Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Virgin by Any Other Name

Rabbitwhite's recent and excellent post concerning the lost of her virginity and Evil Slut Clique's recent and excellent post about 'The Secret Life of the American Teenager got me thinking about my own loss-of-virginity story. Except: At the time I had a much narrower view of what constituted virginity, because I had a much narrower view of what constituted sex. In the days of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, I was only fourteen years old and very much a virgin. I remember even then being profoundly confused why so many people cared about President Clinton's penis, but also confused by the consuming quasi-political public debate over whether or not oral sex was "really" sex. At fourteen, I was quite sure that it wasn't. All of my sex education focused on a man putting his penis in a woman's vagina. It led to babies. And, I knew at fourteen, gay people did something like putting-a-penis-in-a-vagina, except that there were either two penises or two vaginas, and I believed in sociopolitical equality but couldn't visualize the logistics of how that worked.

The first time I kissed someone on the lips, I was thirteen, and my family was about to move across the country. I overcame my shyness by telling myself that I'd never see the cute boy again, and I asked him if he would kiss me goodbye. He said yes, and then he closed his eyes and sort of puckered his lips. (He was also thirteen, and probably didn't know what he was doing either.) I remember the clear thought process of expectation that I was supposed to close my eyes, too - and then thinking, No way! I'm finally going to kiss a boy! I'm going to watch this!

And so began my struggle to reconcile being a good girl with really, really wanted to make out with the boys. (And maybe every once in a while with a girl, although fewer of them, and I had no precedent for how that was supposed to work - especially if I still liked boys too much to identify myself as a lesbian.) The myth that messed me up the most was that most boys only want sex, so slutty girls who gave it to them too easily were tools of the patriarchy, and fated for heartbreak along with the unwanted pregnancies and STD's. The solution, I decided as a teenager, was to save sex for True Love (TM), and to imagine True Love (TM) as maudlin-romantically as only a very naive teenager can imagine True Love (TM).

The first time kissing led to taking off my clothes, I was almost sixteen, and I decided that since kissing naked was such overwhelming pleasure, then I must have found my True Love (TM). I wanted to give him a blowjob, but I hadn't yet learned how to hold my lips over my teeth for it, so I accidentally bit him a couple times and he tactfully asked me to stop. He never licked my pussy in return, which didn't yet strike me as unfair, because pussies smelled funny. He did put a finger or two in me, and that was as good as finding God.

Six months later I felt ready to offer him my virginity (by which I specifically meant penis-in-vagina), but first he broke up with me on the grounds that I was too emotional and clingy. At the time, of course, I was devastated, but in retrospect he had an excellent point. I pined for an embarrassingly long time, because the naked touching had been really, really good, and I had believed so strongly the myth that women don't enjoy naked touching without True Love (TM). Besides the myth that a person only gets one True Love (TM). ...As I came to terms with the fact that he wouldn't return my phone calls and thus probably wasn't my One True Love (TM), I had to adjust my assumption that True Love (TM) was necessary to really, really enjoying naked touching. I decided that what we had done was just making out, and that sex was what I should save for the unknown One True Love (TM). ...Then it followed that I could make out with just about anyone. And I did. I spent a lot of my junior and senior years of high school traveling, and I always had the best luck with boys that I thought I'd never see again, and vice versa. Although, for having known them each a very short time, I still vividly and fondly remember names and stories attached to various hand jobs and blow jobs. The first person to give me a blow job was only around for two weeks, but it was a great blow job. (We haven't really spoken since, but now we're Facebook-friends.) And I never doubted afterward that I was still a virgin, awaiting True Love (TM).

And then, after all that build-up: My first experience with penis-in-vagina sex - when I was eighteen and in madly love for the second time - was totally anti-climactic, in every sense of the word. I was definitely an initiative-taking participant and not violated in any way, and I was so sure that I was back in True Love (TM). But my hymen tearing hurt like a bitch. For at least a month, I felt baffled that anyone would prefer that awkward pain over hand jobs or oral sex. ...Many years of sexual self-discovery later, I'm now a huge fan of having a cock in my cunt. But then, I'm also still a fan of oral sex, and petting, and pegging, which can all lead to equally intense orgasms. And I still don't have as much experience with women, but I have successfully figured out how one has sex without a penis at all. Not to mention BDSM: Every now and then a good ass-beating is better than touching genitals at all.

So in retrospect, the emotional importance I once attached to penis-in-vagina sex - and not to other forms of sexuality - was entirely arbitrary, and contingent on not knowing what I was missing.

Which is not to say that I regret it. It worked for me at the time, both for my pleasure and for my newly-forming sexual morality. It was also safer from a pregnancy/STD-prevention perspective. (Although at the time I also didn't understand that STD's could also be passed by oral sex. I lucked out.)

But it does continue to baffle me when I hear abstinence-propaganda and its contribution to a cultural obsession with virginity. Only the most fringe extremists oppose premarital kissing, so who gets to determine the point on the spectrum at which virginity is lost? And if when that moment passes is up for debate, then how do they pass moral proclamations over clear-cut categories of virgins and non-virgins? For those who have had the experiences, was first intercourse really more life-changing than first kiss, or first petting?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Stormy Daniels for Senate

I have to admit that I've seen relatively little vanilla pornography, so the first I heard of porn star Stormy Daniels is that she may be running for U.S. Senate in 2010. Specifically, as Ms. Daniels is from Louisiana, she would be challenging the incumbent Republican senator David Vitter - one of the cliché right-wing politicians who get caught doing the very things they love to legislate against. In the summer of 2007 news broke that before, during, and after winning a U.S. senate seat by preaching conservative "family values," Vitter was a frequent customer of prostitutes. And he was a fetishist: It's hard now to find a mainstream reputable source from 2007, but some of the prostitutes who had slept with Sen. Vitter disclosed that he liked being forced to wear diapers. Which is how he earned his nickname: Vitter the Shitter.

Now, I firmly believe that Senator Vitter has the right to wear diapers with consenting prostitutes, and that doing so doesn't necessarily compromise his abilities as a senator - any more than my kinks or polyamory compromise my ability to do a desk job during the day, or any more than anybody having vanilla sex with their spouse compromises their ability to do a job. Except that apparently Senator Vitter actually disagrees with me, because after he was caught, he went on the record calling his own behavior, 'a very serious sin.' And he's still voting with the Christian Coalition 100% of the time.

In our culture, it's easy to laugh with disgust at diaper-fetishists. But I'm really disgusted he has claimed that stopping gay marriage is the most important issue in America, and I'm frustrated that the jokes at his expense generally target his fetish and not the hypocrisy of his trademark sexual intolerance.

Enter Stormy Daniels, porn star, and her blitz of interviews in the mainstream media - on MSNBC, on CNN, and even on Fox News, and noted by Rachel Maddow as 'the [challenger] to receive the most press attention thus far.' And no one seems to know how seriously to take her: On the one hand, her campaign is likely getting attention for the sheer novelty, and she doesn't really get defensive when interviewers ask for a reaction to the idea that this is a big joke. But on the other hand, she's getting plenty of real attention. And - in a country where both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse "The Body" Ventura have been elected as governors - novelty, fame, sex appeal obviously count for something.

And, as a sex-positive feminist, I almost love her for parts of her interview with The Daily Beast's Max Blumenthal:

Particularly when she says, as part of what could be an actual U.S. Senate campaign, "I personally have no issues with [Vitter]'s sexual activities or his sexual preferences or whatever it is that he wants to do. My issue with him - I mean, who am I to judge, right? My issue with him is that he's a hypocrite. And, you know, call me what you will, but you can't call me a hypocrite." Or when she suggests the campaign slogan, "Stormy Daniels: Screwing people honestly."

Except - and this is a real problem - she has no political experience of any kind. Which she freely admits in all of these interviews. The fan site that apparently convinced her to run lists her credentials from editing her high school newspaper to her acting role in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Which is not to discount the idea that she may well be a smart woman with good business sense; she comes across in her interviews as reasonably articulate. But the U.S. only has 100 senators out of our entire population, and I would hope that we hold them to higher standards than "reasonably articulate." I generally respect the values and the intelligence of most of my family and friends, but I don't believe that we're all qualified for the office of Senate.

So, as someone who pragmatically prefers our senators to come with strong leadership resumés, I sincerely hope that this is a publicity stunt and not an actual political campaign. But it's a beautiful publicity stunt. While I wouldn't want her to win, I love her for touring the mainstream media with the message that the honest sex-worker is more ethical than the guy with a 100% rating from the Christian Coalition. I love her for her humility and political-participation-advocacy when she tells The Daily Beast, "If he's so awful that they're trying to get me to run, I think people really need to get out there and vote. And if I can use my name and my image to bring attention to the fact that people need to register to vote, and get people like Vitter out of office..."

....And then my admiration comes to screeching halt with her slogan suggestion, "Stormy Daniels: At Least I Don't Wear a Diaper." Which is such an easy blow to take, which offends so very few people. But is mocking other people's fetishes so acceptable that even a porn star campaigning for senate gets to do it? I don't personally understand the sexual kick of diapers, but it doesn't hurt me. If we're going to take blows at Senator Vitter: Legislating against my civil rights hurts me.

So maybe this political race isn't a story of sexual liberation after all, but rather another example of our culture's wacky bipolar attitude toward sex. We carry the shame that got Vitter elected in the first place, and heap more shame on Vitter for his scandal. But then the media laps at the feet of the traditionally-beautiful big-breasted blond porn star. And we'll never know for sure whether or not Stormy Daniels actually has any good ideas on the issues, because interviewers only ask her about pornography or her opponent's prostitute-habit. Sex sells - and apparently so does shame.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Secrets and Sophistication

As I've been reflecting on my discovery of the BDSM community: I have no doubt that there are many people who practice BDSM behind closed door with their lovers and who consider their proclivities a deeply private matter - and who are perfectly happy doing so. One doesn't need to join the BDSM social community, or to discuss it with platonic friends (or with strangers on the Internet), in order to be ethical, self-aware, and kinky as all hell. But personally, I remember having a deep, dark, shameful secret. And telling my "secret" to trusted friends - whom I had no desire to fuck or play with - was the key to no longer having a secret. (I'm also lucky in that I've always been politically liberal, and already had liberal friends.)

My very closest friends, the ones I told first, got a nervously chattery version that started with, "I have a deep dark secret that I have to get off my chest." Actually, one of my very first disclosures started with a ramble about how very stressed I was about college midterms and a theatre-piece that I was working on at the time, before I got the courage to toss in the stress of my deep dark secret, and conclude with, "Or maybe I'm just entirely crazy."

To which my friend responded perfectly, "Liking sadomasochism doesn't mean you're crazy. Although sacrificing your health and sleep over a school play might mean you're crazy."

Then there was my cousin, whom I had never really intended to tell. But I met the man that I'm (now, four and a half years later) going to marry at a munch, and I did tell my family that I was dating someone that I had met in a coffee-shop . My cousin and I have always talked more openly about sex with each other, and she wanted to know all the details about how my now-fiancé and I started talking to each other. Her questions were inescapably specific, and I had never withheld the details about any other boyfriend from her before, so I had the uncomfortable choice between explaining the munch or lying to her. Finally, after a lot of obnoxiously cryptic mumblings, I said the word "sadomasochism."

"Sadomasochism? What's that?" And we had a long terrifying pause, in which I grappled for how to explain sadomasochism to my younger cousin. Then she rescued me by asking, "Wait, to do you mean S&M?"

"Uh, yes. That's what S&M stands for."

"Oh, I never knew what it stood for. You sound so sophisticated!"

And then the friend I couldn't tell for a while because our schedules made it difficult to spend one-on-time together. She met "the man from the coffee-shop" before I'd had an opportunity to elucidate why I had been talking to strangers in that coffee-shop. While the three of us were sitting on my couch together one evening, he picked up the bit of rope I had laying around as a cat toy and started fidgeting. My friend, an artistic girl, noticed and exclaimed what very pretty knots he was making, and asked him to teach her. Before leaving, she announced that she was going to start making jewelry with these beautiful knots - and, "Who knew knots could be so useful?!" Several days later, when I told her that he and I were both sadomasochists, her response was, "What, you mean like tying people up and stuff? ...Oh! He was never a boy scout, was he?!" and laughed.

So, why did I have a deep, dark secret from these people for so long? ...I honestly have no idea.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Mary Kay Epilogue

I love Susie Bright. I first discovered her essays when I was in college, and I give her a lot of credit for my college epiphany that being a feminist and being a slut were not, after all mutually exclusive: That not only could I be an empowered woman and a masochist cock-craver, but that I could only become an empowered woman if I let go of the shame for my honest sexual desires. Thank you Susie Bright. I still follow her blog eagerly, although most of the time now it makes me feel like her proverbial preacher's choir.

Then, a couple weeks ago, Susie Bright covered the current whereabouts of Mary Kay Fualaau, better known to people who had access to television in the 1990's as Mary Kay Letourneau. For those who don't remember, Mary Kay Letourneau was imprisoned in 1997 for having sex with and becoming impregnated by her thirteen-year-old student, Vili Fualaau. She was released in January 1998, but by February she went back to jail for planning to run away with boy, and that October she gave birth to their second child. In 2001, Vili Fualaau's mother sued the school and police for failing to keep her son safe, but she lost: Police attorney Anne Bremner successfully convinced a jury, "Fualaau and Letourneau still 'see themselves as Romeo and Juliet' and want to get married... adding that there was nothing anyone could have done to keep the two apart." Letourneau finished her second jail sentence in 2004, at which point Fualaau, then 21, successfully petitioned the court to let him see her again. They married in 2005, in a ceremony covered by Entertainment Tonight. And now they have celebrated their fourth marriage anniversary, and host an event in a Seattle bar called "Hot for Teacher."

....And I have been struggling to figure out how I feel about this. Once again, I think Susie Bright sums it up about as well as anyone can:

"It's unfair to strike a moral posture on The Letourneau Affair, because their story defies all predictions."

On the one hand, the basis of any ethical sexuality is informed consent, and in 1997 Vili Fualaau was not sufficiently mature to give informed consent to a thirtysomething authority figure. ...On the other hand, Vili Fualaau is a consenting adult now. If their relationship was (rightfully!) criminal in 1997, but they're two consenting adults in 2009, then when did the ethics change?

On the one hand, one could argue that Vili's ongoing attachment to the woman who statutorily raped him is a further sign of his psychological damage. ....On the other hand, what outsider has the right to tell him, now almost 26, that he still doesn't have the right to choose his wife-of-four-years?

On the one hand, the eighteenth birthday is a completely arbitrary cut-off by which to judge sexual maturity. Any cut-off would be arbitrary, because "growing up" is a gradual process, and because people psychologically "grow up" at different ages. ...On the other hand, there's a cut-off somewhere, and it's definitely after the seventh grade.

On the one hand, realistically, most thirteen-year-olds daydream about sex and masturbate all the time; heaven knows I did. ...On the other hand, those daydreams and masturbation are all about figuring out how one's own body works sexually, before one shares that with another person.

On the one hand, our culture's hysteria about the perceived omnipresent threat of pedophiles has gotten a little, well, hysterical - with parents getting arrested for taking naked-baby pictures that are sexual only in the eyes of the prosecutors, and teenagers being arrested for taking sexy pictures of themselves. ...On the other hand, other people's paranoia of pornography aside, Mary Kay bore two of Vili's children.

The whole story is built-for-TV sensationalism, but I keep picking at it in my brain. And one part on which I feel comfortable making a definitive moral proclamation: Why weren't they using birth control?! I support jail sentences for thirtysomethings who have sex with their seventh grade students, but then to not use birth control - twice - is a whole extra layer of stupid. Is that how far safe-sex awareness has fallen?