Archive for May, 2012


boy in blue and girl in pink standing back to backI firmly believe that we do not give kids enough credit for their ability to navigate, question and deconstruct concepts that adults find incredibly confusing.  No, I’m not saying that it’s time to start teaching your four year old theoretical physics (although my dad loved to do that—unfortunately, I never really appreciated it…), but it does mean that we should question some of the basic assumptions about how we teach and interact with young children.

Case in point: gender.

I’ve been sitting on this article for several months, and every time I re-read it, I get giggly and smiley all over again.

“Hi I’m Alec are you the babysitter mommy said that we can go to the park if you want to and feed the ducks do you like legos?”

“Yep, hi, my name is Andy.” I said, kneeling down, “Let me talk to one of your parents first, ok?”

While I was saying this Alec was looking me up and down.

“Yeah ok, hey, Andy, do you use boy words or girl words, or the other words but I can’t really ‘amember them?”

I looked curiously at his mom, Amelia, who was busy tiding up the table.

“Oh,” she said, “he can’t remember the word pronouns.”

“Ah,” it clicked, “I use boy words. What about you?”

“I use boy words, too. Do you like legos?”

“Of course I do!”symbols for male and female

Alec, the star of this adorable article was raised not to equate gender presentation with gender identity.  Granted he probably doesn’t have the vocabulary to express these ideas, but at the heart of it, his behavior towards others reflects a nuanced and tolerant, thoughtful way of looking at gender.

At one point he asked his mom and she said, “Honey, do you remember what Aunt Sarah said to do if you can’t tell if somebody’s a boy or a girl?” he didn’t respond. “You ask.”

You. Ask.

You don’t guess or dance around the subject or hope somebody else clues you in or wait for another person to use a pronoun so you can use the same one. You ASK.

 

There’s an element of common courtesy to living your life this way—no frills, no guesswork, no assumptions or hurt feelings.  You just ask.  I can only imagine that Alec will grow up feeling much less constrained by the idea of gender himself, and feel free to experiment and explore his own identity, his likes and dislikes, and to define himself as a person, not as a boy or a girl.

pregnant woman holding blocks that say "boy"Unfortunately, most kids aren’t brought up this way.  Gender policing and gender messaging starts from birth and becomes so engrained into our psyches that it’s sometimes hard to disentangle our own feelings about gender from the messages we’ve been fed since we were born.  In this sense, it’s both easier and way harder for young kids to have meaningful conversations about gender.

On one hand, they are not authorities on the matter.  To a large extent, children rely on the structure and conditioning of their parents, teachers, family members, and other authority figures in their lives.  If those people are saying “Boys do this; girls wear that,” then it is incredibly hard for them to separate their own feelings from the opinions and conditioning of the important people in their lives.

On the other hand, children have had decades less of gender policing than their adult counterparts.  They may have experienced discrimination, but rarely do they fear for their lives or their livelihoods based on the way they perceive and present gender.  They are still malleable with their opinions, and open to the idea of contradiction.

So while it can be difficult to combat the harmful way gender is explained in our society, I think the work of Melissa Bollow Temple, of Jackson County, Wisconsin shows how important, and sometimes how simple breaking down those messages can be.

I taped up two large pieces of paper and wrote “Boys” on one and “Girls” on the other. …When we had two extensive lists, I read both lists out loud to the class and then studied them carefully.

“Hmm,” I said. “Here it says that Legos are for boys. Can girls play with Legos?”unisex bathroom sign

“Yes!” most of them replied without hesitation.

“I wonder if any of the girls in our class like to play with Hot Wheels?”

“I do! I do!” blurted out some of the girls. We continued with the rest of the items on our “Boys” list, making a check mark next to each one as it was declared acceptable for girls.

Then we went on to the “Girls” list. We started with baby dolls. Because we had just read and discussed William’s Doll, the children were OK with boys playing with dolls. “It’s great practice for boys who want to be daddies when they grow up,” I mentioned.

But when we got to nail polish and makeup the children were unsure. “There are some very famous rock ’n’ roll bands,” I said, “and the men in those bands wear a lot of makeup.” Some of the children gasped.

Then Isabela raised her hand: “Sometimes my uncle wears black nail polish.” The students took a moment to think about this.

“My cousin wears nail polish, too!” said another student. Soon many students were eager to share examples of how people pushed the limits on gender. Our school engineer, Ms. Joan, drove a motorcycle. Jeremy liked to dance. I could see the gears turning in their brains as the gender lines started to blur.

Conversations like these might be the most crucial to ensure that the children we raise grow up to be caring, compassionate, and empathetic men and women (and those who identify otherwise).  Working to blur the lines of gender early gives students critical thinking skills to challenge the messaging of media, consumerism, peers, and authority figures.  This generation can grow up to understand gender so much better than most of us do now.   And that will benefit more than just gender non-conforming and trans* people.  Because acceptance and critical thinking lends itself to a deeper understanding of people with all types of differences: disability, ethnicity, race, sexuality, and yes, of course, gender.

Stay cool, queer kids, and keep pushing for acceptance and dialogue in all areas of your life.

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Get talking, get yourself tested logoUnlike most 9th graders, I actually paid attention in health class.  I can tell you that trichomonaisis is one of the only STDs that can live outside of the human body for more than an hour.  I can tell you all the terrible things that will happen to you if you don’t get treatment for syphilis early enough.  I also THOUGHT I knew everything I needed to know about herpes

  1. You get it through skin to skin contact when you have an outbreak
  2. Like most STDs, condoms and other latex barriers will help prevent it, although they are not 100%
  3. There’s no cure for it, only treatment for the sores when you get outbreaks.

But I didn’t even realize how much I didn’t know until I read an article by Mollena (of The Perverted Negress– y’all better check her out)  about coming out about having herpes.

“I discovered that many people who have Herpes are asymptomatic. In other words, they never have outbreaks. I also learned that between 65 and 80 percent of adults are seropositive for HSV-1, the virus that causes oral herpes, or cold sores.

I learned that the statistics as they apply to HSV-2, the strain that usually causes genital Herpes, are a bit more troubling.

The CDC Says

The latest HSV-2 data – announced at CDC’s National STD Conference in Atlanta on March 9, 2010, and published today in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) – indicates that overall national HSV-2 prevalence remains high (16.2%) and that the disease continues to disproportionately burden African-Americans (39.2% prevalence), particularly black women (48.0% prevalence), who face a number of factors putting them at greater risk, including higher community prevalence and biological factors that put women of all races at greater risk for HSV-2 than men.”

My mind was a little blown.  Over half the population has one or both forms of herpes?  Is that for real?

The great thing is, even if you contract herpes, you’re likely as not to be asymptomatic.  Many people don’t react to the viral infection with outbreaks, so lots of Americans have herpes but have no idea.  The terrible thing is, even if you contract herpes, you’re likely as not to be asymptomatic.  That means lots of Americans have herpes but have no idea.

It bears repeating because that means, if you have sex with a partner who swears s/he/ze isn’t infected, they might not know any better.  And that puts you at risk for exposure.

There’s also a lot of misinformation and lack of education  around herpes.  When I got my STD tests done at Planned Parenthood, I asked to get tested for herpes, but the nurse practitioner said that they couldn’t test without an open sore to swab.  I figured, since I hadn’t had an outbreak, I couldn’t have herpes.  I still haven’t been tested for it, because I really only realized a few weeks ago that I should be tested.

most people infected with genital herpes do not know they have itThe terrible thing is, even though such a large portion of the population has herpes, there’s still immense amounts of stigma around the disease.  This Scarleteen article by Leah Berkenwald does a great job breaking it down.

Ever notice the only time we hear herpes mentioned in movies or on TV is when it’s the butt of a joke? Genital herpes is an easy target for humor because it’s not fatal and the people who suffer from this STI are not usually considered victims. Unlike HIV/AIDS, genital herpes is a relatively mild condition that does not usually warrant the seriousness or sensitivity that society grants fatal illness. Instead, genital herpes is understood to be a punishment, or something you “bring upon yourself.” People with genital herpes aren’t thought of as victims; they’re thought of as sluts, monsters, lepers, or just stupid.   

And she’s right.  I started paying attention, and it’s abominable how many herpes jokes there are on TV and in movies.  No other disease gets the kind of attention herpes does.  And yet almost everyone has it!

So what do I know now that I didn’t know in 9th grade?

1. The majority of Americans are carriers for one of the two herpes simplex viruses

2. Most of them will never know it.

3. You can pass herpes on to a partner whether or not you have an outbreak (it gets passed through saliva, mucous, or skin-to-skin contact when you have an outbreak)

4. You will almost never have a doctor recommend a herpes test.  You have to ask for it yourself.

The good news is, as Mollena’s article ALSO pointed out, finding out you have herpes is not a death sentence for your sex life.  It pays to be careful, use condoms, dental dams, and gloves, but being open and honest about your infection can lead other people to feel more at ease and talk about their STD status too. 
“So I have herpes,” I said.

He smiled, and that only got me hotter. “Its cool. I’ve had partners before with Herpes.”

He then disclosed to me that he’s been recently treated for Gonorrhea, which involved an initial injection of antibiotics, then a course of antibiotic pills. We discussed our safer-sex protocols, broke out the condoms and lube, and then he shagged me halfway off the bed and sideways into next week.

Yep, sex is better when you’re an expert. But most importantly? There’s nothing like fucking when you trust someone and feel good about being able to be honest.

Hell yes.  Stay cool, queer kids.

Future Sex

Ok, yes, this article was from 2011, but still so cool!  Here’s 10 scientific developments from the past year that are changing the way we do sex.  Posted in full from this article in Daily Loaf.

Future Sex: top 10 developments in 2011 that will change sex

Posted by Sex and Love editor on Mon, Dec 26, 2011 at 6:21 AM

Jane Fonda in Barbarella

To predict the future, sometimes you must look to the past. If history is any indicator, how humans satisfy their sexual desires and conceive offspring will become increasingly dependent on technology. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Technology provides hope for those suffering from infertility and sexual dysfunction, and it reduces the risk of unwanted pregnancies and diseases.

World’s first successful uterus transplant:
Derya Sert became the first woman to receive a womb from a deceased donor. Previous attempts using living donors have failed because surgeons weren’t able to harvest as much of the tissue surrounding the organ. Doctors became convinced of the feasibility of this procedure after a study came out this year demonstrating how a transplanted uterus in sheep can produce healthy offspring while the mother is on immunosuppressive therapy.

Vasectomy without scissors:
Sujoy Guha spent the last 30 years developing a reversible form of vasectomy, RISUG, that requires only a syringe loaded with a nontoxic polymer. Unfortunately the procedure has never been approved by the medical community because no drug company is willing to invest millions in a compound that will inevitably cost less than the syringe that delivers it. After years of testing and pushing RISUG, the procedure is on the verge of approval in India—a nation that is expected to surpass China as the world’s most populous nation. Also, this year an American team was scheduled to start basic toxicology testing on RISUG, and the Gates Foundation granted $100,000 to test RISUG in fallopian tubes.

Japan gets closer to creating a lifelike sex robot: As a nation obsessed with cutting-edge electronics, it should be no surprise that many Japanese men have turned to technology as a surrogate for human companionship. Last year the trend of men dating electronic girlfriends they carried on their phones became so popular that at least one Japanese resort town started catering to these men and their virtual lovers. This year there were at least three robotic advancements in Japan that will help give rise to realistic, sex robots. One researcher unveiled both a kiss and a hug transmission device; these machines simulate artificial forms of these human exchanges over the Internet. Another team of researchers developed a robot that can talk and mimic facial expressions as flawlessly as the animated creatures on Avatar.

2001-a-space-odyssey-baby.jpg

An Indonesian plant may lead to male birth control:
Indonesian researchers have been testing the chemicals of a native plant, Gandarusa, on the fertility of male mice since 1987. The chemical doesn’t interfere with a male’s hormones; it disarms sperm and makes them unable to penetrate the egg. Researchers have since moved on to human trials. Of the 100 couples to take the drug, none conceived a child while on the pill and the men’s sperm returned to normal in less than two months. Gandarusa could hit shelves in Indonesia as early as next year.

FDA approves the first erectile dysfunction machine:
Reflexonic announced the impending release of the first FDA-approved vibrator for men: Viberect. This device is the first physical alternative to erectile dysfunction drugs as well as the first tool for promoting ejaculation in men with spinal cord injuries. A Viberect currently requires a doctor’s prescription and costs $300. Considering the one-time investment and the lack of side-effects, it will be interesting to see how competitive these machines are against ED medications. Also, expect sex toy companies to produce knock-off versions marketed as novelty items.

Cheap and early gender tests may lead to selective abortions:
Gender tests are becoming ever easier. They are important when screening for sex-specific diseases, but some couples are using these tests for sex-selective abortions. Gender selection is just the start of a larger debate regarding genetic selection. One day soon doctors will be able to isolate and combine specific sperm and eggs that carry “ideal” genes. The inherent flaw with selecting your child’s genes, or even its sex, is the delusion that parents know what will be best for their offspring in an ever-changing world.

Gamers develop a model for an AIDS enzyme:
Pessimists have long seen the rise of video games as one of many elements rotting the minds of the young. However, innovative thinkers have discovered ways to harness the electronic skills of gamers. The Foldit computing project challenged gamers to create a 3D model of a critical AIDS enzyme that has eluded scientists for nearly a decade. Gamers solved the puzzle in three weeks. This 3D model will provide researchers with insight into the enzyme’s structural strengths and weaknesses.

Space sex isn’t stellar, at least for conception:
While NASA has yet to officially conduct experiments on human sex in space, some grounded NASA scientists analyzed the feasibility of procreation and pregnancy outside the Earth’s protective atmosphere. Space pioneers will face a variety of problems when it comes to conception. Radiation bursts from cosmic rays and solar flares will bombard their genitals like swift kicks of cosmic energy to the gonads. This will boost the rates of miscarriages and infertility.

First successful test tube sperm:
It has taken nearly a century, but scientists have finally grown mammalian sperm outside of the body. Researchers took tissue fragments from the testes of mice and soaked them in various culturing solutions in the hope that these cells would divide into sperm cells. The team ran into problems with meiosis. The key turned out to be culturing the tissue in a serum that is used to grow embryonic stem cells. The resulting sperm were then injected into egg cells and produced healthy offspring. Researchers are hopeful about using this procedure to help infertile men.

‘Viagra condoms’ may help resurrect safe sex:
Many men don’t use condoms or remove them during sex as the loss of sensitivity can make it difficult to maintain an erection. This blood loss can also increase the risk of the condom slipping off. To combat these issues, manufacturers tried coating the inside of condoms with a gel used to increase blood circulation. Men who tested the product reported having stronger and longer-lasting erections. Even if this innovation was primarily developed as a gimmick to sell condoms, many hope it will have the added bonus of preventing unwanted pregnancies and reducing the spread of STDs.

"I want to put a cucumber up my boyfriend's asshole so he knows what it feels like, and why I don't want it there"Like my last articles about facials, anal sex is one of those acts that people have a hard time believing the receptive partner actually enjoys.  It’s also loaded down with tons of cultural baggage about cleanliness and morality that make it seem “just wrong.”

I talk a lot about cultural messages and societal shaming, which is tricky sometimes because they are influences which are often hard capture in distinct moments.  Usually stigma and shaming have more of a vague feeling to them than a distinct, explicit statement that you can quote and reference.  However, I have one very distinct memory from middle school that I can use to illustrate how our society talks about anal sex.

I remember I was sitting through a media analysis lecture in 8th grade.  It was part of a get-ready-for-high-school event where parents and community members came and talked to us about all the pressures we were suddenly going to experience in high school, as if they hadn’t already happened to us…   Anyway, the woman in charge of the lecture was showing a slide show to get us to understand how the media distorts images of women to make our idea of beauty totally unrealistic.  At one point, she shows a picture of Britney Spears soaping up a classic car with her butt towards the camera.  The woman leading the lecture told us very clearly that Britney was referencing a very perverted kind of sex.

At first, I think I was confused.  What exactly qualified as perverted sex, and what made this random mother from suburbia the arbiter of that distinction?  Why were we even talking about this, when the previous slide had been about how a picture of Angelina Jolie had the body parts of 3 different women thrown together to create the illusion of perfection?  When I realized she was talking about anal sex, I was pretty pissed off—one because that was not what this woman was supposed to be talking about, and two, because of the totally biased and unnecessary rendering of anal sex as bad.

((I swear to god, I should have known I’d be a sex blogger then and there))cyanide and happiness comic- anal sex joke

I was light-years away from trying anal sex that day in my 8th grade classroom.  Like facials, I thought anal sex was kind of gross, and I didn’t really want to deal with it, so I tried to ignore those messages of sexual inequality, and you know, focus on stuff that was relevant to an 8th grader.

But now, especially, I feel that baggage as a woman in a relationship that is interested in exploring anal.  For so long, anal sex has been a joke for me; I would tell friends how it made me dizzy the first time I tried it, and it was terrible even though I “did everything right.”  Of course, I was 17, and doing everything right mostly meant using lots of lube and going slow.  That’s pretty much all the advice I’d ever gotten about the subject.   Even so, the only reason I tried anal in the first place was because my boyfriend at the time had been very excited about the idea, and I wanted to be open-minded and adventurous.  I only felt comfortable with anal in the context of another’s desire, not my own.

And now that I have to take ownership of my own interest in anal sex, it’s awkward.  Because I took all that cultural baggage and stigma about

bacon lube

…And make sure to use bacon lube

anal into my own relationship.  I brought the bad jokes, the discomfort masked by laughter, and the coded silences that kept me from even admitting my interest in anal to myself for quite a while.

So that’s something that I’m trying to work on, personally.  Just getting comfortable talking about anal sex is a big first step.  The next, of course, is educating myself on how to do it properly.  Like I said before, when I was 17, the only thing anyone ever told me about anal was “go slow and use lots of lube.”  Yet there’s so much more to it, and for those of you who are interested in educating yourselves, or even just for the morbidly curious…

For your edification, I present a Craigslist classic: “The Ass Fuck Conspiracy.”

It’s not even possible to pull out a good quote from this piece; you’ll just have to read it in its entirety, but sometimes good advice can come from an unlikely a source as Craigslist.

There’s a lot of work still to be done in getting anal sex out from its super-stigmatized corner, but here’s hoping that a little personal work on all our parts will help it along the way.

Stay cool, queer kids.

Facials

embroidered pillow that says, "Just don't cum on my face"There are a lot of sexual practices that, on top of the shame and stigma that sometimes comes from just  being sexually active, have their own specific stigma attached to them.  One of them I want to talk about in depth today: facials.

 

Why facials?

 

For whatever reason, our society has heaped extra shame onto people that enjoy facials.  It is seen as particularly dirty and degrading.  Particularly problematic to the idea of female equality.  Particularly hurtful and uncomfortable and ugly.  Particularly awkward to talk about.

I would have never thought to write about facials (which, if you didn’t know, is the act of ejaculating on a partners face), because they are something I’ve never experienced and never really desire to experience.  I tended to side with dominant culture on this one, actually.  I thought facials were pretty gross, and yeah, kind of degrading.  At least I did, until I read this article from Jezebel.

The article starts by contextualizing facials as an aesthetic in porn that derived from the AIDS crisis of the mid-80’s:

“Cum on me, not in me” was a popular sex educator slogan as far back as the late 1980s. … [In porn], if the male actor came on her face, the viewer could see two things at once: evidence of male pleasure (symbolized by the ejaculation) and the equally important sign that a woman’s reaction to that pleasure mattered.With sex now so dangerous — and HIV particularly likely to be spread through semen — facials were relatively “safe.” But in the era of AIDS, they were also compelling visual evidence that a woman wasn’t threatened by a man’s semen. In that sense facials were, almost from the start, more about women’s acceptance of men’s bodies than about women’s degradation.

I think that’s a really powerful statement, and for one reason in particular.  The women’s movement has brought us really great rhetoric and dude with paint all over his face; white text "Clown Porn: Always Ending with a Facial!"performance pieces about loving our bodies and our womanhood, as evidenced by the popularity of “The Vagina Monologues” (also linked to in that article).  But there hasn’t been the same kind of affirmation for men’s physicality, and particularly for the subject of the penis.

I know a lot of feminists will get up in arms with me about this point, because the penis has been the symbol of power and manhood and all these valued ideas for so long, but aesthetically, I think there’s just as much neurosis and discomfort with the male genitalia as with the female.  Boys grow up worrying if they’re long enough or big enough, if their guy “looks funny,” and I would imagine, there’s some discomfort with the idea of semen too.  But unlike women, who are now finding spaces to affirm the beauty of their vulvas, most people still squick and say “ewwwww” when we talk about penises and balls.

So in a way, facials are that kind of radical acceptance for men that “The Vagina Monologues” was for women: a way of saying, yes, your junk is ok.  It’s nice enough that I will allow it on my face, a place of great dignity and respect.  That same argument tends to apply to oral sex as well.

I don’t think this argument stands to invalidate the power dynamics at play with facials.  There is definitely still a sense of possession or authority that can come into play when giving or receiving a facial.  A lot of people specifically use facials as a kind of humiliation play in D/s relationships, and I think that’s legitimate too.  But the point being, facials don’t inherently HAVE to be about power.  A receptive partner can like facials without liking to be degraded, and loving relationships (kinky and otherwise) can use facials for the pleasure of both partners if they can talk about it in a way that revolves around acceptance and love of each other’s bodies.

And that’s pretty awesome.

Stay cool, queer kids.

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