Thursday, December 20, 2012

Anti-Abortion Group Finally Gets Called on Their Lies

What a great Christmas present! The Advertising Standards Council told the PEI Right to Life Association that their recent ad contained three specific false statements and therefore must be pulled. Woohoo! It's pretty common for 'pro-life' propaganda to be liberally peppered with stretched truths and outright lies and it seems no one ever does anything about it. It makes me so angry to see them making up stuff to try to guilt women out of having an abortion. If there were really strong arguments against abortion, they could allow them to speak for themselves instead of making up all this stuff. I'm so pleased that complaints were made and that the Advertising Standards Council sided with the truth.

The three things that they took issue with are the claim that abortion is never medically necessary to save a woman's life. We all know that is not true. I looked at the Right to Life Association's defense of this and, if you really want to contort the facts, they may be right. Yes, it is a rare case where we know for sure that a woman will die if she carries her baby to term. In cases where we know that the woman's health is at risk, and she wants to carry the baby, lots of options are open to do the utmost to save the baby's health and her health and often, though not always, these are successful. So, can we say that there are many cases where we know for sure that a woman would have died if she hadn't had an abortion? No, there are probably very few. But we do know that there are many cases where it is discovered that the woman's health will be at serious risk if she carries a baby to term. The anti-abortionists don't consider a choice for abortion in this case to be medically necessary because the woman's health is merely at risk, she is not certain to die. In other words, they believe that choosing not to carry a baby to term because there is a strong chance that you could get very sick and die, is tantamount to murder. I disagree.

As well, if they want to continue to make the claim that abortion is never medically necessary, I would direct their attention to this story from Ireland.

The second claim was that Canada's lack of a law amount to abortion on demand in Canada. I don't really get what they are on about here, but the Advertising Standards Council found that this was not true.

The third claim was that having an abortion increases a woman's risk of getting breast cancer. This is the one the really boils my potatoes. Firstly, it's simply not true, even though PEI Right to Life is sticking to its guns. The idea comes from the knowledge that when a woman becomes pregnant, her breast tissue begins to change in preparation for breast-feeding. If the pregnancy does not go to term, the natural hormone cycle is not complete and may leave open the possibility for abnormal cells to grow. But if that is true, then it's not just women who have had abortions who would experience this but women who have had miscarriages as well. You don't see Right to Life bringing that up, do you? And it is were true, what would the point be? You should have your baby because if you don't, you'll get breast cancer? How does that make any sense at all? They are two completely unrelated issues and I don't think the possibility of cancer would factor into a woman's choice to bear a child that she didn't want to bear or to raise a child she wasn't ready to raise.

And anyway, all of this doesn't matter because IT'S NOT TRUE! The Canadian Cancer Society has a great page that explains the quite thorough research on this issue which shows that now significant correlation has ever been found between abortion and breast cancer risk.

As much as I don't agree with their position, I do think that these groups should have the right to advertise and promote themselves. I think that any belief or opinion group should have the right to do that. Others who believe as they do should have an opportunity to find like-minded people.

If you think abortion is wrong and you want pregnant women who also believe abortion is wrong to have support, that's just peachy-keen with me. But don't put blatant scary lies into the public domain where vulnerable women who aren't sure what they want will be guilted or terrified into making the decision you want them to make. It's abusive and unfair. I'm thrilled that the complaints were made and that they were taken to task for it.

Although this is the first one I've heard of, apparently it's not the first time it has happened. The Advertising Standards Council has investigated complaints against anti-abortion advertising several times and has decided against them several times. Maybe they'll get the message soon.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sex Addiction Fails to Make it Into the DSM5

The American Psychological Association has announced the changes to the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual that will be coming out with its fifth edition, and the addition of sex addiction is not one of them.

I, for one, am relieved. If you've read my blog before, you'll know that I don't believe in the concept of sex addiction (Sex Addiction is a Myth). I believe that people can have all manner of anxiety issues and troubles coping in life and that although those may express themselves in a number of ways, included compulsive sexual behaviors, it's the underlying issues that are the real problem, not the behavior.

Many others vehemently disagree with me. A number of psychologists, psychiatrists and, lets be honest about this, conservative religious groups, have been lobbying hard for the acceptance of the idea that sex addiction is a real thing. In fact, what was presented to the APA for consideration was not sex addiction, but rather 'hypersexual disorder'. Rory Reid, a research psychologist who studies this 'condition' described it this way for My Health News "recurrent and intense sexual fantasies, sexual urges, and sexual behavior," that lasted at least six months." That seems just a little vague, doesn't it? Doesn't that describe about 85% of the human population? We are sexual beings and intense sexual urges and fantasies are a normal part of us. If we use this definition, I have this disorder.

However Reid also says that, "Diagnosis requires that these urges cause the patient distress, and aren't brought on by drugs or another mental disorder. The behavior must also interfere with their life, for instance, some patients in (Reid's) study lost jobs because they could not refrain from watching pornography and masturbating at work." This is what the proponents of sex addiction as a mental illness always throw in there. It's not just that someone likes sex or masturbates a lot, it's that they have no control over it and it's having a negative impact on their life. When you add that to it, it sounds completely reasonable. Of course if you masturbate at work all the time, you have a serious problem.

My question is though, is the problem hypersexual disorder or is it obsessive compulsive disorder and/or difficulty dealing with stress and anxiety? Are we diagnosing the illness or just the symptom? My personal belief is that considering anything that is actually a biological need like food, sleep, or sex to be addictive is dangerous. How do you determine what's a normal amount of eating or moderate over-eating and what is addictive behavior? How do you determine what is a normal amount of masturbating and what is addictive behavior? When we look at addictions to substances or things that we do not need to survive like alchohol or cocaine, the prescribed solution is almost always complete abstinence. That's how we know how to deal with addictions. Where does this leave someone who is diagnosed as having a sex addiction? They can never have sex again? Is that healthy? If that's not the case, then how do you determine what's healthy sex and what's not?

I have no doubt that many of the professionals who do believe this is a real disorder are honestly trying to help their patients. They see what is happening for them and they are looking for information, recognition, and resources that will help treat them.

However, I do believe that there are some professionals, and some people and groups that support this idea who are doing so because they have an agenda. When you hear people talk about cases of sex addiction, the person is almost always addicted to internet porn. The focus of this conversation is internet porn about 90% of the time. I believe that many of the people who support this being added to the DSM5 are sex-negative conservatives who want to use this as leverage to push the enforcement of obscenity laws or the creation of new censorship around pornography. If they can show that it is actually addictive, and there are some people already who are trying to say they have scientific evidence that watching internet porn creates neural pathways in the brain that foster addiction, they will have a lot of ammunition in that endeavor.

Sex addiction has also been used by a lot of people as an excuse for infidelity and other inappropriate behavior. Celebrities love to do this. They get caught doing something they absolutely should not have been doing and they claim they are sex addicts and could not help themselves. They are not sex addicts. They did something really stupid, inconsiderate and reckless and they got caught. And even if they actually were sex addicts (if that was a real thing) it still doesn't excuse the behavior.

I think it is very useful to understand how substance addictions work on the brain so that we can provide the best possible help to people who are dealing with them. But underlying even a substance addiction is life problems that must be dealt with so that the person has less of a need to turn to the substance to cope. So, I think, it is with these supposedly out of control sexual behaviors. The questions is not so much 'how can we stop you from masturbating at work' as it is, 'how can we help you to determine the triggers that make you want to engage in compulsive behaviors and make changes to those conditions in your life'.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

New Way to 'Rejuvenate' Your Vagina is the Scariest Yet

In my rounds around the internet, I came upon this site for a Toronto cosmetic surgery clinic that focuses on female genital cosmetic surgeries. I got there because I read about yet another procedure that some doctors are flogging, trying to tell women it will improve their sex lives. I've read a lot about this types of surgeries but this one was so scary and so ridiculous, I could not believe it could be true. But google led me to this site, and alas, it's true.

The procedure is called Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation. The clinic describes it thusly "Sexual gratification has been scientifically proven to be intimately linked to the level of friction created. But with vaginal relaxation (caused by pregnancy, age or other factors), the ability to create friction is dramatically reduced, thereby adversely affecting sexual gratification. ... LVR® is a proprietary surgical procedure that corrects "looseness" to enhance sexual performance. It is a modification of an existing surgical procedure that treats vaginal relaxation and its primary symptom, stress urinary incontinence. Only select physicians can perform LVR®." In case the pseudo-medical explanation is throwing you off, as it's clearly intended to do, let me put it into plain language. Your vagina is loose and doesn't feel good to your partner so we're going to stick a laser in there and scar it all up to create some texture and make it feel like it's tighter.

Yes, this is really what this is. They scar the vagina with a laser to make it feel bumpier and tighter. How in the world could this ever be medically necessary? When I hear this, the term female genital mutilation comes to mind.

They claim that, in addition to improving your 'sexual performance' it helps control stress incontinence but I cannot imagine how this would work. This laser procedure is not targeting the muscles involved in bladder control - it is just modifying the inside of the vagina.

I love this part of the site "Full recovery from Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation® surgery is generally within 6 weeks, depending on the individual. Common side effects, such as pain, discomfort, bleeding and swelling, may be less pronounced compared to the traditional method of vaginal tightening." First of all, I'd like to know what traditional methods they are referring to. If they are referring to surgeries for prolapse and/or incontinence - yes there are side-effects and recovery time because those are real surgeries to address real, not perceived, issues involving the pelvic floor muscle. This is just a laser treatment. And for it, it sounds like you will go at least 6 weeks without being able to put anything in your vagina comfortably. For something that's supposed to improve my sex life, it sure sounds like it will ruin it, at least in the short term. But it makes perfect sense, if you stick something in your vagina and scar it up, it's bound to be painful, uncomfortable, and to swell and bleed for some time.

Why, why, why would these doctors do this?

Admittedly, I haven't delved very deeply into this particular surgery. I don't know much about whether this one is actually approved by any regulatory board or if there are any long-term studies on the effects of it. However I have looked into some of the other ones like labiaplasty and the G-shot (in which either collagen, botox, or your own blood are injected into the area where the g-spot is supposed to be). None of those procedures has ever been studied for efficacy and safety. None of them have been formally approved by any medical regulatory body. And the doctor who spearheaded the g-shot procedure, patented it, and taught a lot of other doctors how to do it has been in extremely hot water with the medical revue board and may have had his license revoked. So forgive me if I'm skeptical about this one.

I do believe that women have the right to choose to do whatever they want to their bodies. But I think that they also have the right to complete and full information about the options they are contemplating. This is why I think these procedures are just plain wrong.

First, they are not medically necessary. Now it's fine to have a medical procedure for cosmetic reasons if you choose but the rhetoric around this stuff really verges on telling women that these things are medically necessary - or at least necessary if you ever hope to have a satisfying sex life.

Second, there is no reliable information as to whether they are effective or not. There are no studies showing that they actually work.

Third, there is the risk of very serious complication and no information on exactly what those risks are and how often complications may occur. When these procedures are described, they sound like simple, painless little day procedures. But this one involves cutting inside the vagina. There has to be a risk of cutting in the wrong place or too deep, of tissue or nerve damage, or of creating scar tissue that does become problematic. In fact many women suffer from scar tissue inside the vagina as a result of surgeries or medical treatments - should we really be engaging in a procedure that seems to do exactly that - cause scars in the vagina?

The fact is that vaginas do get a little looser as we age and they certainly do tend to get a little looser with every child we deliver. This is natural. For most, it is not a medical problem. It can be easily addressed by doing your kegel exercises, and being creative about how you have sex. It really is not something that needs to be medically fixed. These 'doctors' who specialize in this stuff are really just out to make us feel as if there is something seriously wrong with us in order to make some money. To me, the risks far outweigh the benefits.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

New Study Shows that Porn Actresses are Not All Abuse Survivors with Low Self-Esteem

It's a common belief that anyone who would have sex with multiple people on camera for money must have low self-esteem. Most anti-porn critics claim that most (some even say all) women who work in the adult industry are survivors of child sexual abuse and this alone indicates that porn is bad, bad, bad. If it wasn't so bad, why wouldn't 'undamaged' women do it?

Although we often hear this, there have actually never been any large-sample, comparative studies to show that it's true. Well, finally someone is trying to put the test to those claims. Researchers from Pennsylvania's Shippensburg State University and Texas Women's University just released their study in which they interviewed 177 women who work in the adult film industry. They also interviewed women who do not work in the industry and them matched a sample to the porn actresses ages, ethnicities, and marital status. The interviews consisted of questions about the subjects' history, self-esteem, and attitudes toward sex.

Although the study has a lot of limitations - given that the questions didn't go into great detail on any of the subjects - two things emerged as pretty clear.

First, the porn actresses reported approximately the same level of history of child sexual abuse as did the non-actresses - around 40%.

Second, the porn actresses reported significantly higher (that's right, higher, not lower) self-esteem than the non-actresses.

Other things that came out of the study that were interesting were that the actresses reported being much more concerned about STI's than the general population group. They also reported enjoying sex much more than the general group.

Again, the study is not conclusive and can only tell us what this group of women said about these questions. However, this is a fairly large sample size - much larger than any of the few studies conducted previously. It does tell us more than we've known before. What it seems to be telling us is that most porn actresses (at least the ones who were surveyed here) enjoy sex, enjoy what they do, and feel good about themselves on the whole.

I imagine there will be a lot of criticism of this study by the anti-porn faction. There is a segment of our culture that is heavily invested in the idea that women who do porn are victims. I think the big question is not necessarily if they are or aren't, but why we so desperately need them to be.

I think it has a lot to do with our values around sex and our understanding of gender. When we look at porn, whether it looks like the women are enjoying themselves or not, we seem to have to convince ourselves that they are not. We don't have space in our society for women who freely and openly enjoy sexual pleasure. We seem to need to protect ourselves from that concept. We have an even harder time with the idea that some women might enjoy things that many people consider extreme or degrading. It doesn't fit with our image of female sexuality. And so we tell ourselves that those women are clearly being forced to do those things. That is the only way that it makes sense. We cannot conceive of a woman who participates in the raw sex we see in some porn simply because she likes it.

Now I am not saying that I believe that women are not exploited in porn. There will always be exploitation of women (and yes, men) in porn, just as there is exploitative of women in all industries. But I do think that there are, particularly now, a lot of women involved in the porn industry who are doing so on their terms and have control over their own work lives and careers. These are not women who don't see any other option or feel that their only value is in their sexuality. These are women who have chosen to do this because it is something that appeals to them and they feel it's a good way for them to make a living. It may be hard for the anti-porn critics to swallow but this study seems to give some evidence to back that up.

You can read the abstract to the study and download it here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Sessions - Finally a Realistic Movie Portrayal of Disability

I saw the movie 'The Sessions' on Sunday. I was SO thrilled to see it because I was concerned that it was not going to play in Edmonton as it's a small, art house type of movie that usually goes into limited release and never plays for long. Thank you, Princess, for showing it.

To catch you up, in case you haven't heard of if, The Sessions is based on the true story of journalist and poet Mark O'Brien. O'Brien had polio as a child and lost almost all of his mobility. He spent most of his time in an iron lung which allowed him to breath. He had extremely limited use of his hands. He got around on a motorized gurney for a time and at other times had attendants who moved the gurney for him. The movie focuses on his experiences with a sex surrogate that he hired in Berkley after realizing that he wanted to find a way to explore his sexuality and experience sex with someone else.

I was immediately attracted to the movie when I saw the trailer. It seemed like this was finally a movie with a disabled main character who was portrayed as a fully realized human being and not a sidekick or an object of pity. We just do not see that on the big screen. (with the notable exception of My Left Foot, but how long ago was that?).

NOTE: The following contains some small spoilers.

I really enjoyed the movie but I didn't love it. Oh, how I wanted to love it. These were the things that I did not love:
1. I felt that the story-writing and editing were lacking - this is sad given that this is a movie about a poet - the story development just didn't work for me - the first part of the movie tried to cover his history so quickly that you never got a chance to get to know him as a person - there just wasn't a lot of depth to it - I am one big ball of raw emotion, I cry during McDonald's commercials, this movie should have blown me away and it didn't
2. I was perplexed by the focus on penetrative sex - although he didn't really say it in the scenes in which he is contemplating hiring the surrogate, Mark and Cheryl become very focused on having him experience 'full penetration' - once they've achieved that, they both seem to think they are done - I can understand why someone, particularly in our culture, would believe that this is the most important act in terms of sexuality but I really wish they had explored why they both were so focused on this and how they felt about it - any sex therapist that I have ever met is careful not to place supreme importance on this one act so this kind of bothered me - it also bothered me because I've read a little of O'Brien's writing about this (he wrote an article on his experience on which the movie was based but I have yet to read the whole thing) and he said that actual intercourse was a bit of a disappointment to him and that he enjoyed the other things they did much more - this is mentioned in the movie but only briefly

Okay, having said that, here's what I loved about the movie.
1. The movie shows several people with disabilities and they are all just people - they all have lives, jobs, activities, friends, and even sexual partners, just like anyone else would - and they are shown interacting with the people around them just like anyone else would - with one small exception, no one in their lives condescends to them or treats them like children or invalids - YAY!!!!!!!!!!! - this is what I experience in my daily life - these people are the people that I know - yet we never see them on screen. Why?
2. The movie gives a fairly accurate depiction of what a client/therapist relationship would look like. I don't know very much about sex surrogacy and how those relationships usually work but I know a lot about how a therapeutic relationship works and this is what it looks like. There are a few little mess-ups that I think they threw in there for some drama, but for the most part, Helen Hunt portrays a therapist who conducts herself professionally yet allows herself to be human and warm with her client. In most movies with therapist characters, the therapist is wildly inappropriate, crossing boundaries left and right and throwing ethics to the wind. As a social worker, this infuriates me. SPOILER - at one point it looked like perhaps Cheryl and Mark would fall in love and I told my partner that I would get up and walk out of the theatre if that happened. It did not.
3. It does not take as a given that people with disabilities cannot have emotionally and physically intimate relationships. Mark seems to think that at the beginning but begins to realize that is not necessarily the case. The movie portrays his attempts to connect with a few women in a very compassionate and realistic way and these attempts turn out to be somewhat successful.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie for the content and the treatment of the subject. It was a breathe of fresh air in so many ways. I just wish it had been better movie making.

Mark O'Brien's story is really interesting. There is a documentary about him called Breathing Lessons which you can find here.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Forget the Condoms! Semen Makes You Happy!

I just stumbled across one of the most baffling 'research' studies I've ever seen.

How Oral Sex or Having Sex Without a Condom Can Be Good For Women's Health

This was in Medical Daily back in August. The researchers studied a number of women at State University of New York in Albany and claim to have found evidence that being exposed to semen makes women less depressed and that, therefore, using condoms makes you more depressed. How, you might ask?

Their contention is that semen is packed with all kinds of goodies including oxytocin, melatonin and cortisol which make women feel super. If you swallow or if you get semen in your vagina or your anus (they don't say any of those dirty words, they just imply them), their logic goes, you get the benefits of all those great things. If you use a condom, or if you spit, you don't.

They studied a whopping 239 women to come to this conclusion. They gave them a self-report survey about their sexual habits and had them take the Beck's Depression scale. They concluded that the women who regularly use condoms and the women who didn't have sex would have less exposure to semen. Those women, they say, were much more depressed than the group who had sex and didn't use condoms. They also say that they screened for the fact that it might just be having sex itself that made them happier. Even the 'very promiscuous women' (I won't even get into the choice of that phrase) who used condoms were more depressed, not just the women that didn't have sex.

They've got some vast generalizations going on here that are so head-scratchingly bizarre that it's hard to even piece them apart. First of all, it's a very small number of women from one particular place. Not exactly a large random sample. Secondly, they don't discuss whether they controlled for any other factors. Was there some other commonality between the condom users that might explain the difference? Perhaps, just perhaps, the non-condom users were more likely to be in a long-term relationship than the condom users and this may have had something to do with their reported happiness. It's a pretty large leap to say that the reason the non-condom users were happier is because of the goodness of sperm.

What's weird is that the Medical Daily article then talks about how other studies have shown that 'a woman's body is able to detect 'foreign' semen that differs from their long-term or recurrent sexual partner’s signature semen (and that this may be)an evolutionary trait that prevents pregnancy from an unfamiliar source because it signals a disinvested male partner who is not as likely to provide for the offspring'. That's really odd given that I've read studies and surveys that show exactly the opposite. In fact there is some pretty convincing data out there to show that a woman is more likely to become pregnant by a man with whom she has just starting having sex than by a man with whom she has had a lot of sex. Data seems to suggest that a woman who is having sex with a regular long-term partner and also with someone she's having an affair with or has seen only once or twice is much more likely to get pregnant by the former rather than the latter. The evolutionary psychologists like to say that this is because nature errs on the side of biological diversity - it doesn't want you to have 3 kids with the same guy. Oh those crazy evolutionary psychologists! Seems they have an answer for everything. Even if those answers contradict each other.

So here's a question. Why, in the name of all that's good in science, did they do this study in the first place? What the F is the point? What purpose is to be served by this? Are they suggesting this as a treatment for depression? Feeling down? Try having random, frequent unprotected sex, that'll lift your spirits! Are are they suggesting that we come up with new drugs based on this? Feeling down? Try new bluzaway now with 50% more sperm. I mean, really what are we to gain from this?

And here's another question. What's one surefire way to become even more depressed than you were before? I think I have the answer. A raging case of syphilis and an intended pregnancy.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Canadian Bachelor is a Jerk

Wow! I am watching the second episode of the Bachelor Canada. Oh Vey!

Way back when, I used to watch The Bachelor because of the over-the-top sleazy reality factor but it finally got to the point where it was too much for me. I stopped watching about 3 years ago. But they started this new one in Canada and I thought I would just take a look at it to see if it might be fun - maybe a little better than the American one.

It is much worse!

Nevermind the overbearing product placements (do we really need a 15 second shot of a bachelorette making herself a coffee in the Bosch coffee machine or the 3 minute scene of all of them shaving their legs with the razors and shaving cream they were given?) and the obviously fake rivalry between them before they even met each other, plus the fact that these women are so intent on being the one even before they've laid eyes on this guy, let's talk about this guy.

The bachelor,a professional football player, so far has about as much personality as a piece of wonder bread. Now he may not actually be like that, but they overproduce this show so much that you don't get a chance to see who the people actually are. He just looks like a typical hunk who actually has no confidence at all, even though he's placed in a situation where he's supposed to be uber-confident.

In this second show, he flies 8 of the women (they are rarely called women, they are almost always called girls) to New Orleans. There, he springs on them that they are going to get a burlesque lesson and are going to perform for him. WTELF? It's very telling of who he is that he would not understand how incredibly innappropriate this is. Now I get that this may have been the producers' idea but really, this guy should know better. For many women, this is difficult and way out of their comfort zone. His excuse was that he wants a woman who will just go with whatever's thrown at her and roll with it. That makes sense to me. But this is not the way to do it. This is not just going up in a hot air balloon or playing some football. This is something that involves your personal values around sex and intimacy, and your body confidence. And it's something that's not really meant to be done in front of just one person that you don't know at all, because you've been commanded to do so.

What is so utterly awesome about burlesque is that even though the performers seem like they are in a position traditionally thought of as weak for women (in skimpy clothes, using their sexuality for attention), they are actually coming at it from a position of power. It's a tease because the performer has all the control. She will let you think that you are gonna get something but she will be the one to decide exactly what it is and when you will get it - and usually you don't get anything except the fantasy. It's looks like she all there just for you but the thing is, you actually can't have her. She just wants you to think you can. It's an awesome mindfuck and it's a lovely art form.

But this 'go dress up and learn a routine and perform it for me'shit completely subverts the spirit of burlesque. He's the one in control telling them to do things - and there were some of them that were not at all comfortable doing it.

It's unfair and actually cruel of him to put them in that position. What do you do if you don't want to do it? Refuse to do it and look like a narf who doesn't know how to have fun - and probably give up your chance at a rose? Or do something that feels totally wrong for you and give the impression that you are someone quite other than who you are? It's messed up.

One of the women is a pastor at a youth church who's made a big deal about her morals around sex and relationships. This was very uncomfortable for her. I think it's pretty clear that this is the main reason they did it. They put her on that outing and made that the activity because they knew she would freak out. Freak out she did. Rightfully so. It's just mean to force her into that situation for no really good reason. But of course, she was a trooper and she did it. I do respect that she did it in a way that was more cheeky than it was seductive. She tried to do it in a way that was more her. And she got the rose! Oh great! She was willing to come out of her comfort zone and push herself. Good for her! No, she was willing to do something that is mostly against her morals because a good-looking rich man told her to do it. Not cool.

Even on the second outing, it was just mean and unfair. He had the women race cars to win a date with him. Again, he wants to see who can roll with it. But this is not how you do that on a date. You don't shove somebody into a race car and see if she can handle it. You ask her if she'd be willing to go race car driving with you. Then you ask her if she wants to drive or if she wants you to drive and you get in the car with her. You experience that together. The fun of doing those crazy things on a date is not watching the other person freak out, it's trying it together and working through it together. Otherwise you're just being an arse.

This is why I stopped watching the show. I just can't stand the concept of women shamelessly competing with each other for the attention of a man they barely know. It's so one-sided. The women always want him desperately and he's the one who chooses. Never do you see the women really evaluating whether they are even interested in him or not. It's always just a given that they will want a good-looking rich man. Oh, that and the fact that there's only one representation of physical beauty on those shows - ever. White, impossibly thin, and conventionally pretty - with lots of make-up and fancy dresses. Nope, pretty sure I won't be able to go back.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Some Sexual Health Educators are Awesome, Some.......Not so Much

I had the opportunity to go to presentations by two pretty darned famous sexual health educators this month. The first was Sue Johanson (of Sunday Night Sex Show and Talk Sex fame) who was speaking to about 300 university students. The second was Midori (author of Wild Side Sex and The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage and well-known kink, bdsm, and rope bondage expert and teacher) who did two presentations at the Tickle Trunk last weekend. Wow, what a difference between the two! This experience made me want to write a little comparison of what makes a good sexual health educator does as opposed to a bad one. If you read my VUE column about my Sue Johanson experience, you'll know who's the bad and who's the good (hint, Midori's workshops were amazing, pretty much mind-changing and life-changing experiences, Sue's......not so much).

A bad sexual health educator: does not ask about the composition of her audience beforehand and assumes that everyone in the group is straight and cisgendered. She uses language that excludes anyone who is not a part of the majority and even language that is offensive to most people with any awareness of queer and gender identity issues (such as 'anatomically correct woman').

A good sexual health educator: finds out as much as she can about her audience and does her best to tailor the information and presentation style to suit the needs of the group. She assumes that there will be a wide variety of people in the audience and uses language and examples that are as inclusive as possible.

A bad sexual health educator: relies on gender stereotyping and provides information and examples that deny individual experience by saying that if you have a particular type of genitalia, you will have a particular type of experience and no other.

A good sexual health educator: tells her groups to imagine society's perfect example of a dominant feminine woman and then tells the group to imagine escorting her to the penthouse suite of a highrise and then pushing her off the balcony. She encourages her audience to define for themselves what sexy, feminine, masculine, dominant, and submissive means to them and how they will express it.

A bad sexual health educator: tries to win over her audience with jokes that rely on gender stereotyping and outdated, sex-negative myths

A good sexual health educator: has a natural humor that calls on her lived experiences and interests and is genuine and warm (and includes lots of references to zombies and sci-fi movies)

A bad sexual health educator: does not keep her information up-to-date and cannot answer simple questions about current treatments for STI's or new products in the sex arena

A good sexual health educator: considers sexual health education to be a big part of her life and therefore spends a lot of time immersed in it. She knows the current information and if she doesn't, she knows where to find it. She likes sex and toys herself and spends time talking to people in the industry and experimenting personally so she's aware of what's new and will understand the questions her audience asks her.

A bad sexual health educator: does not care where she is presenting and does not bother to look up local resources so she will have them at the ready when her audience asks. She gives her audience inappropriate resources (like telling them to call the AIDS Committee of Toronto for advice on how to have anal sex) or no resources at all.

A good sexual health educator: finds out beforehand who the local resources are and has that information ready should anyone ask. She knows who to ask for the information she does not have. She makes it her business to get to know people everywhere she goes and refers her audiences to those local friends and acquaintances or asks them for information about what's going on locally.

A bad sexual health educator: has a prepared schtick that is obviously the exact same presentation she's given to every other group she's ever spoken to

A good sexual health educator: has a lesson plan for her workshops so that she covers the important information but is prepared and able to veer away from that plan should the audience want her to. The delivery comes from a genuine place - it is clear that she understands and is very interested in her subject matter and is not simply reciting from a prepared speech.

A bad sexual health educator: does not engage with her audience but rather asks them to write down questions and then picks and chooses which questions she will answer. She does not accept questions from the floor. She gives short answers lacking in details and does not attempt to gather more information in order to give a more accurate and helpful answer.

A good sexual health educator: allows people to ask questions during the presentation and privately after. She asks for clarification when she doesn't understand and engages in a conversation rather than simply answering the question. She is genuinely concerned about understanding the question and helping the person find an answer that makes sense for them.

I also had a really great experience at the Western Canadian Conference on Sexual Health where I met two other really great sexual health educators, Dr. Liam Snowdon and Cory Silverberg. Looking back on it, I can say that both Liam (or Captain as he is known to most people) and Cory had all of these qualities of great sexual health educators as well. They both knew their stuff inside and out and were completely caring and respectful of their audiences. Cory is very aware of diversity and the need for accessibility. When he was beginning his presentation, he said 'Everyone who can hear, can you hear me?'. He doesn't assume that everyone can hear. Captain was the best example I have ever seen of completely inclusive language. He was also outstanding in the way in which he initiated exercises in his sessions - really explaining fully what the plan was and then giving permission for people to choose exactly how they wanted to participate. One woman sat in the corner of the room during an exercise and he encouraged her to do just that if that was what she was comfortable with.

I think the days of top-down lectures are gone and these people are the new wave of sexual health education. I can certainly say which experiences were more beneficial to me.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Don't Want Your Husband to Cheat? Shave Your Legs!

Slice has come up with yet another way for women to humiliate themselves on TV. It's a show called The Mistress. Yes, I watch Slice, it's my guilty pleasure. But fully 2/3 of the shows I find utterly unwatchable. This one was like a train wreck - couldn't turn away from it.

The show is hosted, if that's what you want to call it, by Sarah Symonds who claims to have been somewhat of a professional mistress to some very famous men. She now runs a website and support group called Mistresses Anonymous. She says she wants to help women avoid the mistakes that she made. I think what she really wants is to cash in on the tiny shred of claim to celebrity that she might have.

On each show, she introduces us to a woman who is having an affair with a married man. Then she 'helps' the woman free herself from that relationship. Although she fakes it fairly well, it's pretty obvious that she has no compassion for these women whatsoever. She doesn't listen to a thing they say to her. She goes to their houses, gets them to give her the sordid details of the affair including where they have sex and how often, and then tells them they are nothing more than stupid whores (maybe not in so many words). She then forces them to destroy or throw out anything the man ever gave them and then break up with him.

The show is a clusterfuck of gender stereotyping and judgement. While purportedly taking their side, and trying to help them, Sarah makes it clear to each of the women that even though she is a naive victim, all of this is really her fault in the first place. Every show features a clip of Symonds at one of her 'Affair Proofing Your Marriage' sessions, in which she gives women the secret to making sure they keep their men. The secret? Act more like a mistress than a wife. That involves wearing sexy lingerie, role-playing, showing up at his office in a trench coat, and for god's sake, shaving your legs! Even if any of this advice actually made sense, does she honestly thin that the women in those sessions couldn't think of those things themselves? And don't these women have jobs of their own? Who in the hell has the time to dress up in stockings and a trench coat and show up at your husband's workplace in the middle of the day? The assumptions underneath this advice just boggle the mind.

She plays up the idea that sex is the main reason that men have affairs and although all of the women on the show said that their sex life with the man was very good, not one of these women was a stereotypical bombshell and only one of them talked about doing the kinds of things that Symonds recommends that the wives do. Sure, great sex is usually a big part of an extra-marital affair but it's rarely the only part. If that was the case, the men in these situations would probably have moved on from these women. But these were relationships that had been going on for months, even years - 21 years in once case. There's more than just sex here. I hardly think that shaving your legs is going to keep this from happening.

What's so bizarre to me is that while Symonds paints both the wives and the 'mistresses' (goddess how I hate that word) as victims, she simultaneously puts all of the blame on them. Wives have the ability to keep their husbands from cheating just by paying more attention to them, so if they cheat, the wives were obviously not doing their job. She also puts heavy blame on the other woman for the damage they are causing to the wives and their families. Where is the man's responsibility in all of this?

Symonds says that one of the main reasons she wanted to do the show was to expose the truth of what being a mistress is really all about and bust the myths around the whole thing. The myth she does talk about is that all women are taken care of financially by the married men they date. This is clearly not the case for almost all of these women. Other than that, she seems to actually be perpetuating a bunch of myths. The myth that affairs are pretty much all about sex. The myth that husbands cheat because wives are not sexy enough. The myth that most women don't know if their husband is cheating. The myth that if you think your husband is cheating he probably is (that's a nice one - let's start a rash of unnecessary paranoia, shall we?).

I understand that the women who ask to be on this show see their relationships as problematic (except for one who wanted to be on it solely to prove Symonds wrong - you can guess what happened there). But if you were to look at women who see married men on the whole, and not just this subset who wants to be on the show, I bet you would find lots of women who don't see it as problematic. There are women who enjoy seeing someone who already has his family and his life set up and just wants to have someone to have fun outings, experience, and sex with. They don't sit around waiting for him to leave his wife. They have flings and they move on. This show doesn't acknowledge that this could even be possible. All women want a long-term relationship and all women who get involved with married men are victims. As are the wives. She doesn't entertain the idea that the wives of some of these men might know and not really care. Everyone is painted with the same brush.

The show does fulfill that need we seem to have (and I have to admit that I have a little bit of it otherwise I wouldn't watch this crap) to watch the trainwrecks of other people's lives for entertainment, or maybe to feel better about ourselves. But it's a really superficial and immature way of looking at sex and adult relationships.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Art Sheds Light on Reality

One of the highlights of my trip to New York was an excellent exhibit at the Met looking at Andy Warhols influence on artist that came after him. I was introduced to an artist I had not heard of before named Hans Haacke. His art is bold and political and unapologetic and I think I love him. Hi works look like everyday pictures or objects at first glance but when you take a closer look, you get the real story. This is one of the reasons I love it so much. So often, things are not what they appear to be on the surface and we don't know what's going on unless we stop to take a closer look.

This was the case with the piece that left the biggest impression on me. At first glance it looks like an ad from a 70's women's magazine. It has a picture of a beautiful woman with beautiful hair - just like the Breck ads from the 70's with the picture of the beautiful girl and the text underneath telling you who she is, what she likes to do, and how she keeps her hair so shiny and gorgeous. But the text underneath this picture was a little different. It told the story of how the parent company of Breck, American Cyanamid, used chemicals in their plants that were believed to be dangerous to fetal development. Did AC stop using the chemicals when they learned about this? No. They launched what they called 'The Fetal Protection Policy'. Under this policy, women were not hired to work in that area and those that were already there, were given a choice. They could quit, they could move to a lower paying job in another department, or they could be voluntarily sterlized and continue to work there. No Hans Haacke and I are not making this up. This really happened. Five women who worked there chose to be sterilized because they believed it was the only way to keep their job.

What's even more bizarre than the fact that this actually happened is that both American Cyanamid and a federal judge seemed to think this was all hunky dory. AC presented the policy as if they were champions of women's health and choice because they were offering them options to keep them safe from the hazardous chemicals. 13 woman pursued charges alleging that the policy has violated the civil right act. In 1984, a judge sided with AC saying that it do not violate their right because they were offered a choice, they were not forced to do anything. Great, what a choice! Do I want to feed my family and give up my chance of having more kids and risk complications from sterilization or do I want to lose my job or take a lower paying job, keep my uterus and struggle to pay my rent?

In 1991, the US Supreme Court finally ruled that this choice did not constitute an actual choice and that policy was a violation of the women's civil rights. Unfortunately, that ruling came 13 years too late for the women affected.

Friday, September 21, 2012

What People Really Look Like

In my daily troll of time-wasting stuff on the internet, I came across this picture.

That is comedian Kathy Griffin without any makeup. Now, I know, this is of no relevance to anything whatsoever but it just shocked me and I felt compelled to make a comment about it.

The text below the picture described how utterly scary she looks without the makeup and hair styling. I couldn't disagree more. I was surprised because I never would have recognized her. She looks like a regular person. She looks like a friend of mine. She looks happy. I think she looks gorgeous!

Isn't it so sad, that people see a picture of a person just looking normal, without a team of stylists turning them into a caricature of themselves, and we think it's ugly? This is what me and my friends look like. This is what real people look like.

I love Kathy Griffin. I think she's super-funny and I love her big mouth. I think I would love her even more if she felt comfortable to look more like this on TV and in her live appearances and less made up. I think she actually looks more beautiful in this picture than she does when she's completely done up.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Zumanity Delivers the Goods

I just returned from a trip to Las Vegas for the AVN trade show (so happy to be home). One of the big highlights of the trip was getting to finally see Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity. I've wanted to see it ever since I first heard about it but the show only plays in Vegas. Last time I was there, I chose Prince instead of Zumanity (totally worth it). But finally, finally, I got to Vegas and decided to ante up for tickets. Wow, am I glad I did.

If you haven't heard of this show, it's basically Cirque du Soleil with boobs. It's the same format, the same amazing acrobatics (or maybe even better) but the show is themed on sex and sensuality. There are lots of nearly naked performers and extremely suggestive acts.

I was worried that it would just be a bunch of hype. It's really easy to do sex-themed stuff. It's easy to be obvious. It's very difficult and very rare to produce something that promises to be racy and sexy themed that is actually erotic and hot. This one hits the mark. This is not just a parade of boobs this is a real exploration of what is hot and why it's hot.

What really struck me in watching this show is how utterly amazing the human body is. In most strip clubs and burlesque shows, you just see naked bodies. If you're lucky, you might see naked bodies doing beautiful dances. In this show, you see highly trained athletes really exploiting what their bodies can do and really pushing the limits of physical experimentation. Whenever I've watched Cirque performances on TV, I've always kind of thought about how sensual a lot of what they do actually is because the performers are so finely attuned to their bodies. They know exactly how they work and what they can do with them. They can flex and articulate and use every little muscle and joint. Their bodies are modes of expression. In Zumanity, the performers get to really show that off. They get to play up the sensuality of what they are able to do with their bodies and how that relates to sex. And it's super freakin' hot!

My favorite act - although I loved them all - was a woman doing a solo performance in ropes. There were two long ropes of loops that she was using for an arial act - sort of like their traditional silk arial acts, but a little different. She was almost naked - or appeared to be anyway. The music was very slow, subtle, and sensual, and most of the soundtrack was just delighted and tortured moans and sighs from a female voice. She twisted and knotted herself up in the ropes, almost as if she was being bound by a lover, and yet also by herself at the same time. She was hoisted into the air, all trussed up in those ropes and did a breath-taking routine of twist and dives and spins, moving up and down from the top of the theatre about 6 stories up, right to the floor. The peaks and valleys, twists and turns were just like the exciting roller-coaster of amazing, sexual experience when you are completely immersed in the moment and the sensations. It was captivating and ridiculously sexy.

Several years ago, I went to a live sex show in Amsterdam. I was kind of worried about it because I thought it was be so extreme that I would be uncomfortable and I was worried about maybe getting really turned on by it, and how would that look? But as I watched the show, I realized there was nothing hot about it at all. Yes, people were having sex, right there on the stage in front of me. But that's all they were doing. The performers didn't seem to even want to be there. It was very mechanical and not sensual at all. It was boring, and somehow a little sad.

Zumanity was much hotter than the live sex show. The performers were not just showing off their naked bodies, they were expressing themselves through their physicality. They were enjoying what their bodies could do and it really looked like they were enjoying each other too. One of the acts was a silks routine where a man was in the air in the silks and the woman below was assisting him but playing the part of his lover. The scene was like a beautiful love song in motion. At one point, he simply wrapped the silks around his arms, took a few running steps and was pulled up into the air and soared around the theatre. I thought that must be as close to flying as a human being will ever come. It was gorgeous.

If you ever get the chance, see the show, it was mind-blowing.

Monday, August 27, 2012

New Tax in Illinois Misses the Point

This weekend I read a post about a new tax on strip clubs in the state of Illinois. The tax will apply to any club offering live nude entertainment and will amount to about $3 per customer. The money from the tax will go into a fund that will be dispersed to Illinois sexual assault centres.

This is being lauded as an awesome move. Fund the Sexual Assault Centres! Yay! Give money to victims of sexual violence. Yay! Tax those pesky strip clubs for all of the evil they perpetrate on our society. Yay!

Sure, yay for the government of Illinois. Until you start to think about it. First of all, why is it that the SAC's so desperately need this money? It's because their funding has been significantly cut, every year for the past three the state. Yes, that's right. They receive funding from general revenue from the State of Illinois. but that funding has been cut by more than 1.2 million over the last 3 years. So if they've chosen to cut that funding and reallocate that money, why are they not considered the villains in this story rather than the heroes? They have the option of revamping their budgets and reinstating that funding. Instead, they are pushing that responsibility off onto private business owners.

What no one seems to be explaining here is why they consider it the responsibility of the strip clubs to pay for the sexual assault services. Why should there be an extra tax on strip clubs at all? Strip clubs already pay for all of their licensing and follow the guidelines that are set out for them in order to operate in the districts that they are in. Why should they have to pay another tax just to stay in business? I know the connection probably seems clear to some people but it certainly doesn't to me. The existence of strip clubs does not cause sexual assault and strip clubs do not cause any outright risk or harm that is not already dealt with under their security and licensing requirements.

Yes, strip clubs have sometimes been associated with organized crime. But that can be true of any business that deals mostly in cash and customer service rather than sale of goods. It's easy to launder money in a situation like that. But that has nothing at all to do with sexual assault. There are measures under taxation laws in place to deal with that.

This is just another instance where people are trying to get rid of something that they don't like. Or, if they can't get rid of it, punish it severely.

A $3 per person surcharge is rather hefty. The clubs will have to pass that on to their patrons and that is going to affect their business. If they have to pay to much to come in, people will stay away. The people who dreamed up this stupid tax know that.

Of course I think that funding the sexual assault centres is a good thing. It's an important thing. It's very important that those centres stay open. But if the state had funded them previously, it needs to keep doing that. This is just putting a burden onto business owners that should not rightfully be theirs. If I owned a strip joint in Illinois, I would be rallying my fellow business owners to launch a massive discrimination suit against the state.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Another Hot Mess of a Talk Show

I stumbled across a post about Bethany Frankel having sex toys on her talk show. Sadly, I do know who this woman is. She got famous on one of those housewife shows and now it seems you can't turn on the TV without seeing her. I didn't know she had her own talk show. Well, she does and she had some vibrators on it. Here it is:

Notice anything weird? They won't show you the vibrators! I don't get it. Why would you have a segment about vibrators if you can't show the vibrators? This is so weird to me. Anytime I've ever seen any other show do this, they either pick out innocent little toys that don't look like penises or they put a warning on the show that it has adult content - or both. Why would you do this? They don't even say the names of most of the toys so you can't even google it to figure out what the heck they were playing with.

I don't understand the logic in what's okay to show and what's not either. The one that was shocking those too is the Jopen Intensity. It is phallic shaped but it doesn't look like a penis. It's a straight purple shaft with two metal contact plates on it. Why can't you show that on TV when you can show an Inez which is also metal and phallic shaped? I think they figure they are very salacious and edgy by having these toys on the show, but then they totally back down by now actually showing them on TV. If you're going to do that, you could, at the very least, take the dots and blurry spots out for the version that ran on Bethany's blog.

The Pleasure Chest in L.A. is actually one of my favourite stores but I'm not loving this woman here. I think she was having a hard time getting a word in edge-wise and that could explain some of her troubles. A lot of her information is not quite right.

Vibes that were use to treat (not cure) hysteria, were generally used externally only and vibes that were sold by mail order in the 20's were advertised as vibrators for the body and health (they didn't say how you were supposed to use them, you had to figure that out), not as furniture polishers etc. Also, the Inez is no solid gold, it can't be. It's gold plated.

Good try Bethany, but it's a miss.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Lelo Gets it Right the Second Time Around

When the Sense Motion toys from lelo came out, I was so excited because I have been looking everywhere for a good quality remote toy. This was Lelo so of course it was going to be good. At first, they seemed amazing. They vibrated to the motion of the remote! They had a commercial that hit youtube that shows a guy dancing with the remote and driving his partner mad.

How fun is that?

Sadly, many of us found out that the Sense Motion toys weren't quite as awesome as all that. They worked well for a lot of types of play but most of them had major problems with interference. If you put the remote in your pocket or the toy in your pants (or in you), often they would lose the remote connection and you'd have to get the toy and the remote close together to get it going again. They were nice toys but they just weren't as good as they should have been.

About a month ago, Lelo announced they were putting out an upgrade - a second version of the Lyla, Tiani, and Oden Sense Motion toys. We finally got them in this weekend and I'm super-psyched to say, it works!

First of all, these toys are stronger vibration. So that, in and of itself, is reason to get it.

But the remote is so much more responsive and it's not sensitive to interference! When this works the way it's supposed to, it's super-cool. With other remote toys, it's lots of fun to give the toy to your partner and change the settings and watch them squirm. But with this one, you don't just change from one speed to another, you control exactly what happens to the toy by the way you move it. Even just a little shake or turn of the toy changes it. It's so much fun!

I had to test it out so I had my partner put it in his pocket and do a little dance for me. It worked! I was vibrating to his movements. Then he got really crazy and started jumping up and down. It was awesome! I ran into the other room to see if we would lose the connection. Nope! It still worked through the wall - I could feel all of his jumping around and dancing. I think this is going to be the new workout trend.

Oh how I wish Lelo had not jumped into production on these toys until they figured out how to do it properly. When it works right, it is really amazing. This may be the most fun partner toy I've ever seen.

I have to say, I don't like the shape of the Tiani for partner sex. You're supposed to use it like a We Vibe and I find that it's not the right shape for me for that. But what it is good for is making a vibrating panties idea. By itself, the internal part of the toy is totally comfortable and it anchors it so you can wear it inside your underwear pretty easily. The external part is small enough to get away with it under loose fitting clothing. This is a great thing because most toys like this are too big and too loud to be discreet. The cool thing is, your partner doesn't even have to touch the remote. They can just throw it in a pocket or purse and everytime they move, you'll get a nice surprise.

We have only one Tiani left in the store right now. I wanted to check it out and see if they got it right. We will be getting more soon and the Lylas should be in by the end of the week.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Stitch and bitch

A womens group in my hometown of Lethbridge is rallying people to take up their knitting needles for a cause. They are leading a protest against MP Stephen Woodworth's private members bill that would redefine when life legally begins. They are concerned that if this motion passes, it will reopen the abortion debate and lead to eventual criminalization of abortion. Ya, you and me both!

I was pleased to find out about this on the cbc website. I'm glad that the bill snd the opposition against it is getting somme mainstream media attention. I don't believe it really has to this point and that is exactly what Woodworth and his ilk are hoping for. They would love to just slip this one under the radar and then bust it out when they are ready to launch their full-on attack against women's rights. 'Well, actually, Canadians may not be aware of this but the definition of life was changed in 2012 so technically abortion has been illegal since then so we're just bringing the code up to date by making it illegal under the code.'

The comments under the story on the cbc site are mostly supportive of the womenspace position but most of them seem to think it's no big deal. 'There is no way abortions are going to become illegal in this country again.'. I'd love to believe that but I can't when I consider these two things. First, although abortion is legal in Canada, it is by no means accessible. It's possible to get an abortion only in major centres which means time, travel, and money for women who don't live in or close by one. As pressure from anti-abortion groups and violence against clinics and their staff increases, fewer doctors want to perform abortions so this problem is getting worse. There are no abortion services at all in Prince Edward Island. Out of province health coverage for abortion services is difficult to access. Usually women have to pay upfront and get reimbursed. This is just not possible for some people. The fact is, with the small but vocal opposition to abortion, there is already a lot of pressure against the service providers which make it difficult for a lot of women to get an abortion and this is getting worse. It may be legal but it's not easy.

Second, although abortion has been legal in the USA since Roe vs. Wade, in many states, they have managed to make it effectively illegal by enacting laws related to it - limitting how it can be paid for, when and under what circumstances a woman can get an abortion, and what requirements are necessary prior. Although our system makes this impossible - provinces would not have the right to enact these kinds of laws - our federal government can do the same by sneaking in little rules and biols like this that won't outlaw abortion outright but essentially make it impossible to access.

Should we be worried? Yes,I think we should be. If we want to protect our right to abortion services, we need to let our government know that we dont support this bill. Now, not all of us have time to sit down and knit a uterus - you dont need to, just send a letter or email to your MP and let them know how you feel.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Vancouver Shutting Down Sex Shops?

A small adult toy shop in downtown Vancouver has been denied a license to operate. The Supreme Court of B.C. has just upheld the decision by the City of Vancouver. Yipes! This sort of headline strikes fear into the hearts of all adult oriented businesses. What the heck is going on here?

When you look at the facts, from the city's side, it sounds fair. The owner of the store bought it from someone else who had been running it mainly as a mainstream video store and turned it into an adult toy store that sells videos and offers peep shows. The city said that he did not have the proper license to run an adult store. Ok fine, apparently in Vancouver, you need to have a particular license to run an adult toy store (here is yet another example of why Edmonton is cooler than you think - our city does not require that - you merely need a retail sales license and comply with the retail zoning regulations and signing requirements where you operate) so all he needs to do is get the right license.

When the owner applied for the license though, he was denied and told that his signage, his black-out windows, and the interior layout of the store did not conform to zoning regulations for that license. So he made plans to bring it up to their standards - drop the peep shows, put in tasteful window displays instead of blackouts, change the signage, and the interior layout. All of this, I'm sure, cost him considerable time and money. Should be all good then, right? Wrong. The City refused again to issue the license mainly because they had surveyed the neighborhood about the proposed license and many people were opposed.

This is where it becomes so not okay. I do agree that neighbors should know what kinds of business are going into their area and should have the opportunity to express concerns but I think they have to be legitimate concerns. If they had real complaints like not wanting a night club there because of the noise, or not wanting a Tim Horton's there because the line-ups would plug up the traffic through the whole block, that's all right. But it's not fair to shut down a business solely because the people around it don't want it there. If you follow this logic people objecting to a sex store because it makes them uncomfortable or people could object to a mosque or a Asian food store or Salvation Army shelter because that makes them uncomfortable. If there's a real reason, fine, but if the reason is that people just don't like it, that's so not okay. Now that I'm a home owner, I get letters all the time about proposed businesses and changes going on near me - a lot of these are for churches and religious organizations (I don't know what's up in my neighborhood but there are a crap load of churches there). I am opposed to organized religion and I think I have legitimate reasons to be so. But I know that having another church next door to me is not going to cause any problems for me and my daily life whatsoever. I don't really want to look at that, but it's not causing me a problem. So I don't object to it. The sex store is the same thing. He is going to change the signs and the windows to make it more suitable for the area. It won't stand out. It won't be offensive. So it's not going to affect anyone. But still people don't like it just because they don't like it. That should be their problem, not the business owner's.

The City is saying that the physical configuration of the building will make it impossible for the owner to comply with the requirements necessary to issue the license. I have to wonder what that means. If that's the issue, why do they bother to talk about the neighbor objections at all? It sounds like this is something they can hang their hat on to legitimize the decision and to stop this guy in his tracks. They have said he will never be able to comply so he needs to stop trying. He's supposed to close the store within the next 90 days.

The owner raised the objection that most of the adult stores in the city don't have the proper license either so the City has said they will now be investigating each one of those stores. I hope this doesn't open up a can of worms for all of the adult stores that have been operating successfully in peace and quiet for years. No one has been bothered up to this point but if they start having to reapply for business licenses and notifying their surrounding neighborhood, are people suddenly going to start popping up saying 'Hey, there's a sex shop around the corner? No way! I don't like that!'. For my colleagues in Vancouver, I certainly hope that doesn't happen.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Very Scary Study Shows How Far Some Doctors Will Go to Make Girls be Girls

I got a note from the New View today about a study that appeared in the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry last week. It exposes the fairly commonplace practice of prescribing the steriod dexamethasone to pregnant women who have a potential genetic risk of having children with congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Why is that scary? For a whole lot of reasons.

First of all, dexamethasone has never been approved for this use. This is an off-label use of the drug. It's a steriod that is used mainly as an anti-inflammatory. Some people use it illegally as a sports performance enhancer. Dexamethasone is a potent drug with very serious side effects. There have never been any studies proving the efficacy and safety of its use prenatally. One recent small study showed some effects of the drug on the working verbal memory of children who's mothers took it during pregnancy. It has also never been shown to effectively prevent or treat CAH in utero.

So if this random off-label use of a serious drug with major side-effects isn't scary enough on it's own, check out the reason they are prescribing it. Congential Adrenal Hyperplasia is a genetic defect which can result in females being born with ambiguous or more male-looking genitalia. It affects the production of sex steriods and so can have an effect on primary and secondary sex characteristics and sexual development. The object of the prescription is to attempt to 'normalize' the development of the fetuses.

The fact that we are not entirely sure what this drug actually does to kids who get it before they are born aside, it may seem like a perfectly legitimate thing to do. The study provides quotes from doctors explaining the potential long-term life-altering effects of the masculinization of female genitalia due to CAH including potential wrong gender-assignment at birth, psychological problems, and painful genital surgeries with major risk of side effects. So yes, maybe one could see that as legitimate, except that most of those things can be avoided simply by not focussing on a binary gender assignment for a child at birth and not insisting that genitals look 'normal'. But it gets worse, the study goes on to quote doctors positing that one of the main issues with CAH girls is that they don't act like girls, often have little interest in dolls and other girl activities and show much less interest in getting married and having children than non CAH girls. They believe that this originates in the brain and that dexamethasone can change that. No, I am not making this up! Read the study, it's right in there.

So really, what's happening here is that doctors are prescribing a drug to try to prevent a condition which makes girls not look and act like girls - and there is no evidence that this drug actually works and no evidence that it's safe to use in this way.

I know it's hard to believe that this could happen. Surely, you might think, the side effects must be minimal and this drug must be relatively safe in general, otherwise they would never do this. But it has happened before. From the 1940's to the 1970's, millions of women were given DES (diethystibestrol) - mostly to alleviate morning sickness and miscarriage. Later, it was discovered that DES is actually carcinogenic and caused serious issues for children who were exposed to it. Girls who's mothers took DES have a greatly increased risk of cervical cancer amongst other reproductive problems. So yeah, it can happen and it does happen.

This is another case of rushing to a medical/pharmaceutical intervention when none is really even required. The study shows that women have been given this drug if they have the genetic makeup with the potential to have a child with CAH. They can't know if the baby has CAH until it's born. Only one in eight women that are identified as at risk will actually have a child with CAH so 87% of these women will end up having taken this drug and exposed their children for no reason whatsoever.

The only thing I can say about this is that we really have to be advocates for ourselves when it comes to health care. I don't know if this is happening in Canada. This study was done only in the USA. But other things like it are happening. We really need to question our doctors when they suggest prescriptions and treatments - find out what's in them and what the side effects are and how serious the condition actually is in the first place. Sometimes the treatment is worse than the disease.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

More Shades of Grey

I know these books are getting far more attention than they deserve but, having plodded my way through half of the second book, I feel the strong need to write an addendum to my VUE column and my comments here.

I have a few problems with the second book. Mainly that it's horrifically boring and overly sentimental. I also can't deal with the amount of control Christian tries to exert over Ana. Most of the time she pushes against it and I do like that she doesn't just go along with whatever he says, but he usually does end up getting his way. I just read a part where he tries to keep her from going to work because he doesn't think it's safe for her to be by herself. He only agrees to let her go when she agrees to having his bodyguard drive her. Oish! The control thing is still very much presented as a character flaw in him - he is overly anxious and worried about people he cares about getting hurt, this is a problem for him and Ana understands it. She doesn't see it as romantic. But he still gets away with it. You definitely get the sense in the above described scene that the only way she could actually get her way and go to her job by herself is to leave him. That's not cool. Reading that scene actually made me feel panicky - like this is where the abuse actually starts. In real life when a man won't let a woman leave his sight, that is a sign of big big trouble.

But what really boils my potatoes about both the first and second book is how Ana questions and fights Christian's need for control in every aspect, particularly financial, but when it comes to her reproductive health and her own body, she completely rolls over (literally). Many people have praised the Fifty Shades books because of the repeated mention of condoms and explicit explanation of their contraception efforts. The problem is, it's Ana's body but it's all in Christian's hands. He has a doctor come to his house and put her on birth control pills. The doctor treats Ana like shit - as if she's there for Christian and not her. She doesn't ask her anything about her health and just hands her some pills and tells her how to take them.

In the second book, Ana and Christian get back together after only five days apart. Ana has stopped taking her pills. Makes sense, it wasn't her decision to take them anyway and she's not having sex anymore. Two days after they get back together, Christian has the evil doctor return. This time she berates Ana for not taking the pills, calls her stupid and thoughtless and tells her she could be pregnant - all this without even asking her when she had sex and if she used a condom (which she did). She has only had sex three times during this period and since she used a condom every time, it's pretty unlikely that she's pregnant. But the doctor scares the bejeebers out of her and makes her feel like an idiot even though none of this was her choice in the first place. She then gives her a pregnancy test which is inane because there's no way a preg test would come up positive the day after she had sex. Then the doctor tells her that because she obviously can't remember to take pills, she'll have to give her a shot. She doesn't explain what the shot is, how long it lasts, or what side effects there might be. Again she doesn't ask Ana anything about her health history or screen for contraindications to this drug. She doesn't offer her any alternatives. And Ana just accepts the scolding and the shot without question. Good grief!

I'm sad to say that I think this actually mirrors a lot of women's experience in accessing birth control. Why do we think that doctors have the right to tell us what's best for us when it comes to our bodies and our reproductive health? Why do we accept this kind of treatment when we wouldn't accept it about anything else? Just like Ana, we wouldn't let a man tell us we can't go to work, but we will let a doctor shoot hormonal contraceptives into us with little or no explanation.

I'm not actually blaming us here, I'm blaming the society and the medical establishment that has led us to believe that doctors know more about our bodies than we do and that we don't have the right to question. And I'm pissed off at E.L. James for including this scene in this book and making it look like this is a perfectly normal encounter between a woman and a doctor.

Ana sticks up for herself, nowhere near as much as she probably should, but she does. She should stick up for herself in this area too.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

One Sex Toy That Never Should Have Been and One Product That's Not a Sex Toy but Should Be

Yesterday I had someone visit to drop off samples of toys we might like to carry. This is always a difficult thing for me because manufacturers and distributors assume that all stores are the same. They think that we will love anything that everyone else is loving. But we have a different standards than most other stores and a lot of these things people bring me are just not right for us. I won't mention any names because this was really a lovely woman with the best of intentions. But there was one thing in this bag of goodies that really stood out for me. This item is not actually made by the brand she represents but they do carry them. It's called a The Pleasure Web. Sounds awesome! But this is what the Pleasure Web is.

It's a tiny jelly cockring with six holes in it so that you can put the bullet vibe (included) into any one of the holes. The one that we received only had one bullet. But I chose this picture because here you can see both of the suggestions as to how to place the vibrator. Do we notice any problems here?

What's up with the one that is sticking straight up out of the toy? Where is that supposed to go? It looks very much like that thing would be poking directly into me - and not in a good way! If you look at the placement of the other vibe you'll notice a problem there too. The vibe is horizontal so it's not poking out at anyone but it goes directly through the centre of the ring. The is a small and very tight ring. It's going to fit tight and put a lot of pressure - that might feel okay if you didn't have this hard vibe cutting through the ring directly on top of your penis. I can't imagine this would be comfortable for anyone.

The ring is very thin and flimsy and the holes are much smaller than the vibe. It took a lot of effort for me to get the vibrator in there. I'm sure if I did that two or three times, the ring would snap.

This is another case of someone coming up with someone they thought was cool but it's either a designer who has never played with this kind of toy or just doesn't give a shit. Probably both.

I do have to say that the little bullet vibe is actually awesome. That by itself might be worth the price of the toy. Ditch the stupid web ring and use the vibe, and you'll have some fun.

I also came across this today.

I understand the point and I do think it would be good exercise - but you have to admit, it looks ridiculous. Particularly the guy at the beginning who seems to have a model with a rather phallic front end.

This could be great for your thighs. It could also be highly pervertible. I'm tempted to give it a try.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Never One to Miss an Opportunity

Today i got an e-mail about a brand new 50 Shades of Grey themed kit that is 'sure to sell out'. I've been flooded with this stuff as everyone is trying to ride this most recent wave of interest in toy. But this one annoyed me because it's so damn cynical. It's the '50 Shades of Purple' kit from, you guessed it, our old friend Laura Berman.
This is the same kit that she has been marketing forever except that they've added a set of crappy steel ben wa balls to the kit along with the crappy furry cuffs and crappy flimsy blindfold and crappy little feather. I couldn't get a price on it because it's not actually out yet, but the price on the other kit without the crappy ben wa balls is $45. So this one is probably $65 or $70. I know these products because they are also sold separately through Cal Exotics and they are so NOT WORTH IT! Considering the quality, this kit should cost about $35. I get just a little tired of companies marketing cheap crap with nice packaging and fancy names, trying to make it sounds like it's more than it is. If you want a 50 Shades of Grey experience, you'd come much closer with just a necktie like they use in the book and a set of Smartballs (which cost $38 and are not crap - they will last for years - and are more similar to the experience described in the book than these dumb little steel balls). I couldn't track it down but I am fairly certain that Cal Exotics also has this exact same package under their own brand name and not Laura Berman's. If you really want this box 'o garbage, get that one because it will be about $20 less. But if you like the idea of a kit of fun and naughty stuff, look up sportsheets and whipsmart/adventure industries. They make all kinds of intro kink stuff that is not scary - great for the beginner. And all of it is good quality that works well and lasts. They both have a few kits of blindfolds, ticklers and cuffs that will provide many more hours of fun.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lock up Your Children - They're Selling Vibrators at Wal-Mart

I just happened upon a story from Tempe, Arizona from this past Friday. It was a 'news' story letting Tempe residents know that Target and Wal-Mart are selling - gasp - vibrators! I don't know much about what goes on in Arizona, or anywhere in the USA for that matter, but I do know that the vibrators they showed, which are made by Trojan, have been on the market for several years now. Trojan and Durex both came out with small vibrator lines around the same time with the same objectives, to diversify their product lines and break into the toy market and to market that new product line directly in mainstream stores. If you look around a little, at least in Canada, you'll find that most drugstores carry at least one of the Trojan and/or Durex vibrators and you'll also find that most sex toy shops don't. These are simple, in my opinion inferior, sex toys, that were made to be sold on drugstore shelves. One look at the packaging will tell you that. Most of them don't have pictures of the toys on the packaging, the toys have very non-descript names, and they are called 'massager' or 'personal device'. So no, this is not news. I don't know how long they've been around in Arizona, but in Canada you can find them in almost any drugstore and, surprisingly, our kids haven't all become sex crazed maniacs. Two of the 'people on the street' interviewees on this piece were irate that these products were in a 'family' store because if their kid sees them, they would have to explain what it is. Oh no! I have to talk about sex with my kids! That is so inappropriate! But the things is, they won't have to talk about it because these toys are in the condom aisle along with the condoms and lube, not the kids toy aisle. Your kid is probably never in that aisle. If she is, she's just as likely to ask about the condoms as she is the toys. Nobody had a problem with those being there. What about tampons? Should they not be in the store because we don't want our children asking questions about that? What about ovulation kits? Breast pumps? Lingerie for that matter? Why are people singling out vibrators as a problem? Anyway, the kid is not going to even notice the toy because it's in such a wimpy, non-descript box. So relax, you won't have to tell your kid what a vibrator is. I'm ambivalent about this whole thing. I don't think it's a problem to have vibes in drugstores. They are open later and more easily accessible than most sex shops so if you really need a vibe, you can get one. And maybe this will open up the world of sex toys to someone who feels nervous or embarrassed about going into a sex shop. But the problem is that the selection of toys at a drugstore is very small so you have to take what you can get. You don't have a lot of options to choose exactly the kind of thing that will be right for you. I worry that a hasty choice will lead to a disappointing experience which will then lead that person to conclude that toys are not for him. The other problem is that I would doubt very much that your average wal-mart checkout person knows anything about toys. If you need some assistance in understanding how to pick out, use, or take care of the thing, I don't think you're going to get it there. Will they know that there are a lot of toys that shouldn't go up your butt? Will they even be willing to broach that subject? Will they know to warn you not to put silicone lube on your silicone toy? And will they take the toy back or give you warranty information if it breaks? I don't think so. I think it's always better to buy your products from places that know what they're doing. Buy your fruit in a local produce store or farmer's market. Go to a computer store to get your computer equipment. Buy your guitar from a local music shop. And get your toys from an independent toy seller. You'll almost always get better products, better product information and better service. However, since Wal-Mart and Target are not going anywhere soon, I don't see why it's a problem to have a couple of vibes there on the shelf next to the lube and condoms (which I also think you should get from a sex shop, but if you're in a hurry.......). If you want to get everything in one place, why should toys be any different?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Condoms Don't Prevent Rape

Today, I noticed that one of my friends had re-posted a short note about the 'anti-rape condom' on their page. This is actually not a new thing. This device has been around for almost two years now, but the post reminded me about it and I thought this might be a suitable time for a tirade. Okay, first for those who have never seen this thing, here it is:
It is like a female condom. Women are supposed to wear it inside their vaginas. It has barbs on the inside. If a man puts his penis in there (or, I suppose fingers too), the barbs imbed in his penis and the whole thing attaches to him. He has to seek medical attention to remove it. Some people have suggested that this is genius but I beg to differ. There are so many things wrong with it that I think I will have to count them. 1. The person who invented this thing is obviously laboring under the delusion that rape is only a man putting his penis into a woman's vagina. There are a lot of ways to sexually assault someone and this is just one of them. So this is not dealing with rape, it is dealing with only one form of sexual assault of many. 2. How is this preventing rape? It doesn't prevent it, it merely hurts the man who tries to rape someone. We all know from the copious amounts of research that has been done on this that rape is rarely sexually motivated and that sex offenders almost always re-offend, even when they've been caught and convicted. Do we really think that a man who encounters this 'vagina dentata' will never ever assault someone again? I doubt it. He will check first before he inserts his penis or he will just assault women in different ways. 3. Which brings me to the fact that sexual assault is almost always pre-meditated and often thoroughly planned. Any guy who thinks that he may encounter this device can easily check for it and remove it. This thing has been widely publicized and if it ever caught on in any particularly area, a rapist would know to look. 4. Are women supposed to walk around wearing this all the time? Are we really saying that rape is such a common and normal thing that we should stick something in our vagina and wander around with it on a regular basis? The only way this stands a chance of working is if you wear it all the time because you never know when you might get raped. I think telling women to live in constant fear and readiness to be raped is an awful statement about our world. 5. How comfortable could this possibly be? You can't feel a female condom if it's inserted properly but that is just a thin tube of plastic. This has big barbs in it. I can't imagine it feels comfortable. Are we supposed to walk around with something poking our vaginas just because someone might rape us? 6. Which leads to - if you do wear it all the time, it must cause some sort of irritation which could easily lead to infections or a risk of STI's. 7. Many people have brought up the concern that a man who encounters this device is going to be plenty upset and may take that out on the woman he is assaulting, leading to further danger for her. Instead of giving women anti-rape condoms and rape whistles and wasp spray and personal alarms, lets give them cops who listen to them and believe them and judges who convict sex offenders and governments who take sexual assault seriously and mandate stiff minimum sentences for it. This is the only way societies will come to understand that sexual assault is wrong, it's a crime, it's serious, and it's not ok. Let's do that instead of just giving women a nasty barbed condom and saying 'lots of women get raped, you better be ready for it'.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

And from the "Painfully Obvious" department....

Yesterday, a bunch of new stories came out about a study on sexting from the University of Texas Medical Branch. It found that, oh horror of horrors, 30% of the 1000 teenagers they talked to 'admitted to sexting'. What's so funny to me is that these stories go on to say that the study also found that those who had sexted were much more likely to 'admit' to having had sexual intercourse. Wow, what a surprise! Okay, so I 'admit' that I didn't read the study. This is just plain boring so I'm not going to waste my time reading the study. So I don't know exactly where they found these kids and what they asked them. I'm not concerned about that. What I'm concerned about is the conclusions being drawn. The study authors are quoted only as saying that sexting is an indicator of sexual activity, not that it causes it, but the news stories I read strongly implied that it did. One even went so far as to suggest that doctors ask teenagers if they sext because that will tell them if they might be sexually active. Good grief! Why not just ask the kid what he or she is doing? They will tell you or they won't and that's their business. If a doctor asked me if I took naked pictures of myself I would tell her that the last time I checked, you couldn't get pregnant or get a disease from that so mind your own bloody business. But I digress. Is it just me, or is this study utterly pointless and obvious? Doesn't it just make sense that kids who take naked pictures of themselves and send them to their boyfriends or girlfriends are most likely kids who've already gotten naked with said boyfriend or girlfriend - or are planning to do so very soon? It doesn't take a genius to figure it out, does it? I don't really think sexting is the gateway to sex. It's naughty and fun and if you're having naughty fun with someone, that's yet another way to do it. I don't think it happens to often that some guy convinces a girl, against her will, to send him a picture of his boobs, and then suddenly, wham!, out of the blue, she's having sex with him when she really didn't intend to. If that does happen, sexting has little to do with it. That's an abusive dynamic and it can happen with anyone in any way - taking her cell phone away won't change that. Other part that makes my eye twitch is the liberal use of the word 'admitted'. They 'admitted' to sexting, they 'admitted' to having sex. I know this is a term that is used often in health surveys and does not have the connotation in that context that it does in others. But when you report it in a news story, it does have that connotation. It makes it sounds like there is something very wrong with those behaviors and these kids 'admitted' to it - it's very close to the word 'confessed' in this context. A good journalist should use different language. 'Reported' would be a better word. This is just another case of teenagers talking about normal sexual things they do and adults getting their knickers in a twist because they don't want to accept that teenagers are sexual. It's really time to get over it.