“Nobody Wants To See That!”

“There are some people you just don’t want to see naked.”

This is a phrase I’ve heard bandied about so often that it almost seems like a truism, especially when I hear it from the mouths of people that I value and respect. These are, generally speaking, good open-minded people, and so when they say something that sounds so obvious, the first response I think is “well, yeah.”

Then I thought about it.

And I thought about what it meant. I thought “is this true?” and “is this shaming?” The answers were no, and yes.

The first question: Is this true? For me, no it isn’t. There is not a single body on this planet that I wouldn’t love to see with enough confidence, freedom from fear, and shamelessness to be exposed openly. If every person I saw walking down the street every day was nude without fear of reprisal or violence, without self-consciousness about their sexual appeal, and without the baffling moral notion that to be exposed is to somehow disrespect oneself, I’d be downright thrilled. I would look at each and every body with respect and pleasure, and there is no person on this earth that I would not want to see that way.

The second question is, I think, more important because it applies more to the rest of the world that doesn’t have my desire to liberate naked bodies. “Is this shaming?” Absolutely yes, and I think that’s a question that more of us need to ask ourselves every time we open our mouths. The shaming question goes back to an issue I’ve already tackled, the fact that sexuality and nudity are needlessly conflated, and that a body that is not sexually desirable is considered repugnant. “There are some people you just don’t want to see naked,” translates to, “If a body is not sexually appealing to me, it ought to be covered up.” There are many bodies in this world that are not sexually appealing to me – in fact, I’d venture to say most of them – but I have no right to expect my sexual preferences to control others’ bodies. Nor should those preferences affect the way others feel about their bodies.

So, you know. Think about what you say. Don’t say shaming crap. If you think you might possibly be saying shaming crap, imagine someone was saying it about you. If that hurts your feelings, then it’s shaming. Don’t say it.

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Prom: Slut-Shaming and Teen Sexuality

I am asking for trouble. I am begging for the internet world at large to hate on me. Am I this much of a masochist? Am I really going to go here?

Yeah, yeah I am. I’m a 25-year-old with no children, about to write a post about parenting teenagers.

The only excuse I can offer is that I was a teenager myself less than a decade ago. Please don’t kill me.

Recently I read this article regarding high school prom dress codes, and the accusation that they are “slut-shaming” female attendees through tight restrictions on acceptable female apparel in an attempt to avoid creating a “distraction.”

This is a deeply complex issue, and being not a parent I can’t even hope to cover every aspect of what’s happening here. But I will try to break it down into as many cogent pieces as possible.

First, let’s look at the motivation behind restrictive dress codes for female students. For anyone who has never read a school dress code, “distraction” is public school code for “boners.” The goal of these rules – which usually include provisions for length of skirts/shorts, exposure of bellies and cleavage, and general skin coverage –  is to prevent teenage girls from looking too sexually provocative and giving boys boners. That reasoning in itself is problematic because of its assumption that an exposed body is inherently sexual, a concern I have posted on at length already. Girls are being taught that to expose their body is to provoke sexual responses. If A, then B, no mitigating factors. Even the people militating against the dress-codes as “slut-shaming” are buying into this argument, because if an exposed body is not sexual, then there is no slut to shame, just a girl in shorts.

The exposure of the body is not necessarily sexual, but it certainly can be. Working from a position where girls are specifically wearing revealing clothing to look sexy, we can see a lot of reasons why they might be prevented from doing so:

1) Adults don’t believe teenage girls are capable of understanding and controlling their own sexual availability. If a girl looks like she wants sex, that might mean that she does. Obviously she’s too young to make informed sexual opinions, so if we make it LOOK like she’s not interested in being sexually provocative, then she will no longer BE interested. This argument is clearly fallacious. If you put a girl in a nun’s habit, it won’t actually change her sexual interests, it will just create a false front.

This particular issue is complicated by the fact that many teenage girls aren’t actually interested in being sexually provocative out of any sense of desire, but merely because that’s what girls are “supposed to” look like. Female teen sexuality is deeply damaged by the fact that many girls feel the need to exude sexual desirability, but without sexual desire of their own that goes with it. In this regard, I absolutely understand the impulse to control what she wears, so that she can be forgiven for not putting on a sexual facade she may not want in the first place. However, that’s something to have a conversation with a girl about, instead of simply legislating her wardrobe. If she feels uncomfortable among her peers because of sexual expectations, discuss them and work to change the expectations.

2) Adults don’t believe teenage boys are capable of controlling their own sexual impulses. We have a wealth of news stories about teen boys sexually assaulting girls, and the classic knee-jerk response is to try to make girls less sexually interesting to boys so that boys will stop doing awful things to them. The trouble with this is that we’re placing the onus on the girls – as usual – to control boys’ impulses, instead of teaching boys to control those impulses. Instead of teaching young people about consent, we’re trying to shut off their urges by concealing temptation. That’s simply not going to happen – and, worse, we’re punishing girls for supposedly creating these urges if they don’t properly conceal themselves.

3) Adults are uncomfortable viewing teenage girls as sexually desirable. A high school girl is, physically, pretty much an adult. She may grow another inch or two, she may gain half a cup size in college, but her body is a grown-up body. How I feel about her emotional or sexual maturity is a question for another insanely long post, but because of their physical maturity, adult authority figures become uncomfortable seeing sexually appealing teenage girls. They are unavailable due to the difference in social stratum, but stir desire nonetheless. That’s a little scary for a lot of people. (I’m not talking here about parents. I’m talking about teachers, administrators, chaperones.)

4) If a teenage girl dresses in a sexually provocative manner, adults believe that she is sexually active and that is “icky.” This one is more about the parents than the other authority figures. Many parents want to live under the illusion that their teenagers are not having sex. Most people start their sexual lives as teenagers, so this is very much an illusion. But it’s much easier to maintain the illusion that my (hypothetical) daughter is not having sex if she does not look sexy.

In the end, I’ll say that teen sex is incredibly problematic. I don’t think that sexually objectifying dress codes fix anything. If a girl shows up to prom in an outfit that causes concern among the adults, maybe ask her about it instead of sending her home. If the problem is that we’re worried whether teens are having safe, joyful, consensual sex lives, the issue is not her dress, it’s why she’s wearing it. If, as I suspect, the issue is not that we’re concerned about teenagers having healthy sex lives but are, rather, attempting to prevent teenagers from having sex lives at all, well then stop it. Just stop it. Restrictive dress-codes are about as effective at controlling teen sexuality as abstinence-only education: which is to say, not at all.

One last thing, and I promise it will be brief: a lot of folks have commented on the gender disparity between explanations of “appropriate” prom attire. I don’t know what kind of proms these people were going to, but all the ones I’ve seen the guys wear approximately one thing: a tux. It comes in colors, vest or no vest, bowtie or straight tie, but it’s all the damn same. It just is. The difference in rules isn’t sexist, it’s a fact of men’s formalwear. Whether or not the difference between men’s and women’s formalwear is inherently sexist is a question for not right now.

Preferred Pronouns – Asking a Hard Question

One of my pet projects in my silly little queer poly feminist sex-positive life is to deconstruct ideas of politeness, and thereby better understand why we treat people the way we do, and whether some attempts to be “polite” are actually undermining our abilities to be better people.

As always, I’m leading in with a big grand statement rather than just telling you what’s on my mind. As the title suggests, what is on my mind tonight is preferred pronouns. Knowing which pronoun to apply to a particular person is primarily a relevant concern for the queer community, but it should be an issue for consideration among all American English speakers. (I don’t know a damn thing about etiquette or linguistics in any other cultures or languages, so I won’t even try to speak to them [Haha, speak to them! See what I did there?])

It’s becoming an increasingly accepted practice among the queer community that when you meet a person who is not blatantly masculine or feminine – or, in many circles, when you meet anyone at all – you ask him/her/ze/them for his/her/zir/their preferred pronoun. If you somehow got on my blog and don’t know what I mean by that, here’s a for-instance.

I’ve just met someone at a party. It appears to me that this person is biologically male, but this person is wearing a dress and makeup. The individual is introduced to me as Robin. Robin’s gender is ambiguous to me, so I say to Robin, “Hello Robin, it’s very nice to meet you. What are your preferred pronouns?” Robin then tells me he, she, ze, they, or some variation. Sometimes a person will even tell me “I don’t care.” This discloses to me Robin’s chosen gender identity, thus preventing me from making incorrect assumptions and being offensive.

With me so far? Good.

This is me from the summer after 8th grade. Most of the bullshit from my classmates happened in middle school, but this is the closest pic to that time period that I could find.

This is me from the summer after 8th grade. Most of the bullshit from my classmates happened in middle school, but this is the closest pic to that time period that I could find.

For a long time, I had trouble accepting this custom. When I was growing up, I would have people ask me (or ask my friends) “are you a boy or a girl?” as an insult. I was never particularly androgynous, even at my most pubescently awkward stages. Yes, I admit, I often wore men’s jeans, and by the end of 8th grade I had a short haircut. But my figure was never terribly angular, in the typically masculine way. So that means that “are you a boy or a girl?” really meant, “you’re a very ugly girl.” And I didn’t enjoy that.

Additionally, asking someone for their preferred pronoun made me uncomfortable because I was raised to understand that even if you aren’t trying to be mean, asking someone “are you a boy or a girl?” is rude. And the reason that it’s rude is because you’re telling this person that you can’t tell his/her/zir/their gender just by looking. And, here’s the payoff, not being able to judge a person’s gender by sight is a bad thing. Thus, you don’t ask.

Well, I’ve reached a point in my life where I understand that gender is not a binary, that people don’t have to fit into an either-or world, and that even if a person wants to live in a concrete male or female gender identity, it doesn’t have to present itself through typical masculine/feminine visuals. What that means is that to look at a person and not be able to judge gender right away is not a negative reflection on that person. When I see someone and I can’t tell if that person is a man, a woman, neither or both, it doesn’t mean that person is failing at his/her/zir/their gender by being visually ambiguous. And therefore, asking someone about preferred pronouns respects his/her/zir/their personal choice to select a gender identity, and expresses my willingness to accept that identity, no matter what it is.

The important difference, I think, is that I’ve developed the understanding that gender identity is a choice. And by that I am not trying to invoke nature/nurture arguments, but simply to say that it doesn’t matter what a person looks like, or what kind of genitalia that person has: whatever identity a person discloses to me, that’s the truth.

Edit: I was looking so hard for this image when I wrote this post last night, but wasn’t able to get my hands on it. This has been the best visual aid for gender identification that I’ve ever come across. No, I didn’t create it, and unfortunately I don’t know who did or I’d be happy to give appropriate credit.270873_168099213351707_1010752796_n

No Means No, Even When You’re Famous – or – Seriously Guys, Leave Jon Hamm’s Penis Alone

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Love this show. Love it.

I am a proud and happy consumer of pop culture. I love television and popular music. While I’ve mentioned that my critical eye is hyper-active when I consume my pop-culture, consume it I do, sometimes voraciously. However, I admit that I am, generally speaking, not interested in the meta-pop-culture that is celebrities’ personal lives. While I love Mad Men, for instance, I could care less what kind of sandwiches Christina Hendricks ate last month, or who January Jones is having sex with, or how Vincent Kartheiser is styling his hair these days – off the set, that is.

But, when I came across this article entitled “Giant-Dicked Jon Hamm Really Wishes All Of You Would Stop Talking About His Giant Dick,” well, how could I resist that? It used the word dick twice in the headline alone – I’m obviously going to be interested. It turns out that Jon Hamm, the actor who portrays Don Draper on the aforementioned Mad Men, has been garnering a great deal of attention among the celebrity “news” media because of the visible bulge he creates in his pants.

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Taken from the “Jon Hamm’s Wang” tumblr.

And when I say “a great deal,” what I mean is that the article linked above is actually the second one on the subject by Uproxx, the first being called “Jon Hamm’s Penis Has Become a Disruptive Force on the Set of Mad Men.” (It’s a little scary to me how they phrased that, as if he was molesting his co-stars or something, rather than just looking more bulgy than his director would prefer.) Additionally, The Daily Beast referred to him as having a penis that is “Too Big For Clothing,” and, as if all the standard media attention is not enough, there’s also an entire tumblr dedicated to Jon Hamm’s penis. Seriously, I couldn’t make this up. A quick Google search revealed pages and pages of additional articles on the subject, as well as a long list of photos, many of which circled or highlighted the notorious bulge.

All of the attention Mr Hamm has been receiving, primarily in the form of tongue-in-cheek jokes about “Hamm’s ham,” has become rather too much for him, and he vented about it a bit to Rolling Stone magazine, saying that “it is a little rude. It just speaks to a broader freedom that people feel like they have – a prurience.” He adds, “They’re called ‘privates’ for a reason. I’m wearing pants, for fuck’s sake. Lay off. I mean, it’s not like I’m a fucking lead miner. There are harder jobs in the world. But when people feel the freedom to create Tumblr accounts about my cock, I feel like that wasn’t part of the deal.”

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Jon Hamm’s Rolling Stone cover

So, he’s telling us a lot of things here. First off, he is preemptively fighting the inevitable attack from we-the-non-famous-people, specifically that he lives a life of privilege in the spotlight and therefore can expect certain levels of gossip and exposure beyond that of the average private citizen, and that he views his privilege as paid for with that loss of privacy. That’s very big of you, Jon. I frankly disagree, but at this point despair of the possibility of ever rectifying the situation, so far gone are we in our love of celebrity. However, the more important thing he’s doing is telling the world that he feels uncomfortable about the way he’s being objectified, and that he doesn’t consent to it. He right out says, “lay off.” He tells Rolling Stone that being publicly hypersexualized without his consent isn’t a freedom that he thinks people ought to be taking, that it “wasn’t part of the deal” that comes with being famous. And he’s right. It is rude.

My opinion on the sexual objectification of another person’s body is the same as my opinion on any other sexual act. Its acceptability reaches only as far as consent. To be visible is to consent to be seen, but that’s it. If Jon Hamm is wearing tight pants, and you can see a bulge in them, you’re allowed to look. You’re even allowed to fantasize about it if you want. Rub one out, have a lovely time. But it doesn’t mean that he’s consented to this kind of public commentary based entirely around his genitalia. And in a free-speech-loving culture, yes, we do have every legal right to talk about it, to post paparazzi photos, and make jokes. These things aren’t illegal, but they are unkind, and they do create an environment where we believe it’s not only acceptable, but fun, to dehumanize celebrities.

So, annoyed with the disrespect being lavished upon his humanity, Hamm spoke out honestly and frankly with Rolling Stone magazine. Good for you, I say. But I seem to be the only one that said that. Uproxx, in the first article I linked to, had a totally different take on the situation. From word one, they mock Hamm for his affrontedness. No, really, I mean literally word one. “Seriously,” they lead off, before diving into a litany of sarcasm and mock empathy, calling his complaints to Rolling Stone “bitching,” and referring to him as “pissy.” They threaten his popularity, telling him that he’s “pushing it” by attempting to withhold consent to be made into a sexual object, and that “there are few things less endearing.”

The parallels here to victim-blaming are so stark they hurt my eyes when I read this article. How many times have women been sexually harassed and told to “take it as a compliment?” How many “prudes” and “ice queens” are there out there whose worst offense was being hurt when someone made an insensitive comment about their bodies? Now a man who, in his own words, wants his privates to stay private, is being decried as “pissy,” and is being threatened with social isolation if he doesn’t agree to play along with his own objectification. He’s being told, in essence, to “take it as a compliment.” Uproxx snarks “is there a worst lot in life than that of the handsome, famous celebrity with a giant penis, especially when the whole world knows about said handsome, famous celebrity’s giant penis?” The implication of course being that Hamm should be flattered by all the attention his cock is attracting. The world is looking at his huge penis, obviously that’s a good thing! And if Hamm relished in and encouraged the attention, then yes it would be a good thing. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t want it, and so that means the right thing to do is let it go.

Nudity, Sexuality, Body-Positivity: Why my sexiness (or lack thereof) has no bearing on my body-positive viewpoint.

Obviously this is all sex appeal. Photo by Allan Crain.

There is an idea in our culture that a naked human body is somehow inherently sexual. This is a fact that we take for granted in our everyday lives, to the point that I would be surprised if at least a few people didn’t read that sentence and think “wait, it’s not?” When I marched in the 2012 Pride parade wearing denim shorts and a pair of pasties, myself and a few other girls in similar garb were berated on the grounds that this was not “family friendly.” The implication there being, of course, that we were sexually explicit and therefore inappropriate for children’s eyes. We weren’t performing any sexual behaviors – we weren’t making out with each other, caressing our own or anyone else’s bodies, or making lewd gestures or comments. We simply had a whole lot of exposed skin. And frankly, at Pride, I think that ought to be ok, especially since it happens in June which in my city is approximately a billion degrees.

When Congressman Barney Frank was interviewed by CNS News regarding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in December of 2010, he was asked to address the issue of straight and homosexual men being required to shower together. His response was one of mock dismay, and he goes on to refer to it as a “silly issue,” asking “what is it you think goes on when you shower with homosexuals?”

The interviewer was offering the implication that if homosexual men were to share a shower with other men, heterosexual or otherwise, they would inevitably become aroused by the presence of naked male bodies. Because these men are attracted to men, being around them while nude will surely result in arousal. Congressmen Frank’s rebuttal is that showering is not a sex act, and heterosexual men are not going to be threatened by the presence of homosexuals in their showers. He says that homosexuals, “don’t get [them]selves dry-cleaned, [they] tend to take showers.” He defuses the sexual innuendo of the interviewer’s question by comparing showering to laundry, and I am on board with his comparison. In many ways, showering is a lot closer to laundry than it is to sex, but because it involves naked bodies a sexual association is inevitably placed upon it.

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Pictured: Debi Laszewski, professional bodybuilder, personal trainer, and model.

This assumption is so far reaching that we take it for granted, but it has troubling implications. If the purpose of the naked body is solely to fuck, then its sexual appeal becomes the most important measure of its worth. This is not only utterly wrong but often downright foolish. Here’s a not-very-funny story: I have a friend who is a college professor and body builder. He told me a story about a 19-year-old male student who walked into his office one day and saw a photo on his desktop of an award-winning female body builder, a friend of his. The student’s immediate reaction was “I wouldn’t fuck THAT!”

Needless to say, the student got an earful from his professor, but my simple response to this mindless outburst would be simply “so what?” This woman is taking mindful control of her body, and winning awards for it. It is hers to design and build to her specifications, and she prizes it enough to pit herself against other bodies in competition – and comes out on top! Yet somehow this young man seemed to think that his sexual desire – or lack thereof – for this woman was a legitimate basis on which to judge her body. He intentionally disparaged her body solely because he did not want to have sex with it. That’s more than mean, that’s insane.

This train of thinking about nudity, sexuality, and sexual desirability, makes the body-positivity movement immensely more difficult to propagate. I’ve heard people issue “reassurance” to women about their bodies by telling them, in essence, “there’s somebody out there who’s into that.” If the best thing you can tell a woman insecure about her naked body is that there’s someone in the world who’d want to fuck it, you’ve got an utterly warped sense of the human body. Telling women that they don’t have to conform to the Western white-hetero-middle-class ideals of beauty is a good start. Tell women that they don’t have to look like a Victoria’s Secret model. But don’t tell them that the reason they don’t have to look that way is because someone will still think they’re sexy. It’s probably true, and it’s good to feel sexy. But how fuckable a person’s body is doesn’t measure the value of that body.

People’s bodies are constantly judged with a sexual slant. Men disparage female body builders because nobody wants a woman who looks “like a man.” A sexy photograph of a tattooed woman on Facebook got the comment, “Interesting post but someday she’s gonna want to just git nekkid with someone…” These comments are not only disparaging a person’s body based on its sexual appeal, they’re judging people based on the bodies they’ve created ON PURPOSE. This is important to me.

I think the judgment of a modded body is different from the more common (but equally reprehensible) activities of fat-bashing and thin-bashing and judgment of any sort of natural bodily design. Those kinds of comments carry the implication that the person being judged is somehow unfortunate, that they should change their body to improve it, because obviously no one WANTS to be “like that,” whether the “that” in question is fat, thin, small breasted, large-assed, whatever. There’s a different flavor of ignorance there, that the person is somehow incomplete or needs improvement.

When someone flings sexually-based judgments at a modded body, it’s as if they’re saying the person has done something wrong. “Your body is for my enjoyment, so what on earth compelled you to do that to it?” seems to be the question. It’s almost accusatory.

I know that distinction was a bit of a transgression from my point, so I’ll bring it back around. In both cases, bodies are being viewed in terms of whether or not people want to have sex with them. And really, the only people I care about when it comes to their opinion on my fuckability, are my partners. My body image ought not to be based on my “attractiveness.” (I say ought not to because I’ll admit I get hung up on it too.) It should be based on what I’ve done with it, and whether my treatment of my body is what I desire, and whether said treatment is obtaining the desired results. For example, I’m incredibly pleased and satisfied with the tattoo on my back. I’m less pleased and satisfied with the current shape of my legs, because I don’t run as often as I want to. I’m not displeased with my legs because they aren’t sexy: I’m displeased because I’m working toward a goal and am not achieving it to my personal satisfaction.

My sister likes to argue with me over the term body-positivity, and say that really it ought to be body-neutrality. Bodies are not inherently positive OR negative, and we do not have the right to judge or shame the bodies of others. Thus, neutral. I’ll agree with that; however body-positivity for me isn’t necessarily the same as self-love, -image, or -esteem. Body positivity is about accepting other people’s body choices as their own, and encouraging their intentional bodies. I will confess a distaste for people with apathy toward their own bodies. But if you are owning and creating your body to your personal specifications, you are what body-positivity is about for me. I don’t care if you love yourself, or if you look in the mirror and feel pretty, or whatever. It’s about acknowledging your body as your instrument, and owning its shape and maintenance. It’s about self-consciousness, rather than self-esteem. And it’s completely incompatible with the sexual objectification of the naked body, which is all about becoming desirable to a non-existent and unreachable public opinion. The non-consensual sexualization of my body destroys my agency by framing it in terms I didn’t choose or create, based on a standard that is ill-defined and worse-understood. It cannot possibly coexist with my idea of body-positivity, and frankly I like my opinions better.

Throwing Out The Baby With The Bathwater – Sexual Hygiene and Advertising

One of the issues that often gets all wrapped up in feminism and empowerment is vaginal odor. How are vaginas supposed to smell? How are we supposed to clean them? These are surprisingly fraught questions, considering we don’t think that hard about any other part of our bodies. I don’t see a lot of political groups campaigning against deodorant or shampoo, though sexism is rampant in those ads as well. But feminists get really angry about advertising for any sort of vaginal hygiene product. I’m not going to say that those ads aren’t regularly sexist, because they are. The difference is that instead of attacking the sexist ad campaign, people are opposing the product being advertised.

deodorant adHere’s an example. This is a men’s deodorant ad. It’s a fairly typical sexualized rendition of a woman, with the added bonus that she is rendered non-threatening by cooking a turkey in a 1950’s style oven (subtle, right?). The tag line, “Can she make you lose control?” tells us how desirable she is, and that this deodorant is SO amazing that you can look at her and not get all sweaty. Right. I’m not going to even bother with the issues of male sexuality and their depiction in mass media in this post, so that’s enough said for that ad.

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Click through to see the full-size image and read the text.

Switch to a women’s deodorant ad. Here we have…well…a fairly typical sexualized rendition of a woman, though in this case she is posed to be less “come-hither” and more “look-at-me!” But here we’re supposed to want to BE the woman, because she is brave, and look at how she waves that scarf around. We’re ready to expose our skin because this product has made that skin acceptable to be seen in public. (Don’t even get me started on advertising for razor blades along those lines.)

My point is, we can look at these ads and say “why yes, those are sexist and stupid,” without throwing away all our deodorant.

Here’s my stance on the whole line of vaginal hygiene products. Douching, and anything that is designed to rinse out the inside of your vagina is scary and dangerous and bad for you. Don’t do it. However, a lot of the companies that make douches also make body washes designed to be used externally, that clean your vulva without interfering with the natural pH levels the way soap does. I think that’s pretty great. Eve Ensler wrote, in the ever-famous Vagina Monologues, “I don’t want my pussy to smell like rain.” I don’t either, Eve. However, I also don’t want it to smell like I just came home from the gym – you know, after I come home from the gym. I don’t want lingering male fluids getting unpleasant after I have sex. And I don’t agree that “just water” is the right way to clean it. It’s true that soap is harsh and you shouldn’t use it. But for fuck’s sake, it’s 2013, and science has produced products that you CAN use on your vulva and not screw up your pH balance. And you can buy ones that smell like nothing. Not like roses, or rain. They have no scent at all. They just clean off the gym-sweat or the cum or the stubborn blood stains during shark week, without making me smell like I’m trying to perfume away my natural vaginal odor. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

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Click through to see the full-size image and read the text.

On the other hand, there is something very obviously wrong with the way these products are sold to us. They aren’t pitched for the uses I described above – they’re not just another soap or deodorant. Having a clean vagina, we are led to believe, makes us better women.

This is not an article in a magazine that just happens to have a Summer’s Eve ad underneath it. This whole page is the ad. Yes, that’s right, they wrote up an entire bogus article on being a strong professional woman, only to turn it around at the end and tell you that the best way to be successful is to have a pleasant smelling vagina. Thank you, Summer’s Eve, for reducing my worth to my sexual organs and their hygiene. Fun fact: unless a woman is suffering from a serious infection, a vagina cannot be smelled from across the room. I promise, no woman’s boss will ever judge her based on vaginal cleanliness, unless said boss is fucking her. And that just made this ad go from annoying to creepy.

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Click through to see the full-size image and read the text.

This one I just…I hardly know where to begin. Helen of Troy was already the most beautiful woman in the world, but if only she had tried OUR products! Really? Did that really make it into print? The most legendary beauty in Western history: well, she was pretty great, but she would have been better if she douched. A woman’s value, in this case her beauty, once again dependent upon how she cleans her vagina. What the hell.

My point is, these ads are stupid and terrible, but so are those deodorant ads. Just because the ideology that a product is trying to sell us is complete sexist tripe doesn’t mean that the product itself is worthless. A woman shouldn’t measure her value by how much her vagina smells like flowers, or soap, or vagina; but that doesn’t mean she necessarily ought not to use a cleaning product. The Secret ad is trying to sell me self-confidence, and I reject their shallow notion of confidence, but I’m still going to buy deodorant. Summer’s Eve is trying to sell us self-worth, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t just buy body wash.

Star Speaks Out, Part 2: Feminism and a Man’s Right to Desire

This blog was originally posted in Life on the Swingset on January 30, 2013.

I want to initially apologize for writing so deeply within a heteronormative frame of reference, but let’s face it, that’s the world we live in. Many of the issues I find myself confronting when it comes to rape culture and sex-positivity are within the context of stereotypical masculine and feminine traits: the ways that men lust after women, the feelings women have toward one another regarding competition for men, and the way women “ought to” feel about being desired by men. There are worlds of other issues when we consider queer issues alongside this, but mine is just a humble blog and I don’t quite have the training under my belt for all that.

So, now that that’s out of the way, I want to talk about the shame we associate with desire, and how that translates into sex-negativity and rape culture. A friend of mine was discussing with me the Facebook photo referenced in my previous post, and he commented that “Let’s say it is tantalizing: the real issue is that you don’t get to jump on it just because you’re tantalized. […] we (men) can feel sexual, feel attraction, and can (must!) choose our humanity over the leg humping reaction.” While this seems to be a simple affirmation of any sex-positive woman’s argument, that just because you want it doesn’t mean you can have it, it also reminded me that there’s another issue at hand: a man’s right to want it in the first place!

A sickeningly saccharine and unintentionally harmful blog post entitled “Ten Things I Want to Tell Teenage Girls,” advises young women as they enter into their burgeoning sexuality, that boys will desire them, and that’s bad. She says:

If you choose to wear shirts that show off your boobs, you will attract boys. To be more specific, you will attract the kind of boys that like to look down girls’ shirts. If you want to date a guy who likes to look at other girls’ boobs and chase skirts, then great job; keep it up. If you don’t want to date a guy who ogles at the breasts of other women, then maybe you should stop offering your own breasts up for the ogling. All attention is not equal. You think you want attention, but you don’t. You want respect.

There are so many issues with these few short sentences, I don’t know where to begin! She believes that she is empowering young women to demand respect by concealing their bodies. Because it is, in her mind, obvious that any woman who is sexually desirable is not respectable, and that to gain respect you have to withhold sex.

Furthermore, she is demonizing any man who likes to look at breasts (which I think she fails to realize is all of them.) In her mind, for a man to look upon a woman with desire is immediately to disrespect her, because…well, actually I don’t know because why. Because only bad girls have sex? Because men don’t have sex with women they respect, they just marry them? Because being sexually objectified is mutually exclusive with being personally valued? Beats me on the because, but the message is clear that “boys that like to look down girls’ shirts” are not boys you want to be with. Men who desire women are bad men. The comment “You think you want attention, but you don’t. You want respect,” (apart from being incredibly demeaning by telling her readers what they really want, because obviously she knows better) is making the blatant assumption that attention and respect are mutually exclusive.

A view of male sexuality where any man who lusts after a woman is the kind of man you’re too good for creates a confusing, warped framework for a relationship. Where does sexuality fit into a romantic relationship, if women intentionally select men who don’t express sexual desire? My friend that I mentioned earlier was “called out” in an internet discussion because in his profile picture – a lovely photo from his wedding where both parties are positively glowing with bliss – he appears to be gazing at his wife’s breasts. He was criticized for looking at his own wife’s body. I’m going to say that again, because it baffles me so utterly. He was judged, not for checking out random women at the club, not for watching pornography or objectifying his waitress, but for looking at his wife in a way the critic perceived as lustful.

While I’m 100% in support of the idea that a man’s desire for a woman does not instill in him any rights regarding her body, it’s insane to think that for a man to desire a woman at all somehow makes him a lesser man. I sure as hell don’t want a romantic relationship with a man who doesn’t want to fuck me. What would I do with him? It would either be a friendship, or one of those tragic suburban sexless marriages.

Conversely, because women should be vying for “respect” instead of attention, a woman who desires sex, and likes or is attracted to men who lust after her, must have low self-esteem and she just isn’t brave enough to pursue what she really wants. As my friend put it in his own blog, “Our culture for a long time and on both sides of the Liberal-Conservative divide, has imagined that young women have a choice among two alternatives: you can like good boys or bad boys, depending on your level of self-esteem.” Good boys are the kind who “respect” women, bad boys are the kind who look at breasts.

This sort of ideology is often confuscated with feminism, because feminists fight for the rights of women to be treated like people, and sexual desire is often lumped in with simple objectification as a stripping of women’s rights. Unfortunately the distinction between misogynistic objectification, and healthy sexual desire, is often subtle. If a man is staring at my breasts, does he think of me as a worthless piece of flesh, or does he just find my breasts attractive? Has he stopped viewing me as a human being? In that moment of being looked at, I don’t know. But to hate all expressions of lust because they might imply that I’m being objectified and dehumanized is incredibly pessimistic. It’s a salt-the-earth approach to women’s sexual rights.

All of these points are related, so here’s the part where I wrap it all up in a neat little bow.

If sex’s value is based on its unavailability, then the less men desire you, and the fewer men have access to your sexuality, the more you’re worth. Therefore, the more you desire sex, and the more you access your sexuality, the less you and it are worth, and therefore men have the right to take it from you at their leisure. Valuing yourself means avoiding sex and the men who want to have it with you. Men who sexually desire women inherently disrespect them because they want to lower their sexual property value.

This is the sex-negative argument in a propaganda-free, totally not feel-good nutshell.

My sex-positive lifestyle argument is that sex is good, and my body isn’t a commodity. Wanting to fuck me is awesome, and I encourage it. Men, women, and anyone in between have the right to desire me, and to look upon any part of my body exposed to their view. That right does not imply any additional rights regarding touching me, or even addressing me impolitely. I have had many sexual partners over the course of my lifetime, and I would like to have more. Each person I have had sex with does not make the next person’s experience of fucking me any less valuable. Giving my body freely with my consent to another does not mean that I can be assumed to give it away for free.

Star Speaks Out, Part 1: A Non-Monogamist’s take on Sex-Positivity, Exhibitionism, and Rape Culture

This blog was originally posted in Life on the Swingset on January 23, 2013.

Alternately titled, let’s see how many current events buzz-words I can fit into one title.

Recently I’ve become very interested in the debates surrounding American rape culture, specifically its intersections with sex-positivity and feminism. I stipulate “American” rape culture, because the cultural norms and expectations that produce drunken frat-party violations are vastly different from those that produced the recent gang-rape reported in India, or others outside our Western frame of reference.

As a sex-positive non-monogamist, I often feel that in the mono-normative world where sex is a commodity, subject to supply and demand, my sexuality is devalued and I am one of “those women.” Those women are the bad girls, the promiscuous girls, the ones who (gasp!) like to have sex. We’ve all heard the phrase “no one will buy the cow when they can get the milk for free,” and when I refer to the commodification of sex, that’s the perfect accessible example. People, and women especially, are taught that sex is a good that we have to offer someone else, and that we have to preserve, and even amplify, the value of that good. We make our sexuality more valuable by decreasing the supply, to thereby increase demand. Because apparently my vagina is a widget.

(Please don’t confuse this symbolic commodification of women’s sexualities by mono-normative society as the same as the literal commodification of a woman’s sexuality in the cases of pornography, prostitution, or stripping. These are their own issues, involving another scale of consent, objectification, and economics. That’s not what I’m talking about here.)

The worldwide SlutWalk organization has coined the slogan “still not asking for it,” to encapsulate their philosophy that a woman’s personal behavior is never an invitation for sexual contact, and consent has to be offered, rather than assumed. I think the reason that these sorts of organizations even have to make those sorts of slogans, is because if a woman’s sexuality is a commodity, wherein its value is based on its availability, then a woman who is sex-positive, sexually active, or just confident enough to display her body, has a low to non-existent sexual value. Thus, sex with her can or should be “free.” Payment, in the forms of consent and mutual enjoyment, is unnecessary because her sexuality has no value. This sounds like the view of a sociopath when put forth that explicitly, but I’ve seen comments from average men (and worse, other women!) in internet forums that put forth this very idea in less direct terms. A woman at a SlutWalk stood topless with body-paint proclaiming “Still Not Asking For It,” and one woman’s comment on this Facebook photo was “I love and respect my body to the point where only one man deserves to look at my naked breasts.” The point she’s making is that she believes that her body and her sexuality will decrease in value the more people it is exposed to. That if she exposes her breasts to other men, that means that they will be worth less because the sight is something someone has to “deserve.”

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My wardrobe choice for the Pride parade in 2012. Photo by Allan Crain.

Let’s connect this to me, the sex-pos polyamorous exhibitionist. Yesterday, I intentionally wore a revealing, provocative outfit to work because I wanted to be looked at. I felt delightfully objectified as I saw my friends, coworkers, and customers staring at my body. One of the men I work with said it took him at least the first hour of the shift before he wasn’t staring at my ass constantly. I love and respect my body to the point where I want every damn person to look at it, and beyond that to the point that I believe that even if every person on this earth saw my naked body, that wouldn’t give a single one of them the right to touch it without my consent. I believe that the value of my body is not based on who I hide it from, it’s based on my value as a person, a human being with rights.

Another Facebook comment, also by a woman, on the aforementioned photo, said, “Keep that shit in the privacy of your own home, and maybe you wouldn’t be giving off slutty vibes to everyone. You don’t buy a fucking skin tight dress that pretty much shows your breasts and beaver just because you want to, you do it to get looks from others, and guess what BAD PEOPLE LOOK TOO.” (Internet-style typos corrected.) She’s telling us two important things. One is that she believes that “giving off slutty vibes” is inherently bad, and puts a woman in the position of being in the wrong even before she may be violated. She later says “You walk around like a slut you will get treated like one.” Which, to those of us who value sluts, and the freedom to be one as a life choice, sounds like a fine deal. Treated like a slut? Ok, great, that means you’ll respect my sexual decisions, which happen to be open and varied. That is, of course, not what she means. When she says I may be “treated like a slut,” she means treated like my sexuality has no value, and that I don’t deserve respect because I don’t demand it in the traditional method of hiding and fearing my own body. Her other point is a more subtle and insidious implication. When she says that dressing slutty is an invitation for people to look, and that this will include “bad people,” i.e. rapists, what’s she’s quietly implying is that the invitation to look is an invitation to touch, to molest. That simply being exposed and gazed at, and allowing herself to be seen by “bad people,” she deserves whatever she gets, because the responsibility for respect is not being placed upon the toucher, but the touched.

Eve Ensler‘s piece from the Vagina Monologues entitled “My Short Skirt,” comes so close to hitting the nail on the head for me. She says “My short skirt is not an invitation, a provocation, an indication, that I want it, or give it.” Yes, Ms. Ensler! True! She also says, “My short skirt, believe it or not, has nothing to do with you.” Well, maybe she misses the mark a bit. My short skirt has everything to do with you. Unless I wear my short skirt all alone in my living room, my short skirt is for you to look upon, for you to see me and consider my body, with desire, disgust, confusion, or whatever feeling moves you. It is not an invitation to touch or to approach, but it is present to your gaze and you may look, because that’s why we choose any clothing. Unless we’re wearing camouflage, when we pick our clothes we’re picking what we want people to see when they look at us.

As any active kinkster or swinger can tell you, consent is king in our minority communities. The sort of behavior shrugged at by the general public, things like street harassment, or unwanted touching by friends or peers, are absolute taboo within the context of a dungeon or a swinger party. I admit I’m reaching a bit out of my element regarding swing clubs/parties as I’ve never been to one, but as I understand the rules are very similar to that of a dungeon, where I do have quite a bit of experience. In these environments it is simply unacceptable to touch another person without their explicit consent, even if they are stark naked, sexually aroused, or otherwise wildly desirable. Because these communities know that our desires do not convey to us any rights.

This is already becoming very long, so I’ve decided to split the post into two. Tune in next time for the tie-in to feminism, and the issue of respect for sexual men as well as women.

Body Positivity and Penis Size – What You Have versus What It Does

This blog was originally posted in Life on the Swingset on May 23, 2012.

I will confess, this post is not directly about swinging, poly, etc. However, as a sexually liberated group, I felt like I needed to share my feelings on a particular issue with this readership. Penis size judgement.

I have fallen madly in love with the body-positive movement. Let’s do away with body shaming of all kinds, and teach people who the only person who needs to love a body is its owner. Your value judgment is not a part of my body. I am in favor of this, and women everywhere are learning to embrace their ribs, their rolls, their nose hairs and the weird-shaped freckles on their nipples. We the body-positive are, slowly but surely, empowering the world. But we are falling down on the job in one crucial area.

I recently read an article online entitled Is a Small Penis a Feminist Issue? The writer of this article avers that while she really wants to be egalitarian, and tell men that all penises are equally beautiful and valuable, she can’t because “preference aside, we all know that different dicks feel different.” What she’s saying is not a lie, but she has utterly missed the point. Yes, it’s true, different dicks do feel different, but that doesn’t matter. The value of a penis is not its relationship to a vagina, or an asshole, or a mouth, or anything other than itself. Making someone else feel good does not determine whether a penis is good any more than being aesthetically appealing to a male determines whether a pair of breasts is good.

If we can shout from the roof-tops that all our bodies are beautiful, and all our bodies are good, why are we still treating penises like tools that only exist for their use-value? Women are embracing their vaginas for what they are, but penises are still viewed in light of what they do. It is true that there is a cultural idea that women are and men do. Women are for looking at. Men do things, make things, work. And because the idea of body-positivity is primarily centered around aesthetics, I suppose it is unsurprising that it caught on for women’s genitals faster than men’s. There are lots of books full of photos of vulvas, so that they can be looked upon and admired in all shapes and sizes. This is good. If there is a book like that of penises, someone please point me toward it. I want it for the human sexuality library at my job. Because I have never heard of such a thing.

I’m not trying to say that we don’t have the right to preferences. I have them, certainly. I know what I like and what I don’t, and I am allowed to have that. What I’m not allowed to do is act like my preference in what kind of penis makes my body feel good is the same thing as deciding what kind of penis is good. The author of this article tries to work her way toward this conclusion when she says that “like having fat, we tend to treat having a small penis like a character flaw. These aren’t character flaws!” She edges her way toward the right answer, but winds up her article going right back to the issue of what women like as the judgment of whether the penis is good.

Her final conclusion is that “Sure, there are women for whom a small dick is not a problem. But just like a lot of men are attracted to women with huge, perfect breasts, a lot of women prefer a big dick.”

First of all, her use of the term “perfect breasts” made me die a little inside, but while it’s a symptom of her overall misunderstanding of body positivity, it’s not what I’m discussing right now. The question of whether or not having a small penis is a “problem” is answered solely in terms of what women prefer. Having a small dick is a problem for some women. That may be true, but that’s the woman’s problem, not the penis’s. I wouldn’t be able to survive in this world if I thought that the value of my breasts, or my vulva, or any part of me, was determined by how much another person liked it. No more should any man think that the beauty and value of his penis are determined by how well it can please someone else.