Category Archives: Sex positive

#MySexPositivity with Takeallah Russell

Representation matters. This author shows that sex positivity and the adult market are no exception. Intersectional feminist, Takeallah Russell, is challenging the ethics of fantasy by speaking out against the fetishization of racial stereotypes. She takes the legacy of Zane to the next level, carving out sexy, explicit spaces to celebrate bodies of LGBTQIA folks and people of color in diverse and dignified ways. Her sex positivity is about building communities in which fetish no longer capitalizes on racial stereotypes.

1) Identify one or two trends, or influential people in the Sex Positive community that you identify with (or are inspired by) and those trends which you relate to not-so-much.

Follow Takeallah Russell @TheBurningBra

Follow Takeallah Russell @TheBurningBra

As a Woman of Color, I have always admired Zane and her novels! To be so bold and explicit and market specifically to the African American community, who can be quite conservative about sex, is beyond honorable. Zane’s work inspired me to launch my own sex-positive, inclusive site, “The Erotica Cafe.” From watching porn, to reading blogs and novels, all that is seen is white, cisgendered, heterosexual characters. White, cisgendered, heterosexual people are not the only people that fuck! The erasure of people of color and LGBTQIA people in the sex-positive movement has greatly contributed to ongoing negative stereotypes (i.e. bisexual people are greedy, asexual people do not exist, etc.) and fetishization. With “The Erotica Cafe”, I plan to debunk these negative stereotypes and contribute to making sex a normal, healthy aspects of many people’s lives; Not an instance where one turns red whenever “sex” is mentioned. It’s time we all stop shying away from human sexuality and embrace it.

As sex positive as I am, there is one aspect of sexuality that I despise– fetishization based upon one’s race or ethnicity (particularly women of color). Being fetishized based upon one’s skin color and false expectations is a dehumanizing, demoralizing act, which only leads to more negative stereotypes and more sex negativity. We are not monolithic, exotic, hypersexualized beings. We deserve to express our sexuality in a healthy manner while being given respect and maintaining our dignity.

2) How do you define “sex positivity” for yourself and your work? In other words, what is your primary passion and how do you distinguish your writings and interests from other branches of thought within the sex positive movement? My sex positivity is Afro-Latina and Native American, and holds Women of Color in the highest regards. My primary passion in sex positivity is normalizing Women of Color and debunking negative fetish-based stereotypes, which distinguishes my writings and interests from other sex positivists.

3) What directions do you think sex positivity will take within the next 5 – 10 years? Or what topics and with what platforms would you like to see sex positivity develop more thoroughly within the next 5 – 10 years? WomenOfColor-Quote

Within the next five to ten years, I would like for sex positivity to be more widely embraced and common. I hope to see more white, cisgendered sex positivists more knowledgeable about people of color and queer people’s struggles in the sex positivity movement and make their brands more inclusive. For example, people of color in porn would not just be a niche fetish, but rather normalized across all genres. The early 1990s work of Jean Carlomusto is a star example of alternative pornography, particularly of lesbians of color. Also, feminist, comprehensive sex education should be required in all schools, nationwide and male and female/internal condom should be readily available for students.

Opinions shared are the author’s own. Want to participate in this interview series? What is your sex positivity?

Talking Sex With (teen) Siblings

Reflecting on their own experiences, authors Ams and Lara discuss ways to allieviate awkwardness when talking to sibilings about sex.

First of all, for anyone with a sibling, a cousin, a close friend who you wish you could speak more openly about sexual health and pleasure with, we’d like to make clear that this article isn’t restricted to only siblings. However, we will be focusing on our own sibling experiences of sex education and empowerment.

As people with siblings (Ams has a twin sister; Lara is a middle child) both authors speak from personal experience when we say that even though we talked with our siblings about sex, there were still those weird moments. Like climbing into bed with your sister one night and pulling her vibrator out from under you. Princess and the pea made incredibly uncomfortable in both the physical and mental sense. Or when you innocently ask your older sister what a blow job is and she directs you to talk to dad about that instead.

But all this shouldn’t deter siblings from talking about sex or sharing experiences and questions. There are ways to convert awkwardness into positive dialogue.

Why Siblings?

So why are we focusing on discussions between siblings in the first place? One of our readers wrote in that she wanted to be able to talk constructively with her 15 year old sister about sex but was not sure how to begin a discussion without making both her sister and herself embarrassed or sound judgmental.

We do not recommend this approach to talking to sibilings about sex and sexuality.

We do not recommend this approach to talking to sibilings about sex and sexuality.

In close relationships, particularly with people around the same age, learning from one another’s experiences and being reflective together of common issues, fears, and pleasures is sometimes much more enjoyable than the kinds of sexual education classes offered to young adults. Not only this but it includes a kind of comradery that you don’t often receive at school or often from parents who may be supportive but would rather not know too many details of their children’s sexual activity.

Furthermore, talking to siblings about safe sex practices and healthy relationships shows that you care. It’s also a way to pick up on risky behavior (“But my girlfriend said she can’t afford to get tested”).

Bonus* If you have a sibling who identifies with the opposite sex from you, speaking with them is a great way to learn more about the way gender pressures people to flirt and perform sex differently.

Respect Boundaries and Trust

Now, sibling relations are complicated and multifaceted. Shared family experience can forge strong bonds of understanding of which no other relationship can match. Alternatively, unhealthy circumstances and family politics may breed painful relations. Not every brother or sister establishes a framework of sharing and support. So if you are concerned for your sibling but do not have a sharing and trusting relationship with him or her, that’s OK. There are still ways to initiate sex talk without crossing comfort zones.

Lara can speak to this issue from her own upbringing. She and her younger sister (7 years difference) are not close in the sense of knowing each other’s secrets, social circles, or crushes. They were brought up in separate households by different guardians and went to different schools. Both were exposed to different attitudes towards sex. In some ways, they are more like strangers to each other. Despite their physical and emotional distance, there is still that unexplainable sisterly love, and being older, Lara felt a need to look out for her younger sister’s well-being.

She explains, “Our particular relationship has boundaries of trust which make it uncomfortable to discuss emotional aspects of sex and sexuality or discuss specific sexual activities in detail. Nonetheless I wanted to make sure that my 13 year old sister knew how to be sexually safe and how to access safety tools on her own. To me, the bare fundamentals of sex education are 1) Understanding consent and being self-aware of emotional risks 2) Knowing about your body and what sexual acts put you at risk of certain STIs and pregnancy 3) Knowing safer sex methods and how to access barriers and contraceptives, and 4) Knowing how to get tested for STIs.

“I knew I could not have an in depth conversation with my sister about all four points. But I could recommend resources and keep the door open for future conversations. So my approach was to be matter-of-fact. I didn’t feel that beating around the bush would alleviate any awkwardness. In fact, using vague phrases like “Have you done it with him?” can convey feelings of embarrassment or stigma around sex. So I made a point to use frank language.

Talking Point: Ask About Their Sex Education

“Luckily for me as a sexuality scholar I talk about sex A LOT, so I knew the opportunity would inevitably arrive.  I did rehearse in my mind what I would say to my little sister because I think it’s better to be thoughtful and proactive rather than reactive. “One day over the phone I explained to her that I was writing an article about public school sex education. Then I asked her about the education she’s received and what she and her peers think about it. This opened the door to discuss the importance of knowing about your body and safer sex. Furthermore it allowed my sister the freedom to share because she was not pressured to necessarily state her opinions and questions, but was sharing under the guise of what other peers think and feel about sex. I was able to respond with statements like: ‘Oh, the teacher didn’t talk about oral sex or dry sex? That’s something I think is often overlooked in sex ed., but those acts do come with different risks and there are ways to protect yourself against those risks.’

“Throughout the conversation I carefully picked my words and consciously listened and validated what my sister was saying. In the end, I learned that she had a good grasp of what STIs were most prevalent and knew how to use condoms but never heard of sex dams. She was also curious about the diveristy of sexuality and I was able to offer her some really great online readings and videos to explore in her own privacy.

The point is, even if the relationship is not close or is limited by the degree of privacy each other can share, there are ways to work respectfully around those boundaries while offering advice and showing that you care. Another thing: sex talk does not have to be THE sex talk- a crucial, once-in- a-life event.  In reality, people’s sex education is ongoing and transforms as circumstances and age call for it. Ams’ relationship with her twin sister illustrates this.

Be Open and Non-Judgmental

The other thing about sibling relationships (and human relations in general) is that they are forever changing as we grow older. It has taken many years for author Ams to have an open relationship of sexual disclosure with her fraternal twin sister.

“I was the first of the two of us to become sexually active. My sister asked me questions and was fairly non judgmental but my experience wasn’t going to be the same as hers. In many ways, our sex talks seemed pretty commonplace mirroring many of discussions I had with peers. Things became more complex in later years when from time to time one of us would call the other crying about some sort of ‘mistake’ we had made.

“For example, I found one of my high school journals the other day. What I had written about myself seemed horribly abusive. I had called myself a ‘whore’ for kissing a boy at a party when I was single, and made it out like no boy would ever want me again because of that. My sister had a similar incident a few years later. She told me she thought she had cheated on her boyfriend at the time. She gave me all the details but all that stayed in my mind was that she had cheated, and so she was at fault. I was terribly non supportive and I actually went out of my way to call my sister and apologize to her years later.

“What I should have realized then was that it is not up to me to make any moral accusations about anyone including myself, especially when those accusations are based off of a social system that hates women’s sexuality and punishes us for it. Worse though, my sister had been blackout intoxicated the night she ‘cheated’ and we both came to the conclusion that she had been sexually assaulted. In her time of need, I had dismissed her story- and I’ll always have to live with that.

“Now a day’s both my sister and I try our best to call one another on preemptive judgments. We also are very helpful with each others birth control choices, sexual safety and pursuit of pleasure. I actually ended up buying my own vibrator after uncomfortably sleeping half the night on my sister’s. Great investment. She taught me that safe casual sex is nothing to be ashamed of for womyn. I hope I’ve taught her something too.”

Not Limited to Sibling Relations

This conversation shouldn’t just be about siblings though- nor should sexual advice from a sibling necessarily replace information garnered from other sources. No one is perfect. People faulter. And in today’s system and world, creating a sex positive, pleasure-oriented education system is still very hard work. Myths, stereotypes and harmful lies (#exposeVACPCs is one example) are all around us cutting us off from safe, confident and guilt free sex. That’s why a healthy, open relationship with someone you trust is so crucial. Here’s our round-up for what to keep in mind and how to initiate sex talk with your sibling, cousin, friend or anyone you care about.

Sex Talk Summary

1) Be fact-based and frank. This is really helpful but might be difficult if you feel shy or embarassed to say words like “anal”. Your own discomfort will show and make the discussion awkward for everyone. Thus, interconnected with the matter-of-fact approach is to…

2) Check in with your own attitudes towards sexuality. Why might you feel weird about saying “vagina” with your sibling?  Read Soraya Chemaly’s piece about how family attitudes towards sex are extremely influential. Obviously,we are partial to the “responsible sex is good” advice than the “scare them shitless” camp.

3) Be respectful and non-judgmental. Youth in particular are often condescended to and told that they are “too young and immature.” Don’t do this.  Approaching sex talk in a fact-based manner will help but it’s important to be accepting and welcoming. That includes actively listening to what the person is saying and validating their feelings. Respect also includes being realistic about the extent of trust already established by your relationship. Even if your relationship does not allow for sharing private experiences there are still ways to bring up sex and safety while respecting personal boundaries.

4) Inform– Share outside sources like the ones we offer below. This will help put the pressure off you and allow your sibling (or other) to explore the information privately and possibly take up the discussion with you later about specifics.

5) Be self-reflective. This allows for more nuanced understanding of each other and how one fits within greater social structures and norms.  Use your own experiences to breach a subject, or even a book or television show. Or, try asking about their sex education and what their peers think about the curriculum. Reciprocate by sharing what your sex ed was like and what you found helpful or wish you were taught in retrospect.

6) Write a letter or text message. This might be a good option to open the conversation if, say, you are worried about a romantic relationship the person is in but are still unsure when to approach her or him about it.

7) Always remember that just like you, your sibling deserves, happiness, pleasure, safety and freedom to be a sexual being- help create that safe space for them to grow in.

Sex Talk Resources

There are loads of awesome resources out there! Here are some important places to start and follow.

Laci Green Sex+. Armed with quirky cleverness and shameless rapport, Laci Green has been a major voice for youth against fears towards sexuality, abstinence-only sex education and slut/body-shaming. From challenging notions of virginity, to answering questions about foreskin, her YouTube channel is a trove of sex positve knowledge. A must see resource!

Scarleteen. A grassroots teen sex education site with indepth, comprehensive articles about all things sex and sexuality in a way that is relevant to people’s diversity.  It runs a bully-free Q&A message board and an SMS service where teens can annonomously ask questions and get help from qualitfied sex educators- all for free! In addition to all their advice articles, the site provides legal information about personal rights, access to health care, how to talk to physicians, and also help teens find local, in-person health services, LGBTQ, shelters and other youth-focused services.

Come As You Are. The only cooperatively run sex shop in the world is in Toronto! They run in-store sex workshops. Their site offers free printable pamphletes on lubes, condom, bdsm, bondage, caning- you name it, they have it!  They also provide guides to everything from swingers clubs to emergency numbers, shelters, and sexual health resources for sex and disability, HIV/AIDS, reproductive assistance, STI testing, sex workers’ support, LGBTQ communities and more. A great place to start is their sex info guide on how to choose and use sex toys.

Advocates for Youth. If you are interested social change from a public policy perspective, this is an organization that can overwhelm you with openly available research publications and development sector jargon. They run a giganitic online hub of sex education initiatives including youth activist movers and shakers, AmplifyYourVoice.org. Their site keeps tabs on what government officials are- and are not- doing to make sexuality education in the US positive, effective and non-discriminatory.

It’s Pronounced Metrosexual. Where complex, Judith Butler-like concepts of sex, sexuality and gender are broken down into simple, easy to read articles and infographics. Watch the site founder’s entertaining TedTalk on the complexities of gender.

Queering Sexed w/ Planned Parenthood Toronto. This project is aiming to build a sexual health resource specifically for LGBTQ youth who are systematically disadvantaged by public school sex education and medical practitioners at large. Watch online videos, read infographics, and get in touch with them for social support.

The STD Project. A website aimed at dismantling STDs stigma by raising awareness, listening to people’s stories, and increasing access to information. A really great resource for everyone to make more conscientious decisions.

The Body.com. This is not teen or youth specific but it is a trusted resource by medical experts in the field of HIV/AIDS. From social support to activism, this site is a good starting point for everyone to know about HIV/AIDS-related issues.  It offers up to date information about testing, transmission, treatment, serodiscordant couples (to name a few topics) which unforunately not many people (young and old) are knowledgeable. This site also publishes critical articles addressing the pertetuation of stigma.

Our Bodies Our Selves. One of the most important girls’ and women’s health sites in North America. This site promotes evidence-based information on female reproductive health and addresses the intersection of social, economic and political conditions that impact access and quality of health care.

Answer. One of the only online sex education resources that addresses issues specific to boys and men. Though it’s not all free, they do offer webseminars, online workshops and publish a youth-run sexuality magazine, Sex, Etc.   

Do you have any advice or resources to add to this?  How do you feel about talking to siblings about sexual health?

Sexual Health & Relationship Education via Life Stories

A riart Grrrl, a folklorist and a condom monologuer get together to discuss the phenomenon of real-life storytelling in the context of sex education

The three authors of this post come from different trajectories in the field of sex and sexuality but we share the belief that real-life storytelling should play an intrinsic role in sexual health and relationships education (SRE).

storytelling pieceHere we discuss the need for real-life stories that address safer sex practices and how to navigate health risks in relevant ways. Dr. Jeana Jorgensen and Xaverine Bates both explain that sharing real-life stories has transformative power to validate perspectives which may be overlooked or silenced in public discourse. Storytelling has the ability to convey scenarios that one may never have imagined before. Hence, they raise awareness about social issues and invite people to learn and unlearn ways of looking at bodies and desires. As stated by Xaverine Bates, founder of riart Grrls and aGender, “The power of storytelling is crucial for truly effective sex and relationship education (SRE), with a firm emphasis on emotional health in order to foster a deep understanding of what constitutes a healthy relationship.”

Taboo Manages How We Talk about Sex

Dr. Jeana Jorgensen, folklorist and writer at MySexProfessor.com, argues that due to social taboo towards talking publicly about sexual experiences, these life stories

“are limited to settings where the teller doesn’t have a professional or personal stake in the listeners’ reactions. I think this is unfortunate, because personal narratives are really potent genres for education. When someone tells a personal narrative, they not only educate the listener (by conveying facts about their life), but they also invite the listener to empathize with them and consider their values.”

Jeana continues, “So, because of the taboo on oversharing about one’s sexual activities in many settings, people tend to share personal narratives on sexual topics within their peer groups, age groups, friend groups, and hobby groups. This guarantees that if you’re making yourself vulnerable by sharing sexual information, you’re probably doing it to a sympathetic audience. But it also means that you risk living within an echo chamber, and you’ll only hear stories that confirm your own set of values. To that end, I think it’s really important for people from diverse backgrounds to learn each other’s stories and thereby gain empathy for how different life circumstances can lead to a variety of life (and lifestyle) choices.”

The internet is one place where people subvert this taboo and overcome issues of access. At Condom Monologues we’ve circumscribed a bully-free space that aims to be as inclusive as possible allowing anyone to ask questions and share their experiences with safe sex (see our archive). Whether the admins agree with the storyteller’s values or choices is not the point. However, we do not represent everyone’s experiences and have our limitations. One can never control how stories are appropriated and re-purposed in the digital world, and that is a risk all storytellers face. But there are ways to protect identity as well as mediate discussion around sharing stories, such as workshops like aGender (explained below).

Teaching Which Facts with What Stories…

The taboo Jeana highlights also affects the way in which sex education informs students. Narratives in class are rooted in political interests and social fears around sexuality. Pleasure and desire are rarely mentioned even as a side-issue. Instead, young people are fed a platter of warnings and doom-laden data about STI epidemics and teen pregnancy. One need not look further than this and that mandatory abstinence-only assembly to be told horror stories about how boyfriends used “condoms that had holes in them” or told girls that if they use birth control “your mother probably hates you.”

KnowledgeIsPowerEducators rarely offer information about safer sex beyond vaginal-penis intercourse. Diverse sexuality and the spectrum of (trans)gender identity are excluded. Addressing issues such as STI stigma, homophobic, transphobic and sexist language, cyber-bullying, sexting and sexual anxieties are inadequate at best.

Medical information is often presented without context nor provide students with diverse options on how to apply these facts in real-life sexual relationships. And that’s if we can call them “facts” to begin with! In the US, only 13 states require sex education to actually be medically accurate, according to a 2012 study by the Guttmacher Institute. Meanwhile, in the UK, Xaverine explains that “there is currently a bias towards the biological side of SRE” which “favors plain biological facts” without focus on issues of enthusiastic consent and emotional confidence.

What Young Adults are Saying

Students’ experiences in sexual health class are telling. As a college instructor, Jeana hears young people share their experiences in sex education which, she explains, “constitutes their own type of personal narrative. The topics that people remembered tended to be biological rather than emotional; physiology was covered, but not necessarily relationships or pleasure.”

Xaverine agrees. She points to testimonies by 19-21 year olds who participated in women’s-only focus groups that examined the effectiveness of SRE (Kavanagh, 2011).

For example, one participant said,

I was like scarred by sex education at secondary school, they came in with like these big blown up pictures of STIs and stuff and said, you know, if you have sex and stuff this is what will happen to you. It was horrible…(ibid, p-13).

All focus-group participants commented on the lack of relationship education in schools with an emphasis purely on the biological. As one put it,

I think relationships and morals and respect need to be put back in place, for everyone, not just males or females, and I don’t believe in the saying nothing (abstinence teaching) because I think if everybody was to turn around to me and be like, you’re not doing this, you’re not doing that, I’d do it…I’d rebel (ibid, p-15).

“Comprehensive” SRE is in dire need of revision. Negligence of these topics results in an unsafe, non-engaging space that silences and restricts young people’s sexuality and gender identity. Students are left inarticulate about what they want, what they need and how to manage risks. Thus the vicious cycle of sex-shaming continues and proliferates the spread of STIs and unhealthy sexual relationships.

Changing Narratives

Failures in sex education programs are the reason why organizations like aGender exist. In an attempt to move beyond standard curricula, Xaverine states that “opportunities need to be made for young people to talk about their fears, expectations and experiences of sex and relationships in a healthy and supportive environment…without fear of embarrassment or repercussions from peers, teachers, parents or carers. This is what we are aiming for at aGender.”

“aGender is beginning its pilot project this month, which consists of a series of workshops to complement an exhibition, txt, at Claremont Studios in St Leonards, which will be a collection of contemporary visual artworks that incorporate written word. The exhibition will explore the tension and complexity created when a word is used not only for its literal meaning but also as a visual cue to lead through to layers of subtext and implied meaning. In light of the current reports on the psychological impact of texting, sexting and cyberbullying on young children, SMS messaging and the power of seemingly innocent words to imply malicious, threatening messages- it is anticipated that the challenging nature of the artwork will be both engaging and inspirational for them both as viewers and as participants in the workshops.”

Storytelling as a Transformative Process

Storytelling has played an important role even during the preliminary stages for aGender. Xaverine explains,

“As part of our research in planning the workshops, which cover texting, sexting & cyber-bullying, we have had many discussions within our focus group about how best to tackle such a difficult subject. As a result, we have shared many of our own experiences of sex education, our own relationships, previous abusive situations and much more, all through the medium of storytelling.”

Image from Xaverine Bates' blog depicting one of her live art performances on gender stereotyping and class.

Image from Xaverine Bates’ blog depicting ‘Peepshow 2’, one of her live art performances with Miranda Sharp on gender stereotyping and class.

She continues, “It will be fascinating to hear the young peoples’ stories . We are planning to have a multi-platform element to the workshops, incorporating social media of their choice (e.g. instagram, twitter, etc.) to encourage young people to engage with the subject in the days between workshops. This way we will hopefully elicit more stories that they may feel uncomfortable in telling us directly, as many feel more comfortable revealing personal information via social media, which ironically is one of the reasons that the problem of sexting has arisen in the first place – the illusion of anonymity and neutrality has enabled young people to feel that exposing themselves in their bedrooms is acceptable to post online, to potentially thousands of viewers. This false sense of security is what leads to the repercussions as seen in aggressive bullying and cyberbullying.”

Read updates about how the work shop went.

aGender’s project is one example in which artful use of information and communication strategies can re-engage public awareness and find new ways to talk about being a body, being sexual, and negotiating healthy relationships. Jeana also pinpoints the transformative phenomenon of personal storytelling and listening. She describes how sharing experiences of sexual assault can help challenge shame and affirm agency over one’s narrative. Jeana states,

“One of the most powerful things I’ve witnessed when it comes to sexual storytelling is the importance of processing trauma through storytelling. Specifically, sexual assault survivors are often able to work through what happened to them by narrating the events in a way that is transformative and therapeutic. One of my mentors at Indiana University, Dr. Nicole Kousaleos, did her dissertation on how women who have survived sexual abuse can, in narrating their stories, experience greater agency in their lives. Narrating a story is also an invitation for listeners to respond, and in this case, the audience can help reinforce that the survivor was not to blame (since one of the biggest stigmas that prevents sexual assault survivors from speaking out is the tendency in our culture to victim-blame). I’ve observed this phenomenon informally, among multiple friends and acquaintances, and thus I believe that overcoming the shameful silence surrounding sexual assault is an important part of the healing process for many people.”

“Additionally, since one of the functions of personal narratives is to create intimacy and empathy, listeners can learn more about the reality of sexual assault. The numbers are already shockingly high -such as the CDC’s estimate that nearly 1 in 5 American women have been raped at some point in their lives- but numbers are abstract, whereas people telling their stories are concrete, real, human. Storytelling about sexual violence puts a face on the problem and helps to humanize it, and that’s why I believe it’s so powerful.”

Conclusion

People are inherently story-driven. The way we understand the world is through narrative. That is why first-person stories are very powerful in facilitating awareness and understanding, especially when they offer an experience of the world never previously imagined. What’s lost in the public discourse of SRE are the real, everyday lives of youth and adults, and making medical facts relevant to their complex needs and desires. The three authors here advocate for more opportunities for people to engage in safe and participatory spaces to actively listen and reflect upon stories.

Because there are so few authentic first-person narratives in sex education (especially a lack of non-heterosexual voices), storytelling provides us with non-stereotypical and often unexpected representations of people, gender roles and relationships. Stories should not be seen as merely anecdotal but as a potential source of knowledge for both the storyteller and the audience.

———–
Kavanagh, K. (2011) ‘Priming Pubescent Sexualities; Sex and relationship education, without the relationship education?’ [unpublished].
For recent reports on cyberbulling and sexting refer to Ringrose J, Gill R, Livingstone S & Harvey L (2012). “A qualitative study of children, young people and ‘sexting’”. NSPCC.

Why Condoms Get a Bad Wrap: Renewing emphasis on pleasure

Is it correct to suggest that condom-bashing is more common than condom-loving?  From personal experience, when I speak with people about safer sex the following is often used to describe condoms: “It keeps my partner and me from getting close”, “It disrupts intimacy”; “…It’s unnatural”, “…a mood killer”, “I can’t feel anything with a condom on”, “it hurts”, or “I can’t get off with condoms”.  Sound familiar?  In fact, rarely do I hear positive things like, “I love using condoms!” and “Condoms make me horny!”

Some argue that male condoms simply suck. Period. Others point to social attitudes as the greater problem and that people are trained to hate condom, states Debbie Herbenick in The Daily Beast.

Can new condoms solve the Condom Problem?

Why do condoms get a bad rap?Of course, sexual pleasure and condom use warrant serious discussion. According to a 2013 survey, only 60% of teenagers claim to use condoms regularly. And condom use declines as people grow older.  Much media praise is pouring over the “Grand Challenge” pitched by the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation to develop a “next-generation condom that significantly enhances or preserves pleasure.”  Thousands have applied for the $100,000 prize grant.  It’s got people talking (again) about widespread dissatisfaction with existing condoms.

There’s been ideological backlash from condom defenders.  Reported in an article by Slate.com, the Gates’ competition is razzed by Gwaker and Salon, who have labeled condom complainers as “creeps” and “pervs” that are just “whining”. But these righteous attacks do not help.  In fact, their points only reinforce shame around sexual pleasure, thus hindering discussions about sexuality and sexual health.

Fingers are also pointing at condom researchers for overlooking the importance of pleasure and narrowly focusing on disease prevention and risk, as assistant professor Joshua G. Rosenberger told The Daily Beast. The narrative surrounding the Gates’ competition has reinvigorated the pleasure factor, but honest discussion about condoms should not end there.

Pleasure-focused condoms already exist!

What’s overlooked in this media coverage is that condom companies have focused on pleasure for decades! One need not look further than the crowded condom market to see where emphasis lay. Navigating through all the pleasure bumps, pouches, dual action lubricants, and “twisted” pleasure condoms can be a confusing (and fun!) task. This is not to deny that there are limits in male condom choice (not to mention severe limits of dams and female condoms!).  Indeed, most are latex based. Non-latex is more expensive and difficult to find off-line (see our post about buying condoms online). And all existing condoms roll on and off in the same way (although prototype Origami condom might change that).

There is more to condom use than bananas

Another aspect overlooked in discussions of condom hate is the way in which students are introduced to and informed about condoms in sex education.  Condoms talk is often devoid of any discussions regarding pleasure. But instead of limiting condoms to banana demonstrations, educators and prevention providers can play a valuable role by explaining some special condom features that already exist to suit individual needs, including allergies, lubrication, the health warnings of n-9 spermicide, flavors, and different condom shapes and sizes.

The point is that there are thousands of condom types already.  What we need is pleasure-inclusive sex education so that young people and adults access information about options, how to find the right condom, and different ways to use condoms well.  This can help increase consistent and correct use, hence reduce health risk while nurturing healthy and satisfying sexual lives.  Everyone wins!

Condom haters are in the minority

There is plenty of alternative evidence out there to suggest that the physical differences between unprotected sex and sex with a condom are minor to non-existent.  The Kinsey Institute’s annual National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (2011) found that adults who use condoms for penetrative sex tend to report the same degree of sexual pleasure as those who have sex without condoms. Another study that measured physical sensation (and only physicality- excluding other factors like perceived trust or sexual history, etc.) found that most men do feel a slight decrease of sensation with a condom.  However, if used and fitted correctly, a condom should never decrease a man’s sensitivity to the point of pain, numbness, or loss of erection. For women, it is rare to experience any dulling, which (as Scarleteen wisely points out) is not surprising, because the vagina has far less nerve sensory compared to the clitoris and frenulum, and therefore is less receptive to finer differences like skin compared to latex. Yes, there are women and men who experience physical irritation, drying, gross tastes and weird smells.  But there are ways to overcome these problems. It’s not like safe sex is a chore that one just has to deal with! 

Understanding sexual pleasure

i love youThere’s the argument that people are trained to hate condoms. Check out our post about the lack of positive representations of condoms in popular culture and entertainment. From our searches, we could not find any peer reviewed scientific studies that conclude that condoms severely detract from physical sensation.  We did find studies- including Randolph et. al. (2008), Mizuno et. al. (2007) and Boston University School of Health Our Bodies Ourselves Collective (2011)– in which more men than women reported that condoms did cause sex to feel “less good”. However, all three studies find that those who report negative feelings towards condoms are people who rarely use them. This seems like an obvious finding, but what’s more nuanced here is that those who believe this is so tend to be less-experienced with condoms (some of which have no actual experience). While many people do report that unprotected sex feels better than protected sex, in general, people who use condoms frequently and are confident about how to use them well tend to experience greater satisfaction with protected sex then those who do not use condoms.

This implies that sexual pleasure when using condoms cannot simply be reduced to basic physics of vaginal or penile sensation.  Of course, “sexual pleasure” is a fluid concept that means many different things to different people in different contexts.  There is more to consider when measuring degrees of satisfaction and pleasure than just what a condom touches, such as how we feel emotionally and intellectually about ourselves, our bodies, our relationships, and sex as an integral part of life. Many studies argue that attitudes and beliefs toward condoms greatly influence one’s experience of using them.  So, it may be fair to say that claims of “not feeling anything” have more to do with lack of experience using condoms (lack of experimenting), or not using them properly.

The catch is that when people know what type of condom they like, know how to use them correctly, consistently, and different ways to increase sensuality (i.e. experimenting with lubes, ribbed condoms, having a partner put on the condom for you), there is greater overall satisfaction.  As Heather Corinna writes, “…it’s the people who don’t use them at all that tend to complain about them the most.” Thus many people’s negative attitudes place them in a self-perpetuating cycle: If you approach condom use with pessimism, then you set yourself up for aversion.  This cycle will discourage from experimenting with different condoms and discovering what types and lubricants you like, and what methods are most comfortable and exciting; in general, it’s the mind set that is often the mood-killer.

How to make condoms sexy

The Next Generation condom is a positive competition that will hopefully lead to innovative and improved technology.  But this alone cannot solve public perceptions and negative sentiment towards condoms. In another post, we have suggested that media, from soap operas to popular how-to magazines to porn must include more positive representations of condoms for vaginal, anal, and oral sex to help normalize safe sex.  We also suggest basic condom usage techniques and ways of making condom usage a sexy part of sex, rather than a disruption. And of course, access to education and knowing which condoms suit one’s individual needs (and their sexual relationships) is vital to loving the glove.  Here is our fitting guide to help those who experience particular fitting problems.

Tell us what you think from your experience or teachings.

Why Not Have Sex With Someone Living With HIV?

 “Positive Sex ideally would involve disclosure being met with acceptance and understanding, not rejection and stigma. Positive Sex would involve the elimination of terminology that is discriminatory on the dating scene and a shift within the public whereby people would consider dating a person living with HIV, without fear or stigma.”- Gail from the HIV Disclosure Project.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic of the 1980s led to a surge of condom campaigns. Now when we hear the term “safe sex” we immediately associate it with male condoms, the Pill, unwanted pregnancy, STIs. HIV transmission is discussed in sex education, but what’s neglected are the specifics about HIV as it is today: how it is manageable, what “undetectable” means, why terms like “clean” are harmful, what the hell is PReP (Pre Exposure) and PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis). And we certainly never discuss the possibility of having a healthy sexual relationship with a person living with HIV.

The reason is because, frankly, there is still fear associated with the virus. People like Gail, Jessica and Jolene, founders of the HIV Disclosure Project, know that HIV stigma persists just as it did 30 years ago. It permeates our fears of “death, dying, contracting the virus through protected sex, casual contact, fear of dating a person who is living with HIV as others may think they are positive as well (guilty by association). Fear that people living with HIV are highly contagious”, Gail describes in our interview. “Many people know the facts about transmission and yet are afraid that there might be some “unusual” accident which will lead to infection.”

The Stigma Cycle

Safe sex messages have traditionally been built on fear and as a result, the campaigns have failed miserably; from that fear is born stigmatization and prejudice against people who are HIV-positive. People who choose to disclose their status risk being verbally and physically abused, risk rejection and isolation, risk discrimination by being “outed” (loss of control over who knows their status), risk discrimination in the workplace, schools, with housing, health care and violations of basic human rights. People are deterred from getting tested and treated regularly; it results in silence about one’s status; thus the virus continues to be transmitted. “It’s what we refer to as the Stigma Cycle,” Gail explains.

To fight the stigma born out of fear, the HIV Disclosure Project facilitates open discussions about how to make the dating scene more inclusive of people living with HIV. “We provide a safe, non-judgmental space for people living with HIV to role play, practice a variety of techniques for disclosing if they choose to, while aiming to empower individuals to have options, externalize stigma and challenge public perception of people living with HIV. We want to have PSAs (public service announcements) that ask the question – Why not have sex with someone who is living with HIV?”

HIV DisclosureThe HIV Disclosure Project

The idea for the Project started with three colleagues- Gail, Jessica and Jolene -who saw a need for a supportive workshop where people living with HIV could “discuss, disclose, practice disclosure, find comfortable and timely ways to gauge when to disclose or not, and to process feelings that derived from stigma and rejection,” Gail says.

“People living with HIV also needed a space where they could challenge and change dating terminology which perpetuated stigma and fear of HIV, including terms such as “clean”, “disease free” and “dirty”. New terminology was needed to describe one’s status that excluded negative connotations and included acceptance, tolerance, and a willingness to consider dating a person who is living with HIV.”

At the time, there were no written manuals on disclosing HIV to sex partners. Granted funding from ACCM (AIDS Community Care Montreal), the three colleagues wrote a manual titled “Positive Sex” and designed a pilot workshop that resulted in much success. The Disclosure Project received further funding from the CIHR (Canadian Institute on Health Research) through CTAC (Canadian Treatment Access Council) where Jolene works as Program Manager. Workshops are now being implemented across Canada in collaboration with ACCM. Jessica facilitates these workshops.

I asked Gail how we might de-stigmatize sexual relationships for people living with HIV. The answer might seem controversial but it reflects upon the fear tactics that are often utilized in government supported sex ed programs and why we need to adopt Positive Sex frameworks in public health.

“What needs to be reinforced in the mainstream are the basic facts about HIV transmission and repeated public service announcements and education which tells the public that it is socially acceptable to have safe sex with a person living with HIV, that having sex with a person living with HIV does not mean they are going to contract HIV. There are many sero- discordant couples who have been in long term relationships where the HIV negative person remained negative.”

“Positive Sex” is the new “Safe Sex”

Image from http://www.ctac.ca/positive-sex

Image from http://www.ctac.ca/positive-sex

Gail, Jessica and Jolene bring up an important point about the meaning of “safety” that is taught in sex education. What’s often overlooked are issues of emotional safety, such as consent and self-esteem, that are both cause and effect of sex. Few curricula teach consent or communication in a way that is relevant to sexual diversity. Instead, outdated sex education shames discussions of sexual pleasure and desire, and the different types of relationships humans are a part. The Disclosure Project views this type of shaming in opposition to what is positive sex.

As Gail explains, “Positive sex to us means finding ways to successfully disclose one’s HIV status while not feeling threatened, stigmatized or experiencing any negative reactions while disclosing. Positive Sex also involves challenging and changing public perceptions of people living with HIV. In the past, safe sex campaigns were based on fear and as a result, thirty years into the pandemic, there are many misconceptions that perpetuate fear and stigma which need to be challenged.”

“Positive Sex ideally would involve disclosure being met with acceptance and understanding, not rejection and stigma. Positive Sex would involve the elimination of terminology that is discriminatory on the dating scene and a shift within the public whereby people would consider dating a person living with HIV, without fear or stigma.”

To learn more about The HIV Disclosure Project follow them on twitter @sexpartnersHIV. Like their Facebook Page for daily prose, thoughts and poems related to HIV and disclosure.

For information on HIV transmission, prevention, safety and risks refer to ACCM and CTAC.  There are a lot of them, but other helpful resource are: CareXO.com, the YAHAnet (Youth, the Arts, HIV & AIDS Network) and The Life Foundation. There is also an excellent article by The Body.com with medical information about the risks HIV transmission when having sex with someone who has undetectable viral levels.  Keep yourself informed!

Condoms and Kama Sutra: An interview with Vena Ramphal

I spend a lot of time in the sex-positive community trying to connect with new people. Somewhere along the way, I found myself clicking through the gooey rhetoric of tantric sex. Like, “It’s the art of disappearing inside each other”…“It dissolves the boundaries between two people…even beyond having a body.” I came across an article by Vena Ramphal in the Huffington Post. Reading her breakdown of systems and terminologies, it struck me how oversimplified pop culture portrays tantric sex.

While I know little about the discipline, I think it’s fair to place it in the sex-positive category. But where do practicalities of safer sex come into play? I mean, it’s not common to see condoms in erotic drawings of the Kama Sutra.  Do tantric sex coaches ever implement condoms when teaching “spiritual awareness”?

How do tantric professional approach issues of STIs? Of sexual health?

Follow Vena on Twitter @VenaRamphal

Follow Vena on Twitter @VenaRamphal

For Vena Ramphal, safe sex begins with emotional intelligence. Vena Ramphal (PhD) is a philosopher and teacher of erotic pleasure and romance. Her background is in yogic-tantric philosophy and the pleasure traditions of the Kama Sutra. She is also a twitter poet, offering insights into the subtleties of intimacy. We agreed to an interview and she shared her thoughts on sex positivity and safer sex.

How do you define “sex positivity” or sex positive approaches in education and counseling? How do you relate to this within your work?

For me, sex positivity is simple. It says, ‘Sexual pleasure as good not guilty.’ To be sex positive is to see physical intimacy as being good for people. This is a very different frame of reference to our dominant cultural understanding which see sexual pleasure in terms of morality.

To look at sex as a nurturing experience that engenders physical, mental and emotional wellbeing is a good basis on which to generate sex positive discourse. In my work I help people to reframe their attitudes to sex on this basis.

Does the use of condoms and other safe sex practices enter the discourse of sexual pleasure/awareness? How have you dealt with this in your work?

In my work the practicalities of safe sex – such as condoms and sexual health checks – are a base line. There are still a lot of people who don’t get regular sexual health checks – especially those in their fifties and above, so it’s really important to have this conversation.

However, I also coach people to think about safe sex more subtly – as a practice in emotional intelligence.

For example, it takes emotional intelligence to know what you want to do, and what you don’t want to do with your body; and to communicate during sex especially when your partner asks for something you don’t want to give.

Safe sex is about holding your own boundaries and respecting your partner’s boundaries – their body, their mood and their desires.

We need to integrate the idea of safe sex into discourses on sexual pleasure. The health and safety side of sex – condoms etc. – is still seen as inhibiting pleasure, so people are reluctant to talk about it. They’d rather talk about the fun stuff. Getting them to think about safe sex as an emotionally intelligent thing to do, gives them a new way of looking at the practicalities of wearing a condom.

What do you feel is an important problem in mainstream consciousness about “healthy sex” and how do you suggest to fix it?

I think the baseline problem is that in mainstream consciousness sex is still seen as forbidden fruit. This injects guilt into sexuality and however subconscious this might be, it creates a fundamentally unhealthy relationship with sex.

We need to change our cultural mythology of sex. It’s a big ask but I think we need to free sex of guilt. We’ll accomplish this by changing the way we think and feel about sex. Of course this is a multi-aspected task. Our cultural mythology is told through so many media, from language (swear words are an interesting example of how we damage our relationship with sex) to movies and sex education policy.

I think a good place to start is to develop the highest regard for your own body, irrespective of sex. This is something that we can all do for ourselves without external help. Replace critical thoughts and feelings about your body with appreciative ones. Give up saying anything disparaging about your looks. This is only a first step but its a significant one because your relationship with your body is the foundation for your sex life.

In the field of sex counseling and education, what sets you apart from common approaches and what defines your work?

I’m a philosopher of sex. To me, sex as an expression of self. The technicalities of good sex are only the first step. I think the really interesting questions are underneath the technicalities. Questions such as ‘How fully are you giving your attention to the point where flesh meets flesh?’
‘What sexual attitude do you bring to bed with you?’ ‘What effect does sex have on your emotions?’

For me, the flesh is the most immediate and complete expression of self, more than thoughts or words. When I’m educating people about the technicalities of good sex we discuss their intentions and attitudes towards sex and their partner.

Also I teach a self-centred rather than relationship-centred approach to sex. This isn’t about being selfish but about knowing what you want and what you don’t want. It’s about knowing how to read your own desire and listen to your body. On this basis you learn to hold your partner’s body and desires in the highest regard

What do you think it is about your identity that brought you into the field of sex education?

I think the human body is extraordinary. I’d say that my experience of the world is primarily kinaesthetic. I trained in classical Indian dance from the time I was seven, and loved it. My first career was as a dancer and choreographer. To me the body is precious because of its capacity to express who-I-am to who-you-are. Sex is the most intricate and intimate form of that expression.

I feel sad when I see people in poor relationship with their own sexuality. Its a missed opportunity. I’m glad to be able to help people improve their approach to erotic pleasure so they have more fulfilling sex lives.

More with Vena…

Follow Vena on twitter @VenaRamphal

For easy, practical tips on becoming sexier 28 Days to Being Sexier http://tinyurl.com/PassionTips

Vena’s blog http://venaramphal.wordpress.com/

Workshop ‘The Art of Conscious Romance‘ London, 26th May

Website http://www.venaramphal.com/

Have a Merry Masturbation!

What better way to summon the season of twitterpating than by celebrating May Masturbation Month! Here are some fun facts about Annual– now International- Month of Masturbation and some great links to help you…participate.

Dr. Jocelyn Elders. Image from US National Library of Medicine

Dr. Jocelyn Elders. Image from US National Library of Medicine

1) The true poster child of Masturbation Month is former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders. Following a speech at the 1994 UN World AIDS Day, Elders was asked about masturbation as a way to discourage youth from engaging in partnered sex. She responded, “I think it is something that is part of human sexuality and a part of something that perhaps should be taught” (EmpowerHer, 2010). Gasp! The result: Elder was forced to resign from government.

But this sex shaming and conservative wrath backfired with a whole month dedicated to public talks, workshops, dancings, plays of all thing Masturbation! Thanks to Good Vibrations, the guru of sex toy shops. National Masturbation Month aims to encourage people to talk freely about it, to end the guilt associated with it and dispel the notion that it is “second-best” to “real” sex (Good Vibes’ official statement).

2) The celebration of #radical self-love has taken place every year since. The ever-so-climatic Masturbate-A-Thon is its biggest fundraiser. It encourages people to collect pledges and raise funds for sex-positive non-profits. Masturbate-A-Thon was originally hosted in San Francisco by Good Vibration and has spread to other cities like Portland OR, Washington D.C., London, England, and Copenhagen, Denmark. For it’s 14th Anniversary, the Thon will be held in Philly, PA, and funds will be used to benefit local LGBTQ inclusive sex-ed organizations, Pleasure Rush! and ScrewSmart. These guys established a CrowdRise fundraiser to help raise $3,000 from 1 May to May 27th, 2013, in order to help pay for the end of the month party, festively named Creamium.

Both Pleasure Rush! and ScrewSmart believe that the Philly Masturbate-A-Thon 2013 has the power to deliver the following:
-Reduce stigma and shame around sexuality.
-Promote sexual health Create a community of dialogue around the importance of pleasure. -Give you an excuse to jerk off for hours!” (Crowdraise).

Masturbation Month Poster made and sourced from The Buzz, Good Vibrations Magazine, www.GoodVibes.com

Masturbation Month Poster made and sourced from The Buzz, Good Vibrations Magazine, www.GoodVibes.com

3) In honor of International Masturbation Month, the Center for Sex & Culture (CSC) in conjunction with Shilo McCade’s “I Masturbate…” photo exhibition (summary about the photo project), is facilitating a writing class on the power of masturbation. Participants will spend a few hours writing response to photos and sharing stories about orgasms, self-love, and other aspects of sexuality. Proceeds support the CSC.

4) Ever heard of Betty Dodson? She is only the Queen of Masturbation and a pioneer in sexual liberation. Here is a great article by a woman who attended one of Betty’s 5-hour masturbation workshops and learned new types and ways of orgasm.

5) The student run news source, The Interloper @ USC is running its first ever masturbation writing contest. Winner gets a vibrator. You can read the first story: You Are Sleeping Inside Me.

6) Think you’re a master of masturbation? Test your knowledge with this 14 question quiz!

Taboo History Brief: Why we should celebrate

Image from article by William Bell @ BlogHer.com

Image from article about Masturbation Month by William Bell @ BlogHer.com

Masturbation Month is growing in profile but it stems from a long history of societal hush-hush syndrome. In fact, masturbation didn’t receive any attention on prime time television until Seinfeld brought up the taboo topic in 1992. In the episode (wikilink), George Constanza is caught by his mother masturbating. He confesses to Jerry, Elaine and Kramer and the conversation results in the four entering a contest to determine who can go for the longest period of time without masturbating.
No one wins. What’s interesting is that while the topic is quite blatant and insinuates that everyone masturbates (often!), the word “masturbation” could not actually be spoken. NBC thought the topic wasn’t suitable for TV, so the taboo is described in a series of hilarious euphemisms.

As Good Vibrations writes, “Almost everyone masturbates, but all too few of us are willing to admit to enjoying this simple pleasure – mostly because of the taboo against masturbation in our society, which has its roots in historical misconceptions that have survived to the present day.” During the 18th, 19th, and 20th century in Europe and America, masturbation was believed to be a debilitating wastes on energy that could result in exhaustion, impotence, insanity, epilepsy, etc. People obsessed over ways to prevent and treat the destructive urge.

For example, Dr. John H Kellogg advocated that circumcision should be performed with no anesthesia in order to deter children from “self-abuse” (cracked.com). Yes, this is Kellogg of the Kellogg’s cereal. Grape-Nuts, and later Corn Flakes, were invented to prevent “fire in the blood”. As early as the 1800s, masturbation experts believed that certain foods stimulated the urge, so people were recommended certain diets that eliminated instigators like pickles, candy, and eggs, and designed non-stimulating alternatives like cold breakfast cereal.

For more investigation into the rabbit hole of bizarre anti-masturbation treatments, Cracked.com offers a great article that covers all methods from Boy Scouts’ cold showers, to leeches, and spiked penile rings, bondage belts, and clitoridectomy.

So Happy Masturbation Month Everyone!

Let’s be thankful that our notions and acceptance of the deed has evolved from spiked penis restraints to Masturbate-A-Thon fundraisers! It’s great that there are many more sex positive resources out there that help normalize masturbation for us all. In some ways, it is a political act. It’s the ultimate safe sex, it increases awareness of your body and own sexual response, it relieves cramps, and it’s fun! So celebrate!

Do you have any fun facts or masturbation resources to share? Please comment below.

It’s always nice to know if you like what you’ve read. Please let us know by tweeting this or liking us on Facebook.  

Special thanks to Good Vibrations, BlogHer, EmpowerHer, and Bitch Mag for the images and information.

 

Advice: Dealing with condom rejection

This post is for anyone who has a partner that always moans (in a bad way) about using a condom; for anyone who has experienced condom hating; and for anyone who refuses to wear a condom.  This is to equip you with reasoning and responses to possible excuses for not using condoms.

A fact we need to face:

When you insist on using a condom you are doing the right thing!  Condom usage is about caring for yourself and caring for your partner.  Many people get uncomfortable in the condom situation or give-in to not using one because the other doesn’t want to.  It is your right as a human being to assert your health needs with your partner.  As Heather Corinna puts it: “Asking someone to care for you in any way is not a barrier to intimacy: it’s not asking that keeps space between you…sexual health or even just how to use condoms and use them in a way that works for both of you is not something that keeps people apart, but that brings people closer together.”

In other words, caring for yourself should be a caring partner’s want.  If your partner can’t respect your desire to be safe than that is a relationship-red-flag.

Here are some responses you can give to whatever your partner dishes out.  Some of these scenarios are from sex educator, Laci Green.  For more advice, check out her post and watch her entertaining and informative video on how to deal with sex safety.

Responses to Condom Hate

________________________

Partner: “It doesn’t feel good.”  “I can’t feel anything”.
You:“I can’t enjoy sex if I don’t feel safe.” “The safer I feel, the hotter the sex.”

Note: Those who say that they can’t feel anything with a condom are a) being dishonest and/or b) have a lack of experience and are not using condoms properly.  Check out our post on the myths of condom hate.

________________________

Partner: “You think I have an STD”. “You don’t trust me.”
You:“This isn’t about me thinking that here is something wrong with you; this is about both our health.” “Don’t you care about the same thing?”

_________________________

Partner:I want to be closer to you/feel you.”
You:I can’t feel close to you if I don’t feel safe.”

_________________________

Partner: “Just this one time.
You:We’ve got all these condoms.  Let’s do it more than once!” “Once is one too much for me.”

_________________________

Partner: “They never fit.”
You:There are so many styles of condoms, let’s try them out and see which ones are best!”  “If it’s too big for a condom, it’s too big for me.”- Laci Green

Note: Check out our condom fitting solutions chart for help finding the right condoms. 

_________________________

CondomWrapperHeart

 

For more advice and ideas check out Laci Green’s website.  Scarleteen is pretty great too.

What other excuses and responses are out there?  What have you experienced?

 

Where to Go for Safer Sex: Our Resource Recommendations

HaveAcondom (1)We are celebrating Valentine’s Day 2013 by acknowledging some of the most lavish, smart, and intriguing safer sex resources out there and giving them our thank yous for their hard work.

For safer sex guidelines we applaud and recommend you check out the following…

Planned Parenthood: A non-profit health organization that offers reproductive health care and advice on contraception, safe sex, and family planning.  They’ve been around since 1939 and in many cases are the only place where one can access birth control, STD/STI testing, sex education, couples counseling, etc.

The Body: A medically-based HIV/AIDS resource in the US which provides information on everything one needs to know about HIV/AIDS, including advice on prevention, HIV testing, treatment, safely navigating a mixed-status relationship, HIV/AIDS policy and activism, and the latest research on HIV/AIDS and other STDs.  This humongous site offers everything from Blogs, podcasts, bulletin boards, “Ask the Experts” forum, first-person stories and interviews, conferences and news coverage, and library resources.

SEX ETC: Who better to understand high school sex politics than the peers who are living and experiencing it themselves.  The blog, magazine, and stories on this site are written by and for teens and young adults across North America.  It provides different media to engage with sexual health info, such as videos about safe sex, forums where teens can participate and moderate discussions with other teens, a 400 words sex glossary, a state-by-state reference to info on birth control, health care access and your rights to sex education in “Sex in the States” guide, and a range of surveys and guides to sex ed activism.

Scarleteen:  A progressive sex-ed site written for teens who are female, male, genderqueer; gay, straight or somewhere in between.  It provides over 200 articles about sex, health, and relationships, covering everything from STIs to sexual orientation, body image, self-esteem, to birth control, masturbation, misogyny, sexual abuse, and technical advice from French kissing to BDSM.  The site also provides interactive question-answer-discuss services, including their new live help feature providing safe, anonymous live chats with Scarleteen’s staff and volunteers.

SEX-ED LOOP:  Another great resource for teens, based in Chicago, that gives up to date information on sexual health, rights, and identity through a range of social media channels including a weekly text messaging service and clinic finder that will identify health care services throughout Chicago.  Also provides helpful articles about gender identity and sexual orientation.

HIV InSite: A non-commercial, well-established source developed by the Center for HIV Information at the University of California San Francisco.  The site offers an extensive collection of original material including a complete textbook about the clinical management of HIV/AIDS.  It is also a great resource for global HIV/AIDS research, statistics, and policy analysis.

Our Bodies Ourselves: A global non-profit that promotes evidence-based information on girls’ and women’s health.  The information provided on the site is vast and includes excerpts from their famous book on reproductive health, as well as first-person blog stories that range from topics like body image, nutrition, menstruation, pregnancy and much more.

Well, that’s a handful of some of our favorite safer sex resources from sound sexual health organizations. Do you have any resources to share?  Please let us know in the comments below!

Condoms Make Me Horny! Tips for making condoms more erotic

CondomMakeMeHornyI’m sure you know, or at least have heard of someone who claims that condoms make sex feel less good.  Condoms (and other safe sex tools) don’t have the best reputation.  It doesn’t help that we rarely see safer sex happening in media representations of sex that is hot, fun, or romantic.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  As we’ve discussed elsewhere, there is no solid empirical evidence to back up negative claims about condoms. Studies find that people who use condoms correctly and are used to using them tend to report greater pleasure with protected sex than those who go without protection.

This does not mean that people on an individual level do not experience problems when enjoying protected sex.  There is a difference between knowing how to put on a condom and knowing how to use them well.  That is why it tends to be people who use them often and consistently that report greater sexual satisfaction.  It takes practice and know-how to feel confident and learn what feels good for you and partner(s).  Condoms can add a playful and sexy dimension to sex but, as with anything sexy, you need a positive attitude and a dash of creativity. In this post, we offer some ways to help spice up condom use.

In sum, the main tricks to loving the glove are:

1) Communicate
2) Take turns putting it on
3) Practice
4) Be prepared
5) Be playful and have fun
6) Lubricant!
7) Be aware of condom sizes and experiment with different ones

For more on these points, continue reading.  Warning: explicit, NSFW illustrations below.

Before we begin, the basics of condoms should be known.  Check out our user manual.  Once you understand these essential steps to condom care you can explore ways that may enhance sexual pleasure and make condoms a part of sex- rather than a disruption to it.

This post focuses on condom use for penis and sharing sex toys, but some tips here can also apply to safer anal and vaginal oral sex using barriers including condoms, dental dams, cling film saran wrap, or latex/nitrile gloves. For more info on protective lesbian sex check out this sex column.  For specifically gay protective sex info, the Gay Men’s Health Charity is an excellent resource. (Some links are affiliate links that earn us a small commission).

Introducing condoms to partners 

This isn’t something that should feel awkward no matter how casual or serious your relationship.  It can be as simple as just stopping what you are doing and handing over a condom.  Sometimes you won’t need to say anything at all.  Or, as suggested by Robin Mandell at Scarleteen, when you feel the heat turning up and sex might happen, take a quick break and retrieve condoms from wherever you keep them (ideally with easy access- discussed below).  You can say something as casual as, “No pressure.  I just wanted to get these out just in case we need them.”

Condoms do not keep people from getting close- Silence does.

Asking someone to use a condom is to show care for the well-being of you both. Communication really is key and talking about sex might mean explaining what you like, what’s your favorite position, or how to use condoms and use them in ways that work for you both.  Talking together about these things will cultivate intimacy and deepen your bond (not hinder it!), because you are sharing the responsibilities of sex and caring for each other.

Great sex is about sharing control  

As Heather Corinna explains, this is something that safer sex can help support.  Learning how to discuss condom usage and exploring sexy ways to put on a condom and what feels good together will make talking about other facets of sex a lot easier, such as how you’d like to try something new.  This also means that both people are making decisions and choices which are fundamental to both amazing sex and healthy sexuality.

Take turns putting on barriers

Related to the above- condoms can be a lot more erotic when one partner puts it on the other.  There are many ways to turn up to heat with a condom.  When done in a deliberately slow manner with some stroking, teasing, eye contact, putting on a condom can be exciting.

You can put the condom on together.  For example, one person takes the condom out of its package and places it over the head of the penis (make sure that you unravel it right-way down, not inside out).  The other person pitches and holds onto the reservoir tip of the condom as the other unrolls it down the shaft of the penis with one (or two hands).  This not only turns up the heat, but also ensures confidence in both actors that the condoms is put on correctly.

Practice Makes Perfect

Learn how to put it on.  You can use the ol’ fashion banana, or the aid of a dildo or willing partner to practice how to unravel the condom.  It should unroll downward to the base without too much pulling or stretching.  If any exertion is needed to get the condom to the base then it is probably the wrong size.  Practicing by yourself will relieve any worry about losing an erection or the uncomfortable pressure of being judged on your condom skills.  Ladies and guys, you can always practice when you masturbate.  This will also help you learn your pleasure spots and what feels best with protection.  Or practice with your partner.  When the time is right, either you or the other can put on the condom, so it’s good for everyone to knows how.  For many couples, this also helps to naturalize the process. It’s not about “making” a guy do something; it’s about something people do together for each other.

Be Prepared

One of the great advantages to condoms is that they are readily available for anyone to buy without a prescription and they are relatively cheap- even free at some health clinics like Planned Parenthood.  So equipping yourself with this contraceptive takes far less time, research, and planning.

Also, it will help things run a whole lot smoother and greatly reduce the buzz-kill if you can reduce condom-hunting time.  So keep condoms (and lubricant) in a dedicated, handy place next to your bed where you are sure to find it.

Be playful

Keeping condoms in an easily accessible place is helpful, but that does not mean that it is always best to rush through the process of putting one on. Great sex is to have fun with it.  When you introduce condoms have a sense of play.  And if things get awkward as you’re learning how to do safe sex, let yourself laugh about it.  This helps take the pressure off.

Buy some glow-in-the-dark condoms and leave your partner in suspense until the lights go out!  Or incorporate condoms into erotic foreplay.  Try slipping it on his penis with your mouth. If you are using gloves, get some props and play Doctor. Spice it up by carrying a condom with you in your handbag or pocket and discreetly show it to your partner to hint what’s on your mind.

Lubricant

This is really important. Especially, if you or your partners complain about reduced sensitivity, lubricant will improve sensation immensely.  Put two drops of water-based lubricant inside the tip of the latex condom before putting it on.  Even if dryness is not a problem for a person, lubricant that is made for condoms will lasts longer than the natural stuff.

Experiment with different lube samplers and flavors.

Warning: Explicit Images Below

Know Your Condom Size and Experiment

Two points here.  First, make sure your condom fits well.  Condoms aren’t one-size-fits-all, and a condom that’s too small or too big is likely be difficult to put on, very uncomfortable, and much more likely to break.  If you are not sure what will fit, check out our Condom Size Calculator.  If you experience certain discomforts, such as condoms being too tight, or too long, we have suggestions at our condom guide.  If you’re providing the condoms, it might be useful to have a variety of types and styles so you and your partner can choose what seems right. Variety sample packs can be found online, and at some drugstores.

Second point, if you are in a longer-term relationship, you have the advantage to experiment with different types of condoms and lubricants together to discover what suits you both best and have fun while doing it!  There are many different styles of condoms out there from thin, to thick, to wider in certain spots, snugger in other spots, etc.  There’s variety in texture: ribbed, studded, contoured, pouched; variety in non-latex condoms; and there is plenty of variety in lubricants that can enhance sensation dramatically.  You could buy a variety pack of condoms to find the best ones.  Or make a date out of it and visit a sex shop and choose together.

There are hundreds of sexy ways to put on a condom that do not interrupt the flow.  Here are just two examples:  Excellent hand-drawn illustrations that will no doubt spark ideas by custom condom size company TheyFit.com.

Condoms inclusion technique demo from TheyFit.com

Condoms inclusion technique demo from TheyFit.com

Condom inclusion technique demo from TheyFit.com

Condom inclusion technique demo from TheyFit.com

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If I haven’t convinced you yet about the sensual side of condoms, take this with you:  Everyone needs to accept this reality.  If you’re sexually active and not practicing safe sex then you are likely to transmit or contract a disease or infection.  To prevent this from happening, to experience healthy fulfilling sexuality, you have to learn how to use protection.