A symptom of sexual immaturity?

09/17/2009 at 7:27 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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One of my goals as I roam down the long, lonely winding road of female sexual dysfunction is to broaden my sexual horizons. Perhaps in so doing, I will no longer find myself on a road at all but in the middle of a more level playing field, with beautiful views to boot. In the mean time, I’ve exposed myself to new ideas about sex & sexuality as I go down this path. I have become more open minded than I was at the beginning. I recognize counter-productive advice and turn away from it even as I take comfort in good advice – it’s okay to have different kinds of sex besides intercourse; it’s okay to fantasize and explore safely; and it’s okay to make what would be considered “Foreplay” by most, into a main sexual act, so long as it pleases all parties involved. And, if you ask me, it’s okay to seek medical intervention when things are just so completely out of control that it impacts your quality of life. I know how that is.

One of the main themes put forth by Klein & Robbins in Let Me Count the Ways (the book has some problems but I get what the authors are trying to do,) is that, a lot of sexual anxiety is caused by culture’s (US-centric here, as that is where the book was published,) strong emphasis on intercourse as the end-all, beat-all sex to have. I’ve seen this theme of breaking away from an intercourse-centric view repeated elsewhere, including Anne Sprinkle’s Guide to Spectacular Sex. It is freeing to know that no, you don’t have to meet that arbitrary sexual standard. You don’t have to live in a box or a series of boxes. You can make your own sexuality up as you go along.

It’s a good theory. But in practice, it’s not always that easy…

In real life, over and over again, I come face to face with a depressing reminder – In spite of my best efforts, I am still “Doin’ it wrong” when it comes to sex.

This is not something my partner has ever said to me. This is not something that someone has said to my face in person (yet.) It is the message I receive from the media when it addresses you, plural, for not being able to perform intercourse frequently. Or, for those rare occasions when all the stars & planets are in perfect alignment & I can pull it off, it is still unacceptable to perform poorly. Do a bad enough job of sex, and word could leak out to all your friends or a late-night talk show. “Did you hear the one about…”

Most of the time, I am able to disregard the message of sexual inadequacy. For one thing, I know it not to be true – intercourse may be a rare treat for me, but there are lots of other sexual activities my partner and I are fine with. For another, if I believe that message seriously, I risk falling into the trap of sexual avoidance.

As described in The Vulvodynia Survival Guide, the sexual avoidance trap is what happens when repeated exposure to sexual activity – usually intercourse for vulvodynia patients – continues to be physically painful. Eventually the patient associates sex with unwanted pain. The patient’s libido can drop in response, and if you’re in a relationship, it can start to suffer. That pain-free partner probably doesn’t want to see the patient in unwanted pain & suffering either, but the taboos on having frank discussions about sex can lead to a lot of communication problems. Not all relationships will survive this (probably) unexpected upheaval.
Of course, if you’re actually living with chronic vulvar pain, you probably didn’t need me to explain that trap to you. You may have already stumbled upon it.

This trap is made even wider due to living in a culture that places such a strong emphasis on heterosexual intercourse as the one and only true “Sex.” It is as Dr. Glazer explains in The Vulvodynia Survival Guide

All other forms of non-penetrative sexual activity are relegated to the realm of foreplay, which by definition refers to what people do to get ready for intercourse. With this common line of thinking, afflicted couples avoid “starting what they can’t finish,” as it were. This is a huge mistake (130).

Armed with this knowledge, I’m usually able to ignore negative or counter-productive messages about sex. What I do doesn’t have to be foreplay. Most of the time, I remain confident & eager to engage in sexual activity (at least, so long as my libido hasn’t crashed. And if it has crashed, so far it’s usually due to an infection or a major life event that demands my full attention anyway.)

But sometimes, the message gets through to me.

It’s harder to ignore when it comes from a trusted source.

This time, it didn’t come from Sex & the City or any other HBO television show. It didn’t come from a Jay Leno quip. It didn’t come from my partner as an insult. I didn’t read it in a magazine.
No, this time, the message that I’m still doing sex wrong comes from Evil Slutopia, a feminist/sex-positive/slut blog written by the Evil Slut Clique (ESC.)

Now, I was really enjoying Evil Slutopia; among other things the writers address the failings of Cosmopolitan magazine much like Holly of The Pervocracy does monthly. They talk about how, surprisingly, Family Circle magazine didn’t fuck up re: abstinence pledges. They wrote a scathing analysis of “Modest” fashion.
This is all right up my alley. I like this… these are good posts.

Then the authors took on a non-intercourse sexual activity and what is this I don’t even —

The post in question is described elsewhere as “Hilariously informative.”
I don’t see what’s so funny about it. I read it. I looked at it from a few different angles.
I must have a broken sense of humor on top of broken sexuality, for I fail to see the humor.
Or maybe I’m just too immature to get the joke. You’ll see where I’m going with this shortly.

At first, it doesn’t sound so bad – The Handjob Makes a Comeback. That doesn’t sound so bad, now does it? Innocuous enough. Maybe I’ll like this article too. A safer sex act that’s pain-free and always on my menu, but which has been the butt of jokes, is actually coming back into style? A sex act that is derided, becoming more acceptable & mainstream.
Yes, that is exactly what I’m looking for… acceptance. Less pressure to have sex the way other people tell me to, and so, deal with less anxiety & sexual insecurity.

Except that that’s not really what the post is about at all.

Upon closer inspection, it is clear that the authors feel that hand jobs deserve to remain the butt of jokes & that only immature teenagers engage in them for their own sake:

We mentioned that we didn’t believe anyone over the age of 13 actually still gave handjobs. We have long been convinced that the hand job was a dying art form, relegated to junior high school parties.

Imagine the authors’ surprise when commenters informed them that this non-intercourse, non-oral sex sexual activity isn’t as uncommon as they first thought. Intrigued, the ESC looked into available resources about handjobs, including a book dedicated to the topic, aptly called The Handjob Handbook. The ESC is quick to point out that the description for the book itself includes a line describing handjobs as the,

“lowly stepsister to the far more glamorous blowjob”.

However the ESC is not so quick to point out the very next line in the online description which says,

The authors of The Handjob Handbook think that’s unfair.

I have no doubt that the first bit about the “Lowly sister” line refers to society’s disdain for handjobs & masturbation in general, rather than the book author’s own views. The ESC even makes a statement to that effect,

In fact, men don’t even really need a partner for a handjob… A man can easily… um… take matters into his own hands.

You don’t need to have a partner for masturbation, no. So having partnered handjobs, or exploring male masturbation toys, is redundant and pointless. Male masturbation toys are even worse, what a joke.

The ESC looked for what other people are saying about giving handjobs – when they can actually find people who freely admit it. The clique does not take the time to consider that, maybe views like the ones they harbor, make it more embarrassing to come out openly about expressing sexuality in that way. The authors stumbled across one blogger who wants to share her relationship advice and starts out a post by saying:

You should give your man a handjob whenever he wants one.

The ESC was taken aback by this. This is relationship advice? I myself am reluctant to issue any “You should do x” proclamations on this blog, since I know that “Shoulds” never apply to everyone. The blogger, Advicebootcamp, also talks about having “maintenance sex,” whereas for me if sex ever becomes something I do as a maintenance chore, it will probably be something that, I may not want to do at all for awhile.

But this same exact blogger who gave the handjob advice also openly discloses that,

I suffer from a low sex drive (unless in the throes of the first 3 weeks syndrome). I use the word “suffer” quite deliberately.

I wish I had a high sex drive. I wish I’d see my guy, get wet immediately, drop to the floor and spread my legs every time I saw him. It would make him really happy, and I’d feel a lot less frigid.

Unfortunately, for whatever chemical-soup list of reasons, I can go without sex for scary periods of time – and he can’t. My guy actually has a pretty high sex drive and, like most men I’ve encountered or heard of, requires sex and sexual intimacy to feel loved, successful, and happy.

I cannot help but pick up on her use of the word “Frigid” in serious context – that Freudian, antiquated, grossly offensive code word for “Sexually dysfunctional,” and it sounds to me that her low sex drive bothers her, at least a little. AdviceBootcamp does not openly identify as having FSD and it is not my place to say that she does.  But I recognize that in this case, she has found a way of coping with something that otherwise bothers her.

The ESC tries to understand where Advicebootcamp is coming from…

Aha! It makes a lot more sense to lend your man a hand “whenever he wants”, if you’re refusing sex to him on a regular basis. (We’re not saying anyone should ever have to have sex or substitute a handjob for sex out of guilt, and we’re not making light of any issues or circumstances that might cause low sex drives or sexual incompatibility in a relationship. We’re just saying that her suggestions seemed pretty sexist and ridiculous without that background info but now make a little more sense.)

If it makes more sense with that background information, then why bring it up at all? And why handle it so clumsily?

Unfortunately, that same paragraph presents a whole new slew of problems.

So now, I’m “Refusing sex to him [my boyfriend] on a regular basis,” by not having, the kind of sex that the ESC tells me is “more grownup kinds of sex.” Whatever that even means.
Is the childishness of the handjob anything at all like Sigmund Freud’s assertion that only sexually immature women have clitoral orgasms, and that real, mature women can have vaginal orgasms from penetration alone?

I notice that oral sex is mentioned over & over as a one-up from handjobs. I’m often willing to enjoy this kind of sex, too, yes.
But there are times when I don’t want oral sex. Maybe I’m tired. Maybe I have a headache & moving my head around is going to aggravate it too much. Maybe we already had oral sex and are in the mood for something different.
Maybe I don’t need to justify my reasons at all. Maybe there is no reason.

But perhaps any reason I could give will run too close to one of the ESC’s friends, who,

once explained to us that she found handjobs useful for those times when she was with a guy that shewouldn’t want to give a blowjob to”.

To which the ESC responds with,

Either you want to be involved with the penis or you don’t… If he’s too gross for you to go down on, then why are you hooking up with him at all?

“Either you want to be involved with the penis or you don’t…”
“Don’t start what you can’t finish.”

Maybe my reluctance to give of myself wholly to my partner’s penis, doesn’t actually have much to do with him at all. Maybe he’s not “Gross.” Maybe it’s all me… does that mean I should abstain from so much as starting any sexual activity? Would that be leading him on?

But the ESC  just keeps on going like that. It just gets worse.

We’re sure that the occasional handjob would help to keep peace in a sexless relationship… but for a couple with a more “normal” sex life, it just seems a little boring and inadequate to choose the HJ over all the other awesome things you can do.

Ouch. There’s that word again, “Normal.” Thus implying that, my sex life is not normal.
And normal, is good.
And, even though I would consider handjobs to be a type of sex, if you’re not meeting the ESC’s definition of “Sex,” then your relationship is sexless.
This quote really throws people without “Normal” sex lives under the bus, too. Not normal? No one even wants to think about you!

But alas, a handjob, in and of itself, is inadequate as sex play. From a comment left by one of the authors:

We did say that we’ve used the handjob as part of foreplay. It is merely the handjob for the sake of handjob that mystifies us.

Foreplay. As in, something leading to “Real” sex, rather than something to enjoy by itself. Something that must inevitably lead to more.

In so describing the  handjob as lowly & immature, you succeed only in denying me and my partner sex that we both enjoy.

And so I must be the only one to stand up and say…
No more of this! No more, pedestalizing certain sex acts to the detriment of others!
And while we’re at it, no more, questioning, devaluing, tossing other sex acts into the gutter! No more telling me what one act or another means, instead of letting me construct my own meaning! No more!
No more “Oh that’s just foreplay, intercourse is the main course” bullshit.
You think we could maybe stop doing that? This is not the only example I have seen. It’s not always handjobs, and I could probably use these same arguments with regard to almost any other non-intercourse sexual activity. It is just the most recent.

What I’m reading between the lines is another iteration that my sex life is weird, I’m weird, my partner and I are weird for choosing to keep handjobs in the sexual activity rotation – among other things. This is not a rational decision made by two thoughtful, creative, consenting adults.

And I come away from the post feeling more sexually insecure and uncertain than I did when I went in.


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  1. Hi K,

    I also thought ESC missed the boat on the handjob thing. And all I’ll say in their favor about their insensitivity is that I didn’t register that they weren’t just slighting people who *wouldn’t* go further out of, say, chastity, squeamishness, or timidity, they were thumping people who just can’t go there. (There are plenty of other reasons besides FSD, or even low libido like AdvanceBootCamp claims, for not “moving on” to intercourse.) So anyway I thought about their post only in terms of insufficient imagination. For which I apologize.

    You probably don’t need me reminding you but you probably *really* want to resist FDS getting lumped in with asexuality, “low libido,” survivor avoidance, and other reasons for sticking with “forplay” and never “making it to real sex.” It takes more to link those things than “because in the end your partner can’t have intercourse with any of you you’re all the same.”

    “And I come away from the post feeling more sexually insecure and uncertain than I did when I went in.” It might help to listen to their post the way vegetarians listen to those kind of short-sighted “not even bacon?” responses by people who imagine the only alternative eating meat is salad with cottage cheese. They aren’t revealing your shortcomings, they’re revealing their limited horizons.

    A point I bring up because if giving men handjobs is even fractionally as interesting as giving women handjobs they don’t just feel good for the recipient they’re really, really fun, gratifying, interesting, intimate, complex, exciting, and skill-cultivating things to give. You can play a violin, and perform heart surgery, paint the Mona Lisa, tickle trout, crack a safe, fold a paper crane, and knead bread with your hands so… what exactly would make it impossible to steer one’s partner into speechless transcendence with only one’s hands as well? And since we don’t dismiss skillful handwork in any of the former tasks why, except for an unfortunate combination of intercourse-centrism and teen impatience to get “past second base,” should we dismiss skillful handwork in sex?

    (For completeness I say this without dismissing, at all, any of the millions of people who for whatever reason have no hands or are unable to use them.)

    Anyway, back to the notion that not being comfortable with intercourse (for any reason) is a limiting handicap check out the cool post by glutenfreegirl at the food blog Serious Eats:

    “When people find out I cannot eat gluten, they often say, “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

    (Not me.)

    And the next utterance? “Um, does that mean you are on the Atkins diet?”

    Nope. Not even close. Can I eat rice? Yes. Corn? Oh yeah to tortillas. Potatoes? I don’t know what I would do without potatoes.

    If I had not been forced to go gluten-free because of my celiac diagnosis, I don’t know that I would have ever eaten [the Ethiopian staple grain] teff.”

    Point being that while I think both you and your partner will probably really enjoy it when or if your FSD resolves and you can resume intercourse there’s a lot of seriously delightful ways to have sex you might have stinted or skipped altogether on the way to “real” sex.

    Great post!


  2. We had a lot to say in response to this. We have posted a response here.

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