Thursday, May 28, 2015

Doc Johnson goes Hollywood

Here I am binge-watching House of Lies after work and lo and behold, who is Galweather Stern's new client? None other than Doc Johnson. For those of you who only buy top quality toys from great stores who know their stuff, like mine, you may never have heard of Doc Johnson, so I'll fill you in. Doc Johnson is one of the oldest and biggest makers of sex toys in the world. Check out their website and you'll see thousand and thousands of different items.

I was shocked to see that the show actually uses them and names them, instead of making up a fictional toy company, they were actually working with a real one. I wonder how much Doc Johnson paid to get this storyline.

The story is pretty cool - although I haven't watched the end yet so I won't give any spoilers. In the show, the pod is brought in to help them come up with a new marketing strategy. What's interesting is to watch the reactions of each of them to working with this client. It's also fun to watch them tour the factory. I have never seen some of these things being made and it looks like those shots actually came from inside the factory, not from a sound stage.

But here's the thing. Doc Johnson kinda sucks. One of the main reasons I don't buy their stuff is that they lie (more on that later). And in this episode, they are lying. I did learn tonight that Doc Johnson actually does make some of its products in the USA. I didn't know that. In the show, the head of Doc Johnson (played by Adam Brody), says that he's trying to carry on the legacy of his father who had a commitment to doing business in America. What the show leaves out, is that this commitment is quite new - they haven't been manufacturing in the USA all that long. What they also leave out is that not all of their products are made in the USA. A lot of the dildos are, but most of their vibrators are still made in China. During their tour of the factory the 'owner' says that they make better products than their competitors but they are getting killed on price because everybody else makes cheap stuff in China. Hmmmmmm He also goes on to list some of the fine materials that they use, some of which are not real things, like hypoallergenic rubber.

Yep, typical Doc Johnson. We carry just one Doc Johnson product. It's a very simple plastic vibrator. I won't carry anything else they make, and this is why:

1. They produce a lot of shitty stuff - a LOT. There are so many products that it's almost impossible to sort them all out. While they have upped their game in terms of quality over the last ten years and started producing quite a few 100% silicone toys, they have kept on producing all of their awful jelly rubber dildos.

2. They participate in the rampant racism and sexism that is a big part of the old school sex toy industry. They have an inordinate number of 'big black cock' toys. The way they package, name, and market most of their 'lifelike' masturbation toys (ie. toys that are modeled on the vulvas of real women, or look like they were) is questionable at best. They are certainly not the only company to do this. California Exotics does it too and we carry some of their toys. Cal Exotics, however, has toned it down considerably over the last few years. Doc Johnson is changing the packaging and marketing on some of their older toys but much more slowly, it seems.

3. They tell stories that aren't 100% true. This show is only one example of it, but I've seen it many times. They call a product silicone but fail to mention that it's not 100% silicone. They call something sil-a-gel because they know that sounds like silicone, when really it's just another blended rubber. I once sat in on a seminar where the head of Doc Johnson strongly implied that the Rabbit used in the famous Sex and the City episode was made by Doc Johnson. It wasn't! You can see the packaging on the show - it's Vibratex!

4. They have questionable business practices. Back in the wonderful years when all of the small new companies that were making wonderful, quality products, were just getting their foot in the door, there was this beautiful thing called the AVN Sex Toy Expo. I was lucky enough to attend once when it was at its height. The second time I attended, I found out that a coup was afoot. Certain companies, who call themselves 'founders' - because apparently they founded the AVN show - decided the AVN (adult video news) was not meeting their needs - and it seems their needs were to control everything and be the stars of the show. So they decided to take their toys and make their own show. This devastated the AVN. Those four companies represented a huge portion of their exhibitor revenue. Not only that, but a lot of other companies pulled out of the AVN for fear of pissing off the founders. Then, the founders limited access to their show - cherry-picking only the companies that they had a good relationships and that they felt were not a threat to them. There is such a thing as just producing a great product, doing good marketing, and letting the customer decide - but Doc Johnson chose not to play that way.

It's funny to watch them on this show acting like they make the best product and they just can't get a break because everyone keeps undercutting them. In real life, it's the other way around. Doc Johnson has a strangle-hold on the sex toy market in North America and they are bound and determined to keep it.

Well, I guess it's appropriate that they chose to market this story on a show called 'House of Lies'.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

19 Kids and Questioning Why This Show Was Ever on TV

So TLC has finally (finally!) announced that they are taking 19 Kids and Counting off TV. I have been waiting for the day they would make that long overdue decision.

Why? Because the parents featured in this show, Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, are scary scary people who should not have a national forum to spout their ridiculousness and hatred.

I admit it, I have watched this show. I've seen quite a bit of actually. I'm a fan of bad reality TV. When I first saw it, I thought that, although they made a lot of decisions I wouldn't make, and I didn't relate to their conservative religious outlook, it was harmless. I thought that they were teaching their multitudes of children some decent values about work ethics and giving back to friends and family. It seemed a bit freakish but no big deal. After watching for awhile though I realized there is something pretty twisted going on. Jim Bob Duggar is all smiles and happy-go-lucky poppa but he rules that family with an iron fist. What he says goes - right down to dictating how his wife and children dress and how they do their hair. The gender roles are very clear and very strictly enforced. The girls stay in the house and clean, cook, do laundry and take care of the kids. The boys - well, I'm not sure what the boys do. I do know that when the boys reach 18ish, they are given support to start their own businesses so that they'll be able to get a wife and have kids. The girls, not so much. They stay there until some guy (seems like any guy if recent developments are any indication) of similar mind, asks them to marry.

The children have no opportunities to learn anything or meet anyone that their parents have not expressly vetted beforehand. Dancing is prohibited. Expression of any 'negative' emotion if frowned upon. Physical contact is strictly controlled. Hugs, even between parents and children, are limited to 'side hugs' because you can't take the risk of pressing genitals together (but you don't say specifically, that that's why you side hug). Modest dress is enforced - necklines are high and shoulders are never bare. Skirts and pants must come past the knee. The Duggars believe that showing your body to anyone who is not your legal spouse, is 'defrauding'. Defrauding is provoking sexual desire that cannot be righteously fulfilled. They never expressly say it, but it's pretty clear that females defraud men, not the other way around. The Duggars do not date, they court. Courting involves getting to know someone with the intention of marrying them. They are not allowed to ever be alone or to even have private phone calls or messages with someone they are courting. Their parents look s at their text messages and listen in on their phone calls and skype sessions. This takes place even if the courting person is well over 18. They cannot have any physical contact when they are courting. When they get engaged, they are allowed to hold hands. They must have an escort on every date until they are legally married. They do not kiss until they are legally married. The first time they kiss at their wedding, hundreds of people watch them do it.

All this is disturbing enough but hey, everybody has their own beliefs and values. However, when they expect everyone else to hold their values and work actively to prevent the religious freedom and human rights of others, then I've got a problem. And that's exactly what the Duggars do. They are active supports of Rick Santorum, who is a notorious homophobe. They have contributed financially and lent their enormous celebrity cred to his bid for the republican nomination. They have been vocal in their opposition to marriage equality. Michelle Duggar recorded a robocall asking people in Arkansas to vote AGAINST an ordinance that would prohibit businesses from discriminating against people based on gender and sexual orientation. In the recording she essentially called transwomen sexual predators dressed up as men and said that the ordinance would expose people's children to dangerous child molesters in public bathrooms. Their oldest son, Josh, was the director of the Family Research Council - a high-profile lobby group that actively campaigns against gay rights. These people spew hatred and ignorance and they have been active in trying to convince others that gays and trans people should not be treated as human beings like any other human beings.

There have been petitions to TLC to take these people off the air because of their nasty hatred - all of which is thinly veiled on their tv show but is apparent to anyone who wants to see it. TLC had, until recently refused to budge.

It was only when the fact that their oldest son, Josh, had molested at least five children when he was a teenager, became widely public knowledge, that TLC relented and pulled the show. It seems it's okay to actively hate people but when it becomes knowledge that someone in your family molested children, that's a bridge too far.

And that's the thing, it's not really the child abuse that caused them to pull it. If that was the case, the Duggars never would have gotten the show in the first place. Josh's abusive past has been essentially public knowledge for close to 10 years. When I first watched the show, I did some reading on the family and my tiny little google search produced a number of articles and blog posts about this issue. Josh's crimes were reported to the police. There is a record of that. A lot of people found out about it. It's pretty clear that very little, other than praying for forgiveness, was ever done for him or the victims of his abuse, but it was reported.

I found out about this from a quick google search. It's hard to believe that TLC was not aware of it. So it's not the abuse that makes them not want to associate with the Duggars because they probably knew, tt's the fact this is now an embarrassing, horrifying public scandal that makes them look bad.

It's sort of the same thing as the Duck Dynasty debacle. There's no way they didn't know that guy was a homophobic jackass. That was okay with them as long as they could edit that part out of their show. It was only when he actually said it out loud to the media where it could not be contained and controlled that it was a problem.

It's truly awful that it had to come to this for them to take these people off the air, but I am glad they are off the air. These are not people to look to as role models. It's sad that this is what becomes celebrity in our culture.

Let me be clear about the sexual abuse issue. I think there are a lot of reasons that Josh might have done what he did. That guy grew up in a household that was seriously messed up about sex and gender roles. He would have never ever had the chance to talk to anyone about his sexual feelings, to express any feelings at all really, or to learn what appropriate boundaries are. The Duggars are disciples of a guy who has also had accusations of child sexual abuse against. Who knows what happened to Josh before he molested those children. I am not going to demonize a 14 year old child. The problems here are that he grew up in a situation in which something like this was more likely to happen and that it happened in a household where it is not okay to talk about the fact that it happened. Sure, they reported it, but it looks like they reported it to someone that they knew would do next to nothing about it, and that it was never taken seriously. In everything the Duggars have said about this issue, they have not once mentioned any type of support or help offered to the victims of Josh's actions. Did the Duggar girls get any counselling? I doubt it. The Duggar way of thinking is a victim-blaming mentality. Women are told, very clearly, that their bodies are temptations to men and it is their job not to defraud them. I cannot imagine that the girls would have received anything other than a perfunctory apology and a suggestion that they forgive and trust God.

My guess would be that, with the numbers of people who watch this show and who will follow this story, there will be a lot of people who will reach out to the Duggar girls to give them some actual help and support. I hope that happens and I hope that they are not so controlled by Jim Bob and Michelle that they will not be able to find out about and accept that help. There have to be some very serious emotional scars among all of those children. I hope somehow they can find some help to heal.

It's so depressing that so many of these types of stories end this way. How many times have we found out that these supposed heroes of family values are hiding some pretty awful things behind the facade they put on for the camera?

I am not the least bit surprised by any of this. I am very sad for all of those children. It's a horrible thing to deal with sexual abuse in your family. I think it's that much more horrible when a TV network and your parents have made you unwitting celebrities. Not only do they have to deal with the abuse they've suffered, they have to deal with the media's response to it and the fact that the entire country knows about it. There will be a public record of this for a long, long time, meaning there will be triggers for them everywhere for who knows how many years. TLC didn't commit the crimes against these children but they made it so much worse by making them public figures. They knew what this family was about and they chose to ignore it and put them on TV anyway. Given that this is not the first time something like this has happened, it's unlikely that it will be the last.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Delving into SMUTFest

SMUTFest, Edmonton's very own queer, sex-positive porn festival, enters it's second year this summer. I am writing a column for VUE about what it's like to produce a piece of sexy film-making for SMUTFest. When I asked its amazing producers, Prairie Oyster Entertainment, for a comment for the column, they responded with so much beautiful insight about sex, relationships, art, and porn, that I couldn't fit it all in.

I would love for everyone to hear what they have to say, so here it is. The creators of SMUTFest on making queer, consensual, sex-positive, body-positive porn.

Kristina: You know, obviously we can't speak to each person's individual motives, but I really think that SMUTfest let's people be super vulnerable about themselves. So much of the porn people have easy access to is full of people that are the mainstream, that is thin, able-bodied, white, hetero, cisgender, and the festival allows people that aren't part of those demographics to take up space. Even for folks who don't submit but attend the festival, it can be really huge to see someone that looks like them or has similar desires, etc. on a big screen, and then get turned on by it! Add in exhibitionism from some of the people, I'm sure, and it adds another sexy element to the whole thing. Another thing that we hoped to provide last year, and of course again this year, is a safer space for marginalized identities to literally just have a safer space to present themselves and their sexuality however they want to, without judgement (or ratings), just celebration. And we had a lot of feedback after SMUTfest'14 that it was one of the only spaces people have felt so comfortable being in, and I think that for those who attended last year, they probably want to have that again, and I hope that the word is passing that that is our number 1 concern when organizing this festival each year.

The thought of filming something sexual is still kind of nerve-wracking for folks, though, but I'd say that the thing we hear the most is that people say they aren't going to submit a film because they don't have a fancy camera, or don't have experience filming anything. But that's the whole point of SMUTfest! It's grassrootsy, we encourage folks to mess around with their phones and take videos! And I think that's what sets us apart from other adult film/porn festivals. If someone wants to submit a 3 minute long video off their phone of themselves dry humping pillows and getting off from it (which is a super common masturbatory practice), then we welcome it with open arms! We are looking for SMUT, but to everyone, that can mean really different things! It can be intimate, it can be raunchy, it can be fucking loud, or no sound at all, it can be "artistic" or not at all, it can be of one person, or 9. As long as it's consensual, and not demeaning towards certain groups of people, we want folks to just get out there and make SMUT happen!

kiyl: As Kristina mentioned, motives for creating amateur porn are going to differ from person to person, for sure. Themes that have been coming up for me a lot lately, and I feel were underlying themes when we initially started this work, are community and connection. SMUTfest started as an initiative to connect and celebrate our various communities in a way that we felt was not getting the space it deserved. Publicly celebrating bodies and sex and sexuality, especially of woman and non-binary people, can be super political, and it doesn't necessarily need to be public, either. Even giving yourself the permission to celebrate your sexual identities and pleasures in the privacy of your own home can be huge for some people. There is still a lot shame and embarrassment around sex and bodes, especially those of women and non-binary people. having the space and medium to unapologeticly share our experiences and identities and desires in this respect can be incredibly powerful and inspire connections we may have never other wise considered.

In respect to getting started with this work, i've been involved in a lot of conversations lately about porn and art and legitimacy and (most importantly) accessibility. funny enough, i am writing this from an artist residency in Toronto, which i think is hilarious because all of the content i submitted to get here was smut that i shot on my iPhone and edited in iMovie or on a free photo editing program. what i feel makes the work i am involved in "legitimate" isn't a super fancy camera, or artistic angles and lighting, or even smooth editing and sound that makes sense - it is the fact that it is an authentic, unapologetic representation of what those involved take pleasure in.

What's unique about doing all of this work in the context of SMUTfest, is that it also offers a space for us to get into some of these deeper political conversations that inevitably come up when we are working with bodies. From conversations around consent, which is mandatory, to what it means to be intersectional and inclusive, to the ways we can use our work to actively subvert the systems that seek to exploit. I realize that this might not be a partially sexy component of creating pornography, amateur or other wise, but it is necessary, for me at least, in creating pornography that I know I can feel good about.

SMUTFest 2015 takes place on July 18. Tickets are available at The Traveling Tickle Trunk. It's not too late to submit your art to SMUTFest. Find out more here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Why We Need Masturbation Month

In case you haven't heard, it is International Masturbation Month. This is the time that we focus on the benefits, joys, and many wonders of self-pleasure. Why, you might ask, do we need to have an entire month dedicated to this?

This is why. I've been talking about masturbation a lot lately. I mean A LOT! I've delivered a bunch of workshops and sessions over the past two months and I've written a metric fuck-ton about masturbation. Every time - every single time - I start talking about masturbation, the first thing I'm asked is something of this nature. 'Yes, but how much is too much?' 'When does masturbating become unhealthy?' 'Is it possible to get addicted to masturbating?'

Why are we so hung up on this? Why is it that as soon as we start talking about loving our own bodies and having fun, we wonder if it's really okay?

Yes, I have no doubt that there are some people who masturbate too much. There are always a few people that do anything too much, so there are going to be some people who masturbate too much. Some people are compulsive, or have a rough life and have a hard time coping, and so they will find something that helps them feel better and will ease their anxieties - and yes, they very well might become dependent, in a way, on that thing. Masturbation could become one of those things.

But seriously, how many people is that really? We have no idea because we don't have any reliable research on this. I stress 'reliable' here. There is a lot of 'research' which consists either of anecdotes or case studies of single people, and theories of how the brain becomes 'rewired' due to the influx of chemicals that happen during pleasure and orgasm. What we don't have is large-scale studies that assess how many people in Canada, or North America might actually be masturbating so much that it's unhealthy. If there were significant number of people who jerked off so much that they couldn't maintain relationships and couldn't keep a job, wouldn't we be seeing a lot of evidence of this? The fact that I've never once - not one single time - in my entire 15 years of working with sexual health, met or worked with someone who would define themselves as having a problem with masturbation really leads me to believe that this is not an epidemic. I have no doubt that it happens - I just don't believe that it's terribly common.

So, if this is actually something that just happens because there are a few people who have trouble coping and masturbation is what they turn to - why in the hell are we so obsessed with it? Why is our first question about this wonderful thing centered on whether it will get out of control?

I truly believe that it is because we cannot reconcile ourselves with the idea of pleasure for pleasure's sake. There is some deeply ingrained in us that says that it is not okay to simply enjoy sexual pleasure just because it's fun and it feels good I would go so far as to say that we have this problem with any kind of pleasure, but I think it runs particularly deep when it comes to sexual pleasure.

Even when I talk about masturbation, I often talk about the health benefits in an effort to convince people that there is a reason we should do it. We shouldn't need a reason. Masturbation hurts no one. It is entirely safe and harmless sex. So there should be no hesitation and no need to have a reason to do it. The reason should be 'because I like it'.

We need to get over this. We need to look at those few people who have an unhealthy or dangerous reliance on masturbation as people with a coping problem - and help them accordingly. Help them deal with the real issues in their life that are causing them to need a compulsive outlet. Then stop warning everybody else about the dangers of doing something that is probably going to be incredible healthy, adaptive, beautiful, and FUN for them. When we talk about masturbation, the worry about compulsivity and addiction should be one of the last things we discuss, not the first.