Archive for November, 2010


Big, Blonde, and Beautiful

Perhaps telling girls and women that their bodies are beautiful regardless of how the media distorts our idea of femininity is a cliche concept at this point, but it’s still important.

For those of you still doubting your own innate gorgeousness, take a look at the ridiculousness that TV and magazines are feeding us- just one more time.

Jezebel got a hold of a few  Playboy Centerfold photos which had been marked up for editing by the graphics department.  It seems that even Supermodels and porn stars don’t fit our idea of ideal beauty.  Maybe that’s the signal that our ideals are a little ridiculous?

My thought has always been that you can have brains, beauty, and compassion, but  you have to update your idea of beauty if you ever hope to find the right combination.

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No Go, Cialis

In trolling the message boards and advice columns as I am wont to do in advertising this blog, one of the most common concerns I see voiced (especially by women) is about sexual dysfunction: am I having enough sex?  Too much?  Why can’t I orgasm?  Why doesn’t my partner feel any pleasure when I do ______?  Is watching porn hurting my sex life?  All these questions make me sad, particularly because I’ve had some of them myself.  It doesn’t seem to matter how open your parents, how knowledgeable your healthcare provider, or how open to experimentation you are, there are still bound to be problems in your perceived sexual health.  That’s seriously depressing.

But, as I’ve found out the hard way, often times “sexual dysfunction” is mental, and the more pressure you put on yourself to perform, the worse you’ll do at “being normal.  Now, this kind of advice is totally infuriating, I know, because being told to relax and let things happen naturally does not solve your problems.  The very passive nature of it tends to aggravate your problems even more, by completely disempowering you.  It makes you desperate to try anything.

Which is why I’m sure a lot of people were excited when the female Viagra came out.  The promises were enticing: an increased sex drive, more pleasure from sex, all around improvement.  *sigh* Ah, hate to break it to you folks, but Cialis and the like are not all their cracked up to be when it comes to the complex and exciting world of female sexuality.  This study at the Sexual Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of Texas-Austin found that Cialis worked about as well as a placebo at increasing female sexual response.

You can take this one of two ways: a glass-half-empty kinda gal would see this development as incredibly negative, only further disempowering women who want to take control of their sex lives.  However, a glass-half-full person will see the other side of the equation, which is light on the pocketbook and heavy on inspiration.  Because the placebo works as well as Cialis at increasing sex drive and satisfaction in women (at about 30% for each group), women who are frustrated with their sex lives don’t need to rely on drugs or hormones to artificially inspire them.  The power is in their own minds.  Placebos are designed to see how the brain’s response to implied medication works.  In this case, when a woman thinks her sex problems are being solved with a drug (even a sugar pill), they are solved not because of the pill, but because she thinks about the pill.

This is actually pretty awesome.  As many researchers have theorized and experimented to prove, the female state of arousal is highly circumstantial and emotional/mental, as opposed to almost exclusively physical like men.   That means that the ball really is in your court.  You are in charge of your own sexuality.  Maybe the cause of so much sexual dysfunction is simply the feeling of foreignness and helplessness that our relationship to our bodies engenders.  So the doctor’s advice?  Get to know yourself.  Get yourself in the mood.  Enjoy your own body.  And don’t rush it.  A woman’s sexual arousal is entirely of her own design.  Own it.

 

Oh Good Lord

Perhaps the most terrifying, yet hypnotizing lists I’ve seen in a while.  It’s like a car crash- awful, yet you can’t look away.

12 Most Ridiculous Vibrators that Really Exist. Thank you, Holy Taco.

Three’s Company

For one of my classes this week, we had to watch the movie, “Y Tu Mama Tambien” (And Your Mother Too), which is, among other things, a very overtly sexual coming-of-age story.  In one of the pivotal scenes (spoiler alert!), the two main characters- two male friends who talk about their exploits with girlfriends and lovers non-stop)- get really drunk on mescal and eventually have sex with each other.  There is a moment in that scene, when the woman they were both originally trying to seduce falls away from view and they truly catch sight of each other, that gets me at the core.  The next moment they are embracing, kissing, and falling onto the bed before the inevitable camera cutaway.  Watching this, I found myself once again confronted with a familiar feeling from my childhood of obsessive romantic-comedy watching.  Though I find nothing that inherently sexy about gay male sex, watching this scene, I’m smiling like a goofy little girl, content as can be.  I’ve fallen in love with the relationship of the actors.

Perhaps some of you have felt this also- where you look at a couple and are completely overcome with happiness or jealousy or some kind of intoxicating emotion.  Looking more closely, you realize that you don’t want to be either of the people in the couple- you want to be the couple. When speaking about this with Beth, we compared it to rooting for a couple that you know to be doomed, because they mean something more together than the individuals do by themselves- they are beautiful, lovable, etc. because they are together.

I found the most marvelous article in Nerve about a woman who has been in a lot of threesomes which actually speaks to this idea.

“I came to realize I was more attracted to couples than I was to individuals. I might not remember some of these people at all had I hooked up with them one-on-one. But as a pair, I would fall in love with their familiarity; their affection for each other got me off. The most recent couple I fell for, James and Noël, were rock stars, straight up. They were reckless drunks, bursting with manic energy as bright and chaotic as their tattooed sleeves. After five minutes with them, it was clear: they were it for each other — and I was smitten. I found myself flirting shamelessly with both of them, slyly working to command their collective attention and approval.”

I find this equation for intimacy to be at once incredibly beautiful and intriguing.  I’ve never been in a threesome, nor have I had the opportunity presented to me, nor had I (until recently) even thought seriously about the idea, as I simply assumed that feelings would inevitably complicate things.  However, this article, and the sentiment of falling in love with couples, makes me hopeful.  I have always felt bizarrely attached to couplings I witness- in movies and tv shows, in real life, in books, and so forth- to the point where I feel that I almost love their relationship.  Somehow, within the context of this paradigm, such feelings seem more normal- and more explorable.

For most of society, the primary opposition to threesomes comes from the debasement of intimacy that they supposedly cause. Because sex is “made for two people,” the introduction of a third simply demeans the closeness of the interaction.  Now I don’t hold  it against anyone who does believe this, but I find two things troubling about that format for me:  first is the presupposition that all sex must be for love, which I honestly believe it does not.  This isn’t anti-romantic, simply practical.  As a sexual being, one can have sex without committing to the full spectrum of emotion that a long-term, committed relationship demands.  Second, however opposite, is the assumption that threesomes cannot be intimate.  For this, I’d like anyone who agrees to read this lovely article on intimacy by Greta Christina.  All of the things she talks about- listening to your partner(s), being engaged and attentive, being selfless and selfish simulteously, giving yourself over to the moment- can all happen in the context of a relationship, or a one-night stand, or a threesome in any form.  It simply takes the right people and the right situation.

In one sense, I value monogamy and dedication to another person.  Yet in another, I am equally devoted to the love I feel between those outside of myself and my relationship.  I find it beautiful, electrifying.  I have no idea what this means in practice, nor if or how I would carry it out, but I like the concept all the same.

While for personal reasons, I generally try to avoid writing about my girlfriend on this blog, I felt it was appropriate (though no particular event spawned it), to include a little bit about her life and why I value her so much as a person.

The other day, I was participating in a panel on LGBT issues for a group of 7th and 8th graders at the Unitarian Universalist Church nearby, and I was struck by how removed I’d become from the coming out process.  One of my fellow panel members had yet to come out, and she was talking to the students about her fears and hopes about telling her parents eventually.  I was very happy and nervous for her, yet her whole explanation seemed so far away from my present situation.

I dealt with few of the anxieties that plague many LGBT teens when coming out.  My parents and I have a very good relationship with open lines of communication, I have a religion which openly accepts my orientation, and so on.  I like to say I lived the gay fairytale.

This, of course, brings me back to my beautiful girlfriend.  Beth has not had the easy ride I had in coming out.  While I remained closeted for a little under 4 months, she felt unable (and to an extent, found it unnecessary) to come out until she reached graduate school.  Her family came from a very religious background which was not terribly supportive of LGBT people and the subject was rarely broached in family conversation.  While she assures that she never feared being ostracized by her  family, she worried nonetheless that it would drastically change the dynamic in her household.

Yet in the course of the past few months, she’s faced all of this- coming out to her parents and the rest of her family…for me.  To me, this takes baffling courage.  I recognize it as the kind of courage that happens every day though, and it makes me incredibly proud and full of awe.  Every day, people facing the same challenges as Beth are forging on into the unknown towards a more open and honest life- sometimes for their loved ones, sometimes for themselves, but always in the pursuit of something more authentic for their lives.

It has been my privilege to watch Beth’s story unfold from the very beginning.  It has been my joy to hear every development- every family member who has extended their blessing, every acknowledgment of her worth as a daughter, a cousin, a friend, regardless of her sexual orientation.  And I can’t help but feel honored for it.  That somehow, at the core of all of this, I fit in.  I can find some relevance in the shifting paradigm of her world.

Beth, ever modest and understated, claims that her coming out isn’t really a big deal.  And yet, I’m having Thanksgiving with her family- something I never thought I’d get to do.  Another small speck of permanence enters our lives, and her coming out has made it possible.  Perhaps it hasn’t changed everything, but her courage and her poise throughout this process does mean something.  It feels like a ripple of hope for everyone out there who might think they have the odds stacked against them, who might be scared or ashamed to come out.

Somewhere inside, we all have the strength and courage to do what Beth has done.  And for that, I am grateful and excited for the future.

To close, I’m including a quick article, called “There Were No Closets in My House.” Suzzane Forbes gives us all an idea of what a world may look like when coming out (which can take many forms, not exclusively related to LGBT issues) is no longer necessary, where closets fail to appear in childhood.  Though I don’t plan on children, I could only wish such an upbringing for future generations.

I’ve written once before about open relationships and the mental/emotional puzzles that they pose, but within a very American-centric paradigm.  However, I’m finding through reading The Meanings of Macho: Becoming a Man in Mexico City, that the phenomenon of negotiated open relationships and even open marriages exists in many forms outside of my insular, highly-sexualized college sphere.

In Meanings of Macho, ethnographer and anthropologist Michael Gutmann interviews men in living in the Colonia Santo Domingo, a self-built neighborhood just outside the center of Mexico City, about the prevalence of extramarrital affairs among people in the colonia, expecting answers in line with the typical image of a machismo man who sleeps around with little regard for his wife or his family.  What he found, in many cases, however, is that not only are men have affairs, their wives are also getting around.  And more intriguing yet, some of them are negotiating marriages wherein either spouse is allowed to have one-night stands and liasons, so long as the other partner is never brought into the house or mentioned to their spouse.  Gutmann hypothesizes that a lot of this behavior is due to the surge of feminist sentiment that took root in the 1970’s in Mexico, and has allowed women to be more liberated in their own behavior.  And yet, how does this explain the way spouses negotiate open marriages?  It’s one thing to demand certain things from your husband- like doing dishes and making dinner- but one cannot simply demand acceptance of a practice so tied to the emotional roots of a marriage.

Gutmann doesn’t really deem to answer this, but it got me thinking about the way that open partnerships are navigated and the emotional costs vs. benefits of them.  I think this Sugarbutch article gives a pretty good run-down of the way one blogger and her partner have talked out and come to an understanding of non-monogamy.  What I like best about it is the distinctions drawn between different acts and their incorporations of main partners, as well as the idea of processing and outlining together what each individual incident of non-monogamy will mean.

“I know it’s possible to be attracted to or interested in more than one person at the same time, and that one does not necessarily take away from the other. Most importantly, though, I recognize that just if or when I or my partner feels an attraction, I want us to be able to talk about that, to puzzle through it, to figure out if it’s important to go sleep with that person or if flirty coffee dates or making out is enough, or if it’s a temporary infatuation, or if it should become a bigger friendship.”

In that sense, non-monogamy is really a set of decision based on mutual permission and understanding, which I can appreciate as very healthy and well communicated.  But Sugarbutch also acknowledges that the “need” for non-monogamy can change.

“We’ve been talking about this, lately. From the beginning, we’ve claimed that we were open, and for a while that meant we could do whatever we wanted when we weren’t with each other, and we didn’t need to know about it. Then, as things got more serious between us, we decided we wanted to know, which (chicken or egg?) meant that neither of us were sleeping with anybody else.

But what does it mean now, a year and a half into our relationship? I guess we’re still working that out. By “regular” standards, we are open because most folks would consider things like threesomes or making out with another person potentially crossing the lines of monogamy…. And we are open because we are acknowledge that sexual desire for someone else can happen, and we should be able to talk about that, that desire for someone else doesn’t have to have repercussions within our own relationship,  and that sex can be fun and playful and, ultimately, meaningless.”

So not only is non-monogamy fluid in practice, but it is also fluid in time frame.  Maybe for part of a relationship- when it’s more or less serious- casual hook-ups are ok, but in another phase, sex should take place only when both partners are present, even if it includes other.

I find this fluidity attractive, but incredibly dangerous.  It’s so easy for one person’s perception of an aspect of non-monogamy to change while the other’s remains static.  If that isn’t addressed immediately (and it probably won’t- for feelings of guilt and restraint), the entire arrangement can backfire in one ugly, trust-destroying move.  However, I like the stress Sugarbutch put on discussing each sexual decision individually, as it forces the lines of communication open and keeps them that way out of habit.  When there is a problem, it will be addressed, because everything gets addressed.  I can’t speak to the effectiveness of this model, having not tried it, but I find it promising.  And as the couples in Mexico City demonstrate, their are different forms of non-monogamy that work for everyone- you simply have to find the one for you.

 

 

Things We Learn From Porn

This, my darlings, is just a gem I pulled from tumblr.  By which I mean, something Autostraddle pulled from tumblr and put in their NSFW Sexy Sunday edition.

Things you learn from porn

1. Women wear high heels to bed.

2. Men are never impotent.

3. When going down on a woman 10 seconds is more than satisfactory.

4. If a woman gets busted masturbating by a strange man, she will not scream with embarrassment, but rather insist he have sex with her.

5. Women smile appreciatively when men splat them in the face with sperm.

6. Women enjoy having sex with ugly, middle-aged men.

7. Women moan uncontrollably when giving a blowjob.

8. Women always orgasm when men do.

9. A blowjob will always get a woman off a speeding ticket.

10. All women are noisy fucks.

11. People in the 70s couldn’t fuck unless there was a wild guitar solo in the background.

12. Those tits are real.

13. A common and enjoyable sexual practice for a man is to take his half-erect penis and slap it repeatedly on a woman’s butt.

14. Men always groan “OH YEAH!” when they cum.

15. If there are two of them they “high five” each other. (and the girl isn’t disgusted!)

16. Double penetration makes women smile.

17. Asian men don’t exist.

18. If you come across a guy and his girlfriend having sex in the bushes, the boyfriend won’t bash seven shades of shit out of you if you shove your cock in his girlfriend’s mouth.

19. There’s a plot.

20. When taking a woman from behind, a man can really excite a woman by giving her a gentle slap on the butt.

21. Nurses love to suck patients cocks.

22. Men always pull out and masturbate at the end.

23. When your girlfriend busts you getting head from her best friend, she’ll only be momentarily pissed off before joining in and fucking the both of you.

24. Women never have headaches… or periods.

25. When a woman is sucking a man’s cock, it’s important for him to keep reminding her to “suck it”.

26. Assholes are always clean.

27. A man ejaculating on a woman’s butt is a satisfying result for all parties concerned.

28. Women always look pleasantly surprised when they open a man’s trousers and find a cock there.

29. Men don’t have to beg.

30. When standing during a blowjob, a man will always place one hand firmly on the back of the kneeling woman’s head and the other proudly on his hip.

 

Trans________

I think for anyone who has read even 2 articles on this blog can tell you, I love talking about sexuality.  Especially how the practices and viewpoints which make up our psyche affect our interactions with language, with other people, and with ideas about normativeness and privilege.  So I was more than ecstatic to take Sex, Gender, and Culture, an anthropology class at American University as a way to satisfy a general education credit and a major requirement for International Studies!

So far, I’ve been loving the class, but yesterday our conversation delved into the realm of performance transvestitism (which I already dislike the term for, as “transvestite” has a very negative connotation in society and is often used as a pejorative way of lumping gender non-normative people together).

Regardless, we dove in, and I tried my best to play along, inserting gender-sensitive definitions wherever I could, but the conversation inevitably overwhelmed me as my instructor accepted glossed-over explanations of very complicated gender concepts and the students absorbed nothing (in addition to not having done the reading- an excellent piece about drag performance in the home and in relation to Carnival in El Salvador). At one point, attempting to draw the distinction between transgendered people and “transvestites,” the professor asked the class to define a transgendered person- a concept we had fleshed out earlier in the semester- and they could come up with nothing better than “a person who wants to be the opposite gender.  *sigh*  Really?  Is that the best we can do?

Frustration mounted in me, but it came to a boil when the professor, in an attempt to focus the discussion on gender performance instead of gender identity, wrote the word “Tranny Prostitutes” on the board and then crossed it out, illustrating that this phenomenon was not what we were talking about.  I’m still at a loss for when, in an academic environment, it would ever be appropriate to use that phrase, except to deconstruct how horribly offensive and inaccurate it is.

The problem is that cis-gendered people are horrifically ill-educated about gender and the different ways that gender non-conformism occurs.  Transgender, transsexual, transvestite, transitioning, gender non-conforming, gender non-normative all mean the same thing, if they’ve even heard the words.   The use of the word “tranny” in everyday conversation is just one more example of this: rather than recognizing the word for what it is (a nasty way of referring to non cis-gendered people), people just see it as a shortened word, a harmless abbreviation.  Asher Bauer, whom I’ve featured before, talks about this concept brilliantly in his article, The T Word.  Ze further goes on to say how the term tranny is disproportionately placed upon trans women (biological men who dress/live as women), and in that regard he is spot on.

My professor implied, through the use of the phrase “tranny prostitutes” two inappropriate things, both of which stem from the poor intersection of sex and identity: one, that the sexualization of transgender or transitioning women is not legitimate; and two, that said sexualization can only occur within the bounds of “bad industry” such as sex work.  By pairing “tranny” with “prostitute,” he unconsciously equated the connotations of the two words.  AKA- prostitutes are bad, and trannies are bad, therefore tranny prostitutes must be REALLY BAD.  Ignoring the vilification of sex work, which bothers me equally but isn’t relevant here, the association made is that trannies can only be sexual when they are prostitutes, as if that is the only sphere in which they are acceptable.  Coming back to Bauer’s point, this critique only seems to apply to trans women, as trans men are excluded from discourse about prostitution altogether (despite the fact that the industry exists, the same way there’s a market for straight and gay male prostitutes).

I know that this isn’t the way my professor actually meant his comments, but the juxtaposition of his words was not an accident: it betrays a cultural misunderstanding and vilification of  trans and gender non-conforming people.   So lets all take a moment to run through our vocabulary list and consider the ways in which we oversimplify our understandings of sex and gender.  If you haven’t taken a look yet, I’ll direct you to Susan Stryker’s “Transgender Terms and Concepts,” which is in the downloadable blog articles box to the right of this post.  Educate yourself.  Watch the associations you make in speech, and apologize when you slip up.  We don’t vilify the people who make mistakes, only those who refuse to learn from them and become better.

Stay cool, queer kids.

In a Bind

One of numerous difficult aspects that comes with the territory of being a transgender or gender non-conforming biological female (to unpack that, I mean a person born with female characteristics like breasts and a vagina but who does not feel that he/she/ze is a woman) is the issue of secondary sex characteristics.  A lot of trans and gender non-conforming people do not feel comfortable with the body parts they’ve been given, so there’s now a decent market of products to help you alter that body- with chest binders, padded underwear and bras, etc.

The awareness of the need for these items and also an information sphere surrounding them has led to intriguing “do-it-yourself” pieces like this gem from Carnal Nation, A Butch Girl’s Guide to Chest Binding.

HOWEVER, there’s a really intriguing split between trans/gender non-conforming (GNC, for now, since this is getting long to type) who feel the need to bind and alter their bodies, and those who are comfortable living in them…at least for the moment.  I can’t claim to speak for these people, but I will direct you to a really interesting blog, That’s What Ze Said, written by a GNC person (who considers hirself to be “female-influenced”  in gender identity).  Said article explaining the concept of being ‘female influenced’ is here, and introduces us to the idea that one can acknowledge aspects of female-ness that apply to ourselves, but simultaneously reject the social framework which then makes us “female.”

“The fact that I, along with most everyone else in society, have been trained to see my body as female influences my life in so many ways. It affects how I think about myself. By being raised female I internalized a lot of messages sent to those with my assignment….The important differentiation between being female-assigned and female-influenced is how I see myself. I like having a connection to female-ness. Many transfolks do not hold any attachment to their assigned sex, but I do. Whenever I feel the need to distance myself from “female,” I feel part of me being erased. It’s too much a part of my experience, past and relation to body.”

This forces us to do a little bit of mental legwork in teasing apart the difference between gender identity and gender association.  A female-influenced person can have a gender identity which is neither male nor female, but still embrace

male and female associations- like womanly curves or masculine confidence and stature- without fixedly ascribing them to their identity.  They can take on and accept those associations when it feels right to them, and reject them when it does not.  I think this is an important construct to understand not only for cis-gendered people (those that are lucky enough to beborn with a body that fits our understanding of our own gender) who want to know and understand Trans and GNC people, but also for young people who are coming to realize that they are trans or GNC, but feel conflicted about their bodies.  You don’t have to want gender reassignment surgery to be trans.  You don’t have to feel an alienation from all things male and female to be GNC.  There are elements of both genders that can resonate for all people, but it is everyone’s job to better understand the manner in which gender binds us as a construct and to be mindful that it not restrict our thinking about friends and coworkers.

Latexual

Hey all,

Sorry I’ve been so out-of-touch with the blog.  My computer died on me and I had to go on an epic quest for a new laptop and to get my bookmarked sources back to start writing again.  So, here’s what I’ve been waiting to write about for a while:

Condoms.

Now, according to this article (from which I stole the title of my post) by Carnal Nation, if you are an American, you probably have a very negative view on condoms: that they’re uncomfortable, awkward, desensitizing, or even downright painful- and that sex is WAY better without them.

However, apparently men in the UK have very different cultural feelings about this- wearing condoms is just seen as the normal, responsible thing to do, rather than a chore or an unpleasant barrier between partners.

Likewise, the differences between the US and the Netherlands are stark.

In the research I’ve been doing for my Sex, Gender, and Culture class, I’ve found that the condom is the most common form of birth control when young people are losing their virginity, even among couples where both people are virgins (and thus, there would be no risk of STI transmission).  To me, this means one of two things: one, that the correlation is circumstantial based on the fact that almost all of the respondents were under 18 and thus could not get other forms of birth control without going to their doctor, which would mostly likely require them to consult their parents.  Or two, that the condom is a simpler means of birth control that was merely more convenient than taking the pill every day or getting a Depa-Provera injection, and more effective than inserting a diaphragm or cervical cap.

There’s also the question of hormones- the aspect of the pill, NuvaRings, and other hormone-based birth control methods is the chemical alteration of the body which inevitably comes with them.  The excess levels of estrogen and progestin that enter the body from these forms of birth control can cause mood swings, depression, and any number of other unpleasant psychological and physiological side effects.  Progestin, a variant form of progesterone, has also been shown as a link to breast cancer.  So, all in all, I’m not a big fan.  However, hormonal treatments are the MOST EFFECTIVE forms of birth control (short of abstinence and vasectomy/tubal ligation) out there, so I did use the pill for a little less than a year.  It alleviated so much worry when it came to sex, and was fairly convenient.  Even now, I’m not sure I would recommend otherwise for my daughter or any woman who asked for my advice.  

Granted there are other options- the most appealing healthwise and costwise is a combination of spermicide and a cervical cap, which when used together have a similar protection rate against pregnancy as a condom.  Spermicide is cheap and a cervical cap is reusable, so they are cost effective and neither have negative health effects for the body.  But almost no one uses them.  For me, it was simply because I didn’t know where to find a cervical cap, and I didn’t 100% trust them.  Now, of course, I know that they are a fairly legitimate option, and cervical caps can be ordered through any doctors office.

So since I got such great feedback from the circumcision article, I’d love your input again.  Men and women, please.  Do condoms change anything about your sexual experiences?  Why did you choose to use a condom when you lost your virginity?  If you use a different form of birth control, why do you use it?  Does anyone use cervical caps?  Why or why not?  Any and all input is appreciated.  But please keep comments courteous and as inwardly reflective as possible.  Do not attack other people’s views or practices.  In the name of research, thank you!

 

Also, if you have a few seconds, fill out my survey about losing your virginity:  https://spreadsheets.google.com/gform?key=tzkdh9orTagQy8uDaUlaqKw&pli=1#invite

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