Sunday, December 31, 2006

Dr. Laura on Sex as a Commodity

Prompted by the sale of the domain “Sex.com” for $12 million, Dr. Laura penned this column on the commodification of sex. Now normally I try to avoid Dr. Laura altogether. I find her lack of insight into… oh… reality to be frustrating. There’s no reasoning with that, there’s no rebuttal that would make her think twice about what she’s saying, there’s no reason to bother driving myself crazy over it. But this particular piece was delivered to my inbox by the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, and when they send something I know it’s worth a read.

And it was. It was full of her usual vitriolic blather about people who have sex without total emotional commitment and how we’re causing society’s downfall – and normally that would cause me to start tearing at my hair and spouting facts about sexual abuse in marriage, but this time I was able to take it all in stride with a bemused smile on my face, all because of this line:

“[…]check your local University course handbook and you’ll find courses in perversions and pornography presented in as positive a perspective as anti-United States politics!”

I admit it, I had to read it a few times to be sure of what she was saying. The first time I read it, I snorted with laughter, then kept reading. A few lines down, I thought to myself, “self, there’s no way she would actually be saying what you think she’s saying.” So I went back and read it again, and tried to give her a little more credit. The third time through I realized it was no mistake: Dr. Laura thinks universities are full of PERVERTS and COMMIES!

(Well, she probably meant “anti-United States politics” to mean “those evil Middle-Eastern countries that don’t want to be homogenized” and not “those damn reds.” The message is the same, though.)

Knowing that Dr. Laura is stuck in a cold-war anti-intellectual mentality made it a lot easier to handle the rest of the piece, which included comments like

“While males and females are physiologically and temperamentally quite different creatures; women into nesting, bonding and nurturing, and men into conquest, providing, and protecting, they are quite similar spiritually.”

And

“How did this begin? […]I think it obviously starts with birth-control”

And, the worst:

“Well, I’m here to tell you that this experiment has failed. Nobody, except the perverts, pedophiles, narcissists and sadists are happy with sex becoming a commodity.”

to which I would just like to say: She forgot masochists! Some of us get off enormously on being sexual commodities. Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think your average middle-American, Howard Stern watching, church-going, beer-drinking Joe benefits quite a bit from the commodification of sex. As do many other people, of course, but the rest of them are all perverts and commies and should stay in their universities and leave the rest of us alone.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Dear Blog

Dear, darling, neglected blog...

I have been lax in my attentions to you, and for that I am eternally sorry. It's just, what with the holiday and the moving and the not having the internets at our new "home" (that is to say, the apartment I'm staying in at the moment, which feels a lot like home because of who we're living with), it's hard to find the time to write, or even to read all the stuff I'd otherwise be posting on you. Give me time, and I promise I'll be attentive and loving and make it all up to you after the new year.

Love,
Amanda

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Free Genarlow?

This story has been getting a lot of press lately: A young man in Georgia has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for engaging in consensual oral sex with a 15 year old girl when he was 17. Georgia law states that anyone engaging in oral sex with an underage female is committing a crime. There's more to it than that, though, even though "Free Genarlow" has become the rallying cry.

The whole thing went down like this:
Someone threw a really awesome party -- the kind you want to go to when you're 15, and the kind your parents don't want you going to ever. People were drinking, smoking up, and having sex -- and there was a video camera. Genarlow Wilson, the young man in question, was caught on tape having sex with a 17 year old who appears very drunk, or at least very sleepy. Later, he and several other young men are seen receiving oral sex from a 15 year old young woman, who says she wasn't drinking that night and that the acts were consensual. The next day, the 17 year old brought rape charges against Wilson and several others. Under Georgia law (and that of many other states), an intoxicated person cannot give consent, so sex acts occurring while a partner is drunk can be considered rape if that person later feels she has been violated and taken advantage of. Wilson was charged, went to trial, and found not guilty of rape in this instance, but found guilty on charges of aggravated child molestation for receiving oral sex from a 15 year old.

So, despite the fact that Wilson was an honor student, high school track and football star, and homecoming king, he wasn't exactly a prince, and there were social factors at play here -- not just the age of the young woman involved, but also her relative social status and the power-dynamics involved there. These factors contribute to sexual manipulation (of people of all ages and genders, although young women are particularly vulnerable) on a daily basis. It isn't surprising that he was charged, given the context in which the sex act took place; because of the way the law was written, the proof that he had in fact received oral sex from a 15 year old (the video, that is) meant that the jury had no choice but to find him guilty. Although he was acquitted of the rape charge in the case of the 17 year old woman, I'm still willing to go out on a limb and say: ew. I don't care if he wasn't convicted, what happened to the 17 year old was absolutely disgusting and a poor decision on his part. It speaks volumes that this part of the story is being swept under the rug by the media and Wilson is being painted as a hometown hero wrongly accused.

Jessica of Feministing is quite right in pointing out the incredibly sexist implications of the law that Genarlow Wilson, the young man, broke:
Consent laws are overwhelmingly enforced to "protect" young girls, even if some of them don't need protecting. I find it pretty insulting that any teen girl who has sex is an automatic victim.
She also points out that charges may not have been brought at all if it had been the young man performing oral sex, and not the other way around. Regardless of the fact that many are manipulated and violated, this particular young woman has not said she felt that way. Law states that she could not legally give consent (because she was 15 at the time), and that law denies that she, as a young woman, is capable of making decisions about her body and her life.

Back in the day, when I was a majorly sexually active minor, the idea that either myself or my partner were doing something illegal was inconceivable. What I was doing was punishable in the court of My Mother's House, sure, but in a court of Law? According to this article in The Sunday Times (UK-Scotland edition), many young people are startled to learn their randy behavior is punishable by law:
When Paul lost his virginity to an older girl, he never thought he might be committing a crime. Emma, his first girlfriend, was a year older than him at 15 and already sexually experienced. But when her parents discovered the nature of their relationship, it was 14-year-old Paul who was threatened with the law.
For the record, Paul was not charged, but under Scottish law he could have been.

In Georgia, Wilson recently lost his appeal. Meanwhile, Georgia lawmakers are in the process of rewriting the law under which he was convicted to match that which applies to intercourse. Under the new "Romeo and Juliet" law, teens within 3 years of each other in age will not be able to be charged for oral sex (unless, of course, it isn't consensual, but that's a whole other law).

In the meantime, a recent study by the Guttmacher Institute found that 9 out of 10 US citizens have engaged in premarital sex. I wonder how many of them were committing a crime at the time? In any case, the study provides ample evidence that abstinence only until marriage might not be the wisest of choices when it comes to sex education.

More:
Wilson's Attorney Answers Questions
NY Times Op-Ed: Free Genarlow Wilson Now
Why is Genarlow Wilson in Jail?
Interesting Debate in the Feministing Comments

Monday, December 18, 2006

Tool of the Patriarchy.

I went into CVS for asthma medicine. I left with: volumizing conditioner, pomegranate-mango body wash, hair dye, cosmopolitan magazine, and tampons. Oh yeah, and the asthma medicine.

What the hell happened? Let's take it one item at a time, shall we? The volumizing conditioner I needed because I'm out, and the person I'm staying with right now... his conditioner just doesn't cut it. It took me a solid half hour to detangle my hair this afternoon. The body wash is because, for the first time in a long time, I don't want to smell like boy. I want to smell pretty and feminine. I'm not exactly sure why fruity=feminine, but since it wasn't labelled "For Men" like the other body wash I felt safely ladylike. The Nice'n'Easy (hair color, or motto?) is because believe me, it's time. And I'd like to dye it before I get it cut so the hairstylist will think I'm less of a slob. The Cosmo... I don't know what happened there. I haven't bought that magazine in a year at least. I don't think I've read it much more recently. I used to read it occasionally for a laugh. Today I told myself I was buying it for blog-fodder.

And the tampons. Brand-name, bleached cotton tampons. That's right. Do you know, I've had not one but TWO boyfriends tell me I should use The Keeper instead? It's not that I think there's anything wrong with it as a product, and I recognize the economic and environmental benefits of it. When a woman friend recommends it to me, I have no problem discussing it with her and telling her the reasons I don't use it. But a GUY? Please. Until you deal with bleeding on a monthly basis, don't be self-righteous about my use of tampons. I'll deal with my period however I choose. For the record, the sight of that much blood (even the thought of it, really, and even though I know there's more to menstrual fluid than blood) makes me dizzy and faint, and the idea of needing to empty The Keeper in a public place makes me feel incredibly socially anxious.

Anyway. So, I leave CVS and almost immediately run into a friend -- a grown-up friend, whom I respect and admire. And I was immediately ashamed of the contents of my CVS bag. Not that I think she'd care that much, but still.

So what happened to make me buy all that stuff? I think it's about control. I'm feeling stressed and like I don't have a grasp on things, and my femininity is not only something I have control over, but also something that can help me regain control over my life -- the more I fit in to the mainstream ideal, the more likely things are to fall into place for me.

Yuck. Watch as I add "find new ways to feel in control of life" to my to-do list. Right next to "Buy plane ticket to San Francisco."

Sorry for the weird post, guys -- it's been a weird week!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Speaking of Adverts: Viagra Much?

Kids see too many anti-impotence ads, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The doctors released a statement, as a part of their general stance on youth exposure to television advertising, that
"We'd like to see more birth control ads," Strasburger said, "and less ads for erectile dysfunction drugs because it makes sex seem like a recreational activity."

Okay, so it's a bit of a conflicting message. After all, commercials for birth control don't exactly encourage people to think of sex as sacred or solely for procreation. And if it isn't for procreation, isn't it for... recreation? Well, sure, sometimes. But the AAP statement points out that there continues to be more advertising in prime time for ED drugs than for birth control, and that
This is despite the fact that 2 national polls have found that a majority of Americans favor the advertising of birth control on TV.

The statement also points out that
Research has definitively found that giving teenagers increased access to birth control through advertising does not make them sexually active at a younger age.


The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is also giving serious thumbs down to Viagra's advertising, claiming that
Pfizer's marketing treats Viagra as a tool to improve one's sex life instead of a drug for a medical condition.

I would agree with that claim, and I do think it's irresponsible on the part of Pfizer. On the other hand, I also think there's something not quite right about the organization's response campaign: Ads in the Village Voice and in gay publications in New York, LA, South Florida and San Francisco will show a doctor's prescription pad "which contains the message that Viagra combined with crystal methamphetamine creates a prescription for HIV infection." I guess what I find so startling about this campaign is that Viagra is the target. The idea is that meth can cause ED during the high, but pair it with Viagra and you're free to screw whoever you want. But... shouldn't the emphasis be on not having unsafe sex? After all, if a side effect of meth wasn't temporary ED, Viagra couldn't be the scapegoat.

Hotter than Monica and Bill? Just Barely.


Kinda hot? I think so. It's from the Naked Cigar Calendar Company's 2007 edition. The perfect gift for your favorite cigar aficionado (assuming s/he likes naked ladies). (Via Fleshbot)

Pizza, Drinking and Sex

HAH! From ifilm.com to my blog, for your viewing entertainment.

Monday, December 11, 2006

One Less?

Merck has chosen the slogan “One Less” to advertise Gardasil, the HPV vaccine that helps protect women from the four kinds of Human Papillomavirus that are most likely to cause genital warts and cervical cancer. They advise women that by getting the vaccine, they (or their daughters) could be “one less life affected by cervical cancer.” Solid advice, but genital warts are never mentioned. Neither is the fact that HPV is sexually transmitted. But I’ve vented about all that here before, and today I have a different soapbox to stand on.

I realize that a commercial isn’t behavioral psychology, but there are some basic tenets which seem to carry over. Medicines for asthmatics, for example, aren’t marketed as “you’ll wheeze less!” Instead, they’re marketed as “You’ll finally be able to run through fields of flowers with your dog without stopping to take a puff on your inhaler!” Positive reinforcement, if you will.

Now don’t get me wrong: I, and the women I know, all want to be “one less” cervical cancer statistic. But in a culture that constantly negates women’s thoughts, women’s work, women’s experiences, is “One Less” really a wise slogan? Essentially, it’s negative reinforcement. At the very end of the television commercial, a group of girls are jumping rope and chanting “O-N-E-L-E-S-S, I wanna be one less (ONE LESS!)” I found it absolutely haunting. I don’t want those little girls to think of themselves as less! I want them to think of themselves as one MORE woman who is protected against HPV.

Am I being silly? Language is so incredibly important and so easy to overlook. Everything in this country is informed by a culture that negates women. Every little thing, even down to telling girls to be “one less.” While I’m sure those who designed the ad campaign weren’t thinking “Oh, let’s make young women feel reduced,” the language isn’t innocent or innocuous. Why use negative language when a positive phrase would work as well, if not better? Language has impact regardless of intent.

That being said: if you're eligible, please consider being vaccinated. The you, too, can be one more woman protected against HPV.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Durex Condoms Contain Silicone Lube

So, you've taken the advice of your friendly local adult store employee/sex educator/toy-savvy friend, and you always cover your dildos with condoms to make for easier clean-up and to keep porous toys from getting germy. You even switch condoms between orifices. Congratulations!

But do you know what kind of lube is on your condom? I posted about this several weeks ago, after I emailed Trojan, Durex and Lifestyles to inquire about the lubricant used on their condoms. Trojan quickly wrote back to inform me that only their polyurethane condom (Avanti) uses a silicone-based lubricant. The rest use water-based lube. I took that response from Trojan, along with Kimono's proud advertisement of their "unique" water-based lubricant, and felt safe in generalizing that most condoms were probably lubricated the same way.

Oh, but I was wrong. This email arrived recently from Durex:
All of our lubricated condoms contain lubricants that are silicone based
except the lubricant used in our Natural Feeling condoms which is water
based.
Now, I'm sure you recall hearing from your friendly local adult store employee/sex educator/toy-savvy friend that silicone lube is bad news for silicone and cyberskin toys. It breaks down the material, although I can't honestly tell you to what degree. I've heard reports that a nickel-sized amount of silicone lube and a little friction will literally melt a silicone dildo. I've also heard that the effect isn't quite as visible, but just as sad: silicone lube degrades the material, making it porous and ruining one of the best things about having silicone toys! Since I know better, I've never had a silicone meltdown accidentally, and (let's face it folks) who has the extra cash to willfully ruin a perfectly good sex toy, even if it is in the name of science?

That being said, I can't tell you for sure what the effect of a silicone-lubed Durex condom is on a silicone toy. I definitely think it's possible that the combination of
silicone-on-silicone and lots of friction could create a reaction. Anyone else want to weigh in? If you've ever had a major condom-related dildo meltdown, or if you use Durex on your Johnny all the time and have never noticed a problem, or if you have more hard facts about the science, I'd love to hear from you.

In the meantime: Trojan and Kimono are (mostly) water-based, and Durex uses (mostly) silicone. Still no response from Lifestyles. I feel like I should write an investigative report... think 20/20 would buy it?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Serious Linkage

I don't know that it's actually true, but there seems to have been an inordinate amount of sex-related news this past week, and I missed most of it (what with the being away business). So, here are a whole bunch of links -- you may find some of them to be old news. I promise to be more up to date after this.

Someone mentioned that I never really wrote about World AIDS Day. He's right, but it's a bit late now. I think I'll wait a couple months and bring it up when everyone's stopped talking about AIDS again. In the meantime: Global AIDS statistics which, in many ways, speak for themselves.

Everyone (and her bubbe) seems to be cracking jokes about the recent decisions by the highest court of Conservative Judaism. The decisions (there were three of them, based on different aspects of Jewish law -- two against and one for) essentially allow individual schools and synagogues to decide whether to admit openly gay rabbinical students or perform same-sex unions.

In addition to World AIDS Day, I missed out on commenting on Free EC Day! Planned Parenthood clinics across the country were giving EC away to the over-18 crowd. Younger types could also get the EC by filling out some paperwork and having a short counseling session. Just because you didn't get around to getting some yesterday, though, doesn't mean you should forget about EC altogether: if you're having (or might be having in the future) potentially-reproductive sex, it's a great idea to go get Plan-B to keep on hand. That way, if the condom breaks, you don't have to worry about rushing out to get it.

So... Iranian President Ahmadinejad may have been caught ogling some lovely dancing and singing ladies -- or at least not leaving the room when they arrived. Iran's law forbids women from singing or dancing in front of men, and government officials are expected to conform to those laws even when abroad on official business. Is he a hypocrite? I don't think that's the important point here. What's important is the demonstration that attraction is deeply ingrained, and even those most dedicated to its denial can fall pray to it. Maybe the lesson is that old adage, "Everything in moderation."

Mary Cheney is preggers! My congratulations to her and her partner Heather. I feel bad that her pregnancy is so public, but this was bound to stir up controversy. The one thing I can't get past is how everyone keeps saying "Now Cheney will see! He won't be able to sleep at night!" Y'think? Really? I think Cheney is way past losing sleep over a little thing like his granddaughter.

Congress tried to sneak in one last anti-abortion bill, but that all came to bupkis yesterday. The bill, which would have required doctors to give patients information stating that a fetus can feel pain starting at five weeks, was criticized for its lack of scientific backing. Doctors also would have been required to offer women anesthesia -- for the fetus. The bill did not receive the 2/3rds vote it needed from the House in order to pass.

It's true, Babeland is fabulous. But if you're in the (pioneer) valley, consider shopping locally: Oh My, located in Northampton, has a great selection of high-quality sex toys, lubes, and other fun bedroom (kitchen/shower/anywhere you want to do it) products. The store is run by a mother and daughter, both very knowledgeable, and the manager of their currently-under-development toy party program is a really fabulous sex educator friend of mine from college. I bought some Pink there this weekend. It's good stuff.

Finally, a quote from Heather Corinna's Why I Stopped Putting All (or most) of My Efforts into Erotica post:
[...] all of the work I do in sexuality, women’s sexuality and feminism is a lot harder than I’d like, hurts my brain and heart a lot more, and demands a LOT more of me. It means that I have to come at this stuff from both angles: I have to find ways to work on the sexuality aspects while also still working on the bigger context our sexuality lives within.
Lordy. Smart people make me so happy.

Monday, December 04, 2006

This Feminist Likes It Rough

A Quickie from Noho -

Jessica over at Feministing posted about the myth that feminists don't like rough sex. The piece is filled with funny (and slightly unnerving and mostly unbelievable) quotes from two other authors. The discussion that followed in the comments was pretty interesting too.

I'm pretty sure that Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon are at the root of this cultural misconception about feminism -- or rather, I think that the simplification of their work as it's read is to blame. Interesting stuff.