I took lots and lots of photos today. It will take me some time to go through them. Meanwhile….
What We Could Try Instead of Sunday Assemblies
Well, I just had a thought and I’d like to run it by everyone. This isn’t a well-developed idea, just something that was running through my mind as I was making that second cup of coffee.
Now, if anyone is actually happy with the Sunday Assemblies and similar concepts, keep on going to them. I know I’ve mocked them, but at some level I just have to admit they are simply not to my taste. Enough people have made similar gripes, so I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. It occurred to me that maybe we should take a page out of the practices of a different religious group.
Christian Scientists make skeptics more than a bit irate due to their position on medicine, and I’m sure that the fact that I’ve borrowed the idea from Christian Scientists will not thrill anyone. First, I would like to mention that I have a few close personal friends who are Christian Scientists and, except for their position on medicine, they’re not any crazier than any other believers. It might also be worth adding here that they don’t actually believe in faith healing. Christian Science was related to the Transcendental Movement. For those of you who are not from the U.S., Transcendentalism was a religious movement that arose in the United States in the nineteenth century. You can see its very American nature in its emphasis on individualism and self-reliance. Originally it grew out of Unitarianism and incorporated elements of Idealism, Romanticism, Swedenborgianism and Hinduism. A variety of American religious and philosophical movements grew out of Transcendentalism.
The aspect of Christian Science that I think could be very useful for atheists, agnostics, skeptics and related groups is the Christian Science Reading Room. If you live in the U.S., you’ve almost certainly walked by one. It is seen as a public service and is both a library and a bookstore.
They were created to provide both a quiet place for reading, study and prayer and a means for the public to come into contact with Christian Science.
I think this idea would be especially amenable for atheism. Were it ever created, I would hope that we could follow our own principles about “free-thought” and not be too terribly narrow in what we included.
Any thoughts on this?
Connecting Ideas About Wifely Submission
As everybody can probably guess, I just love love love Dan Savage. I’ve definitely disagreed with him on occasion, but he’s right far more often than he’s wrong. More than anything, I grew up in a culture that was not ashamed of sex, where I was told that sexual pleasure was normal, natural and good, and I love that Dan Savage unapologetically continues advocating for that when so many other people have become mealy-mouthed on the subject.
My mother very much wanted to raise strong, independent minded women who were not ashamed of their bodies or normal sexual desires. Needless to say, she wasn’t anything like Michelle Duggar. We didn’t have “rules”, just advice and suggestions.
No one is going to put my mother on the cover of any magazines soon because her opinions on sex are highly commonplace for women of her generation. As the old saw goes, Dog Bites Man is not news, Man Bites Dog is news, and the Duggars are better than twenty-one men biting twenty-one dogs in tutus and tiaras. Consequently, Michelle Duggar, with her highly unusual opinions about women’s sexual behavior gets her own tv show and magazine covers announcing “Our Rules for Sex and Love.”
Really, you almost have to feel bad for Dan Savage, sitting in a barber shop, having the two eldest Duggar daughters smiling at him over that come hither headline. The man has made a career out of being a bold advice columnist writing primarily about relationships and sex and here are two young women, living in a religious cult version of Plato’s cave, talking about their parents’ rules for sex and love. It’s almost like a provocation.
(Note to Dan Savage’s barber: Get better reading material.)
As Savage notes in his column, the Duggars are not just a few individuals with quirky ideas. They are a politically active family that would like to remake the rest of us in their image.
One of the rules for marriage they are promoting is that a woman can never say no to sex. Via Savage:
And once a Duggar girl is married, says Mom, she is never allowed to say no to sex. “Duggar women don’t get headaches,” Michelle told Us. “You always need to be available when he calls.” And if you’re not always available—if you do get a headache, or you’re just not in the mood one night, or if turns out that your husband prefers Dad’s auditions—then you’re to blame when your husband cheats on you.
Sometimes, I am under the impression that we in the United States are a little bit naive. We have lived in a modern society for so long that it really doesn’t register in our minds what the full impact of these ideas might be. Michelle Duggar is not horrifying to us because we know that she lives in the U.S. and if she wanted to leave Jim Bob Duggar she could. There is little preventing her legally, or in society as a whole.
Shortly after reading Savage’s opinion of the Duggars, I came across a blog post that put Michelle Duggar’s comment about how she must always be sexually available for her husband in context. It was an email from a woman who lives in a culture where wifely submission is the norm. It was written to Pakistani-Canadian illustrator and blogger, Eiynah who writes about sexuality on her website Nice Mangos. In this email, the writer, who lives in Pakistan, says that she’s sharing her story because “so that other women may speak up if this is happening to them.”
The writer, who reports being intimidated by her husband, was in labor with her second child. Her husband went to a friend’s party while she went to the hospital alone. Eventually, however, he showed up.
Immediately after the birth of my child he spoke to the hospital staff, stating that our first born was still a toddler, and that I was needed at home because of that. I was discharged within 6 hours.
I don’t know what is the norm, but it is clear that she was discharged according to his needs, not hers. Afterwards, she was in excruciating pain from the episiotomy.
As soon as I got home, I was expected to care for all my in laws, cook and clean for them as well as look after my two children. An impossible feat when one can barely stand. The first days after child-birth, you need pampering, as any new mother will tell you. You need to be looked after and you need to recover. You need all the help you can get. And to have two children under four, is extremely exhausting. To be expected to cook and clean and wait on people as soon as you enter the house, borders on some sort of abuse. It is abuse actually, now that I look back on it. I don’t know how I managed. But somehow I did, because I had no choice. I was expected to take over the house work, because I was the ‘daughter-in-law’ and that was my role. If I refused the consequences could have been worse. I got through it somehow, but I would never wish it upon anyone.
Then we see the result of a society in which women are not allowed to ever refuse sex to their husbands.
On the third day after my delivery my husband tried to initiate intercourse and I told him (hesitantly) that I had stitches, and that the doctor had told us to refrain for 40 days as well. Then he got mad (as he often did) and I was terrified of him going elsewhere to satisfy his sexual needs so I decided to just let him do what he wanted. He said he ‘needed’ it, and that nothing would happen.
He said that I shouldn’t refuse him sex because then he would have to go elsewhere for it. He could tell that I was in pain and he continued anyway, my body had tensed up, I told him that I was worried my stitches would tear, and he told me it would be ok, because he would be careful.
After that experience I was bleeding excessively and had to continue doing the housework for the whole household including waiting on my in-laws. At my next doctors visit, I told my doctor that we had had sex on the third day and she was very shocked and upset. She told me that we had to refrain. But even after that we continued having sex every four or five days (not my choice). I have never refused my husband sex, ever. Its just not an option. I was raised to keep the peace and please my husband.
Many years later, we obviously don’t have a great relationship. But I continue to do what I need to, to keep my marriage going.
Even in cultures where men are clearly dominant in a relationship, there are kind, caring men who would never dream of behaving in this way. However, if someone has the misfortune to be married to someone who is not, she has no recourse. The ethos the Duggars are promoting can only seem benign the context of the United States where we know that the wider society does not enforce these beliefs, but let’s not kid ourselves about what this would mean for some women if it were widely embraced. We have moved away from these attitudes because over the decades women have agitated to change them.
Why I Am Not a Dyke
I just finished reading a great, long article, on BuzzFeed of all places, “Inconspicuous Consumption“, about tuberculosis. The highbrow side of me feels like I should write something about the importance of public health measures in combating diseases, or something other thing of that ilk. I have a couple of pages about the low rate of vaccination in France open in a couple of browser tags. However, that, ahem, not so highbrow side of me couldn’t resist some of the click bait more typical of BuzzFeed, so, instead of following up the article with my original thought of tracking down that article I read a couple of weeks ago saying that the difference between the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the SARS outbreak in Asia a decade ago had to do with the effectiveness of the government response, I found myself reading “70 Thoughts You Have When You Realize You’re a Stereotypical Lesbian.” It reminded me of why I am not a lesbian.
Many, many moons ago, when I was just an adorable little wisp of a thing, a little artsy-fartsy barely twenty-something trying to survive in New York City on crummy low-level, hourly wage, no benefits, no vacation jobs, I landed a steady job at a call center. The company had goals that no caller should wait longer than a certain length of time, perhaps one or two minutes. This policy meant that the floor was well staffed and there was, for periods during the day, plenty of time to converse with the other employees between calls. I found myself regularly sitting down next a slightly younger man recently arrived in New York City to live out his dream of writing the great American novel. We rapidly bonded over what I thought was a shared love of literature.
One day, as usual, I sat down next to him. He was on a call. I plugged in my headset, logged into the computer system and settled in for the morning shift.
He finished his call, then spun around in his chair to face me. “Admit it, you’re a dyke.”
“Come on. Why do you even bother trying to hide it?”
“I’m not trying to hide anything. I’m not a dyke.”
“Look, I’m gay. You can tell me.”
“Why are you insisting? What makes you think I’m a lesbian?”
“All of my female friends are lesbians. In fact, all of my closest friends are lesbians. Actually, I kind of wish I got along with gay men better. Maybe I’d get a date. Anyway, you and I get along far, far too well. I’ve never gotten along with a straight person as well. ‘Fess up! Have you ever slept with a woman.”
“See! I knew it! I’m never wrong.”
“Your ‘gaydar’….” I said, sarcastically rolling my eyes. “Well, my only real girlfriend always claimed to have perfect gaydar and she was certain I was straight.”
“Aha! Girlfriend! So this was more than a passing experiment.”
“Well, if it makes you feel better you can say I’m bisexual.”
“Bisexuals don’t exist!” He said. My ex girlfriend had said the same thing to me. “It’s just a stage on the way to admitting you’re gay.” At least that was a more open-minded response than my ex girlfriend had. Traitor. Nympho. Wolf in sheep’s clothing.
I had read some of his autobiographical short stories based on his youthful experimentation with other boys. I tried to explain to him that dykes weren’t like fags. They weren’t distinguished mainly by their sexual desire for women. I described to him the radical lesbian feminist separatists I knew in college.
“You,” he said authoritatively, “need to meet some lipstick lesbians.”
Actually, I wouldn’t hear that term in the media for at least another year or two. Today, with the internet, a term like that wouldn’t linger in a subculture quite as long before becoming mainstream. However, this really marked a major change in lesbian culture in the U.S. The women he introduced me to were only a few years younger than I was, but they were growing up in a different world. Many of them were still in college, most of them at NYU. I felt slightly awkward, like an adult among a group of teenagers, which I essentially was. There was a pretty blond girl at a party in Brooklyn who I thought was flirting with me. At one point in the evening, we wound up lounging in a corner on a cluster of cushions on the floor. She said she was seventeen and still in high school. Suddenly, I felt really weird. If she had been a heterosexual boy who was certain he wanted to sleep with me, I would have had no qualms about taking him home with me. She said she wasn’t certain if she was gay or straight, but she wanted to try sleeping with a woman. If we had been peers, I would have had no qualms about it, either. I’ve never quite understand why it didn’t feel right, but it didn’t, and I left the party alone. I would go to a few more of those parties, but I always felt a bit on the outside, even though few were as young as that girl and none were younger. I looked young for my age, at the time. Teenagers were always walking up to me thinking I was one of them. So, the fact that I felt out-of-place was probably me. Maybe working, rather than being in school, puts you in a different place in your life. In terms of how they dressed, the music they listened to, what they did in their free time, they were far more like me than the lesbians I had known in school.
Mostly, though, while I’ve gotten along with individual lesbians, I’ve rarely ever gotten along with a group. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m fighting or arguing, just that I’m not interested in the things they’re interested in and I wind up drifting away.
So, when I saw the admittedly silly BuzzFeed list, I felt slightly irked. Not rage filled, or even mildly angry at being excluded. More like resigned, and I thought to myself, eh, yeah, I guess that’s why I’m not a dyke.
I don’t own a single flannel shirt. I suppose I could date a woman who owned one, provided she didn’t wear it often. I don’t get the fascination with softball. Why softball? Actually, I don’t like sports. I liked horseback riding when I was younger, but isn’t that a classic straight girl obsession. I wasn’t even obsessed by it. Hiking’s nice. Actually, long walks outdoors are nice. I call it hiking to make myself sound sportier. Honestly, I was the artsy type, you know, the kind who’s coordinated enough to dance, but not to play sports.
I didn’t go to a women’s college. My older sister, who is very straight did. She probably has had more lesbian friends that I have.
I’ve had my hair short more than I’ve had it long, on the other hand, until I took up the keyboard recently, I had very long nails. Men were always asking me to scratch their backs.
As far as wearing men’s clothes goes, I like a lot of men’s clothes, but I don’t really have the body for them. Too much ass. (Hey, maybe I should say “too little waist!”) The list also mentioned something called “snapbacks.” I’m not really sure what that is.
Anyway, I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. I know it was a stupid list, but I just read it and felt like “groan, groan, groan.” At least gay men have a multiple stereotypes, although that might not be much of a consolation. My writer buddy at work never really did fit in to any of them.
It might be counterintuitive, but ultimately I found the straight world, or at least a world in which straight people were a majority, to be far more welcoming than women oriented social milieus.
Inside My Head
So the night before last, I was walking down a pedestrian street lined with cafes and bars. Although the weather had turned and it had started to drizzle, I was walking slowly scanning the establishments to see if any appeared to be serving food. A drink and a bite to eat would have suited me just fine before turning my feet towards home. Most of the places appeared to only have people drinking. At one bar, the clientele appeared to be entirely male. At an outdoor table, one man sat on another man’s lap and they were kissing.
Before I tell you what went through my mind, I would like to explain why I want to engage in a bit of over-sharing.
A day or two earlier, I had become embroiled in a comment thread that got me hot under the collar. The original subject was statutory rape, a subject about which I have fairly complicated feelings, sufficiently complicated that can’t clearly summarize them here. I had gotten in what I believed was a very civil exchange with someone who said that he tried reversing the gender roles and he was surprised by his own reaction. I can’t remember what on earth I said, and I don’t want to go look at it because I don’t want to get mad all over again, but a third person, with whom I have hitherto never had any exchanges whatsoever, responded to my comment by saying that statutory rape was different for girls and boys because men like sex more than women. Anyone who knows me would anticipate that I would go ballistic.
There are a few issues here, but one that has the widest application is the matter of the individual versus the norm. It is not currently fashionable on the left to be an individualist. Since my childhood, people seem to have become increasingly occupied by establishing what should be considered the norm rather than in defending the right of the individual to deviate from it, the right of the individual to make a life he or she wants to live. Attempts to establish a norm have the effect of being coercive to those who do not conform to it. At best, one is left feeling like a freak.
Growing up, in the wake of the sixties, there seemed to me to be a greater tolerance for a wider array of character traits. (One day, I will link this to my grand critique of meritocracy.) We have endless debates about what is natural, debates that will never have a resolution as long as human beings live in societies because there is no natural. There is no man in a state of nature. There will never be an end to the arguments about whether a given characteristic is due to nature or nurture because it is in our nature to nurture. In our arguments about what is normal, what is typical, what is average, what is natural, we lose the diversity of human experience. Our sense of what can exist becomes attenuated.
Flaubert mocked the received wisdom of his day in his Dictionary of Received Ideas. We, today, have our own received wisdom. We know how to make ourselves congenial at a gathering of strangers. What not to say.
I do not want to say what gets women as a category sexually aroused. We could sit here and quote studies and have a battle of examples. However, what we would miss is that there are some sexual thoughts that it is socially acceptable to voice and others that, while not exactly forbidden, would turn people away from you at a social gathering. So while I’ve been at parties where, in mixed company, men have made lascivious jokes about hot women, what went through my mind, ever so briefly, while walking down the street the night before last, I have never heard mentioned.
As my eyes fell on the two young men kissing at the cafe table, I was aware of a twinge between my legs, of a slight quickening of my breath, a flush in my face. As I walked past, my eyes did not linger nor did my head turn. No one passing me passing them would have known what was going through my body and my mind.
It would be incorrect to say that I was surprised by my response. I have long been aware that I think the sight of two men together can be hot. But what occurred to me was that I’ve never heard another woman say that. We could argue about whether or not “women are turned on watching two men.” But what does that statement even mean and what wisdom would that argument yield? If fifty-one percent of women were not turned on by watching men together, then we would say that “women” are not turned on by watching men, effectively ignoring the minority. Should only ten percent of women respond as I do, we should be made to feel like outright freaks for our subconscious response. Then we could get into the ridiculous argument as to whether or not this response is shaped by our societal conditioning. Then surely someone would come along with an elaborate socio-biological argument about why women have not evolved to find two men together sexy, an argument which would then truly make the women who do feel that feel like freaks, like a random mutation unfit for survival.
It occurred to me that it is widely accepted that heterosexual men find watching two women engage in sexual activities to be highly exciting. Of course, there must be some variation in how exciting men find this to be and there probably must be some men who are more or less uninterested in this. However, it does remain that received wisdom has it that men enjoy watching two women.
By this point in my thoughts, I had long left the two men at the cafe table behind. It was a gay bar and it would be a good guess that the men were gay and probably would not be especially appreciative of a female voyeur. On the other hand, I thought, what if they were bi? Maybe not them, but perhaps two other men…. Then the thought went through my mind, “Bisexual men are hot.” It wasn’t a complicated thought, or especially thought out, nor was it one that hadn’t ever crossed my mind before. In fact, it has crossed my mind many times before that it would be especially thrilling to have sex with two bisexual men. I’ve had sex with two heterosexual men and it has always slightly disappointed me that they seemed to be incapable of physically enjoying each other.
Then I recalled another exchange in a different thread on a different site where a bisexual man was bemoaning the fact that bisexual women are seen as hot while bisexual men are not seen as hot. However, what was he bemoaning if not received ideas. Who establishes who is hot? Certainly, no one asked me.
So, in telling you that I find the sight of two men engaged in sexual contact arousing and that I find bisexual men to be hot, you may feel that I have given you too much information. But the reason I want to say this is to reinforce my sense of my own individuality, and hopefully yours as well, as opposed to my membership in the generic category “woman.”
Returning to the subject of the thread that got me so mad a few days ago, the question of statutory rape, we need to consider the possibility of a violation against an individual, not against men or women as a category.
Part of my complicated response to this thread was due to the fact that a few days earlier I had read a post about male victims of sexual assault. When I read in the comment thread that the young man in question shouldn’t be considered a victim because men like sex more than women, I was reminded of how sexual assaults against men are not taken seriously. I think it would help if we could view people as individuals rather than as primarily members of a group.
Sexuality in Art
About a week ago I started a series about nudity and sexuality in art. I published the first post which dealt primarily with nudity. Then, more recently, I tried to get to the second post, Sexuality in Art, but the WordPress editing software flaked on me and my text disappeared when I tried to save it. That was a real disappointment because, although I’d only written three paragraphs, it had taken quite a bit of time to organize my thoughts in a coherent and pleasantly readable manner. I was somewhat pleased with what I had written because it wasn’t one of the easier bits of writing that I’d done. I’d been hoping that I would remember pieces of it, but they simply have not come back to me. So, I’m just going to try to write what’s on my mind. Hopefully, it won’t be too incoherent.
Growing up, the aesthetic ideas of modernism still held sway in my little provincial world. Somewhere out there, the art world was already turning, or had already turned, to post modernism, but it hadn’t filtered down to my middle brow milieu. Art was mainly discussed in terms of formal or plastic properties, color, form, texture, line, composition and so on. It was received wisdom that only the unsophisticated thought much about the subject of a work of art. Nudes, consequently, were discussed in much the same way as a landscape or an abstraction. My own particular medium being painting, that is my main point of reference. A nude was considered more as a prompt for a formal composition than a subject itself. If nudes had any particular appeal, it was their very neutrality as a subject. No one ever expressed a particular interest in whether or not they painted or drew young models or old models, ugly models or pretty models. I always felt happy when a male model showed up, but that was only because most models in art classes are female and it was always nice to have a change.
In my last attempt to write this piece, I included a picture of a painting I had done thirty years ago. In my post on nudity, I described this painting.
One day, I happened to glance at myself in the bathroom mirror. The window was to one side and I found myself fascinated by the play of light across my torso, especially across my collar-bone. I painted it. It was an important moment for me because it was the beginning of the development of my own style. At the time, I was purely interested in formal aspects of painting, the color, the composition. The subject, my torso, was at the time beside the point. Eventually, however, the subject matter of my work would become more important.
At that time, I was still under the sway of the notion that what was important about a painting was its formal qualities. I left the head off of the torso for no reason other than it did not contain the elements that interested me. There was no particular message intended by that move. Eventually, though, I would rediscover an interest in subject matter.
Of course, throughout most of history, subject was far from irrelevant, although the artist might not always have much choice over what that subject might be.
Now, the subject of sexuality has always interested me. I’m almost tempted, with a wink and a jab to the rib, to ask who isn’t interested by it, but it seems to me that some of us have a broader and more general interest in it. Part of my interest, however, stems from the fact that most portrayals of female sexuality that I’ve seen have little to no resonance with me. Yet I don’t think I am inherently that odd. Sometimes, I suspect that it is due to a fortunate combination of circumstances. First of all, my parents were both atheists. My mother had been raised as a Catholic and she believe that the Catholic Church had taught her to be ashamed of her sexuality and her body. She consciously, because she has told us, did not want to pass those negative feelings onto me and my sister. At the same time, I came of age at the height of the sexual revolution. Somehow, all those received notions about how women were supposed to behave never filtered into my mind. I was never given an easy prescription about what was right or wrong. At the same time, I was a highly ethical person, even a bit of a prig, so I did spend a fair amount of time reflecting on what I believed to be right and wrong.
So, a great amount of what I see and read on the subject of female sexuality strikes me as simply wrong and I feel compelled to get my point of view out there. I know many people will think that I am wrong, which is why so often I write from a first person point of view.
Once it is accepted that the subject of art is important, then any aspect of human experience becomes a legitimate subject, and this includes sexuality.
For me, if I have a coherent argument, I would rather write about something. I’m not personally fond of visual art which is too didactic. I tend to turn towards painting when words fail me. So, while I say that many of my paintings deal with sexuality, if you were to ask me specifically what a painting meant, I might not be able to tell you.
Sexuality has always been one of the many topics addressed by art. The beauty of the human body is another and that is not always sexual. There are many times that naked bodies appear in art. Sometimes they are sexual and sometimes they are not. It is not always easy to tell. However, historically, most artists have been men, as well as most art patrons, and a male perspective on sexuality has most certainly dominated. I think it is important to get my views out there. Yet, if my nudes in general are often barred from being displayed due to nudity alone, then my more sexual nudes are certainly unwelcome in many places. Quite of few of the exhibitions I have been in have been specifically exhibitions of erotic artwork.
The other day I was looking at some pornography online. Like many people, I’m a little bit cheap when it comes to porn. Frankly, my imagination’s good enough that, if I have to pay, I’ll just make up some stuff in my head. In fact, that’s what I do most of the time, but every once in a while I like to look at pictures. It’s laziness, but for the past couple of years I’ll try to find one of those tumbler sites where someone just reblogs other people’s pictures. Sometimes, I feel really awful about doing this because those people are probably violating copyrights, and pornographers are just trying to make an honest living after all. I would never put together a site like that for exactly that reason, but I confess, copyrights, or no copyrights, I do look at them from time to time.
It’s dreadfully convenient that some people are so enthusiastic about pornography that they compile these collections. I’d never take the time to seek out all this stuff on my own. So, it’s simply a matter of trying to track down someone whose tastes are similar to one’s own. Being female, I tend to gravitate towards hardcore. Images of good-looking people alone don’t do much for me. There has to be some sort of action, or at least implied action, which I can imagine myself doing.
So, the other day, I found some one who had highly titillating pictures on his tumbler site. I was enjoying the pictures for a bit when I happened to notice the captions. Generally, I don’t look at the captions because, for better or worse, pornography doesn’t seem to inspire the most articulate thoughts. It would probably be more to the point if people just captioned the pictures with “grunt, grunt.” Eventually, however, I did take note of them and they were to the effect of “Take that you dirty little slut,” and other variations on that theme. Now, I’m not going to complain about something I’m getting for free. Obviously, this guy is doing it for his own amusement and that’s his business. I would never send him an email telling him that he’s bad or awful. What interested me was that our taste could be so similar in terms of visual appeal, yet the narrative content we’re projecting onto the same scene is so different.
I’ve had this happen in real life. As it happens, although variety is good to keep from getting in a rut, I do prefer some positions over others. Now, this does vary with the man. Our own relative body sizes plus the size and angle of his penis make some positions better than others. Having made that little caveat, I’ll go ahead and say that one of my favorite positions in on all fours. Now, when I get on all fours and out of nowhere the man goes into some sort of degrading slut talk, it can be like having a bucket of cold water dumped on my head. It’s clear that some people think certain positions are inherently degrading. My reasons for liking this position are entirely practical. Both individuals have a reasonable freedom of movement, so unless you’re terribly mismatched in terms of length of your thighs, it’s a good position for getting an angle and rhythm that pleases both people. It just feels good. The fact that I like it has nothing to do with it being degrading. I wish someone could explain to me why this position is seen as degrading.
Also, why is ejaculating on top of a woman degrading? Men, when they orgasm, ejaculate. This is perfectly natural and shouldn’t be seen as degrading to anyone. In fact, it makes me happy. Whenever I’m in bed with someone, I hope he’s having a good time. I hope he hopes I’m having a good time. Sometimes I think there are certain cultural associations that I just failed to learn.
I’ll try to write something more highbrow tomorrow. I promise.
Just a Few F***ing Thoughts
When someone writes a first person essay in which he or she reveals a highly personal, and typically private, detail, there is an instinct to want to hold back and not launch criticism. However, the fact that the notion that there is some inherent good in avoiding sex seems to be so bizarrely common that I feel compelled to add my own weak little objection.
When I read the title of the essay by Amanda McCracken that appeared in the New York Times a week or so ago, entitled “Does My Virginity Have a Shelf Life?“, I was immediately put in mind of the first scene in “All’s Well That Ends Well”.
‘Tis a commodity will lose the gloss with
lying; the longer kept, the less worth: off with ‘t
while ’tis vendible;
“The longer kept, the less worth.” But that begs another question, was it ever worth anything in the first place?
We talk about virginity as if it were an object, as if a woman’s virginity were as concrete an item as her head or her foot. It is nothing more than the lack of experience in a certain realm of human endeavor. Why would anyone see a lack of this sort as having value?
One reason the writer, now thirty-five, appears to be waiting is because she wants to give her thing that is not a thing to a particular man. When I was young enough that men, or rather boys, who had never had sex were readily available, I used to very much enjoy having sex with them. It was a great deal of fun to share the experience of a boy having sex for the first time with him. They always seemed so happy. I didn’t feel like I “took” anything away from them or that I “received” anything. We were sharing an experience together. What a paltry thing virginity is to give a person. The first time I had sex with a man, I felt as if I was doing far more taking than giving. After I had acquired a bit of experience, I felt as if I had far more to offer boys than I did that first time.
Waiting for the right person, especially waiting so long, has always struck me as being a dangerous business. In putting much importance on one event, it seems to lower the relative importance of all other acts.
I couldn’t help thinking that I happened to have sex with two different men recently, and the first was quite lousy. Prior to actually getting in bed with him, there was no real way to know quite how bad he was going to be. If a man like that had been my first lover, it would have been unfortunate. If I had been waiting and waiting, that would have been a disaster.
When I think of all the young men I initiated when I was a teenager, I do like to think that I was very gentle with them. They sometimes seemed very nervous. I did feel a certain sense of responsibility in making sure that they had a good time. But I hope it was just the beginning of long and happy sex lives for them.
The Slipperiness of Female Sexuality
The original title was going to be the “puzzle” of female sexuality, but I couldn’t resist a little double sense after recalling a story a friend once told me about how her boyfriend didn’t like to touch her “down there.” When she asked why, he said because it was wet and slippery. No, that relationship didn’t last long.
Noel put up a post which got me thinking, always a dangerous idea, about some of the more problematic aspects of female sexuality. Now, this has very little to do with his actual post and is more of a tangent.
Like many women, I have a veritable library of masturbatory fantasies inside my head that I keep on file for necessary occasions, like an inability to fall asleep or bad menstrual cramps. As it happens, and it happens often I’m afraid, the sight of a stranger passing by on the street brought a particular fantasy to mind.
Now, my fantasies can be described as falling broadly into two rough categories: those I would try in a heartbeat and those I wouldn’t really ever want to do. Now those that I would try in a heartbeat remain in the fantasy realm for no better reason than the opportunity has failed to present itself, for instance, sex with two bisexual men who are also into each other. That fantasy is liable to remain unfulfilled because it requires finding the right two people, everyone being mutually interested in one another and none of us having feelings or relationships that would complicate the situation. At the other extreme… well, let’s not go to the true extreme, there are a few thing’s I’ll keep private… but let’s say being tied up, blind folded and fondled and penetrated by dozens of people. “Dozens” is usually a pretty clear indication that I’ve entered the world of “things I don’t actually want to happen in reality.” In a fantasy, a person is never tired, never sore, needs no inconvenient bathroom breaks. So this second fantasy would be next to impossible to do in a safe, sane way, and, even if I could figure out a way, it probably wouldn’t actually be that much fun – better left in the imagination.
Now, like a lot of things that could be put into categories, there are items that don’t quite fit, and that’s the sort of fantasy I’d like to address today, the fantasy I had yesterday, the one that was prompted by a stranger passing by on the street. Let’s say that this man was of the ugly-sexy sort, if you understand what I mean. He’s not going to make it to the cover of GQ, but still I got a bit of a twinge down there looking at him. Well, that was as far as the reality went. The fantasy, I warn you, is terribly banal. It starts with some comment, usually a pleasantry of some sort, which escalates with improbable speed to sexual innuendo, then fairly unmistakable hint. Now, I don’t know about your fantasy world, but mine is just awash in conveniently located dark alleys, roomy supply closets and single stall public toilets. This particular one involves being up against a wall in an alley. Normally, it’s a brick wall, but being in Paris at the moment the wall was made of that yellowish limestone. I guess that’s the kind of detail people mean when they say that we ladies have a greater need for context in our fantasies.
Now, I must ask you, why would this fantasy fall in the second, “I would never do it,” category rather than the first, “looking for an opportunity,” category. I can’t find a good answer to that and it’s my fantasy. I’m pretty sure in reality it would be quite a thrill and has as good a shot as being pleasurable as anything else, so it doesn’t have to do with a lack of pleasure. It has a lot to do with inhibition – that weird sense that I shouldn’t fuck “just anyone.” But why not? Add a few more words, a cup of coffee and suddenly we’ve gone into a totally different realm rapidly approaching acceptable behavior.
I’m not going to pretend to have an answer for this, because I don’t.
Choices about One’s Own Body
One of my favorite movies is Gattaca. A small detail in the movie is a pianist with six fingers. In the movie, it is intentional, achieved through genetic engineering. In the real world, polydactyly is a congenital abnormality, a type of birth defect characterized by structural deformities. In my high school biology class, one of my classmates told us that she had been born with six fingers but the sixth finger had been cut off a few days after she was born. One of the other students said, “It would be so cool to have six fingers.” The first girl explained that the sixth finger is rarely fully functional and hers was not. She showed us the scar on the side of her hand, which was so old and faded that I wouldn’t have noticed it had she not pointed it out.
Birth defects can run the gamut from those that threaten a child’s health to the comparatively trivial. It is not at all unusual for parents to choose, as my schoolmate’s parents did, to have abnormalities corrected when possible. Parents make these kinds of health decisions for infant children all time. Since, in this particular case, the finger was non-functional, the young woman was happy that her parents had made the decision they had. However, what if the finger had been functional? Would be better for her to look like other people or to have six functional digits? Who should make that decision?
Few congenital disorders have multiple choices that many people can see as equally valid. However, intersex is an exception. Formerly called hermaphrodism, intersex is, “is a variation in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, and/or genitals that do not allow an individual to be distinctly identified as male or female. Such variation may involve genital ambiguity, and combinations of chromosomal genotype and sexual phenotype other than XY-male and XX-female.”
When I was in seventh grade, our school showed us a documentary about a girl who had been born ambiguous genitals. I no longer recall why the parents chose to raise her as a girl and not a boy, but that is what they did. She must have been born in either the late sixties or the early seventies, and the most common way this was handled at the time was for parents to choose to raise the child as either a boy or a girl. Surgeries made her previously ambiguous genitals into externally female genitals, she was dressed in girls’ clothes and the rest of the world identified her as a girl. They also discussed with her the subject of adoption since she would not be able to have children. I have no doubt the parents, with the information available to them at the time, were doing what they believed to be in her best interest.
Intersex is a condition that you don’t choose; you can’t choose. You’re just born with it. One in every 2000 people are born with this condition, so it’s not especially uncommon. People have been born with this condition throughout recorded history and they have dealt with it with the best way they could at the time. This is why I was aghast when I read the word “desire” associated with intersex in an article in The American Conservative.
“Desire Über Alles” was prompted by an article in Der Spiegel.
The option of selecting “blank,” in addition to the standard choices of “male” or female” on birth certificates will become available in Germany from November 1. The legislative change allows parents to opt out of determining their baby’s gender, thereby allowing those born with characteristics of both sexes to choose whether to become male or female in later life. Under the new law, individuals can also opt to remain outside the gender binary altogether.
When I was young, intersex people’s lives were determined at a very young age by their parents. Today, there has been a move for those individuals to determine these questions for themselves. This really strikes me as being such a simple, and obvious, way of dealing with the situation, I can’t help wondering if conservatives immediately go on the attack the moment they hear the word “sex.” The writer, Rod Dreher, draws a link between new-born infants whose sex is not obvious to adult observers to Paolo and Francesca, adulterous lovers burning in hell Dante’s Inferno. Do not ask me to explain how these things are similar. Dreher’s article is a masterpiece of incoherence. He throws together unrelated things as if he was playing a journalistic game of exquisite corpse.
“Good Godwin,” you may be wondering, “did he mention Hitler?” You bet your sweet bippy he did! But you can ignore that because, well, he said so. “Ignore the Godwin’s Law screaming meemies and grasp the deeper point Reno is making about how we allow desire, abetted by technology, to determine reality.”
So, to recap: Dante, adulterers, desire, people born with ambiguous genitals, German birth certificates, Australian passports, desire is will, Triumph of the Will, Nazis, Francis Bacon, Liberalism is like Marxism, Karl Marx, Marxist-turned-Catholic Alasdair MacIntyre, Liberalism is not like Marxism, Nietzsche/Heidegger/Hitler, abortion. All of this is thrown together in some sort of exercise in conservative free association.
I kid you not. This is not an article. It’s the ramblings of someone lying on an analyst’s couch.
So, people who did not choose to be intersex should not be allowed to choose how to deal with that fact even when they are adults? Is that the conservative position?