Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Sex Myth - Public Projection vs Personal Authenticity

Another great comic by Oh Joy Sex Toy!

An interesting notion, definitely worth thinking about. Particularly for those of us whose identity is tied very much to our sexuality. If we are asking for the right to express our sexuality free from judgment, we cannot judge others for how they express their own.

How many times do we see a stressed-out or uptight person and say something like, "jeez, that person needs to get laid." Or how many times do we see more conservative people and think that they'd be happier if they weren't so repressed and just let loose?

Who's to say that's true or right?

And, more to the point, who's to say we have any say in it at all?

Sex makes many of us happy. And being sexual adventurous can be thrilling and fulfilling for many of us. And we should have the right to do and be so.

But we are not everyone.

And, if we're not okay with other people telling us what we can or can't or should or shouldn't do with our bodies based on their own personal desires, we can't then turn around and try to dictate what would be best for everyone else based on ours.

As someone who grew up with hearing--and still hears--people talk about my sexuality like it's a symptom of dysfunction that needs to be fixed, I get how damaging it is to have people constantly judge you about something that feels like the most natural thing in the world. It's such unnecessary and unnecessarily cruel damage to make someone feel broken simply because they're different. If they're not harming anyone by being them, by doing what they do, maybe we should all just hold the judgments and realize it's none of our business.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Kink & Feminism - Can't We All Just Get Along?

This is a good read that reminds us why we need kinky feminists to exist.

What too many feminists and kinksters forget is that feminism and kink make more sense together than they do apart. That, for all the times they butt heads, they both get better by asking the other to be better.

So much of the emphasis on consent-culture in kink comes from the feminist movement seeking to to move away from often problematic fantasies into a more functional and healthy reality. Intersectionality asks us to think carefully about how we express many of our kinks, particularly when it comes to play involving race, gender, and other minorities. We process and participate in our kinks better because of a lot of the work done by feminists. We are healthier and happier and are often better protected because of that work.

And so much of the sex-positivity and body-positivity movements are  fueled by kinky women, women who, by virtue of who they naturally are, break social norms by critically thinking about their bodies and realizing their own desires. Who, because they've had to take closer looks at things like power exchange and gender dynamics in order to do what they do, have unique perspectives on those topics that are still too often discounted when they should be invited and encouraged. Because so many of our beliefs are backed by real-life struggles, both internal and external, with understanding power and place that is uniquely ours.

We--both feminists and kinksters, not to mention all of us who identify as both--do better when we listen to each other. When we actually try to understand each other. To see when and where we can learn from each other. Where our paths cross and where we still need work to come together.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

By Any Other Name - Why Terms Matter in Kink
While this explanation covers a lot of the basic distinction, as a bottom who is not a sub, I disagree with much of the tone and implication of this explanation. It lacks a lot of the necessary nuance between these two terms.

For me and a lot of kinky bottoms, the distinction is different than the definitions used for gay relationships. Like it doesn’t have to relate to sex, in its most traditional definition, at all. In kink, tops are the ones doing the action. Wielding the toys. Tying the rope. Bottoms are the ones being acted upon. Having the toys wielded upon. Being tied up.

And, while there is a certain amount of power dynamics in play here, it lacks the formal agreements and role-playing dynamics of D/s.

Like as a bottom who is not a sub, I don’t use titles. I may let others take more of a lead during scenes, but I don’t take orders. For me, my bottoming is entirely based in sensations. The fact the I love the stinging feel of a crop on my thighs or the constriction of rope. But I personally get absolutely nothing out of role playing. Playing with me will not leave a top feeling in control or in power, mostly because I tend to top from the bottom. I bottom; I do not submit.

Submission takes something else. It’s a mindset, a role one takes on for the space of a scene. It is taking the idea of power exchange and playing with it. Heightening and dramatizing it beyond that of just who-does-what-to-whom. It takes those action-based roles and adds more meaning to them. It makes a decision in one scene an order in another. Hopefully, an order that was mutually negotiated and agreed upon in advance for both parties’ pleasure, but an order none the less. And all that that implies. Suddenly, the sub’s pleasure comes not just from the act and sensation–the way it does for a bottom–but also from the psychological act of submitting, of giving someone else power and control. And vice versa for the Dom(me).

Power dynamics matter in kink. And you should know where you stand with them going in. Vanilla people too often make fun of us for overcomplicating sex with jargon they view as unnecessary in an act they find simple and natural.

We cannot afford to do that to each other. Because our sex and play is, by nature, complex. And needs that jargon and the distinctions it lends. Or, like I said, you may be disappointed and left wanting, as a sub expecting to play with a Dominant, only to find yourself playing with a top. Or frustrated and let down, as a Dom(me), playing with a bottom like me. Or you may feel annoyed and pushed past limits, as a bottom like me, playing with someone who identifies as a Dom(me). These are important distinctions that hold a great deal of meaning in this world. We can't just stop using these terms because of a "shitstorm of toxic masculinity, heteronormativity, misogyny, ignorance of the workings of queer men, and rape culture," that absolutely does exist and should be acknowledged and placed into context. Because disregarding or downplaying their meaning may be advancing a cause at the expense of people.

They aren't perfect terms. And, like most words and phrases, they have some bad, toxic history. But they have current meanings beyond that history that is helpful and useful. And, if we police them out of existence, where does that leave those of us who identify with them? 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Please, Stop Trying to Save Us

Kinksters are in the news again today. But not in a good way. So, despite all the new studies coming out telling us that people who do BDSM are not only perfectly healthy on a whole, but that we may even be more healthy than the norm, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, III used a recent, rather unrelated court case about consent to claim that the "asserted fundamental liberty interest in engaging in BDSM sexual activity is clearly not protected as judicially enforceable under the Fourteenth Amendment" and that “a legislative restriction on BDSM activity is justifiable by reference to the state’s interest in the protection of vulnerable persons.”

“Vulnerable people” not just being people like the unfortunately uninformed and inexperienced girl in this specific case, but kinksters as a whole. Including fully consensual adults.

"The danger in advocating only for a specific type of sexual expression is that other forms of intimate sexual expression become neglected, resulting in decisions such as the recent ruling," Ricci Levy, president and CEO of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, pointed out. "This ruling appears to directly contradict the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas which held that states could not criminalize consensual intimate activity between adults."

This is why so many kinksters have mixed feelings about the spotlight focused on us as of late. On the one hand, it’s bought about a lot of awareness about the lifestyle and opened up a lot of much needed discussion both in and out of the community. It’s made it safer and more acceptable for more of us to be out of the closeted toy box, as it were.

But, on the other hand, the Fifty Shades Effect has made those who are already prejudiced against us feel threatened and thus emboldened. People like Ellis, who seek every opportunity to hurt us under the pretense of saving us. Of saving others from us. In ways that just push us back into the shadows and ignorance. In ways that can and will actually harm us. In ways that, without proper access to information and community and protection, can get us killed.

And, personally, it’s hard to see that kind of misguided prejudice as salvation.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

If/Then: A Two-Decade Fulfillment I Didn’t Know I Needed

**It's been a while since I've done a write-up on non-kinky stories I love.
But I loved this show so much for so many reasons, I just have to share.
Warning. Excessive fangirling and spoilers for the theatrical play If/Then

I was twelve when I first heard “Seasons of Love” and fell in absolute love with Rent. Just starting junior high, it was the first time I’d really seen love portrayed as more than a fairytale. Where love felt complicated and hard and even unhealthy sometimes. When love wasn’t something that just happened to you, but that you did and chose and worked at. It was the first time a happy ending wasn’t guaranteed; when love wasn’t always enough.

It was also, for me, the first time I really saw such diversity in storytelling. Where people of color were prominent plot-changing characters. Where interracial relationships existed. Where gay characters got to tell their stories. Where all these diverse people, who normally were side characters if they existed in stories at all, and their lives and loves were portrayed as just as real and honest and important and complex as the ones we’re used to seeing. It was, for me, one of the first times media looked more like the world I lived in and the experiences I knew. It, for me—for a lot of people—felt eye-opening and heartbreakingly and heart-mendingly relatable.

And, for years, it was my favorite musical. I would listen to the two-disc CD set over and over again on loop, vicariously falling in and out and in love with these characters.

But, as the years passed and my understanding of both story and romance grew...

Don’t get me wrong, I still love Rent to this day. “Take Me or Leave Me” is one of my go-to songs to sing when I need to get out of a bad mood. “I’ll Cover You (Reprise)” still tugs at my heart every time I hear it. But, as I grew older, suddenly my unqualified “you have to see it!!!” recommendations came with disclaimers. About how my love might be tainted by nostalgia and romanticized naivety. About how you might have needed to see it as a thirteen-year-old girl in the late nineties to truly understand why I loved it so much. It—like Buffy and NSYNC—became a symbol of a time and place in my life. Something that would always be meaningful to me, but whose meaning didn’t feel as relevant anymore.

A little like your first high school relationship that, at the time, feels like forever and all-consuming. But, that, with time and distance later, feels hazy and removed. A lovely memory that I love to revisit but can never fully recapture.

Then, this weekend, I saw If/Then, which is from the producer from Wicked and the director of Rent, and was written for and stars two of Rent’s unforgettable actors, Idina Menzel and Anthony Rapp. In essence, it is a show made for me to love.

And it did not disappoint.

It was as if Rent had grown up with me, had evolved with the romantic and sexual landscapes, to become a brand new, but deeply familiar show. If Rent was my first serious, high school theatrical love, If/Then is like going to my reunion and realizing, after all these years, that there are certain feelings—certain corners of your heart—that never fade. That, once claimed, never let go.

It takes elements that made Rent great, like complex relationship issues and diverse stories and cast, and takes it to that next level.

As complex as the relationships had seemed and are in Rent, If/Then beautifully explores the detriment of things like fixating on people who cannot love you or fixating so much on the possibility of risk or failure that you’re afraid to love. Lucas’s love for Elizabeth is so often really unhealthy. Particularly when he’s willing to be with her in any way he can. And at any cost to himself. It’s a romantic idea, to be with someone who wants to be with you no matter what. Who will give and give and give and expect nothing in return. It’s a dynamic that so many stories romanticize and glorify. But should they? His song “You Don’t Need to Love Me” broke my heart because I’ve been on both sides of that relationship dynamic and it’s never healthy. For anyone. Any relationship where one person gives more than the other is difficult to sustain. Anytime one person’s needs are being met more than—or, worse, at the expense of—the other’s, that’s a relationship that is bound to and should fail. And, in the show, it does. Almost irreconcilably.

And, on the flip side, songs like “Here I Go” and “Best Worst Mistake,” show both the very human fear of opening yourself up to hurt and loss as well as the exhilaration and thrill of risking all that for the chance at love and happiness. In a play that hinges on the idea that a single choice in the main character’s life alters her lifeline in significant ways that plays out in two distinct versions of her future, the idea of odds plays a key role. The odds of a good outcome and a bad one. The odds of what may come because of one simple act—one seemingly inconsequential decision—versus another. And how indecision and regret over that impacts us. So often we spend so much of our lives wondering “what if.” And, the truth is, we can’t know. You do the best you can, in the moment, while you can. And, for a natural worrier and odds-measurer like me, that’s a great message. Because, though it is cliché to say, of all the things I regret in life I regret the chances I didn’t take far more than the ones I did. But, even in the face of that, I can’t go back. I can’t change what’s already happened. All I can do is move forward and trust that life will go on. Because, until you die, it does.

And the relationship of Kate and Anne, Elizabeth’s friends throughout the whole show, is a great example of that. Theirs is the most long-term and, arguably, healthy relationship in the show. We get to see them support each other through good times, like Kate winning a teaching award, and hard times, like seeing Elizabeth lose her husband. We get to see them go on dates and get married and live their lives.

And we see them fight. When Anne cheats on Kate because of a difference in libido levels, we see them, like many others, face the decision to divorce or stay together. In one version, they divorce, because that’s what it’s assumed people do. When an infidelity happens, we assume—we’ve been told that—separation is inevitable. It’s the right thing to do. And, sometimes it is. It is a violation. A betrayal. And it almost always hurts like hell.

But, statistically, 60% of men have cheated and 40% of women have. It happens. A lot. To pretend otherwise, to think that it will never happen to you, is to willfully ignore the facts. And I really like that this show addresses the first-response reaction to cut-and-run as well as questions whether one should act on it or not. In one version, Kate leaves Anne. And is okay. And, in another, Kate stays with Anne. And is not only okay but happy. They’ve worked it out and worked through it. I like that this show admits the viability and reality of both options.

I also love that Lucas, played by Anthony Rapp who played Mark in Rent, got to be an open and visible bisexual character. With the dual nature of the show, you get to see Lucas pine and obsess over an unrequited love with Elizabeth in one version and you also get to see him let go of that obsession and find happiness with a gorgeous, kind, Asian man. It’s not always easy to portray monogamous bisexual characters because, so often without deliberately and often clumsily telling the audience, it’s easy to assume that they’re straight or gay. Lucas beautifully shows how, for bisexuals, gender just doesn’t matter when they meet the right people.

And, even though it gained both uproarious laughter and disapproving groans, I kinda loved that they had a line in the show about bisexual invisibility, stating how Elizabeth doesn’t “believe in bisexuals; pick a side.” Because, while I don’t believe the statement to be true, I do believe there are people who do. Even those, like Elizabeth, who dated Lucas in college and saw him date both men and women and who would go on to see him form a family with another man, who should know better. For me, having that line in the show was as important for addressing bisexual invisibility as it was to show Lucas having feelings for both men and women.

And, yes, as someone who loves Mark Cohen, Rent’s tortured artist filmmaker who ends the show as the only main character unattached, it was nice to see him get a happier ending this time around. To see him not only become friends with his ex and her chosen partner, but also find his own. And with someone, whatever their gender, who felt right for him.

While there was so much to love about If/Then, from its storytelling to its songs to its set designs and costume choices to its choreography, the thing I likely will love best is that it fulfilled a hole in my story-lover’s heart that I didn’t even know was there. That it took a show I loved so long ago and found a way to rekindle, transmute, and transform it into something new and just as, if not more, lovable. Thank you, If/Then, from 12-year-old me who didn’t even know she was waiting for a closure she finally got twenty years later.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Name-Dropping - Stop Trying to Make Sex-Critical a Thing

It’s not. It’s sex-negative panty-policing, just re-branded. Maybe toned down a bit. But it’s still thinking that, as a selective group of people, you know what’s best for everyone. Especially women. Especially, when it comes to women’s sex lives.

Please, I know you’re well-intentioned, but you’re being as invasive, as condescending, and as patronizingly prescriptive as the patriarchy.

Because assuming sex-positive people haven’t critically thought about their position is arrogant and, more often than not, wrong. Just because they don’t agree with you, does not mean they haven’t thought about it. It just means, most likely, they’ve thought about it and think you’re wrong.

Most kink-positive, sex-positive people aren’t foisting sex on anyone. They aren’t forcing anyone to have sex they don’t want. They’re asking for the freedom and acceptance to have the kind of sex they personally want, without unfair judgement or condemnation. If you don’t want to have a particular form of sex or any sex at all, for that matter, that’s fine. But let the people who do want it do it in peace.

And, if you’re worried that we’re hurting ourselves, please don’t. Seriously, stop it. It’s not your job to decide how we have sex, anymore than it’s some conservative politician’s job to decide whether we should be able to have access to safe abortions or not. It’s our bodies, it’s our lives; stop trying to act as if you have some kind of God-given or philosophically superior claim over it. If no one is being harmed, it’s absolutely and without exception none of your business.

If you do think someone is being harmed, then ask them. Listen to them. Have a conversation with them. If they tell you that they need help, then help them. Find out the best way to help them, by asking them what they need. Then help them the way that they asked.

Because “helping” them when they don’t want your help or in a way that they don’t believe helps them is not helping. That kind of help comes from a selfish, egocentric place and never works well for anyone. And can cause more damage than it sought to solve. Stop. Helping someone should come from a selfless place, where you put your ego and agenda aside to focus on that person’s needs, not yours.

I’ll agree that not all sex-positive people are alike. It can be used as a shield to protect some awful practices and beliefs. But being sex-positive does not automatically mean we, as a movement, think sex is exempt from critical thought.

Sex positivity isn’t a thoughtless, libidinous cry for some kind of sexual free-for-all. We aren’t saying all porn is perfect; in fact, we’re often the first and loudest voices asking to fix and reform the the porn industry. But we do so in a way that listens to the performers in the industry and to the people who feel excluded from the mainstream. We’re the ones asking for better pay and conditions for performers and to remove the stigma of sex work, so people don’t have to feel like they’re in the industry under financial duress and have options if and when they choose to leave the industry. We’re the ones asking for more diversity and realism in porn. We’re the ones asking for sex work to be legal and reasonably regulated so we can stop busting consensual sex workers and focus on stopping human trafficking. We’re the ones trying to stress the importance of consent in sex education, as well as what options people have available to them like birth control and medical care. We’re the ones saying there needs to be standards and practices in place to ensure safety and consent in kink. We’re the ones yelling to the rafters that women are more than just sex objects. That no matter what a woman is wearing or if she took naked selfies or if she’s a sex worker or if she’s your wife, nothing means yes but yes. We’re the ones demanding equal representation and help for male victims of sexual harassment and assault and domestic violence. We’re the ones telling people that everybody—every body, orientation, gender, expression, etc.—deserves the opportunity to feel beautiful and unashamed. We’re the ones saying that, however you and your partner consensually express your love—gay, straight, poly, monogamous, kinky, vanilla, abstinent, or enjoying sex all the time—love is love.

Tell me again how, just because we aren’t being prescriptively critical in a way that satisfies your particular opinions, we aren’t thinking critically.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

My First Vanilla Sex Toy Party

So yesterday I tweeted about the fact that I was headed off on a personal first-ever adventure:

One that, as I anticipated, turned out to be less sexy and fun than I’d hoped.

Because, as you can see, I’m just not a fan of these types of Avon-Lady sex toy parties. 

Don’t get me wrong. I think I could like the idea of them. The idea that we’re celebrating women taking charge of their sexual pleasure. Of them coming together in a safe space and discussing how to improve their sexual lives and health.

And, to be fair, it was a very sex-positive night with a bunch of my friends. One where being inquisitive and experimental about sex was encouraged. I got to see a lot of my friends ask more questions about sex and pleasure and their bodies than I’ve ever seen them do.

Yeah, I could get behind that idea.

...Except that, like Avon ladies and Tupperware parties, the women hosting these parties aren’t experts. They’re your neighbors. They’re your neighbor’s friends. And they’re selling you products that they don’t really know much about beyond some blurb on a marketing package and, maybe, if you’re lucky, personal use.

Which is fine, for the most part, for nail polish and cookie tins.

But sex toys and lube?

As I’ve said before, we need to pay better attention to what we put in our bodies. Because too many companies trying to sell you products to improve your sex lives care more about profit margins than you. And, any company that would send an uninformed person into your home to sell you what is essentially a medical product...well, you wouldn’t buy aspirin or antihistamines this way. If someone were selling you a pill or a syrup to swallow, you’d want to know what exactly was in it. And you would want someone knowledgeable and accountable to guarantee you it was safe.

Do you really want to be any less careful with something going up your fun bits?

And, don’t get me wrong, I’m not an expert. I’m much more literary than scientific, but I know there are things to be wary of, certain ingredients that are common in manufacturing lubes and toys that really shouldn’t be.

And, to be fair, I don’t think that the consultant who was hosting the party was trying to be deceptive or manipulative. Of course not. She, just like an Avon Lady, was just trying to make some more money for her family. An admirable goal. And, if she were selling nail polish or food storage containers or stationary, I wouldn’t necessarily have an issue with that. I’m not her target demo, but, hey, you do you.

But, when you’re going into someone’s home to sell women things like vagina tightening creams meant to make them feel like a virgin again, pheromone boosters to help kickstart their and their partner’s libidos, or lubes that promise to balance their vagina’s should know whether the products you’re selling do what you claim they do. You should have more training than shadowing another Naughty Avon Lady for a couple parties and a couple of seminars a year.

Especially, when there just isn’t any good science to back-up their claims. Like I said, I’m not a fan of these types of door-to-door sex toy parties. And I’m about the worst person to invite to this kind of party. Because, while I’m not an expert and do not claim to be, I’m certainly a skeptic. 

I believe in learning what we can. And thinking critically about the information we learn. Especially when it comes to safeguarding our health and well-being. Because, as we are continually learning, too often no one else is looking out for us as much as they are their own bottom lines or agendas

Some helpful links to check out:

Friday, March 4, 2016

Yes Means Yes Only Works If Communication is Key

So I absolutely agree that, concerning consent, "If it's not yes, it's no." That is an important thing that we need to teach people.

…I’d just like to de-couple that from the phrase “Consent is simple.”

Cause it’s not.

And it kinda shouldn’t be.

Consent is a conversation.

On-going and never-ending.

If you want something, ask. Get consent. Don’t just go for it or wait for it to happen.

That’s what we should be stressing.

Otherwise, you get videos like these.

Which are adorable.

…But are kinda also…aggressive. And, if played out by real people and not cute computer-generated genitalia, kinda gross and could leave people feeling already assaulted.

Like don’t grab a woman’s breast just because you’re having a good time together. Just don’t. Unless you have an established relationship where that’s been deemed always and already okay, don’t. Not even once.

Ask first.

And as for the other videos, NEVER TRY TO “SLIP IT IN”. Never. Not even once. Sex shouldn't be a surprise attack, unless you've already agreed that you both think that kind of surprise is sexy.


Talk about it.

Discuss it.

That’s what we should be focusing on.

It’s all well and good to tell people this is what you should not do.

We need to show people how to do things well.

Show people how to negotiate for what they want.

And how to make it sexy and fun and not awkward and uncomfortable.

“Yes means yes” is an important message, but without really good communication skills to back it up…it’s really not worth all that much.