Guest blogging: Reaching out to the asexual community

10/02/2010 at 4:09 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I guest blogged for Elizabeth @ Shades of Gray, an asexual blog. Here is a link to the post: Guest Post: Interview with K on Female Sexual Dysfunction. Elizabeth is trying to maintain a relatively safe space there for commenters including people with sexual dysfunctions; so far the comments have gotten fairly long.

The post went up just a few days ago, but it’s actually been brewing for months, literally, so there was a big time delay between when we first got in contact and when it went up. We both had life stuff going on. If you go there, you may want to check out the introduction to the post for more background. Elizabeth and I communicated first during the middle of the great Flibanserin debacle of 2k10. You are probably by now already aware of the resistance Flibanserin has received from multiple angles, like some sex therapists, feminists and activists. There are also concerns about the drug and the validity of the diagnosis hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) from within the asexual community.

During this back-and-forth across blogs re: Flibanserin, Elizabeth asked if I would be willing to answer some questions about FSD and flibanserin. I agreed, with the same caveat I’ve repeated before: I’m not a doctor in any way shape or form. So I can’t answer any questions with the same level of authority. (It didn’t come up there, but I also don’t feel comfortable giving out advice.)

But anyway, I tried. Asexuality and sexual dysfunction aren’t the same things. Neither side can ignore the other, especially since it’s possible to have overlap.

Here’s a snippet of what’s going on over there:

Some basics:
What is Female Sexual Dysfunction? What kinds of FSD are there?

Female sexual dysfunction is a broad term encompassing several types of sexual problems with a common denominator of personal distress. A good overview of sexual dysfunction can be found at When discussing FSD in general terms it is important to remember there it is not limited to one specific manifestation. In addition to sexual medicine, there’s a lot to talk about with regard to female sexual dysfunction.

There are a few different ways of looking at FSD. The two ways I’m most familiar with looking at FSD are through the medical model and the social construction model.

I also had questions about female sexual dysfunction for Elizabeth to address from an asexual perspective. I eagerly await a response.

Female sexual dysfunction discussion Bingo!

09/26/2010 at 3:00 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments
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[Description: A 25-square bingo board with light blue and lavender accents. The theme of the board is feminist bingo-worthy quotes in relation to female sexual dysfunction. A transcript is below the cut.]

Hey you! You there! At the computer! Everyone! Step right up folks, step right up and come on dooooown! *Fanfare plays, light bulbs flash in the marching ants pattern*

Have YOU ever run into stereotypes and archetypes about what sort of women develop sexual dysfunction? Have you been offered unsolicited advice on what to do about your sex life, which perhaps has quite a few major complications going on? Have you become frustrated with a lack of satisfactory resolution to your problems and feel like you have nowhere to go to talk about them? Are you tired of hearing the same tropes over and over again when talking about female sexual dysfunction?

Well then step right up folks, yes step right up and get ready to play Female Sexual Dysfunction Discussion Bingo!

It’s easy to play along! All you have to do is hang around any discussion of female sexual dysfunction long enough or experience in real life some variation of the experiences described above, and then mark the corresponding box off on your Bingo board. Fill in five in a row up, down or diagonally, and you “Win!”

(Unfortunately I’ve been cleaned out of prizes to give to the winners of this game and in fact if you have FSD then lurking in the comments section of a discussion of female sexual dysfunction is likely to be upsetting at best and triggering at worst…)

Impress your friends!

Annoy your enemies!

Stop in your tracks with the sudden realization of, “Oh my god but I’ve done stuff on this board! I never realized how much it piles up on the folks I’ve been talking about!”
[I am pessimistic that anyone will have this reaction in real life; the most likely scenario that will play out is probably more like: Upon realizing that someone has used variations of the above and upon meeting this bingo board, that same someone will say, “Well this blogger is clearly a bitch and is much too close to her own experiences to be able to look at FSD ~objectively~.”]

Think you can’t play because you don’t got FSD yourself? No problem! Simply support someone who does! You can start by checking your own privileges at the door and listening without judgment to a friend who does have a dysfunction!
Don’t know anybody with FSD? Yeah maybe you should think about that for more than 5 seconds and see if you can think of any reasons why no one has felt comfortable disclosing their sexual health problems to you.

With FSD Bingo, everyone’s a winner!

Yes folks this right here is a brand-new, limited edition addition to the collection of social justice Bingo Boards! Trade with your friends! Complete the set! Gotta catch ’em all! Collect ’em all!

Right-click save (or click and hold) your copy of FSD Bingo today!!!

But seriously folks,

This is another collaborative effort brought to you by me and frequent commenter and sometimes guest poster Flora. (Hence, version 1.2 presented here – I have incorporated elements and feedback from boards we came up with.) You asked, and we delivered.

Everything in the bingo board box is based on real stuff we’ve seen & heard. I’m not making any of this up. Read the archives back far enough, and you’ll probably be able to trace a lot of these boxes back to their original inspiration.

There were even more valid candidates to make it onto the board – I just ran out of room and couldn’t include them all. Unfortuantely there are more than just these 25 pieces of sexist, rampantly disablist rubbish floating around in discussions of female sexual dysfunction. Perhaps some day I’ll release a version 2.0 if this one gets enough feedback to warrant revisions.

Until then, enjoy. Don’t leave home without it!

Transcript follows below the cut in case you can’t see the above image.

Continue Reading Female sexual dysfunction discussion Bingo!…

Feedback understanding the difference between BDSM and painful sex

06/01/2010 at 6:10 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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Last week, I posted an e-mail exchange between me and Ms. Sexability, about reconciling BDSM with a history of painful sex. It’s a question I’ve been struggling with as I become interested in BDSM and kink, and one I don’t think I would be able to resolve in a vacuum.

While I was thinking about this, I saw a blog post at A Femanist View, where SnowDrop Explodes had posted a quote he found to reflect the difference between BDSM and abuse. I’ve been reading A Femanist View for awhile, where I frequently enjoy SnowDrop’s posts about feminism, sexuality, BDSM, and the occasional book review. (He blogs about other topics like politics too, but those listed above are the posts I most like reading.) Seeing as he had just talked about the difference between BDSM and abuse, I wondered if he had any feedback on the difference between painful sex and BDSM, if indeed there is one. I was particularly interested to hear what he had to say, since he is a top. And according to The Topping Book, that means that he is someone who “Can eroticize giving someone an experience that would be unpleasant in real-world interactions” (location 98).

Of course I know that feedback from one person cannot and should not be considered the universal response. Everyone has different experiences and builds their own definitions of sex and kink. I would likely get a different answer if I asked anyone else. However I felt that asking someone who I know is experienced with BDSM would be a good place for me to start exploring, so that I’d have some advance notice on what to expect.

As with the last e-mail, some parts of the following exchange may be triggering.

I asked SnowDrop Explodes,

Would you say the difference is between BDSM & painful sex?

And this is his reply (e-mail is being used with permission.)

The first difference is that BDSM doesn’t have to involve penetrative sex of any kind (v, a or o).   So SM play can be a turn-on for both even when “normal” sex isn’t an option.

The chief difference, I think, goes back again to that quotation: “Half of a relationship is the individuals, the other half cooperation.”   When a medical condition results in suffering (e.g. painful sex), then that comes neither from the cooperation of the parties, nor from their individual make-ups.   It’s an interloper, in effect.   And it’s an interloper whose presence is entirely not consensual!   In terms of my personal sadism, I like to be the one who’s in control of my partner’s pain, pleasure and combination of the two.   Even from a purely selfish perspective, if some medical condition causes her pain when I don’t plan for her to feel pain, then that’s extremely unwelcome.   Of course, the overriding concern is always for her safety and wellbeing (i.e. other-focused rather than self-focused) but I did want to get that point in as well.

In a BDSM relationship, where some condition causes sex to become painful, the ideal would always be that the partners involved would cooperate to find a way to carry on, and to make sure that the best available treatment programme was implemented – in a BDSM relationship, I would expect sexual relations to adapt to the condition.

Additionally, I disclosed,

I am particularly interested in your answer since you are a sadist. (No accusation – I think I’ve seen you describe yourself as such.) I realize this is a pretty broad question…

Like okay, I’m at least ~open to BDSM activity but I’m most hesitant to get into the S/M stuff because i don’t know how to reconcile painful sex with the “Good” kind of pain.

You’re a sadist so if you were dealing with someone with a history of painful sex how would you go about doing that?

And he addressed this with,

The starting point is always communication and cooperation.   Even though I’m very much Dominant as well as sadist, it all starts with these principles – I get to take control only once we both know what we want from the other.

I’m a masochist as well as a sadist, and you mention the distinction between “good” and “bad” pain – something that is all too familiar to me from the gout episodes I’ve had.   I think one of the key distinctions between “good” and “bad” pain is the power of choice that’s involved.   “Bad” pain is generally something unplanned, and it’s something over which no one has any real control – there’s no way to safeword out of it, and no way to avoid it once it’s there.   There are other distinctions as well, and not all “bad” pain is of this kind (for instance, I always find needles to be “bad” pain, however planned it is and however short-term I know it’s going to be).

So, I would use my understanding these points to talk things through with a (prospective) partner whose history includes painful sex.

The way I would talk about it would put her in control of the situation.   My favoured modes of SM play are non-penetrative anyway – spanking, and other impact-play is top of the list – so pleasurable sexual encounters wouldn’t need to involve any penetrative sex.   I would talk to her about the concepts surrounding pain as a gift from masochist to sadist.   This means that she can determine when or if she wants to try penetrative sex, and to frame any accompanying pain as a part of her gift to her partner.   That framing doesn’t work for everyone, I am sure, which is why she has to remain in control.

To make sure she had control of what was happening to her, she would have a safeword the use of which would immediately stop everything.   I would not be comfortable with engaging in penetrative sex until I was confident that she knew and understood and *felt* that I would feel no negative reaction to her stopping things, because my first concern is for her.

Naturally, this means that it would be a slow build-up over the course of a relationship before we tried anything involving penetrative sex.   In the same way that a sub or masochist partner can set “hard” and “soft” limits, and it is not unusual to see those shift and change over the course of a relationship, I would expect to treat penetrative sex in the same way – she gets to set the pace of how far she does or doesn’t want to go with it.

All of this would be to help put her in control of how much or how little pain she is okay with, just the same as any other kind of SM activity – safewords, negotiation, understanding, preparation, all being key elements to consensual BDSM sex.   I would also hope that I would be able to communicate and have it understood that there was no need for her ever to consent to penetrative sex at all, if she wasn’t comfortable with involving that pain as SM play.

It occurs to me that your question also seems to be asking how I would approach introducing her to SM play in general.   I think I would approach it with the same care as I would anyone who was new to the physical world of BDSM, so any early encounters would involve light pain only, both of us getting used to her reactions and again, letting her set the pace for how much and how quickly.   We’d explore different kinds of pain and find out what is “good” pain for her, and what pain she finds “bad” or unenjoyable.   Then we’d build on that as the relationship develops and it becomes clear to her how much control over events she’s willing to surrender to me as her sadist partner.

So the basis would be the same as any BDSM relationship: communication, building trust, getting to know each other, making sure that all activities involving pain are consensual and controlled (or controllable), and above all, making it fun for everyone involved.

I suppose one final word needs to be said, about whether or not this whole description depends upon the assumption that she would feel pain anyway.   The idea of including painful sex as a negotiated form of SM play almost seems to put pressure on her to feel some sort of pain from penetrative sex, and of course that’s not a good idea either, so I would be careful about letting it be about potential, rather than actual, pain – so that if it turns out that it doesn’t hurt when she does it with me, then it doesn’t seem like *that’s* a failure, either.

Going back to what you said about your own openness towards BDSM, but not sure how to reconcile “good” pain with painful sex: I think the advice I would give there is what I described in my outline of how I’d deal with the issue with a partner if she had a history.   Different people experience different kinds of pain as “good” or “bad” – I don’t like needles, others love them; some people hate scratching, I love it!   So you can treat “painful sex” as “bad pain” (at least at first) and instead try some of the other sorts of pain that our bodies have to offer, and see what works for you.

I think this is a very interesting response. He is also familiar with “Bad pain,” like the gout he describes, and there’s nothing fun or planned about it. It shows up whether you want it to or not.

And there’s a lot of communication going on in this scenario – this being a scenario in which a woman partner who lives with dyspareunia is also submissive, or receptive to a top. (Eventually I’d like to think and talk about topping with a history of sexual pain as well.) Any new activity is introduced gradually and limits are allowed. And even if you’re engaged in a S/M scene, there’s still no need to engage in penetrative/insertive activities, which would cause pain. It sounds to me like SnowDrop is reluctant to ask a woman engage in penetrative activity, knowing that doing so may hurt. Even though he enjoys BDSM activity as a top, SnowDrop doesn’t want to cause unwanted pain!

We e-mailed back & forth a little bit more,

Some of the sexology & self help books I read recommend incorporating BDSM activity into your sex life when there’s a problem, but they never explain *How* you would go about doing that. I think there is a difference between BDSM and painful sex too – for one thing with BDSM there’s some enjoyment from the sensation and activity, but with painful sex it’s no fun at all.

And he replied,

The thing about the self-help books strikes me as strange, because if BDSM isn’t your thing, it’s not going to help (no matter how useful it might seem).   I recall that there was a proposed study into the way masochists’ brains process pain compared with vanilla folks’, but it didn’t get approved for funding, which is a shame – it might have revealed something useful about pain management.   I think for some masochists, a lot of it is about context (for example, a lot of masochists who are also submissive say that there’s a world of difference between a spanking that’s for fun, and one delivered as a punishment), but I know that doesn’t work for everybody (or for every type of pain).   So I guess maybe the self-help books are trying to help their readers to put the pain in a better context so it’s associated with pleasure instead of “bad sex”.   But again, unless you are predisposed to making that link, I’m not sure it could ever work for most people (besides which, painful sex may well be the type of pain that isn’t amenable to such an approach in the first place).

I think some people assume BDSM is just an extended form of foreplay, while for others it’s the whole point of the sexual interaction (which is why it’s possible for me to say that it needn’t involve penetrative sex at all).

And he also wished me luck.

A couple more points were made on the last exchange. Although I’m becoming interested in BDSM, I know that it’s not going to be right for everyone. It’s not a panacena for pain or dissatisfaction with your sex life. And that’s okay too! I believe that many of the principles involved with BDSM (notably, clear communication,) can carry over into vanilla relationships, but not everyone wants to engage in the activities usually associated with kink. There is nothing wrong with that, if it’s not for you, it’s not for you. Pressure to perform any kind of sexual activity is still pressure.

That’s all I’ve got on BDSM and painful sex for the time being! I’d like to return to this topic some time in the future to look at topping, and see if I can get some practice under my belt in the near future.

Feedback reconciling BDSM and painful sex

05/25/2010 at 6:56 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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Last week, I wrote up a post about my impressions of The New Bottoming Book, a beginner bottom’s guide to BDSM. I’m becoming interested in BDSM, but I still have questions about it. I’m particularly apprehensive about pain – since I have a history of sexual pain to begin with, I need some help understanding the difference between incorporating pain into sex play vs. painful sex.

So I decided to ask for help!

My interest in BDSM is new, but it’s not coming from out of the blue – I’ve been thinking about it for awhile. A few months ago, I contacted Ms. Sexability from the eponymous blog, SexAbility [NSFW.] Then I got sidetracked for like 5 months, which is terrible on my part I know… Ms. Sexability and her co-contributors have been blogging for several years now about sex and sexuality, BDSM, queerness, and disability. I had been reading her blog for a few months when I started thinking about BDSM, and she was kind enough to take the time to help me out with some tricky questions.

We corresponded, though it took awhile longer before I felt ready to start talking about this topic here. With a scaffolding of understanding provided by The Bottoming Book though, I think now is a good time.

I wrote up an e-mail to Ms. Sexability: [The link and non-italic parts may be triggering:]

What’s on my mind is, one of my blogger-friends posted a link to one of those “What kind of person are you?” quizzes, and the topic of interest for this particular quiz was what kind of BDSM (if any) you are into…

This is the quiz.

I was struggling with some of the questions about pain though. Since I have experienced unwanted sexual pain, when the quiz asked things like, I enjoy the idea that my partner wants to inflict pain on me. I like being threatened with pain. After sex, I enjoy seeing the evidence of the pain I experienced during sex… I was really struggling with those questions. I’m sure the author means wanted pain & wanted marks, but all I could do was flashback to the dyspareunia… I couldn’t get around it. It’s not a trigger, per se; all my sexual experiences have been consensual, but I hear the word “Pain” in the context of sex and, bam, I’m right back at the ring of fire.

I’m interested in both topping & bottoming. But I feel like, if I can’t get around the memories of sexual pain, I won’t make as good of a bottom as I’d like to be. Or as good of a top, if my partner wants to inflict pain on him… I’m likely to go too easy on him. Rationally speaking, I know BDSM isn’t a contest and I’m not going to be compared to anyone else. And I know that if I’m not into pain at all, it shouldn’t be a problem – I can talk to my partner about that & he’ll honor whatever I want.

To boil it down, how do I reconcile a history of sexual pain with the painful aspects of BDSM?

Any ideas?

To which she responded (e-mail response is being used with permission:)

Well, I’m no expert on this topic, because I’m actually into D/s and Bondage more then into SM, and generally do sensation play, and use SM techniques like flogging, waxing, beating with nerf bat etc. for physiotherapy reasons and as a form of pain management, but I’ll give you my ideas and instincts anyways, for what they are worth.

Since I have a chronic pain condition, I find I have a real problem with the “are you into pain,” question, because I’m always replying, “Uh…what do you mean by pain?”  There are many types of pain similiar to there being many types of touch. Imagine if we asked a young girl or boy, “are you into touch?” Well, they’d say, “yes of course,” but that doesn’t mean they want their genitals touched by an adult. So, in the way that we’ve come to talk to children about “good touch,” and “bad or icky touch,” that’s how I’ve come to talk about pain. There is Good Pain and there is Bad Pain.

There is Good Pain, like getting a really deep massage, or flogging, etc. that makes you scream out BUT also makes you go, “Ahhhhhh,” and “Mmmmmmm,” in relaxation or sexual response.

There is also the type of Good Pain that hurts like hell, like the pain during childbirth, but that you withstand and accept it even while cursing and screaming because you know it’s a signal of life and not just life, but life being born. And so this pain makes you feel awful, but mentally you know, somewhere, before and perhaps after the moment if not right in it, that the reward of this pain, is worth the acute pain you feel at the moment.

And then there is “Bad Pain.”

Bad Pain makes you wish you were dead, makes you stop what you are doing and not continue, makes scream out in “Get it the fuck out of me, NOW!” kind of response, VS a, “Mmmm…More Please, Hurts sooo GOOD!” kind of response. Also, bad pain, there is no real reward for enduring it. You don’t feel any pride, “look how strong and tough I am,” you don’t have a child, or an olympic medal, or goal acheived afterwards, you just wish it would stop when it’s happening, and when it’s over, you wish it would never happen again, never have happened, and feel serious anger towards any person causing you the pain, outside of say, “in the moment, of a BDSM scene.” Also, Good Pain, is something you enjoy, and you are not suffering. Unless of course, you enjoy suffering, and then, well, you’ll have to figure out yourself what is Good Pain and Bad Pain. But you get the idea.

So what I would suggest with your Partner, is that you start talking about Good Pain and Bad Pain, and include emotional or psychological pain in the equation, people leave that out and emotional or psych pain is still a form of pain. With the sexual pain that you experienced during sex, that has you afraid now, what I would suggest is basically what they call Densensitization therapy. Like, with your husband, set aside a time, for him to play with you cunt, not necessarily doing penile or otherwise penetration play at this time. Like you could do cunt torture, where you partner flogs your cunt, or learns to do needles in it, (take lessons for this, or get someone in the know to teach you), he can pull, slap, etc.  The GOAL at these moments, is for you start distinguishing what feels “Good” to your cunt and what feels “Bad,” and it’s MOST IMPORTANT that either way, you have positive experiences, make sure, that the whole experience is a generally positive one, lots of loving care, lots of encouraging statements, “that’s a Good Girl your doing great,” or whatever works for you etc.

What your trying to do, is what a therapist once referred to me as “making new history.” you’ve got a history now of having this horrible experience, and so, your basically experiencing, from what you’ve described, a kind of PTSD reaction to the negative experiences. It was so awful, and your anxiety regarding experiencing it again, rises to the level, where your tense, stressed out, frightened, and so, your gonna have “bad Pain,” which, I’m assuming, stops you from having intercourse. So I’m thinking, and I’m NO EXPERT here, but I’m thinking what you need to have, is some positive good experiences, that will counteract that old history. If you haven’t tried it already, I would suggest your partner using his fingers, increasing AND using a variety of different sizes and shapes of sex toys. Go slow, start gently, slowly, doing any “pain work,” BDSM on the outside of the cunt, inner thighs, etc. you can decide for yourselves if you want to do pain work separate from working on penetration experiences. And remember, LOTS of your favorite lube. Your partner shouldn’t worry about you not being “wet,” and neither should you. Just use tons and tons of lube, as much as you can, and just, you know, explore. Explore different positions too when doing this. Maybe you can only handle a very small and thin dildo or vibrator inserted in missionary position, but if you lie on a pillow with your ass in the air, you can take a larger amount and so forth.

I know I experience pain during pentrative sex with dildoes, when I am in doggy style position, my fav position to be in, the pain hurts, but not enough to stop me from doing the behavior. If your pain hurts enough to stop you from doing the behavior and makes you develop anxiety or fear of the behavior, well, for me, I’d place that in the Bad Pain category. I’m assuming that this has probably caused some problems with you and your husband having intercourse, so I would really suggest at first, he focus on using his hands like lesbians do and sex toys. I don’t know if Fisting is something you’ve tried, or if it would hurt you, it all depends on the size of his hands, and honestly, I don’t really know much about your conditions, why I’d love for you to regularly post about these things. But, when I get fisted, it’s not as deep a penetration as with a dildo or a penis would be, it’s more WIDE penitration. I mean, it CAN go deep, but not necessarily and also, it’s hitting a wider area then a dildo or penis would. There’s a great book called “Hand in the Bush,” if your guy wants to try this and hasn’t. As you use the sex toys, hands, etc. and have more positive experiences, you should become desensitized to the horrible one, and also start figuring out what is Good Pain penetratively and what isn’t. Eventually, you might want to try some slow vanilla penetrative sex, with again, lots, and lots, and lots of lube, because your gonna be tense, and so your just not going to as juicy as you would be and you don’t need to be worrying about THAT. I’d really set up times and do this as a carefully planned out, “experimentation,” or “practice play session.” Where the focus is learning and getting new positive memories made, and not so much about “making love,” or “doing a scene.” You can do that at other times, incorporating what you’ve learned works in your practice sessions into your scene.

If it turns out you can’t handle vaginal penetration any more, then I really, really encourage you and your guy to explore anal play if you haven’t done that either. Lots of good books on how to do that out there. If your guy can do you anally, he won’t feel like he’s losing something and you won’t feel like your failing him, etc. Of course, if it happens where you can’t do vaginal penetration anymore, then, both you and your guy have lost something, and there’s a real loss here, that you both need to understand, acknowledge and work through. I would think it would be normal for a guy to feel anger, frustration and loss, all aspects of grief, if his girl couldn’t do penetrative sex with him. And I think you’d feel all these two, but you’d also feel guilt, fear of losing him, shame, sense of not being a “real” woman, and all that kind of stuff. If you can find things to ADD to your sexual experiences then the loss will still be a loss, but not so bad maybe. Just remember that feelings are feelings, and even if your guy is feeling grief, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you, is gonna leave you, or anything like that. allow him to acknowledge and feel his feelings, just, you know, if it’ s too much for YOU get him to dump any anger he may be experiencing on a friend, or anonymously online with other husbands whose wives are dealing with this, etc. It’s okay for him to have a variety of feelings and go through a grief process cause he’s lost something too, but it’s not okay for him to dump that on you, and try to get you to be his support for this issue, cause it’s just too close to home for you. You can’t detach and listen to him as he works his feelings through. Although, again, sharing the feelings, once he knows whats going on for him, is okay I’d think.

I don’t know if this helps at all, but it’s all I’ve got! LOL

It helps. I think, it helped me.

A few points I found particularly interesting: Ms. Sexability uses some BDSM practices, such as sensation play, for pain management. She’s written about this topic before [NSFW]. And she makes a distinction between Good Pain and Bad Pain. I like the use of deep massage as an example of “Good pain,” because that’s something I’ve personally experienced firsthand.

I have had a few deep tissue massages and I think it’s a very good example of Good Pain. A deep tissue massage can hurt a little while it’s going on – but at the same time it feels sooo good… A good masseuse encourages me to give feedback on whether I’m comfortable and if I’d prefer harder or lighter work, and so far I prefer firm pressure. And I relax completely during treatment – which surprised me the first time, since relaxing like that is usually difficult for me to do. At a treatment a few months ago, my masseuse was really working my calf muscles over. She had my right calf in what felt like a vice grip, and moved her hands up my leg with that same pressure. It was a very intense sensation, bordering on pain, but at the same time I didn’t want her to stop on that leg. My left leg, she had to take it easier on, since that’s the leg that pain sometimes radiates down when I’m in bad shape. After a deep tissue massage, I may be left sore for a day or two, since those muscles get worked over much more than what I’m used to, but I experience some benefits too – I’m more flexible and energized for days. I love it. I love the non-professional massages my partner and I give each other, but deep tissue massage by a professional is something I pay money for! I’m about due for another deep tissue massage, in fact.

I also appreciate that Ms. Sexability acknowledges emotional & psychological pain as important to consider. BDSM can involve intense emotions & feelings, not all of them physical – and it’s okay to make distinctions between good and bad pain there, too. And it’s okay to have those emotions. And it’s okay to go through a period of grief when sex hurts and you cannot or can no longer engage in activities that you wanted. I know I grieved.

The desensitization exercise suggested above, is one I’ve heard and seen elsewhere, and something that I’ve been working on. My techniques are a little different, but I’m open to incorporating more kinky activity into my process too. Reading between the lines, desensitization and learning to associate touch with pleasure was one of my instructions for dilator treatment post-vestibulectomy! Learn how to associate physical touch with good feelings. It can take a long time, especially since I’m trying not to rush. For me this means dilators, clinical physical therapy and both touching with my partner (we’re not actually married yet but at this point everything’s inevitable,) and maybe sometimes inserting something into my vagina when we’re together, maybe even to orgasm for me. I’m learning how to associate vulvar & vaginal touch with good experiences. Sometimes I backtrack, and I’m trying to accept these backtracks.

And she makes another important point, to take your time.

I really enjoyed this response, and, if the comments on the Bottoming Book review post are any indication, there are some BDSM practitioners and activists who are willing to lend a helping hand to beginners. There’s a lot of good stuff here, and it’s very reassuring.

BADD 2k10 – sexual dysfunction as disability

05/01/2010 at 7:57 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments
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Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2010

This is my first time participating in Blogging Against Disabilism Day. For this post, I’d like to take a deeper look at an idea that’s been touched upon a few times on this blog before. That is, looking at sexual dysfunction as a disability in and of itself. I though that for this year’s BADD event, we could flesh out this idea and see where it takes us.

Looking at sexual dysfunction as a disability is a very a new idea to me. For the record, this isn’t my original idea – first I heard it from Flora, then Ms. Sexability. (Flora also contributed to this post, so keep reading.) My other hint that there is openness to this idea (at least on the internet) should have been when FWD’s was willing to include this blog on its blogroll.

The other established & more famous ways of looking at sexual dysfunctions are through the medical model and the social construction model. These two models are in conflict, and I believe that they both have positives and negative features. To describe these models very briefly,

The medical model relies on the 4-stage human sexual response cycle (excitement, plateau, orgasm, resolution) established by Masters & Johnson. Disruptions to this cycle are framed as a sexual health problem in an individual, so long as that individual feels personal distress due to the problem. If the individual is bothered by the disruptions, then medical intervention may be warranted. Treatment for sexual dysfunctions may be drugs, devices, therapy, or something else involving a trained professional. In practice getting that treatment isn’t always so easy, and this model doesn’t do a good job of looking at social forces like the individual’s relationship and cultural pressure to stay sexually pure. There is also the potential for abuse of this model, particularly by drug companies, and the medical model tends to treat male sexuality as the default without challenging the origins of what forces shape male sexuality.

The social construction model frames sexual dysfunction (especially female sexual dysfunction) as the product of cultural and relationship problems, like society’s skewed views on sex, women and medicine. If these social problems can be addressed on a larger scale, then theoretically there wouldn’t be many dysfunctions at all because a wider variety of sexual expressions, activities and outcomes would be accepted as on the broad spectrum of normal. So, fewer individuals would experience personal distress. However this model gives off a very strong anti-medicine vibe, and in practice I’ve seen experts and laypersons frame FSD as fake, going so far as to rake people who live with sexual dysfunctions (and their partners) across the coals. Proponents of the social construction model often frame FSD as newly invented and “Fake,” which carries an implicit accusation against women who experience sexual dysfunctions as being foolish, gullible lying fakers.

I’m hoping that looking at sexual dysfunction as a disability will present an opportunity explore similarities and intersections between disability and sexual dysfunction. I also hope that doing so will address some of the shortcomings of both of these models while retaining their positive, potentially helpful features.

However since sexual dysfunction as disability is so new to me, it’s not fully fleshed out yet in my mind. A 1999 Boston medical conference on female sexual dysfunction had many doctors attend to refine & direct the direction of the medical model of FSD for future treatments. Dr. Leonore Tiefer had a group of people to assist with developing the New View of Women’s Sexual Health Problems. I don’t have that kind of authority or manpower. I’m a blogger. I have a blog. I can’t do this alone. So, let’s blog.

For this post, I thought I would start by putting together a bullet point list of some areas to think about and explore. Bullet points because I’m still thinking. I’m open to constructive criticism in comments. (Plz do not be all asking me things like “Well I experience X sexual problem, are you saying I’m disabled?!?!” Because for one thing no I’m not and for another thing that is so not the point.)

Looking at Sexual Dysfunction as Disability

  • The most obvious reason I can think of to look at sexual dysfunction as a disability is for reasons of sexual and/or pelvic pain.
    • Chronic pain falls onto the broad spectrum of disability.
    • Women report feeling sexual and/or pelvic pain more frequently than men.
    • This may include vulvodynia, vulvar vestibulitis, clitorodynia, pelvic floor dysfunction, pudendal neuralgia, cancer, lichens sclerosus, complications from FGC or medical surgery and others. Not everyone who develops one or more of these problems will necessarily live with or be distressed by symptoms for life, and even for those that do it may be possible to manage symptoms. However, for many people, these can be chronic problems with no clear resolution.
  • It may also be possible to look at orgasm problems as related to disability, for example in the case of spinal cord injury or restless genital syndrome.
  • Additionally, it’s worth noting here that many patients with chronic pelvic pain deal with related, concurrent health problems. This happens frequently enough so that the National Vulvodynia Association is associated with the Overlapping Conditions Alliance.
    • According to the Vulvodynia Survival Guide, 69% of vulvodynia patients also reported IBS, 56% IC, 28% Hashimoto’s disease, 30% fibromyalgia, and 30% reported autoimmune/inflammatory diseases (Glazer, 36.) So sometimes it’s hard to separate one thing from another.
      • So there’s some intersection between chronic problems, disabilities and FSD.
      • In some cases the sexual health problems may be secondary to these other co-conditions, other times sexual health may be considered equally important, and other times there may be no other health problem. I, for example, do not have (that I currently know of) any of the above listed co-conditions sometimes seen in vulvodynia patients.
  • I don’t know if or where low libido and arousal problems would fit in with this model. Maybe as secondary to (though not necessarily less important than) other chronic health problems, if such a problem exists? But then what if no problem can be pinpointed? I don’t know about that either.
    • Low libido in and of itself is not necessarily a problem at all, neither is asexuality. These are healthy variations of normal.
      • The social construction model of sexual dysfunction is particularly critical of the pathologization of variations in libido.
    • Likewise, sexual orientation is widely varied and these variations are healthy. Certainly you can be be queer and have a disability, be queer and have a sexual dysfunction, or queer and living with a disability and sexual dysfunction at the same time, but queer is not a disability.
  • I don’t know if or where acute/temporary/transitory sexual problems that resolve with little or no intervention would fit in with this model.
  • Chronic pelvic pain is usually invisible to others so you may face the same dilemmas as PWD that are non-sexual in nature. Invisible disabilities; “Pass” as fully able-bodied
    • Passing is complicated due to the pain being located in a taboo area you’re not supposed to talk about in public and even in private it’s still not exactly dinner conversation
  • Some treatments for primary health problems can have sexual side effects.
    • Ex. SSRI’s for depression

The social model of disability and FSD

The social model of disability proposes that systemic barriers, negative attitudes and exclusion by society (purposely or inadvertently) are the ultimate factors defining who is disabled and who is not in a particular society. It recognizes that while some people have physical, sensory, intellectual, or psychological variations, which may sometimes cause individual functional limitation or impairments, these do not have to lead to disability, unless society fails to take account of and include people regardless of their individual differences. The model does not deny that some individual differences lead to individual limitations or impairments, but rather that these are not the cause of individuals being excluded.

  • Society does not always do a good job making accommodations for people with disabilities; making accommodations would make impairments less disabling. (Ex. I have vision impairments, but with glasses (and surgery a long time ago) it’s not a big deal to me. So I am not visually disabled.)
    • In the case of chronic pelvic pain accommodation in daily life may mean something as simple as a pillow to sit on (without having to answer questions about why someone is carrying around a pillow in public)
    • Accommodation for a pelvic pain patient may mean something more complex like a special desk or chair (ex. a work station that does not put pressure on the pudental nerve) or frequent bathroom breaks
    • Sexual culture – if US culture were less intercourse-obsessed, I’d probably feel less pressure to perform intercourse and would feel more secure in my sexual identity and non-penetrative activities that I consistently enjoy and can perform without problems
  • Social model of disability still leaves room for medical intervention where appropriate
    • Do not force people with disabilities (PWD) into medical treatments they do not want

Potential Problems/Areas to Explore

  • A lot of people are not going to be comfortable considering themselves disabled due to sexual dysfunction
  • Both disability and sexual dysfunction are stigmatized in the media. It’s considered “Bad” to have either, or both.
    • Why does this stigma exist?
    • What are some sources of stigma and stereotypes?
    • Is there anything inherently “Wrong” with having a disability or sexual dysfunction?
  • The media
    • Relative invisibility of sexual dysfunctions
    • When sexual dysfunctions do appear, how are they depicted?
    • How are “Normal” sexual relations depicted?
  • The DSM-IV and soon-to-be DSM-V revision: What do they say about sexual dysfunction?
    • What does it mean that sexual dysfunction is classed in the diagnostic statistic manual of mental health?
    • What has the DSM-IV said about sexual dysfunction in the past?
  • Is there a hierarchy of what is considered a valid sexual dysfunction and what isn’t?
    • Are some sexual dysfunctions treated with a higher priority than others? Why or why not?
    • Are some individuals or groups of people who experience sexual dysfunction treated with a higher priority than others? Why or why not?
  • Disability & sexuality – PWD are de-sexualized; accessibility to sexuality resources may be limited; PWD are at increased risk of sexual abuse; PWD may also be fetishized

Things that make sexual dysfunction as disability hard to think about

  • It’s not easy to embrace the term FSD due to the history of female sexual dysfunction & hysteria
    • Ex. Freud & the vaginal orgasm, “Frigidity,” Victorian era, treatment for hysteria, hysterical paroxysm (orgasm) the DSM & homosexuality
  • Disability itself is still stigmatized
  • Current experts on sexual dysfunction
    • Who are they and what do they say about sexual dysfunction?
    • When Dr. Tiefer states for example, “What sickness befalls the person who avoids sex? What disability?” (Sex is Not a Natural Act, location 241) from what direction is sex looked at?
      • This quote also makes it quite hard to think about sexual dysfunction as a disability, even when it’s pain, which may be the reason for ‘sickness’ and avoiding sex.
  • The gender binary
    • The social construction model of sexual dysfunction tends to be more open to non-binary identified folks than the medical model
  • Risk of appropriation – is it even okay for me to think about this?
  • My own privilege – can’t talk for anybody else,
    • Are there any groups or individuals the disability model overlooks or arbitrarily sweeps in?
  • My utter lack of credibility & professionalism

As you can see, there are a few places where I’m asking more questions than I have answers for – because I don’t have all the answers. And in some places, I’ve left off with “I don’t know.” Because I seriously don’t know. You’ll also notice that I tend toward FSD in particular rather than the more general term sexual dysfunction, in large part because that’s what I have the most experience with.

Flora also had some points she wanted to touch upon re: sexual dysfunction as disability, and she hit upon several areas I missed:

  • Fear of disability as a factor in unwillingness to accept FSD and similar disorders as real, or desire to dismiss it as “in your head.”
    • Many non-disabled people use magical thinking about disability due to their fear of it, especially to invisible disabilities that are difficult to objectively prove the symptoms of– “if I don’t believe in it or that it can happen to me, it won’t.”
  • Absence of disability is a form of privilege, which is as true of FSD as any other disability.
    • Sex-positive feminists need to check their own privilege and consider whether their definitions of sex, sexual liberation, sex-positivity, etc, can embrace people with disabilities or are only for the non-disabled (it usually seems to be the latter, which is why I don’t read many sex positive feminist blogs).  Or only for people who are not disabled in certain ways (i.e. inability to have intercourse).
  • Fears about a “manufactured epidemic” of sexual dysfunction and whether there’s ever anything to this.
  • Role of partners (of any gender)– what is their responsibility?
    • Can “forgetting” a partner’s FSD or acting like it magically went away if your partner hasn’t mentioned it in a while (which MANY non-disabled people do with invisible disabilities) ever be excused?
    • How do you have “the talk” (i.e. telling them that you have it) before having sex with a new partner– are there right/wrong ways of doing it?
  • Why are people with disabilities overlooked by designers of sex toys? … Why are devices like dilators considered to be strictly medical devices?
  • Why don’t we have, for example, the option of buying dildos or vibrators in the same range of sizes as dilators?
  • Why don’t more sex manuals address the issue?

Flora also pointed out there are issues of consent to consider, (Traveltothesky touched upon something like this briefly a few months ago)  as well as society’s (especially in the USA) obsession with PIV intercourse as the only “Real” way to have sex. For folks with sexual problems, his view adds an additional layer of pressure to “Perform” even if doing so is unenjoyable and/or outright painful.

I think that sometimes there can be overlap between disability and sexual dysfunction. And I think that there are several new questions & areas here to explore which haven’t been looked at with either of the more traditional models. I hope that by thinking about another alternative way of looking at sexual dysfunction some weaknesses in the current models can be addressed while keeping strong points, and present interesting, overlooked ways of looking at sex and disability.

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