Category Archives: sex

Queer Purity and Gold Stars

gold star sticker on ruled paper with a handwritten note "well done!"Today’s post originates from an idea I wrote down literally five years ago, so it seems about time to draft the damn thing. I started thinking about it at an academic conference called Lavender Languages that I attended in 2012. The conference was on queer linguistics, but the papers presented covered a pretty broad range of subjects. One was about gold star lesbians, and another was about barebacking and intentional exposure to HIV risk in gay male communities–from what I remember of the latter presentation, there was a lot of talk about sexual transgression and what communities consider abject–how we view sex, “dirtiness,” and disease.

Those two papers kind of coalesced in my mind and I started thinking about community narratives of purity vs. transgression. Of course, most queers are up on the purity myth and don’t focus on the construct of virginity, or shame other queers for sexual transgressions. But I do think there are subtler messages at work within the community, and they come up especially in how we think about trans lesbian sexuality. Read the rest of this entry

Advertisements

Am I Asexual?

20140725-192406-69846364.jpgWell, probably not, but I’m starting to wonder whether I might fall somewhere on the asexuality spectrum. As I joked in one panel, “I think I have the gender thing figured out, so why not be confused about my sexual orientation now?” For me, the sticking point in the definition of asexuality is the meaning of “sexual attraction.” If asexual means not sexually attracted to others, and grey-A roughly means not very sexually attracted to others, or only in certain ways, then it’s important to know what sexual attraction actually is. Do we, like porn, know it when we see it?

Since I can’t be in anyone else’s body, I can’t know exactly what the norm is. I know that I feel excitement when I find a person attractive. I want to flail at them a lot and probably cuddle. But the idea of smushing our genitals together does not necessarily occur, and if we end up being sexual with each other, there is inevitably a conversation about how I would rather not engage in any of the typical sex acts, or might be down for a limited menu someday but there’s no guarantee.

Since I know from some awesome asexual educators that asexuality does not necessarily correlate to low sex drive, or to whether you masturbate, or to whether you’re willing to have sex with an allosexual person (someone who does experience sexual attraction), I wonder what it does require. And of course, labels are not essential, but they can be helpful sometimes. I find that folks who are ace or a little grey-A or demisexual or even educated on asexuality seem to have a better understanding of my particular sexuality than others.

Any thoughts? If you do experience sexual attraction, can you describe it? Do you typically think of having sex with that person/want to see them naked/etc or is it more “you! You’re a awesome!” and sex is icing?

Teen Sexuality, Casual Sex, and Parenting

A few weeks ago, I got into a discussion during a #sheparty (Wednesday afternoons, go to the hashtag on Twitter to participate!) with Angela Toussaint, author of The Momarchy: A Single Mom’s Guide to Guilt-Free Parenting.  The topic was teen sexuality, and while I believe Angela and I agree on a lot of the basics, one point of disagreement was the question of teenaged girls being sexual active outside of relationships.  Okay or not okay?  The spectre of the blow job party came up, as well as the question of girls’ self-esteem.

Now I certainly don’t doubt that in many, maybe most, cases where teenaged girls are having sex outside of a relationship, bad shit happens.  Often self-esteem can be harmed, not to mention much bigger problems.  However, I’m not sure that as a parent, I would simply discourage my daughter from having “casual” sex as a teenager, because I don’t think that casual sex is the culprit.

The problem, particularly with blow job parties and the like, is assumptions.  Like so many sexual topics, assumptions tend to come up based on gender here.  It’s a “blow job party,” rather than a “cunnilingus” party, because men are seen as sexual subjects and girls as sexual objects.  I don’t think there’s any problem with a teenaged girl deciding that she is interested in performing oral sex on a boy.  The problems come up when the boy makes assumptions about the girl based on the kind of sex she’s interested, when the boy assumes that she’s “up for” other sexual activities without asking, when the girl gets a reputation because of our gendered assumptions about girls who give blow jobs, when other boys assume that she’s “up for” sex with them without asking, when teachers write this girl off as “bad” and don’t spend as much time educating her as other students.

In my life, I have had good sex in and out of relationships.  I have had bad sex in and out of relationships.  I haven’t found a correlation.  Of course, many people do.  But not everyone finds, as an adult, that relationships are the best structure for them.  Not everyone wants to have relationships as a teenager.  Many teenagers are not well-adjusted enough yet to be sexually active (I certainly wasn’t!) but I don’t believe that those who are should necessarily look for a relationship before looking for sex.  What should teenage girls look for before engaging in sexual activity?  What should parents encourage?

  1. Enthusiastic consent.  Girls should look for a partner who wants to do what they want to do, and who respects what they want to do.  A partner should always ask before initiating any sexual activity, and girls (and boys!) should know that it’s a good idea to say “stop” if they’re not sure or if a partner tries to go from one activity to another without asking.  It’s okay to take some time to think about it, too, if you don’t know whether you want to do something.
  2. Privacy.  It’s hard to find privacy as a teen, but because reputation in high schools is so fucked-up and based on gendered assumptions about people, it’s a good idea for teenagers to make sure those they have sex with are respectful and know not to discuss others’ sexual preferences.  No one has the right to talk about your sex life without asking you if it’s okay.
  3. Communication.  This goes hand-in-hand with enthusiastic consent.  You don’t have to be in a relationship to communicate.  Parents can encourage their children to talk about sex as soon as they start having it, and to question cultural assumptions about sex.  If a girl is interested in performing oral sex on a boy, for example, that’s great.  If she’s not interested in that, though, but is curious about manual stimulation, that’s fine too.  If she’d like to be touched but isn’t ready to touch someone else, there might be someone who’s interested in that.  Sex doesn’t have to be a one-for-one exchange, and no one ever needs to be guilty about not wanting to do a particular thing.  Parents can teach this at a young age, letting teenagers know that as they become sexually active, they may have to educate their peers, as well.

Is Asking People to Have Sex with Less People Appropriate for STI Prevention?

This question came up at work yesterday, in relation to an article on HPV and Gardasil.  I felt kind of uncomfortable about the advice “limit your number of sexual partners” related to HPV prevention, because to me, it feels like a value judgement.  But what’s the equivalent?  My instinct is to say “have mature, open conversations about safer sex with all your partners, no matter their number.”  But numbers-wise, this technique doesn’t achieve the same goal as reducing partners.  HPV transmission isn’t fully prevented by the use of barriers, though they certainly help.  It’s also hard to know whether you have HPV, because a lot of people do have it, and thus screening tests aren’t common under the age of 30.  It doesn’t show up on a Pap smear.  So technically speaking, limiting your number of partners is the most effective thing to do, in addition to practicing safe sex.

On the other hand, when it comes to something like HPV, I’m unsure what the risk/benefit calculus really is.  For example, many women who have sex with women don’t use barriers because frankly, it’s a pain in the ass.  It’s not a community standard, and STI risks are low enough that some people don’t think using a dental dam or gloves is really worth it.  You might make a similar choice about HPV–I probably have it or have had it, it’ll probably clear up, what’s the big deal?  Maybe this is more about stigmatizing STIs than anything.  It’s all well and good to give advice for prevention, but maybe what’s more important advice than anything is “get tested after 30, look for lingering cases, have regular Pap smears in case an issue does show up before then.”

Blogging “Yes” Day 23: Defining Virginity

For day twenty-three of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read “The Process-Oriented Virgin” by Hanne Blank, author of Virgin: The Untouched History (and apparently a fellow Baltimorean!)  I’ve blogged here before about my personal virginity definitions, so I may be rehashing a bit, but I think Blank does a good job of making a point that comes up again and again in feminist circles: there really is no such thing as a virgin.

Read the rest of this entry

Blogging “Yes” Day 22: Control in Sex Work and BDSM

For day twenty two of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read a conversation entitled “Who’re You Calling a Whore?: A Conversation with Three Sex Workers on Sexuality, Empowerment, and the Industry.”  The sex workers in question are Susan Lopez, Saundra, and Mariko Passion, and the conversation focuses on various issues of power, control, and empowerment in sex work.  As I was reading, I found myself drawing a lot of parallels with BDSM, especially when it comes to female control and empowerment, and I thought I’d comment on those here.

Read the rest of this entry

Blogging “Yes” Day 19: Is Fighting for Sex the Best Option?

For day nineteen of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read Anastasia Higginbotham’s essay, “Sex Worth Fighting For.”  So far, this is the essay I disagree with most in the book, because it focuses on a self-defense program that focuses on actively fighting off men. Though I recognize that some women do feel empowered by physically fighting, I would argue that both men and women need to work towards non-violence, and that fighting violence with violence is not the right solution for everyone.

Read the rest of this entry

Blogging “Yes” Day 16: The Not-Rapes

For day sixteen of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read Latoya Peterson’s essay, “The Not-Rape Epidemic.”  This was another of the most powerful in the book for me on first reading, and it’s informed a lot of how I think about rape culture and my own experiences.  Peterson, the editor of Racialicious, tells the story of her own “not-rape” and a later experience in finding herself at a later rape trial of her “not rapist.”  She also talks about the common experiences of young women with molestation, harassment, and statutory rape and the myth of the “cool older boyfriend.”

Read the rest of this entry

Blogging “Yes” Day 15: Sex as a Competitive Sport

For day fifteen of the Blogging “Yes” project I read “Hooking up with Healthy Sexuality: The Lessons Boys Learn (and Don’t Learn) About Sexuality and Why a Sex-Positive Rape Prevention Paradigm Can Benefit Everyone Involved” by Brad Perry, who works in sexual violence prevention.  Perry’s essay includes the story of his own first 13-year-old attempt to have sex and some information he’s learned in working in sexual violence prevention about how effective sex education works.  What I found most interesting about the essay, though, was the idea of sex as a “game” that boys can win or lose.

Read the rest of this entry

Blogging “Yes” Day 14: Envisioning a World of Enthusiastic Consent

This is day fourteen of the Blogging “Yes” project, and today I decided to read two essays back-to-back because they have a common theme.  One was “Reclaiming Touch: Rape Culture, Explicit Verbal Consent, and Body Sovereignty,” by trans feminist activist Hazel/Cedar Troost.  The other was “An Immodest Proposal” by Heather Corinna, the founder of Scarleteen.com.  I picked these two essays to blog together because they both carry the idea of enthusiastic consent out to a not-yet-commonly-realized conclusion and consider what a world with normalized enthusiastic consent might look like.

Read the rest of this entry