Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sex Clubs: A History Lesson

I love stumbling across alternative-sexuality history lessons. I love it because we're absent from most history accounts, due both to censorship and to our predecessors' desire for their own privacy. And then sexually liberated people and conservative reactionaries end up with the same misguided belief that rampant, shameless sexuality is something Westerners invented in the 1960's.

So I highly recommend Tony Perrottet's recent article for, "Hellfire Holidays," about the sex clubs of 18th-century Britain. As Perrottet reports, "Sadly, during the prudish Victorian era, most references to these naughty clubs were scotched from the historical record. Horrified relatives burned embarrassing documents and club regalia. But their subversive antics survived in pornographic novels, travel guides to risqué tourist sites, and, of course, popular memory."

When most people first fall into an alternate-sex community, it does feel exotic and revolutionary. But seriously, the novelty and "naughtiness" wear off after a couple years. Despite getting off on exoticism, and despite mainstream shock, we the currently living haven't invented anything new. We have antecedents' example to follow and adapt; we simply have to study history that didn't make it to our textbooks.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Advice Column and the Prostitute

First, thank you to LaPrincipessa for a great post on the gender double-standard in adultery. I say thank you both because LaPrincipessa makes good points, and because she alerted me to the news that Ashley Dupre, one of the prostitutes involved in the Eliot Spitzer scandal, now has her own dating advice column with the New York Post. I realize that the New York Post has the same owner as Fox News, and mostly offers the same grossly oversimplified right-wing propraganda and celebrity gossip, but there's an idea with serious potential. The first step toward empowering a stigmatized group - such as sex-workers - is allowing individuals to tell their own stories to a wide audience. Objectively, Ashley Dupre has a lot of experience with sex, and likely a different perspective from my own, and which makes me curious what she has to say. Also, for everyone protesting that Ashley Dupre is a shameful whore, cover pages like:
continue to sell newspapers.

But then, the column itself disappoints me. Because Ashley Dupre has herself an attentive audience that she could enlighten on the realities of sex work and relationships, and so far all she's doing with it is repeating the same clichés we hear everywhere else. I don't find any of it explicitly offensive - which is more than I can say for more-mainstream Dear Abby or Ask Amy columns making the blogosphere rounds, or most of the New York Post. Ashley Dupre just prints (all heteronormative people's) meaninglessly broad questions (i.e. "Are there telltale signs a man isn't happy in his marriage?") and then answers with brief, cliché generalizations.

The one with which I personally would diverge is "Q: My boyfriend wants to know how many men I've slept with. Do I give an honest answer? A: You don't give him an answer at all. It's really none of his business (and vice versa)... Some things are better left unsaid." It's a perfectly ethical answer, but I'm curious why the advice-seeker's boyfriend wants to know. If he's prone to slut-shaming or uncontrollable jealousy, that should be relevant to whether the advice-seeker wants to date him. Personally, I don't care about anyone's tally, but hearing stories about my partners' exes helps me understand the person my partner is now. I don't demand 100% disclosure of everyone they ever touched before meeting me, because they deserve privacy and because some of those stories aren't as important or as interesting as others. But they're usually good stories. I also understand that most people have higher sexual jealousy than I do, in which case Dupre's advice is respectable. But it irks me that she writes as if all advice-seekers and all of their significant others will reach the same conclusions.

I suspect the culprit may be the New York Post, because Ashley Dupre does appear much more aware of human variation in her appearance on The View (which I also wouldn't normally cite for its affirmation of non-conformity). As she says in the clip below, "...And then there's the guy that screws around just because he can screw around. Most of the time, these are the men that should not be married. Or they should be in a relationship with someone who shares the same moral beliefs as them and be swingers...."

It's refreshing to see someone on a mainstream network talk-show talking so openly and shamelessly about sex work, and "I refuse to let what I did define me." I'm just crossing my fingers that her individual perspective may eventually shine through somewhere in her advice column, instead of merely repeating the New York Post's trite lowest-common-denominator drivel.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Experiments in Neurochemistry

Since the last time I wrote about my premenstrual dysphoric disorder, I've had a couple particularly bad episodes of it, and I finally took all my friends' advice and went to a psychiatrist. Then, for the past month, I've been pondering what took me so many years. Part of it, I'm sure, was a general distrust of doctors and pharmaceuticals - anyone who stands to earn money by convincing me that my brain is "wrong" and that they can "fix" me. But some of my resistance has also been existential. As horrifically unpleasant as PMDD feels, it remains an intense passion. If my strongest feelings can be erased by taking pills, then what am I anyway? What does that mean for the rest of my emotions and for my personality? Is my entire consciousness mere hormone levels and neurochemistry?

Luckily, my psychiatrist earned my trust after asking if I've ever experienced panic attacks. I answered that I think I've had a couple in my life, but they're not a regular problem; I think the last one was a couple weeks before my wedding. She laughed and said, "That's normal; that's just part of being a bride." She didn't pretend that she could make me rational and happy all the time, or even that I should be rational and happy all the time. So I like her.

So for the last week, I've been exploring the sensation of being on a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. And it's been a pretty good week: All the little things that traumatize me on PMDD, or annoy me normally, have been mildly funny. On the first full day, I also had an intense dizzy spell that lasted almost two hours. But even then, I appreciated that I could explain to my co-workers, "I feel dizzy"; dizziness at the office doesn't have the stigma that crying does.

I've since lowered the dose, so the dizziness has been mild, but I'm still not entirely "myself." The SSRI-taking version of me is noticeably slower and more forgetful; my mind occasionally goes blank, even mid-sentence as I'm talking. But then, I also got through an entire month without dysphoria. The night that I would usually spend in the fetal position sobbing, instead I had dinner and great conversation with friends.

If "feeling like myself" means feeling like the 3/4 of time that I'm not premenstrual, then the SSRI is still much closer to "feeling like myself" than PMDD. I've always identified a bit with the absent-minded professor stereotype. So if I miss bits of conversation around me, is that the SSRI, or is that my natural daydreaming? I'll never know for sure.

Without the SSRI, if clients yell at me, how much of my distress is rational and how much is the PMDD? I'll never know for sure.

I'll be experimenting with a different SSRI next month to see if another version makes me less light-headed, but I'm entirely sold. Even if I still can't answer the questions of what the drugs mean for my "true" self. My "true" self is even more centered in my physical body than I thought.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Poly Perspective on Celebrity Scandal

I was at my boring desk job today, and my co-workers were talking about the Tiger Woods scandal in my earshot. They know a lot more than I do about the Tiger Woods scandal, because I haven't read a single article past the headline - because I really don't care. I don't play or watch golf, and most athlete/Hollywood celebrity scandals are tediously interchangeable, and Tiger Woods and I just don't have much influence over each other's lives. I don't feel a need to start caring about him now; if you're reading this outside of the U.S. and don't know what I'm talking about, Google him.

But one of my co-worker's more incredulous comments made me cringe with silent frustration: "And he's married to a supermodel!! And he cheated on her anyway!"

Okay, so here's the thing about sex with more than one person: Sometimes it really has nothing whatsoever to do with the original partner. I'll admit, of course, sometimes it does. Sometimes people first fall out of love with their "primary" significant other for any number of examples of incompatibility, and they stick around a doomed relationship either because they're too afraid to be alone until they find the next partner, or because they're too afraid to hurt the other person's feelings (which invariably backfires), or because of habit. Then they lie to their partners or spite them, which is where the real betrayal happens. I take it (from osmosis) that Tiger Woods lied to a lot of women, which makes him a liar. The women who trusted him have every right to feel outrage toward a liar, and I wouldn't begrudge any self-righteous co-worker banter over that.

But, writing as an honest adulteress, sometimes people just have sex with more than one person because they're attracted to more than one person - not because there's anything at all wrong in the original relationship. No one would seriously argue that having the Beatles or show-tunes on my iPod means that I must not actually love 1990's alternative music after all. And most people concede that it is possible to love more than one parent, more than one child, or more than one friend. I have sex with my boyfriend because I enjoy sex with my boyfriend, not because I don't enjoy sex with my husband. I quite emphatically enjoy sex with both of them, and I also enjoy that their bodies and specific preferences are different, because I enjoy variety. We're not insulting each other by rejecting monogamy. I like when my my partners are dating smart hotties; egotistically I like that they have good taste in women.

Yes, of course, cheating is different. But how many cheaters realize that honest non-monogamy exists as an alternative? I cheated on an ex a few times before I had ever heard of polyamory, because I didn't know then how else to handle being in love with two people. Would Tiger Woods have been more honest with the women in his life if he had had less justification to assume they'd react so very badly? Maybe and maybe not, but I wouldn't know; we're not that close.

Furthermore, there's really no correlation between supermodels and better marriages. Physical beauty is useful for initially attracting people, but it doesn't do much for sustaining meaningful relationships. Physical beauty doesn't even necessarily correlate with better sex; beauty doesn't signify sexual confidence, or experience, or creativity, or generosity, or compatible kinks, or stamina, or empathy, or any number of qualities that matter more to sexual satisfaction than looking pretty in photographs does.

I appreciate jaw-droppingly-hot TV stars like Gale Harold and Alyson Hannigan as much as the next person, but I still don't imagine that they're sexy enough to make monogamy sound tempting to me.

So... how is a modeling career in any way relevant?

I'm not sure, but I do know how often the banter of monogamous people feels alienating to me.