Cyber-security companies are warning about the rise of so-called ‘extortionware’ where hackers embarrass victims into paying a ransom.
Experts say the trend towards ransoming sensitive private information could affect companies not just operationally but through reputation damage.
It comes as hackers bragged after discovering an IT Director’s secret porn collection.
The targeted US firm has not publicly acknowledged that it was hacked.
In its darknet blog post about the hack last month, the cyber-criminal gang named the IT director whose work computer allegedly contained the files.
It also posted a screen grab of the computer’s file library which included more than a dozen folders catalogued under the names of porn stars and porn websites.
The infamous hacker group wrote: “Thanks God for [named IT Director]. While he was [masturbating] we downloaded several hundred gigabytes of private information about his company’s customers. God bless his hairy palms, Amen!”
The blog post has been deleted in the last couple of weeks, which experts say usually implies that the extortion attempt worked and the hackers have been paid to restore data, and not publish any more details.
The company did not respond to requests for comment.
The same hacker group is also currently trying to pressure another US utility company into paying a ransom, by posting an employee’s username and password for a members-only porn website.
‘The new norm’
Another ransomware group which also has a darknet website shows the use of similar tactics.
The relatively new gang has published private emails and pictures, and is calling directly for the mayor of a hacked municipality in the US to negotiate its ransom.
In another case, hackers claim to have found an email trail showing evidence of insurance fraud at a Canadian agriculture company.
Brett Callow, a threat analyst at cyber-security company Emsisoft, says the trend points to an evolution of ransomware hacking.
“This is the new norm. Hackers are now actually searching the data for information that can be weaponised. If they find anything that is incriminating or embarrassing, they’ll use it to leverage a larger pay-out. These incidents are no longer simply cyber-attacks about data, they are full-out extortion attempts.”
Another example of this was seen in December 2020, when the cosmetic surgery chain The Hospital Group was held to ransom with the threat of publication of ‘before and after’ images of patients.
Ransomware is evolving
Ransomware has evolved considerably since it first appeared decades ago.
Criminals used to operate alone, or in small teams, targeting individual internet users at random by booby-trapping websites and emails.
In the last few years, they’ve become more sophisticated, organised and ambitious.
Criminal gangs are estimated to be making tens of millions of dollars a year, by spending time and resources targeting and attacking large companies or public bodies for huge pay-outs, sometimes totalling millions of dollars.
Brett Callow has been following ransomware tactics for years, and says he saw another shift in methods in late 2019.
“It used to be the case that the data was just encrypted to disrupt a company, but then we started seeing it downloaded by the hackers themselves.
“It meant they could charge victims even more because the threat of selling the data on to others was strong.”
Tough to defend against
This latest trend of threatening to publicly damage an organisation or individual has particularly concerned experts because it is hard to defend against.
Keeping good backups of company data helps businesses to recover from crippling ransomware attacks, but that is not enough when the hackers use extortionware tactics.
Cyber-security consultant Lisa Ventura said: “Employees should not be storing anything that could harm a firm reputationally on company servers. Training around this should be provided by organisations to all their staff.
“It’s a troubling shift in angle for the hackers because ransomware attacks are not only getting more frequent, they are also getting more sophisticated.
“By identifying factors such as reputational damage, it offers far more leverage to extort money from victims.”
A lack of victim reporting and a culture of cover-up makes estimating the overall financial cost of ransomware difficult.
Experts at Emsisoft estimate that ransomware incidents in 2020 cost as much as $170bn (£123bn) in ransom payments, downtime and disruption.
NEW YORK (Reuters) – When Grindr Inc’s Chinese owner sold the popular dating app to an investor consortium last year to comply with a U.S. national security panel order, the parties to the deal gave information to authorities that contradicted disclosures to potential investors and Chinese regulators, Reuters has learned.
They told the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) that James Lu, a Chinese-American businessman who is now Grindr’s chairman, had no previous business relationship with a key adviser to the seller, a man named Ding’an Fei, according to a Reuters review of the parties’ written submissions to CFIUS.
Fei, a former private equity executive, was acting as an adviser to Beijing Kunlun Tech Co Ltd, Grindr’s owner at the time, on the deal, the documents show.
“The investors and Ding’an Fei have at no time conducted business together in their personal capacities prior to the proposed transaction,” Kunlun and the investor group, called San Vicente Holdings LLC, wrote to CFIUS in a response dated March 27, 2020.
However, when Lu was raising funds to buy Grindr in the second half of 2019 and early 2020, potential investors were told by firms helping him raise the money that Fei was involved in the effort with him in various capacities, a review of four different fundraising documents shows.
The duo had also done business together in other ventures: Fei was a member of the board of a Chinese restaurant operator in which Lu served as chief executive officer, according to that restaurant company’s 2018-2019 annual report.
The discrepancies and omissions in the parties’ response to U.S. authorities, reported by Reuters for the first time, could prompt a new review from CFIUS, according to six former U.S. officials and lawyers familiar with the panel’s rules. If CFIUS were to find the statements were not true, it can also lead to civil penalties and criminal charges under the false statement provisions of the U.S. penal code, they said.
“If a transaction was approved based on misrepresentations, that could well invalidate the approval of the transaction,” said Brent McIntosh, who served as the Treasury Under Secretary responsible for CFIUS when the Grindr deal was cleared. McIntosh declined to comment on the specifics of Reuters’ findings.
San Vicente spokesman Taylor Ingraham said that “a complete and accurate account of James Lu’s relationship with Ding’an Fei, as well as his investments and business activities in China, was provided to CFIUS prior to the agency’s approval of San Vicente Holdings’ acquisition of Grindr.”
Ingraham declined to make Lu, who owns a 17% stake in the buyer’s group, available for an interview. Lu, Fei, Kunlun and Grindr did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
CFIUS and the U.S. Treasury Department, which chairs CFIUS, did not respond to requests for comment.
The documents reviewed by Reuters include a resume for Lu that was put together by the parties in support of the CFIUS application. While the resume lists positions going back to 2002, it does not mention some of his business dealings in China. In particular, Chinese regulatory filings show Lu is chairman of a Chinese investment firm, where a local government is the majority shareholder.
Scott Flicker, a regulatory partner at law firm Paul Hastings LLP who was not involved in the Grindr case and reviewed Reuters’ findings, said CFIUS would want to know about Lu’s business dealings in China when assessing whether his past could be used by Beijing to compromise him.
“It is potentially relevant information for the CFIUS review. The integrity of the acquiring party is relevant to the question of threat of exploitation,” Flicker said.
However, some lawyers played down the possibility that CFIUS would reopen its review. They noted that there is no publicly known precedent of the panel ever having done so. Were CFIUS to identify misstatements in a review, it would likely take action only if they significantly raised the risk of a transaction harming national security, said Alexis Early, a regulatory partner at law firm King & Spalding LLP who was not involved in the Grindr deal.
Reuters could not determine whether San Vicente and Kunlun disclosed those activities to CFIUS subsequently.
Reuters first reported about the ties between Lu and Fei in June of last year, after CFIUS had already approved the sale of Grindr to San Vicente for $620 million. Reuters could not determine whether CFIUS had taken any action following that Reuters report.
Since then, Reuters has reviewed three sets of confidential written questions that CFIUS sent to the parties, their responses to them and several supporting documents. Reuters could not determine whether CFIUS knew of the specific discrepancies reported in this article when it approved the deal last year.
Ingraham did not comment on whether there were any additional communications with CFIUS beyond the set of questions and answers seen by Reuters.
Based in West Hollywood, California, Grindr is especially popular among gay men and has millions of users. CFIUS ordered Kunlun, a Chinese mobile gaming company, in May 2019 to sell Grindr, giving it about a year to complete the deal. The move was among a series of actions the United States took in recent years against Chinese companies.
Reuters previously reported that Kunlun was ordered to divest Grindr because U.S. authorities worried personal information about Americans could fall into Beijing’s hands. here
Lu started raising money from outside investors for the Grindr acquisition in the months after the CFIUS order, according to the fundraising documents and the responses to CFIUS. Lu first sought money for the acquisition through a fund called Duo Capital, and later an entity called TGL Capital.
In the fundraising documents, Fei is named as associated with the funds in various ways, including as a contact person for Duo Capital, a member of the external advisory team of Duo Capital and as a co-leader of TGL Capital. Reuters could not learn more about his role or independently verify the information.
The ties between Fei and Lu came to CFIUS’ attention during the review. In the third set of questions, CFIUS asked, “Is Mr. Ding An Fei of TGL Capital (formerly known as Duo Capital) the same Dingan Fei” who is listed as “an individual who should receive notices on behalf of Beijing Kunlun Tech Co Ltd?”
In their March 27, 2020 response, the parties denied any ties. “Neither Ding’an Fei nor anyone else employed by or representing Kunlun has ever held a position with TGL Capital, Duo Capital, or San Vicente,” they wrote.
Lu did not respond to questions about Duo and TGL.
San Vicente and Kunlun also told CFIUS in their March 27, 2020 response to questions about the relationship between Fei and the San Vicente investors that Lu knew Fei “because they have each held positions in the investment community working on Asia-U.S. transactions.”
However, Fei sat on the board of restaurant operator Life Concepts Holding, in which Lu served as CEO, according to the company’s annual report. Fei stood down from Life Concepts’ board in April 2020, amid the CFIUS review, without disclosing a reason, according to a Life Concepts filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange.
Life Concept, based in Hong Kong, did not respond to a request for comment.
As a new book is released exploring the modern, smartphone-facilitated phenomenon of ‘sending nudes’, Holly Williams reflects on the lineage of naked self-representation it continues.
“Love, lust, pleasure, desire, beauty, anatomical study, self-expression, egotism… The impulses behind sending nudes are many. Creating nudes and sharing them seems to be part of human nature.” So begins Karla Linn Merrifield, in the first contribution to a new anthology entitled Sending Nudes. A collection of poems, stories and memoir on the subject, it takes a long hard look at the contemporary – and seemingly timeless – habit of sharing images of the naked human form.
More like this:
The idea came to editor Julianne Ingles after a short story entitled Send Nudes was submitted for a previous anthology she was working on. “I thought [the topic] could be explored, that other people would have stories and poems,” says Ingles.
“Sending nudes” is more of a live topic than ever, chiefly because the ease of taking, replicating and sharing naked images has led to anxieties about everything from revenge porn to celebrity sex tapes, hacked private images to sexting teenagers. But since the advent of smartphones, sending nudes has also become normalised incredibly quickly: any woman who’s been on a dating app in the last decade will likely have been asked to share nude pictures with eyebrow-lifting speed.
But Ingles reminds me that sending nudes isn’t really new: “When I was in my early twenties, I sent nudes to someone – this was before the internet, so it was Polaroids”. It’s just that it used to be a private, little-spoken-of activity, rather than part and parcel of digital dating and contemporary life.
Its increasing prevalence as a phenomenon is neither a simply “good” or “bad” thing, Ingles – and the writers of Sending Nudes – suggest. While the potential for coercion, abuse and shaming are high, sexting can be a fun, consensual way to develop intimacy. During a pandemic, it’s also become almost a practical necessity for many – a way of keeping sexual fire alive, over enforced distance.
The artworks of our era?
Arguably, there are also positives to having a greater openness and diminished prudishness about real-life, normal human bodies. But then, few people sending nudes traffic in realism. Seductive nude selfies are usually staged and carefully framed, albeit often within the confines of a bedroom or bathroom; dressed up for as well as undressed for. Posed and carefully lit, cropped and filtered to flatter, they are crafted for the imagined appreciation of the viewer. In that way, are nude selfies part of a lineage of naked representation that runs back through art history?
Certainly, you could argue the selfie – including the naked one – is the artwork of our time. It’s estimated that over a million selfies are taken every day: self-portraiture meets self-promotion. We’re more aware than ever not only of our own image, but our presentation of it – how we make ourselves appear to the eyes of the external spectator. And nowhere is that more carefully manipulated, surely, than in the nude snap.
The art world is increasingly taking note of the selfie form. In 2017, Saatchi Gallery in London opened a show, From Selfie to Self-Expression, drawing the line between traditional self-portraits through to the humble camera phone shot, from Rembrandt and Van Gogh through to Kim Kardashian and Barack Obama. “Everything can be art if it’s followed through by the maker with enough conviction and coherence,” commented Nigel Hurst, CEO of Saatchi Gallery. “We’re not saying that the slideshow of a teenager trying out various poses is as significant as a work by Rembrandt, but the art world cannot ignore this phenomenon.”
That same year, the Sexting Art Festival was held at the Littlefield Gallery in Brooklyn. The organisers wanted to redress the lack of conversation, analysis or display of the “wide spectrum of work” that constitutes sexting, by showcasing it in all its forms, visual and otherwise.
Meanwhile in 2016, the National Portrait Gallery had a show called Exposed: The Naked Portrait, which revealed just how acceptable – fashionable, even – it’s become for celebrities to strip off for their own professional “selfies” – “revealing” and “honest” photographic portraits by the likes of Annie Leibovitz, David Bailey, Norman Parkinson, Mario Testino, and Polly Borland.
From buxom fertility goddesses through to heroic Greek gods, the unclothed human body has been recreated from the moment we could carve rock
The pervasiveness of the “nude selfie” is just the latest step in our ever-evolving relationship with the naked image. From buxom fertility goddesses through to heroic Greek gods, the unclothed human body has been recreated from the moment we could carve rock.
While it was the muscular, well-proportioned male form that was celebrated in Ancient Greece, once we came to the Renaissance, the focus began to shift to women. Hunky, idealised nude male figures from myth or the Bible still occupied artists’ imaginations (think of Michelangelo’s David, or depictions of Adam) – but a new fondness emerged for the reclining female nude.
Artists rendered the nude “respectable” in various ways: they painted goddesses or biblical figures as anonymous, generalised images of “beauty”, rather than portraits of specific or identifiable women. Painted in supposedly modest poses with hands delicately placed to notionally conceal their genitals, they also trafficked in idealism, not reality: no pubic hair here.
But rarefied and legitimised as they might be, such nudes also – inevitably – carry an erotic charge. These supine naked women invite the eyes of the – imagined male – viewer to travel all over their curves. Many entrenched ideas of what feminine sexuality looks like – a certain languorous passivity, simultaneously coy and come-hither – are codified here.
The first “nude selfie” by a female artist is thought to be Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Self-Portrait Nude with Amber necklace (1906) (Credit: Alamy)
Of course, the erotic intent of nudes before the 20th Century was almost always that conjured by male painters catering to wealthy male buyers. In the art critic John Berger’s hugely influential 1972 essay Ways of Seeing, he argued that, historically, “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at… The surveyor of woman is herself male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object – and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.” He proves this via examination of the frontal female nude in European art: the female subject, painted by a male artist, offering themselves up and out as an object, to be looked at by heterosexual men. For hundreds of years, women were only able to see external representations of their gender filtered through a male gaze, and therefore internalised that way of looking at themselves too.
Nudes with agency
I asked Frances Borzello, art historian and author of The Naked Nude, if there are any examples of pre-20th Century nudes expressing women’s agency – for example, portraits commissioned by a wife or mistress of themselves in order to please or tantalise a partner or lover? “I don’t know,” she says. “They would hardly advertise this though one assumes it must have happened – occasionally!”
She brings up Goya’s La Maja desnuda: a famously frank nude, who unabashedly eyeballs the viewer. Not that the model commissioned or owned her own image – it’s thought the painting was made for a man’s private collection of nudes – but art historians have speculated that it is at least an explicit, realistic portrait of one specific and willing female subject, who might have been Goya’s lover. “The striking features are the opposite of the bland and often hazy features of the ideal nude,” Borzello says.
Artists turned their gaze on their own bodies, though they rarely recreated them in flattering or well-mannered images
In terms of self-promotion, commissioned portraits of the wealthy and powerful were usually, for reasons of respectability, fully clothed – both men and women – but there are rare exceptions. These include a wonderfully eccentric 1530 portrait of the admiral Andrea Doria, painted by Agnolo Bronzino as Neptune, complete with trident and naked torso; and a 1670 painting of Nell Gwyn, an actress and also King Charles II’s mistress, in which she is posing topless.
But it is at the start of the 20th Century when the naked self-portrait exploded in popularity. In this period of great artistic and intellectual change, artists turned their gaze on their own bodies, though they rarely recreated them in flattering or well-mannered images. Anguished mental states seem to thrum off the canvases, as in the harsh, blue-toned naked self-portraits of Richard Gerstl, the scowling, disturbing contortions of Egon Schiele, or when Edvard Munch painted himself “in Hell”, his haunted face surrounded by flames.
Tschabalala Self’s erotic mixed-media collages bear a selfie-like aesthetic (Credit: Tschabalala Self, courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London
All these naked self-portraits were painted within the first decade of the 20th Century – and rather set the tone for the rest of it. Such paintings were possible, writes Borzello in The Naked Nude, because these artists had “no-one to answer to but themselves… These naked portraits follow no tradition. They are new. They make the private public. And they left a legacy.”
Modernism continued to effectively kill off the idealised reclining nude, as messier, more complicated images of naked bodies proliferated. Both in artists’ naked self-portraits and in nude portraits of others, a concern with the body’s less-than-picturesque aspects remained ascendant – from Picasso’s shattered forms to Lucian Freud’s lumpy flesh.
How women reclaimed their image
But the story of the 20th Century nude is also the story of women, finally able to paint themselves. The first “nude selfie” by a female artist is thought to be Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Self-Portrait Nude with Amber necklace, in 1906, where she paints herself pregnant, despite not being so. It’s an imaginative take that’s about female identity – not the male gaze.
For many female artists, creating their own take on the nude becomes a way to reclaim the stereotyped image of woman from the masculine traditions of Western art history. Florine Stettheimer’s 1915 A Model (Nude Self-Portrait) cocks a snook at the traditional reclining nude: Stettheimer paints herself with a knowing smile, proffering her own colourful bunch of flowers like a magician’s trick – an active riposte to Edouard Manet’s infamous, unimpressed-looking 1863 nude, Olympia, which features a white sex worker being brought flowers from a suitor by a black servant.
Whether in advertising, pop culture, or pornography, the naked body has become defined by its attractiveness as a monetisable object.
For women, as much as for men – perhaps even more so, given they were actively trying to counter hundreds of years of artistic airbrushing of their bodies – naked self-portraits became concerned with conveying uncomfortable truths about what it is to have a body. From Frida Kahlo’s symbol-laden portrait of her own miscarriage to Jenny Saville’s close-up rolls of flesh and Tracey Emin’s scratchy masturbation paintings, the “nude selfie” became truly unfiltered.
But if the pendulum swung away from the notion of the idealised nude in Western culture, it eventually swung back, albeit in a new form. Whether in advertising, pop culture, or pornography, the naked body has become defined by its attractiveness as a monetisable object. And that’s a paradigm that has been picked apart by Pop Art, post modernism, and beyond. In general, contemporary art is more likely to use an idealised naked body to critique attitudes towards sex, pornography and consumption than it is to plainly ape them – although viewers of, say, Jeff Koons’ super-glossy soft-core staged photographs with his then wife, adult film star Ilona Staller (aka La Cicciolina), might be forgiven for feeling otherwise.
However some nude images channelled eroticism in a way that was truly radical. Consider Robert Mapplethorpe’s black and white photographs of naked gay men, including himself, engaged in BDSM and sex acts, which caused such a furore that Washington DC’s Corcoran Gallery cancelled a show of them in 1989. Then, bringing such kink into the light was shocking; today, the controversy has dimmed, and Mapplethorpe is subject to major, respectable retrospectives.
The language of the smartphone nude
When it comes to the advent of the smartphone-facilitated nude selfie, meanwhile, the question is: how have we absorbed this language and grammar of nakedness? It’s something that artists are certainly exploring, recreating the camera angles, the up-close poses and pouts, the partially-pulled-down underwear on gallery walls.
Ghada Amer embroiders works that, beneath their fine surfaces, recreate the codified poses – the hand on the stuck-out bum, the coyly pulled-down bra strap, the over the-shoulder inviting look – of the nude selfie. Tschabalala Self’s mixed-media collages stitch together exaggerated images of black female bodies that speak to the way they can be both sexually empowered, and crudely sexualised, in contemporary visual culture. “The fantasies and attitudes surrounding the black female body are both accepted and rejected within my practice,” she has said. Erin M Riley’s work explicitly recreates nude selfies – but immortalises them within tapestries. Based on real images she finds online, she includes details like a mobile phone reflected in a mirror or the familiar hand-held camera angle, looking down the body.
Some artists have gone further, literally using other people’s Instagram posts. David Trullo turned Instagram posts of men photographing themselves nearly-nude in bathroom mirrors into bathroom tiles. Meanwhile, for his New Portraits series, controversial painter/photographer Richard Prince left suggestive replies below people’s Instagram selfies, often those of young women and sexily posed (if not fully-naked), then blew up and printed out the posts. But if the series was intended as some kind of satirical comment on how we’re all obsessed with crafting our own attractive self-images – and giving them away for free to anyone who cares to look – then that was mostly obscured by his co-opting and profiteering from women’s images without their consent.
One subject, Zoë Ligon, told ArtNet that she thought the work “resembles revenge porn and harassment more than anything else”; explaining that she was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and her “sexy selfies” were a way of reclaiming her sexualised image, she said she felt “violated” by Prince’s use of one. The issue of his appropriating women’s pictures was brought into wider consciousness when model Emily Ratajkowski wrote about buying one of Prince’s works using a post from her Instagram, within a potent, widely-shared piece about not having control over her own image last year.
Absolutely, I think the nude selfie can be an art form. It’s nice to see that thought and reflection. It shows the person respects themselves – Julianne Ingles
While Prince’s work inadvertently highlights very serious questions about how the selfie can be appropriated unethically, it is also clear that it is a medium which deserves artistic interrogation. Here is a striking, thorny new form of communication and self-presentation – and one that is, after all, purely visual. Nonetheless, in transposing that visual language into a new medium or context, artists are both reflecting on and actively removing the primary function of the private nude: they are not seeking to turn the viewer on. “I honestly don’t know of artists who would admit to intentionally titillating,” says Borzello.
But does the nude selfie, in its purest state, have the potential to be a new art form? Ingles thinks so. “Absolutely, I think that it can be an art form,” she says. “It’s nice to see that thought and reflection, not just snapping a photo – people taking time to do the lighting, your hair and make-up. It shows the person respects themselves.”
Which brings us back to Berger’s formulation of how, when a woman imagines themselves through the eyes of the external, male viewer, she “turns herself into an object… of vision: a sight.” Fifty years on, women are still more judged on how they look than men, and the tyranny of that internalised male gaze persists. But it also seems that anyone engaged with visual digital culture – anyone posting selfies and in particular anyone sending nudes – is today actively participating in turning themselves into an object of vision.
The irony is, perhaps, that the filtered, posed, explicit images we now so easily recognise as a smartphone nude might have come full circle – bringing us back to the aesthetic of the traditional respectable art historical nude: codified, safe and strangely conventional. Designed to be gazed upon. Designed to please the viewer. Designed to turn our complicated and messy bodies into the ideal object.
The European Parliament has declared that the whole of the European Union is an “LGBTIQ Freedom Zone”.
The symbolic resolution was passed in response to local authorities in Poland labelling themselves “LGBT ideology-free zones” in recent years.
Poland also plans to close a loophole that allowed same-sex couples to adopt.
The Polish government announced its proposal for the adoption ban just hours before the European Parliament’s declaration in support of LGBT rights.
Same-sex relationships are not legally recognised in Poland, and the country already bans same-sex couples from adopting children together.
However, as single people are permitted to adopt, some have managed to get around the ban by applying to adopt as single parents.
Under the new law, the authorities will be required to perform background checks on anyone applying to adopt a child as a single parent.
If a person is found to be applying as a single parent when they are in a same-sex relationship, they will be criminally liable.
Announcing the new plan, Deputy Justice Minister Michal Wojcik said: “We are preparing a change where… people living in cohabitation with a person of the same sex cannot adopt a child, so a homosexual couple will not be able to adopt a child.”
What is in the EU resolution?
The resolution declares that “LGBTIQ persons everywhere in the EU should enjoy the freedom to live and publicly show their sexual orientation and gender identity without fear of intolerance, discrimination or persecution”.
It adds that “authorities at all levels of governance across the EU should protect and promote equality and the fundamental rights of all, including LGBTIQ persons”.
The resolution was supported by 492 MEPs, while another 141 voted against it and 46 abstained.
German MEP Terry Reintke, one of the people who put forward the resolution, praised the “overwhelming majority” in favour of it.
“Let’s use it,” she tweeted after the vote. “Let’s put it into concrete political action: better laws, better enforcement, better protection. Together we can do it.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had already backed the resolution before it went to a debate on Thursday.
“Being yourself is not an ideology. It’s your identity,” she tweeted on Wednesday. “No one can ever take it away. The EU is your home. The EU is a #LGBTIQFreedomZone.”
Last year, Ms von der Leyen said that Poland’s “LGBT-free zones” had “no place in our union”, and vowed to push all EU member states to recognise adoptions by same-sex couples.
Thursday’s resolution said that discrimination not only needed to be addressed in Poland, but that it was “an issue across the EU”.
“I want to address my appearance on the @mothecomedian podcast, when a story I told caused massive and righteous offence,” she wrote.
“Firstly, I want to say that I am wholeheartedly sorry”.
She continued: “I know that in this case, sorry is not nearly enough, throughout my life I have made a lot of mistakes and what I have come to know is that the only benefit to making one is to learn from it.
The word Jess used in her interview is among the most commonly used slurs against trans people online – according to a recent study.
“To be in the knowledge that I have negatively impacted the community through my own ignorance has ripped out a piece of my heart.” she explained.
“I know I needed to address my mistake head on and educate myself about an issue I was frankly ignorant of.
“The language that I used on the podcast was unacceptable, as someone that has always been immersed in the LGBTQ+ community, I have witnessed first hand the progress that has been made when it comes to language, I am ashamed that I was unaware of the potency of the T-slur until now.”
The singer then shared a list of organisations we she said her followers could “learn from”.
Organisers of London Trans Pride say the singer “still has a lot of work to do”, but called her apology “a step in the right direction”.
Newsbeat asked Mo Gilligan for comment, but he hasn’t responded.
Old-fashioned romantics might have the wrong idea about love. Strong beliefs in true love could be blinding you to both the good and bad in your partner, with sometimes toxic results.
Have you ever explained issues you have with your partner to your friends, only for them to think they are not worth worrying about? Or have you seen a friend start a new romance with someone you think is completely unsuitable but they seem to go from strength to strength?
Psychologists have found two scales that influence how we start and maintain relationships.
One measures how much importance we put onto first impressions and early signs of compatibility, while the other measures how likely we are to work through problems in relationships. They are called implicit theories of relationships (because we don’t often talk about them). We might intuitively think of ourselves as more or less likely to believe in true love – but this is not something that we openly discuss with others or are conscious of when we start new relationships.
Together, these two scales can tell us if we are more likely to avoid talking about issues with our partners, look for faults where they might not exist, and ‘ghost’ our way out of relationships. Differences in these implicit attitudes can also help us understand the reasons that others’ romantic choices often seem inexplicable to us.
To find out how you score, take the two quizzes below.
The Soul Mate scale
Answer the following questions on a scale of one to seven, where one is strongly disagree and seven is strongly agree.
1. Success in a romantic relationship is based mostly on whether the people are “right” for each other.
2. There is a person out there who is perfect (or close to perfect) for me.
3. In marriages, many people discover (vs. build) a deep intimate connection to their spouse.
4. It is extremely important that my spouse and I be passionately in love with each other after we are married.
5. I couldn’t marry someone unless I was passionately in love with him or her.
6. There is no such thing as “Mr. Right” or “Ms. Right”.
7. I expect my future husband or wife to be the most amazing person I have ever met.
8. People who are searching for a perfect match are wasting their time.
9. The reason most marriages fail is that people aren’t right for each other.
10. Bonds between people are usually there before you meet them.
Now for scoring. First add your answers for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 10. For questions 6 and 8, you need to subtract each answer from the number 8 and use the new number as your answer for that question. For example, if you answered “6”, add a 2 to your total. Once you have your final total, divide by 10 to get your average for this scale.
The Work-it-out scale
Answer the following questions on a scale of one to seven, where one is strongly disagree and seven is strongly agree.
1. Success in a romantic relationship is based mostly on how much people try to make the relationship work.
2. In marriage, effort is more important than compatibility.
3. In a relationship, love grows (vs. love is found).
4. If people would just put in the effort, most marriages would work.
5. I could be happily married to most people, if they were reasonable.
6. The reason most marriages fail is that people don’t put in the effort.
7. How well you know someone depends on how long you have known him or her.
8. If I were to marry a random person, I would be satisfied.
9. Only over time can you really learn about your partner.
To find out your score, add together your answers and divide by 9.
The questions in this quiz are taken from the Relationship Theories Questionnaire used by Renae Franiuk, of Aurora University, Illinois, in her research into implicit theories and relationship satisfaction and longevity. Franiuk uses ‘Soulmate’ and ‘Work-it-out’ to describe the two scales. Other researchers use ‘destiny’ and ‘growth’ to describe similar scales.
If you scored highly for ‘soulmate’ beliefs and are surprised by this, Franiuk says you won’t be alone. “People have a tendency to think they will be a ‘work-it-out’ type but we see pretty high endorsement for ‘soulmate’. When we hear about the theories on the surface, ‘soulmate’ turns people off because it’s not scientific but it’s just a word. We could call it something different to make people want to identify with these romantic beliefs. It’s not surprising that we want to believe these ideas when so much in Western culture pushes people towards them.”
For people who score well on the growth scales, a conflict can improve the strength of the relationship
Now you have your score, what should you look out for? When relationships are struggling, people who score highly on growth scales cope best. In fact, the presence of a problem to work through can improve the strength of the relationship; couples who score highly on growth scales actually report feeling better about their relationship after a conflict has been worked through. For these people, it might be necessary for small, fairly inconsequential, issues to arise in the relationship to keep the couple focused on working together. The more investments a couple make, the more committed they feel. They enjoy the challenge.
For these reasons, growth believers will overlook big differences in compatibility. For them, compatibility might become more aligned with time – and that is something that is worth being worked on.
The opposite is true for people with strong destiny beliefs, with some potentially toxic consequences.
Particularly in the early stages of a relationship the presence of an issue can precipitate a break-up, as the destiny believer realises that their “perfect” soulmate is fallible. The destiny believer may argue that their partner “never really understood me” or that a small fault is “evidence that we’re not really compatible.” This is the case even if the couple are relatively well matched, Franiuk has found.
People who believe in true love are more likely to ‘ghost’ their ex-partners
Worse still, they may exit the relationship in a less-than-charitable manner. People who believe in true love are more likely to ‘ghost’ their ex-partners – avoiding contact until the other person gives up speaking to you. Perhaps because the ghoster does not feel it is worth the investment to try to maintain the relationship if the other person is not ideal for them and does not see the benefit in providing feedback. “They don’t see it as a negative thing to do,” says Gili Freedman, a psychologist at St Mary’s College of Maryland, who studies social rejection. “Your score on the growth scale had less of an effect overall, although, if you scored highly for growth you were more likely to feel negative about ghosting.”
If they don’t break up over an issue – and still believe that they’ve found their true love – the destiny believer may simply overlook the issue altogether. “Destiny believers tend to be more forgiving of a partner and more likely to avoid a fight because they want to believe that this person is their soulmate,” says Franiuk. That could be positive for minor disagreements. “But if you’re avoiding big conflict you end up staying with someone who is not good for you.”
And the consequences can be extremely serious. Destiny believers who have been together for longer are more likely to overlook issues, fooling themselves into thinking they are a better match because of the amount of time they have been together.
“We found that the longer destiny theorists stayed in relationships with someone who is not the right person, the more they reported violence,” says Franiuk. “They downplay problematic relationships. They might give someone a longer chance than other people might. Some might see warning signs early and end the relationships, but there will be some who don’t believe they are in a relationship with the right person but for economic reasons they remain and their personality traits make them more forgiving, which puts them in dangerous situations.”
It would seem that romantic beliefs remain fixed over time. So, once a destiny believer, always a destiny believer. “These theories are deeply held. Once people hit their 20s and 30s personalities are pretty stable. Like personality, relationship building is developed at an early age – children form these ideas based on the relationships around them,” says Franiuk.
The two implicit theories do not need to be mutually exclusive, though. “You can have beliefs that relationships improve when couples work on them together, but [still believe] there is still the ‘right’ person out there for you,” says Freedman. “There are not going to be many people that think that no growth is possible. And we can still alter the ways we express those beliefs. We would expect that past experiences will shape how we approach new relationships.” So just because you believe in romantic destiny, you might end the relationships in a more compassionate way, rather than ghosting, or you might make a more conscious effort to work through problems rather than overlooking them.
They say the course of true love never did run smooth – but a greater awareness of our own romantic tendencies might just help us navigate those bumps and turns along the way.
Social isolation has also meant sexual isolation for people keen to explore physical intimacy. Is virtual sex enough – or do we need to be touched?
About three months into lockdown in the UK, 26-year-old student Emma signed into a Zoom meeting with a group of people she’d only ever met through online chats. Organised by Killing Kittens, a company that, pre-Covid-19, hosted in-person sex parties with an emphasis on women’s empowerment, the “virtual house party” kicked off with drinking games. It was unlike anything she’d ever attended.
“We played ‘Never Have I Ever’,” she says, “and [the organisers] asked us questions like, ‘Which celebrity would you most like to see at a Killing Kittens party?’.” It got attendees talking about their fantasies and preferences – a smooth segue into the less structured part of the evening, during which some participants “removed clothing”, says Emma. “It was just a really good, quite sexy interaction with other people.”
It was the kind of connection Emma had been craving. With her one housemate staying with family, and having lost her job in March, Emma has spent much of the pandemic physically isolated. “There were points at which it got quite lonely,” she says.
Though she’d attended sex parties in the past, Emma had only just joined Killing Kittens in November 2019. “I was a little nervous to get properly involved,” she says, and when the pandemic hit, she worried she’d missed her chance. Instead, she joined one of Killing Kittens’s singles chat groups and started making close friends, which made her feel comfortable enough to try a virtual party on for size.
During the pandemic, social isolation has also meant sexual isolation for both individuals and couples hoping to explore physical intimacy. While recreating the tactile experience of sex online isn’t straightforward, virtual experiences – from dirty-talk Zoom workshops to sex parties like the one Emma attended – have helped fill the intimacy-shaped void felt by so many. To a certain extent, at least. For attendees and organisers, online sexual encounters can ‘mimic’ in-person experiences and offer much-need psychological relief, but there’s no direct replacement for physical touch.
However, beyond just acting as a stand-in for sex during the pandemic, these virtual experiences may also be showing us what’s important in intimacy writ large – both while we’re in isolation and once we can touch each other again.
Discovering digital intimacy
Almost a year into the pandemic, many have found ways to date and form relationships online. Dating apps such as Bumble now let users indicate “virtual only” or “socially distanced” dating preferences. According to a Bumble representative, in-app video calls were up by 42% in May 2020 compared to pre-lockdown March.
But replicating a first date via video chat is a far cry from recreating sexual experiences over the web. Key elements – physical touch most prominently – don’t have a straightforward, online substitute.
Still, people are getting virtually intimate. In October, hard-seltzer company Basic surveyed 2,000 single under 35-year-olds in the US, and found that 58% had had virtual sex during the pandemic. Of those, 77% did so with someone they’d never had sex with in person. Per a Bumble survey of 5,000 UK singles, 32% said “digital intimacy” was important in a relationship “both during lockdown and when measures lifted”.
There’s a big sexual gratification in being able to watch and be watched – Emma
For Emma and others who’ve dabbled in online sexual encounters in the past year, things like virtual sex parties, educational Zoom workshops, remotely controlled sex toys and simply engaging in sex-positive communities have proven to be both sexually fulfilling and antidotes to physical intimacy. “There’s a big sexual gratification in being able to watch and be watched,” says Emma, who describes herself as an “exhibitionist”.
Plus, watching real couples have sex is different from watching pornography. It’s personal – and the connections Emma’s made in these sex-positive spaces are, too. She and other single attendees have formed “tight bonds”, she says, “because we’ve all shared this experience on a very similar level”.
In London, David runs the brick-and-mortar adult lifestyle club Le Boudoir. In October, when he started hosting virtual sex parties with other London lifestyle clubs such as Purple Mamba, he noticed first-time attendees behaving like they would in physical spaces. Instead of huddling in the corner, they’re initially hesitant to virtually chat with others, but “you can literally see them warm throughout the evening”, says David.
Like Killing Kittens, these events start with icebreakers and performances (i.e., erotic dancers), which help get people in the mood. The progression of the parties looks a lot like it would in real life. “That’s technology mimicking real life,” he adds.
The element of safety
The online nature of these events also expands attendee demographics, so they span more locations, age ranges and experience levels.
People attend Boudoir and Purple Mamba’s events from Israel, South Korea, Australia and the US. A party that starts on Saturday evening, UK time can roll into evening on the US’s East Coast and across America. Sayle has also noticed virtual events attracting younger attendees – not only because they’re more online and “that’s how they communicate”, says Sayle, but also because online events remove the financial barrier to showing up at a physical party. Online Killing Kittens parties cost £20 ($27), while in-person ones can cost £350 ($480).
Emma, who doesn’t live in a major city, likes that she doesn’t have to spend money on travelling to an event in London, which would include putting up for a hotel, meals and new clothes. “As a student, that’s quite nice,” she says.
Boudoir and Purple Mamba’s virtual sex parties now attract around 150 attendees on a given Saturday. About half are first timers. Sayle sees a similar split at Killing Kittens’ events. “A lot of [attendees] are totally new people who would never have thought about [attending a sex party] before,” says Sayle. There’s a “safety element” to showing up via video chat, she adds: “You can close the screen at any point.”
That’s exactly what made UK-based couple Matt, 31, and Emily, 29, feel comfortable about going to their first-ever sex party during the pandemic, with Boudoir and Purple Mamba, online. “You’re in your own house,” says Matt. “It’s the safety of it.” Though they would have likely gone to an in-person event eventually, “it would have taken longer,” says Emily.
Just because you’re separated by distance doesn’t mean the activity you’re doing… is somehow less than if it was in person – Megan Stubbs
So far, the online events have let them explore their sexuality and relationship. Everyone’s “different styles” come through, says Matt, which creates a real, shared experience with another couple – one they didn’t think they’d want to experience before the pandemic. They’ve since changed their minds. Virtual encounters have also helped Matt and Emily put language to their desires. Because they’ve had to clearly communicate with others remotely, they’ve learned certain terms that describe their preferences.
This fits with a trend Michigan-based sexologist Megan Stubbs has observed. “I see more avenues of communication being open. People are talking more and getting more specific about their needs.” Distance necessitates this. When you’re not in the same room as your sex partner(s), you can’t rely on body language and subtle cues. But, she adds, “Just because you’re separated by distance doesn’t mean the activity you’re doing… is somehow less than if it was in person.”
Still, experts and people having virtual sex agree nothing can completely substitute for physical touch. As Sayle puts it, “You can’t recreate an orgy online.”
This is, in part, because of the cellular processes that take place when a person is touched. Tiffany Field, who heads the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, explains that “moderate pressure touch” stimulates pressure receptors under the skin. “That sets off a chain reaction,” she says, that slows the nervous system. “The heart rate slows down, blood pressure slows, and brainwaves change in the direction of theta, which is a relaxation state.”
Levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that kills immune cells, also decrease when we’re touched, while natural killer cells (which kill bacteria, viral and cancer cells) increase, according to Field’s research, which specifically examines massage therapy. “It’s ironic, during this time when there’s a lot of touch deprivation going on,” she says, “that we don’t have the protection of the natural killer cells killing the viral cells.”
Based on her research of “moderate pressure touch,” Field says people living alone can still help stave off touch deprivation through “self-touch”. That even includes simple activities such as stretching and walking, which stimulate pressure receptors on the bottoms of our feet. Engaging in virtual sex surely falls into that category, if participants are willing to get active.
A deeper appreciation
Of these online-sexual-experience organisers and participants, all say they’ll likely continue with virtual experiences even when it’s safe to mingle with strangers. Digital intimacy offers something unique – the ability to stay at home but still engage in a fulfilling activity, with a geographically wider array of people, for minimal or zero cost.
In-person events, though, will likely boom. “Thousands of years of history of what happens post-pandemics and post-war show that people start shagging,” says Sayle. “It’s going to happen.”
The pandemic could also have another effect – it may make us all realise how touch-deprived we were to begin with. Before Covid-19, touch expert Field and colleagues were conducting a study in which they observed how much people were touching one another at airport departure gates. People were touching, says Field, only 4% of the time. Sixty-eight percent of the time, they were on their phones. Online platforms and social media were driving us physically apart pre-pandemic. Now, they’re facilitating people being together.
“I think what Covid has done has exacerbated [touch deprivation],” says Field. “Maybe [people] are beginning to appreciate that they’re missing the touch they did have.”
Look, we all wanna know how to have an orgasm that blows our freakin’ minds, every time. But unfortunately, it’s not always that easy.
Research shows that only about half of women consistently have a happy ending during partnered play and 9 percent have never-ever orgasmed during intercourse. (Worth mentioning: The percentage of pleasure-seekers who do consistently O during sex is significantlyyyyy higher for women in same-sex relationships).
Not to worry. Here, sex experts explain everything you need to know to have an orgasm, whether you’re trying to ring the bell for the first time or take your big O to another level of pleasure.
What’s an orgasm, exactly?
Let’s start with a definition, shall we? An orgasm is “a feeling of intense pleasure that happens during sexual activity,” according to the National Health Services.
But Taylor Sparks, erotic educator and founder of Organic Loven, the largest BIPOC-owned online intimacy shop says the definition is even broader than that! After all, orgasms can happen *outside of* sexual activity (looking at you, coregasms). Orgasms, she says, are simply an involuntary release of tension.
“For vagina-owners, orgasm typically feels like a period of tension where your heart beats faster, breath hitches, and muscles tighten followed by a release of that tension,” she explains. “Often, people will even have what feels like a rhythmic pulsing in and around their genitals.”
While orgasms vary in intensity, Searah Deysach, longtime sex educator and owner of Early to Bed, says that “for the most part, you’ll know when you’ve had an orgasm.”
Different kinds of orgasms:
“Stimulating different parts of the body can result in orgasms that feel different from one another,” Deysach explains. Each is named for the body-part that needs to be stimulated in order for them to occur, including
Clitoral orgasm: The clitoris is the small, nerve-dense bud at the apex of the labia that serves no function other than to provide sexual pleasure (!). When orgasm happens as a result of clitoral stimulation—be it from your partner’s hands or tongue, or a clitoral vibrator—it’s called a clitoral orgasm! FYI: This is the most common type of orgasm for women, says sex therapist Ian Kerner, PhD, author of She Comes First.
Vaginal orgasm: A previous Women’s Health survey found that a substantial 37 percent of vagina-havers can orgasm from penetration of the vaginal canal alone. That’s a vaginal O!
Cervical orgasm: Your cervix is the vaginal canal’s anatomical stopping sign. Located at the wayyy back of the vaginal canal, the cervix is what separates the vagina from your reproductive organs. But beyond just what keeps tampons from traveling into your bod (#bless), the cervix can also bring on some serious pleasure when stimulated.
G-spot orgasm: Often described as feeling more full-bodied than clitoral orgasms, G-spot orgasms occur from stimulation from the G-spot, a nerve-packed patch of sponge located 2 (ish) inches inside the vaginal canal.
Nipple orgasm: A nipple orgasm is “a pleasurable release of sexual arousal, centered on nipple stimulation and not caused by stimulating the clitoris [or penis] directly,” as Janet Brito, PhD, a sexologist and clinical psychologist in Honolulu previously told Women’s Health.
Anal orgasm: For some, this means stimulation of just the external anus (for instance, during rimming). And for others, it means stimulation of the internal anal canal (for instance, with anal beads, a penis, or finger).
Blended orgasm: Any orgasm that comes from stimulating two or more body parts. Nipples + anus= blended orgasm! Clit + vagina? Also a blended orgasm.
Important: The goal in differentiating the many types of orgasms *isn’t* to create an orgasm hierarchy (lol). The goal, Deysach says, is to encourage people to experiment with their bodies to discover what feels best for them. Noted!
“If you can get off from nipple stimulation alone, that’s great,” she says. “If you need vaginal, clitoral, and anal stimulation all at once to have an orgasm, that’s awesome too.” Every human body is unique and will respond differently to sensation. “So keep an open mind, find what you like, and go with it,” she says. “After all, an orgasm is an orgasm is an orgasm.” True that.
How to have an orgasm:
Achieving consistent, mind-blowing orgasms is kind of like winning the lottery. Sounds amazing, but basically a pipe dream, right? With these little tricks, it doesn’t have to be.
1. Prioritize cuddling.
In the name of boosted oxytocin, rather than saving spooning for after sex, spend some time snuggling up pre-play.
Known as the “love hormone,” oxytocin might be the key to better orgasms, according to a study in the journal Hormones and Behavior. The study found that couples who received oxytocin in a nasal spray had more intense orgasms than couples who took a placebo.
Since you probably don’t have oxytocin nasal spray on your nightstand (lol), try giving yourself the same jolt of the hormone naturally by hugging, cuddling, or making other gestures to show your love to your partner. Your post-cuddle O will surprise you.
2. Don’t skip right to penetration!
According to Kerner having an orgasm requires a few key ingredients.
Vasocongestion (i.e. blood flow to your pelvis)
Myotonia (muscular tension throughout your body)
The brain’s natural opiate system being turned on (because it triggers oxytocin)
The best way to get these ingredients? “Gradual[ly] building up arousal rather than a race to orgasm,” he says. In other words, slow down. Trust, the end result will be worth the wait.
3. Focus on the clitoris.
Jennifer Wider, MD, suggests focusing on sex positions that directly stimulate the clitoris during penetrative sex. “That can provide a consistent orgasm in the majority of [vagina-havers],” she says. Try rider-on-top, which allows you to grind your clit against your partner, or rear entry, with you or your partner stimulating your clitoris.
Another option: Stick to your fave sex positions, but get your clit in on the action with the help of a clitoral vibe. Or, take matters into your own hands by bringing your digits downstairs.
4. Use a vibrator.
Vibrators are literally made to help you orgasm, after all. “Vibrators increase the frequency and intensity of orgasms—whether you’re alone or with a partner,” says Jess O’Reilly, PhD, host of the @SexWithDrJess Podcast. She suggests starting with a vibrator that will target your clitoris, G-spot, or both. A few to get you started.
15 Clit Vibrators That’ll Make You Come In Minutes
Ultimately, though, the type of vibrator you try will depend on the type of stimulation you enjoy—and the type of orgasm you’re interested in exploring. A vibrating butt plug or string of vibrating anal beads will bring whole of “oh baby!” to your backside. While vibrating nipple clamps will make you tingle and giggle without any between-the-leg lovin’.
5. Think about your cycle.
If you feel like your orgasms have been meh or not even there lately, consider trying to time sex around your cycle. Generally, your libido peaks during ovulation— that’s about two weeks before your period shows up—so the chances of having an orgasm will go up during this time period, Wider says.
FYI: This is especially important if you’re exploring cervical orgasms. That’s because, as O’Reilly previously told Women’s Health, some people are more likely to have cervical orgasms during ovulation. If having your cervix touched feels ouchy but you’re still curious, try it during a different time of the month to see if it feels better.
6. Don’t hold back on the lube.
No matter what sexual acts you enjoy, lube is a pretty handy tool to have in the bedroom. It reduces uncomfortable friction and allows you to “safely engage in a wider range of acts, techniques, and positions,” O’Reilly says. Not only that, it also “leads to higher levels of arousal, pleasure, and satisfaction,” she says.
For anal play, so long as you’re not using a silicone-based toy, Deysach recommends a silicone-based lube, which is thicker than water-based ones. For all other acts though, a water-based lube is perf.
Oh, and don’t snooze on lubes’ utility for nipple play. A little dab of lube on your finger can be the difference between hand-on-nipple stimulating feeling irritating and feeling ah-mazing.
7. Whip out a fantasy.
Adding a little psychological stimulation to the equation can help enhance physical stimulation, which is why Kerner recommends fantasizing on your own or with your partner. “Fantasy is also a powerful way to take your mind off other stressors or any other anxieties you may be experiencing,” he says. And, for the record, “it’s okay to fantasize about someone other than the person you’re having sex with,” Kerner says. (Maybe just keep that info to yourself.)
8. Try sensation play.
“The simple act of turning off the lights, closing your eyes, using a blindfold, or wearing sound-canceling headphones can help you to be more mindful and present during sex—and lead to bigger, stronger orgasms,” O’Reilly says. “This is because the deprivation of one sense can heighten another, so when you remove your sense of sight or sound, you may naturally tune into the physical sensations of the sexual encounter.” Before you tie an old tube sock around your boo’s eyes, just be sure to ask for consent first.
9. Feel yourself up in the shower.
Sure, you shower to get clean, but take a minute or so to embrace your body when you’re in there. “It’s very simple: As you shower, rather than touching to wash yourself, take one minute to touch for sensuality and pleasure,” O’Reilly says. “Feel your skin, take a deep breath, and bask in the heat and warmth that surrounds your body.” This can help you de-stress and get in touch with what feels good to you—and that can do you a solid when you’re in bed later, she says.
10. Forbid orgasm from happening altogether.
“If you’ve struggled with achieving orgasm, you may find yourself in a cycle of being anxious about having an orgasm, which makes having an orgasm even more difficult,” says Deysach. Sighhh. So while it may sound counterintuitive, taking orgasm off the table (er, bed) altogether “can give your brain a rest and allow your body the opportunity to enjoy the sensation without the pressure of feeling like you need to ‘achieve’ orgasm,” she says.
Worth a try, right? As she says, “You never know, maybe not thinking about orgasm will make it easier for you to find your way.”
11. Take an orgasm ‘break.’
On a similar note, “sometimes taking a masturbation and orgasm break for a day or two can be a good ‘refresh,’” Kerner says, noting that people sometimes “report stronger orgasms during masturbation after taking a short break.” If you can, try taking sex or solo love off the table for a day or so and see where that gets you. A simple reset may be just what you need to ramp things up.
A Moroccan man seeking asylum in the UK over alleged mistreatment due to his sexuality has said he faced homophobic abuse while housed in Wales.
Abderrahim El Habachi, 28, said he felt “unsafe” living alongside some men from North Africa and the Middle East after he arrived in Cardiff in 2017.
He called for dedicated LGBT housing.
The Home Office said it required accommodation providers to “take account of any circumstances and vulnerability”.
Mr El Habachi’s application for asylum in the UK and a subsequent appeal have been rejected and a new application is pending.
He said being gay in Morocco was difficult, he felt his life was in danger there, and he was constantly playing a game of “hide and seek” with the police.
“‘Who’s the man and who’s the woman? What’s your girl name?’ – I heard this daily from the Moroccan police,” said Mr El Habachi.
In 2017, he decided to flee Morocco for the UK and ended up in Cardiff, housed with men from a similar culture who he said had the homophobic and transphobic views he had tried to escape.
“I had fled a country that was dangerous for me, because of who I am, and I was put in an environment that felt more dangerous than the situation that I left,” he said.
He was initially housed in accommodation provided by the National Asylum Support Service.
“I only spent 50 days there, but it felt like a lifetime,” he said, explaining that being placed alongside some men from North Africa and the Middle East with homophobic views created “instability” for him. Mr El Habachi said when he asked about living accommodation for LGBT-asylum seekers and refugees, he was told none existed.
“I felt so unsafe and vulnerable, I thought I would come here and be able to embrace myself but instead I was feeling very insecure.
“It was as though there was no effort to make LGBT people welcome, the drop-in centres for asylum seekers and refugees weren’t LGBT friendly, they were mainly aimed towards cis men. I was made to feel unwelcome,” he said.
Mr El Habachi said his interview with the Home Office in relation to his application to remain in the UK was traumatic with lots of “intrusive” questions about his sexuality.
“This added so much more pressure to the interview. Was I saying the right thing? Was I giving enough detail? From a life in Morocco, where I was pretending to not be gay in order to avoid any issues, I was now having to openly talk about my homosexuality in great detail, something I wasn’t comfortable with,” Mr El Habachi said.
His application was rejected, with Mr El Habachi told Morocco was a safe country for the LGBT community – a conclusion he found unbelievable.
“I have been persecuted as a gay man in the country, so for them to say I can go back and live openly as a gay man is ridiculous,” he said.
His subsequent appeal against the decision was also rejected.
Homosexuality is illegal in Morocco and victims of abuse and harassment can expect no support from police or the government, human rights groups have said.
Official figures show there were 1,212 asylum applications lodged in the UK in 2019 where sexual orientation formed part of the basis for the claim.
Over the past three years, the refusal rate for sexuality-based asylum claims increased from 61% to 71%, according to Home Office figures.
Mr El Habachi said he was ready to give up but, with the support from the LGBT community in Wales, he decided to make a new application, which is pending.
He said his time as an asylum seeker might be “shrinking” and he hoped he would get refugee status but he feared the “nightmares I have of living in persecution, having to hide who I am will become a reality”.
Charity Stonewall Cymru said many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were forced to flee their countries because they experienced “violence and rejection by their family and society”.
“They come to the UK looking for safety and to lead a life where they are free to be themselves. Sadly, the harrowing experience of this individual shows that the UK has a long way to go before LGBT+ people seeking asylum get the support and protection they deserve,” a spokesperson said.
The Welsh Refugee Council added: “We know that those seeking sanctuary who identify as LGBTQI+ face specific challenges when claiming asylum. We continue to press for safe, secure accommodation for all those seeking asylum in Wales.”
The Home Office said the UK had a “proud record” of providing protection for asylum seekers fleeing persecution.
A spokesman said: “We provide LGBT+ asylum seekers with details for a range of organisations which can provide support from the point of their claim. We also require our accommodation providers to take account of any circumstances and vulnerability, with two of them offering designated accommodation for LGBT+ asylum seekers.
“Every asylum claim is considered carefully, sensitively and on its individual merits by caseworkers who receive extensive training.”