In 1879, Mark Twain, unafraid of scandal, said the following;

Homer in the second book of the Iliad says, with fine enthusiasm is worth, “Give me masturbation or give me death!” Caesar, in his commentaries, says, “To the lonely it is company; to the forsaken it is a friend; to the aged and to the impotent it is a benefactor; they that are penniless are yet rich, in that they still have this majestic diversion.” In another place this experienced observer has said, “There are time when I prefer it to sodomy.” Robinson Crusoe says, “I cannot describe what I owe to this gentle art.” Queen Elizabeth said, “It is the bulwark of Virginity.” Cetewayo, the Zulu hero, remarked, “A jerk in the hand is worth two in the bush.” The immortal Franklin has said, “Masturbation is the mother of invention.” He also said, “Masturbation is the best policy.” Michelangelo and all the other old masters–Old Masters, I will remark, is an abbreviation, a contraction–have used similar language. Michelangelo said to Pope Julius II, self-negation is noble, self-culture is beneficial, self-possession is manly, but to the truly grand and inspiring soul they are poor and tame compared to self-abuse.”

Twain’s humor is not ill-placed. Masturbation has been proven to be a healthy behavior.

So, if you’re going to celebrate his birthday …

Note; I obtained this quote from the very first Sexology book I read, several years ago. Sexual Interactions by Elizabeth and Albert Allgeier.

In a world where sexual topics are frequently shunned in most formal contexts, where walking into certain buildings requires us to attempt to leave our vaginae and penises behind, it is not surprising that conflicts will exist between sex industry workers and the rest of the working world. Sadly, a crossing over of the sex industry into other elements of American culture can have tragic results and adding to those matters the tendency for humans to be self-righteous and self-serving (not that all do this, but many do) and one sex worker coming out to the rest of the world can result in the biggest social explosion he or she will ever see.

That’s what happened to Lisa D. Chávez. Her story is actually pretty complex. The major players in the events that transpired each have their own agendas and have to deal with their own set of battles due to what happened with Chávez. I don’t want to assume that any single person is an evil individual, in this matter. Instead, I think there are some serious flaws in people’s thinking that builds upon this issue and creates a complete social mess that can ruin lives.

Does that sound overly dramatic? Well, it isn’t. People in the sex industry are constantly fighting against some extreme social stigmas that can affect the kind of future we might have. This isn’t because people in the sex industry have automatically done something wrong, instead, it is because society often assumes people in the sex industry are bad people, with questionable moral values and lacking skills. Furthermore, people often want to avoid being associated with those in the sex industry because they don’t want to deal with others questioning their judgment.

The Chávez case includes more problems than that, though, so I’m going to sift through the information that I have and see what we find. My first impression of this issue started here, when ScienceGoddess sent me the link. From there, I read the article David Kroll linked to, here. A quick Google search generates links that all lead back to the article in the Chronicle, but additional google-fu did get me to the site Chávez worked for*.

According to the Chronicle, Ms. Chávez took the phone sex job as a natural response to being stuck in a sucky economic situation. This isn’t an uncommon motivation for entering the sex industry, which has a high turnover rate because it seems like an easy way to make fast cash and, as our society becomes more sexually progressive, it seems like a more acceptable thing to do. That is, unless you’ve got some significant social standing, like being a professor. This kind of job, though, isn’t easy and people frequently leave the industry as fast as they entered, for a variety of reasons.

The self-described, pro-sex feminist, Ms. Chávez had heard about being a phone sex dominatrix through her students, she discussed the empowerment that such a job can give an individual and how this job could give the students good life experiences and improve their writing. I can tell you, based on my experience and the experiences that my peers have shared with me, those things are very true. Sex work can be very empowering and can give a person experiences in life that they can’t find anywhere else. The catch is, you still have to deal with the rest of society.

Back in 2008, it really bothered me how others reacted to the sex industry and how the people I knew within the industry didn’t really reflect the image that society seemed to create of them. As a result, I conducted a series of very informal interviews, asking my peers questions about how they saw themselves and about how they thought others saw them. One of the most disturbing things I noticed was that my peers seemed to indicate that the worst part of their job was not the work itself or how their clients treated them. Instead, it was how the people outside the industry treated them. There was a running theme that seemed to indicate that the thing that made working in the sex industry the hardest were the social rules that told each worker that they were bad for what they did; it was the people who discriminated against the sex workers who made life for the sex worker suck. The job was often power; general society were robbers of it. Sadly, it didn’t take much time for the empowered Chávez to experience this and part of the reason was due to a few mistakes she made.**

Chávex’ story, if her side is really what happened, doesn’t really show malicious intent. The errors that Chávez made appear to be that she might have influenced a student’s choices and she had her picture taken with another.

When I first started stripping, the experience was absolutely amazing. One of my friends was also a stripper and one night, we were sharing our experiences and talked about how our job made us feel. In that conversation, she said to me something like, “you know, when I see a girl in a sucky job, like bagging groceries, and I think about how pretty she is and how nice, I often wonder why it is that if I were to tell her she should try my job out, it feels like I’m selling crack. If I had any other job, though, it would be like I was handing her a life-saving tether.” My friend was right. My friend was right. Our jobs are looked at so negatively by society, telling a person that they should apply at McDonald’s ranks higher than telling them that they should be a stripper, even if the latter was more likely to meet all of her needs. There’s no way to know how the conversation played out when Chávez talked about the sex industry or her job with students, but even if we did know how the conversation went, the odds are high that her peers would have been just as critical. One of her students could have been starving and Chávez was likely to face criticism when her opinion on phone sex influenced a choice. In fact, the story of the student Chávez posed with, Liz Derrington, had a sad story of her own to tell, having gone through a divorce and apparently landing a job at the same place Chávez worked on her own, but people didn’t look at the events that transpired as someone trying to claw their way out of a pot of boiling water. The other student mentioned was also not seen with a very objective light on her story. Even the Chronicle hints at a concern that Chávez indirectly influenced her decision, but it ignores that this person is an adult that made her decision on her own and Chávez didn’t force the girl into it. Instead, they saw it as Chávez potentially abusing her position and harming the learning environment.

Pictures are the inarticulate mouthpiece of the sex industry. people say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but if that is true, pictures can be horribly deceptive bastards. People give pictures far more credit than they’ve ever deserved. I don’t want to say that pictures are horrible and all wrong, but pictures tell a very limited story which usually lacks context. So it was that when Chávez posed for a picture with her student, the picture spoke for them, but it didn’t really say much at all and, to some people, it said the wrong thing, entirely.

Chávez and Derrington were at work, at a job unrelated to Chávez’ position as a professor and Derrington’s role as a student when suggestive pictures of them were taken for the people they were working for. In other words, they were doing a different job. Yet, these pictures were a major player in Chávez’ becoming a target of her peers. The objection to Chávez’ alternate job could easily have cost her the position she had as a professor. Yet, most other alternate jobs that a professor might take wouldn’t have been a big deal, no matter if she was working alongside a student as an equal or not. So, is it an abuse of authority if Chávez poses next to a student, who happens to be a co-worker, in that context, for erotic purposes? Not anymore than if they worked alongside each other at a fast food joint because, in that context, Chávez wasn’t in an authoritative position over her student.

But that’s not all that fueled the controversy around Chávez. Chávez taught creative writing and her students complained to other professors about sexually charged conversations in class. This brings up some other interesting questions. When is it appropriate to talk about sexuality in a college classroom? If the person teaching Gender Studies classes can talk about porn, why can’t a Math teacher? It seems to me, the difference is in context. Is talking about sexuality relevant to the class or somehow important to the student’s experience in that class? If so, then discussion about sexuality should be open, honest and frank as long as nobody’s safety is compromised. Skill in writing is not an easy thing to gain. Unlike other subjects, where going from a problem to a solution is easy, where 2+2 will always equal 4 and knowing what the Fibonacci sequence is can unpack a number of useful applications for you, neatly, being successful at writing is complicated. Writing is barely formulaic and being able to write articulately about things requires knowledge and experiences to draw upon that aren’t mathematically constant. Furthermore, a good creative writer can write about all aspects of life. Sex, one of our most innate drives, is one of those aspects. So, does sex have a place in a class on creative writing? I am quite certain that it does, but society probably disagrees with me. I just don’t think they have a rational basis for their disagreement. So, for the students who complained about the sexually-charged conversations in Chávez’ class, unless they weren’t learning anything and/or someone was getting hurt, the problem in their class was with them.

The fact that people sought to harm Chávez by showing her pictures from her other job to her superiors is a horrible statement about the type of people they are. To me, it seems just as unethical as when people tried to get PZ Myers fired over unprovoked harm to a cracker. I know, having erotic pictures taken of you is not the same as violence to a cracker, but the similarity is in people being unable to keep in-work behavior separate from away-from-work behavior.

There is part of this controversy that is so sticky and confusing that I’m going to refrain from saying anything authoritative on it at all. In regards to a student, Carrie Cutler, there is a lot of he-said-she-said involved. There’s not really a way to gather information on what happened between them mostly because all that is related to them in this issue is from personal testimonies from people which appear to vary. It also seems as if there is some missing conflict that isn’t talked about, even in the article from the Chronicle. Basically, the conflict doesn’t make sense and appears to be something that should be disregarded when examining Chávez’ work as a telephone dominatrix. If either the student’s accusations that Chávez spoke inappropriately about her or Chávex’ claim that the Cutler was trying to harm her were true, those are matters that should be dealt with on their own. Chávez is responsible for her actions as a professor and students are also responsible for their own conduct. If the student and Chávez were moonlighting as waitresses, we wouldn’t consider drama carrying over from their waitress jobs to be questionable, just because it caused drama at the school. Instead, it would just be the conduct that took place at school, related only to the dramatic incident, that would be a concern for Chávez’ employers.

Yet another issue lurks in the murky water of this controversy, as well. When we look to an educator to help teach us a subject, we hold them to a kind of odd standard. Instead of measuring each professor based on what they can teach us, we set up other standards that go beyond that one thing. The classroom and general feel of a lesson is all the burden of a professor to carry. We call this, ‘the learning environment.’ Ms. Chávez was investigated for possibly creating a bad learning environment for her students. These accusations were not based on information gained from all of Chávez’s students. Instead, it was, again, the accounts of a few who may not have had all the information. Furthermore, this kind of investigation appears to make Chávez responsible for the educational environment when others could be influencing it. I’m glad that the investigation resulted in the conclusion that Chávez was not guilty of creating a hostile learning environment or of sexual harassment because it appears to be the case that it is the aversion that her peers had that was the driving force behind it, and not something Chávez did to actually harm someone. Chávez’ peers were then asked to reach some sort of peaceful settlement.

It didn’t help. The teachers are still objecting to Chávez staying with the school.

Enter another complicatedly tangled web: racism and sexism. Given the sparseness of evidence related to these issues, I’m only tossing them out there because they relate to the story. The hows and whys of their relevance have not been clearly revealed and so are not really worth commenting on other than to mention that they are there. Sadly, racism and sexism are a serious problem when it comes to issues related to the sex industry. That’s pretty much all I can say to shed light on that aspect of the story. Again, if these accusations are true, they should be treated as another matter, and not be used to influence decisions about Chávez’ work in the sex industry. For similar reasons, I have to skip over many of the accusations found in the Chronicle, such as faculty calling Chávez a prostitute. It is silly, but not uncommon for people to exaggerate the role an individual has in the sex industry. I get accused of being a prostitute, as well, and most of my work is done at home, while I’m completely alone (it is impossible to have sex with someone for money when there’s not a someone there with you). I think these accusations come from a desire for those objecting to the industry to demonize individuals as much as possible and it is a elementary school playground tactic. The biggest difference seems to be that, as adults, those involved in this scandal get to let their lawyers do the name-calling for them.

The saddest aspect of this whole debate seems to be that a whole department in a school has been affected by, not Chávez’ actions, alone, but by the reaction that her peers had to her work as a performer. Her work, which should not have mattered, has such a stigma attached to it that her peers were incapable of dealing with it as adults. Their tantrums over how they feel has created chaos that the rest of the school has to deal with. I’m not going to paint Chávez as a lone victim, but I really don’t think she’s as guilty of creating a poor learning environment for her students as her peers appear to have been.

David Kroll, from PLoS suggests that Chávez resign:

Not knowing anything more about the case than the article in The Chronicle, the simplest resolution would seem to be that the faculty member in question resign.

While I understand his reasoning, the student experience is a very important thing to consider, I don’t really think that is the right answer. If this issue really is being fueled by the offended peers of Chávez, then her career is lost due to their callous, bully hands. Her actions as a phone dominatrix were not harmful and were not an example of an abuse of power. Regardless of if they looked like coercion, they shouldn’t be treated as if they are because we know, based on the information given in the Chronicle, that they weren’t. Allowing her picture to be taken was a mistake by Chávez, but only because of how society reacts to these things, not because she actually was doing something wrong. Should she be forced to resign over the picture, then it is more of a testament to the power of bigotry against someone who worked in the sex industry than an actual, rational response to the situation.

As for the other accusations that exist in the comments and in the article, there’s no way for bystanders like myself and Kroll can’t really get enough information on them to take any objective stance, so we should really be responding to the whole thing with that in mind, and addressing only those issues which the Chronicle gives us sufficient evidence for.

*As a side note from someone who has been around in the industry for a while, the site Chávez worked for is an atypical contract arrangement. It doesn’t encourage the same safety standards that most other contracts do that allow people in the sex industry to keep their identities hidden. Further, in order to begin working for them, People Exchanging Power requires applicants to first pay for an information packet and then you can start working for them and, if you stick around for six weeks, you might get your money back. None of what is said to be in the information packet is something that couldn’t be put online someplace for performers. While it may not be the intention of PEP to do so, this stinks of a way to take advantage of people looking for this kind of work.

There is also a little deception in how they present your potential earnings on the site. While the website says that an individual makes $35-$50 per every hour of talk time, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be talking the whole time that you’re logged in to work for them. most companies have a range of per minute earning potential, but the catch is that you’re only going to make money when you’re talking and if there are large gaps of time between the calls you take, you are unlikely to make the kind of money they’re trying to imply.

**While I think my interviews with people are relevant and important to this article, I am aware that they cannot be considered something that was done with scientific rigor. While I do my best to preserve the scientific process as I go about my study of sex and the sex industry, I am only one person and my peers are not even close to including the diversity I would encounter were I ever able to have the exciting opportunity of doing a cross-sectional study.

Apparently, someone forgot to send Montana the memo about how homosexual sex is normal and probably shouldn’t be a crime. Montana’s Republican Party is still trying to make gay sex illegal.

Anti-sex themes in the law have existed for quite a long time. In the 1600s, colonists had a variety of punishments for adulterers and fornicators. A punishment of being whipped and then wearing a badge which marked your crime for your peers is, perhaps, the most well-known punishment, now. If a woman did not properly object to a man’s advances, she could be subject to punishments, such as whippings, even if she did not consent to sex. Homosexual acts have been punished with a range of actions from whippings to exile to castration.

All of these punishments were horrible things to do to people and have long since been eliminated from our legal systems due to their inhumanity. It has been recognized, especially in the last two decades, that punishing people for consensual sexual behavior is archaic and not in the best interest of preserving the rights of this country’s inhabitants. Laws against most consensual sexual behavior between adults have been declared unconstitutional and our current population of young adults is barely aware that laws once existed that could have punished them severely for things they do regularly.

This is why the Montana GOP’s stance is so startling. Why is a stance that has been abandoned by most of the rest of the country a part of a political platform in Montana? How can we enlighten them and get them caught up with the rest of the country who has now progressed to working on the next issue, equal rights in marriage?

Recently, I observed that my Rehymenator comic has had the most positive response of any comic I’ve done thus far. The comic was created specifically in light of this post on secondary virginity. The comic pokes fun at something that is actually a very serious issue around the world and one about which Dr. Martin Rundkvist wrote an excellent post on his blog in 2008. his post is mostly about how Swedish healthcare should cover the procedure, but he mentions some other important issues that are related and are global concerns. I highly encourage you to go read it and then come back to finish reading what I have to say about it.

Finished?

Good.

Dr. Rundkvist ties the issue of hymen reconstruction to another important issue, circumcision:

This recalls the issue whether public health care should offer male circumcision. As I have argued before, all genital mutilation of minors should of course be illegal — but as long as male infant circumcision remains legal, it should be part of public healthcare to avoid a proliferation of amateur circumcisionists.

I completely agree that unless there’s some sort of medical problem that requires it, all forms of non-consensual genital mutilation should be completely discouraged. It is horrible that, in this day, we try to uphold old cultural norms just on the basis that it is considered ‘normal,’ especially when those norms result in physically altering someone’s body, causing them pain and putting them at risk for things like infection. I don’t agree with one thing, though. I disagree with the approach, at this point in time, of making it illegal. I think it is too early. Circumcision is very popular in many developed and undeveloped countries and making it illegal right away is likely to push the procedure into an underground market and that would put infants and children at risk when unskilled and untrained individuals begin putting knives to their genitals.

I think that a better approach is to educate people about circumcision, the history and how unethical it is. With education, cultures tend to change and I think that making this a bigger issue can make them change rapidly, so that we can get to a point where the procedure is so rare that making it illegal is not going to be so risky and can be considered an overall benefit, at least in the United States. I think that’s probably true in Sweden, as well, but I don’t live there so I have to make room for the possibility of missing some contextual information.

Another thing I thought I should comment on is the very last part of Dr. Rundkvist’s post:

So, should public health care offer hymen reconstruction? In my opinion, yes, because hymen obsessives pay taxes too. But the procedure should only be available to people over the age of 18, who have the right to vote and must be assumed to make their own decisions about their fannies. The latter assumption is of course highly debatable in situations where a young woman runs the risk of being murdered by her uncles and cousins.

The only part of this that I disagree with are the age and voting restrictions. Sadly, many of the countries that have cultures that value in-tact hymens also have very young ages at which they try to marry their children off. Furthermore, because of the control that the male populace has over the women, sexual abuse is likely very common (though, obtaining statistical information on this is difficult and complicated). This sexual abuse puts the young girl at risk and if the only way to protect her from her family, even as a young girl, is to get her a new hymen, then I don’t think she should be restricted by an age law. I think that protecting her life should be a priority above all else. Until we can get her culture to progress beyond such a horrific state, if her life depends on that little bit of flesh, then any country which offers the procedure should avoid restricting it.

I should repeat, though, that Dr. Rundkvist’s post does contain some great points so I highly encourage you to go and read it.

2010-09-12-candc-52-undo-buttonAbstinence-only programs have been an absurd educational joke from their inception – many hundreds of years ago, when chastity belts were cool and a pregnancy could get a girl killed. As the evidence stacks up against the arguments that abstinence-only advocates use, their cognitive dissonance seems to increase and they come up with new ways to make them feel better about their ideas. This includes ignoring the problem once it has clearly failed.

In case you hadn’t heard, in order to regain the attention of teens who have failed to succeed at abstinence, there is an answer. As it turns out, people who have had sex before can still commit to abstinence and they can become a virgin again! That’s right, your sexual experiences apparently come with an ‘undo’ button, after all.

According to Reap (which is a really creepy name for a Catholic website), secondary virginity is a restoration of one’s purity after one has had sex. They say:

God has the power to restore your emotionally, spiritually and mentally to a place where you can be pure and whole again. Committing to chastity after mistakes is possible and helps you become an amazing gift for your future spouse.

Continue reading »

condomMany people have a serious love/hate relationship with condoms. Using a condom changes the sensations one feels during sex and some even claim that the suggestion for the need of a condom implies lack of trust in one’s partner. An even bigger problem, though, is not the lack of desire to use a condom, but is the tendency for people to forget to carry condoms at all.

This brings us to the solution created by Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health: a Condom delivery service. This is why we love the Swiss.

Young people should always carry condoms with them, the office said in a news release Friday, but now bike couriers will arrive — in an hour or less — to “come to the aid of those who have forgotten.”

That’s right, you can have a dong sarong at the ready within an hour of simply making a phone call, if you live in Switzerland. The program isn’t very spendy, either. It costs what amounts to about $7.50, in U. S. dollars, for three condoms. That’s only about 30% more than what you’d pay at a convenience store.

Sadly, this project doesn’t last forever.

The project, which lasts throughout July, is part of the country’s “LOVE LIFE STOP AIDS” campaign.

The idea behind the campaign is to remind people to use condoms. It is a fantastic campaign and I hope to see more like it in the future.

At the Mercy of the condom, they die in three days. *insert foreboding drum beat here*

At the Mercy of the condom, they die in three days. *insert foreboding drum beat here*

The downside of this campaign is that, just like people don’t plan ahead for sex enough to remember condoms, they also are often not attentive enough in the heat of the moment to think to acquire one. I’ve seen people even almost skip the condom at sex parties where there were baskets of them everywhere because they hadn’t thought about it. People have to be educated to the point that their brain is trained to think about condoms when they need them. This is why the Swiss campaign is a part of a bigger campaign to educate people about the importance of safer sex.

For those of us who don’t have the convenience of a condom delivery service, here’s a gentle reminder to keep condoms with you: If you are sexually active, even if it doesn’t happen often, bring condoms!

Before I start, just so you know, you should read this article because there’s a picture of two people sexing at the end. (end of advertisement).

moneyAbout a week ago (which tells you how long I’ve put off actually writing this because I didn’t want to express myself badly), Kylie Sturgess wrote her article, “Sex(hausted)?” In her post, she ponders the availability of science and if people should or should not market science using sexy gimmicks. Instantly, I was linked to her several times. Clearly, this is something that falls right into my realm. So, why the delay in responding? Because, the questions that Kylie asks and the things she said are, as she mentioned, pretty complicated, and here’s why.

Sex sells, sometimes. Sometimes, sex doesn’t sell. Does that make any sense? Let me explain more.

The reason sex sells is because it leads to an emotional response in the person being exposed to it that leads to memory and recognition. This works just like the classical conditioning that we see mentioned throughout studies in behavioral psychology. Emotions and memory are good, old pals that affect our behavior all the time and they’re very intimate bedmates in our brains. When people create advertisements for anything, that’s usually what they’re aiming for. They want consumers to associate their product with something strongly enough that it influences their purchases. Sex is a very strong innate drive that we have and it is a drive that is also a bedmate with our emotion and memory (we will not judge our brains, here, for their sexual habits, O. K.?). Because of this, sex can sell and it does sell.

This does not mean that sex will always sell, though. We have otheforsaler natural drives and motives that can make sex something that is simply unimportant or less important than other things. This is why, when advertising something, the context of the advertisement is important to the advertiser. Selling sex is much easier in the midst of a Super Bowl game than it is in the midst of most of PBS and NPR’s Free Lectures. That isn’t to say that sex can’t sell in that context, it just doesn’t sell quite as well.

The problem with the “sex sells” meme is that people don’t understand how sex sells. Just saying “sex sells” is simplistic and ignores greater, more important things such as context and also what it is that you’re trying to sell. So, on top of the context-appropriate things to bear in mind from my above examples, there’s also the matter of considering what it is that you’re selling. If I’m selling a dong, I naturally need horny people, who would use it, to buy it. Advertising it in the midst of the series Murder She Wrote may not be the best place for it. Nor would that series make for a good stage to advertise things like  a work-out series or equipment, birth control or a gay night club because the viewers of such a series are mostly older, post-menopausal, women who are less likely to be into those things. (Note: I know not all viewers are older or post-menopausal, there will be exceptions. Advertisers don’t aim for minority groups very often, though, they aim for efficiency and so they’ll aim for high concentrations of their target audience/consumer). So putting an advertisement up for a 12″ deer penis replica (NSFW) during a show about an older lady who solves the murders that seem to magically happen every where she goes is probably not going to do more than cause a few strokes of the serious misplaced blood flow type, not the penile stiffening kind.

deer-penis

So, now that all that is explained, let’s look at some of Kylie’s comments about the subject:

Just how badly (or well?) is the promotion of scientific findings being done now anyway? Is it ‘resorting to dirty tactics’ to have sex do the selling? Particularly in this ‘third-wave feminism’ era, when there is no demonstrably all-encompassing single feminist idea? Am I being sexist if I think that it’s only about using female sex-appeal?

To answer the first question, science is being promoted now better than ever. The internet has given us the tools to spread science farther and faster than ever before in history. The downside is, the internet provides the same tools for those who are anti-science and who spread misinformation for various reasons.

It is not resorting to dirty tactics to sell something with sex just as it isn’t resorting to dirty tactics to sell something with a picture of someone smiling or with food. Sex is an innate drive and it is as much a part of us as eating, drinking, sleeping and debating social norms are. Sex is not something that should be overlooked as an educational or motivational tool, if we need it.

I think that the debate of using sex for productive things other than reproduction is a great way, actually, to bring feminist debates into a realm where we can debate them more. Debate and discussion is important in the improvement of our worldviews and so where feminism is approaching a diversity in views comparable to world religions, I think using sex is a direct route to not only causing a little chaos in the feminist world, but also allowing for growth. Consider an element of fertilizer for sexual-social debates, like Miracle-Gro and soybean rotating crops.

Oh, sexism, I could talk all day about it! However, I need to limit this to a not-so-short paragraph and I’ve already taken two sentences. Sexism, by definition, is a discrimination based on sex. So, while just focusing on this being about female sex appeal is sexist, it is not unreasonably sexist. Most sexual advertising targets men and uses women, so it is natural for that to be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re talking about marketing using sex. The reason for this is that we’re only just now seeing how to use sex appeal to target women. Because women and men respond to different types of sexual stimuli, the tactics to draw men in with sexual advertising are different than those that draw women in and advertisers haven’t quite gotten a handle on that, yet.

Kylie was also sharp enough to point to problems with sexual advertising and cultural norms (though, she didn’t say it in those terms, so check out her article for a well-thought description). She says:

Perhaps there’s communities where explicit content will be completely out of the question, despite a keen demographic who may wish to encourage rationalism? Or ones where explicit depictions of a sexualised figure is seen as overtly aggressive, irrelevant or distracting to people, and just plain gender-divisive (as illustrated in the research).

This is why context is important. Knowing one’s audience in advertising is extremely important. Not only is it important to know who you’re targeting, but it is important to know how strong your messages should be for that audience. Sexual marketing is not as simple as always being as extreme as showing breasts wrapped around a bottle of beer or something. Instead, if one does choose to go the route of sexual advertising, the majority of the target audience has to be considered. For some cultures, that does mean that sexual marketing is as simple as just showing a pretty set of eyes or some nice hands along with a product. Sometimes, it is actually showing some clothes-flying, body-clawing, animalistic action (even if the animalistic action is closer to a turtle motion than some sexually aggravated cats).

I’m skipping over parts of Kylie’s post that would require entire articles, themselves, to respond to and am going to address her conclusion itself:

Maybe, I conclude, the promotion of science via sex-appeal isn’t really the easy answer I was once given via email. I guess that’s why I now tend more towards a generally conservative, broad-umbrella approach, that has a better chance of reaching more people – rather than putting all my energies and trust into ‘being sexy in order to sell science’.

This is actually the best conclusion that could have been reached. The reason, though, is because the conclusion is about Kylie’s approach, itself. The final reality of trying to promote something is that the person doing the promoting has to be comfortable with how they’re promoting themselves. There’s no reason to change who you are and to create conflict with yourself over a question without a rational basis for it, just to sell some information. This brings me to the problem of advertising, itself.

I’m a very logic-driven person. I like my facts like I like my computer hard drives, dry and full of informational goodness. Advertising isn’t about facts, usually. Advertising is about impressions and, sometimes, manipulating an audience into giving attention to something specific. Even when the goal is education, advertising is still needed to get attention and the potential for manipulation in advertising is something that is uncomfortable to those of us who like to promote critical thinking. But dry facts don’t always educate because, as mentioned above, people remember things better that stimulate their emotions. This means that while we’re educating, it is a handy talent to have to mix our logic-driven Vulcans with our emotionally intelligent Betazoids (yes, groan, groan for my bad geek analogies!). So, if we’re using something to advertise, especially sex, it would be handy to be sure that using sex as a lure for our doesn’t cloud the actual goal with something irrational.

troy-sexing-spock

So today I landed on my happy internet-land with a few of my pals on twitter buzzing about some June Cleaver wannabe whining about what she wants in a marriage. Normally, the June Cleavers of the world don’t really interest me that much, but this one does. Why? Because she wrote for Oprah.com. In fact, it is the same reason that my friends don’t want to bother with her that I would like to shake her world up some (if I could). The fact is, when Oprah or her peons say something, it shakes our world up. People listen to her and they need a hundred voices arguing back at her before they’re going to listen to us. As a result, I’m going to eat this woman’s marriage. Or, shall we say, her marriage that apparently didn’t happen.

Apparently, our June Cleaver (or, in this episode, named Karen) is a good little Jewish girl who also had pre-marital sex. She uses her religious upbringing as a cornerstone in her arguments against what our dear Ward Cleaver would ask of her, but apparently didn’t care enough about them to use them when he and she decided to sex it up like a couple of wild bonobos:

Steve made his request after he and I were intimately involved — catching me totally off guard. I’m a nice Jewish girl from Philadelphia who grew up in a cul de sac where we played kickball and said “darn” instead of “damn” when we missed a kick.

Of course, the implication is that “intimately” means they fucked, right? When did the Jews start teaching that premarital fucking was OK, but suddenly the ages old practice of having multiple partners was not? As I recall, Jewish religious texts include stories of non-monogamous relationships. Which, by the way, is what our Ward Cleaver (in this episode, Steve) asked for.

The problem with June’s article is that she is one of many people who are incapable of separating the concepts of “love,” “marriage,” “relationships,” and “sex” and she expects that her own trouble with defining them should be a problem for everyone else as well. All of those concepts are related, but they aren’t the same thing. Many people, however, are incapable of disconnecting them. I won’t fault June for her own desires, that’s not something she deserves to be attacked for. Being able to draw a line to define one’s own boundaries is extremely important. The problem is when one draws one’s own boundaries and then expects others to draw their boundaries in the same way.

June says:

Flings are simply superficial sensory delights. There’s no difference between your partner enjoying a pizza with anchovies without you and your partner enjoying a blonde with blue eyes without you.

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I read that as “Snark, snark, snark, snort, snark!”

This honesty enables couples to avoid the emotional downward spiral of hidden affairs because the need for secrecy is removed.

If someone is in an open relationship to avoid an affair, they’re doing it wrong! Affairs are not the product of lack of openness or lack of honesty and dishonesty can still happen in open relationships. Open relationships, ideally, should be about getting the needs met of those involved. Of course, the ideal doesn’t always happen, but the ideal doesn’t happen for all the June Cleavers of the world, either.

On a side note: Karen Salmansohn’s (June Cleaver’s) article does something really odd. It claims to be presented as an article listing “good” and “bad” elements of a concept (pros and cons?) and then in the “good” section, argues against itself, listing “bad” under the “good” label. I could be wrong, but that seemed like some under-handed writing, didn’t it?

Moving herself into her description of the “bad” elements of an open relationship, June completely fails to mention if Ward ever gave an explanation as to why he felt he needed an open relationship in her “good” or “bad” section. Further, instead of listing any pragmatic concepts in her “bad” section, June describes her own definition of a healthy relationship and uses that as a guideline to exclude the possibility of an open relationship from her idea of healthy. It is a nice trick, but I’m not falling for it. Essentially, her own insecurities that she voices as her own opinion then become her basis for defining all open marriages as unhealthy and even potentially hazardous relationships to be in. The thing is, while June is welcome to have her own insecurities, her assumption that they are hang-ups for others is a tremendous problem. June doesn’t want an open marriage, essentially, because she sees her marriage as too closely tied to sex. Other people, however, don’t see marriage that way. In fact, marriage has a longer history of being more about property rights and social ties than it has being about primarily sex. Confining monogamous marriage and sexual behavior to the same shackles is a recent development in Western History and is certainly not a universal stance, even from June’s own Jewish background.

One major beef that I have with Karen’s complaints (I’ll stop calling her “June,” now, it is becoming less entertaining to me and that childish part of me is moving on to more adult things) is that she’s equating open marriage with, as she puts it, “rules for cheating.” In other words, she has already redefined a term in order to fit her own paradigm. The fact is, a healthy open relationship isn’t about “cheating.” It isn’t cheating when it is allowed.

Steve’s desire to have three days of ‘alone’ time morphed into some concept of four-sevenths of a marriage to Karen. The average employed person spends about a quarter of their lives working. Does this mean that if Steve kept a full time job during their marriage, that Karen was only getting three-quarters of a marriage? Is Karen only married when her spouse is with her? What happens if Steve works overtime or two jobs? I think that at some point in her article, Karen went from not wanting to share Steve with another woman to suddenly wanting a set percentage of Steve’s time and attention. I’m not going to say that desire is right or wrong, but just want to mention that the statements were incongruent with their context and what seemed to be her intent.

Karen clearly hasn’t studied open relationships enough, or, Karen’s interest in selling her book outweighed anything she might have learned from studying open relationships. See, Karen also makes it clear that her feelings about open marriages are tied to how she defines what’s healthy in a relationship. In her article, then, she refers to her book, Prince Harming Syndrome which, based on this article, refers to conditions she deems harmful in relationships with men:

Prince Harming is someone who does not make his partner feel safe, calm, secure, confident — and the idea of an open marriage does not leave me feeling that way.

Aside from using a pun to discriminate against any man who may not fit her tidy outline of perfection, the above quote brings up some entirely different issues. Since when should a woman, independent and strong (one would hope) need a man to make her feel “safe, calm, secure” and “confident?” If one’s self-esteem has all of those riding on the back of one man, one’s marriage is going to suck no matter if it is open or not. In a healthy world, our self-esteems are our own responsibility! No other person in the world is accountable for how wonderful any given person is than themselves. You may gain power from your loved ones, your friends and your peers, but your main power source should be you. If you are not your main source of mental support; if your ego lies in a basket on someone’s head, then when those that you have put under yourself as your pillars trip or fall, you have nothing to land on. Our responsibility to ourselves is to be our main pillar. Our responsibility to our friends and loved ones is to share a truss system which will hold us up when any one of us trips, but which we aren’t using as our only weight-bearer.

So what is the difference between love, relationships, marriage, and sex? Love is an emotional response that we can have with nearly anyone. It is a chemical reaction in our brains that we often need and are addicted to. Love feeds our social brains so that we can build unifying relationships that help protect us within our social groups. Relationships are our connections to other people. The deeper the connection, the greater the chance that person will be someone for whom we are willing to sacrifice or who is willing to sacrifice something for us, usually for the good of the (forgive me for being so dry) social unit or family. Marriage is a social contract. I know a great number of people wish it to be more than that, and for many, it is, but marriage usually exists outside of love or as a marker for love, but primarily shows the world where property belongs. Marriage is historically our civilized way of peeing on our lover’s insurance, retirement plan and even their offspring; much like a dog pissing on a bitch’s burrow. I’m not saying marriage can’t have more meaning, people define it to suit their current needs. Because of this, Karen’s idea of marriage works. Marriage is also an incredibly ambiguous term that designates a social standing. At the root of it, though, in our society, it is simply a polite alternative to dumping urea on our lover’s lazyboy. As for sex, sex is an innate desire. Sex is evolution’s answer to how we are to keep our genes alive. Sex is how we roll our dice to attempt to win the genetic lottery. We don’t have to love to do this, we don’t need social bonds for it and we don’t have to pee on a lazyboy first. Sex is evolution’s genetic insurance and our bodies are evolution’s willing puppets. (And with the way natural selection so nicely provided us with an orgasm, who are we to complain?)

I sincerely hope that Karen finds her monogamous man and her picket fence and a cul de sac for her children to pretend they didn’t say ‘damn’ in. I hope that Steve (Ward) also finds his happy, open relationship that suits whatever needs he was looking to satisfy. I hope that Karen learns a little, someday, and stops trying to make her boundaries fit the rest of the world. Finally, I hope she looks up every marital arrangement mentioned in the Torah. I don’t usually suggest people read religious texts, but I think that quest may enlighten her some.

Note: This isn’t to say that cheating can’t happen in an open or polyamorous relationship, it can. I’ve had a partner manage that one. It sucked. The cheating, though, is different and has a different set of rules and norms that accompany it, usually ones that are built by the couple. As an example, my experience involved a problem of neglect. The sex didn’t matter; I didn’t care. Instead, my emotional and mental well-being were suddenly placed on the back burner while my partner’s attention was elsewhere and that’s where everything broke apart. I don’t hold anything against that person, either. Because in all of my experiences, I’ve also learned that sometimes we build rules that people simply can’t follow. That person’s unique situation in their life led to such a problem and they, for whatever reason, could not have predicted what ended up happening. Thus, they’re still my friend, we just recognized an incompatibility and moved on. Aside from that one bad experience, my other experiences with open and polyamorous life have been good and I still consider myself to be an open-poly-flexible person. This basically means that I build relationships based on the needs of those involved. It also means that my future can hold anything from monogamy to polyamory to open relationships and I won’t know until I get there.

Just the other day, Bubbles Burbujas gave excellent advice over on The Frisky. Sadly, many people didn’t happily take it and, instead, gave the same complaints, in the comments section, about strippers (and others in this industry) that I’ve heard for years. I have heard them when I was stripping, camming, doing phone sex and even showing people my pictures. I think we should talk about a few of them (I paraphrased comments made from Bubbles’ articles, they aren’t direct quotes):

1) “My boyfriend still can’t go to strip clubs!”/”My boyfriend doesn’t need it!”/”I give my boyfriend all he needs.”

I think the moment a person assumes that they are the only thing someone else needs, they need an ego check. People aren’t puzzle pieces and we can’t fill every void left behind in others’ lives by their experiences and biology. It is no secret of nature that men have tremendous sex drives and that women can’t always provide what they want. That being said, it should ultimately be his decision if he wants to go to a club or watch porn or play with a shower head every once in a while. His sexuality is still his to own, no matter who you are! It is also much better to acknowledge this and be open about the possibility of him seeking erotic entertainment than forcing him into a position where he has to hide a part of his sexuality just because he’s afraid of losing you, the one he loves. He knows, like nearly all other men do, that his sexuality is not going to be hinged only on you and what you have to offer. It would help him tremendously if you acknowledged this.

Furthermore, you shouldn’t take it personally. Your sexuality doesn’t hinge on him, either. Your sexuality is as much for you to own as his is for him to own. As a result, if you’re not in the mood, why put yourself in a position where you are obligated to meet his needs?

All that being said, there is room for you and your boyfriend to make agreements on what is OK and what is not. If you two reach an agreement over what is acceptable, that’s an reasonable thing to do as long as one of you isn’t forcing your own idea of what is appropriate onto the other.

P. S. In the wake of announcing that you don’t own another person’s sexuality, I also want to point out that you don’t own his wallet, either.

2) “Complaints? But you’re a stripper!”/”You’re not real so you shouldn’t complain!”

It is a sad reality of the world of anyone in the sex industry that other people in our society seem to think we are on some other rung of the social ladder. As a result, they seem to think that the issues we get to face are acceptable and that we should simply accept them and suck it up. Interestingly, similar arguments were used before the 1920s, when women, housewives, were seen more as property. If their husband beat them, they were sometimes told that they should expect that. Afterall, they were housewives! How can the same argument appear out of such different contexts? Because, it is based on bigotry and a lack of consideration for another human being.

It doesn’t matter what job I have, Entertainer or not. I still deserve my basic human rights. It doesn’t matter if I’m clothed or naked, I still deserve my basic human rights. It doesn’t matter if people give me money to show them my nipples, I STILL deserve my basic human rights! I have the right to tell you that I don’t want you to touch me; I have the right to tell you where you can touch and I have the right to tell you to “fuck off” when you’re being a complete festering anal cyst.

The kind of bigotry that tries to teach an underclass that they deserve to be mistreated is the same kind of bigotry that fuels what hurts us. This bigotry is what lets our abusers get away with beating us; it lets the police overlook crimes against us and it allows us our peers to feel ok about discriminating against us. Our world isn’t innately hellish and our work is not, itself, bad for us. It is when we are thrown into a society in which people exist who think we deserve whatever we find in life because of our jobs that is bad for us and that forces us into a world where more suffering exists than really has to. My work is a great place to get lost in for a while, but the bigots can sometimes make it hell.

If you think that a person being there for you gives you special rights or that the fantasy involved with my work means you can cross boundaries, you’re wrong. That’s just you making excuses. Do you go to Disneyland and grope Cinderella, too? How about the Pirates of the Carribean? After all, they’re entertainers, giving you a fantasy! Obviously, you probably don’t (unless you really are a disrespectful schmuck). They’re people and you recognize that. If you think that way, the chances are your desire to alter the rules for people in strip clubs is not really because we’re entertainers and getting naked, it is because you want an excuse to misbehave because you know that if you don’t have that excuse then there’s something wrong with you.

Thus, if your excuse for society’s behavior–for people’s misbehavior in a strip club (or anywhere else they encounter a sex worker)–is that I’m a stripper or a camgirl or a phone sex actress, Fuck off, you festering anal cyst.*

3) “I don’t see the point of strip clubs!”

That’s nice, I don’t see the point of turtle races, but I don’t make it a point to tell everyone about it. I just don’t go. Clearly, turtle racing wasn’t meant for people like me just as strip clubs weren’t meant for people like you. It seems a little silly to make a big deal out of how pointless you seem to think it is, though.

4) “Strippers are expensive, ergo, they’re bad!”

Cars, houses, phones, utilities and food are expensive, too, and we still pay for them. In fact, most strippers have some of those things to pay for. We are here to entertain you, that’s our job. If stripping didn’t pay, we wouldn’t be here. I may have talent and I may have an ass that some people like to see, but I won’t do it for free for a bunch of random strangers when I need to spend the time on a way to pay my bills. Stripping is expensive work to do. A stripper is typically expected to pay a stage fee, plus tip the bouncer and the DJ (both of whom don’t get to work the floor and get tips-their income relies on us). We’re not bad or evil just because we ask you to pay for our services. We’re just doing our job. The men who are so grateful for what we do that they simply pay up are our favorite people, too. Afterall, it is nice to be appreciated for a job well done, don’t you think?

5) “You don’t deserve respect because you take off your clothes for money.”/”Get a “real” job.”

Firstly, stripping is not just about getting naked. It is a hell of a lot of work. Not only does a stripper have to always look damn good, but strippers spend the better part of an 8+ hour shift just dancing. How many people do you know of are able to do that? In reality, though, how I spend my energy in order to earn my money shouldn’t matter. If you have some hang up over nudity, that’s your problem, not mine. Taking off my clothes for money is a far better job than working as a clerk at Wal-Mart or mopping the floors at McDonald’s. My work as an erotic entertainer involves me being told, all day, that I’m beautiful, smart, funny and awesome. It is esteem-building. Does yours do that for you?

Stripping is a real job. Just because it involves elements that your work doesn’t or just because you disapprove of it doesn’t make it not a real job.

Typically, the person who looks down on people in the sex industry does so for one (or more) of four main reasons: Resentment, jealousy, social conditioning or offense. Pick one and work on it, examine it. Figure out what is threatening or scary about it and then make yourself better, because those feelings shouldn’t be blamed on another person, they are yours to own. Such judgements are unwanted, unnecessary and promote hatred.

*I really just wanted to call someone a “festering anal cyst.” Ad hominems are not valid arguments but for the type of person described, it is certainly an accurate description, don’t you think?

It has long been the case that women have been taught to be shy of their own genitals. A woman’s pussy has not always been considered her domain. A woman’s pussy has often been considered something that has belonged to others even to the point that basic care of one’s own genitals is left in the hands of others and sometimes even not given sufficient attention by the owner. Much like doing one’s own breast self-exams, getting familiar with your own vulva can help a woman learn more about her body and better know when things are happening that could indicate a problem. Thus, the time has come where doing a vaginal self-exam is no longer something that only vegetarian health-club hippies do, but is instead something that all women do. Thus, for all the women out there, get naked (well, below the waist, anyway), grab a small mirror (try for one with a long handle or one with a base that lets you adjust the angle), some lubricant (if you think you need it), a sanitary napkin or a medical grade latex (or non-latex) glove, feminine wipes and a flashlight. It is time for you to go where few men have gone bef … erm, scratch that, let’s go pussy spelunking!

(Note: Either do this right after you have bathed, or clean yourself up before you start. Trust me, you don’t want to be exploring yourself and then realize that you’re distracted by vagimusk when it could have easily been prevented by a wash cloth and soap. Don’t do this during menstruation and don’t do it after using any vaginal products. Some women use speculums for this, you can buy one, if you really want to.)

(To the men that have read thus far – please tell your wives, girlfriends, confidantes,  … moms … about this.)

First and foremost, it is a good idea to get familiar with your own anatomy. Thus, I have constructed a map:

Turn right at this corner.

Turn right at this corner.

(DO NOT LOSE THIS! You might get lost!)

And, a more detailed map:

Informative Pussy Fingering Diagram

Informative Pussy Fingering Diagram

1. Mons Pubis

2. Clitoral Hood

3. Clitoris

4. Opening of the Urethra

5. vaginal opening

6. Labia Minora (Inner Labia)

7. Labia Majora (Outer Labia)

8. Anus

9. Pudendal cleft/fissure (cleft of Venus, kitty cleavage)

Remember: This is for you to use to monitor your health so that you might be able to spot problems early and so that you’ll be familiar with your body – this will not replace an exam by a doctor. Don’t think that if you do this you can skip your next pelvic exam! Do this and also go to all your check ups so that both you and your doctor are well aware of the healthy state of your most adventurous bits.

Wash your hands and find a comfy place (that is really well lit) where you can easily support your back and spread your legs open. (Some women do this while squatting with their back against the wall, but I don’t want a lawsuit because someone tipped over and hurt themselves or ended up with mirror shards in their crotch, so please do this while sitting.)

Bend your knees and spread your legs wide enough to have some working room. Put your feet close to your ass, it is difficult to do this and reach everything if you just have your legs wide and laying flat and straight (most people don’t even have sex or masturbate in that position and you’re trying to access the same parts, so give yourself some room).

The first thing you need to do is to check that the manufacturer sent you all your parts – or, at least, the parts you should be paying attention to at the moment. Please check the maps above and identify each part on the list. If you can angle the flashlight beam so that it reflects off the mirror and onto your vulva, that will help tremendously.

Now it is time to get dirty. You’re going to finger your pussy in a way entirely unlike what your sexual partners (including yourself) have in the past (unless you’ve done this before, you clever girl, you). Use two fingers to spread the outer labia first. If needed, move the inner labia away from the outer labia on one side and then the other to check the area between them. The first time you do this, you’re just getting used to what you look like. You’ve had this area your whole life and it really should be as familiar to you as possible. Next, spread the inner labia apart and try to have a look into the vagina. (Note: the vagina is only the vaginal opening, the part other than the urethra that actually goes into your body and occasionally serves as a baby teleporter. The vulva, which includes the area from the mons pubis to the perineum, is not the ‘vagina’.) In the vagina, look as closely as you can and notice the reddish-pink walls* with little ridges (just like R-r-r-r-ruffles, you have r-r-r-r-idges!). Those are called ‘rugae’ (unlike the musical genre, reggae) and according to many men, they feel good sometimes. Make sure that you don’t have any extra things growing down there. You don’t want little beasties, sores or bumps. If the area is red or irritated, if it itches or if it looks like you sat in a bowl of dry curd cottage cheese then check with your doctor**.

BEFORE you put your gloves on, reach down and touch some of your vaginal discharge and get a sense of what it feels like. Basically, it shouldn’t be lumpy. Some women may find this decidedly icky, but it is your health that you’re concerned with right now. Chances are, there are much grosser things in your mouth than in your pussy and if you’ve got good hygiene habits, you stick your fingers in your mouth every day. Also, you’re going to wash your hands right after this anyway, so you may as well get dirty with it and learn something new. Mentally note what the discharge felt like and then use your feminine wipes to clean your fingers and put on the glove (if you opted for that instead of the sanitary napkin) or just wipe a little discharge onto a feminine napkin. Once you’ve done so, check out what your pussy juices look like. Now, if you haven’t observed this already in the process of being a woman, your pussy juice (a.k.a. nectar, discharge, fish oil, etc.) tends to change some throughout the month. What is to be expected, though, is a musty-ish smell that can range from a vinegarish clover smell to a sweet, light ‘fishy’ smell. If it is stinky, you either need to clean yourself up more or you should check with your doctor. It may be clear or a little white-ish and can be thick or thin. Yes, that’s confusing, but if it is anything but the above, that’s an indicator that you may want to check with your doctor.

Time to feel around a little more. Relax your muscles as much as you can without releasing your bladder (another thing I don’t want is a slew of emails from people saying I was responsible for making them piss on the floor). This shouldn’t be uncomfortable, and being tense might make it so. Please relax. Soreness from something like this may also indicate a problem that you may want to check with your doctor about.

To get to know yourself a little more, put your fingers inside the vagina and feel around for bumps (there should be ridges, but not much more than that in the immediate opening of the vagina – use lube for this if you need to, but don’t wear the gloves, they might inhibit what you’re feeling with your fingertips).

If you’re all clear, then, yay! Put your panties back on, wash your hands and go about your day.

*Pregnant women may have a bluish tint that is noticeable if you’re using a speculum.

**Said curds are often an indicator of a yeast infection.

Originally written 08-25-08

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