5 Tips For Managing Vaginal Sexual Pain

Experiencing sexual health issues can be especially distressing due to our culture of shame and silence around sex. Many people who feel pain during sex are isolated in their experience, and have little support or resources. Some common causes of vaginal pain during sex are vaginismus, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, dyspareunia, vulvodynia, a UTI, or STIs. It’s important that you discuss your symptoms with your doctor to figure out if you need medication or other medical guidance. 

While an OBGYN can absolutely help you figure out your diagnosis, many medical professionals are ill-equipped to help people heal from vaginal pain during sex because it is still widely misunderstood. Historically, people with vulvas who experience pain are not believed, often dismissed, or told their pain is “all in their head”. Vaginal pain during sex is common and there are a few ways to manage and heal from this. 

Therapy

Mental health has a huge impact on sexual function. When someone is feeling off balance in their mental space -- whether because they’re burnt out or depressed or anxious or experiencing PTSD -- the body holds that energy as well. Many sexual dysfunctions like vaginismus are directly related to how someone is feeling in their relationship(s) or in their body. Trans and GNC folx may be prone to vaginal pain during sex because of body dysmorphia, depending on their relationship with their body. A therapist can help unpack the root causes of sexual pain. These sexual dysfunctions are also cyclical in nature. Depression could be the cause of vaginal pain, but experiencing chronic pain also amplifies mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. Having a support system to heal in this process is vital — a therapist can be one component of that. And having a support system to figure out what healing means to you is also vital.

Physical therapy

Physical vaginal pain during sex is typically  caused by muscle spasms in the pelvic floor. The vagina is “tightening” itself in order to self-protect (whether for emotional or physical reasons). Pelvic floor specialists can help guide you through a process of abdominal massages. Your partner(s) may be able to assist with gentle vaginal massages (non-sexual), or you can try vaginal dilating. All of these practices aid the vagina in learning to relax the muscles so they don’t involuntarily spasm when touched.  

Sex toys

People experiencing vaginal pain may still want to have penetrative sex. However, it can feel overwhelming when your body is not matching your conscious desires and not meeting your expectations. There are now sex toys that help people experiencing vaginal pain ease into penetration. Ohnut is a wearable toy (for the person penetrating) that serves as a buffer of sorts to ensure the penetration doesn’t go in too deep. The toy comes with four linkable rings to adjust the depth desired for each partner. Adding lube into sex is also incredibly helpful for easing into penetrative sex. 

Remember, you never have to engage in a certain kind of sex just because your partner wants to. If you’re experiencing pain during sex, it’s likely your body is communicating something to you. Don’t push yourself too far out of your comfort zone for someone else’s pleasure. Sex is about pleasure for everyone involved, so be sure to prioritize yours as well! 

Get to know your Vulva 

Bodily shame can play a role in painful sex and is an indicator that it’s time to get comfortable with your vulva. You are the author of your own sexual narrative — and you get to decide what words are used for your genitalia. It doesn’t have to be ‘vagina’ or ‘vulva’ if that word doesn’t fit your experience. Get creative and make up your own language if that feels exciting, sexy or comfortable. You can also begin to explore what your vulva looks like at different times by using a mirror. Look at them after you take a shower, before you go to bed, after you masturbate, or while you’re menstruating. Vulvas tend to change in shape or color depending on where someone is at in their cycle and how aroused they are. Building a positive relationship with your body — on your terms — is healing in and of itself. 

Context is everything 

While mainstream representations of sex often depict spontaneous desire, onset by a glance, kiss or touch, many people actually experience responsive or context-driven desire. This means that people get turned on by a build-up of events, or within a certain context or setting. You might be incredibly turned on by your partner touching you on the couch, but you’re simultaneously stressed about an exam you have tomorrow. That stress acts as a break on your sexual desire. Understanding the context in which you feel the safest and most comfortable to have sex is incredibly healing when working through sexual functioning issues or chronic pain. This is a personal process, and it may take some trial and error to figure out what works best for you. When you know this, try to communicate that with your partner(s) so you can work together to ensure positive sexual experiences where you feel relaxed and safe to explore with them. 

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

Five Ways to Bring Sexual Newness & Excitement in an Intimate Relationship that You Can Try Tonight!

When we gain intimacy and comfort with a partner, we also commonly lose sexual desire.

We want to cuddle. Stay in for the night. We feel safe, but our bodies get confused about the relationship. We might start to wonder: is this only a deep friendship? A type of familial bond, and not a sexual one?

We can remind our bodies and sexual responses that the relationship can still be sexual.. Sex with this person is OK, and sex can come with safety and comfort. We don’t have to have one or the other.

Sometimes we have to re-discover someone as new, exciting, and unfamiliar. Below are some ideas that you and your partner(s) can try tonight to reignite that spark and bring more sexual creativity into your relationship(s).

Make a sex date, but don’t have sex.

Hear me out! On this date, go outside the house, the comfort of your bed and the normalcy of your space and just talk about sex. So often we forget that one of the hottest things to do is not have sex and just talk about it. Describe your latest fantasies. Discuss a sexual experience you had together in detail and talk about what made it so good.

Fill out a Yes/No/Maybe list!

This list has a bunch of different sexual experiences and a box for yes, no, or maybe. Fill it out without your partner and then compare notes.(do this on your sex date!). We like this list because it’s not super gendered and you can add your own: https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/yes-no-maybe-list-of-sexual-kinks

Go to a sex toy store, buy something new, go home, and try it.

New is exciting. Newness gets our heart rate up and takes us out of our routine or sexual script we usually follow.

Sext!

Sexting is not just for hook-ups or new dates. Sext your long term partner! Send them nudes! Record yourself masturbating and send it to them! Anything we did (or wished we did) at the start of relationships to show the person(s) we want them so badly is something we can incorporate later on..

Change the scenery.

Have sex or do something sexual somewhere new! Rent a hotel room, an Air BNB, or swap houses with a friend for the night. When we are out of our comfort zones, our bodies can interpret it as new and exciting. Get away from that stack of bills or pile of laundry at home.

If it’s hard to get connected, even with these tips, it is always a good idea to seek relationship or sex therapy with your partner(s). Sometimes we need some extra help to reconnect sexually, and that’s ok!

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

G&STC's Director Talks with Allure About Polyamory & Monogamy

CHECK OUT G&STC DIRECTOR, JESSE KAHN TALK WITH ZACHARY ZANE AT ALLURE ABOUT HOW BEING IN A POLY RELATIONSHIP PREPARED ZACHARY FOR MONOGAMY

Jesse highlights a few points including:

  1. Jesse “tells his patients struggling with polyamory to “get back to the basics of why they're nonmonogamous, what that means to them, and what they want that to mean for their lives and the lives of their partners. [This] helps clear space for what feelings and obstacles are in the way of actualizing those beliefs and desires.”’

  2. Another important aspect of polyamory is having “compersion” for one’s partner instead of jealousy. “Compersion — the feeling of joy in someone else's joy — can be really helpful in reconciling the differences [between you and your partner’s desires],” says Kahn.


Some points Not included in the article:

  1. Anyone considering entering into their first polyamorous relationship "should" consider why they are currently wanting to be in a non-monogamous relationship, what their boundaries and needs are, what they want the boundaries of their poly relationships to look like, and how they can communicate their needs.

  2. Polyamory can teach us that it’s okay to be attracted to other people, communication is a crucial aspect of any relationship and primary tool in negotiating our boundaries in relationships, a variety of people can fulfill our needs and that’s great, and that it's is up to you to define your relationship(s). I've also worked with a lot of people who identify their relationships as monogamous who have conversations about what monogamy means for them and the definitions of monogamy for their relationships.

  3. One characteristic of many poly relationships is communication and communicating through really tough emotional states - that is an important skill that can deeply impact all of our relationships, including monogamous ones.

  4. At G&STC we don't use the term “couples therapy” to describe all the relationship we work, so we just say relationship therapy. We do this to be inclusive of all relationships regardless of the number of people involved.

Shopping Consciously for Pride

Happy Pride month everyone!

Pride began 50 years ago, but it took a much different form than it does today. In fact, the Pride Month we know now only happened as a result of a protest. Following a police raid of a gay bar in NYC, members of the queer community rioted, and what came to be known as the Stonewall Riots became the historical moment to be commemorated every June since, as what we know as Pride.

In recent years, Pride has become more of a celebration than a protest. However, this also means that businesses have been able to identify pride as a key marketing strategy. Businesses that ignore the queer community for 11 months out of the year suddenly proclaim themselves allies, slapping rainbows on their products, their social media, and profit, while in turn giving none of the proceeds to LGBTQ or LGBTQ affirming organizations.

But it’s Pride! We want to be proud, show our colors and celebrate our identities! So how can we shop consciously for the month of June? The key to Pride merch shopping is just a little bit of research. Find out what shops are queer owned, which shops donate money to queer organizations, and which shops just use the rainbow to make their business more profitable!

To help out, we’ve put together a list of queer owned stores to shop from this Pride month (and the 11 other months!) as well as shops that donate a portion of their profits to organizations that beneft the queer community.

Autostraddle:

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About Autostraddle: “Founded in March 2009 by Riese Bernard and Alexandra Vega and still run by a dedicated team of passionate weirdos, Autostraddle is an intelligent, hilarious & provocative voice and a progressively feminist online community for multiple generations of kickass lesbian, bisexual & otherwise inclined ladies (and their friends).”  

BetweenLinesClothing:

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About BetweenLinesClothing: “Between The Lines Clothing was created by one lesbian who loved buying men’s clothes. She got fed up having to buy in men’s sections and also finding all these fantastic clothes there that weren’t seen as being for females! She decided to come up with her own designs and clothes to wear, hoping to also bring some joy to other women, men and those who don’t identify with her clothes that are about whether they look great rather than who it is specified for!”


Revel & Riot:

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About Revel & Riot: “We provide a collection of resources on our website – everything from information about anti-oppression, transgender health, internalized homophobia, and LGBTQ+ art history. Every resource we have comes with references for further reading and links to other organizations where additional support can be found. We believe that the LGBTQ+ fight for equality is bound to all other struggles for social, economic and environmental justice and we try to reinforce that vision through our resources.”


Revel & Riot also donates a portion of their profits every year to different LGBTQ organization!

Queer Supply:

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About Queer Supply: “We began with conversations about identity. We believe that the rejection of oppressive social structures can be achieved through self-love and community support. Queer Supply is about celebrating the intersectionality that strengthens us. Crafting was a method to reconnect with and care for ourselves, and eventually grew into a community project. The work we create is designed to make space for marginalized people and our multifaceted identities. When we craft space to express ourselves, we create opportunities to connect with each other.

Each piece is a positive statement about our lives, relationships, identities, the right to love ourselves.”

FLAVNT:

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About FLAVNT: “FLAVNT Streetwear is an Austin-based independent clothing brand for everyone within and anyone who supports the LGBTQ+ community. Started with the goal of creating clothes that promote confidence and pride, FLAVNT is all about being comfortable with who you are and flaunting that to the world. We promote this message of self-love and confidence through our designs and actions by supporting the LGBTQ community as a whole, as well as impacting individual lives through our fundraising initiatives.”

Otherwild:

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About Otherwild: “Otherwild is committed to utilizing our resources to provide sustained support to our staff, vendors and suppliers, as well as grassroots and national social justice and health care organizations. We dedicate means within our business model to support ethical practices, advocacy and activism as we continue to evolve within an exploitative, extractive, extreme and excessive consumer capitalist culture.”

**10% of the proceeds on this shirt is used to fund queer history research.

The Phluid Project:

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About The Phluid Project: “Retail and community, free of gender norms and full of possibilities”

ASOS X GLAAD:

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While not a queer owned business itself, ASOS has teamed up with GLAAD for their pride line, and every dollar made from this collection will be donated to GLAAD.

Express:

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Another non-queer brand with a pride colelction that isn’t just talking the talk! 25% of the profit made from their Love Unites collection will be donated to GLAAD.

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

10 Myths About Monogamy To Leave Behind

With the insurgence of information and resources about ethical non-monogamy, our culture has shifted a more critical lens towards monogamy. A growing skepticism (particularly in queer and trans communities) around monogamous relationship structures is valid after decades of being told this is the only “right” way to exist in romantic relationships. Monogamy itself isn’t inherently harmful — but the view of it as compulsory that society has established it as is. Much of what is critiqued or labeled as toxic within monogamy comes from societal expectations for romantic relationships. By inviting nuance into the dialogue we can separate out the differences between compulsory and intentional monogamy.

So what are these myths?

“Jealousy is an indicator of true love.”

This is one of the main scripts of compulsory monogamy: if you aren’t feeling jealous or making your partner feel jealous, it’s not true love. Toxic monogamy upholds the idea that if your partner doesn’t get jealous, they don’t really love you or possibly that they don’t love you as much as you love them. This idea is rooted in an ownership mindset, that partners own our attention, time, and energy. While jealousy is definitely not an indicator of love, it’s also not an inherently negative emotion.  Jealousy at its core can also be about insecurity, fear of loss, fear of rejection, or fear of being replaced. Intentional relationships can leave space to communicate through moments of jealousy with compassion for all partners involved.

“Commitment can only exist between two people.”

Compulsory monogamy leads us to believe that any kind of relationship structure outside of monogamy is unhealthy and not “true” commitment. However, ethical non-monogamy teaches us the vast ways in which humans can structure intimate relationships. We are driven by connection with one another and commitment to others will look different for everyone. This might include lovers, friends, family, or community. Intentional monogamy allows room for these truths to co-exist.

“Monogamy only looks one way.”

Being in a relationship is an incredibly personal experience and the only people who get a say in the boundaries, growth edges, and expectations of a relationship are the people present in it. No two relationships will be alike, even if they are both identified as monogamous. Some monogamous people create space for flirting, sex or flings outside of their partnership. Others don’t. The most important thing is that these decisions are made mutually and consensually through intentional and negotiated communication.

“Intimacy is only for romantic relationships.”

The societal pressure to find “the one” is only amplified by the ways in which intimacy is often closed off in non-romantic relationships. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. Intimacy doesn’t just mean physical touch or sex — it can look like holding one another’s truths, taking care of one another, or being tender/loving with friends. When intimacy is expanded to exist in platonic relationships as well as romantic, it reduces the pressure to be in a romantic relationship and allows people to explore dating with more curiosity and less out of necessity.

“Romantic relationships need to follow a script to be validated.”

Often referred to as the “relationships escalator” compulsory monogamy has a very specific idea of what a relationship should look like over time. Usually, that means dating, moving in together, getting a pet, getting engaged, buying a house, having an extravagant wedding, and having children. This narrative is amplified by heteronormativity and many people don’t feel aligned with these relationship expectations. Defying these societal norms happens within monogamous and non-monogamous relationships because there is no right or wrong way to live your life within a partnership.

“One person can meet all of your needs.”

This sentiment is romanticized by mainstream media representations of relationships that make it seem as though your partner should also be your best friend, therapist, caretaker, confidant, and family. That’s simply not realistic and it places far too much pressure on one person or the relationship. However, just because you accept the truth that one person cannot meet all of your needs doesn’t mean you have to be non-monogamous. Creating networks of care and support within communities allows this pressure on romantic partners to be alleviated. It’s okay to lean on others and call on support from friends or a therapist. A romantic partner can be an additive in life, a safe space to feel held, and not the only person for support in times of need.

“Monogamy means you don’t experience other attractions.”

Being monogamous doesn’t mean that all attractions for other people simply turn off. Intentional monogamy recognizes the fact that both partners likely experience attraction, or even crushes, on other people. That is healthy and valid. Moving through these moments with communication and compassion can allow for relationships to grow stronger.

“Monogamous relationships don’t need boundaries/check-ins.”

There are so many assumptions made about monogamous relationships and oftentimes people are led to believe that monogamy doesn’t require regular check-ins or communication about boundaries. All relationships benefit from communication around boundaries, expectations, and growth edges — even platonic relationships can deepen from this intentional work! Without this level of communication, things go left unsaid and tension can build up causing unnecessary resentment or misunderstandings.

“If you don’t get married, the relationship is a failure.”

Many people have been asked the question, “So when are you getting married?” by an older person or family member in their life. This is a common expectation of romantic relationships, particularly monogamous ones. While marriage is seen as the ultimate level of commitment in our society, it’s not something desirable for a lot of people for a variety of valid reasons. Not wanting to get married doesn’t need an explanation. It can simply be someone’s truth and that doesn’t make their relationship (no matter the structure) a failure.

Learning to unpack the toxic myths around monogamy can help us take stock of our own personal & relationship needs, and allow us to be more intentional with relationships moving forward.

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

G&STC's Director Talk with Marriage.com About Best Sex Advice for a Healthy Sex Life

CHECK OUT G&STC DIRECTOR, JESSE KAHN TALK WITH MARRIAGE.COM ABOUT THE BEST SEX ADVICE FOR A HEALTH SEX LIFE

1. Challenge your assumptions about what types of fantasies, desires and sex you can have with a partner. Respecting and caring for someone doesn’t mean that your sex can’t be wild, aggressive, degrading and/or rough (of course, all of this is discussed and consensual). Seek and question assumptions you’ve held about sex, long term desire, and sex with someone you love.

Challenge your assumptions about how sex is supposed to be initiated. Opening up your mind to the idea that there isn’t one “right” way to have sex with your partner(s) can be liberating. It gives you space to explore fantasies, figure out what you are into, and above all communicate with your partner(s) about your sex.

2. Explore ways to increase excitement and playfulness in your sexual lives and possibly modify a rigid repertoire. This could look like incorporating new toys, kinky/bdsm practices, role-playing, dirty talk, sexting, talking about your sexual fantasies, having sex in different locations (such as a car, your kitchen, the shower, etc), trying new positions, and/or attending a sex specific class together.

3. Stay curious about your sexuality and your partner’s sexuality. Re-focus on eroticism and ask yourself what turns you on, what makes you feel pleasure, and what makes you feel desired. And then ask and share with your partner(s)!

4. Plan the types of sex you want to have. In movies, and in many people’s fantasies, sex happens in an instant, but spontaneous sex isn’t the only way to keep your sex life exciting. Putting time and energy into planning the type of sex you want to have can shift what your sex is like, can help create different types of sexual experiences, different types of erotic environments, can help shift your sex life towards the sex life you want, and can build anticipation.

If you really think about it, even our sex that feels spontaneous is often not. Specific actions and intentions led to those moments. Planning sex can be equally hot once we expand our definition of what “planning” means. When we create an erotic environment, incorporate new toys, re-visit our turn-ons, or explore different fantasies, we are planning sex. Using this perspective, we redefine rigidity and spontaneity.

What Can Polyamory Teach Us About Relationships?

As we’ve discussed before on this blog, there is a lot we can learn from folks who are different from us. Even when we think we don’t have much in common, there are lessons we can draw from many types of experiences, lifestyles, and communities. Today, we’re talking about what we can learn from polyamorous people, even if we’re not poly ourselves!

For folks who aren’t familiar, a person who is polyamorous is someone who desires consensual and ethical non-monogamy. Ethical non-monogamy is when someone is a member of multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships at the same time with the consent of everyone involved, and is not to be confused with infidelity. Ethical monogamy includes agreements and negotiations that allow for multiple sexual and/or romantic connections and relationships. Polyamorous folks are often referred to as “poly” or “polyam” in sex positive spaces.

Just like with monogamy, polyamory isn’t for everyone, but it is often misunderstood or misrepresented in media. There are many different ways to structure poly relationships, and there is no one “right” way to be polyamorous. So, even though we might not all practice polyamory, there is still a lot we can learn about love, desire, and relationships from polyamorous people.

It’s okay to be attracted to other people

One big lesson we can all learn from poly people is that being attracted to someone else doesn’t have to be a threat to your relationship. We’re all human, and we’re allowed to be (and are going to be) attracted to more than one person at a time. Love and attraction are not finite resources. Your feelings for someone else do not cancel out the feelings you have for your partner, and vice versa. Many of us experience attraction to more than one person at a time (even if it’s just fleeting!), but the difference is that poly people acknowledge that it’s important to experience and talk about these feelings instead of burying them under shame and guilt. Also, poly people have space to engage with consciously thinking about and deciding whether to engage in that attraction in an open and honest way, where monogamous people may not feel they have that space.  

Communication with a capital C

A huge part of poly relationships is communication. This is a topic we return to frequently because it really is the foundation of relationships! Poly folks communicate constantly. Not only is there the logistical side of coordinating schedules and making time for all partners, but there is the emotional side of communication as well. When feelings of jealousy, abandonment, or fear come up, communication is a large part of working through those feelings

These emotions are not just reserved for poly people, either. They are present for most of us at some point or another, but often they go undiscussed. Poly folks understand that the way to work through these feelings and keep the relationship healthy and satisfying for all parties is to recognize the feelings, soothe themselves, and talk about the tough feelings coming up. Even when it’s hard. Even when you feel like you can’t do it. It’s important to get those feelings out on the table so everyone is on the same page. It takes practice, but, for many, it feels worth it.

Other people can fulfill your needs, and that’s okay

It’s a lot of pressure to be everything to someone. Poly folks understand the strength of a support network, whether it is through romantic partners, sexual partners, friends, or family. Think about it this way: you probably have different friends who fulfill a variety of needs for you. You may have a friend you go to bars with, a friend you talk about books with, and a friend you go to the gym with. You probably don’t have just one friend who meets all of your needs all the time, and that’s okay! The same idea is true for poly folks, except some of those relationships can include multiple romantic and sexual relationships. Different relationships can fulfill different needs for you without taking away from each other.

It is up to you to define your relationship

It’s nobody’s business what goes on in your relationship except for the people in the relationship. Polyamory can be confusing to some people because there are so many ways to approach it (hierarchical vs. nonhierarchical, is one example). One of the biggest takeaways from polyamory that anyone can benefit from is that you get to set up your relationship in any way you want to - there are no rules, except for the rules and boundaries that you co-create. Relationships take time and effort, no matter what type of relationship structure you choose, so you may as well explore what works for you and your partner(s).

Remember, these aren’t ideas you can implement overnight. They take practice, commitment, and communication. Poly people aren’t born knowing everything there is to know about polyamory, because polyamory is an experience that varies from person to person. Even if you are content in a monogamous relationship, we can still learn from poly folks.

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

How Kink Can Help Ease Sexual Anxiety

Even in spaces focused on sexual liberation, one thing that often goes undiscussed is how to navigate sex in a healthy, pleasurable way when you or your partner experiences sexual anxiety or functioning issues. It can be hard to relate to articles and tips about making the most of your pleasure when you have trouble performing with or experiencing pleasure at all.

One thing that might surprise you? Kink + play can actually help sexual anxiety and performance issues! According to a study from Northern Illinois University “BDSM sex can help increase mindfullness, reduce stress, make you hyperaware, and help people stay in the moment.”

So how can kink help ease sexual anxiety? When we add kink into our sex lives, we give ourselves the opportunity to:

Set the pace we’re comfortable with:

When setting and negotiating a scene, navigating boundaries is a crucial step. This means before we try anything new, we have to make sure all partners are comfortable and excited to try whatever we want to introduce into our play. Whether this means taking it slow or jumping in, it gives the power back to us to determine the pace we want in our sex life.

Take it slow without missing out on the fun:

Taking it slow doesn’t have to be a chore! Often, within kink, taking it slow is an important part. The play is thorough and involved and, crucially: focused on pleasure + consent! Instead of feeling awkward and fumbling, not knowing what to do, kink play provides an avenue to go as slow as you want to without compromising our pleasure.

Keep consent an active part of the conversation:

As we’ve said before: Consent isn’t just a straight “yes” or “no”– it’s about making sure anyone involved in play knows what the limits are, knows what will increase their partner’s pleasure, and it always involves checking in during play.

When we engage with kink, we give ourselves a new understanding of what consent really is. While some people see it as an awkward conversation that can take you out of the moment, kinksters know that it is actually a vital and sexy part of the process. When you stop and start in kink play you’re not taking yourself out of the moment, you’re checking back in with yourself, your body, your partner(s) and making sure that you’re experiencing pleasure out of whatever you’re doing. Kink helps make conversations about consent open and easy gateways to talk about how each partner best experiences pleasure.

Knowing that your partner is aware and mindful about your pleasure can help ease some of the anxiety that goes along with sex! You won’t have to worry about doing something “wrong” or not getting what you need out of it because those conversations are built into kink play.  

Expand the definition of sex:

Sex isn’t just about penetration! And, often times, a lot of sexual anxiety comes from the notion that penetration is the most important part of sex. But with kink, partners are able to explore so many other ways to both give and receive pleasure with their partners.

With this, partners who have anxiety regarding performance or penetration are given outlets to express their desire and experience pleasure without the anxiety that comes with penetration. Learning how to fuel and feed our desires through a variety of sexual activities can strengthen our sex lives and help manage our sexual anxieties without forgetting about pleasure!

That’s not to say that kink is the only way to experience pleasure when dealing with sexual anxiety–but learning the pillars of what makes kink fun & functional can help us explore the needs we have in our own sex lives!

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

G&STC's Director talk with HuffPost Relationships about 10 Common Reasons For A Sexless Marriage, According To Sex Therapists

Check out G&STC director, Jesse Kahn, and Therapist, Liz Afton, talking with Kelsey Borresen at HuffPost Relationships about 10 Common Reasons For A Sexless Marriage, According To Sex Therapists

  • You’re under a lot of stress

“When you’re stressed, sex may be the last thing on your mind. You’re busy worrying about crippling student loan debt or taking care of the kids — not getting busy. Chronic stress can lead to elevated levels of the hormone cortisol in the body, which can mess with your sex drive.

“Whether it’s about children, work or finances, stress can play a huge role in reducing sex drives, reducing desire to have sex, reducing the energy we have to have sex and reducing the time we have available to have sex,” said Jesse Kahn, sex therapist and director at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective.

Being overly stressed or fatigued can make sex feel “more like something you have to do rather than a pleasure activity,” Chavez added.

During these busy or overwhelming times, consider scheduling sex instead of waiting around for the mood to strike.

“Sometimes, sex needs to be planned,” Kahn said. “Which may require us pushing back on the false narrative that sex needs to be spontaneous.”’

  • You have mismatched libidos

“It’s normal for a couple’s sex drive to fluctuate over the course of a relationship, meaning you and your partner may not always be (or ever be) on the exact same page sexually. But if you can talk openly about your different levels of desire and reach a compromise that works for you, mismatched libidos shouldn’t pose a major issue.

However, if left unaddressed, tensions may arise and give way to periods of sexlessness. Often, the higher libido partner feels rejected when their advances are denied and he or she may eventually stop initiating. The lower libido partner can feel put-upon by all of the requests or feel inadequate because they think they can’t meet their partner’s needs.

“Sometimes [mismatched sex drives] are managed and it’s working for everyone. And sometimes it’s not being managed,” Kahn said. “When the issue goes unmanaged — and I don’t mean ‘solved,’ not all issues need to be or can be solved — we start to avoid the conversation entirely and then avoid the activity as well.”’

  • You have sex-related performance anxiety

Fears about not being able to perform (getting or maintaining an erection, giving or having an orgasm) can cause so much anxiety leading up to sex that it becomes easier for some couples to just throw in the towel altogether. The misguided thinking is this: If I don’t try, then I can’t fail.

“While thinking and talking about sexual anxiety and sexual functioning issues can be difficult and filled with a lot of shame, there are a lot of ways to navigate both and continue to have sex,” Kahn said. “Silence feeds shame and shame feeds anxiety.”’

  • You’ve grown bored with each other

“Early in the relationship, the sex is new so it feels hot and exciting. Over time, though, couples can grow accustomed to the same routine, which may lead to a sexual malaise. But know that your sexuality (and your partner’s) is constantly evolving, and there are always new things to try and discover, Kahn said.

“When we stop being curious, stop allowing for growth and start assuming, sex can become mundane,” Kahn said. “Try refocusing on eroticism and ask yourself what turns you on, what makes you feel pleasure, and what makes you feel desired. Exploring ways to increase curiosity, excitement and playfulness in your sexual lives can modify a rigid repertoire.”’

How To Embrace Your Fetish Without Shame

Fetishes are a seldom understood aspect of sexuality.

Often stigmatized and categorized as “perverted,” people develop unnecessary feelings of shame around their fetishes. There’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of if you have a sexual fetish — in fact, it’s perfectly common. Research has shown that people who practice BDSM are less neurotic, more extroverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, less rejection sensitive, and have higher subjective well-being than non-kinky people. Embracing your fetish will not only enhance your experiences with pleasure but also decrease the stress that your shame is currently fueling.

There’s nothing wrong with you.

A fetish is an erotic attachment to an ordinarily nonsexual activity, inanimate object, or body part. Some common fetishes are foot fetish, voyeurism, exhibitionism, leather and/or latex fetish, humiliation, age play, or medical fetish. Despite what deep rooted social stigma teaches us, most fetishes are absolutely healthy to fantasize about and consensually enact.

We aren’t born feeling shame around our bodies and desires — we are socialized this way from a young age. Sometimes, it’s so skillfully embedded into our brains through media, education, and various systems of oppression that we don’t even realize where all this sexual shame came from. Especially when it comes to fetishes and kinks;embarrassment, stigma, and even disgust have become so normalized that many people feel they’re sexually broken for having these desires.

Our society has come to view any kind of sex that exists outside the confines of a monogamous, heterosexual, and non-kinky dynamic to be “deviant” or “dirty.” That’s societies problem, not yours. It’s okay to unlearn those narratives and beliefs, and explore your fetishes with openness and curiosity. Your fetishes don’t make you any less deserving of respect and dignity. Kink has the possibility to open up parts of yourself you didn’t know were there — embracing your fetish can create new connections and different forms of expression. And you deserve to revel in your sexual truths!

Your desires are normal. You aren’t alone.

Whatever your fetish or kink may be, it’s a healthy aspect of your sexuality. There are ways to play out all sorts of fetishes with other people who have similar desires–all it takes is some communication. Do you want to roleplay an alien fantasy or wear a diaper before getting spanked? There are absolutely other people out there exploring those kinks who would be ecstatic to welcome you.

As long as your play is consensual, negotiated, openly communicated, and safe you are free to explore your deepest (and darkest) desires. When you start connecting with fellow kinksters, you’ll quickly learn there’s an entire world that exists for desires that previously felt too perverse or shameful to even speak out loud.

Get vulnerable about what you want.

Putting yourself out there can create space to explore your fetishes and kinks — but we know that is much easier said than done. Usually, we're our own worst enemy when it comes to fully embracing our identities and sexual desires. It’s the internal monologue that tells us our kinks are “too weird” or “out there” or “no one else will want to share these experiences.” Being vulnerable and honest about what you want will allow your fantasies to reify.

It takes courage to be able to tell someone else a kinky fantasy or fetish you want to explore with them — fear of rejection or judgment can be intimidating. Remember that if someone declines your offer or reacts in a less than ideal way, that is not a reflection of who you are and it doesn’t mean your kink is shameful. It simply means that you and this person have different desires and that’s okay. For every person who doesn’t share your fetish, there are 5 more out there who do. It may take some time for you to find people who align with your kinky desires.

Embrace your true, kinky self.

There is nothing to apologize for in embracing your desires with other consenting adults. Respecting your true, kinky self looks different for everyone. Some people may find it liberating to be out and proud about their kinky lifestyle and wanting to talk about it with every new person they meet. Others may feel incredible keeping their fetishes to themselves for when no one else is home or as a sacred space shared with their partner(s).

There is no right or wrong way to embrace your sexual desires. You get to decide what it means to be kinky for you. Everyone deserves a judgment and shame-free space to feel liberated in their sexuality.

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.


How to Have Safe(r) Sex

So, you want to have safe sex. We’ll give you the bad news first: There is no such thing as completely 100% risk-free sexual contact with another person. However, you can make safer sex the goal. There is a lot of misinformation out there about sex and safety (some of which we’ve written about before!), and it can be hard to tell what’s true and what’s not. Here are some of our top tips for having safer sex:

Get tested regularly

Getting tested for STIs regularly is the foundation for practicing safer sex. It’s also a fantastic way to practice self-care.. You may have to ask about testing, so be prepared to bring it up if your doctor doesn’t. Remember, your doctor may ask you questions about your sex life, to get an idea of the test you will need. Your doctor shouldn't make you feel ashamed or less-than because of your sexual practices, and if they make you feel that way, you are under no obligation to continue seeing them. It’s important you have a doctor you can be honest with so that you can get the care you need!

STI tests vary for different types of infections: some are a mouth swab, some are genital swab, some require a blood or urine sample, some are diagnosed by a pap smear, and some are diagnosed visually.

Also, some physicians have biases about queer sex that can make discussing this topic uncomfortable or feel unsafe, so if you have experienced this in the past, you’re not alone. For example, they may think that a person with a vulva who exclusively has sex with other vulva-having people doesn’t need to be tested for STIs, but this is absolutely not correct. If you are having sexual contact with folks, you need to be tested regularly. If your doctor shames you for this, please know that there are other doctors who will take you seriously and not shame you. Here are some places to start your search:

GLMA (Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality)

Planned Parenthood

Lighthouse (in NYC)

OutCare

Barrier methods

This is one of the most basic ways to practice safer sex. There is no method that is 100% infallible, of course, but condoms and dental dams are a crucial part of a safer sex practice. Do your best to use a condom and/or a dental dam every single time you have sex, whether that is vaginal, anal, or oral sex. If you use toys, you can put condoms on them for safer use between partners (remember to change condoms between partners!). Remember, you can make your own dental dams out of condoms: just cut off the tip, and then down the side so that you have a rectangle shape to use!

PrEP

PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. It’s a pill that you can take daily to dramatically lower your chances of contracting HIV. This option is not for everyone, though. It is primarily prescribed to folks who don’t have HIV already and who are at higher risk of getting HIV. Reasons for this could include not regularly using condoms, having sexual partner(s) that are HIV+, and/or using injected drugs, among others. If this sounds like it could be the right fit for you, let your doctor know!

Learn how to manage STIs

Some STIs are curable (examples include syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea) and some are not (examples include HIV, herpes, and HPV). However, all STIs are able to be managed in some way. Some will require you to take an antibiotic or other medication temporarily until the infection is gone, and some will require lifelong medication. If your doctor prescribes you a short term medication to clear up an STI, make sure to follow their instructions exactly. Take all of the medication that is prescribed to you, even if you feel better before you are finished with it.

Expand what ‘sex’ means to you

You probably know this by now, but penetration isn’t the be all end all of sexual activity. Lower risk sexual activities are manual sex (handjobs, fingering, etc.), outercourse (dry humping), and mutual masturbation (where you masturbate together, touching your own bodies). Not only are these activities lower risk, but they can also be really hot! You may even find that introducing these activities into your sex life will be exciting!

Communication

This one again! This tip is on most of the lists we write because it’s so important in every type of relationship! Make sure to discuss the limits, boundaries and level of exclusivity with your partner(s), and discuss the safety practices you put in place with other partners so that you and your partner(s) are on the same page. If you aren’t used to communicating openly about your sex life, this may feel really intimidating and impossible, but like all things, it gets easier with practice.  

Be familiar with your body

If you know how your body normally works, you will be better prepared to notice that something is amiss. Keep an eye out for things like sores, rashes, or unusual discharge as these can be signs of several STIs. You can also be on the lookout for these things on the body of your partner(s), since you will likely be able to see any changes or symptoms for yourself.

With these tips in mind, we hope you feel more confident about making safer sex a regular practice!

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

G&STC's Director and Therapist talk with HuffPost Relationships about myths about sex

Check out G&STC director, Jesse Kahn, and Therapist, Liz Afton, talking with Kelsey Borresen at Huffpost Relationships about myths about sex.

MYTH #1: “Sex is only “good” if it ends in orgasm.

Yes, the Big O can be toe-curlingly euphoric, but it’s definitely not the only pleasurable aspect of a sexual encounter. Even when sex doesn’t end in climax, it can still feel really damn good for both partners.

“Sex operates on so many dimensions beyond the physical, or in tandem and unique synergy with the physical,” said Liz Afton, a therapist at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective. “Whether in tantric breathing, BDSM edging, professional sex surrogates or fetish-oriented kinks, the profound spiritual and emotional healing potential of sex and sexuality is too often overlooked.”’

MYTH #2: “Being into kink makes you abnormal or sexually deviant.

If the mega-popularity of “50 Shades of Grey” (though problematic in some regards) is any indication, kink is no longer a niche community relegated to the dark corners of the internet. Spanking, role-playing and bondage are all common types of kink — which is defined as a sexual activity or desire outside of the conventional (read: vanilla) appetite.

“Kinkiness is becoming more and more mainstream, which eases the shame and isolation kinky folks experienced in the past,” said Jesse Kahn, therapist and director of The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective. “Not only are more people kinky, but folks are starting to realize that their sex life already incorporates kinky elements.”’

And one more myth:

MYTH #3: Planning sex is not sexy.

This is totally not true! In our culture we have a fantasy about spontaneous sex, but, if you really think about it, even our sex that feels spontaneous is often not. Specific actions and intentions led to those moments. Planning sex can be equally hot once we expand our definition of what “planning” means. When we create an erotic environment, incorporate new toys, re-visit our turn-ons, or explore different fantasies, we are planning sex. Using this perspective, we redefine rigidity and spontaneity.

G&STC Glossary of Terms for Therapists | Part Five

Welcome to the fifth & final installment of the G&STC Glossary of Terms for Therapists! This glossary can function as a first step for those looking to educate themselves & their practice in order to make the practice to be a safe & inclusive space for queer and trans clients. Along with our six tips for therapists to be more queer and trans-inclusive, we’ve put together this five-part glossary series for therapists & care providers. You can find parts one, two, three & four here!

**In addition to educating yourself on the actual words, it’s important to reflect on your familiarity with, relationship to and underlying judgments and assumptions of the people and communities that embody these identities, expressions, and experiences. It’s okay to have judgments - we all do. What matters is that we are aware of, question the validity of, work to unlearn and not perpetuate those judgments at our clients’ expense.

Queerphobia: Describes discrimination against or hatred of people who identify as queer.

Questioning: describes the process of exploring one's gender and sexual identity, or a person who is unsure of what label or identity fits them best.

Sexual Orientation: Describes the nature of a person’s sexual/emotional/romantic attraction to others.

Top Surgery: A colloquial term used to describe gender affirming surgery. Find trans + queer affirming health care providers here.

Transgender: Describes person who identifies as a gender or sex different than the one they were assigned at birth. Trans is an umbrella term that emcompases many gender expressions.

Transition: Refers to the process which some trans folks undergo when socially, medically or physically affirming their gender identity.  Transitioning isn’t exclusive to those who undergo medical treatment or procedures; it can also describe a more accessible changes such as changing name and pronouns or changes in physical appearance like clothing, hairstyle, mannerisms, etc. to reflect a person’s identity. (Sidenote: many trans people’s transitions look different and many do not subscribe to cisnormative ideals of beauty and gender)

Transphobia: Describes discrimination against or hatred of trans people or the trans community.

Transmisogyny: Describes transphobia directed specifically at trans women & transfemine folks. (What is transmisogyny & what can we do about it?)

Tucking: The practice of hiding the bulge of penis/testicles in clothing.

Two-Spirit: A sacred and historical identity used by First Nations communities. It describes a distinct, separate gender identity (not a queer umbrella term, as it is often misappropriated). A more thorough history of the term Two-Spirit can be found here.  

Ze/Hir/Hirs: Gender neutral pronouns (sounds like “zhee”, “here”, and “heres”)


Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

Kink + Safety: What You Need to Know

As with all sexual activity, there are safety concerns to think about when engaging in kink. Unfortunately, due to our restrictive and shameful sexual culture in the United States, many folks don’t receive anything close to comprehensive sexual education, let alone a kink-inclusive education. There is a lot of misinformation out there, like the idea that kink is an inherently risky activity. If you are interested in learning more about kink, make sure to do your research carefully. (Here are some books on the topic to get you started!) The kink community, in general, is very focused and intentional on safety.

If we want an education on kinky topics, many of us have to go looking for it ourselves. Which is where we come in! Kink doesn’t have to be a big scary thing hanging over you - ideally, it is there to provide you a safe space to explore your desires and sexuality. So, it’s important that all participants feel safe (in any sexual scenario, not just kink!). However, there are some ways to approach safety that are specific to kinky activities. If you’ve ever wondered how to discuss safety and kink with your sexual partner(s), here are our top tips:

Consent

We’ve written about consent here on the blog before, but it is such a crucial part of any sexual activity that we would be remiss if we didn’t mention it again. Here’s an excerpt: “In the kink community, consent is paramount. Consent is never implied - it is generally understood in the kink community that consent is an important discussion between partners and that it is ongoing. Saying “yes” to one activity does not imply a “yes” for all other sexual activity. It is crucial to negotiate consent before a scene and go over each participant’s limits and to check in during the scene as well.” Consent requires communication, so make sure to communicate your own desires and limits, and listen to your partner(s) when they communicate them to you. Additionally, stay in touch about consent as consent can change - saying yes to one activity today may not be yes to that activity tomorrow.

Know Your Acronyms

There are two popular acronyms used by kinksters: SSC (Safe, Sane, Consensual) and RACK (Risk-Aware Consensual Kink). RACK was developed as a response to SSC, because some folks find SSC to be limiting (or they find it’s an easier framework to describe kink to non-kinksters, but not comprehensive enough to use within kink communities). RACK is an understanding that no sexual activity is ever 100% safe, but being aware of the risks and making an informed decision that focuses on consent is vital.

Safe Words

You may have heard of the idea of a safe word before. A safe word is a clear signal to everyone involved in a scene to slow down or stop play. Basically, you choose a word that is short and easy to remember and make sure everyone involved in a scene is aware before play begins. You can pick whatever word you like, or use the words stop/no (although, if part of your play involves saying stop or no and having the person continue, you should choose another word). You can also use a stoplight system to check in with your partner(s) before, during, and after play. In this system, green means keep going, yellow means slow down and check in, and red means to stop immediately. Again, make sure that when you’re engaging in play, everyone is aware of the safe words that will be used.

Hard + Soft Limits

We like to recommend a Yes/No/Maybe list for folks who are exploring what they’re interested in sexually, and this can be a great starting point for determining what your hard and soft limits are. A hard limit is something you absolutely will not do, under any circumstance. A soft limit is something you are not usually interested in but would be willing to try in the right circumstance. An important thing to remember is that your hard and soft limits may evolve over time, so as always, it’s important to communicate your limits with your partner(s) regularly.

Aftercare

Aftercare is a post-play check-in, where partners give time and attention to each other to wrap up the scene and make sure everyone is feeling safe and comfortable. It can include cuddling, discussing the scene, drinking water, eating a snack, or something else. There aren’t rules for what you “have” to do for aftercare because everyone is different, but the end goal should be to communicate and make sure everyone is feeling good and taken care of. Aftercare is for everyone involved in play, not just for the submissive partner(s). Dominant folks need aftercare too, so make sure to check in with everyone involved in a scene and see what they need for support.

With these tips in mind, hopefully kink feels a bit more approachable and less intimidating. Remember, consent is paramount, and communication is key in kink.

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

G&STC's Director talks with HuffPost Relationships about the word 'Soulmate'

Check out G&STC director, Jesse Kahn, talking with Kelsey Borresen at HuffPost Relationships about the word ‘soulmate!’

”Soulmates are a symbol of the universal hope that someone will love you unconditionally in spite of your flaws and baggage.

“To me, a soulmate is a symbol. It’s a symbol of hope, connection and healing (particularly attachment-based healing) that we as humans desire and crave. It’s a symbol of feeling that — in spite of our histories, pain, dysfunctional relationship patterns — we will ‘click’ with someone and will be able to make it work. The soulmate symbol creates hope and speaks to a desire to be loved, seen, heard, understood and to feel worthy. And even more so, a soulmate is the hope that we will be loved, seen, heard, understood and worthy, despite our flaws.

“While I think hope and symbols are important, I try not to lean into them too hard as they can sometimes take away someone’s sense of agency in their own situation. Our relationships and future relationships may be influenced but are not determined by what we have or have not experienced, and we can have agency in that process.”’

G&STC Glossary of Terms for Therapists | Part Four

Welcome to the third installment of the G&STC Glossary of Terms for Therapists! This glossary can function as a first step for those looking to educate themselves & their practice in order to make the practice to be a safe & inclusive space for queer and trans clients. Along with our six tips for therapists to be more queer and trans-inclusive, we’ve put together this five-part glossary series for therapists & care providers. You can find parts one, two & three here!

**In addition to educating yourself on the actual words, it’s important to reflect on your familiarity with, relationship to and underlying judgments and assumptions of the people and communities that embody these identities, expressions, and experiences. It’s okay to have judgments - we all do. What matters is that we are aware of, question the validity of, work to unlearn and not perpetuate those judgments at our clients’ expense.

Intersex: Describes people who are born with reproductive anatomy that doesn’t fit in to the mainstream binary definition of male or female. Covers a wide spectrum of anatomical variation. It’s important to note that this is very natural in people and should not be considered a medical problem. More on what it means to be intersex here.

Lesbian: Describes a woman-identifying person who is most commonly attracted to other woman-identifying people.

Lesbophobia: Describes discrimination against or hatred of people who identify as lesbian.

MTF: Abbreviation for “male to female,” which refers to a person assigned male at birth, transitioning to and identifying as female. Can also be referred to as “transitioning to female.” Not all transfeminine people identify with this abbreviation or with the concept that they are “transitioning from M to F,” rather that they’ve always been F.

Outing: The act of revealing someone’s sexual or gender identity. Read more on why you shouldn’t ever out anyone here.

Pangender: Describes a person who identifies themselves outside of the gender binary or as a member of all genders. Can be a fixed or fluid identity.

Pansexual: Describes a person who is attracted to people of all genders. You can find a more in-depth look at pansexuality here.

Passing: Typically used in regards to gender; describes the ability of one to be regarded as a member of the gender identity group they identify with, regardless of the identity assigned at birth. Can also be used to describe how queer folks in different gendered relationships are perceived as straight (“straight passing”). While commonly viewed as a privilege, members of the queer community may also see passing as a sign of oppressive heteronormativity. It is also a controversial term in the trans community, as it implies the identity inhabited by “passing” trans folks is an inauthentic one, which is judged by normative standards associated with being cisgender.

Polyamorous: Describes a person who desires consensual and ethical non-monogamy. Sometimes referred to as “poly” or “polyam.” Start to unlearn common myths about polyamory here.

Polycule: Describes the collective network of people involved in a polyamorous relationship.

Polyfidelity: Describes a relationship with three or more members, who are engaged in a closed relationship. Sometimes referred to as “monogamy + 1” (or more).

QPOC: An acronym for Queer Person (or People) of Color.

Queer: Historically used as a slur against members of the LGBTQ community, but has been reclaimed and is now often used as an umbrella term for those who identify outside of dominant social gender & sexuality pressures.

This is the fourth in a five-part glossary series. You can find parts one, two & three here. Check back in each week for the next installment!

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.

G&STC Glossary of Terms for Therapists | Part Three

Welcome to the third installment of the G&STC Glossary of Terms for Therapists! This glossary can function as a first step for those looking to educate themselves & their practice in order to make the practice to be a safe & inclusive space for queer and trans clients. Along with our six tips for therapists to be more queer and trans-inclusive, we’ve put together this five-part glossary series for therapists & care providers. You can find parts one & two here!

**In addition to educating yourself on the actual words, it’s important to reflect on your familiarity with, relationship to and underlying judgments and assumptions of the people and communities that embody these identities, expressions, and experiences. It’s okay to have judgments - we all do. What matters is that we are aware of, question the validity of, work to unlearn and not perpetuate those judgments at our clients’ expense.

Genderqueer: Describes a person who does not identify within the gender binary. People who identify as genderqueer may identify as a combination of genders, or as neither male nor female. Identifying as genderqueer can be fluid or stagnant, and does not have one firm parameters–meaning it can look different depending on the person! Want to know more about what it means to identify as genderqueer? Here are 7 things genderqueer people want you to know.  

Gender Policing: The forced performance of normative gender expressions. Often targeting trans & genderqueer folks who are not seen as adequately performing as the gender they were assigned at birth. Need some real-life examples? Here’s a Huffington Post article to help you out.

Gender Identity: How individuals see themselves (man, woman, genderqueer, agender, etc.)–one’s own personal sense of identity, not necessarily the same as the gender assigned at birth.  

Heteronormativity: The belief & cultural implication that heterosexuality is the norm or the default state, marginalizing or othering identities that do not fall into the “norm.”

Heterosexism: The belief & cultural implication that heterosexuality is not only the default but the superior state of human beings. Results in discrimination or marginalization of queer identities.

Homophobia: Describes discrimination against or hatred of people who identify as gay/lesbian. Often used as an umbrella term for discrimination/hatred against the queer community as a whole. What’s the difference between homophobia & heterosexism?

Intersectionality: Describes the framework which looks at how varying identities (race, gender, class, sexuality, able-bodiedness, etc.) are connected and interlocked, further marginalized together by oppressive power structures. Here is a more comprehensive explanation of intersectionality & how it works.

Internalized Homophobia: Describes when queer folks turn society's negative views of the queer community inward. SImply put it is the self-hatred that manifests for a person living as a marginalized identity.

This is the third in a five-part glossary series. You can find parts one & two here. Check back in each week for the next installment!

Blog authors all hold positions at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Collective (G&STC). For more information about our therapists and services please contact us.


Ten Signs Your Partner May Be Emotionally Abusive

There are so many misconceptions about emotional abuse. Here are a few:

  • That it isn’t real.

  • That it only happens in heterosexual relationships.

  • That it’s because of a person’s trauma and therefore not their fault.

  • That anything that doesn’t leave a physical mark shouldn’t be taken seriously.

To combat these misconceptions, here are some behaviors that are emotionally abusive that are often not labeled as such:

  1. They minimize your experience.

This can look like them minimizing their abuse of you (for example, they may say things like: “it wasn’t that bad”or “how dare you make this about you”). This can also include minimizing your life experiences and invalidating any feelings you may be having.

2. They gaslight you.

This means that your partner makes you feel crazy by denying facts and your reality. (Gaslighting can be statements like these: that’s not how that went, that didn’t happen, you’re so crazy for feeling this way, etc.)

3. They humiliate you.

Your partner may do things like: Making a big scene in public, making fun of you to your friends, or saying anything to make you feel stupid or unworthy. This includes directly insulting you, calling you stupid, crazy, lazy, selfish, or anything along those lines.

4. They blame you and make you feel responsible for their negative emotions.

They put the blame on you for everything, including when things have not gone perfectly and for things that aren’t your fault.

5. They intimidate you.

They raise their voice, yell at you, and make you feel scared or unsafe.

6. They isolate you from your friends and family.

This tactic can include your partner not wanting or letting you spend time with friends or family, and being upset/punitive if you do. Another common behavior is your partner being controlling of who you hang out with, wanting to keep tabs on your at all times, and accusing you of cheating or having feelings for someone else.

7. They threaten you.

This includes threatening to leave you, but it can also include threats of harming themselves. They may threaten to kill themselves if you don’t do something. They can threaten you with physical or sexual violence that they don’t act on.

8. They make comments that are femmephobic, homophobic, and/or transphobic.

This looks like criticizing or accusing you of not being “a real lesbian/woman/man” because you are femme or trans. They may also spend time tearing you down based on your gender presentation (Which can look like statements such as: “you’re too femme for me,” “You’re not butch enough” etc.

9. They shame you.

They may try to make you feel shame for all sorts of things: For any desire you have, sexual or otherwise. For being emotional. For wanting better. For being you.

10. They withhold love.

They may not say “I love you,” or they may withhold physical affection as a punishment. They may ignore you or make you feel like you did something to deserve this kind of treatment.

Emotional abuse impacts our sense of self,  other relationships, and what we feel we deserve in life. But healing is possible and you are absolutely not alone. And it all starts with understanding.

If you are experiencing or have experienced emotional abuse, please reach out to us for a consultation.

Some other resources that you may find helpful are:

G&STC Library: A Gender and Sexuality Reading Roundup Part 2

In this series, we’re talking about things to read! We try to cover as much as we can on this blog, but in the hopes of expanding your knowledge of gender and sexuality, we put together this list of resources for you to reference as you need it.

In this installment, we’re recommending resources about intersectionality, disability, history from the perspective of marginalized communities, and sex positivity. Some of the selections below are a little more scholarly than others, but there is a wealth of information on these subjects available online, of course (some of it much more accurate than others!), but if you want to supplement the reading you do online, these books are certainly a place to start.

Intersectionality

Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics by Kimberle Crenshaw

Our first pick in this section is Kimberle Crenshaw ’s influential paper on intersectionality. This piece was the first to link the concept of intersectionality to feminism, where she explored the intersections of being black and being a woman, and how both identities often influence each other in ways that cannot be ignored. This is really a foundational read on this topic!

Women, Race, & Class by Angela Y. Davis

Angela Y. Davis is an internationally recognized scholar on the topics of women, race, and class, which she dives into in this book. She traces the history of the women’s movement and how it was designed to benefit middle-class white women, leaving all others behind. In this analysis of the mainstream feminist movement in the United States, she examines the intersections of gender, race, and class, and argues that feminism is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

History from the Margins

A Queer History of the United States (ReVisioning American History) by Michael Bronski, An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States (ReVisioning American History) by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, and A Disability History of the United States (ReVisioning American History) by Kim E. Nielsen

There are a lot of groups who get left out of mainstream history - aka the history you probably learned about in school. Unfortunately, the burden falls on us to educate ourselves on these topics. These volumes give a compelling overview of the history of three hugely marginalized groups in the United States - the queer community, Indigenous people, and disabled folks. If you’ve ever wondered what was left out of history class, you may want to give these volumes a read.

The Color of Kink: Black Women, BDSM, and Pornography (Sexual Cultures) by Ariane Cruz

This is a history and analysis of black women’s representations and performances within pornography and BDSM, from the 1930s until now. This book illustrates the idea that sexuality is not just one common experience for everyone - there are intersections and identities that influence sexuality, and they should be explored.

Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk by Melinda Chateauvert

Sex work is still wildly misunderstood in the United States (even by otherwise progressive folks) and so it is especially important to educate yourself on the topic. This book looks at the history of civil rights movements of the last 50 or so years, and how sex workers were incredibly important to their success, although their contributions are largely ignored. This book details how sex workers are fighting for their own liberation, and actually tells the stories of sex workers, instead of leaving them out of the discussion entirely.  

Disability

The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain, and Illness by Miriam Kaufman

Although it is hardly ever represented in the mainstream, disabled folks are still sexual people. This book is a guide to having a sex life that works for you, with information from a medical doctor, a sex educator, and a disability activist. The book covers a range of disabilities, so it is relevant for many people. Some of the topics covered include positive sexual self-image, positions to minimize stress and maximize pleasure, dealing with fatigue or pain during sex, finding partners and talking with partners about sex and disability, and adapting sex toys.

Sex and Disability by Robert McRuer

Disability is rarely mentioned in the same breath as sexuality, even in queer spaces. This book is a collection of essays that works to disprove the notion that disabled people are not sexual. In an ableist and heteronormative world, this book explores what is sexy and sexual, from many perspectives, including queer theory.

We’ll be back with some more installments in this series with more book recommendations! Are there any topics you’d like to learn about? Let us know!