Adult toy store review: Lovers Package [NSFW]

06/28/2010 at 6:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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While I was on break earlier this month with my long-term, LDR partner, we shared many adventures together. Two of our adventures took us to local sex toy shops (because one such adventure just wasn’t enough!) The first shop we visited was Lovers Package. Lovers Package (no apostrophe) is a sex toy retailer with an online presence and several locations in Washington State. Lovers sells a wide variety of adult products ranging from novelties to high-end luxury vibrators, and participates in sex-positive activism events. A recent such example was Lover’s hosting a visit made by sex therapist and author Dr. Marty Klein, and participation in PrideFest June 27. This was not our first visit to the store, although it is the first one I’ve made since I started blogging here.

Although I did not take any pictures of the interior of the store for this visit, I do have a photo of our haul, and links to photos of inside of the store in question. Since this post contains some pictures and frank sexual descriptions, it’s going behind a NSFW cut now. Everything should show up in your RSS feeder, and if you’re visiting on the main page, you’ll need to click through to continue at your discretion. Thanks!

Continue Reading Adult toy store review: Lovers Package [NSFW]…

Interesting posts, weekend of … missed weekends

06/26/2010 at 9:03 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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Dear internet, whew, finally starting to catch up with my RSS feeder from while I was on vacation with my long-term, LDR boyfriend. As a result of him keeping me too busy and joyful to blog, my already-spotty coverage of tales of interest from the feminist blogosphere is going to be spottier than usual this time around. Everyone blame him for this spotty roundup. Or else thank him if you like it. No, actually, thank me if you like it. But blame him if you don’t like it. Yes. Since there’s so many items left to check out on my RSS feeder, we may see some posts from earlier in the month spillover onto future blog link roundups. Better late than never.

Friendly reminder: I am looking for Guest Posters. I want to hear more perspectives on the themes dealt with here at Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction. Because I am dealing with such a sensitive topic, I don’t think I can actively recruit new posters, since if I went onto someone else’s blog and said something like, “Hey u wanna write a post about your sexual health and/or feminism on a public forum?!” that would probably be very invasive. For this reason, Guest Posters requesting to remain anonymous will also be taken seriously.
At this time, criteria for inclusion is, “If you think you would fit in here, you probably would.” This may be subject to change but for now we’ll try that & see how it goes.
In an attempt to preemptively fight spam and rude comments, this blog’s email is private. Please leave a comment on this post if you want to write something. I’ll screen comments so you can remain anonymous if you want. That way I’ll have your email and we can collaborate.
Have something you’ve been working on? Send it my way.
Comments made by new e-mail addresses here are auto-screened before going live, so if you want to stay anon use an e-mail address that you haven’t used here before.

Can’t get enough of feminism and sexual dysfunction on the internet? You may want to think about following the Twitter feed, which is more accurately described as my Twitter feed since no one else manages it. So some of my daily mundane and/or angry thoughts sneak in there.

Now then, on with the belated blog link roundup. Posts I found interesting over the last few weeks. I’m sure I missed plenty that’s worth talking about; share links if’n you got’em.

As I had mentioned in the Blog Note, there were some posts around the feminist blogosphere regarding the FDA’s hearings of flibanserin. Remember, that’s the antidepressant turned potential libido booster for women living with low libido. And remember, I didn’t blog about the hearings while they were taking place, because 1. I was on vacation and 2. it was too much to bear. I was greatly and predictably disappointed by blog and news coverage the story received. I am going to link to some of these stories now, but beware! You may notice some common themes of ablism and little or no attempt made by the blog posters to actually reach out to women with the condition of interest, HSDD. You may also notice some genuinely offensive comments  in the threads too – stereotypes about women with FSD and HSDD.

FDA hearings this week on “pink viagra” – Um gee I wonder if maybe anybody ever thought to ask individual women if they are comfortable with their libido. That seems like the most important person to ask to me. There be dragons in the comments, although some women with low libidos spoke up as well…
FDA Wants YOU! to Have Sexual Satisfaction
– Another disappointing post with rampant, unchecked and apparently unexamined ablism and stereotypes about women with HSDD and FSD broadly in the comments section. I had to speak out on this one and there’s a lot more points that I should address sooner or later. The more I think about it, the more I kind of want to go back and write up my own blog post response to it and some of the comments… but if I do that, keep in mind doing so will drain everything I am out of me & I’ll probably have to skip another full week of original posting in order to recover.
I resent these remarks - A guest post by asexual blogger RavenScholar, reposted to Womanist Musings. Unfortunately whatever lessons RavenScholar may have had for me from the perspective of an asexual woman were completely lost on me since I had to tune out more ablist and stigmatizing language. Actually, I’ve e-mailed a different asexual blogger re: FSD and asexuality, so, some time in the near future I’d like to post the e-mail exchange. I’m hoping something good comes of that but we’ve got to take a wait & see approach until I get confirmation that it’s okay to go forward with posting the e-mails.

So there’s your feminist take on FSD related posts for the weeks I missed. It’s like, there’s all these news posts & posts by people who give no indication that they have experience with FSD themselves. It’s frustrating. So if it seems like I’m exasperated with mainstream coverage of FSD, HSDD, flibanserin and the frequently-cited arguments against sexual dysfunction, it’s because I am. Chances are that a lot of the social construction arguments are new to you, but to me? Each time is the thousandth time I’ve heard it before. My distress from living with FSD hasn’t evaporated in a puff of social construction the first 999 times I heard it; what makes you think it’s going to go away now? Especially when such arguments are put forth in such a manner as to feel completely alienating and just make the distress worse. Like there’s something wrong with having FSD, something wrong with wanting help managing it.

In the end, critics may very well get exactly what they want. The FDA advisory panel advises against approval of flibanserin. The FDA wants more data, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Data, well gathered and analyzed, isn’t a bad thing to have. Meanwhile women with FSD, more specifically low libido, still have no oral prescription option.

Maybe we should change gears to something from the actual perspective of a woman who lives with low libido. Yes, let’s turn our attention to such individuals and hear what one has to say in her own words. Been reading MinorityReport for awhile, she has three posts that all kind of tie in together.
It started with Epic Fail… which led to Consolation Prize… which eventually led to, If At First You Don’t Succeed.
That’s more like it.

What else we got going on here in this RSS feed. Some more medical/research/sexuality news:

Good News in Reproductive Health - The FDA is open to approving a morning after pill that would work up to 5 mornings after PIV sex with ejaculation.
New Research on Vibrator Use - Actually not that new; this post is from 2009 but new to me, found via Regina Lynn.
Friday Weird Science: FINALLY, a clitoris study!
– Possibly NSFW due to pictures of up-close vulvas? It’s not a perfect study, room for improvement, but it’s interesting – and neat to see the clitoris being taken so seriously. Found via Violet Blue, whose blog is almost always NSFW.
Choosy Bodies Choose — uh, not sure yet
– Research on conception.
Not all the research I have to present this week is positive.
Sex Bias in Biomedicine
– TigTog posted links and an excerpt of the details from Nature‘s editorial section.
The following is Triggering, for child abuse and sexual abuse. The sanctioning of child genital cutting at Cornell University – Dr. Dix Poppas of Cornell University has been conducting research, openly, on girls following clitoris reduction surgery. Researching involving use of vibrators on children. Children who may or may not be intersexed. More over here, still triggering. Genital cutting as “research” at Cornell University
New VA Research Could Explain Lasting Effects of PTSD
– not about sexuality, but still about research.

What do I have in the sex files….

Good Vibrations House Calls: Painful Intercourse – about painful intercourse after menopause and some steps that women may be able to take to ease it. Not a bad start, but not comprehensive either. Do more stuff like that! Nice to see big sex websites talking about things that make sex hard.
In Our Control: The Complete Guide to Contraceptive Choices for Women – A book review of a book that critically examines contraception. Seeing as Eldridge’s work has been referred to as JAQ’ing off and seeing as how HBC is for some reason frequently overlooked in discussions of the medicalization of women’s sexuality, especially in talking about FSD, I may just have to be a punk and read this at some point :) Here’s to hoping for Kindle version.
It’s Really Not That Hard – Talking to kids about same-sex relationships.
There were some posts at Feministe about sex but I dunno… they didn’t sit well with me… I thought that the posts didn’t leave a flexible enough definition of “Sex.” How can you have sex when you don’t even know what sex is? – So what’s sex then, are we going to do that thing where we arbitrarily decide what it is and then if you don’t match that definition, you’re not having sex? Ahh that’s probably not the point though, the point is probably something more along the lines of providing better sex education to everyone… But still, ehhh.
Withholding – Holly picks apart an otherwise completely miserable piece of “Advice” by AskMen/Fox writer Sarah Stefanson. It’s a good thing Holly picked it apart too because there are so many layers of Wrong in that Fox article.
Best Friend Rape Prevention. – [Trigger warning] Another one from Holly; why conventional rape prevention advice won’t always work – most rapes are not committed by strangers.
What’s the difference between lesbian and queer? - About differences between the words.

Some media and blogging controversies happened over the last few weeks.

It’s Helen Keller MythBusting Day! – Not a completely terrible idea, a day of blogging to dispel myths about Helen Keller. This is good information to know – I’m one of those people who grew up having to watch a performance of “The Miracle Worker” no less than three times growing up in elementary school. Seriously, the school kept on taking class trips to performances of the same script… (What a waste of budget!)
The problem here is that, the date chosen, June 19th, is already a day of recognition in the USA – it’s Juneteenth, the anniversary of the day in which slaves were emancipated in the state of Texas. So Renee at Womanist Musings called bloggers out for overlooking Juneteenth, with the post Why I AM Not Celerbrating Helen Keller Mythbusting Blogswarm Day!” and numerous blog comments. The reason she did this is because overlooking this historical day is a form of erasure, and a function of racism.
Helen Thomas and General McChrystal both turned in their resignations after making ill-advised comments to the media. Al Gore has been accused of sexual assault. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig continues to spew oil into the Gulf of Mexico, fouling beaches, polluting the water, killing animals, and destroying livelihoods.
At about the same time as the flibanserin FDA hearings, there was an anti-pornography conference in Boston, Massachusetts. When word got out to some sex-positive bloggers, some, like Violet Blue, took action by organizing a pro-porn counter movement. Here’s some posts related to the pro/anti porn debate 2k10. Picking Your Battles, Going the Distance: Pro-porn and Anti-porn Feminisms, Define Your Terms Before Debating: The Social Construction of Porn and Erotica, time to play anti-porn BINGO! [NSFW]

Got a couple of blog carnivals coming up.

Keep your eyes on Rolling Around In My Head – Dave Hingsburger will be hosting a carnival with the theme of “Pride” shortly.
Carnival 2: Experience – The Carnival of Kinky Feminists is looking for posts for the next edition. You have until July 30 to submit something.

Justice for all?

All Kinds of Fucked Up – [Trigger warning] Police brutality and racism in Seattle. I heard some of the radio personalities and interviews talking about this, and I gotta tell you, some of these discussions were disturbing. Like I remember hearing this one guy saying something like, if you lay hands on a police officer you deserve whatever you get. And I’m thinking to myself, weeeeelllll, not all police officers are all that great… there’s some great cops, and then there’s corrupt people working in criminal justice. So what if one of these corrupt officers starts messing with you; are you not supposed to defend yourself even then, and hope that justice will come to your side instead of covering things up? Because I’m not convinced that people in positions of authority will take you seriously and do the right thing all the time. I mean check out this 911 transcript where the dispatcher wants to play a game of 20 questions or something instead of sending help [Trigger warning] – Let’s Not Be Silly: The Marie Arraras 911 Call, and What It Means. Still don’t believe it? Maybe you should check out A Voice For Neli, [Trigger warning] an autistic young black man who was arrested apparently for sitting underneath a tree in front of a library.

Not necessarily related to each other:

Question for the weekend (by Suzie) – Interesting observation; what’s the female equivelant to “Emasculate?”
Forbes’ Top 100 Websites For Women – the list is skewed towards white, cis, het women and so it is not representative of all women everywhere.
The potential and the danger of first person in feminist discourse – interesting discussion of guidelines of when to talk about experiences from your own perspective and not steamrollering over people who are not you.
Bitten by the Bug: Lyme Awareness Month, Part I – Very interesting and comprehensive post about ticks and Lyme disease, especially in animals.
#Spillard Reader – June 26, 2010 – Australia has its first woman prime minister!
Trans woman Delphine Ravisé-Giard’s breast size dictated by French civil court – The reason cited sounds circular and as much as I’d like to chalk it up to a translation thing it’s more likely gender policing plain & simple.
The hardest thing I’ve ever done – [Trigger warning] First person account of leaving an abusive marriage.

Whew. We’ll break here for now. If I keep linking to blogs for this roundup, the post will get so big and heavy that it will collapse in on itself and form a new black hole. CERN will come to my house and try to run tests this blog post and all my neighbors will be like, “Why is CERN building a particle collider under my street?”

[Edit 6/29/10:] And then theres’s more. Rape, Male Victims, and Why We Need to Care -[Trigger warning] a requested addition examining rape. It’s not just done by men and it’s not limited to PIV penetration.

As always, I’m sure there’s more…

Blog note

06/20/2010 at 12:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Uh oh, a blog note! That can only mean one thing! Some kind of delay in posting or a hiatus or vacation or something!

Luckily (or unluckily if you dislike me,) I’m not quite burned out yet, so no extended hiatus is planned. I will, however, likely need to skip a new content post this week. There will be no blog link roundup for at least one more week.

My reason for the delay in new content is, I was on a week-long break with my LDR boyfriend and I was having so much fun I never had a chance to sit down and write.

I had semi-mentioned my break and that there would be no blog link roundups for awhile via my Twitter feed.

But if you do not follow the Twitter, then you may not be aware that I was on break at all, because earlier this week I posted the conclusion of our two-part series on statistics and FSD. I was able to get this post up in a timely manner, because I wrote it up ahead of time. However the rest of my draft posts are unsatisfactory, so I need time to work on them and create new ones.

Then when I got back home from the break I had to unpack and catch up with work & home events and I wanted to update some of my computer software before I started writing.

Coincidentally my break just happened to intersect with a week of flibanserin-related posts around the blogosphere… which I may or may not link to. I’m leaning against linking to the feminist discussions of flibanserin and the FDA’s hearings on flibanserin, because almost all of the posts I saw were predictably distressing. Chances are if you have FSD or more specifically FSAD or HSDD and you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t need me to tell you the exact trajectory that these discussions took. You don’t need me to explain it to you, because you are already aware of the typical arguments against a medical option for FSD or against FSD as a valid thing in general. You’re probably also aware of the fact that many of these discussions do not center women with FSD or HSDD, which is ironic since that is the topic of interest. Should you choose to seek such discussions out on your own, I advise against delving too deeply into the comment sections.

Just reading these flibanserin discussions was exhausting and incredibly stressful so that is also partly why I cannot talk too much in detail about it. In this case my need for self-preservation is greater than my need to educate. See also this post by Abby Jean if you do not understand what I’m talking about.

I think it’s really just as well that I was on break for most of the week of flibanserin posts, because being with my partner allowed me to unplug from the internet and tune everything out. It was too much to bear otherwise. And that is one of the many reasons that I love my partner – because he keeps me going.

Fortunately, as I had hoped, this trip did yield some interesting new experiences! Not all of my fantasies came true but we really got a lot done – and some of what we did is relevant to this blog. For (TMI!) example! I still have a bartholin’s cyst, which pumps out more fluid when I spend a lot of time being aroused. The fluid doesn’t drain out well, so it swells up and can become uncomfortable. But we bought a sitz bath early on during the break and I used it about once or twice per day. Much to my surprise and delight, this did and excellent job of managing the size of the cyst, and so I felt quite comfortable for the duration of the trip. I don’t know exactly how it works, but sitz baths may be a viable treatment for me at least until I can get the cyst addressed with a long-term solution, which will require an experienced gynecologist and recovery time.

So the plan for the next few weeks is:

  • Catch up with RSS feeder and compile a blog link roundup
  • Make new content posts – topics may be on the lighter side for awhile until I get re-oriented.
    • For example I may post reviews of some adult toy stores my partner and I visited while on break. If I think these posts will be NSFW I will place the details behind a wordpress cut.
    • I may also want to post a review of one of the sex toys I bought to use as a new dilator. If I can just figure out how to use it…! I may have bitten off more than I can chew here. Eyes bigger than my vag, or something.
    • Still need to post some book reviews
  • Need to send some e-mails out that may prove fruitful down the line

If you are interested in guest posting in the mean time, you may want to leave a comment here or on one of the previous blog link roundups. Remember, the criteria at the time is, if you think you would fit in here, you probably would. That may be subject to change in the future but we’ll see how it goes from there.

You may also be interested in following the Twitter feed, because I want to try tweeting more frequently at least until I get new content rolling. Twitter needs more posts about vulvodynia, vaginismus, and FSD broadly! Posts that aren’t spam! Be warned though; Twitter, I think, is becoming my “Angry space.” I find that due to the immediate yet restrictive nature of the medium, I tend to screen whatever’s on my mind much less there than on this blog.

That’s all I’ve got for you at this time. Stay tuned, we shall return to our regularly scheduled vagina blogging shortly.

Statistics and FSD (part 2 of 2)

06/14/2010 at 9:55 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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Last week I shared with you my interpretation of Sexual Dysfunction in the United States, a peer-reviewed journal article about sexual dysfunction that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1999. The study is widely cited to this day, though it remains a source of consternation in discussions of sexual dysfunction due to some major problems the study had. To refresh your memory, one of the researchers involved with the article had financial ties to Pfizer (the maker of Viagra) and the statistics on the prevalence of sexual dysfunction (43% for women) may have been overstated, because the study did not take participants’ personal distress or lack thereof into consideration. This is not the only research paper on sexual dysfunction but it’s notable because it’s got the backing of the AMA and because of its scale, both in terms of sample size and how big of an impact it had on sexual dysfunction treatments.

But time flows like a river… and history repeats…

Almost 10 years later, another big research study on sexual dysfunction was published in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists journal, Obstetrics and Gynecology. The article, Sexual Problems and Distress in United States Women: Prevalence and Correlates, is another one that’s free and available to all who have an internet connection. This study deals exculsively with female sexual dysfunction, and revises the prevalence of FSD to a much lower rate within the US – in the end, the prevalence rate is estimated to be about 12%. We’re going to be feeling reverberations from this study for quite awhile longer, although I have not seen as much criticism of this study as I did with the JAMA one. Still, like the JAMA article, there are a few potential problems with Sexual Problems and Distress in united States Women we should take a good hard look at.

First, the study was sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim International GmbH – that’s the same company that is working on producing Flibanserin, a highly controversial drug that may increase women’s libido, and thus address one of the more common types of female sexual dysfunctions. You may have seen some hoopla about Flibanserin on the blogosphere starting around late 2009, and it hasn’t let up. In fact, I’m sure there’ll be more media hype and handwringing as the FDA considers approving Flibanserin. In fact, I know for certain that there’s more hoopla going on right now, because the New View Campaign has organized an online petition to the FDA to block approval of Flibanserin… Well-intentioned as this may be, it’s something that I cannot get on board with and I do not support.
But what Boehringer’s involvement with this study means is that, almost 10 years after the JAMA article, there’s still a conflict of interest in studying FSD! Additionally, all five researchers in this study had financial ties to pharmaceutical companies, as disclosed on p. 970.

Ultimately those conflicts of interest described above and in the JAMA article wind up hurting women with FSD, since such conflicts are taken as a sign that FSD simply must be fake and a source of E-Z money for big pharma. From there, you’ll get pundits, doctors & journalists seizing upon those conflicts of interest and dismissing what women with FSD say.
Unfortunately in this day and age, I am pessimistic that we will see many studies on sexual health that are completely free of commercial taint. Dr. Tiefer in Sex is not a Natural Act looked to academia as a safe haven for research to continue without conflicts of interest. Educators and professors can still apply for research grants, and generous donors still donate, but I have lost access to many scientific journal databases that I was able to get into while I was still in school – because there wasn’t room for all the databases in the school’s annual budget. Raises, new hirings, budgets, and promotions at my alma mater were frozen last year. Plus, academia brings its own set of institutionalized problems. So as far as academia being the alternative solution – well I guess I’m jaded because I’m not entirely convinced about that, either.

For a contemporary real world example of conflicts of interest in the world of women’s health, just check out this About page for the Overlapping Conditions Alliance. At the bottom, we can see that it’s sponsored in part by Pfizer. As someone who stands to benefit from this campaign, I like that this organization went to Washington D.C. to bring attention to women’s chronic pain conditions. But I can’t ignore the little Pfizer logo. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to be completely free & clear of private funding in producing research that impacts public health, and I don’t have a solution to that. I know to take research papers with private ties with a grain of salt, but that’s all I know what to do right now.

The second major problem I can see with this new study is that, this study on FSD deliberately excluded pain!

WTF?! It’s a study about FSD, how can you exclude pain from any definition of FSD? How and why would you do that? Here’s the stated reason why: “Sexual pain problems were not assessed, because a physical examination is required for evaluation of dyspareunia (Shifren et al, 2008).

WTF is this?! Wtf. What, you can’t listen to women who tell you that sex hurts? Why can’t you take their word at face value? If I tell you, “It hurts when I go to have sex,” I mean exactly that! Wtf, I need a doctor’s note to verify that my fucking crotch hurts?! Why won’t you listen to me?!?! Why doesn’t anyone believe me?! News flash: Not all women with dyspareunia can afford to go to a doctor, and often enough when they can afford to see one, the doctor dismisses any and all sexual complaints as “All in your head!” I’m not making it up, this is real! Why don’t you care about this?!

So yeah that’s… if you ask me, that’s a big, huge, major problem with the study. Reading that line threw me into rage-rage-rage mode. The researchers cite some earlier study, Assessment and management of women’s sexual dysfunctions: problematic desire and arousal when they make that dismissive claim, but of course I can’t access the full text of that study to see if that’s what Basson, Brotto et al really say. Why would you say that? I’m seeing the study cited only looked at arousal, desire and orgasm as well, so what, did they just decide not to look at pain too because it was too hard or something? The cynic in me thinks to myself that the current researchers have no interest in sexual pain because Flibanserin, the drug Boehringer was working on, will probably not address pain. Pain will not be looked at due to lack of profit, or something.

This makes no sense. The problematic JAMA study said that 7% of women had sexual dysfunction under the pain category, the Goetsch study found that something 15% of women going to a gynecology clinic met the criteria for vulvar vestibulitis. It’s not exactly a majority of women, but why would you ignore a significant chunk of the population like that? Like, why is pain irrelevant for this discussion of FSD? Seriously. You think pain never influences other areas of sexuality, like desire and orgasm?

ANYWAY, there’s two potential problems with the study right off the bat. So what does the the research say, anyway? What, if anything, can we learn from Sexual Problems and Distress in United States Women: Prevalence and Correlates?

There were some improvements defining FSD since the JAMA study was done all those years ago. Sexual Problems and Distress in United States Women: Prevalence and Correlates looked at how often sexual problems occurred, and took participants personal distress into account. Under current guidelines by the American Psychiatric Association and FDA, personal distress must be present in order to make a diagnosis of sexual dysfunction. Not everyone feels distressed when they experience sexual problems. This is one of the reasons that the rate of FSD was found to be much lower in this study (about 12% in the end) compared to the JAMA study (about 43%.) Is this revised, lower statistic satisfactory to those who have registered complaints about the 43% number? Is that sufficiently low enough to acknowledge as Real?

The way the research was conducted was by survey. Researchers mailed out surveys to over 50,000 households and got responses back from 31,581 women. (I know, and the researchers were also aware of, there are some concerns about asking participants to self-screen themselves in this way.) Unlike the JAMA study, this one did not exclude women who did not have recent partnered sexual activity. The survey included 14 items about problems with desire, arousal and orgasm, which you could answer on a 5-point scale for frequency. Personal distress was measured with 12 items about the participant’s feelings, like guilt, worry, frustration, unhappiness, etc. You could have a personal distress score ranging from a low of 0 to a high of 48. If your score was 15 or above, you were considered to have sexual distress, and if you reported a sexual problem AND scored a 15 or higher on the distress scale, then you were considered to have FSD. (Shifren et al, 2008). That means it was possible to report distress sans problems, and if that was the case, you did not have FSD according to these researchers. You needed to have both distress AND a problem at the same time. One possible alternative to this classification I can think of would have been to simply ask participants whether or not they considered themselves to have sexual dysfunction. I don’t know if this alternative would have yielded better results, but I like leaving room for self-identification.

Interestingly, the results found that the rate of self-reported problems regardless of distress was around 44.2% (Schifren et al, 2008.) That’s not too far off from the 43% found in the JAMA study. This is what I was referring to towards the end of my last post, when I said we’d see a similar number again. Problems with low desire were reported most frequently, then low arousal and problems with orgasm. Another interesting note, the survey asked women about how satisfied they were with their orgasms – check out the little footnote under table 2 on page 974. However, not all of the participants were distressed by a problem, and so they did not all have FSD. They just had problems. Which maybe weren’t even all that big of a deal or considered a problem at all to the individuals – just to the researchers for the purposes of this study. Sometimes stuff happens. Sexual distress was found in 22.8% of participants, but not all of those participants experienced a sexual problem. And sexual problems + distress, the combination required to come to a conclusion of FSD, was found in 12% of the respondents. (Schifren et al, 2008). These are the overall results; the results are more specific if you break it out by age.

The researchers went on to break out the results by demographics like age, education and health. Women with good self-assessed health were less likely to experience distressing sexual problems. Some health problems that were more likely to be associated with FSD were depression, thyroid problems, anxiety and urinary incontinence. (Schifren et al, 2008). I’m wondering if use of antidepressants influenced the response, since sometimes antidepressants can cause sexual side effects, but then, so too can depression.With urinary incontinence, I’m wondering if the pelvic floor muscles were weaker in women who experienced this? In evaluating sexual problems across race, shown on table 4, white women were the default against which other races were measured. I think there may be something problematic with that.

The likelihood of feeling distressed by more than one of the three sexual problems in question was low, which surprises me. Distress + low desire + either low arousal OR problems orgasming only happened to 5% of respondents, and distress + problems happening in all 3 areas of interest only happened to 2.3% of women. (Schifren et al, 2008) I was shocked to read that; honestly I was expecting there to be more overlap. I’m probably thinking of the overlap sometimes seen between vulvodynia and other chronic health problems like IBS, IC, fibromyalgia, etc. So then I’m wondering of course, what percentage of women would report feeling distress accompanied by all four problems – the fourth being pain? I wonder, how did sexual pain influence the rates with which women reported low libido, arousal, and orgasm… these things can overlap too, you know. If only the researchers had asked about it…

Furthermore, if theoretically a woman reported having sexual pain plus some other problem like low desire, but low desire is in and of itself not acknowledged as a genuine problem by doctors and experts, then what is a patient’s course of action? Address the pain only by whatever means necessary without touching the desire? Or is it then acceptable to extend a medical option to address desire (or orgasm, or self-lubrication) as well? Is the expectation that the woman’s sex drive will naturally increase with non-medical intervention? What if it doesn’t, but she wants it to?

Unfortunately this study does not tell me the % of women who sought medical assistance for their sexual concerns. Recall from the JAMA study, that about 20% of women had sought medical assistance for sexual problems. I’m very curious to know which 20%. If 20% of women in the JAMA article sought medical assistance, and 22% of respondents to this survey reported feeling sexual distress (which may or may not have been accompanied by a complication,)… how much overlap is there? How many of those 20% who sought help for their problems in the JAMA article would meet the criteria for FSD described here?

So there you are… That’s another big study on FSD, and more recent to boot. But don’t just take my word for it, it’s available online so you can see for yourself. But again – no pain. The researchers had zero interest in sexual pain for this study so I have no idea how the results would have changed, if at all, if pain were taken into consideration. And again, unfortunately, conflicts of interest.

Ultimately, women with FSD will be directly effected by research and statistics, as well as by subsequent handling of research findings, say by the media or pharmeceutical research companies. There is also overwhelming concern that women without FSD will be impacted by these journal articles. These concerns are not invalid either – concerns about disease mongering, pathologizing natural fluctuations in libido, abuse at the hands of overzealous doctors and cruel partners. One thing that worries me to this day though, is that in these sorts of conversations, I’ve frequently seen women who would genuinely benefit and who maybe genuinely need medical intervention to address problems in their sex lives, become invisible or dismissed, either due to a relatively small proportion of the population meeting stricter criteria for FSD (and thus not be worth worrying about,) or because these women have bought into the media hype.

I believe that women with FSD have the potential to gain improved treatment through well controlled studies, but when the methodology or numbers are skewed or questionable, problems ensue. It’s not just problems with the numbers themselves, though that certainly is worth looking into. Media response matters, too.

Statistics and FSD (part 1 of 2)

06/07/2010 at 7:14 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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I’ve been meaning to sit down and write these posts for a long time. We interrupt our hopefully-continuing series on BDSM and FSD to bring you statistics, and to look at some problems with the statistics. Although there are a number of studies on sexual dysfunction, for now we’re going to look at two controversial studies, one from the Journal of the American Medical Association and one from Obstetrics and Gynecology. I was hoping to present both of these studies as a unit, but once this post approached the 2,000 word mark, I had to split it up. I will present part 2 shortly.

I notice when I’m reading blogs and books about FSD, some numbers, statistics and claims about the prevalence of sexual health problems keep on popping up. I keep seeing some numbers and themes over and over again.

When I think of sexual dysfunction journals and statistics, my first thoughts are of a study published in the Journal of the American Medial Association in February 1999. It’s a pretty famous journal article and it caused a lot of controversy when first published. You may already be aware of the article yourself; I knew about it before I actually sat down and read it. The article, Sexual Dysfunction in the United States, is available in full text online for free. We can read it together, and we probably should, since, as this page on the Vaginismus Awareness Network points out, a lot of people cite it without having read it. Let’s fix that.

Here’s what I knew about Sexual Dysfunction in the United States before ever siting down and reading the article myself: One of the authors had financial ties to a big drug company, so there was a major conflict of interest with his involvement in an article that talked about sexual dysfunction. And the article took a very broad, sweeping definition of sexual dysfunction. The authors did not factor personal distress into the equation. I knew these things, because other journalists and sexologists like Dr. Tiefer had said as much elsewhere.

That’s what I already knew about the JAMA article. Is that enough? Is that all I need to know about it? Can I just leave it at that and not worry about it? Nah, I can’t just leave this stuff alone. I had to see it for myself. One caveat to keep in mind though, I’m not a statistician. Although I took several statistics classes in college, it’s been a long time since then, and I did my degree is unrelated to the statistics of interest today. So when interpreting numbers and tables, I tend to rely on the conclusions & discussion sections provided by study authors – as well as critiques provided by experts who have read the studies. Fortunately, you can double-check my work since I’ll be providing my sources.

Like I said, a major problem with this study, is that one of the authors, Edward O. Laumann was connected to pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, the maker of erectile dysfunction treatment Viagra. Viagra was already out on the market by the time Sexual Dysfunction in the United States was published, having received FDA approval about one year earlier. Laumann had served as a member of Pfizer’s Scientific Advisory Committee since 1997, and had connections to other big pharma companies like Merck and Eli Lilly, too. That means that right off the bat, Laumann’s involvement in the study was a big conflict of interest. To make matters worse, Laumann’s connection to Pfizer wasn’t explicitly stated at the time of the article’s publication in February. It wasn’t until April 1999 that a correction was printed in JAMA. That doesn’t seem to have hurt Laumann’s career too much however; in doing a quick PubMed search, I see that Laumann is still involved with sexual dysfunction research.

The other problem is that this study may have overestimated the prevalence of sexual dysfunction in the US. This is the study from which we get the statistic that says about 43% of women have sexual dysfunction. So where does that number come from?

The statistics and conclusions in the JAMA article are based on the National Health and Social Life Survey (NHSLS,) a 1992 US study of 1410 men and 1749 women. The NHSLS survey was conducted using in-person interviews. In order to be eligible for the survey, you had to have had at least one sex partner within the previous 12 months, so 139 men and 238 women were excluded due to lack of partnered sex during that time period. Everyone interviewed had to speak English fluently, and most people interviewed were white. Everyone had to be at least 18 years old, and the cutoff age was 59. The JAMA study does not tell me if gender identity was taken into consideration, but as near as I can tell the researchers were interested only in participants’ biological, binary sex. If you’ll look at the tables in the study, you’ll see then that in the end around 1480 womens’ and about 1250 mens’ responses were included in the survey analysis. The math doesn’t quite add up perfectly, and some of the numbers in specific categories of interest in the tables differ a little – 1486 women here, 1477 women there. I don’t know why that is but with numbers that big, little variations may not be significant.

Now unfortunately I do not have the full text of the NHSLS survey yet so I can’t see for myself what questions the interviewers asked participants, and I can’t see for myself the details about how the conclusions were drawn. I have found books that go into detail about this study. If you’re interested, look for The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States for technical details or Sex in America, which was written for a general audience. Personally I think I would go for Sex in America first since it’s the less technical of the two, but that’s a ways down the road since I believe I’ve got quite enough on my plate to keep me writing about FSD for a long time. (So long as I don’t burn out first. Pace yourself, K!)

According to Sexual Dysfunction in America, there are seven symptoms of sexual dysfunction. Keep in mind though, the authors did not factor in the degree of symptom severity, and did not factor in how individuals felt about their sexual problems. (Some people have difficulty maintaining an erection or researching reaching orgasm, and are comfortable with that.) The results of this research was based on yes/no responses.

Five sexual problem symptom areas were common to men and women:

  1. Lack of or low desire for sex
  2. Arousal difficulties (erection problems for men; lubrication problems for women)
  3. Difficulty orgasming
  4. Performance anxiety
  5. Lack of pleasure during sex.

There were two additional areas that were sex specific:

6. Painful sex (women only)
7. Premature ejaculation (men only)

The article says, “Taken together, these items cover the major problem areas addressed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition(Laumann et al, 1999). Remember, the DSM-IV and soon-to-be V includes sexual dysfunction. The criteria for sexual dysfunction in the DSM-IV is strongly influenced by the Human Sexual Response Cycle according to Masters & Johnson. It’s interesting that the NHSLS asked questions about anxiety and lack of pleasure during sex, which is a little more comprehensive than the four categories of sexual dysfunction (pain, low libido, low arousal, difficulty orgasming) generally recognized. However, in the Results discussion of the journal article, the authors mostly focused on the DSM’s definitions of sexual dysfunction. The researchers did not inquire about restless genital syndrome (maybe because there was even less research about it back in 1992?)

The article authors came to a number of conclusions. Do read the article when you have a moment if you’re interested in all of them. One social construction criticism of the medical model of sex is that medicine is obsessively genitally-focused, however a lot of the study conclusions seem like they would fit in perfectly fine with a social construction perspective of sexuality. Some examples: The researchers found that higher education was associated with lower rates of sexual dysfunction. But as you probably already know, higher education is also closely tied into class status. And people with higher class privilege have a better chance of getting adequate pay and access to medical and child care. The authors didn’t get into that to much, except to say that “Deterioration in economic position, indexed by falling household income, is generally associated with a modest increase in risk for all categories if sexual dysfunction for women but only erectile dysfunction for men” (Laumann et al, 1999). So what about families that have low income to begin with? Being married was also associated with lower rates of sexual problems – I’m thinking maybe because these people had a long-term experienced sex partner? (And what about same-sex couples, most of whom cannot legally marry in the US?) Women with chronic health problems were more likely to experience pain.Victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse were more likely to report sexual problems, so the effects of abuse can last for a very long time. Fewer black women indicated sexual pain than white women, which is consistent with what I’ve read about vulvodynia before, but it wasn’t a zero response rate.

The authors used a statistics tool, latent class analysis, to come up with the statistics on the prevelance of sexual dysfunction in the US. “These results indicate that the clustering of symptoms according to syndrome can be represented by 4 categories for women as well as for men” Laumann et al, 1999). This is what I meant when I said that in the results section, the authors’ conclusions were very similar to what’s listed in the DSM-IV. Similar, but not quite the same…

For women, the results were:

  • 58% no problems
  • 22% low sexual desire
  • 14% arousal problems
  • 7% pain

And for men the results were 70% no problems, 21% premature ejaculation, 5% erectile dysfunction and 5% low sexual desire.

Additionally, tables 1 and 2 presented the statistics for affirmative responses to the questions about sexual anxiety, lack of pleasure during sex and difficulty orgasming for men and women, broken out by various demographics like age and ethnicity. The description for tables 1 and 2 provided on page 540 does not say anything about whether latent class analysis was used. I’m open to correction on this, but I would say to a professor, I think it wasn’t used with tables 1 and 2.
Tables 1 and 2 are a little hard to read; pay attention to the note underneath table 1 that explains, “Percentages are derived from respondents in each category, and the total number represents those who responded to the questions” (Laumann et al, 1999). I found it easier to understand if I went by the total number of responses. For example, the total number of women who said they felt anxious about their sexual performance was about 183 (78 of these women were between the ages of 18-29, 57 between the ages of 30-39, 36 between the ages of 40-49 and 12 between 50-59,) and that’s from a total sample size of 1482 for this question. The reason I emphasized about in the last sentance is that I double-checked my math on this question through some of the other categories like education level and ethnicity and the total number of affirmative responses went from 180-183. I don’t know why there’s a slight variation.
The reason I said I think tables 1 and 2 did not use latent class analysis is that, I broke out my calculator and added up the number of affirmative responses to the NHSLS question about “Trouble maintaining or achieving an erection” (Laumann et al, 1999.) Keeping the above paragraph in mind, the survey results said about 127 men reported erectile problems, out of a sample size of 1244. But 127/1244 = about 10%, not 5%… So the math and the category grouping is weird. I tried it again with the question about women’s sexual pain and came up with about 228/1479 = about 15.5%, not 7%. So I think I need help with this LCA stats tool. I’m not getting how we’re going from one stat to the final conclusions about prevalence. It’s like you take the survey result statistics, run the numbers through the LCA machine and come up with different numbers.
This latent class analysis tool bugs me. I mean, look at what the authors say about what it is, and then they are all like, “A more detailed discussion of this method is available on request from the authors” (Laumann et al, 1999) and I’m like – it’s so overly complicated. Could you be any more obtuse? I wonder if it would make any more sense to me if I’d majored in stats.

But in the end, the study authors did not talk about these three responses much anyway.

So the authors conclude that “The total prevalence for sexual dysfunction is higher for women than men (43% to 31%)” (Laumann et al, 1999.) The authors explicitly use the words “Sexual dysfunction” here, not “Sexual problems” or “complications” or something else. I also can’t tell what, if any, steps the people who answered “Yes” took to ameloriate any problems. 20% of women and 10% of men did look for medical advice to address their sexual problems.(Laumann et al, 1999).

But back to that statement about the total prevelance for sexual dysfunction – That’s where a lot of the controversy around sexual dysfunction stems from – the study didn’t factor in personal distress. Sexual dysfunction was arbitrarily declared for anyone who had answered “Yes” to whether they’d experienced one of the sexual problems of interest. That’s a problem – it didn’t leave room for self-identification. The use of language in the study is a point that journalists bring up over and over in order to dismiss FSD as entirely fake. Or to make the point that the numbers of sexual dysfunction are so high in this study but there’s no way it’s really that high. Reading between the lines, the gist I get from journalists is that, sexual dysfunction happens to few enough people so that those few people don’t really matter, as evidenced by journalists devoting very little (if any) column space to the opinions of people who actually have sexual dysfunction, and additionally evidenced by sexologists who crack jokes about people who have sexual dysfunction. For all the debate on female sexual dysfunction, these discussions about it rarely center women with FSD.

There’s something else about the study results. I’m getting mixed up with the stats. 22 + 14 + 7 = 43 and 21 + 5 + 5 = 31, yes. But to come up with that 43% or 31% statistic, each category had to be discrete – not overlapping. But in reality you can have more than one sexual dysfunction problem – they’re not always discrete. Problems can overlap. It is not clear to me whether the researchers factored in overlap or if each category was completely discrete. Plus again, keep in mind, these results came from yes/no responses instead of the degree and/or frequency of symptoms or the distress the symptoms caused.

Note also: There’s no category for lack of orgasm for women. I think that’s an unfortunate omission and I can’t figure out why it was left out. (The cynic in me thinks, “Lack of interest.”) There is no category of pain for men however this may be because, I have read elsewhere, men do report sexual pain much less frequently than women. Less frequently, but still more often than never. The authors didn’t make a category for lack of pleasure during sex, even though the NHSLS asked about it.

However, even with these problems in mind…

I am not yet ready to completely dismiss the results of this study. I am ready to take it with a heaping tablespoon of salt. It’s got flaws, yes, but the data wasn’t made up out of thin air either. The people who were interviewed said “Yes” that they experienced a sexual problem, although they may not have felt it was a big deal. But some difficulties were there from time to time. It really happens, and I’m hesitant to dismiss that. And I cannot dismiss FSD as entirely fake, seeing as I still have it over here. It’s still real. It may not be a dysfunction to all 43% of the respondents who answered in the affirmative that they’d had a sexual problem over the last year, but for some of those respondents… yeah, it really was distressing.
One other interesting feature about this 43% statistic is that I saw a very similar number reported elsewhere, almost a decade later. This is not the last time we’re going to see the number of women reporting sexual difficulties (though not necessarily dysfunctions) somewhere around 43%. There really may be something behind this.

So there’s one big, famous study on female sexual dysfunction for you. It’s “The first population-based assessment of sexual dysfunction in the half-ceutnry since Kinsey et al,” (Laumann et al, 1999) and it treats sexual dysfunction very seriously, but it’s got some problems that need to be addressed. Unfortunately, ultimately the weaknesses in the study aren’t helpful for people who live with sexual dysfunction.

Next week, barring unforeseen circumstances, part 2.

Interesting posts, weekend of 6/5/10

06/05/2010 at 9:35 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Dear internet, what a week. It’s starting to get super-busy at work, which is normal, and good. But I’ve got my work cut out for me for the next few days. Looks like I’ll be earning some overtime pay this summer. And I’ve been having the most irresistible craving to play Super Mario RPG… I’m reluctant to start a new game because of that one part where you have to scale a cliff face by jumping from flying turtle to flying turtle. Remember that part? Wasn’t that the worst part in the game? Oh that’ll be fun on a keyboard. Loads of fun… it’ll take me like a week to get past that one part.

I hope you have enjoyed the last few weeks of BDSM-themed posts on this blog. It is a topic I would like to explore and practice in the future. But if you did not enjoy it, don’t give up – we shall return to our regularly scheduled academic/critical analysis posts shortly. Since my computer access is going to be iffy for a little while, if you have a guest post ready to go, now would be a good time to submit so I don’t have to worry about skipping a week.

Oh yeah, about that… For the next week or two I will have only sporadic access to a computer and the internet. I’ll have periodic access to a computer and my mobile device, but I’ll probably be having too much fun doing other things to spend much time using either :) That means that posts may be late or absent until I get back to my regular work station. On the other hand I already wrote up two posts that are almost ready to go live anyway, so I may be able to stick to the new content schedule after all. If you’ve been following the Twitter account, you may already be aware that I plan on talking about statistics and journal articles next. But I’m probably going to have to skip the blog link roundup for awhile until I can catch up from lack of access to my favorite work station.
Luckily where I’ll be and who I’ll be with means that when I return to our regularly scheduled vagina blogging, I’ll probably have lots of new & interesting experiences to blog about. The new content practically writes itself!

Don’t forget, I’m also on Twitter now. Anybody want to follow me? I follow people. Sometimes I post idle thoughts & sometimes I post what I’m working on as sneak peaks.

Did you all get to see the semi-guest post with feedback from SnowDrop Explodes this week? He followed up with a similar post at his own blog this week.

Friendly reminder: I am looking for Guest Posters. I want to hear more perspectives on the themes dealt with here at Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction. Because I am dealing with such a sensitive topic, I don’t think I can actively recruit new posters, since if I went onto someone else’s blog and said something like, “Hey u wanna write a post about your sexual health and/or feminism on a public forum?!” that would probably be very invasive. For this reason, Guest Posters requesting to remain anonymous will also be taken seriously.
At this time, criteria for inclusion is, “If you think you would fit in here, you probably would.” This may be subject to change but for now we’ll try that & see how it goes.
In an attempt to preemptively fight spam and rude comments, this blog’s email is private. Please leave a comment on this post if you want to write something. I’ll screen comments so you can remain anonymous if you want. That way I’ll have your email and we can collaborate.
Have something you’ve been working on? Send it my way.
Comments made by new e-mail addresses here are auto-screened before going live, so if you want to stay anon use an e-mail address that you haven’t used here before.

Now then, on with the weekly blog link roundup. Posts I found interesting for one reason or another over the last week. Share links if’n you got’em.

So now there’s a petition to block FDA approval of the drug Flibanserin… that’s the antidepressant turned potential libido booster. It works differently from Viagra, but some folks still call it “Viagra for women” anyway. FDA hearings on Flibanserin are set to take place later this month, so we’re probably going to see a lot more chatter about it over the next few weeks. I cannot stop your actions, but I am not signing that petition. Nope. Can’t get on board with it. Not convinced yet. Wondering if the folks who organized the petition (The New View Campaign… Dr. Tiefer is affiliated with this group, she speaks out on behalf of it, and I already wrote a series of posts critiquing one of her books… believe it or not, it’s not perfect. Another one of her books is in my to-be-read queue but that series of posts drained almost everything I am out of me and I am not looking forward to having to do it all over again…) asked women with FSD how they feel about using medication to treat it. I’m thinkin’ that this petition is just making my own distress about having FSD even worse. Because now I have to worry about women being actively denied potential treatments for it. This is not making me calmer & more ready to explore my own sexuality without drugs. As should be clear by now, I’m already doing that. Although this drug would probably not be the most appropriate for me at this time. Honestly I still think Viagra would work better on me since so many of my problems are downstairs. But Dr. Teifer has spoken out against that too.
You know what I can’t deal with this right now. How much longer until I can be away from a computer… Moving on.

If, in fact, you did enjoy the last few weeks of BDSM-themed posts at Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction, you may also enjoy some kinky blog posts that coincidentally went up elsewhere. These posts may be triggering due to the subject in question. Crap that irritates me about kinky bloggers. Not necessarily all kinky bloggers. I don’t think I’m reading these irritating kinky blogs. There was a response to that particular post at SM-Feminist, Irritating Crap! ;-) Two via HaT, The Nature of Consent, Part One: SSC vs. RACK (SSC = “safe, sane, consensual” model of BDSM; RACK = “risk aware consensual kink.”) The Nature of Consent, Part Two: The Importance of Safe Signals – safe signals going beyond safe words because they allow for non-verbal communication. And if, in fact, you did not enjoy those posts, then read on for some posts not about BDSM. (It just kind of worked out that way this roundup.)

Our Porn, Our Selves and the sex-positive, pro-porn campaign – [NSFW] A response to anti-pornography activist groups.
But what’s this?! A challenger appears! Here’s a critique of Our Porn, Our Selves – and from an unexpected angle! This isn’t coming from the anti-porn side at all, it’s same-side examination. So here’s a critique of Our Porn, Our Selves from the Blog of Pro-Porn Activism. Still NSFW though. “Our Porn, Our Selves”: The Beginning Of The Pro-Porn Pushback To “Stop Porn Culture”…Or Is It??

Tips for Men Who Want to be Allies to Women – Short & sweet, delivers what it promises.
Possibly related:  Defensiveness as a Signpost of Privilege – Same as above. Think about it.

Injuries to mobility-impaired kids: researchers suggest “consider avoiding stairs” – Thus missing the point of improving accessibility.
Also posted at FWD: Military Docs Treat Pain in New Ways and Shame in All the Old Ways – About chronic pain in the military, and how the military responds to servicepersons who have it.

Edit 6/6/10 – I don’t want to forget about this and I probably won’t be around next weekend to include it then, so, also, First Edition is here! – First edition of the Carnival of Kinky Feminists. With lots of kinky posts around the topic of “Introductions!”

Sarah Palin is a feminist, actually – because she works against women. – What this means is that, Sarah Palin is upholding the time honored tradition, which is better described as a long-term problem in feminism, of relatively privileged feminists marginalizing and steamrollering over vulnerable, oppressed groups. One of the reasons that some people & bloggers who express pro-feminist sentiment do not actively identify as such.

Anti-Choice Ultrasound Laws Don’t Change Abortion Rates, But Continue Getting Tougher – Some patients chose to view the ultrasounds even when not required by law, but doing so does not frequently change minds. Sometimes the ultrasounds backfire because it assures the patient that the fetus has not yet developed recognizable features.

Welcome! To the Menaissance Festival! - Some kind of reniassance faire if it were done by dudebro culture. Funny to me because I know a guy who actually performed one of these events (The “I can totally jump off this roof!” event. It did not end well.
I also enjoyed, SEXIST BEATDOWN: The Retrosexual Trend-Piece Writing Code Edition – because it talks about gender role policing & backlash.

Rape Victims Tell of Mistreatment by the NYPD – [Trigger warning] Police officers mistreating and asking the wrong questions when interviewing rape victims, and not going far enough to address shortcomings. Sometimes rape victims do not go to the authorities or press charges and if you ask why that is, this post might answer your question. This really happens.

International Whore’s Day 2010 – Also called International Sex Worker Day. Hexy’s post talks about the history behind the origins of this day.

friday nibbles - [NSFW] I just thought there was a bunch of interesting links in this post this week. Some of it has been addressed previously elsewhere.

The Lady Is a Tramp: What isn’t feminism saying about masturbation? – Kind of a neat post at Bitch, via Feministing. Includes lots of quotes and tweets from feminists on masturbation.

I’m sure there’s more…

Feedback understanding the difference between BDSM and painful sex

06/01/2010 at 6:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Last week, I posted an e-mail exchange between me and Ms. Sexability, about reconciling BDSM with a history of painful sex. It’s a question I’ve been struggling with as I become interested in BDSM and kink, and one I don’t think I would be able to resolve in a vacuum.

While I was thinking about this, I saw a blog post at A Femanist View, where SnowDrop Explodes had posted a quote he found to reflect the difference between BDSM and abuse. I’ve been reading A Femanist View for awhile, where I frequently enjoy SnowDrop’s posts about feminism, sexuality, BDSM, and the occasional book review. (He blogs about other topics like politics too, but those listed above are the posts I most like reading.) Seeing as he had just talked about the difference between BDSM and abuse, I wondered if he had any feedback on the difference between painful sex and BDSM, if indeed there is one. I was particularly interested to hear what he had to say, since he is a top. And according to The Topping Book, that means that he is someone who “Can eroticize giving someone an experience that would be unpleasant in real-world interactions” (location 98).

Of course I know that feedback from one person cannot and should not be considered the universal response. Everyone has different experiences and builds their own definitions of sex and kink. I would likely get a different answer if I asked anyone else. However I felt that asking someone who I know is experienced with BDSM would be a good place for me to start exploring, so that I’d have some advance notice on what to expect.

As with the last e-mail, some parts of the following exchange may be triggering.

I asked SnowDrop Explodes,

What…
Would you say the difference is between BDSM & painful sex?

And this is his reply (e-mail is being used with permission.)

The first difference is that BDSM doesn’t have to involve penetrative sex of any kind (v, a or o).   So SM play can be a turn-on for both even when “normal” sex isn’t an option.

The chief difference, I think, goes back again to that quotation: “Half of a relationship is the individuals, the other half cooperation.”   When a medical condition results in suffering (e.g. painful sex), then that comes neither from the cooperation of the parties, nor from their individual make-ups.   It’s an interloper, in effect.   And it’s an interloper whose presence is entirely not consensual!   In terms of my personal sadism, I like to be the one who’s in control of my partner’s pain, pleasure and combination of the two.   Even from a purely selfish perspective, if some medical condition causes her pain when I don’t plan for her to feel pain, then that’s extremely unwelcome.   Of course, the overriding concern is always for her safety and wellbeing (i.e. other-focused rather than self-focused) but I did want to get that point in as well.

In a BDSM relationship, where some condition causes sex to become painful, the ideal would always be that the partners involved would cooperate to find a way to carry on, and to make sure that the best available treatment programme was implemented – in a BDSM relationship, I would expect sexual relations to adapt to the condition.

Additionally, I disclosed,

I am particularly interested in your answer since you are a sadist. (No accusation – I think I’ve seen you describe yourself as such.) I realize this is a pretty broad question…

Like okay, I’m at least ~open to BDSM activity but I’m most hesitant to get into the S/M stuff because i don’t know how to reconcile painful sex with the “Good” kind of pain.

You’re a sadist so if you were dealing with someone with a history of painful sex how would you go about doing that?

And he addressed this with,

The starting point is always communication and cooperation.   Even though I’m very much Dominant as well as sadist, it all starts with these principles – I get to take control only once we both know what we want from the other.

I’m a masochist as well as a sadist, and you mention the distinction between “good” and “bad” pain – something that is all too familiar to me from the gout episodes I’ve had.   I think one of the key distinctions between “good” and “bad” pain is the power of choice that’s involved.   “Bad” pain is generally something unplanned, and it’s something over which no one has any real control – there’s no way to safeword out of it, and no way to avoid it once it’s there.   There are other distinctions as well, and not all “bad” pain is of this kind (for instance, I always find needles to be “bad” pain, however planned it is and however short-term I know it’s going to be).

So, I would use my understanding these points to talk things through with a (prospective) partner whose history includes painful sex.

The way I would talk about it would put her in control of the situation.   My favoured modes of SM play are non-penetrative anyway – spanking, and other impact-play is top of the list – so pleasurable sexual encounters wouldn’t need to involve any penetrative sex.   I would talk to her about the concepts surrounding pain as a gift from masochist to sadist.   This means that she can determine when or if she wants to try penetrative sex, and to frame any accompanying pain as a part of her gift to her partner.   That framing doesn’t work for everyone, I am sure, which is why she has to remain in control.

To make sure she had control of what was happening to her, she would have a safeword the use of which would immediately stop everything.   I would not be comfortable with engaging in penetrative sex until I was confident that she knew and understood and *felt* that I would feel no negative reaction to her stopping things, because my first concern is for her.

Naturally, this means that it would be a slow build-up over the course of a relationship before we tried anything involving penetrative sex.   In the same way that a sub or masochist partner can set “hard” and “soft” limits, and it is not unusual to see those shift and change over the course of a relationship, I would expect to treat penetrative sex in the same way – she gets to set the pace of how far she does or doesn’t want to go with it.

All of this would be to help put her in control of how much or how little pain she is okay with, just the same as any other kind of SM activity – safewords, negotiation, understanding, preparation, all being key elements to consensual BDSM sex.   I would also hope that I would be able to communicate and have it understood that there was no need for her ever to consent to penetrative sex at all, if she wasn’t comfortable with involving that pain as SM play.

It occurs to me that your question also seems to be asking how I would approach introducing her to SM play in general.   I think I would approach it with the same care as I would anyone who was new to the physical world of BDSM, so any early encounters would involve light pain only, both of us getting used to her reactions and again, letting her set the pace for how much and how quickly.   We’d explore different kinds of pain and find out what is “good” pain for her, and what pain she finds “bad” or unenjoyable.   Then we’d build on that as the relationship develops and it becomes clear to her how much control over events she’s willing to surrender to me as her sadist partner.

So the basis would be the same as any BDSM relationship: communication, building trust, getting to know each other, making sure that all activities involving pain are consensual and controlled (or controllable), and above all, making it fun for everyone involved.

I suppose one final word needs to be said, about whether or not this whole description depends upon the assumption that she would feel pain anyway.   The idea of including painful sex as a negotiated form of SM play almost seems to put pressure on her to feel some sort of pain from penetrative sex, and of course that’s not a good idea either, so I would be careful about letting it be about potential, rather than actual, pain – so that if it turns out that it doesn’t hurt when she does it with me, then it doesn’t seem like *that’s* a failure, either.

Going back to what you said about your own openness towards BDSM, but not sure how to reconcile “good” pain with painful sex: I think the advice I would give there is what I described in my outline of how I’d deal with the issue with a partner if she had a history.   Different people experience different kinds of pain as “good” or “bad” – I don’t like needles, others love them; some people hate scratching, I love it!   So you can treat “painful sex” as “bad pain” (at least at first) and instead try some of the other sorts of pain that our bodies have to offer, and see what works for you.

I think this is a very interesting response. He is also familiar with “Bad pain,” like the gout he describes, and there’s nothing fun or planned about it. It shows up whether you want it to or not.

And there’s a lot of communication going on in this scenario – this being a scenario in which a woman partner who lives with dyspareunia is also submissive, or receptive to a top. (Eventually I’d like to think and talk about topping with a history of sexual pain as well.) Any new activity is introduced gradually and limits are allowed. And even if you’re engaged in a S/M scene, there’s still no need to engage in penetrative/insertive activities, which would cause pain. It sounds to me like SnowDrop is reluctant to ask a woman engage in penetrative activity, knowing that doing so may hurt. Even though he enjoys BDSM activity as a top, SnowDrop doesn’t want to cause unwanted pain!

We e-mailed back & forth a little bit more,

Some of the sexology & self help books I read recommend incorporating BDSM activity into your sex life when there’s a problem, but they never explain *How* you would go about doing that. I think there is a difference between BDSM and painful sex too – for one thing with BDSM there’s some enjoyment from the sensation and activity, but with painful sex it’s no fun at all.

And he replied,

The thing about the self-help books strikes me as strange, because if BDSM isn’t your thing, it’s not going to help (no matter how useful it might seem).   I recall that there was a proposed study into the way masochists’ brains process pain compared with vanilla folks’, but it didn’t get approved for funding, which is a shame – it might have revealed something useful about pain management.   I think for some masochists, a lot of it is about context (for example, a lot of masochists who are also submissive say that there’s a world of difference between a spanking that’s for fun, and one delivered as a punishment), but I know that doesn’t work for everybody (or for every type of pain).   So I guess maybe the self-help books are trying to help their readers to put the pain in a better context so it’s associated with pleasure instead of “bad sex”.   But again, unless you are predisposed to making that link, I’m not sure it could ever work for most people (besides which, painful sex may well be the type of pain that isn’t amenable to such an approach in the first place).

I think some people assume BDSM is just an extended form of foreplay, while for others it’s the whole point of the sexual interaction (which is why it’s possible for me to say that it needn’t involve penetrative sex at all).

And he also wished me luck.

A couple more points were made on the last exchange. Although I’m becoming interested in BDSM, I know that it’s not going to be right for everyone. It’s not a panacena for pain or dissatisfaction with your sex life. And that’s okay too! I believe that many of the principles involved with BDSM (notably, clear communication,) can carry over into vanilla relationships, but not everyone wants to engage in the activities usually associated with kink. There is nothing wrong with that, if it’s not for you, it’s not for you. Pressure to perform any kind of sexual activity is still pressure.

That’s all I’ve got on BDSM and painful sex for the time being! I’d like to return to this topic some time in the future to look at topping, and see if I can get some practice under my belt in the near future.

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