Couples from Cyberspace

No, it’s not the title for an upcoming sci-fi spoof but rather an interesting, non-fiction trend that could easily spell doom for singles’ bars around the country:  The number of people hooking up through online coupling platforms is shooting up dramatically.  With the ever-increasing pace of technological advance, the trend itself probably shouldn’t surprise anyone, but the rapid snowballing does seem to suggest a significant cultural shift when it comes to relationships and intimacy.  Are the likes of Match, eHarmony and AdultFriendFinder about to surpass the more old-school methods for finding happily ever after?

The basic numbers look like this:  A report released on January 1st by the online trending service, Statistic Brain, claims that over 41 million Americans have tried some form of online dating service as of the end of 2013, almost doubling the approximately 25 million reported to have used such sites in 2011.  The report also puts the current annual revenue of online dating services at just over $1.2 billion (though other industry analysts have put it closer to $2 billion with 4-5% annual growth forecasted through 2015) and claims that the current average length of courtships-to-marriages for those meeting online is just over 18 months, compared to 42 months for couples who met offline.  Interestingly, the gender split for online dating site users is fairly even (52% male/48% female).

The sharp up-spike could be explained by any number of factors ranging from tech-convenience to economic conditions during the past few years to outright laziness in some cases, but it’s certainly not a trend without pitfalls.  Although most online dating sites boast fairly extensive screening processes as a core part of their services, the nature of connecting by the web is still such that there’s plenty of room for, um, shall we say, misrepresentation.  Yeah, okay, fine:  Lying.  The report states that both genders are inclined to lie about age, with men also lying most about height while women lie most about weight.  Perhaps it’s not the best strategy in the world to begin a potential relationship with a “maybe they won’t notice” approach, but people are indeed funny animals.

In any event, as with most collisions between personal intimacy and technological enablement, it will probably be a while before this all sorts itself out–or morphs further into something even more likely to sound like a sci-fi spoof today.  The question is:  What do you think it will be?

Kickin’ a Sex Bucket

You’ve no doubt heard of a “Bucket List:” A summary of things someone would like to do/achieve during their lifetime (or in other words, before they “kick the bucket.”)  It’s a great exercise for a lot of reasons, but few extend the concept to improving their own sex lives.  At Sex Across America, we think it’s time to change that.

Keeping in mind that such a list should be both achievable and in tune with your own particular core values, the steps involved with creating your own sex bucket list are actually pretty straightforward.  Start your list with the “whats” and “whys” and try to make them specific and compelling.  Don’t worry about the “hows” right now.  The means for accomplishing many of your items will often present themselves down the road as a result of clearly defining them and having significant reasons in your thinking.  If you’re unclear about an activity or have a weak reason for it, chances are it won’t fly or you’ll just give up on it at some point.

As a general means for identifying your potential items and their reasons, here are five quick tips to get you going:

1.  Know thyself first.  Some barriers you may have might be the legitimate result of your socialization and/or prior experiences, but perhaps you haven’t consciously figured out why you feel the way you do about some things in your sex life or if you’re now better prepared to change them.  It’s hard to plan when you’re unclear about your own wants and/or limitations, so do a self-assessment to determine your sexual strengths, weaknesses and potential.  Take the time to sort these things out up front and see where there’s some room to explore.  Be candid with yourself regarding areas that you feel are solid or could honestly use some improvement.  Brainstorm a thorough list of things you’re still curious about–and then prepare to safely explore them when an opportunity arises.

2.  Fantasize, fantasize, fantasize.  This tends to be a bit tough because fantasies are often very personal and difficult to communicate fearlessly.  Additionally, there’s a rational risk avoidance in sharing a fantasy because if it’s actually played out–and fails–then there may be tremendous disappointment all around.  Well, true enough, they’re rarely ever as perfect in practice as they are in your perfect thinking, but that’s missing the point.  They’re supposed to be fun, intimate and exciting, so just plan accordingly.  Keep the first few times as simple as possible (the less complex, the better the chances are for success) and even if it falls a little flat, learn from the experience and try again.  Additionally, even if you come up with a fantasy that doesn’t lend itself to playing out in reality, the exercise of imagination will eventually spark other ideas that will work.

3.  Attitude for altitude.  Ramping up a high sense of adventure, especially if you’ve gravitated to a fairly consistent sex routine over time, can be a bit of a challenge but it’s worth it to push the edge of the envelope when developing ideas for your list.  Building your list and then tackling the items on it should be viewed as a major positive as opposed to drudgery or just going through the motions.  Even if you’re taking small steps at first, make each one count and keep reinforcing the attitude that you’ll keep moving up, even if you trip a little along the way.  Remember, even if you involve a particular loved one, this is something you’re doing for your own happiness and well-being.

4.  Knowledge breeds confidence.  Just as you wouldn’t take a road trip without checking a map (or, these days, setting your GPS), doing a little bit of research about a potential activity helps set a more solid foundation to build on.  With the explosion of legitimate sex-positive resources out there these days, it shouldn’t take much effort to find out important details for just about any potential item you’re considering for your list.  (If you’re really stumped about finding useful information, however, feel free to drop us a confidential email and we’ll do our best to help point you in the right direction.  If your concern isn’t necessarily private, or the answer could help others as well, then please consider posting your question below as a response to this article and we’ll try to address it there.)

5.  Give a little to get a lot.  People are much more inclined to be supportive when they feel they’re receiving equal support.  If you’re going to be doing the activities on your list with someone in particular, involve them in this process and find ways to be able to support their ideas whenever you can.  They’ll be much more likely to back your wishes in return (not to mention the potential benefits for improved communication and shared intimacy).  Another strategy is to develop your lists separately and then compare them to see if there’s any overlap.  If so, try starting with those items once you get the proverbial ball rolling.

Bear in mind that while planning is important, you’re not looking for military rigidity and precision (unless, of course, “Shock and Awe” just happen to be your thing).  Adding a spontaneity component affords you flexibility and can add to both the intimacy and excitement of an item on your list.  And while some items may find their way to your list as “once in a lifetime” events, don’t be so quick to push them away from the table once you’ve checked them off.  Just because it seemed like it would be a one-shot deal doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.  If it was fun and satisfying, just use your imagination to work it in again sometime if that’s feasible.

It’s a sad thing to reach the end of one’s life with regret over missed opportunities.  It doesn’t have to be that way at all.  A little bit of thought and planning now will not only help open previously unforeseen prospects through sharpened focus, but also go a long way towards ensuring a fulfilling and exciting sex life.  Start that journey right now–and make your own destiny.

Formalities of Normalities

As much as Americans tout a maverick, even rebellious spirit, we spend a lot of time, effort and cold hard cash trying to get to “normal.”  Even those who consider themselves unconventional eventually gravitate to clans with similar interests as a means for fitting in somewhere.  Whether it’s an emotional need for acceptance, a primal urging towards community or something to do with strength in numbers, “normal” appears to be a big deal–especially when it comes to sexuality.

Here’s the thing about “normal:”  When a particular social tribe takes it on themselves to define what is normal, the default result is divisiveness and, to a large extent, intolerance when it comes to anything outside the resulting definition–whether it’s actually based in fact or not.  While compliance with certain values (for example, protecting children) has its place in a civilized community, power within groups tends to obsesses over what certain behaviors are, rather than what they actually do.  Even if such nonconformity is positive, productive and poses no threat whatsoever to anyone else in the circle, challenging the prevailing groupthink is likely to be perceived as a disruption to the status quo and therefore, labeled as (you guessed it) “abnormal.”  More often than not, the label is otherwise baseless and is frequently even hypocritical, but the stigma attached usually has a real and significant impact on whomever is tagged with it.

Leadership to confront and combat mythologies about “normal sexual behavior” has been slow to materialize, but sustained efforts have been made during the past 50-60 years–even in the face of stiff opposition and incredulity.  For example, since 1947, The Kinsey Institute (originally known as The Institute for Sex Research) has led the field in discerning facts regarding human sexuality, dispelling many unfounded conceptions and redefining “normal” much more broadly than previously believed or accepted.  As one might imagine, however, political and legal controversies arising from many of their findings served to impede (and in some cases, actually derail) progress and unnecessarily prolong a state of intolerance.  The fact that the institute has remained steadfast in its mission says a lot about its leaders in their quest to better define “normal” more realistically and in an inclusionary manner, but should it really be that hard?

Human history is replete with stunning examples of groundless beliefs trumping coherent facts, but what’s even more astonishing is the consistent, irrational tendency to embrace certain beliefs rather than uncover and accept a reality which might be in opposition.  Without a doubt, a lot of that is purely political, but acceding to the power of groupthink simply to keep a superficially steady boat from rocking is a recipe for doom.  There are plenty of solid examples of that as well.

While it’s certainly much easier to merge with the popular pool of “normal” and bask in its illusory safety, good leadership is less concerned with what’s  popular than it is with what’s real and right.  Indeed, it takes a lot of spunk and moxy to go against the formalities of normalities and instead inspire a lasting respect for rational discussion and eliminating knee-jerk intolerance.  There’s likely to be tremendous pushback when facts are uncovered that disrupt ingrained beliefs, but progress cannot be made with heads buried in the sand.  Opposing any kind of bullying takes courage, commitment and conviction but the result can literally change the world for the better.

What’s more “normal” than that?

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Defining Sex in America: Can It Be Done?

(2/1/16)  Larry Flynt is a genius.  Having taken a $2,000 investment in an Ohio bar and turned it into a publishing empire valued in the hundreds of millions would be reason enough to hang the G-label on him, but the more valuable accomplishments of Mr. Flynt’s career are found in the social and legal battles he initiated to protect expressive and sexual freedoms in America.  It wasn’t always pretty–and there were certainly tragic casualties along the way–but his inspired efforts helped an entire generation (and hopefully, many more to come) define a clear line between personal rights and government interference.  He could have just let his bar go bankrupt, but no, he had a different idea instead.  Genius.

Ironically, while a lot of progress has been made in defining sexual freedoms, Americans still cannot agree on what “sex” itself is.  Images of a U.S. President wagging his finger and fiercely proclaiming, “Ah did nawt have sex-shul relations with that woman” might be a semi-humorous example of this dilemma in practice (even if just a self-serving one), but apparently it’s just the tip of something bigger.

Among a wide range of adult males and females, a recent study by the Kinsey Institute found that there was a significant lack of consensus on what kind of behaviors are actually being defined as sex.  While the basic peg-A-into-slot-B notion (penile-vaginal contact) seems safely inside the bin, all bets are off when it comes to just about anything else.

For example, fewer people concurred that it constituted having sex even in penile-vaginal scenarios if the male didn’t orgasm.  Additionally, the study found that 20% didn’t agree that anal intercourse constituted sex and 30% felt that oral activities shouldn’t be included in the definition.  Perhaps not so surprisingly, about 50% of those surveyed stated that masturbatory behaviors did not qualify as sex, even if the contact was performed by someone else.  The bottom line:  What seems to be a fairly simple concept in principle is apparently anything but.  The question is:  Is that a “good” or a “bad” thing?  While there are certainly medical and educational ramifications in these findings, the social and legal aspects merit attention and serious discussion as well.

Diversity is a productive ingredient in any evolved society, but divisiveness tends to create a vacuum that is often filled with reactive shortsightedness–and sometimes worse.  Just ask Larry Flynt.

What say you?