Let’s read books part 4 – more Sex is not a Natural Act

03/30/2010 at 8:07 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Part 4 in our continuing series following my progress through the Kindle edition of the feminist & sexologist book, Sex is not a Natural Act and Other Essays, by Dr. Leonore Tiefer, Ph.D. Need to catch up with our story so far? See parts 1, 2, and 3… but be warned! I have a lot to say about this book, so the posts get pretty long.

While most of the Sex is not a Natural Act has been relevant to my interests all along, we’re getting into some particularly interesting, thorny and exhausting areas now – like section 4, the Medicalization of Sexuality. That relevancy to my interests doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with or endorse all of the author’s statements – often times I find myself antagonized by what the author says about medicine and sexuality, and so I question or outright disagree with some of her positions, even while I acknowledge the value of other statements. The Medicalization of Sexuality is another section heavy on academic theory, but there’s some practice tempered within, based on author Dr. Tiefer’s experience working in a urology department as a psychologist assessing men dealing with erectile problems, and her work as a sex therapist.

I had a lot to say just about the intro to this fourth section of the book; it’s a long introduction. I feel like I’m wasting time by arguing with the introduction to a section of the book. Like I’m just arguing semantics instead of substance… But there’s so many statements in the intro that stood out to me as being in stark contrast to what I’ve experienced.

If you haven’t already burned through your available Google Book preview, why not follow along? Well, let’s get this show on the road…

We start off with a very clear, no ifs ands or buts statement on Tiefer’s position on who should be in charge of understanding sexuality, and it isn’t those with a background in medicine and anatomy. I’m a bit spooked by that actually; for starters, if the medical model of sex is Tiefer’s “Arch-enemy,” (location 2036,) how does she handle patients with what she considers to be the one valid & important form of sexual dysfunction, pain, which has the potential to be treated medically? We have some clues: She says, “For me, medicine is the proper framework when a definable disease condition with a physical basis requires someone expert about the body. This is not very often what is wrong, however, when people are unhappy with their sexual lives” (location 2042, emphasis mine.) Okay, so when someone has a disease condition, it’s appropriate to consider medical intervention.

But in light of the specter of medicalization, in which normal, common human experiences are needlessly complicated by medical intervention, how do we know that what we’re dealing with is a real disease condition vs. something that a bunch of goons in white lab coats just made up?

How often does a distressing medical problem that can be treated by a medical doctor have to happen within the general population for it to be frequent enough to be worth acknowledging? The window must be very narrow. If the prevalence of a problem is high then it’s not to be considered a problem at all – “If half of the women in the country have a problem, it’s not a problem by definition” (Smith, online). Ooo… That’s maybe not the best choice of words… To give the benefit of the doubt, I’m sure she would never say something like that about any of the other widespread social problems that large percentages of women experience in the US and globally.

Limiting ourselves to a discussion of sexual problems, vulvodynia for example may happen to ~about 15% of the female population in the US, according to the Dr. Oz program that aired in January 2010, and I’ve seen similar figures cited elsewhere. That’s far from a majority of the population, certainly, but it’s still unnervingly frequent to me, especially since it’s still a taboo topic. But on the other hand perhaps not all of those patients are unhappy with their sex lives, and maybe they are able to cope well with their daily life with vulvodynia.
Is 15% too small to consider? Or is it too big and therefore an acceptable variation of normal which does not merit medical attention?

What are we talking about here? Vulvodynia is a cause for dyspareunia, but we don’t usually think of it as disease in and of itself. It’s better thought of as a syndrome, a collection of overlapping symptoms. But perhaps I’m being overly picky; under a very broad definition of “Disease,” it counts, but takes on additional stigma. Still, for the purposes of this discussion, it’s probably ~fair enough to consider vulvodynia a “Disease condition.” For me at least, there was something happening inside my body that was, and to some extent still is, causing the vulvar vestibule cells and pelvic floor muscles to act out.

Yet I’m not totally at ease – what about other health problems that aren’t well understood? What are some examples of “Disease conditions” warranting medical treatment? What about controversial diagnoses? If certain conditions are still not well understood and accepted by mainstream media and medical professionals, should they be left to non-medical professionals to analyze and deal with? I think it’s a relevant question, as vulvodynia is sometimes accompanied by overlapping conditions which are not all fully understood or treated seriously.

So what happens when you have one of the definable disease conditions with a physical basis that requires an expert on the body? I don’t know. Tiefer herself acknowledges that dyspareunia is the one valid, important form of FSD, but I contest on that claim on the basis of setting up an artificial hierarchy of what’s “Real” and what isn’t. Who is to say another woman’s anorgasmia or low libido is less valid & important than my pain? Plus I haven’t been able to reconcile the demonization of doctors, urologists, and Big Bad Pharma with possibly referring patients to them for medical treatments when appropriate.

I cannot reconcile statements like, “The corporate sponsored creation of a disease is not a new phenomenon,1 but the making of female sexual dysfunction is the freshest, clearest example we have” (Moynihan, online) with the fact that I have FSD.

Tiefer continues in this vein when she says that ultimately, medicalization in and of itself makes people more unhappy than whatever problem motivated them to visit the doctor in the first place – because of all the treatments, tasks & self-monitoring they have to engage in, and because if an individual does not see progress, zie is likely to be blamed for doing something wrong (location 2055.)

Now unfortunately, I too have experienced this “You must be doing something wrong” blaming from medical doctors – when I first noticed symptoms and made a few visits to my original gynecologist, he insisted that the pain must have been psychosomatic. He insisted that I was making myself feel pain because I couldn’t relax, so have a glass of wine and relax. Mind over matter…
But of course, the pain I was going through was probably not due to any action or inaction on my part – and even if it was, there’s no way to prove it now. This blaming incident was due to the fact that my original gynecologist was an asshole, and like still too many other gyns, he was ignorant of causes of & treatments for chronic vulvar pain. This incident could have potentially been avoided if there had been more and more widely published medical research on dyspareunia, and if he had kept up with such research.
I have talked to other women who have likewise been blamed by their doctors – or psychosexual counselors & therapists – for their lack of progress. However, this phenomenon of blaming isn’t limited to medical settings; it’s also seen in DIY self-help culture. So I’m not convinced that patients who identify as having sexual dysfunction would truly be so much better off looking for help & understanding elsewhere, either. My concern is that this anti-medicine backlash could push folks with sexual dysfunction (and any other number of chronic health problems) into the waiting arms of other dubious so-called experts and quacks.

See what I meant when I said I had a lot to say just about the introduction? Let’s move on to the meat & bones of the section and look at a few highlights…

The first true chapter in the fourth section, Sexism in Sex Therapy: Whose Idea is “Sensate Focus”? is one of the shortest chapters in the book. Despite the title, I didn’t interpret it as an outright condemnation of sensate focus, which is an exercise frequently used in sex therapy, recommended by Masters and Johnson. The sexism in question comes from a critique the Masters & Johnson model of sexuality, which Tiefer expounded on earlier in the book – she believes that their research on human sexuality was inherently biased in favor a male model of sexuality. Tiefer relies heavily on Shere Hite’s research on women’s sexuality, and suggests creating alternative sex therapy exercises to cater to women, such as “Emotional homework assignments (heavy on loving communication, eye contact, expression of feelings and the like)” (location 2094). I agree that an alternative therapy could be beneficial for some individuals and couples attending sex therapy – I can definitely see that working for some folks. I do not see alternative therapies as adversarial & in conflict with one another – if one doesn’t work, try another, or, if you need one type of therapy more than another, then go for it.

Most of the second chapter, Women’s Sexuality: Not a Matter of Health, is dedicated to talking about the social construction model of sexuality, and the very last section turns to the history of men’s sexuality as it relates to medicalization. In Not a Matter of Health, Tiefer continues to fight against the medical model of sex, in a response to classifying sex as a matter of health and nature. For example, in the greater context of talking about how health is a social construction (something I’ve seen amandaw talk about in greater detail,) Tiefer says, “Yes, we all are born and die, and in that sense, biology dominates, but how we use and experience our bodily potentials in between those bookends is no more dictated by biology than is the style of our hats” (Location 2108). Yet I cannot help but think that an individual’s life experience is likely to be shaped in part by zie’s own biology… and by the way that that individual’s surrounding culture is prepared to deal with it. Everybody else is wearing hats, too, and not all of them are ready or willing to have their hats changed. If you don’t match that culture’s definition of health, you may find yourself limited in what you experience. And at this current state of science, you can’t change your own biology with the same ease as changing at hat, nor cultural expectations be changed overnight (oh but if they could…) so what if you don’t have enough spoons left to walk over to the closet or store to switch hats?

There’s more to this chapter but I’d like to draw attention to one of the last bits. Tiefer states, “As feminists, our efforts on behalf of women’s sexuality should be in terms of providing and financially supporting education and consciousness raising rather than health care at the present time” (Location 2188). And again here, I think we have a matter of unfortunate timing in light of the fact that the US is currently embroiled in healthcare reform. I do not see how health care and women’s sexuality are in direct conflict. There’s room for both and I, for one, need both! I need healthcare! Health care, and healthcare, is a feminist issue! I wrote about my experiences dealing with vulvodynia and healthcare months ago! How is that not a mingling of sexuality, sexual health and health care?

The next chapter, The Medicalization of Impotence: Normalizing Phallocentrism is sort of available online, if you have access to educational databases. It was written before Viagra was readily available, and it picks up where the last chapter left off, talking about the history of men’s sexual medicine, erectile dysfunction and impotence up to that point. Most of this chapter is informed by conferences and written material on men’s sexuality and sexual health. This chapter also describes in detail the very specific demographics of Dr. Tiefer’s male patients at her urology department. She then describes four groups of people who are heavily invested in upholding the medicalization of men’s sexuality; briefly these are “Urologists, medical industries, mass media, and entrepreneurs” (location 2226). Patients themselves are not necessarily excluded as stakeholders in whether or not erectile dysfunction is looked at medically or holistically (for never the twain shall meet,) for she includes self-help groups under the category of entrepreneurs (location 2278) and later talks about the patients who go to her clinic (location 2285). At many points in this chapter, I found myself wondering what it would look like if the sexes were reversed – what if Tiefer had been working in a clinic that focused first on helping women patients, like in a gynecologist’s office? At one point, she states, “The mantra of sexual medicalization, ‘It’s not all in your head,’ replaces the stigma of failed responsibility with the face-saving excuse of physical incapacity that men often learn in sports and the military” (location 2296.) Ouch. So how would this apply to women? After all, even vaginismus is not all in a woman’s head – yet generally women are not as encouraged to join sports and military service as men are.

The fourth chapter in this section, Pleasure, Medicalization, and the Tyranny of the Natural, is likewise sort of available online, if you sign up for a trial at encylopedia.com. I don’t have much to say about this chapter. Pleasure talks about the importance and complexity of factoring in women’s pleasure into sexology. Indeed, a very strong emphasis is placed on complexity as a theme in this chapter. It sounds as though it is impossible or nearly impossible to understand women’s sexual pleasure, not just because sexual pleasure itself is complicated but because there are various barriers to understanding it – conceptual, physiological, political, and medical (location 2356). This chapter is also the first in which I saw Tiefer address the APA’s incorporation of “Personal distress” to the definition of sexual dysfunction. Tiefer concludes that the bit about personal distress being important for evaluating sexual dysfunction is inadequate,

“If the authors were truly interested in women’s personal distress, they would have incorporated many other psychological and interpersonal items. As the purpose of the reworking seemed to be to provide ‘clearer specification of end points and outcomes… for clinical trials’ of new pharmacological agents, it seems that considerations of pleasure would only introduce the kind of complexities discussed earlier” (location 2425).

And then towards the end of the chapter she includes a link to her website campaign (Google it) as an alternative way of looking at women’s sexuality.

The last chapter, Sexology and the Pharmaceutical Industry: The Threat of Co-optation is a long one, (about 8% of the Kindle book) and provides a recent (like 1950s-early 2000s; especially the 1980s and up) history of medicine in general. That means there’s no talk about the old timey diagnosis of hysteria and frigidity in this chapter. The history is interesting and exhausting, yet I have a few suggestions for additional material in the unlikely event that it’s ever revised. I would recommend including a history of the insurance industry’s role… And a discussion about prescription birth control for women. It’s somewhat odd that in a chapter about the history of medicine, especially as it relates to sex, there is nothing about the research that goes into producing and then aggressively marketing hormonal birth control, and all of its potential side effects. This omission is regrettable since so often, the responsibility of birth control falls onto the shoulders of women, but that responsibility can carry problems – health, sexual, and relationship – of its own. Dr. Tiefer’s goal with this chapter is to warn members of the field of sexology that their noble profession is at risk of being taken over by selfish pharmaceutical interests. To put it briefly, sexology isn’t a well-respected field, and research money from the pharmeceutical industry is attractive, (locations 2520-2564) but compromises integrity (2565-2580). The conclusion lists suggestions for sexologists to follow in order to resist big pharma, and contains more iterations of the social construction model of sex (locations 2660-2720).

There were a few other parts in the chapter I was particularly interested in. For example, when explaining the history of medicine, Tiefer talks about the use of off-label medication, and she cites Viagra for women as an example (Location 2510). It’s not meant to be used that way but some patients and doctors might be interested in it. But off-label use of prescriptions is something I’m familiar with, since some vulvar pain patients likewise use meds off label – tricyclic antidepressants and anti-seizure medication comes to mind immediately. I personally haven’t yet seen any advertisements for the drugs to be used in this manner, but that doesn’t mean that marketing the drugs for treatment of chronic pain doesn’t exist. But that means that sometimes off-label drug use isn’t necessarily harmful, and sometimes, it’s all we got.

A final thought today… At several points in Sex is not a Natural Act, I felt uncomfortable with Tiefer’s language, not just about FSD but about health in general. I thought some statements contained potentially ablist language. (See FWD’s continuing series on ableist language.) It didn’t come up often, it wasn’t glaringly overt, and it’s not outright hateful speech. I think it’s a matter of perspective and privilege, and perhaps again, bad timing. The first one or two times, I wrote it off as a fluke. But when I saw a few more examples, I tripped.

Like, for example, at the conclusion of intro to this 4th section of the book, after remunerating potential problems with using drugs to manage sexual dysfunctions, she asks the reader, “Has everyone lost their mind?” (location 2074.) And at first I thought, okay, that’s a common English language colloquialism… but on the other hand it’s potentially problematic expression when we consider that it’s also manifestation of the expression “To go crazy,” and crazy means mentally ill and mental illness is bad, and is therefore stigmatized, so people who are mentally ill are themselves bad and stigmatized. And that’s the way the expression is being used in this case. Now, someone is sure to say to me about this one little sentence, “You’re thinking about this too hard.”

But there were other expressions I was tripping over too. There’s a few other questionable comments and quotes regarding treatment of mental illness scattered throughout the book. And a little later on, Tiefer says, “Besides its economic potential, sexual dysfunction is an attractive subspecialty because patients are not chronically sick or likely to die from their ‘disease’; there are also opportunities for diverse outpatient and inpatient services” (location 2233, emphasis mine.) Here I can’t help but think to myself… well, with me, with vulvodynia, a sexual pain disorder and therefore the one true & valid sexual dysfunction according to Dr. Tiefer herself, vulvodynia is a chronic condition. While not an infectious disease, it’s probably safe to think of chronic vulvar pain as divergent from what US culture has constructed as “Healthy,” and therefore it falls under a very broad definition of “sick.” Sooo… why yes, as a matter of fact, I am chronically sick. You may notice here that Tiefer’s statement left no wiggle room with a qualifier like, “Most of the time,” or “often.” People with sexual dysfunctions aren’t sick, period. Which really doesn’t work for me because then I’m not allowed to look at sexual dysfunction through a disability lens. This statement also overlooks patients with overlapping co-conditions, which may influence sexual health & expression.

Plus, in practice I’m having a very hard time finding a doctor ready & willing to handle me so how attractive is sexual dysfunction as a sub specialty, really? After all, according to one doctor familiar with treating vulvodynia, “There’s little interest in treating vulvodynia. It’s time consuming, and the monetary awards don’t match the effort required to treat the patient properly” (Purcell, online). And then there was this recent post from The Sexademic talking about doctors don’t get sufficient exposure to sexual health and sometimes when they start practicing, some doctors treat the patients just horribly. Such cruel behavior repels me from many doctors, and seems like it would be counterproductive to starting a sexual health clinic.

Whew. This turned out to be another ridiculously long post and we’ve still got one section left to go, plus the conclusion. Will we make it? Will I survive The Creation of FSD? Only one way to find out. We’re almost there so stay tuned for more adventures in reading.

Interesting posts, weekend of 3/28/10

03/28/2010 at 1:42 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Dear internet, I’d like to share with you a weird cartoon I found on YouTube. It has nothing to do with feminism or FSD so if you’re just here for the relevant links, scroll on. The animation is titled “Dada,” and it’s from 1994 & by Piet Kroon. Everything is saturated with hues of peach & off-white, and there’s no spoken language in it but there are vocalizations and background music. Basically, in this town, everyone is walking around with books on their heads. The more books they can balance on their heads (the books never open accidentally or fall off) the more well-respected they are. If you can balance 8 or more books on your head, you garner applause when you walk down the street. I think that the books represent competency in fields of interest; for example a police officer throws his book-hat titled “LAW” at someone who runs a red light. I think you can switch (perceived) competencies by changing which book you carry on your head.

The viewer basically follows a nameless husband & wife as they have and raise a child, who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the book-wearing society. The husband is very selfish & I *think* they only reason he wanted to have a child in the first place was to impress the rest of the town by raising a super-genius. But in this world, the only way to show how smart and cool you are is by balancing lots of books on your head.

And this kid’s head is round so he can’t balance any on his head. The dad keeps trying to stack them & they fall off. Poor kid gets kicked out of school because of it.

So in desperation the parents drag their child to a doctor, where the top of his head is sawed off! (This being a cartoon, it’s not graphic and doesn’t hurt the child.) The doctors to pull his brain out & examine it. And the poor kid’s brain breaks loose & starts bouncing around, tearing up the room, and it eats books.

Perhaps humiliated or else seeing that his kid’s head is now flat from being opened, the dad sweeps his kid out of the room & drags him back home, puts him in a glass lizard cage & starts balancing all the books in the house on his head. Because without the top of his head, and no brain, the kid’s head is now flat & can balance books. The dad is pleased!

So this one doctor who had carried lots of book-hats on his head including titles like “FREUD” and “NEUROLOGY,” most of his books are wrecked, but he’s no worse for the wear. One book survives & lands on the floor, he opens it and reads it and has a “Eureka!” moment. You don’t have to carry books on your head to be good at your job! You read the books and retain knowledge!

So the doctor and the kid’s mom go back to the child’s house where the dad is holed up, and the doctor tries to explain, your kid is totally fine, you can stop wearing books on your head too. The doctor wants to give the poor kid his brain back. And the dad is like “NO” and grabs the brain & feeds it to the cat. And then he goes & sits down in an easy chair & admires his poor kid stuck in a lizard cage with a bunch of books stacked on his head. His kid is so smart now. He is a great father. Father of the year.

And that’s how it ends. At the last minute all the books fall off the poor kid’s head and the lights go out.

I don’t know what that cartoon meant but I liked it & it’s been stuck in my head all week.


Friendly reminder: I am looking for Guest Posters. Did you all get a chance to see this week’s guest post?
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.

The big news story (“It’s a big fucking deal“) this week is that in the US, healthcare reform has passed. This followed months & months of rancor, protests, appeals, appeasement, wheeling & dealing and wrangling. The final product is a mixed bag – there’s no public option and women’s reproductive rights weren’t as well preserved as had been hoped. Insurance will eventually be extended to some 32 million uninsured individuals, but there will still be several million more not covered. Depending on which health care plan you have you may still be subject to discriminatory premiums. Some of the changes go into effect now, while others won’t go into effect for a few more  years. Some Democrats who voted “Yes” on reform have been targeted with threats of violence and had their offices vandalized by teabaggers & militant anti-reform groups. So here are some links to that effect:
Feminism, Abortion Rights and Health Care Reform
President Obama agrees to sign anti-choice executive order
House passes health reform bill
(UPDATED) The Health Care Bill and Women’s Health: Wins, Losses, and Challenges
Health Care Reform: NCTE On its impact on Transgender People
20 Ways ObamaCare Will Take Away Our Freedom To Screw Other People Over

The following posts are also healthcare reform related but they contain mentions of violence and so may be potentially triggering:
Conservative Blogger Calls for Obama’s Assassination on Twitter
“None of this is about healthcare at all. It’s about extending a basic fundamental right to people who are less powerful.”
USA: Beacon of Stupid

This past week contained three -Days: Ada Lovelace Day, Backup your birth control day, and World Water day.

Nose to the Grindstone – I liked this post. It’s like school & finding yourself later in life.

Integrating Primary and Mental Health Care – Delivers what it promises; on integrating health care and primary care. The comments were interesting too since they offer some possible suggestions & criticisms. It’s also a refreshing change from what I usually hear about mental healthcare (That is that mental illness is overdiagnosed and overtreated and everybody runs to their doctor for Prozac when they feel sad about stuff. (Apparently everybody has the cash to afford running off to their doctor, who instnatly takes all complains quite seriously and there’s no struggle with stigma.)

There were two events in political cartoons. The first is not triggering, but it is unfortunate. Mikhaela Reid will no longer be working as a political cartoonist. The second event was definitely triggering and an offensive political cartoon was created & analyzed at a few sites. Actually on second thought, I think I’ll refrain from posting a link to it. But what happened is this other political cartoonist drew political cartoon that contained racist images & was triggering (and victim blaming) to those who have experienced sexual assault. There’s posts about it at Pandagon & Alas! A blog.

Sexual assault, triggers, and the problem of male privilege in activism – [Trigger warning] – A meeting disrupted by unchecked male privilage.

Say “Fuck That” To The Dress – About finding non-traditional women’s clothing.

Your Daily Amanda Palmer Outrage – Amanda Palmer is talkng again. This time about donating cash to the Klan, ironically of course. Of course… except not really.

I’m sure there’s more…

Guest Post – 10+ years with vaginismus

03/23/2010 at 8:01 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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[Dear internet, we have a guest post today! The following was written by someone who prefers to remain anonymous actually, with her permission, make that an adventurous virgin.]

Picture the scene….I’m 18 and in my 1st year at university. It’s a Thursday night and I’m getting ready to go out dancing with my friends and boyfriend at that time. We start off in the usual bar and finish up in the usual place. We’ve all had a good night and it comes to going home. My boyfriend suggests we go back to his place. I nod and we start walking up the road. As the alcohol wears off I remember that I don’t want to do that at all and start thinking of reasons why I can’t sleep with him tonight. A taxi comes along and I run to get it and go home. That’s a typical Thursday night out for me.

Fast forward to the next morning and a typical conversation with friends before class goes something along the lines of: “Why didn’t you stay at his place last night? Haven’t you done it yet? He won’t wait forever. Just get it over with.” I knew that being an 18 year old virgin at university was a little freakish, so I was left with no other choice-I had to end the relationship.

Now, here I am 11 years later, still obsessing about the same thing. Except now I know that there’s a name for what I experience and I’m working on it. I remember the day very clearly when I discovered the term vaginismus. I had been going out with my current boyfriend for about 3 years. We had tried to sleep together many times and failed miserably each time. I was totally freaked out by this. I didn’t know what was wrong with me and I was far too embarrassed to go to my doctor. Everyone else around me was able to have sex no problem and I really didn’t want to say to anyone that I’d been going out with someone for 3 years and we hadn’t slept together yet. It was just presumed that we had.

Anyway, one Sunday night my brother, who was working in a shop, brought me back a magazine that was out of date. The first article was entitled “I couldn’t have sex with my boyfriend.” I was extremely interested and read it over and over again. It was like reading about myself! In the article the girl had had a couple of boyfriends and each time she couldn’t have sex with them, they had broken up with her. Now she had a new boyfriend and was using dilators with him. After a few months of using them, they were able to have sex. In 2 minutes my world changed. I discovered a name for my problem, I wasn’t the only one in the world who had this problem and there was a cure!

It took me about a week to tell my boyfriend about the article. I didn’t know how he would take this information. I needn’t have worried-he seemed happy too to know this. And so the research process began. Every few months I would spend hours online reading stories from other women and their partners. I read about treatments, doctors, causes, things I should and shouldn’t do. I had so much information I didn’t know what to do with it. Some articles said it was a psychological problem and that I should see a therapist. Some said it was a muscle that needed to be stretched. Some said it needed surgery. I didn’t know what to believe.

I started thinking about why I might have it. If it’s psychological, then it’s easy to think of a reason why. Growing up in a Catholic society, I went to an all-girls primary school where the teachers pointed out that anyone who got pregnant outside marriage or had an abortion would go straight to Hell. This was followed by a Catholic all-girls secondary school, where I was taught by some nuns, who obviously shared that opinion! I was so terrified of getting pregnant before finishing university, that I refused to let anyone near me. By the time I was in a long term relationship, the fear of getting pregnant was so huge, that I would be physically sick at the thought of sex. I can’t remember the amount of times that I ran out of places to get sick because I thought that I might have to have sex.

So now I’m 29, going out with the same guy for 9 years and everyone is asking me when I’m going to have a baby. Society is so confusing: you spend your early teens being told that sex is wrong and not to let a boy near you, then in your early 20s you’re supposed to be having loads of it with as many people as possible in as many different styles as possible, (but keeping all this hidden from the older generation) before you meet “the one” and then you settle down and you’re supposed get married. Then, all the people who told you in your early teens that sex was wrong are asking you when you’re going to have a baby. How are you supposed to go from staying away from boys to having babies?!?!?!?! It’s just not logical!

Living in a society where now everything is connected to sex and not being able to have it is really hard. Practically every product is advertised using sex. Members of the opposite sex will find you sexy if you use a certain shampoo, wear certain make-up, drive a certain car, drink a certain drink etc…. Little girls aren’t happy with dressing up in their mother’s clothes anymore. They have to have mini versions of what their mother’s wear, but they’re still being told to stay away from boys! So where does that leave me??? I finally got around to seeing a doctor and getting a set of dilators. I’m finally making some progress and I can see some light at the end of the tunnel, physically anyway. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get my head around the mixed messages sent to girls in society though!

Interesting posts, weekend of 3/20/10

03/20/2010 at 7:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Dear internet, I was on a bit of a horror movie binge last week. First I watched Zombieland which features Zombies in an amusement park setting. Then I watched Adventureland, which features Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame, so we have a Vampire (pre-bite?) working in an amusement park. Then I watched 30 Days of Night which features Zombie Vampires. And so we come full circle…
I’ve been enjoying the warm & sunny Spring weather so much, that I spent some time outside reading inappropriate-to-take-outside books. It was just so sunny.

Friendly reminder: I am looking for Guest Posters. We will be featuring a 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.

This week’s don’t miss post: Painful vagina? Your poor husband! – The F-Word blog posted this story submitted by S, about her personal experience and thoughts on living and dealing withvulvodynia, specifically its sub-diagnosis of vulvar vestibulitis. I’m sure this article will resonate with some of our readers – it resonated with me. Be sure to check it out; here’s one excerpt that has a touches upon multiple facets of living with chronic vulvar pain (I could probably pick any few lines at random from this post and still have a good excerpt):

My acupuncturist and Chinese herbal medicine doctor who listened to me describe my condition for quite some time, asked how long it was since I’d had sex? When I replied ‘seven years’, she exclaimed, “Your poor husband!” Indeed. Just go right ahead and reinforce all my years of guilt, sexual inadequacy and lack of confidence. Cheers. Thanks very much. Alternative medicine: treating the whole person….


There’s more from the F-Word too, including Adventures in self-publishing – I’m still skeptical of self-published books, except for books of poetry & graphic novels (like for webcomics.) But if you’ve ever thought about it, this might be of some use. And also a book review about feminist science fiction: Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the Twentieth Century

Reconsidering Feminism – Introspective questions to ask yourself. Also from Happy Bodies (and others!) this week: Quick hit: Porn for Women. This XKCD comic has been making the rounds all week; most of the reception I saw has been positive. I am very curious now to see any negative reception it may have gotten.

These posts are all at at least partly related to free speech:
How To Smack Down A Troll (Antiporn Pseudofeminist Division) – [Mildly NSFW due to banner and content] Re-posting back & forth discussion turned ugly on pornography and the “Authentic” desires of women. Whoever gets to decide what is and isn’t authentic, and how, I don’t know. Which is partly why it’s so interesting.
CNN Needs Erickson To Have Diverse Voices – Someone tell CNN misogyny is not the same thing as diversity.
Yeah, what *about* your free speech “rights”? – Freedom of speech in spaces where the participant’s speech is already probably very limited & marginalized. Some moderation decisions & comment policies probably won’t hurt you.

Nuns to bishops: STFU – Okay maybe they didn’t say that in so many words but the nuns are urging health care reform. Followed up shortly thereafter by, Oh Dear. Foot-In-The-Mouth Stupak – He was all like, “Nuns? We don’t need no nuns!”

Socially Constructed Before Conception – A feminist analysis of a documentary about conception. That documentary sure did use some… being generous here, interesting language! Also from Shakesville this week, care of C.L. Minou, Mass Resistance made me mad enough to vomit. [May be triggering.] Analyzes a video produced by a hate group, this video targets transgendered folk.

Blow for non-binary folks – Norrie’s ‘ungendered’ status withdrawn – Norrie May-Welby was granted a “Sex not specified” status on zie’s birth certificate, but that status has been revoked. There’s some more details on this at Questioning Transphobia.

Progressive teenage bloggers: a list and some thoughts – a list of some young bloggers blogging about progressive, often feminist, issues.

Bamboo Review: Final Fantasy XIII – That series jumped the shark on iteration #8. FFI-VII are totally fine, couple of the spin-offs (Final Fantasy Tactics for PSX or PSP, NOT the Game Boy/DS versions!!!) are okay, but everything 8 and after is … unplayable to me. I couldn’t finish 8. I got bored on the second disc. I love playing the older games, but I never got into the newer ones.

Why Is HRT Still Prescribed? Well, Let’s Try Listening to Women – Interesting because I already tried estrogen cream for the vulvar pain, and it had some small positive effect… small but bigger than zero. I have no doubt that I will need it again later on and when that time comes, please, do not make this any harder for me than it already is.

Bake Sales for Chemo – Deb Robben was unable to purchase health insurance and had to resort to private fundraisers to cover her chemotherapy. It won’t be enough but she is left with few other options.

Kathryn Bigelow: The Woman Behind the Landmark – About the first woman director to win Best Director and Best Film at the Oscars. No way, she directed Point Break? But really, it’s also about the lack of knowledge about her before she won the Oscar. Why didn’t I know?

Get Your Black Irish On Happy Paddy’s Day – A different kind of St. Patrick’s Day post.

4th Blog Anniversary – If one year in internet time is like 10 years in real time (I do believe that this rule of thumb is no longer completely accurate,) then Marcella’s blog would be like 40! And yet she still manages to maintain composure while being an activist analyzing rape culture and sexual assault.

Sex worker uses labor law to sue D.C. club, WaPo reports lasciviously – How mainstream media twists situations by using charged words, something I’ve seen happen in the handling of FSD articles.

What A Tool – A software tutorial with pictures!

GERMAN COSMO! – Oh god I hope Holly does a German version of Cosmocking. That would make my day.

Sexist Beatdown: WHO Put WHAT in the HUH Now? Edition – Interesting because I don’t fully understand what I’m looking at here. What? Something about female condoms and I don’t know… they make… noise? or something? There’s a picture of a plastic bag. I don’t know, but I’d try one. Maybe next time I place an order for lube I’ll order up some female condoms just for shits & giggles. And experimentation. They’re made of polyurethane so that’s a plus in my book.

The Texas School Board Is At It Again – Texas re-writes kid’s history books with a decidedly conservative slant. Check it out; usually when I see blog posts that include strikethroughs and bolds or italics to indicate additions, it’s done to pick apart another post somewhere else… but this time, it’s all real! Those cross-outs and additions are all real!

Does Pink Stink? – (Via HAT) Appreciated because it talks about how in trying to combat the arbitrary upbringing of girls, sometimes we make the mistake of disparaging feminity in and of itself.

Terms “Vagina” and “Down There” Banned from T.V. Ads – (Via VB, [NSFW]) Holy shit on a brick  – Oooh wait it doesn’t actually say that… but it does say that two advertisements for menstrual products were rejected because they contained the words, “Vagina” and “Down there.” Soooo … what are we allowed to call it on tv in ads then? Can’t use frank & accurate descriptions anymore?

How Endo-Aware Are You? – (Via FWD) March is Endometriosis Awareness Month, and some of our readers may be living with it while others don’t know much about it. Here, Frolicnaked busts some endo myths.

I’m sure there’s more…

Vaginismus and biofeedback on Dr. Oz

03/15/2010 at 6:06 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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What this? Dyspareunia appearing on television twice in three months? On the same show? I think we’re on a roll here, people. Or at least Dr. Oz is. Well sort of, anyway.

Sometime in March 2010, the television show Dr. Oz aired a short segment on vaginismus, and on March 8, the segment was added to the Dr. Oz website. Click the link to see for yourself. (No transcript available @ this time.)

Vaginismus is condition in which the pelvic floor muscles, including the muscles in and around the vagina, tense up. This tension can be occasionally uncomfortable in and of itself if you’re aware of it as I am, but more frequently, it can cause pain if you try to insert an object into the vagina while the muscles are tensed up. That means that it can make PIV sexual intercourse painful, or prevent it altogether. The pain & prevention of certain acts involving the vagina isn’t limited to hetero sex though – you may have difficulty with pelvic exams at the gynecologist’s and with using insertible menstrual products like tampons and cups.

Unlike a few months ago when Dr. Oz did vulvodynia, this time he did not have a representative from a vaginsimus awareness organization on the show. Perhaps this is because there is no such nationally recognized vaginismus organization (that I’m aware of,) as there is with the National Vulvodynia Association. There are patient-led organizations, treatment clinics, support groups, and doctors prepared to address vaginismus, yes. But for some reason Dr. Oz did not have anyone from one of these groups on the show to talk about it. Instead, he called a random audience member, Ronnie, onto the stage.

I think it is no coincidence that on this episode, without the direction of someone experienced in dealing with vaginismus, it was treated more flippantly than vulvodynia was a few months ago. Vaginismus was compared to panic attacks, localized to the pelvic floor.

For some reason, this comparison generated a lot of laughs in the audience.

I don’t understand that comparison. While I struggle with general anxiety, I have never experienced  a bona fide panic attack, so I cannot compare the two. My understanding is that panic attacks are acute episodes of intense fear and terrifying sensations. For me, the pelvic floor tension is a chronic problem, though it may be made worse in anticipation of penetrative activity. I’ve heard comparisons of vaginismus to a blink reflex, but this is the first time I’ve heard it compared to a panic attack. At one point, Dr. Oz compared vaginismus to a back spasm – this makes more sense to me intuitively, but a back spasm and a panic attack are not the same thing.

What really bothered me about comparing vaginismus to a panic attack though, was Dr. Oz’s & the audience’s reactions – laughter. What part of a panic attack is funny? What part of vaginismus is amusing? Sex and pelvic floor problems must be a laugh riot to anyone who’s never experienced them, har-de-har-har. This laugher could have been prevented or addressed by Dr. Oz, but if he said anything to the audience about the seriousness of the situation for people who are bothered by vaginismus, (and I don’t have any reason to believe that he did,) that part didn’t make it to air.

Dr. Oz showed Ronnie and the audience a computer-generated animation of what happens during a pelvic floor spasm. The muscles of the pelvic floor around the vagina and rectum draw in, making entry difficult, painful or impossible.

Dr. Oz focused briefly talked about possible causes for vaginismus, starting with physical, tangible causes for vaginismus – notably infections and menopause. I’ve experienced pelvic tension from infections – stress and physical discomfort. He also briefly noted “Psychological causes,” but did not detail what some of these causes may be. (I’m uneasy about framing vaginismus as a purely psychological problem, as it manifests & can be treated physically. Nonetheless psychosexual counseling may be appropriate for some women with vaginismus. I’ll pass on that though…) This few-second crash course in causes of vaginismus was disappointing. More detailed lists of possible causes (the experience will vary from person to person,) is available on several websites, such as the list on vaginismus.com or the Vaginismus Awareness Network.

Dr. Oz then moved on to possible treatments for vaginismus – or rather, only one treatment, biofeedback. On the one hand, I was glad to see biofeedback for vaginismus covered in great detail, as I’ve had a positive experience using it, and it’s non-invasive. It is also an option for treating vulvodynia, on the caveat that not all vulvodynia patients benefit from it. But on the other hand, that only one treatment was covered in detail is another drawback, as he did not talk about other therapies available, such as at-home dilator use, counseling, physical therapy (which can be combined with biofeedback,) botox, or just leaving it alone and not seeking treatment. Biofeedback is not readily available to everyone who may be interested in it; trained professionals prepared to show patients how to use it may not be local, and even when it is an option, there’s a risk that it can be prohibitively expensive – the equipment setup shown on the Dr. Oz show isn’t cheap!

Dr. Oz showed Ronnie an insertible biofeedback sensor, to be used vaginally. Dr. Oz pulled Ronnie over to an examining table, although this being a mainstream daytime TV show, he did not demonstrate using the probe on Ronnie. Instead, as a stand-in, Dr. Oz proceed to demonstrate how to use a biofeedback device using external sensors intead, applied to Ronnie’s arms. The camera panned over to a laptop with biofeedback software running on the screen and…

…Wait a second… that looks familiar… wait… Huh?!


Wait a second – I know that software! Wait, that white box that the wires are attached to – I know that thing! I think that’s the same setup we used at my physical therapist’s office. I recognize the interface. I believe that this biofeedback device is from the Prometheus Group. (It’s probably way out of price range for patients, so if you’re thinking about getting that set up, you’ll probably be better off looking for an alternative. I think that setup is really designed for clinical settings rather than at-home use.)

Oooh… I know exactly what’s going on there! Allow me to explain (TMI alert!!!):

Essentially, biofeedback shows you when your muscles are tensed and when they’re relaxed. My physical therapist taught me how to kegel efficently using biofeedback, although Dr. Oz never uses the word “Kegel” on the show. One of my problems was, since my pelvic floor was basically always in a state of tension, I couldn’t relax it on my on at first. I didn’t know what that felt like. The graphs from the biofeedback software showed me the difference between tense and relax states. I was pretty bad when I first came in – a tense and relax state had almost no difference in graph height. Eventually, I got better at it, and learned how to spend more time in a relaxed state, so the peaks and troughs displayed on the graph became bigger. Keeping the pelvic floor relaxed is still a struggle for me, since I must have spent years in spasm or near-spasm, but it’s better than it was.

If you’re apprehensive about inserting something into your vagina, especially in a clinical setting, don’t worry – You don’t necessarily need to insert a vaginal sensor in order to practice pelvic floor biofeedback. As an alternative, there are external sensors that stick to the skin instead. I have never used the insertible probe, I have always used external sensors for pelvic floor biofeedback. These external sensors can be applied to muscles around (not inside) the vagina, and with proper training the external sensors can be just as effective as the probe. External sticky pads are used once and then thrown away.  I felt absolutely no pain or discomfort from the external sensors. Wires connect the disposable sticky probes from you, to the white box, to the laptop.

Possible drawbacks to the external sensors are: They can be tricky to apply to the right spots, aren’t super-sticky (may fall off after awhile, but you’ll probably be done by the time that happens anyway,) and they don’t work when wet. (That means if you dilate while the external sensors are attached, be careful to keep them dry – don’t let lubricant get on them.) Nonetheless, they do work, and they do their job well.

Whether you go with the insertible probe or external sticky pads, the sensors measure muscle tension, I seem to recall the units of measure were in microvolts. There is a moving graph on the computer monitor. It will refresh every few seconds. When  your muscles tense and relax, the lines on the graph react in kind – more tension, the line on the graph rises. Relax, and the line on the graph falls. Eventually you learn the connection between the stuff on the computer screen, and what you’re feeling, so you learn how to control those muscles.

This particular software shown on the Dr. Oz program also has an audio feature. Once every few seconds (your PT can program the interval,) a voice will say “Work,” and you’re supposed to tense the muscles of interest on purpose. When the voice says “Rest” a few seconds later, you’re supposed to relax as much as you can. The graph will tell you if you’re on the right track.

The software on the show also has a save feature, so you can monitor your progress over time.

“Why are there two graphs?” For pelvic floor biofeedback, most of the sensors were attached to the muscles around my vagina, and one sensor was attached to my abdomen. So one graph measures your pelvic floor tension, one graph measure the abdominal tension. This is because when pelvic floor patients first learn how to tense & relax those pelvic muscles, they may be incorporating the abdomen muscles more than necessary. You don’t necessarily need to have both graphs on at the same time though.

I may be making this all sound more complicated than it actually is. When you’re actually having it done it makes sense, at least, after awhile, and so long as your therapist is well-trained.

At the conclusion of the biofeedback demonstration, Dr. Oz briefly mentioned that it can be used to learn how to relax in general. He also advised that vaginismic patients ask their OB-GYN about biofeedback. It’s not bad advice but… unfortunately in practice, for some reason, there are still gynecologists who do not know what vaginismus is or how it can be treated. There are still gynecologists who frame it as “All in your head, have a glass of wine and relax.” If you think biofeedback may be right for you, and your current gyn refuses to or is unable to help you, you may need to seek out another doctor, or you may need to seek out a different treatment, if you want one at all.

Overall, while the segment did biofeedback justice, I would have preferred to see vaginismus in general given more detailed coverage, or, to have seen the title for the segment changed from “Vaginal panic attacks” to “Treating vaginismus with biofeedback,” which would have been the more accurate title. The audience laughter was inappropriate and insensitive.

This coverage of sexual pain leaves much room for improvement.

Interesting posts, weekend of 3/13/10

03/13/2010 at 7:09 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Dear internet, I had nothing of value to contribute this week. I wasn’t feeling very well – first menstrual cramps, then stomachaches, then a cold… plus a feeling of general malaise, which has been a long-term feeling these last few weeks. Still, I’m getting back on track for regular posting again – I felt the creative juices flowing after a bit of a dry spell. I started like 4 draft posts in one day, I’m on a roll. It’ll be awhile yet before the new drafts will be done, but they’re getting there.

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.

A major topic of the week is that, March 8 was International Women’s Day. There were a lot of posts about it around the feminist blogosphere that day; Gender Across Borders has the most comprehensive roundup.
In an interesting coincidence, we have An Oscar Win for International Women’s Day – Kathryn Bigelow is the first woman director to win an Oscar award for Best Director. That means she’s also the first woman director to win the Oscar for Best Picture, Hurt Locker.
This didn’t generate as much attention, but March 10 was also the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers.

New report highlights serious wealth gap for women of color – Also short & sweet, delivers what it promises – a few quick highlights from a new report showing, a serious wealth gap between single white & nonwhite women.
Nonwhite women are more at risk of not receiving adequate healthcare, Black, Hispanic, Poor people wait longer for breast cancer treatment, experience more recurrences.

Some posts about sex & sexuality, especially orgasm (These posts are actually work-safe in the sense that there’s no naked pictures, but the content may still not be appropriate to read @ work):
Infographic: Female Orgasm by the Numbers – graphic showing statistics about female orgasm.
Followed up with, Why is there a Clitoral vs. Vaginal Orgasm Controversy? – Think of it this way, “The bottom line is that an orgasm is a chemical experience processed by your brain and brought on by physical stimulation. Anything can be stimulated but most people experience orgasm primarily through genital stimulation.” So there’s not necessarily one or two body parts that are the only ones to bring on an orgasm. Some areas of the body are more sensitive than others. Which I recall hearing about in Anne Sprinke’s book, which I very much enjoyed. I also remember seeing support for this awhile back on VaginaPagina’s Twitter feed.
More follow up: The Myth of Orgasm Types“In reality, the only true type of orgasm is the hypothalamic orgasm. That little section in our brains releases a delicious orgasmic chemical cocktail in our brains with enough pleasurable stimulation.” (But if you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you might recall that, sometimes, stimulation need not necessarily be sexual or pleasurable in and of itself to produce orgasm.)
No Orgasms For You, Old Ladies – Echidne analyzes a misleading report about sex in old age for men vs. women – and it really is a vs situation in the reports talking about the study. Don’t be fooled by the reports, it’s not so bad as it sounds.

There were some blog responses to an anti-pornography article which appeared in the Washington Post this week (the following posts are NSFW:)
porn is actually good for you: a happy, gratuitous post – More of an adult-link roundup.
BPPA has a much more in-depth analysis @  The Latest from the “Liberal” Media.

A couple of posts from Shakesville:
Angie Jackson on CNN – Angie Jackson, the woman who live-tweeted and YouTube’d her abortion in progress (was was threatened for it) was interviewed on CNN. There was an unexpected (to me) reaction to Jackson’s openness: Former Planned Parenthood ED calls for women’s silence around abortion – seriously???
Salad vs. Big Mac – Graphic showing why bad-for-you food is a better bargain for your wallet than good-for-you food.
On Rep. Massa – [Trigger warning] Democratic representative Eric Massa goes back and forth on whether or not he sexually harassed staff a staff member.
Congratulations, Sinjoyla Townsend and Angelisa Young! – About the first couple to marry under Washington D.C.’s new laws.

Consuming pop culture while feminist: Disney’s The Little Mermaid – Oh hey are we still talking about the Little Mermaid story through feminist lens? Something about, a teenage girl meets prince, puts herself through a major physical transformation in exchange for a terrible price in order to establish relationship with prince, and in the Disney cartoon version gets rescued, lives happily ever after, but in the original story it doesn’t work out very well… something about her legs feeling like they were dancing on knives with every step in the original version… are we still talking about that? Cuz if we’re still talking about Little Mermaid, hey gang can I play too? (You can probably guess where I’m going to go with the Little Mermaid story – oh yeah that’ll fit right in on this blog, that’s one of the draft posts that’s been tweaked for months.)
Then there was also from Feministing, Consuming pop culture while trans: Disney’s The Little Mermaid – this analysis takes a trans woman’s perspective on the Disney version of the Little Mermaid story.  Well now that certainly is a refreshing way of looking at it.

Cosmocking: April ’10! – The monthly critique of Cosmo magazine @ the Pervocracy.
Also from Holly: I support vajazzling and I vote! – A refreshing voice of dissent from the usual blame’n’shame’game re: doing anything to the vulva. In this case, applying decorative sparkly crystals to the mons after shaving or waxing.

In reproductive rights news:
NY Subway Ad Campaign Tells Women “Abortion Changes You” – an analysis of anti-abortion advertisements on NY subways.
Trying to conceive with the aid of IVF treatment? Even that is facing restrictions and government invasiveness! Kansas is Killing Me – Not trying to get IVF treatment? Doesn’t matter; these changes could still apply to you in principle.

Crazy Bromains 2: This Time It’s Personal. – NapalmNancy called out a sexist advertisement and was then herself angrily called out by the head of the company making the product in question – domain names.

Goldberg Gets it Backwards: Free Women Don’t Make Men Civilization, Owning Women Makes Men Uncivilized – Short & sweet, delivers what it promises.

In Earthquake’s Aftermath, Haiti Experiences Rise in Sexual Violence – [Trigger warning] – Violence against already-vulnerable women increases after disasters, and the Haiti earthquake is no exception.

Prom (oting) Homophobia – rather than allow an openly lesbian student attend prom in a tuxedo with her date, a high school in Missippi has completely nixed the whole shebang. The ACLU is involved in the case at this point.

I’m sure there’s more….

Interesting posts, weekend of 3/7/10

03/07/2010 at 5:54 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Dear internet, it was a regular week for me this week. I’m still inclined towards procrastinating on that sexology book but I got some writing done at least. I’m basically finished reading it, I just need to flesh out my thoughts on it. I’m having a hard time finding comfortably-fitting fashionable pants. This week may be a bit busier for me as I have a few appointments I need to attend to.

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.

This turned out to be quite a bit of a bigger roundup than I was originally planning on.

The Amanda Palmer/Evelyn Evelyn controversey continues – here’s linkspam’s 7th roundup, featuring the notable Hoyden About Town post, Not Your Punchline, Amanda Palmer [may be triggering.] If ever there were any question about whether Palmer has been acting in good faith in response to criticism to her and Webley’s project, this should provide a pretty clear answer…

When Is Gay Love Not Problematic On Television? – About depictions of non-heterosexual couples & partners on television shows. The raw numbers of LGBTIQ couples may be increasing, but the way such couples are shown is still full of problems.
See also: MS. Failure: A Feminist’s Feminist, The Eulogy of Mary Daley – Interesting to me because I can’t get on board with MS. magazine either; however this post focuses on the magazine’s uncritical handling of Daly’s death. (You do remember the controversy that erupted shortly after Daly’s death, right? No? If not, check out one of my previous link round-ups and click around to get up to speed.)
Also from Renee this week (She’s on a roll): Monique Reveals that her Marriage Is Open…Minutes Later Judgement Ensues – I very much enjoyed this post (but not all of the comments) since one of my dear friends is in an open relationship, and because I’ve been exposed to the idea of an open relationship from some of the sexuality books I’ve been reading. It’s not right for everyone but sometimes it’s healthy. And then there’s Shaming Black Women Will Not Reduce Abortion – about those billboards and reproductive freedom.

Couple of double-whammies from Shakesville.
Holy Shit – “Holy shit” indeed… “A new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center states that right-wing extremist groups have grown 244% in the last year.” Definitely related: Not Terrorism in Texas. Even though it really is. (Amanda @ Pandagon wrote more about this, If you thought they’d stop at harassing women having abortions, you were naive.)
Today in Rape Culture – A pamphlet being handed out in Virginia blames women for sexual assault because women’s clothing tempts men sexually. Definitely related: In Other Things That Are Women’s Fault Too – According to science, beautiful women make men want to hurt themselves or something.

Some sexuality posts I’m grouping together. Because they’re about sexuality. Probably all NSFW but some are less NSFW than others.
Phthalate-Free Toys – [NSFW] Something worth considering, if you didn’t already know about your sex toys’ and/or dilator kit’s safety. Some toy and dilator materials are safer than others, because some materials we don’t know what, if any, effects they could have on the body. There’s a potential for toxicity if you use such toys without a condom over them.
Also about sexual health & safety – STD testing in the private sector – [NSFW] – Man I sure wish this test included Bacterial Vaginosis & Candida Yeast screenings 😦 Even though they’re not necessarily STIs. Also, the accessibility of testing centers is not widespread.
Feminist Porn Awards announces 2010 nominations – [NSFW] – It doesn’t have to be an oxymoron!
Definitely related: A Lesson In Anti-Porn Liberal Hypocrisy From AlterNet – [Maybe NSFW] Problems in the way “Alternative porn,” is marketed, even though the alternative stuff is supposed to be less problematic than mainstream.
[Greta Christina] A Cornucopia of Climaxes – [maybe NSFW, though I don’t see any naughty pictures as of right now.] About a variety of different types of orgasms or orgasm-like experiences. I notice one commenter also mentions that she herself does not orgasm, and, much like myself, does not desire input from a sex therapist. So her thoughts on the language of sexuality are worth giving extra consideration to.
So maybe that’s why we don’t know how birth control works – Unfortunately this post degenerated into quibbling over how to define “Sex” in the comments. Which totally sucks because then we have that whole “This is sex, that isn’t sex,” debate and the arbitrary lines drawn that exclude certain types of sex and kick out people who engage in them. And ultimately when we get into quibbling about what is & isn’t sex and therefore who is and isn’t having sex, sometimes I’ve come across comments that say your romantic relationship is invalid because you’re not having “Sex” proper. Fudge.
A few latecomers to the sexuality discussions: First – a short documentary about women reflecting on their first experiences with sexual intercourse. Sounds interesting.
Best Erotic Comics 2009 – [NSFW] I have a serious question which I will probably re-iterate in a more fleshed-out post at a later date – Are erotic graphic novels considered “Erotica” or “Pornography?” On the one hand, you have written text & words & stories, which makes me think it’s “Erotica…” but on the other hand, there’s pictures, and the pictures can be quite graphic, which makes me think “Porn.” I don’t know what to classify graphic novel & comic book naked & sex scenes as. I just know I like ’em.

Roundups of their own:
International Women’s Day is very soon! – March 8th, in fact; Chally rounded up a lot of links to provide a history of this day.
Jos from Feministing has a link roundup as well, the topic is Same Sex Marriage in DC Roundup.
And there’s also this [TRIGGERING IMAGES] roundup post about hate speech & crimes around University of California campuses and activism going on to combat it. March 4 Day of Action: Healing the University of California.
And there’ll be a month-long disability blog carnival which has nothing to do with the title of the carnival post: Disability Blog Carnival Number 64: caught us with our pants down (Theme is breaking down stereotypes.)

The Final Push For Health Care Reform Begins – Includes a speech by US President Obama on health care reform. Yes this debacle is still going on. Why is this not done yet? Also from Alas! Resign, Resign, Resign – about NY Governor Paterson’s involvement in obstruction of justice in a domestic violence case.

Trigger warnings re: sexual assault apply to all of the following, which address rape. Rape victim jailed for making “false” allegations – these allegations don’t sound fake… the handling of this victim’s case is appalling and unprofessional. South Africa: the continuing rise of ‘corrective’ rape – Non-heterosexual women, particularly lesbians, in South Africa are at risk of this particular type of rape; there may be up to 150 rapes in South Africa each day. “One-time bad decisions” that rapists keep on repeating – about the profiles of rapists, and some possible ways to handle those in your social circle who sound like they could be potentially dangerous for this reason. 7 Simple Responses Which Help Support An Anti-Rape Culture – Snappy answers to common rape myths. I just wish there were more because if I were to go back in time &  use some of these responses on people from my high school (ex. teachers…) I’d need even more snappy comebacks to whatever rape apologia I’d then be faced with.

will the last one at SF Gate / San Francisco Chronicle please turn out the lights? – Fascinating, but distressing story about what happened to Violet Blue’s archived sexuality column writings at SF Gate. (This post from VB looks work-safe on my end! Huh, no naughty pictures on this one.)

40 vs. 4000 – Short snappy post about a response to attacks on women’s reproductive rights.

Assistance to live – about providing alternatives to euthenasia – alternatives that can prolong and improve quality of life.

Last week in my blog roundup, I said I wish we could talk frankly & openly about sex addiction. Well, figleaf tried… How About Step One: Admitting They’re Powerless Over Their Addiction to Demonizing Sex? Well, I guess it’s a talk about it… not exactly what I had in mind but it’s something…

I’m sure there’s more…

Tangent Tuesday: Animation

03/02/2010 at 8:27 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,

That’s one fluffy off-topic post, coming right up, as promised because I need a bit of a break. Well some people post YouTube music videos, some people post pictures of landscapes… Let’s try this and see how it goes over. We shall return to our regularly scheduled vagina blogging shortly after these messages:

I have never outgrown my love of animation.

I grew up watching Saturday morning & weekday afternoon cartoons in the late 80’s all the way up through the 90’s. I fully expected to lose interest in or to become embarrassed by my love of animation as I grew older, but it just never stopped. And much to my own surprise, animation grew up with me. As I matured, so too did many cartoons. Animated shows aimed at adults required  a more sophisticated level of writing (if not art) and dealt with contemporary topics.

That’s not to say that all animation is inherently good – or sophisticated. A lot of it is neither. Anyone with a few reams of paper & a pencil can put together a rudimentary flip-book, in which anything can happen – including acts of extreme violence and prejudice. Mainstream cartoons including (but certainly not limited to) Family Guy and Bugs Bunny have had reprehensible moments. And nowadays, with computers becoming more accessible, almost anyone with the right hardware & a little patience can learn how to throw together a Flash animation using little more than cut-and-paste pictures and some background music.

But for the most part, creating animation that makes it to television and the big screen is still out of reach to laypersons such as myself. It’s put out by a few well-recognized names & producers, who still have armies of animators scribbling furiously in studios (or not, as advances in technology have the potential to reduce team sizes.) Depending on the style of the show, it can take anywhere from a few hours to several years to crank out animation that lasts more than a few minutes.

Yet, despite the increasing accessibility of animation tools & software for laypeople, and perhaps partly due to the oligarchy of mainstream animation, it is still, like Hollywood, very much a boy’s club.

Who do you think of when you think of notable figures in the field of animation? Not necessarily individual animators, although you do get bonus points for being able to memorize the names of numerous staff members of animation studios.
But when it comes to producing animated content, just off the top of my head, I can name:

  • Matt Groening
  • Matt Stone & Trey Parker
  • Mike Judge
  • John K.
  • Don Bluth
  • Brad Bird
  • Seth MacFarlane
  • Hayao Miyazaki
  • Genndy Tartokovsky
  • Seth Green
  • Terry Gilliam
  • Peter Chung
  • Aaron McGurder
  • Walt Disney
  • Chuck Jones

The list grows if I include web animators and comic artists. So many different styles, so many different golden ages, different themes, different tools and technologies used to produce their work. Some of them no longer do the drawing themselves but are still involved in directing or producing currently running progams.

If you take a look at the list of notable animatiors on Wikipedia, you will find that the majority listed there consists mostly of men. Maybe this is a bias by the writers of Wikipedia.
Or maybe not. Maybe, much like the realm of political cartoons and business upper management, there are still very few women in the field.

Even I, for all my love of cartoons, have to dig deep to name women involved with animation. I can do it but I’m ashamed to admit that even I have to beat my brain to remember them, and even then my list comes up short… and that breaks my heart. Why don’t I know more women in animation?

  • Rumiko Takahashi – Not necessarily an animator herself, she has been behind many Manga series, some of which have been adapted to anime; her work includes Sailor Moon, Ranma 1/2, and InuYasha, among others.
  • Naoko Takeuchi – Creator of the manga Sailor Moon, adapted into anime. [edit 3/8 – my bad.]
  • Suzie Templeton – won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Short Animation for her take on Peter & the Wolf. It”s a pretty good film, a little scary, little weird, but good. Short… only about a half hour. No dialog either, theoretically so you can listen to it in any language.
  • Marjane Satrapi – illustrator of the graphic novel & director for Persopolis.

There are other ones out there, listed on the Wikipedia page, and others I had to actively search out.

Unapologetically Female also provides a list of some individual women who were involved with animation studios in the ’40s. Unfortunately this list is tempered by a rejection letter from Disney Studios which claimed that women were not involved in the creative process.  PBS provides a short blurb. There’s a blog for Women in Animation.

I have some concerns that the relative lack of women in animation could be related to often questionable content produced and the relative lack of women characters in animation. Or perhaps relative lack of women involved in animation historically has simply repeated itself over and over. This phenomenon isn’t isolated to animation; there are very few women writers on several mainstream comedy shows, even though there are some female late-night comedians, such as Chelsea Handler. It’s probably no coincidence that these shows with little diversity behind the scenes often produce content which plays on sexist (and more…) stereotypes.

Likewise, there are ~relatively few women main characters in animated shows. (For the purposes of this post, I’ll be focusing on “Good” characters rather than Villains, as an in-depth analysis of antagonists would merit its own post.) They exist, definitely, and I know that there are children’s television shows designed for young girls (which also merit a feminist critique.) But so many lead characters in mainstream animation shows are boys and men. The first examples of women in animation that come to my mind are the wives & mothers of the main male characters. They stay home and support their families, which is great, but not an option for many women in real life. Don Bluth produced the Secret of NIMH, in which a female character, Mrs. Brisby is the lead and she has many adventures in her efforts to protect her family – aided through the actions of her late (and supernaturally intelligent) husband.
One exception I can think of however, is Peggy Hill, Hank Hill’s wife, who works outside the home. The family seems none the worse for her activity.

The damsel in distress is another recurring motif in classic animation. This is a popular and long-lived theme in Disney films especially, such as Snow White and repeated ad infineum. On shows influenced by Sentai (think of Power Rangers, etc.) there may be mixed sex teams but on the teams I can think of women were usually outnumbered.

I am less familiar with children’s animated programs currently running. As an example, I haven’t had much exposure to shows like Misadventures of Flapjack beyond the title and maybe a few minutes of program snatched here and there.

However I can think of female characters in animated roles besides wives and mothers. Detective Eliza Maza from Gargoyles and her predecessor, the reporter April O’Neil from Ninja Turtles are links to the surface world. Coraline of the eponymous book and film was unfortunately somewhat de-powered in the movie with the addition of Wybie. Kim Possible, Sandy Squirrel, the PowerPuff Girls. Leela from Futurama (and Amy) are both critical to the progression of the long-lived series. (I believe that Futurama needs an in-depth feminist analysis. It’s begging for one, especially after Wild Green Yonder.) Faye Wong and Radical Edward form half (or 2/5, if you count Ein,) of the crew of Cowboy Bebop.

I might be able to name more women characters if I watched more cartoons, I suppose. They are not the only thing I watch, and they must now compete with a subscription from Netflix. I am glad that there are many exceptions to my first impressions. I’d like to see more..

I’m sure there’s more… I fall well outside the target demographic for many of the cartoons children watch now. Most of the current programs on television came well after my time, and other activities compete for my attention, so I cannot watch all shows at once. Still, I’m anxious to see who will be producing animated casts of characters in future programming, and what the show content will consist of. I have a feeling it will be more of the same – a very mixed bag with a few rare gems.

Interesting posts, belated weekend of 2/28/10

03/01/2010 at 10:48 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
Tags: , ,

Dear internet, I’ve had a lot of pent up energy all week, I guess from being cooped up so long. Snowdump 2k10 continues and when it continues I’m stuck in place until I can get un-buried.

Perhaps as a result of being stuck in place too many times this winter, I’ve been in the mood to do something active and/or creative – preferably both. I got some clothes shopping done over the weekend, so that addresses my need for walk-around activity.  That leaves doing something creative… yes I realize that blogging is creative but I need to do something with my hands that lets me totally space out. I’ve got some clay in the closet I feel like breaking out… a box of multi-colored Sculpey & two bags of white stuff that is fun to paint when it dries. I’ve got some oil pastels in there too… a lot of people don’t like oil pastels, I’ve never understood the hate for them. (Note: I am not artistic & am bad at sculpting things, especially compared to my family & friends. But I don’t care 🙂 No one’s gonna see what I make anyway…)

What this means for the blog: Since I’ve got this creative monkey on my back, I will either be skipping an original content post this week, or else I will be posting something that is still ~somewhat relevant to feminism but has absolutely nothing to do with female sexual dysfunction. Something nice & fluffy. Because believe it or not, I have interests outside of vagina politics too. I need to get my hands dirty, then I’ll get back on track with hard stuff. Procrastination can be fun!

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.

First, a few older links I forgot to post at the time because I left them on the mobile device.

Adam’s Family Jewels – So it turns out that Eve wasn’t made from Adam’s bone… She was made from Adam’s boner. And other bible debauchery.

This one has nothing to do with feminism, but I enjoyed the analysis. Rowling’s being sued for plagarism again.

Okay there’s the old ones. Here’s the new stuff.

There was a magnitude 8.8 earthquake in Chile, and as of now the death toll is above 700 people killed. Chilean Earthquake News and Relief Info – they could use some help too.

There was a disability carnival roundup hosted by disability community @ Dreamwidth. The theme was relationships.

There was more followup to the Amanda Palmer/Evelyn Evelyn performance art controversy; several additional links have been rounded up by the Linkspam community, also @ Dreamwidth. So here’s two more blog link roundups for you: #5 and #6. Use caution as you work through the links there, they’ve been labeled as having potential problems where applicable.

Angie the Anti-Theist went public on the internet with her decision to get an abortion, and its progress. She’s gotten sooooo much flak for it it’s genuinely frightening. Like, seriously I wish her all the best because I would not want to touch all the e-mails I’m sure she’s gotten. “I’m doing this to demystify abortion.” from Shakesville. Live Tweeting Abortion from Feministe. Friday genius ten “Dropping Truth Bombs” edition from Pandagon. Also,  How effective is fact bombing? Dropping in on #livetweetingabortion on Twitter.

Also depressing and related to reproductive justice: Fetuses First – a pregnant woman needs chemotherapy to treat her cancer, but cannot receive it, due to her pregnancy. There’s also a very comprehensive Reproductive Justice Linkspam from Alas! A Blog.

The perfect trifecta. And by “perfect”, I mean… – Absolutely disgusting comments by US republican Bob Marshall. Wow, that’s wrong on like 18 different levels. An analysis of the many different layers of wrong was put together by Shark-Fu. Notes from a bitch…reflecting on the “punishment from God” claim… Static Nonsense (via FWD) also wrote, A Punishment – I am not.

Big Bipartisan Healthcare Review – Delivers what it promises – a review of that big Healthcare meeting from last week. It didn’t go over well. Jeanne also watched an wrote an analysis, Health Reform And Gender Discrimination.

Johnny Weir Responds to Gender-Conformity Police – Johnny Weir is an Olympic skater who, among other things, designs his own flamboyant costumes, skates to pop music, and in doing so reveals folks who are insecure with themselves.He (and other commenters) responds to bigoted comments. See also: In praise of Johnny Weir

Misreading Lolita – the Roman Polanski child rape scandal continues, with broad implications. From the post:

These events had me thinking of a longstanding complaint of mine about (of all things) a book. “Lolita” has become a byword for the idea that some little girls can quite ethically be the target of sexual advances by adults because their essential nature is one of “promiscuity” and they are therefore unrapeable. This is ironic in a particularly sickening way, because Nabokov’s novel is about the monstrous connections that may exist between acts of genius, or creations or experiences of sublime beauty, and the infliction of cruelty.

Hymenology 101: A Guest Post by Commenter Pedimd – Everything you ever wanted to know about hymens. Somewhat irrelvant to me now though, as I no longer have a hymen following vulvovaginal surgery.

The Body Scoop for Girls: A Straight-Talk Guide to a Healthy, Beautiful You – Interesting because the author of this book is Jennifer Ashton, who appeared on the vulvodynia themed segment of Dr. Oz earlier this year.

Your Friendly Womb Police in Utah – This is a real law that could make miscarriage illegal.

“A Culture of Indifference”: Report on Campus Sexual Assault Reveals Inaction Taken by Schools, Education Department – [Trigger warning] – a study on sexual assault on campuses – the perpetrators are rarely punished and when they are the punishments are  minor.

How *not* to write about sex addiction – you know, I’d really like to read and talk about sex addiction, I know it’s controversial but it would fit right in here. But it’s soooo controversial to the point where you can’t talk about it. Case in point.

Oh Canada, How Dare They?!? (WTF edition) – Best person for the job talks about the Canadian women’s hockey team partying down after winning the gold.

Me and My Vagina: Special Anniversary Edition – I Fucking Wish I felt this comfortable talking in public about having had vulvovaginal surgery… I fucking wish. How are you doing that? Why can’t I do that? Oh right, I can’t talk about it because
I haven’t been able to reconcile the fact that I’ve had a vestibulectomy and lived to tell the tale with the fact that in general, when talking about vulvovaginal surgery or less invasive kinds of genital modification, even temporary ones, it is bad, bad, bad. On blog posts, there’s heavy focus on cosmetic surgery and aggressive shaming women who go under the knife – or wax or makeup or skin decorations. That’s what it sounds like to me. So I haven’t reached the point yet where I feel like it’s safe for me to talk in detail about having actually lived through it, even though mine was for medical reasons. And at this rate, I may never feel comfortable enough to talk about it outside of support groups. I’d want to, I think. But I don’t feel welcome. I read those feminist posts, and I feel like a freak.

I’m sure there’s more…

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