I’m a woman in my late 30s and I think I might be a lesbian. I’ve dated men since high school on and off, but nothing that ever felt serious. Last year I had a month-long fling with a woman that I met through my job, and even though it was only a month, it felt way more intense than any of my other relationships. Now I find myself noticing attractive women all the time. My friend says I’m bisexual, but I don’t think I’m interested in men anymore. Is it possible that I was a lesbian all along and just didn’t know?

Later-in-life lesbianism is totally a thing. If that is how you relate to your sexuality now, then “lesbian” is an appropriate label. Only you can define your own experiences. Although your friend may mean well, they can’t tell you how you experience desire and attraction.

Sexuality is fluid and change is natural and normal. It is possible that you used to be oriented more toward heterosexuality, but over time your desires shifted. It is also possible that you experienced compulsory heterosexuality when you were younger and just went with it. Compulsory heterosexuality means that in our society where most folks are assumed heterosexual by default, sometimes it is easier to just “go with the flow” and try to make it work, especially if we are not aware that there are other ways to orient ourselves romantically or sexually.

Unfortunately, sexual stereotypes can play into ignoring desires. If women are constantly told that they are not supposed to enjoy sex or that it is normal to not expect emotional accountability from their male partners, then a disconnect in desire or intimacy becomes the expected way to exist in romantic (heterosexual) encounters—doing a disservice to everyone involved. If folks of all genders were given more encouragement to explore themselves and to trust their instincts, the number of later-in-life lesbians might be reduced.

Especially within more conservative cultures, social rules are laid out early around expected behavior (and sometimes enforced through coercion and fear); and it is pretty normal to go along with the group while you are still developing your own identity in order to feel protected and safe. Unless you are shown models of ways to channel your personal desire, you could just think that what you want is wrong and try to suppress it.

Alternatively, a change of sexual orientation later in life doesn’t have to be because of intense repression. As stated earlier, sexuality is fluid and it could just be a normal state of progression for you. Between circumstantial life shifts and normal corporeal shifts, our bodies and psyches are not static, so why wouldn’t our desires follow suit? This also means that what you experienced earlier in life wasn’t “wrong,” but was perhaps just a different point on your journey.

Many folks are constantly taking in new information and form new desire patterns based on what they are learning or are exposed to. For example: I could have grown up in a house that always had chocolate cake for dessert. I liked chocolate cake just fine and it’s what I was used to eating. Recently however, I ate my first blueberry pie and it blew me away! I had never before had blueberry pie and now am wondering about all the blueberry pies I missed eating in my life while I was eating chocolate cake. Chocolate cake is fine and I still see why a lot of folks love it, but I have expanded my palate and now have a taste for blueberry pie and realize that I loved chocolate cake because it was the dessert we always had, but I never actively chose it. I love blueberry pie and all the variations of blueberry pie and it’s what I will now choose to eat exclusively for dessert.

That  may seem kind of silly and like a simple way of looking at a complicated personal and sociological issue, but essentially it comes down to figuring out personal preferences with time and exposure, without invalidating your past experiences.

This new(er) revelation surrounding a primary attraction to women also doesn’t mean that you are locked into this identity for the rest of your life. Maybe you’ve arrived at your destination, but maybe this is just another stop on the journey. None of us know what the future holds, so just be your authentic self today, the best you know how.

The fact is, you are where you are, and it sounds like an awesome new place to explore.

What is a cock ring? Why do people use them?

A cock ring is a sex toy that is either a solid or adjustable ring. It is worn at the base of the penis in order to help keep the penis erect. Blood flows into the penis through the center of the organ and then back into the body through the outer membrane. If the base is constricted, the blood can enter the penis but has a difficult time flowing back into the body, keeping it hard. Rings are designed to keep equal pressure all around the circumference with an even surface area. Rubber bands or strings are not good substitutes because they are too thin and can easily damage that sensitive organ. You don’t want anything cutting into the skin.

Cock rings come in all sizes and elasticities and are sometimes referred to as c-rings. If you are trying one out for the first time, you might need to buy an adjustable ring or a pack of various-sized solid rings in order to figure out what your personal size is. Also, it is a good idea to start with a ring that is easily removable in case you realize early on that it is too tight. More firm materials, such as steel, wood, or firm plastic are going to be more difficult to remove once you are swelled up, so I would use these materials only after you know what your personal size range is.

Place the ring over a semi-erect penis. Sometimes a little bit of lubricant is helpful to allow the ring to be placed more smoothly. Make sure that you are being aware not to get any pubic hairs caught in the ring. The ring can either go in front of, or behind the testicles. (If it is behind the testicles, it will make ejaculation more difficult.) Once the ring is in place, let the penis grow into it. Some pressure is normal, but if it feels really uncomfortable or pinches, remove the ring immediately. If the penis becomes blue or purple-ish, remove immediately. If experiencing coldness or tingling, REMOVE IT immediately. If you are trying a ring for the first time or trying a new model, only wear it for 1 to 3 minutes to assess how your body is responding.

A cock ring can be worn for self-pleasure or with a partner and is compatible with condoms. If you are using a condom, place the ring first, wait for the penis to become erect and then roll the condom onto it. Even for more experienced users, try not to wear the ring for more than 20-30 minutes in order to prevent nerve damage or permanent blood-flow issues. While wearing a cock ring, you may experience more sensation in the penis as well as a prolonged erection.

So really, there are so many reasons that someone might want to use a cock ring: maybe they think it looks really hot, maybe they like being in a position to be teased by a partner, maybe they are looking for a way to control erections. It is a pretty versatile sex toy and as long as you are paying attention, very safe to use.

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illustrations Ruth Mascelli