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.