Posts Tagged ‘ let’s talk about sex ’

Sunday Share: Everything you always to know about sex (but were afraid to ask)

At a recent garage sale, I picked up the book Everything you always wanted to know about sex (but where afraid to ask) by David M. Reuben. While I have since learned that an “updated” edition was published in 1999, this copy bore the original 1969 copyright.

I excitedly showed it to my mother. “Look what I found,” I said, “This is going to be awesome.”

She picked it up, flipped to the front cover, and laughed,  “My mom and step-dad had this on the bookshelf. My sisters and I would steal it and look things up.”

I expected some major differences. After all, this book was written in the pre-AIDS era. It was published the year of the Stonewall Riots. Sodomy laws were still on the books in every state except Illinois. It was before Roe v. Wade. The pill had been on the market for less than a decade.

In some ways, I was impressed. Reuben said that sex was three different experiences: a means f  procreation, a means of expressing love, and fun. Throughout the text, he encouraged sex for pleasure as a natural part of the human experience.  He argued that there was nothing wrong with the elderly having sex, and that it might, indeed, be beneficial. In some ways he was incredibly progressive, for example, suggesting that prostitution be legalized and monitored. He called modern sex education a joke and called for sex ed that included information not only on the physiology of procreation, but the physiology of orgasm. He viewed masturbation as a normal part of life, saying the only problem with masturbation  is our shame in it. Furthermore, he adamantly supported the availability of medical abortions and a strong supporter of a variety of birth control methods. Indeed, he even predicted the future, saying:

“What is needed is a retrospective method of conception control. In Japan, where birth control pills are not available, legal abortion fulfills that need. Modern chemistry is struggling to come up with a better way. The ideal drug is a morning-after pill. Taken anytime up to a week or so after intercourse, it would prevent the implantation in the uterus of the fertilized egg. With seven days to think of over, reason might prevail, parents might be a little happier, the children who are born might be loved a little more, and the world might be a little less crowded.”

But that is where my positive review ends. Even for being written forty years ago, some of the information is quite offensive and biased, not to mention downright wrong. I dog-eared the corners of the pages that hit a nerve. Probably half of the book is marked.

The male-bias is un-ending, the anti-women comments are rampant, and all homosexuals are promiscuous, danger-seekers who want to be women.

A few favorite bits:

“If the woman finds that achiving orgasm is only a matter of finding the “right” penis, she may decide to do something about it. The common name for this is nymphomania. The woman, unaware of the real nature of her problem, goes from man to man, cocktail party to cocktail party, looking for “real satisfaction.”

“Homosexuals thrive on danger. It almost seems part of their sexual ritual.”

“There is even a subcategory of homosexual know as the “S and M.” This is the one type of gay guy the others fear. Rarely will any homosexual knowingly pick up an “S and M. (“S and M” ? What does that mean?) Technically, sadist and masochist. Literally, trouble. These who combine homosexuality with sadistic and masochistic aberrations are among the cruelest people who walk this earth.”

I could go on with racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks from the book, but I will stop.

While I have not purchased the updated edition, and likely will not, I did browse through it on Google Books. While there is far more accurate and updated information on some topics, like abortion and STDs, the homophobic and sexist language remains. Clearly free speech is free speech, and a book can be biased against homosexuality. From an academic perspective, the 1969 text and the changes that have and have not been made say a lot about our society.

And so, this brings me to my Sunday Share. This book was a huge hit in its time. According to the all-reliable Wikipedia, it was the most popular non-fiction book of its era. For those of us in our 20s now, our parents would have been older children or teens when this book came out. How do you think the sex education your parents grew up with differed from the sex education that you received? How does this help explain, or complicate, the differences in you and your parents sexual  attitudes?

Note: The Sunday Share is a new idea of mine. I want to hear your thoughts, and this is to encourage you to share, whoever and wherever you are. Share publicly, share anonymously, or share under a fake name. I don’t care. Just share.

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Sex Education

The other day, one of my friends send me a desperate message. She’s nineteen, and she doesn’t want to be a virgin anymore. To simplify drastically, she was asking me, “How can I lose my virginity quickly and easily?” She’s is tired of being teased, or as she put it, “not considered adult.” She feels like her “queer cred” is constantly in question.

As you can imagine, this led to a conversation on sex and virginity. Ultimately, it became apparent that she has no idea about sex. She admitted it herself. I’m not just talking about sexual position or how to be a good lover, this 19 year old college student didn’t know her own anatomy. She didn’t know that you could have an orgasm without penetration. She didn’t know that muscular contractions come with orgasm.

There is something wrong with this picture.

I don’t care if you think sex before marriage is the greatest sin one could ever commit. I don’t care if you are asexual. Everyone, by the time they a teenager, should know about their own body parts. This knowledge is necessary for your own health.

She explained to me that she never had a good relationship with her mom. She had no female, adult role-model to teach her these all important things. She was sheltered. She didn’t learn it in school.

This got me thinking. Where do we get our sex education?

I had very open parents. They were always asking me if I had any questions about sex or sexuality, but I never took them up on the offer. Instead, I rolled my eyes, and said “Ew, gross!” When they pressured me, saying, “But you must wonder about something,” I’d reply with a quick “I know what I need to know. Thank you very much.” I was a smart ass.

So where did I get my sex education, if not from my well-intentioned parents?

In 4th and 5th grade, I took “the class,” along with every other miserable 4th and 5th grader. We were separated by gender. I learned that because I am a girl, I have a vagina. This vagina can created babies, and thus, I’m going to get my period soon. I also learned that it’s going to suck and I’m going to smell. To make up for that, we were given a brown paper bag with a maxi pad sponsored by Always, deodorant sponsored by Teen Spirit, and a scary booklet outlining the changes I should be expecting.

I attended a small, charter middle school. During my 6th grade year, I remember extensive debate among our parents over what middle school sex education curriculum would be used. Someone had suggested the Our Whole Lives curriculum, apparently developed by the Unitarian Universalists and United Church of Christ. I wasn’t supposed to know that they parents were debating this, but I was a smart kid. I realized they didn’t want us to learn about masturbation, homosexuality, rape, and gender identity, so I went and looked all of these things up in the dictionary and encyclopedia.

They never agreed on a sex ed curriculum, so my math and science teacher presented a biology-based unit. I was absent the day of the lecture, but I do remember a list of 50 terms we had to look up in the dictionary and define in our own words. A few terms I remember: penis, vagina, ovaries, semen, gonads, puberty. That was a fun project for an eleven year old. I learned lots of words, but still had no idea how they fit together.

In 10th grade Biology, we also had a unit on reproduction. Once again, I was absent on the day our teacher lectured and they day we watched a human birth. I did hear that he drew a diagram of a penis and a vagina with an arrow indication how the former fits in the later. (Oh, so that’s how they interact!)

My high school was pretty liberal and wanted us to grow up to be responsible adults. One year, we had a “Healthy Decision’s Fair.” From that, I learned that I shouldn’t do drugs or I’ll end up like the burnt-out kid sharing his life story, I shouldn’t drink and drive or I’ll die, and I shouldn’t have unprotected sex or I’ll get some horrible disease. Technically, Florida schools can only present abstinence-only sex education, although my teachers told us in no uncertain terms that they assume most of us are sexually active and that we could go to the neighborhood health center next door for free condoms, as well as birth control and sexual wellness exams at low or no cost. So we went next door, got free condoms, filled them with water from the campus water fountains, and enjoyed some water balloon fights.

While I may have gotten more formal sex education than some, I tended to miss the important days. It took me a long time to transform my understanding of anatomy and biology into an understanding of how sex actually worked. How did I finally figure it out? The internet coupled with a healthy dose of HBO’s Real Sex on overnight school field trips.

I’m lucky that I was a smart kid. I had access to a computer and I was able to separate accurate information from total crap. I found useful sites like Scarleteen. I got a lot of my questions answered through the columns on woman-friendly, queer-friendly sex toy shops like Babeland and Eden Fantasys. I read a bit of erotica and figured some things out through internet kink communities.  I also had smart friends, were, as a whole, were pretty comfortable talking about sex. I finally knew for sure what sex was, and my thoughts on in were pretty positive and pretty open-minded.

As for my practical sexual education, that gets a bit more complicated.

My first sexual experience was at age sixteen. I had a girlfriend, and we were both terrified of our own bodies, let alone somebody else’s body. While we were intimate, I don’t think either of us knew what we were doing. It was a lesson in frustration and uncertainty.

After that relationship, I didn’t date for a while. I had enough to figure out, so I put sex and sexuality on hold. On my nineteenth birthday, my sexual desires kicked in to overdrive. I’d say that’s when I got my practical sex education. It wasn’t intentional (at least I don’t think it was…), but I discovered the joys of older women. They knew what they were doing. They were comfortable in their own bodies, and they made me feel comfortable in mine, not to mention sexy, beautiful, and confident. It might not have been the most “politically correct” thing, but I was legal (albeit barely) and they were legal, and we were consenting adults, and it was fucking amazing.

Back to the initial subject at hand, I managed to convince my friend that she need not go out and lose her virginity to prove anything to anyone. Although, I told her I could fully relate. I remember the desperate need to figure out my our own sexuality and sexual desires (it wasn’t very long ago). However, it seems to happen in it’s own time, when the time is right. And it seems to happen when you have the knowledge that you need.

That brings me to my questions for you: Where did you get your sex education, both theoretical and practical? Was it what you needed to know? Did you know it by the time you need to know?

Defining Sex

In case you haven’t figured it out already, I like to talk about sex. Inevitably, while talking about sex, the question, “How many people have you had sex with?” comes up. I never know what answer to give.

It’s not that I don’t know how many people I’ve been intimate with. I’m pretty sure I can rattle off a list of everyone I’ve kissed in chronological order. It’s just that I am still figuring out what I define as sex.

As of now, I’ve come to a few conclusions:
I think fucking is sex. Penis in vagina is sex. Dildo in vagina is sex. Anal sex is sex.
I think oral sex is sex. I don’t care if teenagers say they are saving themselves for marriage and a blow job doesn’t count. For me, oral sex is the most intimate of sex acts. That intimacy, to me, is sex.

Other than that, I haven’t decided. One of my friends says it’s sex if you orgasm, but that would mean a lot of married women with children aren’t having sex. Is it sex if it feels good? Where do you draw the line between “fooling around” and having sex? Where do you draw the line between touching and fucking?

I want to know what you think. What do you consider “sex?” I’ll add more later, but I want to hear what other people have to say because my opinions might sway your comments.

Or did whoever say “If you think you’re having sex, you’re having sex” have it all figured out? (Also who was that? I thought it was Alix Olsen, but I can’t seem to find it in any of her lyrics. Was it the Athens Boys Choir?)

Observations on the 2009 NWSA Conference

I spent November 12 through 15 at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference in Atlanta. It was a delightful weekend full of way too many thoughts on gender, sexuality, and equality. It’s taken me a while to write about the experience because I wanted to let some of my powerful reactions to simmer for a while. Now that I’m almost two weeks removed, I have a few comments to make:

1) Feminists do have style. I know the reputation: Feminists are ugly. They are dowdy. They have hairy legs and saggy breasts. They don’t show any skin. It’s all lies. There were beautiful women abound in all shapes, sizes, and colors, of all ages, wearing some of the cutest ensembles I have ever seen.

2) The sex wars continue. When studying feminism, I’ve encountered lots about the so-called “sex wars” of the late 1970s and the 1980s. In my idealistic worldview, I like to pretend that these are over. We now recognize that sexuality is often an important part of human existence, and that as long as sex occurs between consenting adults, it is just a (often fun) part of life. Yet, the topics of BDSM and female submission kept popping up. Even in sessions on entirely unrelated topics, participants would suggest that womenfolk’s lower place in society is because of the inherent degrading nature of heterosexual sex, the “female torture” that occurs within BDSM, or the “pornification” of American culture. Inevitably, someone else would counter that sexual freedom and expression is a valuable component in society. Really, it’s been thirty years and the great sex wars still continue?

If you’d ask me, I’d say it’s time to get over it. Sex is fun. Sex is good. Sex is an expression of desire and attraction, as well as the more animalistic nature within us all. Sex can be loving and vanilla, sex can be rough and kinky. I can be sexually dominant, I can be sexually submissive. I can have sex within long-term relationships or I can have sex with my friends. I can be aware and responsible for my own actions, while also assuring that my partner(s) are fully consenting. The sex wars have been going on for a decade longer than I’ve been alive, and even I’ve got this figure out. Isn’t it time to move on and focus on some more pressing issues upon which we can all agree?

3) Some people never change. Related to the previous observation, I was surprised at how unwilling certain participants were to consider new viewpoints. For example, on a presentation about transgendered individuals as part of the feminist movement, I had to listen to the two older ladies sitting behind me trading snide remarks for the duration of the hour. “The one on the left, that’s a he/she,” one of them said. The other added, “He can’t be part of the feminist movement, he’ll never be a real woman.” I think it can be valuable to admit what you don’t understand or are not comfortable with, but some of the comments I heard were downright disrespectful.

4) Race divides. For a conference entitled “Difficult Dialogues” that focused on issue of intersectionality, there were surprisingly few intersections happening. While I will admit that there were some truly inspiring presentations delivered to diverse crowds, there also seemed to be some strong racial divides. Even during Angela Davis’s keynote speech, the audience was largely split by skin color.  In my life, I try to break down barriers and have difficult dialogues. On the institutional level, however, it was difficult to observe.

5) Women’s centers can be powerful community resources. I am probably going to get in trouble with my friends for saying this, but the women’s center at my university does very little. In the past, it was a valuable community resource, and I’ve heard great things about the events they sponsored. Even last year, Inga Muscio, author of Cunt, spoke on campus. I don’t want to place blame on the women’s center leadership, as I think the problems lies more in the structure of the center and its position under student government than in a lack of passionate leaders. Anyways, women’s centers at other colleges and in other communities are doing so many things. They are financially independent! They have full time, professional employees! They attend conferences and discuss the challenges and successes they experience. They organize not only social events, but cultural and political events. They are resource centers and activist gathering places. We need more.

Don’t get me wrong. The conference was amazing. Next year in Denver, anyone?