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.