Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year's Resolutions for the New Decade

Everybody makes New Year's resolutions - I've certainly made a few this year. But have you ever made a resolution about sex? Sex is something that we often think of as only a small part of our life - sort of an add-on. We think about what it wants when it comes to our careers, our finances, our relationships, our families, our health, even our weight and our wardrobe - but do we ever focus specifically on what we want for our sex lives? Maybe it's time we did! Here are my New Year's sex resolutions for women:

- we resolve to spend more time thinking about what we really want and need when it comes to sex, than about what others need from us
- we resolve to allow ourselves to be sexual people and to reflect that in all aspects of our lives
- we resolve to stop trying to look and act the way we think we should and start acting and looking the way we want to
- we resolve to love all aspects of our unique sexuality, even the ones that we might wish we could change
- we resolve to ask for what we want and to say no to things we don't want
- we resolve to be proud of and open about our sexuality in front of young women in order to teach them that female sexuality is not a shameful thing
- we resolve to teach our daughters that sex for pleasure is a good thing!
- we resolve to tell our daughters the truth about sex, STI's and contraception and not attempt to scare them into not having sex
- we resolve to stop feeling guilty about enjoying masturbation
- we resolve to love and respect every woman's sexual expression, even if it's very different from our own
- we resolve to allow ourselves to search for and to have good, satisfying sex, whatever that might mean for us

I hope these resolutions resonate for men as well - as they too are often victims of the destructive and confusing values our society holds around sex.

Here's to a happy, healthy, sexy New Year for all of us!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sex toys on Oprah, What's Next?

Unfortunately, I missed the Oprah show a few weeks ago where she featured different types of toys and talked about porn. Bummer. I did however, get a chance to read the summary of the show on her site. Hooray! She finally recommended some good toys - not just the typical Laura Bermann crap. She has the We Vibe, Layaspot, and the Fukuoku all pictured and mentioned. Great toys! I don't know if there was anything else discussed, but those are excellent starters. Perhaps she had someone who actually knows about toys producing and advising on this episode. The excerpts from the women who own the G Boutique in Chicago sounded like they certainly knew their stuff. It's a new era in attitudes about sexuality when good quality toys and what they can actually do to benefit your sex life and life as a whole are discussed on the most popular talk show in North America.

There was also a segment on about porn and how the porn industry has changed to include a growing women's market. So nice to see that she interviewed Violet Blue and acknowledged that yes Oprah, some women do like porn, and that's okay! She also interviewed Jenna Jamieson, one of the biggest porn stars in the world. Thankfully, it seems that the interview was about how she created her business and made her choices in the industry rather than simply berating her for being a sexual object (unlike some shows I've seen). Although I don't necessarily love some of the images Jenna puts in her movies, and I'm not a fan of the type of mainstream porn she makes, I do defend her right to do it and applaud her for taking control of her own career and her own life. I think we need to respect the choice of women to be involved in the sex industry, or to not, and to watch porn and erotica, or to not.

Of course, some viewers out there don't agree. In reading the comments about the show, I saw two distinct sides that were almost equal in comments. One that praised the show for being honest about women's sexual desires and one that decried Oprah for saying that porn could be beneficial. Many posters claimed that porn had ruined their marriages and should be identified as the evil that it is. With all respect to women who've been hurt by partners that cheated on them, porn did not and never does destroy marriages. It's the person who's using the porn and how they use it that destroys the marriage. Getting rid of the porn will not solve the problem - it's merely the symptom of a relationship and perhaps a personal problem that runs much deeper.

I'm excited to see sex toys and pornography discussed on mainstream TV in an open way and acknowledges all of the good things that are out there in the sex industry. I think big TV shows like this that are seen by so many can encourage women who are curious but hesitant to realize that exploring your sexuality is normal and healthy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Are TV Doctors Getting Better?

I was home last week, writhing in pain from a back injury, so I figured watching TV was the best way to kill 10 hours of lying motionless on the floor. I saw the Dr. Oz's show was on and he was talking about women and sex so of course, I flipped to that channel. I'm not a huge fan of Dr. Oz. I'm generally not a huge fan of anyone that's made their fame on Oprah. I find him to be arrogant, with his sparkling clean scrubs that he wears to prove to us that yes, in fact, he is a doctor, and his obvious belief that he is an expert on every area of medicine, including sexual health. The basis of this segment was that new statistics have come out showing that teenagers are having more sex and having sex earlier. They didn't bother to explain what these statistics are and where they came from - they never do. It seems that one of these alarmist studies comes out every year. I was sure I was in for another show about how 'these girls just need to learn to have more respect for themselves' and 'parents have to be aware of what their kids are doing!'. But I was pleasantly surprised. Dr. Oz had Dr. Laura Bermann on the show. I've taken a lot of shots at Bermann, but if given enough time to really communicate, she actually has a great attitude about sex. So instead of just crazy alarmist talk, the show was about how to really educate your kids about sex. Imagine that! They talked about explaining the risks of STI's in a real, non-sensationalized view, and prevention strategies that include more than just abstinence. The part that I loved the best was when Bermann suggested that parents take their pre-adolescent girls to get the HPV vaccine. Dr. Oz interjected and said he wouldn't do that. I thought he was going to say that he wouldn't do it because it has too many side-effects or because it would send his daughter the message that having sex is okay. But no. He said that he wouldn't simply take his daughter to have the vaccine because he would want to talk to her, explain what it was about, and have her make the decision as to whether she wanted to have it or not. I almost fell off my chair (well, if I had been able to sit in a chair at the time, I would have fallen off of it). We rarely get to hear famous TV personalities talk about allowing teens and pre-teens to make their own decisions around sexuality. It was beautiful. So props to Dr. Oz. for that. It's a small thing. But at least it's something.

I also watched a bit of 'The Doctors'. I hate this show. I just flat out hate it. Have a look at my previous post on this show for more on that. But again, the show descriptor said they were talking about women and sexual satisfaction so I had to check it out. The little 'news' bit that they were talking about was the study that claimed to show that women with a smaller distance between their clitoris and vaginal opening experience more orgasms during sex (they never elaborated on the word 'sex' but obviously they meant 'penis in vagina' sex). No props to the producers for research because this study actually came out in early 2008. We're not exactly talking cutting-edge news here. But there was one little ray of light in this whole discussion. The female doctor, (yes, in a cast of five, there is only one woman) Dr. Lisa Masterson, took over on this discussion and said that the point is not really to figure out if you have the right or wrong body, but how to work with the body you have and make sex happy for you. Wow! What an idea! She used the word 'sex-positive' about 20 times. I'm not completely sure she knows what it means but it was nice to hear that word on television. It seemed that what she meant to say by using that word was that the emphasis does not need to be on a particular act or a particular goal but on enjoying sex in and of itself - and enjoying any particular type of sex you have rather than trying to make yourself enjoy the type that everyone says is the right type. Indeed, that's a big part of being sex-positive. What a change to hear that as the bottom line, on a show full of medical doctors. Then they switched to a segment on surgeries to make your butt look smaller. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Does organic really mean anything?

It seems these days that the way to sell a product is to slap the word 'green', 'natural' or 'organic' on it. I'm seeing these kinds of products popping up all over the place - new lubricants, lotions and potions, and even toys with those words on them. Does it really mean anything? Here are some fun examples of 'natural' or 'organic' products I've come across lately.

There is a health food store in the city that sells the line of vibrators called 'Natural Contours'. Those vibes are pretty good toys - they are made by Candida Royalle's company. The term 'natural' refers only to the fact that the designed to work with the curves of the body. In terms of ingredients, there's nothing natural about them. They are simple plastic vibes like any other toy. But 'Natural' on the label earns them a spot on the health food shelf.

There's another company that's relatively new that has been doing a huge marketing push on their 100% organic products. I got some samples sent to me the other day and had a good look at the ingredients. Their bath gel contains sodium laureth sulphate and artifical dyes. I'd like to know how they find organic sources for those. Plus they also sell g-spot enlarging creams and anal desensitizing sprays. What's natural about that?

I've also seen a number of companies starting to put '100% vegan' on their labels. That's all fine and good but when it's a product that wouldn't naturally contain any kind of animal product anyway, why do you need that on the label. Methinks it is to sell more products.

The thing is, natural isn't always better anyway. There are a lot of natural things that can kill you. There are also many products that sound like they are synthetic but are actually produced from natural sources. So it's important just to be aware of what really should be in something that you plan to put inside your body, and what should not. In general, as far as lubricants and lotions go, the fewer ingredients, the better. There's just no reason to dump a lot of stuff into a lube or lotion so why do it?

In the meantime, I think I'm going to start promoting that The Traveling Tickle Trunk is 'green'. As those of you who've been in the store know, it really is (painted green, that is).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Should You Take Your Daughter to A Lingerie Show?

Apparently, David Hasselhof is in the entertainment news because he took his 17 year-old daughter to a lingerie show at a sex shop. Why do we care about this? Is this really such a horrible thing? It's a fancy West Hollywood sex shop and it sounds like it was a fancy, celebrity-filled fashion show. Do we really think that this 17-year-old young woman has never seen lingerie or vibrators? She's almost old enough to go in on her own, so what's the big deal. Who knows why this happened, maybe she wanted to go and asked him to take her so she could get in. Now if she was 12 or if he was helping her try on lingerie, I'd probably feel differently. But really, is this something to be concerned about with all the other problems in this world. Go ahead, take your daughter to a sex shop, it's so much better than a lot of other things she could be doing without your knowledge.

Why Self-Help Doesn't Always Help

I've just read a little article by Marty Klein that describes exactly what I've thought about the whole sex advice industry. He explore why all of this advice can actually hurt. I couldn't say it any better than him so I've included a link to his newsletter.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Disrobing a Biased Documentary

It must have been porn night on SuperChannel. They had three sex-related 'documentaries' on in a row. One was the extremely entertaining and somewhat enlightening 'Inside Deep Throat', which I have already seen. Another was a really very good British doc called 'Transvestite Wives'. The third was called 'Adult Entertainment: Disrobing an American Idol'. I have to admit upfront that I missed the first half an hour of it, so I probably am not getting the full effect. What I did see was upsetting to me. The purported purpose of this film was to show the effects of pornography on its consumers and their families. Its actually purpose was to attempt to prove that pornography has negative effects on its consumers and their families.

So let me just say right up front that I'm not really an advocate of porn. There is a lot of stuff, (and I mean a lot, I have access to numerous extremely large video catalogues) produced within the porn industry that I think is degrading to women and that sends a negative message about women and relationships between men and women. I know this and I do not like it. However, there is a lot produced within the bounds of the porn industry that I don't think is degrading or negative. And this is my first criticism of this film, it lumps all pornography together. There is no distinction between types of films, their content, their producers, and the circumstances under which they are produced. Heck, there are entire production companies now that are owned by women where all of the actors in the movies choose exactly what they want to do and who they want to do it with. There are a lot of movies that simply film people having sex they would probably be having if there were no camera. Pornography is a blanket term and it really behooves the maker of this movie to explain exactly what type of material he's talking about.

The film goes even further and includes strip clubs, prostitution, toy stores, and fantasy and SM clubs in its 'study'. Attempting to examine all of these things together is preposterous because they are totally different things with different purposes and different modes of use. As a toy seller, it disturbs me to see my industry and profession equated to prostitution.

So this 'documentary' attempts to show the effects of porn consumption by taking three subjects - a single man, a married man, and his wife - who profess to not use porn at all, and ask them to watch porn or visit a strip club or other venue for at least an hour a day for 30 days (the wife did not do this, only her husband, but she was also studied). They were given several surveys throughout this period to see how their beliefs and relationships might have changed. More on that later.

The part that I found so disturbing about this film is how the 'experts' were used. Nina Hartley and Dr. Sharon Mitchell were two of the experts. Some of their 'expert' opinions were excerpted directly from one of their videos about being in the porn industry. This made me wonder if all of their soundbites were taken from other media and not procured from actual interviews with them. The clips made them sound as if they were discouraging everyone from being involved in porn and talking only about the negative. These are two extremely sex positive women who have both been in the industry. Nina Hartley is still in the industry as a producer. The clips were simply their discussions of some of the hazards of the industry. They are not anti-porn - far from it!

Another distressing moment was when Marty Klein was 'interviewed'. Marty Klein is a certified sex therapist and a well-known and respected educator, writer and civil liberties activist. The clip of him was 15 second long and showed him saying that watching porn together may, in come cases, be helpful for a couple's sexual relationship. The director cut out the rest of the interview and said simply that Klein has no research to back up this claim. However, the director has no research to back up his claim that it is detrimental.

The 'expert' who got the most airtime was 'Dr.' Judith Reisman. Reisman is, to use an objective and technical term, a crackpot. She has, for many years, waged a one-woman war on Alfred Kinsey and his research. She has accused him, without any evidence whatsoever, of being a child molester and has called for his posthumous conviction on child abuse charges. She has been key in stirring up the controversy about his research findings with the clear goal of disproving his claims that roughly 10% of the American population is gay and that many of us have some element of homosexuality or bisexuality within us. Reisman is a homophobe and a right-wing conservative. If you don't believe me, consider this fact - Reisman was one of the key advisors to the George W. Bush administration on matters to do with sex education.

At the end of the 'study' that was documented in this movie, many results from the subjects' questionnaires were shown as proof that the porn consumption had a negative effect. Here is an example: after the study, the married man was 13% less attracted to his wife. There are so many things wrong with this that it's difficult to detail them all. Firstly, they used a 10-point likert scale. What that means is that he may have answered a 9 the first time and a 7.7 the next time. That would be 13% less. Does that really mean he's less attracted to her because of porn, or just that, on that day, she was wearing jeans that make her ass look fat? Secondly, perhaps a part of the reason he felt less attracted to her was because his wife did not like him watching porn, was very uncomfortable with the study, and became more unhappy and uncomfortable with it as it went on because it violates her personal belief system. There was a ton of stress put on that relationship by making him do something they were both uncomfortable with - he did it, she got suspicious and resentful, he hated that she was unhappy and resentful but still felt he should keep doing the study, he liked what he saw and felt bad about it etc. etc. That probably accounts for the change in the relationship rather than the porn itself. Had I been involved in this study, since my values are different, I'm sure the results would have been quite different. Thirdly, once again, the study makes no attempt to detail exactly what it was that he watched so it simply says that all porn and sex-related industries are bad for marriages. We have no idea what he was watching - was it romantic 80's porn films or was it triple X snuff movies? There's a big difference.

If this guy is as off-his-rocker as I think he is, why am I getting my panties in a knot over this? Here's why. This kind of misrepresentation of the sex industry causes two major problems. First, there are so many of us out there who have natural inclinations to explore sexually but are scared because of all of the things we've been programmed to believe as children. This kind of portrayal of how damaging feeding those natural urges can be just makes people scared of their own sexual feelings. That leads to more repression and more broken relationships, not less. Second, there are lots of people out there who have never taken even one baby step into the various sex-related industries and don't know a thing about it but, because of their 'morals' want to deny everyone else the freedom to explore these things. They will use any little bit of 'evidence' they can find to back up their convictions. And unfortunately for us, many of those people have the power to curtail our freedom. 'Documentaries' like this give them fuel for their political fires.

I did some net research on the director of this film, Lance Tracey. He has publicly admitted to being addicted to internet porn and has been on several TV shows talking about his experience. He is also Christian and produces Christian movies. I don't have a problem with either of those two things but I do have a problem that he neglects to apprise viewers of the film of these potential biases. Clearly, Tracey feels that his life and relationships have been damaged by porn. That's his experience and I wouldn't ever say that he's wrong about that. But perhaps he should let others decide for themselves if it is damaging to them instead of trying to make that decision for them.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

It's all very simple, isn't it?

So after my little post about "Sex Advice in 20 Words or Less" I went and checked out Dr. Sari Locker to see how she's able to offer these 20 fabulous words of wisdom. Turns out, she's really good at giving short and sweet sex advice. Her website is littered with it. She has an impressive bio - she has a Ph. D. in psychology and a Masters in Human Sexuality Education. So the woman is clearly well-educated. Better educated than I am, it's true. It seems that her advice overall is okay. But it's so short! Perhaps this is a flaw of mine, not hers. When I answer questions from people, my answers are usually very long and include all kinds of options and possibilities - as I recognize that sexuality is so very individual. I think it makes me thorough but perhaps it just makes me long-winded.

However, after perusing her advice columns and reading a lot of responses to a lot of questions, it seems to me that short and sweet is not necessarily good. What is left out of her answers may actually be important than what is there.

Here are two examples that really had me wondering.

"Q.If I use a vibrator all the time, will it make sex less enjoyable for me?

Dr. Locker. Yes and no. If a woman relies on a vibrator in order to orgasm every time, then she may not be able to orgasm any other way… (ellipses hers, not mine)because her body gets so used to the electric stimulation. Will this make sex less enjoyable for you? Well, no, if you and your partner don’t mind that you’ll have to use the vibrator every time you want to orgasm when you are intimate. But if you want to be able to orgasm while you with your partner, without having to use a vibrator, then you would most likely need to entirely stop using the vibrator in order to get over it, and re-sensitive your body to your hand (or his hand, or rubbing on his body, or oral sex) in order to orgasm. By the way: There are some toys that the man can wear (like a “vibrating ring”) and that also provide stimulation for the woman, so you can use a vibrator with your partner in a more discreet way."

Essentially, what she's saying is true, but there's so much more to it than this. Firstly, there's a hidden bias behind her answer that I don't think is fair. The use of the 'rely' and later 'having to use a vibrator' makes it sound like using a toy is a secondary, less desirable form of sex play. It's a major bias that a lot of people have and it's just not really true. If you like the vibrator, why in the hell can't you use it without feeling like you're 'relying on it'? It's not so much that you have to use it but that you want to. Secondly, Dr. Locker doesn't try to clarify the meaning of 'use a vibrator all the time'. Does this mean that she uses it some of the time, most of the time, or every time she has sex? Does this apply only to solo play or does it apply to partner play too? Does she even have a vibrator or is she just wondering whether she should get one because she's worried it will have a negative impact on her sex life? If she doesn't have one yet, she should most certainly go for it and see if she likes the sensation and how she can incorporate it into her sex life. (there is also an assumption that this is a woman, which is not expressly stated in the question and an assumption that her partner is a man, which is also not stated in the question but I will go along with that assumption just to make this easier) If she is using the vibartor only during solo play, she'll probably find, as many women do, that sex with someone else is so vastly different than sex with one's self that it's good with or without the vibe. Women are such lovely and amazing creatures that we can respond to all kinds of different types of stimulation and can, indeed, orgasm through many of them. 'Habituation' (a word I stole from Carol Queen) to the feel of a vibrator can happen but it usually only happens when the person masturbates a lot in exactly the same way with the same toy. It just means that the body and brain have gotten so used to that type of stimulation that they both have a hard time connecting other types of stimulation to the path that leads to orgasm. This happens to men who masturbate a lot in exactly the same way, but you rarely hear anybody tell a man that he's addicted to his hand. The solution, if that actually happens, is to switch up your play - that could mean using a vibe sometimes and not others, it could mean using different types of toys in different ways, it could mean using the same vibe in a different position with different speeds or settings. It's not that you will get conditioned to vibration in general and not be able to do without it.

And lastly, for some women strong sensation on the clitoris is necessary for an orgasm and fingers, tongues and other body parts might just not be able to provide that strong sensation. So if that's what she really needs, what's wrong with using something that makes that happen? It's not a lesser form of sex, it's a superior form because it feels better and leads to better orgasms. Sometimes what's necessary is not 'learning not to rely on the vibe' but rather learning not to believe a nonsensical bias that playing with toys is an unnatural or lesser form of sex.

Here's one more that got me a little riled:
"Q My penis is small. Please tell me what sex positions can make my girlfriend feel tighter during sex.

Dr. Locker: If you feel like you’ve pulled your Miata into the center of a three-car garage, there are things you can do to make those walls close in around you. First, a drier vagina feels tighter. Many post-menopausal women naturally lubricate less, but if your girlfriend is younger and lubricates well, then there are other things you can do. You can enter her before she is fully lubricated (if she's okay with this idea). Or use a non-lubricated condom to increase dryness and tightness. Also, there are certain times of the month when a woman is naturally lubricating less, so have your woman take note of these and alert you." She goes on to talk about positions that help in this situation.

What she does not tell this man here is that penetration without lubrication is, at best, uncomfortable and at worst, painful and dangerous, for a woman. Not only does the friction hurt but as a woman gets aroused, her vagina widens and lengthens, making it easier for her to accept the penetration. Without that, it can hurt quite a bit. The absence of that widening and lengthening might be more pleasurable for him but it won't be for her. Lack of lubrication during sex can also cause abrasion which can lead to an uncomfortable itchy feeling and can actually provide opportunities for bacteria and viruses to get into the body. So really, her suggestion here is not particularly great for the woman. Her advice on positions is probably a much better option. He could also try things that make his penis feel a bit larger and more sensitive like a constriction ring. She could work on her kegel exercises which may give her more muscular control to be able to actively tighten around him more. There are a lot of better options than the first thing she went to here. It's something a person could definitely do, but again, the short and sweet does not outline the problems with going with this solution.

So I'm not able to give sex advice in 20 words or less except when the questions is "I've never had a vibrator should I get one". The answer is yes!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Ugly Truth

My partner and I went to see the movie 'The Ugly Truth' the other night. I see a ton of movies and I'm pretty hard to please when it comes to big studio romantic comedies. I thought this one was pretty good, if a little predictable. But there was something in it that I just have to take a moment to bitch about. For those of you who haven't seen this movie and want to, you'll probably want to stop reading now. I'm about to spoil a scene a bit.

In the Ugly Truth, there is a scene where Abby (Katherine Heigl) is gifted with some vibrating panties. It's made very clear that this is the Dr. Laura Berman Astrea Remote Control Panty. There is a close up of the box and the name and Katherine Heigl even says the name. So fine, Dr. Laura Berman managed to get herself another high-profile product placement. But here's my beef, if you're going to go out of your way to put that toy in a movie so everyone knows what it is, you should at least use the actual toy in the movie and not misrepresent what it is.

We know what the joke is going to be practically before she even opens the gift. Somehow she's going to end up wearing the panties in an inappropriate situation and someone is going to get a hold of the remote. Of course the remote does get away from her into the hands of a young boy who's busily trying to figure out what it is. He's interested in it because it's big and has all kinds of lights on it with names like 'ecstasy' written next to them. I've never ever seen a toy that has that kind of remote so I checked it out, and sure enough, the Astrea remote looks nothing like that. It's small and black and looks like a garage door opener and it has ONE SPEED!

The Astrea was obviously chosen because they are actually very pretty lacy panties - we could totally see Katherine Heigl wearing these (and some of us would like to). But to make the joke work, it needs to have the different settings on it and 'ecstasy' written across it. Yes, I understand that it's just a silly joke but what cheeses me is that the name of the toy is so obvious because clearly Laura Berman and California Exotics want people to rush to buy the toy that was in 'The Ugly Truth.' She even has it written all over her website that the toy was in 'The Ugly Truth'. But when people buy the toy and get it home, they'll realize that it's just a big plastic bullet with a boring one-speed remote. What also bugs me is that people will come to me, because I sell toys, looking for that 'Ugly Truth' toy and I have to explain that we don't have it because it's nothing like the one in the movie and it's just not really worth the price of it. But why would anyone believe me when I say that, when they say the toy right there on the screen?

There is a Berman toy that does all of those speeds and functions but it doesn't come with the fancy panties that are necessary for the joke. And the batteries only lasts for 15 minutes - which also doesn't work for the joke. But I'm sure they could change that too.

Why not just use a fake toy? Years ago, the movie 'Not Another Teen Movie' that used a fake toy because they needed a huge toy that rotated and pulsated and squirmed and basically looked like Barney on crack. But then again........ people still ask me where they can get that toy.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sex Advice in 20 Words or Less

This was the title of an article in Cosmo last week. This is where the sex advice 'sound bite' culture has finally led us - you can get everything you need to know in 20 words or less! The article was a bunch of questions followed by a quick (20 word or less) answer. Q. What's the best form of foreplay? A. 90 seconds of oral followed by a quickie. Q. Does condom size matter? A. Most condoms fit most men. If the width feels tight, try one with an “easy-on” shape, wider base and head. Q. How do I handle an uncircumcised penis—literally? A. When erect, you may not notice much difference, because the foreskin retracts automatically. When limp, enjoy playing with the foreskin!

These answers are written by Dr. Sari Locker, sexologist. Her answers are actually just fine. The problem is in thinking it's a good idea to provide sex advice in 20 words or less at all. It contributes to the idea that sex is the same for everyone which then makes those of us (those multitudes of us) who don't fit the mold, feel like we're broken. How I wish we could just stop it with these pithy little sex advice columns and just print things that are more in-depth and varied. But of course, you can't read a 2-page sex advice answer while you stand in line at the grocery store!

Tired and Haggard

First, I must apologize for my long absence from this blog. The Tickle Trunk store has kept me a long way away from the sex advice of others for quite some time. But I vow to do my best to keep watching for those sex things of interest. I've found a few of them this past week, and although only one of these posts really has to do with sex advice, they all have to do with sex and they piqued my interest.

I haven't watched Oprah in forever but I watched it in it's entirety yesterday because Ted Haggard was on it. I just had to find out what this man could possibly have to say for himself. For the few people out there in the universe who don't know who Haggard is, he was the founder and pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado and one of the most powerful Evangelical leaders in the US. Haggard and the New Life Church were very public about their position that homosexuality is a sin and dedicated opponents of same sex marriage. In 2006, Haggard was exposed as having an ongoing secret relationship with a male prostitute, among other things. He made an agreement with New Life to leave his leadership position and Colorado.

Haggard was a key figure in the right-wing religious opposition to homosexuality. He was very vocal in his opinion that homosexuality was deviant and not of God. And yet, clearly, Haggard was attracted to men himself. I wondered what he would have to say about this obvious conflict and if he now, after being exposed as having had sex with men, would change his position on the matter and apologize to the millions of gay Americans who were shamed and deeply hurt by him and his Church's teachings.

Not so much.

During the first part of the show, I thought he was being quite open about his history and the fact that he had lied and deceived people and was deeply conflicted. But after the dust settled on how sorry he was for covering up his behavior, it appeared that this is, in fact, all he is sorry for. He stated several times that he is not gay and that although he still has thoughts about men, he doesn't act on them. This gave him and his wife the platform from which to express that worn-out idea that homosexuality is not wrong, it's only the expression of it that's wrong. That argument has been used by homophobes for decades to try to make themselves appear loving and accepting while allowing them to continue to exclude and judge people. The message is - "I don't care if you're gay, just make sure I don't see any evidence of it". Which, I guess, explains why Haggard thinks his only sin was in lying about his homosexual affair - although one wonders if the sin was in lying about it or in getting caught. After all, it was only getting caught that brought shame on his family and his church.

So after all of this, Haggard continues to hold to his beliefs that homosexuality is deviant and can be controlled by simply not acting on one's feelings. I wonder how conflicted he really is still - not being able to fully acknowledge who he is. I don't know if Ted Haggard is gay or bisexual or just happens to like having sex with men on occasion, but I do know that he's clearly not being honest with himself or anyone else. He explained the extensive therapy that he's been through but it was clear that this therapy was with other evangelical leaders and counselors who have the same view of homosexuality - how likely is it that they will truly help him come to grips with the fact that he might actually be gay, rather than work on helping him rationalize his behavior?

The worst part of the whole thing is that the real apology that needed to made, the apology to the millions of gay people who are stigmatized, traumatized, judged, abused, and discriminated against every day, was never made. He was clearly in it for himself. It was obvious that we were meant to feel sorry for him and I for one, do not.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Let's clear up the silicone lube question once and for all!

I love lube! I absolutely love lube! Some people love golf, or model trains, or cars, with me, it's lube. I know it's weird but it's my thing. I find lubricants fascinating and I spend a ridiculous amount of time reading about them, buying them, trying them out, and studying them. Lubes are fun and they are all very different. With everything I know about lube, I find there's still more to know. And because I am so passionate about personal lubricants, it pisses me off when people dis a lube that I love.

The 'other' sex toys shops in my city seem to love to tell people that Silicone-based lubricants and not condom-safe and should not be used internally. They tell people that silicone lubes are made only for massage and hand jobs. Let's be clear about this. This is not, I repeat, NOT TRUE!

And here are the many reasons why silicone lubes are safe and actually better, in most cases, than water-based lubes:
1. the three types of silicone used in lubes, Dimethicone, Dimethiconol, and Cyclomethicone, are completely inert. That means that they will not bind to anything, including bacteria or fungus. Therefore they do not promote bacterial growth. Some of the additives in water-based lubes, and some of the oils in oil-based lubes can promote bacterial growth.

2. silicone lubricants are much less likely to drastically change the PH level of the vaginal enviroment - other types of lubes can do this which can potentially lead to infections and can interfere with conception

3. although silicone lube does not wash off with water, there is no causes for concern with that inside the body because while it remains in the body, it is inert, not causes irritation or infection, and then is naturally flushed from the vagina as are other foreign substances

4. women experience all kinds of microscopic damage and trauma to vaginal tissues during sex. Those small tears and irritations can create openings for viruses that live in the bloodstream, such as HIV. A personal lubricant helps to reduce the friction and therefore the amount of damage. Silicone lubricants are even more smooth and slippery than other lubes and are thus even better at this.

5. Because silicone lubricants do not wash off in water, they are perfect for play in the shower or other wet environments.

6. Silicone lubricants are not thick and sticky and so they don't leave that awful gunky I-must-shower-right-now feeling after sex.

7. silicone stays on the surface of the skin for a long time which makes it the perfect handjob lube - ever so much better than the Jergens which has to be constantly reapplied, truly ruining the mood!

8. silicone lubes are super-slippery so, as Cory Silverberg write on about.com, "If you live in an area where there is snow in the winter, silicone based lube is great for putting on the bottom of a sled or toboggan and going down hills!" They are also great on a slip-and-slide.

Silicone lubricants are used by many manufacturers of lubricated condoms, so the claim that they are not condom-safe makes no sense at all. Really, the only danger you're likely to face from a silicone lube is slipping in it and cracking your head open on your bathroom counter.

For more info., check out these links:
http://tantusinc.com/content/silicone-lubricant-vote-safer-alternative

http://sexuality.about.com/od/sextoybuyingquicktips/a/silicone_lubric.htm

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Marriage Uncensored?

I don't know why we even bothered to get cable TV. Over 80 channels and there's nothing good on. On Sundays mornings, there's even less on. Which explains why, now that Ru Paul's Drag Race is over, I've taken to watching a show called 'Marriage Uncensored' on Sunday mornings. The hosts, Dave and Christie, are mercilessly perky and smiley as they interview guests 'experts' about the many aspects of staying happily married. Clearly, these people mean well so it's hard to take offense to them. In fact, they are obviously working very hard to make sure that no one can take offense to them, so watered-down and generalized is every piece of advice and information given. It's also pretty clear that it's a Christian show but they don't beat anyone over the head with that so I will give them credit for that.

Last Sunday they were talking about sex - so of course I had to watch the whole thing. It was fun to watch them delight in how 'salacious' and 'uncensored' they were being. It was about as salacious as the Sears catalogue underwear section. But for that show, it was quite risque. Their quest speaker, who's written several books on marriage and sex, was very funny and did get just a little bit graphic a couple of times - to the hosts' evident horror. But it was mostly pretty tame and seemingly harmless. 'Men are physical, women are relational.' 'Men want to feel needed, women want to feel loved'. 'Men need sex, women need romance.' We hear this stuff all the time. So often, I think, that most of us believe it. And though it seems pretty benign I do think there is real danger in this kind of 'Men and from Mars, Women are from Venus' , John Grey view of relationships.

The value, to me, is that this method of understanding relationships encourages individuals to view their interactions from the other person's perspective rather than interpreting their actions based on their own needs and feelings. For example, when I leave a room in the middle of an argument, it may be because I am pissed beyond words and I am ready to rip my partner apart. If my partner does it, it may be because he's very deeply hurt by something I said and can't face me. I need to learn to interpret his behavior based on his needs, feelings, and behavior patterns, not mine. That's a valuable concept with practical applications. I do think that Dave and Christie are proponents of this kind of examination of behavior within a relationship. The 'men are like this, women are like this' model takes it too far though. So usually, instead of being encouraged to look at the person our partner actually is and what his/her behavior means based on who s/he is, we're encouraged to intrepret it only as a typically male or female reaction. Based on that model, my partner is walking out because he's pissed because that's what men do. Men aren't in touch with their feelings, so he can't be hurt. It encourages me to miss the point and misintrepret my partners' actions.

But there's something much more insidious about the Mars/Venus approach that really worries me particularly when it comes to sex. Whenever you hear these Mars/Venus people talk about sex, they always say that men need sex more than women, women need love and romance in order to have sex, women need lots of foreplay, women have to feel satisfied in their relationship in order to have satisfying sex. Dave and Christie and their guest said them all, just as we've always heard them. So what's the message? I think the message is that women are not truly sexual beings. These platitudes are telling us that women only have sex as an act of love for their partner and that they don't enjoy sex for pleasure alone. What does that mean for women (the legions of them) who do enjoy sex for pleasure alone, who couldn't care a wit about romance, and who don't need to feel loved and cared for in order to have great sex? It means that they are acting like men. It means that they are not real women. It's a subtle way to tone down, dampen, and dismiss female sexuality.

This model also gives men license to ignore and dismiss women's pleasure. If you just love and care for her, the pleasure will be all taken care of. But that's just not true. Loving, caring men can still be clueless about how to pleasure their female partners. But this model is telling them they're already doing everything right - that he doesn't need to be concerned and that she doesn't have a right to complain.

We think with the feminist movement and the sexual revolution that we've moved so far from the old views of female sexuality, but the abundance of this mars/venus advice proves that we haven't. Newsflash Dave and Christie and all of you other John Grey enthusiasts, most women like sex just as much as men and they care much less whether you gave them a rose before than whether they had an awesome orgasm.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What the Hell is a Hymen?

Here's another post that's not specifically related to sex advice, but in a way, sort of is. In response to a comment/question here, I snooped around to see if I could find out what people are saying about hymens these days. It seems that while everyone loves to talk about them, there are very few people who really know anything about them. So after a search which was, admittedly, not at all exhaustive, here's what I've found and what I think about hymens.

First of all, not everybody agrees that they exist in the first place. While it would seem that the hymen is a simple, biological fact, there is some controversy. A nurse and doctor in Sweden studied the evidence and anecdotes about the hymen in 2005 and concluded that there has never been any accurate medical descriptions of what the hymen is and what it consists of. They believe that the hymen is simply a part of the vaginal opening, is not distinct in and of itself, and that the use of the term should be discontinued. Hmmmm.......who knew? I tried to find this study but so far I can only locate the Swedish version. Sadly, my Swedish is not good enough to understand a medical study.

Second, depending on who you talk to and which 'statistics' you read, between 30% and 43% of women report bleeding the first time they have penetrative sex. That's not all that high. So it seems to me that the idea that every woman has a hymen and that it stays intact and then 'breaks' when she has sex, cannot possibly be true. I often hear that a hymen can be 'broken' during horseback riding or exercise but I don't really buy that. I've been horseback riding and I've done vigorous exercise and neither of those involved anything pushing into my vagina. I understand the idea but it doesn't make sense to me. The concept that you can 'break' your hymen by using tampons, does make sense because at least that involves putting something inside the vagina. I think the whole point behind these oft-stated 'facts' is to protect women who may be found to be hymen-less and thus assumed to be non-virgins. And to me, that's just sad.

What I did not know is that, according to some of the medical literature I read, in babies and very young girls, the hymen is quite thick and, due to hormonal changes, it thins considerably as women age. It may disappear almost completely. There is also the theory that the hymen is very elastic and may stretch a lot during sex which would account for the lack of pain and bleeding.

To me, what is important is what the hymen represents. The concept of virginity has been used to control women and their sexuality for millenia. The hymen is a symbol of that control. To this day, women are subjected to virginity tests to prove their suitability for marriage or their fidelity. Now women are undergoing hymenoplasty to artificially restore their hymens and re-virginize themselves. Why? Underlying this hymen-hysteria are two very clear messages. First, women's sexual 'purity' is much more valuable than her own sexual experience or freedom and must be preserved. Second, women cannot be trusted to tell the truth about their sexual past and must provide proof.

Why do some women experience pain and bleeding during their first penetrative sexual experience and others don't? Here's a radical thought. Perhaps it's not because they've broken their hymen. Perhaps it's because the women that don't experience pain are having good sex! Perhaps it's because they are relaxed, fully consenting, prepared, fully aroused, and fully wanting and ready to be penetrated. Maybe, just maybe the reason why so many women have pain and bleeding the first time they have sex is because it's rushed into too quickly without any sort of knowledge about the value of foreplay. If we're not ready to be penetrated, it flat out hurts when we are. And it's not unusual to cause abrasions during sex that one is not prepared for. It's just a thought.

As far as advice about this goes, I did find a few gems of advice for women who were having pain during sex, or were worried about their first time. One woman felt that her partner could not break her hymen because it was still painful. Advice to her (from the public, not from a an advice columnist) was to take some pain medication and have her partner push harder.

Laura Berman's advice to a woman who was worried that sex for the first time would be painful was that she needn't worry because she'd almost certainly already broken her hymen during exercise or horseback riding. She also recommended she use lube. That's not a bad peice of advice. But there is a key part here that she's missing. What I've never seen anybody talk about in these discussions is that when a woman is very aroused, her vagina widens and her cervix and uterus pull upwards. Her vagina is getting ready to be penetrated. Being aroused is not just about getting wet, it's also about this process called 'ballooning', which makes it so much more comfortable, and pleasurable. When you rush into sex before this happens, the vagina is too tight and too short to accomodate and it hurts!

No one has ever been able to show a medical reason why the hymen exists or why it's physically important. I think it's high-time for the concept of the hymen to stop tryannizing women and die a quiet death.

And for a laugh, check out this awesome video that lampoons the idea of preserving your virginity for God. It's called Saving My Hymen for Jesus.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Do's and Dont's, Mostly Dont's on going Down

I was asked to take a look at Eden Fantasy's on-line sex magazine 'Sex Is'. They thought perhaps we had similar views on sex. I've only had a chance to take a quick peek, and this is the first article that I pulled up. 'The 25 Hallmarks of Bad Cunnilingus'. It's freakin' hilarious! It's all of those things that women all know but are just too polite to say. Thank you, Lindsay Lewis, for saying it for us! What I particularly like about this piece is that Lewis, the writer, is an unabashedly sexual woman. She doesn't apologize for wanting to have sex for pleasure and for having her fair share of it.

I highly recommend checking it out. I guarantee you've experienced at least half of this list!
http://www.edenfantasys.com/sexis/sex/the-25-hallmarks-of-bad/

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Viva La Vibrator!

I missed an Oprah show on Thursday about talking to girls about sex. Damn! I haven't been able to see the show but I did talk to someone who watched it and read the summary on oprah.com. From what I saw and heard, I'm impressed. I've certainly taken my fair share of shots at Laura Berman but I do admit that she is a qualified sex therapist and she gives pretty good advice without a lot of bias. What I was particularly impressed with on this one is that she recommended that moms give their daughters vibrators. Thank you Dr. Berman!!!!!! I agree 100% that teenage girls should have vibrators. And here are my top ten reasons why - many of which were echoed by Berman.

1. young girls deserve to enjoy sexual pleasure and should learn what it is and how to appreciate it at a young age - vibrators are not the only way but to do that but they sure are one great way
2. being able to touch your vulva and put your fingers in your own vagina is an important aspect of self-health care, but many girls are hesitant to do that - a vibrator is a way to help girls ease into the idea of touching themselves, first with a toy and then hopefully with their own fingers
3. most girls are curious about sexual pleasure but have not tried or have tried and not been able to have an orgasm just with their fingers or other methods - vibrators work for almost every woman so they help her to understand what an orgasm feels like
4. giving your daughter a vibrator tells her that you are not ashamed or scared of her, or your, sexuality and that sexual pleasure is a good thing
5. using a toy helps gives girls the message that they don't have to rely on someone else to give them sexual pleasurem they can do it themselves
6. experimenting with masturbation early in life helps girls to understand what sexual pleasure, and hopefully orgasm, feels like and reduces the curiosity and the feeling that they are missing out on something
7. masturbation is healthy- it helps to reduce tension, it increases endorphins which ease feelings of anxiety and depression, and it reduces sexual frustration and tension - all of which are things teenage girls deal with on a regular basis
8. girls are told so often and so early in life that they will 'just know' when they are in love, girls who don't have a lot of experience with sexual excitement and sexual pleasure can interpret pure physical excitement while with a partner as a sign that they are 'in love' (ie.' it's just the way he makes me feel') - girls who have more experience, particularly when they are by themselves, understand that this wonderful feeling is actually something their body does, not something that person does for them
9. trying a lot of different things on her own can help a girl understand her body better so that when she does have sex with a partner, she will know how to be a more active participant in her sexual activity and sexual pleasure rather than simply accepting sex that may or may not be pleasurable
10. giving your daughter a vibrator gives her the message that it's okay to talk about sex with you and with the people she may choose to have sex with, it helps her get more comfortable with the idea of being open and in control about her sexuality which in turn can make her more likely to say no to sex she doesn't want, and to have conversations with potential partners about birth control and STI prevention

So yay to Berman and to Oprah for saying having the guts to say on TV that young girls should masturbate and should use toys to do it. Apparently many in the audience were aghast at such an idea, and Berman was quick to state that she doesn't think girls should have penetrative vibes. That's just going too far. I'm not exactly sure why that is. Perhaps it's because of the fear tha, if girls use vibes to penetrate themselves, they're not really virgins anymore. Perhaps it's because of the fear that if they do that, they will want to have sex. I don't believe either of those things. In fact, I think it's the opposite. I think they should use penetrative vibes if they want to. I think it can help get over the fear of what sex with a man might feel like, and help understand that it's not as super-fantastic as everyone makes it out to be. It's always the forbidden and the unknown that peaks the interest. If you take that away, often there's very little desire left.

So yes, please buy your daughter a vibrator. I think every girl should get a vibe for her 13th birthday. But please don't buy your daughter a Laura Berman vibrator, she deserves so much better than that!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Lust versus Love

I caught an episode of the talk show 'Three Takes' a couple of days ago. Josey Vogels was on discussing the topic 'How do you know if it's Love or Lust?'. I don't always love Josey's stuff but I thought she was pretty good on this. It was a completely vapid segment, obviously devised simply to allow them to use the word lust in the promo, and to fill time. There was no real information or even any real discussion. But Josey was good in that she did not condemn people who have relationships that are 'only' physical. She didn't even make it sound like that type of relationship is worth less than a 'love' relationship. So for that, I commend her. This show is pretty mainstream so it would be easy to sink into the simple value system that we are all taught to believe in.....sex for pleasure is bad and sex because you love someone is good.

But there is another, more serious part of this conversation that was just briefly touched on but not really explored. I think it's worth talking about. That is, the damage that holding to that value system can cause. It is perfectly natural and healthy to want to have sex and to not necessarily want to get into a serious relationship with someone. But, for the most part, our society still considers that a bad thing to do. So what often happens is that women will try to create a deeper relationship with someone to whom the attraction is solely physical. They do this because it makes them feel like it's okay for them to be having the fantastic, lusty, awesome sex they are having. I think we still have a hard time feeling 100% okay about just doing that. We are worried that means that we are slutty or that we are using the other person or he is using us.

But what is worse? having great sex with someone you just like but don't love, or trying to make yourself love someone when there's nothing really there? Many times, I've seen women stuck in a relationship that makes them miserable because, without even realizing it, they tried to turn a great physical attraction into a great love. And so many of us, once we are in a 'serious' relationship, are loathe to leave it even when it's not good. Instead of just having some great sex, we've compromised even that because we are trying to salvage a relationship that never should have been in the first place.

I believe we would all be better off if we just separated the idea of sex and love completely. Sex is one thing. Love is another thing. Sex with someone you love is yet another thing. And you can have any or all of them at different times in your life. And all of them are good things. And you are not necessarily lacking if there is one or all of them that you don't have. This value system that seems to stil be so predominant in our society just doesn't fit with our actual needs as human beings, the state of our society, and the way most of us seem to behave. So let's just save ourselves the heartache and do what we really want to do.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dr. Phil wages a One-Man battle to Save our Children from Prostitution

On my day off yesterday, I was flipping channels and noticed the programming notes for Dr. Phil said it was about internet prostitution. So of course, I had to watch it. Wow! I'm very easily provoked. There are so many things on TV that make me crazy. But this was above and beyond. And what really makes me angry and so very sad is that very few people who saw that show will take a step back from it and really think about what was going on there.

So my first beef is a simple and kind of comical one. He started the segment I tuned in on by saying that he has 'made it his business' to make parents aware of the things that are going on on the internet so that they aren't 'the last to know'. Gee thanks Dr. Phil! Most parents are so stupid and clueless, they would have no idea their daughters are prostitutes if you didn't tell them! He called the show 'The Dark Side of the Internet'. As if these kinds of things are happening only because the internet is around. There's a reason why prostitution is called the world's oldest profession. It's been happening since before recorded history and throughout all that time, people who want or need to do it and people who want the services of prostitutes have been finding whatever means they can to meet up. This is not something that has suddenly just started happening because Craigslist came into being. The sex industry has always been a major driver of technology. Those in the sex industry are early adopters of new technologies and figure out quickly how to use them to their advantage. It's just the way it is!

On to the more serious issue on this show. The second segment was about a young woman (early 20's I think) who got into prostitution through Craigslist because she could not find a decent job when she finished school and could not afford to make her student loan payments. I thought she presented herself as very thoughtful, intelligent, and together. I was impressed with her ability to sit there and admit to the things she was doing without letting Dr. Phil or the audience really phase her. She had made an arrangement with one man who was paying her weekly to be her companion. She said she was not having sex with him but acknowledged that might happen at some point. She felt she was better off in this arrangement because it was safer for her physical and mental health than having sex with many men and she wanted to continue this arrangement until she could find another solution to her financial problems. That's why she was on the show, she claimed - to get help.

Rather than help her, all Dr. Phil did was berate her about the choices she had made and tell her that she needed to get real. It seemed to me that she was very real. If it hadn't been so cruel and upsetting, it might have been laughable because he kept trying to confront her with the reality of what she was doing when it was quite clear that she was very aware of the reality. Here's a paraphrase of some of the exchanges I can remember:

Dr. Phil: You do understand that what you're doing is prostitution?
Woman: yes, of course I do.

Dr. Phil: You know that what you're doing is very dangerous?
Woman: yes, I know it could be dangerous and that scares me and that's why I want to stop

Dr. Phil: You know you have to tell your mother (I'm not sure where this was coming from because her mother was never mentioned)
Woman: yes, I am planning on telling her and that's part of why I came here, so that I'm forced to be honest with the people in my life about what I'm doing

Dr. Phil: You know you have to stop doing this?
Woman: Yes, I want to stop doing it. I'm just scared that if I run into money problems again, I'll go back to it because I know I can make a lot of money quickly.

He continued to throw judgements at her without allowing her the chance to explain herself. So here are my answers to his judgements and accusations:
He said 'I don't care what you have to do to make money, you sling hash at the burger doodle if you need to'. Mr. Millionaire here has lost touch with the fact that slinging hash at the burger doodle does not pay enough to cover living expenses much less a $1000 a month student loan debt.
'Just default on your student loan'. Yes, she certainly could do that. But she went to school for interior design and probably, once she can get herself going, she may be looking at starting a business down the road. You can't do that if your credit is in the toilet. And I know it seems strange that someone would choose to sell their body rather than ruin their credit rating but it's a choice to be made. And defaulting on a student loan, at least in Canada, is not an easy thing to do. It follows you for many years. Did she ever have access to people who could help her deal with her financial problems? Probably not.
'Go live on your mother's couch or live in the back of your car in the alley'. Clearly, mother's couch is not an option. And how exactly does Dr. Phil thinks it's safer for a woman to sleep in her car alone on the street than it is to meet men privately for sex (she was not hooking on the street, she was receiving calls from men and making appointments)? My guess is that the car would be more dangerous. And it's pretty rough to keep yourself in decent enough shape physically and emotionally when you are living in a car, to be able to land a job when the opportunity comes up.

They then had another woman with a horrible story and graphic gory pictures to go along with it, come on and tell her how she was brutally beaten, raped and almost murdered while she was working in the sex trade. This was done in order to scare the woman into quitting. It seemed to me she was already scared. Then a cop who was on the first segment who trolls Craigslist and busts women for prostitution was asked for his two cents. He was extremely crude and judgemental, and talked to both women as if they were children. 'I don't know how many times,' he said, 'these women have to get beaten and raped and almost murdered for them to figure out that this is dangerous'.

I think that is exactly the wrong question. My question would be 'How many times does a woman have to be murdered and dumped in a field for us to realize that prostitution is dangerous and that the women who do it need protection?' I don't understand how this becomes the woman's fault when clearly, it's the fault of the men who are committing these heinous crimes. In most cases, if a woman has a better option, she will not choose to sell her body for money. It's not an easy thing to do. They made it sound as if it was a glamorous wonderful job and they just couldn't hold themselves back from the intrigue of it. What they can't hold themselves back from is the money they need to survive. Prostitution has always existed and in most modern-day societies it has always been illegal. Making it illegal has done nothing to stop it. Maybe it's time we all 'get real' and look at how we can deal with the real problem - which is not that women are selling their bodies for money, it's that they feel they need to and that they don't have other options. Let's protect those who choose to do it from the dangers, which is not the act itself, but the health risks and safety risks that can go along with it. We can actually do something about that.

In the end, Dr. Phil promised to set the woman up with counselling so she could deal with her 'issues'. I think her real issue is that she paid for an education that she cannot seem to use for her benefit and she has to pay her rent and her student loan bills. I hope the counsellor will give her a job that pays as much as she's being paid by this man she met. Then she won't need to do something she clearly wishes she didn't have to do.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Have We Really Lost our Innocence or Have We Never Had it At All?

If you read this blog, you'll have figured out that I'm a reality TV addict. I, like so many others I'm sure, find it fascinating to watch these shows that purport to portray 'real life' when we all know that having a camera in your face dramatically changes your behavior. Not to mention the editing and 'unscripted' scripting that goes on. Although they often show us the worst of human behavior, I do think that some reality shows can hold up a mirror for us to see what our society values - how are certain attitudes and behaviors portrayed in these shows?

One of the shows I watch religiously is America's Next Top Model. The show is diametrically opposite to everything I value, and yet I find it entertaining. But I think my love affair with that show may be coming to an end. I used to think that Tyra Banks was all right and had some decent values and was certainly entertaining to watch. Now that I've seen her talk show several times, my opinion of her has changed. On the premiere of the new season of Top Model, her attitude came out full force. For their photoshoot, the women (who are all over 18 but are always referred to as 'girls'), were asked to wear costumes that made them look like little girls and pose in a playground. In the background of all of the shots were three other women who were meant to portray 'bad girls' - one of them was pregnant, one of the them looked like a junkie etc. The idea, they were told, was to show how girls are losing their innocence. Tyra Banks told them that this is an important issue to her because she did a survey on her talk show that showed that 1 in 5 girls wants to be a teen mom and that teenage girls are 'out of control'.

So let's think about this. Tyra Banks left home and went to Paris to pursue modelling by herself when she was 16. Is that an innocent childhood? And more to the point is the fact that she is touting this idea of perserving the innocence of young girls when she has made her fame and fortune in an industry that capitalizes on the sex appeal of very young women. To get a foothold in modelling, girls really need to start in their mid-teens. 21 is considered old in the modeling world. They want very young girls and women working in the industry but they make up the 16 and 17 year-olds to look much older than they are and much more sexualized than they probably are. Talk about lost innocence! All of these ads end up in magazines and on TV for young girls to look at. Yet, we don't hear Tyra mention that the advertising and fashion industries are a major driver in the desire of teenage girls to look and act much older than they are.

The innocence she is attempting to portray is so idealized as to be laughable. She had these women in pigtails and short frilly dresses. It's such a narrow view of what a 'good girl' really is. I don't think very many of us wore pigtails and frilly dresses and played hopscotch in the playground every day. Sure, we may have done that sometimes, but we also studied math, played team sports, played music, hung out with our friends at the 7-11, talked about boys, flirted with boys (and girls), stole chocolate bars from the 7-11, felt lonely and depressed, snuck a taste of beer at a party, and maybe we had family lives that were pretty crappy and childhood was rough. No one has that kind of idealized childhood so why do we try to force girls to act like 'good little girls'? It's a standard that is not based in reality. And through that lens, a lot of behavior that is actuall pretty typical teenage behavior becomes 'bad'.

Girls are sexual beings. Tyra Banks of all people should understand that. Why are we so scared to let them be a little sexual? We portray images of sexuality all around them and then when, in real life, they start to let that out a little bit and feel their sexuality, we label them as bad girls and send them to counsellors to straighten them out. The whole thing just baffles me and I'm not the least bit surprised that so many girls are confused about sex and sexuality. I think if we could just allow girls a little room to be who they are - and that includes their sexuality - they might not feel so restricted and needing to break out and prove they can be themselves. If we acknowledge that girls are sexual and give them opportunities to express and explore that, they can take ownership over their sexuality and make decisions that make sense for them. It's so past time for us to stop treating teenaged girls like idiots with scary demons inside of them. Because the problem there is, when that's what they are told they are, that's exactly how they act.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Toy Reviews are Not All Equal

Nothing annoys me more than 'sex experts' who decide that they are also 'sex toy experts'. Even if a person is an actual sex therapist, that does not mean that s/he understands anything about toys. Sex and sex toys are two different things. So I get crazy when these 'experts' start talking about toys. Inevitably, people start calling me looking for these great toys and I have to try to explain to them that, no matter how much this expert raved about it, the toy is actually a piece of garbage. People are loathe to believe me because, hey, they saw that toy on TV. Shouldn't these people feel some sort of obligation to know what they're talking about.

Here are some prime examples:

Ok, Sue Johansen is an easy shot but I'm going to take it anyway. She does toy reviews often, in fact, she has a segment on her show for toy reviews. The first problem with Sue's reviews is that she willnever admit that she uses the toys - which she probably doesn't. It's not very informative or very genuine to simply talk about what 'your reviewer' thought of the toy. Why not bring that reviewer on? But even that isn't good enough. When they do have others on to review porn, they don't say anything at all. They don't tell you what is really in the movies, they just say whether they liked it or not, without even really saying why.

You can see some of Sue's toy reviews on oxygen.com. It's clear that she doesn't know anything about the toys. The one I particularly love is her review of a kit called the 'princess pleasure kit' which contains a toy from her 'Royal' collection. It's pretty clear that she's not even aware of the fact that the toy is from her line.

She gives a harness a great review even though it's got a horrible attachment mechanism, it's made of hard leather in a style that will clearly cut painfully into your inner thighs, and it has a nasty jelly rubber attachment.

Joy Davidson is another exmaple I've seen. Joy is a certified sex therapist and I actually respect her. She did a series of videos that you can find on her site and on youtube. Her toy session is laughable. She understands how toys work, but she doesn't know anything about what's a good toy and not. If you watch the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dY0RSXLzXJ8&feature=PlayList&p=D560F571EE85BE93&index=8 , you'll see her demo the 'fluttering butterfly'. This is one of the worst toys I've ever seen. I actually have that toy in my bad toy box where it has been slowly melting to the point where it's almost disintigrated. Joy does show several items that are decent such as the Fukuoku, Liquid Silk, and a Sportsheets harness (minus the nasty dildo she's got in it). The problem is, she obviously doesn't know which is good and which is bad. You have to give people a little info on the toy itself, not just what it does.

Another great example is Laura Berman. I know, I take lots of shots at Laura Berman too but that's only because she's so out there. Laura Berman was on Oprah, again, several weeks ago. I missed it, but I've heard that she was promoting one of her toys. I know this becuase I had several requests for that toy. I can get Laura Berman's toys. And our policy here at the Tickle Trunk is that we will order toys for people even if we don't normally carry them. But I want people to be happy with their purchases and so I feel obligated to tell them that this Berman toy is a remake of the Hitachi Magic Wand. The Berman toy in question is made by California Exotics which is one of the biggest toy manufacturers in the world and produces mostly inferior quality plastic and jelly rubber toys. Why get that when you can get a Hitachi for the same price? It would be easy for me to bring in her toys because Laura's doing a great job of promoting them for me. But they aren't good toys. Again, the thought is there, the idea is good, but she doesn't know enough about toys to make sure that her toys are superior quality and to educate people about how to know that.

I have run across a great toy review site. It's a podcast called 'Sex is Fun'. One of my team members, Kristen, alerted me to this and it's fabulous. They review mostly top quality toys from smaller manufacturers and they really explain what the toy is all about. The reviewers use the toys themselves. They tell you what it's made of and what it can be used for and then they detail exactly how well they think it works. That is information you can actually base a toy purchase on! You can find sex is fun at sifreview.blogspot.com .

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Science?

I'm spending my afternoon immersed in 'sex research'. I'm a member of the New View listserve which is a group of people who are interested in women's sexual health and are concerned about attempts to over-medicalize it. Through this wonderful listerve with all of these fabulous, and very knowledgeable people, I'm learning a lot about research on sex and sexuality and how it's conducted. Every few days, one of the members will send out a link to an article in a popular magazine, journal, or newspaper about some new sex research. At first glance, these articles seem like simple lifestyle news pieces - just quoting some new study that's come out. But I'm learning to take a much closer look at what these articles are really saying and the effect they might be having on us.

If we think that newspapers and magazines are really there to inform us, we are kidding ourselves. Most mainstream newspapers and magazines are there to sell ad space and they do that by getting readers. They get readers by finding content that will grab reader's attention. And believe it or not, a lot of sex researchers want the media's attention so they want to present their findings in a way that will appeal to the readers of the media. So guess what happens? A study that may have shown some interesting findings, that are complex and nuanced, and certainly cause for further research, gets boiled down to a 10 word headline and a 500 word article that's easy to digest. Why? Because the media don't think their readers want the whole, complex, nuanced story. They think they want something they can read on the toilet in 10 minutes and feel like they learned something valuable.

So a study that looked at 30 women and found that many of them reported greater sensitivity in a certain area in their vagina under certain circumstances becomes 'Sex Researchers Find the G-spot'. And in the case of this last one I read, a study which looked at physical and psychological arousal in both men and women, and resulted in rather complex results needing much study and interpretation, got boiled down to 'What Do Women Want?'. And even though the article was rather long, it focused mostly on what the researcher looks like and what she personally thinks, rather than what she actually found. So much more interesting to read than a bunch of data. The story concludes that we can never know what women want. Then why the study and why the article about it?

The problem here is that for most of us, mainstream media is the only regular access we have to sex research. Most of don't actively seek this stuff out. We don't read medical journals. The only time we see anything about sex research is when some study makes it into the papers. When we see it there, the study and the researcher, and usually the university s/he works for is cited. It makes the conclusions seem ever so scientific and authoritative. But those conclusions often don't appear in the actual study at all. They are simply headlines and sound bites put together by the person who sent out the press release, or by the person who wrote the story. You have to go and find the actual study to find out what it was really all about. A newspaper article might say that a given study showed that 40% of women can't have a vaginal orgasm (there have been several studies that have been reported as finding such a result). What the article doesn't say is that the study only surveyed 40 women. It doesn't tell you that those 40 women were just given a self-report survey to fill out. It doesn't tell you that the survey did not ask them detailed questions about what they considered the term 'vaginal orgasm' to mean. It doesn't tell you that the women were never given any kind of physical exam and never underwent any clinical testing to see if they were having orgasms. So really, what the study tell us is that 16 out of 40 women who took a survey we know nothing about said that they believed they didn't have vaginal orgasms. And yet women everywhere read that only 40% of women can have vaginal orgasms. Now we all start thinking that we have a problem just like these women and we need to do something about it. Inevitably, the story will include, or be followed up by, possible remedies for this problem that 40% of us are now deemed to have.

We have to be so very careful about what we accept as 'science' and 'fact'. Whenever I see these types of headlines in the news, I try my best to find the original study and find out what it was really all about. There are so many agendas going on in the field of sexual health research, especially when it relates to women and their behavior. We have to be very careful that what's presented to us in the media isn't simply a convoluted attempt to make us buy a drug, or a product, or a cosmetic procedure, or to try to make us act in a certain way. We are constantly being told that there is something wrong with us. And there is always someone waiting there with the cure.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Doctor Prescribes Warm Water for Orgasms

So last week I watched 'The Doctors' for the first time. If you're not familiar, this is a show that features several physicians (one of which was on the bachelor and, in my opinion, made the worst choice in bachelor history - but that's another story) talking about health related issues. It's produced by Dr. Phil McGraw and his son Jay - so that should give you a clue. I have heard many people in the last few months rave about 'The Doctors' and I got a message from Dorrie Lane, the maker of the Wondrous Vulva Puppet, that the puppet was going to be featured on last Monday's show. So I watched. But I was only able to catch the last half so either I missed the Vulva Puppet or I got the wrong day. What I did catch was very strange and very confusing.

The 30 minutes that I saw was a segment on 'The Most Shocking Health Care Trends'. One of them was the growing trend of taking children for beauty spa treatments. Clearly, years of selling sex toys for a living has upped the ante on what I consider shocking. Who really cares if someone takes their kid to the spa? It's their money to waste. What was weird to me was that this 'shocking' trend was obviously included so as to plug the spa for kids - which was featured very prominently. In fact, there were no less than 6 blatant ads for products or companies in this 30 minutes portion of the show. It's not an informational show, it's an infomercial.

I digress, the point here is that they did talk about something 'shocking' related to sex. Number one of the most shocking healthcare trends was the 'Orgasmatron'. This is a device that is surgically implanted into the back and sends electrical impulses into the sacral nerve, thereby creating the sensation of having an orgasm. 'The Doctors' talked about this for about 45 seconds - just long enough to make several lame jokes. They did not explain much at all about what the orgasmatron is, how it was developed and who it is best for. One of 'The Doctors' said that it is only for women who are able to have an orgasm. WTF? That made no sense. I think what he meant was that women who have severe nerve damage will not benefit from the device. But that's not what he said. His comment makes it sound like there are women who are just flat out not able to have an orgasm and this this orgasmatron that makes you have an orgasm will only work for women who already can have them. He also said it was a last resort option. At $23,000 a pop, I would guess so.

The second doctor (Travis, the bachelor) said that there are many options to try before doing something like this. Good point Travis! His solution. 'There are lots of stimulating creams available on the market'. Great idea Travis! Do you really think that if you have such trouble with sexual response that you're considering surgically implanting a device, a tingling lube is going to do the trick instead? These doctors clearly don't have the slightest clue what orgasm really is and how it works. Warming or tingling lubes don't make you have orgasms, they just make you feel all warm and tingly.

The third doctor's idea was the best. She suggested warm water. I can't, for the life of me, figure out what you're supposed to do with that water. My co-worker, Amber, thought perhaps she meant warm water shooting out of a handheld shower head directly onto the clitoris. In that case I can understand. That can definitely cause an orgasm.

I went and googled the 'Orgasmatron' and here's what I found out:
- it is, indeed, a device that was invented to help restore feeling for those with nerve damage and spinal cord injury
- the stimulation of sexual pleasure was a side effect found by many recipients and now the makers of the thing are looking at marketing it for that purpose
- the device does not allow to you have orgasms when you're having sex, rather, when it's turned on, it emits eletrcial impulses into the sacracal nerve and this can send a signal to the brain that's the same as the sensation of having an orgasm - this is not at all a device that will help you have an orgasm during sex, it does it all on it's own

I don't think there's anything wrong with what essentially amounts to an extremely expensive sex toy. Obviously, I'm all for sex toys. It's just that 'The Doctors' made it sound like something very different than what it actually is. And that's the problem with most of these shows. When they have to boil everything down to 45 second sound bites, the information is invariably ripe for misinterpretation.

If you think the Orgasmatron might be right for you, you'll need to google it like I did. It's not a toy we'll be carrying in the store.

Monday, January 5, 2009

John Gray is from Mars, or some other planet than Earth.

I'm reading a great book about the self-help movement that devotes a chapter to the illustrious John Gray. It contained some excerpts from his book 'Mars and Venus in the Bedroom' which I thought were so laughable, I had to check them out.

So here, for entertainment purposes only, are some great quotes that I've pulled from 'Mars and Venus in the Bedroom' (which you can read vast excerpts of at harpercollins.com).

"Men need sex. Women need romance."

"For a woman to grow in sexual fulfillment, she primarily needs to feel emotionally supported in the relationship."

"Women enjoy conversation most when they are not required to get to the point right away...this is a perfect metaphor for how women enjoy sex."

"A woman is turned on when she feels her partner is confident that he knows how to fulfill her. A man is turned on when he feels a woman has confidence as well, but in a different way.....If a woman seems to confident that she knows how what to do him, it can possibly be intimidating....her greatest ability to fulfill him is through helping him be successful in fulfilling her."

"In polarity sex partners take turns consciously using these polarities to increase desire and pleasure. One partner gives while the other receives." guess who gets to go first? according to Gray, it's always the man receiving first

"A man wants to find a formula that will work each time so that he can relax in sex, feeling confident that he knows what he's doing."

"Trust is essential for a woman to continue getting turned on by her partner. "

"At the south end of the labia is the vagina which is the canal where the man enters her body. (because that's the only thing it's for). At the north end of the labia is the clitoris. Because it is so small and because he does not have one, a man doesn't realize how important it is for a woman to touch her there. As a general rule, it is very important for a man to remember to go north before he goes south." (better hope he can tell north from south - what if she's standing on her head?)

"When she wears silky pink or lace, she is ready to surrender to sex as a romantic expression of loving vulnerability......A cotton T-shirt with matching panties may mean she doesn't need a lot of foreplay."

I have go now, I think I just peed myself laughing.