Interesting posts, weekend of 11/20/10

11/20/2010 at 1:21 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Dear internet, well, I thought I was settling into a new routine… looks like I’ll be entering Phase 2 of general life crisis sooner than I thought. Oh well, it’s for the best but I guess I shouldn’t get too comfortable until it’s over! In other news, I went shopping the other day and I got some great deals on new clothes. I felt so shiny and pretty with fancy new threads to wear all week. It’s starting to get cold (and dark!) and I really need to catch up on my stretching exercises because my entire lower half is sore and tense once again.

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. Some of my daily mundane and/or angry thoughts sneak in there but I try to include trendy topics as well as a healthy dose of sexual dysfunction related news when I find it.

Now then, on with the blog link roundup that’s starting to become an irregular feature around here. Posts I found interesting over the few weeks. Share links if’n you got’em.

Got some updates for you re: MTV’s True Life episode dealing with chronic pelvic pain! MTV: True Life: I can’t have sex is set to air on December 6, 2010. Get your DVRs and TiVos and VHS decks ready to record! I learned about this from Tamra in her entry, Namaste and from youtube user talithaketeri in her video: MTV True Life: Why I can’t have sex….why I decided to let them film me – She posted an update for what the filming process was like and what’s been going on since the original call for participants went out. Talithaketeri also has a blog of her own! Maybe you’d like to stop by The Rambling’s of an IC patient and say hello. [Note: I will make the effort to provide a transcript for talithaketeri's video within the next few days as general life crisis part 2 permits.]

Can’t wait for the MTV episode to come out? Here’s something to tide you over in the mean time. Esther had a heads up and then follow through on a different kind of coverage of dyspaerunia… Vulvodynia on 19 Action News: “Off Limits” was the heads up that a local (to her) news channel was going to be covering dyspaerunia… And then she reviewed the episode at Vulvodynia: Intercourse Impossible. Ugh what a miserable way to sensationalize sexual pain.
Want to see the media coverage for yourself? Go to Off Limits!: They won’t, don’t and can’t make love – Sex secrets of married couples and then at about the middle of the page click on the little box that says, “Video Gallery.” There’s another little box on the right side of the screen that will then load the video after a short commercial break. The video gets better (more serious) towards the middle and end but the introduction is like, just, what the hell. [This one I will probably not make a transcript for.]

Also in the mainstream news, here’s something a little older (late September) that I just found: Female Sexual Dysfunction — Medical Fiction? – Uuugh again sounds miserable, doesn’t it? And yeah it includes bits by so-called experts who question the very existence as such a thing as FSD, BUT and this is why I linked to it at all, it also includes other so-called experts who do not question the very real distress and difficulties that women with FSD may have to deal with. Be careful if slogging around the comments section! Some of them are okay but other user comments could be printed and packaged for use as an emetic.

Pudendal Nerve – Very detailed diagram (possibly NSFW) of the pudendal nerve and description of what pudendal nerve pain can feel like.

Using Cloth Pads - A review of cloth pads at the Down There v blog.

I’m coming, baby - Okay I am really confused now, are we supposed to be all raising fears and questions about whether or not advertisements for women’s sexual aids and remedies are allowed to go on TV and won’t that just brainwash women into thinking there’s something wrong with them or are we supposed to be asking why not have women’s sexual aid commercials on TV?

Sherri Williams plays by Alabama rules, opens sex toy drive-thru – One of the things I find interesting about this story is that, if I were to visit Alabama, I would – theoretically – be able to pass through without fear of being prosecuted – even if I were carrying around my bag’o’dilators. I still have the medical receipt for the heavy-duty set of dilators. They really are a medical necessity for me. (I hope to never have to test this legal application!)

Hollaback! Apps to the Rescue – What took you so long?! I’ve been waiting like 6 months for this app!

Prove the Point MORE[Trigger warning for violence] – Former officer Johannes Mehserle two years ago shot and killed an unarmed young black man, Oscar Grant, at a BART station in California. Mehserle went to trial for murder… and was given the lightest sentence. There were protests after the trial, where more illegal arrests and detentions were made. On TV the police said they were letting people leave but I saw on the Twitter people who were there, saying no they weren’t even allowed to leave.

Do you remember a couple of months ago I wrote an off-topic post about (the lack of) women in animation? Not just the lack of representation of women in animation; I am also disturbed by my own lack of knowledge about women involved in the production of animation. Seriously why can I name like 20 men in animation but only 3 women just off the top of my head. What. Anyway here’s a blog that I hope will continue to look at women in animation: ANIMadams: Pimping out Ladies of Animation.

Why I didn’t make an “It Gets Better” video – I will co-sign this. I was bullied. It got real ugly. I don’t like reading, talking, or writing about it. Short, terse sentences. Take the hint. But the It Gets Better Project is not about me. Because for however much I was bullied and accused of being gay (as though that were a bad thing,) I was and remain straight.

I am becoming increasingly disturbed the more I read about the TSA body-scan screening and pat-down procedures. There is a ton of backlash against it, rightly so, and around the blogs I’ve seen analysis of the backlash itself which is also worth considering. SunGold @ Kittywampus in particular has been bloggin’ up a storm about it.

Not With A Bang But A Whimper – One of the first tasks of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives post-election: Vote against equal pay for women. Unbelievable.

They Call it ‘Reverse Discrimination’ – About affirmative action. It is not what you may think it is.

A Rape Culture Twofer - [Trigger warning for rape] – Two stories about what happened to two different women when they went to law enforcement after being raped.

Cholera Outbreak Worsens in Haiti – The earthquake is over, but the effects remain. Haiti still needs support.

Transgender Day of Remembrance: Living with the threat - TDOR is November 20 – that’s today in the US – and it is a day to draw attention to the disproportionate number of people who are killed each year as a direct result of transphobia. This post in particular focuses on discrimination experienced by the blogger, Queen Emily, in Australia. To learn more about TDOR, go to International Transgender Day of Rememberance. Or, click around onto some feminist and social justice blogs from the side bar here, because some of them have posted entries about it.

Cosmocking: December ’10! Part One! and Cosmocking: December ’10! Part Two!: Your monthly dose of tearing up shitty advice found in Cosmopolitan magazine.

Also heads up, I’m not linking to any source for this but V bloggers, be aware: There is some kind of spambot or trollbot running around the internet targeting V blogs and leaving nasty comments on them. Please do not take such comments personally or seriously.

Finally, Privilege Denying Dude may have been one of the best internet feminist meme of 2010… until it was suspended for copyright infringement. On a stock photo?! Man that is such bullshit.
Okay so the deal with Privilege Denying Dude was that Diana took a photo of a smug looking white bro and used one of those dual-color backgrounds sometimes seen in simple macro memes. And whatever text you added was typical stuff that a privileged person might say when talking about about marginalized groups of people. Steamroller stuff. (Hint: See how Derailing for Dummies is a list of steps you can take to completely derail a conversation? Don’t actually do the stuff that’s on there!) And it was social commentary and a way to let off steam and it generated a lot of backlash, most of which just proved the point. Unfortunately the macro is now down and somebody is going around strictly enforcing the copyright so I probably can’t even post the PDD picture I made just for you dear readers. Fff…

I MADE A PICTURE WITH IT AND I PUT IT RIGHT HERE but apparently someone can’t let us have any fun so all I can do now is leave you with the image description still in tact… USE YOUR IMAGINATION! (Or as an alternative: Google Cache!]

[Image description that WOULD be applicable if there were still an image here! Grr. Picture this: The smug-looking privilege denying dude with text above his head that asks, "Female sexual dysfunction?" And below: "You've just never been with me, baby!"]

Uuuuugh uugh I feel dirty after posting that uugh ugh ugh I feel like I need to go wash my hands now or brush my teeth or something I cannot believe I just typed those words into the thing ew ew ew. This guy right here, that’s the guy. The guy who goes around in comment threads about FSD talking about how he is the cure for all your sexual problems. Even though he’s totally not. OMG I think his cousin, Partner-Blaming, even dropped in to the comments section at the ABC article I posted! The guy in the picture looks like my best friend from high school :/ Man that’s awkward. Wait, I wonder if my best friend from high school would be willing to pose for us for a replacement. Hmm. Probably not, eh.

I’m sure there’s more…

Book review: A New View of Women’s Sexual Problems

11/16/2010 at 10:14 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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Several months ago, over the course of a five-part series, I reviewed sexologist and feminist activist Dr. Leonore Tiefer’s nonfiction anthology, Sex is Not a Natural Act and Other Essays. It presents her critique of contemporary discussions of sex, sexuality and sexual dysfunction, from a social construction perspective. (Basically that means that Dr. Tiefer gives significantly more weight to cultural influences on the formation and expression of sexuality than to biology.) While reading it was certainly an informative experience for me, it was also rough – at several points I tripped over apparent contradictions between what Dr. Tiefer had written in one chapter vs. another and multiple instances of disablist language. Overall, while I learned a lot about social construction and criticism of female sexual dysfunction as a diagnosis, the book left me feeling isolated and unsatisfied since biology and the availability of medical options have a strong impact on how I have sex.

So for awhile I and guest posters wrote about other stuff in the wide world of female sexual dysfunction. And then I had to take a hiatus from blogging so I could deal with real-life chaos. After settling into a new routine, I felt motivated to read something… Now seems as good a time as any to pick up A New View of Women’s Sexual Problems, another nonfiction essay collection detailing an alternate model for looking at women’s sexuality and dysfunctions. A New View doubles as an in-depth manifesto for the New View Campaign, complete with examples of how the New View model can be applied to real-world women’s sexual complaints. Let’s see what it’s all about.

Overall Impressions:

A New View is and feels significantly shorter than Sex is Not a Natural Act – it’s about 218 single-spaced pages, divided into three parts. Each chapter is short, ranging from just a few bite-sized pages up to around thirty, so it’s easy to digest. Each chapter was published simultaneously in the journal Women in Therapy, volume 24, issues 1 & 2, so you’re actually reading academic journal articles. Except for a few essays towards the end of the book, most of the time it’s generally not heavy on academic jargon.
Downsides unrelated to the writing: A New View is not available in e-book format and at about $30 on Amazon (new) it’s a little outside my sweet spot price range for something sans illustrations. I went in to the book hoping for a list that would explicitly spell out which biological problems get the green light for medical treatment but I’m still not clear on exactly when sexual medicine is appropriate (and why.)

On paper, the New View looks good. Overall, the book is nuanced and presents the perspectives of many professional women familiar with sexology, sexuality, women’s studies, feminism, psychology, health, and related fields. The responses to the New View manifesto illustrate its merits and practical application…
On paper.

In practice, I’m still wary of the manifesto and the eponymous organization. Reading the entire body of work has not sufficiently addressed my apprehensions.
Because in practice, I’ve seen the New View’s positions and activities turn into another prescriptive theory, one that creates new complications and restrictions for women even as it attempts to free them. For example, in practice, the strong emphasis on relationship problems can also oversimplify women’s sexual problems and turn into partner blaming. The New View’s insistence on referring to “Female/Pink Viagra” further obfuscates understanding the difference between arousal and desire, even when drugs like flibanserin do not work like Viagra. I was horrified to see New View organized petition to stop FDA approval of flibanserin, since I felt like the petition organizers overlooked whatever small number of women might actually benefit from such a drug, questionable though it is. Anti-Big Pharma arguments can easily turn into anti-medicine rants and rampant disablism. Looking for the deeper meaning behind sexual problems can turn into so much ‘splainin and Freudian analysis. And I think that by questioning the very existence of such a thing as female sexual dysfunction, the New View contributes to the further stigmatization of FSD. Basically, when used irresponsibly, the New View lends itself to Bingo Board fodder.

But on paper, the ideas are great. There’s even wiggle room for medical problems and biological factors as causes of women’s sexual problems (though the contributors are less interested in examining biological and health problems.)

In practice, the New View raises new questions and creates potential problems that warrant further examination.

Reading between the lines, you may notice some elements missing…

The New View Manifesto which guides the campaign was written from the perspective of professional women – psychologists, anthropologists, sexologists and related fields; however none of the original twelve named contributors to the succinct document had qualifications in medicine. There were no physicians, gynecologists or obstetricians involved in drafting the original manifesto. However, the document has subsequently received endorsement from several medical doctors and many therapists.
None of the contributors to the New View book disclose whether or not they have personal experience dealing with sexual dysfunction. The only clue we have as to whether an author with sexual dysfunction was included in this anthology may be found in Gina Ogden’s essay, which said, “I have been able to relieve much personal relationship angst by understanding sexual dysfunction as a manifestation of cultural dysfunction” (19). So there’s an “I” statement that touches upon sexual dysfunction and Ogden probably meets the New View’s definition of having had “Sexual problems,” but it’s not clear to me whether she ever considered herself to have a dysfunction. However even this statement ultimately rejects sexual dysfunction as an actual bodily phenomenon that women experience in and of itself. The rest of the book is likewise resistant to the very idea of sexual dysfunction as a valid medical problem.

There’s an expression in business, “Management sets the tone,” which means upper management, through actions and words, dictate the general atmosphere of an organization. It was Dr. Tiefer who pushed for the New View Campaign to come together, and throughout Dr. Tiefer’s essay, she consistently keeps the words female sexual dysfunction in “Scare quotes.” A footnote details the reason why: “4. I will put “FSD” (female sexual dysfunction) in quotations in this paper to indicate its questionable legitimacy” (92). Based on this, it seems highly unlikely to me that the contributors to this book would have actively reached out for feedback directly from women with sexual dysfunction. After all, if a condition is not legitimate and real, then who has it? There isn’t anyone with it to recruit.
Women who definitely had relationship and sexual problems and/or dysfunctions are presented as case studies in support of the New View model. Sometimes these women are quoted briefly, other times a contributor presents a summary of what brought a client in. Our words are presented through the filter of professionalism.
The omission of responses by women with sexual dysfunctions is a problem since such women are critical stakeholders in the New View model of sexuality and sexual problems. The New View is meant to be applied to women who experience sexual obstacles. But did anybody run the New View by the women who it most deeply effects before going to print? Based on one of Dr. Tiefer’s essays, it looks like the answer is No – the New View was drafted by about a dozen North American professional women based on their interactions with clients and with feminism (87); women with sexual dysfunction were not explicitly solicited for feedback. This is especially ironic in light of Peggy J. Kleinplatz’s essay, On the Outside Looking In: In Search of Women’s Sexual Experience in which she says, “Women’s sexual experience is conspicuously lacking from popular and sexological discourses of female sexuality” (124) and,

“Alternative models of female sexuality are called for which embrace the entire range of female sexuality from the vantage point of lived experience… A new epistemological stance is required which features women’s subjectivity at the center of inquiry. Female sexuality is best understood by listening to women’s own voices rather than attempting to peer from a safe distance and have our views filtered through the distorting lenses of conventional and sexological images of sexuality and female sexuality” (130).

Without follow through, calling out for the voices of women is little more than lip service. Nothing about us without us. (This is a continuing problem in the wide world of feminist writing, and writing in general.)
On the other hand, even if women with sexual dysfunction had been consulted when the New View document was first drafted ten years ago, I doubt it would have raised many objections or concerns. It looks fine on paper; it’s when and how you use the document to guide your activism that problems become are either solved or manifest.

I was surprised to see some criticism of the New View contained within the book’s pages: according to Gina Ogden, it may not have much to offer women who are extroverted in their sexuality. Jaclyn Friedman comes to mind, because Ogden says such women are labeled “Sluts” (19) and Friedman self-identifies as a slut, in the best way possible. So what does the New View, which focuses on negative sexual outcomes, have to offer her if she experiences sexual dissatisfaction? Good question.

The New View does a better job looking at causes for sexual problems than it does at offering guidance for what anyone should to do about it. I suppose that’s true of the DSM too though. One thing that’s clear in the New View is that medicine should generally be avoided, since medicine won’t address social forces, and it has been hijacked by for-profit entities.

And unfortunately the book doesn’t say anything about the grieving process you may go through (I went through it…) when it turns out that your sex life is not, and may never be, anything like what you had expected.

The book itself:

The first part of the book is the shortest – it’s the New View Manifesto document itself, which you can find online if you know where to look. It has been re-published on the Our Bodies, Our Selves blog supplement. (A later chapter goes into more detail about Dr. Tiefer’s connection with the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, which I was curious about.) The document itself, not so bad. It does not use the label “Sexual dysfunction,” instead using the term “Sexual problem,” which is defined as, “discontent or dissatisfaction with any emotional, physical, or relational aspect of sexual experience, may arise in one or more of the following interrelated aspects of women’s sexual lives,” and then there’s the whole bulleted point list of stuff that makes sex hard for women to enjoy. This alternative definition is similar to the DSM’s criteria of “Personal distress” in sexual dysfunction since it acknowledges the importance of personal dissatisfaction, but it’s more flexible in acknowledging what causes dissatisfaction, and the language is supposed to be less hurtful. It’s meant to acknowledge social influences and reassure women that there’s nothing wrong with them if they experience sexual problems. To the best of my knowledge the document has remained unchanged since the final draft was put together in 2000 (88).

The second part of the book consists of 10 contemporary responses to the New View. Professionals read it and wrote in about how it could be applied to their practices and/or demonstrating ways in which women’s sexuality is shaped by local culture – often with negative outcomes for the women, since culture is frequently patriarchal. Throughout this section, there is a strong emphasis on relationship factors as being the main culprit for women’s sexual problems. So what about all the single ladies who are not in a romantic/sexual relationship? Well, you still got a relationship with your friends right? Or your parental figures, or if you’re reading this blog then surely you have some kind of relationship with the media. Relationships! You can’t get away from ‘em.

The essays have merits, yes. But there’s flaws too. Here’s some examples of what I mean…

In the first essay response to the New View model, Dr. Lucy M. Candib presents a case study of a patient with sexual problems and lists elements of her problems that fall under all four of the main areas of the New View classification. It’s a compelling case. Yay! But then Dr. Candib says,

Practitioners may attempt to address the anger that women hold about both the division of labor and the experiences of abuse, but such anger is usually chronic, and many women develop symptoms in relation to it – headaches, chronic pain, fatigue, or depression – especailly when the relationship appears to be an inescapable trap (13).

Emphasis mine…Wait, what am I looking at here? I don’t think I like where this is going… didn’t DW user beautyofgrey talk about looking at “Unresolved anger” as a way to explain away what was actually a chronic, invisible illness? And didn’t she talk about how people interfere with her treatment decisions out of fear of Big Pharma?

Beth A. Firestein’s essay, Beyond STD Prevention: Implications of the New View of Women’s Sexual Problems talks about how a strong focus on sexually transmitted infection prevention fails to address the concerns of people who have or have had a STI. Prevention is great, but what happens if it isn’t enough? What happens when prevention fails and you catch a sexually transmitted infection? This chapter explicitly mentions the role of STI (or the fear of them) s in developing vaginismus, and this is the only chapter that explicitly mentions vulvodynia. Yay! However, this is the context:

3. Women who have partners that suffer from recurring outbreaks of a viral STD, such as veneral warts and herpes, or neurological pain disorders, such as vulvodynia, that cause pain with sexual activity or penetration, need to be helped to seperate fear from fact and to determine a personal range of safe and pleasurable sexual behaviors – behaviors that allow for sexual satisfaction of both partners while decreasing the risk of exposure to their partner’s disease. Such women could also benefit from coaching in ways to deal with a partner’s STD that protects the woman without eroding their partner’s sexual self-esteem or healthy sense of sexual self-expression (30).

I’m actually not put off about talking about vulvodynia in the same chapter as STIs, because Firestein’s view is meant to go beyond STIs and take away some of the stigma associated with them. This paragraph is somewhat awkward though, since vulvodynia is not actually an STI and it is not contagious, my partner does not need to worry about being exposed to it. A simple grammar tweak would likely strengthen this passage. I’m more concerned that this passage does not provide guidance with what to do if you are someone who has a chronic condition or infection… and you still want to go beyond your current safe range of activities. I already know facts about vulvodynia, probably more than the average sex therapist or general practitioner. My fear does not come from ignorance about my own health. Some women with vulvodynia still want to, or do, have sex even if it is painful, and this paragraph does not address what steps might be taken in those situations.

Dr. Lisa Aronson Fontes’ essay on Latina sexuality, The New View and Latina Sexualities: Pero no soy una maquina! compares the New View vs. the DSM classification of sexual problems and where each classification schema centers the causes of women’s problems: Within the individual vs. with external forces in an individual’s life. She provides examples of Latina women with a history of sexual abuse or shame for whom the DSM does a poor job addressing the causes sexual problems, and she shows how the New View fits better. Yay! One client, Sarita, told Dr. Fontes her frustration with her pushy priest and doctor – they were urging Sarita to have sex with her husband, even though she was dealing with abuse triggers which made her uninterested in sexual activity. (Sound familiar to anyone?) This experience resulted in the expression contained in the title, translated as “But I am not a machine!”
So Dr. Fontes’ comes down pretty hard on a diagnosis of sexual dysfunction, at least for sexual abuse clients:

The “dysfunction” categories of the DSM-IV imply pathology as a variation from a theoretical normal pattern. It is more helpful to use an injury model – that connects suffering with the environment in which it occured an dthe person who caused it – than an illness model, which locates the source in the sufferer (Lamberg, 2000). An injury model implies recovery for victims of abuse. Yolana is on the mend – being labeled as “dysfunctional” at this time cannot help her recovery (36).

So for another client, Yolanda, a diagnosis of sexual dysfunction is a poor fit or outright counter-productive. But what about women like me, for whom incorporating the label “Dysfunctional” is part of my recovery – if you can call it a “Recovery” at all. At what point are you recovered, knowing you can never go back to the “Normal” which you once had? It may be worth noting here that according to Dr. Fontes’, Sarita did not meet the criteria for PTSD (35). But what about if she had? We get a clue as to Fontes’ feelings regarding an illness model in general with the following line:

“Using the New View, we are able to consider and treat Sarita’s discontent in its historical and current relational contexts, without reducing her to a body with a dysfunction, as if she were a broken machine” (35.)

Emphasis mine, because the problem with this statement is No no you know why am I even still doing this I am not doing this anymore I should not have to explicitly spell this out: If you think that diagnosing someone with a sexual dysfunction reduces them to a broken body, like they are a broken machine, then that’s your problem! Except that then it becomes my problem because then I have to struggle against this idea that there’s something wrong with me not just for having sexual problems but for needing medical help addressing them. You can have a sexual dysfunction and still be a rich, individual person. There has got to be a way to support abuse victims without using disablist language, especially since some abuse victims may very well have chronic illnesses – in fact, folks with chronic illnesses are more likely to be abused.

The third part of the book details the origins of the New View and contains more supportive materials. It’s the biggest and the most difficult section.

The longest chapter in the third section is Dr. Tiefer’s essay, Arriving at a “New View” of Women’s Sexual Problems: Background, Theory, and Activism. It’s very similar, even parallel, to Sex is Not a Natural Act. If you don’t have time to read all of Sex is Not a Natural Act, you could probably get a good idea of what it’s all about from reading this colorful essay. Dr. Tiefer shares her perspective of the history of the medicalization of men’s sexuality (and by extension, women’s,) the influence of Masters & Johnson’s human sexual response cycle research, criticism centering orgasm as the endpoint of sexual research, etc. This essay provides a lot of background information about why and how the New View Campaign came to be in the first place at about the turn of the millennium – with Viagra approved and prescribed, Dr. Tiefer and feminist colleagues wanted to challenge the supremacy of male-focused medicine defining what constitutes female sexual dysfunction, (no skeptic quotes from me) but they had to do so under time constraints – there was a sexual dysfunction conference a-brewin’.

Remaining chapters in this third section address gender and gender roles, sex education and coming of age, lesbian sex therapy, female sexual dysfunction, etc. The essays on lesbian sex therapy were interesting and they draw attention to this often-marginalized group, but even the authors seem disappointed by what they have to offer to their lesbian sex therapy clients. Much of sex therapy is informed by the work of Masters & Johnson and is heterocentric. You may think the same principles in heterosexual sex therapy should apply to same-sex couples but in practice, it frequently cannot. In response to the failures of Masters & Johnson’s sex therapy models, Marny Hall once tried a revolutionary therapy with lesbian clients that she called “Anti-sex therapy,” (168) with disastrous results.

As was the case in Sex is Not a Natural Act, I found myself tripping over problematic elements in these later chapters, which made it difficult to find redeeming elements. Jennifer R. Fishman and Laura Mamo in their essay What’s in a Disorder: Cultural Analysis of Medical and Pharmaceutical Constructions of Male and Female Sexual Dysfunction (about exactly what it sounds like) describe prescription drugs as,

…fast becoming popular consumer products, a capitalist fetish, where one is encouraged to think of such drugs as a means through which to improve one’s life. The shift to the biomedicalization of life itself is indicative of a cultural and medical assertion that one’s life can always be improved” (182).

(Emphasis original.) There is no consideration here for folks who need prescription drugs for mental illness or chronic pain or for folks who cannot afford much-needed medication. What stung me the most was the complete erasure of my existence as a once-adolescent young lady with sexual dysfunction when Deborah L. Tolman explicitly stated, “Female adolescent sexual dysfunction is an oxymoron” (197.) How am I supposed to react to that? Is this slap in the face supposed to snap me out of my reverie? I came away from many of the later chapters feeling very much as though some of our bingo board squares were staring me right in the face.

Overall, it is a challenging book, esoteric, though for readers of this blog it might be one worth reading. But it should be taken with a grain of salt — The New View may not be the panacea for women’s sexual problems it was hoping to be. In breaking away from the problems contained in the medical model, the New View stumbles into and creates new, different problems. It could be strengthened with revisions following a deeper understanding of disability activism and the potentially harmful consequences of stigmatizing both illness and medicine. The goal of the New View is to recognize that sexual problems are often caused by forces outside the body, and then to work for social change to address the causes for these problems. But social change takes time, and some of us cannot wait that long for revolution, especially when there are so few support structures in place to begin with. Some of us genuinely do have sexual problems that originate from within. Some of have problems that are so complex, we cannot isolate the body from the social, and we should not have to choose between social change or medicine. This really isn’t an either-or situation; people want better sex education with which to make good sexual choices and access to medical options. Others face problems so widespread that even feminism can’t fix everything. We have problems and dysfunctions now. While I can see some merits to social construction in looking at sexual problems and dysfunctions, overall with regard to the New View, I remain unwilling to co-sign.

Interesting posts, weekend of 11/06/10

11/06/2010 at 1:38 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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Dear internet, I’m still getting used to my new schedule. Halloween was surprisingly fun for me this year, I didn’t dress up but I went out to a big event and took a lot of pictures of people dressed up in excellent, creative costumes. Next year if I go to the same or a similar event again I definitely want to dress up and play along. Speaking of holidays, Thanksgiving is coming up soon and it’s getting to be quiet season at work so I think I may take a little time off to recuperate from a spike in stress. Then there will be more stress with end of the year holidays. If I take some time off I’d like to do some writing, I have some good ideas for new blog posts too but I haven’t had much time to bang them out. The US midterm elections took place earlier this week too and I voted. I am sorely disappointed with the results, as are many of my friends.

Friendly reminder: I am looking for Guest Posters. Did you see this week’s guest post by Elizabeth? Kind of a funny story behind that interview. I keep thinking to myself “So an asexual woman and a woman with sexual dysfunction walk into a bar…” I guess the next line isn’t much of a punchline because I think it ends, “…And they sat down to have a few drinks and discuss asexuality and sexual dysfunction.” I don’t usually drink but I’ll make an exception a few times a year.

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. Some of my daily mundane and/or angry thoughts sneak in there but I try to include trendy topics as well as a healthy dose of sexual dysfunction related news when I find it.

Now then, on with the semi-weekly blog link roundup. Posts I found interesting over the few weeks, because I missed a roundup – I’ll probably have to cut back on roundups under my new schedule. Share links if’n you got’em.

“The music is different now. But it’s still there.” – I usually hate hate hate poetry. I would rather read a 5,000 word post on the history of the Q-tip than read 10 lines of bad poetry. But I like these poems by Linda Martinson, who has fibromyalgia.

Pressure - the Downside of scheduling sexytime, which I have frequently seen suggested for couples or individuals dealing with low libido issues. Not necessarily a bad idea but sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you hope.

Interstitial Cystitis Awareness Month - I missed posting about it during October but better late than never. Jeanne made a video for it.

GeekDesk – it’s on the pricier side, a few hundred dollars, but I thought maybe this would be of some interest to readers with pudendal neuralgia, who may not be able to sit down for long periods of time.

Kink and Fibromyalgia – Like Ms. Sexability, Kit finds some relief from chronic pain in BDSM activity. She He has also made some friends with service-oriented subs who assist her him with more mundane, non-sexual tasks as well. Found via E-lust.

Parents tell how every day is a battle to care for teenager struck down with chronic fatigue syndrome – Ouch!!! Seen via FWD. This sound familiar to anyone?: “Carol said: ‘The paediatrician told us the ME has been dealt with and it’s all down to anxiety. They always fudge over the physical illness.’ Hmm…

Telegram to TABs: On Spoon Theory – Oldie but goodie; a timely reminder… Hay, could anybody point out to me the exact point where spoon theory says anything about activities which restore spoons? Oooo, you know what, I didn’t see that part. I don’t think it says anything about that! In fact I think it explicitly states, “when your “spoons” are gone, they are gone.” What is so hard to understand about this?! You know what, if the spoon theory doesn’t work for you then it doesn’t work for you, fine whatever. But if it works for someone, then why not honor it as-is; why would you ignore this critical piece and like make shit up that’s not in it and yet still call it “Spoon theory?” I can venture a guess; it’s a word that starts with a “P” and ends with “rivilege.”

Is Asexuality/Nonsexuality Included under the LGBTQ Umbrella? – Speaking of asexuality… found via Womanist Musings.

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival #1 – Nifty theme for a blog carnival. Astrid is looking to host a blog carnival of mental health soon too, if you wanted to submit something for that. Racialicious is going to host a blog carnival soon too! The theme is loosely based around sex & love.

Breasted Interests - October is over, and so is breast cancer awareness month. This is an article which is critical of various awareness campaigns – and often, rightly so.

The People You Meet When You Write About Rape. – Some of whom show up in the comments section so I don’t recommend slogging through there for too long. It was followed up by Seven Points On Rape, Prevention, and Blame.

Here is a list of 2010′s top 100 sex bloggers. I see there are some familiar faces listed; I’ve included some of these contributors’ works in previous link roundups. Top 100 Sex Bloggers of 2010.

Racial Identity Cannot be Determined by Casual Bystanders – Unfortunately that won’t stop people from tryin’.

Cash-Transfer Programs Show Remarkable Success in Fight Against Global Poverty – Surprise!: most people know what is best for them most of the time. Adding artificial barriers can create hurdles to get to the needed thing. These programs aren’t completely problem free either but it’s not exactly what you were expecting, is it? Or perhaps it is.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Rally – The US election results were mostly disappointing to many feminist bloggers; so too was the sentiment expressed at the Stewart/Colbert rallies in Washington, D.C.

Here’s some more humorous fare for you. Did you know feminists can be funny? Not me though; I’m one of those people who can’t tell a joke… which is sad because I’m also one of those people who sometimes has secret fantasies of being a popular stand-up comedian. They’ll put me on last so that I clear out the room.

A Pocket Guide to Vaginal Euphemisms – Terms vaginas are frequently referred to and what they mean. I’ll admit it I chuckled at a few of them.

FUNNY WOMEN #1: The New Rumpus Humor Column: I Am Sorry That I Didn’t Write a Comedy Piece – Laying bare stereotypes of women.

Gabby’s Playhouse: Discussing Sexism on the Internet – I’m posting the Scans_Daily community post because when I checked it last night Gabby’s blog was down, but he wrote this comic strip about discussions of sexism and I wouldn’t bother looking in the comments section because well there you are then.

Also here is a picture of Morbo from Futurama, because this blog is in desperate need of more pictures and this picture captures exactly the way I feel right now:

Morbo Pictures, Images and Photos

“Windmills do not work that way!”

[image description: Morbo the green anchor space alien with a giant head from Futurama, looking angry.]

I’m sure there’s more…

Guest Post: Interview with Elizabeth on Asexuality

11/01/2010 at 10:17 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

[Dear internet, we have a guest poster today! This is a follow-up post that picks up where Guest Post: Interview with K on Female Sexual Dysfunction over at Shades of Gray left off. Our guest poster, Elizabeth, had some questions for me about FSD and HSDD in particular, which I addressed over on her blog. And I had some questions about HSDD and asexuality which I was hoping she would be able to clarify.

To refresh your memory: In summer of June 2010, hearings were scheduled to determine whether the antidepressant-turned-potential-libido booster, flibanserin, should receive FDA approval. The possibility of this drug of questionable value going to market in the near future was met with resistance, especially from certain feminist organizations and activists. There were also some concerns about flibanserin and the type of sexual dysfunction it was supposed to address (Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorer) from within the asexual community. Elizabeth and I first made contact when we bumped into each other on a thread about the drug over at Ily's blog; there was some delay between then and the posts you see before you now.

I suggest that if you would like to participate in the discussion here, please check your privilege so as not to step on anyone's toes. Don't forget about the intersectionality; it's possible that we've got some folks with sexual problems & dysfunctions lurking in the wings here who put the "Questioning" or "asexual" in LGBTIQQAA. Flibanserin will no longer be pursued by Boehringer Ingelheim so we don't need to debate it today. As Elizabeth said in the preface to my interview, let's focus on making each other more aware, understanding & accepting of asexuality and sexual dysfunction.]


My name is Elizabeth, though many in the asexual community know me by my online moniker, the Gray Lady. I am a twenty-something cisgendered female blogger. I am both asexual and a feminist, and I blog about both subjects and how they interrelate. I identify myself as panromantic asexual, and am currently in a committed polyamorous relationship with a trans woman. Although the original subject of my blog is about being in the gray area between sexuality and asexuality and my own questioning where I fit on that spectrum, I now simply identify myself as being a sex-positive asexual. I take an intersectional approach to feminism, and always strive to identify where I have privilege and confront it, though of course from time to time I will fail to see it, as anyone does. I think it should be noted here that not all asexuals are feminists or any of the other things that I listed, and certainly not every asexual agrees with me. I represent only myself, though I try to do my part to help the community. In my leisure time, I can often be found reading, learning foreign languages, or playing Pokemon.

I understand that there is a lot to think about in a definition of asexuality. What are some important points you would like to see people understand about asexuality?

Most importantly, I want people to try to understand the word as we actually use it before trying to enter into a conversation with us. Too often, people make the mistake of inferring a meaning from the word’s component morphemes–that is, they think it simply means “not sexual”–which is very vague and could have a whole range of meanings, depending on how each person defines “sexual.” Some people have such a broad definition of sexuality that from their perspective, it encompasses the entirety of human existence. So at first glance, to some people it seems to be impossible. Others may think that we are referring to celibacy (lack of sexual behavior), an inability to have normal sexual function, or even think we’re saying that we don’t have genitals.

Generally speaking, however, we’re ONLY addressing sexual attraction. What that means is that, while we may be attracted to people in other ways (we might think they’re pretty, or like their personality), and while we are certainly capable of love, that (by itself) just doesn’t translate into a desire to have sex. If we do get “crushes,” they’re not sexualized; for me, if I like someone, the things I want to do with them are things like having deep intellectual discussions, cuddling, sometimes making out (though at other times I find myself grossed out by the thought of doing so), and literally sleeping in the same bed. Or sometimes, when my attraction to a person is purely aesthetic, just looking for a while. For this reason, some of us will use the word “squish” to describe a non-sexualized crush, so that hopefully there will be fewer misunderstandings.

That’s not to say that none of us ever want to have sex for other reasons, but the attraction itself just isn’t it. I never look at people and think anything like, “Wow, that person is so hot, I would so do her/him!” It doesn’t typically occur to me to think about sex on my own without some sort of external reminder, except as some sort of intellectual puzzle. I’ve found that I can have desire for sex, even enthusiastic desire for sex, without experiencing attraction, however. I never really feel this desire as I’m going about my day-to-day life; it only really arises when I’m in a situation where I’m comfortable with my partner and okay with the idea of having sex, and she begins to physically arouse me. That doesn’t mean that when I’m not in that situation I never think, “Oh, that might be nice,” but that kind of thought is usually pretty detached and apathetic, not so much a true desire. My partner and I will still often go months without realizing how long it’s been since we last had sex, even though she is sexual. I think one thing that helps me be comfortable with her is that she is not really sexually attracted to me either, because she mostly prefers guys for sex.

So asexuality doesn’t necessarily mean that we dislike sex, although there are certainly some asexuals who do. There’s tons of variety in the asexual community. There are some asexuals who would prefer to be celibate for life themselves, but are totally fine with sex otherwise. There are other asexuals who are disgusted by even the idea of sex, and don’t want to talk about it or see it in movies, books, etc. Just as there are many different sentiments within the asexual community about sex itself, there are also many different preferences on romance and intimacy. I’ve had people assume that just because I’m asexual, that means that I don’t experience love, or don’t experience romantic love. That’s confusing what we in the asexual community call romantic/affectional orientation (which, just like sexual orientation, describe what gender(s) a person tends to attach romantically to; e.g. hetero-romantic, homo-romantic, etc. And on that note, just to clear this up, it’s not a contradiction to identify as, for example, an asexual lesbian, because lesbianism can refer to either sexual or affectional orientation.) with sexual orientation at best, or assuming a lack of basic human emotions at worst. I think it should be the default assumption that asexuals of ALL stripes, even aromantic asexuals, experience love, even if it is platonic or non-romantic love. There is a wide variety of ways to form close connections with others; some rely on a close group of friends, some get intimacy through their communities, some have intimate relationships that aren’t categorized as strictly friendship or as romantic. What does “romantic” actually mean, anyway? There is no clear definition, and some of us struggle with deciding whether we are romantic or aromantic because of that, or don’t believe there is a distinction at all.

There’s so much variety that really, it’s reasonably safe to say that the only thing that unites us is a lack of sexual attraction significant enough for us to embrace this label. Of course, there are some gray areas as well which I’ve devoted much of my blog to, but that’s a little outside the scope of this.

Is there a difference between asexuality and HSDD, and if so, what is it? What about sexual dysfunction more broadly defined?

Well, as I mentioned earlier, asexuality has to do with sexual attraction, and HSDD has to do with sexual desire or sexual interest. These are not the same thing; it’s very possible to have either one without the other. For example, I’m not sexually attracted to anyone, but with an understanding partner and a different approach to sex, I’ve found it enjoyable and desirable, even though I don’t really have an intense level of interest in it. I’ve found that I tend to fall into a pattern of responsive desire as mentioned above, wherein I don’t really think about sex too often or get “in the mood” for sex without having had any kind of physical stimulation, but being in a safe space with a partner I’m willing to have sex with does allow me to enthusiastically consent, and generally speaking I find that I have no trouble on the physical side.

Of course, I used to have a lot of pain with PIV intercourse, to the extent that my first sexual partner condescendingly explained to me that I have a sexual disability, but that situation was coercive at best, and the real problem there was that I wasn’t able to become aroused enough in a situation that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with, with a person who didn’t seem to really care how I was doing and never bothered asking my permission before touching me. He essentially was writing off any responsibility he had for the way I felt (both physically and emotionally) by claiming that I was just “defective.” Initially, even in a situation where I am completely comfortable with having sex, I do sometimes have pain with intercourse for a variety of reasons, but it’s not very much pain, and it’s mostly due to not being used to the size, not enough lubrication, perhaps a bad angle, something like that. As far as I understand, this kind of pain is relatively common and normal for a person who has intercourse as infrequently as I do. I don’t have any pain with outercourse or any other form of sex. It’s not something that typically inhibits my ability to even have PIV intercourse on the same occasion that I have that sort of pain; most of the time, it is temporary. I’m not distressed about it at all. So I don’t define this as a disability or dysfunction of any sort, though if I did, it wouldn’t be HSDD.

One other thing I wanted to mention is that there was a study that recently came out recently called “Physiological and Subjective Sexual Arousal in Self-Identified Asexual Women” (by Brotto and Yule)” which I want to quote from here. This is just from the abstract, so you don’t have to actually read the full article to see where the quote came from:

“Asexuals showed significantly less positive affect, sensuality-sexual attraction, and self-reported autonomic arousal to the erotic film compared to the other groups; however, there were no group differences in negative affect or anxiety. Genital-subjective sexual arousal concordance was significantly positive for the asexual women and non-significant for the other three groups, suggesting higher levels of interoceptive awareness among asexuals. Taken together, the findings suggest normal subjective and physiological sexual arousal capacity in asexual women and challenge the view that asexuality should be characterized as a sexual dysfunction.”

So at least we do have some scientific evidence that asexuality is not a sexual dysfunction of arousal, in addition to much anecdotal evidence that asexuals are perfectly capable of normal sexual function. However, I also want to note that asexuality and sexual dysfunction can and do sometimes overlap. I know of at least one asexual woman who also has vaginismus, although I have not been in contact with her for a long time now. I’d love to hear from anyone in this overlap who would be comfortable talking about this, because I’m curious how these issues intersect, and how people within that intersection deal with attitudes from both sides.

What are some of the key concerns about HSDD in the asexual community and what (if any) are some ways these concerns might be addressed?

The main concern is that it might be used to delegitimize asexuality–which, quite frankly, a lot of times it is, however erroneously. There’s still a widespread view that asexuality is not a sexual orientation, but instead a disorder, a disability, a dysfunction, or the result of sexual trauma. The DSM-IV specifies that in order for it to qualify as a disorder, it must “result in significant distress for the individual,” however I’m not sure that is specific enough. What kind of distress? There are a lot of people who feel distress about being asexual because they have been taught to feel that it isn’t normal, it’s a defect, and that it’s a huge burden to their romantic partners, who will eventually leave them because of it, or that they’ll never find any romantic partners at all, and that not having a romantic partner and not having sex means they will never lead a fulfilling life. Basically, if asexuality is a sexual orientation, then it is not chosen and we cannot expect asexuals to be happy with it all the time, so simply saying there must be distress as a qualifier, while somewhat of a step in the right direction, doesn’t really work in my view and to be honest, it seems like it was just tacked on without much thought. If we assume that only people who are distressed about their lack of interest in sex have HSDD, and that asexuals don’t qualify because they lack that distress, isn’t the assumption that asexuals are all happy about being asexual? I’ve seen many threads where asexuals (with much embarrassment to admit it) discuss their distress due to being asexual, and I think this mindset only disempowers those people by encouraging them to hide how they feel. Plus, in that study that I quoted from earlier, anyone who felt distress about their lack of sexual interest or level of attraction would have been disqualified from the study, so this leads to issues with gathering representative samples as well. Of course, no one who volunteered did feel that sort of distress, and most likely no one who did would volunteer for anything like that, because of the pressure to present asexuals to the rest of the world as being happy and distress-free, so as not to make it easier for other people to dismiss us all as just disordered.

Now, technically asexuality is not about a lack of desire or a lack of sexual fantasies at all, and in fact it’s possible to be asexual and have either some form of sexual desire* or sexual fantasies, or both. But that distinction is very fine, and not often understood. In practice the two are often confused, and this may lead to a situation where an asexual person who has not yet realized they are asexual will be pressured into seeking treatment for HSDD, further internalizing the message that there is something wrong with them. Asexuality is not yet well known enough that we can expect people to realize that it’s a possibility, in this kind of situation. Sometimes it takes many years before people will come to understand themselves as asexual. I think it would help to have asexuality specified explicitly as something that should be considered. That would go a long way towards helping asexuality gain visibility as well.

* Since it’s been pointed out to me that this term isn’t all that clear itself, I’ll clarify that when I use it I’m not just talking about libido or “sex drive”–which I interpret as a physical urge for release–but also non-physically based desire as well. In other words, I tend to use it more in the sense of having any kind of interest in having sex, aside from altruistic partner-pleasing or coercive situations. Not an interest in the social consequences of having sex, but a desire to have sex itself, even when unaccompanied by a physical urge.

So that’s the practical concern. The other big concerns I’ve seen being raised are primarily ideological. I’ve seen asexuals and feminists alike raise these kinds of concerns. What is “normal,” and who gets to define it? In the case of HSDD, the task of defining such a disorder is essentially the same as authoritatively declaring what level of sexual interest–and by “sexual desire” they do seem to also mean “sexual interest,” as the DSM-V’s proposed revisions make clear (it may be renamed to Sexual Interest/Aversion Disorder)–constitutes a normal level of interest, what constitutes a disordered level of interest. This of course has a significant impact on laypersons’ ideas as well, because it is coming from people who presumably know what they are talking about (although I’ve seen some spectacularly bad… uh, “science” used by those in charge of rewriting the gender and sexuality disorders to justify their claims, so that assumption is not always a good one). If not being interested in sex continues to be considered a huge problem (disorder/defect) by and large by society as a whole, unqualified, then how can we reasonably expect stigmatization of asexuality to decrease? Without any explicit expression that asexuality, while uncommon, is still just a normal human variance, asexuals will still get lumped in with people with HSDD and the current cultural ideology (that all humans are sexual and so a lack of interest in sex is unnatural) will remain the same. Likewise, I think we also should be concerned about potentially having the wrong focus in cases where incompatibilities with one’s partner, relationship problems, or abusive situations may be the cause of the disinterest. Sometimes a lack of interest in or aversion to sex is actually very healthy and adaptive, and this needs to be taken into consideration as well.

Andrew Hinderliter of Asexual Explorations, our go-to guy for information about the DSM, posted an article on the Sociological Imagination which addresses this, and helped me to articulate some of my own views on the subject. As he points out, HSDD describes a symptom rather than a syndrome, and encompasses a wide variety of people in many different life contexts. As context is essentially the determiner for whether or not a low or non-existent level of sexual interest/desire is a disorder rather than a natural human variance or positive adaptation to a coercive situation, I have wondered at times whether this is particularly useful as a diagnosis by itself, or whether it might not be better as a symptom of other diagnoses. However, I also realized that the cause of such a problem may either not be obvious at first, or as with asexuality, just plain unknown. Thus, I think it can serve a purpose as a stand-alone diagnosis, but lots of careful thought needs to go into crafting it.

I’m well aware that careful attention needs to be paid to how this diagnosis works as a barrier for women with FSD from getting the help they need, or how any diagnosis might. If it is a symptom of another problem, that might not be immediately obvious, and so for those people, this diagnosis might be useful to get things started, and can change as more information surfaces. That’s a big if. But I also think that this can be a useful diagnosis in and of itself. Asexuals tend not to realize that you can have sexual attraction or interest in having sex without feeling desire for it. Because it’s a realm outside of our own experiences, we don’t necessarily tend to think about the possibility of this kind of disparity that deeply inhibits a person’s self-expression, this emotional pain that actually does come from an internal source. Although I wouldn’t compare these two experiences, I imagine it might be like a cisgendered person trying to understand what it’s like to feel a mismatch between one’s internal gender and one’s physical, wrongly-sexed body. That mismatch doesn’t exist for us, so we don’t tend to think about the possibility that it might exist for others, or the deep distress that it might cause. That distress alone should be sufficient to qualify for calling it a disorder or disability. I don’t think it’s right to minimalize the way it affects a person’s life by calling it a sexual “problem” instead, though at the same time I do think we ought to be careful not to make “distress or no distress” the sole distinction between people who have HSDD and people who don’t. I think that’s reducing it to an on/off, yes/no type distinction, when it’s really more complicated than that.

Another big concern I’ve seen raised, particularly among feminists and certainly by New View, is whether what is expected of women sexually speaking is centered around a male-centric norm. The argument, as I understand it, is that female sexual desire is very context-dependent, and that “sexual desire” may for many women mean having a sort of desire that is triggered more by physical arousal (in a safe and consensual context) rather than initial interest or attraction. From my own personal experiences, I know that this can be true, but other than knowing that responsive desire is perfectly possible without experiencing sexual attraction, I don’t know what to think about it. Does the HSDD diagnosis itself indeed put women in a position where they are expected to respond the same way as men, or is that more of a cultural assumption? Will the proposed split between male and female SIAD correct that? I don’t know those answers, but more pointedly, is that even the reason why women seek treatment for HSDD? That’s a pretty big assumption, I think. It’s certainly possible that some women do seek treatment for it because they apply a model of desire that’s more appropriate for men, but does that mean that all women who seek (or would seek) treatment for HSDD are doing this? I doubt it. What about women who don’t even have responsive desire? And why assume that no women who might seek treatment are aware of this tendency to view women’s sexuality through a male lens? I do think this cultural tendency ought to be addressed, but I don’t think it’s grounds to dismiss the entire diagnosis.

Switching gears… I want to return to something I mentioned briefly above: the issue of relationship incompatibilities. I feel this needs just a little bit more explanation before I move on to the next part of the question. I’ve noticed that the vast majority of the time, within a relationship where one partner has a much higher level of desire for sex than the other, the partner with the low level of interest gets all the blame for the problems that arise out of that. Rather than viewing this as just another incompatibility with both partners working towards a solution, often it is assumed that only the person with low desire must change, because there must be something wrong with them. A person who is told this over and over again might internalize this and begin to believe it themselves, and in this case might begin to feel distress over this aspect of themselves and want to seek treatment for it. I think many asexuals know this sense of believing oneself to be broken just because it’s what they’ve been told over and over and over again, because it is how they felt before understanding asexuality. I myself have been told many, many times that I must have a sexual disorder or disability, and while I never believed that, to some extent in the past I have considered asexuality to be a shortcoming in sexual scenarios because of it. I would say that this very emotional, touchy subject is what drives many asexuals to discount the possibility that HSDD/SIAD might be a legitimate disorder, and I think we saw that come out in the comments to K’s interview on my blog. But we do need to keep our emotional reactions under control, and realize that we have the privilege of not dealing with this internal pressure that inhibits our self expression.

So, with all that said, how might our concerns about the HSDD/SIAD diagnosis be dealt with, aside from all of us trying to take a level-headed view that acknowledges our own privilege? I’m not sure on how the diagnosis should be worded. I do think we need something that distinguishes between different kinds of distress, not so much as something that delineates specific definitions (being too specific would be exclusionary), but something that at least directs therapists and medical professionals to try to locate the origins of it. It seems to me like no matter how it’s worded, a short list of diagnostic criteria is still going to fail to acknowledge the complexity of all the different things that might be going on, and so I think perhaps having educational materials on asexuality available to be presented at the time of consultation might be a good option. (This of course with the acknowledgment that it might not apply, but is just being presented as a way to empower people with the knowledge that it exists, and ability to decide for themselves. I think it should be handled very carefully so as not to be coercive.) I don’t foresee that happening in the near future though, just because it’s such a tremendous task to get such materials distributed to every therapist’s office, not to mention getting them to understand and accept asexuality. If not that, then at least I think that all therapists and medical professionals should be made aware of both asexuality and the instances where low sexual interest or desire would be adaptive, and of the concerns of women who have FSD. They should be educated on the importance of balancing those concerns, and not assuming that the whole diagnosis is bunk just because it might be somewhat too vague in its description. I don’t foresee this happening soon, but we’re taking baby steps towards that goal, and it’s something that I’m hopeful for in the future.

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