Do women like porn as much as men?

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April 29th, 2011

If you’d asked me this question a couple of years ago, I would have said “no.” But the times they are a-changing: just as female infidelity is on the rise, women are catching up to the guys in other ways, too – including a propensity for porn.
– More couples are enjoying porn together, with women often taking the lead in choosing the material.

– More women are using porn to get themselves in the mood for sex or to enjoy their sexuality on their own.

– More women are using porn to learn new sexual techniques or to explore sexually adventurous situations.

– More women are using porn to satisfy a general curiosity about sex overall, and

– More women are comfortable and confident in asserting their opinions on the subject.

In short, women are increasingly using porn for pretty much the same reasons (and pleasures) as men. Meanwhile, guys are increasingly surprised to discover that their female partners are interested in porn – and tend to be even more surprised to discover what they’re watching (I’ll get to that in a moment).

So what’s going on? Why the apparent change? To be honest, I’d always been of the mind that men and women are somewhat different when it comes to porn, for both biological and sociological reasons:

On the biological side, I’ve often said female sexual desire is more complex than male desire, and that porn rather clearly illustrates that difference: In men, visual stimulation leads quickly to sexual arousal, and with that chain of arousal often comes a desire to be stimulated to orgasm. In that sense, arousal and desire are very closely related, and it’s one of the reasons that Viagra has been so successful with men: Give a guy an erection and he basically wants to use it. In men, porn initiates the “sexual-circuit” very quickly.

That’s not to say that women don’t respond to visual stimulation either, or that that stimulation doesn’t lead to genital arousal, but that arousal doesn’t always trigger desire in women the way that it does with men.

When I talk to guys about their porn use, many describe a lack of pre-meditation. For example, a guy could be hanging out on his computer, checking out his favorite sports site, when up pops an ad with a sexy woman in a bikini and, bang, next thing he knows he’s trawling porn sites in search of sexual release.

With women, however, the use of porn or the desire/decision to have an orgasm is often less opportunistic. A woman may see something super-sexy, and recognize it as sexy, and even arousing, but that doesn’t mean she’s necessarily going to stop what she’s doing to stimulate herself to orgasm. (By the way, if you don’t agree with any of this, please chime in below in the comments – sexual desire is by no means a one size fits all model: everyone is different and topic of women and porn is a highly debated one.)

On a more sociological level, generations of women have been told that porn is evil: that it exploits, objectifies, and degrades women, and that a woman who enjoys porn is a betrayer of Women. Some may still feel this is true, (and there are plenty of women who feel uncomfortable with porn), but there are also plenty of women who would beg to disagree and look at porn as a fairly innocuous form of erotic escapism that’s a personal choice and not a big deal.

Additionally, many women have contended that porn, until fairly recently, was never really created with female customers in mind; that porn was designed to appeal to men and lacked elements that were more organic to female sexuality, such as foreplay, intimacy and erotic storylines.

Well, today there are many porn sites geared toward women. In fact, there’s even a regular Feminist Porn Awards that recognizes erotic entertainment that is smart, sexy, and appreciates women as viewers.

Combine a recognition of a female audience with the rapid proliferation of easily accessible Internet porn, and it only makes sense that more women are enjoying porn. (By the way, if you’re a woman and you’re interested in dipping a toe – or perhaps nose-diving – into the world of porn, I suggest checking out the work of Violet Blue and her book, “The Smart Girl’s Guide to Porn.” Or if porn isn’t your thing, but you’re interested in some hot erotic literature, take a look at the anthologies that are edited by Rachel Kramer Bussell.)

As it turns our women may be able to enjoy porn with less guilt, or at least with less grief from their male partners. In my experience, women tend to worry a lot more about their man’s porn habits and what it means to their relationship, whereas many of the men I’ve spoken with tend to be intrigued by the idea of women and porn – especially since women are much more likely to enjoy porn that does not directly reflect their sexual orientation.

One study at Northwestern University, for example, examined the effects of porn on genital arousal and concluded that men responded more intensely to porn that correlated to their particular sexual orientation, whereas women tended to be genitally aroused by a much broader spectrum of erotic material. Who knows –- perhaps the enormous variety of material offered by the Internet will end up playing more to the spectrum of female desire than male desire in the long run?

For the moment, it would seem that women are not watching porn nearly as much as men. Recently, a researcher from the University of Montreal set out to study whether pornography had an impact on guys’ sex lives. He searched for men in their 20s who’d never consumed porn, and guess what? He couldn’t find a single one. I can still show you plenty of women who have never looked at porn – but perhaps not for long.

So do women like porn as much as men? You tell me.

Female infidelity: It’s different from the guys

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April 25th, 2011

In a committed relationship nothing hurts more, or is harder to recover from, than infidelity, and this is even truer when it’s the female partner who’s been doing the cheating.  In recent years I’ve noticed a precipitous rise in the number of men who have been betrayed by adultery, and while there’s an overall consensus among professionals that female infidelity is on the rise, the trend doesn’t garner nearly as much attention as male infidelity  That’s surprising, because female infidelity is often much more damaging to a marriage. Don’t get me wrong: Male cheating is definitely harmful. But when a woman fools around, it’s often the death knell to a couple’s relationship.

It’s often said that men cheat for sex, while women cheat for love, the theory being that men can more easily compartmentalize sex and emotion, while women typically need to experience an emotional connection to a person before feeling sexual desire. Without those pesky emotions to stand in the way of a potential mistake, a guy is much more likely to get himself into trouble (especially if alcohol is involved and inhibitions are down) or to get involved with someone for whom he has no feelings.

That’s not to say that men don’t cheat  because they’re unhappy, in search of an emotional connection or simply bored in their relationship (a topic we’re currently analyzing at Good in Bed), but  many of the men I’ve encountered who have cheated on their wives often have no desire to leave their primary relationship. Many of them even characterize themselves as happily married with satisfying sex lives.

That’s one of the reasons there’s often a better chance that a couple will stay together and try to work things out when it’s the man who’s doing the cheating, rather than the woman. For men, cheating often tends to be opportunistic—they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time and the cheating doesn’t necessarily mean anything emotionally—whereas with women the desire to cheat is often less opportunistic and more deeply felt.  It’s often more a matter of the heart than of the genitals. Sure, some women cheat for the sex, but many also cheat for another chance at love, or to confirm to themselves that their primary relationship is really over. A woman who cheats is often a woman who doesn’t want to work it out. She’s already invested time trying to work it out, and she’s done. It’s too late.

While there aren’t any hard statistics on female infidelity, most experts agree that it’s on the rise, especially among women who have their own careers and a degree of financial independence. A University of Washington study found that people who earned $75,000 or more per year were 1.5 times more likely to have had extramarital sex than those earning less than $30,000. And with so many women in the workplace, it’s no surprise that  among the spouses who cheated, 46 percent of women and 62 percent of men did so with someone they met through work.

Another big factor in the rise in female infidelity is the Internet. Sexual infidelity often starts with emotional infidelity, and digital technologies offer an abundance of opportunity for emotional (and thrilling) connections: The return of an ex, a workplace flirtation, a Facebook friendship that becomes more than “just friends.”  Women are extremely susceptible to “emotional infidelity,” which starts as friendship, often with colleagues or seemingly harmless online relationships, and slowly progresses to something more. A gradual blurring of the lines between friendship and deeper intimacy draws even happily partnered people into relationships they never saw coming.

So what are some of the signs that a woman could be cheating or thinking about it?

-         She shows less general interest in her partner’s comings and goings

-         She dresses up for work, but seems to care less about whether her partner finds her attractive

-         She has less interest in sex with her partner

-         She’s keeping an irregular schedule and spending more time at work

-         She seems happy, except when she’s around her partner

-         She shows less tolerance of her partner’s friends and family

-         There are unresolved issues in the relationship that have either been ignored or not resolved in a way that’s satisfying to her

-         She’s in a child-centric marriage that prioritizes parenting and neglects a couple’s relationship, with few opportunities for romance and alone time

Guys, think your wife would never cheat? Think again. When men get angry about something, they tend to lash out, but women often self-silence and bottle up their emotions. As Helen E. Fisher, research professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, says, “Men want to think women don’t cheat, and women want men to think they don’t cheat, and therefore the sexes have been playing a little psychological game with each other.”  Maybe this isn’t so much a game as a reflection of the double standard and culture of forgiveness that favors men—“boys will be boys,” as the adage goes—when they cheat. But as we’re learning, cheating is an equal opportunity sport, one that women are just as likely as men to play.

The true measure of a man….

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April 25th, 2011

As a sexuality counselor and writer, this is the question that keeps on giving. No matter how often it gets asked, everyone has an opinion, so allow me to offer mine:

Gentlemen, unless you are in possession of a micropenis – a rare condition in which a man’s erect penis is shorter than 2 inches in length – size does not and should not matter. (Although judging from the onslaught of spam the average guy receives in a day with the promise of a bigger penis from some sort of bogus enlargement technique, you may not be inclined to agree.)

If penis size really is an issue, it seems to matter more to men than to women. According to the British Journal of Urology, when researchers looked at more than 50 studies spanning the course of 60 years, they found that 85% of women were satisfied with their partner’s penis size– yet only 55% of men felt good about their penises!

That’s a big difference in perception, and in my personal opinion, this sense of male insecurity is only likely to increase in the wake of Internet porn.

That’s because research shows that more than a third of men who incorrectly believe their penises are too small say their insecurity began by viewing erotic images during their teen years.

And if the American Society of Plastic Surgeons is correct in its report that number of men opting for cosmetic surgeries and other procedures has increased considerably, then it’s only a matter of time before penis-enlargement procedures catch up with female procedures such as labioplasty.

When determining the measure of a man’s penis size and what’s “normal” there are two important dimensions to consider: length (the measurement from the base of a man’s penis to the tip) and girth (the distance around a penis, usually measured at the middle of a man’s penile shaft). The average penis ranges between 5.5 and 6.2 inches in length and between 4.7 and 5.1 inches in girth when erect.

So considering that the average vagina is just 3 to 4 inches deep, most guys are doing just fine with their average dimensions.

That’s not to say that size is completely irrelevant to women. When pressed, the majority of women (according to a 2001 survey in BMC Women’s Health) say that penis circumference (girth) is more important for pleasure than penis length. As many of you know the female clitoris is the powerhouse of the female orgasm, and most of the sensitive nerve endings that contribute to female orgasm are located on the surface of the vulva rather than inside the vagina.

But there is much more to the clitoris than just what you can see and feel: In its landmark work, “A New View of a Woman’s Body: A Fully Illustrated Guide,” the Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers identifies 18 structures in the clitoral network, some visible, some hidden.

What’s that have to do with penis size? The entire clitoris is shaped like an upside down “V,” explains Madeleine Castellanos M.D., psychiatrist and contributor to Good in Bed. Its legs (crurae) extend down and under the pubic bone, and it also has extensions that follow along each side of the vaginal opening, called the vestibular bulbs. The entire clitoris is made up of spongy tissue that fills with blood when a woman gets aroused.

“A wide penis puts more pressure on the vestibular bulbs,” she says, “which gives a pleasurable feeling of fullness at the vaginal opening.”

So what should a guy do if he feels lacking in the size department? In terms of penis enlargement, nothing! From pumps to pills to extenders, there is no scientific proof that any of these approaches are effective – and many of them can be dangerous. Penis size is hereditary, so work with what you have, and work well (even if you do have a micropenis).

Instead of worrying about how to enlarge your penis, focus on improving your foreplay. Most women don’t orgasm from intercourse alone, so men need to focus on outercourse. Think of foreplay as a complete act of lovemaking, from start to finish. Treat her entire body like an erotic landscape: kissing, hugging, oral pleasure, fantasizing.

“As a woman gets more and more aroused, all the erectile tissue that surrounds the vagina becomes more and more filled with blood,” says Castellanos. “This results in more tightness around the opening of the vagina and increases a woman’s pleasure.”

So if size does matter, it’s the dimensions of a guy’s brain and his propensity to understand female sexuality that make up the true measure of a man.

Teens want to learn about healthy sex, not just sexual health

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April 21st, 2011

“Unfriendly” waiting rooms, fear of judgment and a general apathy toward the anatomical focus of their sex ed classes mean many sexually active teens aren’t bothering to visit doctors or clinics to discuss their sexual health, a new survey from Planned Parenthood Toronto reveals.

Teens want to learn about healthy relationships and sexual pleasure, but their education has focused largely on sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and birth control.

The study’s authors argue that this disconnect and confidentiality concerns have contributed to a worrisome statistic: 83 per cent of the 1,216 teens surveyed had never accessed sexual heath care from a doctor or a clinic, even though most had already engaged in vaginal, oral or anal sex.

The teens, aged 13 to 18, were surveyed in workshops conducted between December, 2006, and August, 2007, in a joint project between Planned Parenthood Toronto, York University, the University of Toronto, Wilfrid Laurier University and Toronto Public Health.

Twenty-four per cent of the teens had not engaged in any sexual activity; 69 per cent had kissed a partner; 27 per cent had experienced vaginal intercourse; 25 per cent had given or received oral sex; seven per cent reported having anal sex and seven per cent had been involved in a pregnancy.

Young women were more likely to access sexual health services than men, and they did so mostly for birth control, pap smears and pregnancy tests. Young men mostly went for free condoms, information about safer sex and HIV or STI testing.

The authors found that “fear of judgment” was the greatest barrier preventing youth from going to a clinic. Many of the respondents did not feel that the clinic staff were positive toward them, and many also complained that the waiting rooms weren’t “youth friendly.”

Some teens complained that traditional sex ed topics weren’t resonating. The authors factored this into the disconnect with professionals. Fewer than 30 per cent of respondents reported learning about healthy relationships, and no group included sexual pleasure in their list of top three topics learned.

Adolescents want “information about being a partner, rather than only [about] the health of the genitals,” said Dr. Peggy Kleinplatz, of the faculty of medicine at the University of Ottawa.

“As fascinated as we all are with spermatogenesis and how egg meets sperm, what’s more interesting to everybody, including adolescents, is what do you do with sexual desire, how do you know when to act upon it, what kind of relationship is fulfilling and what should you be looking for to make sure your relationship is healthy and satisfying rather than one that’s unhappy, dysfunctional and disappointing,” Dr. Kleinplatz said.

She added that the survey will give Canadian sex educators a “mandate to give adolescents what they want and need.”

The study results are “a very important message” for educators who hope to foster better safe-sex practices among youth, said Alex McKay, research co-ordinator at the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada. “You cannot look at the need for sexually transmitted disease prevention in isolation of the dynamics of real life relationships that people inhabit,” Mr. McKay said.

Learning about healthy relationships in school ties directly into better safe-sex practices because adolescents who know how to communicate with their partners are more likely to succeed in negotiating condom use, said Sarah Flicker, one of the study authors and an assistant professor of environmental studies at York University.

Aside from sexual pleasure and good relationships, the survey respondents also expressed a desire for more detailed information on HIV/AIDS. Dr. Kleinplatz was concerned they weren’t also asking for information about more common infections such as chlamydia, herpes and HPV.

Planned Parenthood Toronto also held focus groups with 80 service providers, who reported that a lack of funding, training and referral networks were hindering their ability to deliver quality services to youth.

Mr. McKay said part of the problem is that sex education is typically wedged into physical education classes, which leaves educators little time for much beyond biology.

“Added to that is the sense among some educators that they are treading on sensitive territory. It’s often safest for them to confine themselves to the transmission of cold, hard facts,” said Mr. McKay, citing Bill 44, the human-rights legislation that now allows Alberta parents to pull their children out of classes dealing with sex, religion or sexual orientation.

“One of the things that’s needed is a better supportive environment for educators.”

Sports for Adolescent Girls…..

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April 20th, 2011

Adolescence is a time when gender disparities between boys and girls become more pronounced. While many boys stay focused on school, girls often have more responsibilities at home. These responsibilities limit girls’ opportunities for maintaining

social networks, and social isolation can contribute to increasing the risk of dropping out of school, marrying early, and being in situations that leave them vulnerable to pregnancy and HIV infection. Young people with the fewest risk factors and the

most social assets (usually boys) receive the largest share of available services rather than those who are more vulnerable (usually girls). Investing in adolescent girls, especially those ages 10 to 14, is crucial for alleviating poverty, achieving universal

primary education, promoting gender equity, and addressing other factors that put girls at risk of negative health outcomes. At their most recent annual meeting, the Interagency Youth Working Group focused on protecting and empowering adolescent girls. Sports programming was among the innovative approaches highlighted. This brief summarizes the discussion.

Sports as an intervention

For more than a decade, reproductive health experts have discussed whether sports can help build social networks for girls in developing countries, allowing

them to challenge gender norms that contribute to their vulnerability.1 In addition to promoting gender equity, sports can enhance physical and mental well-being; promote social integration for girls; provide girls with adult mentors; and encourage

the development of new skills, knowledge, and self-confidence. Participation in organized physical activity can also give girls access to public spaces, such as parks and sports fields. Although men and boys are usually free to visit these venues, women

and girls are often physically or psychologically intimidated or excluded outright.

Many HIV prevention programs are beginning to incorporate sports as a platform for disseminating HIV prevention messages and for teaching life skills

that help adolescents change their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors regarding HIV. More than ever, international policies support the participation of girls in sports programs, and sports advocates are incorporating more health and development

goals into their agendas. Most of the research on sports programs for adolescent

girls has come from the United States and other Western countries. More scientific evidence on the social and health benefits of sports—including reproductive

health benefits—is emerging from developing countries. Now appears to be an opportune time to invest more in the evaluation of these programs.

Changes in knowledge and attitudes

A few published studies have shown that sports can have a positive effect on the knowledge and attitudes of both adolescent boys and adolescent

girls, with promising results. A recent evaluation of an eight-month AIDS

education intervention program called EMIMA, which used peers as soccer coaches and sources of HIV/AIDS education for at-risk adolescents in

Tanzania, found that the program was effective in improving knowledge and attitudes about HIV and safe sexual practices. Nine hundred fifty adolescents ages 12 to 15 were

included in the study, 764 of whom were involved in EMIMA and the rest of whom received either standard HIV education in school or no HIV education

(the control groups). Questionnaires before and after the intervention revealed that when compared with adolescents in the control groups, the adolescents who participated in EMIMA were significantly more likely to believe

that they had control over condom use, abstinence, and engaging in exclusive sexual relationships to prevent HIV. They also had significantly higher levels

of knowledge about HIV and had more positive attitudes about condom use. A school-based pilot project in Zimbabwe showed that professional soccer players can be effective role models and HIV educators. Using an interactive game-based approach, soccer players taught an HIV curriculum (developed specifically for the

study) to about 150 seventh-grade girls and boys over a two-week period. When compared with a control group of students who received traditional school-based HIV education, the students in the intervention group were significantly more likely to

believe that condoms can effectively prevent HIV and to know where they could find HIV prevention services. They were also significantly more likely to report having social support and to report that they would not avoid a classmate who had HIV. Five months after the intervention, the adolescents in the control group had reached the same level of knowledge as the adolescents in the intervention group on all of these measures. This suggests that the adolescents in the intervention group were likely sharing what they had learned with their peers.

Effects on behaviors

Additional research is beginning to show that participation in sports may have a positive effect on sexual behaviors, in addition to knowledge and attitudes. In a study published in 2002, scientists investigated the relationship between sexual health and

membership in voluntary community organizations such as churches, youth groups, and sports clubs in South Africa. The study included a survey of more than 1,000 men and women ages 13 to 60 living in a small mining community near Johannesburg. Although the results were mixed depending on sex, age, and type of community organization, the

scientists found that young women ages 15 to 24 were significantly less likely to be infected with HIV if they belonged to a sports club than if they did not. This did not hold true for young men of the same age (although young men ages 20 to 29 were significantly less likely to be infected if they were in a sports club).

The results also showed that young women who were members of a sports club were significantly more likely to use condoms with casual partners and nonmembers, when compared with young women who were not involved in a sports club. This finding is difficult to interpret, however, because the authors did not report the ages of these women. More recently, the International Centre for Reproductive Health and its partners published the results of a cross-sectional survey assessing

relationships between sexual behavior and membership

in the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Awareness.

Project of the Mathare Youth Sport Association (MYSA). MYSA is a large-scale community-based organization that reaches more than 15,000 boys

and girls, ages 8 to 18, in the urban slums of Nairobi. Sports programming is the largest component of the organization, of which the girls’ football leagues are among the largest of their kind. The evaluation included 454 MYSA members and 318 nonmembers ages 12 to 24. Results showed that MYSA members were significantly more likely to report condom use with their current or last partners (for example, 23 percent reported always using condoms with their partner, while 17 percent did not), although rates of use were low in both groups. No significant differences were found between members and nonmembers in terms of other sexual behaviors, attitudes about risk-avoiding behaviors, and intentions for future behaviors. Results were

not stratified by sex, so it is difficult to determine if the program had any unique effects on girls.