On “Normal” sex

12/06/2008 at 2:41 am | Posted in general, sex | 1 Comment
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It seems that the ability to have sexual intercourse, and to prefer it over all other types of sexual activity, and to perform at some quantifiable level, is the norm for adults… and I suppose that’s also viewed as normal for some of them-thar teenagers having sex. We see actors & actresses having this type of sex often enough on mainstream television and in movies. When hot naked sex scenes aren’t explicitly depicted, there is still plenty of innuendo to allow the reader to fill in the blanks. The camera pans over to a couple in bed with the sheets pulled up to their chests. Mom & Dad walk in on a young couple lying face-to-face naked in the boyfriend’s bed. A cop knocks on the window of a car with sweaty scantily clad people in it.

Now before you tune out about “Oh god another post about sex in the media and how it’s bad for the moral fiber of the country oh god I’ve already heard this one a million times,” let me assure you:
This is not about whether is “Too much sex” in the media, or among teenagers, or outside of wedlock.
This is not about whether or not “Too much sex” is inherently bad for the health & morality of whatever country you’re living in.
Indeed, it seems that what I’m saying between the lines is actually, “There is too little variety of sex in the media and in conversation.” Forget about the given quantity of sex we see – why do we see one type of sex so much to the exclusion of others?
This is about the quality of the sex surrounding us.

When movies want to deal with other kinds of sexual activity besides intercourse, the alternative activity needs to be named, because normal “Sex” means “Intercourse.” It does not mean, “Oral, anal, kinky, et al.” It means one man puts his penis in a woman’s vagina and thrusts for awhile until one or both orgasm. When referring to other kinds of sexual activity, the specific type in mind will need be called its proper name, or a slang term. Doing so requires more work on the part of the viewer and the speaker to point out that no, we are not dealing with intercourse. Depending on whether we’re dealing with a comedy or a drama, the sex scenes depicted – both intercourse and not – will be treated with varying degrees of dignity & respect.

It is worth noting an example here of the sexual double (or multi?) standard – The teen classic coming-of-age sex comedy, American Pie does treat sexual intercourse with much more respect than it does oral sex & masturbation. When the main male characters do eventually have intercourse their female partners, two of the scenes slow it down & aren’t very funny at all. Romantic music plays. In the rest of the movie, oral sex & masturbation were the laughingstock.
I wonder why that is (except not really.)

But sometimes sex doesn’t come so easily for some of us.
At least, not that kind of sex, the default meaning. Intercourse.
And it’s kind of a bummer to be constantly reminded of that.
It may not have been the smartest move on my part when I watched, Boogie Nights while experiencing peak vestibulitis.

When you have FSD, this standard definition of sex may be out of reach – at least, hopefully, temporarily. When we treat intercourse as the default, it creates anxiety & pressure to perform on a level that may be too far out of reach for some. We can do lots of other neat, interesting things – but we can’t do this one simple task that so many others can.

Sex therapists, (such as Klein & Robbins,) some doctors & some patients with sexual dysfunction will advise expanding the defnition of sex beyond the borders of penis-vagina man-woman intercourse. This is good advice – it’s much more useful than “Have a glass of wine and relax,” since, don’t you think we’ve tried that already? Such a view reduces pressure to perform & creates a more relaxed atmosphere with regards to other sexual activity.

We must expand the meaning of “Sex” beyond just “Intercourse.” That is the default meaning of sex when it is not otherwise elaborated upon. That is “Normal” sex. Other types of activity must be explicitly spelled out. The audience’s reactions to such alternatives may vary from disgust to amusement.

When you can’t have the default definition of sex, it can be very easy to fall into the trap of sexual avoidance. “If this activity can’t end in intercourse, then there is no reason to pursue it. I will only wind up disappointing my partner and myself. He (or she) really only wants this one thing which I cannot do… to do otherwise will be a letdown.” A few people may trudge onwards through distressing intercourse anyway, goaded on by a sense of duty – but this can worsen painful and/or distressing symptoms & lead to feelings of resentment for one or both parties involved.

Sometimes, when you have FSD, you gotta get real creative, real quick.

So I’ve expanded my definition of “Sex” to include sexual activity besides just intercourse. Intercourse isn’t working for me right now, but I can still do lots of other things. You don’t necessarily have to turn off your turn-ons. Just keep an open mind.

I suppose you could say to me, “That’s easy for you to say.” I’m one of the lucky ones – I’m sexually greedy enough so that I’m not willing to stop having other types of sexual activity with my partner.
But I am in a long-distance relationship too. That means my partner & I are used to going long periods of time without partnered sexual activity. And when we do get together, it always takes awhile to become re-acquainted with each other physically. That means that we have to slowly explore each other’s bodies & experiment each time we see each other.

Okay so I’ve expanded my definition of sex. I take satisfaction from the non-intercourse sexual activities. I still get to have fun & satisify my partner. Whatever I do doesn’t necessarily have to lead to intercourse or even orgasm.

The alternatives can be the obvious ones I’ve already mentioned – oral sex, anal sex, masturbation – as well as some more creative works.
Some alternatives suggested by Drs. Klein & Robbins include but are not limited to:

Integrating sex toys
Massage – regular or erotic

Mutual or solo masturbation
Sharing & executing fantasies
Dancing – for or with your partner
Showering/grooming with your partner
Making your own porn with the camcorder
Reading erotica or watching porn together with your mate

(All paraphrased from Let Me Count the Ways.)
Their big theme is emphasizing “Outercourse” rather than intercourse, which can be considered a state of mind (141).

Not listed here but coming to me just off the top of my head is cybersex.

Not that you have to do any of the things on this list, if you or your partner are uncomfortable doing so. When it comes to sex (the wide and narrow meaning,) consent and safety come first.

And not that this list is all-inclusive. You can probably think of a lot of fun, interesting things you’d like to do that I didn’t list here!

We can get into a tricky spot when we start thinking about some of the sexual alternatives – keeping an open mind like means we may have to confront our negative feelings about certain kinds of sex. If intercourse is “Normal,” then are the alts “Abnormal?” (And I’m thinking to myself here, “No, of course not.”) Sometimes we may even have to weigh the social consequences of engaging in such activity. Dealing with FSD might be as good a time as any to think about BSDM & kinky (yet still non-penetrative) activity. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss all pornography everywhere. Is a facial shot another expression of the patriarchy degrading women, or a safe, non-penetrative, pain-free alterantive to intercourse? Klein & Robbins warn the reader that we when we do explore alternative forms of sexual expression, we may have to deal with some ambiguity. I’m not sure that even I will be able to fully resolve my own mixed feelings regarding some sexual activities.
But maybe I can live with that.
After all, ultimately the choice of sex – under this expanded definition – must be that of the individual’s.

I have but one problem with expanding the definition of sex, and really it may not be a problem at all –

I still want to have that default definition of sex, too.
Despite all my setbacks and all my failed attempts – I still want to have intercourse with my partner.
I don’t want to remove “Intercourse” from the meaning of “Sex.” I still want to include it.

Luckily most of the people I’ve encountered in my life want me keep the option of intercourse on the table. My doctors, my boyfriend, my friends, and even my family, all want me to to have a healthy sex life & enjoy intercourse.

But perhaps we can de-emphasize intercourse and raise the alternatives higher up the list when we talk about sex. Perhaps for some of us, intercourse is something that will only be available on the menu on a rotating basis. A “Special,” if you will, or a desert rather than the main course. A lovely treat, but all the items on the menu are delicious as well.

You don’t necessarily have to give up on sex just because you aren’t having “Normal” sex.

Begin at the beginning.

09/07/2008 at 10:47 pm | Posted in general | Leave a comment
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The most sensible place to start with this blog is at the beginning. Which means explaining where I’m coming from & where I get off talking about this.

I am a 25-year old female. For now just call me “K,” as I have not yet decided on what handle to use for this blog. I have vulvodynia, specifically its sub-type, vulvar vestitibulitis, and vaginismus. The loose translation of vulvodynia means “Pain in the vulva.” The loose translation of vestibulitis means “Inflammation of the vulvar vestibule,” although that isn’t always the most accurate translation. In practice it means the vulva hurts. If you have true vulvodynia it can hurt all the time without provocation. If you have vulvar vestibulitis, chances are the vulva hurts only on contact with an object. That object could be a tampon, a finger, a sex toy, or yes, a penis. It may or may not be possible to have sex, due to the pain.

Vaginismus means that the vaginal muscles contract so much that it makes penetration impossible, difficult, painful, or some combination of the above.

So I am mostly familiar with vulvar pain conditions, based on all the homework I had to do following up on them & getting a proper diagnosis. Of course, FSD is a broad topic & covers things besides pain – it can mean a low or very high sexual desire, difficulty or lack of orgasm (or in rare cases even an overabundance of orgasm,) hormonal imbalances, skin dermatoses, and others. It’s possible that one thing overlaps with another and it’s possible to have one thing without the other.

I had to learn about these sexual & genital problems the hard way – first hand experience. Without getting too much into detail right now (that’s a series of stories for another time, perhaps,) what happened is,

Prior to treatment, I was never able to insert things comfortably into my vagina, be it a finger, tampon, or a penis. It would burn, sting, and subsequently I would experience chronic itching. When I tried to have sex I would end up torn, bleeding & in pain for days after. I used extra lubrication & became aroused before attempting intercourse, and my partner was gentle with me. Still no good. When seeing a gynecologist, no clear cause for pain was found. No infection was present – usually. At one point during this ordeal, I was treated for bacterial vaginosis but still saw no improvement after treatment.

It took several months to get a proper diagnosis, and several more months to get treatment. Not many people and still somehow not all doctors know about vulvodynia. In the end, I and my doctor, a vulvovaginal specialist, decided on avoidance of potential irritants, going off of hormonal birth control, using a topical estrogen gel for a few months, and then surgery. It’s been over a year since the surgery and while I still have some problems, things are better than they were. I don’t have to run back & forth to the ladies room all day trying to figure out “Why am I itching.” I can insert some things into my vagina. I can withstand pressure on the vulvar tissue without burning. The flap of skin that always tore on me h as been removed. Intercourse remains a carrot-on-the-stick for me which I continue to work towards.

Which has gotten me thinking… Who would have thought that sex would be so much Hard Work! During this whole ordeal I started thinking about all kinds of things about sexuality – mine and other people’s. How my own sex education in public school contributed to my FSD. How sex and occassionally sexual dysfunction is depicted in the media. How women’s health & sexuality is or isn’t medicalized. How much women must have suffered with this in silence for years, decades, centuries, not fully understanding “Why is this happening?” and not being able to find treatment. I think about how feminists talk about sex & sexuality.

And I think about how feminists talk (or don’t) about sexual dysfunction.

I know there will be disagreements with what I say, even among other women who have experienced FSD. I responded favorably to surgery but have heard enough horror stories to know that it is not right for everyone. While I may feel comfortable with porn & can see how it would be beneficial, I recognize that for other women in my same situation, porn could very well wind up ending a relationship, say for example one partner becomes addicted to it.
I can see where these disagreements are coming from, when they come from other people who know about FSD.
What really bothers me is when people, and yes, feminists, who have not experienced or treated FSD themselves, make broad sweeping statements about women’s sexuality, ignoring those who have experienced FSD. I feel like what I see written about sexuality & sex talks only about “Normal” sex & forgets that it doesn’t come that easily for all of us. And It bothers me when I see feminists make mean statements about sex and how it should or shouldn’t be done, because sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way.

I don’t have all the answers. I realize this.
Yet In light of the above, and the fact that this has been such a taboo subject, I feel compelled to speak up and provide an answer.

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