TIME Sex

Women May Fake Orgasms to Have an Actual Orgasm, Study Says

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BDLM—Getty Images/Cultura RF

Yes, women fake it to boost their partner's ego, out of insecurity and to just get the darn experience over with. But a new study suggests women also fake it 'til they make it.

The mystery of the faked orgasm is no trivial issue: research suggests that up to 80 percent of women faking the big O. And everyone seems to have an opinion about why a woman would fake an orgasm.

On Masters of Sex, the fictional version of sex researcher Virginia Johnson informed William Masters that a women fake orgasms so they can back to other more important things. Sally explained to Harry that women were just faking orgasms to boost his ego—and demonstrated how easily women can do that—in When Harry Met Sally. Cosmo has given us a wide range of explanations, including insecurities about asking their partner for the things they really want.

Finally science has weighed in and it turns out that Virginia, Sally and Cosmo were all correct, according to a new study published in the Journal of Sexual Archives.

But that’s not the exciting part.

The recently released research revealed a novel and surprising reason for feigned ecstasy: some women may be faking orgasms in an effort to, well, orgasm. Researchers at Temple University and Kenyon College surveyed 481 sexually active heterosexual females who were not in serious relationships. You, know, members of the sort-of fake, overhyped college hookup culture.

According to the study, there were four main factors that influenced women to fake orgasms. Here they are ranked in order of prevalence:

1. Altruistic deceit — faking orgasm out of concern for a partner’s feelings

2. Fear and Insecurity — faking orgasm to avoid negative emotions associated with the sexual experience

3. Elevated Arousal — a woman’s attempt to increase her own arousal through faking orgasm

4. Sexual Adjournment — faking orgasm to end sex

Yes, it’s true. Women fake it for selfish reasons too. Those who participated in the study were more likely to pretend to have an orgasm in order to work themselves up to an actual orgasm than to stop sex altogether. If you believe in the power of positive thinking, the theory makes sense. If you envision yourself achieving a goal, you will achieve it. Plus, if faking an orgasm gets your partner more excited, seeing him excited may excite you.

One caveat: Earlier research indicates that women having casual sex, like the women in this new study are less likely to orgasm that those in serious relationships. Again, that makes sense, the more comfortable you are with a partner, the easier it is to communicate with them what turns you on and the easier it is to be selfish. It’s not surprise that women are reaching into their sexual toolbox to find more ways to arouse themselves.

TIME beauty

When Enforcing School Dress Codes Turns Into Slut Shaming

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Middle school girls in Illinois are protesting for their right to wear leggings after being told by teachers that their clothes are 'too distracting' to their male peers

Correction appended, March 27

In my junior year of high school I wore leggings to my AP Latin class. Leggings were against dress code at my school, as were sweatpants and skirts that were shorter than the ends of your fingertips. I had my leggings on under a dress, which admittedly probably didn’t pass the fingertip rule. My female teacher admonished me in front of the class before sending me home to change. She said something about how I wasn’t respecting myself. I ran home crying and changed into jeans. When I returned, one of the older boys in my class made a rude comment as I sunk into my seat.

I broke school rules—as just about every other teenage girl in high school did when they got dressed in the morning—and probably deserved to be punished. But this time, my teacher, tired of reprimanding girls for dress code violations every day, had decided to make an example of me in front of the class. The result? I missed important test prep for my upcoming AP exam, and she gave some immature boys an excuse to make sexual remarks in a classroom setting. They weren’t punished. That teacher was walking the fine line between enforcing a dress code and slut shaming.

This week, a group of middle-school girls in Evanston, Illinois picketed their school for the right to wear leggings. The girls at Haven Middle School had been told, like I had, that leggings were “too distracting to boys” to wear to school, according to 13-year-old Sophie Hasty who was quoted in the Evanston Review. Hasty makes the sophisticated argument that “not being able to wear leggings because it’s ‘too distracting for boys’ is giving us the impression we should be guilty for what guys do.” Five hundred students signed their petition, and a group of girls wearing leggings and yoga pants (also banned) protested outside the school last week with signs saying, “Are my pants lowering your test scores?”

The argument being made by school administrators is not that distant from the arguments made by those who accuse rape victims of asking to be assaulted by dressing a certain way. We tell women to cover themselves from the male gaze, but we neglect to tell the boys to look at something else. That this has a sexist undertone is demonstrated by the fact that the girls who had more curves to show off were the ones more often disciplined. “Students who were getting ‘dress-coded,’ or disciplined for their attire, tended to be girls who were more developed,” Juliet Bond, a parent of a student at Haven, told the Evanston Review.

Lucy Shapiro, a 12-year-old at Haven, added that when both she and a friend wore the same type of athletic shorts, a teacher disciplined her but not her friend because, she was told, “I had a different body type than my friend…With all the social expectations of being a girl, it’s already hard enough to pick an outfit without adding in the dress code factor.”

“For me, it’s about shaming girls about their bodies,” Bond said. “It’s this message across genders that girls have to cover up, and teachers saying to girls, the reason for this rule is so that boys aren’t distracted.”

The dress code in a middle school in Evanston is far from an isolated incident. In April of 2013, a New Jersey middle school banned girls from wearing strapless dresses to prom because they were “distracting,” but later compromised and allowed one strap dresses after parents protested. A high school principal in Minnesota emailed parents asking them to forbid their children from wearing leggings to school because their “backsides” were “too closely defined” and therefore “highly distracting.” A kindergartner in Georgia was asked to change her short skirt because it was a “distraction to the other students,” which begs the question, were kindergarten boys lusting after their peer during coloring time?

Are uniforms the answer? Many teens (including myself when I was in high school) would argue that a uniform would prevent them from expressing their identity through their clothing when forging their individuality in middle school and high school is hard enough. And sometimes schools can take uniformity too far, as with the girl in Colorado who was banned from classes this week after shaving her head to support a friend going through chemotherapy: she was told she violated dress code. Could the answer be single-sex schools? Distractions from the other sex are a key reason many parents opt into same-sex education for their developing teens. But other parents value a co-educational experience and some even argue it’s essential in teaching girls how to lean in early and be competitive with their male peers in class.

In the end, what’s disruptive in the classrooms is not the clothing that girls are wearing but their bodies themselves. I’m sure teachers mean well by encouraging girls not to think that they need to wear tight clothes in order to get attention from boys or emulate their favorite TV show characters. But by implying that boys simply can’t control themselves around girls’ bodies, administrators are pandering to a culture that too often transfers blame from men to their female victims. They risk encouraging young, impressionable minds—both male and female—to think that women are in some way responsible because of their “suggestive” clothing and their behavior for sexual crimes and transgressions, rather than making clear that each individual is responsible for his or her own actions.

Some clothes are appropriate for school and some are not. But we ought to make that distinction without implying that a girl must be accountable for the sexual attention she gets. Take sex out of the equation. Don’t use the word “distracting” when explaining the rules to girls. Enforce the code equally between the genders. Tell students that the dress code is meant to show respect to learning and school; conforming to the rules is not a measure of how much a student respects herself. And use encouraging language because no teacher should tell a kid how to respect his or her own body.

Correction: The original version of this story, using information from the Evanston Review, misstated Juliet Bond’s first name.

TIME relationships

5 Percent Of People Have Checked Facebook During Sex, Says Survey

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Is this what Zuckerberg had in mind when he created the dubious "Poke" feature?

In today’s modern, fast-paced, hyper-connected society, multitasking is simply a necessary part of life. Stealthily checking your texts during a meeting? Fine. Checking your bank account balance while waiting in line at the grocery store? Sure! Checking Facebook during sex — wait, what?

Yes, apparently people do that. According to a survey conducted for condom maker Durex, around 5 percent of people have checked their Facebook during coitus. Oh, 12 percent of respondents had answered a phone call during sex, and 10 percent had read a text. Technically, calls and texts could be relaying urgent, life-altering information, so we guess that’s a little more acceptable. But Facebook? Can’t you just wait till after you’re done to find out what your co-worker’s kid ate for breakfast?

Seriously, guys. We need to draw the line somewhere.

(h/t CNET)

 

TIME Crimea

Ukrainian Women Have Started a Hilarious Campaign to Deny Sex to Russian Men

The shirts read "Don't give it to a Russian," and proceeds from their sale will go to the Ukrainian army

Well, sanctions and diplomacy have failed — why not give this a try?

Neither Western sanctions nor Ukrainian protests have stopped Russia from annexing Crimea, so now a group of women in Ukraine are trying a different approach.

They have launched a campaign to deny Russian men sex, Foreign Policy Magazine reports, and sport t-shirts with a suggestively clasped pair of hands and the slogan: “Don’t give it to a Russian.”

The t-shirts are being sold on the group’s Facebook page (which is only in Ukrainian), and the revenue will go to the Ukrainian army.

The tactic of withholding sex goes as far back as Ancient Greece, where women banded together in chastity until men stopped fighting and started negotiating (with varying degrees of success). In modern times, there have been similar campaigns in Kenya and Liberia.

The Ukrainian campaign has gone viral on the Russian Internet, where predictably users are trolling and mocking the group.

[Foreign Policy Magazine]

 

 

TIME Pop Culture

The Porn Studies Journal Is a Real Thing — And I Read It

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Phil Ashley / Getty Images

With article titles like 'Why Internet Porn Matters,' you can't go wrong

Want your academic journal to get some attention? Just make it free and about porn to bring in the ever-desirable “free porn” readership. Case in point: Porn Studies, the academic quarterly that published its inaugural issue today.

I read through the issue and, for better or for worse, anyone looking for titillation is likely to be disappointed. (Unless what turns you on is sociological analysis, in which case — it’s your lucky day.) Despite the tantalizing nature of its title, it’s dense albeit fascinating academic content, with articles like “People’s pornography: sex and surveillance on the Chinese internet” and “Finding gender through porn performance.”

But the sophistication of the analysis doesn’t mean there’s nothing relevant to the average reader in the journal: porn, it turns out, is at a turning point — at least academically. In the introduction to the journal, Feona Attwood and Clarissa Smith (of Middlesex University, appropriately, and University of Sunderland, both in the UK) explain why they think Porn Studies is needed: it’s gotten a lot easier to study the topic, as pornography has grown more accessible and the media has developed an interest in covering it, but the field is still young. While academics from many fields, from cultural studies to psychology, talk about porn, they sometimes talk around each other. Porn Studies aims, among other goals, to be the place where they figure out how to talk about it and research it.

Porn is becoming an important part of increasing numbers of people’s lives, although what that means to them is something we still know very little about. The ways that porn is produced and distributed have undergone rapid, radical and incremental change, but much of the popular discussion about those changes is still based on guesswork… Academic work has begun to chart these developments and the field has taken on a new urgency and significance given the continued position of pornography at the centre of controversies around media, gender, sexuality and technology. Pornographies, their spread, their imageries, their imaginaries and their consumption always have a high profile, but in the past decade or so interest in pornography has grown exponentially – with a concomitant increase in claims about porn’s effects, both positive and negative.

If Porn Studies succeeds in that goal, research about porn won’t be twisted into click-baiting reports on how porn is destructive — unless the research actually shows that it is.

But that time isn’t here yet. So if what you’re looking for are weird sex facts, here’s one standout: An analysis of the tags used to search for porn online showed there’s something extra-appealing about Danes. Though the researchers found that search terms usually follow predictable clusters in the “porn semantic network” (“spanking” and “latex” go together, as do “upskirts” and “voyeur” — makes sense), some terms work as bridges between interest clusters. One of those terms is “Danish.” The researchers don’t go into why, and we don’t have any guesses either.

Also, there is such a thing as “fair-trade porn” and it’s not a joke; it describes content made with feminist ethics in mind. Also, there are ten distinct ways that consumers use pornography. Who knew?

One paper found, somewhat depressingly, that one of the major reasons users look at porn is because they have nothing better to do. Now, though, that reason is obsolete — anyone can just go read Porn Studies instead.

TIME

Watch A Really Awkward First Date Unfold in Real Time

Can't. Look. Away.

Get ready to watch the most awkward thing you’ve seen in your life. Vice is ensuring your Friday will be totally unproductive by livestreaming the first date between two strangers. The couple is currently having a drink at The Old Blue Last, a bar in London. It’s basically like if someone took that first kiss video that went viral last week but made it in color and swapped out the beautiful models for a dude wearing a Family Guy t-shirt and a beanie emblazoned with the word “dope” and a girl who seems kind of cool and stylish.

In fact, Vice did a remake of that kissing video with real strangers and the guy participating in this date is one of them. Guess Vice is a matchmaking service for Family Guy fans now.

You’d assume that these two love birds would be on their best behavior — a first date is basically a job interview for love, right? — but this winsome twosome can’t seem to make eye contact for more than 10 seconds at a time or talk about anything that isn’t a giant cliche. Topics so far include cheesy pick-up lines, the intersection of love and beauty and so much more. If this couple doesn’t make it, there’s no hope for the rest of us.

TIME

Low Libido? 11 Drugs That Affect Your Sex Drive

Check your medicine cabinet, then talk to your doctor

Everyone’s heard of medication that can improve your sex life (hello, Viagra!), but some drugs can actually quash it. If you’re feeling less than interested in having sex, the culprit might be in your medicine cabinet. 

If you suspect your low libido might be related to your medication, talk to your doctor. (Don’t just stop taking a potential lifesaver.) He or she will probably be able to suggest an alternative. “Communication is key,” says Raymond Hobbs, MD, a senior staff physician in the department of internal medicine at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Health.com: 15 Everyday Habits to Boost Your Libido

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors

Depression is a well known libido killer, but so are some antidepressants. Prozac, Zoloft, and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) improve mood by raising serotonin. Unfortunately, that can also lower libido, says Irwin Goldstein, MD, director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego. 

You have options. Wellbutrin and Viibryd are two SSRIs that don’t have this side effect. Or try exercise. A recent study suggests that women taking antidepressants who do cardio and strength training before sex may see improvements in the bedroom.

Tricyclic antidepressants

Since the SSRIs came out in the 1990s, tricyclic antidepressants such as Elavil aren’t used as often. But some doctors do still prescribe them to treat not only depression, but also nerve pain such as that associated with shingles. But these, too, can decrease libido. 

If you have a problem, try switching drugs or playing with the dose (after talking to your doctor, of course). “A lot of times you just want to use the lowest dose that accomplishes what you want,” says Dr. Hobbs. “Start low and go slow.”

Health.com: 7 Foods for Better Sex

Birth control pills

Oral contraceptives can lower levels of sex hormones, including testosterone, and therefore may also affect libido.

Non-hormonal contraceptives, such as an IUD, are good alternatives, says Dr. Goldstein. Less popular are condoms and diaphragms. Or you can try one of the many other birth control pills available.

Bear in mind that the pill can also increase your sex drive. “I’ve seen it go both ways,” says Dr. Hobbs. “Taking the pill is very effective and [women who are] more confident in their birth control device… find that their sexuality improves.”

Proscar

Proscar is used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH, better known as an enlarged prostate. It’s a problem most men will encounter as they age. The active ingredient in the drug is finasteride, which prevents testosterone from converting into its active form. Lower testosterone can mean a lower libido. 

An alternative treatment for BPH is a procedure known as a transurethral resection of the prostate. This widely performed one-hour operation involves slipping a tube up the urethra and removing a portion of the prostate. That could take care of the prostate problems and the need for medication.

Health.com: 10 Reasons You’re Not Having Sex

Propecia

This drug is basically the same as Proscar, but it’s used at lower doses to prevent hair loss in men. “It’s the same chemical [finasteride] designed with a new dosing regimen,” says Dr. Goldstein. This means that younger men without prostate problems may also see decreased libido (about 2% of men reported sexual side effects in clinical trials). And there have been reports that the effects can last even after discontinuing the drug, says Dr. Goldstein. 

There are alternative hair-loss treatments, such as Rogaine, that don’t have sexual side effects.

Antihistamines

Over-the-counter antihistamines, especially diphendyramine (Benadryl) and chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), may alleviate your allergies, but temporarily affect your love life. The solution here could be as simple as carefully timing when you take the drug. “Many of these drugs do not last 24 hours and certainly their side effects don’t,” says Allison Dering-Anderson, Pharm.D., a clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. “Antihistamines should be cleared in eight hours in younger and healthier patients.” 

Keep in mind that antihistamines are also found in many combination cough-and-cold medicines so read the label. You may be taking antihistamines and lowering your libido without knowing it.

Medical marijuana

Marijuana is only approved for medical purposes in 20 states, but regardless of where or why it’s used, pot can have “a significant negative impact both on libido and on ability to perform,” says Dering-Anderson.

If you’re in a place that hasn’t legalized marijuana, obviously you shouldn’t be using it. If you are using marijuana legally and having sex drive problems, talk with a healthcare provider about alternatives for pain and nausea, two common reasons people use marijuana-the-drug.

Health.com: The Secret to Hotter Sex

Anti-seizure drugs

Tegretol can be a game changer for people who have seizures and even for some with bipolar disorder. But the price can be reduced sexual desire. Tegretol and other drugs like it work by preventing impulses from traveling along the nerve cells, but therein lies the problem. An orgasm is similar to a seizure—in both, sensory input triggers a body response—says Dr. Goldstein, so medications that dampen nerve impulses can also reduce pleasurable sensations. In short, the things that used to stimulate you just may not do it for you any more.

If an anti-seizure drug is affecting your libido, ask your doctor about an alternative medication. “That’s not the only drug out there,” says Dr. Hobbs.

Opioids

Opioid medications can be a blessing in terms of pain relief, but a curse in terms of addiction and sex drive. Studies have shown that opioids such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet, can lower testosterone, which can affect your libido.

Testosterone therapy—perhaps in the form of a gel—may help men taking opioids for pain who have libido problems, one study found.

Beta blockers

Tens of millions of Americans use beta blockers such as propranolol and metoprolol with great benefit to their hearts, but not necessarily their sex lives. In rare cases, even eye drops containing the beta blocker Timolol (used to treat glaucoma) can decrease libido, says Dering-Anderson.

But there are many beta blockers on the market. They all lower blood pressure, but in different ways. Talk to your doctor to find one that works for all of you.

Benzodiazepines

There have been some reports that anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax can lower your sex drive.

But the underlying anxiety could be the real problem. “Benzodiazepines are used for severe anxiety and many times [people with severe anxiety] aren’t so interested in having sex,” says Dr. Hobbs.

In that case, the medication might calm your anxiety enough to actually enjoy sex, says Dering-Anderson.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Sex

The Duke Porn Star is Right: Kink Can Be a Feminist Choice

Duke adult film star student, Belle Knox, poses for a photo on March 5, 2014 in Los Angeles.
Duke adult film star student, Belle Knox, poses for a photo on March 5, 2014 in Los Angeles. Joe Kohen—Getty Images

The university student/adult film actress penned a controversial xoJane essay defending rough sex. She's right-- there's nothing un-feminist about kink

Duke porn star Belle Knox is back in action, this time with a long manifesto on XOJane about why loving kinky sex doesn’t make her a bad feminist. She also made her strip-club debut in New York this week, and announced on Fox that she’ll be returning to the Duke University campus this week despite the slut shaming and death threats.

Knox argues that she enjoys fantasies of sexual degradation (specifically rough oral sex) and that preference has no bearing on her feminist status.

The truth is: If a woman fantasizes about being dominated and degraded, it does not mean she actually wants or deserves to be dominated and degraded IN REAL LIFE. It does not mean she deserves to be name-called even though during a sexual act that might be the exact thing that turns her on.

Feminism means I can take ownership of what I enjoy sexually and that sexuality does not have to determine anything else about me. You might. But I will not.

Because feminism is not a one size fits all movement.

You tell ‘em, Duke porn star. She also says:

We play around with roles and identities while we are working out issues that are long buried in our subconscious. I’m an ambitious young woman. I’m a student at Duke. I’m a slut who needs to be punished.

Can you guess which one of those is a role?

Knox’s point would be better made if her whole porn career was some kind of long research experiment for a Women & Gender Studies paper. As it is, there are a few worrisome things about her essay, like the fact that 1) she is still a teenager, 2) she admits in the piece to a history of depression and cutting herself, and 3) defending porn as feminist is itself kind of problematic, because it’s often so dude-centric–despite a growing market for feminist porn. And some argue that violent sex fantasies inspire real life sexual violence, although there’s not a lot of scientific consensus on whether that’s true.

MORE: The Duke Porn Star Isn’t as Empowered as She Thinks

But she’s ultimately right that empowered women can also enjoy kink. Feminism is not a gulag– it’s not like there are guards that will shoot you if you try to escape for the night. Let’s get rid of this idea that feminism is an all-or-nothing pursuit that has to be 100% consistent because, as early feminist Margaret Fuller’s BFF Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

And last time I checked, penises and vaginas don’t have politics. Since when do our sex lives have to correspond with our political leanings? Some people (not me) might think Paul Ryan is hot, okay? And other people think Illinois Republican Rep. Aaron Schock is “schockingly” sexy. It doesn’t matter if our politics align, because this is a sex fantasy, not a voting booth.

Besides, isn’t the whole point of a fantasy to be an escape from what other people think is appropriate? If what you’re doing is “appropriate,” it’s probably not hot. I don’t even want to know what a politically correct sex life would look like, but it sounds boring.

Just because many of us can’t imagine anyone enjoying rough (consensual) oral sex, doesn’t mean it’s not possible that some women do. I can’t imagine anyone enjoying a tuna salad sandwich, but that’s still a popular lunch choice.

If the Duke porn star actually does love rough sex, good for her. The problem would be if she were just pretending to like it in order to fulfill some guy’s fantasy. Some women feel like they have to pretend to like kink because their boyfriends want to recreate the porn they watch. But she insists that’s not the case, and we should believe her.

We believe sexual assault survivors when they say the sex wasn’t consensual. We should also believe Belle Knox when she says it was.

TIME Internet

Rape Survivors Talk About Why They Tweeted Their Stories

Young woman with smart phone.
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A spontaneous conversation about sexual assault on social media sparks a debate over whether public sharing helps victims heal or hurts them.

JoAnne Cusick was wearing a pink floral sundress and jelly sandals when she was sexually assaulted at the age of eight by a group of neighborhood boys. Believing that she was to blame, she kept the secret for nine years until she told a priest about the attack during confession. He assured her that she was innocent in the eyes of God, and the eyes of the world.

Twenty-eight years later, Cusick, now a 37-year-old nurse living in Colorado, shared that secret on social media joining hundreds of other victims who tweeted their stories of assault. These women (and a number of men) were responding to a simple question that went viral on Twitter Wednesday night asking victims what they were wearing when they were assaulted. Within hours, a long list of outfits—ranging from sweatshirts to pajamas to bathing suits—accompanied by stories of rape and assault filled Twitter feeds, replacing the normal news items and GIFs.

The huge response ignited a conversation on social media and blogs among victims and health professionals as to whether sharing stories on highly public, semi-anonymous social media forums could be a healthy step in the recovery process—a way to make those who’ve been assaulted feel less alone, less stigmatized and shamed. Or does sharing leave survivors open to online shaming and undermine a more traditional route of coping, like therapy?

The debate started when Christine Fox, a young woman who tweets under the handle @steenfox, got into an argument on Twitter with a follower who insisted that women who wear revealing outfits are at fault if they are sexually assaulted. Fox invited those on the social media network who had been victims of rape or sexual assault to tweet the outfits they wore at the time of the attack in hopes of convincing this man not to victim blame.

“I was trying to make him understand that it absolutely does not make a difference, and that the responsibility does not lie on women,” she told The Root. Over the next several hours, Fox received hundreds of replies. With the users’ permission, she retweeted stories as she received them.

The campaign of sorts took on another life when Adrienne Simpson from Philadelphia, who has never been a victim of sexual assault, saw the conversation on Twitter and thought that it could take on a new visual format. “I am a marketer, so I think in campaigns and imagery,” she tells TIME. “I was thinking they need pictures with this because that’s what’s going to drive home the idea that you can have on corduroy pants and a camouflage shirt—there’s nothing remotely sexual about that—and this can still happen to you.”

She created five images from the texts of five tweets that caught her attention: the camouflage shirt and cords a 15-year-old had been wearing; a school uniform (buttoned-up polo, knee-length khaki shorts) worn by a 13-year-old; a sundress a 19-year-old was wearing to Church on Sunday when she was raped by her 50-year-old minister; jeans and a hoodie for a 22-year-old girl who was acting as a designated driver at a party and whose soda was roofied; and—the one that got the most retweets all night—the Barney pajamas worn by a seven-year-old when she was raped.

She added a hashtag: #RapeHasNoUniform. “I think as a victim, when you speak out, you want it to matter. The bigger this gets, the more it matters. I think it should be an organized, public campaign.”

But without expecting attention or publicity, many just tweeted in the hopes of helping others. “[The assault] had nothing to do with anything I did. And I think hearing one survivor being able to say that is a good for people who may still be blaming themselves,” Cusick tells TIME. She has shared her story with friends before, and says she felt comfortable opening up on Twitter.

Sarah Webster said she tweeted with a similar motive. Webster has tweeted about her assault in the past and says that nothing is too private for her to share on her account, which is focused on sex and body image. During the course of the Twitter conversation, the question of whether most assailants are strangers or not arose, and Webster decided it was important to share her story. Webster says she was raped by someone she was very close to and hoped her experience would show others that even those you trust can be perpetrators. “I was sexually assaulted by someone I knew, and at the time I wasn’t wearing anything at all. It was in my home by someone who was never supposed to do that to me,” she says. “I wanted to contribute another side of the story.”

Scott Berkowitz, the President and Founder of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) was not surprised that seeing so many people share the same experience on Twitter motivated people to share their stories for the first time. “Having this whole community of other people who have been through something similar can be really empowering for people,” he says. “I think there’s safety in numbers. We see that in a lot of scenarios with sexual assault survivors. When there’s allegations, say, against a particular priest that becomes public, suddenly many other people who were abused by that person are okay with coming forward.”

Those who posted compared the spontaneous movement to Take Back the Night and Slut Walk—two organized campaigns that have aimed to create safe environments for rape victims to share their stories, debunk the notion of victim blaming and restore safety to campuses and neighborhoods. The popularity of such projects proves that large groups of victims speaking out can bolster other survivors’ confidence. But unlike past movements, this one took place on social media, which can be simultaneously both anonymous and extremely public.

Anyone on the Internet can read your tweets; and anyone on Twitter can respond to them. You can choose how much information you share about your real identity in your Twitter profile. Some shared their experiences anonymously; others had names and faces attached to their profiles and hence, their stories. Either way many thousands of strangers read their tweets, a fact that became controversial when some media outlets reprinted the tweets and were accused of doing so without everyone’s permission. An argument ensued as to whether tweets are public or private and whether extra consideration should be given to sensitive cases such as this one.

The anonymity, after all, is exactly what convinced some victims to share their stories. Many of those who posted who I interviewed said that though Twitter was public, their family didn’t know that they tweeted and were unlikely to see the tweets. Sharing their story on Twitter with other survivors felt safer than sharing on someplace like Facebook where their tight circle, that might include family members who don’t know about the assault or even the assailant him or herself, might be able to see.

RAINN has found that some anonymity helps those who have never shared before. “We launched an online hotline in 2006 to compliment our telephone hotline because we were finding that younger victims in particular just weren’t comfortable picking up the phone and saying out loud what happened to them,” says Berkowitz. “But that sitting in the privacy of their room at their computer with at least a measure of anonymity there that they tend to open up much more.”

But that’s an anonymous hotline. Twitter is a public forum, where there’s always gong to be backlash. “In a [therapy] group, you generally sign a confidentiality agreement. There are no agreements on Twitter. Nobody cares about you. It’s the Internet,” says Nicole Aghaaliandastjerdi who shared her experience and now runs a women’s abuse support group in Louisville, KY. Along with all the supportive messages came the the kind of slut-shaming that originally spurred the conversation. “I remember someone was tweeting, ‘Look at all the damaged goods.’ That was really hard for even me to read, and I’m pretty far along in my healing process.”

Despite such comments, Aghaaliandastjerdi focuses on the good that came out of it, like her friend who had only shared once before but decided to participate on Twitter. “That was huge for her. For a lot of people, they’re taking back whatever had been taken from them. They’re claiming it and giving the story a different kind of power.”

Indeed, many first-time sharers found safety in numbers. Clifford Johnson, 31, hadn’t shared his story before except with a few close family members. “When I think about it, it kind me feel like a little less than a man—just the fact that it happened.”

But seeing others share their story and the ease of tweeting allowed him to post. “I don’t think I intended to go that deep. I almost deleted it because I didn’t know if I wanted this out there.” But as people began to respond he changed his mind. “It was a forum for the first time I was able to say what happened and get feedback from other people who went through the same thing. Plus, everyone there was a woman, you know? And it just kind of got me to thinking about things that happened to me as a child, and I wanted to put it out there to say, ‘It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. It doesn’t even matter your race or sex. It could happen to anybody.’”

The experience made him want to become involved in advocacy for male victims of rape.

The Twitter conversation was a healing process for many of those who participated. The majority of responses were ones of love and support from strangers.

“What made me feel okay is that it’s so much more prevalent than one might initially think. Even though in my personal network that I follow I didn’t see anyone else respond, the fact that there were so many people responding to the question made me realize it’s not an uncommon thing,” says Ayanna who wanted her last name to be withheld and tweeted despite the fact that her ex-boyfriend and assailant still follows her on social media. “Some women tweeted at me who had been through the same thing. They really identified with what I said and it made me feel validated in my decision.”

Of the seven assault survivors I interviewed, none regretted having tweeted.

“I’m sure hundreds of people probably woke up today with a heavy burden lifted off them,” Johnson says.

TIME Family

How Not to Talk About Sex With Your Teenage Daughter

Why Is the Sex Talk Between Mothers and Daughters So Difficult
Cavan Image/Getty Images

The author reveals what worked for her—at least on the second try

The other day I was at the gym finishing my workout when a mom I know asked for my advice about “the sex talk.” She was struggling, she confided, to bring up the subject with her teenage daughter—afraid that discussing sex was somehow tantamount to giving her the green light to have it.

You would think that for a generation of parents who grew up during an era of “free love” and whose own kids are being raised at a time when the culture is awash in sexual imagery that this would be an easy conversation to have. But it is, in fact, the sex talk—the anticipation of exploring with their daughters issues of love, intimacy, relationships and the mechanics of sex—that seems to flummox otherwise smart, accomplished, open-minded, articulate women.

I was reminded of this again last week when a writer I admire, Hanna Rosin, penned a piece at Slate under the headline “Sex Talk Fail.” Rosin is a writer at The Atlantic; founder of DoubleX, Slate’s women’s section; and the author of The End of Men. And even she has been at a loss for words when trying to talk to her teen daughter about sex.

“I am nearly 100 percent sure that the talk will not go well,” she wrote in her piece. “My aborted attempts so far have not been promising.”

Though I am not unfamiliar with the trepidation associated with said talk, I approached my own first attempt with what turned out to be unwarranted confidence. When my daughter, Emma, now 21, was 13 years old and about to enter the yearlong Bar and Bat Mitzvah circuit, rumors abounded about the “Bar Mitzvah blowjob.

It turned out to be urban myth, but I lived in fear that some acned, brace-faced boy would approach my innocent daughter at a Bar Mitzvah party and demand that she service him. I imagined her caught unaware, uninformed and unprepared. And as much as I dreaded it, I was convinced that it was my maternal duty to clue her in.

I did some online research, read a handful of articles and consulted a few books. And when I finally steeled myself for this mother-daughter talk, I was sure that I was prepared. I planned an outing to a small café, ordered a latte, bought my daughter a hot chocolate and dove right in: “Emma, I’m sure you’ve heard about the Bar Mitzvah blowjob,” I said.

Without giving her a chance to speak, and before I lost my nerve, I told her that she should not—under any circumstances—engage in such an intimate act. I explained that this should only occur when she was older, more mature and in a committed relationship, and that it should be reciprocal, if she so desired. And, of course, I told her that you could get a sexually transmitted disease from oral sex.

When I was finally done, she stared at me, shrugged her shoulders and said: “What’s a blowjob?”

Totally taken aback, I suddenly found myself in a public place awkwardly trying to explain it, in detail. Her response: “Eww! Can we go home now?”

Well, one thing I was pretty certain of—if I ever tried this again, it couldn’t go worse. And lucky for me, it didn’t.

For one thing, I was unexpectedly given a big assist by Emma’s school, where “Human Development” is taught in seventh, eighth and tenth grades. The program covers a range of topics, including menstruation, STDs, setting boundaries and safe sex. This not only made my job easier because she learned the basics there, but also because talking about sex at school with her teachers and among her peers demystified the subject, making it less awkward to talk about with me.

What that meant over the years was rather than trying to have a single, all-important, have-to-get-it-perfect talk, we were able to discuss different subjects more casually, broaching them as they came up—first date, first kiss, first boyfriend. It also meant that when the sex talk really mattered, both of us were a little more ready, if not completely at ease.

In our case, this was when Emma was a junior in high school and had a steady boyfriend. I was certain that the topic of sex was going to come up between them, if it hadn’t already. And though I knew she had learned about sex at school, I had things that I wanted to tell her myself: about choice, about love, about commitment, about intimacy. I wanted to talk to her about the things that reflected our family’s values.

And so this time, remembering what an educator once told me about how the lack of eye contact helps teens to talk—or at least to listen—I slipped under Emma’s covers, right before she was about to go to sleep. I told her plainly that I wanted to talk to her about sex. Her immediate reaction was to say, “Oh, no you’re not.” She pulled the covers over her head.

I explained that she didn’t have to say a word, but that she did have to listen. I told her that I thought she was still too young to have sex, and that I hoped she would wait. I said that having sex complicated relationships and that the older she was, the better able she would be to handle it. I made clear that just because her boyfriend, a year and half older than she, might be ready, it didn’t mean she had to be. Having sex for the first time—and every time after that—was her choice. I told her that she should always feel comfortable and safe, and if she didn’t, she should listen to her gut and say no.

Finally, I told her that even though I thought she was too young, if she decided to have sex with her boyfriend, I would help her get birth control—no questions asked, and no judgment rendered. I wanted her to know that it was always okay to talk to me.

In retrospect, I have come to think that the sex talk is difficult for a host of reasons: As moms, we have no real role models in this regard. There is no standard message that fits all families. And the entire exercise signifies that our daughters are growing up and away from us, which can be emotionally difficult for everyone.

As for Emma’s teenage brother, well, I’ve happily left that to his dad. As Rosin points out, “Some sex-talk traditions are worth preserving.”

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