Tag Archive: desire


Why I Love Sex in That 70’s Show

I will admit, that only 2 weeks ago, I was sitting down to write the exact opposite of this article, ranting and raving about the dichotomies and false standards that TV and movies perpetuate today about sex.  But I’ve actually found that, somehow, That 70’s Show has a few good things to teach us about sex between teenagers.

For those of you not familiar with the show, the recap is fairly simple: six friends hang out in Eric Forman’s basement in 1970’s po-dunk nowhere, Wisconsin.  They smoke a lot of weed and talk about their lives, which are, for the most part, inconsequential and full of stupid mistakes.  Two of the friends, Eric and Donna, are dating throughout most of the show, and the first two seasons follow their relationship developing into a sexual one.  There’s a lot of ugliness to this progression, which involves Donna tackling the psycho-social “Let’s make this special” complex about losing her virginity, and the show often dichotomizes Donna and Eric into chaste, pure, and virtuous virgin and salivating, uncontrollable horndog.  Thus, why I was originally going to write about how bad this show is.

HOWEVER, things make a 180 degree turn in ethics once Donna and Eric actually start having sex.  The episode where Donna and Eric lose their virginity also includes a great montage of Donna asking adults in her life what their first time was like, and the unanimous answer being that it was terrible…but sex got better with time.

Because when it comes down to it, yes, we do need practice, goshdarnit!  No one is born knowing how to be great in bed.  It’s a skill, and it comes with time, familiarity, and practice.  I’m glad that the show can acknowledge that in a funny, realistic way, while shedding light on the myriad ways that people lose their virginity (to a stranger, immediately after their wedding, with someone unexpected).

The other aspect I really like about the sex ethic in That 70’s Show is how it portrays female sexual desire through Donna.  Before they have sex, Eric is the only one pushing for it, and I had assumed that the same dynamic would persist throughout the show.  Luckily for me, and very true to reality I think, sex completely opened Donna to her own desires.  After Donna and Eric start have sex, there’s equal emphasis on both of their desires for each other, which I find incredibly refreshing.

And again, this makes a lot of sense.  Before I started having sex, I did not think of myself as a sexual person.  I knew that I wanted to have sex, eventually (preferably sooner than later), but my desire wasn’t concrete.  It didn’t have form.  But once I’d lost my virginity, I felt like I understood my body and what it wanted better (obviously this wasn’t really true, because it took almost another year before I realized it kind of preferred girls…lol).

Nonetheless, desire had a direction once it had experience, and thus, a much stronger hold on my body.  I think Donna’s development throughout the season mirrors that exceptionally, and it’s a really good model for how women can be sexually empowered, without feeling like they have to run out and sleep with a new guy every week, become a swinger, or poly, or kinky, or whatever.  Women can take charge of their sexuality within the confines of a very “normal,” comfortable relationship, just by acknowledging that they have needs too.

Now I’m not saying this is a wholesale endorsement of the sex ethic in the show.  The characters in That 70’s Show are obviously just that, characters.  And it is a comedy, which colors their actions in neurotic and unrealistic overtones.  Yet the essence behind Donna and Eric’s relationship is good, and I wish I could see that shown so righteously in other shows being produced today.

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Now that you’ve had an introduction to the concept of kink from our wonderful guest blogger, I think it’s only fair to delve a little deeper into one aspect of that which is near and dear to my heart: power play.

Power play has a lot of baggage to unpack, because of the associations we make between gender, identity, and the practice of domination.  For example, we generally think Male Dominates, Female is Dominated, or in the case of a same sex relationship, Butch = top, Femme = bottom (butch being a more masculine man/woman, and femme being more feminine).  But of course this isn’t always the case.

This article from Carnal Nation gives a good primer on the subject:

“In fact, sometimes people who are larger, because they are larger, like being able to surrender, to turn their bodies and their size and their stature and their presence over to someone else, appreciating the temporary release of their own control. I know some people who are dominants, and who are smaller in size, and who love topping people who are larger than they are, because it takes more than just physical strength in order to dominate them. It takes psychological or emotional strength, the will to induce someone else to surrender.”

This concept of giving and receiving of power- of playing into the dominant/submissive dichotomy willingly- is an amazingly complex one, but it has the power to build incredible intimacy.

…It takes great strength to be capable of giving up power.  It takes the strength of discernment, being able to choose a lover with whom you will be safe when you give up your own power to them. It takes a certain fearlessness, knowing that your power will come back, even if it’s frightful at times to experience physical surrender, physical and emotional vulnerability.”

Upon relinquishing power, you leave yourself vulnerable, and the ability to do so demonstrates and builds immense trust between partners.  On the other side of this, though, is the potential for hurt on both sides of the equation- the submissive being pushed too far or the dominant being uncomfortable with the role s/he/ze has taken on.  I wish I could link you to the Sugarbutch article which does such a good job talking about how hard it can be as a dominant, but sadly, it is a protected post.

Nonetheless, let’s try to illustrate.  If you are deeply, romantically and/or sexually involved with someone, the incorporation of D/S can mean purposefully abusing them, causing them pain or discomfort (of course, this is what a sub wants- to be used, to abdicate control of their desires).  But even if you personally KNOW that this is what your partner wants, that he/she/ze has explicitly said “Do not stop when I say it hurts, when I say ‘no,’” there is still an immense psychological boundary to leap over in continuing when your partner actually says that.  Even if the rules have been established, you still feel like you are hurting your partner, doing something completely unacceptable.

This is something doms have been dealing with for a long time, but it doesn’t apply exclusively to such heavy D/S play.  Many vanilla couples have probably encountered it when it comes to that contentious but desirable practice: dirty talk.  The Canadian paper Globe and Mail did an entertaining piece about the hesitation to use dirty talk in the bedroom, which echoes the same problems that dominants have in topping their submissives:

“Part of talking dirty can involve theatrically using the language of degradation. For the generations of men raised by feminists, this can feel problematic, but Stacey May Fowles, publisher of Shameless, a Toronto-based feminist magazine for young women, says this shouldn’t be the case if it’s what a woman wants to hear…

“Early on when she was experimenting with her sexuality, Ms. Fowles says, she requested that a former boyfriend call her a dirty name. His response, she tells me, was, “I won’t call you that because I don’t want to think of you that way.” Fair enough – a man is allowed to have his boundaries – but what struck me most was this guy’s confusion of fantasy and reality. And if your sex partner can’t tell the difference between the two, you may have bigger problems on your hands.”

With dirty talk as with D/S, practices involving degradation or humiliation end up confusing how we truly think of our partner and how we desire to “play” with them.  And even for the most prepared of us, this can be a hard line to navigate.

Another Carnal Nation writer, Madison Young, touches on how her personal fetish- rope play- can fit into this challenging dichotomy.

Why do we engage in rope bondage as a tool within D/s? Why is it fascinating and erotically stimulating to engage in power exchange and to disassemble power structures that have been put in place by a social normative? We are breaking the rules. As queers, as feminists, as kinky persons, and sexual outlaws we have always been breaking the rules. Going outside of the designated sexual norms as we search for connection, community, and fulfillment in our sexual lives and identities….

“In the relationship with one in which I serve, rope is used as a treat or a reward for good behavior. In this way rope is largely used to gain power of me as a submissive and to motivate my behavior. I know that if I do as I’m told I will be rewarded with rope.”

In her relationships, rope is the manifestation of a D/S relationship- the object which controls the power struggle.  The same elements of domination and submission are still present as in relationships without a fetish- the abandonment of control, inherent trust in her dominant, and a deep understand of what she personally wants from a sexual interaction- but the rope provides the additional element which is most erotic to her.

So what does all this D/S talk add up to?  A better understanding of who we are as sexual beings, what we want from our interactions, and the challenges of both abdicating and taking on power for another’s sexual experiences. These practices can encompass everything from how we talk to one another to the use of restraints and physical punishments in sexual play.  These things can be scary and intoxicating and incredibly powerful; but used properly, the can take a sexual relationship to whole new levels.

Take Back the Night

Last semester, I attended part of the Take Back the Night ceremony, an event which has quickly become a national movement and rallying call for preventing rape and keeping women safe worldwide.  The format of Take Back the Night is fairly simple- audience members, as well as scheduled speakers, are asked to come to the center of the meeting space and share their story- or the story of someone close to them- about their experiences with rape or sexual assault.

The stories are moving, daring, sometimes humorous, but more often heart-wrenching, and always carry a somber, but hopeful message for the future: if I share this, my understanding and my experiences, maybe it won’t happen to someone else.

While Take Back the Night was one of the most compelling events I attended at American University, it was also the most frustrating.  It reminded me of the total helplessness that so many women (and men!) face when confronted with violence and abuse.  It reminds me of how little our society has done to PREVENT rape.  There are so many of organizations out there which deal with the after-effects of sexual abuse: counseling, medical  attention, support groups, memorial projects, but there are so few that do anything about educating the population most likely to commit rape.  I think Scarleteen puts it best in their article How You Guys — that’s right, you GUYS — Can Prevent Rape: (which you guys should all at least skim through)

“Do you know that you shouldn’t walk home alone at night, or on unlit streets? That when walking home, you should have your house key between your fingers to poke a potential attacker in the eyes or throat? How about that if you don’t want to be raped, you need to be sure your skirt is somebody’s idea of the right length, that you don’t sway your hips when you walk, you shouldn’t be alone with new dates, alone in large groups of men, say you enjoy sex out loud where men can hear you, shouldn’t drink — not because you’ll get liver damage or become an alcoholic, but because it’ll result in you being raped? Did you know that if someone tries to force you to have sex, that you shouldn’t fight back, but should probably just try to be nice to them? How about that if you say yes to one kind of sex, you’d best be prepared to have every other kind of sex your partner wants, and that if you want to avoid being raped, you’d best say no to ANY kind of sex, even the sex you DO want?

If these things aren’t as familiar to you as the nose on your face, I can guarantee you that they are for nearly every woman you know. Women have this stuff drilled into our heads endlessly, from nearly everywhere we look, all with the aim of helping us prevent something from happening we aren’t even doing. Almost every article we see when it comes to rape prevention is aimed at women – the ones most often getting raped — not at men, who most often are the ones doing the raping.”

This is rape culture.  These are the protective ideas that our society enforces about the way women have to act to protect themselves from something that should never even happen in a dignified society.  And yet it does.  It does all the time.  So what I’m wondering is- why haven’t we, as a society so deeply concerned with the problem of rape- addressed its root causes?

This loops right back to everything I’ve been saying about sexual dialogue and openness.  As Antonio Banderas says of dance in Take the Lead- “If your son can learn to touch a girl with respect, how will he treat women throughout his life?”  The same applies here: dialogue turns into action, which turns into practices, which becomes cemented as values.  If we hush up sex like it is something bad and dirty, it becomes taboo, desirable.  If we talk about it openly, it becomes something normal, regular- something pleasant to be done with discretion and care, like driving or being in charge of your own finances.  As a society talks more, barriers break down and understanding develops.  “Oh, you mean women like sex too?  And if I’m not a bastard to them, but instead help them find their own sexual desire, then they’ll actually WANT to sleep with me?”  Go figure.

The more women feel in control of their own sexual wants and needs and the clearer those are, the more potential rapists will come to understand about their potential victims as whole groups.  More understanding = less frustration = a heck of a lot less of violent sexual crimes.  Would this eliminate all forms of sexual abuse?  No, certainly not.  But would it go a long way towards a society-wide movement away from rape and the culture of “taking” by men.

And if that wasn’t long enough for you- there’s a second segment to this whole rape culture article.  And that’s about The Gray Area- or rape that isn’t rape.

Part of the “taking” attitude I wrote about involves sexual interactions that sort of bridge the consent line.  There’s “yes, but only yes because you’ve been pressuring me for the last six months,” or “Yes, but I’m really drunk and so are you,” or even “Yes even though I’m not enjoying it.”

Again, this goes back to a societal paradigm where women often don’t “own” their sexual desires.  They feel like sex is “for the man” in their relationship. (or, in the case of same-sex partners, “for the other partner”- sorry, I know a lot of these articles assume a heterosexual relationships, although these problems occur in same-sex relations too.  Excuse my use of the gender dichotomy for ease of writing in this case.  Thanks loves!)

Thus, “the Gray Area.”  When women say ok, even though they mean, I wish you’d stop harassing me about it.  Or, sometimes, when they say ok because they want to feel desired, mature, or some other social construct attached to sex, without actually wanting SEX.  The C-spot, a literary/erotic women’s magazine, published a great article on this concept here:  http://www.c-spotmagazine.com/main/?p=1159.  For the author, the idea of being wanted, of being mature by fooling around, even though she didn’t have any real idea about sex, pushed her much farther than she wanted to go.  It’s a very relatable article for me, as I’m sure it will be for many people out there.

The prescription here is all about women taking hold of their own sexual identity, as Scarleteen writes brilliantly about it again in their article: An Immodest Proposal. Here’s the best part though:

“What we individually and collectively visualize has power and influence when it comes to what we manifest. By all means, not a one of us can somehow erase or alter all of the barriers we have right now when it comes to real sexual agency for all women. But there are no barriers beyond the limitations of our own imagination when it comes to rewriting the scripts of our sexual ideals, our individual sexual lives, and what we present to ourselves, our sisters and our daughters. We have the power to dream up and manifest something far better than a woman merely being able to say no and to say yes; something which is an entirely different animal than scenarios which are positive primarily because they have avoided the most negative consequences or results. Good sex, great sex, enriching sexuality is not just about the absence of physical or emotional pain nor only about emotional intimacy. It is about desire and the full expression of that desire.”

Guys, girls, all of you- especially if you haven’t had sex yet, or you’ve had bad sex, or had sex you didn’t really want, READ THIS.  I mean, PLEASE READ THIS.  The more we as individuals come to realize the power of our own sexual agency, the greater the ability for sex to mean something, to be something big, Powerful, and EXPLOSIVE.  And my personal hope, as a writer, as a student, as a sister, as a friend, and a queer teen, is that everyone who reads this gets an experience like the one this article describes.

Take care, queer kids.  Keep the dialogue open and the ideas flowing.

((Also, we should be having a guest collaborator or two on a sexuality and religion article soon.  Huzzah!))

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