometimes people can use power and agency to try and influence others sexually in ways that aren’t about trying to do harm — or being so self-centered that one doesn’t even consider the other person, which makes doing harm very likely — or trying to control them, like flirting, which is usually harmless even though it is about trying to influence someone else around sex. As well, some people bring powerplay into their sexual lives in ways that in another context would usually be about doing harm, but where consent and mutual pleasure are present and prioritized, instead of dismissed or discounted, like for people who engage in consensual, mutually wanted BDSM activities.

But sexual violence like rape, molestation and incest, sexual harassment, forced prostitution, withholding sex as a way to try and manipulate harm or control (rather than declining sex because it isn’t wanted), sexualization: these are all some things that come from an emotional place of devaluing, or not having value for, oneself and others, and about using power in ways with or around sex that are not healthy, neither for the person doing them or the people that person is doing them to. Power and agency is also in the middle of all of those other circles because how much power and agency people have, and what they do with power and agency, as well as how they are impacted by it, is connected to all of those other issues.

Phew! It’s a lot to think about, we know. And there’s more.

It might help to look at a model like that one and figure that the size of those circles might not all be the same for each person. For instance, one person’s sexuality may be very influenced by reproducing or their experience with reproduction, while it may have little to do with someone else’s. Some people’s sexuality may not have yet involved, or may not ever involve, engaging in sexual behaviors with themselves or others; one person’s sexuality may involve a lot of intimacy, while someone else’s may not. And of course, how a model like this — and the size of the circles and the places they connect — looks for even one person may be very different when they’re 15 than it is when they’re 55. Our sexuality does not stay the same throughout our lives, so how it looks and feels, and what parts of it seem bigger, and which smaller, will often shift quite a few times in each of our lives.

Sexuality is a lot like an ecosystem: one change to one part of the system usually impacts other parts of it, and one tiny shift in one place can sometimes change the whole thing quite radically. And just like with ecosystems, the same shift in one system won’t always have the same impact as it would in a different one: the great diversity of people, our lives and experiences — and all of those pieces we’ve been talking about — means that sexuality is also greatly diverse.

Even the language we or others use to describe our sexuality tends to reflect the kind of vast diversity we’re talking about when it comes to sexuality.

When someone uses words to describe their sexuality, they may mostly or only use terms about sexual orientation and gender identity, like heterosexual (straight), homosexual (gay or lesbian or queer), bisexual or pansexual (queer, bi, pan, omni), asexual or questioning; or terms like cis gender, femme, butch, fey, trans, agender or genderqueer, or stick to terms about chromosomes or how people are assigned sex, like male, female or intersex. Or they might use words that talk more about their sexual behaviours or practices; about what they actively do sexually or find arousing in terms of sexual activities, like kinky, vanilla, foot lover, oral sex fangirl, pictophiliac (someone aroused by visual pornography) or arachibutyrophiliac (someone aroused by the sensation of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth: shared primarily to give you the most winning Scrabble word of ever).

Some people use terms that are about a sexual role they like to play, like bottom, top or switch. Some people may include their reproductive status or experiences in their terms for their sexual identity, like if they’re a Mom or Dad, or if they’ve chosen to be childfree. Some may use words that focus on the kind of relationship they are in or want. Some people feel that one word describes, or should describe, their sexuality, like “male” or “straight,” while another person feels like a word like that is way too broad to be useful or feel like it says anything at all about their sexuality. Of course, some people may, and do, use more than one of those kinds of terms based on what their sexuality feels like and how they identify with it. Someone might define their sexuality or their sexual selves as a trans-femme-lesbian-vanilla-Mom, for instance, while someone else may define themselves sexually as a hetero-kinky-poly-dude. Some people may not use any terms at all.

Too, one thing that trips a lot of people up is trying to figure out how to separate their sexuality from all the other parts of themselves and their lives; where sexuality ends and everything else begins. When I did our version of the circles, I made the text in them bleed outside the circles for a reason. I did that because often, we’re not going to be able to draw very clear lines between our sexuality and the rest of who we are, what we feel and the lives we live. Sometimes it is clear-cut: sometimes we can identify things, situations or feelings that very clearly don’t incite or involve our sexuality in any way. We can sometimes do the same with some things we know are a part of our sexuality, and seem to only or mostly: like things that we find very sexually arousing, but find totally boring, ridiculous or offensive in any other context.

Just like with models for sexual response, you get to come up with your own if you don’t read or see a model that sounds like it really works for you. Sexuality itself involves some things we can’t control or direct — like our life histories, our feelings and our attractions — but for the most part, a lot of our sexuality, and certainly how we define and direct it, is very much a Choose Your Own Adventure.

One person’s sexuality, experience or understanding of sexuality can be radically different from another person’s, but that doesn’t mean one person is right and the other wrong, or that one person has a sexuality and the other doesn’t.

Like anything made of people and our collective lives and experiences, sexuality is hella diverse, and while some sexualities (or more accurately, the way some sexualities are expressed or acted out) are physically, emotionally or interpersonally healthier than others, there’s no right way of having one; no one sexuality that is the default, or the way sexuality “is,” while others are deviations, derivatives or “perversions.”

While it’s important for any of us who talk about sexuality to define what we mean when we use that word, sexuality is really something we’re often best defining on our own, for ourselves, and understanding as something that, while it has a lot of common threads among all people, is tremendously individual and unique. If it were anything but as diverse, varied, big and complicated as it is, people would have gotten bored with it long before now, and no one would ever come to a website like this one.

heatherHEATHER CORINNA is an activist, artist, author and the director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for teen and young adult sex education and information. She is also the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College and was a contributor to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She’s received the The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism (2007), The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region’s, Public Service Award (2009), the Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Women’s Health Heroes Award (2009), The Joan Helmich Educator of the Year Award (2012), and The Woodhull Foundation’s Vicki Award(2013).

What Is Cis-Gender?

Photo credit: Elephant Gun Studios

Photo credit: Elephant Gun Studios

Gender identity is one of those overlooked concepts in sex education and yet is a basic part of our sexual lives. It influences how we dress, what roles we play in relationships and, to a large extent, what we’re attracted to sexually.

So why not incorporate discussions of gender identity within the framework of safer sex? Here, Robin Mandell reviews a gender category that is at the early stages of officialdom: “cisgender”.

The term “cisgender” can be thought of as the linguistic complement to “transgender”.  Since it was first coined in the 1990s, “cisgender” has slowly seeped out of the confines of academia jargon into mainstream language. On Facebook, for example, you can now tick off “cismale” or “cisfemale” (or variations of) as your gender.   In Germany, birth certificates now have four categories to choose from: “cismale”, “cisfemale”, “intersex”, and “indeterminate”.

Simply put, the term refers to people who feel their assigned sex at birth matches their gender identity. However, as Robin Mandell explains in this article, the “cis” category is more complicated than simply being aligned with one’s genitals.

This article was originally published at robinstoynest.com

BY ROBIN MANDELL | ReadySexyAble.com

…A cisgender person, or a cisman or ciswoman, is someone who feels themselves to be, and lives as, the same gender they were identified as having at birth. So, a ciswoman would have been identified as a girl at birth, raised as a girl, thought of herself as a girl, and thinks of herself as a woman, or lady, or whatever is her preference, in adulthood.

We’ve been using the Latin prefix trans, meaning through, across, other, and so on, for a while, to talk about people who are transgender, or a person who is a transman, or a transwoman, et cetera, et cetera.

A transgender person is someone whose experience of their own gender, their gender identity, doesn’t line up with the gender they were assigned when they were born.

Complex? In many ways, yes, in many ways no. . This business of there being two clearly defined genders, and that whichever gender you are, that gender remains static your whole life, feels more unnatural to me the more I learn.

Kate Bornstein, in her pivotal book Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us, points out that babies are given a gender identity via a quick glance at their genitals to determine their sex. I don’t know about you, but that seems awfully simple for an identity that’s with us our whole lives. Other identities we’re given come and go as we grow, change, and establish (then sometimes reinvent) our place in the world. People don’t insist that our occupation remain the same, that our fashion sense never change, that our bodies and how we deal with them remain static our whole lives. There’s even—most of the time—minimal resistance to people changing their names (the most common examples of this are people ditching a diminutive like Sammy or Becky, or taking their partner’s name after marriage). Why shouldn’t gender identity be more flexible.

I’m getting ahead of myself though….

Continue reading the full article at robinstoynest.com

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ROBIN MANDELL is a healthy sexuality and disability rights advocate based in the Washington D.C. area. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies from Queen’s University in Canada and a Professional Writing Certificate from Washington State University. Over the years, Robin has amassed extensive experience working with people at vulnerable times of their lives, both as a crisis hotline worker and a sexuality and relationships education advocate with Scarleteen. She’s discovered that disability issues receive significantly less attention in academia and social justice movements than they’re due. She has developed a passion for starting dialogues on sex, disability and accessibility, and has come to the realization that, as much as she just wants to be like everybody else, she can use her visible reality as a blind woman to start these dialogues.Robin blogs on disabilities, sexualities, and the connections between them at ReadySexyAble.com and has published articles on various sexuality and sexual health topics at Scarleteen and Fearless press