Sunday, May 2, 2010

On having been the "man" everyone warned me about

It's been a couple months since Teen Vogue columnist Jessica Simmons wrote her much-linked post "Is Hooking Up Good for Girls?" about how casual sex apparently disempowers women, because apparently it leaves us pining in agony for men to commit to us.  And Kate Harding has already written the great rebuttal:
...[I]f we teach all kids that there's a wide range of potentially healthy sexual and emotional relationships, and the only real trick (granted, it's a doozy) is finding partners who are enthusiastic about the same things you want, then there's room for a lot more people to pursue something personally satisfying at no one else's expense...
To which Rabbit White wisely added that the first step is (surprise!) honest communication.  But as I'm reading these feminist defenses of casual sex, I'm also wondering: Where in this discussion are all the men who have romantically pined for the women who mostly wanted to get laid?  They do, in fact, exist, and I can't possibly be the only straight cis woman who has struggled with the guilt of having dated them.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Privilege of Not Defending Oneself

I've lately felt an unfortunate pressure to defend polyamory again (with apologies to etymologists).  I usually ignore the judgments of the uninformed, but then there's the friend of a friend who may or may not have been joking when she scoffed that she'd never let me near her boyfriend.  And the polyamory-focused indie film that's actually all about how it's kooky and doomed.  And the absolutist, all-caps-laced rant on the usually sex-positive The Stranger blog with profound metaphors like "such idiotic bullshit" and questions like, "Ever wonder why they all will fuck any damn thing that will hold still long enough?"  So I could use my blog to paraphrase all the same points of The Ethical Slut, Opening Up, and Polyamory Weekly.  But they're already making the crafted argument/explanation pretty well.  My personal version is mostly sentimental: I love two people.

And I remember one poly-book-club meeting where someone suggested we all go around the table and tell everyone "why" we're poly.  It irritated me, because it had nothing to do with the book we'd read, and do monogamous people ever go around a table explaining why they're monogamous?  I politely listened to the chain of people paraphrasing The Ethical Slut, and I didn't disagree with any of it, except that I had to wonder about the poly community's talking-about-our-feelings fetish.  When it got to me, I simply stated, "I'm in love with two people.  I don't want to lie to either of them.  ...That's it, really."

Monday, March 22, 2010

In Defense of Anonymity

Betty Dodson has long been one of my sex-positive-feminist heroines.  But then, because I do highly regard her opinions, her blog post yesterday entitled Going Public with Our Sexual Activity stung me.  The post begins:
I'd like to get rid of all the "anon" sign-offs and cyber avatars. What is everyone afraid of? Why can't we all celebrate who we are sexually? What are the concerns people have about claiming their sex-lives under their own name? As long as we continue to hide who we are sexually, we will continue to be manipulated by our repressed conservative society that really hates, or I should say "fears" sex.

The moralists proudly shout their opinions from the roof tops while far too many in the sexual community sneak around under aliases...
And she has an excellent point.  But then, my real name isn't Annabelle, and I won't be publishing it here, even if Betty Dodson does judge me for it.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

When Sex Negativity Is Kinda Hot

I recently finished reading The Edge of the Bed: How Dirty Pictures Changed My Life by Lisa Palac, which I highly recommend, because I agree with almost everything she writes.  The part especially sticking with me has been Chapter 6, in which she analyzes her kinky desires that don't just deny, but appropriate her anti-sex Catholic upbringing:

At its core, my Daddy fantasy isn't about my father but about Our Father Who Art in Heaven.  I'd taken the dynamic of love and punishment, which terrorized me as a child and made me feel helpless -- kneeling down and sticking out my tongue to receive his body, whispering my most sinful transgressions in a dark confessional, doing penance to show my love -- and turned it into a powerful source of erotic pleasure.  It wasn't a conscious decision, but then, sexual fantasies rarely are.

...Despite my fear that all of my intellectual processing would ruin by best sexual fantasy, it didn't.  It's still a turn-on because I'm still struggling with the after-effects of Catholicism and I always will be.

Personally, unlike Palac, I was never raised with the idea of God as an old man who would send me to hell for sexual adventurousness.  Instead, the messages that my sexual desires were wrong came from pop-psychology and a specific strain of feminism.  Without God or hell, wanting men to dominate me sexually was a sin against Women's Liberation and a transgression against my Mental Health.  My sex-negative clergy got most of its ideas from Andrea Dworkin.  And I consciously rejected it years ago.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

An Open Letter to Marie Claire

Dear Marie Claire Magazine,

Thank you for publishing Pamela Druckerman's, "How I Planned a Menage à Trois."  For all the shock-value usually attributed to sexual exploration, Druckerman's focus on negotiating with potential partners over coffee is greatly refreshing.  She resists the sensationalist cliché that threesomes are invariably traumatizing and the opposite sensationalist cliché that threesomes are as glamorous as they look in porn, and instead reports her honest experience.  More of this, please.

However, I'm frustrated how Druckerman glosses over, "In practice, I was shaken up," in the last couple sentences.  Up until that point, planning and having her threesome feels either fun or banal, and then she's "struck by how emphatically [she] want[s] [her] husband."  Why then suddenly shaken up?  Is she feeling jealous?  Or does she feel that N or her husband have violated any of her boundaries?  Or is she shaken up by others' judgments that she's "supposed" to feel shaken up?  Druckerman shows so much introspection up until that point, but as soon as she decides that actually her desires are "conservative" (and therefore "normal"?), she quits analyzing.  That strikes me as lazy journalism.

And since Druckerman has decided against having any more threesomes in her life, why doesn't Marie Claire feature any of the many women who have more - and more positive - experiences to share about their threesomes?  Or any of the many women who have initiated them, as opposed to acquiescing to a man's fantasy?  I respect Druckerman's choices, but there's also a huge community of polyamorists and swingers who could provide better insight into why some women really, really like group sex.

Yours sincerely,
Annabelle River 




PS If you too would like to write the editor of Marie Claire, the email address on their website is joannacoles at hearst dot com.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Graphic Sexual Horror and the Ambiguity of Consent

Last Friday I too had the chance to see the documentary Graphic Sexual Horror at the Leather Archives and Museum.  The film explores the story behind the now-defunct hardcore BDSM pornography website InSex.com, with an impressive lack (or mix) of glorification or condemnation.  I'd like to thank Arvan for the detailed review he's already posted - as well as of course Barbara Bell and Anna Lorentzon for making the film, and Clarisse Thorn and the Leather Archives' Jennifer Tyburczy for hosting.

While Arvan's post touches on many fascinating aspects of InSex and of Graphic Sexual Horror, the one that I left the museum discussing was the ambiguity of consent.  InSex's trademark was hyper-realistically torturing women to the very edge of their limits.  The documentary asked whether these women had given fully-informed, empowered consent, and left the audience with the answer, "Some of them, some of the time."  Which is almost more unsettling than "No," because it calls into question our sacred differentiations between sadomasochism and exploitation.  But then, any strong differentiation has to withstand occasional questioning.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance

The first time I heard the name Elna Baker was on the "Matchmakers" episode of This American Life radio show.  Her segment on working for FAO Schwartz is well worth listening to: The beginning makes me laugh hard, and then it packs a sucker-punch of commentary on American racism and classism.  Touched by Elna Baker's humor and poignancy, I went looking for her personal website, which has clips of her telling stories.  Watching her first video clip, then, I was surprised to learn that Elna Baker is also a practicing Mormon committed to virginity-until-marriage.  As she says of her  dating experience for the laugh-line, "As a Mormon, I don't believe in having sex, and eventually, as a guy, he didn't believe in that.  So atheists do have beliefs."



And I have to confess my gut-level reaction to Mormon abstinence.  Because most of my prior awareness of Mormons comes from their financial and vocal support for Proposition 8, which stripped Californian gays and lesbians of civil rights, and their practice of security-detention for gay men who kiss on the cheek.  My awareness of abstinence-only propaganda is that it's objectively ineffective, in addition to intentionally spreading misinformation, sexism, fear, shame, and homophobia.  There are "purity balls" that promote fathers' ownership of their daughters' sexuality, and "virginity pledgers" with comparable STD and pregnancy rates to their more honest peers.  I highly recommend Feministing's Jessica Valenti's eloquent writing on female disempowerment by "the virginity fetish" and defense of pre-marital sex.