Category Archives: sex

Blogging “Yes” Day 13: Linking the Discourse on Female Sexuality and Date Rape

Here we are at day thirteen of the Blogging “Yes” project, and Lisa Jervis’s essay “An Old Enemy in a New Outfit: How Date Rape Became Gray Rape and Why It Matters.”  Jervis is the founding editor of Bitch magazine and her essay is another that will contain concepts very familiar to most feminists.  It focuses on the idea of “gray” rape, which is an updated spin on the “date rape is not as serious” victim-blaming discourse that’s been around, well, probably as long as dating culture.  What I wanted to highlight here is the connection between the “gray” rape discourse and modern  messages about women’s sexuality.

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Blogging “Yes” Day 9: Submissive Sexuality and Fantasy

Today, day nine of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read “The Fantasy of Acceptable “Non-Consent”: Why the Female Sexual Submissive Scares Us (and Why She Shouldn’t)” by Stacey May Fowles.  I had mixed feelings about this essay, because on the one hand I definitely agree with the main point that BDSM-style negotiation can be far more liberated, far more feminist, and far less contributory to rape culture than vanilla sex.  On the other hand, I felt that there was a confusion in the essay between submission generally and con non-con scenes or fantasies specifically and that the heterosexual perspective wasn’t really explicitly pointed out enough.

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Blogging “Yes” Day 4: Defining Empowerment

For the fourth day of the Blogging “Yes” project I read “A Woman’s Worth” by Javacia N. Harris.  Harris, a feminist journalist, talks mostly about raunch culture and different trends that tend to be linked by some with feminism and empowerment: female pro wrestlers, the Pussycat Dolls, restaurants with scantily clad waitresses, and equally unclad women in rap videos, namely.  I didn’t agree with Harris on every point, but I do think her essay raised some interesting questions about empowerment and what that word means for women.

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Blogging “Yes” Day 3: Why Checklists Are Sexy

For the third day of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “Beyond Yes or No: Consent As Sexual Process.”  I can’t agree more with the main idea of this essay: that consent shouldn’t just be the absence of “no,” or even a simple “yes,” but a conversation between sexual partners about desires, fear, likes, dislikes, and all the rest.  However, I did have some discomfort in parts of the essay as someone who doesn’t find it easy to ask for what she wants.

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Blogging “Yes” Day 2: Sex As a Commodity Erases Women

Welcome to the second day of the Blogging “Yes” project!  Today I read the essay “Towards a Performance Model of Sex” by Thomas Macaulay Millar, a litigator and active member of the online feminist community.  This essay picks up on the theme of entitlement found in Jill’s piece and explores the contrast between a “commodity model” of sex and a “performance model.”

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Quick rant

Nicki: “No sex is unhealthy for the mind, body and soul.”

That annoys me.  If she means to include masturbation, then ok, I’d agree, but the context suggests that she means partner sex.  I hate it when people suggest that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t have sex for a while – I think that’s a cultural thing.  Sometimes we just don’t want to have sex.  I’d much rather be celibate for a few years than have sex with someone I don’t trust or know well.

A query

Why is it that some women who are sexually dominant assume that they have license to make everyone they meet do as they please, or that women who are sexually submissive are expected to defer and automatically be interested in them sexually? I’m not saying that all, or most, dominant women are like this, but I encountered one casually (not in a romantic/sexual context) and it really baffled me. My understanding is that kinky relationships are something to be negotiated, based on trust. So perhaps that sort of dynamic would evolve within a relationship, and I can respect that. What I don’t understand is someone who assumes that because they take on this role they should suddenly have everyone wait on them hand and foot. That’s called arrogance.

My Beef with Anti-Porn Feminism

I do understand where the anti-porn feminists are coming from.  They want to cut down on violence, oppression, and degradation of women.  Okay, great.  Completely with you.  What’s the problem?  Well, degradation is subjective.  Violence can be consensual.  And though I may not want to watch 90% of the mainstream porn that’s out there, I believe strongly in freedom of expression.  If a woman wants to be involved in the sex industry, more power to her.  Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Focus on the real problems.  Target coercion and non-consent, for example.  Target non-consensual “recruitment” of women, whether through trafficking or other means.  Increase regulation of the porn industry, but don’t regulate ideas.  If porn is de-stigmatised, we can focus on getting the industry to pay its models well, making sure some tricky financial stuff isn’t going on to cheat the models, and making sure women in the sex industry have health insurance and other benefits.  Though it’s hard to decide where I stand on this in terms of consent, I might also be okay with targeting unsafe sex in the porn industry.  The problem is that when you target the content of pornography, or all of pornography, rather than the negative effects, you don’t achieve your goal.  If porn was illegal, it would just go underground.  The sex trade flourishes whether legal or not, but if we focus on protection and benefits for sex workers, at least we’re keeping women safe.
  2. Don’t use anti-porn activism as an excuse to regulate sex.  By this, I mean that too often feminists get into the business of regulating desire.  Proposed legislation that targets “degrading” forms of pornography tells women that their sexual desires are not okay.  Targeting S&M and other consensual practices is just as bad as targeting gay or lesbian sexuality.  If everyone is consenting, who are feminists to decide what is and isn’t degrading?  
  3. Focus on sex-positive culture.  And on a related note, this may seem completely antithetical to anti-porn advocacy, but I’m not sure that it is.  Let’s focus on eliminating the stigmas that surround sexuality, especially female sexuality.  Let’s make the message that it is okay to desire what you desire, and that it is not okay for others to force you into sexual situations in any way.  This could achieve two things.  One is that people won’t enter the porn industry because it’s the only way to indulge in their desires.  Another is that it will de-stigmatise sex work and female sexual expression, so that women in the sex industry don’t feel like underground, unprotected individuals who don’t deserve fair pay and decent working conditions.  It also could lead to more porn created by women, for women.  

I am an executive lesbian

I’ve been greatly surprised, the more I make contact with various parts of the lesbian community and lesbian pop culture, how much the “butch and femme” dichotomy is alive and well.  I realise that despite all the changes and movements away from binary trends, we still tend to think in twos, but for some reason I thought this was an outmoded distinction.  Then again, among the lesbians I know in real life, most don’t really talk about being butch or femme.  I know some lesbians who are decidedly butch, but then I also know a lot like me, who I don’t think of as butch, but if I think about it I really can’t characterise them as “femme.”

As far as I can tell, femme is often more or less the default for “not butch.”  It seems that butch has a more built-up set of characteristics, possibly because it implies masculinity and differentiating oneself from the norm, from the femininity default that women are born into.  When I think of a butch woman, I think of her in terms of three areas: appearance, activities/mannerisms, and sexual “stuff.”  

Appearance

I think of “butch” as meaning very masculine, but also fitting a number of other stereotypes – often overweight or big boned and very muscular, often doesn’t pay a lot of attention to dress, etc.  But there are other sorts of masculine women.  I find myself very frequently attracted to androgynous women, what I suppose you would label “bois” – petite women with short haircuts who retain feminine features, so that they more or less look like a 12-year-old boy.  There are also women who are very traditionally attractive but wear a lot of boyish clothing.  I find that the more choices I make about my own appearance, the more I start to move away from the traditional feminine.  Aside from my usual suit-and-tie combination, I’ve found that I really like how I look in more masculine casual clothes as well.  Now that I’ve found a good way to style it, I love my extremely androgynous haircut.  Yesterday, I was wearing a faded black tanktop that looks like a “wifebeater” essentially and I found myself flexing my muscles in the mirror and taking my glasses off to blur my feminine features.  When I was a teenager, I used to wonder what my “boy self” would look like.  I’ve been drawn to masculinity for a long time, and I absolutely love dressing in drag.  I just feel really comfortable and really sexy when I’m androgynous.  However, I try not to think too hard about it, because I really don’t want to be a man, or at least, not a heterosexual man. More on that later.

Activities/Mannerisms

Something else that I think bolster’s someone’s “butch” image is the things she does.  This ranges from activities – maybe owns a motorcycle, knows how to change her own oil, likes sports and having a beer with her buddies – to more simple things.  These are an area, actually, where I think femmes affirmatively make themselves femmes – by spending time on makeup and hair, wearing lotion, shopping, etc etc.  I also think this is a place where a lot of people end up falling in the middle.  I don’t look like the stereotypical butch, but I know how to change the oil, I like (not US) football, I never wear makeup or “do” my hair, etc.  It’s hard to think of me as really femme for that reason.

Sexual Stuff

Here’s where my own heebie jeebies come out.  Now of course, everything in this post is a generalisation, talking about stereotypes into which most lesbians probably don’t fit.  But I’ve read a little about fantasies and lesbian sexuality and I have to say some of the butch/femme sexuality really throws me.  The reason is that it seems, to me, to come really close to heterosexual sexuality and really close to the kind of “male oppression” stuff that has become more and more a turnoff to me since I stopped having sex with men.  Of course, I’m sure there are lesbian women who fantasise about choking on a dildo, or being fucked painfully, or having sex with someone who identifies as male.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  It’s just that for me, being on either side of that equation would be a major turn-off.  Being with a man, especially sexually, turned me into a weak, meek person completely unlike myself.  If I were on the “female” side of that equation in a lesbian relationship, there’s nothing to say the same thing wouldn’t happen.  At the same time, if I were on the “male” side, I don’t want to be hurting someone or interjecting heterosexuality in the relationship.  To me, the beautiful thing about lesbian sex is that it’s two women, exploring female sexuality.  I do need to learn to mentally disconnect certain “heterosexual” acts that I actually enjoy from heterosexuality, so that I can enjoy them with a woman.  I’ll admit that.  But when actual roleplay starts up, I can’t see myself as a butch or a femme, because I don’t want that particular dichotomy in my bed.  I want whatever power differential is set up (and believe me, I like power differentials) to be between two women, using our female energies.  Man, I’m a hippie.

That wasn’t supposed to turn into a rant, but anyway, that’s my take on the butch/femme roles.  If you really enjoy fitting into one or the other, more power to you!  I’m just happy as an androgynous, outside-the-box lesbian who likes other androgynous, outside-of the box lesbians.  There it is.

Talkin' bout my…education?

Cara at the Curvature recently wrote a very thought-provoking post about what she calls “real sex education.”  I’m not going to talk a lot about the post, because I think you should just read it – she makes some really interesting points – but I would like to share some thoughts about sex ed.  Cara’s real sex education involves teaching young people that sex is supposed to be consensual + pleasurable for both parties.  At first I looked at that statement and thought “hey, no brainer.”  Then I thought wait a minute, I may be progressive and all but I don’t want to be teaching kids about sex.  Then I thought, well, you know what, she has a real fucking point.

The big focus now for sex education is on teaching about how to prevent STDs and pregnancy.  There’s a big debate, I gather, between abstinence-only folks and comprehensive sex ed folks, but when they say comprehensive they still mean focusing on disease and pregnancy and how to prevent them.  It never really occurred to me what kind of a role sex ed could have had in my unfortunate early experiences, but now that I think of it, yeah, that’s a good way to start.

I’m not sure if my own sex education would be considered “abstinence only” or not.  In fifth grade, we took a course called “Human Growth and Development.”  It was a one-week part of the science curriculum that required parental permission, and of course everyone was very excited about it because of the sense of taboo that surrounded the course.  We essentially learned about anatomy – I dutifully labelled charts of male and female anatomy, though I know for a fact that a clitoris appeared nowhere on those charts (the focus being “the reproductive system”).  We had a quiz on the anatomy, then for the last class period we were huddled into a separate room from the boys and a female teacher told us briefly what a period is and what a sanitary pad is – my first introduction to the subject.  And that was that.

In eighth grade, we very briefly heard something about AIDS in health class, as part of a list of various diseases that we should be able to identify, but nothing about other STDs or how to prevent them.  In high school, there was a brief unit on the family in health class where we learned that a family is a married man, woman, and children, and though other families can and do exist they are technically dysfunctional.

And then out into the world I went!  

So when I thought about my nether regions, I mainly associated them with periods and reproduction.  My mother taught me that sex was appropriate in a loving relationship.  When I started college and did have a sexual relationship with a man, though, she was uncomfortable talking about oral sex and felt that it was something very intimate, something that while it was not necessarily to be saved for marriage, was only for special relationships and was not to be discussed.  It certainly wasn’t, as my friends had informed me, foreplay, something that you do before intercourse.

I never ended up having oral sex.  Oh, I was on the giving end plenty, as that was something he needed almost every time to have intercourse, but there was never any touching or anything like that for me.  It was very clothes off, let’s go.  I knew how to masturbate, but orgasms were something for alone time.  He asked if it was all right (the intercourse), but never offered to do something in addition.  I did finally get the courage to ask after about six months of sexual activity, and he said matter-of-factly that he “wasn’t interested in that.”  That’s fine.  Maybe he wasn’t.  But it was still disappointing. 

I don’t know that any of this is directly related to the lack of sex education in my life, but I can’t help but wonder if it might have helped.  I’m just now learning about safe sex for lesbians, and even there all the sources wildly conflict.  I think a few things could help.  1) Comprehensive safe sex information for gay and straight sex in high school.  2) Include the clitoris on the damned diagrams.  3) Teach the consent + pleasure model that Cara advocates.  4) Be realistic about sex.

I think that a huge problem with my education is that I masturbated from the age of eleven or so, but I always assumed that sexual intercourse would be this big things with fireworks and even more amazing orgasms.  When I learned that it’s kind of all right, and no orgasms whatsoever, I was disappointed.  I can’t imagine what it’s like for a woman who’s waited until marriage and then suddenly realises “fuck, I signed on for this?”  I also assumed that the actual process would be easy, tab A into slot B.  It was actually a little difficult, and clumsy, and took a lot of maintenance on my part to keep the guy ready to do his job.  This was a bit of a let down.  After sex with men, I started feeling that sex was pointless.  I mean, nothing can be better than the orgasms I give myself, so I should just give up.  Sex with women is basically going to be masturbation with someone nice to look at.  Then I started re-thinking it, and realising that it doesn’t have to all be orgasm driven.  A lot is about the touching someone, tasting someone, kissing someone, and loving someone.  I think the same could be true for heterosexual couples, especially if the woman doesn’t enjoy intercourse.  But you’d never know that from sex ed.  I think they should be frank.  Ladies, you deserve to enjoy sex.  You might not enjoy intercourse.  That’s okay.  You should search together for other ways to derive pleasure.  Etc, etc.  I think just re-framing the norms about sex that we all carry around with us would make for a much more enjoyable experience when the time comes.