Category Archives: hooray for sex

6 things I learned about my orgasms

Today is National Orgasm Day, so of course I took this opportunity to TMI at you people, because TMI is my middle name. I’ve been having orgasms for more than half my life, and here are a few things I learned along the way.

1. I am my own best lover

Look, it’s nice having other people around. It enhances sex a lot. But I’ve been fucking myself for about 15 years, and so I think I’m best positioned for knowing exactly what works best. Only I know the full details, despite the fact that people over the years (usually, but not exclusively men) have taken it upon themselves to give me some sort of Entirely New Experience because they Know Best and pretty much every time that’s happened it’s ended in mutual disappointment. Even now, when I have two partners and a host of less regular lovers, I still make time for a date with myself. Nobody’s quite as good as me at making me come.

2. Having the same genitals as me doesn’t automatically make you better at sex

There’s a common myth flying round that cis lesbians are automatically better at sex with cis women, because they have the same equipment. That is categorically untrue. Having a cunt does not grant you a PhD in Cuntology. Everyone likes different things, and sometimes it’s easy to fall into the trap of egocentrism. I’ve been on both the giving and receiving end of the assumption that having a fanny means knowing how every fanny works. Communication is key, rather than anatomy.

3. Squirting doesn’t mean you’ve wanked yourself incontinent

I was about fifteen, and having the sort of epic wanking session one tends to lose the stamina for once one is out of one’s teens. I brought myself to shuddering orgasm after shuddering orgasm, and then one felt… different. There was wet stuff everywhere. I panicked slightly. I sprayed Febreeze all over the wet patch. I was convinced I had managed to come so hard I’d peed myself, and I laid off the masturbatory marathons for a while after to make sure I didn’t develop some sort of bladder problem. I was quiet about this horrifying thing that had happened to me, the gross piss-pariah. Oddly enough, I only learned this was a perfectly ordinary thing to happen a few years later, while watching porn. Yep. Porn saved me.

4. Porn gives people hella weird assumptions about squirting

So, I squirt. This is apparently a little uncommon, although pretty popular in porn. The thing is, in porn, this seems to happen on demand (I imagine, in fact, it requires multiple takes and a whole bunch of fluffing and it’s probably a little easier to happen knowing nobody’s going to have to sleep in the expansive wet patch). This is pretty much not how it happens for me. There is no magical formula for ensuring ejaculation occurs. It just sometimes does. Or, more frequently, doesn’t. The thing is, once it’s happened once, there’s usually this assumption that it’ll happen reliably, which leads to crushing disappointment, because it’s not like in the movies. Going off like a geyser is something which is fetishised, and I can’t live up to it. Luckily, most people will get this once it’s been explained to them.

5. My orgasms make men sad

Once upon a time, I used to fuck cis, straight men. I gave up on this, because politically they’re rubbish, and I have successfully arranged my life so I just don’t even meet them any more. As an additional fact about me, I have super-powerful Kegels. This is always brilliantly fun for me, but not so much for the cis, straight men who think penis-in-vagina is the be-all and end-all to sex. You see, my Kegels can easily eject a penis at the moment of my orgasm. And after that, I’m usually kind of done, and might roll over, fart and fall asleep. This makes cis, straight men sad, because sex is traditionally centred around their orgasms: they’re the ones who get to roll over, fart and fall asleep. For some reason, when the roles are reversed, it makes them feel sad.

6. Orgasms really aren’t the be-all and end-all

I’ve had phenomenal sex without an orgasm. There’s something incredibly nice about focusing yourself on someone else having a good time. I can have spectacular sex without the need for the other person to even touch me. For the most part, sex is a pleasant way of passing the time between two or more people, and an orgasm isn’t a requirement for that to be fun. They’re like the marzipan on top of an otherwise-delicious cake: it’s awesome if it’s there, but it’s not necessary at all. And if you want it, later you can get a whole block of marzipan and eat it to yourself.

 


Some musings on love (and gender)

If asked to, how would you define love? Would you rattle off the ways you express it? A touch of a hand, a kiss, wiping a snotty nose and brushing their hair? Would you maybe try and explain how it feels to you? A kind of rising feeling from the bottom of your stomach that crashes all over you, a sense of gladly doing anything for that person, an overwhelming closeness? Would you think about the different kinds, and how different it is between comrades, parents, lovers?

It’s difficult, isn’t it, and that’s because ultimately it’s something of a silly question because every single one of these answers is a correct and valid answer. We know that it’s something so beautifully complex and so completely personal that no definition would ever be sufficient. We know that there’s no real universal answers, as much as some would like there to be. Science thinks it can answer this question by reducing the matter down to hormones and evolutionary purposes, and we can see that this isn’t the full picture. The state tries to define it for us, and the best of us react with disgust, because this is simply co-opting something to serve their own purposes.

It’s only the worst sort of bigot who makes up a definition of love and rigidly enforces it on others. The rest of us are kind of content to let others make up their own meaning, knowing and celebrating the diversity of feeling. It’s almost intuitive, thinking about love that way, so why do we have so much trouble thinking about gender on similar terms?

When it comes to gender, there’s also no right or wrong answers, no definition that can ever be universally applicable. This is not a problem: far from it. It’s exciting. It’s mysterious. It’s deeply personal, just like love is. And I for one think that’s brilliant.


Shit I cannot believe needs to be said: I don’t dwell on your genitals

Content note: This post discusses transmisogyny

At the age of about three, I used to go around asking every person I met the same question: “Do you have a willy or a vagina?” This, I learned very quickly, was not a polite thing to say to people, so I stopped. In an ideal world, everyone would have grown out of wondering what other people’s genitals look like at around that age. We do not live in an ideal world.

See, there’s two broad groups of people who are still fascinated with what other people have under their clothes: misogynists and transmisogynists. Among misogynists, it’s a classic male entitlement to sex: they believe our bodies to be public property and they are therefore allowed access to every inch of them. Among transmisogynists, it can be a bit more complicated, as many of them happen to be women. They make a litany of excuses, conveniently forgetting that rape isn’t just about penis to attempt to excuse their obsession with other people’s genitals. However, ultimately, it’s all about entitlement nonetheless. They genuinely feel entitled to know the precise configuration of everyone else’s private parts.

It seems so alien to me. When I’m out and about, I’m generally not dwelling on what sort of genitals everyone around me might have. When I spend time with women, I’m not sitting there constructing a mental map of what their genitals might look like. When I shower or swim with women, I’m not gawping at their genitals, because frankly, that’s just rude.

I’ve known for a long time that men are often thinking about my cunt, and that’s why I don’t really enjoy the company of men that much. Knowing that there are women who do this too makes me feel less safe in women’s spaces, like they might just suddenly ask me about my cunt or grab at my crotch to make sure I have correctly-shaped equipment.

This feeling that I have pales into insignificance compared to what trans women go through. If you think trans women don’t get sexually assaulted in order to verify what their genitals look like, you’re wrong. This is a very real threat that women face due to societal fascination with something which should be completely private and up to the owner of said genitals to share or not.

There are precisely two times in live when someone else’s genitals are really relevant. The first is if you are a medical professional and someone needs some medical assistance with their genitals, something which, for the vast majority of us, is never going to be the case. The other is during sex, and even then it really doesn’t matter exactly which way they point. People say “oh, but I just don’t like penises/vulvas”, but that, too, is rooted in cissexism and general poor sex education. You can have sex–great sex–with someone with a penis without any penetration whatsoever. You can have brilliant sex with someone with a vulva with plenty of penetration. I instinctively distrust anyone who professes a dislike for a certain type of genitals: it usually means they’re either cissexist, or completely lack imagination in bed, or both of those things.

I cannot believe I’ve just had to write a blog about how generally disinterested I am in what your genitals look like, but I feel it’s necessary to punch through what risks becoming a dominant discourse. Returning to dwelling on what someone’s genitals look like does not help feminism one little bit: in fact, it sets us way, way back. It can be hard, unlearning the fascination with genitals in a generally genital-fascinated society, but for the sake of a feminism which does not equate women to walking vaginas, it’s utterly essential.


In which I review a book that I read: Playing The Whore

Since I heard that Melissa Gira Grant wrote a book about sex work, I’ve been desperate to get my grubby mitts on it. Having now read Playing The Whore: The Work Of Sex Work, I want to recommend that every single one of you reads this fucking book.

Weighing in at just 132 pages, I’m astounded Gira Grant managed to pack in so much vital–and radical–analysis in such an accessible format. Central to her thesis is the concept of a “prostitute imaginary”, a cobbled-together bundle of myths which occupies our minds. These myths are systematically examined and dismantled through a feminist lens. Everything you thought you knew about sex work is a lie, it seems. Did you know, for example, that among a sample of over 21, 000 women who do sex work in West Bengal, there were 48, 000 reports of violence perpetrated by police, but only 4000 perpetrated by customers?

Gira Grant has a theory as to why this may be the case. The forces of public imagination surrounding sex work run strong. Misogynists, law enforcement and feminists alike view a sex worker as always working, as nothing but a sex worker. She (as Gira Grant points out, this stereotype is always of a cis woman) is somehow deviant and subjected to stigma for her deviance. Simultaneously, focus is on representations of sex, rather than the concrete. We only see sex workers being arrested, or peek through a peephole to see what we want to see. With all of this going on, the voices of sex workers can easily be ignored, creating this situation:

These demands on their speech [in testimony in court and the media], to both convey their guilt and prove their innocence, are why, at the same time that sex work has made strides toward recognition and popular representations that defy stereotypes, prostitutes, both real and imaginary, still remain the object of social control. This is how sex workers are still understood: as curiosities, maybe, but as the legitimate target of law enforcement crackdowns and charitable concerns–at times simultaneously. And so this is where the prostitute is still most likely to be found today, where those who seek to “rescue” her locate her: at the moment of her arrest.

The book travels in a spiral, revisiting the same points over and over again to the joint problems of violence and coercion from law enforcement, and how other women, especially feminists, aren’t helping–and in fact, attempts to rescue can often make things worse, such as demonstrated in a case study in Cambodia, where attempts to “rescue” sex workers have led to many women being dragged away to “rehabilitation camps”, repurposed prisons where women have died or set to work long shifts behind a sewing machine.

A lot of what we as feminists have been doing wrong is related to “whore stigma”, which Gira Grant explains goes beyond simple misogyny:

The fear of the whore, or of being the whore, is the engine that drives the whole thing [a culture which is dangerous for sex workers]. That engine could be called “misogyny”, but even that word misses something: the cheapness of the whore, how easily she might be discarded not only due to her gender, but to her race, her class. Whore is maybe the original intersectional insult.

It is a desire to reverse away from “whore stigma”, which predominantly affects sex workers, but can also hit women who are not sex workers, which links with a lot of problems within mainstream feminism: Gira Grant theorises that it is no coincidence that feminists who are anti-sex work are also often transphobic. And, likewise, anti-sex work laws are often used against trans women and women of colour, from unfair targeting for stop and search, to disproportionate incarceration.

It makes for uncomfortable reading at times, this litany of our own mistakes as feminists, and perhaps nowhere is it clearer than in an analysis of objectification, and the feminist line that sex workers increase objectification of women. The evidence upon which these assumptions rest is dealt with in short order, and Gira Grant highlights the dehumanisation and objectification of sex workers at the hands of women, as silent props, and, often depicted in a frighteningly demeaning fashion.

In dismantling the myths, Playing The Whore offers glimpses of the reality of sex work, the diversity of all that this umbrella covers. The book explains neatly how sex work fits in among other forms of work, of how once upon a time, sex workers and housewives were sisters in arms. At times, I wish the book were far longer, as I feel as though there are tantalising hints of analysis to come which never quite develops but is merely teased. Although this book is neither explicitly anti-capitalist nor explicitly ACAB, conclusions of this nature bubble under the surface, never spelled out, for this is not quite within its scope in its current form.

This book is a must-read feminist book. I would go so far as to place it as a crucial Feminism 101 text. The first feminist book I ever read way Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, whose ideas I am still struggling to unlearn, as it gave me a shameful attitude towards sex workers and femmes for years I will never get back. Playing The Whore casts a critical eye on patriarchy while actively dismantling the stigma many women face, and teaches the central feminist values of listening, and solidarity. For readers more versed in feminist theory and praxis, it allows us to evaluate our past mistakes and encourages us to rebuild on more solid ground. By rights, this book could and should shake up feminism for the better.

But sadly, I fear it will not, for I fear the forces Gira Grant outlines are too powerful to be brought down by this smart little book. We have had centuries of clinging to a prostitute imaginary while coming up with numerous excuses to silence the voices of sex workers. I believe that this book will largely be ignored by the mainstream with their stake in speaking for and over sex workers. A recent review of Playing The Whore by a liberal cis white feminist took umbrage to Gira Grant’s centring of sex workers in a book about sex work, and decided that she would rather read about “demand”. Mainstream feminism wants sex workers decentred from discussions directly pertinent to their livelihood, it wants to keep sex workers on the margins. It will not listen.

Gira Grant knows this, which is why she concludes with a rousing cry for decriminalisation, in the hope that the rest will follow. This conclusion, and the solidarity Gira Grant asks for are concrete things which we as feminists who do not do sex work can support.


Biological essentialism: can we not?

Last week, I wrote about why I’m pro trans and pro choice. Given the sheer quantity of comments, I’m not sure I made myself clear enough.

I think that broad judgments based on perceived biology have historically had some bearing on the oppression of women. I also think that biological essentialism is meaningless and can only be deployed oppressively in the present day, as scientific and sociological understanding of gender and sex has progressed. Some time ago, I wrote about evolutionary psychology, and very charitably decided to pretend that perhaps all of the just-so stories explaining differences in behaviour of the sexes were true. And I concluded that even then, that does not mean it is in any way relevant now:

Wisdom teeth, though, were highly useful to humans when we first evolved. Humans were still a long way off inventing dental hygiene, and, so, tended to die once all of their teeth had rotted away and they could no longer eat. Wisdom teeth, emerging in the mid-twenties, gave an extra few years of life: four more teeth meant more time being able to eat. With the advent of dental hygiene, we no longer lose all of our teeth to decay, and wisdom teeth have become an annoyance. When a wisdom tooth grows into a mouth full of healthy teeth, there is often not enough room, and the new tooth impacts. I had a wisdom tooth that solved the lack-of-space problem by growing horizonally. Each time I bit down, it would take a chunk out of the inside of my cheek. I had it removed.

Wisdom teeth, then, are a solution to a problem that no longer exists, and when the tooth becomes a problem we have it yanked out.

If one were to assume that claims regarding gender made by evolutionary psychology were true, these gender roles are as irrelevant to modern life as wisdom teeth. They are a solution to a problem that no longer exists: we shop in supermarkets now; we have modern health care; our children are sent off to school; we have DNA testing for identification of fathers; we can have sex for pleasure with a very low risk of reproduction. The adaptations we developed to childrearing and mating problems no longer exist.

Why, then, would we cling on to the notion that it’s perfectly natural to rape, to cheat, to subscribe to the idea that male and female minds are inherently different, and so such things are inevitable?

We can overcome wisdom teeth, and, if any of the shaky claims of evolutionary psychology regarding gender turn out to be true, we can yank that out of our society, too.

The same is true for biological essentialist arguments. Maybe once upon a time, “woman” was defined only by capacity for childbirth, or only by presence of a vagina, or only by whether she had periods or not–although, you can see by the quantities of “ors” in that sentence that even if we try to trace back through history, what defines a woman is pretty complicated if we’re going on biology alone. And yes, this nonsense has persisted through time, from the bizarre belief that uteruses could roam throughout the body causing all sorts of negative effects to the belief that everything a menstruating woman touched became unclean. It becomes a chicken and egg scenario: society was built upon misogyny, along with its science. Science, after all, is not objective: the questions it asks and answers are rooted in the society asking those questions.

It’s only relatively recently that we have even begun to ask the right questions, and noticed that actually the whole thing is a house of cards, and should rightly come crashing down. We realised that biological sex is far more complicated than the somewhat-complicated way it had originally seemed. Hormones and chromosomes, internal and external biological characteristics–none of it necessarily matched up. Some still cling to essentialism, despite its utter meaninglessness, to produce bad science to suggest that rape is inevitable, or that men and women have different brains and only men can do the logical stuff. But the science is not on their side, and there is an increasing level of criticism levelled at such work because, at its heart, it is terrible science and tells us very little beyond what misogynists believe to be true.

Most feminists are rightly deeply critical of biological essentialism, knowing, as we do, how it keeps us down. And many of us embrace the advances that have brought us closer and closer to liberating ourselves from it. It is fucking lovely not having to be defined by our reproductive status, freeing ourselves from the idea that this is what our bodies are for. Many of us use synthetic hormones to regulate our bodies, and sometimes to eradicate menstruation. Surgery has advanced so that women without cunts can have cunts if they want. Science is looking into the possibility of uterus transplants, so women who cannot bear children will be able to. We are making a hell of a lot of progress, and the hold of biologically essentialist misogyny is slipping.

Unfortunately, some feminists are holding us back. Some feminists have embraced biological essentialism. The motive for this is an attempt to somehow “prove” that trans women are not women, cloaking their transmisogyny in pseudoscientific language by pretending that “female” and “woman” are two different things, and that “female” is somehow a scientifically valid category. Often, this is presented in a way that is even more dehumanising than the way MRAs talk about women, like this gem from Gia Milinovich where she bangs on about “female mammalians” and claims that our understanding of biology is in no way related to culture.

Taking this argument to its logical conclusion leads to some deeply unpleasant thought, like this:

twitter-boodleoops-glosswitch-vaginas-are-for

Twitter   Glosswitch  @boodleoops Bleeding is okay ...

Here, we see an attempt to define purpose of vaginas, deeply rooted in biologically essentialist misogyny*. Now, I have made the choice to not give birth, and I don’t need to go into why, because it’s my body and my choice, and the world has progressed to a position where I am able to make that choice. My vagina, if I get my way, will never be used for a role in babymaking. As for the bleeding, I find it quite fun**, but I don’t really feel like it’s an essential characteristic of my womanhood, nor would I feel that if my period ever stopped, my vagina would become purposeless. But my vagina is hardly a useless hole: far from it. It’s for shuddering orgasms. This part of my body is a delight to me. A finger or a dildo in there feels like heaven as I feel it brush my G-spot, and I feel my clit grow hard around it. And yes, I tend to prefer dildos, and I am aware of just how horrifying homophobic patriarchy finds that. I don’t use it for reproduction, and I don’t have to because we have moved on enough to no longer be defined and confined by our reproductive organs.***

I am a woman. I am still a woman, despite not even knowing what hormones my body produces due to years of taking synthetic hormones. I am still a woman, despite the fact that I have never given birth and do not plan to. I will still be a woman if, like my mother, severe fibroids necessitate a radical hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy at some point in my future.

Once upon a time, biological essentialism was all there was. We grew up. And we are slowly slinging off this burden, leading to the liberation of all women. We must fight biological essentialism wherever we see it, and liberate ourselves fully from these archaic constraints.

Further reading:

Un-gendering sex: a feminist project? (I am because you are)

Writing the Body: Stories of sex and gender (Alice Nuttall)

“The day an extremely popular white feminist advocated eugenics and mass abortion of trans people”  (Red Light Politics)

How Cissexist Partiarchy Works (Alien She)

Duplicitous or £9 notes…? (UnCommon Sense)

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*I am 95% certain that the “ten pound note” reference refers to wanknotegate, which suggests that this Twitter conversation is basically barbs targeted at me, which has been expanded into misogyny.

**It is worth noting at this point that a common trope among transmisogynists is to claim that trans women will not let cis women talk about menstruation. I think it is abundantly clear here that such policing of discussion of menstruation can come just as much from cis women.

***DISCLAIMER: This, of course, refers only to my own relationship with my own cunt.

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Note on comments: I’m not approving TERfy/MRAish comments (I find it impossible to distinguish which is which, because they all just use the word “female” a lot and cast women as walking wombs), as this blog is a safe space for marginalised women. Go and whine about me on your own blogs.


Dear BT

Dear BT,

As you may know, I’m kind of against internet filtering anyway. Like many others, I share concerns about blocking important resources about sexuality and sex, and think it’s vital that children are able to access information about what options are available to them, and what is and isn’t OK. It’s vital that this information is available.

We’ve all heard horror stories about sex education sites being inadvertently blocked as porn, due to false positives on filtering. This is, of course, terrible. What’s worse, though, is that you’ve actively set up Sex Education as a category in your parental controls. That’s pretty iffy in and of itself, and gets much grosser when we look at exactly what you’ve explicitly decided to give parents the option to block:

Sex Education will block sites where the main purpose is to provide information on subjects such as respect for a partner, abortion, gay and lesbian lifestyle, contraceptives, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.

I’ve got some news for you, BT. This is really, really important information that young people need to access. This is information that keeps them safe from abuse–information about what is and isn’t OK. Respect for a partner is something vital that young people need to know about.

About the only way what you’re doing is OK is if you’re using your filters as a red flag list for spotting potentially abusive families. Are you trying to find out what sort of parent would block their children from knowing about respect, so you can help get their kids out of that situation?

Nope?

I thought not.

Basically, BT, I didn’t think much of you to begin with, and I certainly don’t think much of you now. Your priorities in what information you want to help block are really, really fucking skewed.

No love,

Stavvers

P.S. Terms like “gay and lesbian lifestyle” are homophobic dogwhistles, you pile of skidmarked Y-fronts.

Edit 22/12/13: I note you’ve now reworded, BT. But are you still blocking all of this vital information? If so, all of this still stands.


Smugsexual and the closet: two faces of feminist biphobia

Over the last few days, I have found myself experiencing a shuddering anxiety which had been at bay for years. I’ve been made to feel ashamed for my queer, poly sexuality. I have been made to feel like maybe I should just shut the hell up and stop being so open about this part of my identity, because it’s bad and wrong and whatever the hell else. I know, in my head, that this is just how heterosexist patriarchy wants me to feel so I will stay in my allocated place. That doesn’t stop it getting to me.

It all started with a complicated situation wherein a feminist blogger started attacking a feminist woman of colour, seemingly inexplicably. The aggressor then wrote a blog to defend her stance, in which she decided to air her grievances with a number of other women. It has been critiqued here, by Sam Ambreen. In it was the following line, which rang a few alarm bells for dogwhistle biphobia:

I will not go along with the lie that any white, cis, middle-class blogger who announces she is [made-up word] sexual is therefore just as oppressed as those she claims to represent.

When challenged, it became all the more obvious what she was driving at. I should note from later tweets, one of the people she means here is me:

Glosswitch  Glosswitch  on Twitter

All together, this “smugsexuals” rant displays a number of tropes which occupy the intersections of biphobia and misogyny, and I’m not even going to go into how blatantly little she doesn’t understand how intersectionality and privilege work, as this is fairly self-evident. First is the assertion that queer sexualities are “made up”, that any language we use to describe our experiences is somehow not real. I’d have thought we’d moved to a position where we could at least acknowledge that some people don’t fall neatly into little filing drawers marked “gay” or “straight”, but between this and the nonsense surrounding Tom Daley’s coming out, it is abundantly clear that we still haven’t even gained this little bit of ground.

Second is the implication that queer folk are attention-seeking, embodied in this mention of smugness. This notion of “attention-seeking” is levelled at bi and queer women far too much, and it’s tangled in all sorts of hideous assumptions about queer sex and what a woman should do. Heterosexist patriarchy wants us to be quiet, keep our pretty little heads down and if we stray outside the norms we must be doing it for the attention of men.

I am open about my identity because it’s a part of me that I spent a long time coming to terms with. And I also talk about it a lot because I know that when I was coming to terms with it, seeing people being out and unabashed really helped me understand, and gave me the courage and strength to be out myself.

My friend Charlie wrote this beautiful and heartfelt post a while back about how straight people often ask why her sexuality is so important to her. There is such an assumption amongst straight people that we’re just going on about it and obsessing over one aspect of ourselves, while nobody ever pays any attention to straight people talking about marriage and dating and so forth. It’s the same thing, our lives are just… well… queerer. Our love is important to us. This is a given.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what Glosswitch intended when she developed this brand new slur to smack down queer women with. What she has said takes place against the backdrop of policing of women’s sexuality, of a societal disgust levelled at queer people. This “smugsexual” slur is just a shorter word for what is usually yelled at us.

And it’s facing this, and seeing it go relatively unchallenged, hits me. It took me a long time to overcome all the horrible stuff I had internalised, and having it repeated and spat back into my face really fucking hurts. It’s enough to make me want to go back into the closet.

…except, according to the other face of biphobia considered acceptable in feminism, I’m already there.

Julie Bindel  bindelj  on Twitter (1)

This position is rooted in a feminism which likes to police women’s behaviour and coerce them into lesbianism, and it’s not like Julie Bindel doesn’t have a track record with this. It was because of the dominance of this feminism–in conjunction with general societal monosexual supremacy–that I still sometimes find myself saying I am a lesbian rather than being truthful about who and how I love. The expectation of this kind of feminism is that we should pack away a part of ourselves, stick it into a locked box and bury it under six feet of concrete, rather than living and loving to the fullest extent possible.

This kind of rigid feminism is, thankfully, in decline, and I expect to see less of this kind of rhetoric in the future. What we’ll see more of, though, is this new biphobia. As @nanayasleeps puts it, we’ve gone from “the love that dare not speak its name” to “the love that will not shut up”. Where once we were silent and we hid in the shadows of the closet, we are now too loud, too unreasonable, asking for too much and waving our sexuality in the face of others.

Bisexual people are more likely to suffer from mental health problems than lesbian, gay or straight people, and it’s unlikely that our sexual orientation is a product of our madness. Rather, it is because we end up facing an ugly pincer manoeuvre of prejudice, from all corners. We are told we do not exist, and when we point out that we do, we are told to fuck off because we’re being smug about it. It is a grinding daily stressor, with little support offered to us, as most deny that biphobia even exists.

There is nothing more scary to heterosexist patriarchy than a queer woman who is not afraid to speak out, who cuts through the silence like a hot knife through butter.

I love people of all genders. I am satisfied with my sex life. I am at peace with the fact that I am not like the others. I am secure in the knowledge that I know who I am, and I kind of like it. If that makes me smug, so be it. I wish nothing but smugness on the rest of my queer sisters.

Edit 10/12/13: For the record, Glosswitch replied. Here are her tweets: 1 2 3 4. Here is how I responded: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7.


Some worrisome nonsense about condoms in the news

Wafting across my monitor like the diffusion of a singularly sulphurous fart comes this article, which the Guardian saw fit to run on their front page today. 

An article about safer sex ought to, by rights, display a fairly grown-up attitude towards safer sex. Unfortunately, this doesn’t. It opens with a lot about how “hilarious” condoms are. There’s little explanation as to why, just repeated exclamations that they’re funny. Further compounding this rather worrisome attitude is a reference to the “clap clinic”, which I can only presume is a rather stigmatising way of describing getting oneself checked for STIs regularly. On top of all of this, it spreads misinformation, referring to the practice of “double-bagging”–wearing one condom over the other is a terrible idea, unless you like condoms to break on you.  Of course, it’s hardly surprising her attitude is so bad: in the last paragraph, the author expresses surprise that adults ever use condoms. 

While there are some decent points made, like the impact of condoms on pleasure, on the whole the piece is rather lacking. The author concludes that better condoms are needed rather than a better attitude to them. 

Unfortunately, a magic super-condom that’s thinner probably won’t make much difference. I remember about a decade ago when Durex launched a condom which was supposedly far better and made from a different material. It didn’t wow me, and, crucially, it was way more expensive than the bog-standard model. For students and working class people (who dance and drink and screw because there’s nothing else to do), this is not going to help matters at all. 

Ultimately, this article represents one of those well-intentioned things which contributes to a poor societal attitude towards condoms. It just adds shit to the pile of excuses that people use not to wrap up and play safe. The fact is, barriers like condoms are the best thing out there if you don’t want STIs. They don’t protect against everything–such as HPV (although the author seems to think they do, mentioning something about genital warts)–but the protection they offer is pretty good. They’re also pretty cheap and readily-available, and fairly portable because they’re small.

So basically, I’d love to see less misinformation in the mainstream media. It’s not a big ask, surely; it’s no like there isn’t a massive host of sex educators doing good stuff. Fuck controversy, and fuck ironic hipster bollocks. Let’s celebrate condoms, the unsung heroes of sex. 


Poly Means Many: Consent, negotiation, and group dynamics

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at polymeansmany.com

This month’s PMM topic is “negotiation”, which is so broad I’ll admit to having had trouble with where to start, what with having the material for approximately nineteen sextillion blogposts and a million bajillion conversations swimming round my head. And even though a lot of the PMM bloggers are taking this month off due to IRL things, I really don’t feel like I ought to subject you to every little thought rattling around my brainspace, because you will probably die of boredom before finishing, and my fingers will have worn down to little stubs from all the typing. So, I’m focusing on a small area, one which people have asked me about before, and of which I’ve had both positive and negative experiences.

There has been a hell of a lot of discussion and modelling of consent and negotiation within relationships–however fleeting–between two people, but we don’t talk so much about what happens when there are more than two present. Decades of social psychological research have shown us that weird shit tends to happen in groups of people, and the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts.

So how does negotiation of sex and relationships with several people together work? It’s easiest to look at potential pitfalls here to elucidate what makes things work.

In my experience, one of the biggest problems is that group dynamics can create an environment wherein it is very difficult to say no. When several people are up for sex, and your options are participate or go and wait in the kitchen until they’re finished, one often finds oneself taking the path of least resistance. This has actually happened to me once; I went and sat in the kitchen, that time, and smoked a lot of fags and felt like shit, but there have been other times when I have ended up involved in sex I didn’t want–and, indeed, I cannot say for certain that everyone was as up for a shag as I was, in certain situations before I figured out how to make shit work.

This sort of thing, the nagging concern that someone is just going along with stuff goes way beyond the bedroom.

So how do we solve this sort of problem? First and foremost is, of course, communication which goes beyond saying “I’m not OK”, and into actually checking in with people. This is all useless, though, without striving to make your relationships–of any sort–a safe space. It is not enough to say the words, it is necessary to foster a feeling of trust and security, an idea that it is OK to not be OK with something.

Without this ability to make yourself a safe space, negotiation is never going to work particularly well in any situation. It makes it hard to be honest, and it makes it hard to express non-consent. It stings to hear that no, and sometimes it does feel easier to send someone down to the kitchen, but it is absolutely vital that we make this happen.

From here, it is possible to build an inventory of how the dynamics work, an identification of what makes everyone involved happy, and what doesn’t.

The interesting thing here is that while I was focusing on group dynamics, I realised how much all of this applies when there are just two people present, too. So, I suppose, let’s all buck the hell up and make sure we’re safe.


Do women not want to be friends with sluts? A review of a study.

Is there a word for studies which confirm existing prejudices so are trumpeted everywhere as there now being scientific backing for such prejudices? If not, there should be.

The latest that has come to my attention is a study which is being reported as showing that women don’t want to be friends with women who have had a lot of sexual partners, while men don’t mind as much if their male friends are getting a lot of sex. Entitled “Birds of a Feather? Not When it Comes to Sexual Permissiveness“, the study claims to provide some support for a sexual double standard and suggests these findings might have an evolutionary basis. Male and female participants were provided with a profile of a fictional person, and asked questions pertaining to friendship with them. The only difference between the profiles was how many sexual partners the fictional person had had: two, or twenty.

As with most of these prejudice-confirming studies, though, there are a few problems with how the authors reached their conclusions. As with so many studies of this ilk, there is a huge issue with sampling, and the generalisability of this study. Participants were US college students, the overwhelming majority of whom were economically privileged–only 11% rated themselves as working class or lower middle class. But most importantly of all, gay and bisexual participants were excluded from the study to ensure that none of the results reflected any sort of sexual attraction (because, apparently, queer folk are unable to just be friends with heterosexuals). The findings, therefore, can only ever be generalised to heterosexuals and be applied to heterosexual culture. This is something which has not been reported in any media discussions of the study, probably due to a combination of the fact that journalists tend to regurgitate press releases rather than read studies, and a hefty dose of good old-fashioned heterosexism.

There is also a major problem with the stats used in this study. When conducting statistical tests, we use a probability that the finding was down to chance. The conventionally-accepted figure for a statistically significant finding is that there is only a 5% possibility that this finding is due to chance, and it’s important to report the values of this probability as a p-value, where we convert the percentage into a decimal. For example, p=.04 is statistically significant, meaning the result is unlikely to be due to chance. Meanwhile, p=.09 is not significant as it’s more likely that the findings were just chance. In this study, several findings were reported as being “marginally significant”. The threshold for this was p<.08. “Marginal significance” is a phrase which pisses me the fuck off, as it means it actually isn’t significant by any conventions which are used, it’s just kind of close and the authors wanted something else to talk about.

Then we run into another problem. When multiple tests are run, the possibility of a false positive increases. At a significance threshold of p=.05, if a researcher were to run 100 statistical tests, five would come up as significant just by chance. So it’s important, when you’re doing a lot of statistical tests, to adjust for this. The authors of this paper didn’t. The good news is, there’s enough data there for me to undertake a quick and dirty* adjustment called a Bonferroni Correction. As I said above, the generally-accepted significance threshold if p<.05. A Bonferroni Correction takes this significance threshold and divides it by the number tests run. Charitably discounting the 64 descriptive stats tests run, I count 160 tests undertaken (though I may have missed a few). p<.05 divided by 160 gives us the significance threshold of p<.0003, and from the data tables, it looks like there isn’t much that’s significant by this measure. Some findings are reported as p=<.001, although we cannot conclude from the information available whether they manage to reach the revised threshold.

For those of you whose eyes glazed over during that dry statistical excursion, take the findings of this study with a hefty pinch of salt.

If you did read the stats paragraph, you’ll notice I’m feeling charitable today, so now it’s time to talk about something I found really interesting in this paper, and I’m a little sad the authors didn’t examine more. Along with filling in questionnaires which largely formed the basis of the analysis, participants were also invited to write down things they liked and disliked about the fictional person. Almost everyone, men and women, had something negative to say about sexuality, even when it was the fictional person who had only had two sexual partners. These negative things included negative statements about extramarital sex and stigmatising phrases like “whore-like tendencies”.

Conclusions

We cannot draw the conclusions the authors and overexcited journalists have drawn–that women don’t want to be friends with slutty women. What we can see, though, is that among heterosexual US college students, there is still a pretty dodgy attitude towards sexuality, with people holding views which are generally quite negative even when a fictional person has had relatively few sexual partners. This is something we need to work on as a society: sex is a thing a lot of people do, and it’s much nicer to do it without judgment from peers. We need to support others in having safe sex rather than think unpleasant things about them, accepting people. We’ve all internalised a lot of shit, living as we do in a society with a decidedly wack view of sexuality. And that needs to change.

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*Why do I find Bonferroni Corrections quick and dirty? Because I’m a Monte Carlo Simulation gal. Far more fun, you just get to leave a computer running while you go out for lunch and it feels like you’re working. Also, it’s more robust, or something, but mostly it’s the fact you get to pop out for lunch.


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