Friday, December 13, 2013

Will New Condoms Make a Difference?

The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has been working on a project to encourage the development of a new type of condom. Their goal is to bring about a condom revolution which would reduce the barriers to using them. The Gates foundation has said that there hasn't been a significant innovation in condom design in more than 50 years and it's time.

I love that the Gates foundation is concerned about this and is willing to put a large amount of money into it. We do need innovations in STI prevention. But while some of the proposals that have received a first round of funding are interesting, I think others of them are going in the wrong direction.

An article on Co.Exist explains some of the front-runners. I like the one that is made from a shape-shifting elastomer. The article says "the concept calls for elastomeric (elastic) materials that shape-shift when exposed to body temperature "thereby improving tactility and enhancing sensitivity." I don't know exactly what this would be made of. My concern there is that it would take a very long time to get this material all the way through testing for safety and effectiveness into design, more testing, and onto the market. But hey, people having been having sex for millenia and will be for millenia more so it's not like we don't have the time. What I like about this idea is that it address both sensation and fit - the two biggest issues for people who actually do use condoms.

There is one that is made of a material designed to tighten gently during use. That confuses me. Most people who complain about condoms say that tightness is not good - that it reduces sensation and can lead to breakage. The claim here is that the tightening will enhance sensation and fit. I'm not sure that would be true.

There is another design that aims to tackle the problem of cumbersome application. The package would be broken open and slipped onto the penis in one motion. I can tell you this right now - this will not work. It simply will not work. If, by some miracle, it did work, it won't get any traction on the market. This has been tried a few times in slightly different ways. In the attempts that I've seen - condoms that were actually on the market for a short time, one of which still is, I believe - the supposed easier application was actually more difficult than the traditional application. When you see their training videos on wooden penises, these things look amazing. But when you try to put it on a real penis, you realize that you are dealing with two completely different things. A real penis is soft and fleshy, it's connected to a body that can be in various positions, it does not hold still, and it's usually girthier than a wooden demo model. Besides just simply not working well, the whole idea is just wrong-headed. People do not forego using condoms because they are difficult to put on. They don't use them because they don't like the way they feel, they don't happen to have one with them, their partner won't agree to using one, they think they don't need one because they think they aren't at risk for STI's,or they can't afford them. True, some condom failure can be attributed to putting them on wrong or having trouble putting them on, but I'm concerned that these new applications would actually increase that problem, not decrease it.

The other problem that will go along with all of these newfangled condoms is the cost. Some of them are great ideas. I cannot imagine, however, with the materials and the new engineering that needs to go into them, that you'll be able to get any of these condoms for less than $3 a piece. At this point in our culture in North America, most people will not pay $3 for a condom, even if they can afford it. You can build the most amazing condom in the world, but if it costs ten times as much as the regular ones, it's not going to be used. This is the way with the 'Female Condom'. This is actually an amazing device and many people who use it quite like it. However, few people try it or continue to use it because it costs anywhere from $3 to $6 per condom.

So yes, I am glad that the Gates foundation is doing this. If nothing else, it brings media attention to an issue that's really important. But I think of all the reasons I listed above, these new condoms address only one of the main issues that cause people not to use condoms - that they don't feel good. In my opinion, this is actually one of the lesser issues. I've spent a lot of time with condoms, talking about condoms, talking to people about when, how, why they do or don't use them. The way they feel comes up a lot. But what comes up most is that most people who are in any sort of long-termish relationship don't think they need to use condoms. In fact, they are actually insulted by the idea. A condom symbolizes trust, or lack thereof. To use condoms with a steady partner is to say 'I am sleeping around' or 'I think you are sleeping around'. We, at least in North America, still believe that condoms are only for people who have lots of sex with lots of people. We believe that you use condoms until you've 'gotten serious' and then you graduate to other types of birth control because you don't need to worry about disease anymore. But condoms are one of the cheapest and most effective forms of birth control around. It is also accessible, easy to use and does not cause the kinds of side effects that hormonal methods can.

If we want to increase the use of condoms, I think we need only three things. First, we need to address that attitude. We need to work on reinforcing the idea that condoms are not a trust issue, they are a health issue. Second, we just need more options for thin condoms in more sizes and more options for non-latex condoms. Many times a week, someone comes into the store looking for bigger condoms or tighter condoms. I show them what we have but I explain that because the current regulations on condoms includes standards for size, even the biggest of the big is only going to be a few millimetres wider or longer. We need condoms like 'They Fit' to be available everywhere in the world, not just Europe. Third, we need all of these options to be affordable and available. Not-for-profits have to be able to get these things for little or no cost and have them available at a wide variety of locations so people can get them when they need them and can get them free if they can't pay for them.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It Might be Fun to Have Sex In or Under the Eiffel Tower, but Certainly Not with It.

From the "What were they thinking?" sex toy files comes a new toy I just got a flyer for. The 'La Tour Est Folle'. So I guess these guys were brainstorming and thinking 'What's hot?' "Oh, French things are hot, Paris is hot. Paris is the City of Love." Yep, I agree. Paris is very romantic. So sure, you might want to come up with some sort of French themed, romantic toy. I get that. But this?

This is most certainly not it.

This came to me from a distributor of very fine toys that I trust implicitly. So I'm sure this toy is actually very good quality. But really? I don't care how great the quality is, I don't want to fuck the Eiffel Tower. And I am someone who doesn't generally have a problem with the shape of sex toys. I don't care if it looks like an inch worm with beady eyes. Will it get me off? Great - let's go! But the Eiffel tower? Who wants to fuck the Eiffel Tower? The shape doesn't even look inviting. At least they had the decency to change the top of it so it's not pointy like the real tower. But it still has those four big pedestal ends. What are you supposed to do with that?

Nope, I don't care if this has the best vibe in the world, I'm not doing it! Literally! But I might pick one up for my budding collection of somewhat strange vibrators.

This is an epic toy fail in my books.

Sex Scenes Cut Again?

Evan Rachel Wood has gone on a totally awesome tirade about the MPAA demanding that a scene of a male actor going down on her be cut from the movie Charlie Countryman. The scene does not appear in the final cut of the movie and Wood says that's because the MPAA was going to give the movie the dreaded NC-17 rating unless the scene was cut.

In a series of tweets, she said this:
After seeing the new cut of Charlie Countryman, I would like to share my disappointment with the MPAA, who thought it was necessary to censor a woman's sexuality once again. The scene where the two main characters make "love" was altered because someone felt that seeing a man give a woman oral sex made people "uncomfortable," but the scenes in which people are murdered by having their heads blown off remained intact and unaltered.
This is a symptom of a society that wants to shame women and put them down for enjoying sex, especially when (gasp) the man isn't getting off as well! It's hard for me to believe that had the roles been reversed it still would have been cut or had the female character been raped it would have been cut. It's time for people to grow up. Accept that women are sexual beings. Accept that some men like pleasuring women. Accept that women don't have to just be fucked and say thank you. We are allowed and entitled to enjoy ourselves. It's time we put our foot down. Thanks for listening.

I want to track her down and give her a high five and a hug. If we would just do exactly what she says and start seeing that in movies, more and more women would realize that their sexuality - their sexual pleasure - is beautiful and they have a right to it and to enjoy it.

Now the writer of the movie is backing away from this, saying that he doesn't know exactly what was filmed because it was a closed set and he was not involved with discussions with the MPAA. I haven't seen any comment from the director and producer who would have been the ones to have that discussion.

But given the MPAA's history with censorship of female pleasure, it's easy to believe that Wood is right. There have been many examples where depictions of female sexual pleasure have earned movies NC-17 ratings - or been cut in order to avoid them. Watch the movie 'This Film is Not Yet Rated' for many examples of that.

Wood points out the confounding question of why female pleasure in a consensual act is deemed obscene or too much for anyone who is not an adult but it's okay to show someone getting their heads blown off. We are far more comfortable with violence than we are with sex. I watched the trailer for Charlie Countryman and the trailer actually shows that scene. There is a man with a gun standing over a man bent over a table at a restaurant and his head is blown off and scattered all over the table! That is in the trailer! Brains all over a dinner table! This is something that, hopefully, is quite a rare occurrence in real life and most of us are not likely to ever see. It is, in real life, horrific, and should be considered obscene. But a guy going down on a woman is something many of us will actually experience and most of us would have quite enjoyed. AND - and this is the most important and about it - it hurts no one unlike gun violence. And yet we are still not okay with depicting that in a movie.

Speaking of Masturbation - an Interview on Adamant Eve

I had the pleasure of being interview by Lisa Pruden of Adamant Eve last month about women and masturbation. The interview aired last Friday.

Check it out here.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A look back at Taboo

Now that it's been a full two weeks since we finished up the Alberta Taboo shows, I have some time to reflect on the good, bad and ugly of them.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Taboo Sex Shows. They are an enormous amount of work fopr us and they occupy our mind space for a good fix to six weeks every year. On the other hand, they are a lot of fun. They are a chance to meet up with old friends and introduce ourselves to lots of new people. There is a lot of energy on the busy nights. That's contagious.

It's nice that we get to be a welcoming space that sells safe quality toys. We do a lot of educating at Taboo about toys, safety and health. Many of the people we get to talk to there have never heard of toxic toys.

I think that the shows are very important, particularly for Alberta because there really isn't any other public event that's focused just on sex and sexuality. This is the one chance that people who are not connected to other smaller or private groups have to go out and explore - and it may just be the opportunity they need to connect to those groups. I also like that we even have a large scale public sex-themed event. There are places where that would never happen. I'm so glad that we are not one of them.

Taboo gives people who love to dress up sexy or love to perform burlesque or love to beat or be beaten and explain that to people a place where it's okay to do those things. It's okay to be overtly sexual there. In so many other places, we get judged for doing that. I like that we have that kind of environment there.

This year, I was also pleased to see the entertainment get cranked up yet another notch. When the show started out, the only entertainment on the mainstage was fashion shows and a demonstarting of the bondage bed sheets. This year, there was an awesome MC who did intermittent drag performances. There was burlesque, pole dancing, a male exotic dance revue, belly dance, and performances by one of my favorite local groups, The Dirrty show. There really was something interesting to watch pretty much all the time. Both the Edmonton and Calgary show had much bigger name celebrity appearances than ever had before. While Ron Jeremy and Carmen Electra are not my cup of tea, they are names that most people recognize and would stop in to see and get a picture with. Jessica O'Reilly was also a great addition. I'm always a wee bit wary of 'sex experts' but Jess really knows what she's talking about. She's inclusive, sex-positive, and well informed. And she's a lot of fun to watch. Her seminars were great and they were always packed. They definitely need to invite Jess back next year.

So those things are all great - what's my problem? There are just a few things that I long for at Taboo. First, I really wish that the Taboo shows were getting bigger rather than smaller. Every year, a number of my friends come up to me and say 'Is it just me, or is it smaller this year?' And the answer is yes - it's smaller this year - every year. When the event becomes so small that it barely fills one hall, it feels like there's just not much to do there and people get bored.

I do have a problem with the heteronormative standpoint of a lot of the advertising, entertainment, and vendors. Many people tell me that they don't see a reflection of themselves and their interests there and that makes them somewhat uncomfortable. To our credit though, Edmontonians are awesomely comfortable with themselves and I see so many people there just letting their freak flag fly - whatever color that flag might be. However, a little more gayness, a little more queerness to the event would go such a long way.

I would love to see much bigger name entertainment. I would like to see Dita Von Teese or Pamela Anderson, Tristan Taormino or Jenna Jameson, Evan Stone or James Deen. A big big name would bring a lot of people out. These are all people who perform and speak all over North America. They would be great entertainment and a great draw.

I would also love to see the return of the beautiful decorations. Once upon a time, about 8 years ago, you would walk into Taboo through a narrow doorway through curtains. There was a sense of mystery as to what was on the other side. Once you entered, you would see red and black balloons everywhere, plush curtains, and big beautiful banners from sponsors. It wasn't all that much, it just made the big warehouse space feel cozier and more romantic. You felt like you were at an event. Now that is all gone. I'm told it's because sponsorship is down and sponsors brought in those things. They really need to bring that back. I loved feeling like I was in a special place where very cool things were likely to happen. It just doesn't feel like that anymore.

But, even with its drawbacks, Taboo still provides a lot of opportunities that we as retailers and people as attendees and customers would not get anywhere else. It's still worth checking out.