Talkin’ bout my…education?

31 05 2008

Cara at the Curvature recently wrote a very thought-provoking post about what she calls “real sex education.”  I’m not going to talk a lot about the post, because I think you should just read it – she makes some really interesting points – but I would like to share some thoughts about sex ed.  Cara’s real sex education involves teaching young people that sex is supposed to be consensual + pleasurable for both parties.  At first I looked at that statement and thought “hey, no brainer.”  Then I thought wait a minute, I may be progressive and all but I don’t want to be teaching kids about sex.  Then I thought, well, you know what, she has a real fucking point.

The big focus now for sex education is on teaching about how to prevent STDs and pregnancy.  There’s a big debate, I gather, between abstinence-only folks and comprehensive sex ed folks, but when they say comprehensive they still mean focusing on disease and pregnancy and how to prevent them.  It never really occurred to me what kind of a role sex ed could have had in my unfortunate early experiences, but now that I think of it, yeah, that’s a good way to start.

I’m not sure if my own sex education would be considered “abstinence only” or not.  In fifth grade, we took a course called “Human Growth and Development.”  It was a one-week part of the science curriculum that required parental permission, and of course everyone was very excited about it because of the sense of taboo that surrounded the course.  We essentially learned about anatomy – I dutifully labelled charts of male and female anatomy, though I know for a fact that a clitoris appeared nowhere on those charts (the focus being “the reproductive system”).  We had a quiz on the anatomy, then for the last class period we were huddled into a separate room from the boys and a female teacher told us briefly what a period is and what a sanitary pad is – my first introduction to the subject.  And that was that.

In eighth grade, we very briefly heard something about AIDS in health class, as part of a list of various diseases that we should be able to identify, but nothing about other STDs or how to prevent them.  In high school, there was a brief unit on the family in health class where we learned that a family is a married man, woman, and children, and though other families can and do exist they are technically dysfunctional.

And then out into the world I went!  

So when I thought about my nether regions, I mainly associated them with periods and reproduction.  My mother taught me that sex was appropriate in a loving relationship.  When I started college and did have a sexual relationship with a man, though, she was uncomfortable talking about oral sex and felt that it was something very intimate, something that while it was not necessarily to be saved for marriage, was only for special relationships and was not to be discussed.  It certainly wasn’t, as my friends had informed me, foreplay, something that you do before intercourse.

I never ended up having oral sex.  Oh, I was on the giving end plenty, as that was something he needed almost every time to have intercourse, but there was never any touching or anything like that for me.  It was very clothes off, let’s go.  I knew how to masturbate, but orgasms were something for alone time.  He asked if it was all right (the intercourse), but never offered to do something in addition.  I did finally get the courage to ask after about six months of sexual activity, and he said matter-of-factly that he “wasn’t interested in that.”  That’s fine.  Maybe he wasn’t.  But it was still disappointing. 

I don’t know that any of this is directly related to the lack of sex education in my life, but I can’t help but wonder if it might have helped.  I’m just now learning about safe sex for lesbians, and even there all the sources wildly conflict.  I think a few things could help.  1) Comprehensive safe sex information for gay and straight sex in high school.  2) Include the clitoris on the damned diagrams.  3) Teach the consent + pleasure model that Cara advocates.  4) Be realistic about sex.

I think that a huge problem with my education is that I masturbated from the age of eleven or so, but I always assumed that sexual intercourse would be this big things with fireworks and even more amazing orgasms.  When I learned that it’s kind of all right, and no orgasms whatsoever, I was disappointed.  I can’t imagine what it’s like for a woman who’s waited until marriage and then suddenly realises “fuck, I signed on for this?”  I also assumed that the actual process would be easy, tab A into slot B.  It was actually a little difficult, and clumsy, and took a lot of maintenance on my part to keep the guy ready to do his job.  This was a bit of a let down.  After sex with men, I started feeling that sex was pointless.  I mean, nothing can be better than the orgasms I give myself, so I should just give up.  Sex with women is basically going to be masturbation with someone nice to look at.  Then I started re-thinking it, and realising that it doesn’t have to all be orgasm driven.  A lot is about the touching someone, tasting someone, kissing someone, and loving someone.  I think the same could be true for heterosexual couples, especially if the woman doesn’t enjoy intercourse.  But you’d never know that from sex ed.  I think they should be frank.  Ladies, you deserve to enjoy sex.  You might not enjoy intercourse.  That’s okay.  You should search together for other ways to derive pleasure.  Etc, etc.  I think just re-framing the norms about sex that we all carry around with us would make for a much more enjoyable experience when the time comes.

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No really, I’m gay.

31 05 2008

My new favourite dykeblogger, Card Carrying Lesbian, posted this the other day about people constantly challenging her gayness, and it really resonated with me.  I haven’t had a lot of outside challenge to my lesbianism, but I have had some internal struggles, and I hope that I eventually reach her level of confidence.  Now it’s time for a long personal sexual history rant.  Ready?  Let’s go!

When I was, oh, about ten or so, I wanted to be a boy.  This decision was very vehemently attacked by both the boys and girls in my fifth grade class, and my best friend physically fought me on the playground.  Shortly thereafter, I gave up on the idea.  When I was about twelve, and my body hair started growing in, I was briefly excited about shaving and then decided that shaving is stupid and stopped.  A little boy in the neighbourhood made the highly intelligent comment, “what’ve you got trees growing under there?” when I lifted my arms one day, and I started shaving again.  I was not by any means a popular child.  I didn’t dress attractively and I didn’t hang out with the popular kids.  I wanted to be popular though, and so I latched on quickly to boys, shopping, and makeup.

I was definitely boy crazy.  I know hindsight is 20-20, and maybe I’m seeing things differently now because of my “enlightenment” about adult me, but I’ve noticed some things looking back about my boy craziness.  One is that I liked really pretty boys.  It was almost entirely about aesthetics, as it probably is to most girls that age.  I was into the Backstreet Boys and NSync.  I realise now that when I masturbated I thought about straight couples and particularly focused on elements of the woman’s body (funny that I can still remember some of those teenage fantasies).  Anyway, I didn’t have any actual experience besides one exploitative five-second “relationship” that I blocked out so much that I forgot about it for a while.  

When I was sixteen, I came out as bisexual.  I couldn’t not like boys, I mean come on!  They were so pretty.  My mom was sceptical about the liking girls part, if only because I had so adamantly liked boys, and talked about how cute boys were for so long.  But at seventeen, I started my first relationship, which lasted six months, and it was with a girl, so she believed me.  In college, I ended up in another relationship, this time with a man, and it lasted a year in a half.  I won’t tell the entire story, but the basic idea is that I was looking for love, he was looking for love, and I believed that a relationship could work on that alone.  And it did, and we got along pretty well for a while, and we decided that we loved each other.  We had very little in common, but it worked.  He was very sweet, and sensitive, and I still think he’s a great guy.  We ended up losing our virginity to each other, and had sex together for about a year.  I’ll come clean.  I kind of enjoyed parts of it.  I even kind of enjoyed intercourse.  But I became a closed off person, ridiculously meek, and lots of other things I’m not proud of.  It’s not like I was having orgasms, or anything like that. 

After we broke up, I had sex with two other guys, and fooled around with a few girls.  I matured a lot in a couple of years, and I started thinking about it.  I realised that my interest in men really was mainly aesthetic.  They look kind of nice.  I kind of like sex with them.  But at that point, I didn’t want sex with them.  If I had a choice, I’d never have sex with them again.  And over martinis in a foreign country, my dear friend Kat broke it to me.  Yeah, I think you’re a lesbian.

It all kind of started to make sense.  

In another post soon, I’m going to start talking about my views on choice in this arena, but for now I want to quote something from the post linked above.

I’m not saying boys are yucky. I’m just saying I prefer women so much so that I’ve excluded men from the realm of my dating possibilities.

Yet for some reason many people will never believe that I’m a lesbian because I can admit that sex with certain men didn’t suck. 

Wow.  I’ve never heard another lesbian put it that way, but YES!  Exactly.  I prefer women.  I prefer how they look, how we relate, how friendship and sex can intertwine, and so many other things.  I’ve made a choice, and that’s that I don’t ever want to be in a relationship with or have sex with a man again.  And lately I’ve been feeling a great defensive need, and been putting that one long-term relationship with a man in a box, talking about how bad the sex was and laughingly thinking that he “turned” me, but that isn’t true.  Yeah, the sex wasn’t great.  We weren’t open with each other, we weren’t sexually compatible with each other, I was generous in bed but he wouldn’t kiss me below the neck… et caetera, et caetera.  But that doesn’t mean I never liked being with him, and I think I should stop lying about it.  

The funny thing, too, is that my sexual history is so unlike my sexual preferences.  I’ve never had good sex.  I’ve never had sex with a woman.  You’d think that I’m sexually immature, but no, not really.  It just so happens that when I broke up with him, I got way pickier.  I got pickier about the gender I have sex with, and also about the people I have sex with.  I have a new rule that I have to really like a person, and I have to trust them, to have sex with them.  So far, that’s worked brilliantly for me!  I love being single, and I know that when I meet women with whom I really connect, I have the option to have sex, and the option to pursue a relationship.  But I’m in no hurry.  A relationship really is about more than love.  It’s also about someone you connect with, and enjoying being around.  So the fact that my sexual history is skewed in a very masculine direction means nothing about my sexuality.  The ending of the linked post, I think, is perfect for this one as well.

Dude. I kiss girls!  ONLY.  😀





For those of you who *really* can’t do anything without your computer…

29 05 2008

There is apparently an application for Mac called “DressAssistant 2.2.”  As far as I can tell without downloading, it essentially tells you what to wear when you get up in the morning.

Joking aside, though, I am on the hunt for handy programs to organize my life (a never-ending struggle). I got Evernote, but I haven’t really tapped into its usefulness yet.  I’m trying out a new freeware recipe application, though I really want MacGourmet in all honesty.  I’m also really hoping to find some good foreign language notetaking software.  If anyone has a favourite free or very cheap Mac application to let me know about, by all means, leave a comment!

And speaking of things that aren’t very expensive, I’d like to come clean.  I have a magazine addiction.  I’m subscribed to the New Yorker for three years, I just renewed Gourmet for another two, and I got the Vegetarian Times and Bon Appetit.  I am not renewing Harpers or Vanity Fair, but I’d like to point out that I don’t actually read any of these magazines.  They sit on my coffee table, waiting patiently.  It’s a disease.





Identity continued: a discussion of essentialization

29 05 2008

A month or two ago, I had a discussion with a friend on the bus about identity.  We were talking about gay identity, and I was telling him about my seminar paper.  He started telling me about how in the black community (he’s black and I *think* straight, though I hate to make assumptions) there are definitely gay men, but no one would ever talk about it, because of the certain image that the black man is supposed to fit into.  He explained that a lot of people feel that your “Blackness” is supposed to be superior to all else, and presumably a certain narrow kind of blackness, so that being gay does not fit into that identity.

I’d heard about this phenomenon before, and it got me thinking about how we essentialize all sorts of identities.  I definitely think it’s true of the queer community.  I’ve noticed myself doing it a lot, not so much anymore, but when I first left the South, with my Southern identity (letting my accent get stronger, cooking a lot more Southern food than I ever cooked at home, exaggerating elements of my background).  But where I see it happening a hell of a lot, and where it’s been bothering me a lot lately, is the essentialization of the female identity.

I think many of the problems I’ve been struggling to understand lately – legal, social, political – come from a refusal to accept the diversity that exists among women.  Abortion and reproductive issues?  Women aren’t supposed to have sex outside of marriage.  They’re supposed to be good, pure, and chaste.  Even the modern woman isn’t supposed to sleep with *too* many men.  Maybe birth control is okay, but abortion?  You’re not supposed to talk about it.  The abominable state of rape laws and selective prosecution?  Women are supposed to dress modestly and stay away from bars and wild parties.  Homosexuality?  Psh, don’t even get me started.

Here is what society has told me about being a woman:  Career is great, but family still comes first.  Getting married should be an ultimate goal.  When in a group of other women, marriage and boyfriends are the most acceptable topic.  Always shave your legs, underarms, and bikini area.  Nice girls don’t have hair.  Wear makeup, lotion, nail polish, etc.  Dress provocatively, but not <i>too</i> provocatively.  Wear jewellery and skirts.  Short hair is only okay if it’s still “cute.”  Women should be independent, but society should still protect them.  Drink, but don’t drink excessively.  Girly cocktails are the acceptable beverage of choice, by the way.  Sexuality is something that can be gossipped about, but never discussed openly in mixed company, and certainly never with your sexual partner.

Of course, the list goes on.  Anyway, I find that thinking about it this way makes it easier to understand my position on a lot of things.  I don’t want society to dictate how I can be a woman.  I don’t want it to say that I can only marry men, because that’s what women do, that I can’t take control of my own reproductive health choices, because I need to be protected, or that if I dress a certain way and get raped, it’s my own damned fault.  I want society to celebrate diversity and allow women to be independent and free to choose who they are how they want to live their lives.  I want attacks on diversity not to be tolerated, but I don’t want paternalistic “protection” that puts me in a box. 

The end.





Book Reviews: Two Lesbian Sex Guides

28 05 2008

The Whole Lesbian Sex Book: A Passionate Guide for All of Us

by Felice Newman

I can’t rave enough about this book, really.  It’s extremely informative, with an excellent resource section, and best of all it’s inclusive.  You finish this sex manual feeling that there is no “wrong” way to go about lesbian sex, and that says a lot for the book in my opinion.  It’s trans and kink inclusive, and addresses issues such as sex with a disability, sex during depression, and safer sex in a comprehensive way that few guides tackle.  I thought that there was really nothing new to learn about lesbian sex, despite my very limited experience.  It seemed fairly straightforward to me, but this book gave me some ideas I’d never really considered.  I especially like how some of the anatomical myths are debunked – I had no idea that I was so confused about my own anatomy until I read the first couple of chapters.  I ended up grabbing a flashlight and mirror for the first time and was a bit amazed about how confused I’d been.  I highly recommend this guide for anyone looking for a comprehensive, straightforward, unapologetic look at lesbian sex.  Also, I wanted to note that Newman has asked me to help spread the word about a study she’s doing in preparing for a new sex guide that looks very interesting.  The message itself is a bit long to repost, but if you’re interested just e-mail me at judithavory@gmail.com and I’ll send you the whole thing.  She’s looking for female couples who have been together five or more years and have a satisfying sex life on the whole.  It’s very inclusive – poly, trans, bisexual, etc, are welcome to participate.  Let me know if you want the details.

On Our Backs Guide to Lesbian Sex

edited by Diana Cage

I have mixed feelings about this book.  I found some of the articles really interesting – it’s basically a compendium of articles from old issues of the magazine, arranged by topic – but I also found that some of them could be a bit too strongly opinionated for my taste.  One article, for example, on shaving, speaks in a way that makes me feel guilty or embarrassed for being a hairy girl who has no interest in shaving.  There isn’t a whole lot of “whatever you want is fine” in this book.  That said, there are a wide range of perspectives and some of the interviews, especially, are quite fascinating.  I found the roundtable discussion on class particularly interesting.  I do think that the book, the images, and probably the magazine in general, are very butch-femme centric.  Someone noted in one of the articles that butch-butch spreads are the least popular in the magazine – most pictures are butch-femme or occasionally femme-femme.  That had a weirdly heterosexual connotation to it in my mind.  Does it really matter whether we’re butch or femme?  Aren’t we past that.  Apparently not, and I found that a little disconcerting.  I also found a lot of talk about butch-femme fantasies that seemed to me very much like the types of heterosexual relationships that irk me.  That said, if this is your cup of tea, I’m sure you’ll love the book.  There’s just something about prolonged discussion of cocksucking that makes me feel a little queasy.

 





Excellent. Fucking. Point.

27 05 2008

So when I get a chance, I enjoy watching video blogs on AfterEllen.  Specifically, I like watching Brunch with Bridget Sunday mornings, because, well, she’s gorgeous and funny and she has gorgeous and funny people on and they chat about dykey stuff – what more could you want?  Also, I watch Liz Feldman, though I really just get up to her weekly chat with Raimy, her gorgeous and very cool friend, and stop, because her schtick with the celebrities gets kind of old.  But anyway, the point is, this week’s episode made me grin quite a lot when she said “gay marriage… or as I like to call it, <i>marriage</i>.”  You can see the video here.

Also, quick question for those of you who do comment here – when I reply, do you get an e-mail or something?  I never know proper commenting etiquette, but with Blogger I just reply to the comment on the same post because someone gets an e-mail letting them know.  Is that how it works here on WordPress?





My identity: let me show you it

24 05 2008

For a long time, identity has been something that’s really interested me.  When someone asks in a generic sense, “what are you?” or “how do you identify?” what do you say?  (Really.  Let me know in the comments; I’m curious).  I first became interested in the topic in terms of regional identity (for example, I think being from certain places such as New York makes you more likely to identify with your city, whereas being from some countries may make you more likely to identify with your nationality, and being from certain regions or ethnic groups may strengthen the sense of a regional identity).  But this morning, I was thinking about sexual identity, a topic I’ve been focused on a lot lately in grappling with some of the issues related to gay rights in the developing world.  For once, however, I wasn’t thinking about the problems of identifying in the first place, but for those of us who do identify happily as straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual, about how important that identity is.

To answer my own question, the strongest identities I claim are being Southern and lesbian (which also encompasses being female).  If pressed further, I’d say I’m an academic, a humanitarian, and multilingual.  You’ll notice that my race doesn’t come in there (I’m white) nor do my ethnic origins (European mutt).  I think we tend to claim identities that make us unique in some way, have a strong sense of group belonging, or are particularly important in our lives.  Being from the South makes me culturally unique, and in some ways I’m proud of that heritage (with the obvious big fat disclaimers).  Being a lesbian is a similar strong point of identity for me because it’s something I haven’t come in contact with a lot, and every time I come into contact with lesbian culture I feel a strong sense of belonging and group identity.  The other three things I mentioned are just things that are very important in my life.  I’ve been in school for the past eighteen years (and like it), human rights are a huge issue for me and what I plan to do for my career, and languages are my strongest passion and something I also expect to integrate into my professional and personal life.

I’d guess that for people who come from racial and ethnic minorities, that’s more likely to fall on their list.  People who have careers or qualifications that are important might consider those things part of their identity (scientist, computer expert, doctor, musician).  People who are a little more dedicated to an art form might claim that as an identity (actually I’m really surprised at myself for not putting “writer” or “cook” down – perhaps some reflected insecurities).  Those whose beliefs fall more neatly into a recognised system may include their religion as an identity.  Straight people, on the other hand, are in most cases unlikely to immediately say “I’m straight!” when asked what they are.

I think this is a bit of an obstacle when we’re trying to explain why sexual identity should be everyone’s choice, and everyone should have equal rights – we want to say that straight people are included in that, but it’s harder to conceive of how straightness is important in someone’s life and an important part of identity.  I think, though, that perhaps the problem is that we just label things differently.  If I think about what my gay identity involves, it includes a number of things – whom I’m attracted to, with whom I form relationships, what “family” means to me, with whom I have sex, what group I fit into/how I associate, and how I see myself as a woman.  I think that the same things for straight people may come up in their strong identity markers, just in a different way.  For example, to many straight women, being a mother or wife may be the most important identifier (not that lesbians can’t identify this way too, of course, but in the context of a heterosexual relationship it’s the relationship to one particular man that is important to the woman, or to the child of that one particular man, which means that the relationships do relate in some small way at least to the sexuality).  Maybe some straight women identify strongly as a sex worker, or as part of some group that consists of straight women (I have no idea what that would be, but work with me here).  Maybe they identify as feminists, and a big part of feminism for a particular woman is how she relates emotionally and sexually with men.  

Anyway, I have no idea what my point is.  Thoughts without a conclusion: it’s what I got marked off for in tenth grade English.  There will probably be more on this later, but I am curious – how do you identify?