Category Archives: intimacy

Celebrity Nude Photo Leak: Scandal or SEX CRIME OBVIOUSLY UGH

Some low life leaked photos of female celebrities this weekend, notably the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, and Ariana Grande. And it’s being covered as a ‘scandal’.

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It’s not a scandal. It’s a sex crime.

Lena Duhnam succinctely sums up my feelings about the most oft used excuse for viewing the leaked shots:

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You shouldn’t be viewing these photos because you don’t have permission. They were not taken for you. These actresses have not chosen to share the images, they were not shot in a professional setting, no one was compensated. They are not ‘for sale’. They are private. Say it with me: PRIVATE.

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Listen, real talk: obviously I would love to see Jennifer Lawrence naked. I think she is beautiful, and bodies are beautiful, and that would be dope. But I won’t go find those pics, and I won’t link to where to find them, because this incident is a part of a clear pattern of misogyny and the policing of female sexuality and bodies. Celebrities give up a lot of privacy to have a career. Some of that I believe is part of their job, but some of it is a clear invasion. Women in particular, models and actresses and pop stars, are policed at a very high level. We speculate about their romantic lives ad nauseum (Jennifer Aniston etc) and we obsess over their bodies, circling supposed problem areas if they get too large (Jessica Simpson etc) or speculating about their health if they become too skinny (Nicole Richie, Angelina Jolie etc). This level of scrutiny is cruel, and it serves no one. We expect these women to hold to the standards we’ve all set for them, otherwise they face the wrath of tabloids and fans who will withhold their adoration until the standards are once again achieved. We hold them up as goddesses, but are quick to snatch them back down to earth if they ‘let themselves go.’

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But talent is not linked with a particular body type. This is why Christina Aguilera can belt at any size, and why Adele is effing glorious. The same applies to actresses, who needn’t be under 120 lbs to give a performance that is moving, convincing, funny or deep. Our adoration should be about performance, about the ability to consistently BRING IT. And yet instead of pledging our alegiance to those that move us, we worship goddesses of beauty and glamour. And I get it, because beauty and glamour are extremely appealing and alluring. But the standards are too rigid. The definitions of beauty of too strict and too immobilizing. The demands can never be maintained. And we are all just waiting for the slip up, so we can point out the flaws and I suppose feel some kind of catharsis or redemption because they are like us? Because perfection is an illusion, and we need them to prove it to us?

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This instance, though, can be spun as part of that worship. Which is gross. Because the naked body is private. It is for sharing only with those that you wish to share it with. This is not the same thing as to say it is shameful. It’s not shameful. Bodies are beautiful. The difference between what is private and what is shameful is not well articulated in our culture, and so we mostly teach girls that their bodies and their sexuality and their periods and their desires are shameful, when really those things are just private. Shaping them as private things has a much different connotation, because it is up to you to decide the boundaries of your personal privacy. Things are are private are under the purview of your own agency, subject to decisions that you are empowered to make for yourself. Shameful things have already been decided on for you, by someone else (your mother, your peers, the culture at large.) These photos were stolen and released without consent to shame these women. And the most common response is ‘Well if they don’t want them seen, then they shouldn’t take them’ which is indeed victim blaming akin to the ‘she was dressed provocatively’ or ‘don’t drink so much’ defense hurled at rape victims. The assumption is that if you take naked photos you are acting as a sexual being and if you are a woman that makes you a slut and you deserve to be exposed for what you are. She was asking for it. The only people responsible for crimes are those that commit them. In what realm of reality would it be unreasonable for a person to take intimate photos for themselves or a partner, and expect that only the person intended to see those photos would see them? Why wouldn’t a person imagine that their privacy be respected? If you believe that celebrities owe us even this, even their most intimate moments, then I think you are a delusional and unreasonable and not nice and unclear about what consent is and means. (Also: What are you hoping to find in those photos? Cause I’m pretty sure the fact that celebrities are naked under their clothes is not exactly revelatory information….)

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Women do not owe anyone access to their bodies. Famous women don’t owe you access to their nudity. Women in public don’t owe you access to touch them, to comment on their appearance, and they don’t owe you a smile. This incident highlights the way in which our culture functions to remind women that their bodies are not their own. It’s all connected friends, from street harassment to reproductive rights to the constant scrutiny and hunger for ever more provocative and revealing images. Don’t look at those pictures. They don’t belong to us.

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My Totally Not Serious Pregnancy Scare (and the overblown feelings that followed)

There was never an actual moment where I might have been pregnant.

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I was basically 24 hours late. My body was doing kind of pre-period stuff, but it wasn’t happening in full force. I know that your body changes over time and reacts to what’s happening in your life now and that one day late isn’t cause for alarm. The thing is, I haven’t been late since I started the pill, years ago. So I just had the briefest of thoughts yesterday morning: man, it’d be real crazy if I were pregnant. I didn’t panic, or obsess. It wasn’t a real possibility.

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But once I thought it, I couldn’t un-think it.

I didn’t tell my partner because it wasn’t a situation, it was just a thought. And probably also because we are both excited to make a new human one day in the future and I didn’t wanna burden him with this brief and crazy and unfeasible notion. So I didn’t say anything.

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I called one of my very best-est friends on my way home from work and said ‘This isn’t a real situation but like can you just remind me that it’s not possible’ and she did because she is wonderful and that’s what friends do. And we talked about all the reasons I couldn’t be (I’m on the pill, I almost always use condoms, periods can change as we get older so this isn’t a reliable sign) and also the reasons that now would be not the best time (I’m applying to go to grad school and PhDs take like 5 years, I have very little money and lots of student debt, I’m going to move in a few months to go to aforementioned school, I’m really just a pseud-adult and not a real grown up so caring for another human would be a stretch.) She is a good friend for dealing with the craziness of a ‘situation’ that is really just a crazy thought/wish, and for telling me what I already know.

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Now you may be thinking: Alex, you needn’t have a baby right now if you don’t wanna have one, even if you did find yourself pregnant. And you’d be right. I am lucky enough to live in a state where I could become not-pregnant fairly easily. And I believe with every fiber of my being that a woman should be able to make that choice if it’s right for her, and I detest the men (and yes, it’s men) who are attempting to strip women of that right using furtive, deceptive measures. But if we’re being honest here (and I’d like to think that we are), I would have a baby this minute if I became pregnant. Because I very much want to be a mom. And because I am lucky enough to have a partner that I think would make an incredible dad, and we are both excited for that journey. And I very much want my own mother to be a part of my pregnancy, and then my child’s life. And so if it happened, I wouldn’t have the heart to un-do it.

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So, not to bury the lead (already did that in the title I guess) but I’m not pregnant. Proof appeared last night, at which time I informed my partner that even though I hadn’t ever really thought I was or been worried, I wasn’t. And then I felt something weird: disappointment, and relief.

Neither of those feelings really seemed appropriate given the parameters of the situation. I was never really scared about it, because I haven’t ovulated in almost a decade so it was never a thing that was really happening. So why would I feel relieved? Except that we put much of the burden of sexually responsibility on girls, and I’ve always felt that it was my job to be responsible with my body. And along with this responsibility we instill a great amount of fear. And so even though I knew the facts, I was scared that somehow I had messed up, that I had slipped, that somehow my body had betrayed me because it knows how badly I want to have a baby someday and maybe it decided to take matters into it’s own hands. Maybe my uterus staged a coup.

vive la revolution!
vive la revolution!

So yea, I was relieved that I was still responsible, that my life was still going the way I’ve been planning. But then, I was also palpably disappointed. And I told my friend later ‘I’d never get pregnant right now on purpose because that would be an insane choice, but if it happened on accident I could justify the choice. I could get away with it.’ So I felt simultaneously like I’d dodged a bullet, and missed the chance to use an accident to get away with starting a journey I really do want to take.

Which is why I take what amounts to all the possible precautions to ensure this doesn’t happen. Because, while there may never be a perfect time to have a kid, there are better and less good times. And this time would be less good. And I want to feel like I am capable, like I have the resources, like I am ready to focus on a small human and not myself for the foreseeable future. And I am not ready to do that now. I need to focus on school, on my own path, on my own relationships. And as much as I am amped to get pregnant and create new life one day and would like to start immediately, I can’t make time go faster and I can’t deny that the best decision is to wait.

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I’m pretty surprised by the intensity of my feelings about this not actual scare. I’m totally aware of my own desire to be a mom, but I didn’t know I’d react so strongly to such a none-situation. I know everyone has complicated thoughts and feelings about being a parent. It’s not for everyone (although we assume that all women are nurturing and want to be moms and are probably bad/wrong if they don’t) and it doesn’t always work out and sometimes the timing is off and also sometimes it’s great and kids are a joy and fun and add a wild new dimension to your life. I have a bestie who never wants kids and that’s fine and I don’t tell her ‘you’ll change your mind’ because maybe she won’t and she is still wonderful, obviously. Another bestie just had a precious nugget 7 weeks ago and she adores her but also it’s hard and there are lots of conflicting emotions and very little sleep, for her and her hubby, and that family is officially a work in progress for basically ever. Getting pregnant is a big deal, for your body and your relationships and your future. It’s not a solution to a problem or a babysitting job or a vacation. Becoming a parent is a choice, and if you choose yes that choice lasts forever (God knows Ken & Patricia are still parenting me, also they’re awesome/supportive/loving/hip/the best.)

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the best parents a girl could ask for ❤

 

For now, I’ll just be over here feeling the feels and continuing to make moves towards the blurry future. One day I’ll have the thought ‘What if I’m pregnant?’ and I will feel joy and I will tell my partner right away and I hope that day is right after school is finished and we aren’t moving and we have jobs and my parents will be excited and they’ll help and….

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Who knows really. But I’m not pregnant. Not today.

Sex Spreadsheets are Bullshit. Grow Up.

So recently this spreadsheet went viral. A spreadsheet.

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I’m already annoyed.

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First of all, what kind of passive aggressive bull shit is this? Are we 12?

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Here’s a newsflash: if there is something going on in your relationship, the quickest way to make it worse is to place the blame entirely on your partner and then EMAIL them a document you made specifically to shame them. How about being an adult and having an actual conversation with your partner about why you’ve been going through a dry spell? Because here’s another newsflash: your partner doesn’t owe you regular sex. Sex is a collaborative, cooperative experience. Your sex life is not static and it is not guaranteed. Just like other aspects of your relationship, it changes and evolves  and will require effort to be maintained. It’s an important aspect of any relationship, sure, but it’s not the only one. And given that the sex is dwindling and their communication obviously stinks, I’d venture to say that this couple has lots of other issues. I’m just so freakin’ annoyed by this guy I can hardly stand it! Have a conversation! Think seriously about why this may be occurring, including how you yourself may be contributing. Grow the fuck up. (Note: this goes for all people creating sex spreadsheets, cause apparently it’s a trend happening now ew gross come on guys, seriously.)

one more eye roll. cause ugh.
one more eye roll. cause ugh.

Speaking of how you may be contributing: some responses to this story have tried to maintain the pernicious myth that women are less interested in sex than men. I’m here to tell you that this is nonsense. Many have pointed to the orgasm gap to help explain women’s perceived disinterest. The orgasm gap, according to a recent study, is the fact that women are having 1 orgasm for every 3 that men have. Which just makes me so sad. And before you start with me, let’s clear some things up. Women are not ‘more complicated’ than men, anatomically speaking. Women are able to achieve orgasm at the same rate as men when they masturbate, and indeed women in same sex relationships have orgasms at the same rate as heterosexual men. It’s also not true that it takes women longer to achieve orgasm, because when masturbating it takes women and men the same time on average: 4 minutes. All it takes to make a woman cum is willingness, and basic understanding of female anatomy (because the clit isn’t hard to find, but it is absolutely necessary.)

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translation

Alright so we’ve cleared up the myth that women are harder to please sexually. So the orgasm gap isn’t natural and it’s not acceptable (or is shouldn’t be!)  As it stands, this gap can explain part of why women may seem less interested in sex than men. But another important factor is how we raise men and women differently when it comes to sexual self expression. Boys are allowed to be outward in their expressions of sexuality, and in fact expressing sexual desire is seen as a sign of a healthy young man. Men can brag about their sexual encounters, and their orgasms are an assumed part of ‘sex’ in the accepted cultural narrative. Girls, on the other hand, are raised knowing that for them, sexuality is shameful. Not only is too much desire or too many partners evidence that they are slutty, it can also be used to justify sexual violence. For women, one of the first ways they learn about sex is to fear rape. And it is crystal clear that they are partly responsible for preventing rape, by controlling their own behavior; not dressing too provocatively or getting drunk or “leading men on”.  All of this adds up to confusion, because we also teach girls that their worth can be measured by their perceived ‘fuck-ability.’ They must be available to give pleasure, but they must not want or seek pleasure too obviously. And there is not a single piece of sex education that teaches about women’s pleasure, so we don’t learn to make our pleasure a real priority. Add that to the lack of value we place on women’s bodies overall, and the picture is bleak.

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Listen guys. Sex doesn’t happen like in the movies. Two people, even if the chemistry is great, don’t always hit a home run the first time. Or the second, third, etc. And sometimes, if you’ve had the same partner for awhile, your sex life can hit a slump or a drought or whatever. Because sex is about more than just orgasms, it’s also about intimacy and communication and closeness. And your sex life doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and real life can get crazy. Awhile back I was working 2 retail jobs and my schedule was insane. I was working 6 or 7 days a week, often 10 or 12 hour days. And indeed, my sex life with my partner took a hit. I was exhausted, and I also didn’t feel good about myself (no yoga, crappy eating, no sleep, you get it.)

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How did my partner respond? (HINT: it wasn’t by blaming me passive aggressively with a spread sheet of entitled anger.) He asked a simple question, over drinks: What’s up with our sex life? And I’m not saying that was an easy conversation, but we kept drinking and throwing out ideas, we laughed a lot, and we were willing and honest. We didn’t yell, or blame each other, we didn’t take ourselves to seriously and we never for one moment assumed that it should be easier. It meant a great deal to me that he was able to be vulnerable about how he was feeling, and that he wanted to work together to keep this part of our relationship vital. That conversation was the first big one we had about sex, but it wasn’t the last, and we will need to keep talking and laughing over drinks from time to time so we can keep the spark alive. And hopefully we won’t only check in when things get rough, because even when things are good there is room for improvement (*wink*), and when times are good the pressure is off. It shouldn’t feel like torture. Communication can even be sexy! Take a deep breath, retain your sense of humor, and remember that you’re on the same team.

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It’s true there should be magic, but the magic can’t be taken for granted. You need to work to maintain it. And nothing kills the magic like taking your partners body for granted, or feeling like they ‘owe’ you more than they’re giving. Sexual pleasure isn’t a right you automatically have in a relationship. It’s a gift that partners give to one another, through practice and empathy and consideration and enthusiasm and vulnerability and creativity and collaboration. If you aren’t getting it, you might wanna reflect on whether or not you are giving it.

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it takes effort. nick names. lingerie. whatever works for you, plus enthusiasm. get ’em Bey.

The ‘B’ in LGBTQ

Do you know anyone who identifies as bi-sexual?

Do you think they are greedy? Indecisive? Are they lying or seeking attention?Perhaps really just gay and not ready to take the full leap yet?

Check this classic Sex and the City convo about Carrie’s young  love interest (sorry for the bad dubbing, that wasn’t me and youtube is not trying to give me what I want!)

That conversation may seem dated, but I know plenty of people who’d still describe that as ‘real talk’. Which is why this excellent article from the New York Times, regarding a new push to ‘prove’ that bisexuality exists, wasn’t shocking to me. The writer describes various studies, all collecting physical data and hoping to measure arousal levels to compare with personal identity statements. I can only imagine that this push for scientific legitimacy is happening because folks who identify as bi are actually super likely to be met with ire and mistrust. In some cases, this pushback is more than a gay or lesbian person would get, because lots of folks think that bi-sexual isn’t a real identity.

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This situation is a clear example of the problem with linking sexual preference to identity. Actually linking any choice with identity, at least a large group identity. The way that the mainstream LGBTQ community has managed to gain access to rights such as marriage and non-discrimination laws is by a savvy combination of ‘I was born this way’ and ‘we’re just like you.’ And the idea that people choose who they are attracted to is actually super dangerous to this fight, because hateful idiots would use that as ammunition to discriminate and withhold inalienable rights.

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But sexuality and sexual preference only exist as an identity marker because the culture demanded it. I used to joke that ‘gay people didn’t exist before 1960’, and that’s actually not completely inaccurate. Folks who wanted to sleep with same sex partners before that was culturally acceptable did so in secret, or in the semi-open as more of a lifestyle choice. Lesbians, in particular, got away with this a lot because it wasn’t seen as a threat to men (because how could sex possibly happen without a penis??) Because these folks were not organized and asking for legitimacy in society, they were less visible. And their sexual choices were what they did, and not exactly who they were.

I do, of course, think it is important that folks are able to live openly, without fear of violence or prejudice and with the full range of options for how to live their lives. However. The more categories you create, the more boxes you draw and the more pressure everyone feels to fit in a box. And we do love boxes don’t we? Male or Female. Gay or Straight. Chocolate or Vanilla. PICK A FLAVOR!!!!!!

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But these boxes, these binaries, are reductive and exclusive and they breed a lot of hate and misunderstanding. And bisexuality is an interesting example, because even folks in the traditionally maligned group (gay/lesbian) and their allies are distrustful and ignorant. The same could be said about transgender folks, who face discrimination even from other liberal or oppressed groups. The inbetween people face the most antagonism.

Why is this? What are we all so uncomfortable with? I remember learning about the word queer in grad school, reading about queer time and queer space. I felt so saved by the ideas I learnt about, ideas that gave a name to life trajectories that don’t follow a heteronormative path and a world view that is more circular and leaves room for error. I wanted to exist in those spaces, outside the world of marriages and jobs and the lives that so many choose without choosing. I wanted to exist on the page, at dusk and dawn, living a path of otherness as many had done before me.

And actually, I rejected the term bi-sexual. It was another box, and felt strangely surgical to me. As though that word, bi-sexual, split me into two parts. As though those parts were competing with one another. But there are not two parts of me, just one whole self. And as I learned how to love, I did have experiences that I felt took me out of the ‘hetero’ category. But I don’t, and have never, liked any of the labels I heard as options. So I thought to myself ‘I love at dusk’, and I left it at that.

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The studies being done now do shed light on the variations and complications intrinsic to our sexuality, our sexual preferences, and our experience of our own sexual identity. There is a reason why people think that bi-sexual men don’t exist because they are all secretly gay. It isn’t, however, because men can’t be bi-sexual. It’s because we live in a culture where women are believed to be more fluid, and men are given less freedom to experiment. Less wiggle room. And so, it stands to reason that men are less likely to explore desires that could make them vulnerable to a label they are not comfortable with. And that sucks. And it sucks that lots of young women who come out as bi are told ‘it’s just a phase’ and that ‘they’ll grow out of it.’ And it sucks that if you are bi, it can be super hard to find same sex partners because they are distrustful and fear that you will leave them for a hetero relationship. And it sucks that in order to be recognized as a human worthy of respect and rights, you must draw a line in the sand and say ‘I exist, and there are others like me.’ The more categories of folks that come forward, the more we miss the point: That sexuality is a continuum, a path along which we are all traveling. It grows, it evolves, it changes. And our sexuality doesn’t define us. And no sexuality could possibly negate a person’s right to be treated with respect and live a full life.

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here here

Although, I do kinda like this definition quoted in the article:

I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted — romantically and/or sexually — to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way and not necessarily to the same degree.

That shape feels large enough, with flexible enough edges, that I may just be able to dance in there comfortably, with other folks on similar adventures. Cause we are all just trying to be who we are, really. I think this grumpy pug in a unicorn costume illustrates our collective struggle to metamorphize into our most magical selves.

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Never stop trying. The struggle is real, haters gonna hate, the journey is long. Find other folks wearing unicorn outfits, love those people for their whole unique selves, take care of them and allow them to take care of you. One day it won’t take scientific data for folks to accept the truth about who we all are and who we all love.

SVU: getting wise in it’s old age

Lesson #1: Mariska Hargitay is a goddess.

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In addition to being effervescent and flawless, she is also an outspoken activist against sexual violence in real life, creating The Joyful Heart foundation and appearing in ads for the No More organization:

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SVU has been raising awareness about sexual violence and rape for 15 freakin’ seasons. And while I may never get over the abrupt exit of Detective Stabler (SERIOUSLY CHRIS MAOLNI WTF?! WE NEED SOME CLOSURE!) the show has continued to grow and evolve. We said goodbye to a some of the shows most beloved characters this season (I will always love you Dan Floreck), and Olivia got the bump up to Sargent. And episode #14, Comis Perversion, employees one of Law & Order’s favorite tactics: a story ripped from the real world headlines.

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This is Daniel Tosh, he has a show on E!, and he’s a comic. He got in hot water awhile ago for making a rape joke. It was a bad rape joke. To be clear, I don’t think that rape is always off the table for a comedy show. Here is a rape joke I find quite hilarious, smart, and on point, from Louis CK:

Ok so let’s put aside the issues of comedy and free speech. Feminists aren’t humorless bitches who want to take away an artists right to explore whatever topics he wants. But I kinda think comedy should be funny and healing, and making the victims of a violent crime the butt of your jokes isn’t funny. At least not to anyone with a single empathetic bone in their body. But you can say whatever the hell you want. That issue isn’t what got to me about this episode.

These are the main players in the scenario, the comic (who does in fact turn out to be a rapist) and his college student victim:

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

The show does a great job of showing how our culture functions to discredit rape victims. In this case, the girl had been drinking heavily. She flirted with her assailant and even went back to his hotel room and drank champagne. At that point she blacked out and when she regained consciousness he was raping her. She never denied being intoxicated or interacting with him previous to the attack. Despite the fact that she was honest about these details, the defense uses them against her to paint her and her allegations a bright shade of red with a very important underlying philosophy: sluts deserve to get raped.

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Let me put this in some really simple language: Flirting is not consent. Accepting drinks is not consent. Going with someone to where the live/sleep is not consent. So basically, she can in fact get drunk and flirt and go home with you and then say no. In this case, it’s likely she passed out, in which case it was absolutely un-consensual because an unconscious person cannot give consent. And any person at any time can say ‘No.’ It doesn’t matter if its a male or female bodied person, it doesn’t matter if it’s a first time sexual encounter or if partners are in a relationship. It doesn’t matter if that’s frustrating or hard to understand.

deal with it.
deal with it.

Now look. I don’t think it’s a good idea to get super wasted and go to new places with strangers. It’s playing with fire and it’s immature. I wish we lived in a world where people were more open about their sexual desires and more forth right when discussing sex and consent. I wish college kids in particular would be more careful, and indeed feel more free to experiment and play without needing to get wasted. Also, shit happens, and I do not think that all drunk sex = rape. But. The statistics that link binge drinking to rape should not lead you to think ‘Oh, girls who drink should know better.’ The appropriate reaction is ‘Oh, predators are using alcohol to pick on already impaired victims and create a built in defense for their crime. What assholes!’

And with all this talk about consent, how to we define it? When I Googled ‘sexual consent definition’ I got a lot of articles seeking to define sexual assault as an act without consent, but consent itself was not immediately defined on clear terms. I did find a great article from Safer Campus.org that attempts to define consent using examples from various university policy statements, but that same article makes the excellent point that lots of universities use the term consent in their policies without attempting to define it at all. There’s also the ubiquitous portrayal of women who at first say no, but are then coaxed into a sexual encounter. This is often a scenario in romantic comedies. But coercion is not romantic, and women are not all playing hard to get because it’s just so much more fun to ‘get convinced.’ (Although that isn’t entirely uncommon because in our culture women are supposed to be sexually available but also not want sex too much or we risk the slut label so all of this can be linked back to that over arching villain: patriarchy.)

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I personally love the idea of enthusiastic consent. This article from Persephone magazine says “The idea of enthusiastic consent is quite simple. In a nutshell, it advocates for enthusiastic agreement to sexual activity, rather than passive agreement.” Word on the street is that some people think communication is ‘too much work’, or ‘breaks the mood.’ Sex shouldn’t be easy (not if you’re doing it right) and if talking breaks the mood you should get some tips on dirty talk and how to make consent/communication sexy.

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This episode did a fantastic job of forcing us all to put ourselves in the seats of the jurors. When the opposing counsel was describing how the victim was drunk, how she’d flirted, I was shaking my head and thinking ‘Come on guys, don’t do that.’ And part of me stands by the advice that people, especially college aged people and especially college aged women should be way more careful about how much they drink. But that advice comes up short as a solution to the sexual assault epidemic, because we should all be equally worried about personal safety and women shouldn’t be burdened with the added worry of sexual assault when it comes to how much they drink or where they go. The threat of sexual assault does indeed police the lives of women, 24/7 and from a disturbingly young age. It’s unfair. And transgressing those rules of where to be and who to be with and how to act do NOT mean that a victim deserves or was asking for a violent act to be committed against them. As I’ve said before, the only people responsible rape are rapists, and the only advice we can offer to prevent more rapes is ‘Don’t rape anybody.’

The Economics of Sex (OR misinformation and subjective data interpretation with dumb animation)

Here is an infuriating video from The Austin Institute for the Study of Family & Culture about how sex is a commodity and marriage is always good and men and women are operating under a strange and simple system that disregards their personalities and desires. I honestly had a hard time getting through it, so I’m gonna present my thoughts in a sort of live blog format. What follows is a (largely unedited) list of the thoughts I had while watching, so you can listen and follow along. Anything in italics are thoughts I’ve added after the fact to expound on the  more important(ly disturbing) points. And there are gifs because I love gifs and they make this whole thing easier to think about.

~first assumption: marriage is good and divorce is bad This is obviously untrue depending on where and when you are in history and who you are personally. Just a gross simplification of people’s lives. Completely stupid. 

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~is sex a commodity? Definition: a raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee. So, no. 
~is it an exchange? Yes, but what is being exchanged is not axiomatic or universal.

~men have a higher sex drive- NO Just, no. 

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no.

~how can you possibly know that they link sex to romance less often? The general use of data to support their point without actual stats/sources and without mentioning that interpretation of data is not entirely objective is super manipulative. 

~female motivations: expressing love, commitment, affirming desirability, security. uuuummmmmmm what? how is that shown in the data? Also, those motivations are not gender specific, lots of people have sex for those (and other varied) reasons.

sex will happen when women want it to? what? relationships all work the exact same way all the time???!?

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~men want sex but women don’t? men sacrifice for sex but women don’t?

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~market value. no. there are cultural expectations, and no it isn’t entirely private, but sex is not a supply and relationships are not a price. To paraphrase a perfect Jezebel comment I read on this topic: I am not a cow. My vagina is not milk. My partner is not a customer. 

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~comparing pesticides to birth control is not so subtle and gross

~’lowering the cost of sex’ would apply for everyone… And this is where the metaphor stops working the way they want. People generally like it when things are cheaper, especially things they like a lot of. So really, from where I’m standing, everyone benefits if the ‘cost of sex’ drops. But ‘the cost of sex’ isn’t an actual real thing in terms of how humans live their lives so this is a dumb point all around.

~’sex was oriented towards marriage.’ THIS IS HETERONORMATIVE AND TOTALLY LIMITED.  Also, again, assumed to be positive. But I happen to think that more people having agency over their bodies and experiencing a greater variety of relationships/orgasms is super positive. 

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~yea the unanticipated side affect is more autonomy for everyone, mostly women, and we are still adapting to the gender role shift. It’s not a catastrophe comparable to THE ONGOING DESTRUCTION OF THE ENVIRONMENT. Not even close.

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~”in the past it really wasn’t the patriarchy that policed women’s relational interests, it was women. but this agreement, this unspoken pact to set a high market value of sex has all but vanished. but in a brave new world where having sex no longer means babies and marriage has become optional, the solidarity women once felt towards each another in the mating market has dissolved. Women no longer have each other’s backs. on the contrary, they’re now each other’s competition.” SO BAD. This is, for me, the most destructive idea, because it actually blames the entire problem on women. Women policing other women’s behaviors was not a result of a worldwide agreement to ‘set a high market value of sex.’ It was a result of patriarchal ideas about women’s sexuality, and the ensuing rules and options regarding sexual behavior and marriage. Getting an oppressed people to participate in their own oppression is a wildly smart and effective tactic that has been used by the elite and powerful for centuries. Women were always each other’s competition. Marrying has historically been one of women’s best options for climbing the social ladder and creating a better life for themselves. It was not about sisterly bonds anymore or less than it is now. And to blame women for their own devaluation is just such bullshit, it’s taking it back to Eve and original sin and I will not stand for it. I will not take it seriously as an idea and I will not internalize guilt or self-disgust and I will not accept that women are to blame for their own  institutionalized and culturally accepted oppression. 

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~so women control sex and men control marriage, but women want marriage and men want sex. THAT IS COMPLETELY SIMPLE AND OUTRAGEOUS. The only limits on humans behavior are societal norms and cultural expectations. If people tend to act in certain predictable ways, it is due largely to videos like this, that expound a divisive and dangerous perspective on relationships and gender roles.

~this video puts women as the gatekeepers of morality, specifically men’s morality. this is terrible for everyone but especially for men. This idea is not new, but it is just as damaging for men as it is for women. If men are just a-moral dummies wandering this world and women must control them (in part by controlling their own behavior) then humans have an extremely limited capacity for depth and for growth. It means that men are silly boys and women must act as every man’s mommy. It’s gross, and reductive, and it sells every single person on the planet short.

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~so in this world sex is a commodity linked to marriage, and no one can possibly want other kinds of relationships, to explore one of those things without the other, and only heterosexual sex/marriage exist and matter.  It’s really not rocket science kids. There are an immeasurable amount of reasons that a person would want to have sex, with whomever that person wants to have sex with. And it is true that sexual and romantic relationships are kinda tough these days because we are all dealing with the break down of traditional roles in a rapidly changing/ technology flooded world. But harder doesn’t mean worse. I fail to see how people being liberated to explore more options is bad. I fail to see how a world with less marriages is bad. I fail to see how the break down of gender roles is bad. I do see a world where (hopefully) folks will be less constrained by cultural ideas of who they should be or how they should act or who/what they should desire. Sex is not something to be traded for commitment, that idea is so passive aggressive and fucked up. If you want commitment you should ask for it and if you want sex you should ask for it and if you are still trying to figure it all out then just be as honest as possible but don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Men are not all soulless animals looking for a trophy wife while trying to satisfy base instincts and women are not all worrying manipulators who are wielding their sex as a weapon while counting down  their remaining days of fertility. People are people, with complicated motivations and a variety of desires that may even be existing in the same moment and sometimes communicating is hard and this kind of distorted, reductive information is bullshit and I won’t accept it. Don’t allow anyone to dictate your desires or tell you the right way to get what you want. Women and men do not exist as separate groups that act as one singular entity, and no one is actually beholden to this garbage about what it means to be a man or a woman. You exist as you, and you act as yourself.  And you are probably great. 

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we woke up like this. flawless.

And you know what else, there actually was a time where sex was part of an economy. But it was women and girls, their bodies and minds and whole selves,  who were actually being bought and sold as familial property. This is not something to be nostalgic about nor is it a time to long for or extoll the forgotten virtues of. It was gross and patriarchal, a time where women’s bodies were not their own and where women did not possess full humanity. And it is a time that, frankly, we are not yet past despite some incredible progress. Until all women are free from the threats of sexual and reproductive violence and until women are economically independent worldwide and until this kind of video propaganda with this misogynist/homophobic/sexist worldview ceases to be disseminated (or have widespread support) we cannot truly say that we are beyond the historical moment of gender tyranny.

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Let’s get beyond it.

Stick to that Letter: Key & Peele cunnilingus skit

I laughed out loud, at my desk at work, while watching this. Before we discuss it’s pros and cons, lets just enjoy the comedy, brought to us by Key & Peele on Comedy Central.

Alright, alright alright. Catch your breath. Let’s start with the good stuff. First of all, any entertainment that portrays a sex education class for men with the goal of encouraging enthusiastic partner pleasuring is a WIN. Using humor to encourage mutual satisfaction is great. And some of that advice is actually quite accurate (don’t focus only on the clit, make letters with your tongue, gauge your partners response and stick with what is working). If you have an aversion to a particular act, maybe explore why that is. You of course have every right to say ‘not for me’, but especially in the case of cunnilingus, the issue deserves some thought, since culturally we aren’t taught to appreciate female anatomy or pleasure. Sex should be fun, and it should feel good, for all parties involved. There is no set script to stick to, no correct order, and no limit on what you can do (besides consent. It’s gotta be consensual.) Let your imagination run free and have fun!

get hype!
get hype!

But. It fell short for me in a few places. The word ‘bitches’ is just so jarring, when it’s used so often in such a short clip. I know they are playing characters from a very specific cultural segment, but I thought it was a bit much (although ‘learn your bitch’s snowflake’ was PRICELESS.) It’s a harsh word that doesn’t evoke respect or caring, and I think using ‘woman’ or even ‘lady’ could still have worked within the character’s universe. The only other moment I wish hadn’t happened was the line ‘Penises are easy. Vaginas are hard.’ Because that is just not true. The anatomy is different, sure. And it is true that penises are external, so visually they are easier to see and handle. But vaginas, labia, clits and g-spots are really not difficult to navigate. It may be true that female-bodied folks need more stimulation time, but I don’t have actual stats to back that up, and if they do THEN SO WHAT?! Take your time. Vary from the oh so boring script that is disseminated in mainstream porn. Act with care and enthusiasm, and notice to your partner’s response. Don’t assume all your partners will want the same choreography or timing, be ready to switch it up pay attention to everyone’s cues.

omg PREACH
omg PREACH

EPIC ADDENDUM: That advice works for all gender variations, so I think we all need to grow up a little bit and block out sexy fun time and freakin’ GO FOR IT. Don’t be scared to make mistakes, be open to feedback and trying new moves, and most of all up your enthusiasm. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake is a worthy endeavor, so broaden your horizons/challenge yourself to be a better partner/leave shame at the door/wild out. It may take time, and serious work, but I’m hopeful a more sex positive world (free of shame and violence) will emerge in the near future. *Note: This ending paragraph applies to everyone everywhere regardless of sex/gender/sexuality/any other demographic factor. Get. Into. It.

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**2nd Note: I know how optimistic/idealistic/borderline nuts that last sentence sounds. But hey, a girl can dream.

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V-Day Love

This post is just to say Happy Valentine’s. Check out VDay.org, celebrate love in all it’s forms, and first and foremost love and be kind to yourself.

Here are some of my favorite words about love by e e cummings:

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And here is a lovely Mary Oliver quote shared by Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls:
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And finally, here is a message from someone important in all of our lives:
hughGifHi iloveyouhughGIF happyvdayHUGHGIF

Victim Blaming- *Rape Culture

I have just finished reading an article in the Wall Street Journal, by James Taranto, which has left me feeling nauseous and sad. Not a cute combination. Taranto is a member of the editorial board at WSJ, as well as the ‘author of its popular Best of the Web Today column’, so he is not just random dude.  The article is entitled ‘Drunkennes and Double Standards: A Balanced Look at College Sex Offenses.

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Right off the bat, I know I’m in for it. Sex offenses aren’t balanced. There is a perpetrator and a victim. Rapists are to blame for rape. So, yea, what’s his overriding argument?

What is called the problem of “sexual assault” on campus is in large part a problem of reckless alcohol consumption, by men and women alike… If two drunk drivers are in a collision, one doesn’t determine fault on the basis of demographic details such as each driver’s sex. But when two drunken college students “collide,” the male one is almost always presumed to be at fault. His diminished capacity owing to alcohol is not a mitigating factor, but her diminished capacity is an aggravating factor for him.

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He also mentions false accusations, which as I’ve stated before make up around 2% of all accusations on a generous day. Women are not getting drunk and consenting to sex, then making false accusations fueled by their regret and resentment. “Had she awakened the next day feeling regretful and violated, she could have brought him up on charges and severely disrupted his life.” This almost never happens. Women are not slinging accusations willy nilly, especially given the nature of an investigation, the toll it takes, and how often victims are harassed and shamed when their stories are actually true. He goes on, “What is called the problem of “sexual assault” on campus is in large part a problem of reckless alcohol consumption, by men and women alike.” And this, this is an interesting sentence.

I do not disagree that alcohol consumption, in excess, is dangerous for both men and women. I also don’t disagree that having sex while black out drunk is a bad idea for both men and women. For one, drunk people are usually measurably less responsible, so contraception is likely disregarded. Boundaries can also be crossed due to diminished communication, and usually drunk = sloppy which can result in a sub par experience for all. But the most important issue here is who can give consent. If neither party is capable of making rational decisions, then what follows is a messy grey area. Which can be emotionally damaging, or just awkward.

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HOWEVER.

There are a whole lot of assumptions when you make the claim that BOTH PARTIES ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT. You assume that everyone is the same amount of drunk. You assume everyone has positive intent. You assume that men are victims at the same rate as women. You assume we live in a world where sexual assault is an accidental oops, where men are just confused by ladies who claim to be liberated but are really pretending and then want to save their own reputations by destroying someone else.

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Again. Cause none of those things are true. What is true is that rape happens at an alarming rate, everyday, to all kinds of people. It happens to men and women. It happens to college students and to high school students, to children, and to adults of all ages. It happens across race and class lines.  And the only way to prevent it from happening is to teach people how not to rape. It’s to teach everyone that violence and aggression are not linked to ‘real masculinity’. It means teaching everyone what true consent means, and it means decoupling sex from shame. Women should not have to stay sober to avoid being raped, because that doesn’t work anyway. Are there good reasons to help college age kids learn to control their levels of intoxication? Absolutely. Is one of those so they don’t get raped, or accidentally rape someone? No.

The author also sites a widely circulated article from Slate last year to boost his argument, quoting the author:

…she offered the same advice to college men: “If I had a son, I would tell him that it’s in his self-interest not to be the drunken frat boy who finds himself accused of raping a drunken classmate.”

Tell me how sad that quote makes you.

this one?
this one?
or this one?
or this one?
nope, this one. definitely.
nope, this one. definitely.

The author of that piece, Emily Yaffe, would tell her son that it’s not in his self interest to find himself accused of rape. Not that he should respect women. Not that he should be sure to only engage in consensual sex. Just that it would be bad news bears FOR HIM, for his life, if he were in a situation that allowed him to be accused of raping a drunk girl. The lack of empathy and compassion in that line of thinking is truly astounding.

The end point of Taranto’s piece is that chivalry should make a come back, because men and women are different, despite feminists instance of equality, and the balance of power in sexual encounters is uneven. He is only 1/2 right. The balance of power is still often tilted in the direction of men. This does not mean, however, that women are naturally more prudish or inclined towards monogamy. It means that we live in a culture that perpetuates base misunderstandings about gender and that de-values the bodies and well being of women at an alarming rate. It means that we all must strive to be more honest with ourselves and with our partners, and to treat our sexual partners as actual humans and not as a different species that we must apply different rules to and ‘figure out’. Yes means yes. You do not have the right to ever touch another human intimately without their expressed approval. And sure, I’m down for giving out basic safety advice like 1) learn to control your consumption 2) travel in groups 3)be aware of your surroundings. But that advice isn’t limited to just young women, and it applies to violence prevention in all forms.

Because the only advice we need to give on rape prevention is: Don’t rape anyone.

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The ‘T’ in LGBTQ

Katie with fierce model Carmen and 'OITNB' star Laverne
Katie with fierce model Carmen and ‘OITNB’ star Laverne

Katie Couric’s interview with Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox is all over the net right now. Katie choose to ask both women questions about their transitions, and the state of their bodies, and this choice has caused some righteous anger. And unsurprisingly so. It is incredibly reductive and dehumanizing to be reduced to a single part of your body because people feel as though they have some innate right to know (kind of like when people ask lesbians ‘how’ they have sex. ANY WAY THEY WANT JUST LIKE YOU OBVIOUSLY.) Laverne responds eloquently:

“I do feel like there is a preoccupation with that. And I think that the preoccupation with transition and with surgery objectifies trans people and then we don’t get to really deal with the real lived experiences, the reality of trans people’s lives… We are looking for justice for so many trans people across this country and by focusing on bodies we don’t focus on the lived realities of that oppression and that discrimination.”

Watch the full video here.

Responding like a boss
Responding like a boss

She is, of course, 100% correct. Focusing on bodies and difference makes it easy to put distance between ‘us’ and ‘them’, and it also makes it much easier to shrug off violence and discrimination against the other we create. But what fascinates me most about the cultural preoccupation with surgery and transition is that, at the core of this fascination is an assumption that all hetero/cis/not-LGBTQ folks have normal bodies and normal genitalia and normal sex. Because our culture is saturated with images of ideal bodies, everyone thinks that the ideal is the norm. The same is true with sex. Pornographic images and films are rampantly available, and this is how we learn what naked people and sex are supposed to look like. All of those images, however, do not come close to representing the vast array of people and bodies and sex that exist. Plenty of cis/hetero folks have bodies or genitalia that fall outside of what the culture thinks is ‘normal.’ When I worked as a sex educator, this insecurity was the one I heard most often, and it was expressed mostly by female presenting folks. Women afraid that their bodies were weird, that their needs were too much or outside the boundaries of what was acceptable. But all needs are acceptable (when satisfied consensually), and all bodies normal. And we should never ever make assumptions about a person’s gender or sexuality or body. Because even if you think you have the best ‘gaydar’ in the world, at the end of the day it is that person’s choice to share or not share with you and it isn’t the most important thing about them or their life and it’s none of your god damned business. Their body is their own, and their sex/intimacy life is their own and their choice.

I am hopeful we are moving towards the day when our obsession with sex, which is currently unhealthy and fraught with guilt and immaturity and lots of prejudice, can subside to something more mature and laissez faire. Once we can deal with sex like adults, we can stop othering folks for all that LGBTQ stuff. It is not the whole of a person. It’s not even the most important stuff. It is just another piece of our puzzling selves that contributes to our beautiful, unique, and worthy selves. The point isn’t that we are all alike. The point is that our differences do no separate us.

PS, Authors Note: I have attempted to use the most respectful and neutral terms that I know of to describe diverse bodies and folks and sexualities. It is my hope to be able to talk about gender and sexuality with openness, honesty, and a little humor. If you feel as though I’ve made any large missteps, please do not hesitate to point those out.