Thursday, August 29, 2013

It's a Lot Easier Than Taking Off Your Arm

The other day, my partner yelled at me from his desk 'Honey, you have to see this! They made a bed just for you!'. I went to look and yes, indeed, it is a bed made to deal with the problem I have been complaining about for years - When you cuddle up with your honey in bed, where the heck do you put your other arm? When you're trying to spoon, no matter how you try to position yourself, you've always got that arm on the side you're laying on that just doesn't work. I like to be the big spoon so I end up dealing with this all the time. You try to put that arm around your sweetie, but then it usually goes numb or sweetie gets sick of lying on it. You can put it sort of in front of your head but then you can't get as close to your little spoon. If you put it under your head, again, it goes numb. I've often told my partner that I wish I could detach my arm like a mannequin. I would take it off every night, prop it up in the corner of the bedroom and then just put it back on in the morning. (no disrespect to anyone with a prosthetic arm - I'm sure it's no picnic). Well Mehdi Mojtabavi thought off an easier way to deal with this whole spooning problem. Here it is.

Is this brilliant or what? The top and bottom portions of the mattress have slats so your arm and/or shoulder can drop in lower where is will be protected from going numb. I know you're thinking what I was thinking, how can you put a sheet on that thing? It comes with a sheet that's made specifically for it! The sheet is made of a stretchable cotton that pushes into the slats when they're in use and then snaps back when it needs to lie flat.

Mojtabavi actually won a red dot design award for this mattress. However, due to the major financial issues associated with actually getting something made and onto the market, he has never mass produced it. He is looking for partners or investors to make that possible. When it happens, I want to be the first to get one!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Now that's Creativity

I've always thought the penis-shaped caked pan was a waste because you'll only use it once. But then I saw this 'One Woman's Struggle To Reuse her Penis-Shaped Cake Pan' and I've changed my mind. This is my favorite.

The Annabel Chong Story

The other day, I watched the documentary 'Sex: The Annabel Chong Story'. It has stayed with me over the past few days and I've felt the need to write about it, but I wasn't sure exactly what it was that was catching me about it. Today I think it has finally crystallized for me.

So first things first. This documentary is actually quite old. It was released in 1999. This just happened to be the first I had heard of it. I happened upon it through some web surfing - someone had mentioned it on a message board. I was familiar with Annabel Chong. She became a huge name in the mid '90's when she set out to make a world record for having sex with the largest number of men at one time. She starred in a movie called 'The World's Biggest Gang Bang' in which she participated in 251 sex acts in 10 hours. This story became a big deal even in the mainstream and Chong was on all kinds of talk shows. The story was particularly hot amongst anti-porn feminists and that's why I knew about it. (sidebar - I was a part of this movement for a short time, having been convinced that all pornography was exploitive of women before I had ever even had the opportunity to look at porn). I had not known about the documentary about Chong but when I found out about it, I wanted to watch it because of what a massive story this had been at the time. She was the subject of much debate and much derision, most of which took place without her presence. I wanted to find out more about who she actually was and how she came to do this thing that became so emblematic of trash porn.

Watching the film didn't answer any of that for me and actually made me feel that I knew even less about her than I did before. It's a confusing and troubling documentary made even more so by the fact that it is poorly made and it's obvious that the film-making had some biases and agendas in the production, although it's not entirely clear what they are.

For the first part of the movie, Annabel, who I will refer to by her real name, Grace Quek, from this point on. Is portrayed as a well-educated, bright, thoughtful young woman from a traditional Singaporean family. She is very sexually inquisitive and adventurous. She appears, at first, to have a lot of comfort, pride, and interest in her body and her sexuality. She says that she got into doing porn because she had fucked everyone there was to fuck at college and she was bored. She figured she might as well get paid to fuck some new people. There are clips of her in anthropology classes talking openly about her involvement in porn and quite eloquently about her perspective on female sexuality both in North America and Singapore. She explains that she feels her involvement in porn is a feminist act because she wants to show that women are sexual, and can be aggressively sexual, not just passive victims. This all seemed very real and convincing to me. I absolutely believe that there are women who participate in porn for these very reasons, are complete knowing agents in what they do, and are not victims in any way.

But that becomes troublesome in Grace's case during the course of the film for two reasons. First, although she talks a lot about her own empowerment and seeing herself as a dominant and strong sexual women, she still portrays herself as a bimbo in the movie clips and particularly in the TV talk show clips we see. Annabel is, of course, her porn persona and not her real self. But if she wants to portray an image of strong female sexuality, why does she act like a giggling airhead on these TV shows? On one clip for a promotion of the upcoming gang bang production, the producer of the video literally parades her around in front of the camera, telling her to take off her clothes and show her ass. She does all of this with a smile and a giggle and not a word. This certainly doesn't challenge any prevailing notions of female sexuality. Perhaps in her mind, it is empowering to her, but it doesn't come off that way in public. I don't know if this indicates that all of her talk is just her own rationalization or if she did that because she couldn't conceive of another way to behave, having never seen it modeled before, or if she was directed to do that. And this is the problem with the film - it doesn't give us any real insight into this.

The second troublesome thing about the film is that it paints this picture of Grace as a likeable, smart women, very much in control of herself and then suddenly turns the tables. After the filming of the gang bang is shown, the film then begins to portray all the darker sides of her life. Grace struggles with money - she was never paid for the gang bang video which went on to become one of the best selling porn videos of all time. She reveals that she was gang-raped in London. She is shown cutting her arms with a knife and explaining that she feels so much pain she needs to let it out. Her mother finds out about her involvement in porn and Grace cries and cries and begs her to forgive her. It's sad and disturbing. It's also extremely confusing because the film-maker does not keep a strict timeline on these events. We do not know when any of these things happened. We are led to believe that they all happened after the gang bang video. Yet when you research Grace's life, you find that she was actually raped in 1992, before she started doing porn. The suggestion that her porn career and this rape are related is quite obvious. But we don't hear from Grace herself if she believes they are connected. We only hear Grace say that she thinks porn is liberating and fun - then we see her fall to pieces talking about her rape and then cutting herself. It feels manipulative and disrespectful.

Whatever the point of view of the film, it is pretty clear that Grace was, in some respects, a victim of the porn industry. No matter who's idea the gang bang and all the publicity were and no matter how positive she felt about it, it's obvious from looking at the clips of how the event played out and how the film was made, that Grace had very little control over the whole thing. The fact that she was never actually paid the money she was promised for the video is evidence enough itself that she was not in control. I think that had this all happened 15 years later, it might have been quite different. The porn industry has changed quite a bit - mostly due to the available technology. Many women now are producing their own videos and have complete control over their own websites and careers. They are able to do this because it is so much cheaper to make videos now and so much easier to distribute them via the internet. I think that if Grace had the interest and the wherewithal to take control of her own career she would be able to do that with the technology and opportunities that are available now. She would not have needed to be dependent on these men who were clearly out just to profit from her. That would have been dependent on her being able to see that fact and wanting to do the work herself, but at least it would have been possible. Because, at that point in time, it was extremely difficult for a woman to make videos and get them promoted and sold without a fair bit of money and access to a stream of distribution, it really didn't matter one iota how she saw herself and whether she viewed her involvement as empowering. The people who owned the resources were still calling the shots about what got done and how, and most of them were not the least bit interested in showing empowered strong women. This is a complex and interesting question but the film does not explore it at all. It seems that the film-maker is interested only in portraying Grace as a victim - much like the people he portrays as her victimizers.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sensational Story of Big Balls has a Hidden Sad Side

I caught this story on my facebook news feed today. Man has 132 pounds scrotum removed when kind-hearted doctor agrees to do it for free. I wondered at first if this was a joke story because it leans heavily to the sensational but it does appear to be true. It's pretty clear that the daily mail just really wants to run a story about a man with 132 pound scrotum - complete with lots and lots of pictures - but two things strike me about this story and make me very sad.

First, this poor guy had to suffer with this condition for five years because he could not afford a surgery to fix it. This is a fine commentary on how the US health care system just doesn't work. How in the world could this guy not have some sort of insurance that would cover this? This is not exactly a cosmetic procedure. His balls weighed 132 pounds! He could barely walk. He was suffering all kinds of skin problems and massive pain because of this. At one point, he was considering auctioning his scrotum to get money to pay for the surgery. How messed up is this? In spite of how funny some people seem to think this is, it's a very serious health problem. He should have been able to get treatment for it.

The second sad thing is the article states that Mr. Warren claimed to be unhappy about the results of the surgery because his penis was just an inch long. According to the article, he said that he felt he would never be able to have a relationship with a woman. That makes me just want to go find this guy and give him a great big hug - and then a slap upside the head. We are so focused on penises in this culture that we just can't seem to wrap our head around a happy, healthy, fun sex life that doesn't include a ginormous cock.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with a ginormous cock. If you happen to have one or you happen to love someone who has one, that's just great. That ginormous cock will be a part of your sex life and well it should be. But if you don't have one and/or you happen to love someone who doesn't have one, we seem to think that sex is either over or diminished and the best way to solve that is to try to figure out how to get that ginormous cock.

I work with a lot of people who have troubles with erections for a variety of medical reasons. I also work with a lot of medical professionals who deal with these people. Now I love these medical folk and I'm happy that they do what they do but I have definitely seen that when dealing with a man who doesn't get erections, their response is to try to get him to have erections. Almost always, the first suggestion is Viagra and then some other drug if that doesn't work. If that doesn't work, they talk about injections and possibly even implants. And it is actually a ladder like that - I have never talked to a man who has had a bunch of different options laid out for him to choose from. They are usually given a drug first. If that drug doesn't work, then other drug options are discussed. If that doesn't work, then implants and injections are discussed. If that doesn't work, they come to me for a pump and a ring. I think it would be so much more efficient to talk to him about all of the options and the pros and cons of all of them and then let him choose what he'd like to try first.

Even when that is done, what is rarely discussed is the idea that it's really okay if you don't have erections. There are a bazillion ways to have sex and a hundred bazillion ways to be physically close to someone. Only a very few of those involve an erect penis. It's disheartening and endlessly frustrating to me that most men believe that their sex life is over if they don't get erections and that a lot of the medical establishment perpetuates that idea. I've seen first hand how not true that is from people for whom a ginormous erect cock is not and never will be possible and/or for whom it's not even desirable. From my vantage point as a toy person who works with the full spectrum of human sexual expression, I've seen people having all kinds of sex and most of it is highly satisfying and not lacking in any way. I've met men with spinal cord injuries who have partial erections or none at all and still experience ejaculation and orgasm - and feel fully able to give their partners pleasure in all kinds of ways. I've met transmen with a wide range genital realities who use every part of their bodies, including their brains and sometimes toys, to experience great sex. I've met a lot of people who have decided that penis in vagina sex is not what they want - either because they don't want to risk pregnancy or infection, or because they have more than one partner, or because they just don't like it - and they find all kinds of ways to have amazing sex. I have also seen a lot of people who love and/or have sex with a male identified person who does not have a ginormous cock or ginormous erections who are very happy and very sexually satisfied.

So why, why, why, is there still this predominant idea that if you can't get an erection, you're not a real man and you can't have real sex? Mr. Warren, there are a lot of people in this world and I guarantee you that there are women who will love both who you are as a person and what you have to offer in bed. You just need to widen your perspective a little and be confident in what you've got and how you can use it.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Soup for Sluts

Where can I get some of this? It's cheap, fast and easy! I bet it's tasty too!

Ads for Sex Exhibit totally Miss the Point

I saw a facebook post this morning about some ads for the Vancouver World of Science's Sex Exhibit that had been taken out of buses. The ads that I saw looked like this.

When I first saw this, I thought it was another case of people needlessly getting their shorts in a knot about something sexual. They are pretty harmless, silly ads. Yes, they are a wee bit racy but they are funny. I thought the objection is probably about kids seeing these and getting 'bad thoughts' in their little heads, or asking uncomfortable questions. I don't think kids under 13 are really going to understand them and kids over that age already get it and are probably just going to laugh or ignore it. What's the big deal?

But then I looked into this a little more. The exhibit is actually not for adults. It is designed specifically for adolescents aged 12 and up. It is a sex education exhibit. I thought, judging by the ads, that it was geared to adults - that it was about detailed interesting science-y things about sex. Now I haven't seen the exhibit but I've read the page on the Science World website and it says clearly that this was designed to help answer questions that all kids have. It is not explicit in any way and addresses basic questions about bodies and sex.

So here's my issue. The ads do not at all suggest that. I saw these ads and thought it was a bitch that I'm not in Vancouver because I'd really like to go see that. It seemed like it was an adult-appropriate exhibit about new discoveries, and the science and sociology of sex. I would have been surprised and rather pissed to walk into an 8th grade level sex education exhibit. The ad is not hitting the market they are looking for. I think they want to get the attention of the adults who will be the one taking their kids. But if I saw that as a parent, I would think I should be leaving my kids at home. Totally sending the wrong message.

Then there's this.

This was the one that no one seemed to have a problem with and that made it into the buses (or bus shelters, I'm not sure). This, to me, is far worse. What in the world is funny about a drug messing up your memory and causing you to miss taking that drug which might cause you to have and unintended pregnancy. That is simply not funny. It's not that it's funny and I shouldn't laugh, it's that it's just not funny. It's also stating something that is supposed to be interpreted as fact when the truth is much more complex than that. It's hard to tell from the ads exactly what it is that's being advertised until you read the very bottom about the exhibit. Only then would you get that it's an attempt at a joke. It's not funny to the hundreds of thousands of women who take birth control pills who have never heard of such a thing and might read that and think 'What? What does that mean? Is that true? WTF?'. What do they mean by this? Don't take birth control pills because they'll make you forgetful and then you'll get pregnant? It's confusing and it totally misses the mark. And again, it is not an effective ad for the exhibit. I am not a humorless loser - I do think the first two are funny. But this is not funny.

As if that's not bad enough, then there's this.

I don't understand a world where people have a problem with a picture of a box of tissues with the word ejaculation on it but they don't have a problem with an ad that suggests that female health professionals 'treat' their patients by having sex with them. I can't even imagine what the people at Vancouver World of Science were thinking when they allowed this to be produced. It is offensive to women and to all health care professionals. And it is offensive simply in the name of making a cheap joke that's not very funny. They could have easily used that same tag line about orgasm easing pain and made a really funny ad about not needing the aspirin anymore or 'let's have sex honey, I have a headache'. Why do you have to use a tired, sexist and offensive trope about female nurses and physicians to do it.

So I guess my tune on this changed pretty fast. I don't think those first two ads should have been banned just because they're racy, but I do think that they are misguided and ineffective. I also think that Vancouver World of Science should know that the video is sexist and offensive.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

From Childless Women to Opt-Back-In Moms - Our Obsession with Women and Their Choices

It seems every time I opened my facebook or turned on the radio last week, I was hearing something about women who choose not to have kids. First it was the Time cover story and then it was the UK 'research' that purports to show that women who choose to remain childless are smarter than women who have kids. It was everywhere. I couldn't get away from it. Besides the fact that I object to childless women like me being talked about as if we are some sort of newly discovered species that need to put under a microscope and studied, there's something else that really bugs me about these articles. Not one of them looks at this 'phenomenon' as anything other than a personal choice and not one of them steps outside of the lens of western middle class (predominantly white) privilege. They all talk about this as if it's a global trend and we should be concerned about declining birth rates. It's not and we shouldn't. The reason why it's not a global trend is because the women who are making the choice not to have children are women who are able to make a choice. Logic might seem to dictate that it would be women who have money, family support, supportive spouses, and lots of resources who would make the choice to have children. It's actually often the opposite. Many women don't actively make a choice to have or not have children. The choice is never in their hands in the first place. Women who are in relationships in which they have very little control or in which they are being abused; women who are from cultures in which women are expected to have children and to be the primary caretakers of those children, women who are poor and dependent on a partner and that partner's desires and/or have no access to birth control. These are women who may not have the luxury of making the choice to have or not to have children. The choice not to have children is actually often a choice that comes out of privilege and opportunity. I don't believe that women who choose not to have children are smarter, I think they have more choices available to them in general.

On the other side of the equation, these articles don't look at why the ones who choose to be childless might be making that choice. It's framed only as a personal lifestyle choice. In spite of the cult of motherhood we've created in middle class western society, mothers are still given nowhere near the amount of support they actually need to raise their children. Affordable child care is the biggest issue. Moms who want or need to work face a huge problem in finding child care that they trust that they can afford. We've lost community in our culture so much that many women don't have a solid support network of family and friends to provide some babysitting help when things just need to get done or when they are really stressed and need a break. Many also don't have that network of women who help them learn how to be mothers - they are expected somehow to just manage on their own. On top of that, that very same cult of motherhood places a huge expectation on parents to do everything right for their kids. Everywhere you look, there is something telling you what you must do in order to raise your children right. Given all of this, is it any wonder that lots of women who can make a choice not to have children do just that? From where I sit, it doesn't look terribly appealing.

In the midst of all of this 'smart women aren't having babies' craze, I read an article about how the 'opt-out' generation is finding out that they can't opt back in. This article was about the 'movement' of professional women who decided to quit their jobs and careers and stay home with their children. They were very vocal and created a craze of media in their wake. Now, it seems, one of the most vocal of them is changing her tune. After getting divorced, she returned to the work force and found that 11 years away, it was extremely difficult to get back in. The article read like a cautionary tale for women who might make that choice to stay home with their kids - there are grave consequences that you couldn't possibly understand right now, don't make the same mistake these women did. But the problem with this article is exactly the same as all the 'smart childless women' articles. They talk about this all as if it's just about personal choice. And yet when you read the story, it's pretty clear that the reason this becomes a problem is not because women are making the wrong choices, but because there is no support available for them to be free to make a real choice.

The story of Sheila O'Donnell which is covered extensively in the Times article really exemplifies this. While reading it, it was pretty clear to me that this wasn't a case of her having made the wrong choice, it was a case of her not feeling that she had any choices. First of all, by her telling, her husband was a terrible partner. She was working full-time and yet the job of finding and coordinating child care and of taking care of the household fell almost 100% on her shoulders. This is the case for a lot of women. Housework and child care is still not shared equally. This means that many women who work outside the home have two full-time jobs, not one. It would make sense that she would decide not working was easier, since she could afford it. Next, the childcare, even for someone with a good income, was still an issue. Reliable and affordable child care is difficult for most women and means that many of them decide not to work outside the home even when they really need to or want to.

The story goes on to talk about what happened to O'Donnell when her marriage fell apart. She was left without a home and had to move into a much more modest house with her three children and needed to get a job in order to support them. The story does not say why this was the case. The picture that is painted of her married life leads us to believe that her husband was well off and they had a lot of assets together. What is wrong with the legal system and divorce laws that she wouldn't be getting enough child support in that situation to allow her a little better standard of living?

The story then goes on to talk about how O'Donnell and most of the other 22 women in the story really struggled to find decent jobs and opportunities for advancement once they returned to work after raising children for many years. This again, is framed as the consequence of personal choice. The issues of pay equity, the lack of opportunities for women in corporate jobs, the lack of support for women who wish to work part-time or job share while they raise their children, inadequate child care forcing women to quit their jobs, and the unequal treatment of women in the work force are not addressed. Instead, women are advised to be very strategic if they decide to leave the work force - make sure they keep their contacts, volunteer, and keep up their skills. So ya, it's all our fault.

I'm sick to death of these stories and I don't want to see one more that does not look at this 'choices' from a larger perspective. Instead of cautioning women to be careful about their choices or telling women that they are stupid if they have kids, maybe we should be looking at ways we can even out the playing field so that women can make choices more freely.