Let’s read books part 3 – Sex is not a Natural Act, con’t

02/23/2010 at 7:26 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Part 3 in our continuing series on the feminist & sexology book Sex is not a Natural Act and Other Essays. Last time I posted about my journey into Sex is not a Natural Act and Other Essays, I left off at the end of the second section, Popular Writings on the Theme. (See part 1 here.) So far all my analysis relating to the book consists of ridiculously long posts, so if you’re wanting to read along with me, you may want to read my posts in little bits & pieces. Or just burn through, whatever.

After posting part 2 in our continuing series, I got dragged into jury duty and with nothing else to do but read, I plowed through more of the book. It’s time to talk about the next few chapters, the theme of which is Feminism and Sexuality. The six chapters contained in this section takes us to about the halfway point of the book.

My overall impression of the feminism-themed chapters in Sex is not a Natural Act can be briefly summarized as, “Not completely miserable.” There’s valuable thought on feminism and sexuality here, and this section contains my favorite chapter, which is about censorship and feminist analysis of sexually explicit materials.

Unfortunately, Feminism and Sexuality is also a return to heavy academic language and theory:

“Diverse erotic lives and new methods of reproduction are possible because of psychological processes such as symbolization and conditioning that are connected to ever-changing cultural formations.” (Location 1526.)

Oh goddammit.
Thinking caps on, everyone! Oh, you’re all already wearing your thinking caps, and so am I… Better make mine a double then!
By now I’m more used to Tiefer’s academia, but I still needed to re-read several passages from Feminism and Sexuality in order to absorb their messages. And sometimes, even after re-reading sections, I remain unconvinced of Tiefer’s position. Sometimes, I think she’s too heavy on the academia, too willing to sacrifice concrete practice and to overlook real, if uncommon, lived experiences.
And, now that I’ve read ahead and am almost finished with the book, I feel comfortable saying that… I’m  picking up on a couple of potentially problematic areas, especially in language she chooses and some inconsistencies…
Oh well, nobody’s perfect. Let’s dive in and get exploring.

Some of the essays in Feminism and Sexuality, particularly the first essay, are autobiographical. In the first chapter, An Activist in Sexology, the reader gets a better idea of Tiefer’s experience and history as a sexologist, especially as it relates to feminism. This first essay consists of a paper presented to the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality in 1993 upon receiving their Kinsey Award. Tiefer describes herself as an activist in the field of sexology, merging academic research, sexuality, politics and second-wave feminism into an expertise that she herself recognizes as controversial.  Tiefer seems to relish her position as a controversial figure, describing two incidents in which she was invited to speak about specific sexual subjects at meetings, and instead talked about completely different (though still relevant to sexuality, and with a strong flavor of feminism) topics (Location 1444, 1476). The gamble paid off in the end, as she is now recognized as an expert in the field of sexology. At the end of her paper she concludes, “There is really no way to be apolitical as a sexologist – every action supports some interests and opposes others,” (location 1490) and she implores others to incorporate feminist themes into their work – particularly “race and class analyses” (location 1491.)

The second chapter, Biological Politics (Read: Propaganda) is Alive and Well in Sexology, Tiefer takes a critical look at gender essentialism as it relates to biological arguments. That is, she critiques claims – including those from within the feminist community – that women and men are different due to their biology rather than differences in socialization & culture: “I have observed that arguments about sexuality emphasizing biological differences between men and women’s sexual lives as well as those emphasizing biological similarities have been used to ignore the sociocultural components” (location 1530). The critique is still relevant today, as some feminists continue to attribute gender differences to sex hormones and/or the presence of what kind of genitals you were born with. Attributing gendered differences to biology goes by different names, depending on what field is popular at the moment, be it “Regional brain anatomy, brain lateralization, evolutionary theory, gene effects, hormones, etc.” (location 1506). Tiefer’s career as a sexologist put her in a unique position, as working in that field allowed her to watch as medicine & biology became incorporated into sexuality research and clinical practice. The results of this biological views are restrictive when it comes to individuals’ sex lives, as under this sort of view, heterosexual intercourse is – or rather, it used to be – the only act that results in procreation and the continuation of the species (location 1525).

Next up is Gender and Meaning in the Nomenclature of Sexual Dysfunctions, and this chapter looks at the gender politics in the DSM – “The DSM, because of its powerful social location and its relations to most of the elements identified above, can be read as a work about gender” (location 1568, emphasis original.) She states,

“The language of the DSM overtly and covertly speaks the language of gender and of the most biologically reductionist version. By using only the terms males and females, never men and women, the gender language fixes people in the world of animals and locates whatever governs sexuality as in ‘the animal kingdom'” (location 1602, emphasis original.)

She doesn’t mention this part, but of course by using terms like “males and females,” the DSM also ignores folks who do not identify as belonging to a gender binary.

Now, in this chapter, Tiefer focused on gender…
But I looked at it from a different angle.
I noted the gender politics, yes, but I also gleaned clues about looking at FSD as a disability in and of itself, under the broad category of mental (and physiological) health. Tiefer provided a brief history of how sexual dysfunction has been treated within the DSM over the last few revisions. Currently, sexual dysfunction is listed in the DSM – this is a hotly contested feminist issue.
Looking at FSD as under the spectrum of mental illness, and thus under the broader spectrum of disability, is a different way of looking at FSD, and one I’ve not encountered much. Tiefer doesn’t do that in this book; she doesn’t look at FSD as a disability in and of itself. In fact, in an earlier chapter, she says,

“Using the clinical standard with regard to psychology is more difficult than using it for physiological matters because it’s harder to prove psychological disease, deterioration, or disability. Who’s to say, for example, that absence of interest in sex is abnormal according to the clinical definition? What sickness befalls the person who avoids sex? What disability? Clearly, such a person misses a life experience that some people value very highly and most people value at least somewhat, but is avoiding sex “unhealthy” in the same way that avoiding protein is? Avoiding sex seems more akin to avoiding travel or avoiding swimming or avoiding investments in anything riskier than savings accounts–it’s not trendy, but it’s not sick, is it?” (Location 240, emphasis mine.)

The “Clinical standard” she’s talking about is the clinical definition of normal, given just a paragraph earlier:

“The clinical standard… uses scientific data about health and illness to make judgments. A particular blood pressure or diet or activity is considered clinically abnormal when research shows that it is related to disease or disability. It shouldn’t matter to the clinical definition whether we are talking about the twentieth century or the tenth, about industrial Europe or rural Africa” (Location 235).

By placing sickness behind sexual problems, in this case avoiding sex, Tiefer is overlooking individuals who are bothered by sexual problems, due to sickness or disability. We’re taking opposite views here. From my point of view and in my experience, the sickness or disability comes before, or in conjunction with sexual problems.
(I also seem to recall reading personal stories from PWD who are pushed to avoid certain activities, including travel cited as an example above, due to society and companies not making their facilities accessible enough. I seem to recall hearing something about airline companies which have refused to serve PWD and other transportation services making travel difficult… In which case, avoiding travel isn’t a sickness in and of itself – it’s part of being disabled. Needlessly so – it shouldn’t have to be like that, if society was willing to be more attuned to the needs of PWD.)

Looking at FSD in and of itself as falling somewhere on the broad spectrum of disability is a very new idea to me and, I think, one that merits further investigation.
It is only within the last few months that I’ve started to look at FSD through the lens of disability, so I’ve got a lot to learn yet. And I’ve only been able to start thinking about it thanks to running into a handful of feminists on the internet who suggested that’s a valid point of view, or who were at least open to the idea of a broader definition.
Basically, I feel like I needed permission to explore FSD as a disability in and of itself, even though living with vulvodynia threw me onto the chronic pain spectrum to begin with. In this regard, those who question the validity of FSD act as gatekeepers, questioning the identification of those who would try to pass through those gates. The narrative goes something like, “Are you certain it’s not your partner’s fault or due to your own body insecurity; don’t you realize that you’re acting as a tool to Big Pharma and the patriarchy; you are too close, too deeply involved with your own lived experience to be able to make a wise objective decision.”
I needed permission to choose my own identity. Why did I need a permission slip? And actively choosing to identify as having sexual dysfunction and thus as falling somewhere on the broad spectrum of disability, is likely to remain controversial, since FSD is so hotly contested, and the women who experience it are so strongly stereotyped & stigmatized.

After all, “Diagnoses listed in the [DSM] manual are generally recognized in the courts in making legal decisions, by hospitals and psychotherapists in keeping records and by insurance companies in reimbursing for treatment (New Psychiatric Syndromes Spur Protest, 1985)” (Location 1561, emphasis mine). The emphasis in that statement is mine, because I have personal experience with this. The IC code for DSM is used in reimbursing pelvic pain patients… 625.x… and I’ve seen some of my friends get diagnosed with code 625.x… I want and need treatment, I need insurance to cover treatment, and so I need that diagnostic code to stay in place. I dread to think that in the worst case scenario FSD, and under it the specific sub-category of dyspareunia, is at risk of being removed from the DSM in future revisions.

But there is more at stake than just myself. There are other diagnostic codes under the broad category of sexual dysfunction listed as well – erectile problems, orgasmic problems, vaginismus… And some of those diagnostic codes are indeed questionable. It’s not all about me, and I do not have all the answers; I will likely never have all the answers. I’m likely to be faced with and generate more questions as long as I continue down this road.
Not everyone wants and/or needs treatment for sexual dysfunction, nor will everyone who experiences a sexual problem identify that problem as a dysfunction. Not every variation from Master’s & Johnson’s Human Sexual Response Cycle is in and of itself a disorder. It’s not fair to slap labels onto people or to force them into anything. One way we can think about when intervention is appropriate would be to ask the individual if zie feels personal distress; however Tiefer would likely point out here that the drawback to asking is that socialization rather than intrinsic factors could be exaggerating the amount of distress an individual would otherwise feel in a different environment.

The next chapter was more palpable to me – Some Harms to Women of Restrictions on Sexually Related Expression is so far my favorite chapter in Sex is not a Natural Act. If you haven’t burned through your Google Book Preview yet, it might be worth spending your available preview on this chapter; I actually very much enjoyed it.  Tiefer states her thesis very early on – “I have concluded that women are in more danger from the repression of sexually explicit materials [including pornography] than from their free expression” (location 1634, emphasis original.) That’s pretty strong, unequivocal language! She says, “The fundamental context of women’s sexuality in our time is ignorance and shame (location 1640, emphasis original,) and that, “Although antipornography arguments seem to rely on scientific research or moral principles, I often see just the projection of these internal feelings of shame and dirt that were taught at an early age” (location 1647). This is still true today! I still hear about this within sex-positive circles!

Basically in this chapter, Tiefer argues that, because women are generally socialized to sexually self-regulate & restrict themselves to begin with, it doesn’t make sense to add to the restrictions women encounter by censoring erotic & pornographic material. These materials have the potential to be harnessed for good, in the form of stimulating the imagination. But wait, what kind of message does it send if a woman watches degrading porn and is turned on by it, is that a long-term good idea? Keep in mind that Tiefer is big on symbolism, she loves it. And instead of interpreting porn literally, she says the other way to look at it is take the symbolic approach –

“The antiporn feminists argue that pornography is to be interpreted in a literal way – if it’s a picture of a woman being fucked while lying across three tall stools in a coffee shop, it’s a picture of an embarrassed, uncomfortable, and unhappy woman. But this isn’t the way sexual fantasy actually works.” (location 1670).

And this is particularly relevant, sine I’ve heard sex-positive feminists try to explain this concept over & over again on thier own blogs – it’s fantasy. That still happens today! As an example, Tiefer cites one of her patients who derived some pleasure (and shame) from masturbating to a sexually degrading fantasy, and Tiefer says,

“Is it correct to interpret this woman’s fantasy as the straightforward story of a degraded and humiliated and subjugated woman? No. Such a simplistic assessment does not accurately characterize the ‘meanings’ of her fantasy… The vicissitudes of her upbringing and this misogynist culture produced the more negative elements – the undesirable setting and partners and the lack of her own arousal in the fantasy. She couldn’t feel entitled to openly enjoy sexual arousal, which was exactly what was going on with her husband” (location 1685.)

And she concludes,

“Anyway, the point is that pornography is about fantasy and identification with the characters in stories as symbols. It cannot really be understood just on a literal level. And if pornography is suppressed, women will not learn things about themselves and their imaginations that they can learn through experimenting with and reflecting upon their reactions to pornography” (location 1690).

I don’t have much to add to that or to critique here. I’m in agreement.

The rest of the chapter is neat too – she addresses sex worker rights and religious restrictions on masturbation. The only thing is – this chapter may have been stronger if Tiefer had more directly engaged anti-pornography crusaders. I know who she’s talking about, but I think it would have been better if she’d named them anyway.

But the next chapter, Towards a Feminist Sex Therapy, wasn’t as enjoyable. It’s not bad, I just didn’t connect with it. “It’s not you, it’s me.”

I personally do not wish to go through sex therapy, because so far I still haven’t found a sex therapist I can relate to. Mostly I’ve been reading blogs online written by or featuring sex therapists who dole out sex life advice. And most of the time I’m like, “Ehhhhh… not for me… no thx. Pass.” I might start out liking one sex therapist or another. I want to know more about what this or that person has to say.
Then I read further and see flaws in what experts have to say and I can’t reconcile it. I see the sex therapists online or in print say things I find problematic or just plain don’t like, and I get turned off, nitpick and/or refuse to get on board with it.
It doesn’t help that I’ve heard too many stories from other pelvic pain patients who tried sex therapy and had negative experiences with it.
So I’m not into sex therapy right now. “She’s just not that into you!”

Buuuut if you happen to be interested in it, then, in this chapter Tiefer reviews current mainstream sex therapy (or current as of the time of writing,) and talks about how it would be beneficial to inject a healthy dose of feminism into it. It’s a good idea, and basically what I’m trying to do on my own without outside aid. Feminism lets me look at sex, gender, mainstream media, etc differently and asks questions that a not-feminist sex therapist probably wouldn’t think to ask.

The problem is, sometimes it backfires…
In the worst case examples, disagree with one school of thought in feminism or another, and you can be excommunicated. Disagree with an experienced master, and it all goes straight to hell. You get called a bitch or other slurs with a long, charged history in oppression. Or you get kicked out of a feminist clique. Or outed and actively hunted down. Or start cross-feminist blog flamewars.

So what happens if you are assigned to a feminist sex therapist whose school of feminist thought clashes with your own? That therapist is in a position of power over you, after all. Do you disagree and potentially derail the rest of the therapy sessions? Especially if finding a feminist sex therapist was hard to do in the first place. How do you tell your feminist sex therapist “My understanding of feminism is too different from yours for your homework exercises to be of any use to me”?
I guess Tiefer is assuming here that most sex therapy patients are not feminists to begin with, or else they are but are not well educated on even the most basic tenets and local history of the movement. And in many cases, that’s probably true. So I may be overthinking things.
But what if a sex therapist gets someone like me? I already identify as feminist, yet I still struggle with sexual dysfunction. I have a feeling I’d drive any feminist sex therapist I could be assigned to up the wall. Or else the therapist would drive me up the wall and it just wouldn’t work.

So feminism plus sex therapy can sometimes add up to double-edged sword. Not always. But for me, I think I see the potential for stress & needless conflict.

Not only that, but this chapter frustrates me, because of a contradiction buried in the text. At least I’m perceiving it as a contradiction; what do you think?
At one point: Tiefer says, “I fail to see why there can’t be such a thing as ‘sex talent,’ akin to talents for music, athletics, dance, mathematics, humor, or maze-learning directionality – the various other special psychomotor or cognitive gifts we already recognize and celebrate” (location 1829, emphasis mine.)
Hey, wait a minute… Time out, huddle up – isn’t that “Sex talent” statement in direct conflict with the premise of the rest of the book? That is, that sex is not a natural act? How is certain gifted individuals being in possession of sexual talent not conflict with the idea that sexuality is socially & culturally constructed?

Talents can be lost or cultivated but my understanding is that if you have a talent for something, you have a natural knack for it without any previous exposure to training. I have relatives with a natural, seemingly inborn talent for art, spatial analysis, math, etc. Tiefer doesn’t define “Talent” either so I’m forced to double-check my understanding against dictionaries and – well my doublechecking backs me up – talent is generally understood to be something natural, innate.

So where does that leave you if  you lack sexual talent? Why do you not call it “Skill” instead, which is something learned? I think that “Talent” is not the best choice of words to use in the context of the rest of the entire book…
And, I prefer to believe that even if you lack talent in some area you want to explore, it’s possible to develop skills from training which will make you just as skilled or even better at some activity than someone with talent. (Especially if someone with talent chooses not to cultivate it.)

Whew, almost done with this post. Did you make it this far?

Last one in this section is, The Capacity for Outrage: Feminism, Humor, and Sex. This chapter contains Tiefer’s thoughts on feminist humor – and she fancies herself quite funny indeed! I still haven’t found her quite as funny as Sady Doyle, but Tiefer is some kind of funny anyway – the kind of funny that compares men with erectile dysfunction to Jackie Gleason bumbling around with bugged-out eyes, for example. In addition to symbolism, Tiefer clearly loves humor.

Feminist humor is a tricky, thin wire to tread upon – “There is no clear line between good “feminist” humor (constructive, political, reformist) and bad “nonfeminist” humor (hostile, women-are-good-men-are-bad, simpleminded) although we can make some meaningful distinctions” (location 2025). What makes a joke funny? What makes a joke political? What makes a political joke inherently feminist?

Well, one of the key elements, is intent.

“As with manslaughter vs. murder, the essential element in deciding whether something is political or not is intention. Is the comedian, cartoonist, or satirist identifying with a movement or struggle, or just ou to get a laugh? Oh, gee, I didn’t mean to upset you by mentioning manslaughter” (location 1875).

Okay I have absolutely no idea what Tiefer meant with that last bit about “Oh, gee,” I can’t quite tell from this bit if she’s being sarcastic there or not but…

But wait a minute – I though that from a feminist point of view, looking at intent alone is not enough. Or, even if you do look at intent plus the other features required to make a feminist joke, you need to look at the consequences. Evil, real consequences spring forth from well-meaning actions, and that includes telling jokes. It might seem funny to whatever group you’re a part of at that moment, but what if, due to various privileges, a joke (or contemporarily, performance art) steamrollers over already marginalized groups you hadn’t thought of?

What happens when you don’t look at consequences?

Well, when you ignore consequences of joking around about FSD, even within a feminist context, you might just get this shit. You get a bunch of partner-blaming, bullying, condescending comments, denial of real medical conditions, and potentially as a result of the above, flagrant misogyny. Perhaps you yourself do not engage in these behaviors, but others with a less sophisticated understanding of feminist humor go there. So in the end, you get a bunch of people who deny that FSD is real, because after all they don’t have it themselves and it’s all a bunch of made up hysterical hooey right? Maybe if your husband would do the dishes once in awhile you’d have enough energy for a sex drive. You just need to get out and think about getting laid and make it happen and it will be better.
When you don’t look at the consequences, you get further stigmatization and you either don’t know, don’t care, don’t believe it, or some combination of the above. And for oppressed groups and individuals, these attitudes can be translated into real-life, dangerous actions.

No. Intent is not enough.

And indeed, this chapter mentions other critical components of what makes feminist humor. But that bit about intent really stood out to me… I think it’s entirely possible to meet all the criteria required make an inherently feminist wisecrack, and still, due to privilege, cause long-term  harm.

Admittedly, the intent discussion takes up only a small part of the rest of the chapter on feminist humor. Much of the rest of the writing here is enjoyable, educational and sometimes amusing. This chapter would be especially useful for a comedian. Seriously, if you want to be any kind of comedian and have any interest in feminist humor, read this chapter. It’s heavy on the theory of humor, but there’s a lot of concrete examples, including pictures, in this chapter. And if you’re a comedian anyway, you’re probably interested in the theory of humor to begin with.
Just remember to think about the consequences of whatever joke you’re telling.

Aaand that takes us to a little over the halfway point of the book. Overall, this third section contained some useful feminist theory and some exploration of the theories in practice, but it wasn’t perfect. (But then, what is?) The next few sections of Sex is not a Natural Act examine medicalization of sexuality (particularly male sexuality) and FSD in greater detail, so these next few chapters should be of particular interest to regular readers. A note though – the 4th section is proving more difficult to analyze & so I may post a follow up after taking a break for awhile, we’ll see how it goes. (I need a better outline of where I want to go with it.)

Interesting posts, weekend of 2/21/10

02/21/2010 at 9:51 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Dear internet, I watched two 1980s sci-fi teen comedies almost back to back – Weird Science and Real Genius. I missed out on them growing up. They’re supposed to be classics of the 80s so I was eager going in… Weird Science was a disappointment, it was over-the-top to cartoonish levels (without being animated itself, unfortunately,) and heavily sexist & objectifying. Literally objectifying; the main characters build a woman out of a doll, she considers herself their property – though in the end she is free I guess. Real Genius was the superior movie, I thoroughly enjoyed that. It was still over the top, but to a lesser degree, and it was better.

Friendly reminder: I am looking for Guest Posters. Did you see Brie’s guest post this week? 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.

There’s an interesting postcard and followup message at PostSecret this week… can you find it?

Last week I posted something to go into Dave Hinsburger’s Sex & Disability blog carnival; this is is personal contribution with other commenters pointing to their own work.
Interview: Sex & Disability – something that could have been included in Dave Hinsburger’s post.
‘So how do you have sex?’ and other stupid comments – coming out as queer and disabled – This also would have fit right in (Via Womanist Musings.)
There’s also a new blog about sexology & disability, Crip Confessions – something relevant to my interests in light of our continuing series on Sex is not a Natural Act & Other Essays. There’s only 3 entries so far so I cannot tell yet what direction this is going to go in, but I’m hoping it goes in a helpful direction…

[Trigger warnings apply to the following:] One of the major topics going around the feminist blogosphere deals with a British survey which revealed attitudes towards rape – the results suggest that the dominant attitude is still one of victim-blaming rather than perpetrator-blaming. British Survey Suggests That Women Are To Blame For Rape from Renee, The Blame Game from Happy Bodies, Thoughts On Why Women Hold Some Rape Victims Responsible from Marcella, Dodged Bullets from the SarahMC. Snowdrop Explodes has set up a petition urging a review sex education in the UK in order to counter some of these dangerous attitudes – Petition for review of sex education in Britain.

Another major topic on the feminist Blogsphere is the fallout from the Amanda Palmer Evelyn Evelyn performance art/music stunt. There are a lot of blog posts about this topic & so I’m linking to the Linkspam community’s posts – One, Two, Three, Four. [Note – links contained therein may be triggering.] I had no idea who Amanda Palmer was before hearing about this but having read about her latest work… I think I was more contented not knowing about her style of art, which I have no doubt would have been encouraged by my own “Quirky” high school art teachers.

Speaking of education, there’s also this disgusting action taken by a school in PA, where laptops were potentially used to spy on students, one student in particular who, it is reported, was spied on at home. I Love Big Principal, and Things I just don’t understand. Looking back at my own high school experience I have no doubt that my own school would have used any means necessary to spy on their own students, and if the district could have afforded laptops for students, the staff would have been allover it.

40 Days for Anti-Choice Harassment – for Lent, anti-choicers are rallying for more harassment outside of abortion clinics and recruiting newcomers. Also, What’s the Weather Going to Be Like on Saturday? – About being a clinic escort.

Should Condom Companies Adjust Sizes To Fit Male Egos? – At first I didn’t believe this Frisky article that said it’s been recommended by the Kinsey Institute that condoms be re-sized to be “Large” by default and anything larger than average be considered “extra large,” etc, in order to boost condom use. But then I double checked and it turns out that  yep, the a researcher affiliated with the Kinsey Institute really did suggest just that. Wow.

For Cereal, Jessica at Jezebel? PTSD after obstetric assault is “hysterical?” – [Trigger warning] – the article in question here is a little old but it demonstrates attitudes towards assault during childbirth and the aftereffects. The more recent article is from Salon.com, How childbirth caused my PTSD [Trigger warning.]

Emo Prince Hates Vaginas – RPattz does not understand sexual objectification.

Tiger Beatdown Entertainment Presents: MOMMY ISSUES, A Comedy in Two Bros – a hypothetical movie plot summary. THIS COULD BE REAL.

Just in time for the Winter Olympics, the non-followup to Caster Semenya’s racing eligibility. From the IAAF to the IOC: another (not so) fine mess – The “Debate” still isn’t settled.

Fighting Denied Claims Requires Perseverance – (Via my autoimmune life) about getting insurance claims reimbursed after denials.

I’m sure there’s more…

Guest Post – On the social construction of sex

02/16/2010 at 8:25 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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[Dear internet, we have a guest poster today! The following has been written by Brie. She maintains her own blog over at My Vaj-Jay is Broken.]

So K has graciously allowed me to be a guest poster.  This has taken a little bit of time to create due to the fact that I am a graduate student who barely has time to catch up on her schoolwork.  But at long last I am taking a short break in order to write some things down.  At first I wasn’t sure what it was that I wanted to write about.  I will admit that my own blog My Vaj-Jay is Broken can sometimes be a bit of a venting arena, but I think there are a few posts that have been about more than just my personal feelings on the subject.

What I would like to address in this post is along the line of the social construction of sex.  I came across this notion as I was reading through an article for my graduate studies classes.  That particular day it got me thinking about my own personal sexual health and how I judge myself against what is presented as the norm for individuals.  You know when people teach you about peer pressure when you are like 15 and it’s supposed to be like “hey don’t do drugs because of peer pressure”  well it’s kinda like that but you’re all grown up and supposed to be totally past it and instead of a few friends passing you a joint it’s movies, and tv, and commercials, and magazines, and radio, and your parents (cause they just want you to have babies already), and your friends all telling you that sex is easy, and simple, and you should be having it.   Well as many of you readers are aware it’s not that simple, in fact it’s really really hard.
It’s the whole of society that leads you to believe that sex is the most natural act on the face of the planet.  I mean that’s what the last 40 years have been about right, free love and the sexual revolution and all that.  In the US, our society in particular has constructed this one-size-fits all version of what sex should be, and if you don’t fit that size then it becomes a dysfunction.  Now, I personally don’t like using that word, I tend to refer to it as a condition but that doesn’t really sound much better does it.  In this society if you are 25 years old and a “virgin” (again not a fan of that word) then there is something wrong with you.  And getting back to the pressure aspect of it, being 25 living with a sexual problem is a whole lot of pressure.  Pressure to keep up an image other than what the truth is.  I can count on one hand the number of potential relationships I have been upfront about this with, and in my case none of them went past that moment.  That’s a lot of pressure.  To keep up this facade that you are like every other girl, that you’re not having sex is normal because its too early in the relationship, when everyone around is jumping straight into things, and then falling in love for years after.  A lot of pressure.

Then there is the right of passage aspect of sex.  For boys it generally comes much earlier but it’s still there for women.  In many cases it is assumed that when you have sex you have transitioned from being a child to being an adult.  A fully fledged woman who has harnessed her sexuality fully.  So where exactly does that leave the rest of us who are 22, 25, 30, 40 and still unable to have old fashioned sex.  Many women will argue that they are just as sexually alive and awake and a woman who is having pleasurable sex.  For me it’s a little different.  I haven’t found that sexy yet, not really.  I can get dressed up with my make-up and heels and feel sexy for a night, but I wake up the next morning having lost that feeling.  For me this is hard, you are taught growing up that sex is what grown-ups do, and that when you’re a grown-up you can too.  Women who exude confidence have figured out how to navigate through this social construction, I personally am still hacking through the forest so to speak.

There have been small steps taken to change the assumption that all women have the same sex life.  But they are small steps.  Whenever I talk to a friend about my sex-life or lack-there-of they are confused and don’t really understand.  We have short 20 minute specials in the middle of the day, or on newscasts that only a select few are made aware of.  Half of the specials that I have seen in the last few months I only knew about because the National Vulvodynia Association emailed me about them.  And any attempt by network shows to highlight these problems, while appreciated, never quite get it right.  ABC has tried, on a few occasions, to show women dealing with sexual dysfunction but the diagnosis and treatment happen so quickly it paints a false picture of the realities of the condition.  We can’t expect miracles overnight I guess.

The point I am trying to make is that while medical research is all well and good we cannot forget about the social constructions that remain part of our culture.  Until we change the way we view sexuality (again) finding a cure will only be half the battle.  We must be aware of the expectations and pressures we place on women who are suffering from FSD and try and change these views to incorporate a more wide-ranging definition of sex.

Interesting posts, weekend of 2/14/10

02/14/2010 at 5:52 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Dear internet, another less than stellar week. Snowdump 2k10 continues and I’m on shovel duty. I missed another 2 days of work trying to dig my way out from the snow piles. And it’s too cold, wet & unpleasant to build snow monsters out there! (I don’t build snowmen anymore, I build snow monsters.) On the other hand, it’s Valentine’s Day – which for me is great, but for others, it’s an annoying holiday. I’m very impressed with the gift my boyfriend got me this year – I thought we agreed to a $40 maximum this year! He went overboard!

Friendly reminder: I am looking for Guest Posters. We will be taking a short break from our continuing coverage of Sex is not a Natural Act in order to showcase a guest post later this week. 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.

It’s not too late to take advantage of Valentine’s Day ideas! Two from Violet Blue, both [NSFW]sex and romance HOWto’s + hot destinations and happy Valentine’s Day: two free erotic e-books and audio books!

Violet Blue also posted this [NSFW] series of  sex education videos over a week ago, I missed putting it up with the last roundup: sex education in media: my January class

Tell Congress About Your Interstitial Cystitis – The deadline on this one has passed, but it may still be of interest to IC patients, and includes Jeanne’s letter to congress. On a related note, (Via My Autoimmune Life) New Clinical Trial For IC Patients with Vulvodynia PatientsThis one is explicitly for patients with both vulvodynia and IC, two conditions that sometimes overlap.
Also related, some of my readers here have endometriosis, and so here is another one from Jeanne about Endometriosis Advocacy and the Media.
There’s more health-related blog posts this week, including Ms. M on Living With Chronic Illness, a Guest Post – about living with chronic conditions while feminist.
And also, Voices of the Uninsured – a much-needed reminder that health care in the US is still a crisis situation.

This one could be important to your online safety: Buzz off: Disabling Google Buzz – Google automatically enrolled gmail users into the Buzz program. This links you with former contacts and if you’ve got your real name anywhere in your profile, those contacts can see it. See also Who you speak to and where you are: why it matters

On identifying identities – I thoroughly enjoyed this post by Chally, which looks at gatekeepers to identity, particularly in terms of youth. Relevant to my interests as someone who’s deliberately choosing to embrace FSD as a part of my own identity since I keep running into people who think they know what women with FSD are like without having experienced it themselves:

I want to talk about the ways in which identities are denied…

It takes some kind of extraordinary arrogance to declare an identity for someone else. This is an attitude that says, ‘My perceptions are more important than your lived experience.’ ‘My comfort in my ability to correctly assess people overrides the truth.’ It is extraordinary what lengths humans will go to in order to make the world in line with their screwy ideas about the people in it. As for ‘the truth,’ that’s the thing. The truth is that someone’s identity is whatever they hold it to be. Asserting your idea of what a person is over theirs says that it’s okay for everyone to weigh in on and locate and decide it as an objective truth. And almost inevitably it’s an “impartial” outside observer who has the right idea, and they locate the truth of someone’s identity quite outside the grasp of the individual concerned. There is no good reason why your ideas about what a person is like, or what people with an identity are like, should trump the experience and history and, you know, understanding of their own being, of the person with said identity, no reason at all. Forcing your ideas about what a person is onto them is presumptuous and bizarre; how on earth do you think you know better about a person and their life than they do?

Yep. Of course this applies to many marginalized groups & bodies.

On a possibly related note, we also have, What Is ‘splainin’? And Why Should I Care? – I’ve seen “Mansplaining” used around the blogosphere a lot in recent weeks, but there’s more than one way to be a ‘splainer. This so far is one of the best definitions of ‘splainin’ I’ve seen. Do you know any ‘splainers in your life? My dad, for example, is definitely a mansplainer! A very quick guideline (You’ll want to check the rest of the post for more) is that,

In a nutshell, ’splainin’ is an “explanation” which is put forward in the most patronizing way possible. The ’splainer feels passionately that ou opinion and beliefs outweigh actual lived experience and wishes to inform everyone of this fact. ’splainers are unfortunately especially common in safe spaces in which the voices of people living in marginalized bodies are centered, because such spaces are threatening to people who find our voices contrary to their worldviews.

Assvertising – an in-depth analysis of a shitty sexist ad.
What We Learned from the SuperBowl Ads – I missed the SuperBowl completely, was totally uninterested. So I missed the commercials, but the Harpies summarize them for me – and they’re on YouTube anyway.
Possibly related due to its look at bad ads – and countering them: Charging Hard against Dodge’s Dude-ism

There’s nothing in the world that’s not the fault of bitches – Mostly I like the snarky title on this post; the content isn’t as great, but if you’re interested it’s about the religious right getting cheezed off about women using birth control.
There’s also an example of being a bitch (in the best sense of the word!) Be A Bitch: To the New York Times Public Editor[Potentially triggering] calling out the NYT coverage of Roman Polanski. Yes the Roman Polanski rape scandal is still going on.

Couldn’t Remember Where I Heard It…… Just a quick note – Yeah I never liked Catcher in the Rye either.

Getting it right: Sexual Violence Prevention in media. – This links to triggering material but I think the post itself is worthwhile, it talks about differences between getting a sexual violence prevention ad done right vs. doin’ it wrong.

Cosmocking: March ’10! – The monthly breakdown of Cosmopolitan’s strange sex & relationship advice.

[Greta Christina] Sex and the Off-Label Use of Our Bodies – a nice counter to authority figures who try to tell you what your body is really meant to do and it only serves that one purpose. No you can use the body in different, creative ways.

Vegetative States and Terrifying Implications – after reading this, I talked to my own partner about what we want to do if one of us finds the other in a vegetative state. Or rather, I tried to talk to him about it; he didn’t want to talk about it at that time (I don’t blame him.) This post is about “locked-in syndrome,” which is where although a person appears to be in a vegetative state & unresponsive, they are still aware of what’s going on around them – if you can just give them the tools to communicate.

Victory for Sex Positivity in Rhode Island – after much wrangling, the Center for Sex Positivity, a non-profit sexuality resource center, opened up in Rhode Island, making it the first of its kind on the East Coast (I think there’s a similiar not the same organization in Seattle.)

I’m sure there’s more…

Valentines Sex Fest (or not)

02/13/2010 at 10:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Edit: oh look Kowalski made a picture. It is, “Fishtank” style mouse made of clear plastic filled with liquid and little red hearts resting on a red heart-haped mousepad. The caption says: “Valentine’s Day Disability & Sex Blog Carnival presented by Rolling Around In My Head A Blog By Dave Hingsburger”

I have written this in partly hopes of being included in Dave Hingsburger’s 2010 Valentine’s Sex Fest blog carnival. (See his 2009 roundup and his personal post.) Of course in doing so, I’m hoping that he’ll be open to the idea of including sexual dysfunction as a disability in and of itself – in my individual case, under the spectrum of chronic pain, as vulvodynia means chronic vulvar pain. You DID say “All bloggers!” My other hope is to give some hope to other chronic vulvar pain bloggers and patients.
And if I fail to meet both of these criteria, well then it’s Valentine’s Day, it’s still within the spirit of the season. Although admittedly the season has been corrupted with commercialization and heterocentrism to say the very least… plus this year’s snowdump doesn’t make getting to the store to buy roses any easier…

The fact that I’ve experienced this type of vulvar pain – along with that of vaginismus (Who’s on first?) – makes writing about sex & sexuality… interesting, to say the least. After all, my limited experience as a white cis het gal with vulvar pain has already given me enough material to maintain a blog dedicated to this one topic for over a year.

So where do I begin…?

I may be living with a form of female sexual dysfunction – the only valid, important form of FSD, depending on who you ask (I would contest that assertion,) but, paradoxically, I have nonetheless often been able to enjoy a vibrant sex life. However, my idea of “Sex life” probably doesn’t match most folks’ definition, and sometimes I am unable to have the kind of sex I want. I don’t match what you see on television, let’s put it that way.
And my sex life certainly hasn’t come easily… no, for me, the act of sex does not come naturally. No, I’ve had to fight for what I have.

It’s not easy. I’m defending myself on multiple fronts – identifying as having FSD means most folks automatically assume I’m some kind of living stereotype, and that all my problems would go away if I could just learn how to communicate better with my partner and if I did less household chores. Or if I dumped him. So I’ve been struggling to be true to myself and be sex positive at the same time. How do you get involved with the sex positive community when FSD is like its antithesis? The history of FSD in medical literature is colorful, to say the least, so there’s issues of patriarchy & exploitation to consider. Since that part of the body is generally taboo to talk about, I have relatively few friends in meatspace I can speak to openly about my sex life. But I’m also having to fight my doctors to get them to recognize that what I’m going through is real and potentially treatable. In my experience, most doctors still don’t even know what “Vulvodynia” or “vaginismus” is, so I’ve had a lot of explaining to do.

So I fight for my sex life, and sometimes, I win. And when I win, so too does my partner.

Most of the time I don’t have any problems with the areas folks seem to think of when they think of FSD – arousal, libido, orgasm. (Well, actually arousal & lubrication is getting to be a bit of a problem in and of itself, since I’ve developed a bartholin’s gland cyst deep inside my right labia. I’m not out of the woods yet.) Those three areas are less problematic for me, so long as I’m feeling well & not in pain. You see, with vulvodynia, certain kinds of sex, like the kinds involving penetration, are difficult & painful. And in the worst case scenario, the pain can bleed out into other areas of life beyond sex.

There’s my problem – the vulvar vestibule pain I experienced on contact with an object, be it a tampon, my own fingers, a dildo or my partner’s penis, was unbelievable. And due to the vaginismus, my vaginal muscles clamped down hard whenever I tried to insert anything – that in and of itself was enough to cause more pain.
But for a long time, I thought that pain was normal. Didn’t sex ed teach the girls’ that sexual intercourse is supposed to hurt the first few times? What sex ed didn’t mention is that the pain would go on for days afterward… and then the days would stretch into weeks with post-coital irritation & itching… and when I was in the worst of the chronic pain in a secret place I wasn’t supposed to talk about, it drained me. My sex drive crashed, the fantasies I’d looked forward to experiencing with my partner dried up, the thought of becoming aroused depressed me because it served as a reminder of what I could not do.
And unfortunately sex ed didn’t teach students ways to minimize pain and how to maximize comfort & pleasure. I was not armed with tools to minimize the pain I would experience – quite the opposite, in fact; sex ed made it sound like any negative consequences suffered were an appropriate punishment for premarital sex in the first place.

I had to learn about pain, pleasure & comfort the hard way.

Long story short, I found medical treatments that work for me (even though they’re controversial) and I maintain as best as I can. I have good days & bad days, but more good than bad. Once I started feeling better physically, I started feeling better emotionally.
When I started feeling better, I felt safe to start exploring other kinds of sex beyond PIV intercourse, even as I left intercourse on the table as an option. Eventually, I was able to exercise that option – I now know that I am capable of having pain-free intercourse (though it still leaves me a bit tender. Trust me though, there’s a huge difference between “A bit tender” and “OH GOD SEARING PAIN WTF”)

I’ve been reading sexy books, and many of them agree that a broad definition of sex that involves doin’ what you and your partner like, regardless of what the media tells you to like, is a great way to go. I’ve become interested in kinky activities and exploring the kink community (if  indeed such a cohesive community exists.) I feel less intimidated now by fancy toys & sex furniture. Still, certain sex positions, toys and lubes spook me or are out of the question due to the risk of causing irritation or injury.

In a way, it works out well that my relationship with my partner is a long-distance one because that means most of the time, we’re physically separated, and I’m under no pressure to perform sexually. Not to worry – thanks to cell phones and the internet, we’re never really apart anyway. And when we do get together, we’re already used to going long periods without sexual contact, so even under time constraints, we’re comfortable with non-penetrative activity, and we like to take things slowly… We’ve been exploring each others’ body when we’re together, testing different ideas we’ve read about out, and I think sometimes I surprise him with my own open mindedness, more than he surprises me!

Now that’s not to say that if you experience vulvar pain, you should have to get treated before starting to explore a broad sex life. Oh no, no. That’s just the way it worked out for me.

Nowadays I’m now able to enjoy being aroused (but I enjoy it much more so long as I orgasm when I’m done being aroused.) I’ve been developing and replaying sexual fantasies to stir my libido, and I know how to make myself orgasm. In fact I’ve never struggled to orgasm alone or with my partner, since he’s open minded about using toys. (However there was a several-months long period of time in which orgasm was somewhat painful… don’t know what caused that but it started to resolve with physical therapy.) My partner and I don’t always have intercourse when we see each other, but we still have sex. (I anticipate that as time wears on and we grow old together, the kind of sex we have may decrease or change again, but we’ll deal with that when the time comes.) Most of the time the sex is unplanned & just one thing leads to another, but if we’re trying for intercourse there’s a lot more planning & preparation involved.

As for my partner, don’t worry about him too much. My FSD is the fault of neither one of us. We could not have seen it coming, but we’re dealing with it now. He’s always been a very good sport about this (and in just about every other area of our relationship,) and he has always made me feel comfortable expressing my needs & wants, so communication isn’t an issue.
I think it’s safe to say that we have love covered as well…

I may not be able to give him the sex life he sees on television, but we can give each other a different kind of sex, one which nonetheless is satisfying to both of us. Ideally, I’m hoping we continue down this path for the rest of our lives, together.

Baby you know I love you right? Well as if you needed a reminder, there you are then.

FSD news from the NVA and the DSM

02/10/2010 at 1:32 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Three acronyms in one blog post title?? Better get everyone up to speed on what we’re talking about here. Food for thought:

First, there is a new E-Newsletter from the National Vulvodynia Association, addressing vulvodynia-related news (Vulvodynia falling under the pain category of female sexual dysfunction.) Please note that this E-Newsletter is not to be confused with their research newsletter. Please be sure to check the NVA E-newsletter out.

Included in this newsletter is some discussion about researchers who have been given awards and grants. One interesting upcoming study will be on vulvodynia, pregnancy & childbirth. I’ll be very interested to hear the results so I can make a better informed decision if/when my time comes to bear a child.

Another news bulletin I find interesting is this:

NVA on Capitol Hill

NVA Collaborated with Senator Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) staff to include strong language on vulvodynia in Congress’ FY2010 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Appropriations Bill. NVA also participated in a Capitol Hill meeting attended by the director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, who subsequently designated vulvodynia as a “high-priority” area of research. In 2009, four of the 20 vulvodynia researchers who submitted NIH applications were funded.

Neat! Government attention.

And of course there is also mention of vulvodynia in the media, including tv program coverage and new books. I bought some of those books but it’s gona be awhile yet before I even get around to them!

In the newsletter there are also calls for volunteers to participate in ongoing scientific vulvodynia research, so if you’re interested, check it out.

Then, via Helen @ Questioning Transphobia, we also now have access to a draft of the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.) The final version of the DSM-V is currently slated for release sometime in 2013. So be sure to check out that draft, too!

Why is this important? There’s a couple of different reasons; for one thing gender identity disorders and sexual dysfunctions are listed in the DSM, (yes even sexual dysfunctions caused by medical/health issues,) which is a powerful force behind having disorders recognized, researched, diagnosed, and treated. The manual is not without a fair share of controversy, however, particularly from a feminist perspective.

There are also some new sexual health diagnoses up for consideration, including hypersexual disorder (but not Restless Genital Syndrome? Is that up for consideration, and if not, why?) sexual coerison disorder, sexual disinterest disorder in women and men (related to hypoactive sexual desire disorder,) and, notably, Genito-Pelvic Pain/Penetration Disorder. This would include vaginismus & dyspareunia not due to a medical condition. (Pain due to a medical condition would still be under code 625.x – vulvodynia falls under this category.)

So if you’re snowed in today like I am, there’s some fresh reading material for you. In the mean time, I’m still working on my summary of the 3rd section of Sex is not a Natural Act and Other Essays to go up sometime within the next few days.

Interesting posts, weekend of 2/6/10

02/06/2010 at 8:48 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Dear internet, what a week – I got called in for jury duty service for the first time, but was not selected to serve on any cases. I missed about a week’s worth of work! Mostly I just sat around and read on the Kindle (almost done with Sex is not a Natural Act, but it’ll be awhile longer for me to finish writing about it… hey are you all enjoying that? Is that going over well for you?) or I messed around on my mobile device. Most of the seating was uncomfortable :/

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.

On Henrietta Lacks: The Legacy of One Woman’s Cervical Cancer Cells – Henrietta Lacks is not a well recognized name, yet through her there have been contributions to medicine. She died of cervical cancer, and before her death, some of her cancer cells were harvested (in secret, even to her – not cool) and they’ve been growing ever since. Her cells, better known as HeLa cells, are used for research. Be sure to click the link in the comments there to see a book review about her life.

The Feministing Five: Audacia Ray – an interview with Audacia Ray of Waking Vixen.

The Thirteenth Carnival of Feminists – it’s a big feminism multi-themed bloglink roundup.

Partner a Sexual Disappointment? Try Forgiveness – A refreshing change from the usual “DTMFA” sentiment I all too often run into when advice columnists talk about problems in the bedroom.

SHE Brings Home the Bacon. HE Fries It Up In a Pan – the obligatory weekly Dodson & Ross blog nitpick. What’s problematic with this one? Can you spot it? I’ll give you a hint: Sex difference essentialism! Biology = destiny! Something which is also used against women… Yes social interactions & skills are due to sex hormones; it, it couldn’t have anything to do with differences in the way men and women are raised and those who do not conform to those two categories are overlooked. Oh wait yes it could. There’s been a couple of other doozies from the D&R blog in the last 2 weeks but I don’t even want to touch them with a 10-foot pole right now…

No cops, no parks, halted economic activity: conservative paradise – a sad vingette of the local government in one Colorado community – home to Focus on the Family and others.

Julie Bindel’s dangerous transphobia – Congratulations to C.L. Minou for making it into the Guardian, I just wish it had been under happier circumstances. And those circumstances were – responding to a post about Julie Bindel, whose transphobic views have made life harder and more dangerous in very real ways for trans people.

theory, kink, and feminism – addressing the rift between theory & practice, ideas & reality. Which is relevant to my interests right now since I’m reading that Tiefer book, which is heavy on theory and… not matching the practice I live with daily.

CBS collaborated with Focus on the Family on anti-choice Superbowl ad – Tomorrow is the SuperBowl in the US so the hotly contested ad in question – an ad put together by Focus on the Family – will finally air. Well as it turns out, CBS worked with Focus on the Family to get the ad on tv. What! Gee, do they do that for everyone? They didn’t do it for ManCrunch.
Speaking of the SuperBowl, two athletes have spoken up for women’s rights. Sean James and Al Joyner on the anti-choice Super Bowl ad – wow these guys are pretty cool. Too bad CBS wouldn’t air this video.

Successful abstinence-only education? – You may have heard that a study found that an abstinence message was effective in raising the age of first sexual activity with which students who heard it. There are some other things to consider about this situation, such as the way the message went through. Under the Bush administration, this program, which was more positive than most abstinence-only sex ed, would not have been allowed to exist.

The Worst Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Evervia Feministe – [Potentially Triggering] Amanda Hess picks apart victim-blaming sexual assault prevention tips the likes of which my high school administrators spewed out to myself and my fellow students.

Lil Wayne and the Problem of Confusing Sexual Assault Victims With Male Sexual Role Models – [Trigger warning] Figleaf on Lil Wayne publicly speaking about having been sexually assaulted as a child – and having to clarify, publicy, that it wasn’t a positive experience.

How sex work made me realize my white privilege. – Sex work taught Jane Brazen a lot about racism & privilage and how it effects sex workers in particular.

Two New Studies Find Benefit Rather Than Harm in Porn – Ernest Greene on studies that showed benefit rather than harm derived from watching hardcore pornography.

Rhiannon O’Donnabhain vs. U.S. Internal Revenue – A transexual woman had to defend medical deductions related to her transitioning. What the…. how was that not deductible??? How does an IRS agent not recognize that that is a clearly deductible expense?! Whyyy would you make someone defend that? I mean obviously whoever prepared her tax return recognized it as deductible! Okay maybe she prepared it herself but still! Meanwhile schedule D deductions & taking losses from years ago forward and and… tax law! Tax season!

The Feminist Fault Line – this is a long post which is why it took me like 2 weeks to finish reading it all – FW is touches on a bunch of topics including politics, sex work, sexuality, and feminism, and it all interrelates. Powerful figures & groups, particularly conservatives, hijack sexuality & feminism & politics to their own means, resulting in more restrictions.

I’m sure there’s more…

Let’s read books – Sex is Not a Natural Act, con’t

02/02/2010 at 8:06 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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When last we encountered the non-fiction feminist book on sexuality by sexologist by Dr. Leonore Tiefer, Sex is Not a Natural Act and Other Essays, we had just wrapped up reading the first section on my new-to-me (slightly used) Kindle. The book is a real challenge, heavy on academia & theory as it relates to feminism and sexuality. However I’m relieved to say that the chapters in the second section, Popular Writings on the Theme feel less academic, and so it’s a bit more accessible to the general public. Although it contains 6 sub-chapters, Popular Writings on the Theme is shorter and feels shorter than the first section – I didn’t have to use the Kindle’s built-in dictionary feature as often, and I didn’t need to re-read as many passages to absorb their messages. In these essays, Tiefer was writing for a different audience, so she decreased the frequency with which she used postmodernist language.

I also found this second section of the book funnier than the first section, but unfortunately, the humor is not because I found Tiefer’s writing in and of itself funny… No, rather, I often found it funny due to the large gulfs separating Tiefer’s reality and the one in which I live. The grins I made were due to my jaw cynically clenching, my laughter a hoarse, half-choked “Lolsob.”

The first chapter of the second section consists of a series of sexuality columns written for the New York Daily News back in 1980-1981. That’s 30 years ago, waaaay before the internet was readily accessible and long before printed media started to enter its death throes. Most of these essays would probably be helpful to someone who is brand-new to studying sexuality, or who is looking for general sex life advice. Unfortunately, as of the book’s second printing in 2004, these columns are showing their age, and provided very little new material to me. By the time I got around to reading the essays re-printed from the newspaper, I had already encountered elsewhere most of the ideas contained in Tiefer’s old columns. Yes I know sexual spontaneity can be hindrance to a fully enjoyable sexual experience, yes I know that when we (and especially the media) think of “Sex,” our definition is likely very intercourse-centric and that it’s helpful to expand the definition of sex, etc. etc. etc.

But I found myself getting hung up on some changes that have happened since the essays were first printed. For one example, (There’s several other examples I could pick out…) when Tiefer talks about the joys of petting, she states, “It’s joyless and burdensome to cuddle and embrace with someone you neither know well nor want to know better” (Location 875.) But wait, aren’t there cuddle parties nowadays where folks who have never met before can come together and learn to do exactly that? Cuddle parties are designed to be non-sexual, but they may still involve embracing, and that’s not meant to be joyless at all – quite the opposite, from what I understand.

One of the funniest newspaper essays is “Free Love and Free Enterprise,” and the humor comes from how dated the situation described now is. (This essay might be worth burning through your available Google Book preview. You need to be careful with how much you use the GB previews because eventually it will prevent you from going any further. I’ve been able to “Go-around” this limitation by using a second computer or my mobile device, but not everyone has that option…) Tiefer takes the reader through a hypothetical tour of  “A sex show at the New York Coliseum (location 934,) with the goal of showing the reader who stands to profit from the sexual revolution and how… and that includes sex toy retailers, by taking advantage of consumers. Oh, consumers may well benefit, she concedes at the end of the essay, but only as a side-effect.
As I was reading, I thought to myself, “That hypothetical sex convention sounds awesome! How do I get in on that? How do I RSVP for the next show?” Then I remembered – we HAVE a sex & sex toy convention open 24/7 – it’s the internet! Just replace the use of the word “Booth” (used over & over again) with “website/GoodVibes/Babeland/Craigslist.”
Plus, some of the fears Tiefer expressed in this chapter didn’t come to fruition even 30 years later, while others were prescient:

“The next booth moves us into the world of stuff. Under the banner ‘Bare-handed sex is boring,’ we find equipment to enhance the senses and the imagination. Massage oils and flavored lotions lie next to vibrators and dildoes. Alarming displays of bondage equipment are shown along with phony organ enlargers. There are life-size ‘sex partners’ in different colors of plastic” (location 944.)  [It goes on in that manner for a few more paragraphs.]

Now, I did a Google search for the term, “Bare-handed sex is boring,” and as of today, I got nothin’. (Chances are that in a few days one result will link back to this blog entry.) Who would try to sell sex toys under this slogan? Would something so negative even move any stock out the door? I looked up this expression, because in all my sex toy shopping, I have never encountered a sentiment like that from a retailer – have you?
I’ve definitely seen retailers push G-spot toys in particular… but in terms of tactile sensations & calling outright certain sexual activities boring?
Maybe I’m not looking at the right retailers, since I prefer to patronize organizations that market themselves as woman-friendly and sex-positive.
As for the rest – I’m not understanding what message I’m supposed to take away from these passages… am I supposed to be reluctant to explore my sexuality with what’s available to me now because of the motivations behind the companies that sell sexual advice and devices? Am I still doin’ it wrong? Am I supposed to feel sexually inhibited at the conclusion of this essay?

The next few chapters touch upon the symbolism behind sex, sexual acts and sexual medicine, notably Viagra.

Ily already beat me to the chapter on the anthropological approach to kissing, which also explores symbolic kissing in art. For anyone curious as to the contents of this chapter, a slightly different version appears for free at this Kinsey Institute page, so go knock yourselves out. I don’t have much to say on this chapter.

The next chapter talks about how hard it is to have frank & open dialogs about sexuality, even in a sexual relationship. I’m certainly open to talking about how hard it is to frankly talk about sex too, but, I’m still getting tripped up on some of the finer details, particularly the passage about the asexual couple.

Tiefer then goes on to talk about Viagra a a symbol – symbolically, it’s looked at as magic pill that can fix all non-pain sexual problems (Tiefer doesn’t mention anything about sexual pain in this chapter; location 1100.) In reality, the drug isn’t perfect, and it may cause unpleasant, potentially dangerous side effects.

I have no idea what Tiefer was trying to say about Viagra when she then included a Viagra user’s own words followed by her analysis of his situation, because the following passages threw me into rage-rage-rage mode. I think she was trying to make a point about side effects or something:

I am a 37 year old man with erectile problems for 2 years. I have used 50 mg. Viagra 4 times. All of those times have resulted in a very good erection and intercourse. The side effects are headache, upset stomach, stuffy nose, and facial flushing… About 30 mins after taking Viagra I take 2 Tylenol and a Tums and start drinking water. After about 15 mins I take another Tums and use a nasal spray for my stuffiness. I will continue this combination and it will work for me.

This sounds more like a Jackie Gleason routine rather than a romantic evening, but I think it is close to the reality of what life with these drugs will be like… How does his sexual partner feel about the whole drama with the Tums and the nasal spray and the Tylenol? (Location 1109)

Woah, woah woah, waaaait a minute. Hold the phone. Jackie Glea… Jackie…. Gleason? Like, from the Honeymooners?
What the f…
Is that supposed to be a joke? Is this Tiefer’s idea of humor? This essay was given as a lecture in 1999; did Tiefer pause for applause & laughter when she finished reciting this passage?
Since when is Tiefer is the arbiter of what constitutes a romantic evening? Didn’t Tiefer state not a few chapters earlier that actively thinking about and taking steps toward making sex happen is a healthy thing? Is this the same person who said “Some people complain that all this groundwork is too mechanical and time-consuming. Working at sex, they say, defeats the whole purpose, (location 853,) when she debunked the myth of spontaneity? What happened to that?
You know, for someone who claims to want to expand the frank & open dialog of sexuality, Tiefer sure doesn’t make it easy to talk about physical problems and potential treatments for them… that’s a hangup I’m having with her social constructionist approach, it sacrifices biology. I still have the impression that it’s “Either/or” for Tiefer, but not both, and both is what I need.
Okay, someone needs to sit down and explain to me, in great detail, exactly how a guy who uses Viagra in order to maintain an erection for intercourse, and who has found ways to manage the side effects, is like re-enacting a Jackie Gleason comedy routine. I don’t get it.
We don’t have much else to go by as to the background of this person who left himself open & vulnerable by talking about his Viagra use. For all we know, he and his sex partner already incorporated an expanded definition of sex into their lives, and, like myself, decided that that definition was not completely incompatible with occasional intercourse. I say, using Viagra or other prescription drugs, treatments and devices is not necessarily in conflict with a healthy sex life. If using medical treatments leads to a satisfactory sex life, how is that an inherently bad thing?
And if it is an inherently bad thing, then what does that say about me? Is my sex life a big joke to Tiefer? Who am I to her – Lucille Ball? After all, when my partner and I decide we want to try PIV intercourse, I have to go through a  routine involving pelvic floor stretching, lubricant and dilators. Am I supposed to feel embarrassed about doing this in front of my partner? Or about openly talking about it?

There’s not much left of the chapter after that Jackie Gleason bit. Which is good, because I remained in rage-rage-rage mode for the rest of the chapter and was unable to absorb anything more from it. Something about sexual education outside of the  US, I don’t know.

The next chapter, The Opposite of Sex, is another free-to-the-public article originally published online. It consists of Moria Brennan interviewing Dr. Tiefer. It’s part PR for Sex is not a Natural Act, part feminist discussion, part sexuality discussion. The most interesting part of the discussion comes when Brennan asked, “Do you think our understanding of sex also affects our understanding of gender?”:

lt: Gender affirmation is a phenomenally important element in the current construction of sexuality–at least for heterosexuals, who have been the bulk of my clients. Reproduction used to be the essence of gender affirmation for women. And for men it was employment. Now there are fewer and fewer ways of proving gender, and yet it’s as important as it ever was. So how do you prove your gender? You’ve got to be able to have sex–not just any old sex, but coitus. Talking about this in the context of feminism is crucial. It’s men’s investment in a particular kind of masculinity that is fueling Viagra. Part of the work of feminists has been to question accepted notions about masculinity, whereas you could say Viagra is affirming them.

Not being able to have an orgasm is like the epitome of not being normal. It’s the epitome of not being a man or not being a woman. So I would tell them that there are ways to cope with this. Let’s be a man in other ways. No, they couldn’t accept that. To them, this was the proof. (Tiefer, online.)

This isn’t an unfounded idea – I’ve heard this sentiment elsewhere… there’s something familiar about it… I remember; it was that 20/20 segment on vulvodynia. One of the patients interviewed said something about, part of being a woman, is having female parts. Of course, it’s so much more than that. But it’s hard to get that message out, about gender, that it’s more than biology as destiny. So that’s something worth exploring.

The next chapter, the McDonalization of Sex, talks about the standardization (McDonalization – the description on this wiki page matches what’s in the book, so it’s probably a good place to start if you haven’t heard that term before) of the everyone’s sex lives. Although this chapter  is not heavy on academia, I still needed to re-read it a few times before I could understand it… it’s not academic, but it’s difficult because Tiefer jumps around a lot in this chapter. It feels disorganized.

Tiefer  identifies two forces behind the McDonalization of sex – mainstream media and medicine. Ever see very similiar but unrealistic sex lives depicted on TV or hear about it in song? There’s a right way & a wrong way to have sex & be sexy, and if you don’t match what’s in the media, you automatically have a dysfunction. If you’re familiar with this sort of depiction of sex in the media, then that’s an example of McDonaldization.

But in real life I’m not seeing medicine participating in this phenomenon… This is where the gulf between my reality & Tiefer’s is the most pronounced. For example, with regard to how McDonaldization comes from the medical profession, Tiefer claims that,

“There’s another source of the new standards that you may be less aware of. It’s the medical profession, with its new men’s sexual health clinics and the even newer women’s sexual health clinics. These things are popping up all over, almost as fast as new McDonald’s. And they really are fast-fod franchises that specialize in efficiency, predictability, numbers, and control. Everyone who comes in with a sexual complaint gets an expensive workup with genital measurements that seems superscientific. But nine times out of ten, the customer walks out with a prescription for Viagra, and since in the future there will be a dozen or two dozen such sex drugs – for both men and women – if the first one doesn’t work the patient – or is it now merely a customer – will be encouraged to try another and another.” (Location 1270.)

And I’m like… where do I find one of these geometrically growing sexual health clinics? Who are we talking about, what should I be looking for, and how do I get their phone number? Are any of these clinics local? If so, when is their next available appointment? How do I get in on this?
Tiefer doesn’t provide any hard examples of who she’s referring to so I’m left wondering – general OB/GYN practices? Vulvovaginal specialists? (Which, in my experience, are hard to find, especially if you’re not nearby a major metropolitan area…) Planned Parenthood? I typed “Sexual health clinic” into my Google Maps but the nearest results – which are questionable at best – would still take me close to two hours to get to at best.
I guess I’m the odd one out again, because if you consider the vulvovaginal specialist I visited to be a sexual health clinic, I never got a prescription for Viagra (I wonder how I can verify that 9 o ut of 10 statistic claim?) – but I did get a prescription for generic valium (no refills) that’s about $10 a bottle under my insurance plan, and I needed that for general anxiety anyway. At the specialist’s office, we didn’t take genital measurements… although we did use a device to figure out how much pain I was in; does that count? And a hormonal blood test revealed that the birth control pill I was on at the time certainly wasn’t doing me any favors. And I’m still wondering where my two dozen sex drugs are… right now vulvodynia patients, at least, have fairly limited options when it comes to oral medication, and at least two of those options are off-label use anyway. And I’m surprised Tiefer left out the mention of non-drug interventions that sexual health clinic doctors might suggest, including but not limited to diet & exercise, or, perhaps for a very few patients such as myself, surgery.
Indeed, the NVA lists several books of interest that do talk about expanding the definition of sex beyond biology. However the NVA is not in and of itself a sexual health clinic…

Tiefer’s solution is more comprehensive sex education.

The last chapter, Doing the Viagra Tango, is another free-and-available-to-the-public essay (I’m glad I paid only $20 for the Kindle edition of this e-Book instead of $40 for the paperback version! I’m finding several of the essays re-printed elsewhere.) The Tango in the title has two meanings – it’s referring to an old Viagra commercial featuring a couple doing a tango,and Tiefer frequently uses dance as a metaphor for sex. Here, she raises philosophical questions about Viagra – What effects will it have in many areas of life? She raises concerns about negative unintended consequences of Viagra (though I’m not fond of these passages, particularly the line that states that “In the worst-case scenario… The drug eliminates [women’s] sense of desirability and sexual efficacy,” (Tiefer, online) because if someone is taking Viagra, then isn’t it just possible that in a heterosexual relationship, the woman may already be feeling like she is not as desirable, due to her partner’s difficulty in maintaining an erection? Tiefer is not interested in exploring ways in which this family of drugs may be helpful, she is mainly concerned its potential dangers.)  She also explores problems in pharmecutical research, problems with insurance in general brought to light by Viagra, and even politics.

And that’s the way the second section of Sex is Not a Natural Act ends. We’re almost 40% of the way done.

At times, passages from Popular Writings on the Theme seem to contradict statements that were made earlier in the book. For example, Tiefer explicitly uses the words “Effective stimulation” in the greater context of the passage that says, regarding sexual activity, “There’s no way but trial and error to identify forms of effective stimulation” (location 907.) But wait, at locations 672 and 684, didn’t Tiefer herself question the value of the terms “Effective stimulation” when used by Masters & Johnson in their Human Sexual Response Cycle study?

One of the biggest questions I’m left with is, if the essays were written today, would they look the same?

I’ve already started chipping away at the 3rd section, which goes into detail about feminism and sexology – it’s a return to academia so I’ve got a ways to go yet before I finish slogging through.

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