Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Excellent Example of Why We Have to Be Sceptical About Information on the Web

I was just searching for information on research regarding the use of food oils as personal lubricants when I came across this gem of a website:

This is scary stuff kids! First of all, the reason I landed on this site is that google pulled this up under 'personal lubricants, medical references' - underneath the title in my search list was this 'The references below clearly show that natural personal lubricants that use plant oils and vegetable oils are recommended for all forms of sex play by Gynecologists, Obstetricians, Medical Research, Medical Hospitals and Universities and other qualified sex and relationship advisors.' So I clicked on it without reading the name of the website.

On this page are numerous 'medical references' which support the idea that food oils in the vagina are a good idea. I didn't even notice that this site is selling an oil-based lubricant until I read a few of the medical references. They all come from gynecologists and other health practitioners so one might believe that these people know what they're talking about. But I know from experience that just because you're a doctor, even a gynecologist, doesn't mean that you know anything about lubricants. In fact, I would venture to say that the vast majority of physicians know very little about the safe use of lubricants - they are usually coming to me for that information!

Here, on this page is the proof that some of them don't know what they're talking about. Here's a quote listed from The Virtual Hospital-University of Iowa "The use of latex condoms with a vegetable oil as a lubricant is suggested to protect your skin. Petroleum-based lubricants may affect the integrity of condoms when used for birth control or prevention of sexually transmitted infections. Our experience has not found this to be a problem with vegetable-based oils." Excuse me? I certainly have! If you put any oil on a condom, be it food oil or synthetic oil, it will break. Fortunately the virtual hospital adds this "However, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that condoms not be used with any oil based lubricants for birth control or prevention of sexually transmitted infections." Nice of them to throw that in there.

The site actually contradicts it's own claims by then including this note from gynecologist Dr. David Gerber "Please note: Vegetable oil cannot be used with latex condoms (causes breakdown of latex and the condoms break)."

There's also this gem "I think it's a good time to experiment with different products for lubricant. Some people use almond oil, coconut oil, or Crisco [oil] if you're not worried about condoms." Kara Nakisbendi, M.D. Board Certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Crisco? Crisco?????? Are you kidding me? But she is a board certified Obstetrician and if she tells you to put Crisco up your vagina, it must be okay, right?

They don't mention silicone lubes at all except on another page on 'nasty ingredients'. There, you'll find this warning 'Silicone, much like mineral oil, coats the skins surface. A product in the UK uses dimethicone to destroy head lice'. This makes it sounds as if silicone lubes have DDT in them. They don't explain why there is dimethicone in the lice treatment. If you go to the page they cite as a reference, you find out. 'Instead of poisoning the parasites by chemical means, the dimeticone in Hedrin lotion works by physically coating the lice. This stops them moving and feeding and also prevents them from being able to excrete excess water. Both actions kill the lice. Head lice cannot become resistant to the lotion because it works in this physical way.' So really, the dimenthicone is an inert, gentle, and safe way to keep to lice from feeding and procreating without exposing the person to harsh chemicals. The action of the dimethicone - coating and protecting, is actually something you might want in a lubricant. What's nice about dimethicone is that while it does coat the skin, it does not allow anything through while it's there, nor does it bind to anything, so it will not promote infection. They don't mention that on this site because they are trying to convince people not to buy silicone lubes.

They also list Polyquaternium 15 and Carboxymethylcellulose as ingredients in silicone lubes. I have never seen a silicone lubricant with these ingredients. Silicone lubes almost always contain only silicone - with the occasional exception of vitamin E or Aloe. If it has anything else, it's not a pure silicone lube. Apparently the people who make this lube don't know that.

There are dire warnings about how irritating carboxymethylcellulose is but really, it's a synthesized fiber that's considering safe for use in food products and even eye drops.

So do be careful about trusting what you read on the net. The thing that gives this site away is the roughness of the design (lack of professional presentation) and the fact that the references are so vague and spotty. But if you take just one glance at it, it looks like good information from knowledgeable sources - after all, all of their references are doctors.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Gift List for the Kinky and Hard to Buy For

My column in VUE this week is not posted on the website, so I'm posting it here so you can read it on-line - you can catch the printed version this week until Thursday.

It’s gift-giving season yet again so I spent this week searching for gift ideas for all of you who are stumped for something for that special, somewhat kinky, someone who has everything. If a gift card just isn’t going to make the lasting impression you’re hoping for, here are a few things that definitely will.

For the gadget lover, there is the Little Rooster vibrating alarm clock. This tiny clock actually fits right into your panties. Instead of awakening to a loud obnoxious alarm, you’ll feel a warm tingling between your legs. Press the snooze button and the vibration will continue just until your 9 minutes snooze is over. Somehow I’m thinking this would make you want to stay in bed rather than get up.

For the horror movie fanatic, check out the Fleshlight Freaks. This line of dildo and masturbation sleeves is inspired by our favorite horror movie creatures. There is the Zombie, with decaying flesh and open wounds. The Vampire sports a batwing vulva, or you can choose the mouth version with sexy pointed fangs. The Frankenstein models looks like they’ve been stitched together from many different body parts, and the Alien is blue with two heads instead of one. There is a female and male version for each monster. No, I am not making this up.

For the political junkie, why not pick up an official Barak Obama dildo? Shaped in the likeness of the president of the United States, these dildos come in your choice of presidential gold or democratic blue. You’ll be pleased to know that the ‘Head of State’ dildo is phthalate free. And no, I’m not making this one up either.

For the hard to buy for pet, why not their very own love doll? The hot doll is a soft and sturdy dog-shaped companion for your faithful friend to hug and love and, well…you get the picture. The hot doll comes in a variety of sizes from Yorkie to Golden Retriever.

For the festive fashionista, 3 Wishes has a variety of Christmas themed lingerie. Choose from sexy snowman with hat and plaid scarf, naughty toy soldier, or raunchy reindeer complete with antler headband and jingle bell collar. Just don’t go to Canada Post website for a link to the raunchy reindeer costume, they took that down months ago.

For the perfectionist, or perhaps the easily confused, Pipedreams has finally solved the pesky problem of losing your way when you’re going down. The Oral Sex Light looks like a microphone headset but instead of a mic, it holds a small light so you can see what you’re doing while you’re down there. This one would also be great for those with Rockstar fantasies or anyone who gets turned on by the guy who demonstrates the ShamWow at the mall.

For a great gift set, why not pair the Oral Sex Light with the Oral Sex Snorkel? This little gadget, consisting of a nose plug connected to two long tubes, allows you to “breathe normally while giving her a long lustful licking she’ll never forget.” Sexy!

For the fantasy geek, Bad Dragon makes a range of dragon-inspired dildos. You read that right. These are artist conceptions of dragon dicks. If dragons aren’t your thing, you can also get whale or dolphin penises, and even masturbation sleeves in the shape of horse vaginas. While it may sound a little out there, these toys are actually beautiful, in a disturbed sort of way, and they are all made of 100% silicone. They are definitely something the average dolphin-lover will not have in his or her collection and it’s much more useful than sea world snow globe.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lawsuit Launched over .xxx

Way back in July, I wrote a post about the potential launch of .xxx, a new top level web domain. In order to bring anyone who hasn't heard about this up to spead, here are the relevant pieces.

'So here's the deal. An internet domain registry service called ICM has been trying to get the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbering to approve their proposal for a .xxx top level domain, to be used solely for adult content. This idea has been brought forward to ICANN and others many times in the past, but this six year battle that ICM has engaged in is not only to have the domain established but for ICM to have exclusive rights over it - ie. if you want an .xxx domain, you'll have to pay ICM and only ICM. ICM, and the proponents of this idea claim that it will help internet users avoid unwanted adult content and will help protect children from incidental exposure. They say that it will make filters even more effective because parents can simply block the entire domain.

But if use of the domain is voluntary, will it really make a difference. A .com domain costs anywhere from $7 to $20 a year so what will likely happen is that adult site owners who have a .com right now will simply add a .xxx to increase their traffic. They won't drop the .com. So bam! We've just doubled the number of porn addresses on the web! Great way to control kids access to porn. Not only that, but then everyone will know that there is a virtual goldmine of porn over the .xxx rainbow. Type in and you're sure to come up with some porn. So does this make it easier or more difficult for kids to access porn.

It seems obvious to me that this is nothing more than a money grab. ICM has spent $10 million so far to make .xxx a reality. Yes, you read that right, $10 Million!! So guess how much they expect to make from it? As mentioned before, a .com domain name is, at most, $20 a year. ICM does not state, on their website, how much the domain will actually cost but a rep. from the Free Speech Coalition said she has heard estimates of anywhere from $50 to $275/year. Why so much more than .com? It's because you can only get it from ICM so they can charge whatever they want. The president of ICM did say in the interview that they expect to make up to $150 million a year from .xxx! He said that they already have 156,000 domain names parked - so if all of those end up paying their $50, that's $7.8 million in their pockets before they even start!'

Well, the establishment of .xxx went ahead - in fact, registration opened to the public just yesterday. But, as I could have predicted, the porn industry is fighting back. Some of the biggest on-line providers of adult content launched a lawsuit a couple of weeks ago claiming anti-trust and anti-competition violations.

I say good on them. It's obviously and patently unfair to open up this massive public domain but restrict access to the profit from it to only one company. I hope ICANN and ICM lose and lose big. The problem is that lawsuits take forever. In the meantime, ICM will make a boatload of money and owners of adult sites will have to make the choice of whether to put out or lose out.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Prostitution Around the World and At Home

I've been thinking a lot about prostitution lately, mostly because it's been crossing my path a lot. In my circles, people have been talking about the Canadian court challenges to prostitution laws. Then there was my trip to Amsterdam - you can read more about that here

And then, I had the chance to talk with Jessica Yee on Monday. Jessica is a self-proclaimed reproductive rights freedom fighter. One of the many things she works on is rights for sex trade workers.

The only thing I've learned from all of this is that no one is really doing it right.

I thought the model in Holland was pretty good but Jessica disagrees with me. She thinks that actual legalization is a problem because it puts too much control in the hands of the state. She is concerned with how the buying and selling of the red light rooms and valuation of the property affects how much sex trade workers have to pay for them. She thinks that having it legal only in those spots and the amount that has to be paid for those rooms, and that now, people must have an EU passport to work legally in the windows, bars a lot of women from working there. And as we all know, just because it's illegal, doesn't mean it's not happening. She worries that women will still work illegally and in unsafe situations with customers who want to pay less.

It's the same way in Sweden. Sweden plan to decriminalize the selling of sex but criminalize the buying has been praised by a lot of people, particularly conservatives who advocate the prohibition of prostitution. They think that this is a more 'humane' approach to the problem because it doesn't persecute the sex trade workers who they see as victims. It only punishes the people who buy sex. But it's not that simple. If you punish the buyer, you also punish the seller. Jessica told me that sex trade workers in Sweden are saying this does not work for them. It has only served to push prostitution farther underground where workers have less access to protection when they need it.

Jessica thinks that simple decriminalization is the answer. New Zealand is one of the few examples of that. Since 2003, brothels, escort agencies, and soliciting have been legal and unregulated there. This provides workers protection against prostitution but do they really have legal recourse if the need it? Are they taken seriously and supported if they report and assault. It's not just about whether sex trade workers and their clients are free to do as they please, it's about whether that activity can take place in a way that minimizes the risk of violence. Does this model do that? I don't know.

There is a lot of opposition to the Prostitution Reform Act in New Zealand. Ideologues and anti-prostitution advocates tend to have big mouths and lots of money. I think there's a good chance that they will force a change to this Act - either by pressuring the government to repeal it, or by just chewing away at it with small, probably local amendments, which is what they are trying to do right now.

The big question is, what will happen in Canada? With a Supreme Court challenge looming, there is a possibility that our vague and useless prostitution laws will be thrown out. What are we left with in that case? I'm guessing that the Harper government is crapping their pants about this one on a daily basis. The last thing they want is to be the government under which prostitution became legal in Canada. I don't think they would be for decriminalization and I certainly don't think they are ready to take on the task of how to legalize and regulate it. But I also don't think they want to be the ones to tackle this head-on and draft a new, clear law that actually makes prostitution illegal in this country. They're stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one and it'll be interesting to see where they go with it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

One of these Things is Not Like The Others

So today I'm catching up on everything I missed while I was away - which has included getting ready for the Taboo Sex Shows in Calgary and Edmonton coming up in November. I was reading through my exhibitor package and noted the very clear direction that nudity is strictly prohibited at the show. 'All models must be covered (ie. g-strings and pasties etc.).' This makes me reflect on my experience at the Venus Show in Berlin. Venus is Berlin's equivalent of Taboo - well sort of. It's much more focussed on video and on-line porn and less on toys than is Taboo. But it is mainly a direct to consumer sex show. Things are just a little different there. Trying to describe it is almost impossible.

When you walk into Venus, the first thing you notice is that there are probably 25 men for every woman walking the show. The next thing you notice is the throngs of men gawking and taking pictures and when you get closer to those clusters of men, you see that they are gathered around a woman or women doing a show. In Edmonton, the shows are mostly burlesque troops or fully-clothed pole dancers, or drag queens. At Venus, the shows are women doing full nudity strip shows, often with other women, often playing with a variety of toys and/or masturbating to orgasm. The women on the main stage often bring volunteers onto the stage with them and dance around them, blindfold them, grind on them etc. It's just a little different than back at home.

I have to admit, I did find it a bit shocking. The activity wasn't shocking to me as these things are a part of my life. But that you can do those things at a public trade show was the shocking part for me. One of our hosts from FunFactory said, quite succintly 'I don't think you could get away with those kinds of things in America' - or in Canada. The two things I was amazed by was the amount of picture taking - at every show almost every single man had a camera, or even video camera, and was busy snapping away. At one spot a woman was lieing back against a lounge chair with her legs spread open and several men held cameras no more than two inches from her naked crotch. It was full-on. The closest equivalent to Venus in the U.S.A. is the Vegas Show that accompanies the AVN porn awards. There, photography is strictly forbidden unless you've paid for a pass to take pictures. It does, after all, all come down to money.

The second thing that baffled me was the contact with consumers. As I said, men were often brought up on stage or approached in the crowd by the performers. You would never ever ever do this in North America. I was thinking about why that is and realized that it's not because this represents a line of safety and appropriate behavior that should not be crossed but rather because over here, we are deathly scared of a lawsuit. We are so afraid of liability issues - of the potential for someone to go over the line or to claim that they did not want to participate or that they got hurt - that we would just prefer that no one touch anyone ever. They don't seem to really care there. Now I noticed, of course, even though it wasn't really obvious, that there was a strong security presence there. If anyone got out of line, I'm sure they would be yanked out of there in a matter of seconds. In fact, I saw a guy try to reach over into a performance area to touch a woman who was performing - the guy running the tech equipment was close by and put a quick stop to that. It seems the performers say what goes. They do the touching. Everyone else has to abide by their wishes.

And that's just the point to me. We have so many rules about what you can and cannot do in public and seven ways until Sunday to stop people from getting out of control but is it necessary? The performers seemed pretty capable of taking care of themselves and the audiences seemed to be pretty clear on the rules although they weren't written or stated anywhere. This was, at least on the surface of it, a free-for-all. Yeah, it was pretty wild by our standards but did I see anyone who looked like they were out of control - hurting anyone else in any way? No. Not once. So do we need all these rules? Will we get out of control if we don't have them? I don't think so. I think we do have self- control. I actually think it's the rules that make us want to get out of control.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Visit to the Happiest Place on Earth

I've just returned from two weeks of trade-showing and sight-seeing in Europe and I have a ton to write about. The best part of the trip was far and away the visit with Fun Factory so I'll start there. Any fan of sex toys knows that Fun Factory was the first big manufacturer of top quality silicone toys. They are located in Bremen, Germany and they make all of their toys right there. My partner and I were invited to spend two days with them in Bremen and they took us on a tour of their facility.

First, they showed us their offices - which are all one big open space. All of the departments work together to share ideas and plan new projects. This is Verena, their head designer. She is responsible for the G4 line and the click and charge Ocean - so we love her. Verena was surprised that I was kind of star-struck by her. To me, she's a bit of a hero, having designed so much pleasure for so many.

After we saw the offices, we headed over to the production building to see how they actually make the toys. We were lucky to get our tour from the founder of Fun Factory himself. This entire company started with him and a friend and a bit of silicone at his kitchen table. The first toy they produced was a dildo named paddy penguin. Now they produce over 200 different toys and thousands of units a day.

All of the rubber parts of Fun Factory toys are made right there at the plant. The silicone is kept in large tank on the first floor and pumped up onto the production floor on the next level where it's mixed with color and the curing components that give it it's texture and density. The silicone is then poured into molds, either by hand or by machine, depending on how many units they are making. Most dildos are still produced by hand because they are made in smaller numbers. Many of the vibrator sleeves are done on simple machines that pour the silicone and pull it out of the molds mechanically. Each toy makes a satisfyingly loud 'pop' as it gets pulled out of its mold.

Everything that goes into a Fun Factory toy is made in Germany. Most of the components are made right there on the premises but some of the plastic caps and electronics are produced elsewhere and shipped into the Fun Factory. All the assembly is done right there by hand. Once the motors are together and the sleeves come out of the molds, the toys are assembled.

Every single toy is tested to make sure that it works. Then they are packaged up and sent out to distribution.

The site also includes a quality control section, where any toy that is sent back is disassembled and checked to determine the problem. If faults are found, the engineering and production teams are notified and changes are made to the designs.

After having spent a day in Berlin looking at all kinds of toys and talking to toy companies from all over the world - and then repeating the experience the next day in Hannover, I got a real appreciation for what Fun Factory does. There are many toy companies who don't design their own products at all - they simply buy products that are designed and produced by large manufacturing plants - mostly in China. Then they come up with the packaging and put their name on it. It's a cheaper way to run a company but it doesn't put you in the driver's seat in terms of the look and function of the toy. Producing all of the product right there also means that they know exactly what's in it and exactly how it was made. It's a much different story when you merely commissioned the production of a number of toys for which you only saw prototypes. Is it really a good product? You don't know for sure because you didn't make it. At FunFactory, every single toy was designed by them and produced by them. They put an enormous amount of care and attention into their toys and it shows by the number of copies produced by other companies. They even have a book in the Fun Factory office documenting all of the copies of their designs.

We were told that at one time, anyone could come into the factory and have a look at everything - because they are proud of their production and they want people to see what they do. In recent years though, they've closed off parts of their production in an attempt to keep some of the technology they developed themselves, to themselves. It seems there's a ton of competition in the toy industry. There are many toymakers who would love to duplicate Fun Factory's success. Copying the technology that they spent a lot of time and money on is a much quicker route than doing it yourself. They are well aware that they will never be able to stop the copycats, they just prefer to hold onto their own work for their own use as long as they can.

So that was my trip to the Fun Factory. The whole thing was like a really fun episode of that TV show 'How It's Made'.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Told You So - Masturbation is a good thing.

Finally, somebody is studying teens and masturbation. A study published last month in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine reports on a survey of 800 American Teenagers. The survey asked them if they masturbate, how often, and then asked them other questions about their sexual activity and practices. What they found was that boys who masturbate are much more likely to use condoms. reports that 'Robbins (the study author) and her team concluded that “the association of masturbation with other sexual behaviors indicates that masturbation is an important component of adolescent sexuality rather than an isolated or transient phenomenon.” In that regard, they urge that teens be educated and reassured that the act is a “normal” part of growing up.' Yeah, score one for our team!

The study also found that, surprise, surprise, about twice as many boys masturbate as girls. They postulate on why that might be but they don't entertain what, to me, is one of the obvious answers, girls don't want to talk about it. I think that still, even after Sex and the City and the dawn of the age of the vibrator, girls still think that they shouldn't masturbate. So my guess is that the number who actually do masturbate is quite a bit higher than the number who said that they do.

I just love this study, especially because it was done in the states, but I'll just sit back and wait for the conserative backlash to this. The study found that the boys and girls they surveyed who said that they masturbated were more likely to have had sex with a partner than those who said they didn't masturbate. It just makes sense to me. If you masturbate, you are probably more interested and comfortable with sex than if you don't. And if you have had partner sex, I think you're quite likely to be interested in masturbation. But the abstinence only crowd will have a hissy fit, I'm sure, choosing to see this supposed 'negative' instead of the positive.

Here's a link to the study.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Yes, KY some women love women.

Will wonders never cease? Today KY released a commercial for it's Intense arousal gel that features two women! An actual lesbian couple in a mainstream commercial! I'm not a lover of anything KY does, and I'm not saying this is a good product. But I am saying this is a good ad - it's just like all their other ads for this product that feature opposite sex couples. The video is available to view on YouTube. I'm not sure how much wide circulation this ad will get on TV and you can bet your ass, if it does, somebody's going to have a problem with it. But let's hope it makes it to TV.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Furor Over Fluid

I had planned to stay away from this one as far as The Tickle Trunk was concerned but it's become so huge that I just feel we need to say something. For anyone who hasn't looked at facebook, the internet in general, or touched a newspaper in the past two days, there has been an ongoing media frenzy about an ad campaign launched some time ago by Fluid hair salon in Edmonton. The campaign features women in violent and dangerous situations with fabulous hair and the tag line 'Look Good in All You Do'.

I'm not going to get into the comments that have been made about it or the salon's response to the outcry. Those things are available for view in various places all over the internet. I just want to say a few things about how the Tickle Trunk responds to this.

Fluid is our neighbor. They are across the alley from us. They operate within our community and serve our customers, our neighbors and community. We want to cultivate good relationships among our neighbors and are therefore loathe to criticize. We understand that we all work very hard at our businesses and that we face many challenges as small business owners. I do feel for what Sarah, the owner of Fluid is going through right now with such a huge unexpected firestorm of controversy around her. This could devastate her business and for that I am very sorry.

However, I am disturbed by the campaign. I want to see our community rally together against violence, particularly in light of some of the terrible violent incidents that have happened here, not make light of them. Various people have said the campaign, especially the image that has been all over facebook and the internet, could be interpreted in lots of different ways but it's quite clear what the intention was and how most people are interpreting it. Most people perceive it to say that getting beat up is something that's pretty common for women so hey, you might as well look fabulous while it happens. That's just not okay with me. I don't think violence against women, or against anyone, is acceptable, commonplace, amusing, or something that should be used to sell goods or services.

So as much as we love and support the businesses in Old Strathcona, and especially East Whyte where we are, The Tickle Trunk and I are not okay with this campaign. But we understand that business owners make mistakes. We've certainly made a bunch of them ourselves. When we find that we've done something that hurts our community, we seek to apologize and repair the damage. Our hope is that the owner of Fluid will accept that she made an error in judgement with this campaign. That even though it may not have been their intention, Fluid has offended and hurt their customers and their community with this message and campaign. We hope they will apologize and stop running ads that trivialize or glorify violence. And we hope that if and when they do apologize and change their advertising, we will all support them by using their services. This is how we grow responsible and respectful communities.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Restrictive Abortion Laws do Not Lower Abortion Rates

Just wanted to post a link to this article on RH Reality Check about abortion rhetoric in the USA. The stats cited come mostly from the states but they are backed up with stats from Canada and other countries. It seems when abortion is legal and affordable, abortion rates are actually lower than when it's not. This is important information for Canadians. We may think this doesn't concern us here as abortion is legal in Canada, but access to abortion is still difficult or impossible in most parts of the country. The writer of this article, Dr. Jen Gunter, states that abortion is free in Canada. This is not always true. It is covered by provincial health cares plans but if a woman is living out of her province of birth and does not have coverage in the province she lives in, she will have a difficult time getting the service covered. As well, many women in Canada need to travel to get an abortion - only those living in the largest cities in the country have ready access. This is a significant cost. I realize this is not the same cost as having to cover the procedure yourself, but I just want to clarify that it's not exactly 'free'.

Here's the article

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

One of These Things is Just Like The Other

I was browsing toy catalogs today, as I do quite a bit and came across these two toys by California Exotics.

Can you see the difference between them? Neither could I. There are two differences. The one on the left is CalExotics brand pump. The one on the right is the Laura Berman pump, made by California Exotics but with Laura Bermans name on the package. The other difference is the price. The first retails for $39.99. The second for $56.99. Yes, Laura Berman's name on this product costs an extra $17.

Friday, August 5, 2011

It's Still the Same Old Story - Horrible Advertising that Makes Women Feel Like Shit About Themselves

I was thrilled to hear the other day that L'Oreal got their fingers smacked for dishonest advertising. It's about time! The Advertising Standards Agency has ruled that the photographs of Julia Roberts' and Christy Turlington's faces in recent ads constitutes exaggerated and misleading claims. Turns out that beautiful complexion was not achieved by L'Oreal foundation - no, it was done by airbrushing. It's nice to see someone finally standing up and saying, 'no, that foundation will never ever make you look like Julia Roberts does in that picture because Julia Roberts doesn't even look like that - and it's not okay to make women think that she does'. I think all of us know this somewhere in the backs of our brains. We look at that smooth bright skin with not a pore to be seen and we know it can't be real. But after seeing this so many times, doesn't it sink in just a bit? Don't we, on some level, think that's what beautiful looks like? I would love for this to become a trend so that we can start seeing what normal, actual faces look like - but then maybe we wouldn't feel such a need for the makeup.

Summer's Eve is at it again too. I know a lot of people will have seen the 'Hail to the V' videos (the one with the talking hand pretending to be a vulva) because those got a lot of attention and even made it onto the Colbert Report. But I'm not talking about that hot mess. The mess that I'm talking about is the other 'Hail to the V' commercial - not the talking hand one. This one shows clips of women and men through history (supposedly), over heroic, dramatic music the narration says 'It's the cradle of life, it's the centre of civilization, over the ages and throughout the world, men have fought for it, battled for it, even died for it. One might say it's the most powerful thing on Earth." Then it cuts to a modern day women in a grocery store with a bottle of Summer's Eve wash and the narration says "So come on ladies, show it a little love." Sigh........

Okay, one could merely pass this off as mildly amusing or ridiculous, which it is, but really, I've had just about enough of this shit. I am so sick and tired of being told how amazing and incredible and strong I am as a woman and then told that I need to buy something because of it. Really, come on now. 'Your vulva is the cradle of civilization and the most powerful thing on Earth.' This is a great sentiment. And it's true - women are the ones who have the babies, we are the ones who actually bear life out of our own bodies. That is amazing and powerful. But what on God's Green Earth does that have to do with smelly pussy wash that we don't really need? 'You're amazing now wash your stinky vulva.' It's insulting and I'm tired of it. What we really need to hear instead is ' Your vulva is the most powerful thing on earth, it is unique and beautiful and it does not need to be cut or changed or shaped surgically to fit some unrealistic ideal. Your vulva is the cradle of civilization, it smells exactly as it should and does not need douches and perfumes. Your vulva is amazing so take care of it and make sure that it's healthy and happy by using dams and condoms when you need to, picking out contraception that makes sense for your health, and seeing your doctor regularly.' Using Summer's Eve is not showing your amazing vulva any love - it is actually bad for you. Strong fragrances such as are present in Summer's Eve can lead to allergic reactions and infections. That is not love, it's just wrong.

I am so sick of marketers trying to subvert our feminist and sexual revolution and turn it into an advertising message. Trust me, Summer's Eve has not one single thing to do with your sexual power - it's the exact opposite.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Whatever happened to objective journalism?

There is so much more to be said, but this will be my last post about this NewsWeek thing. There's so many other things going on in the world that it's time to leave this alone for now. It will rear its ugly head in some other form soon I'm sure.

So another piece of this sad NewsWeek article is the utter lack of journalistic integrity displayed. Here are the things that really boil my potatoes about the way this thing was written.

First, there is a very obvious bias in it but Leslie Bennetts, the author, fails to declare it. This is under the 'U.S. News' heading. It is not an editorial. It is not labeled as an opinion piece. But it is actually an anti-prostitution diatribe that uses the 'just published findings' of this 'study' as the tiny little hook it needs to call itself news. Bennetts and NewsWeek should be honest that this is an opinion piece instead of trying to portray it as fact.

Second, holy lack of citations batman! Supposed facts are stated everywhere in this article with not so much as one single citation of where these 'facts' were pulled from. It is littered with the phrases 'estimates suggest', 'common estimates state' and 'leading experts suggest'. Wow, that's pretty darn precise Bennett! Whose estimates are these and how did they arrive at them. And exactly who are these leading experts. This is the big one 'The most common estimates, oft-repeated by major media, suggest that 100,000 to 300,000 children are trafficked in the United States every year.' That sounds very scary. But does it make any sense at all? In 2008, there were just over 8.5 million people under 20 years of age living in the United States. So by this estimate anywhere from 1% to over 4% of the young people in the USA are trafficked into the sex trade. Really? How can this possibly be true. We can't ask because Bennett can't tell us who actually came up with that estimate. Marty Klein can, he says the figure was first presented by University of Pennsylvania Professors - but there's so much more to it that Bennett doesn't explain. Here's a bit from Marty Klein's article in Psychology Today:

"When University of Pennsylvania professors Richard Estes and Neil Weiner invented the figure "100,000-300,000," they weren't referring to ACTUAL prostitution or trafficking; they said the numbers 'estimate the number of children AT RISK for commercial sexual exploitation.' And who's 'at risk?'Almost everyone except Beaver Cleaver: loners, female gang members, kids who run away for 24 hours, transgender kids, kids who live near international borders, and others. In response to a recent Village Voice interview, Estes says 'kids who are kidnapped and sold into slavery? That number would be very small...a few hundred people.' American law enforcement officials estimate the figure is less than 1,000."

Anyone with a few basic math skills can tell you that there a big difference between 300,000 and 1000. Is there no responsibility on the author of this thing to back up her claims?

Third - presenting this horrible piece of propaganda as a legitimate study in the first place shows an utter lack of either investigative journalism or journalistic integrity or both. It's pretty clear that Bennetts didn't even read Farley's study, because the article makes claims that even the study doesn't make. Beyond that, any real journalist should be scratching the surface of this thing, finding out who funded it, what their bias was, what their methods were, and what the actual results were before just taking all of these salacious sound bites to press. It get attention for sure, but it causes a panic and furor about something that isn't really even happening - at least not in the way that Farley and Bennetts claim it is.

All right - time to move on to other things, like why Summer's Eve and L'Oreal suck.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The John Next Door - Is Your Next Door Neighbor really a sex trafficker?

So one of the major issues with the 'John Next Door' article in Newsweek is that they throw a whole bunch of things together and call them the same thing. The article starts out by describing the men in the control group of the study as 'men who have not been to a strip club more than two times in the past year, have not purchased a lap dance, have not used pornography more than one time in the last month, and have not purchased phone sex or the services of a sex worker, escort, erotic masseuse, or prostitute'. There are two huge problems with this. The first is that pornography and strip clubs are included. I'm willing to admit that the definition of what actually constitutes 'prostition' might be somewhat gray, but I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks that going to strip clubs and watching porn is akin somehow to visiting prostitutes. So why is it included in this group? And why does Newsweek emphasize the porn part of this so much?

The other huge problem with it is that Newsweek neglects to tell us that the reverse was not true. The group of men studied who 'buy' sex did not include any men who just went to strip clubs or watched porn, they all used the services of a sex trade worker in some sort of physical way - only the last part of the defintion 'purchased the services of a sex worker, escort, erotic masseuse, or prostitute' applied there. So Newsweek is leading us to believe men who watch porn more than once a month, go to strip clubs or use phone sex lines but have never used the physical services of a sex trade worker are a part of this study group. They were not. In fact, men who fell into this category were not a part of either the study or control group.

So why does Leslie Bennetts, the author of this peice, keep going back to porn? Porn is a major part of the argument made in Newsweek and yet it was not even studied. The authors of the study are not honest in this either. They have created a major selection bias - screening out all the men who watch porn regularly but don't participate in prostitution. And then they go ahead and say that porn is one of the main reasons that the men in the study group do what they do. How is it possible to draw that conclusion.

So they've got pornography and strip clubs all messed up in this 'examination' of prostitution. The other thing that both the study and the article do is make no disctinction whatsoever between different kinds of sex trade work and human trafficking. Bennetts devotes at least a good half of her article to anecdotes about child sexual abuse and human trafficking. The heavy emphasis on this strongly implies that there is no difference between say, an adult woman who provides sexual services through an escort agency and a 10 year old girl who was kidnapped and sold into prostitution (the latter is actually discussed in length, the former not at all). It's not even mentioned at all that there are many ways in which sex work is done, child prostition is really the only thing that is mentioned, plus some statistics with no citations that would lead us to believe that all women who work in the sex trade were sexually abused as children and started in the sex trade as children. This is simply not true.

Both the article and the study take the absolute worst-case scenario of children who were abused and forced into prostitution and then say that because this happens, prostition is a horrible thing. After all, who could say that the abuse and sale of children is okay? Well, of course it's not, but is this an accurate picture of the sex trade?

Child prostition is a problem. It's a horrible thing. But the people who put children on the street and the people who buy sex services from them are a much smaller subset of the entire population that's involved in the sex trade. And it's not really even the sex trade that's the problem here. The problem is the abuse of the children in the first place. The problem is that there are children who are not safe in their own homes, who need protective services, and who are not getting them. What is needed is more services to support and protect those children before they get anywhere near the street. Making prostition illegal will not do anything stop child prostition because having sex with minors is already illegal. If that was a deterrant, this wouldn't be happening. They are focussing on the wrong end of the equation and using these extreme cases to argue against something much larger and much more complex than this.

The other confusion going on here is the claim that prostition is so very dangerous and the people who engage in it are so very damaged that it should be eliminated. But this doesn't hold up. Bennett rarely cites any of her stats so it's hard to know if any of them are actually correct, but let's take it on faith that they are. She says that 'most' prostitutes have been sexually abused. I would guess that is probably true, but depending on which studies you look at anywhere from 25% to 60% of women in North America have experienced sexual abuse, so what is this really telling us. This is a sad fact, of course, but does it mean that prostitution should be illegal? Although I've never seen a study on it I would venture to say that the number of social workers and counsellors who have been sexually abused is larger than the general population. I would also venture to say that the number of women who work at minimum wage jobs who have been sexually abused is larger than the general population. That one just stands to reason - sexual abuse often goes along with a lot of other disadvantages and family problems and it's my belief that it's more those things that contribute to people ending up on the street than the sexual aspect of the abuse itself.

As far as the danger goes. Bennett makes again makes no distinction again between different forms of prostition in her claim that sex trade workers have the highest workplace homicide rate of any type of job. It is dangerous for sure but first of all, street prostitution is much more dangerous than other sex work so lumping them all in together is not fair. Secondly, the reason why most people get into street prostition as opposed to other forms of sex work is that they have no other choice. Third, if a type of work is dangerous, does it make sense to make it illegal. Liquor Store cashier was cited in the article as the next most dangerous job. Do we close the liqour stores because people are murdered there? No, we take steps to make it safer - we install security systems and alarm bells. If we want it to be less dangerous, doesn't it make sense to make it legal so that we can monitor people's activities and protect the people who do it rather than forcing it further underground where there's even less support and protection?

Underneath all of these exposition about how dangerous and exploitative prostition is is the seed that is planted early on by both Bennett and Farley that pornography is central to this entire thing, with an implication that if we banned pornography, we might be able to stop all of this from happening in the first place. This argument is tenous at best and not supported by anything reported in the study or the article.

It's hard to believe but there are still more problems with this whole thing. Next post will be about journalistic integrity and the lack thereof.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Are All Men Like This? No, They're Not

I'm back after an extended family holiday. I would have liked to been posting about this NewsWeek craziness during that time, but playing with nieces and nephews is just more important.

So for those who haven't heard, there was an article published in Newsweek on July 18th which reported on a 'study' just released that seems to show that men who 'buy' sex commit more violent crimes and that actually, most men buy sex. It paints a very distressing picture of men in our culture as misogynistic bastards who see not just sex trade workers, but all women, as their objects to use and abuse as they see fit. The article has got a lot of panties in a twist - I have to admit it had me going at first. But something in the back of my mind kept saying 'This can't possibly be true.' I understand that human trafficking and the sexual abuse of children and adolescents is a horrifying thing that needs to be addressed - but this all just didn't seem right. And so I went in search of answers and I was right. What Newsweek would have believe was proven by this study is not true at all.

This thing is now such a huge mess of controversy and the study and the subsequent reporting of it is so rife with issues that I'm going to bite off small pieces of it and make several posts. It just can't be addressed in one post - my fingers will fall off from hours of typing.

So the first thing is, Are All Men Like This? That was the title of a post on Jezebel about the article. In the article, the author of the 'study' is quoted as saying that they had a hard time finding men who did not buy sex. That sounds awful. It makes it sound like most men are using the services of sex trade workers. And yes, that's what the study author wants us to believe. But let's take a closer look.

first of all, let's just be clear about this, the study was funded by an organization who's express purpose is to eliminate prostitution. Just a bit of a bias, wouldn't you say? Secondly, the lead author of the study is a well-known anti-prostitution and anti-porn activist. Again, a bit biased, don't you think?

Now, their definition of men who do not 'buy' sex was published in the Newsweek article. It was 'men who have not been to a strip club more than two times in the past year, have not purchased a lap dance, have not used pornography more than one time in the last month, and have not purchased phone sex or the services of a sex worker, escort, erotic masseuse, or prostitute'. Okay - there are two big big problems here. First of all, why is the use of pornography and strip clubs included in this definition? How, in any way, are those things the same as prostitution. Secondly, and this is vitally important, what Newsweek does not tell you, is that the definition of 'buyer' was much more strict. It included only men who had bought a lap dance, or used the services of a sex worker. The Newsweek article leads one to believe that the buying group - which they then go on to talk about at length, also includes men who use porn and go to strip clubs but don't use the services of sex trade workers. This is where NewsWeek really loses their credibility. The alarm bells start sounding because they make it seem as if pretty much all men (because you find me a man who doesn't watch some kind of porn from time to time) are a part of this group that is then described as hating women, having violent tendencies, being more likely to commit crimes of all kinds but particularly violent crimes against women. But that's not the case. These things that they talk about are true only of the men in the buying group and those are men who actually used the services of sex trade workers.

The other major issue is, the selection process and criteria as well as the details of the study sample were not described. The sample was only 101 men and the control group was an additional 100 men. That's not a lot of men. Also, the men were recruited through an ad that asked invited them to participate in an interview about their sex lives for which they would be paid. Doesn't it make sense to assume that men who would respond to such as an would be men how are open and comfortable with their sexuality and have more liberal views on things like pornography and prostitution? It makes sense to believe that men with less open boundaries around sexuality would not be interested in participating in an interview like that. So there's a selection bias there.

As well, they do not disclose how many people responded to the survey as opposed to how many were selected into the buying group. The lead author simply says that they had a 'hard time' finding men who did not buy sex. But they don't say how many responded. If 200 responded and 101 used the services of a sex trade worker, that's one thing. If 2000 responded and 101 used the services of sex trade worker, that's quite another.

Another issue is that they do not disclose the questions that were asked. We have no idea what they asked these men in order to elicit the responses they got. They simply give us tables with numbers of men who had done this or that and a table of heinous quotes from the buying group. Oh, and about that table of heinous quotes, they also do not disclose how many of the participants made these comments. Again, if those 20 awful despicable things were said by 20 different men in that group of 101, that's one thing. If one man in that group of 101 said all of those things, that quite another thing.

The study, and particularly the NewsWeek article seem to want us to draw these conclusions:
- men who visit sex trade workers and men who never have but who watch porn and go to strip clubs are exactly the same and most men do at least some of these things
- watching porn makes men want to solicit prostitutes
- men who do use the services of sex trade workers (and who watch porn and go to strip clubs) are alarmingly more likely to commit violent crimes
- it is the prostitution itself that causes them to do these things

Not a single one of these claims about men is supported by the information in that 'study'.

Yes there are some men who do these things, but we know that already. The authors of this study set out to make us believe that most men do them and that they do them because they watch porn and use the services of sex trade workers. It's an insult to all men and it's an alarmist sentiment that it simple not true.

In my next post, I'll deal with the confusion and conflation of pornography, prostitution and human trafficking.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

zombie sponge back for revenge

It's the sponge that never ends. It just goes on and on my friend! In the summer of 2008, I joyfully wrote about the death of the Today Sponge - the company that had bought it had gone bankrupt. I have a (probably irrational) hatred for the Today Sponge so I was thrilled.

Well, that sneaky little sucker found it's way back onto our drugstore shelves without me even knowing it. I've seen it around now and investigated to see what the hell happened.

Seems that Mayer Labs bought it relaunched it in the US in the summer of 2009. In January of this year, they announced it's availability in Shopper's Drug Marts in Canada. Sigh......

So, Today Sponge, my old nemesis, why do I hate thee? Once again, let me count the ways:

1) The Today Sponge has a perfect use effectiveness rates of 89% to 91%. That means that even if you use it exactly as directed, perfectly without fail, every single time you do it, you have a one in ten chance of getting pregnant within a year. I don't know about you, but for this pregnancy-phobe, that's too damn high! One of the few reasons I can think that people would choose this is because it doesn't really interfere with sensation and pleasure at all which means they wouldn't be using condoms. Using this alone is pretty risky.

2) It's bloody pricey! A box of 3 sponges is $19. That's more than $6 per. That's fucking expensive! And expensive fucking!

3) and this is the big one. The Today Sponge is absolutely, and literally, soaked in non-oxynol 9. It contains the highest percentage of non-oxynol 9, by far, of any spermicidal contraceptive on the market. N-9 is an industrial solvent that causes major irritation for most women. Seriously, does it make sense to soak a sponge in an industrial solvent and shove it up your vagina? Not to me it doesn't. Studies that came out in the late 90's (read my previous post for more info. on this) showed that women who used products that contain N-9, if they used them frequently, have a much higher risk of contracting STI's, particularly HIV. The risk is higher the higher the concentration of N-9 in the product. For people who have many partners or who have partners who have STI's, especially if they're not using condoms, this much N-9 is a risky proposition.

Besides the increase in STI risk, N-9 is just nasty. Most women I know, including me react badly to it. To me, N-9 is yeast infection in a box. All I have to do is look at a spermicidal foam and I'll get a yeast infection. Wish somebody at the birth control centre would have told me that all those years ago so I could have avoided it and saved myself the trouble. Irritations and ph imbalances like that are not only painful, embarrassing, and major disruptions in your life, they do leave you more susceptible to bacteria and viruses.

I do understand the other side of this argument. Some people argue that it's important to have this available for women who don't have much control over their own reproductive health, can't insist on condoms, can't even talk about them, and for whatever reason, can't be on the pill. This is something they can do quietly and easily without their partners' knowledge.

But the big flaw in that argument is that the sponge costs $6 a pop! Are women that are in those circumstances usually able to afford an $18 box of contraceptives that might last them a week? No, they just aren't. The women who are using Today are not those women, they are women who have money and control over that money. And I just really wonder if those women know how truly ineffective and risky the sponge is.

Approval of Microbicide May Finally Happen

After more than 15 years of research, there might actually be a microbicide on the market in the forseeable future. Microbicides are, simply put, substances which kill microbes, bacteria and viruses. For what seems like forever, a number of groups have been working on and advocating for the development of a microbicide that would be effective against HIV. The research was promising - we had all of the knowledge and tools we needed to develop something. The problem was that it was painfully slow because the big drug companies hadn't the slightest big of interest in lending their huge research budgets to this issue. This is something that would save millions of lives. Why doesn't big pharma want to be involved. Well, to be quite blunt about it, they're not the right kind of lives.

Microbicides would be used by people who cannot, for a variety of reasons, use condoms to protect themselves against HIV, or by people who can and do but want additional protection. The latter would be a small part of the people using them, the former, the majority. The would mainly benefit women in developing countries, women in the sex trade, and women living in poverty and/or in abusive home situations. These are not people with a lot of money to spend on drugs. Hence, big pharma doesn't see the payoff. Arrrgggghhhh.

But, finally, Tenofovir gel has been fast-tracked by the FDA for approval CONRAD and South Africa's Technology Innovation Agency have signed an agreement to manufacture and distribute it. It hasn't yet been approved but the fast-track means it shouldn't be long.

Tenofovir has shown to be effective in greatly reducing the numbers of both HIV and Herpes infection in women who participated in trials.

This has been such a long time coming - I'm so happy to see one of the many drugs and formulations that's been studied has finally shown decisive results and that there is hope that something will be in production in the not-so-distant future.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Growing Your Pubes for Cancer - or rather Trimming Your Pubes for Cancer

Remember Movember? The cancer fundraiser that had men growing their mustaches to raise money for prostate cancer. Well, a group of women in the Toronto area have decided it's their turn. They have started Julyna - a month in which they will not grow, but rather trim and coiff their pubes to raise money and awareness for cervical cancer.

I found out about this through a post on the New View List Serve. The New View is a group of amazing people, mostly women, who are promoting a 'new view' of women's sexuality that is inclusive of the whole person and the diversity of women's experience. They are against the medicalization of female sexuality. They are unbelievably smart and active and strong women such as the likes of Petra Boynton and Leonore Tiefer. One of them posted about this campaign and a then a slew of responses followed, most of them questioning and criticizing it as silly, misguided, sexist,and potentially heralding the sexualization of cervical cancer.

I get where they're coming from and I admire and respect these women, but for the most part I disagree with them. What the hell is the harm here?

Okay - here is the potential harm and the things that they are criticizing - and that I question as well.
1. Why is it called Julyna? It's a contraction of July and Vagina. But we're not talking about vaginas here, are we? They are not trimming their vaginas because vaginas do not have hair in them. This is something that drives me crazy! The vagina is the canal leading from the vulva to the cervix, it does not encompass everything from the belly button down. So they are trimming the hair on the mons veneris or mons pubis if you lie, and the vulva and labia. So it should really be called Vulvy or Julybis. Please, we are adults, use the right language!
2. The guys grew their mustaches for Movember, why do the women need to trim? why can't we grow out our pubes too? The answers' easy, somewhere in the last about 15 years, we decided female pubic hair is disgusting. So even if it's for charity, we're not willing to grow it out and tell people we're doing that. I hate that. I hate the double-standard and the branding of something completely normal and natural as disgusting and unsightly. I think if they were growing it out, it would be a much more radical statement.

But do we really need to be so nitpicky? Chances are pretty good that the women who thought up these campaigns never thought of these things. The misnaming of female genitals is common parlance and trimming pubic hair is accepted in the mainstream so I'm sure it never occurred to them there might be political overtones to this.

One of the criticisms is that this is yet another thing that makes people feel like their doing something while diverting attention from the real issue and real activism. While that is an important issue to me (no, posting your bra color on your facebook status does not raise awareness for breast cancer), I don't agree in this case. The women who started this are actually asking people to donate to them so this does two things:
1. it raises money
2. it compels them to explain to each person they approach for a donation what they are raising money for and why - it's an opportunity for them to explain to other women how women get cervical cancer and how they can prevent it - if this makes any of the women go for PAP smears when they otherwise would not have, they could potentially be saving lives
This is hardly trivial.

So I say lighten up, give them a break, trim your pubes or let them grow naturally, donate to Julyna, and get yourself a PAP test.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

German Sex Ed just a little different

They handle things in Germany just a wee bit different than we do here. If you'd like some evidence, have a look at the sex page on Bravo, a popular German site for teens. It's a far cry from with it's squeeky clean medical information (don't get me wrong, I think sexualityandu is a step in the right direction, but one look at Bravo and you see how different the approaches are). Bravo makes the assumption that teens are sexual beings and that many of them are having sex. It treats the like young adults and addresses their concerns directly without moralizing. It asks them fun questions and has ads for things that actually relate to their sexuality (no, not porn, condoms and tampons and things like that). If we are wondering where we need to go with sex education in our country, I think this is it.

If you don't read German, here's an article about the site that gives some good info and some examples from their advice column.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Retro show not so bad

I've been watching some old episodes of the original Beverly Hills 90210 - ain't the internet grand? You can watch anything you want now! I used to watch this show back in the day but I've never seen the first two seasons because I was in college during that time. Thought I'd catch up 20 years later.

I remembered it as being smarmy and preachy - very 'after-school' special. In a lot of ways, it really is. Brandon is such a bloody upstanding kind of guy that it makes one want to hurl. But there is an aspect to it that I was surprised by - the sex.

They don't ever show any of it, of course, but they actually treat teen sex in a pretty mature way. I thought it would have been all 'don't do it until you're ready' and 'wait until you're older' in the first seasons, but it's not. Right from the first episode they talk about the 16 year-old characters having sex and there is no big deal made of it. In one of the earlier episodes, Brandon has sex with his long-distance girlfriend in his parents house. It's all rather matter of fact - just what they do because they're into each other. His mother has an issue with it because it's in her house, but again, there wasn't much of a big deal, just a passing mention that they 'were careful'. I don't like the fact that they never use the words 'condom' or 'abortion' even though they talk about both of those things, but hey, you can't have everything.

When Brenda and Dylan have sex for the first time, it's not a big deal either. They've been dating for a couple of months and they both want to so they do it at the hotel at prom. They are both happy and excited after - no angst, no long talks, no over doing the birth control discussions, they just do it and they're happy about it. Not at all what I was expecting. I figured an Arron Spelling show about teenagers would have been much more sex-negative.

Of course I haven't seen the second season and I know Brenda has a pregnancy scare so we'll see what I think after I've had a chance to watch that. Maybe the tune will change.

Friday, June 17, 2011

And another thing about victim blaming

Here's something I've thought a lot about over the years of working with sexual assault and it's something that rarely gets brought out into the light. It's quite apparent to me that there's one important reason why we blame victims - it's so that we can find some way to make ourselves feel more secure that it's not going to happen to us. When we hear about someone being assaulted, it's fucking scary and often the first thing we want to do is find some way to make ourselves feel better. I really think that's why when we hear these horrifying reports of the women who have been raped and murdered and left in farmers' fields, the first thing we hear about the victim is that she was a prostitute. You can almost hear people breathe a collective sigh of relief. "Oh, thank god. I don't have to worry. That kind of thing won't happen to me - only to prostitutes". I know that's harsh to say but I also know it's true. It's like the media is trying to make all the 'good' people out there feel safe. Yes, there was this awful awful attack on a woman and the person who did it is still running around free but don't worry too much because it's only happening to prostitutes. It's the same thing with other types of assaults - why do you hear so much about where the victim was, whether she was alone or not, whether she knew the person? It's partly because we are looking for those clues that will tell us that the victim has some sort of culpability in it - she did something that put her in that position. That means that if I don't put myself in that position, that won't happen to me.

I understand why we do this. It's basic human nature to try to find some way to control something that feels out of control - even if that control is an illusion. But what it does is it blames victims. It causes us to concoct all of these crazy prevention tips in an effort to make ourselves feel safe. But it backfires because it leaves victims thinking that they should have some control over what happened to them and therefore should have been able to prevent it. And it de-humanizes the people who are victims. Why does it matter that a woman who was murdered was a sex trade worker? Why does it matter at all? What matters is that a woman was brutally attacked and murdered and that there are murderes running around free. The fact that the victim was a sex trade worker has little bearing on what the public needs to know about this. She did not ask to be attacked and murdered and the crime should not be dismissed as less important because of what she was doing at the time.

The scary and pathetic truth is that violence happens in our society and we cannot protect ourselves from it. The only way to stop it is to bring the people who do it to justice and punish them adequately. The only way to stop it is to make it unacceptable.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Is it right that I feel bad for Weiner?

A couple of days ago, I saw the clip of Bill Maher and Jane Lynch reading Anthony Wiener's texts. I thought it would be hilarious because I love Bill Maher but I found myself feeling sad and embarrassed for Weiner.

I have conflicted feelings about this. Winer is a public figure and he should really know better than to do the things he did. You can't broadcast stuff through twitter and facebook and expect that no one will notice. Of course someone's going to pass that along and the great thing about the internet is that you have concrete permanent evidence of it. So yeah, what he did was very stupid. And it's compounded by the fact that he's married and although I haven't heard the details on this, and I don't think he and his wife have shared the details on this, I'm guessing his wife is not happy about this behavior. It's conceivable that this is an acceptable thing between them but since that's not the case for most couples, I'm guessing it's not the case for them. So the betrayal/infidelity/sending dirty pictures and texts to women who aren't your wife thing is not really cool. I've also heard rumblings that these pictures and comments were unsolicited - that he just sent them to young women that were following him on twitter without anything that might even be construed as an invitation. If that's the case, that's not cool either and he kind of deserves to be outed.

The texts that Maher read on his show sounded pretty consensual. It was a conversation in which both parties were exchanging explicit comments. And yes, Weiner should know better. When you're a public figure in our culture, you have to know that it will be next to impossible to keep this kind of thing a secret. And yet, listening to that, I felt bad for him. The texts were very graphic and when you read them on stage in front of a live audience in that way, they do sound crazy and salacious because we're just not used to hearing that kind of thing. BUT most of us have done something like that in our lives because, guess what, it's pretty normal human behavior. We are sexual people and we talk that way to people that we are having sex with or are interested in having sex with. That's what adults do. But we do it privately and it's very rare that anyone else would ever even hear us do it, much less read it aloud on a national television.

So even if I shouldn't, I feel bad for him. How would I feel if that happened to me? I would be mortified. Believe me, there are all kinds of things I've said, done, written about, texted, took pictures of, that I feel fine about having done because it was intended for a certain person in a certain context. But if anyone were to broadcast those things I would be deathly embarrassed. And I'm even more of an open book about sex than most people. But it would embarrass me because it's private. It's not meant for the world, it's meant for me and the person I shared it with. That's part of why it's hot - it's only for certain eyes.

It's odd to watch the smug smirks on Maher and Lynch's faces as they read this, when you know full well they've probably done pretty much the same thing. Why are they laughing at him when these are things most people do? They act like grade-schoolers taunting a classmate - it's only fun because you're not the one on the receiving end.

I get it, Weiner should not have done what he did because it probably violated his marriage agreement, because it may have been unsolicited, and because it makes him, as a previously well-respected public figure look like a doofus. But I do think it's sad that he had to resign over it because we are all such children that we can't stop making dick jokes every time he tries to open his mouth. Adults do this kind of stuff. Why not just get over it? He's obviously learned a lesson about keeping his private stuff private. Let's move on to more important things.

Monday, June 13, 2011

No! Not another sex toy ban!

Here we go again! For those of you out there who think that all these obscenity laws are just holdover from a long-distant repressive past, think again. The remaining sex toy law in the states was enacted in 1998 and was upheld, yet again, in court in 2010. Now there's another one in the works, this time in the Phillipines. If passed, the bill would ban not only the sale and distribution, but even the ownership of sex toys. The representatives who brought the bill forward define sex toys as 'any device that can be used to stimulate human genitals'. So this begs the question, are they going to charge people for being in position of shower heads, cucumbers, electric toothbrushes and their own fingers? When you look at that definition, the attack on sex toys becomes very bizarre. Why are some things that can be used to stimulate the human genitals okay, but others not? Why are they drawing this line in the sand? And why do we have such a problem with people using devices to stimulate their own genitals? They are quoted as saying that sex toys can trigger 'sexually impure ideas' and can 'give room to sex-related offenses'. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to show that sex toy use is associated with sex-related offenses. In fact, a number of studies show that people who use sex toys report greater satisfaction with their sex lives and with their health overall. As for impure thoughts, it's usually the thought that comes before the purchase and use of the toy, not the other way around. But the idea that lawmakers should be concerned with controlling people's thoughts has very disturbing implications. Don't people in the Phillipines have the right to think whatever the hell they want? Their sexual thoughts are private and most people will never ever know about them because of that. So what business is it of the government? What would the penalty be if this bill becomes law? Up to one year in prison and $30,000 in fines. All that simple because you bought or sold a little vibe. It's easy to see things like this as silly little news stories. They seem funny. But I believe these types of laws are a fundamental violation of human rights. Sex toys are not weapons. They cannot be used to cause harm to anyone - except in the same way that a hammer or a spatula or any other every day utensil might. Governments have no right to limit people's access to something that will be used privately and poses no risk whatsoever to their own or anyone else's health. My wish for the people of the Phillipines is that this bill is dismissed and this idea never brought up again. And if it does pass, I would be more than willing to take the risk and send some care packages to the phillipines.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I'm Just Not That Into It!

I'm so surprised and bitterly disappointed. I finally got around to reading 'He's Just Not That Into You' and it is not at all what I thought it was. I thought I knew so much about this book that I felt I had pretty much read it, even though I hadn't, but I was wrong. Let me back up for a minute.

I love Sex and the City. That's putting it mildly actually. I've watched the full series six or seven times. The 'He's Just Not Into You' moment is one of my favorites. I think Liz Tuccillo is a great writer. I thought, from knowing this series and this premise so well, that I understood what the book was about. Even after seeing the movie and hating it, I still thought so because a few of my friends told me that the book was totally different and I really needed to read it. So when I saw a hardcover copy at Chapters on sale for seven bucks, I picked it up.

First of all, this book that everyone has raved about and is supposedly the new 'rules' for women, is 185 pages long. And this is the new expanded edition. Not only that, but a good third of the pages are mostly blank. There's just not that much there.

Next, there is a co-authoer. I knew that. But it had been touted as Liz Tucillo's book so I thought that the guy, Greg Behrendt, was just a contributor to give a guy's perspective. But it's the other way around. He wrote most of it and Tuccillo just comments. Also, this guy is a comedian. He is now, because of this book that he admits in the new forward was meant essentially as some light-hearted fun, regarded as some kind of relationship expert and he obviously loves it and does nothing to discourage it. He writes in the forward about how much time he spends giving women advice. This guy has no business giving advice, all he has is a catchy little tag line that wasn't even written by him in the first place! (Tuccillo does credit him with the original idea but he was not a writer on the show).

But on to the part that really boils my potatoes. This book is really just thinly veiled misogny. He claims to be writing all these things because he loves women and he thinks they really sell themselves short and put up with behavior they don't deserve when it comes to relationships. But his advice is very condescending. He thinks he can wave that away with several well-placed 'you're too good for that, honey's' and 'believe it, hot stuff!'s' but it's pretty clear. He thinks women are too stupid to figure out any of these things for themselves.

He also has a very traditional view of gender roles. Women, he says, should never call a man and never ask a man out on a date. If he likes her, he will call her so she doesn't have to. And calling a man smacks of desperation. Men like to chase and if you call them, you deprive them of the chase and they lose interest. He seriously claims all of this and offers this as advice at the same time as he exhorts women to stop accepting manipulative tricks from men. But they should let them chase them, that's okay. Direct and open communication - just coming right out and saying 'I like you, when can I see you again.', is desperate.

He boldly claims that all men are alike. He does not accept the idea that some men might be shy or insecure and uncomfortable asking women out. He doesn't think it's possible that some guy might really like you but not have the guts to tell you that. According to Berhrendt, if a guy likes a woman, he will ask her out, he will want to see her all the time and he will not be able to keep his hands off her. All guys are exactly the same. He also doesn't believe that men can be conflicted about anything - they are always sure of themselves. If they say anything that might be interpreted as a mixed message or uncertainty it means that they don't want to be with you and are just too scared of hurting your feelings to tell you so directly.

While claiming to want to help women be strong and independent and good decision-makers around relationships, he paints a picture of woman-kind that is exactly the opposite. We are all stupid, insecure, clingy masochists who can't stand up to men.

I liked the original concept behind 'He's just not that into you'. I even liked some of what I saw in the movie. I do think there's some truth behind it. But the part that really resonated for me is how women do tell themselves all kinds of stories about why unacceptable behavior is acceptable - and we encourage each other to do it too. But I don't think it's because we're stupid. I think we know all these things, we just don't want to admit we know. It's just that for those women who are single and for whom marriage and children is a main goal, dating is really tough. We just really want it to be over. We want get past all of that initial stuff get to the part where we can be comfortable with someone - that nice companionship, don't have to explain ourselves anymore stage. So for many of us, if we reach that stage with someone, we don't want to go through all that work again, so we'll hang in there even when we know we shouldn't because we're hoping maybe it really can turn into what we want, instead of having to go back out there and try again. We are not stupid, we are simply hopeful, and perhaps also tired, and a little too forgiving and generous at times. I don't think these qualities warrant the condescending tirade that is this book.

We don't need men to tell us they are scum. We can figure that out for ourselves. And things are ever so much more complicated than this book would have us believe. It saddens me that, yet again, a simplistic book written by someone who is not qualified in any way to offer the advice he's offering, that provides nothing more than pithy catch-phrases and all-or-nothing thinking became a huge bestseller.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How ingrained all of this stuff really is.

Okay, so after vowing to write regularly, I disappear for more than a week. This is due to a heinous cold or flue or whatever the hell it was that knocked me on my ass for 3 days - and then various other work and family related things that seemed to just make the days fly by.

So, back to SlutWalk again. The Walk itself was awesome. The turnout wasn't what they were hoping for but I think we still had a good 400 people there - pretty darn good if you ask me. I have not been involved in something like that in a long time and it felt really good. The best part for me was the women who were not scheduled as speakers but came up and shared their thoughts and feelings. This is the reality and this is what we are all living with - it was very powerful to just hear why people were there and how this has affected them. I was also pleased to see a lot of men there. This is something that affects everyone.

There was one thing that bothered me and it really made me realize how deeply ingrained the victim-blaming in our society is. There was one amazingly strong woman who came up and read three poems about her experience. Just incredible and so brave of her to do that. She was so clearly making her claim for justice and refusing to accept the blame. But after a few other people had spoken, she took the mike again and advised the women in the crowd to fight back if they are ever assaulted because she didn't fight back and the police wouldn't believe the she didn't consent because she didn't fight. That broke my heart. I was sad for her that she was blamed and questioned and victimized all over again. And I was so sad that she had taken that so closely to heart. It was well-meant advice. But when we tell women that they need to fight back so that they'll be taken seriously, we are, once again, putting the responsibility on them. Why do we have to take on the burden of fighting to prove that we didn't consent? Why doesn't an accused have to show that there was consent? There are a million reasons why victims don't fight back. And what is fighting back anyway? What might have looked like submission to one person, might have felt like resistance to another? How hard to I have to fight? And how do I prove that I fought back? Isn't the only proof that I fought back injury to one or both of us? What if I don't want to risk that?

If I hear one more sexual assault prevention tip, I will throw up. If comes, often, from a good place - a place of wanting to help people stay safe. But really, it simply focuses the attention on the wrong part of the equation. Let's focus on why sexualized violence happens and how to really stop it. The only ones who can stop it are the ones who do it.

Here's a link to an awesome interview with Jessica Valenti of feministing. She thinks that SlutWalks are an indicator of a new kind of young feminism that is emerging and I think I agree with her.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Let's Get it Straight, Assault is Assualt. Period.

Okay, I've had enough and it's time for me to actually start spouting off about the SlutWalk. Although I've been fairly involved in the event, I've not spoken publicly about it yet. But get ready because there's about to be a whole lot coming from my corner. I think this is the single thing that I feel most passionate about in the whole world and the SlutWalk has brought it front and centre in Edmonton right now. I am thrilled to see the issue of victim blaming getting so much media attention but the backlash that inevitably comes with it is at once infuriating and heart-breaking.

First of all, for anyone reading who doesn't know about SlutWalk, here's the deal. The concept of SlutWalk started after Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti told a group of students at York University that 'women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to avoid being assaulted'. In reaction to this comment and to call attention to the victim-blaming that, made evident by Sanguinetti's comment, is still rampant, women in Toronto organized an event they called 'SlutWalk'. It has caught on like wildfire and there have been SlutWalks all North America and even overseas.

The use of the word 'Slut' is controversial and has brought on many criticisms that the name of the event and the event itself is degrading to women. I have never felt that. From the moment I heard about this, I understood it. The word 'slut' needs to be used because that is the word Sanguinetti used and that is the word that is used and has been used for decades to dehumanize and to blame women. The point of this movement is not to reclaim that word or give women the right to be 'sluts', it's to call attention to that ugly word and the layers of hatred, shame and blame that lie beneath it. We do not walk as sluts. We walk as women who have been called sluts and are sick and fucking tired of it. We walk as women who know that we should be able to wear whatever the hell we want and walk wherever we want and act how we bloody please without the fear of 'provoking' an assault. Because that's just it, women don't provoke sexual assault. Sexual assault is an act of violence that has not one single thing to do with the way a woman acts or looks. It's something that is done to her by someone intent on causing harm.

I have worked with survivors of sexual assault for almost 20 years. I would venture to say that 99% of them blamed themselves in some way for the violence that was done to them. I know what that does to someone. It makes her question everything she says, every move she makes, every piece of clothing she wears, every relationships she starts or ends or continues, every sexual act she participates in, every thing she ever did or didn't do. It makes her wonder if at sometime, somehow something she does will again put her in the position where she will be assaulted. It makes her afraid to live her life. It robs her of her freedom to be who she is. And you know what? Every single woman in our society is affected by this to some degree and it's so insidious that many of us don't even know it. But we hear these comments like Sanguinetti's so often that it seeps into our consciousness. And if the day comes, and sadly if comes for far too many of us, that we are sexually assaulted, the first thought that will come into most of our minds is not 'how can I get some help?', or 'where should I go to report this?', it will be 'what did I do to deserve this?' and 'how could I have let this happen?'. Those thoughts carry with them an enormous amount of shame and they keep women from reporting sexual assaults. Heck, they already blame themselves, why would they ever want to share it with someone like Sanguinetti who's just going to blame them too? And THAT is what perpetuates our culture of sexual assault. THAT is what makes it easier for offenders to rape. THAT is what makes it easier for them to get away with it without consequence. and THAT is why we need to stop blaming victims.

That is why I am participating in SlutWalk. We are not sluts. We have no interest in reclaiming the word 'slut'. We are women. We want to live our lives and express ourselves in whatever way we want. We will not tolerate being called sluts and we will not tolerate being blamed for violence which we did not provoke, have never provoked and for which we are not responsible!

This is so very important, I can't possibly stress it enough. If you agree, go to SlutWalk. And if you or anyone around you is the victim of sexual violence, just love and support them and make sure they understand that it's not their fault.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Is it possible to raise a child without gender?

It's been a long long time since I've posted in this blog. The daily tasks of running a business have kept me away for many months. But having been inspired by some amazing bloggers (who I'll probably repost her soon), I'm committed to coming back and posting regularly now. In an age of info. overload, I often feel like there's nothing more I could contribute, but there is so much going on in the world of sex that there is always something to talk about. This is a forum where I can freely share my thoughts and maybe people up on all of the crazy stuff that crosses my desk.

Today, I was forwarded an article about a couple on Toronto who have made the radical move of refusing to share their new baby's biological sex with anyone. They have name the baby Storm (how cute is that?) and have said that Storm will decided for him or herself when and what to share about his/her sex and gender. Not surprisingly, lots of people have come down on these parents as selfish and abusive - claiming that they are messing with the kid's mind just to make a point. I disagree. I think it's actually the opposite. I think they are making a valiant attempt not to mess with the kid's mind. This is not an easy thing to do. What is always the first question asked of new parents? "Is it a boy or a girl?" Always, without exception, that's the first question - usually even before the baby is born. To not answer that question is, I'm sure, difficult and uncomfortable. And yes, I'm sure, if Storm continues to go without a declared sex and gender, it will be difficult. People will be confused by Storm and Storm may have to endure some teasing and probably some mis-treatment. But is this any more difficult than what countless people who don't identify with gender norms have to endure every day of their lives? I think Storm's parents are just trying to give Storm a chance to be Storm for awhile - before too many people jump in their with their conclusions about what little girl Storm or little boy Storm should be.

I think it's a brave parent who dresses their little boy in pink. Imagine, if parents get flack just for that, what these parents will have to endure. I wish them and Storm the best. I hope we here more about what happens for Storm and what kind of gender identity emerges for him/her.

Isn't it ironic that it's almost impossible to write about this in a clear and concise way because our language around gender does not allow us to? We have no words to describe someone who is neither or both male and female. We have no pronouns to use in this case. Isn't it about time we got some?

Read more about this story here.