Let’s talk about sex

Glamour (South Africa) - - News -

Straight,

gay, fluid: ev­ery­one’s wel­come!

And by that, we mean re­ally talk about it – in the way that al­lows for all sorts of ap­proaches, ex­pe­ri­ences and de­sires.

“La­bels like ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ are just start­ing to feel too nar­row.”

Fluid na­ture

It’s crazy to think that just two lit­tle words – ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ – could be enough to ex­plain the com­plex ex­pe­ri­ence that is hu­man sex­u­al­ity. Is it any sur­prise, then, that some of us don’t abide by them?

The com­ing-out moment has been part of pop cul­ture for decades, span­ning a tra­jec­tory that goes from ’90s TV sit­coms to Youtube videos.

But for some of us, the con­cept of com­ing out doesn’t quite work. The rea­son for that: be­cause la­bels like ‘gay’ and ‘ straight’ are just start­ing to feel too nar­row.

“The bi­nary still ex­ists, but we’re re­al­is­ing that many more types of sex­u­al­ity re­side be­tween and out­side of those two cat­e­gories,” com­ments Juliet, a 13 year old who iden­ti­fies as pan­sex­ual. And her at­ti­tude is char­ac­ter­is­tic of Gen­er­a­tion Z and the cur­rent cul­tural climate.

Just con­sider one re­cent sur­vey, in which par­tic­i­pants were asked to as­sign a num­ber to their sex­u­al­ity (0 be­ing ‘com­pletely het­ero­sex­ual’ and 6 be­ing ‘com­pletely ho­mo­sex­ual’). Around 35% of Gen­er­a­tion Z youth fell some­where in the mid­dle – com­pared with 24% of mil­len­ni­als. Per­haps more telling was the fact that only 48% of Gen­er­a­tion Z par­tic­i­pants iden­ti­fied as com­pletely het­ero­sex­ual.

But more and more peo­ple seem to be com­fort­able liv­ing in the in-be­tween. “I iden­tify as sex­u­ally fluid,” says Mys­terie, 18, a trans­gen­der man. “My de­sires have changed a lot just through­out my life.” Pres­i­dent of the Gay- Straight Al­liance at his univer­sity, Mys­terie – and many younger LGBTQ peo­ple – iden­ti­fies some­where be­tween straight and gay.

Of course, nu­ance has al­ways ex­isted within the LGBTQ com­mu­nity, but this new way of think­ing is gain­ing main­stream ac­cep­tance. While com­ing-out mo­ments used to make head­lines (à la Ellen’s “Yep, I’m Gay” Time magazine cover in the ’90s), to­day’s celebri­ties are just as likely to leave their sex­u­al­ity am­bigu­ous.

Con­sider that ac­tors like Kris­ten Ste­wart and Cara Delev­ingne don’t hide their re­la­tion­ships with women, yet nei­ther plays by the Hol­ly­wood nar­ra­tive of gay or straight?

And celebs aside, the internet has been an amaz­ing place for mak­ing all of us more so­phis­ti­cated about sex­u­al­ity.

“I’ve used Youtube and Tum­blr to help ed­u­cate my friends and fam­ily,” says Mys­terie, who first dis­cov­ered the term ‘sex­u­ally fluid’ on a dig­i­tal video. The irony is that by ditch­ing con­ven­tional la­bels, we’re find­ing more words to talk and learn about love.

Com­puter love

In the age of easy ac­cess to porn, adult en­ter­tain­ment is the new sex ed. But what is it teach­ing us?

Not long ago, get­ting the real deal on sex meant talk­ing to coun­sel­lors or your coolest friend’s older sis­ter. Now there are mil­lions of pornog­ra­phy sites, with ones like porn­hub.com re­port­ing 23 bil­lion vis­its last year.

A big story about porn has been its ef­fects on teenagers, with com­men­ta­tors say­ing it can trig­ger ev­ery­thing from fear of in­ti­macy to body is­sues. Yet some ex­perts say we’re miss­ing the point.

“The is­sue isn’t porn. The is­sue is we don’t talk about sex in the real world,” says Cindy Gal­lop, a sex pos­i­tive fem­i­nist whose ed­u­ca­tional web­site, makelovenot­porn.com, fo­cuses on de­mys­ti­fy­ing real-world sex.

“Many is­sues are laid at porn’s door that should be laid at so­ci­ety’s,” Cindy ex­plains. Is­sues like rape cul­ture, con­sent and the fact that women are far less likely than men to or­gasm dur­ing in­ter­course could be worked out in a healthy di­a­logue, but are too of­ten glossed over on screen.

And even young kids are be­ing ex­posed to hard­core porn. To pre­vent that from be­com­ing de facto sex ed­u­ca­tion, Cindy en­cour­ages frank dis­cus­sions, treat­ing porn as just an­other form of en­ter­tain­ment, and invit­ing read­ers to share and dis­cuss their true-life sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ences.

Of course, some teens take any in­tel they can get. “There are things that can be learnt by watching – like how to kiss,” says An­drew, 18. But there are those who are con­cerned with the false per­cep­tions and dam­age porn can cre­ate.

Says Corie, 21, “porn pres­surises peo­ple to do things they aren’t com­fort­able with be­cause they think it’s the right way to do it.”

The most ex­cit­ing way to learn about sex­u­al­ity, ac­cord­ing to Cindy, is pretty low tech. “Our mes­sage is talk about sex, openly and pub­licly,” she says. When it comes to sex­u­al­ity, like so many things, only the truth will set you free.

Kiss and tell

Does a first kiss hint at your fu­ture re­la­tion­ship sta­tus?

What con­sti­tutes a ‘good kisser?’ Whether it’s full lips, the right amount of tongue, sky­rock­et­ing lev­els of at­trac­tion, or all three and more, kiss­ing is sub­jec­tive – which is tricky, since a new re­la­tion­ship can hinge on hookup skills.

Be­lieve it or not, schol­ars are hard at work study­ing the chem­istry of kiss­ing – and not the ro­man­tic brand of chem­istry that makes us feel all lovey­dovey. The of­fi­cial term is philema­tol­ogy, which means, quite lit­er­ally, the sci­ence of kiss­ing. Ex­perts are less con­cerned with whether peo­ple are ‘bad’ or ‘good’ kissers than with the chain re­ac­tions that a sin­gle kiss can set off in the brain.

“Ro­man­tic kiss­ing doesn’t just make you feel warm and fuzzy. It’s ul­ti­mately a mech­a­nism of mate as­sess­ment,” says Dr He­len Fisher, a bi­o­log­i­cal an­thro­pol­o­gist and chief sci­en­tific ad­vi­sor for match.com.

As weird as it sounds, ex­chang­ing saliva is like sip­ping a chem­i­cal cock­tail of hor­mones. Vary­ing lev­els of th­ese hor­mones can po­ten­tially func­tion like a love drug, and the act of kiss­ing can light up the plea­sure cen­tre in your brain as soon as your lips meet.

“The mouth is a gate­keeper to the body,” Dr Fisher notes. “A great deal of in­for­ma­tion is col­lected by both the lips and the tongue.”

Re­search shows that saliva con­tains trace amounts of testos­terone, which could ac­count for men’s ten­dency to be slop­pier kissers – some be­lieve that the trans­fer of testos­terone via tan­gling tongues can be an un­con­scious pre­lude to sex.

Kiss­ing may also fuel ro­man­tic fire by boost­ing lev­els of oxy­tocin – known as the cud­dle hor­mone – in long-term re­la­tion­ships, as well as low­er­ing cor­ti­sol lev­els, which cre­ates a sense of calm.

Could that ex­plain why you may have been drawn to some­one un­til a first kiss mys­te­ri­ously ex­tin­guished the ini­tial at­trac­tion?

Girl-ish

Young, gay and fem­i­nine as hell, writer Ni­co­lette Ma­son ex­plains why sex­u­al­ity shouldn’t dic­tate your style.

I can trace the moment I knew I liked girls right back to a boy: Tay­lor Han­son. When I first laid eyes on the long-haired 14-year-old singer of the all-brother trio Han­son, I paused and said to my friend Danielle, “I don’t know if that’s a boy or a girl, but I think they’re re­ally hot.” I was in grade three, and part of my af­ter-school rit­ual was call­ing Danielle to watch mu­sic videos on MTV to­gether and gos­sip about the day.

I didn’t re­alise the weight of what I had ad­mit­ted – hon­estly, I’m not sure I even knew what it meant. But Han­son’s 1997 sin­gle ‘Mmm­bop’ was un­de­ni­ably catchy, and Tay­lor’s key­board play­ing and blond hair sway­ing back and forth cap­ti­vated me.

My at­trac­tion to a per­son like Tay­lor, who wasn’t dis­tinctly male or fe­male at first glance, planted the seeds of my own queer iden­tity. In the years that fol­lowed, be­fore I un­der­stood that I was in­ter­ested in girls, the boys I crushed on were sen­si­tive and gen­tle, and al­ways ob­jec­tively pretty.

In high school I de­vel­oped a crush on a tall mem­ber of the girls’ bas­ket­ball team, whose blonde hair also swayed back and forth. She looked like Tay­lor. That’s when it started to click. I had won­dered if maybe I wasn’t in­ter­ested in long-haired pretty boys, but rather in the girls that they re­minded me of.

It was a con­fus­ing time. I was the kind of girl who loved makeup, wore skirts and dresses ex­clu­sively, plas­tered my walls with fash­ion editorials and wanted all-pink ev­ery­thing. Yet so­ci­ety taught me that be­ing queer meant that I had to be a tomboy and chop off my hair. By keep­ing a stereo­typ­i­cal girly look, peo­ple au­to­mat­i­cally as­sumed my sex­u­al­ity be­cause of my style. I won­dered if there were other girls like me out there. I felt in­vis­i­ble.

Years later, I dis­cov­ered the word ‘femme’. It’s a queer gen­der iden­tity that adopts as­pects of tra­di­tional fem­i­nin­ity. While this looks dif­fer­ent for ev­ery­one, to me it meant ap­ply­ing lipstick and nurturing those I love.

It might seem ret­ro­grade, but that con­scious adop­tion of fem­i­nin­ity is quite sub­ver­sive – espe­cially in the con­text of queer re­la­tion­ships. Learn­ing I did not have to con­form to a mas­cu­line aes­thetic and could love wear­ing pen­cil skirts and pur­sue queer re­la­tion­ships was pretty revo­lu­tion­ary.

As pro­gres­sive as we’d like to think our so­ci­ety is, peo­ple don’t al­ways know what queer looks like, which is prob­a­bly why some are of­ten sur­prised to hear I’m not straight. Ne­go­ti­at­ing your own iden­tity is a process – one for which I’ll al­ways have ‘Mmm­bop’ to thank.

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