Guest post – Update from a guest poster

01/27/2011 at 11:11 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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[Dear internet, we have a guest poster today! Rhiannon was the first guest poster we ever had here on Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction. It’s been a little over a year since her first post with us, and she has volunteered to share a follow-up of what’s been happening with her vulvar pain since then. The following account comes with a trigger warning though, for invasive medical procedures and brief mention of self-harm.]

The wisdom – or not – of pursuing medical options

A lot has happened since my last post. I spent most of the year celibate, trying to embrace that as a queer identify, and not really getting there; in September, I began a triad relationship with a man and a woman who were a couple. It has all fallen apart now, but my relationship with the man folded first, and a big part of that was that we couldn’t have sex.

When I told my GP this, she asked whether I was in treatment for the vulvodynia. I said I wasn’t, and explained how grim the treatment options had seemed before. She suggested that I could get a second opinion.

“Can’t hurt,” I said. I was wrong.

Now, going to the gynaecologist to have your vulvodynia examined is always going to be at least a little painful, because the chief symptom is pain and they have to cause a little in order to see where it is. The classic way of doing this is the cotton-bud test – a controlled and relatively gentle touch to the painful area to confirm its location. I know because I’ve had it done several times in the past.

Apparently this consultant hadn’t heard of it.

I had my history taken by a relatively nice registrar, and I thought that if she examined me it would be okay. Once she’d taken my history, though, she said she had to fetch the consultant because she’d never seen this before – fair enough, nobody can know everything – and I should get ready and wait on the bed. A nurse came in and talked me through the need to take my knickers off and pull my skirt up (and cover the tops of my thighs with that silly little piece of paper they always use… what purpose is that supposed to serve?).

The consultant appeared. He was a big black man who didn’t speak directly to me, just found his gloves and went to have a peer and a poke. I am aware that my prejudices could be showing here; I think that I would have found the behaviour rude in a white doctor or a female doctor, or indeed a shorter doctor, but I might not have been as frightened by it.

My Bartholin’s glands are visibly inflamed, and most doctors see that. I don’t think he noticed them, although I had mentioned that specifically when my history was taken by the registrar; he certainly didn’t try and avoid touching them. I have been examined many times, and it’s never comfortable, but this was very painful. It was as painful as penetrative sex is, in fact.

I gasped and cried out, I nearly screamed, and it must have been obvious because the nurse felt the need to hold my hand.

Afterwards, I was shaking and in tears. I was left alone to get dressed again – I managed to calm down by one of my milder self-harming methods. After what seemed like a long wait, the consultant and registrar returned with what appears to be a hurried print-out of some basic information (I suspect I know which website they used).

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” the consultant told me. “I’m going to have to ask around and see who I can refer you to.” They said that; the referral letter hasn’t arrived a month later, and if the new consultant will be anything like this one I shall have to think twice about going.

They left me alone with the nurse, who checked I was okay and had one last piece of final ironic advice: “Don’t go looking at the internet and scaring yourself.”

I was too shaken to tell her that the internet is the only place I’ve found comfort in facing vulvodynia.

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Interesting posts, weekend of catching up

01/16/2011 at 7:12 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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Dear internet, it certainly has been awhile since we last explored interesting posts in the news and the feminist blogosphere together. I’ve just been so busy with adjusting to my new life… plus, I finally admit it – I was having too much fun. There’s been some problems too but I’m attempting to address the shortcomings as best I can.

One of the interferences with blogging lately is that someone finally showed me Minecraft and how to play it and I’ve been having a ball with that for a few weeks. I gave up on some of my worlds and started over 4 or 5 times but now I feel like I know what I’m doing… …plus I set the difficulty to Peaceful for awhile. I was getting frustrated with the Creepers sneaking up on me and stopping me from moving around freely. I’ve got a nice shelter setup now – the only problem with it is it doesn’t look like a castle or a fancy mansion. It looks like a goddamn office building. How boring! And I keep meaning to reset the game back to normal difficulty now that I have good stuff but I’m actually having more fun walking around and digging without having to worry about monsters.

I also watched some Let’s Play videos of the entire Mother (Earthbound in the USA) video game series. (#1 and #3 were translated into English in ROM form, they’re not available in the US by legitimate means.) Watched the LP’s because I don’t think I’ll ever have the time or patience to play through them myself at this point. The games look all cute & stuff, little weird with the space aliens and all… then you get deeper into the games and it gets really fucking disturbing. Like, deeply psychologically disturbing, especially towards the end of the games. All 3 of them. I think #3 disturbs me the most of all.

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

Can’t get enough of feminism and sexual dysfunction on the internet? You may want to think about following the Twitter feed, which is more accurately described as my Twitter feed since no one else manages it. Some of my daily mundane and/or angry thoughts sneak in there but I try to include trendy topics as well as a healthy dose of sexual dysfunction related news when I find it. However I’ve been having some problems using the Twitter on my mobile device lately. I can’t RT stuff for some reason. Annoying. So I don’t know what I’m going to do with that.

Since I’ve been away from blogging for so long and especially away from the weekly blog link roundup, my RSS feeder is hopelessly clogged beyond catching up and there’s no way I’ll be able to present a comprehensive picture of what’s been going on in the news and feminist blogosphere. Hope you’ve been keeping up. There were posts about consent and Wikileaks. There were posts about violence and social justice. There were some posts about sexual dysfunction (with predictable results. I mean that in a negative way. Try, (or don’t try if you’re not in a good position to get back to a comfortable state of mind!) for example, yet another post related to Orgasm Inc. that was over on the Jezebel recently. You know, for a movie that’s supposed to be doing good things, it sure does bring out the worst in people, mhmm.) And so on. Let’s see what I’ve gotten to so far. As always, anything I left off this list wasn’t left off due to a lack of importance. It was left off because I am a one person who cannot keep up with everything at once. Post links if’n you got’em.

A two part series: Good Vibrations House Calls: Vulva Cancer, the Clitoris, and Pleasure – A reader wrote in to Good Vibrations to ask whether it would be possible to still have an orgasm following surgery for vulvar cancer. The surgery included the removal of the reader’s clitoris. Carol Queen offers some possible routes to sexual pleasure post-surgery. There’s also a chapter about this in a book I have, but it doesn’t talk about sexual pleasure so much as it does about what medical professionals can do to in relation to cancer-related sexual pain. And then here’s part 2: Good Vibrations House Calls: Vulva Cancer, the Clitoris, and Pleasure (Part 2) which addresses ways to experience sexual pleasure when genital contact is difficult.

Call for Participants: Ultrasound Study of Women’s Pelvic Floors – This is going on NOW! I would be a very interested in seeing the results of this study, seeing as I am one with a messed up pelvic floor.

Sensual Prenatal Massage – Sounds interesting, particularly the perineal massage. You don’t have to be pregnant to benefit from perineal massage. At least I don’t have to be.

I Will Survive (Thoughts on Survivors Giving Birth) – Reflections on childbirth after sexual assault. Via Mom’s TFH.

The group blog FWD, Feminists with Disabilities, for a Way Forward, has closed, though the archives will remain up indefinitely. Many of the regular and guest contributors maintain their own off-site blogs and so you can keep up with individual bloggers. Check out the blogroll for some authors (but remember that there’s many disability bloggers who are not listed on the blogroll too.) One interesting post that came up recently was a critique of Big Pharma ads. What I found most interesting is that two of the Big Pharma medication advertisements dissected were for drugs to treat erectile dysfunction. Do you know what happened in the comments? No one denied that sexual dysfunction is an actual thing. How about that! Contributors were able to analyze Big Pharma ads without completely denying the existence of the condition that the medications advertised are supposed to treat! Shocking!!! Not really shocking at all. Refreshing, though. Sadly refreshing…

Offended? Cool by me. – The pharmaceutical company, Teva, which is the biggest manufacturer of generic drugs, put together a messed up advertisement for birth control that co-oped asexuality. Now keep in mind this is the same pharmaceutical company that recently hosted a big fake birthday party in honor of the 50th anniversary of The Pill. Hmmmm… Hmmmmmmmm… *eye twitch*

Study Finds 10% of Teens Who Say They’ve Never Had Intercourse Test Positive for STDs – There are a number of blog posts about this study, which has some problems going on in and outside of it – how was sex defined, (Excluded activity other than PIV intercourse) what are folks saying about the research, what are folks saying about the study participants (Variations of “Can teens be trusted to tell the truth?”) when did such STIs take place, etc.

Different versions of virginity – Now this one comes on the heels of the pornographic website Kink.com airing model filming model Nicki Blue’s first sexual intercourse experience, which is also an interesting topic because of how it was first marketed & then they had to go back & change it cuz it was all exploitative.

The Complicated Process of Actually Having Intercourse – It doesn’t come easily (no pun intended) for everyone.

Lube Makes Sex Better (Now, we have proof!) – But when you do go to have sex (under the broadest definition,) lubrication will usually make it more comfortable. In which case the challenge for some of us will be finding the right lube.

Condom Size Chart – Something that may help you and/or your partner(s) choose the correct condom size. Unfortunately if you know you’re sensitive to certain materials, you may be out of luck because not all materials are available in all sizes. Which I think totally sucks.

The Feministing Five: Tristan Taormino – She is a feminist pornographer. Those two terms do not necessarily have to contradict each other. I watched one of her pornographic videos this week. It was okay.

A tumblr for you: Sex is not the enemy [NSFW] – photographs of happy naked people having sex. Via Figleaf.

Cosmocking: February ’11! – Holly’s evisceration of Cosmopolitan for the month.

[Trigger warnings] The Julian Assage of Wikileaks fame sexual assault controversy (Not strong enough of a word, really…) continues. Blogger Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown called out Michael Moore until he eventually —sort of—- indirectly —- apologized for his rape apologism. (Wow! Okay it’s not an explicit “I’m sorry” but still… he reached out to Doyle personally.) It was a very difficult task & draining task Sady took on.
Feminist author Naomi Wolf, who wrote The Beauty Myth, continues to dismiss the seriousness of rape allegations against Assange and the nature of the allegations. Also that the names of accusers of rape should be published. What? That also sounds like an absolutely terrible idea. This is a big, though not necessarily surprising, disappointment from within a feminist circle.

Amy Chua wrote a book which had excerpts published in the Washington Post, under the title “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” It has caused a lot of backlash. Being that I am White, her article does not apply to me directly but it is relevant to someone who is most near & dear to my heart & who found it upsetting if not outright triggering.

Blog for Choice Day is coming up shortly. Before you write about how folks should have the right to choose, I want you to sit down and really ask yourself: Do you really believe what you are writing? Can you actually say with a straight face that you believe in choice if you actively restrict certain choices from being made consensually? The post I’m thinking of is from last year, Do you really trust women? Do you?

Related to issues of reproductive choice, here’s some posts. Black Women Once Again Targeted By Pro Lifers. MTV ran a special called “No Easy Decision” which openly discussed abortion. As a result, Ross Douthat wrote something about how much better it was when adoption was the only legal option even if it was a form of (and sometimes continues to be) reproductive coercion.

[Trigger warnings for violence, ableism] Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head at point-blank range at a grocery store in Tuscon, Arizona. Giffords has survived but several people, including a nine year old child, were killed. The shooter has an online presence which has been analyzed and there is open speculation that he may be mentally ill. However even if this is the case that does not erase the sociopolitical environment in which this act of violence took place. For example, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin had a web site with a picture of the USA. There were crosshairs over 20 political districts. Some copies of the picture have been taken down from websites but it’s so, so hard to erase things from the internet & you can still find it. And Giffords has been threatened before, recently, so this isn’t the first time she was in physical danger. But when called out for encouraging this kind of threatening environment, politically, Palin released a statement where she called allegations against her a “Blood libel.” A term which has a long history and a specific meaning.

I’m sure there’s more than this but we’ll have to do more catching up later as there are some tasks I must now attend to.

Conceptualizing the FSD hierarchy

01/12/2011 at 12:04 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments
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A couple of times on this blog, I and guest posters have briefly mentioned something called the female sexual dysfunction hierarchy. This is an idea that formed in my mind while reading various interpretations of  female sexual dysfunction – I noticed that not all forms of FSD were handled equally in terms of social (and professional) acceptance and priority for treatments. But what is the FSD hierarchy, exactly? What do we mean when we talk about it? Let’s think about it and see what we can come up with.

To me, the FSD hierarchy means that certain types of sexual problems are more readily recognized as sexual dysfunctions than others, and are given a higher priority for treatment by doctors and therapists. It means that if you have some sexual dysfunctions that are not recognized as serious and real you’re more likely to have to present some reason, a justification, for the dysfunction to exist in the first place and you may face barriers to satisfactory resolution. Conversely, the FSD hierarchy means that other types of sexual dysfunctions are more readily recognized as valid health problems for which medical treatment (and insurance reimbursement) is more likely to be available and socially acceptable.
It’s not that all forms of FSD can or should be treated with a single magic bullet. Different types of FSD need different treatment options, including the option to not treat at all. A woman with low libido may not require a pain management program and a woman dealing with orgasm difficulties may already have an otherwise high sex drive. However, what the hierarchy does is prioritize some women’s personal experiences and feelings with regard to sexual dysfunction, but it dismisses others.
Basically you get shit about having certain types of FSD but not others. The hierarchy does not necessarily mean that women with any form of FSD will be treated the way as they should be – that is, with respect and dignity.

Ultimately, I think it means that some sexual dysfunctions are “Okay” to have and treat, while others are not okay to have or to view as dysfunctions, regardless of how much a sexual problem is interfering with your life. I believe that a hierarchy of FSD is something that both medicine and social construction contribute to.

And I don’t like it. No sir, I don’t like it.

I hate the hierarchy of sexual dysfunction. It isn’t fair. It’s artificial and hegemonic; it compartmentalizes different types of sexual dysfunction, so you lose a chance explore overlap. Coupled with the stigma of having FSD in the first place, keeps women with sexual problems broadly from sharing experiences with one another. Unfortunately the hierarchy of FSD in and of itself adds to the stigma – since some kinds of FSD aren’t valid in the first place, it’s hip to make fun of anyone who thinks they have sex problems.

Medicine is rigid in defining what is recognized as FSD. Generally, under the medical model of FSD, (hotly contested and informed by the DSM) there are four broad categories of sexual dysfunction – pain, lack of arousal, lack of orgasm/pleasure, and/or a low or absent libido (sexual desire.) To this day, as evidenced by the JAMA study citing a 43% prevalence rate of FSD in the US, a sexual problem may be considered to cross the threshold into “Dysfunction” regardless of the feedback of the individual. To ignore a patient’s personal feelings is a problem in and of itself, for it’s fairly common to experience snafu sexually from time to time. And even if you do experience what might be considered a “Problem,” if you are comfortable with that, then it’s less of a problem in the first place.

The social construction model, particularly the New View model of women’s sexuality, is looser in recognizing sexual problems and their causes, but stricter in defining limits for the term dysfunction.  Stricter limits on the use of the term sexual dysfunction are called for because of a long history of abuse at the hands of those who had the authority to dispense with such terminology in the past. Additionally, sexual dysfunction is stigmatized and so a diagnosis of FSD can in and of itself create anxiety – you lose your status as a “Normal” person, sexually. (If you ask me, it makes more sense to take out the sting of sexual dysfunction in the first place rather than to elevate TAB status to its position of privilege. There’s nothing wrong with having a sexual problem, so, what’s wrong with having sexual dysfunction?)

Here’s a picture of what I think the FSD hierarchy looks like. I whipped this up in Excel so the graphic is Butt-Ugly. My hierarchy is based on the four broad medical categories of FSD, because that’s how I most often  see sexual dysfunction talked about. That medical model of sexual dysfunction certainly does have a long reach. What does the FSD hierarchy mean to you, and how would you describe it?

[Description: The sexual dysfunction hierarchy pyramid, version 1.0. A 4-tier pyramid sitting on top of a brown rectangle. Each tier in the pyramid is a different color and labeled, in descending order, “Pain,” “lack of arousal,” “lack of pleasure/orgasm,” and “low/absent libido.” Caption next to the pain tier says, “Pain is generally recognized as valid. May be considered a pain condition, disability and/or sexual dysfunction (depending on the individual with pain and who you ask about it).” Caption next to the lack of arousal tier says, “can sometimes be a problem may be addressed with lubricants or medications ED in cis men usually recognized more readily”. Caption next to the lack of pleasure/orgasm tier says, “Starting to get controversial as sexual dysfunctions now since these problems may be social, physiological or both”. Caption next to the low/absent sexual desire tier says, “The illegitimate child of FSD Desire, libido, HSDD – all highly contested Is it a dysfunction or just part of your personality?”. The rectangle under the pyramid is supposed to represent underground and it’s labeled “PGAD, Endometriosis, Overlap and Intersectonality, Stuff I forgot about, Interstitial Cystitis and Stuff I hadn’t thought of.”] Caption next to the rectangle says, “Stuff underneath the pyramid Doesn’t get talked about much”.

Under both the medical and social construction models of sexual dysfunction, pain is generally recognized as valid problem that cannot always be explained away. It is the sexual problem for which medical intervention is the most acceptable, relatively speaking. Even Dr. Leonore Tiefer, proponent of the social construction model of sexuality, who organized the New View Campaign, has stated that sexual pain is the one and only valid and important sexual dysfunction – at least so long as we continue to use that terminology. Pain might be due to a vulvar pain condition like vulvodynia or vaginismus, or it might be part & parcel of another chronic health condition. It may be exclusively limited to sexual situations.
I’ve noticed that since pain is more readily recognized as a medical problem and a sexual dysfunction, it’s treated funny in discussions of FSD. Even though pain falls under the broad umbrella term of FSD, it’s frequently ignored or gets at best one-line mention in an article. So there’s a poor exploration of overlap between pain + other sexual problems. And as someone with sexual pain problems, I can’t ignore the way that other non-painful forms of FSD are discussed; the way sexual medicine is stigmatized – that’s a lot of stigma to get over, when you need to reach out to a medical professional for help. The take-away message stuck in my mind is, “Of course HER distress is palpable and important – she’s in physical pain! HER sexual problem is okay to treat with a pill or whatever, but YOURS isn’t. Why are you so worried about anything other than pain, anyway?” It is as though the distress I feel from experiencing pain with sex is more legitimate than the distress that another woman feels from lack of orgasm, or whatever else.
Even though sexual pain may be treated with relative respect in discussions of sexual dysfunction, the reality remains that it’s still viewed as a joke. Write frankly about dyspareunia and you may find trolls come out of their dark hiding places. In real life sexual pain gets no special treatment.
(For the record, I know that I talk about sexual pain with more detail than I do other types of sexual dysfunction on this blog. This is not because I think other forms of sexual dysfunction are unimportant – it’s because I have the most experience with sexual pain.)

I placed arousal problems on the second tier. This can be a problem because a lack of arousal in and of itself can contribute to physical discomfort with vaginal insertions of objects say, if you are not  producing sufficient lubrication. I’ve found that a little lubrication can also make vulvar stimulation more comfortable with a partner. I also placed this one second on the hiearachy chart because there are sex toys and some medical tools (I’m thinking of vacuum pumps and lubricants) available for women with arousal difficulties. (There’s also that Zestra thing that’s been going around stirring up double-standards in advertisements controversy too but I don’t know how effective it really is.) This is also where erectile dysfunction would go, as the presence of an erection is not necessarily the same as the presence of sexual desire (a distinction which in and of itself can be difficult to come to terms with.)

I placed lack of orgasm and/or sexual pleasure on the third tier, in orange. Things are really starting to get messy & controversial now. There’s sort of a medical treatment available for this (the Orgasmatron spinal cord stimulator) but it’s heavily sensationalized and it may not even work well.
And orgasm itself can be controversial – How much should an expert and an individual emphasize the importance of orgasm? Does emphasis on sexual pleasure create pressure to have an orgasm? What if you’ve tried everything and it’s just not happening? What if the reason you cannot orgasm is because of poor sex education; because no one ever showed you or your partner how? What about if you were previously orgasmic and subsequently developed difficulties orgasming – say, from an injury, antidepressant use, or something else? If you are having difficulty with orgasm because of a medical problem then should that be recognized as a sexual dysfunction in and of itself or as a symptom of something else?

The fourth tier is the one that sets off alarm bells most frequently. When the media covers sexual dysfunction, this is usually what journalists are talking about and what sexologists respond to – low or absent sexual desire. It’s very controversial as far as sexual dysfunction goes – How are we defining low sexual desire, what is the measuring stick? Could a low or absent sexual desire be part of your personality or sexual orientation (asexuality) and, if so, how do we make that distinction? What terminology should we use; should we call it a sexual dysfunction or a sexual problem? Does it have a cause and if so, what is that cause; are you stressed out or have you started on a new medication? If not, then have you stopped to consider social construction arguments to explain a drop in libido? Could low libido ever be more than one of the above or possibly all of the above?
In terms of the FSD hierarchy, this is the dysfunction that is most socially unacceptable to have (or at least to publicly disclose) and certainly the least acceptable one to seek medical treatment for. The New View Campaign’s activism during buildup to the flibanserin hearings explicitly stated, “Low sexual desire is not a disease.” This is a theme repeated throughout Sex is Not a Natural Act and A New View of Women’s Sexual Problems.
However, somewhat paradoxically, it may be acceptable to have low or absent sexual desire – so long as we don’t call it a dysfunction and so long as we avoid medical options to address it.

And then there’s the fifth tier, which isn’t even part of the pyramid. I put it underneath the pyramid, underground – because it contains stuff related to sexual dysfunction that rarely gets discussed. This is where stuff that gets swept under the rug goes. It’s where alternative views of sexual problems and dysfunctions are – brigid wrote about this in her guest post, On the FSD hierarchy and why it hurts all of us – here, she discussed endometriosis and the lack of discussion about how it impacts sexual functioning, and she said, “By silencing other women who suffer from FSD just because it doesn’t fall under one individual’s narrow view of what fsd is and how it works, we are hurting every woman who needs help.” Another example would be an alternative interpretation of sexual pain proposed by a co-author of Secret Suffering – that sexual pain can also mean pain in the sex organs.
This is where interstitial cystitis wound up when MTV ran the True Life episode, I Can’t Have Sex. One of the participants of the program, Tali, has IC and IC activisim is an important part of her life. So one of the criticisms with the True Life episode (and this is in no way Tali’s fault,) is that it did not even mention the words, “Interstitial cystitis;” instead the episode focused exclusively on sexual pain. It’s related, but not a purely sexual topic.
And underground, off the pyramid, is where overlapping issues go – for example, to have both sexual pain and a low libido. These two topics may very well be related – it’s possible to experience a drop in sexual interest due to sexual pain; I’ve also seen it suggested that women who have sex with a low libido may experience sexual pain. But what happens when one problem or another resolve? What happens when you find a way to address sexual pain but your libido does not rebound?
And underground is where intersectional issues go – to have a sexual dysfunction and be any sexual orientation other than straight; to be a woman of color with sexual dysfunction; to be a trans person with sexual dysfunction; to have a disability + a sexual dysfunction (which in and of itself may be another disability;) to be kinky yet sexually dysfunctional. (All topics which I’d like to see covered on this blog in 2011 – hint, hint.) Part of the reason I started this blog is because I felt like there weren’t a lot of good resources available specifically for folks with sexual dysfunction. Why would there be such resources, after all, if sexual dysfunction isn’t a real thing: If it isn’t real, then there’s no need for such resources and support – just use whatever anyone else is using. That ought to be good enough, right?

But then I was thinking to myself, this is the way that I’ve seen discussions of sexual dysfunction go in online interactions… but what drives these discussions in the first place? Usually, it’s media coverage. And the media prioritizes coverage of sexual dysfunctions differently than what’s shown here.

So here’s a different model of the way sexual dysfunction discussions might be pictured, as driven by the media:

[Description: another multi-colored 4-tier pyramid graphic, this one inverted so the narrowest point is at the bottom. Labeled The Media and sexual dysfunction pyramid V. 1.0. Representing how the media covers sexual dysfunctions and problems. On the top is “BONERS,” second tier is “Libido,” third tier is “Orgasm” and the bottom tier is “Pain.”]

And here’s an explanation of this pyramid:

1. BONERS – (inspired by Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown.) It’s okay to show commercials for erectile dysfunction but not a commercial for Zestra, which supposedly acts on sexual arousal in women. BONERS may or may not be equivalent to libido and orgasm.
2. Libido – after getting past all the commercials and in-print advertisements for Cialis and Viagra you might find yourself reading an article about some other such medication that’s supposed to increase libido or about relationship tweaks you can supposedly make to get more satisfaction.
3. Orgasm – then you may see some advice columns talking about figuring out ways to have an orgasm.
4. Then sometimes sporadically there’ll be an article somewhere about sexual pain.

Not pictured: My total lack of effort in making this graphic and my own amusement in using the word “BONERS” in a graphic on an otherwise serious feminist blog.

As with thinking about sexual dysfunction in terms of disability, this is something that’s very new even to me, and something I’d appreciate feedback on.

2010 a retrospective

01/01/2011 at 1:27 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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So long, 2010! Don’t let the door hit you on your way out, ‘cuz I don’t want ass prints on my new door!

2010 is finally over. It was a difficult year for me filled with many changes and much instability. Ten people that I personally knew died in 2010; I was close with three of them; one of them was only my age (still under 30.) The political climate in the US (where I live) continued to shift towards the right-wing, particularly the extreme right-wing towards the end of the year. The US economy continues to be shit even though I have heard economists proclaim the recession to be officially over. In the last quarter of the year, I went through two major life transitions, much needed and long overdue, which culminated in the largest change I have ever gone through. Since I’m still trying to maintain a level of anonymity, I can’t explicitly state what the big change was. It’s sufficient to say that  I can never return to the old normal I once had, but at this point I wouldn’t want to anyway. Still, my life remains in a state of flux. Phase 3 of my major life change starts today, though phase 3 will be intangible, long and drawn out, and less major… basically consisting of adjusting to all the newness I am surrounded by.

With phase 2 of my life upheaval over, I can now turn my attention back to other areas, such as this blog. Sexual dysfunction is still real, it’s okay to have sexual dysfunction, it’s okay to want and/or need help with your sex life, and it’s okay to be a feminist yet still have sexual dysfunction. We may not see female sexual dysfunction covered in mainstream news for awhile, but that doesn’t mean FSD is going to disappear into the ether. (At least, not for me it sure isn’t; yours, if you have any at all, may resolve, but I still face a long road ahead.)

We got a lot done in 2010 – we here talked about a lot of different topics and explored some different perspectives on FSD. I would like to extend a special thank-you to all guest posters and contributors who participated in this blog over 2010 and 2009. Did you see the following 2010 guest posts and contributions?

Guest Post – On the social construction of sex
Guest Post – 10+ years with vaginismus
Guest post – Heteronormativity and FSD
Guest Post – On dealing with doctors
Guest post – On the FSD hierarchy and why it hurts all of us
Guest post: GUILT, FAILURE AND A PRE-ORGASMIC FEMINIST
Guest Post: Interview with Elizabeth on Asexuality
Feedback reconciling BDSM and painful sex
Feedback understanding the difference between BDSM and painful sex
BADD 2k10 – sexual dysfunction as disability
Female sexual dysfunction discussion Bingo!
Guest blogging: Reaching out to the asexual community (I did some guest posting too.)

Some other posts I wrote and am particularly proud of in 2010 on Feminists with FSD in 2010, as arbitrarily chosen by me (Not in any particular order):
Statistics and FSD – Part 1 of 2 – In which we examine that famous study that said something like 43% of all women in the US have some form of FSD.
Statistics and FSD – Part 2 of 2 – Don’t miss part 2! I think of it as a follow up to that 43% study. For some reason this follow up never generated the same number of views as the original, which bums me out.
Picture post – Antique prophylactics [NSFW] – People really liked this funny picture post! Someone even offered to buy the antiques off of me but they’re not truly mine to sell.
A 5-part series in which I read all of Sex is not a Natural Act and Other Essays by Leonore Tiefer, which came highly recommended and presents a social construction critique of sex and female sexual dysfunction. My opinion remains unchanged: The book was not enough to convince me to take an exclusively social construction perspective; it’s filled with disabilist statements (It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!) and it creates unique problems of its own which merit further examination.
Edit 1/7/11 – Oh what the heck, throw this one up there too: Book review: A New View of Women’s Sexual Problems – because if anybody suggests that I read this in 2011, I beat you to it. We did that already. Same conclusion as the above book review.
Symbolism, archetypes and stereotypes: What experts have said about vaginismus – You want to talk about the symbolism behind sex fine let’s go and do exactly that.
Book review – The Camera My Mother Gave Me – I thought it was a good review.

Television programs that addressed vulvovaginal pain conditions in 2010:
Dr. Oz – Vulvodynia
Dr. Oz – Vaginismus
Strange Sex on TLC – Vulvodynia – I can’t find a video of the segment so here is a transcript instead!
Chelsea Handler responds to Dr. Oz winning a television award (Warning: you’re probably not going to like this one. Proceed with caution… But on the bright side, there’s 3 serious videos on that same page, right after the Chelsea Handler one, which are more comprehensive and informative about vulvodynia. You might like those.)
Action News – Vulvodynia
MTV – True Life: I Can’t Have Sex Vaginismus, vulvar vestibulitis, pelvic floor dysfunction; did not explore overlapping conditions.

Wow. I’m impressed with the quantity of media coverage (though not always impressed with the quality,) and that’s just what I know of. I can’t decide which one I like best, the Dr. Oz coverage or the MTV coverage. The weird part of the Dr. Oz video for vulvodynia was using a traffic light analogy. I would have gone with one of those plush vulva puppets instead.
Drop links if’n you saw more about pelvic & vulvovaginal pain conditions in 2010!
Strange Sex also covered restless genital syndrome, aka RGS aka PSAS (persistent sexual arousal syndrome) or PGAD (persistent genital arousal disorder.) The video was here in 2010 but I’m not sure if it’s still up. And you still have to register to get that far.

Biggest FSD controversey topic of 2010: Flibanserin and hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD.)
In 2010, pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim moved forward with plans to gain FDA approval on flibanserin, a drug that started out as an antidepressant but that, in drug trials, showed a small but significant change not on mood but on women’s sexual satisfaction. As the FDA hearing date approached, media and blog coverage of this topic increased. However what the great flibanserin debacle of 2010 reveals the most about FSD, isn’t the drug or its development or the long arm of big pharma. There’s that, yes, and I have no doubt that much of the media coverage we saw was yet another form of marketing. What was revealed but went unexamined in most mainstream media coverage can be found in the comments about HSDD, FSD and flibanserin. In comments and sometimes in the articles themselves, negative, patronizing attitudes towards women with FSD are made clear. I mean, look at these piles of bullshit people say and think (Trigger warnings):
The ugly things people say about FSD Part 2: Electric Boogaloo
The ugly things people say about FSD Part 3: The Redeadening
Good grief. And it just went on like that in some fashion on other blogs and news outlets, resulting in the FSD Bingo Board (linked to above.) But misogyny and disabilism isn’t limited to HSDD. Trigger warning re: [Trigger warning] all the troll comments that Chloe’s article in response to MTV’s True Life: I Can’t Have Sex received on Salon.com. There is something going on with, I think all forms of FSD, where it isn’t acknowledged as a valid experience and diagnosis. When it comes to FSD, it doesn’t matter what kind of FSD we’re talking about; everyone is an expert except for the women who live with it.

Speaking of trolls, heads up: as of the end of 2010, there is still some guy going around targeting V-blogs, YouTube Videos, articles about dyspareunia, etc., and spamming them up with troll comments – Usually the same exact troll spam copied word-for-word, or slightly modified. If you’re maintaining a V-blog and get a weird, deliberately ignorant comment about vaginismus from an IP address that traces back to the Philippines, then that’s the guy. See, this is the crap you have to deal with when you write frankly about life with FSD! Here are some short entries with links to other entries about dealing with trolls, from a feminist perspective: GeekFeminism and FF101.

Reminder: things Feminists with FSD is not:

  • A medical advice blog: It’s possible that some commenters and/or guest posters have medical qualificatons, but I don’t. Do not ask me for medical advice because I probably don’t have any new information for you and god forbid I give you the wrong information, and just make things worse.
  • An agony aunt blog: I am not here to give you dating, relationship or general life advice for the same reasons listed above.
  • A news blog: I make an attempt to keep abreast of FSD news but I have a life outside of blogging and I’m not a journalist.
  • Making any money. I haven’t figured out a way to fairly monetize the blog. Full disclosure: to this day I have earned exactly $0 from blogging about the intersections of feminism and sexual dysfunction.
  • The final authority on FSD – I’m a feminist blogger who has sexual dysfunction. I have my own opinions which may not match your own. Although I certainly hope that as someone who actually lives with the topic of interest, you would give some extra consideration to what it is I say. I’ve been through quite a bit already. I hope you would also question anybody who claims to be the final boss of FSD.

Is Feminists with FSD a sex blog? I don’t know; I’ve said elsewhere that I consider myself to be more of a lack-of-sex blogger. We talk about sex and sexuality! I’m even open to reviewing sex toys in the future. But it doesn’t come easily and my experiences are fairly limited (though many sex bloggers likewise strive and struggle to put out good quality posts, so it’s not like sex blogging is easy, either.) And then there’s times where sexual problems aren’t elusively sexual problems. Problems bleed out and overlap. They stain. If this is a sex blog at all, then certainly it’s a different kind of sex blog.

And so, as 2011 begins, I see that there is still much work left to do. We’re not done here. I have not yet begun to fight so it’s a good thing I’m still not burned out.

I’ll be catching up with my RSS feeder and working on new posts over the next couple of days. Won’t you join me on this journey? I cannot do it alone.


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