Sexuality

The Rules of Ooohs and Ahhhs (Hint: there aren’t any)

Heather Corinna

Are you supposed to moan when having sex? If so, is there a technique to what you are saying or do you just do it?

This article is published in partnership with Scarleteen.com.

Ohhhyess asks:

I think that I am on my way to being ready to have sex with my boyfriend but I am just worried about the whole moaning thing…during masturbation I sometimes moan, but mostly keep it quiet. Are you supposed to moan when having sex? If so, is there a technique to what you are saying or do you just do it?

Heather Corinna replies:

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One of the biggest messages I (and most other sex educators I know) wish everyone would receive and embrace is that when it comes to how you express yourself sexually with things like this, there is no “supposed to.” All there is, and should be, is what feels true and real for you, what you find feels good for you and what you find doesn’t.

It’s hard for people to really create and nurture a sexuality and sexual life that feels like their own — like an expression of who they are, rather than who someone else is, looks or seems like — and they enjoy if and when they’re trying to follow someone else’s script or somebody else’s idea of how to be or respond sexually. If we were making a list of the top ten things that tend to keep people from having sex lives they really enjoy, focusing on responding to sex in ways they feel they should, rather than going with how they are really, truly, feeling and responding would be right up at the top.

Human sexuality and sex are so diverse because people are so diverse. No one sex life, way of having sex or way of responding to sex fits all. The trick is to explore and experiment to find out who we are sexually, how we feel, what we want, what we like and what feels right for us, very individually. If anyone expects sex with one partner to be just like sex with another, or thinks that the way they watched one person responding to sex is how everyone else is going to respond, they’re going to need to adjust those expectations.

By all means, there are some parts of partnered sex where we can’t just do our own thing, because we’re not the only person there. There are ways we need to do our best to be mindful about how we behave sexually with others and ourselves to help prevent and avoid physical or emotional harm, and with some of those things, we may need to adjust how we’d behave if we weren’t thinking about those things. For instance, even if it doesn’t feel 100% natural to ask others for consent and verbalize our own, it’s very important to do that. We need to make sure the things that feel good to us also feel good to others, so we can’t just go with our own flow completely when someone else is also part of what’s going on, who doesn’t have the same body we do and who isn’t the same person we are. If we don’t want to take big risks with our health, we also need to keep safety in mind with any sex that we have, doing the things we can to reduce the risk of injury and illness for ourselves and our partners.

But when it comes to how you experience pleasure and respond to it in ways that aren’t about things like safety, consent, and how far someone’s leg can really go back behind their head or what they really do or don’t want to risk with their life or body, there are no rules like you’re thinking. No one is going to be harmed if you do or don’t shave your legs, if your partner likes to keep his socks on or not, by what words you use for your gender or body parts or if you moan or you don’t. (Well, not unless you’re so loud you put someone at risk of being evicted from their apartment. Then you might want to turn it down a bit.) But otherwise? There’s no supposed-to here: just what feels okay to you and to your partner on the whole and in the moment.

What’s the technique with making sounds (or not)? You experience sex however you do at a given time, and if sounds feel like they want to come out of your mouth, you let them out. If they don’t, you don’t try and force it. You just be you, having whatever experience you’re having, and you just let your vocal chords reflect that, like the rest of your body and the ways you express yourself. And you think about it enough to just make sure that whatever is coming out of your mouth isn’t something likely to hurt the other person’s feelings or make them feel unsafe.

It should always be okay to express yourself as you’re feeling and as who you are sexually, even if it’s different from who the other person is, what their previous partners have been like, or from what they might expect from you for some reason or another. So long as the way you express yourself sexually involves kindness, consideration and room for anyone else engaging in any kind of sex with you, sex is a place where you get to be yourself.

The fact of the matter is that, for the most part, sex is something with very few rules and regulations, unlike so much of the rest of life. For instance, there usually aren’t any rights or wrongs with sex about things like:

  • what sounds to make or how soft or loud they are
  • how you dress or how much or how little you want to be undressed
  • whether your eyes are closed or open
  • how to groom yourself (like what you do with the hair on your head or anywhere else on your body, or if you do or don’t wear lipstick)
  • what to ask for or not to ask for, unless a partner has expressed boundaries about anything unwanted or off-limits for them
  • what words to use for your own sexuality and identity
  • what to like or what not to like; what to want and not want
  • what to reach orgasm from or not to reach orgasm from and when to reach orgasm
  • when to start a sexual activity and when to stop, or how to position or touch someone else or yourself, beyond what feels good, comfortable and otherwise okay for each of you (and again, let’s make sure we remember safety: ideally, you don’t want to injure yourself or anyone else, physically or emotionally)
  • how to feel

Sometimes you might find that any of those things or other things like them influence a partner’s comfort or arousal (how turned on they are). That’s the way in which you or someone else might have rules, boundaries or preferences with this stuff, and/or where you or someone else may need to make adjustments sometimes so you both feel able to be your real selves without stepping on the other.

If something you want to do or don’t makes someone else feel unsafe or physically or emotionally uncomfortable, you can talk it through together, creating middle ground and/or boundaries that work for you both. Some things you or a partner might want to like might make the other so uncomfortable or turned off that you just don’t do those things with that partner. You or a partner might sometimes need to make some adjustments so something that works for you but doesn’t for them can work for you both. For instance, maybe you will find a partner is very quiet during sex, and while you’re cool with that, it leaves you with less communication than you need or less responsiveness than you want. If that were the case, you could both brainstorm to find other ways to do those things that do work for both of you, like, for instance, having your partner talking about what they enjoyed most after sex, using words instead of moans, or engaging in more direct eye contact.

Compatibility can also be an issue here: we’re not going to be a good sexual fit with everyone we have sexual, romantic or other feelings for. We’re also not going to be super-turned on by absolutely everyone, and everyone isn’t going to be super turned-on by us, either. If you ever find that however your sexuality and/or someone else’s is just really doesn’t seem to work for one or both of you — whether that’s about not feeling comfy or safe, not feeling able to be who you are, or just not feeling the buzz — that’s okay, too. You just will probably need to shift that relationship to one that’s not sexual and seek out sexual partners who are a better fit for either of you.

What you will want to make sure you do, however you do it, is to communicate with partners in some clear way and that they do the same with you.

Without some ways of communicating, you can’t do a good job of keeping each other safe and knowing what’s working for each of you and what isn’t so that you can enjoy yourselves. When you’re masturbating, not only might you feel and respond differently than with sex with a partner, you don’t need to communicate with anyone, since you can hear yourself in your own head. It’s a different story with a partner.

Making noises is one way of communicating, sure, but since “Ooooh” can also sound a lot like “Oooof,” and they tend to express two very different things, moans and groans alone only get us so far with communication, anyway. So, if you do find you’re not a moaner, don’t feel comfortable doing that or it takes you a while to feel comfortable making noises with someone, it’s not like that means you can’t communicate. Even if it turns out moaning and groaning feels great for you and you do it constantly, to have good sexual communication, you’re going to need to say more than “Mmmm,” or “Yeah, baby.” The very clearest way to communicate with sex is with words, not just monosyllables, in whatever language you and your partners share and both understand. Ideally, we want to do that before, during and after sex in some way that lets everyone involved feel filled in.

My best advice with this as with so much of your sexual life is just to be authentic. In other words, to behave in whatever way feels real to you, feels really reflective of what you’re feeling, rather than being something you fake or put on or do because you think that’s what you should be doing. Chances are that during your life, with any kind of sex you’re having, there will be times when you’ll feel quiet, and times you’ll feel loud. There will probably be times you choose to be one way or another and also times when you just do either without even realizing you are because you’re deep in the moment. Aiming for authenticity also means making sure you’re leaving room for a partner to respond (or not) in the ways that feel true and real for them, too.

That said, sometimes people enjoy being theatrical during sex — and sometimes being so can feel like what’s real in the moment, rather than someone trying to pretend to be someone they’re not out of insecurity — and there are a lot of ways to do role play, some of which include different ways of talking of vocalizing than we might do otherwise. So, don’t feel like this isn’t something you can’t experiment and play with sometimes if you want: just like a lot of different parts of sex, it’s always okay to try things differently now and then to see what they feel like for you.

I understand that having a lot of freedom of expression or being without clear direction can sometimes feel intimidating or even scary. Know that when a sexual scenario or partnership is really right for us, and we’re doing a good job with consent and care for each other, it’s always going to be okay and feel okay for us to experiment with things like this, even if we are a little vulnerable or even make an ass out of ourselves now and then. Like, if you find you’re more quiet most of the time, or are mostly a gentle sigh-er, but one time feel the urge to yell “COWABUNGA!” to express your feelings during sex, it should be okay. Hilarious, sure, but still okay. It’s okay (and usually fun!) to laugh or be goofy during sex. It’s sex, after all, not a funeral service.

Now and then a partner may also ask you to try something that you wouldn’t think to try yourself, and when that happens, you can either try whatever that is or decide not to. Sometimes we’ll want to step a little out of our sexual comfort zones because we think it could be a good thing, while other times we won’t, either because whatever that involved doesn’t really rev our engine, or because even if we think it might, we’re just not comfortable doing it. All of that is also okay, and once more, your best bet is just to lead with what feels most right for in in general and at that time, in that place, with that person.

If this or other things around your possible sexual responses still feels precarious to you or has you feeling insecure, you can talk together with your boyfriend about it. You could tell him that you are often quiet in your own masturbation and aren’t sure about what sounds you will or won’t make during sex with him, and need a little reassurance sounds or no sounds are okay, maybe even talk about how you are going to communicate together, which is a great idea, anyway, and would be even if you were the loudest moaner on earth. If you want to feel free in exploring what sounds you might make, you could ask for support in doing that, maybe giving him the same kind of permission and reassurance to explore what sounds he does or doesn’t make, too. He may be thinking or worrying about this stuff just like you are, after all.

Last, but not least, if you find you’re feeling pretty self-conscious about this, and really worried about doing sex right or wrong, you might just want to check in with yourself about your readiness for sexual activity with this person at this time in your life, relationship and sexuality.

How long or quickly it takes any of us to get comfortable being sexual with others is as individual as every other part of sex, and sometimes we may really want to be sexual with someone, and feel all the way there in some ways, but not others. For sure, it’s common to be nervous or unsure about anything that’s big and new to us, but if you’re finding that you’re really worried about things like this, and talking together doesn’t really help, what you might want to do is just hold off a little longer or take more time with the ways of being physical or sexual you’re already doing and feeling comfortable with to build more trust, comfort and confidence. If and when we ever think we might need a little more time before doing anything sexual, it’s always a good idea to give ourselves that time.

Commentary Violence

When It Comes to Threats, Online or on the Campaign Trail, It’s Not Up to Women to ‘Suck It Up’

Lauren Rankin

Threats of violence toward women are commonplace on the internet for the same reason that they are increasingly common at Donald Trump rallies: They are effective at perpetuating violence against women as the norm.

Bizarre and inflammatory rhetoric is nothing new for this election. In fact, the Republican presidential candidate has made an entire campaign out of it. But during a rally last Tuesday, Donald Trump sunk to a new level. He lamented that if Hillary Clinton is elected president in November, there will be no way to stop her from making judicial nominations.

He said, “By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

For a candidate marred by offensive comment after offensive comment, this language represents a new low, because, as many immediately explained, Trump appears to be making a veiled threat against Clinton, whether he had intended to or not.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called it a “death threat” and Dan Rather, former CBS Evening News host, called it a “direct threat of violence against a political rival.” Former President Ronald Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis said it was “horrifying,” and even the author of an NRA-linked blog initially tweeted, “That was a threat of violence. As a real supporter of the #2A it’s appalling to me,” before deleting the tweet as the NRA expressed support for Trump.

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This kind of language is violent in nature on its face, but it is also gendered, following in a long line of misogynistic rhetoric this election season. Chants of “kill the bitch” and “hang the bitch” have become common at Trump rallies. These aren’t solely examples of bitter political sniping; these are overt calls for violence.

When women speak out or assert ourselves, we are challenging long-held cultural norms about women’s place and role in society. Offensively gendered language represents an attempt to maintain the status quo. We’ve seen this violent rhetoric online as well. That isn’t an accident. When individuals throw pejorative terms at those of who refuse to be silenced, they are attempting to render public spaces, online or on the campaign trail, unsafe for us.

There is no shortage of examples demonstrating how individuals who feel threatened by subtle power shifts happening in our society have pushed back against those changes. The interactions happening online, on various social media platforms, offer the most vivid examples of the ways in which people are doing their best to try to make public spaces as uncomfortable as possible for marginalized populations.

Social media offers the opportunity for those whose voices are routinely ignored to hold power in a new way. It is a slow but real shift from old, more traditional structures of privileging certain voices to a more egalitarian megaphone, of sorts.

For marginalized populations, particularly women of color and transgender women, social media can provide an opportunity to be seen and heard in ways that didn’t exist before. But it also means coming up against a wall of opposition, often represented in a mundane but omnipresent flow of hatred, abuse, and violent threats from misogynist trolls.

The internet has proven to be a hostile place for women. According to a report from the United Nations, almost three quarters of women online have been exposed to some form of cyber violence. As someone who has received threats of violence myself, I know what it feels like to have sharing your voice met with rage. There are women who experience this kind of violent rhetoric to an even greater degree than I could ever dream.

The list of women who have been inundated with threats of violence could go on for days. Women like Zerlina Maxwell, who was showered with rape threats after saying that we should teach men not to rape; Lindy West received hundreds upon hundreds of violent and threatening messages after she said that she didn’t think rape jokes were funny; Leslie Jones, star of Ghostbusters and Saturday Night Live, was driven off of Twitter after a coordinated attack of racist, sexist, and violent language against her.

And yet, rarely are such threats taken seriously by the broader community, including by those able to do something about it.

Many people remain woefully unaware of how cruel and outright scary it can be for women online, particularly women with prolific digital profiles. Some simply refuse to see it as a real issue, declaring that “It’s just the internet!” and therefore not indicative of potential physical violence. Law enforcement doesn’t even have a solution, often unwilling to take these threats seriously, as Amanda Hess found out.

This kind of response is reflected in those who are trying to defend Donald Trump after the seemingly indefensible. Despite the overwhelming criticism from many, including some renowned Republicans, we have also seen some Trump supporters try to diminish or outright erase the violent aspect of this clearly threatening rhetoric. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani have both said that they assumed Trump meant get rid of her “by voting.” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that it “sounds like just a joke gone bad.”

The violent nature of Donald Trump’s comments seem apparent to almost everyone who heard him. To try to dismiss it as a “joke” or insist that it is those who are offended that are wrong is itself harmful. This is textbook gaslighting, a form of psychological abuse in which a victim’s reality is eroded by telling them that what they experienced isn’t true.

But gaslighting has played a major role in Donald Trump’s campaign, with some of his supporters insisting that it is his critics who are overreacting—that it is a culture of political correctness, rather than his inflammatory and oppressive rhetoric, that is the real problem.

This is exactly what women experience online nearly every day, and we are essentially told to just suck it up, that it’s just the internet, that it’s not real. But tell that to Jessica Valenti, who received a death and rape threat against her 5-year-old daughter. Tell that to Anita Sarkeesian, who had to cancel a speech at Utah State after receiving a death threat against her and the entire school. Tell that to Brianna Wu, a game developer who had to flee her home after death threats. Tell that to Hillary Clinton, who is trying to make history as the first woman president, only to have her life threatened by citizens, campaign advisers, and now through a dog whistle spoken by the Republican presidential candidate himself.

Threats of violence toward women are commonplace on the internet for the same reason that they are increasingly common at Donald Trump’s rallies: They are effective at perpetuating violence against women as the norm.

Language matters. When that language is cruel, aggressive, or outright violent, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it doesn’t come without consequences. There is a reason that it is culturally unacceptable to say certain words like “cunt” and other derogatory terms; they have a history of harm and oppression, and they are often directly tied to acts of violence. When someone tweets a woman “I hope your boyfriend beats you,” it isn’t just a trolling comment; it reflects the fact that in the United States, more women are killed by intimate partners than by any other perpetrator, that three or more women die every day from intimate partner violence. When Donald Trump not only refuses to decry calls of violence and hate speech at his rallies but in fact comes across as threatening his female opponent, it isn’t just an inflammatory gaffe; it reflects the fact that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence.

Threats of violence have no place in presidential campaigns, but they also have no place online, either. Until we commit ourselves to rooting out violent language against women and to making public spaces safer and more accommodating for women and all marginalized people, Trump’s comments are just par for the course.

News Human Rights

Mothers in Family Detention Launch Hunger Strike: ‘We Will Get Out Alive or Dead’

Tina Vasquez

The hunger strikers at the Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania are responding to recent comments made by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in which he said the average length of stay in family detention is 20 days. The women say they've been in detention with their children between 270 and 365 days.

On Monday, 22 mothers detained inside Pennsylvania’s Berks County Residential Center, one of the two remaining family detention centers in the country, launched a hunger strike in response to recent comments made by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary Jeh Johnson in which he said the average length of stay in family detention is 20 days.

The average length of stay for the 22 hunger strikers has been between 270 and 365 days, they say.

Erika Almiron, director of the immigrant rights organization Juntos and a core member of the Shut Down Berks Coalition, informed the women detained inside Berks of Johnson’s recent comment via email, hoping they would want to release a statement that her organization could help amplify. Instead, the women decided to launch a hunger strike, with recent reports indicating the number of participants has risen to 26.

“When Johnson said [ICE] only detain[s] people for 20 days, he said that thinking that no one would care,” Almiron told Rewire. “Our goal has always been to make people aware of the inhumane nature of detention in general, but also that children are being locked up and moms are being held indefinitely.”

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By definition, “family detention” means the women in Berks are detained alongside their children, who range in age from 2 to 16 years old. In an open letter addressed to Johnson, the women share that their children have routinely expressed suicidal thoughts as a direct result of being imprisoned. The women allege that they are being threatened by psychologists and doctors in the detention center for making this information public, but are choosing to move forward with the hunger strike.

In part, the letter reads:

The teenagers say being here, life makes no sense, that they would like to break the window to jump out and end this nightmare, and on many occasions they ask us if we have the courage to escape. Other kids grab their IDs and tighten them around their necks and say that they are going to kill themselves if they don’t get out of here. The youngest kids (2 years old) cry at night for not being able to express what they feel … We are desperate and we have decided that: we will get out alive or dead. If it is necessary to sacrifice our lives so that our children can have freedom: We will do it!

An August 2015 report about the Berks center by Human Rights First, a human rights advocacy organization, seemed to confirm what women and children detained inside of the facility have been saying since the detention center’s inception in 2001: Detention is no place for families and being imprisoned is detrimental to the health and well-being of children.

According to the Human Rights First report, detained parents in Berks experience depression, which only exacerbates the trauma they experienced in their countries of origin, and their children exhibit symptoms of depression, anxiety, and increased aggression. Frequent room checks that take place at 15-minute intervals each night also result in children experiencing insomnia, fear, and anxiety, the report says.

Families detained inside of Berks have no real means to alleviate these symptoms because the facility does not provide adequate mental health care, according to the report. Human Rights First notes that Berks does not have Spanish-speaking mental health providers, “though the majority of families sent to family detention in the United States are Spanish-speaking and many have suffered high rates of trauma, physical and sexual violence, and exploitation.”

The organization also explains that only 23 of the total staff at Berks (or less than 40 percent) reportedly speak some conversational Spanish, “making it difficult for many staff members to effectively communicate with children and their parents.”

Berks has a history of human rights abuses. A 41-year-old former counselor at Berks was recently sentenced to between six and 23 months of jail time for the repeated sexual assault of a 19-year-old asylum-seeking mother. The young woman, along with her 3-year-old son, fled sexual domestic violence in her native Honduras. The assaults on the young mother at the detention center were witnessed by at least one of the children detained with her.

There have also been health-care issues at Berks, including the failure by the detention center to provide adequate services, according to Human Rights First.

The organization was able to collect some of the letters women detained at Berks wrote to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), along with ICE’s response to their concerns. One woman, detained at Berks for four months, told ICE that her 5-year-old daughter had diarrhea for three weeks and that the detention center’s doctor failed to provide her child with any medication or other care. The woman asked for “adequate medication” for her daughter and for the opportunity to have her asylum case handled outside of detention. ICE’s response: “Thank you! You may disolve [sic] your case at any time and return to your country. Please use the medical department [at Berks] in reference to health related issues.”

Using family detention as a way to handle migrants, especially those fleeing violence in Central America, has been called inhumane by many, including activists, advocates, mental health specialists, and religious leaders. But the prolonged detainment of women and children at Berks is in violation of ICE’s own standards.

In June of 2015, Johnson announced a series of reforms, including measures aimed at reducing the length of family detention stays for families who had passed a protection screening. But then earlier this month, Johnson defended family detention, saying, “The department has added flexibility consistent with the terms of the [Flores] settlement agreement in times of influx. And we’ve been, by the standard of 1997, at an influx for some time now. And so what we’ve been doing is ensuring the average length of stay at these facilities is 20 days or less. And we’re meeting that standard.”

But all of the 22 mothers on hunger strike at Berks have been in detention for months, according to the letter they sent Johnson.

There’s also the issue that in July, a federal appeals court ordered DHS to end family detention because it violates Flores v. Johnson, which determined that children arriving to the United States with their mothers should not be held in unlicensed detention centers. Soon after, family detention centers scrambled to get licensed as child-care facilities (a battle they’re losing in Texas), but the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (PA DHS) licensed Berks to operate as a children’s delinquency center. In October 2015, PA DHS decided not to renew the license, which would have expired February 21, 2016, because the facility holds asylum-seeking families as opposed to only children, as the license permitted. Berks appealed the decision to not renew its license, and continues to operate until it receives a ruling on that appeal.

“Our argument from the start has been that we don’t think any of this is legal,” Almiron told Rewire in a phone interview Friday afternoon. “What is happening inside of Berks is illegal. I have no idea how they continue to operate. Right now, Berks does not have a license. It was revoked because the license they did have didn’t fit what they were doing. They also have prolonged detention. Women who are hunger striking have been there 360-something days, but then Jeh Johnson says it’s only 20 days. There is no accountability with DHS or ICE. There are numerous ways [DHS and ICE are] not accountable, but Berks is a prime example. There is no transparency and they can to change the law whenever they like.”

Neither DHS nor Berks responded to requests for comment from Rewire.

Advocates have expressed concerns that the women in Berks will be retaliated against by ICE and detention center employees because of their participation in the hunger strike. As Rewire reported, when women at Texas’ T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a former family detention center, launched a hunger strike in November 2015, participants alleged that ICE used solitary confinement and transferred hunger strikers to different facilities, moving them further from their family in the area and their legal counsel. ICE denied a hunger strike was even taking place.

In December 2015, men detained at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, ended a 14-day hunger strike after a local judge authorized officials to force-feed one of the hunger strikers because of his “deteriorating health” due to dehydration. Advocates told Rewire force-feeding was being used as a form of retaliation.

Almiron said the hunger strikers at Berks have already been threatened by guards, who told the women that if they continue to hunger strike and they get too weak, their children will be taken away from them. The organizer said the letter the women wrote to Johnson shows their bravery, and their understanding that they are willing to take whatever risk necessary to help their children.

“Honestly, I think they’ve been retaliated against the moment they came to this country. The fact that they’re in detention is retaliation against their human survival,” Almiron said. “Retaliation happens in detention centers all the time, women are threatened with deportation for asking for medical care for their children. These women are incredibly strong. In my eyes, they’re heroes and they’re committed to this fight to end family detention, and so are we.”

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